Saint Thomas Aquinas

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Mosaic Covenant Revoked Or Fulfilled? Aquinas Answers

We often hear many theologians today claiming that the Jewish Mosaic covenant was never revoked. Most theologians making this claim then go on to assume that this means the Jews can continue to practice the Jewish religion and obtain salvation by doing so. For example, Cardinal Kasper sends the wrong message in his 2002 reflection concerning the Church's relations with the Jews, "This does not mean that Jews in order to be saved have to become Christians; if they follow their own conscience and believe in God’s promises as they understand them in their religious tradition they are in line with God’s plan, which for us comes to its historical completion in Jesus Christ." Statements like these only provide the Jews with an out to becoming Christians. An interesting observation is that the Jews today no longer even  practice what the Jews practiced in the time of Christ. That being said, neither the Jews today nor those of Jesus' time exempt from the New Covenant.

In order to understand the Church's relation to the Jews and the Old Covenant is to see the Old Covenant as being "fulfilled and transformed" in Christ. The Old Covenant is indeed special having come through the Jews, making the world ready for the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Thus the Old Mosaic Covenant was not revoked, it was in effect absorbed, fulfilled and transformed when Christ came and established the New Covenant. Thus when Christ became incarnate, suffered, died, resurrected and established the New Covenant through His one and only Church, the Jew as well as the Gentile was obliged to enter into this Covenant. This is the only way made possible for the Jews to remain in a Covenant with God. 

One may ask, what about the Ten Commandments, aren't they absorbed and transformed along with the Jewish ceremonial laws? Aquinas distinguishes between the moral laws and ceremonial laws. The moral laws given by God are immutable, or unchangeable, but God Himself can and did change ceremonial laws to reflect a change in the covenants. Thus the old ceremonial laws were only imperfect prefigurements of what was to come through Christ. For example, God brought us the Sacrifice of Christ in the Mass thus making the old sacrificial ceremonial laws obsolete, and thus non-efficacious nor pleasing to God. In fact, the old ceremonial laws would now be an insult to God since Christ's sacrifice is perfect in Himself as God, while the old ceremonial laws were imperfect and only foreshadowing the perfect to come. Thus Thomas says it would be a mortal sin to practice these old ceremonies because it would demonstrate the sin of unbelief of what God had revealed through Christ. For example, one would not sacrifice a goat to God while believing that Christ was the perfect Sacrifice made present in the Mass. The old ceremony after the coming of Christ is simply contrasting belief in what God has revealed in the Incarnation of Christ. 



In reference to the Ten Commandments, were they also transformed or done away with? The answer is in a way they were transformed being that man is now given grace through Christ to live the Commandments in true charity. So the Commandments do not change in what they teach, they are now not mere suggestions or ideals, but they are now able to be lived in a perfected manner made possible through grace. Only with the coming of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit in the Church through her Sacraments is this achievable. It is not achievable in any other way, including practicing variations of Judaism. It is interesting that Aquinas differentiates the Ten Commandments being written on stone while the other laws were given orally, demonstrating the unchanging Commandments of God and the eventual changing of the other laws. So while the Ten Commandments under the Old Law were necessary to direct the Jews to avoid evil, they lacked the means to orient the Jews on how to live virtuously in the love of God. It was possible then to obey the Commandments and still not love God and neighbor. Through the New Covenant the Commandments now are still to be followed but in a new spirit of grace and charity. 

In summary, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant have an intrinsic relationship. God gave the Jews the same Ten Commandments to give them a moral structure to aid their fallen nature in avoiding evil. The Old Law and its ceremonies are also important in understanding salvation history and the preparing for the coming of Christ. In this sense then we have a special relationship with what was given to us through the Mosaic Covenant. What is also important to understand is that Christ fulfilled and transformed the Mosaic Covenant effectively ending it by perfecting it, not merely revoking it. God Himself did this by giving us the New Covenant through Jesus Christ. So I think it is important to see this distinction between "revoking"and "fulfillment and transformation". Thomas Aquinas saw the Church, the Sacraments and everything that Christ offers through His Church as still carrying on in perpetuity the Old Covenant. It was not then revoked, but transformed into the New, thus making it obligatory for the Jews after His coming to enter into the New in order to still be a part of what was established in the Old. So it is necessary for the Jews today to convert to Catholicism if they are to have a covenantal relationship and inherit eternal. There is no way for them to receive eternal life through the practice of what they perceive to be Judaism. There is no need to discuss theological possibilities such as invincible ignorance. We are talking here of the objective necessity for the conversion of the Jews to Catholicism. 

Much of the information here was taken from Matthew Levering's book 'Christ's Fulfillment of Torah and Temple: Salvation according to Thomas Aquinas.' I highly recommend it! 


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