Catholic Apologetics

The Catholic Church has always taught - as the New Testament does clearly - that God's Mosaic Covenant with the Jews was perfected in and superseded by the New Covenant, and that that Old Covenant is no longer extant as a means to eternal salvation.  This is a very basic Church teaching, core to Christianity, for, if there is another covenant other than Christ's universal Covenant with all men, then Christ is not necessary for salvation and He is not truly *the* Savior.

However, it is important to define exactly what we mean in saying the Old Covenant was "abrogated".  It means that it is no salvific - that's all.  The statement does not, of course, mean to imply all practicing Jews are not saved - some may be, but if they are, it is implicitly or explicitly via the only possible mechanism for salvation: Jesus Christ and His New Covenant.

Let's look at the historical teachings of the Church on this matter.  (I'm leaving out what the New Testament has to say for now - I'll refer to those passages later in letting Avery Cardinal Dulles comment on them.)

From the Counil of Florence:

"It [the Catholic Church] firmly believes, professes, and teaches that the matter pertaining to the law of the Old Testament, of the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, sacred rites, sacrifices, and sacraments, because they were established to signify something in the future, although they were suited to the divine worship at that time, *after our Lord's coming had been signified by them, ceased, and the sacraments of the New Testament began; and that whoever, even after the passion, placed hope in these matters of the law and submitted himself to them as necessary for salvation, as if faith in Christ could not save without them, sinned mortally*. Yet it does not deny that after the passion of Christ up to the promulgation of the Gospel they could have been observed until they were believed to be in no way necessary for salvation; but after the promulgation of the Gospel it asserts that they cannot be observed without the loss of eternal salvation. All, therefore, who after that time observe circumcision and the Sabbath and the other requirements of the law, it declares alien to the Christian faith and not in the least fit to participate in eternal salvation, unless someday they recover from these errors."

Pope Benedict XIV in Ex Quo:

"The first consideration is that the ceremonies of the Mosaic Law *were abrogated* by the coming of Christ and that they can no longer be observed without sin after the promulgation of the Gospel. "

Pope Pius XII in Mystici Corporis:

"29. And first of all, by the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished; then the Law of Christ together with its mysteries, enactments, institutions, and sacred rites was ratified for the whole world in the blood of Jesus Christ. For, while our Divine Savior was preaching in a restricted area - He was not sent but to the sheep that were lost of the House of Israel [30] - the Law and the Gospel were together in force; [31] but on the gibbet of His death Jesus made void the Law with its decrees [32] fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross, [33] establishing the New Testament in His blood shed for the whole human race.[34] "To such an extent, then," says St. Leo the Great, speaking of the Cross of our Lord, "*was there effected a transfer from the Law to the Gospel, from the Synagogue to the Church, from the many sacrifices to one Victim, that, as Our Lord expired, that mystical veil which shut off the innermost part of the temple and its sacred secret was rent violently from top to bottom.*" [35]

30. *On the Cross then the Old Law died, soon to be buried and to be a bearer of death*, [36] in order to give way to the New Testament of which Christ had chosen the Apostles as qualified ministers; [37] and although He had been constituted the Head of the whole human family in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, it is by the power of the Cross that our Savior exercises fully the office itself of Head of His Church. "

Since some Catholics seem to be prepared to discard or discount all teachings of the first 1930 years of the Church or so, let's look at what Paul VI had to say, as well as some commentary on the New Testament from a current cardinal.

From the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate:

"Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God's saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ-Abraham's sons according to faith (6)-are included in the same Patriarch's call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people's exodus from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy *concluded the Ancient Covenant*. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles.(7) Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.(8)"

Note the clear teaching that the Mosaic Covenant was "concluded".

Concerning the New Testament, let's look at what Avery Cardinal Dulles, writing in First Things, August 2008, had to say: "The New Testament, in certain passages, indicates that the Old Law or the Old Covenant has come to an end and been replaced. Paul in Second Corinthians draws a contrast between the Old Covenant, carved on stone, which has lost its previous splendor, and the New Covenant, written on human hearts by the Spirit, which is permanent and shines brightly. In the third and fourth chapters of Galatians he draws a sharp contrast between the covenant promises given to Abraham and the law subsequently given through Moses. The two covenants, in this passage, are represented by the two sons of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. The law, he says, was our custodian until Christ came, but it was incapable of giving justification, and loses its force once Christ has come. Fulfilling the promises given to Abraham, Christ brings an end to the Old Law.

In Second Corinthians Paul refers to the “old covenant” as the “dispensation of death,” which has “faded away.” In Romans he speaks of Christ as “the end of the Law,” apparently meaning its termination, its goal, or both. The Mosaic Law ceases to bind once its objective has been attained. The new dispensation may be called the “law of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:21; Galatians 6:2) or the “law of the Spirit” (Romans 8:2). The Letter to the Hebrews contains in chapters seven to ten a lengthy discussion of the two covenants based on the two priesthoods, that of Levi and that of Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant. The Old Law, with its priesthood and Temple sacrifices, has been superseded and abolished by the coming of the New."

The Cardinal does acknowledge there are nuances to this general question in this in-depth and though-provoking article.

So, in conclusion, the status of the Jews as a people special to God does not change.  Paul, furthermore, taught that they will one day be "grafted on to the tree"; i.e., they will accept Christ as a people and come into communion with the Church.

However, to teach that the Mosaic Covenant is still binding, and still offers through it salvation, is clearly contrary to the constant teachings of the Church.