Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time
The Story of the Creation, Dedication, and Blessing of the Original Sculpture by Joshua Koffman that Enshrines the Institute's Mission
“This statue is exactly a demonstration of two sisters of the same dignity, the Church and the Synagogue.” – Rev. Federico Lombardi, Director of the Vatican Press Office.
"I have no doubt it will become a turning point in the History of Art." – Prof. Mariano Akerman, the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.
The Medieval Motif of Synagoga and Ecclesia
And Its Transformation in a Post-Nostra Aetate Church
In the Middle Ages, the feminine figures of Ecclesia (Church) and Synagoga (Synagogue) were a familiar motif in Christian art. It was a visual presentation of the understanding of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism that prevailed in that era. Mary C. Boys has described it as follows:
We can see a [particular] pattern in the Christian iconography of the dual figures Synagoga and Ecclesia. For many Christians of the Middle Ages, the status of Judaism evoked images from Lamentations (1:1; 5:16-17):
How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.
The crown has fallen from our head;
woe to us, for we have sinned!
Because of this our hearts are sick,
because of these things our eyes have grown dim.
Like Leah of the weak eyes (see Genesis 29:17), Synagoga was blind to Christ. As second-century apologist Justin Martyr said to the Jew Trypho, "Leah is your people and the synagogue, while Rachel is our church ...; Leah has weak eyes, and the eyes of your spirit are also weak." Synagoga symbolizes an obsolete Judaism.
In some depictions of this allegorical pair, we see a triumphant Ecclesia standing erect next to the bowed, blindfolded figure of the defeated yet dignified Synagoga (e.g., the thirteenth-century stone figures in the cathedrals of Strasbourg, Freiburg, Bamberg, Magdeburg, Reims, and Notre Dame [Paris]). Though the church has triumphed over synagogue, the latter is a tragic rather than sinister figure--a woman conquered, with her crown fallen, staff broken, and Torah dropping to the ground. ...
Other representations of Synagoga, particularly in the Late Middle Ages, present a more contemptible figure. For example, in a fifteenth-century portrayal of the crucifixion, Ecclesia holds a chalice to receive the blood from the pierced heart of Jesus, whereas Synagoga turns away from him, in the clasp of a devil who rides atop her neck and blinds her to the Christ by covering her eyes. The association with the devil evokes a malevolent Synagoga. ... Many [Medieval Christians] would have viewed the figures of Synagoga and Ecclesia, and thereby absorbed a dangerous lesson: Judaism no longer has reason to exist.
- Mary C. Boys, Has God Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding (Paulist Press, 2000), 31-35.
Contrast this long-lived derogatory Christian attitude toward Judaism with these recent words of Pope Francis:
We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). ... Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians. God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism.
- Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (2014), §247-249.
Clearly Catholic attitudes have changed. A new relationship of respect has replaced the previous one of disdain. The turning point was the Second Vatican Council declaration, Nostra Aetate, issued on October 28, 1965.
The statue commissioned by Saint Joseph's University to mark the declaration's 50th anniversary reinterprets the medieval motif of Synagoga and Ecclesia to reflect Catholic teaching today. "Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time" depicts Synaogue and Church as both proud crowned women, living in covenant with God side by side, and learning from one another’s sacred texts and traditions about their distinctive experiences of the Holy One.
"There exists a rich complementarity between the Church and the Jewish people that allows us to help one another mine the riches of God's word." - Pope Francis
Marking 50 years of the new Catholic-Jewish relationship begun by Nostra Aetate
Joshua Koffman is a Philadelphia-based sculptor known for his expressive and dramatic large-scale bronze sculptures. Koffman is an elected member of the National Sculpture Society, and a recipient of many distinguished awards among which are the Alex J. Ettl Grant, the John Cavanaugh Memorial Prize, and First Place in the Grand Central Academy’s Sculpture Competition. His work appears in numerous public and private collections and can be seen in Philadelphia’s F.A.N. gallery.
Joshua Koffman was captivated by Greek and Renaissance art at an early age. He pursued a formal art education at the University of California, Santa Cruz, earning a BA in Fine Art. Desiring advanced study, Koffman then enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he currently teaches.
“My representational work begins with the human. It is heavily influenced by tradition, serves a function, and speaks to a timeless audience. I first create the compositions in clay, mold them, and then cast them in bronze.”
- From WHYY-TV's Friday Arts, "The Philadelphia Traction Company," video which features Joshua Koffman. Click HERE.
- From the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), Video: "Life After PAFA: Collaboration and Comaradarie at Traction Company." Click HERE.
- Mike Levin on FaceBook: Video "Walking around the Philadelphia Zoo, I ran into Joshua Koffman, a local sculptor just out to record the Giraffe scene that day. I used my Canon 5D Mark II to capture the moment." Click HERE.
- Joshua Koffman's website. Click HERE.
Pope & Rabbi Honor Catholic-Jewish Ties at SJU
SJU Dedicates Its Nostra Aetate Sculpture; Later Blessed by Pope Francis
On Friday, September 25, 2015, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, longtime friend of Pope Francis, was the keynote speaker at a ceremony attended by over 400 members of the Catholic and Jewish communities of Philadelphia. "Celebrating 50 Years of a Journey of Friendship" was a combined effort of Saint Joseph's University; the American Jewish Committee, Philadelphia-South Jersey; the Anti-Defamation League, Eastern Pennsylvania-Southern New Jersey-Delaware; the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia; the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philaldelphia, and the World Meeting of Families. Rabbi Skorka spoke of his friendship with the Pope, saying, "Each of us had recognized in the other the partner for the enactment of the commitment to interreligious dialogue that we both took as a central priority in our lives."
After greetings from SJU President Dr. Mark Reed, Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Bishop Joseph Martino, and Jewish Federation CEO Naomi Adler, Rabbi Skorka spoke about the significance of the Second Vatican Council declaration Nostra Aetateand how it enabled his own friendship with Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis. "The ultimate aim of Nostra Aetatewas to create a new reality for Jews and Catholics, a new world," he explained. "A world in which they are not opposed but can actively study and learn together, and so enrich each other and assist each other in walking their covenantal lives with God."
Dr. Philip A. Cunningham, Director of SJU's Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, responded to Rabbi Skorka with remarks entitled, "Charting the Unexplored Paths of Mutuality." Next Dr. (h.c.) Charles Kahn Jr. summarized his over forty years as a member of the Institute's Board of Directors and his friendship with the Institute's longtime director, the late Donald G. Clifford, S.J. The Institute's co-director, Dr. Adam Gregerman, then spoke of "Memorializing the New Relationship between Jews and Catholics," explaining the significance of the sculpture about to be dedicated in the light of the history of Christian contempt for Jews and Judaism. That contempt had been given visual expression in medieval depictions of the relationship between the Church and the Synagogue. The new sculpture also celebrates the scholarly research and educational programs coordinated by the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations.
After moving to the plaza outside the Chapel of Saint Joseph, artist Joshua Koffman spoke about what the creating of the sculpture meant to him, saying, "Believe it or not, I was born to create this sculpture. Literally. I have a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. Combine that with years of sculpture training and experience making figurative work, and it appears it was all meant to be."
"Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time" reverses medieval portrayals of a majestic Church (Ecclesia) triumphing over a defeated and blindfolded Synagogue (Synagoga), which are found on dozens of European churches. Reflecting Catholic teaching today, it depicts the symbolic feminine figures, shown with dignity and grace, as friends who are studying their respective sacred texts together. Synagoga is showing her companion a Torah scroll, while Ecclesia holds an open Christian Bible. The image recalls the traditional Jewish practice called chavruta, from the Aramaic word for friend, of studying the Torah in pairs. The granite plinth is inscribed with a quotation from Pope Francis: "There exists a rich complementarity between the Church and the Jewish people that enables us to mine the riches of God's word."
After the unveiling the sculpture was dedicated by past SJU president, C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J., who had commissioned its creation in 2014. He prayed: "Divine Creator, in dedicating this statue we ask that it become a spiritual force, suggesting to us the beauty of human dignity and equality, speaking to us of the great strides of our partnership united in a shared belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and shouting to us to go forth in friendship to further dialogues that will lead to even greater partnership among Christians and their brothers and sisters in faith."
Rabbi David Straus, Institute Board member and Chair of the National Council of Synagogues concluded the ceremony by praying the Shehecheyanu prayer, thanking God for bringing everyone to such a wonderful day.
Two days later, the SJU community was stunned by the midday announcement from the director of the Vatican Press Office, Rev. Federico Lombardi, that Pope Francis would visit the campus that day to view and bless the new artwork. He described the sculpture, saying, “This statue is exactly a demonstration of two sisters of the same dignity, the Church and the Synagogue.” Students and other members of the university and local communities streamed to the Chapel plaza for the opportunity to see the Holy Father.
On his way from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary to the Ben Franklin Parkway in Center City to celebrate a public Mass, the now familiar papal Fiat turned off of City Avenue and onto the university campus. Accompanied by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and Rabbi Skorka, Pope Francis was welcomed to Philadelphia's Jesuit university by President Dr. Mark Reed and then by Institute Directors Dr. Philip Cunningham and Dr. Adam Gregerman. Over one thousand people were on hand.
After exchanging greetings with Jesuit community rector Rev. Brendan Lally, S.J.; Board of Trustees Chair Edward Moneypenny; and student body president and vice-president Nicholas Chingas and Natalie Roche, the Pope moved to stand in front of the sculpture, "Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time." After meditating silently for a few moments, he blessed the artwork with holy water.
The Pope then embraced his friend Rabbi Skorka, who, pointing to the statue said, "They are you and I – Pope and Rabbi learning from one another." These words made explicit the resonances between the sculpture and the presence of the two friends who embody the new relationship between Jews and Catholics that Nostra Aetate made possible.
Then the Holy Father waved to the crowd of spectators, and the entourage moved back to their waiting vehicles to resume their trip to the Ben Franklin Parkway.
Fr. Lally described the scene after the Pope's departure: "When he left, the students who were behind the barricades rushed down to the sculpture and three- and four- deep hugged the sculpture's base and blessed themselves. It was a demonstration of piety that was deeply moving. ... [People] lined up for blessings, bringing their children and babies, as well as themselves. It was an unexpected and overwhelming moment of devotion."
University President Dr. Mark Reed expressed the sentiments of many over the weekend's events when he later wrote:
"While I spent considerable time imagining what that day might be like, I could not have conceived how immense the impact would be. [The Holy Father's] presence for those short minutes left a tangible and lasting grace on our community."
Texts: 50 Years of a Journey of Friendship
Remarks and Greetings Delivered on Friday, September 25, 2015
Dr. Mark C. Reed
President, Saint Joseph's University
I arrived on campus on July 1st and one of the the first meetings that I had was with Dr. Cunningham and Dr Gregerman about this very event and about this ceremony and dedication and the remarks we are going to have here today. And I've been looking forward to it ever since.
I welcome my predecessor and Saint Joseph's University's 27th president, Fr. Kevin Gillespie. Thank you for joining us here today.
Welcome and shalom, everyone. Thank you for being here.
Welcome to Bishop Joseph Martino from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Ms. Naomi Adler, from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and all of the dignitaries with us today.
Special welcome, of course, to Pope Francis’ good friend, Rabbi Abraham Skorka, the rector of the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary in Buenos Aires. The relationship between these two religious scions reveals a vivid illustration of how our communities have come together. Welcome, Rabbi.
What a tremendous honor and privilege it is for Saint Joseph's University to host this celebration of the half century anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Aetate!
The declaration brought about the dawn of a new era of friendship and understanding between Catholics and Jews after centuries of estrangement and stresses the shared religious bond between Jews and Catholics.
Once the declaration was issued, the Jesuit community at Saint Joseph’s and the American Jewish Committee moved with great expediency to launch a "Jewish-Catholic Institute.”
Thus was conceived Saint Joseph University's Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, the first such body at an American Catholic university in response to the Second Vatican Council. Under the leadership of the late Reverend Donald Clifford, of the Society of Jesus, the institute provided opportunities for Catholics and Jews to meet and learn about each other, a dialogue which grows broader and deeper with time.
Today, under the direction of Doctors Philip Cunningham and Adam Gregerman, the Institute supports research, conferences for scholars and community members, publications, and opportunities for interreligious dialogue, including students, congregations and clergy.
Thank you, Doctors Cunningham and Gregerman for your great work, which is an integral initiative to the Catholic and Jesuit mission and identity of the University.
Today’s dedication of Joshua Koffman’s sculpture “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time” confirms our commitment and dedication to Nostra Aetate and the blessed rapprochement between Jews and Catholics that it began.
Thank you and shalom.
Bishop Joseph Martino
Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, Archdiocese of Philadelphia
First of all, I want to thank Dr. Mark Reed, the new president of Saint Joseph's University, the many local Jewish organizations represented here, Dr. Philip A. Cunningham and his colleagues at the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations here at Saint Joseph's University, and all those who helped to plan this conference and for holding this wonderful event.
Thank you, as well, for inviting Archbishop Charles Chaput, Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia. He really wanted to be with you here today. In view of the fact, however, that Pope Francis will be arriving in Philadelphia in a matter of hours to celebrate the World Meeting of Families, I know that you understand that Archbishop Chaput could not be here personally this afternoon. I stand here as his representative and I'm proud to do so. I know that Archbishop Chaput would want me to thank the Jewish community and numerous volunteers from this university for supporting the World Meeting of Families.
In Archbishop Chaput's name, I extend a particular note of gratititude and of welcome to Rabbi Abraham Skorka, who will soon address us. As a good friend of Pope Francis, Rabbi Skorka helps us to sense in a very special way the presence here of Pope Francis, who no doubt blesses heartily today's assembly.
Congratulations as well to Joshua Koffman for the beautiful sculpture, "Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time," which will be dedicated later this afternoon.
We are here celebrating the golden jubilee of the Second Vatican Council's groundbreaking document Nostra Aetate. This declaration is the Council's, the Catholic Church's, sincere declaration about interreligious dialogue, with particular reference to Jewish-Catholic dialogue, but it is a Church document which clearly had major input in its composition from important Jewish leaders and scholars. It is no exaggeration to state that Nostra Aetate reset Catholic-Jewish relations into an atmosphere of mutual respect and reconciliation, of honest listening to one another, and of coming together in the accomplishment of truly good deeds.
This holding of jubilees – and I note the word is jubilee we're using here this today, not anniversary – the holding of jubilees is a concept common to both Judaism and Catholicism. We observe jubilees by giving thanks above all to our heavenly Father, by taking stock of ourselves, and by setting out to do even better than we have done. This type of jubilee celebration seems to me to be an apt template for what we should be doing in this golden jubilee year of Nostra Aetate. First of all, we offer our Creator profound thanks for setting us on the path which has led to fifty years now of productive Jewish-Catholic relations. We come together to take stock and we pledge to do even better to promote harmony between our two communities. This pledge to do better is absolutely esssential. Too often great statements are made, great movements are launched, but what is the point of these initiatives – like Catholic-Jewish dialogue even, unless they are beloved, fostered, practiced, and indeed lived?
Thank you all here today for helping us to live the message of Nostra Aetate. Thank you.
Ms. Naomi Adler
Chief Executive Officer, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia
On behalf of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and our Jewish Community Relations Council, I thank you for the opportunity to be part of today’s wonderful celebration of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate. I am Naomi Adler, CEO of the Jewish Federation. We bring together the people and organizations of our Jewish community to generate and allocate the financial and volunteer resources necessary to care for those in need and strengthen Jewish identity -- locally, in Israel and around the world. Our Jewish Community Relations Council further serves the needs of the Jewish community through building community relations, social action and advocacy. We thank the AJC, ADL and Board of Rabbis for partnering with us today. We would also like to welcome Rabbi Abraham Skorka to Philadelphia.
Many are familiar with the civil rights struggles of other communities and the progressive, societal changes that have occurred, or are now occurring for them. Nostra Aetate should be seen in that light, as it was a major “civil rights” achievement for Jews. We are delighted to be celebrating this momentous occasion with our Catholic friends.
It is easy to take for granted today’s strong relationship between the Jewish and Catholic communities, but it was not always so. There was a time when our two communities were wary of each other, and had little or no interaction. It is also important to remember the journey over the past 50 years. We have all come a long way. All of us have worked hard to cultivate friendships, dialogues and opportunities for mutual learning.
This was thanks to the great effort and ongoing commitment of many people. It was also thanks to the groundbreaking work of Saint Joseph’s University’s Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations which, within a year of the issuing the Nostra Aetate, was created due to a joint effort of the then-Saint Joseph’s College, and in cooperation with the American Jewish Committee.
Today the relationship between the Catholic and Jewish communities here in Greater Philadelphia has blossomed into a productive partnership that is very important and beneficial for both communities. We have created a more progressive and vibrant Philadelphia community, a place where we are able to work together to face the challenges that confront our city.
How gratifying it is that we will be able to mark this day with the unveiling of a beautiful new sculpture, one that will no doubt receive national and even international recognition, celebrating a 50-year journey of friendship between Catholics and Jews in Philadelphia. On behalf of the organized Jewish community of Philadelphia, I thank you again for this opportunity to be here today.
"50 years of Nostra Aetate: Past and Future"
Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka
Rector of the Latin-American Rabbinical Seminary ‘M. T. Meyer,' Rabbi of the Benei Tikva Congregation, Buenos Aires
Nostra Aetate is the declaration approved by the Second Vatican Council on October 28, 1965. It discusses the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and the non-Christian religions. It undoubtedly created a theological turning point for the Catholic Church that fostered a new vision of respect and dialogue with the Jewish people.
Two fundamental axioms are developed in chapter 4 of this declaration, which is dedicated to the relationship between Catholics and Jews.
On the one hand, it removed any reason to doubt that the covenant which God shares with the Jewish people, described in the Hebrew Bible, is still considered valid from a Christian perspective. Therefore the special relationship between Jews and God continues into the present. On the other hand, Nostra Aetate affirms that, although in the days of Jesus there were some Jews implicated in actions that ended in his crucifixion, one cannot impute guilt to all the members of the Jewish population of that time, let alone accuse Jews of later generations.
Once and for all, the ignominious vilification of a so-called deicide people, cursed by God, which was hung upon the Jews, and which justified their persecution, humiliation, and oppression, was abolished.
Nostra Aetate was the Catholic answer to the Shoah. Centuries of Christian theology in which Jews were denigrated contributed to European anti-Semitism. The Nazis tapped into this deep-seated prejudice to build the death camps in cooperation with the active and passive indifference of a great part of the European population. One third of the Jewish people, six million souls, were exterminated in the most atrocious form that human history records.
To recognize the Jewish People as fully loved by God after this abominable tragedy was an act of spiritual audacity which Saint John XXIII was able to introduce, something which had apparently been unattainable for Pius XII.
At the same time, this challenged Catholicism to construct a new theological vision based upon the rediscovered truth that the old covenant between the Creator and the Jews was not abolished. Thus both covenants, the new and the old, complement each other in seeking to elevate human beings spiritually and to guide them in building a reality of Justice and Love, of the redemption of the human being.
The Declaration Nostra Aetate, signed by Blessed Paul VI, served as a solid basis for a renewed encounter between Jews and Christians. On October 22, 1974, he created the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism, which redacted in 1974, 1985, and 1998 three very important and substantial documents developing the concepts that Nostra Aetate had referred to only in an embryonic way.
These documents – "Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra aetate No. 4" (1974), "Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Teaching in the Roman Catholic Church" (1985) and "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah" (1998) – helped to establish the habit of dialogue that Christians and Jews are able to enjoy today.
Through symbolic acts of enormous significance, Saint John Paul II profoundly reshaped the Jewish-Catholic relationship. The Great Synagogue of Rome is very near the Vatican. It takes only a half an hour walking at normal speed to traverse the two places. Yet many centuries had to pass for a Pope to walk this short distance to greet his Jewish neighbors. John Paul did this in 1986, the first pope to do so in perhaps two millennia.
He also established full diplomatic relations between the Vatican, the Holy See and the State of Israel. He asked for God's forgiveness for Christian sins of the past towards Jews, whom he called “elder brothers” and "the people of the Covenant."
Beginning with Nostra Aetate, the official teaching of the Church considers the relationship with the Jews as unique and special. This fact is reflected in Pope Francis' 2014 Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. He writes:
We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). ... Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples [§247-248].
I first came into contact with Jorge Bergoglio, today's Pope Francis, when he began serving as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. Being elder than me and holding such a high Church office, I initially left the initiative for interfaith activities between us in his hands. Over time, I came to understand that in the course of his spiritual journey he had developed deep theological respect for Jews, , and that we shared a common understanding of the importance of dialogue in general and the interfaith dialogue in particular. These were the reasons that bound us to one another. Each of us had recognized in the other the partner for the enactment of the commitment to interreligious dialogue that we both took as a central priority in our lives.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel´s “No religion is an island” was a guide and an imperative I incorporated into my soul. He was one of the most important Jewish contributors to the development of Nostra Aetate. Chapter 4 of the declaration echoes much of a statement the Rabbi sent to Cardinal Augustin Bea in the conversations they had while the Council was in preparation.
The founder of the Seminario Rabínico Latinoamericano, of which I am the rector today, Rabbi Marshall Meyer, was one of the beloved students of Heschel at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Meyer spread Heschel's ideas in Latin America, especially by translating his works into Spanish.
The spirit of Nostra Aetate and the ideas and challenges that developed in its aftermath impacted Cardinal Bergoglio and me and led us to write a book together, to record 31 television programs, and to do so many other things together.
Since Bergoglio became Pope Francis, his commitment to the Jewish Christian dialogue has been revealed through many deeds and statements.
The twentieth century witnessed, both before and after the Shoah, great Jewish thinkers and scholars who understood that the original dialogue between the first Christian community and its Jewish brothers needed to be started anew if Christians and Jews were to collaborate, each from their own perspective, in the construction of a better world. Mordechai Martin Buber, Joseph Klausner, and Abraham Joshua Heschel are some of the very many Jewish leaders who took it as a personal mission to renew this dialogue. Nostra Aetate, which was nurtured through the dialogue of Rabbi Heschel and Cardinal Augustin Bea, was the best answer to their dreams and ideals.
In the old city of Prague, at Number 1 of the Nový Svět (New World) Street, we find the house where the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe lived. The astronomical measurements of Brahe were the data with which Johannes Kepler was able to formulate mathematically his three laws concerning the movement of the planets around the sun.
A new world was discovered at that time. The heliocentric description of the solar system, the existence of new continents to explore, the conquering of new navigation routes, as well as so many other advances allowed human beings to contemplate a New World.
Today we have brought our perceptions to Pluto at the fringe of our solar system. We have taken pictures of its surface , and received much entirely new information. Mankind has begun deeply studying characteristics of a world that is no longer foreign to us.
The new challenge for humankind is not to discover a new world but to create a “new world”, a new reality with no more hunger or injustice, no hatred among peoples, no more wars. The world in which each individual enriches spiritually through the dialogue with neighbors in whom he or she sees a brother or a sister. The challenge facing us is to create a new world where each individual makes a place for God’s presence.
The ultimate aim of Nostra Aetate was to create a new reality for Jews and Catholics, a new world. A world in which they are not opposed but can actively study and learn together, and so enrich each other and assist each other in walking their covenantal lives with God. We are no longer "foreigners" to each other. This idea is represented by the very significant sculpture we are about to dedicate, which will remind all who will see and contemplate it in the future about the achievements of the past and the challenges for the future.
In the eighth century BCE, the prophet Isaiah (65, 17), said in the name of God, that God will create new heavens and a new world (earth), where no former tragedies will be recalled.
Among the Jewish sages there is a discussion about this that has been going on for centuries. They asked: Is humanity in its present psychic and spiritual condition able to fashion a reality of peace and concord at all levels, or does God have to substantially modify the originally created world in order for peace to come?
The masterly opinion of Maimonides is that the human being in his present condition is indeed able to construct a reality of dialogue and of peace.
Taking into account the human impulse and the individual struggle to pursue goodness in our lives, rejecting the wars and the cruel violence that afflict us daily, there are many who understand Isaiah’s hope for a new heaven and a new earth in covenantal terms: Humanity, the partner of God in the constant recreation of Creation, will co-create this hopeful New Cosmos -- a new Reality in which Nostra Aetate and those who were inspired by it, will have made a crucial contribution and helped pave the way.
"Charting the Unexplored Paths of Mutuality: A Response to Rabbi Abraham Skorka"
Dr. Philip A. Cunningham
Director, Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph's University
A daunting challenge for those after the Shoah who sought rapprochement between Jews and Christians was not only the trauma of the Nazi genocide, but the long centuries of hostility, suspicion, stereotyping, fear, and oppositional thinking between us. With this history, could we ever really communicate with one another? Some influential leaders in both communities definitively said no.
Fifty years after the issuance of Nostra Aetate the evidence is in. In many parts of the world – perhaps particularly here in the United States – Jews and Christians have begun to speak to each other beyond surface-level descriptions of our respective customs. We are doing so with few positive precedents from our received traditions and with many caricatures and misunderstandings confounding our efforts.
Along the way, a crucial discovery has also occurred. In the process of opening ourselves to each other's religious lives, Jews and Christians have sometimes discerned a deeper spiritual reality. In our interactions, we occasionally find ourselves glimpsing the elusive presence of the Holy One in the lives and traditions of our interlocutors. I believe this means that today we are beginning to chart the unexplored paths of mutuality.
What do I mean by mutuality? A vivid example is the long friendship between Pope Francis and our guest Rabbi Abraham Skorka. Saint Joseph's University is deeply honored that Rabbi Skorka has joined us today to celebrate the "50 Years of a Journey of Friendship" since Nostra Aetate. Who better to exemplify and speak to the new relationship between Jews and Catholics than a pope’s close friend? On behalf of all us here, Rabbi Skorka, I want to thank you very sincerely for your wholehearted partnership in helping us to mark the Declaration's golden jubilee here in Philadelphia as memorably and inspiringly as possible.
Let us ponder an insight that Rabbi Skorka has shared with us. He observed that the Second Vatican Council "challenged Catholicism to construct a new theological vision based upon the rediscovered truth that the old covenant between the Creator and the Jews was not abolished." He also described how he and the future Pope Francis "recognized in the other the partner for the enactment of the commitment to interreligious dialogue that we both took as a central priority in our lives." I'd like to combine these two comments and speak about mutuality as friends pursuing theological dialogue and study together.
Signs of such mutuality can be found in many places. Catholic theologian Mary C. Boys has written of her long collaboration with Jewish educator Sara Lee: "Over the years, Sara and I have discussed many demanding and delicate questions—but the conversations themselves have not been difficult. To the contrary, our friendship allows us to probe in sensitive areas."
Likewise, Rev. Hanspeter Heinz has written movingly about his more than twenty year friendship with the late Rabbi Michael Signer: “The joy we shared as friends was no less important than our [educational] projects together. ... Indeed, our free time together and our correspondence brought us much more than relaxation. ... During our long walks ... we regularly lost our way because we were so absorbed in our discussions." Their informal camaraderie developed the trust in each other necessary for deep dialogue. Their experience of leaving the everyday world behind when in the midst of profound religious conversation recalls the rabbinic practice of chavruta study—grappling with sacred texts in close relationship with a study partner. It is a practice I am privileged to share with my colleague and friend, Dr. Adam Gregerman.
In the book that they wrote, Rabbi Skorka tells a story about a day when he was in Cardinal Bergoglio's office and saw on the bookshelves photos that he assumed were of "people he truly cares about – those who mean a lot to him. Suddenly," Rabbi Skorka continued, "I noticed among them a framed picture that I had given to him as a gift. The photo was of the two of us and had been taken at one of our meetings. I was struck speechless. ... It was at that meeting that we [had] decided to write this book."
As Rabbi Skorka relates it, theirs was a decision to give expression "to our intimate conversations in book form ... exposing our souls," which meant that "we each had to take turns in strengthening the bonds between us. ... We accept[ed] all of the risks this implies, yet remain[ed] profoundly convinced that this [was] the only way for us to understand what it means to be a human being, moving ever closer to G-d."
That is what I mean by "mutuality." Theologically, it is a deepening love for the distinct way of walking with God of the Jewish or Christian other who is no longer an outsider, but who has become a friend.
Fifty years along what Pope Francis has called "our journey of friendship," we have learned that we can explore and study profound questions together with a closeness and trust that was unimaginable not so long ago. Let me give some examples. Both Judaism and Christianity are founded upon the conviction that God is involved in the histories of our people. Jews celebrate especially the Exodus and giving of the Torah, while Christians rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus. But this conviction of God’s involvement in history has always raised difficult questions:
- How can God be both concerned and even involved in human history while also being beyond space and time and the created universe? Both traditions have developed distinctive approaches, such as the mystical Kabbalistic sephirot or divine emanations or Christian Trinitarian theology. Can we learn from each other’s approaches to our shared, paradoxical belief in God’s immanence and transcendence?
- If God is involved in human history, how are we to judge whether or which contemporary events are religiously meaningful? There are some who see the hand of God at work everywhere, while others dismiss the thought that God plays any role in human lives today. How do Jews and Christians go about attributing or denying theological significance to such occurrences as natural disasters, the outbreak of new and virulent diseases, the Shoah, or the 1948 foundation of the State of Israel? Are there ways we can help each other to “read the signs of the times,” as one Vatican II document put it?
- Although both traditions believe that they have benefited from God’s redeeming acts in history, we both also know that the world’s redemption is incomplete and look toward a future messianic End of Days. Christians have tended to stress what has already happened, while Jews tend to highlight the unredeemed aspects of the human condition. What can we say to each other about our respective emphases? What can we learn from each other’s hopes and expectations for our ultimate destinies?
No doubt as we explore such topics there will inevitably be tensions and maybe irresolvable disputes. But I believe as we journey together we are learning that it is our new relationship itself that is assuming a primary value. It is becoming the very space within which both Jews and Christians can theologize, where they can seek to deepen their understanding of their relationship with the Holy One. How can we not be deeply thankful for what Rabbi Skorka has just called the "New World" between us?
And let us remember that in deepening our relationship with the Holy One as study partners and companions, our own interrelationship will be blessed with wholeness, with divine shalom. Let us continue together on our new and sacred journey!
 Mary C. Boys, "Learning in the Presence of the Other: My Friendship with Sara Lee," forthcoming in James L. Fredericks and Tracy Sayuki Tiemeier, eds., Interreligious Friendship after Nostra Aetate (New York/London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
 Ibid., 4.
 Bergoglio, Jorge Mario and Abraham Skorka. On Heaven and Earth: Pope Francis on Faith, Family, and the Church in the Twenty-First Century. Alejandro Bermudez and Howard Goodman, trans. (New York: Image Books, 2013), x-xi.
 Ibid., xii.
"Memorializing the New Relationship between Jews and Catholics"
Dr. Adam Gregerman
Assistant Director, Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph's University
In the modern period we Jews and Christians rely heavily upon the written word. For example, Jews pray from books such as the siddur and mahzor, and Catholics from missals and prayerbooks. Or we study sacred writings by laying out texts before us, leaning over them as we seek out their insights. In this era of widespread literacy, it is hard to recapture an earlier sense of the importance of the visual to religious life. With our preference for the precision of texts, we can overlook the power of images. But in the pre-modern Christian traditions especially and in Judaism as well, most people, being unable to read, learned visually. Rather than access the holy primarily through the written word, many were guided and uplifted by what they saw or touched. Biblical scenes in stained glass, statuary, synagogues that reproduced aspects of the ancient Jerusalem Temple, illuminated manuscripts—these and other visual creations instructed their viewers.
The traditional Christian statues of Ecclesia and Synagoga, found in dozens of medieval churches, were not simply decorative but were serious teaching tools. One figure was a majestic woman, usually crowned and holding a chalice or a cross, as an image of victorious Christianity. She was juxtaposed against a second figure, a blindfolded and slumped-over woman, usually carrying a broken staff or torn Torah scroll, as an image of vanquished Judaism. An example from the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris can be found in the program booklet (on p. 5). With these statues, Christians were led to view the relationship between God and the Jews as broken. The original people of God were beaten down and cast off, their place taken by a new people of God. This theological message was profound, and encouraged contempt for Judaism and likely for Jews. Such messages were reinforced in preaching, of course. However, the visual evidence—in some cases detailed, full-size figures looking out at parishioners—surely gave this motif great power.
Modern scholars, clergy, theologians, and educators have vigorously challenged these presentations. Historically, they have questioned views of Judaism after Jesus as moribund and spiritually arid. Theologically, they have rejected traditional Christian denunciations of Jews as sinful, blind to the truth, and eternally cursed for the crucifixion of Jesus. Today we therefore gratefully commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council declaration Nostra Aetate, which initiated a major break with such noxious images and ideas. This influential statement spurred a wide range of salutary changes not only in Catholic-Jewish relations but in relations between Christians and Jews generally. We also commemorate the founding of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University, which has worked to increase knowledge and deepen understanding between Jews and Catholic for nearly five decades.
To complement the many important statements and studies from Jews, Christians, and interreligious groups that carried forward these remarkable changes over the last half century, we celebrate with a visual representation of the new relationship. We will shortly dedicate “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time.” Breaking with the traditionally antagonistic portrayal, the new sculpture expresses the fundamentally re-conceptualized Jewish-Catholic relationship. Working with my friend and colleague Phil Cunningham and the gifted artist Joshua Koffman, and with input from many others, we sought to convey not just mutual respect between Jews and Christians but joy in shared learning. As a scholar and theologian used to working primarily with texts, I have found it richly rewarding to try to convey complex ideas in physical form. For this very contemporary message, we hearken back to a traditional visual medium, with all its power and immediacy. The statue, to put it in Jewish terms, could be seen as a presentation of an interreligious hevruta. This is an Aramaic term taken from the traditional rabbinic idea of paired study of sacred texts by friends for the sake of heaven. Or to quote Pope Francis, we might imagine that the statue’s figures are “help[ing] one another to mine the riches of God’s word.” We believe that joint study of our traditions by Jews and Christians together is a way to deepen our new relationship in the coming years.
It is especially gratifying to see so many members of my own Jewish community here today to celebrate the conciliar declaration, the institute, and the unveiling of the statue. I think I can fairly say it reflects emerging trust between Jews and Christians and a growing commitment among Jews to rethinking our own views. I also hope it reflects appreciation for the decades of support Saint Joseph’s University has given to this vital issue. There is much to celebrate, for all of us. Thank you for being here today.
Reflections from the Artist
What a pleasure it is to be here with you all today on the eve of such a momentous occasion, and to finally see this sculpture dedicated here at Saint Joseph's University. This is truly a beautiful campus and wonderful location to have such a timely and important sculpture.
I want to express my gratitude to Saint Joseph's University, to the Institute for Jewish-‐Catholic Relations, and for everyone here involved in seeing it through and making this happen. I would also like to thank Phil and Adam. It has been an eye opening experience working with you both. I appreciate your open-minded collaboration as well as your clarity on the essential ideas expressed by this sculpture. Between the three of us -- and the two of them [pointing to sculpture], I think we have created something profound, poignant and enduring. I would also like to thank Carmen Croce who initially approached me with an appreciation for my work and trust in my experience. This has truly been one of the most rewarding projects I have worked on.
Believe it or not, I was born to create this sculpture. Literally. I have a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. Combine that with years of sculpture training and experience making figurative work, and it appears it was all meant to be.
This sculpture is timely as we prepare for Pope Francis’ visit. And in a wonderful way, Religion is on the top of everyone's mind in the city right now. From the people installing barricades to the people like us installing sculpture. So this is an interesting time as people of all different faiths are experiencing this religious event like no other; all different faiths, and cultures are here receiving the Pope and his message. His imminent presence, it turns out, is a positive influence on all people, which is something inherent in this sculpture as well. It is exciting to be a part of something that is so meaningful to so many faiths at such a meaningful time.
In the past, sculpture and the fine arts were directly connected to religion, but today, sculpture has a much looser tie to faith. In this case, and with the city's attention, tradition, faith, and understanding coalesce with this symbol in our time. Saint Joseph's University and the Institute for Jewish-‐Catholic relations, has put a lot of effort into channeling its values to this moment. It is especially heartfelt when I say thank you for the opportunity, and for understanding the significance that sculpture has in telling this story.
Dr. C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J.
27th President of Saint Joseph's University
O God of the Covenant
We gather here at Saint Joseph's University to mark
an auspicious occasion of a symbolic creation.
In celebrating Nostra Aetate, the document
promulgated at the Second Vatican Council fifty years ago,
we recognize that this document has led to greater understanding and partnership
among Christians and Jews.
As blessed believers of the covenantal promise of your presence,
first witnessed by Abram and Sarai,
we share a Semitic spirituality as a common fountain of faith,
in believing that all women and men are made in your image and likeness.
We have collaborated to ensure that all persons are worthy of dignity and respect
and are not subject to religious discrimination or prejudice.
O loving God, we ask blessings upon all those assembled today,
on all those who in the future will be invited to gaze and remember,
and upon all those who contributed generously to make this occasion happen,
especially Joshua Koffman, whose imaginative and sturdy hands brought forth,
"Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time."
May his creation serve as an educational instrument,
both historical and spiritual, for all members of this university,
who from this day forward are invited to look, listen, and learn.
Divine Creator, in dedicating this statue
we ask that it become a spiritual force,
suggesting to us
the beauty of human dignity and equality,
speaking to us
of the great strides of our partnership united under
in a shared belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
and shouting to us
to go forth in friendship to further dialogues that will lead to even greater
partnership among Christians and their brothers and sisters in faith.
So dedicated, may "Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time."
inspire us to be so committed,
For your greater glory. Amen.
From the first concept ideas, to historical research, to preliminary sketches, to drapery studies and evolving clay iterations, to casting, installation, and dedication, sculptor Joshua Koffman describes the process of designing and creating SJU’s historic artwork, “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time.” In this 2018 presentation, co-sponsored by the SJU Department of Art and the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, art students and other guests learn from the award-winning artist the steps that are necessary to develop a large public sculpture.