Dear Father Angelo,
first of all, I apologize for the frequency of my questions. When I have doubts you are the first person who comes to my mind for your orthodoxy and your knowledge, but I have to resist from writing to you as not to exceed the number of questions.
Anyway, this time I want to ask you if the Old Covenant is still valid. Has it not been replaced by the New and Eternal Covenant?
I know that in the Council, in Nostra Aetate, I think, it is written that the Jews, by virtue of the Old Covenant, have the opportunity to save themselves. However, we know that those who die in grace are saved and to be in grace one must follow the will of God, which implies believing in Jesus Christ and receiving the sacraments. Then there are the extraordinary ways of God that are for those who, through invincible ignorance, did not have the message of Christ but respected the natural law.
The Jews, however, do not accept Jesus as God, certainly not out of ignorance, but rather by their choice! Because they know Him and reject Him.
Answer from the priest
1. Certainly the New Covenant has taken over from the Old Covenant. However, the revelation that God has made of himself and the plan of salvation inaugurated in the Old Testament have not been repealed. Indeed, little would be understood of the New Testament if the Old Testament did not exist. Therefore, the Old Testament was not repealed by the New Testament, but was brought to fulfillment.
2. Regarding the precepts of the Old Testament, St. Thomas recalls that they were given three types.
God gave moral precepts (the Decalogue). These have not been repealed, indeed Jesus makes them as the premise for being able to save ourselves. To the young man who asked him, “Teacher what must I do to inherit eternal life” the Lord replied, “Observe the commandments.”
He also gave ceremonial or religious precepts such as the celebration of some holidays and some rites that had to be observed. These rites have been supplanted by the worship of Jesus Christ, but their meaning remains intact as they were an advance representation and a symbol of it.
Finally, there were civil precepts typical of a theocratic society, governed directly by God. Jesus Christ, acknowledging to civil authority its just autonomy, said, “Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” and replaced them with the commandment of brotherly love.
3. Therefore, the New covenant governs above all religious precepts.
In this sense, the New Covenant, sealed with the Blood of Christ, has abrogated the ancient cult and has supplanted the Old Covenant. But, the ancient covenant is not synonymous with the Old Testament. God’s progressive revelation remains intact and his plan of salvation for humanity remains intact.
This is so true that Vatican Council II in the dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum writes, “The plan of salvation, foretold by the sacred authors, recounted and explained by them, is found as the true word of God in the books of the Old Testament; therefore these books written under divine inspiration, remain permanently valuable.” (DV14) “For whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope ” (Rm 15:4).
4. The Council continues, “The principal purpose to which the plan of the Old Covenant was directed was to prepare for the coming of Christ, the redeemer of all and of the messianic kingdom, to announce this coming by prophecy, and to indicate its meaning through various types.” (DV 15). Without these types, we will understand, as I said, very little of the New Testament. Consider, for example, the paschal lamb which by virtue of whose blood the people of Israel were spared by the exterminating Angel. Just thinking about that blood, St. Gregory the Great was able to say that if by virtue of the blood of an animal, which was however a foreshadow of the Blood of the Lord, the people of Israel were spared from that scourge, in the same way, will the approach to the blood of the true Lamb of Jesus Christ save us from multiple evils? And this is why he concluded by saying that by listening to the Mass, man is freed from many evils.
5. The Council goes on saying, “These books give expression to a lively sense of God, contain a store of sublime teachings about God, sound wisdom about human life, and a wonderful treasury of prayers, and in them the mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way. Christians should received them with reverence.” (DV 15).
6. In conclusion, “God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New. For, though Christ established the New Covenant in His blood, still the books of the Old Testament, with all their parts, caught up into the proclamation of the Gospel, acquire and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament and in turn shed light on it and explain it.” (DV 16 ).
7. Regarding the salvation of the Jews, we must keep in mind that in the letter to the Hebrews, there is no explicit mention of the need for the knowledge of Jesus. But it is says, “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him “(Heb 11: 6).
Knowledge of the mystery of the Holy Trinity is implicitly included in the knowledge of the existence of God. And, knowledge of God’s saving plan in Jesus Christ is implicitly included in the knowledge of the reward He gives to those who seek him.
8. When you say that “The Jews do not accept Jesus as God certainly not out of ignorance, but rather by their choice!” you fall into a misunderstanding. Because they certainly have heard and hear about Jesus. But if inwardly in good faith they think it is not God, in fact – although erroneously – they follow their conscience. And, if they walk upright and repent of their sins, salvation is open for them because of the grace that is given through extraordinary ways that God alone knows, as you yourself remember.
With the hope of having cleared your ideas, I assure you of my prayers and I bless you.