Catholic theology question

Greetings everyone,

I have a question about Catholic theology that I have been wondering about for some time. I am asking only out of idle curiosity and not out of any fear that the fate of my soul may depend on the answer or anything, so hopefully we can all be respectful of each other and keep this out of GD.

I have the following two beliefs about Catholic theology, which appear to contradict each other, so either one must be wrong or there is some clever Jesuitical way of reconciling them:

  1. Once you are baptized into the Catholic church, you are forever Catholic in the eyes of the Church; you can never become a non-Catholic, you can just choose to become a bad Catholic.

  2. Part of the Vatican II reforms were to discard the doctrine of “supersessionism”, which held that the coming of Jesus invalidated God’s covenant with the Jews and thus made Judaism irrelevant. Thus, the Church now believes that Judaism and Catholicism are equally valid approaches to God and both capable of bringing salvation to their believers.

SO… what happens if someone decides to convert from Catholicism to Judaism? Is the Church OK with that? Does it matter if the conversion is to Orthodox Judaism as opposed to some liberal variant? How about if the party involved was baptized but never had any religious teaching or involvement with the Church after that (say, if an infant was orphaned just after baptism and adopted by a Jewish family?).

Again, I am really just interested in knowing what the Church’s take is on this and not in debating the merits of its position.

A Catholic who converted to Judaism would still be a Catholic in the eyes of the Catholic Church. He wouldn’t be able to take Communion or anything like that, but if he later decided to practice Catholicism again, he wouldn’t need to be baptized…he could just confess his sins and be a member in good standing again.

Here is part of the Cathechism which deals with this:

The Church and non-Christians

839 "Those who have not yet received the Gospel are related to the People of God in various ways."325

The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People,326 "the first to hear the Word of God."327 The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”,328 "for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable."329

840 And when one considers the future, God’s People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.

I’m afraid I could not speak to the “supersessionism” question, so I essentially have no answer to the GQ as phrased.

I am posting, though, to deal with the baptism half of the premises. Catholic doctrine holds that anyone baptizing with water in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with the intent of “doing as the church does,” is in fact administering a valid baptism, which imparts a permanent character to the baptized. In other words, he can never be “unbaptized,” regardless of the circumstances.

But it’s important to remember that in Catholic doctrine, there is only one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church – which is only “sort of” identical to the Catholic Church. In other words, Jesus founded one Church, and Catholicism, with the tie of the Popes to Peter and the unbroken Magisterium, is the successor to that.

But equally importantly, since Vatican II the attitude towards the Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants has changed significantly. The sense is more that they’re part of the church, unfortunately (from the Catholic perspective) not in submission to the Pope and Bishops, not in possession of the fullness of Catholic doctrine, and stubbornly insisting on maintaining their separate status. (Note that I’m not myself arguing this, but presenting it as background on Catholic teaching w/r/t “separated brethren.”)

It therefore follows if that one is baptized a Christian, with intent to baptize as the Church does, and with proper form and matter, that baptism is considered valid and irrevocable by the Catholic Church. Baptism, being the initiatory sacrament, is the one sacrament that can be validly administered by anyone – schism, heresy, excommunication, etc., not being bars to its validity, provided that form, matter, and intent are proper.

I would myself be thoroughly fascinated on what the orthodox Catholic “take” on someone converting from Catholicism to Judaism would be. And, as noted above, in their view it would not differ greatly from a Presbyterian or Orthodox person converting to Judaism.

When I became a member of the Catholic church they accepted my prior baptism by a Baptist church.

Yep, and if someone doesn’t know their own history, the Catholic baptism will say “If you have not been baptized before, I baptize you…”

Several religions view this as a valid position with respect to their specific religion.

There are religions hold that salvation is only extended to those who believe in Christ and are baptized for remission of sin(s).

I’m not certain that being Catholic and being Jewish are entirely mutually exclusive. I think that the Catholic church would regard a convert from Catholicism to Judaism to be simultaneously both a Catholic (though probably not one in good standing) and a Jew. In fact, I’m not even certain that a convert couldn’t be both in good standing, at once: There’s no rule I know of that says that a Christian can’t rest on Saturdays, refrain from pork, etc. (the etc. covering 611 other things that I don’t feel inclined to list).

While a Catholic could certainly choose to follow the 613 mitzvot of Judaism, there are a few issues that would make it pretty much impossible (from the position of both groups) to be a believer in good standing with the other. Catholics are very definitely Trinitarians holding a belief that Jesus is God in one person of the Trinity. This cannot be reconciled with the Jewish faith.

If one accepts the divinity of Jesus, one cannot be a good Jew; if one denies the divinity of Jesus, one cannot be a good Catholic.

From the OP:

From the catechism quoted by gigi:

This sort of thing sets up a pretty irreconcilable barrier.

(The RCC is actively trying to remove all traces of the anti-semitism that permeated so much of its theology for 1900 years so that it can never again be used to tolerate or promote pogroms or another Shoah, but the RCC still sees itself as the best means of approaching God and does not recognize any group as being “equally valid.” Worthy of human respect, certainly, but not “equally valid.”)

So, would it be fair to say that the Church would view this decision as an error, and would feel a greater sense of obligation to encourage the person to return to Catholicism than it would feel to encourage someone who was never baptized to convert, even if the baptism was never followed up with any religious instruction, so that the person did not know enough about Catholicism to really be rejecting it in any meaningful way (and how do Catholics feel about run-on sentences, by the way?)? And does anyone know if the Church takes sides with regard to Orthodox vs. liberal Judaism?

Thanks for your input, everyone.

In all cases, the RCC hopes that a person who has left will return. Further, there is probably a feeling (mostly emotional) that recovering “lost sheep” is more important than bringing in new converts.
However, we have no squads of Jesuits running around capturing the apostates and bringing them back, by hook or by crook. (And while the Church as an organization and an institution has a “preferred” view of the situation, most of the actual priests, sisters, brothers, and active laypersons whom I know will tend to view each situation differently. They recognize that life leads different people to different places and that sometimes the Church, particularly as it is present in various local situations, has not offered or cannot offer exactly what a person needs. I hear stories from time to time of priests or parents who condemn persons who have stopped practicing Catholicism, but I think they are notable in their rarity–and in the offensive way they sometimes behave.)

I have never heard a Catholic scholar or anyone else ever take a position on the various philosophical/theological strains of Judaism. I don’t know anyone who felt we had a right to comment.

I am not completely sure about this, but I think they are mutually exclusive. Other than the excellent points Tomndebb makes, the basis of the Christian religion as I understand it is that the New Covenant of Christ is supposed to replace the Old Covenant that the Jews had with God.

Yeah, um, I hate to tell you this but they will get you excommunicated on the spot.

Also known as a latae sententiae excommunication, when the nature of the offense is such that one is automatically presumed to have cut oneself off from the Church; some acts that can incur this penalty are desecration of the Eucharist, physically attacking a bishop, becoming a heretic or apostate, having an abortion, or writing a run-on sentence.

Who is authorized to lift such an excommunication depends on its severity – someone who fell away from the faith and then returned could be brought back into communion with a simple confession to their parish priest, while someone who attacked the pope could not have his excommunication lifted by anyone lower than the pope.

From the Jewish side, it’s kind of complicated. Someone who converted from Judaism to Catholicism wouldn’t be regarded as Jewish while they were a practicing Catholic (at least not by most Jews). However, if they decided to come back to Judaism, they wouldn’t need to convert to Judaism as someone who has never been Jewish would. I’m not sure what would happen if a woman converted from Judaism to Catholicism, and her child born after she converted wanted to become Jewish.

There’s a Talmudic rule in Orthodox Judaism that you’re not supposed to attend any non-Jewish religious service, which would mean you couldn’t be an Orthodox Jew and a Catholic in good standing. Liberal Jews will attend a ceremony (such as a wedding) in a church, but I don’t know of any who would fully participate in the service (saying the prayers, taking communion, etc) and still consider themselves Jewish.

The Master says that, according to canon law, “heresy, apostasy, or schism” incurs a latae sententiae excommunication. Converting from Catholicism to Judaism would count as apostasy- you’d be leaving Christianity for another religion, and publicly proclaiming your faith in another religion. So you certainly could not be a Catholic in good standing if you converted to Judaism.

A Catholic is particularly at risk of this happening if he happens to run for President (or engage in run on sentencing). :wink:

I have a somewhat separate question: to whom does any of this matter? The Catholic Church is not short on rules, and is similarly not short on people who run afoul of them. But as Tom pointed out above, there’s no real enforcement arm. So a person could convert to Judaism, and still take communion in the Catholic Church, and who’s to stop him? I imagine that in most cases, even if the priest knew he had converted to Judaism, the priest wouldn’t refuse him communion. Do these extremely arcane rules matter to anybody but scholars at the Vatican? Is there any connection to the real world of Catholicism as it’s practised every Sunday?

It’s against canon law for the priest to give communion to someone who has publicly converted to another faith. I’m not sure what the Church hierarchy might do to a priest who broke that law, but presumably something would be done if a priest knew that someone had converted to Judaism and still gave them communion.

I doubt that someone who was known to be regularly going to church would be allowed to join most synagogues.

While a priest (aside from a couple of newsworthy jerks) would not normally make a public scene about refusing to offer Communion to a person in that situation, most priests would probably privately explain that it was not appropriate.

Again, the issue is not simply one of rules. Nothing in Catholic theology requires anyone to abjure the 613 mitzvot. However, if one has truly embraced Judaism, there is really no point in receiving Communion. Your beliefs are different than the beliefs of everyone around you. If someone publicly announced that Jesus was a nice guy, but certainly not a Person of the (non-existent) Trinity, it would be pretty clear that they no longer held Catholic beliefs. If they doubted or disbelieved those teachings about Jesus (as I am sure some people attending Catholic churches do) but kept their beliefs to themselves, then they could continue to participate–although rather pointlessly, in my view.

If a person who had undergone the fairly rigorous instructions to convert to Judaism and had been accepted into a Jewish synagogue got up during a Shabbes service and announced the Jesus is Lord and He suffered, died, and rose again as a member of the Trinity, I suspect that the person would be invited to refrain from participating in future worship at that synagogue.

On the other hand, the issue is not one so much of breaking rules or getting away with odd beliefs as a question why one would bother attending services that express beliefs that one does not share.

And probably would be asked to leave the premises immediately, and if they refused, would be escorted off. I imagine something similar would happen if you stood up during a church service and said that Jesus was not God, or that there is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.