Philip A. CUNNINGHAM. Seeking Shalom, The Journey to Right Relationship Between Catholics and Jews. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015. Pp. 250. $30.00 pb. ISBN 978-0-8028-7209-8. Reviewed by Francis BERNA, La Salle University, Philadelphia, PA 19141.
Early December 2015 brought the publication of “The Gifts and Calling of God Are Irrevocable” by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. The Church document seeks to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate as well as to mark some of the theological achievement in Catholic-Jewish relations since the Second Vatican Council. Philip Cunningham’s text provides a timely and valuable complement to the document.
Cunningham divides his text into two parts – Scripture and Theology. And, he concludes the second part with some more immediate and practical challenges for seeking “right relationship.” This echoes the basic schema of the Vatican document. Seeking Shalom offers, at the start, solid scholarship on contemporary approaches to biblical interpretation embraced by Catholicism even prior to the Council. What Cunningham identifies as a “Renaissance” in biblical scholarship serves as the foundation for so much of the “new” theology advanced by Vatican II. “The Gifts and Call of God” likewise identifies development in the Catholic theological understanding advancing the relationship between Christians and Jews.
Most helpful from both a biblical and theological perspective is Cunningham’s development on the eschatological nature of salvation. An eschatological perspective allows the Catholic Christian to accept the Vatican commission’s declaration that “the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed toward the Jews.” Both Cunningham and the Vatican commission advocate a commitment to walk with our Jewish sisters and brothers following the lead of Pope Francis.
This reader completed Seeking Shalom prior to examining “The Gifts and Calling of God.” This approach fostered an appreciation of the richness of the rather concise Vatican document. Concepts given brief mention brought to mind Cunningham’s more extensive development. On the other hand, reading the Vatican document first might well prompt someone to examine one or another chapter in Cunningham’s text.
Here one encounters both the strength and a small limitation of Seeking Shalom. The author constructs his book from previously published articles. Each chapter can be read fairly independently of the others. To appreciate the value of the most recent Vatican document, one might turn to Cunningham’s ninth chapter, “Magisterial Contributions toward a ‘Theology of Shalom.’” Wanting to better appreciate the perspective of St. Paul and his letter to the Romans, the corresponding chapter on that epistle would be most helpful.
This precise strength also becomes a limitation. In reading Cunningham’s text straight through, one will find a frequent repletion of themes, examples, and references. Additionally, while Cunningham provides a chapter on Gospel perspectives and a chapter specific to the Gospel of Matthew, a chapter dedicated to a more detailed examination of John’s Gospel is noticeably absent.
Overall, however, the structure of the text works well. And, even the casual reader will appreciate that Cunningham has done far more than link a collection of articles together by way of introduction and conclusion. Each chapter incorporates the most recent scholarship and up-to-date examples, including frequent references to Pope Francis. The breadth of his citations demonstrates Cunningham’s lengthy commitment to strengthening Catholic-Jewish understanding.
Finally, in Part Two, Cunningham takes up serious questions not addressed by the Vatican commission. These include a re-examination of how the Church “tells the Christian story”; Catholicism and modern Israel; as well as the Jews and the Christian Trinity. As none of these questions allow for easy answers, like “The Gifts and Calling of God” Cunningham advocates a continued search for greater mutuality – Jews and Catholics enriching one another in the journey of faith.