How is Catholicism different from Judaism?

While we are looking for common ground with followers of other religions, it is also good to be aware of and not overlook the differences. The differences between us will not disappear — they make us who we are. But so does what we share, and those similarities are deeply important for the future of humanity.

There are five key differences between Judaism and Catholicism:

Incarnation: The big difference is what Christian theology calls “the Incarnation,” or the “enfleshment” of God as one of us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

The Trinity: Closely related to this is the revelation of God as a community of relations in the Christian tradition — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jews believe in a single all-powerful God. However, if one looks at Jewish mysticism, the idea of God being internally dialogical is not so strange. Jewish mystical tradition holds a vision of God as 10-fold, the sephirot emanating from the eternal One. By the last of the emanations, God is approachable by humanity.

Scripture: We share the bulk of Sacred Scripture with the Jewish tradition. But not the New Testament, which Jews would see as, at best, something like a rabbinic commentary (midrash) on their Bible.

Messiah and End Times: Jews do not accept Jesus as their Messiah, but Catholics and Jews share the same vision of the destined “End” (i.e. that humanity will cease to exist at some point). The difference lies in the Jewish belief in the coming of the Messiah and the Christian belief in the return or second coming of the Messiah. We must work together to prepare the Way for the coming of the Messiah and all that it signifies: the end of war, poverty, and famine. There will be a bodily resurrection of the dead and a final judgment of all humans. God will be at once fully just and fully merciful. We can and must witness to it together, which means not just with words, but with deeds. We do this by working for justice and peace in our communities and around the world.

History: Catholics have held power over Jews since the age of Constantine, and have often, though by no means always, abused it. We need to work with Jews to develop a common understanding of our shared — sometimes joyful, yet too often tragic — past, in which we have learned from each other, despite our differences.

Fr. Thomas Ryan, CSP is the director for the Paulist Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Affairs and a frequent contributor to the Busted Halo Question Box.