To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council declaration, Nostra Aetate, Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia commissioned sculptor Joshua Koffman to create an original artwork called “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time” for the plaza outside the campus chapel.

The sculpture reimagines the widespread medieval artistic motif that showed Ecclesia (church) as a crowned regal woman triumphing over a blindfolded, crownless, and defeated Synagoga (Synagogue). Instead, it visually presents what could be called a “theology of shalom,” a theology of right relationship between Jews and Christians. The statue portrays Christians and Jews as co-covenanting companions.

“Co-covenanting companions” is a phrase that expresses an insight that has become axiomatic in Catholic thought since Nostra Aetate: Jews and Christians both walk covenantally with God. They are covenanting with the Holy One in distinctive yet resonating ways. Speaking of Jews and Christians as “co-covenanting” with God conveys both their commonalities and their distinctiveness. The word “companion,” literally “one who breaks bread with another,” is also significant here. It suggests that Christians and Jews can assist each other in living out their respective covenantal obligations before God. This has come very apparent over the past several decades of what Pope Francis has called our “journey of friendship.”[1] Indeed, Catholic theology has been so enriched by the burgeoning dialogue with Jews that several basic principles about their unique “co-covenanting” relationship are now becoming clear. These include being open to having one’s own self-understanding as a Christian or Jew recrafted by experiencing the self-understanding of the other. That type of mutuality is what Jews and Christians are blessed to be able to develop in our time, and it is the hope and commitment expressed by “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time”.

During his visit to Philadelphia on September 27, 2015, Pope Francis came to the Saint Joseph’s University campus to view and to bless the sculpture and the vision it brings to life. His close Argentine friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka accompanied him, and after the papal blessing, the rabbi turned to him and said, “They are you and I, pope and rabbi learning from each other.”

This blog post accompanies the Horizons article Emerging Principles of a Theology of Shalom by Philip A. Cunningham. The article is free to access until 1st December 2017.

[1] Address to the Chief Rabbis of Israel, May 26, 2014.

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