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|Various parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church are relevant to these documents..||The story of Church letters||Background statements written and copyrighted by Marty Barrack.|
|With Burning Sorrow, Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, March 14, 1937||This is the great encyclical by Pope Pius XI that declared the Catholic Church’s deep sorrow and concern for the Nazi program of anti-Semitism. Because the Church knew that the Nazis would block it if they knew it was coming, it was originally written in German, instead of the typical Latin. It was released at the very last possible moment and delivered to most Catholic parish churches within an hour before the Sunday Mass at which it was to be read. It said 4 “The experiences of these last years have fixed responsibilities and laid bare intrigues, which from the outset only aimed at a war of extermination. In the furrows, where We tried to sow the seed of a sincere peace, other men - the “enemy” of Holy Scripture - oversowed the cockle of distrust, unrest, hatred, defamation, of a determined hostility overt or veiled, fed from many sources and wielding many tools, against Christ and His Church. They, and they alone with their accomplices, silent or vociferous, are today responsible, should the storm of religious war, instead of the rainbow of peace, blacken the German skies.” A year later, on March 6, 1938, Pope Pius XI said, “Mark well that in the Catholic Mass, Abraham is our patriarch and forefather. Anti-Semitism is incompatible with the lofty thought which that fact expresses. It is a movement with which we Christians can have nothing to do. No, no, I say to you it is impossible for a Christian to take part in anti-Semitism. It is inadmissible. Through Christ and in Christ we are the spiritual progeny of Abraham. Spiritually, we are all Semites.”|
Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Pope Paul VI, October 28, 1965
After nineteen centuries of confrontation, the rapprochement with the Jewish people gathered force gradually during the early twentieth century, but moved much more quickly after Vatican II. Nostra Aetate is principally remembered for its fourth section, on Judaism. It states: “Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ-Abraham’s sons according to faith--are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people’s exodus from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.” In these words, Pope Paul VI hints that all Catholics are completed Jews and paves the way for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, § 674: “”The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by ’all Israel.’”
and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration “Nostra
aetate” n. 4
|Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews, December 1, 1974||The Guidelines state: “In virtue of her divine mission and her very nature the Church must preach Jesus Christ to the world (Ad gentes 2). Lest the witness of Catholics for Jesus Christ should give offence to Jews, they must take care to live and spread their Christian faith while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration Dignitatis humanae). They will likewise strive to understand the difficulties which arise for the Jewish soul – rightly imbued with an extremely high, pure notion of the Divine transcendence – when faced with the mystery of the incarnate Word.”|
on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis
in the Roman Catholic Church
|Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews, July 1, 1985||
Notes makes two points of particular importance. At § 7, “Jesus affirms that there shall be ‘one flock and one shepherd’ (Jn. 10:16). The Church and Judaism cannot, then, be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all.” This is a direct refutation of delegates of the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document, Reflections on Covenant and Mission, which asserted that “...campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church.” But there was an even more important passage. At § 10, “We shall reach a greater awareness that the people of God of the Old and the New Testament are tending towards a like end in the future: the coming or return of the Messiah – even if they start from two different points of view. It is more clearly understood that the person of the Messiah is not only a point of division for the people of God but also a point of convergence.” Finally, we see a reaching forward to the end. Again a Vatican document points directly toward CCC § 674:“The glorious Messiah’s coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition of all Israel.”
|Jesus Christ, Messiah Priest||General Audience of Pope John Paul II, February 18, 1987||
The Holy Father’s observations on Jesus Christ as Messiah and High Priest in the line of Melchizedek. It traces sacrifices of adoration and atonement back to the Aaronic priesthood, identifies the priesthood of Christ as an eternal priesthood.
Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah
|Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews, March 16, 1998||A key paragraph in this document states: “At the dawn of Christianity, after the crucifixion of Jesus, there arose disputes between the early Church and the Jewish leaders and people who, in their devotion to the Law, on occasion violently opposed the preachers of the Gospel and the first Christians. In the pagan Roman Empire, Jews were legally protected by the privileges granted by the Emperor and the authorities at first made no distinction between Jewish and Christian communities. Soon however, Christians incurred the persecution of the State. Later, when the Emperors themselves converted to Christianity, they at first continued to guarantee Jewish privileges. But Christian mobs who attacked pagan temples sometimes did the same to synagogues, not without being influenced by certain interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people as a whole. “In the Christian world—I do not say on the part of the Church as such—erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility towards this people”. Such interpretations of the New Testament have been totally and definitively rejected by the Second Vatican Council.”|
and Reconciliation: The Church and Faults of the Past
|Vatican International Theological Commission, December 1999||A key paragraph in this document states: “The Shoah was certainly the result of the pagan ideology that was Nazism, animated by a merciless anti-Semitism that not only despised the faith of the Jewish people, but also denied their very human dignity. Nevertheless, “it may be asked whether the Nazi persecution of the Jews was not made easier by the anti-Jewish prejudices imbedded in some Christian minds and hearts... Did Christians give every possible assistance to those being persecuted, and in particular to the persecuted Jews?” There is no doubt that there were many Christians who risked their lives to save and to help their Jewish neighbors. It seems, however, also true that “alongside such courageous men and women, the spiritual resistance and concrete action of other Christians was not that which might have been expected from Christ’s followers.” This fact constitutes a call to the consciences of all Christians today, so as to require “an act of repentance (teshuva),” and to be a stimulus to increase efforts to be “transformed by renewal of your mind” (Rom 12:2), as well as to keep a “moral and religious memory” of the injury inflicted on the Jews. In this area, much has already been done, but this should be confirmed and deepened.”|
|Documents on the Church’s Relationship with the Jews||Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA) of the USCCB, February 11, 2004||
This collection of documents was not published by the Vatican but by a single committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I included it so that Catholics in the United States interested in researching all of the Church documents on the Jewish people can have them readily available. Of particular interest is the BCEIA’s pdf file Criteria for the Evaluation of Dramatizations of the Passion. While most of this document accurately reflects Church teaching, some of it is questionable. For example, on p. 13, The Role of Pilate, BCEIA states, “Certain of the gospels … seem on the surface to portray Pilate as … found ‘no fault’ with Jesus. Other data from the gospels and secular sources … portray Pilate as a ruthless tyrant. We know from these latter sources …” Pilate clearly told Caiaphas, Jn 19:6 “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no crime in him.” Dei Verbum 19 tells us, “Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, … faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation …” Jesus told Pilate, Jn 19:11 “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.” On Christ’s authority the Jews who were directly and personally involved, such as Judas and Caiaphas, had greater sin than Pilate. Catholics should read this document carefully and follow all in it that is consistent with Church teaching.
Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible
|Pontifical Biblical Commission, May 24, 2001||
The New Testament recognizes the divine authority of the Jewish Scriptures and supports itself on its authority. This exposition by the Pontifical Biblical Commission teaches that the Old Testament is an integral part of the whole Christian Bible, shows how fundamental themes in the Jewish Scriptures are received into the Christian faith, and shows that the Jewish people are overall portrayed favorably in the New Testament.
the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Liberation of the Prisoners of the Auschwitz-Birkenau
|Pope John Paul II, January 15, 2005||Pope John Paul II, during the last year of his earthly life, gave these profound words. “When, as Pope, I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp in 1979, I halted before the monuments dedicated to the victims. There were inscriptions in many languages: Polish, English, Bulgarian, Romani, Czech, Danish, French, Greek, Hebrew, Yiddish, Spanish, Flemish, Serbo-Croat, German, Norwegian, Russian, Romanian, Hungarian and Italian. All these languages spoke of the victims of Auschwitz: real, yet in many cases completely anonymous men, women and children. I stood somewhat longer before the inscription written in Hebrew. I said: ‘This inscription invites us to remember the people whose sons and daughters were doomed to total extermination. This people has its origin in Abraham, our father in faith (cf. Rom 4:11-12), as Paul of Tarsus has said. This, the very people that received from God the commandment, “You shall not kill,” itself experienced in a special measure what killing means. No one is permitted to pass by this inscription with indifference.’ … Today I repeat those words. No one is permitted to pass by the tragedy of the Shoah. That attempt at the systematic destruction of an entire people falls like a shadow on the history of Europe and the whole world; it is a crime which will for ever darken the history of humanity. May it serve, today and for the future, as a warning: there must be no yielding to ideologies which justify contempt for human dignity on the basis of race, colour, language or religion. I make this appeal to everyone, and particularly to those who would resort, in the name of religion, to acts of oppression and terrorism.”|
|Mass for the Inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI (Homily)||Pope Benedict XVI, April 24, 2005||
Note this in the Holy Father’s second paragraph:“With great affection I also greet … my brothers and sisters of the Jewish people, to whom we are joined by a great shared spiritual heritage, one rooted in God’s irrevocable promises.”
to a Delegation of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious
|Pope Benedict XVI, June 9, 2005||Less than two months into his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI welcomed to the Vatican a delegation of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Relations. The Holy Father declared, “[Vatican II] affirmed the Church’s conviction that, in the mystery of the divine election, the beginnings of her faith are already to be found in Abraham, Moses and the Prophets. On the basis of this spiritual patrimony and the teaching of the Gospel, it called for greater mutual understanding and esteem between Christians and Jews and deplored all manifestations of hatred, persecution and antisemitism (Nostra Aetate, 4). At the very beginning of my Pontificate, I wish to assure you that the Church remains firmly committed, in her catechesis and in every aspect of her life, to implementing this decisive teaching … In the years following the Council, my predecessors Pope Paul VI and, in a particular way, Pope John Paul II, took significant steps towards improving relations with the Jewish people. It is my intention to continue on this path.|
to the Synagogue of Cologne
|Pope Benedict XVI, Apostolic Journey to Cologne on the Occasion of the Twentieth World Youth Day, August 19, 2005||On August 19, 2005, only four months into his pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI went to visit Cologne’s blue-domed Roonstrasse Synagogue, the largest north of the Alps, which had been destroyed during Kristallnacht in 1938 and rebuilt during the 1950s. Cologne is the oldest site of a Jewish community on German soil, dating back to the Colonia of Roman times. Pope Benedict XVI greeted the distinguished Jewish authorities and all present, Shalom lêchém. He declared, “Today, too, I wish to reaffirm that I intend to continue with great vigour on the path towards improved relations and friendship with the Jewish People, following the decisive lead given by Pope John Paul II.”|
The Vatican’s “home page” for Jewish issues is the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews.
The following are conciliar or papal Church documents that address the subject of ecumenism in its entirety. They are not specific to the dialogue with the Jews and so are not included above.
Vatican II’s Unitatis Redintegratio, Decree on Ecumenism, November 21, 1964.
Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, May 25, 1995.
Also useful are:
Edward Idris Cardinal Cassidy, Directory
For The Application Of
Principles And Norms On Ecumenism, March 25, 1993
The following are not official Church statements, but rather the statements of individuals. They reflect the state of the current Jewish-Catholic dialogue but are not to be considered authoritative.
Reflection by Walter Cardinal Kasper for the Fourth European Day of Jewish Culture, September 8, 2003: Anti-Semitism, A Wound to Be Healed
William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore, for the at the annual meeting of the International Council of Christians and Jews, July 2, 2003: The Catholic Church and the Jewish People
Walter Cardinal Kasper Speech at Boston College November 6, 2002: “The Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews: A Crucial Endeavour of the Catholic Church”
Consultation of the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, USCCB, August 12, 2002: Reflections on Covenant and Mission
Christian Scholars Group which subscribes to this statement: “In view of our conviction that Jews are in an eternal covenant with God, we renounce missionary efforts directed at converting Jews. At the same time, we welcome opportunities for Jews and Christians to bear witness to their respective experiences of God’s saving ways. Neither can properly claim to possess knowledge of God entirely or exclusively.”
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