June 3, 2012

WHICH GOES A LONG DISTANCE TO EXPLAINING...:

The Border Crossers: a review of From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965 by John Connelly (Peter E. Gordon, May 18, 2012, New Republic)

But among the most radical innovations of doctrine that sprang from Vatican II was the "Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions," typically known by its Latin title Nostra Aetate, or "In Our Age." Included in the declaration was a forthright condemnation of anti-Semitism and a revised official teaching on the Jews. The Church decried "hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone." While it allowed for the historical claim that a portion of the Jews in the time of Christ had called for his death, it warned that the crucifixion could not be blamed on all Jews without distinction and across all time. No longer accursed by God, and absolved of any collective responsibility for the death of Christ, the Jewish people were now embraced as the "stock of Abraham" (stirps Abrahae). Most astonishing of all, the Church also affirmed that "God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers" and that "He does not repent of the gifts He makes"--a phrase that seems to allow for the continued validity of Judaism alongside Christianity.

To understand how this transformation came about, an inquiry into pure theology is necessary but not sufficient. The story is too thick with ironies and politics, and it demands a patient and open-minded reconstruction of ideological quarrels that embroiled the Roman Catholic Church during its darkest and most shameful years of compromise. This is a task undertaken with admirable equipoise by John Connelly, a historian of Central and East-Central Europe, in his remarkable new book. It is not a pleasant tale. Connelly resists the temptation of Whiggish self-congratulation that would make Vatican II appear as a foreordained conclusion, driven forward by nothing else than the Church's soul-searching and its turn to the higher light of its own universalist ideals.

The truth is that the Church did not reform itself without struggle. Even today many Church officials still lapse into modes of Christian triumphalism and implicit anti-Judaism that were supposed to have been corrected decades ago. Indeed, it is one of the central lessons of Connelly's book that the bonds of empathy that made Nostra Aetate a historical possibility are far more fragile, and less expansive, than one might care to imagine. The detailed history of its genesis reveals a singular fact: most of the architects of the Catholic statement concerning the Jews in 1965 were themselves, either by descent or practice or public definition, Jews who had converted to Christianity. A handful were Protestants. The drama of this discovery deserves emphasis (the italics are Connelly's): "Without converts the Catholic Church would not have found a new language to speak to the Jews after the Holocaust."

This is indeed a bitter and complicating truth. The history of Nostra Aetate, writes Connelly, may stand as an instructive lesson on both "the sources but also the limits of solidarity." A certain tone of disillusionment pervades the book--as if the historian could not wholly abandon the ahistorical (and perhaps religious) expectation that the Church should have lived up to its own ideals. "Christians are called upon to love all humans regardless of national or ethnic background," Connelly avers, "but when it came to the Jews, it was the Christians whose family members were Jews who keenly felt the contempt contained in traditional Catholic teaching."

...why Judaism has not similarly been capable of overcoming its contempt for Christianity.
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Posted by at June 3, 2012 8:06 AM
  

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