Friday, March 4, 2011

Benedict XVI Exonerates Jews -- But How NEW is This News?

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Tonight, I'll address a great question from a Jewish friend on the Pope's exoneration of Jews from collective guilt in regard to the death of Jesus.

Hi, Leslie, 

I have a blog topic that I'm interested in hearing from you about. What is the impact of the pope's statement regarding Jewish corporate guilt for deicide and what is its canonic-legal effect? I'd be happy to share some thoughts from the "other" side.
Thanks, Rick
Hi, Rick,
Thanks for this question. Let me first establish where this 'statement' comes from -- Pope Benedict XVI wrote a book called "Jesus of Nazareth," and the book's second part is set to be released on March 10. 
The Vatican's publisher's provided a few excerpts from the book on Wednesday, which is why his comments on the Jewish people not being responsible for the death of Jesus hit the news. Please allow me to give an interlinear commentary on the Associated Press article on this subject (it's the one I've seen all over the place) as a way of explaining a bit of what the Pope said, why, and its significance.

Pope clears Jews as a whole in deicide

Pope Benedict XVI has made a sweeping exoneration of the Jewish people for the death of Jesus Christ, tackling one of the most controversial issues in Christianity in a new book.
Alright, a couple thoughts here: 

1. the term 'exonerate' indicates that the Pope released them from a crime for which they have been long convicted -- this is true, but... 

2. it was not the Catholic Church who had accused the Jews of this crime, so I feel it's a bit misleading to make it seem like the Pope was exonerating the Jews from a crime which he or his Church had specifically indicted them. The Pope here is merely reaffirming a long held teaching of the Catholic Church, which has sadly been misunderstood by many people, Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
In "Jesus of Nazareth-Part II" excerpts released Wednesday, Benedict explains biblically and theologically why there is no basis in Scripture for the argument that the Jewish people were responsible for Jesus' death.
Interpretations to the contrary have been used for centuries to justify the persecution of Jews.
Again, true, but these interpretations did not ever came from the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.
Though the Catholic Church has for five decades taught that Jews were not collectively responsible...
Okay, clearly this 'five decades' business is a reference to the Second Vatican Council and it's document, Nostra Aetate ("Declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions") which clearly spelled out that the Catholic Church does not hold the Jews responsible for the death of Jesus. It was not that the Church did not hold this belief prior to this time; Vatican II was a perfect opportunity for the teaching to be formulated clearly in writing to solidify everyone's understanding. This was important at that time for two specific reasons: 1. part of the aim of the Second Vatican Council was to build bridges between the Catholic Church and the modern world, particularly those of other religious traditions (and all mankind, for that matter), and 2. the Holocaust was still a very recent historical reality, and it was crucial that the Catholic Church make known our fraternal connection and solidarity with the Jewish people.

...Jewish scholars said Wednesday that the argument laid out by the German-born pontiff, who has had his share of missteps with Jews, was a landmark statement from a pope that would help fight anti-Semitism.

Okay, I can only assume that the 'missteps' with the Jews refers primarily to:

1. Benedict's lifting of the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, prior to knowing that Williamson was Holocaust denier. Benedict apologized after learning of his lack of information and the mistake he had made. Many Jews defended him; it was mostly Catholics who publicly attacked him, from what I heard and read. In any case, it was all an honest mistake on the Pope's part (he was making efforts toward Chrisitian re-unification, not trying to burn bridges with the Jews!) and as Williamson's apology did not include an actual retraction of his Shoah denying statements, he was not allowed back into communion with Rome, after all. Williamson has also since been convicted and fined for hate crimes in Germany.

2.  Benedict's support of the cause for beatification of Pope Pius XII, who is widely (but incorrectly) believed to have been a supporter of the Holocaust. You wanna know who taught me the truth about Pope Pius XII? A Jewish Rabbi named David Dalin. He wrote a book called The Myth of Hitler's Pope: Pope Pius XII and His Secret War Against Nazi Germany.

3. Benedict's 'controversial' use of the prayer for the conversion of the Jews on Good Friday, which was entirely consistent with the Church's teachings about salvation for all people coming through Christ. [See my post on "Would Catholics Say That Jews Can Be Saved?" for more on this subject.]

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make here is that Benedict has been misunderstood and maligned in many ways (again, largely by Catholics!), but I hope that most Jews of good will would not view this recent statement as a sign of 'conversion' on the part of a formerly anti-Semitic pope. Benedict certainly did not write the second volume of Jesus of Nazareth because he just recently came to the understanding that the Jews weren't responsible for Jesus' death.
"Holocaust survivors know only too well how the centuries-long charge of 'Christ killer' against the Jews created a poisonous climate of hate that was the foundation of anti-Semitic persecution whose ultimate expression was realized in the Holocaust," said Elan Steinberg of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

The pope's book, he said, not only confirms church teaching refuting the deicide charge "but seals it for a new generation of Catholics."
The Catholic Church issued its most authoritative teaching on the issue in its 1965 Second Vatican Council document "Nostra Aetate," which revolutionized the church's relations with Jews by saying Christ's death could not be attributed to Jews as a whole at the time or today.
Right, this is what I mentioned above. Here's a pertinent excerpt of the Vatican II document:
"Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.
True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ;(13) still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.
Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.
Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows."
Okay, back to the article now:
Benedict comes to the same conclusion, but he explains how with a thorough, Gospel-by-Gospel analysis that leaves little doubt that he deeply and personally believes it to be the case that a few Temple leaders and a small group of supporters primarily were responsible.
Yes, and Benedict is an intellectual giant in the realm of theology and Scripture scholarship, so I cannot wait to read his exegetical reflections. I am quite sure that they are rock solid.
That Benedict is a theologian makes "this statement from the Holy See that much more significant for now and for future generations," said Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham H. Foxman.
Right. And the fact that he's the Pope doesn't hurt, either. Also, I think it's good that he's written on this topic in book form -- I think this will make his teaching more accessible to all people. (While I have personally grown to love enyclicals and conciliar documents, I think most people would find a book on Jesus' life to be more readable than official Church statements.)
The book is the second installment to Benedict's 2007 "Jesus of Nazareth," his first book as pope, which offered a personal meditation on the early years of Christ's life and teachings. This second book, set to be released March 10, concerns the final part of Christ's life, his death and resurrection.
[I don't have a copy of either volume -- anyone wanna get me an early birthday present?]

So I guess my response to your question, Rick, would be that I think the Pope's statement will have a positive impact on Catholics, Jews, and all other people of good will-- not because he has really said anything new, but because he has gone deeper in clarifying and reaffirming a crucial teaching of the Catholic Church.

And in regard to any canonic-legal effect, well, I don't think that there would be any effect in that realm at all, and here's why: the Code of Canon Law is comprised of laws and regulations that were made or adopted by ecclesiastical authorities for our own governance. In other words, Canon Law really pertains to Catholic Christians, so the Pope's reaffirmation of the Church's long-standing teaching that our Jewish brethren should not individually or collectively bear the burden of blame for Jesus' death would have no effect on our system of internal juridical governance. I'm not a canon lawyer, but those are my thoughts based on what little I do know.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts 'from the other side,' Rick.

I hope this has been helpful!

Peace and all good,

1 comment:

  1. Here were my initial thoughts:

    and a reply to what you wrote: