September 7 – 2010

Caspari Center Media Review – September 7, 2010

During the week covered by this review, we received 2 articles on the subject of Jewish-Christian relations.
Protestant and Catholic relations with the Jewish community featured in this week’s Review.
Jewish-Christian Relations
Haaretz, September 3 (x 2), 2010
On the anniversary of the Bethel Confession, “a seminal document in the complex history of Christian-Jewish relations, written 77 years ago,” Admiel Kosman reviewed the statement, focusing on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of its initiators: “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the late Protestant theologian, is barely known in Israel. It is important to mention him now, however, on the 77th anniversary of the theological declaration referred to as the Bethel Confession. Bonhoeffer was one of the initiators of this document, which criticized the collaboration of the Protestant Church in Germany with the Nazi regime … At the heart of the Bethel Confession is the position taken by Barth, Bonhoeffer and members of what is called the Confessing Church against dissociating the New Testament from the Hebrew Bible. The notion of this separation was gathering support at the time among the members of a movement who called themselves the German Christians. It is no coincidence that, in addition to their view that Christianity’s ties should be severed from Judaism, the German Christians supported Nazism. The idea of Christianity being separated from the biblical roots it has in Judaism is not new in internal church-related disputes. As early as the second century of the Common Era, this approach was championed by Marcion of Sinope, who was influenced by the Gnostics. He argued that an evil god was responsible for the Hebrew Bible, while a good one bestowed the New Testament upon humanity. Although this concept was rejected and Marcion was excommunicated in 144 by the early Church, the idea kept resurfacing in various contexts. In 20th-century Germany, the German Christians tried to resuscitate it, relying in part on the opinion of the theologian and church historian Adolf von Harnack, who believed that while the Church was right in principle to oppose Marcion, the time was then ripe for a separation between Judaism and Christianity. The first Bethel Confession (Bethel is a German town that has historically been one of the strongholds of the country’s Evangelical Church) was drafted in August 1933 … The premise on which the Bethel Confession was based was not clearly phrased. Ostensibly, the discussion centered on the abstract question of the relationship between the Holy Ghost and the Church. The document accused the German Christians of adopting heretical spiritualist ideas, as evidenced by their opinion that the Holy Ghost operates not merely via the Church, but also in other areas, such as in nature and history. (Only after making that claim did the German Christians feel justified in declaring that Adolf Hitler’s rise to power was brought about by the Holy Ghost.) In contrast, the Bethel documents argued that the Holy Ghost revealed itself only through the Church, and thus that severing their religion’s ties to the Hebrew Scriptures was tantamount to cutting the Church off from Christianity’s source of vitality … behind the abstract debate over Christianity’s principles lurked another issue altogether: The reason for the German Christians’ support for the idea of dissociating their church from the Jews’ Bible was closely linked to their sharp response to Nazism, which sought to cleanse Germany of all traces of Judaism. Barth and Bonhoeffer were determined to represent the Jews as equal partners with Christians in terms of sharing the legacy of the Hebrew Bible. It must be noted that the unveiling of this theology among the members of the Confessing Church was a slow, cautious process. Both Barth and Bonhoeffer had been brought up with a strong anti-Semitic bias (Bonhoeffer’s early sermons were peppered with anti-Semitic remarks). However, the moral sensitivity of the two theologians, as they began to identify with the suffering of the Jews, ultimately led them to identify anti-Semitism as Christianity’s malaise. The thrust of their argument – namely, that the Church must recognize the legitimacy of Judaism’s interpretation of the Hebrew Bible and must subsume Jews as full partners in a shared biblical legacy – could not be expressed directly in the Bethel Confession; thus, the version that eventually emerged was lukewarm and hesitant. Bonhoeffer did not live to see the bolder presentation of his argument. However, Barth, who was deported to his native Switzerland in 1935, published a more powerful formulation of their views in 1938. In any case, the Bethel Confession is one of the most important documents in the complex history of the relationship of Christianity and Judaism.”
The second article was a book review of Hubert Wolf’s Pope and Devil: The Vatican Archives and the Third Reich (translated from the German by Kenneth Kronenberg; Belknap Press of Harvard University) by Sergio Minerbi. Minerbi – currently Visiting Professor of Political Science at Haifa University – notes that Wolf’s book represents the fruit of one of the first researchers given access to the newly-opened Vatican archives relating to the pre-Holocaust period and “is therefore useful in helping us understand the reasons for the Vatican’s consistent refusal to take a bold stand against Hitler and his policies in the years leading up to the war. Generally Wolf, himself a priest, is very cautious about expressing any criticism of Church policy toward the Jews. Nevertheless, he writes: ‘Was there not, in fact, at least an indirect unholy alliance between the traditional anti-Judaism of the Church and modern racial anti-Semitism?’ The question remains rhetorical, however: He provides no answer, even though on the same page, he goes on to speak about Pius XII’s ‘alleged silence about the Holocaust.’ In truth, Pope Pius XII never pronounced the word ‘Jew’ in public in any context, so his silence can hardly be referred to as ‘alleged’ … Wolf generally refrains from personal judgment; for him, simply asking nasty questions in the direction of the Vatican is already an act of courage … The whole of Wolf’s book is dominated by two figures: Achille Ratti, better known as Pope Pius XI, and his secretary of state, Cardinal Pacelli, later Pius XII … In the summer of 1917, Pacelli arrived in Munich as nuncio (ambassador) to Bavaria, ready to advance an initiative from the pope to end World War I. The initiative was not successful, and Wolf describes how Pacelli ‘subsequently rejected all calls for intervention in such conflicts.’ Wolf thinks that this explains Pius XII’s silence during the Holocaust. Pacelli, he says, had learned his lesson from the failure of the pope’s peace initiative in 1917, namely that ‘the Holy See must remain strictly neutral in international conflicts’ … If I and other scholars have charged the future Pius XII with remaining silent during the Holocaust and of having been indifferent to the genocide of the Jews, it is on the basis, at least in part, of his own speeches. But Wolf stresses that the Church had condemned anti-Semitism five years before Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933. And he dedicates a full chapter, out of five, to the Friends of Israel, an association of Catholic clergymen that in 1928 appealed to Pius XI for a reform in the prayer said each year on Good Friday for the Jews, which referred to them as ‘Perfidious Jews.’ The ultimate purpose of this group was to convert Jews, in the name of a professed Jewish-Catholic reconciliation and rejection of anti-Semitism. But Rafael Merry del Val, head of the Holy Office, refused any reform of the liturgy, writing: ‘Hebraism continues perfidiously to oppose Christianity,’ just as it attempts ‘to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel in opposition to Christ and his Church.’ Wolf writes that ‘Zionism, with its vision of a Jewish return to the Promised Land, settlement in the land of Israel, and a creation of a Jewish state, was to him [Merry del Val, head of the Holy Office] deeply disturbing.’ Following the request of Merry del Val, Pope Pius XI ‘concluded that [the Friends of Israel] should be dissolved’ … Where I do agree with Wolf is when he writes that even the inclusion of a ‘condemnation of modern anti-Semitism’ in the 1928 decree of dissolution cannot defend the Church ‘against the accusation that it remained silent during the persecution and murder of the Jews.’ Wolf writes about the papal decree: ‘It is a mark of moral impoverishment because it is easy to condemn hatred of Jews in others while not changing one’s own anti-Semitic conduct.’ According to Wolf, ‘Pius XI wasted his big chance. It took decades and more than six million murdered Jews for the Church to summon the courage to cleanse its relationship with the Jews of anti-Semitism, even in the liturgy.’ But even this is too generous. Even after World War II, the only serious change in the Church’s teaching on this question was the ‘Nostra Aetate’ declaration of 1965, and even today, there are constant attacks on the State of Israel emanating from the Vatican. If anti-Semitism is no longer fashionable in the Vatican, anti-Israelism certainly is … Edith Stein, who was born Jewish and became Catholic in 1921, wrote a letter to the pope in 1933 about the hatred of the Jews by the leaders of National Socialism. Wolf publishes the letter, in which she urged the pope to break his silence about the persecution of the Jews. The letter was the only one to be answered, and that’s because it was introduced by Abbot Raphael Walzer. Pacelli responded to Walzer that he had ‘dutifully presented’ Stein’s letter to the Pope. Many other letters were sent to the Holy See on the same subject, but they were never answered. Wolf writes: ‘The question of how beneficial in practice a public declaration by the pope would have been must at least be raised.’ I would suggest, however, that a calculation of risks versus gains on such a question is inappropriate: Even if the chances of being heard were slim, simple morality made it incumbent on the Church to issue a public protest. We cannot speculate what a strong protest by the Church could have achieved at such an early stage, when no Jew had been killed yet. It may well have convinced Catholics to help Jews who were in danger. But Orsenigo, the weak nuncio to Berlin, thought that ‘the Church could do nothing further about anti-Semitism’ and ‘everything possible has already been done.’ In this way the Church escaped its moral duty and did not even attempt a public condemnation of anti-Semitic practice … Those parts of the Vatican archives that have been opened so far have contained no great surprises for researchers. Nevertheless, these newly published documents are important in that they support our views. Pacelli’s strong will to maintain the Church ‘super partes’ (above the parties) failed because of his strong sympathy for Germany. Therefore there was no clear condemnation of racial anti-Semitism, and no explicit definition of Nazism as ‘a true and genuine heresy,’ as it was defined in some internal Vatican documents … It is important to stress here that the spirit of Pacelli has not passed from the scene, as more than half a century after his death he continues to influence Vatican policy. If he is beatified in the end, the Church will have contradicted its own stated principles of morality.”