Pius XII and the Jews: The Clash between History and Theology. (Issues)

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The debate between brothers in the field of theology is always ascerbic, with little quarter given. When this controversy moves beyond the never rariffed area of academic discourse and enters the area of contemporary events, a tragic dimension moves from the periphery to the centre. Recently, Prof. de Lange published an Ignaz Maybaum Reader (N.Y. & London, 2001), in which Prof. Maybaum states the sharpest possible Jewish approach to the issues involved:

   The two thousand years of Christianity have been two thousand 
   years of hatred for the Jews. This is certainly no exaggeration. 
   Rosenzweig even speaks of the eternal hatred for the Jew. If the 
   Second Vatican Council really means a change in this respect, it 
   would be an apocalyptic event bringing blessing not only to the 
   Jews but to the whole of mankind, because both the murderer and 
   his victim are afflicted with the curse which never gives peace 
   to Cain. (Maybaum Reader, Chapter 9, `Christian Anti-Semitism', 
   p. 67) 

Since Maybaum wrote this some time ago, in a period of radical changes within the Church, an apocalyptic event may well be hovering in the wings, ready to enter the stage of history. It would not mean that Christian anti-Semitism has ceased--perhaps to give way to the contemporary terrorism which cloaks itself as Muslim nationalism and is happy to undertake the burden of fighting the world wide Jewish conspiracy of the Elders of Zion. No; Christian anti-Semitism is alive and healthy, happy to be counted among the haters of Zion. Yet it is a fact that it has lost much of the authority which the doctrines of the Church once bestowed upon it. The Church has revised its thinking, has re-written some liturgies, has made official statements exonerating the Jews from the crime of deicide. However, anti-Semitism is an endemic illness living within the ruins of Europe and infecting the rest of the world--the new Arab anti-Semitism proves it. The growth of nationalism in our time has strengthened it, and psychoanalysis has discovered its roots within the chambers of the human psyche. Religious life with all of its teachings and institutions lives within that reality, and definitions like `anti-Judaism' and `anti-Zionism' must ultimately be subsumed under the more general term `anti-Semitism'. They need not be the totally virulent sickness of the Nazi variety, but cannot be divorced from this. One can argue against this thesis, but one cannot ignore it. Legitimate criticism of Israel's politics and policies by lovers of Israel must not equate the state with `Zionism'; nor can I view the critics as `anti-Zionists'; but too many anti-Semites hide under the mask of `anti-Zionists'.

I would have preferred to turn this into a theological discourse, centred upon the magnificent collection of all the relevant documents from 1986-2000 as prepared by Hans Hermann Henrix and Wolfgang Kraus Die Kirchen und das Judentum, Guetersloher Verlag, 2000, with more than 1000 pages. There is also Dr. Henrix's earlier work on the documents of the 19th century; and I will look at these works later on in our talk. However, the Church--and the Jewish people, as well--is surrounded by the historians of our time who have found the Vatican and the Jewish question an irresistible topic. When I now mention that Daniel Goldhagen has entered this field, and that a new bestseller is in the making, one can understand that we cannot ignore the historians. Theology is no longer the Queen of the Sciences. Clio roles, OK?


Well, not quite. The perimeters of the discourse between our religions is found within a culture of memory living in the continuum of history but flawed by the need to disassociate itself from a past of anguish and mistakes. History is a record of our failures, and we have to turn to our religious insights in order to find a way of reconciliation which has been noted by Hans Kung when he pointed out that there must be peace between religions before there can be peace between the nations. …