Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Cushing, Spellman, O'Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Cushing, Spellman, O'Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations

Article excerpt

Cushing, Spellman, O'Connor: The Surprising Story of How Three American Cardinals Transformed Catholic-Jewish Relations BY JAMES RUDIN EERDMANS, 157 PAGES, $18

In this small volume, Rabbi James Rudin introduces three of the more prominent interlocutors in the twentieth-century development of Catholic-Jewish relations. He reminds those who categorize "interreligious dialogue [as] a significant concern only for theological liberals" that the troika under examination was theologically orthodox and yet "worked tirelessly" on a relationship many had dismissed as impossible.

The chapters Rudin, who has spent decades working with Christians as both a public figure with the American Jewish Committee and as an academic, dedicates to dissecting the cardinals' personalities, motives, and backgrounds make for smart and engaging biographies. Richard Cushing, for example, embodied humility as the son of a blacksmith, while Francis Spellman's dazzling influence is captured alongside his faults (he was once called "a little popinjay" to his face).

Regardless, the cardinals' greatest interfaith triumph was undoubtedly their collaboration on Nostra Aetate at Vatican II, particularly their defense of the document's explicit repudiation of the ancient charge of Jewish "guilt" against myriad critics. In defending their version of the document, which Rudin believes was strongly influenced by the American political project, the cardinals resorted to such unusual tactics as giving public speeches while the document was still under discussion, operating both subtly within and visibly without the usual ecclesial channels. …

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