From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965

By Wheeler, Penny | Shofar, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965


Wheeler, Penny, Shofar


FROM ENEMY TO BROTHER: THE REVOLUTION IN CATHOLIC TEACHING ON THE JEWS, 1933-1965 By John Connelly. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012. 376 pp.

For many Americans the name Stan Musial evokes baseball heroics. To John Connelly, however, it denotes Jesuit scholar Stanislaw Musial, one of the individuals whose intellectual heroics helped to bring about the 180-degree shiftin the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church toward the Jews. Today everything in Nostra Aetate-Vatican II's declaration on the Jews-seems perfectly obvious and unexceptional. It states that the Church began in the Old Testament, that Christ and his mother were Jews, as were Jesus's twelve apostles, and that the Jews-then as well as now-cannot be held responsible for the death of Christ. While the Church prior to 1965 certainly acknowledged the Jewishness of Jesus, Mary, and the twelve apostles, it not only downplayed their observant Judaism, but always insisted that Jews needed to be converted to an acceptance of the messianic nature of Jesus Christ. The revolutionary shiftin the thinking of the Church was largely brought about by converts, the great number of whom hailed from the border areas of German-speaking Europe.

Connelly examines why this dramatic change in Catholic thinking took place. He investigates the intellectual milieu in which the shiftoccurred, probing its roots, informing the reader that from the 1840s onward most of the intellectual activists working to reconcile Catholics and Jews were converts, not "originally Catholic. Most were born Jewish." These thinkers observed with growing unease the intensification of anti-Jewish contempt within the German-speaking areas of Europe. Particularly disquieting was the attempt to underpin this German Catholic racism with theology. Churchmen selected several isolated verses from the New Testament: Matthew 27:25 seems to insist that Jews live under a curse; Acts 3:15 suggests that Jews were responsible for the death of Christ; and Hebrews 8:13 opines that the Jews' covenant with God is now obsolete. The unholy alliance of these isolated scriptural verses with the new twentieth-century pseudo-sciences tainted the intellectual establishment of German-speaking Europe, providing both theological and scientific justification for the horrors that were to culminate at Auschwitz.

Demonstrating a masterful grasp of early twentieth-century European intellectual currents, Connelly analyzes the writings of a great number of thinkers whose stances provoked Catholic scholars to revisit the Church's position regarding the Jews. Connelly exhibits considerable range in his masterful study, dealing not only with trends of scholarship and thought, but also with writers, orators, journalists, and preachers who affected popular culture of the day. Connelly gives extensive consideration to Jesuit developmental biologist Hermann Muckermann, head of the eugenics section at Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology in Berlin. Although closely tied to the anti-Nazi resistance, Muckermann nonetheless shared the Nazis' assumption that race determines culture; in fact he was considered one of the leading experts on the subject. …

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