THE CHURCH AND THE SYNAGOGUE
This contribution is published in two parts. Firstly, the August 2003 address of Archbishop Joseph Doré of Strasbourg (former dean of the Theology Department of the Catholic Institute of Paris) to the Jewish lodge René Hirschler of B'nai B'rith on the occasion of an exhibition "The Jew and Judaism in Alsatian Art of the Middle Ages." His words are no more extremist than those of conciliar Rome. They simply have the advantage of clarity. Archbishop Doré pretends that the perennial teaching of the Catholic Church concerning Israel "contradicts the Bible itself." Secondly, we reprint the Open Letter challenge of Fr. Stephen Abraham responding to Archbishop Doré's address.
Address of Archbishop DorÉ
Each time we look at so many engraved, painted and sculpted pictures by which the Christians of the Middle Ages chose to portray Jews–those of the past and those of their own day–we as Christians are overcome by a variety of emotions.
First, astonishment. How could the disciples of Jesus have been so blind as no longer to see in the Jews the blood-brothers of Him whom they confess to be not only the Son of the Most High, but equally the son of Israel and deeply rooted in the religion of His fathers?
Then, shame. How could believers–men who had heard this final teaching: "Love one another as I have loved you"–have proved themselves to be unbelievers in this commandment of love of neighbor, when that neighbor was a Jew?
Finally, indignation. No! We, the Christians of today, will have no part in this way of seeing our Jewish brothers. We are scandalized and wounded by it and we no longer wish to look at these pictures, witnesses of a bygone age which is no longer our own.
Yet we call to mind the strong words uttered repeatedly by Pope John Paul II during our great Jubilee of the Year 2000 calling us to "purify our memory," inviting us to "dress the wounds of the past so that they might never be reopened" [in his discourse delivered upon arrival at Tel Aviv–Ed.]. In order to be dressed, these wounds must be closely examined, even if they inspire us with disgust. That is why an exposition such as this can only be beneficial. It helps us to consider our past with courage and recognize those errors for which we are not personally responsible. A large number of these works of art convey the message that was for centuries the way Christians viewed the Jews and Judaism, and that the great historian Jules Isaac masterfully expresses with the phrase, "teaching of contempt."
An unbelieving people who did not recognize the visit of its Messias, deaf to His words, blind to His signs, and no longer capable of reading its own Holy Scripture or the promises of salvation that it contains, the Jewish people is rejected by God and cursed for having failed in its mission. Such is indeed the teaching conveyed by all of these negative images portraying the Jews either humbled on account of their blindness or–as in the decadent period of the Middle Ages–disfigured by the many blights brought to the surface by their unforgivable crime of deicide. Whatever the depiction, whether the Jew remains dignified in his misfortune (as in the magnificent Synagogue of the Cathedral of Strasbourg) or else caricatured, the theological message is the same–God's election has now passed to the Christian people; and the Church, verus Israel [the "true Israel"–Ed.], may triumph, She who confesses the saving truth brought by Christ.
At Vatican II, the Catholic Church finally revised this teaching and understood to what extent it contradicts the Bible itself, first and foremost the word of St. Paul affirming that "the gifts of God are without repentance."3 The conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate (1965), starting point of the Church's "new consideration" of the Jews, recalls the "spiritual heritage" that unites the Church to the people descended from Abraham, and condemns the accusation of deicide (§4). In 1973, the French episcopacy, particularly under the influence of Msgr. Elchinger, [past] Bishop of Strasbourg, published a document of unparalleled moral force on Judeo-Christian relations, while Pope John Paul II recalled on numerous occasions the permanence of the First Covenant,4 "which was never revoked" by God [Mayence, Germany, 1980–Ed.].
Today, we desire to work together with our elder brothers toward reconciliation and fraternal dialogue. Yet we must have the humility to recognize that the doctrine of contempt and the "theology of substitution"–making the Church to be the new and the only Israel of God–still penetrate the minds of a large number. Only by a great labor of education will we ever manage to extirpate all seed of anti-Judaism. Only by a continual purification of the memory, making them conscious of their own temptations, will Christians be moved to vigilance and responsibility. To them also is this word addressed by which God called out to Cain, "What have you done with your brother?"5
Today the Church calls Christians to take the first steps on the path to conversion, inviting them to construct a future with their Jewish brothers in which, together, they might be "a benediction for one another" [Pope John Paul II, 1983–Ed.].
1. "B'nai B'rith: A fraternal Jewish organization founded in the United States in 1843. In Hebrew, B'nai B'rith means "the sons of the Covenant." The goal of this association is to maintain Jewish tradition and culture and to fight against anti-Semitism.The members call themselves "Brothers." They receive an initiation and meet in lodges. (Dictionnaire Universel de la maçonnerie [Universal Dictionary of Freemasonry] Evry: Presses Universitaire de France, 1987)
3. This is the only passage of Scripture that Archbishop Doré is able to cite in his argument that the traditional teaching of the Church is in contradiction with the Bible. He is careful not to give the precise reference (Rom. 11:29). Is he afraid that reading the context of the passage might allow his audience to realize that he has entirely twisted the meaning? In fact, St. Paul had written just before, in Rom. 11:25: "...that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles should come in."
4. The new theology no longer speaks of the "Old Covenant." In the place of this traditional expression it has substituted the phrase, "First Covenant." The change is not entirely coincidental. It is done to make people think that the Covenant of Golgotha did not replace that of Sinai.
5. Cain, the elder son, in whom the Fathers of the Church always saw an image of the Synagogue, becomes for Archbishop Doré the figure of the Christian people persecuting the Jewish people. All of the Archbishop of Strasbourg's theological effort seems to consist in radically inversing the traditional teaching.
Open Letter of Fr. Stephen Abraham to Archbishop DorÉ
You have decided to publish your message to the Jewish Masonic lodge B'nai B'rith René Hirschler on the occasion of the exhibition "The Jew and Judaism in Alsatian Art of the Middle Ages" in the latest diocesan bulletin The Church in Alsace (July-Aug. 2003). Indeed, this message is just as much a call for Catholics to an "active participation in the desired and desirable reflection" as to an expression of goodwill toward our "elder brothers" with whom we must–according to you–labor "for reconciliation" and "for fraternal dialogue."
You would speak for all of us when you describe the varied sentiments of astonishment, shame and indignation at the sight of "these works of art convey[ing] the message that was for centuries the way Christians viewed the Jews and Judaism":
"Teaching of contempt!" Mentioning its author, you have faithfully transcribed this expression of Jules Isaac, the Jewish historian; a doctrine that "contradicts the Bible itself" and that was finally revised at the Second Vatican Council, "starting point of the Church's 'new consideration' of the Jews."
Yet, Your Grace, explain how you are able to consider the Jews in a new way? You are like the allegorical statue of the Synagogue on the cathedral door, with a blindfold over her eyes that she might not see! The Holy Scriptures hang uselessly from your hand, your staff is broken in four pieces and, far from being a protection for your flock, it scarcely holds together! Indeed, is it in full awareness of your actions that you associate yourself with the calumnies of Jules Isaac who teaches–with true contempt–that the Catholic Church is, from its very origin, the precursor of concentration camps?
The Church's attitude is in his view worse than Nazism, which
Do you deny the authenticity of the Gospels as does Jules Isaac in. Jesus and Israel to justify your claims? Yet–as you must surely know–the Church has always condemned anti-Semitism:
What you call the "teaching of contempt" is what St. Paul refers to as a mystery of God for our instruction: "For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery (lest you should be wise in your own conceits), that blindness in part has happened in Israel..." (Rom. 11:25). It is God Himself who reveals this mystery so that we might know "the goodness and the severity of God: towards them indeed that are fallen, the severity; but towards thee, the goodness of God, if thou abide in goodness, otherwise thou also shalt be cut off" (Rom. 11:22).
The perseverance of the flock confided to you and the salvation of the Jews depend on your understanding of the sublime vocation and the miserable fall from grace of the people chosen by God to welcome the Messias and ultimately despoiled of the Master's vineyard (Mt. 21:33-46) because of their infidelity.
It is through the beautiful symbolism of the olive tree that St. Paul evokes this mystery (Rom. 17: 11-24). The roots of the good olive tree are the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament, announcing and preparing the coming of the Savior of the world and confided to the Hebrew people alone. The life of Israel was its faith in the promise and the expectation of Jesus Christ who was to come. The Son of God come to earth holds in His person all that the Old Testament was able to say, prefigure, or command: "Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am come not to destroy, but to fulfill" (Mt. 5:17). He is He who Is (the name that God gave to Himself and revealed to Moses), the luminous reality that chases all shadows and figures. He speaks of what He Himself has seen in the presence of His Father. It depends only on His will to bring the laws to their perfection and He has only to act to bestow on the Covenant its definitive form.
The Old Testament no longer exists outside of Jesus Christ but can rather be found transfigured in the New Testament. The lessons of sacred History, the wisdom of the proverbs, obedience to the law of God, the singing of the psalms of praise, the rules concerning ritual and sacrifice: all this has its place in the Church founded by Jesus Christ upon Peter and the Apostles whose mission is to go and teach all nations. All of the Law is marvelously renewed for application to the entire universe and not only to one nation, just as the Old Testament announced it: "From the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice, and there is offered to my name a clean oblation" (Mal. 1:11). It is question in this text of the Holy Mass-that of your ordination, of course [Joseph Dore was born in 1936, ordained in 1961, therefore, according to the traditional Latin Rite–Ed.], and not the Judaized Mass that you now celebrate–replacing the bloody sacrifices of the Temple.
There is no going back and no way of avoiding the fact that Jesus has become the cornerstone or the stumbling block. Judaism without Jesus Christ is meaningless, or rather it is a new religion in which the ramblings of rabbis (in the Talmud–without speaking of the blasphemies against Jesus Christ and the hateful imprecations against Christians which are also to be found there) are heaped together to hide the emptiness of a religion of abandoned ruins, with no temple, no sacrifice, and no priesthood! It is not surprising that many abandon the ritual practice of Judaism and retain only its anti-Christianity.
To refuse this light and this renewal of the Covenant–in spite of its clear announcement in the Scriptures–is to refuse Israel's very reason for being. It is to refuse eternal life. It is to cut oneself off from the true Israel. This leads to a desire to put to death the Son of God, to persecute the Church of God, and to draw down on oneself the divine chastisement. It is Jesus Christ who tells us these things with His Apostles:
And gentle St. John writes to the Church of Smyrna:
Mystery of the grace and mercy of God! The natural branches of the olive tree that resisted the light are cut away and at their place is grafted, like a poor wild olive branch, the many nations of the Gentiles.
Hath God cast away His people?" St. Paul asks.
And the augmentation of this remnant is the object of St. Paul's continual prayer.
Yet he does not delude himself:
There have been conversions in every age. Alphonse Ratisbonne, an atheist, anti-Catholic Jew, drawn by a mysterious force, prayed January 20, 1842, in Rome in the church of Sancte-Andrea-delle-Fratte before the altar of the miraculous Virgin:
For the mystery does not end there:
That is to say, in spite of their sin of infidelity, in spite of the evil they inflict on you and on the spread of the Gospel, the tie that binds them to their fathers and to the root of the olive tree will bring God to treat them one day with mercy: "And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again" (Rom. 11:23). An important conversion of the Jews is announced for the end of time, when "the fullness of the Gentiles should come in. And so all Israel should be saved..." (Rom. 11:25-26). Even as the nations begin to wallow in the great apostasy, seduced by the Anti-Christ, the mercy of God will again find souls worthy of His assistance.
Your Grace, would you prefer that we forgot all about the designs of God?
In fact, you are driven by other designs. It is question of "taking the first steps on the path of conversion"–we, the Christians, and not the Jews! And what a conversion! It first demands a "purification of the memory" which will necessitate a "great labor of education" in order to "extirpate all seeds of anti-Judaism." Next, we must be made "conscious of our own temptations," and "moved to vigilance and responsibility." What an ambitious task! Is it question here of a conversion or of an initiation? By pursuing your intrigue, are you confident of building that ecumenical and fraternal future whose form remains unknown even to you? Will Jesus Christ be refused or forgotten? In any case, your efforts will be noticed and perhaps rewarded.
As for us–you know it well–we wish to remain faithful to the teaching of the Church as found in Holy Scripture and in Tradition. We do no want to "unlearn" the truths of the Faith in the name of a false ecumenism, for fear of being ourselves cut off from the olive tree for our infidelity. At the sight of so many broken branches, we entrust ourselves to the mercy of God and, yes, we pray for the sons of Abraham, in the words of Pius XI:
Translated exclusively by Angelus Press by Miss Ann Marie Temple. Fr. Stephen Abraham, an Englishman, was trained in the Society of Saint Pius X's seminaries in Flavigny and Ecône and was ordained in 1992. He is currently assigned to a priory in France.