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SIDIC Periodical XIV - 1981/2
The Family: Jewish and Christian Perspectives (Pages 26 - 35)

Other articles from this issue | Version in English | Version in French

A catechism explained - The Place of Judaism in Catechetics
Renzo Fabris


The Second Vatican Council in its Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, "Nostra Aetate", No. 4, warns the faithful "lest in catechetical instruction . . . they teach anything out of harmony with the truth of the gospel and the spirit of Christ." Ten years later "Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration 'Nostra Aetate' (No. 4)" were issued by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, with a special section devoted to "Teaching and Education". Much has been achieved already in so many parts of the world to revise catechitical texts in order to bring them into harmony with the present-day thinking of the Church.

A catechetical text, no matter how well presented, no matter how positive in its approach, might well fail, if not completely, then at least in part, if the catechist is not prepared by instruction and study to use it well and change his or her mentality if such be necessary, shed old prejudices and take note of recent historical and biblical research.

It is for this reason that we present to our English-speaking readers the following analysis of a catechism printed in 1979 in Italy for Italian youth. Although referring to a particular book which will have no significance for the greater number of our reading public, we nevertheless present it just as it was delivered by Dr. Fabris at the fourth convention of S.A.E. (Segretariato Attivita Ecumeniche) November 1979 explaining as it does very clearly the "why" of the necessity for catechetical reform. We trust that the principles thus enunciated will well repay reading, especially as most of the references are to easily accessible English material.

We print this text in its entirety, also, as a service to those of our Italian readers — of whom there are not a few — who read the SIDIC bulletin in English. To make the text run more smoothly to the eye, we have relegated page references to the notes, hoping that this will not be too much of an inconvenience to those who will have the catechism in hand. The particularities of this paper will have special significance for them, above all if they are engaged in the delicate task of Christian education.

More than twenty-five years ago Paul Demann wrote a short but thought-provoking work on Christian catechesis which was read by Pius XII and, it seems, had some influence in causing the Church to take the first steps towards reconciliation with her Jewish brothers. The essay ended with these words:

"The inner attitude towards Israel manifested in our catechesis and inculcated by it will become a crucial test, showing whether it is rooted in the history of salvation, whether it is fully oriented towards the work of redemption and finally whether its spirit is wholly Christian. In short, it will be the test of the quality of our catechesis. If our teaching is not authentically Christian, then no effort of good will has the power to make it so in the special case of Israel. The converse is also true. This is because Israel in its whole historical dimension has such a universal significance. Superficial, incomplete attitudes of mind or viewpoints are in this case far from being surface symptoms which can be treated locally. The balance and vitality of the entire organism of catechesis are in need of re-inforcement and restoration. Nothing in our studies of catechesis has struck us more forcibly than this. Our attitude towards Israel will only be fully Christian in so far as it is based on the knowledge of God's design and is faithful to it. We need the knowledge that comes from faith and the humble, exacting, loving fidelity which are the very aim of Christian catechesis."1

It seems to us that it may be well to apply the test indicated by Demann to the recent book of the Episcopal Commission for the Doctrine of the Faith, Catechesis and Culture of the Italian Episcopal Conference. Its title is Catechism for the Christian Life — 5. The Catechism for the Young: Not by Bread Alone.2 The results of the test are offered here in a spirit of service to the community of those brothers who are to use the text "for consultation and practice" as is especially recommended by Cardinal Poma in his introduction.

It seems perfectly natural also that this service should be rendered in connection with the ecumenical encounter, since it is clear that the horizontal ecumenism working among all Christian communities ought to be fused with the vertical ecumenism which moves all Christians towards their Jewish brothers representing the root of the olive tree mentioned by Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (11:16-21). Another reason is that ecumenical interchange especially in Italy (for which no small credit is due to the Italian Secretariat for Ecumenical Activities, S.A.E.) devotes much time and energy to the encounter and dialogue between Christians and Jews.3 "Without Israel" a theologian once wrote, "there will never be Christian unity because there will not be full Christianity. Israel is at the very heart of ecumenical prayer and effort.4

A valid criterion on which to base an analysis of the Catechism of the Young is given by Cardinal Willebrands, President of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, in his address on October 18, 1977 to the Synod of that year, on the subject of present day catechesis, and published under the title of "Catechetics and Judaism".

"It seems important that in a discussion on catechetics, especially for young people and children, as is going on in this assembly of the Synod, the question of the image of Judaism in catechetical teaching be raised. The reason is twofold: on the one hand, it is impossible — theologically and practically — to present Christianity without referring to Judaism, at least as it is found in the pages of the Old Testament, and also as it really was at the time of the New Testament. And, on the other hand, because the image of Judaism used to illustrate Christianity in Christian teaching is seldon exact, faithful and respectful of the theological and historical reality of Judaism." 5

When he spoke thus, the Cardinal was certainly referring to the accusations of Jules Isaac, the Jewish scholar whose initiative was partly instrumental in the thought and preparation for the Conciliar Declaration: "Nostra Aetate" No. 4, dealing with the Jewish people. Isaac denounced what he called the teaching of contempt towards the Jews found in Christianity during the past centuries and drew attention to the alarming results of various critical analyses made since the war to determine the state of Christian catechesis regarding, among other things, the subject of Judaism.6

We recall that among the most important of these was the pioneering effort of the Pro Deo University in 1968 in enquiring into Catholic books on religious teaching in Italian and Spanish'

At the Synod, Cardinal Willebrands took the opportunity of reminding his listeners that "Nostra Aetate" No. 4, referring to relations with Judaism, warns everyone:

"All should take pains, then, lest in catechetical instruction and the preaching of God's Word they teach anything out of harmony with the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ."8

From this principle the Cardinal deduced four practical points which are also indicated in the 1974 document: Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration "Nostra Aetate" (n. 4) issued by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.

The first point concerns relationship of the two Testaments to each other, because

"a catechesis which would not found the revelation of the New Testament upon the revelation of the Old Testament would be a false one. Indeed, it would be in serious danger of falling into the Marcionite heresy."

The second point regards the presentation of Judaism in New Testament times as

"a necessary background for the interpretation of the Gospels."

The third point concerns the reading of the New Testament where it speaks of the responsibility for the death of Jesus, while the fourth point speaks of the image of the Jews among Christians.

The suggestion of Cardinal Willebrands addressed to all Christians seems very timely for the present situation of the Italian Church which must face a special task. Its help is urgently requested to combat antisemitism. Professor Alfonso M. di Nola made an exhaustive study of Italian antisemitism in 1973 which did not fail to point out that its manifestations are due to religious as well as political causes. Professor di Nola now says that the malady of antisemitism which seemed dormant between 1974 and 1978 has lately shown signs of recrudescence .

The Relationship of the Two Testaments to Each Other

The Catechism (as we shall call the text that we are examining from now on) does not devote a special chapter to the two Testaments but treats this subject in connection with others in several different paragraphs which occur in different chapters. For this reason the thought of the authors is not easy to give in an adequate and accurate synopsis.

The idea of continuity between the two Testaments is stated in the context of the unique mission given to Israel of becoming a universal people," but not in the context of "Israel of the Circumcision, of the formal observance of the law"." It is mentioned in the context of the fulfilment of the eucharistic communion announced and promised in the past '2 and in the context of a paschal supper which is "the fundamental link of the chain of events leading to salvation . . . events which shine through in the works and the teachings of Jesus." 13 We find it also in the context of the history of a faith in God dating from the distant past 14 and finally in the context of the people of Israel which awaits the Messiah and his Kingdom and is thus a model for the Church." It is also said that Jesus "is a son of Israel and recognizes in Israel the people chosen by God" 16 and that his new comandment of love is not another commandment but a more precise interpretation of the old one.17

The idea of discontinuity, however, is stated insistently and with special emphasis. The authors of the book say in fact that not only did Jesus come to assemble the new and definitive people of Israel,'8 but that the Gospel breaks down the enclosure of the law 19 and that the people of Israel is replaced by the Church in the history of salvation." There are even passages where the old and the new Testaments are mentioned in downright contrast to one another.21

The prevailing trend of the authours is clearly indicated by the title of the paragraph headed Israel Rejected?, where it is explained that the rejection of the chosen people takes place simultaneously with the saving of a small remnant of it, consisting at the time of Jesus of the Apostles.22

Now it is well-known that the expression new Israel which occurs repeatedly in the Catechism does not exist at all in the new Testament, even though there is mention of the new Covenant. The question of whether God has rejected his people — a question which, in the words of the authors,23 "does not permit a too hasty or too simple an answer" — is answered by Paul without hesitation:

"I ask then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin." 24

The Second Vatican Council teaches clearly and authoritatively: "the Jews must not be presented as repudiated or cursed by God..." 25

Thus, even though the ideas of continuity and discontinuity co-exist in the Catechism, the prevailing one seems to be that of discontinuity. Perhaps the large number (more than 150) of quotations from the new Testament as against the relatively small number of those from the Old may be taken as a gauge of this mentality.

As a critical basis from which to judge the authors of the Catechism we recall that Cardinal Willebrands, after quoting from Guidelines and Suggestions that:

"the New Testament is profoundly marked by its relationship to the Old"

spoke as follows at the Synod:

"The continuity of both Testaments in God's plan, with all respect for the plenitude found in the New Testament, must be a guiding principle in catechesis." 26

The Manner of Presenting the Judaism of New Testament Times

We must ask ourselves whether the Catechism shows the care requested by the document: Guidelines and Suggestions. There we are reminded that Judaism at the time of Jesus was "a complex reality". As Cardinal Willebrands explained to the Synod:

"Therefore, all simplification in the presentation of the facts, groups and persons mentioned in the New Testament must be carefully avoided." 27

The answer to our query may profitably be looked for in the context of two themes pointed out in the Guidelines and Suggestions:

"With respect to liturgical readings, care will be taken to see that homilies based on them will not distort their meaning, especially when it is a question of passages which seem to show the Jewish people as such in an unfavourable light." 29

One example of what is meant is the use of the term Pharisee, Pharisaism and the word Jew. The problem connected with these is naturally more than a matter of form.

It is well to remember that there have been several Church documents in the past few years which have drawn attention to the need for Christians to go deeper both theologically and historically into the question of the Pharisees in the Gospels. The United States National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its statement of March, 1967: Guidelines for Catholic-Jewish Relations, recommends:

"An explicit rejection of the historically inaccurate notion that Judaism of that time, especially Pharisaism, was a decadent formalism and hypocrisy, well exemplified by Jesus' enemies." 29

The same thing is recommended by Guidelines for the Advancement of Catholic-Jewish Relations in the Archdiocese of New York, Diocese of Rockville Centre, Diocese of Brooklyn, 1969, the document of the National Catholic Commission for Relations between Christians and Jews, Belgium, 1973 and in the same year the Statement by the French Bishops' Committee for Relations with Jews, April 1973.3° It must not be forgotten, either, that the report compiled by The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches which was recommended for further theological study on a wider geographical scale in Geneva, Switzerland 1968 invites Christians to revise

"the historical mistaken image often given of the Pharisees" and that the Faith and Order Study Group on Christian-Jewish relations convened in the Fall of 1969 under the aegis of the National Council of Churches' Faith and Order Commission with the cooperation of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops warns Christians against accepting

"uncritically the condemnation of the Pharisees as hypocrites even though the Synoptic Gospels picture Jesus as generally agreeing with what many Pharisees actually stood for,"

and states that

"Caution in this respect is particularly advisable when treating the Pharisees. Conflicts with the Pharisees were internal Jewish struggles." 31

The Image of the Pharisees

In the Catechism the expressions Pharisees and Pharisaism are used at least fifty times and since they are so frequent it is fairly easy to outline the author's ideas on the subject.

The Pharisees constitute a Jewish sect, they are the "religious people par excellence of New Testament times" 33 and they are "the most rigid guardians of morals".33 Their main characteristic are "the fact that their religion gives them security and complacency" 34 and a "superficial and mechanical concept of faith".35 The common denominator of their moral conscience is hypocrisy 36 since Pharisaism "adapts to any form of social convention" 37 and means the acceptance of "individualistic moral standards" based on the "possibility of doing what one likes".38 In contrast to Jesus, the Pharisees are the "hypocritical guardians of the law",38 they are those who have tried to "reduce the hope of a future kingdom of God practically to nothing",° those who "put up the greatest resistance to his words".4' To them, Jesus does not preach the Gospel but speaks "only words of accusation and Judgment" 42

The authors of the Catechism take advantage, as it were, of the lapse of time between Jesus and us to represent the Pharisees as much worse than they were, to emphasize the difference between them and us, thus letting us escape Jesus' condemnation 43 They admit and therefore accept the fact that "today the word Pharisee has become an insult" which can be used to refer to situations and persons of our times.

There is no doubt that the image of the Pharisees and Pharisaism in the Catechism is that of the cliche which has been reproduced for centuries within Christianty and to which it has become accustomed. It becomes abundantly clear that this cliche has been superimposed on the letter of the Gospels as well as their spirit in the passages which are quoted by the authors as being against the Pharisees, when in fact it is the Scribes and Elders who are mentioned in the text, not the Pharisees.° This is also the case in a paragraph entitled "The Pharisees as Involuntary Witnesses" where the Scribes and the Pharisees are confused.° Today it is known to scholars that the Scribes and Elders in the Gospels are not all Pharisees:17

The moment has come for Christians to speak clearly and honestly on the subject of the Pharisees and Pharaism. For some decades historical and scriptural research has led scholars to revise the traditional image of the Pharisees and the Church has registered this fact in some important documents which, unfortunately, are not well known to Christians in general.

Historical and scriptural research, to which reference is made by the authors of the Catechism too, has now almost unanimously accepted the school of thought of the form critics which states that the Gospel tradition passed through different stages before reaching the definitive formulation of the texts which we read today and that these texts received the stamp of the personality of the various editors on the one hand, and on the other, of the requirements of the Church at that time which the text had to meet. Here the authors of the Catechism explain correctly that

"in the Evangelists' way of writing, the use of direct speech does not mean that the words reported were always and in every respect the words actually spoken by the person in question. Even explanations, later additions or comments of the community are sometimes expressed as direct speech without this being felt to be a falsification." 48

Especially with regard to the Pharisees the Church has proceeded on the lines indicated above. The long Memorandum by the Christian-Jewish Coordinating Committee of Vienna, 1968 which served as basis for the Statement by the Synod of Vienna in the following year, emphasized very clearly that the literary style of the passage in Matthew 23: 13-35: "Woe to you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites ..." is explained by the historical situation which had developed some time after the death and resurrection of Jesus when the Christians were formally excluded from the life of the Synagogue. Stylistically speaking, this passage is marked by the period in which the early Christian communities lived, since the Essenes also called the Pharisees hypocrites, an expression already used by the author of Dan. 11:34 against the Maccabees..49

"The heated arguments of Jesus against the Pharisees must be explained by the fact that the Gospel tradition developed in opposition to the Pharisees." 50

The joint Protestant Catholic document of 1973 already mentioned tells us that

"Caution in this respect is particularly advisable when treating the Pharisees. Conflicts with the Pharisees were internal Jewish struggles. The diatribes reflect serious family quarrels which took place between Jews and Jesus' followers in the nascent church. They underline God's choice to reveal himself through a Jewish context, rather than indicating a total rejection of Jews or Pharisees. Jesus, in fact, agreed with Pharisaic perspectives on many points, as did Paul and other early church leaders." 51

The Findings of Critical Research

The critical basis for these documents of the Church is provided by the conclusion reached by several Christian scholars. A historian of antisemitism, Rev. Edward H. Flannery, has explained of the writing of the New Testament:

"Its progressive composition in the second half of the first century was accompanied by a worsening of Judaeo-Christian relations that could not but find reflection in its books, human documents as well as divines." 52

Kurt Schubert has written that

"after the year 70 the representatives of Judaism were for the most part Pharisees. It is for this reason that Matthew included in the polemics against the Pharisees polemic utterances that in all probability were originally directed at other adversaries — and did not mention these others but only the Pharisees... All that had been remembered of the polemic words of Jesus was now understood as though it had been spoken against the Pharisees." 53

At all events, attentive reading of the Gospels permits us to recognize that the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees was not always hostile and did not consist only in a series of collisions — there were also elements of friendship, comprehension and similarity of thought.

Jesus was invited to eat with several Pharisees and even by one of their leaders (Luke 7:36ff; 11:37ff; 14:1). It was Pharisees who warned Jesus that Herod wanted to kill him so that he was able to flee (Luke 13:31). When the man blind from his birth received his sight some of the Pharisees present asked one another how it was possible for Jesus if he were a sinner to do such a miracle and disagreed with those who said that Jesus did not come from God. (John 9:16). The following were Pharisees: Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews who told Jesus that he believed him to be "a teacher sent by God" (John 3:1); Gainaliel, a teacher of the law, held in high regard by all the people, who stood up before the Council to urge that the Apostles be freed (cf. Acts 5:33ff) and also the defender of Paul before the Council (cf. Acts 23:6). Jesus himself urged the people and his disciples to do what the Scribes ' and Pharisees told them, those "who sit in the chair of Moses", even though he then added that their behavior was not to be imitated. (Mark 23:2,3) The Israeli scholar, David Flusser, writes that

"It is hardly ever pointed out that the Pharisees, so often mentioned in the gospels as Jesus' opponents, do not appear in any of the synoptic accounts of the trial." 54

Among the most recent Church texts on the Pharisees the Statement by the French Bishops' Committee for Relations with Jews stands out for its clarity and honesty.

"Contrary to established ways of thinking, it must be emphasized that Pharisaic doctrine is not opposed to that of Christianity. The Pharisees sought to make the law come alive in every Jew, by interpreting its commandments in such a way as to adapt them to the various spheres of life. Contemporary research has shown that the Pharisees were no more strangers to the innermost meaning of the law than were the masters of the Talmud. It was not that which Jesus meant when he denounced the attitude of some of them or the formalism of their teaching. On the contrary, it seems that the Pharisees and the first Christians were in certain respects quite close to one another that at times they fought fiercely about the traditions received from the ancients and the interpretation of the Mosaic Law."55

Cardinal Suenens also, admonishing Christians to make a study of Jewish sources contemporary with Jesus so as to know what the Pharisees really said, draws attention — not without emphasizing that this is to be a lesson — to the fact that it was from within Judaism that Jesus and Paul criticised the Pharisees and their teaching 56

Historical research has ascertained that the Pharisees in the time of Jesus were not a completely homogeneous religious group as far as their doctrinal convictions and their behavior in daily life were concerned. In the doctrinal field for instance there exists the difference between the school of Shammai and that of Hillel the Great. The spiritual orienation of the latter, who was almost a contemporary of Jesus, must have been very much like that of Jesus' teaching. Rabbinical tradition has it that a pagan who wished to convert to Judaism asked Hillel to expound the teaching of the Torah while standing on one leg and was told:

"Do not do to others what you do not wish done to yourself. That is the whole of the Torah; the rest is only an interpretation of it." 57

Rabbi Shimon ben Menasya must also have been close to the teaching of Jesus; he told his disciples:

"The Sabbath is given to you, not you to the Sabbath." 58

There must certainly also have been Pharisees whose moral behavior was less than perfect. The Talmud itself denounces seven types of false Pharisees. There were those, for example, who pretended to be pious for ulterior motives, or who studiously assumed the attitide of virtuous, law-abiding men without being so, etc. (Cf. b. Sotah, 22b.) 58a

Sofia Cavalletti, one of the few objective Catholic scholars in Italy concerned with the spirituality of the Pharisees, wrote in a valuable little book:

"There were certainly men among the Pharisees who deserved the severe reproofs of Jesus but there were also those like Nathaniel who deserved to have said of them: 'Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!' (John 1: 47)."59

Although split into various schools, the Pharisees constituted a very important current of Judaism for many centuries. Scholars of religious history consider it a definite fact that the main feature of Pharisaism was a real and deep love for the Mosaic law and the will to preserve it by giving it an oral interpretation which could evolve according to human necessity. This was very different from the conviction of groups such as the Sadducees who upheld the rigid application of the written law. Perhaps the best synthesis of the significance of the Pharisees has been that of the Austrian Memorandum of 1968:

" What did the Pharisees think of the Mosaic Law? The law of Moses corresponds to the divine order of creation, it is the deposit of this order intended for man. That is why fulfilment of the law leads to salvation. The law must never be applied against man and his natural interests. Ministration to a harmless sickness was prohibited on the sabbath, but dangerous illness could be healed, just as other acts prohibited on the sabbath were permitted as soon as it was a question of saving a life. Jesus' healing of an illness that did not endanger life, therefore, was a provocation to the Pharisees (Mark 3:1-6)... Despite their suspicions against all those who expected the imminent approach of or already realized messianic time (Apocalyptics and Christians), the Pharisees, too, knew that at some undefined point in time the rule of the Son of David would begin."60

A Critical Turning Point

Because of their familiarity with the prayer and liturgy of the Synagogue which arose almost simultaneously with the Pharisaic movement, the Pharisees, unlike other religious groups bound by their function to the Temple of Jerusalem, or less deeply rooted among the people of Palestine, succeeded in surviving the catastrophe of the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century and became, during the next few centuries, almost the only representatives of Judaism. Many ideas introduced into Judaism through the influence of the Pharisees — belief in angels, the idea of the resurrection of the body, the conviction of a future reward for good deeds, the will to proselytize and the inclination to believe that the exercise of charity is equivalent to sacrifice in the Temple, etc. — are known by historians to have been transmitted by the Pharisees to Christianity and to the Judaism of the diaspora. "The theology of the Christian Church" as the Catholic theologian, Claude Tresmontant writes, "also owes much to Pharisaism." 61

Simply because the Pharisees have such claims to merit it is impossible for anyone with a sense of history not to perform a critical examination of the cliche of Pharisaism provided by Christian apologetics. As one of the first Christian authors of this century who decided to study the religious current of Pharisaism with new eyes observed:

"... if the Pharisees had been in their real nature and characters such as they are usually depicted, and Pharisaism the organized hypocrisy commonly supposed, such continued existence and unfailing vitality would have been impossible." 62

The Judaism of our time is absolutely conscious of its debt to Pharisaism and for this reasons demands "justice for the Pharisees" as the French academic Robert Aron has said, or as another Jewish writer, Claude Gruber-Magitot has expressed it: "rehabilitation, not recognition of attenuating circumstances." 63

At a meeting with Christians which took place in Strasbourg in 1970 the Chief Rabbi of Geneva, Rabbi Safran exclaimed:

"We are the Pharisees, and if you want dialogue with us you will have it with the Pharisees!" 64

At this point in our considerations and analyses it seems obvious that the Catechism, as far as the subject of the Pharisees and Pharisaism is concerned, has not assimilated the most recent historical and scriptural scholarship, is not in line with the orientations of the Church in the last decades and is, finally, against any ecumenical intent. The cliche of Pharisaism in the Catechism is indeed a caricature such as was described recently by the American Catholic scholar, Dr. Eugene Fisher, who drew attention to the permanent burden of Christian prejudice towards the Pharisees.

"Like sexism and anti-black racism, the negative stereotypes about Jews seem to be so deeply embedded in our culture that it takes a great deal of care to identify and root them out." 65

This of course does not mean that today all historical and scriptural problems regarding the Pharisees have been solved and that, at least on the level of enlightened knowledge, everything is peaceful. This was explicitly denied by a recent, very accurate study devoted to Jesus and the Pharisees in The Journal of Ecumenical Studies." And even less does it mean that one should not condemn a certain negative spiritual attitude recurrent in human beings, commonly referred to as Pharisaism. Rather it is necessary to consider that

"to take lessons from sacred history for modern life is a great good, but in order to do so it is not necessary to project our modern experience on to sacred history and so falsify it." 67

A Local Problem

Having examined the use of the expressions Pharisee and Pharisaism in the Catechism we now pass on to note briefly how the word Jew is used." The authors take care to state that

"the world in the sense of unbelieving humanity . . . is represented mainly by the Jews, members of the Hebrew population whom only one of the Evangelists, John, calls by this name and in a disparaging sense".69

In actual fact the authors themselves often use the same term, and by deducing its positive or negative sense from the context it can be established that this sense is mainly negative. When the meaning is meant to be positive, the authors prefer the word Hebrew. What is more, this word is not always used to refer to the pre-Gospel period as the authors would like us to believe 70 since in the Catechism the use of the words Hebrew and Jew usually does not depend on the historical period in question but is determined by the positive or negative light in which the authors wish to present the children of Israel at any given point in the text.

The expressions Jew or Jewish occur in the text about forty times. We have counted four with a positive meaning for the authors, and five where the meaning is uncertain. All the others have a negative sense.

The expression Hebrew or Hebraic occurs more than twenty times. We have found only two with a negative meaning, and two with a neutral sense. All the others are used positively.

The law by which Hebrew is positive and Jew negative — a law never openly declared but never really hidden either — is seen at work when it is said "the Jews are unbelieving" but not that "Jesus is a Jew"; or "The Paschal meal is a Hebrew one", but not "hypocrisy is Hebraic".

This law is, however, well-known to the Jews themselves; there is no doubt for them that when the word Jew appears with the weight of the pejorative meaning that has burdened it for centuries, an antisemitic signal has been set up for all to see." Thus the use of the word Jew in the Catechism constitutes yet another cause for anxiety.

The Responsibility for the Death of Jesus

It is well known that the Conciliar Declaration "Nostra Aetate" No. 4 states:

"True, authorities of the Jews and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (cf. Jn. 19:6); still, what happened in His passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today... Besides, as the Church has always held and continues to hold, Christ in His boundless love freely underwent His passion and death because of the sins of all men, so that all might attain salvation." 72

Now in the Catechism there is a sequence of two paragraphs entitled: The Condemnation Pronounced by the Jews and The Sentence of Pilate and the Judgment of Jesus," as though there were a difference in responsibility between the Jews and the Romans, between the greater responsibility of the persons pronouncing the condemnation and the lesser one of he who pronounced the sentence. Indeed, the authors explain that "the Roman Governor assumes a relatively benevolent attitude to Jesus" and that Pilate is "a well-intentioned man" " who yields through weakness to the logic of power. It is in this context that the authors draw attention to the Johannine significance of the word Jew "for the members of the Hebrew population" to whom the responsibility for the death of Jesus is ascribed, stating afterwards that Jesus died "because of the hypocritical jealousy of the leaders of the people of Israel, of the Sanhedrin and of the dominant sect of the Pharisees." 75

The historical responsibility is not however limited to these persons for the authors of the Catechism; they explain that there was yet another cause for Jesus' death: "the unquestioning acquiescence of the whole people to the will of such leaders..." which implies "a problematical collective responsibility of the people of Israel for the sentence of the Sanhedrin". The problematical aspect lessens, however, when the authors reveal later that in their opinion "there is a collective responsibility, more remote but more objective, connected with the widespread refusal of the people to accept Jesus' preaching throughout his ministry." 78

Really, in the opinion of the authors, the historical responsibility is in one way or another that of the entire Jewish people: "... for this sin of the whole people Jesus goes to the cross."

It is our duty to note that, although the argument of the authors begins from a level which is not historically accurate, it ends on another level, that of theology. Here it is stated that Jesus died "above all because of our sins" 77 and that his death "is blamed more generally on the whole of humanity." 78 It remains to be understood why this — shall we say — historical digression is made which, though apparently within the framework of the Council's re-affirmation of the responsibility of all humanity for Jesus' death, re-iterates in fact the preconciliar accusation of the special responsibility of the Jewish people which is annulled by the Declaration "Nostra Aetate".

In order to understand what the authors of the Catechism really think and what their historical priorities are it is perhaps useful to note that the historical figure of Pontius Pilate does not correspond at all with the cliche dear to Christian apologetics and, it seems to the authors, of a well-intentioned but weak politician. He was, in fact, an embezzler and a cruel butcher." It must also be said that, as can be read in the notes to Cardinal Bea's conciliar text, the matter of the responsibility of the Jewish people through its acquiescence to its leaders is historically indefensible, the result of modern, Western thought, processes which apply neither to the East nor to the past.80

To sum up, then, the digression on the "sin of the whole people" seems to have little historical meaning and seems only to exist for the purpose of refurbishing the idea of the collective responsibility of the Jewish people. As is well known, this idea served as a basis in the past for a further intensification: the concept of "deicide" by the Jews. It is clear that the authors of the Catechism have not progressed in most respects beyond the criteria of interpretation which lead to the idea of collective responsibility. This can be deduced from the single fact that they speak more than once of "the absurd demand of the Jews for blood". They are evidently referring to Matthew 27:25, a Gospel passage which, taken in isolation from the New Testament, as the Memorandum of the Austrian Church explains, can lead to grave error 81 and, we add, remembering the dramatic history of Christian antisemitism, to incredible savagery.

The Image of the Jew among Christians

The official documents of the Catholic Church warn against presenting the Jews as rejected by God or accursed. They enjoin us, indeed, to consider them most dear to God according to the teaching of Paul (cf. "Nostra Aetate" No. 4 and "Lumen Gentium" ch. 2, 16) and to consider the Jewish tradition after Christ as "rich in religious values" (Guidelines and Suggestions).

In this connection the Jews of our time are certainly unknown to the Catechism in the sense that it does not speak of them at all. In the entire book there is only one hint at religions other than Christianity which possess fragments of the Word of God82 and another to the fact that the visible Church is not the incarnate Word of God but is there to serve it.83 There is no reference whatsoever to the ecumenical movement and none to the Jewish people as recipients of God's irrevocable gift and calling, mentioned twice by the Council with reference to Romans 11:29. There is, to be sure, a slight gesture in the direction of the Jews but it is negative in effect because the use of the past tense of some of the verbs might give the impression that certain Jewish realities belong to the past: "the father of the Jewish family celebrated the Paschal meal with his wife and children . . . The Law prescribed . . . a meal with unleavened bread was interpreted ..." etc.84

Thus, according to the Catechism, it would seem that the image of the Jews for Christians should derive only from the distant past and that a Christian conscience ought not to ask questions about the presence in the modern world of the Jewish people and should not spend time, as the Fathers of Vatican II did, meditating on the mystery of the salvation of Israel which is part of the foundations of the mystery of the Church:

"As this sacred Synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it recalls the spiritual bond linking the people of the New Covenant with Abraham's stock." 85


The use of the four practical points derived from Cardinal Willebrand's address to the Synod does not permit the Catechism to pass Demann's test. Its attitude to the Jews is far behind the times of the Universal Church and of the Churches of many of the nations within it. It is still bound by ideas and concepts outdated or even condemned by the Council. It is conditioned by the presence of prejudices which reveal frightening spiritual deformities and must in any case retard the spiritual growth of Christians. It is deaf to any ecumenical callnig. Its worst fault is perhaps to be seen in the treatment of the problem of the Pharisees and Pharisaism, which Demann considers a sort of touchstone.

We present these observations in a spirit of service to our community of faith. We hope that matters will proceed on the level of "consultation and practice" and that there will really be a serious confrontation of the Gospel with the old conventional stereotypes 87 since we and the authors of the Catechism well know, "the search for truth always needs courage." 88

From the branches of the sycamore of a renewed catechesis 89 the Christian must be able to look at the Church and the people of Israel with a new heart and an open mind, a heart and mind sensitive to the breath of the Spirit who today demands our sincere and respectful dialogue with the Jews and with all men. 90

1. Paul Demann: "La Catechese Chretienne et le Peuple de la Bible. Constations et Perspectives", Cahiers Sioniens, special n. 3-4, Paris 1952, p. 127. For the influence of this work see Pinchas E. Lapide: Rome et les Juifs, Seuil, Paris 1967, pp. 368f.
2. The Italian title of the work is Catechismo per la Vita Cristiana - 5. Il Catechismo dei Giovani: Non di Solo Pane (Ed. CEI, Roma 1979).
3. For the relationship between horizontal and vertical ecumenism, see C1.-E. Florival: "Divided Christendom in Relation to Judaism" in SIDIC Vol. III no 3 1970, pp. 12ff. For the contribution of the S.A.E., see Giosue Tosoni: "Il Lavoro Ecumenico del S.A.E." in Ecumenismo Oggi: Bilancio e Prospettive, ElleCiDi Leumann, Torino 1976, pp. 155-173.
4. F. Lovsky: Le Peuple d'Israel dans l'Education Chrκtienne, Societe des Ecoles du Dimanche (undated) p. 100.
5. "Catechetics and Judaism" 1977 Synod, SIDIC Vol. XI, No. 1, 1978, p. 21.
6. See Jules Isaac: The Teaching of Contempt: Christian Roots of Anti-semitism, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962.
7. Otto Klineberg, Tullio Tentori, Franco Crespi, Vincenzo Filippone Thaulero: Religione e Pregiudizio. Analisi di contenuto dei Libri Cattolici di Insegnamento Religioso in Italia e in Spagna, Cappelli, Bologna 1968.
8. Walter M. Abbott, S.J. ed.: The Documents of Vatican II, Geoffrey Chapman, London 1966.
9. See Alfonso di Nola: "Antisemitismo Come, Oggi" in Il Ponte, 30 November - 31 December, 1978, pp. 1490 and 1497; "Gli Ebrei, una Preside et la Sacra Padella" in La Repubblica, April 20, 1979, p. 12.
10. Catechism, p. 105.
11. Ibid, p. 104.
12. Ibid, p. 129.
13. Ibid, p. 130.
14. Ibid, pp. 129ff.
15. Ibid, p. 212.
16. Ibid, p. 104.
17. Ibid, p. 295.
18. Ibid, p. 112, but also pp. 106, 108f, 153.
19. Ibid, p. 231, pp. 235f.
20. Ibid, pp. 107, 128.
21. Ibid, p. 83.
22. Ibid, pp. 106ff.
23. Ibid, p. 107.
24. Rom. 11:1.
25. Abbott, op. cit., p. 666.
26. SIDIC, op. cit., p. 21 (see note 5).
27. Ibid, p. 22.
29. Ibid.
29. See the text in Stepping Stones to Further Jewish-Christian Relations. An unabridged collection of Christian documents compiled by Helga Croner. Stimulus Books, London-New York 1977, p. 20.
30. Ibid, pp. 26, 57, 62.
31. Ibid, pp. 152ff; 155.
32. Catechism, p. 22.
33. Ibid, p. 67.
34. Ibid, pp. 22, 70.
35. Ibid, p. 79.
36. Ibid, pp. 116, 134, 273.
37. Ibid, pp. 34, 56.
38. Ibid, p. 232.
39. Ibid, p. 134.
40. Ibid, p. 65.
41. Ibid, p. 22.
42. Ibid, p. 95.
43. Ibid, cf. p. 77.
44. Ibid, p. 22.
45. See quotations: Mark 3:22; 1:40-45 on p. 81 of the Catechism; Mark 11:27-33 on p. 87.
46. Mark 2:5-7 on p. 89.
47. Joachim Jeremias: Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus, SCM London 1969, pp. 233-267.
48. Catechism, p. 46.
49. Cf. Stepping Stones to Further Jewish-Christian Relations, p. 42 (The RSV version uses the word flattery. Editor).
50. Ibid, p. 45.
51. Ibid, p. 155.
52. Edward H. Flannery: The Anguish of the Jews, Macmillan, New York 1965, p. 30.
53. Kurt Schubert: Jesus a la Lumiιre du Juddisme du Premier Siecle, Ed. Cerf, Paris 1974, pp. 50f.
54. David Flusser: Jesus, Herder & Herder, New York 1969, p. 58.
55. Stepping Stones to Further Jewish-Christian Relations, p. 62.
56. Cf. Cardinale Leo Jozef Suenens, La Crisi della Chiesa, Mondadori 1971, p. 240.
57. Cf. Kurt Hruby: "L'amore del Prossimo nel Pensiero Ebraico", Humanitas, Aprile 1976, p. 259.
58. Mek. Ki Tissa (ed. Weiss, p. 109b).
58a. (For another view, suggesting that this oft-quoted passage does not really refer to the Pharisees, cf. E.P. Sanders: Paul and Palestinian Judaism, SCM Press London 1977, p. 61, n. 12. Editor.)
59. Sofia Cavalletti: Ebraismo e Spirituality Cristiana, Studium, Roma 1966, p. 19.
60. Stepping Stones to Further Jewish-Christian Relations, p. 45.
61. Claude Tresmontant: San Paolo, Mondadori 1960, p. 15. See also Verite and SIDIC Vol. X, No. 2, 1977, both of which are devoted to the Pharisees.
62. R. Travers Herford: The Pharisees, Beacon, Boston 1962, pp. 1 1 f. I Farisei, Laterza, Bari 1925, p. 1.
63. Robert Aron: Lettre Ouverte a l'Eglise de France, A. Michel, Paris 1975, pp. 56ff; Claude Gruber-Magitot: Jesus et les Pharisiens, R. Laffront, Paris 1964, p. 431.
64. Quoted in Vav, no. 8, November 1970, p. 14.
65. Eugene J. Fisher: "Christian Teaching and Judaism Today", SIDIC, Vol. XI, No. 1, 1978.
66. Cf. Michael J. Cook: "Jesus and the Pharisees. The Problem as it Stands Today" in Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 15, No. 3, 1978, pp. 441ff.
67. Paul Demann, op. cit., p. 75.
68. (For the English-speaking reader to understand the full force of the argument presented here concerning the use of the expression Jew, a normal word in our language, it is necessary to note that this is not so in Italian, where the preferred form is ebreo ("Hebrew"). Giudeo ("Jew") has more negative connotations. In English, the distinctions "Jew" and "Hebrew" are used historically. Editor).
69. Catechism, pp. 144f.
70.Ibid, p. 62.
71. Cf. Cecil Roth: Storia del Popolo Ebraico, Silva, Milano 1962, note 1, p. 58; p. 569. (The English edition: History of the Jews, Schocken, New York 1966, makes no reference to this linguistic question of the Italian language. Editor).
72. The Documents of Vatican II, pp. 665ff.
73. Catechism, pp. 143f.
74. Ibid, pp. 145f.
75.Ibid, p. 147.
76. Ibid.
77. Ibid.
78. Ibid, p. 148.
79. Cf. David Flusser, op. cit., p. 126.
80. Augustin, Cardinal Bea: The Church and the Jewish People, Geoffrey Chapman, London 1966, pp. 66ff; La Chiesa e it Popolo Ebraico, Morcelliana, Brescia, 1965, pp. 65f.
81. Stepping Stones to Further Jewish-Christian Relations, cf. p. 43.
82. Catechism, p. 208.
83. Ibid, p. 209.
84. Ibid, p. 127.
85. The Documents of Vatican II: the opening lines of "Nostra Aetate", p. 663.
86. Paul Demann, op. cit., p. 75.
87. Catechism, cf. p. 4.
88. Ibid, p. 13.
89. Ibid, cf. p. 8.
90. (Italian readers will be interested to know that, since the writing of this article there has appeared: Il dialogo tra la Chiesa Cattolica Romana e l'Ebraismo, (Estratto da Oikoumenikon, q. 269 - a. 1978). Editrice Oikoumenikon, Roma, containing essential documents and a bibliography. Editor).


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