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Antisemitism and Christian Teaching
Oxford, Seelisberg, Rome
In August 1946, the first international conference of the then existing organizations of Christians and Jews took place at Oxford. The National 'Conference of Christians and Jews was founded in the United States, 1928, to fight thepropaganda of the Ku Klux Klan. A few years later a similar association was organized in South Africa to combat the racial and religious tensions there. As Nazi Germany grew louder and stronger in its antisemitism councils developed in Great Britain, Switzerland, Canada and Australia. The Oxford Conference had, as its essential purpose, the re-affirmation of the rights obligations of all men. The report of the commission that studied "group tensions" begins:
"Each of the religious communities represented at this Conference — Jewish, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant — has suffered persecution or restriction of rights in varying degrees in different parts of the world. Hate is an evil which affects mankind as a whole. Each group in this Conference must withstand unswervingly attacks on any other group".
In Section II of its report it states:
"Of all the various group tensions, that known as antisemitism concerns the whole world and calls for special treatment. Recent history shows that an attack on Jewry is an attack on the fundamental principles of Judaism and Christianity on which our ordered human society depends".
Among the reasons given for selecting antisemitism for immediate and special treatment are: a) from 1936-46 almost six million Jews have been murdered by antisemitism; b) people do not give up easily a traditional scape-goat, and the long history of antisemitism is evidence of this; c) antisemitism was used by dictators as part of their attack on democracy and is still being so used. There is no mention of Christian responsibility for the development of antisemitism. It is attacked as a sociological problem, more pressing than others at that time, but similar to other tensions between groups. This commission then recommended that an emergency conference be held as soon as possible to deal with the particular problem of antisemitism, a resolution unanimously adopted by the Conference.
This emergency International Conference met during August, 1947, at Seelisberg, and divided itself into five working groups to deal with:1) Jewish-Christian cooperation in relation to combatting antisemitism; 2) education work in schools and universities; 3) the task of the churches; 4) contributions of civic and community organizations; 5) problems at the level of relations with governments.
The most important of the reports is that of Commission 3, among whose members were Jules Isaas, Paul Demann and Rabbi Kaplan, the present Chief Rabbi of France. The published report of the Conference comments:
"Little is needed by way of explanatory comment on the commission reports except perhaps in relation to the longer of the two documents produced by Commission 3. Those who are even remotely familiar with the past history of relations between the Church and the Synagogue, and with the prejudices, fears and suspicions on both sides which still mar the relations between Jews and Christians, will readily appreciate the difficulty and delicacy of the task entrusted to this particular group".
The Commission introduces its published report thus:
"Moved by the sufferings of the Jewish People, the Third Commission, in the course of a frank and cordial collaboration between Jewish and Christian members, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, were faced with the tragic fact that certain theologically inexact conceptions and certain misleading presentations of the Gospel of Love, while essentially opposed to the spirit of Christianity, contributed to the rise of antisemitism".
In the report itself it says:
"We have recently witnessed an outburst of antisemitism which has led to the persecution and extermination of millions of Jews living in a Christian environment. In spite of the catastrophe which has overtaken both the persecuted and the persecutors, and which has revealed the extent of the Jewish problem in all its alarming gravity and urgency, antisemitism has lost none of its force.... The Christian Churches have indeed always affirmed the anti-Christian character of antisemitism, but it is shocking to discover that two thousand years of preaching of the Gospel of Love have not sufficed to prevent the manifestation among Christians, in various forms, of hatred and distrust towards the Jews".
Because of this, the 'Christian members of the Commission proposed certain points which should "not only combat antisemitism, but also promote good relations between Jews and Christians.... On their side, the Jewish members... declare that they will seek to avoid in Jewish teaching anything which would prejudice good relations between Christians and Jews".
These are the Ten Points of Seelisberg in summarized form: 1) One God speaks to us all through the Old and New Testaments. 2) Jesus was born of a Jewish mother and "His everlasting love and forgiveness embrace the whole world". 3) The first disciples, apostles and first martyrs were Jews. 4) The fundamental commandment of Christianity, to love God and one's neighbour, proclaimed before in the Old Testament, is "binding upon both Christians and Jews in all human relationships". 5) Biblical and post-biblical Judaism should not be disparaged "with the object of extolling Christianity". 6) Jews should not be used in the exclusive sense of enemies of Jesus, nor enemies of Jesus to designate the whole Jewish people. 7) The Passion should not be presented so as "to bring the odium of the killing of Jesus on Jews alone. In fact, it was not all the Jews who demanded the death of Jesus. It is not the Jews alone who are responsible, for the Cross which saves us allreveals that it is for the sins of us all that Christ died". 8) His blood be upon us and upon our children should not be referred to without "the infinitely more weighty words of Our Lord: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do". 9) "The superstitious notion that the Jewish people is reprobate, accursed, reserved for a destiny of suffering" should not be promoted. 10) The Jews should not be spoken of as if "the first members of the Church had not been Jews".
This report, according to the procedure adopted by the Conference, was referred to the different ecclesiastical authorities, some of whom indicated certain points which they felt needed more consideration.
A work-group of Evangelical and Roman Catholic theologians met, May 6-8, 1950, at Bad Schwalbach, called together by the Hesse Council for Jewish-Christian Cooperation and the German Coordinating Committee for Christians and Jews. They worked over the Ten Points of Seelisberg and produced "Theses on Christian Doctrinal Pronouncement with regard to continuing errors about the People of God of the Old Covenant". (Theses 1-5 corresponded to the first five Seelisberg points; theses 6-8 to points 6-10 in altered succession.) These elaborations were offered for study as points which every believing Christian can make his own without conflicting with "some ecclesiastical doctrinal decree of his own confession". These are the more important points presented: "1) ,This one God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If we Christians do not believe in this one God then we believe in a false God, even if we call, him the Father of Jesus Christ.... 2) When Christians name Jesus the Christ we acknowledge that, since He is the Son of David, ... we participate in the redemption which, for Israel, is linked with the coming of the Messiah.... It is no less certain that we still await the day when we will see the manifest fulfillment. 3) The 'Church ... consists of Jews and Gentiles who are ... joined together as the new people of God.... 5) It would be wrong to haughtily disparage 'the Jews' of the biblical or post-biblical time in contrast to 'the Christians' instead of simply acknowledging the Gospel as the fulfillment of the Law. 7) In so far as men may judge ..., the guilty attitudes of the contemporaries of Jesus can be divided into three very different degrees: a) the commissions and omissions of the comparatively few who somehow became entangled in the Crucifixion, beginning with those who were driven by political ambition or religious fanaticism to plot the murder of Jesus, ... even to the disciples who denied him out of cowardice;
b) the attitude of innumerable people who were irresolute to accept the witness of the Apostles to the Resurrection of Jesus and ... his messianic mission rather than the arguments which seemed to charge the one executed for blashemy and rebellion; c) the hatred with which the many persecutors and detractors pursued Jesus' disciples. (It must not be forgotten however that since Maimonides the Jewish authorities in ever increasing number recognized the baptized Gentile as worshipper of the true God.) 8) What meaning the Crucifixion of Christ brings to the Alliance between God and Israel — this is a hidden decree within the inviolable faithfulness of God to His people which even ... the Epistle to the Romans reveals but vaguely and rather by way of suggestion.... 9)The unique New Testament passage which uses the word 'rejection' in reference to the destiny of the Jews (Rom. 11:15) is followed immediately by an allusion to their 'assumption'. It would be a deformation of Revelation to stress the one side — the actual and temporary one —while neglecting the other — the final one —which will triumph over the first".
What actual effect the Ten Points of Seelisberg and their elaboration has had on theological writings has yet to be studied. A parallel development, less comprehensive in theological thinking but more official is seen first at the World Council of Churches, then at Rome.
The World Council at its first Assembly in Amsterdam, 1948, included among the study commissions one on "The Christian Approach to the Jews". Although the commission was mainly concerned with "the Christian Witness to the Jewish people", it included a recommendation for "more detailed study... of the complex problems which exist in the field of relations between Christians and Jews", particularly of the "historical and present factors which have contributed to the growth and persistance of antisemitism and the most effective means of combatting this evil", the need to develop cooperation between Christians and Jews in civic and social affairs, and "the many and varied problems created by establishment of a State of Israel in Palestine". In the spring of 1949 a consultation was held at the Ecumenical Institute, Bossey, which agreed to produce a symposium on The Church and the Jewish People. It was hoped that this might prepare further study at the Evanston Assembly of the WCC, 1954. However, at Evanston it was decided not to set up a study group on antisemitism, and that any discussion on this subject could be done in the commission on race relations. An attempt by a small group to introduce a reference to "Israel and Christian hope" into the Message of the Assembly was vigorously opposed by the Middle Eastern representatives, declaring that any mention of Israel could have political as well as theological implications. Other western members opposed this missionary approach as more likely to create than remove barriers. At the New Delhi Assembly, 1961, a resolution was adopted which re-affirmed the Amsterdam condemnation of antisemitism and stated:
"In Christian teaching, the historic events which led to the Crucifixion should not be so presented as to fasten upon the Jewish people of today responsibilities which belong to our corporate humanity and not to one race or community. Jews were the first to accept Jesus, and Jews are not the only ones who do not yet recognize him".
In the Roman Catholic Church the first moves towards change began in 1948 when Pius XII declared that perfidi Judaei in the Good Friday liturgy should not be interpreted as "perfidious" but in the sense of being without faith. In the liturgical reforms of Holy Week 1954, this new translation was introduced into all the missals and the genuflection at the prayer for the Jews, absent for one thousand years, was restored. Professor Jules Isaac met with John XXIII, 1960, when he pointed out that "although there had been a reversal of attitudes on the part of individual Catholics, both during and after the war, nothing conclusive had yet been done. There was a crying need for the voice of the head of the Church to be heard, solemnly and forever condemning the 'teaching of contempt''. Isaac then suggested a study of this question at the Council, to which John replied, "I have been thinking about that ever since you began to speak" (cf. Sidic, I, 3, 1968, p. 13 ). October, 1965, Paul VI officially promulgated the Declaration on Non-Christian Religions to whose section on the Jews the Middle Eastern patriarchs and bishops had strongly objected, as had some western bishops reluctant to give up a traditional viewpoint. There were certain similarities with the situation in the WCC.
Note: This survey is taken from a memo written by Reverend W. W. Simpson, General Secretary of the British Council of Christians and Jews; printed report Group Tensions of the International Conference of Christians and Jews, Oxford 1946; Reports and Recommendations of the Emergency Conference on Antisemitism, Seelisberg, 1947 (published by the International Council of Christians and Jews); "Theses on Christian Doctrinal Pronouncement", supplement to For Work and Thought, published by the Wiirttenburg Evangelical Church, No. 11, June 1, 1950.
The WCC Study Paper
In February 1967, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, in cooperation with the Committee on the Church and the Jewish People, published the report of acolloquium on "The Church and the Jewish People". "Many Churches", one reads, "are aware that confrontation with the Jews is essential... The theological implications and the complex questions resulting from the special relationship between the Church and the Jewish people must be thought out more systematically and studied with greater precision".
What does this mean in actual fact? Has dialogue really begun between the Church and the Jewish people? Evidence shows that this is not the case. So far, it is purely unilateral on the part of Christian Churches which, within the framework of ecumenism, have become conscious of their Jewish origin and want to reflect on it together.
The reflection begins with a look at the history of Jewish-Christian relations, where important facts are to be found. One realizes that the "so-called 'dialogues' between Jewish and Christian theologians which have taken place from time to time have never been on an equal footing; the Jewish partner was never taken seriously". In addition, "Christians were generally satisfied with ready-made cliches in their theology of Israel", and finally, the many attempts at contacts with Jews have mainly been of a missionary nature.
The evolution of this situation is based on theological reasons. In the first place, the insistance on biblical theology allows increasing collaboration between Christian and Jewish exegetes, while at the same time dearly showing "the dangers of intellectual constructions based on certain proof-texts". The Churches have already unanimously taken certain positions: the rejection of "all lines of thought which consider the sufferings [of the Jews] throughout the centuries as a proof of their particular culpability"; consciousness of a "Christian culpability" which does not allow us to "speak in general terms of Christian obedience as opposed to Jewish disobedience"; consciousness also on the part of Christians of a false conception of the Law and the devotion which Jews have to it; the historically false portrait of the Pharisees, and finally, the rejection of all proselytism, in the worst sense of the word.
However, there are still various divergences between Churches as to what constitutes the People of God. Some would like to reserve this term for the Church alone; others, on the contrary, think that the Church and the Jewish people together form the People of God. Different attitudes result from this deviation in thought. Those who hold to traditional theology still speak of missionary witness; others would like ecumenical involvement in which Judaism could enlighten Christians on the relation between Tradition and Scripture, the cause of dissension between the Churches. Also, the accent that the Jews place on justice in this world, and their concept of man as the partner of God in the Affiance, would certainly be an impetus to "the Churches to revise their long standing controversy on man's cooperation in salvation".
In short, as we have already said, all this shows that there is no true dialogue as yet between Christians and Jews. However, it can be said that a first step towards dialogue has been taken: that of recognizing the existence of the other, and the fact that he may have a special message for us. In addition some obstades to dialogue have been eliminated (see particularly the final section: "Some implications"). There still remain, however, the missionary question and the concept of people of God. These are theological questions of the first order, which demand a study in depth. The document, which is only a study paper and not an official declaration, is the sign of serious preoccupation on the part of the World Council of Churches. It is a valid contribution to the development of Christian thought which gives impulse to further profound study of the questions which are still waiting to be answered and which prevent true dialogue.