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SIDIC Periodical I - 1968/3
Jewish-Christian Dialogue (Pages 11 - 15)

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

Events and Persons
C. A. Rijk | A. C. Ramselaar


The Oxford and Seelisberg Conferences, along with several smaller meetings, opened up the possibility for dialogue between Jews and Christians, and furnished a theological foundation for the declarations of the World Council of Churches and Vatican II. Since they specifically dealt with Christian « teaching of contempt », we prefer to put them in the perspective of our next issue, «Towards a new climate through education ». (The other issues for 1969 will examine « the image of the Jew in non-Jewish literature » and «joint social action of Jews and Christians ».)

We present extracts from the unpublished report written by Jules Isaac shortly alter his historie meeting with John XXIII in June 1960.

I didn't go into this affair blindly. During December in Paris and in Aix I had studied the ground and found out all I could....

I had drawn up a Memo to go to the Pope, with a dossier of programs for reforming Christian teaching on Israel, an example of a theological myth (« Dispersion — divine punishment for the crucifixion »), excerpts from the Council of Trent's catechism which state that the accusation of deicide is against the true doctrine of the Church....

The French ambassador to the Vatican, who had been asked to do so by President Vincent Auriol, had officially requested an audience with the Pope, which was easily granted....
But it must be taken into account how difficult and bold was this project. The problem of Catholic teaching which I attacked is infinitely more complex than that of the liturgy. Seen from the special angle concerning Israel, it touches, if not the main ideas of faith and dogma, at least a thousand-year-old tradition, product of the Church fathers, from St. John Chrysostom to St. Augustine. Rom this came the necessity of combining the maximum of prudence to that of frankness in these Roman meetings. I was fully aware that it was a question of a real tour-deforce, and that I would have in certain cases a chasm to jump over....

Friday, June 10th.
...End of the afternoon with Cardinal Julien at the Great Chancery.... In appearance, a very old man, tall, shrivelled face, eyes half-closed. He listens, says practically nothing, and I speak a long time with the impression of having fallen onto another planet. One single question is posed... without any relation to what I have been saying, but which shows one of the dominating preoccupations here — « Don't you think that Communism has a great part in the actual awakening of antisemitism? » I answer, pick up again my trench work.... Towards the end I grow bold, because he now seems friendly, and ask him, « Eminence, in this kind of work, it's good to have one or two doors to knock at. Which do you think would be the ones? » He reflects and after a few instants, murmurs, « Cardinal Ottaviani. » I respond, « And with Cardinal Ottaviani? » He reflects once more and breathes towards me in a murmur, « Cardinal Bea ».

Sunday, June 12th.

...At the end of the day a letter from the embassy informed me that the audience would be tomorrow.... Slept little that night; got ready Note complémentaire et conclusive, in order to have maximum effectiveness in its brief form. Also prepared the essential themes to bring out. Taking into account the fact that the good John XXIII loves to talk, that the conversation could be unrestrained and take an unforeseen detour....

Monday, June 13th.
...We penetrate... to the last room before the office-library where John XXIII receives. Longwait. Someone warns us that His Holiness is tired, has been awake since midnight, that there are a great many audiences, which means that our time will be measured out....

Finally towards 1:15 our turn comes. The Pope receives us before the open door... I bow and John XXIII simply gives me his hand. I present myself as a non-Christian, promoter of the French Amitiés Judéo-chrétiennes, and as a very deaf old man. We sit down near the desk, in three arm-chairs near one another. I am beside the Pope, simplicity itself, a striking contrast with the pomp of the decor and preceding ceremony.

He does not seem tired. A simple man, round, fat, his face has strong, rugged features — a large nose, very smiling, spontaneous laughter, with a transparent regard, a little roguish, but where there is an obvious goodness that inspires confidence.

As foreseen, it's he who begins a lively conversation, speaking of his devotion to the Old Testament, the psalms, the prophets, the book of Wisdom. He speaks of his name, how he had chosen it thinking of France; he asks me where I was born.... And I, I look for a way to make the transition to the desired subject. I tell him about the great hope that his measures, so spontaneous, have awakened in the heart of the people of the Old Testament, that if we expect even more from him, isn't it he himself who is responsible because of his great goodness? This makes him laugh.
Then I try to bring out my request concerning the teaching, and first of all its historical base. But how to make someone understand, in a few minutes, what this spiritual ghetto has been in which the Church has progressively enclosed the old Israel — at the same time as the physical ghetto?...
Today there exists a purifying counter-current which grows stronger every day. However, recent inquiries have shown that « the teaching of contempt » still remains. Between these two contrary tendencies Catholic opinion is divided, remains floating. This is why it is indispensable that there be raised a voice from the highest possible level, from the « summit » — the voice of the head of the Church — to point out the right direction to everyone, and solemnly condemn « the teaching of contempt » in its anti-Christian essence.

...Then I present my Note conclusive and the suggestion to create a sub-committee to study the question. The Pope immediately responds, « Since the beginning of our conversation Ive thought of that ». Several times during my brief talk he had shown his understanding and sympathy....
But it's the end.... In telling him of all my gratitude for his welcome, I ask if I can carry away a bit of hope. He cries, « You have a right to more than hope! » Smiling, he adds, « I'm the chief, but I must also consult, have the offices study the questions raised. h isn't an absolute monarchy here. » And we say good-bye, again simply shaking hands....

Under the influence of the terrible events of World War II, a new awareness of the relations between Christians and Jews urged small groups of Christians to initiate serions efforts to create a climate of understanding. The Seelisberg Conference of 1947 was a starting point, where Christian and Jew laid the basis of a vast program for future work.

On the Catholic scene, important work was being done in several countries, mostly following private initiative and isolatedly. In this little note, I want to draw attention to the Apeldoorn Symposia (Holland) which took place in 1958 and 1960, and were then continued in Strasbourg in 1967 (see report in Sidic, October, 1967). It was mainly due to Mgr. Dr. A.C. Ramselaar that these international Catholic Symposia were held. Exchange of views and activities stimulated the coordination of study and interest. When Pope John XXIII announced the Ecumenical Council in January 1959 and, later, wanted a declaration on the relations between the Catholic Church and Judaism, Mgr. Ramselaar travelled through Europe and Israel in order to collect as much information as possible for the preparation of a council declaration. He convened another symposium in 1960 where the participants prepared a detailed document on Jewish-Christian relations which was sent to the preparatory commission in Rome. For the special commission responsible for preparing a declaration scheme during the Council, this document outlined the basic perspectives and the fundamental problems of the question. Being a pentus of the Council, Mgr. Ramselaar was able to contribute through his knowledge, love, and interest, and his many acquaintances to further a better understanding of Jewish-Christian relations.

The Apeldoorn Symposia have, no doubt, considerably contributed to a new consciousness of the deep, dialogical links between Jews and Christians. They continue to stimulate Catholics to realize and to study their fundamental bond with Israel.
C. A. Rijk

Among the pioneers of Jewish-Christian reconciliation one name will always be mentioned —John M. Oesterreicher, director of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, America. Some of his writings have been translated into German, French, Dutch, and Spanish. Throughout the world he has aroused an interest, a love for the problem Church-Israel. Nevertheless, there is only a limited interest among Catholics in Jewish-Christian relations. This is why these names stand out when tracing their development — in France, Bloy, Péguy, Maritain; Journet in Switzerland; and certain representatives of the new theology, such as Paul Démann, as well as Karl Thieme and Gertrud Luckner in Germany. The influence of certain Jewish Christians on this subject should be noted — Raissa Maritain, Paul Démann, Bruno Hussar, Josef Stiassny, Francisca van Leer, and later, in Holland, Madame I. Rookmaaker van Leer. This is also the case of John Oesterreicher, in Austria before Hitler, after 1940 in the United States.

John Oesterreicher was born in Austria, 1904. During his medical studies he became a Catholic, and, after a theological training at Graz and Vien-na, he was ordained on July 17th, 1927, in the cathedral of St. Stephen, Vienna. During the Strasbourg Symposium, 1967, Prof. W. Eckert movingly recalled this fact during a mass concelebrated by Fr. Oestereicher and « his companions of the road ».

During his first years as a priest he was a teacher of religion in Vienna. His special vocation }vas already outlined in the founding of Das Pauluswerk and the bi-monthly Die Erjiillung, 1934. There he began his fight against antisemitism, widespread among Roman Catholics. When Hitler annexed Austria, Oesterreicher —via Fribourg, Rome, Paris and Spain — found asylum in New York, where he immediately took up the work he had begun in Austria, pastoral ministry and teaching of theology at Manhattan-ville College, and more particularly the struggle against antisemitism. At the same time his vision of the relations between the Church and the Jewish people became more precise, adopting a theme which actually is the foundation for the whole doctrine of the Church. He denounced the blindness causd by antisemitism, which was sometimes expressed in the general attitude of a large part of the hierarchy as well as in current theological theories. The total mutual alienation of the Church and Judaism demanded a means of purification — the scientific study of JewishChristian relations in history and theology.

In 1952, — thanks to John C. H. Wu, a Chinese convert, and Abbott Leo Rudloff of Jerusalem — this became possible by the founding of the Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University. After that Oesterreicher's work became known throughout the world. In 1958 he began to have doser contacts with European centers of Jewish-Christian relations, and particularly with Thieme, Démann, Hussar and Stiassny after meeting at the Apeldoorn Syraposia. His remarkable talle in Amsterdam stimulated work in the Netherlands. These contacts immediately helped the preparation for the Vatican Council, and Oesterreicher was named a consultor of the Secretariat for Christian Unity. During the part vine years of his life, his interest bas been especially directed towards the Declaration on the Jews of Vatican II. With justice he sees there the success of bis work. It must be a great satisfaction for him to see his institute become the official seat of the American bishops' Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations, directed by his colleague, Fr. Edward Flannery.

Although one can say that the success of a life depends irrevocably on unforeseen circumstances, one can also state that a great work is the result of the interaction between a person's originality and the spirit of the times. The personality and the life of John Oesterreicher are stamped by a double tragedy: he was a Jew during the last half century; he is a Jewish Christian in a Church which, even alter John XXIII, accepts with difficulty the Jewish people as eider brothers. His life remains that of an exile, for he has never become an American at heart, despite ail his love for the conntry that welcomed him as a refugee. He has never escaped the anguish of the persecution of Jews. All that is expressed in his itinerant life.

Product of his age and of his temperament, he has become in bis love for bath Christianity and Judaism the scholastic apologist which a great many Jewish friends find difficult to appreciate. He made this style his own during the apologetic period before the war in a Church which still lived in the baroque triumphalism of the CounterReformation, a Church which had barely begun to understand the great crisis it was going to have to face in the modem world. Ecumenism was not very current among Catholics; the main preoccupadon was to convert people to the Church. This is why Oesterreicher's first publications after the war are titled The Apostolate among the Jews (1948) and Walls are Crumbling (1952). He has loved the hierarchy with the fervor of a neo-Christian, and he has sometimes showered praise on the passing interest in Israel of certain members of the hierarchy, praise born more of hope than a realistic assessment. It is not impossible that this may be a result of the solitude in which he has lived. One must admire what he did in Austria, for he was the first directly to attack antisemitism, and if he had been listened to, the life of Viennese Jews would have been very different. His combative spirit also stimulated his work that led to Vatican II% Declaration on the Jews. He bas always been more fighter than thinker, and this is the most expressive trait of his latest work, Der Baum und die Wurzel (1968), the German translation of Israel of God (1963).

His deep learning allows him to underline the weakness of Christian exegesis, which often twists the real sense of Scripture and tradition because it is ignorant of Jewish thought. However, Oesterreicher explains Jewish thought by starting with Christian theology, which, being theology, wants to systematize it according to Old Testament categories. But Jewish thought is not a system and the Old Testament is not a textbook of history where we can find a complete picture of Jewish thinking before and after the coming of Christ. Yet, this may be the best method to arouse a keen interest among Catholics in the bond which unites the Church as institution and Christian faith as an attitude towards life with the Jewish people, andent and actual.

It is precisely in this that John Oesterreicher merits our thanks: he has blazed a trail for the future. For indeed, Jewish-Christian relations are conclusive for the interior life of the Church.
A. C. Ramselaar


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