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Outline of the history of Christian anti-Judaism

Speech on the occasion of the March of Life on May 7, 2023 - Chapelle de l'Oratoire


A recent manifesto signed by Orthodox rabbis affirmed that the Christian Church was not, as such, responsible for the Holocaust, even if it may objectively have contributed to it through certain positions taken over the centuries. Indeed, with hindsight, all Christians conscious of the origins of their faith are painfully aware of the extent to which murderous aberrations have manifested themselves over time, on the part of individuals, groups and, alas, the Church itsel.


The question that arises is to understand how a spiritual tradition whose founders and roots are entirely rooted in Judaism could develop such a repression of its origins, with the tragic consequences that we know. Yet Jesus was a Jew, his disciples were Jews, and the estrangement between the early Church and the synagogue took place only very gradually. As Cardinal Lustiger, well placed to speak of it, said, the Church of the 1st century was 100% Jewish! So how did we lose sight of the key passages in the Gospels, such as the Transfiguration, where Jesus spreads his luminous message in full consultation with Moses - i.e. the Law - and Elijah - i.e. the prophets? He who proclaimed: "I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill...".

What spiritual amnesia could have obscured the central phrase of the Johannine account of the Samaritan woman: "Salvation comes from the Jews!" How can we forget the hope of the apostle Paul, who exclaims in his epistle to the Romans: "all Israel will be saved!"


In the early centuries, this led to a dramatic shift towards ambiguous theories that became unhealthy habits of thought, as the person of Christ was dejudaized and the people of Israel delegitimized. Marcion's heresy in the 2nd century rejected the First Testament, thus denying the unity of the Word of God. Among the Fathers of the Church, some began to utter anathemas against the Jews. Just think of Meliton of Sardis, who elaborated the pernicious idea of the theory of the replacement of Israel by the Church, and laid the groundwork for the accusation of deicide against the Jewish people. Among many other abuses of language, there was the famous diatribe of John Chrysostom in the 4th century, who asserted that synagogues were brothels and Jews were the children of Satan. Alas, this insane drift has persisted and grown, and the Catholic Church has for too long popularized, through the mouths of fanatical monks and even certain popes, the thesis that the Jews were responsible for Jesus' death and deserved to be mercilessly ostracized. Certainly, during these turbulent centuries, religious affiliation was perceived as the only definition of social identity, but the ghettoization of Jews by Christians led to atrocities, spoliations, pogroms and permanent threats, except in a few exceptional cases of tolerance. Yet the Council of Trent in the 16th century was keen to point out that Jesus' death on a Roman cross was in no way the fault of the Jews, but the consequence of the sins of ALL mankind. However, this timely reminder was not followed by any action.


Think of the 15th century episode of the Geneva cancel, of which the rue du Grand Mezel in the old town is a place of memory. The parish priest of the time, Canon De Magnier, wrote to the Count of Savoy to restrict the Jews' freedoms and concentrate them in a small area. This ghetto did not prevent attacks and looting by the Jewish families of Geneva. In 1943, Abbé Journet was one of the few Swiss clergymen to vigorously urge believers to help Jews, men and women in danger. The only audible Catholic leader in this dark period was Bishop Scheiwiller of St. Gallen, who declared at the time of the rise of Nazism: "We must constantly raise our voice against the persecution of the Jews, not only out of a humanitarian spirit or love of neighbor - a love that condemns all idolatry of race and all subjugation of others - but also and above all by virtue of the close links and common roots that remain between Judaism and Christianity!" After the Second World War and the tragedy of the Holocaust, the churches had to acknowledge their involvement in the death process. Attitudes towards the Jews only began to change following the Second Vatican Council, initiated by Pope John XXIII and the attentive listening of Jules Isaac, which gave rise to the declaration Nostra Aetate. Subsequently, Pope John Paul II expressed official repentance for the unjust postures of the Catholic Church over the centuries. During his 28-year pontificate, he issued a series of forward-looking magisterial documents aimed at theologically re-establishing fraternal relations between Christians and Jews. In 1993, the Holy See recognized the State of Israel. Faced with the resurgence of anti-Semitism, there was an urgent need to reaffirm the law. The late Pope Benedict XVI - whose maternal grandmother's name was Judith Tauber - called for the law to be observed and respected with regard to the children of Israel as with regard to other communities, which was contradicted by UN resolutions. It's true that often under the guise of anti-Zionism - in order to delegitimize the existence of the Hebrew state - a new form of anti-Semitism reveals its ugly face. The American Jewish Comitee recently wrote to the Holy See, welcoming the fact that the Catholic position towards Jews and Israel was now unambiguously non-discriminatory and opposed to all old prejudices.


On behalf of the Vatican, Cardinal Parolin declared: "I hope that the more fraternity, social friendship and dialogue between Christians and Jews develop, the less anti-Semitism will be possible.

According to the Bible (Proverbs 12:20) there will be disillusionment for those whose hearts plot evil, but there will be joy for those who work for peace".



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