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Review by Dr Pravin Thevathasan

Judaism and the Vatican
Vicomte Leon de Poncins

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This short book of less than two hundred pages was published in 1967 by the French aristocrat and essayist Vicomte de Poncins ( 1897-1975).

Given that the Second Vatican Council took place only two decades after the tragedy of the holocaust, it is not surprising that the Fathers of the Council did everything possible to condemn anti-Semitism. However, says the author, attempts were also made to change doctrine. Prior to the Council, it was taken for granted that with the coming of Jesus Christ, The Catholic Church became the New Israel of God and all people irrespective of race are called to become Catholics. To put it simply, "no salvation outside the Church meant precisely that and prayers for the conversion of the Jews was part of Catholic life.Far from being an act of hatred, it was seen as an act of mercy.

Since the Council, as the author notes, it is taught that the old covenant between God and the Jewish people is still in force. The recent document from the Vatican on relations between Catholicism and Judaism states that "while Catholics are called to witness to their faith, the Church neither conducts nor supports any missionary initiatives directed toward the Jewish people."

In good measure, this collapse of missionary endeavour following the Council must surely be blamed on Karl Rahner and his theory of anonymous Christianity found in other religions, something that is not mentioned in this work. The author argues that Jewish influences both before and after the Council require some consideration. In order to avoid charges of anti-Semitism himself, he quotes from primary Jewish sources throughout his text.

One individual considered is the Jewish historian Joules Isaac (1877-1963). According to the author, Isaac believed that the most dangerous form of anti-Semitism is Christian anti-Semitism, which is essentially theological. The author claims that Isaac sought to undermine the historical value of the Gospel accounts of the Passion and demanded the "purification" and "amendment" of the Church's two thousand year doctrines. These demands appear to be much more than dialogue! In 1960, he was granted an audience with the Pope and he asked the Pope to condemn the "teaching of contempt." In turn, the Pope asked Cardinal Bea to study relations between Catholicism and Judaism, which finally resulted in the Council vote in 1964. Bea certainly gets a fair amount of attention in this work. Not mentioned is the somewhat mysterious figure of Malachi Martin who was Bea's private secretary and who, under the pseudonym Michael Serafian, wrote The Pilgrim, a work which was partly in praise of Jewish influence during the Council. Both Bea and Martin became well acquainted with Rabbi Abraham Heschel prior to the Council. De Poncins states that Heschel felt "the Council should in no way exhort Jews to become Christians."

A possible weakness of this book is that the author does not give sufficient weight to the influence that liberal Catholics had during the Council. There are some notable exceptions, Gregory Baum being one. Baum was a convert from Judaism who became a Catholic priest and a theological advisor during the Council. He composed the first draft of the conciliar document Nostra aetate. Following the Council, having made his dent, Baum left the priesthood. He has recently stated that " the Church no longer tries to convert Jews to the Christian faith since they are already in a covenant relationship with God" and " the Torah is God's definitive, never to be surpassed self-revelation" for the Jewish people. In order to accommodate this new theology, he calls for a "certain rethinking of Christology." We are thus introduced to one of the great heresies of our age: pastoral solutions require changes in doctrine.

The author also quotes Joshua Jehouda, a prominent French Jewish leader, as stating that "it is the obstinate Christian claim to be sole heir to Israel which propagates anti-Semitism." In response, as the author notes, the Jewish historian Bernard Lazare has stated:"Wherever the Jews settled after ceasing to be a nation...one observes the development of anti-Semitism, or rather anti-Judaism; for anti-Semitism is an ill chosen word, which has its raison d'etre only in our day..."

Hatred of other races is certainly a consequence of our fallen nature. But the organized anti-Semitism which led to the holocaust had to await Darwin's dangerous idea: eugenics. It is a pity that the good Jewish people who influenced the Council appear not to have seen this.

It would appear that this work drives a successful path between the Scylla of anti-Semitism and the Charybdis of indifference and Modernism.

Copyright ©; Dr Pravin Thevathasan 2016

Version: 22nd March 2016

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