Following is the text of the address of Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ, president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, delivered when he introduced the declaration on the Catholic attitude toward the Jews to the Fathers of the ecumenical council on Nov. 19. The declaration is Chapter IV of the council schema on ecumenism.
The schema “On Jews” now up for examination was begun about two years ago and in substance it was finished in May of last year. This year, with the approval of the Council Coordinating Commission, it was placed in the schema “On Ecumenism.”
The secretariat to which the care of promoting Christian unity is given undertook the question treating the Jews not on its own initiative, but by reason of the express command of the Supreme Pontiff, Pope John XXIII of happy memory. This was given verbally to the president of the secretariat.
After this schema was prepared, it was to be discussed in the conferences of the Central Commission in June 1962. The discussion was omitted not because of the ideas or doctrine expressed in the schema, but only because of certain unhappy political conditions at that time.
The decree is very brief, but the material treated in it is not easy. Let us enter immediately into the heart of it and tell what we are talking about. Or rather, since it is so easy to understand it wrongly, before all else let us say what we are not talking about. There is no national or political question here. Especially is there no question of acknowledging the state of Israel on the part of the Holy See. None of these questions is treated in the schema. Nor is there any treatment of such condition or consideration in any way. There is only treatment of a purely religious question.
The decree intends to recall in a solemn way those things which the Church of Christ, by the hidden design of Divine Providence, receives through the hands of the chosen people of Israel. It receives especially, in the words of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, “the oracles of God” (Rom. 3, 2); that is, the word of God in the Old Testament. Besides, in the words of the same St. Paul, “who are Israelites who have the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants, and the legislation and the worship and the promises”; who have the fathers and from whom “is the Christ, according to the flesh, who is over all things, God blessed forever” (Rom. 9, 4-5).
In other words, not only was the whole preparation of the work of the Redeemer and His Church done in the Old Testament, but also the execution of His work, the foundation of the Church and its propagation in the world, either in the chosen people of Israel or through members of this people whom God chose as instruments. The Church is in some sense the continuation of the chosen people of Israel, as is so well stated in “De Ecclesia” (On the Church), Chapter I, p. 7 sq., so that according to St. Paul, Christians can be called “Israelites” not indeed “according to the flesh” but because in them are fulfilled the promises made to Abraham, the Father of the people of Israel (cf. Rom. 9, 6-8). For in us Christians, members of the Church, the perfection of that Kingdom of God for which God selected and designated the people of Israel, is brought to fruition.
Really, it is a valid question to ask whether our preachers at times in their sermons, especially on the Passion of Our Lord, use these facts and associations of the Church to the chosen people of Israel and whether they give our necessary thanks to this people.
There are those who object: Did not the princes of this people, with the people in agreement, condemn and crucify the innocent Christ, the Lord? Did they not “clamor”: “Let His blood be upon us and upon our children” (Matt. 27, 25)? Did not Christ Himself speak most severely about the Jews and their punishment?
I reply simply and briefly: It is true that Christ spoke severely but only with the intention that the people might be converted and might “recognize the time of its visitation” (cf. Luke 19, 42-49). But even as He is dying on the cross He prayed: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23, 34).
Wherefore, since the Lord emphasized, before the burial of Lazarus, speaking to the Father: “I know that Thou always hearest me” (John 11, 42), it is wrong to say that His prayer to the Father was not heard and that God has not only not forgiven the fault of His chosen people but that He has rejected them.
God Himself through St. Paul assures us that He “in no way” has rejected His chosen and beloved people. For the Apostle writes to the Romans: “I say then: Has God cast off His people? By no means. … God has not cast off His people whom He foreknew” (Rom. 11, 1 s.). And a little below this he gives the reason: “For the gifts and the call of God are without repentance” (ibid, v. 29), that is, God does not revoke a choice once made nor does He reject the people of Israel.
Going still further, St. Paul affirms that at some time “all Israel” will be saved, both those who are of “Israel according to the flesh,” as well as those who are of Israel according to the promise only. For the Apostle states: “For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits, that a partial blindness only has befallen Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles should enter and thus all Israel should be saved. … For as you (the Romans, insofar as they belonged to the non-Jewish people) also at one time did not believe God, but now have obtained mercy by reason of their unbelief, so too they have not now believed by reason of the mercy shown you, that they too may obtain mercy” (Rom. 11, 25-30).
Hence St. Paul, who indeed suffered so much from Jews, having imitated the burning charity of God, said: “For I could wish to be anathema myself from Christ for the sake of my brethren, who are my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9, 3).
Therefore, the aim of this very brief decree is to call to the attention of Christ’s faithful these truths concerning the Jews proposed by the Apostle and contained in the deposit of faith and to do this so clearly that in dealing with the children of that people the faithful will act in no other way than did Christ the Lord and His Apostles, Peter and Paul. St. Peter in preaching to the Jewish people on the crucifixion of the Lord said: “I know that you did this through ignorance as did your leaders” (Acts 3, 17). Thus he excuses even the leaders themselves. Likewise St. Paul (Acts 13, 27).
The point therefore is not in any way to call into doubt — as is sometimes falsely asserted — the events which are narrated in the Gospels about Christ’s consciousness of His dignity and divine nature, or about the manner in which the innocent Lord was unjustly condemned. Rather that, with these things kept fully in mind, it is still possible and necessary to imitate the gentle charity of Christ the Lord and His Apostles with which they excused their persecutors.
But why is it so necessary precisely today to recall these things? The reason is this. Some decades ago antiSemitism, as it is called, was prevalent in various regions and in a particularly violent and criminal form, especially in Germany under the rule of National Socialism, which through hatred for the Jews committed frightful crimes, extirpating several millions of Jewish people — we need not at the moment seek the exact number. Moreover, accompanying and assisting this whole activity was a most powerful and effective “propaganda,” as it is called, against the Jews. Now it would have been almost impossible if some of the claims of that propaganda did not have an unfortunate effect even on faithful Catholics, the more so since the arguments advanced by that propaganda often enough bore the appearance of truth, especially when they were drawn from the New Testament and from the history of the Church. Thus, since the Church in this council is striving to renew itself by “seeking again the outlines of its most fervent youth,” as John XXIII of venerable memory said (cf. Discourse of Nov. 14, 1960, AAS 52/ 1960/ 960), it seems imperative to take up this question.
Not that anti-Semitism, especially that of National Socialism, drew its inspiration from Christian doctrine, something which is in no way true. Rather, it is a question of rooting out from the minds of Catholics any ideas which perhaps remain fixed there through the influence of that propaganda. If Christ the Lord and the Apostles who personally experienced the sorrows of the crucifixion, embraced their very persecutors with an ardent charity, how much more must we be motivated by the same charity?
For the Jews of our times can hardly be accused of the crimes committed against Christ, so far removed are they from those deeds. Actually, even in the time of Christ, the majority of the chosen people did not cooperate with the leaders of the people in condemning Christ. Does not the Gospel say that an actual member of the Sanhedrin, namely, Joseph of Arimathea, did not agree “to their plan and their actions” (Luke 23, 51)? Again, those among them who cried out to Pilate, “Crucify him,” formed a very small part of the chosen people. Were not the leaders of the Jews unwilling to kill the Lord “on the feast day lest there be a tumult among the people” (Matt. 26, 5)?
If therefore not even all the Jews in Palestine or in Jerusalem could be accused, how much less the Jews dispersed throughout the Roman Empire? And how much less again those who today after 19 centuries live scattered in the whole world?
But let us set aside these considerations. Let the example of ardent charity given by the Lord and the Apostles be sufficient for us. To this example the Church must conform as perfectly as possible in teaching the Passion and Death of the Lord. In saying this we do not mean to state or to hint that anti-Semitism usually or principally arises from a religious source, namely from what the Gospels recount concerning the Passion and Death of the Lord. We know very well that anti-Semitism also has causes of a political-national, psychological, social and economic nature. But we affirm that the Church most certainly must imitate Christ’s example of gentle charity toward the people through whom it received so many great benefits from God.
If and when, therefore, some or many Jews do this or that one of things of which they are accused, Christians will be mindful of the example of St. Paul. He, while violently attacked by many of the Jews, indeed publicly denounced his persecutors who were interfering with either his freedom to announce the word of the Lord or the freedom of men to believe the Gospel (d. 1 Thess. 2, 15f). At the same time, however, he testified that he loved them so ardently that he would wish “to be anathema from Christ” for them. In such fashion, therefore, the children of the Church also should make vigorous use of the peaceful weapons of truth, charity and patience, which weapons are surely most effective.
Lastly: since we are here treating a merely religious question, there is obviously no danger that the council will get entangled in those difficult questions regarding the relations between the Arab nations and the state of Israel, or regarding so-called Zionism.
In December of last year, I set out in writing for the Supreme Pontiff, Pope John XXIII of happy memory, a discussion of this whole question “Regarding the Jews.” After a few days the Holy Father indicated to me his full approval.
The Supreme Pontiff himself did indeed write in this way scarcely five months before his holy death. Certainly, I am not saying that the question which we are treating was settled by these words of his; for he wanted the council to be free, just as his successor also unquestionably wishes it. I think, however, that these words of his are dear to all the Most Eminent and Most Excellent Fathers, and that at the same time, they throw light on how to follow the Lord Christ.
However, for our purpose, of much more importance, in fact simply decisive, is the example of burning charity of the Lord Himself on the Cross praying: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This is the example to be imitated by the Church, the Bride of Christ. This is the road to be followed by her. This is what the schema proposed by us intends to foster and promote.