On December 10, 1965, the Vatican in the Nostra Aetate (“In Our Times”) deceleration, opened up relations between Catholics and non-Christians. A landmark document repudiated anti-Semitism and the charge that Jews were collectively guilty for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Fast forwarding , exactly 50 years, on December 10, 2015, the Vatican made an even more dramatic pro-Jewish statement when it issued the document, “A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations.”
The document was issued by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and approved by Pope Francis. It says Christianity and Judaism are intertwined, and that God never annulled his covenant with the Jewish people. “The Church is, therefore, obliged to view evangelization to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views.”
“In concrete terms, this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed toward Jews,” said the document, adding that there was a “principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission.” It also said Catholics should be particularly sensitive to the significance to Jews of the Holocaust and pledged “to do all that is possible with our Jewish friends to repel anti-Semitic tendencies.” “A Christian can never be an anti-Semite, especially because of the Jewish roots of Christianity,” the document said.
I’m happy, sad, and stunned that one of the most important statements ever made by the Vatican about the Jewish people wasn’t noticed by most people (including Jews). For over a thousand years, Jews suffered, were expelled, and died terrible death in the hands of Catholic kings and priests for no other reason other than their religion. This new strong statement by the Vatican should put an end to the systematic church supported conversion of Jews, and any other form of persecution against Jews by the Catholic church.
I’m happy that this dark period seems to be over.
I’m sad that so many Jews suffered so much for so long for what is now declared invalid.
I’m stunned that almost no one paid attention to the conclusion of this long ideological war between Christianity and Judaism.
For a long time the lives of Jews in Christian communities were unbearable. It is true that there were Catholic individuals, priests, Vatican officials, and popes who protected and shielded Jews in their communities, however, there were many more who persecuted Jews, tortured them, and imposed rules and punishments so terrible that if were brought in front of any modern judge they would have been thrown out of court immediately, and the church officials would have been imprisoned for their crimes. In some places including America they would have received the death penalty as mass murderers.
What the Jews remember from the long history in Catholic territories are blood libels, mass murders by crusaders, the Spanish Expulsion, the Portuguese and Spanish forced conversion, The terrible inquisition, the forced life in closed ghettos, the humiliation of having to wear special cloth so they could be recognized from a distance. the employment restrictions, and life of fear and poverty imposed on them.
The early Christians were eager to complete the break with the synagogue. They urged the substitution of Sunday for the Jewish Sabbath and the abandonment of Passover, commemorative of the Exodus, for Easter, commemorative of the crucifixion. Retaining the Bible while denying the people that was its subject, the Church declared itself the New Israel. It claimed the patriarchs and prophets for itself and later pronounced Judaism an aberration from the Divine Will. All warnings and rebukes contained in the Jewish scriptures were applied to the Jewish people, while all praise and promise were applied to the Church.
Under Church influence, the emperors forbade the conversion of pagans to Judaism. Slave ownership by Jews was made difficult and was completely outlawed if the slave were a Christian. Despite pronouncements of official protection, synagogues were frequently attacked and destroyed. In a series of Church councils, meeting in Toledo throughout the seventh century, the Visigothic kingdom of Spain, which had by this time become Catholic, passed a series of increasingly stringent laws to compel the Jews to join the Church or leave the country. Under the emperors Heraclius (632) and Leo III(721), Jews were forced into baptism. King Dagobert of the Franks expelled the Jews from his kingdom (633). Pope Leo VII (937) advised the archbishop of Mainz to expel the Jews from his diocese if they continued to refuse baptism. Pope Gregory VII (1081) objected to the employment of Jews in public office in the rising Christian kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula. Pope Innocent III (1215) imposed upon all Jews the obligation of wearing distinguishable garments, and this soon developed into the Jewish badge. In 1492 Jews were expelled from Spain and from Portugal in 1496/97. In Castile and Aragon a choice was offered between baptism and exile. In Portugal conversion was imposed on all Jews. The Inquisition tortured and murdered Jews who continued to practice Judaism in hiding. In 1555, Pope Paul IV began a systematic persecution of Conversos Jews who had fled from Spain to Italy, and imposed a harsh restrictive policy in his bullCum nimis absurdum. Pius V, in 1569, expelled the Jews from the Papal States except Ancona and Rome, where a strictly supervised ghetto had been established. Synagogues had to admit conversionist sermons. In the 16th to 18th centuries the ghettos and “Jews-streets,” were introduced in the sense of compulsory places of residence for Jews only. The Jewish badge was enforced everywhere, and Jewish socioeconomic activity was strictly regulated. Blood libels were frequent, especially in Poland, despite the stand taken against them by several popes. Conversion was pursued vigorously. Pope Pius XII , incurred wide criticism for having failed openly to condemn the Nazi effort to wipe out the Jews of Europe, though his personal abhorrence of their actions was generally recognized.
Catholic – Jewish relationships came a long way in the past 50 years. I’m not that naive to think that a thousand years of resentment, antisemitism, and hatred toward Jews will disappear overnight because of this document, but it is an important step in this direction. I can only thank Pope Francis, the Vatican, and the Catholic church for their courage, integrity, and willingness to put an end to this dark chapter in history. If our ancestors could only see us now…….