Pope John Paul II
Address to Participants in the Vatican Symposium on "The Roots of Anti-Judaism in the Christian Milieu"
- Created: October 31, 1997
- Written by John Paul II
This symposium examining anti-Jewish teachings and attitudes in the Christian world occurred as the document, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, was in the final stages of composition. The symposium apparently contributed to resolving some issues raised by the drafts of that document, which was promulgated the following March.
I am happy to receive you during your symposium on the roots of anti-Judaism. I greet in particular Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, president of the committee for the great Jubilee of the Year 2000, who is presiding over your meetings. I thank you for devoting these days to a theological study of great importance.
Your meeting is part of preparations for the great jubilee, for which I have invited the church's members to make an appraisal of the millennium about to end, and especially of our century, in the spirit of a necessary "examination of conscience" on the threshold of what should be a time of conversion and reconciliation (Tertio Millennia Adveniente, 27-35).
The goal of your symposium is the correct theological interpretation of the relations of the church of Christ with the Jewish people, for which the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate has laid the foundation and about which I have had occasion to speak a number of times in the exercise of my ministry. Indeed, in the Christian world — I am not saying on the part of the church as such — erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament relative to the Jewish people and their presumed guilt circulated for too long, engendering sentiments of hostility toward this people. That contributed to a lulling of many consciences, so that — when Europe was swept by the wave of persecutions inspired by a pagan anti-Semitism that in its essence was equally anti-Christian — alongside those Christians who did everything to save those who were persecuted, even to the point of risking their own lives, the spiritual resistance of many was not what humanity expected of Christ's disciples. Your thoughtful attention to the past, in view of achieving a purification of memory, is particularly opportune for showing clearly that anti-Semitism is without any justification and is absolutely condemnable.
Your efforts complement a reflection conducted notably by the Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews and expressed, among other places, in the Guidelines of Dec. 1, 1974, and in the "Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Catholic Church" of June 24, 1985. I appreciate the fact that the theological research conducted by your symposium is done with scholarly rigor, in the conviction that to serve the truth is to serve Christ himself and his church.
At the conclusion of some chapters in the Letter to the Romans (9-11) casting critical light on Israel's destiny according to God's plan, St. Paul gives us a resounding hymn of adoration: "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!" (11:33). In Paul's ardent soul, this hymn echoes a principle he has just expressed which is in a way the epistle's central theme: "For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all" (11:32). Salvation history even when its vicissitudes seem disconcerting to us, is guided by the mercy of he who came to save that which was lost. An attitude of adoration before the unfathomable depths of God's loving providence permits us to glimpse just something of what is a mystery of faith.
At the origin of this little people — situated between great pagan empires whose blaring culture was overpowering — is the act of divine election. This people is assembled and led by Yahweh, creator of heaven and of earth. Its existence is therefore not purely a fact of nature or of culture in the sense that the resourcefulness proper to one’s nature is expressed in culture. It is a supernatural fact. This people perseveres despite everything because it is the people of the covenant, and despite human infidelities, Yahweh is faithful to his covenant. To ignore this most basic principle is to adopt a Marcionism against which the church immediately and vigorously reacted, conscious of a vital link with the Old Testament, without which the New Testament itself is emptied of meaning. The Scriptures are inseparable from the people and their history, which leads to Christ, the promised and awaited Messiah, Son of God made man. The church does not cease to confess this, daily taking up in its liturgy the psalms, as well as the canticles of Zechariah, the Virgin Mary and Simeon (cf. Ps. 132:17; Lk. 1:46-55; 1:68-79; 2:29-32).
This is why those who consider the reality that Jesus was a Jew and that his milieu was the Jewish world to be simple contingent cultural facts — for which it would be possible to substitute another religious tradition from which the person of the Lord could be detached without losing his identity — not only misunderstand the meaning of the history of salvation but, more radically, do damage to the very truth of the incarnation and make an authentic conception of inculturation impossible.
Based on what I have already said, we can draw some conclusions capable of giving direction to the Christian's attitude and the theologian's work. The church firmly condemns all forms of genocide as well as the racist theories that have inspired and claimed to justify them. One recalls the encyclical of Pius XI, Mit Brennender Sorge (1937) and that of Pius XII, Summi Pontificatus (1939); the latter recalled the law of human solidarity and of charity toward every person, whatever the people to which he belongs. Racism is therefore a negation of the deepest identity of the human being, who is a person created in the image and likeness of God. To the moral malice of all genocide is added, with the Shoah, the malice of a hatred which does violence to God's salvific plan in history. The church realizes that it also was directly targeted by this hatred.
The teaching of Paul in the Letter to the Romans teaches us what brotherly sentiments, rooted in faith, we ought to have for the children of Israel (cf. Rom. 9:4-5). The apostle underlines this: "They are beloved because of the patriarchs. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable" (cf. Rom. 11:28-29).
Be assured of my gratitude for the work you are doing on a theme of great importance which matters a great deal to me. You thus are contributing to deepening the dialogue between Catholics and Jews; we are pleased at its positive renewal over the course of recent decades.
I offer my best wishes to you and your loved ones, and I willingly give you my apostolic blessing.