In Memory of Clemens Thoma
- Created: December 8, 2011
- Written by Lawrence E. Frizzell
The Reverend Clemens Thoma (1932-2011) was a priest in the Society of the Divine Word (S.V.D.); one of eleven children in a farming family in the Saint Gall area of Switzerland, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1961. He was a student and later a collaborator with Dr. Kurt Schubert, who had founded the Institutum Judaicum in Vienna in 1948. Father Thoma’s doctoral dissertation on “The Destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70” laid the foundation for a lifetime of scholarly and pastoral commitment to Christian-Jewish dialogue. In 1971 he became Professor of Biblical and Jewish Studies in the Theological Faculty of Luzern and in 1981 he founded the Institute for Jewish-Christian Research, which he directed until 2000. He succeeded Dr. Gertrud Luckner as editor of the Freiburger Rundbrief and traveled frequently to Freiburg to bring a new format and fresh perspectives to this esteemed journal. He was a founding member of the team that produced the monumental Theologische Realenzyklopädie.
Father Thoma was honored for his many contributions to Christian-Jewish relations: The Buber-Rosenzweig Medal (1994), the Honorary Medal of the City of Luzern (2001), honorary membership in the International Rosenzweig Society in Jerusalem (2006).
He was a quiet and positive presence in many international conferences and meetings, both in the interchanges with Jewish and Christian scholars and in intra-ecclesial sessions in Rome (April 1969, February 1975 and many other occasions, including the conference on “Antijudaism in the Christian Environment” held in the Vatican in late October 1997). He hosted an international conference on the theme “People of God” in Luzern in 1972, the first of many events that he organized within his Institute there. He was a consultor for the Holy See’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.
In October 2004 Father Thoma gave the Msgr. John M. Oesterreicher Memorial Lecture at Seton Hall University on “European Pioneers in Jewish-Christian Dialogue” and participated in the annual meeting of the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y.
One of Father Thoma’s books, A Christian Theology of Judaism (Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980) was translated into English by Helga Croner, with a Foreword by Professor David Flusser of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
May the solid scholarly work and the memory of the irenic presence of Father Clemens Thoma continue to bear fruit for a deeper understanding and greater amity between Christians and Jews! May his soul rest in peace!
Lawrence E. Frizzell
Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies
Seton Hall University