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Avoiding Antisemitism


In response to a request from the Vatican for suggested topics that should be considered by the Second Vatican Council, nineteen faculty of the Pontificial Biblical Institute in Rome submitted a letter with recommendations on a number of scriptural themes. Excerpted below is the fifth section of their letter on the issue of antisemitism.  Source: Acta et documenta Concilio oecumenico Vaticano II apparando. Series antepraeparatoria, (1961), Vol 4, pp. 131-132. Translated by Patrick Brannan, S.J.


It is recommended: that in the Council the problem of the people of Israel also be treated among the questions concerning Ecumenism.  Certainly, Christians must be said to be genuine spiritual descendants of Israel—authentic heirs of the faith of Abraham, “our patriarch” and of the blessing of Jacob—called by the Apostle [Paul] “the Israel of God”  (Gal 6:16), and therefore the Christian profession must truly be called, as in the liturgy of Holy Saturday, “the dignity of Israel.”  Nevertheless, not only cannot the Jewish people be said to be “rejected” because part of them were already converted at that time (Rom 11:1-2), but we know that the unbelieving part itself will not remain unbelieving; for the Apostle [Paul] frequently, definitively, affirms that that part will finally turn to Christ (Rom 11:15,25). This particular teaching, which certainly belongs to the deposit of faith, has indeed never been declared by the Magisterium of the Church, but now seems to be effectively blocked because of not a few prejudices that foster anti-Semitism.

Let all of the faithful be admonished, that, in accordance with the example of the very Ecclesiastical Authority itself, such ways of speaking on this matter, which can be considered offensive, are to be carefully avoided.

An explanation of the recommendation:  The more recent documents of Ecclesiastical Authority are the following:

1.  On May 19. 1959, the Sacred Congregation for Rites decreed that changes had to be made in the Roman Missal to the prayers for the Conversion of the Jews, no 8 of the solemn prayers, for Friday of the Passion and Death of the Lord.  This change was communicated to the local Ordinaries directly through the Apostolic Nuncios and Delegates.  According to the Vatican edition of the Roman Missal the change reads: “Oremus et pro Iudaeis. ...  Omnipotens semperterne Deus, qui Judaeos etiam a tua misericordia non repellis.” [“Let us pray also for the Jews. ...  Almighty ever-living God, who does not reject the Jews as well from your mercy.”]

2.  On November 27, 1959, the Sacred Congregation for Rites decreed the abolition of the following formulae in the Roman Ritual: “Horresce Iudaicam perfidiam, respue Hebraica, superstitionem” [“Spurn Jewish faithlessness, reject the superstition of the Hebrews.”] (Ephemerides Liturgicae 74 [1960] p. 133 for both decrees).

3. On July 18, 1959, the Sacred Apostolic Penitentiary directed that two sentences were to be omitted in the Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and expressly the following words concerning the Jewish people: “the children of that nation that was for so long the chosen people.” (A.A.S. 51 [1959], p. 595).

The reasons for the request.

1.  Even among many Catholics more or less vague statements are not infrequently made in catechetical instruction or preaching about “the curse” or “the rejection” or “the collective responsibility” of the Jewish people as if, for example, the people were condemned to a “wandering” life until the end of the world, even though it is not at all clear that the “invocation” made by some Jews (namely, those present at that time and in that place) according to Mt 27:25 was proclaimed by God or, moreso even now, remains on the entire people.  For often the Passion of Christ is recounted as if the Jews alone were “responsible” for the death of Christ, although the Catechism of the Council of Trent explicitly states that the cause of Christ’s death was our sins: "In this guilt are involved all those who fall frequently into sin ... This guilt seems more serious in us than in the Jews, since according to the testimony of the same Apostle [Paul]: If they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2:8). We, however, professing to know Him, yet denying Him by our actions, seem in some sense to lay violent hands on him" (Part 1, art. 4, no. 62).

A. Démann cites countless testimonies in catechisms and apologetic books in French in “Cahiers Sioniens” 6, 1952, special number: “La catéchèse chrétienne et le people de la Bible.”  On the abuse, for instance, of the text of Mt 27:25, see pp. 161-164.

In particular, the error concerning the definitive rejection of the “the chosen people” that was once as it were common among Protestants, especially Calvinists, has crept in also among Catholics: a number, perhaps many, even now are of the opinion that the people of Israel were definitively rejected, and this indeed is because of an erroneous interpretation of some passages in the New Testament, such as, in addition to the passage in Mt 27:25 that has already been cited, Mt 24:2 and parallels; 1 Thes 2:16; Rom 9:22; not taking into consideration either of the obvious meaning of Rom 11:25 where the “mystery of Israel is declared,” namely, “all Israel will be saved,” [11:26], or of Rom 11:12,15, where it is declared how important this kind of conversion would be for the Church and why the acceptance of the unbelieving part of Israel would be “life from the dead” (v. 15).

  • Ernestus Vogt, Rector
  • Albert Vaccari, Vice-Rector,
  • Stanislaw Lyonnet, Dean of the Biblical Faculty
  • Alfred Pohl, Dean of the Oriental Faculty
  • Aloysius M. Alonso Schökel
  • Peter Boccaccio
  • Mitchell Dahood
  • Ignatius De la Potterie
  • Raymond Köbert
  • Malachy Martin
  • Francis I. McCool
  • William Moran
  • George Novotny
  • Joachim Patti
  • William Pavlovsky
  • Edward des Places
  • John Simon
  • Joseph Smith
  • Maximilian Zerwick