Commentary Magazine


Vatican II & the Jews

On November 20, 1964—the last day of the third session of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in Rome—the highest legislative and representative body of the Roman Catholic Church, by the overwhelming vote of 1893 to 99, approved of a document condemning “hatred and persecutions of Jews, whether they arose in former or in our own days,” affirming the validity of Judaism as a religious way of life with which Catholics must establish relations of “mutual knowledge and respect,” and repudiating the idea of “the Jewish people as one rejected, cursed, or guilty of deicide.” This text, running a little more than six paragraphs, marked a turning point in the history of the Church, for in and through it a tacit but definitive judgment was passed on countless generations of Popes, Kings, Church Fathers, Saints, writers, theologians, and ordinary Christians; on them and on their attitude to Jews and Judaism.

The declaration approved by the Council Fathers stood in the most dramatic contrast to a theological tradition which has dominated Catholic thinking about Jews for 1900 years. According to that tradition God chose the Jewish people in the time of Abraham to serve as a preparatory stage for the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, His Son, and the establishment of the Catholic Church. Once Christ came, all that was valuable and effective for human salvation was transferred from Judaism to the new Church. The Ancient Alliance between God and Israel was voided and replaced by the New Alliance between the Church and God. The Jews, as the original Chosen People, should have been the first Christians, but they elected instead to repudiate Christ. They did not accept his doctrine; they opposed him during his lifetime; they instigated his arrest; they clamored for his execution; they acquiesced in his crucifixion. For these sins they were punished in three ways by God: they ceased to be the Chosen People; they were blinded so that they could not see the truth of Christianity; they were dispersed among the nations, never to be reunited until the end of time when Christ will return to this world to judge the living and the dead. At the end of time, they will be converted as a group, but until that day they will remain blinded, dispersed, and persecuted as a sign that God has entrusted salvation to the Church alone, and that He punishes obduracy.

Roman Catholic believers drew a whole range of practical conclusions from these premises. The Jews as a people—not only the Jews of Christ's time but Jews of all time—were guilty of having killed Christ, the God-man: theologically speaking, they were deicides. Second, because they were cursed by God to remain dispersed among the nations until the end of time, the very existence of a Jewish state must be against God's will, and Israel must therefore be doomed to extinction after a short while. Third, the sufferings of the Jews were to be understood as part of their punishment for the crime of having rejected Christ and their original destiny. Fourth, Judaism was a useless thing, an invalid ethic, an invalid way of life, an invalid method of worship, which had been rendered pointless by the advent of Christ. And in the long history of Jewish-Christian relations more phantasmagoric conclusions still were frequently drawn. The Jews were allied with the devil, they were always entering into conspiracies—with Freemasons, with Communists, with atheists, with secularists—for the sole purpose of destroying the Church and wiping Christianity off the face of the earth.

For the conservative Catholic mind, then—the mind whose outlook is to be found reflected in any official Roman Catholic manual of theology and which governs the thinking of the Papal government, or Curia as it is called—Judaism is not a non-Christian religion like any other—like Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam. It was geared to Christ before he came and it remains geared to Christ and his second coming. Buddhists, Hindus, and Moslems should be Catholics because they are men, but Jews should be Catholics because they are Jews. Hence the pertinacity of the general Curial opposition to a declaration on the Jews and hence the particular pertinacity of the conversionist note in the several of the many drafts of the text that were eventually produced.

The “rain” of opposition to which Pope Paul VI was overheard referring after the November 20 vote, thus had not waited until then to fall. It had, in fact, been hammering steadily on the dome of St. Peter's for three years—ever since the idea of a document on the Jews was first launched. But neither has opposition ceased with the adoption of the document by the plenary assembly. The Bishops have declared their will, but until their will is ratified by the Pope in solemn promulgation—an act which has been reserved for the fourth and final session of the Council, tentatively scheduled to be held in the fall of 1965—the document will not represent the official voice of the Church. Nevertheless, the adoption was itself of major historical importance and signified the culmination of a bitterly intense struggle which started shortly after the accession of John XXIII to the Papal throne.

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The story of the document goes back originally to the work of the late Jules Isaac, a French-Jewish scholar whose studies had convinced him that official Catholic teaching was shot through with several basically anti-Semitic ideas: that the Jews were collectively accursed by God for the crime of deicide and that it was God's command that they suffer and be dispersed for all time. In 1947, Isaac organized the Seelisberg Conference (in Switzerland) at which the participants drew up the famous Ten Points of ideal Christian behavior toward the Jews. (These ten points incorporated Isaac's chief findings about the traditional Christian attitude to Jews, and they formed the substance of the text that was finally adopted last November.)

Pursuing his campaign, Isaac met with Pius XII at Castelgandolfo in 1949 and pleaded with him to change certain injurious phrases concerning the Jews in Catholic prayers. Pius, in a wholly characteristic gesture, refused to change the actual wording but directed that new and less offensive translations be made. Fourteen years later, at the Good Friday ceremonies in St. Peter's, when the offensive words were sung by the Sistine Choir, John XXIII—and this was characteristic of him—flushed with anger, called the ceremonies to a halt, and had the Choir repeat the prayer With the offensive phrases omitted. They have since been excised altogether.

The spirit of John XXIII, or giovannismo as it was called, rested on the late Pope's conviction that the Roman Catholic Church in the world of the late 50's was living in an ever-deepening spiritual isolation. On the one hand, she refused to meet any non-Roman Catholic Christian on any basis but that of conversion to Catholicism. On the other hand, she regarded the rest of the world as positively leagued against her existence and the truth she professed. John also saw that while this was the official attitude of the Roman Church, the vast bulk of Roman Catholics had been growing increasingly restive, increasingly uncomfortable, and increasingly impatient with the traditional mentality. It was to bring this mentality more closely into line with the realities of the day and the needs and sentiments of the contemporary Catholic that John decided in 1959 to call an Ecumenical Council in Rome.

As time went on, the basic purposes of the coming Council became clear. Apart from internationalizing his own Roman government and making Church doctrine and worship intelligible to moderns, John wished to open up the Church to the outside world, to call off the hostilities and opposition that kept the world at a distance, and to effect a rapprochement with all men not under the ecclesiastical sway of Rome. As a practical policy, however, such a rapprochement had one major difficulty to face. Because the Roman Catholic Church claims to be the only true religion, the necessary prelude to any dialogue with it had always been submission to this preliminary truth. John wished to change all that. The Church would go on believing and claiming that it was the one true religion, and it would go on praying and hoping that all men might finally come to see that truth. But as John understood, no real dialogue between the Church and other communities could be based on the condition that they approach the Church with the intention of being converted. Nor could genuine dialogue be grounded in some utilitarian aim—mutual defense or the attainment of common sociological progress. The new basis that John wished to establish was summed up in a phrase coined by his close associate, Augustin Cardinal Bea: to see the truth lovingly. That is, each party to the dialogue was to approach the other with two predispositions: with love and with a desire to know. That was all—but it implied an entire theory of religious liberty: the right of any human being to worship God in the way his conscience dictated, and his right to be respected by all others in his chosen way. To implement these principles, John, on March 25, 1960, entrusted to Cardinal Bea the formation of a special secretariat for the promotion of relations with other Christian churches and called it the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity (SECU).

So far as the Jews in particular were concerned, John's thinking was influenced by an interview with Jules Isaac (on June 13 of the same year) at which Isaac submitted a long dossier to him on Jewish-Christian relations and, among other things, petitioned him to set up a special secretariat to deal with those relations. Partly as a result of this interview, John determined that, if not a secretariat, the Church should find some other concrete institutional means by which Jews and Roman Catholics could enter into relations of mutual knowledge and esteem, that the Council should issue a statement on Jews and Judaism, and that Jewish observers should be invited to assist at the Council sessions. By November, however, several modifications had been imposed on these plans by circumstances. The conservative element in the Vatican—which dominates the Curia—would not hear of a special secretariat for Judaism; they saw it as the thin end of a wedge opening the door to an alien mentality and ultimately to diplomatic recognition of Israel. John therefore decided that the best course would be to assign the responsibility for drawing up a document on Jewish-Christian relations to Bea's new secretariat.

However, the very idea of a document on the Jews was itself repellent to the conservatives in the Curia; in their view the doctrine of the Church with respect to the Jews was quite clear already. Trouble also came from Cairo. News of Isaac's visit, of John's subsequent proposals, of Bea's preliminary contacts with Jewish representatives filtered through. The Voice of the Arabs, Nasser's powerful broadcasting station, began issuing statements denouncing the “world Zionist plot to capitalize on the Vatican Council in order to further the oppression of the Palestinian refugees.” The Egyptian and Lebanese ambassadors in Rome acquainted the Vatican with their government's viewpoint: no secretariat to deal with Jewish-Christian relations nor any document on the Jews would be acceptable to the Arab people; neither would the idea of Jewish observers at the Council be welcome. In spite of all this, John held fast and asked Bea to organize relations and contacts with competent Jewish representatives, and to set up a section of the SECU which would work on the proposed document.

John's own conception of the essentials of such a document may be gauged by the act of reparation which he composed three months before his death in 1963 and which he originally intended to have read aloud in all Roman Catholic churches of the world on a fixed date. “We are conscious today that many many centuries of blindness have cloaked our eyes so that we can no longer either see the beauty of Thy Chosen People nor recognize in their faces the features of our privileged brethren. We realize that the mark of Cain stands upon our foreheads. Across the centuries our brother Abel has lain in the blood which we drew or shed the tears we caused by forgetting Thy Love. Forgive us for the curse we falsely attached to their name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying Thee a second time in their flesh. For we knew not what we did. . . .” It is against this superb Christian statement, with its acknowledgment of past injustices, its recognition of false accusations, and its affirmation of the intrinsic value of Judaism, that the various drafts of the document on the Jews must be measured.

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The first of these drafts was drawn up in 1961. While written with a certain benevolence, it emphasized the dignity of Judaism only in relation to Christianity, and it failed to pin down and kill the basic tenets of anti-Semitism. Even Bea and his collaborators in the SECU, who were receiving a good deal of material from the American Jewish Committee and other Jewish sources concerning the anti-Semitic elements in Catholic prayers and literature, felt that the draft they had produced lacked the necessary force. For the conservatives, however, it had all too much force, and by September of 1961 it had generated one of their first big clashes with the Pope. The argument they reportedly put to him was subtle and far-reaching in its intent: nothing, they said, must be done to disturb the simple piety of Christians or the Church's position in the Middle East; it was a good idea to issue a general statement on all non-Christian religions, including Judaism, but the SECU was not the body to produce such a statement. The SECU—reports of their argument went on—could not submit a document to the Council legally, for it was neither a Council commission nor an organ of the Holy Father's government. It was, in fact, an anomaly, a para-ecclesiastical growth that needed to be regulated. At all events, the conservatives continued, the preparatory work for the Council could not possibly be performed efficiently for any date earlier than 1965. The Holy Father should therefore fix that year for the opening of the Council.

John reacted swiftly and rather ruthlessly. The Council would begin in 1962. It would make a statement specifically on the Jewish problem, the outlines of which were announced in March 1962 to the Central Preparatory Commission (CPC), the organizing body of the coming Council. After the Council, a permanent secretariat would be established to concern itself with relations with Jews in the ethical and religious fields. Meanwhile, Bea's SECU would be given the status of a permanent conciliar commission. It would be empowered to invite observers from non-Roman Catholic and non-Christian bodies, and to submit documents to the Council of its own accord. It would not be subject to the Theological Commission which, under the tight control of Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani, was a main bastion of traditionalism and anti-giovannismo.

The progress of affairs alarmed the conservative elements both within the Vatican and in the Church in general—particularly in Italy and Spain. Nasser, who was kept informed of happenings in Rome, was also disturbed. Money already had come from Cairo and from certain interested sources in Northern Italy and Spain to finance the publication of an anti-Semitic book entitled Plot against the Church. But this would only appear in the autumn during the first session of the Council. Something must be done at this moment, it was felt, before things got out of hand.

The intransigent opposition of the Arab world to a document on the Jews was—and is—based on the fear that it might imply or lead to Vatican recognition of Israel: for if a Christian could be pro-Jewish, he could also be pro-Israel. And the Vatican is sensitive to Arab pressure for a variety of reasons. First of all, most of the Catholics in the Middle East live in Arab lands, speak Arabic as their daily language, are drawn from Moslem stock. The major Catholic Holy Places are in Jordan. The vast majority of Church possessions in the Middle East—lands, monasteries, schools, churches—are in Arab lands. And the vast majority of Christian communities not yet in communion with Rome live in Arab lands and partake of Arabic culture. Secondly, the Vatican sees Nasser as a bulwark against Communism in the Middle East, the only alternative to a series of Communist governments in that area. Finally, Vatican foreign policy is tied to the foreign policy of Italy, which means, among other things, that the Church's financial interests are involved with those of Italian capital—and the natural markets of Italy lie along the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean, the lands of the Maghreb and the Levant, whose Arab rulers must be kept as friendly as possible.

It would be inaccurate and misleading to detach these political considerations from the theological prejudices and axioms of Vatican conservative thinking; the connections are deep. Nevertheless, for the conservative Catholic mind, the trouble lay primarily with the contents of the proposed document on the Jews, which was looking more and more like a complete rejection of traditional Catholic doctrine: Cardinal Bea was actually proposing to condemn the idea that Jews were Christ-killers. And indeed, Bea had had difficulty in his own secretariat on this point. Some members were against it, and at one stage discussion was discontinued as being too thorny. How could a suitable formula be found to reconcile such a condemnation with the Gospels as they had always been interpreted? The Italian paper, L'Avvenire d'ltalia, flatly declared that “it is almost inconceivable that the Council should make a statement on the issue of collective deicide.” Yet the fact is that by early 1962 precisely such a statement had been included in the document.

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It is certain that if nothing disastrous had happened between May and October, the document on the Jews would have been proposed with John's blessing and accepted at that session. But one small incident occurred which was seized on by the opponents of Bea's whole ecumenical vision and John's idea of the Council, and used for a series of delaying tactics that prevented the document from ever coming up in the Council during John's lifetime.

There had been talk for over two years now of inviting Jewish observers to the Council. Some Jewish organizations were in favor of the action, others were against it. On June 12, the World Jewish Congress announced that it had chosen Chaim Vardi, an official of the Israeli Ministry of Cults, to represent the WJC as its observer at the Council. On the same day the CPC in Rome shelved not only the proposals Bea had prepared concerning the invitation of Jewish observers, but also his proposals concerning the document on the Jews and the document on religious liberty. This meant that neither of these documents would come up for discussion at the first session.

It has been said more than once, both in public and in private, that it was Jewish imprudence in appointing an Israeli (and thus embarrassing the Vatican in the face of objections from the Arab world) which dashed Bea's hopes in June 1962. But that is less then a half-truth. The fact is that the CPC acted as it did for quite different reasons. For several months pressure had been building up. From April through June, Bea's proposals were attacked and harassed by conservatives not only as unwise politically and diplomatically; they were also stigmatized as “going against the fundamental dogma of the Church's exclusive and unique possession of the revealed truths.”1 At the same time, Cairo and the other Arab governments were being heard from. Diplomatic channels in Rome reiterated their objections; restrictive measures were threatened against Churchmen in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq; the Permanent Arab Information Office in Cairo announced a future meeting of the Arab League to discuss the question of why Jews should be mentioned in the Ecumenical Council; Nasser and his agents tried to organize a meeting of Catholic Oriental prelates in Jordan to protest against all of Bea's proposals.

With the entire progress of his Council in danger, John had no alternative but to yield to these pressures. By the time the CPC met in June for its final preparatory discussions, the decision to shelve Bea's proposals had already been taken. Thus it was that the first session of the Council passed without any mention of the document on the Jews. The session itself was a victory for John and for the whole prudent progressive movement.2 And by the end of 1962, Bea and John had reached more definitive decisions concerning the document on the Jews. The greatly strengthened version they then planned to introduce at the second session began with a general introduction affirming the value of Judaism and denying that the Jews were a “cursed people” or that they were “to be blamed for the death of Christ.” The death of Christ, it was asserted in this draft, “was not brought about by all the Jewish people then living and much less by the present Jewish people.” The document then proceeded to condemn “the hatreds and persecutions inflicted on Jews in ancient times and in our time” as a special evil, even more objectionable to the Church than hatred and oppression of other groups.

From January of 1963 on, it was clear to everyone near John XXIII that he was dying. But this did nothing to diminish the attacks on his ideas for the Council; nor did the clamor against Bea let up. Various rumors were circulated about him: his health was failing; he would have to retire; the Holy Office—supreme guardian over matters concerning faith and morals—had been watching him for suspicious doctrine; he no longer had the support and trust of the Pope; and so on. Even John himself was not spared: clerical pens in Spain described him as a tamperer with the faith of Christ's Church, and right-wing papers in Italy referred indirectly to his illness as the “hand of God.” Tempers were frayed further by the appearance in February of Hochhuth's play, The Deputy, and Archbishop Giambattista Montini of Milan wrote an open letter to the Tablet in London dismissing the play as the work of “a very young man.”

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John died on June 3 and Montini became Paul VI. At first the greatest harmony reigned between the new Pope and Cardinal Bea: according to authoritative reports, Paul gave Bea assurances that he was prepared to back his documents on religious liberty and on the Jewish question as clear illustrations of the Church's will to bridge the gap between it and other religions. (By this time, on the basis of a decision made while John was still alive, the document on the Jews had been incorporated into Bea's tract on ecumenism, and a part had been added in which preachers and teachers were admonished to be careful about how they spoke of Jews and the Gospel story.) The conservatives in Italy, Spain, and elsewhere were alarmed: the victory of giovannismo under John's successor seemed inevitable. The usual diplomatic activity started again, the usual representations from Cairo and the other Arab governments were made by their ambassadors in Rome. Oriental Churchmen were polled for their ideas and reactions; they responded that the document on the Jews would be a disaster. A long memorandum presented to Amleto Cardinal Cicognani (the Papal Secretary of State and also head of the Council Coordinating Committee) proposed that the document on the Jews either be amalgamated into a much larger document on all non-Christian religions or that it simply be removed from the agenda. On the specific point of deicide, the Egyptians let it be known that Jewish guilt for the death of Christ was as integral to the Koran as it was to the Gospels, and for the Church to deny that guilt would be tantamount to tampering with the faith of the Arabs. Paul answered one communication from Cairo coolly: “Nothing in this document, which is a purely religious one, can possibly be construed in a political manner.”

The second session of the Council began on September 29, 1963. By November 1, after the conservatives had suffered a resounding defeat on the question of Church government,3 excitement was mounting. The introduction of the document on the Jews was imminent, and messages to Rome spoke of equally imminent disorders in Arab countries, threatening the lives and property of Catholics. Oriental prelates were informed that they would not be welcomed back to their Arab homelands if the document was introduced, voted, and promulgated.

In spite of all this, the document was printed and distributed to the Council Fathers on November 8. This action unleashed the severest attack on Paul in private from the most influential members of his own government. The attack, it was subsequently learned, underlined the idea that the whole prudent progressive movement as headed by Bea and as outlined and exemplified in the Jewish and religious liberty documents was a danger to Paul's position as Pope and head of the Church. Bea's schema on religious liberty was nothing less than heretical; his schema on the Jews violated a Catholic tradition unbroken since the days of the Gospels; and his interference with the opinions of Council Bishops amounted to his being “a second pope.” Furthermore, the introduction of the document on the Jews would jeopardize the success of Paul's proposed visit to the Holy Places in “Palestine,” where he intended to meet the Patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras, and lay the foundations of union between the Greek and the Roman Churches. Why not, then, put the whole thing off? It was now only the 9th of November. There were three more weeks to go to the end of the session. The Jewish and religious liberty documents were now chapters 4 and 5 in Bea's set of schemas on ecumenical relations. Why not propose to the Council Fathers that they first vote on the acceptability of the chapters 1—3—on relations with other Christians—and delay the vote of acceptability on the last two? Discussion of the three chapters could be prolonged until the end of the session quite easily, what with other Council business to be concluded. The last two chapters need never even come up for a vote of acceptability, much less for a final vote and for promulgation.

In the end Paul went along with this advice. The Council Fathers were told that they would vote first on chapters 1—3 en bloc and that “afterward” they would be allowed to vote on chapters 4 and 5. At first the discussion and vote of acceptability on 4 and 5 was promised for the last ten days of the month. Then it was stated that time would not permit the vote to be taken this session, but that solemn assurances would be given by the presiding Cardinal at the Council's last meeting that both chapters 4 and 5 would come up for discussion at the third session in the autumn of 1964. As expected, the presiding Cardinal (Agagianian) gave no such assurances at the last meeting. To calm any sense of disappointment, however, Paul decided to turn aside from his pilgrimage to the Holy Places in Jordan and pass through Israel, a gesture calculated to imply a de facto recognition of the existence of the state.

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The next stage in the development of the document on the Jews took place between January of 1964 and the following September when the third session of the Council opened. What happened at this stage must be seen against the background of Pope Paul's conception of how the Church should react to the world around it, and what he considers the essential conditions under which it can engage in a dialogue with that world. In his Encyclical Letter of August 6, 1964, the Pope set down his own distinctive viewpoint in unequivocal terms. The Church must look inward to refurbish its doctrine, to return to the purity of its practice and outlook, to revivify its self-awareness as the Church of Christ's salvation. It is surrounded, however, by a world in need of salvation, a world full of dark and sombre possibilities. The Church wishes to establish a dialogue with that world, but only along very definite lines. The Church must be ready to explain the privileged position it holds, the priceless deposit it carries, its exclusive possession of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. In other words, the Catholic Church alone has the truth and any real “dialogue” consists in interpreting this truth to potential converts. For all men are destined to become Roman Catholics. The difference between the Pauline approach and the Johannine idea expressed in Bea's phrase “to see the truth lovingly” is obvious.

With the Jews and Judaism, as well as with other non-Christian religions, Paul envisages cooperation for “defending and promoting common ideals of religious liberty, human brotherhood, good culture, social welfare, and civil order.” For the rest, with all due respect for “the moral values and spiritual values of the various non-Christian religions,” Paul bluntly tells them that they have still to find religion in its “perfect and definitive form, free from all error,” and hopes that all “may come to acknowledge the truth.” Specifically speaking of the Jews, Paul refers to them as “faithful to the religion of the Old Testament” and as worthy of “our affection and respect.” These are generous words, yet they also clearly betoken an affirmation of the view that the chief value and significance of Judaism lie in its having been the preparatory stage for Christianity. Here again we have the conversionist mentality.4 And it is this note that was strengthened and made explicit in the new draft of the document on the Jews which came to be prepared between January and September of 1964.

Paul's pilgrimage to the Holy Land was marked by one short visit to Israel during which he made a point of defending Pius XII against the charges of Hochhuth. While in Israel he was also handed a report drawn up by Archbishop Hakim of Haifa which purported to show that a slow but deliberate process of de-Christianization had been initiated and was being maintained by the Israeli government. Subsequently, according to reliable sources, a special meeting of the Israeli Cabinet was held to discuss the report, but it was decided to do nothing for the moment either about it or Archbishop Hakim.

Once back in Rome, Paul directed that another form of the document on the Jews—one that neither the pro-Bea members of the Council, nor his opponents, nor interested Jewish bodies could approve—be substituted for the original text submitted to the Council by Bea on November 8, 1963. The purpose of this maneuver—a prime example of that peculiar combination of public relations naïveté and ecclesiastical sophistication which provoked Joseph de Maistre to describe the Vatican chancellery of his day as “endowed with the contradictory qualities of the simplicity of the serpent and the wisdom of the dove”—was to create a situation in which it would be virtually impossible for any final vote to be taken on any document on the Jews in the third session.

The first move was to get the document out of the hands of the SECU. To effect this, Paul gave orders that the SECU, in order to mollify Arab opposition, was to amplify the original document to include at least a mention of the Moslems and a general reference to all religious-minded people. And since the term “deicide” bothered the conservatives no end, it had to come out. Bea was thus presented with a dilemma. If he acceded to the request that the Moslems and other non-Christian religions be mentioned, the document would really cease to belong to the competence of the SECU, and would fall properly into the jurisdiction of the Secretariat for all non-Christian religions, headed by Cardinal Marella, a staunch conservative and opponent of Bea. On the other hand, if Bea refused to effect the proposed modifications, then it would be up to Cardinal Cicognani's Coordinating Committee (which must approve all Council documents and project-decrees) to see that “the Holy Father's will was carried out.”

The SECU authorities, as expected, declined to make the necessary additions, pleading incompetence in Moslem religious matters. They did, however, delete the term “deicide,” and at the end of April handed the document back to Cicognani's Coordinating Committee.

The next move was to restructure the text while making sure that no word of the changes would reach the outer world, above all the American clerical world. For since February all the American Cardinals, except Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles, had on different occasions publicly declared that the Council must pronounce on the Jewish question. Cardinal Cushing of Boston stated that “this Jewish declaration is the touchstone of our sincerity.” Cardinal Spellman of New York told a meeting of the American Jewish Committee that the deicide charge was absurd. Cardinals Meyer (Chicago) and Ritter (St. Louis), as well as other prominent members of the American hierarchy, also made their attitude quite clear: they expected the document on the Jews—meaning Bea's text of November 8, 1963—to be voted and promulgated in the forthcoming session of the Council.

Around the end of May, a new draft emerged from Cicognani's Coordinating Committee. It began by speaking of Judaism as the preparatory stage for Christianity, and went on to recommend that because Christians “have received their inheritance from the Jews,” they should cultivate good relations with them. It condemned any maltreatment of the Jews (the word “persecution” was sidestepped) “just as the Church severely reproves wrongs inflicted upon men wheresoever.” It declared that the conversion of the Jews “is part of the Christian hope” and that the Church “expects the entrance of the Jews” into Catholicism. On this account, the draft went on, Catholics must avoid denigrating Jews either in sermons, catechetical instruction, or daily conversations, and must also avoid imputing to the Jews of our time “what was perpetrated in the sufferings of Christ.” The all-important words “cursed” and “deicide” did not appear.

The firm expression of the conversionist mentality, the reason given for avoiding denigration of Jews or attacking them for the death of Christ, the omission of any direct and explicit condemnation of anti-Semitism and its evils—all this rendered the new draft unacceptable. It would be unacceptable to the Jews (for whom it was intended as a bridge to better relations) because it made their continued existence and safety contingent on the disappearance of Judaism and only forbade denigration of them in view of this eventuality. It would be unacceptable to Bea and his supporters and the American hierarchy because it did not clearly repudiate the idea that the Jews were deicides and an accursed people. And like any other document on the Jews, it would be unacceptable to Cairo and to the Arab world. The revised text really did meet all the conservative exigencies of the moment.

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At the beginning of June, news that some “changes” had been effected in the document on the Jews leaked out. No details, except the deletion of the term “deicide,” were yet known, and inquiries at the SECU and elsewhere only brought forth the statement that the document had been “strengthened.” The actual condition of the document was kept secret until the last days of August so that nothing effective could be done about it before the Council met for its third session on the 14th of September. And it was only through the offices of an interested American Churchman that the actual text of the new draft came, in late August, into the hands of the American press. Its publication evoked sharp protest on all sides—not least from Jewish spokesmen who had seen in the November 8 draft a major instrument for the eradication of anti-Semitism in the Western world, and who were stirred to ancient memories of forced conversion by the proselytizing theme in the revised text. The summer of 1964 was thus a difficult time for supporters of the document on the Jews, and the third session opened with its fate still highly uncertain.

However, other events in the Council from September 14 to 25 engendered as much euphoria in the majority of the Bishops participating as they did foreboding in the conservative minority of Council Fathers and the holders of power in the Vatican. The voting on progressive issues was massive: the Bishops declared themselves entitled by divine right to share in the government of the universal Church with the Pope (the doctrine of collegiality). They approved of lay deacons who might also be married. They refused to exaggerate the importance of the Virgin Mary in the total scheme of the Church. They were clearly for closer ties with other non-Christian bodies, even to the point of praying together and sharing intimate acts of worship with them. They demanded a bold enunciation of the principle of religious liberty and asserted that this principle was applicable to Catholic and Christian, non-Christian and atheist alike. They insisted that Schema 13, dealing with ticklish problems like contraception, birth-control, conscientious objection, disarmament, peace, and poverty be taken up at this session and not put off “until a further date.” And they further made known their feeling that this session of the Council must not be the last. It is difficult for the non-Catholic to imagine the dismay that these developments created in the conservative mind.

It was at this moment in time and spirit that Bea took the podium (September 25) to present the new draft of the document on the Jews. The main point of his presentation was that neither the Jews of Christ's time nor of any other time could be accused of deicide; the historical and archaeological evidence was against such an interpretation of the Gospel story. He urged the Council to adopt the document, regardless of any political considerations.

A press conference given on the following day by Monsignor Heenan, Archbishop of Westminster, shed further light on the trouble and confusion that prevailed at that moment in progressive ranks over the revised text of the document on the Jews. The Archbishop admitted, astonishingly enough, that “I do not know why the wording was changed.” More astonishing still, he said the “expression ‘deicide’ has always seemed to me personally rather odd.” That “Jesus Christ was condemned to death by the Sanhedrin,” he went on, “is a fact o£ history. In that sense it is correct to say that Jesus Christ was killed by the Jews.” The Archbishop did, however, believe that “the Jewish people as such cannot be held guilty for the death of Christ.” And in answer to questions at the end of the press conference he said that he himself was disposed to do all he could to satisfy the desires of his Jewish friends. Speaking on September 29, he humbly pleaded “that this declaration of ours shall openly proclaim that the Jewish people as such are not guilty of the death of Our Lord.” To temporize or water down the original text, he said, would be a great mistake.

The debate on the revised text lasted two days, the 28th and the 29th of September. Cardinals Ritter, Meyer, Konig, and Lienart came out clearly in favor of a return to the original draft of the document. They also insisted, together with Bishops Elchinger, Mendez Arceo, and others, that the original repudiation of the charge of deicide against any generation of Jews be adopted by the Council. Cardinals Cushing, Lercaro, and Leger, Bishops Nierman, Daem, Jaeger, Pocock, O'Boyle, and others accepted the new draft, but agreed that an outright condemnation of the deicide charge, as well as of all persecutions and injustices committed against the Jews in the past and in the present, should be included.

Only two speakers touched on the conversionist issue in a courageous way. Bishop Leven of San Antonio, Texas urged that instead of expressing the hope of the Church that Jews would become Catholics, the text should contain “an expression of our eschatological hope that all men of every race and people, Jews and Gentiles, will be gathered together with God.” (Leven was not authorized by the other American Bishops to make this suggestion in their name.) Archbishop O'Boyle of Washington came even nearer the bone: “There is a passage in which is expressed the concept of the ultimate joining together of Jews and Christians. This brings immediately to the minds of many Jews the memories of past persecutions, forced conversions, and forced rejection of their faith. This raises the prospect of proselytism in Jewish minds.”

Conservative thinking on the Council floor was subtly represented by the intransigent Cardinal of Palermo, Ruffini. “It is clear that Christians love Jews,” the Cardinal said, “for such is the law of Christians, but Jews should be exhorted to cease hating us and regarding us as contemptible animals.” And echoing the anti-Semitic pamphlets that had been distributed in Rome during all three sessions of the Council and with which the Cardinal was so well acquainted, he said that “it it also well known that the international organization of Freemasonry which is so hostile to the Church, is supported and encouraged by the Jews.”

Oriental prelates spoke firmly through the mouth of Ignatius Cardinal Tappouni, Syrian rite Patriarch of Antioch. In the name of Stephanos I Sidarouss of Alexandria, Maximos IV Saigh of Antioch, Paul II Cheikho of Babylon, and Ignatius Peter XVI Batanian of Cilicia, Tappouni stated bluntly: “If this document is insisted upon, the most serious difficulties for the hierarchy and the Roman Catholic faithful in many localities would arise. The Council would be accused in Arab countries of favoring specific political interests. I solemnly ask that this declaration on the Jews not be included among the acts of the Council. The declaration merely promotes political ends.” “The Council should scrap this declaration,” declared Bishop Joseph Tawil of Damascus, “we must not admit it.” “We must not glorify Jews by such a declaration,” pleaded Archbishop Sfeir of Lebanon, “we would only arouse Arab animosity and difficulties for bishops living in Arab lands.” “There is the phenomenon of Zionism with all its ambitions,” said Maximos IV Saigh, “which, no matter how much we may stress its strictly spiritual import, will make use of a conciliar document such as now proposed in order to further its own aims. At least that is what Arab nations think.”

_____________

The debate concluded, the document was sent back on September 29 to the SECU with over seventy suggestions for its emendation. Immediately, the machinery of opposition went into action. On September 30, Salah al din Bitar, Premier of Syria, announced quite frankly: “The Syrian Government regrets that the Jews have been permitted to raise this question at the moment when world Zionism and Israel are trying to mobilize Catholics against the Arabs and just when the Arabs are trying to interest the world in the Palestinian question.” And he issued a warning: “The declaration on the Jews cannot be considered to be a purely religious matter.” Charles Helou, President of Lebanon, got ten non-Roman Bishops from Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt to send a telegram to the Pope stating that the “Gospels teach clearly the Jewish crime of deicide. In this matter of the Jewish declaration we see clearly the intrigues of Zionist politics. We ask Your Holiness to be wise and to obviate all discussion on this question in your venerable Council.” Cyril VI, Patriarch of the Orthodox Coptic Church in Egypt, under prodding from the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior, declared publicly: “The Coptic Church thinks that no Ecumenical Council can forget the responsibility of the Jews in the crucifixion of Jesus. I follow with great disquiet the attitude which the Ecumenical Council will take following on the call of Cardinal Bea.”

Through the offices of Arab statesmen in Lebanon and Syria, the subject of the document was brought up privately at the Cairo conference of non-aligned nations which began on October 5. It was decided to avoid any public statement on the subject, but President Sukarno of Indonesia was asked to make representations to Paul during his visit to Rome later on in the month. Then again, on Saturday, October 3, Paul received Nasser's Plenipotentiary Ambassador, Mohammed el Tabui Mohammed, in private audience. And on the following day, a delegation of Oriental Roman prelates waited on Cardinal Cicognani, to whom they presented a memorandum destined ultimately for Paul VI, in which they reiterated all their objections based on fears for their own lives, for the lands and schools of the Church, and for the very freedom of the Church in her mission in Arab lands.

It must not, however, be imagined that it was the document on the Jews alone which was the object of conservative attack at this stage. Council pressure, the Curia felt, had mounted to an intolerable point. The pace of the Council, its decisions on Church government, its approval of the principles of religious liberty, the admission of lay people to the Council, the possibility of a fourth session in the spring of 1965, the demand that the Council be permitted to air its views on concrete problems like birth-control, disarmament, and peace (the famous Schema 13)—all this constituted an intolerable threat, of which the document on the Jews was only one element.

On Friday, October 9, Cardinal Bea received two letters, signed by Archbishop Pericle Felici, Secretary of the Council. One concerned the document on the Jews, the other the document on religious liberty. It had been decided, Felici said, to set up a mixed commission to rewrite the text on religious liberty; on the commission would sit Cardinal Browne, Bishop Marcel Lefebvre, and Father Aniceto Fernandez (three arch-enemies of religious liberty), together with the Pope's own favorite, Monsignor Colombo of Milan. The fate of the document on the Jews was to be different. Since the majority of the Council Fathers, progressive and conservative alike, had insisted on the Church's roots in Judaism, the portion of the document which dealt with that point would be inserted into the schema on the Church. In this way, the Church could avoid being accused of dealing in politics. As for the rejection of the accusations of deicide and accursedness against the Jews, these could be included in a condemnation of anti-Semitism which would ultimately appear in Schema 13.

The aim of these moves was apparently to prevent either the document on the Jews or the one on religious liberty from coming to a vote at this session of the Council. And Paul, it was rumored, was thinking of ending the third session with a proclamation that another session would be held in two or three years, “when the matters discussed in the Council would have matured in the mind and soul of the Church.”

Reactions set in. A group of progressive Cardinals organized by Raul Silva Henriquez of Chile and counting among them Cardinals Ritter, Lercaro, Doepfner, Konig, Lienart, and Alfrink, met at the residence of Cardinal Frings of Cologne to draw up a memorandum for Paul. In it, they insisted that the document on the Jews and the one on religious liberty be returned to the Council, and they called on the Pope to redress the grave injustice done by the minority to several texts which had already been approved by avalanche majorities in the Council.

On October 12, Paul received President Sukarno of Indonesia who had unpleasant news for the Pope. If the document on the Jews was passed, all Vatican diplomatic missions in the Arab countries might be closed. Simultaneously, at a meeting of the Arab High Commission for Palestine, it was unanimously resolved to send a delegation to Paul to protest the efforts being made at the Council to force the Church into taking up a position in the Palestinian conflict in favor of the Jews.

On the 13th, Paul saw the fiery representative of the progressive Cardinals, Frings, who reportedly asked that the procedural rules of the Council be respected and that the Holy Father not make unilateral decisions in response to pressures emanating from the conservative bloc. Frings was assured that all these matters would be considered. At the same time—so it was later learned—Paul expressed to the Cologne Cardinal his inclination to go slowly and not to force on the powerful minority at the Vatican or on the relatively backward masses of Catholics in Italy, Spain, and elsewhere measures of law and methods of thought in Church matters which could, in his opinion, only result in a terrible confusion leading to a weakening of the faith.

That same day, at five o'clock in the afternoon, the conservatives, stimulated by Cardinal Ruffini, held a meeting under the presidency of Archbishop Geraldo de Proenca Sigaud of Diamantina, Brazil. They decided—in what turned out to be a major tactical blunder—to make every effort to prevent inclusion of the document on the Jews in the schema on the Church. The Pope could never, it was argued, allow a separate and isolated document on the Jews to be accepted by the Council. And if this document were incorporated into the schema on the Church, it could be protected.

_____________

On more than one point the new version of the document on the Jews which Bea's secretariat had prepared after the Council discussions held on the 28th and 29th of September was stronger than the November 8 draft. The tone was positive. The term “deicide” was included. The offensive passage concerning the conversion of the Jews in the Cicognani version was eliminated. Bea now went to see Paul and, according to authoritative sources, urged that the document be allowed to come to a vote before the end of the session without being split up or weakened in any way; such, he said, was the wish of the Council. The final vote (meaning ratification and promulgation) could be taken at the fourth session.

A few days later, the document was delivered to the Theological Commission for examination. In the meantime, exact copies of the new version made their way out of the SECU to conservative Cardinals, to the desk of the Egyptian ambassador, and ultimately to the Ministry of Guidance in Cairo. Caution was counseled, however; it was felt that the document would not make its way successfully either through the Theological Commission or the Coordinating Committee. But nothing happened to the new text in the Theological Commission, which refused to incorporate it into the schema on the Church. By Wednesday, October 21, it was back in the hands of the SECU, and from there it travelled to the Coordinating Committee. Apprehension arose in the conservative camp once more: things were going too well with the document, and the Coordinating Committee could not, theoretically, interfere with the actual text. True, it had dared do this in April-May but the result had been disastrous and there had been a subtle excoriation by Heenan on the Council floor (“I have no idea who are the theologians charged with drawing up this document . . . certainly they are not expert in this matter”).

Cicognani, however—who was supposed to hand the document back to the SECU ready for printing and redistribution to the Council Fathers by Monday the 26th of October—once again started delaying tactics. Already by the 24th, he had heard of a proposed meeting under the aegis of the Ministry of Guidance in Cairo on the 27th of all Christian community leaders in order to protest against the document on the Jews. He wanted the memorandum these leaders would draw up to come to Paul's attention before it was too late. And the memorandum indeed turned out to be strong, playing on all of Paul's fears as head of the Church. How could the Pope, it asked, prefer to align himself and his Church with 10,000,000 Jews (the numbers were inaccurate) against 100,000,000 Arabs? Besides, any attempt to absolve the Jews from deicide was contrary to the teaching of Scripture. And lastly, this unholy washing of the “guilty one” was sure to cause a schism in the Church.

Cicognani urged these objections on the Pope. However, pressure was also coming from the Moderators of the Council; the insistence of the American Cardinals (except for Mclntyre) was unrelenting; the very intensity of Arab opposition had made it politically impossible for the Pope to accede to their demands; and the summation of the Council debate on the document showed an overwhelming majority in favor of it. Cicognani was therefore overruled. The order for printing the new version went out.

Cicognani nevertheless held off the printing for eight more days—and with good reason. Once printed, the text could hardly be withheld from distribution. Once distributed, it could hardly be withheld from a preliminary vote by the Council. For what Bea had now produced was no longer merely a document on the Jews and we can no longer speak of it as such. Running to more than 1200 words and bearing the title, The Relationship of the Church to the Non-Christian Religions, it dealt with Hindus, Buddhists, and Moslems, as well as with Jews, and then concluded with a general disquisition on universal brotherhood and the evils of discrimination. There was no doubt that it would be acceptable to the great majority of the Council Fathers.

The Jewish part itself was clear on the basic issues. In round terms, it condemned the idea that the Jews as a people were or are deicides. It repudiated the idea that the Jews were cursed or rejected by God. It denounced hatred and persecution of Jews. It called on Christians to foster relations of mutual esteem and knowledge with Jews. It did not contain any expression of the proselytizing spirit which was present in the version submitted to the Council in September of 1964. And it spoke of Judaism as an intrinsically valid ethos and religious way of life today.

_____________

In drawing up this new text, it would seem that Bea was intent on doing something more than submerging his draft of November 8 in a document of wider ambit or placating Moslem, Hindu, or Buddhist sentiment. While he must have taken these considerations into account, he also must have calculated that such a document would be of prime value to Paul VI on his forthcoming visit to Bombay, and that Paul would immediately see this. Paul, however, continued to hesitate, and at this point, according to well-informed reports, Cicognani suggested the procedural maneuver of a split vote. The text fell naturally into three parts: Hindus and Buddhists; Moslems; and Jews. Why not have a separate vote on each part? The first two parts (Hindus and Buddhists; Moslems) would be sure to receive overwhelming majorities, while there would be dissension concerning the third (Jews). The third part might even be detached from the other two, leaving them to be approved en bloc. In addition, the whole text, as well as the religious liberty document (about which the Pope had so many misgivings as opening the door to indifferentism and as usable by the Italian Communists in persuading Catholics that they could vote Communist with a good conscience in the now imminent elections) would be distributed late, as late as four days before the end of the session.

In accordance with this plan, the document on religious liberty was distributed on the 17th, with the promise of a vote on the 19th, and Bea's new document on non-Christian religions was distributed on the 18th with a promise of a vote on the 20th. So confident were the conservative forces that neither document would come to a vote at all that Nasser's representative in Rome was reported to have said to some companions at a private party that his government and the Arab peoples had stopped worrying about “the premature adoption of the Zionist document.”

On Thursday morning, the Council convened as usual in St. Peter's Basilica. After some preliminary business, Cardinal Tisserant arose to announce that no vote would be taken on the religious liberty document. The reason, he said, was that some 250 to 300 Bishops had expressed the wish that the vote be delayed. Over two-thousand pairs of eyes switched from Tisserant's red-bearded face to the downcast eyes of Archbishop Pericle Felici, Secretary of the Council, who had assured them on Tuesday and again on Wednesday that the vote would be taken. Cardinal Cicognani stirred uneasily in his seat. And then pandemonium—of a restricted kind, but pandemonium—broke loose. Bishops rose from their places, descended the aisles, and gathered in little knots. Cardinal Meyer of Chicago went to the table of the Council Presidents to argue with conservative Cardinals Siri and Ruffini, who were by now looking rather uncomfortable. He then joined Cardinal Ritter and others to discuss the matter. Bishop Frank Reh, Rector of the North American College in Rome, called for paper, and a petition was drawn up for the Pope. Cardinals Ritter, Meyer, and Leger left the hall to go straight to the Pope. The petition circulated feverishly among the agitated Bishops.

Paul was watching on his closed-circuit television screen closely. One of his secretaries reportedly heard him murmur apprehensively: “Abbiamo delle guai; non hanno capito” (“We have trouble; they have not understood”). The telephone rang on the table of Felici in the Council hall: would the Secretary please re-establish order and proceed with the day's work? Felici motioned Bishop de Smedt, one of the finest orators at the Council, to the podium to begin his report on the religious liberty document. De Smedt's speech—which included a cold factual account of the procedural maneuvers practiced in recent days to keep the document on religious liberty off the floor—was punctuated five times by applause that sometimes went on for minutes in defiance of all calls of order.

C'era la bomba oggi” (“It was the day of the bomb”), remarked the valet of Cardinal Pizzardo to a Council theologian that afternoon. This was almost literally true. Bishop Reh's petition was eventually signed by over 1500 Council Fathers and brought to Paul's notice. But Paul's authority as Pope was at stake; he could not go back on his decision. Even when, at an evening meeting with his Cardinals, new requests were made that he allow the religious liberty vote to take place, he remained adamant. There would be no vote. And Tisserant rose on Friday to state in the name of the Holy Father that the vote was being put off until the fourth session.

None of Felici's attempts on Friday morning—the last voting day of the session—to introduce a relaxed atmosphere succeeded. He addressed the assembled Bishops as Venerandi (“Venerable”) instead of his usual (and less reverential) Amplis-simi et Ornatissimi (“Most illustrious and most noble”) . He announced that the Holy Father had decided to confer a gold medal on each of the Bishops present, and that he was also going to confer twenty-six new powers on General Superiors. It was all to no purpose. The majority was disillusioned and disappointed; and the decision blocking the document on religious liberty had evoked an unpleasant response in many countries. The result was that even Cardinal Ruffini thought that a vote on Bea's document on non-Christian religions had now become necessary. The procedural maneuver of a split vote was abandoned, and Bea's entire text was introduced. After three years of struggle, then, a declaration on the Jews was finally permitted to reach the Council floor.

An overwhelming majority of the Council Fathers, roughly 89 per cent, declared in favor of it. This vote means that the Jewish part of the text is now an official document of the Council. Since it has not yet been promulgated, the possibility still exists that it may again be altered. But it cannot be discarded or left aside. In a truly historic act, one which may come to be seen as a major step in the process of Christian self-renewal in our time, the highest legislative and representative body of the Roman Catholic Church has unequivocally issued a statement that will be of immense value in uprooting anti-Semitism and destroying some of its main foundations.


Footnotes

1 The quotation is from Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo.

2 See Letters from Vatican City by the pseudonymous Xavier Rynne (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 289 pp., $3.95) and Pope, Council, and World by Robert Blair Kaiser (Macmillan, 266 pp., $4.95).

3 For exended descriptions of the second session in general, see The Open Church by Michael Novak (Macmillan, 370 pp., $6.50) and The Second Session by Xavier Rynne (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 390 pp., $4.95).

4 Cf. The Pilgrim by the pseudonymous Michael Serafian (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 281 pp., $4.50).

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