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Pope: Jewish people must never again be blamed for crucifixion

By on Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Pope Benedict XVI visits Rome’s main synagogue in January 2010. In his new book he seeks to deepen Catholic-Jewish dialogue (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Pope Benedict XVI visits Rome’s main synagogue in January 2010. In his new book he seeks to deepen Catholic-Jewish dialogue (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Benedict XVI is to make a major new contribution to Catholic-Jewish relations with a gripping theological assessment of who was culpable for the death of Jesus Christ.

The Pope takes a significant step forward in furthering the cause of inter-religious dialogue by explicitly exonerating the Jewish people from all blame for the Crucifixion and death of Jesus.

In his forthcoming book on Jesus, the Pope dedicates three pages to the famous passage in St Matthew’s Gospel in which “the Jews” demand the execution of Christ and shout to Pontius Pilate: “Let his blood be on us and on our children.”

He uses both scholarship and faith to explain that the mob does not represent the Jewish people, but sinful humanity in general.

Furthermore, he offers theological insights to say that the blood of Jesus is not used in the purposes of vengeance but is poured out to reconcile mankind to God.

It was not “poured out against anyone, it is poured out for many, for all”, the Pope writes in Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week: From Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, which will be published on Thursday by the Catholic Truth Society.

He adds that St Matthew’s reference to the blood of Our Lord does not represent “a curse, but rather redemption, salvation”.

The passage in St Matthew’s Gospel is particularly contentious because it has been used down the centuries to try to justify the anti-Semitism of some Christians, which, the Pope laments, had often resulted in “grave consequences”, an allusion to the persecution of European Jews.

The passage generates such strong feelings that Mel Gibson was forced to drop it from the subtitles of his 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, although he did not cut the comments in their Aramaic form from the script.

In 1965 the Vatican rejected the idea of the collective culpability of Jewish people for the death of Christ in the Second Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate, a move which angered some Catholics.

By his remarks Pope Benedict is re-stating and consolidating the now accepted teaching of the Church in continuity with the attempts of his predecessors to build bridges with the Jewish people. Commentators who have seen extracts from the book released by the Vatican this week, however, say that the Pope, a respected scholar and theologian in his own right, is also offering a unique theological insight into the New Testament texts.

Sister Margaret Shepherd, secretary of the bishops’ conference committee for Catholic-Jewish relations, said: “Pope Benedict offers original insights into the death of Jesus and the question of responsibility for it. Pope Benedict takes further Nostra Aetate’s rejection of the deicide charge against the Jews by providing scriptural depth to our understanding of it. We have to see this in the context of the tragic history of such a charge, which has provided a rallying cry for anti-Semites over the centuries and whose effects still linger today.”

She added: “Pope Benedict has continued the genuine desire of his predecessors, Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, for dialogue and encounter with the Jewish people.

“He has visited synagogues, significantly the Cologne synagogue early in his pontificate, as well as the Rome Synagogue. He has visited Auschwitz and Yad Vashem in Israel. He sent warm greetings to the president of the state of Israel on the occasion of the state’s 60th anniversary. [And] he has met with a number of chief rabbis,” including Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks.

Emeritus Archbishop Kevin McDonald of Southwark, the chairman of the bishops’ committee for Catholic-Jewish relations, said: “Pope Benedict’s new book offers a profound reflection on the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ.

“It goes to the heart of the Christian mystery and his writing is bold and revealing. It is very appropriate that it is being released as we approach the season of Lent since it provides a very fertile preparation for the celebration of Holy Week.”

The new book is the long-awaited sequel to Jesus of Nazareth: From Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, which became a best-seller when it was published in 2007.

  • LeFloch

    What a lot of nonsense! Poor old Shylocks had to rip people off – they were only making a living. Business is business! The Jews are always the victims? Time to read some better history books Jordan.

  • Barabbas

    I’ll ignore your first question because you cannot identify statements thatI asserted such a connection either directly or even indirectly.

    You are correct in saying that the “use of religion or social custom as a cover for the enslavement of a particular group of people to hazardous but necessary occupations is not a development isolated to European culture.”

    However, with respect to the Jews and usury there is no historical evidence to prove they were forced into it, in fact, they willingly sought it out.

    I’ll let Norman Roth, professor of Jewish History at the University of Wisconsin, demonstrate that it is erroneous and unsubstantiated for you to propose that Jews had to be locked into “cycles of victimization” to ensure Christian “financing of their realms” (Ever hear of the Medici and the Fuggers??).

    From: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/history/Ancient_and_Medieval_History/632-1650/Christendom/Commerce/Moneylending.shtml

    “General histories of the Middle Ages, and even more specialized ones such as those on medieval commerce, say two things about Jews: they were “usurers” and they engaged in the slave trade.”

    “As noted elsewhere, fanciful theories have been advanced as fact with regard to Jews either having been “forced,” or voluntarily choosing to abandon landholding, and with no alternative choosing moneylending as a livelihood. Not one scrap of evidence has ever been produced to support such theories, and in fact there is no evidence. Undoubtedly the above statement by authoritative rabbis are correct: the ever increasing tax burdens, on the one hand, and the relatively large profits to be made with virtually no risk, on the other, encouraged Jews to engage in moneylending on ever larger scales.”

    “Another factor that has sometimes been suggested, the lack of alternative availability of lenders owing to church prohibitions on usury, ignores reality in favor of theory. While it is true that canon law, beginning in the late twelfth century and throughout the thirteenth, placed absolute prohibitions and harsh penalties on Christian lending on interest, it is also true that these measures were frequently ignored in practice even by churches, monasteries, bishops and the popes themselves. Italian merchants were present in France and Germany and ever ready to lend money, charging such rates of interest as the market would allow. It has frequently been pointed out that the rates of interest charged by Jews never approached the rates charged by Christian lenders, including Church authorities…”

    So Jordan, how did ” higher fees” provide “self-defense for the Jewish community” if the interest rates of Christain lenders far exceeded those of Jewish lenders? That’s right they didn’t and you have no basis for the claim.

    “It was certainly prudent and necessary to have some form of security, in the way of pledges, for loans to Christians, since it was often easy enough for the borrower simply not to repay the loans…Eventually it became necessary for civil authorities, and particularly the kings, to enact measures protecting the moneylending privileges of the Jews and to ensure that they were repaid.”

    Wow Jordan, those Medieval Christian rulers and civil authorities sure had one strange sort of antipathy toward the Jews to decree they were always to be repaid! That’s one crazy “caste” system!

    It is not my view of late Medieval Banking history that is jaundiced. It is your view that is uninformed and thus poorly reasoned. Why not do some research first and heed LeFloch’s advice to correct your solipsistic epistemology.

  • Anonymous

    I agree. Too many people with opinions in these matters who know nothing of the history of the Church or of the Jews.

    I suggest they begin with the comments of a few years ago of Fr. Peter Gumpel, postulator of the Cause of Pius XII, who openly criticised the Jewish contingent of a Catholic/Jewish Commission set up in the Vatican to investigate the history of Pius XII’s Pontificate during World War II. Fr. Gumpel said that some of the Jewish historians, not finding anything condemnatory on Pius, were “leaking false and tendentious information to the international press to the detriment of the Holy See.”

    It has to be said, though, that there are many decent Jews, some even declaring that Pius XII should be recognised by all Jews for the great friendship he showed them during their darkest hour. That there are many decent Jews does not detract, however, from the fact that there are also malevolent ones who hate the Catholic religion. They may be small in number but they are great in worldly power.

  • Jordan

    Okay, fine. It’s true that Christians of the medieval and renaissance periods often disregarded the canonical prohibition against usury. Christian pawn brokers often performed primitive banking services for the societies of this time. It’s very difficult to create an embryonic capitalist economy without the time use of money.

    Nevertheless, it’s beyond dispute that Jewish people in “Christendom” (whatever that is), possessed absolutely no human rights or protections because of putative deicide charges. I still contend that the Jewish people, regardless of occupation, were much easier to dispatch for any reason. Could a bankrupt petty noble whack a Fugger or Medici? Don’t think so. Could he go to the Jewish ghetto and murder a lender? I doubt that there would be an uproar. Perhaps he might even be lauded for this action.

    Again, your writings deceitfully cover up the reality of the Jewish people in premodern Europe. The (wrongful, shameful) persecution of the Jewish people under the cover of deicide ensured that their community could be blamed not only for pestilence, plague &c. but also for providing a necessary financial service regardless of choice or compulsion.

    Bottom line: premodern European Jews, like dalits today, are the “non-people” of their respective societies. Locked out of property-holding and stable domicile, both groups live and die at the whim of those with ritual or cultural status. The presence or absence of Christian lenders is independent on the permanent scapegoat status of Jews in premodern Europe.

  • Barabbas

    Jordan,
    My writings do no such thing. It is a historical fact that Jews were scapegoated and massacred during the Medieval epoch. So where do we disagree? With respect to the persecutions of Medieval Jews, I don’t conflate the Magisterium of the Catholic Church ( “the Church’s divinely appointed authority to teach the truths of religion”. In other words, Our Lord gave His Church the authority to teach the faithful about what is expected of them, and that is what the Church has done consistently from the start.) with the actions of the rulers and populace of the various Medieval European realms and polities i.e. sinners in the “City of Man.” You on the other hand do so when you write about the “whim of those with ritual or cultural status.” I believe you are sympathetic to the accusation that the Catholic Church is THE historic matrix of anti-Semitism (Martin Luther, I can see). Unfortunately, many churchmen have accepted the role of defendant against accusers (such as yourself) who will never acquit the Church or drop the case.

    The Magisterium taught (as early as A. D. 598) with the Papal Bull Sicut Judaeis non the following:

    (1) that the Jews are not to be compelled by force to embrace Christianity, but are only to be baptized of their own free will;

    (2) that apart from a judicial sentence in a court of law no one is to injure them in life or limb or to take away their property or to interfere with such customary rights as they may have enjoyed in the places where they live;

    (3) that they are not to be attacked with sticks and stones on occasion of their festival celebrations, nor are they to be compelled to render any feudal services beyond such as are customary;

    (4) that their cemeteries in particular are not to violated.

    This teaching was reissued and confirmed as it was by some twenty or thirty pontiffs during a period of 500 years and best represents the Church’s view of the duty of toleration more so than any persecuting edicts evoked by special circumstances or colored by the anti-Jewish prejudices of feudal legislators.

    The historical evidence cited in my writing here and in my prior post (which you grudgingly conceded). contests your case that the Catholic Church countenanced Medieval Jew “whackings” and thus became the Mother of all European anti-Semitism. Moreover, it explains your allergic and polemical reactions to my ” jaundiced” and “deceitful” views. I just won’t accept the role of apologetic defender against accusers such as yourself who will never acquit the Church and will never let go of their tidy pseudo-dalit fomulae: Catholics=bad, Jews=good; Catholics=persecuters, Jews=persecuted.

  • Jordan

    Martin Luther’s writings on the Jews are despicable. No one can absolve him as a product of his time. Even worse, his writings also further amplified the anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism of subsequent generations of central and northern Europeans. It’s not difficult to see how Nazism rose up in a land deeply influenced by Luther’s virulent hatreds.

    The premodern Catholic Church’s “official” stance on anything does not matter if the legislation failed to protect civil authorities from ignoring, or even actively denying, Jewish people at least a small amout of protection from pogroms and daily discrimination. One could argue that the dhimmi system placed on Christians and Jews under Ottoman rule was a form of socio-religious protection based on Islamic tenents. Islamic law permitted the Ottoman rulers to levy a poll tax on the “people of the book” that wished to live according to their existing socio-religious dictates. Sometimes local Ottoman rulers in the Balkans were unconcerned with the conduct of their subjects so long as they paid tax through their religious-community representatives. Other times, rulers actively persecuted those who did not convert to Islam and severely curtailed the rights of dihimmis either through coercion or outright violence. Dhimmis had virtually no rights in courts — the “testimony” of any Muslim immediately overruled any dhimmi testimony. Dhimmis were also subject to certain social stigmas (unique clothing, for example.) At first, Islamic legal policy appears to be somewhat lenient towards the “people of the book”. In reality, dhimmis lived an arbitrarily violent life because their putative rights under Islam could be summarily violated under the veneer of religious “tolerance”.

    Many have tried to minimize the Church’s role in the Inquisition, and especially the Inquisition in Spain, by appealing to ideal rulings such as yours. It is true that the Inquisition was in many cases an organ of the state. Still, ecclesiastical authorities often did little or nothing to protect Jews from intimidation through acts of theocide. The burning of Talmud scrolls is an act of theocide. While burning parchment might not have immediately occasioned the burning of people (at least immediately), the destruction of Jewish ritual property set the stage for the harrassment, objectification, and eventually murder of Jewish people and the destruction of their communities. Did ecclesiastical authorities step in and mitigate the destruction of Jewish ritual property? No. In fact, many clerics justified this behavior as a salutary program of “destroying heresy”. In this case, heresy accusations and the destruction of Jewish ritual property were merely a prelude to informal pogroms or state-structured persecution of Jews, Muslims, and anyone in the way of the institution of a theocratic state.

    Ecclesiastical statements and ecclesiastical activities (actions of clerics and those influenced by them) in premodern Europe are entirely separate points. You’ve made the facile claim that vague ecclesiastical legislation sufficed to protect Jews from discrimination and random acts of violence. Did similarly vague laws always protect Ottoman dhimmi? Certainly not. The centuries of ecclesiastical and European civil harassment against Jews through ideological warfare kept the useful suppression of the Jewish community at a boil. The Nazi regime and the Holocaust has demonstrated that deeply ingrained prejudices over centuries can be quickly fanned into a burning flame of hatred even in our own day.

  • Anonymous

    This does seem to evade the truth somewhat, Jews did after all call for the crucifixion! I think a clear distinction needs to be made however, between the Jews as a race, and the group of Jews 2000 years ago that called for the death of Jesus. An entire race cannot be blamed for the actions of very few.

  • Bbshort

    Cannot Change the Gospel. Anti bogusism is just that bogus. Guilty parties all stand! The Gospel was first preached to the Jews, they hands down –get this you bone heads that don’t read the Gospel but listen to idiots,– ‘REJECTED THE GOSPEL. Nothing else can be said. God controls the Gospel, that is the Holy Spirit and those who ahem, protect it, speak in His Name and not in the name of a lunatic.

    The first priority is to Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. How can you do that if, you do not understand it? It is obvious that 90 percent of you do not comprehend this at all.

    Read the History of the Church with the Holy Spirit as your Guide. Not some man that is trying to win ‘votes’ like a Politician. I bet most of you cannot tell the difference when a Priest acts like a Politician. I win you cannot see, because, you did not learn from the Holy Spirit who is the Third Person of the Godhead.

    I feel the pain My Lord of these so called Catholic Christians. Most of you will be sent to expiate for a long time, it’s called Purgatory.

    Peace be with you

  • observer

    why not? they killed Jesus Christ even though he was their fellow Jew.. Jews have collective guilt over Jesus death.. Joseph Ratzinger was in Hitler Youth)…Even his previous war time commander, Hitler wanted to eliminate all of them for what they did to Christ.

    Why bother about the Jews. They continue to deny Christ. Why make any alliance with them. Its better to seek an alliance with the Lutherans, Anglicans, Orthodox and grow bigger and eventually have an alliance with the Muslims.

    when we get an alliance with the Muslims it means the end of the world is nigh.

  • RJ

    That must be the extraordinary magisterium! LOL

  • christian

    Dtmartin this is only modern interpretation that “sins kill jesus”. The preVatican Catholic church in its absolute truth taught that “the jews killed jesus, so all jews are culcaple in the act so ALL jews must show reparation. Then they reliased that this teaching was anti-semitic and lacking in forgiveness so they took opportunity of Vatican 2 to change the message. So much for the absolute truth.

    But Herr Hitler had it right. exterminate the Jews, all of them because they killed Christ. He was ably advised by his papal nuncio who later because Pope Pius XII – the so called Hitler’s Pope. The problem with the Catholic Church today is they lack a consistent message. One Pope says one thing, one Pope says another. When will they return to the Word of Gods and discover the Jesus of the Bible?

    Here we find the classical example of a Pope who may say something and do quite the opposite, No wonder people are leaving his church in DROVES. Of course he doesn’t blame himself, his cardinals and his serial molester priests. He spins it and find the blame externally in something called “RELATIVISM”

  • traveller

    what a hypocrite we have here. This is a Hitler Youth pope. Now he is absolving the Jews? Do they have some of his dirty dark secret in their archive somewhere? Are they paying him anything to say that. We all know that the Jews rule the world by proxy. They pay others to do the dying on their behalf. One minute he is saying the largely Jewish New York Times has a conspiracy against the church basis the expose of serial molester priests. Next minute he is embracing the Jews. Good grief. What would we have next?

    Herr Hitler would know what to do….

  • Aging Papist

    Well, it looks as though Pope Benedict has finally severed all ties to the Jew-hating SSPX which had hoped to use the pontiff’s kindness toward them for their own nefarious and malevolent purposes. I hope Pope Benedict will now anathematize them once and for all as the heretics and schismatics they are.

  • Auricularis

    You can hope as much as you like but you’re going to be severely disappointed, just as you probably disappointed when Summorum Pontificem came out.

  • Auggie888

    right Seangough.
    therefore, I ask why do many of us so dislike/hate the other religious people living side by side with them in Palestine? So much so, that many of us do not even Pray, let alone worry about the 1.6 mill in neighboring Gaza.

  • Anthony

    I think the Holy Father is right. We can’t blame the Jews. Whenever we sin we crucify Jesus again. I can’t imagine how many times we crucify Jesus in just one day.