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Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Mid-East Synod, Maximos IV, and Nostra Aetate

I saw mention in the news today of the ending message of the Mid-East Synod .... Bishops at Meeting Urge Israel to End Its Occupation of Palestinian Territories ...

In a final communiqué at the end of a two-week-long meeting at the Vatican on the plight of Christians in the Middle East, the bishops also urged Israel not to use the Bible “to wrongly justify injustices,” apparently referring to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. But in a news conference Saturday, the archbishop in charge of the committee that drafted the communiqué, Cyrille Salim Bustros, appeared to go further, saying the Bible did not justify a Jewish presence in Israel. “The concept of the promised land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians,” he said. “Sacred scripture should not be used to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestine.” Archbishop Bustros, of Newton, Mass., belongs to the Greek-Melkite church, an Eastern Rite church whose bishops participated in the Vatican’s annual Middle East synod ....

I guess this is the church speaking out against mistreatment of the Palestinians, but I have to wonder if there's not also an agenda of furthering Christian aims at the expense of those Jewish. Maybe I'm wrong, but let's take a trip back to the creation pf Nostra Aetate at Vatican II. At that time, the then Patriarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, Maximos IV Sayegh, also spoke against Israel and his stance had an effect on the final document. Here's an excerpt, first, from Jesuit John O'Malley's book, What Happened at Vatican II, and after that, a quote from the into to Maximos's documents for Vatican II .....

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What Happened at Vatican II

* pp. 218-224 ......

[T]he council turned its attention to the extremely brief but also highly controversial declaration On the Jews and Non-Christians -- De Judaeis et de non Christanis. Cardinal Bea had introduced it ..... It originated with a specific mandate of John XXIII to Bea .... John's wartime experiences had made him sensitive to the atrocities of the Holocaust and to the complicity of many Catholics in them. But a specific and immediate stimulus for John's mandate to Bea in September was an audience that he had granted to the Jewish scholar Jules Isaac ....

Other factors, however, were also at work. Earlier in 1960, the rector of the Biblicum, Ernst Vogt, had sent a petition to the Central Preparatory Commission, signed by himself and eighteen members of the faculty, asking that the council address the problem of anti-Semitism .....

By August 1961, well before the council opened, the Secretariat had prepared a brief scheme titled "On the Jews" .... Although much of the opposition stemmed from what were perceived to be the political ramifications the declaration might have and the difficulties it might raise for Christians in the Middle East, other reasons were also at play .... Rolf Hochhuth's play Der Stellvertreter [about Pius XII and the Holocaust] .... created a sensation ... The affair deeply disturbed the Vatican and troubled perhaps nobody more than Paul VI, who had been one of Pius' closest assistants during the war years. The pope worried that the council's declaration might be taken as a validation of Hochhuth's position. Beyond that specific problem lay the deeper and all too widespread anti-Semitism that based itself on the New Testament .....

It became clear by the fall of 1963 that the council could not treat the Jews without treating other non-Christian religions, especially Islam ..... Thus the document originally intended as a theological statement on the Jews and in some form a condemnation of anti-Semitism, was eventually expanded into the final version ..... the text was revised again and again .... It soon became clear that the pope and Bea did not see eye-to-eye on the text, particularly on what was to be said about the critical issue of deicide .... Bea was intent on absolving of the crime not only contemporary Jews but also the Jewish people of Christ's time, as distinct from certain of their leaders. On that issue the pope prevailed ....

Bea opened his presentation on September 25, 1964 .... He then moved immediately to the question of deicide, which was an implicit plea to change the text the council had before it .... Toward the end, Bea insisted that the declaration "has nothing to do with any political questions," specifically nothing to do with Zionism or with the state of Israel .... "What is at stake here is our responsibility to truth and justice ..." ....

Ruffini, as usual among the first speakers, had the courage to say what others were thinking. He began by stating that the declaration piles up praise of the Jews so high that it sounds like a panegyric .... we have a right to expect the Jews to acknowledge that they unjustly condemned Christ to death. We need to pray that God will "remove the veil" from their eyes that prevents them from seeing Christ as the Messiah .... We do not need exhortations to love the Jews, Ruffini continued. They need exhortations to love us. Everybody is aware that the Jews support and promote the "pernicious sect" called the Masons, which is out to destroy the church ... the original text [would] be scrapped .....

***

* p. 250- ...

No schema roused greater anxiety in the pope, the Secretariat of State, the Secretariat for Christian Unity, however, than On the Jews and Non-Christian Religions .... a much-revised draft had passed with a large majority but with a disturbing number of votes "with reservations." That draft opened with "In our times" (Nostra Aetate), words by which the final text would be known .... Instead of beginning with the Jews, it began with the common origin and destiny of humanity. Then it moved to a brief but positive appraisal of Hinduism and Buddhism, followed by a relatively long section on Muslims. Only then came the section on the Jews, followed by the conclusion.

***

* pp. 275-6 ....

Among the documents voted on during these days was the revised text of Nostra Aetate .... By agreeing to some changes insisted upon by Maximos, it had won his support, which was crucial. Willebrands, De Smedt, and Pierre Duprey travelled to the Middle East and visited each of the patriarchs, and with that most of the Eastern Catholic bishops came into line. Maximos proposed four changes in the document, which were accepted without a problem. The Secretariat prepared an Arabic translation of the text, which included the relatively long and appreciative section on the Muslims, and this section appeared in the text before the section on Judaism. "Jews" was dropped from the title, so that it was now clear that the declaration was about the relationship of the church to all non-Christian religions.

Then Willebrands and Pierre Dupray personally delivered the translation to the Arab states’ embassies in Rome, and the Secretariat made other moves that successfully assured the Arab world that the declaration had no political implications .... Meanwhile, Bea and others who had hoped for an explicit denial of the guilt of deicide had by now resigned themselves to a weaker but still groundbreaking statement, which read: "Although the Jewish authorities with their followers pressed for the death of Jesus, still the things perpetrated during the passion cannot be ascribed indiscriminately to all Jews living at the time nor to the Jews of today ... Moreover, the Church, which condemns all persecutions against any people ... deplores feelings of hatred, persecutions, and demonstrations of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at whatever time and by whomsoever."

***************

You can read all of what what Maximos had to say at the council on this subject - The Church and Other Religions, The Jewish Problem at the Council and Arab Reactions - but here's just the intro to his documents - Note of the Bulletin de Presse of the Patriarchate, dated December 31, 1964 ....

The reaction of Arab countries to the conciliar declaration on the Jews surpassed in violence the most pessimistic expectations. Like any popular reaction, it at times went too far, above all because of the public’s ignorance of the exact tenor of the conciliar text, which, as we know, was still only a draft. But, even independent of all passionate exaggeration, the reaction of the Arabic peoples, Christian and Muslim, Orthodox, Protestant or Catholic, should be an eye-opener. It was not without cause that the Eastern patriarchs warned the Fathers of the council that such a declaration was inopportune. This was not because of pusillanimity or anti-Semitism. It was not enough for the Secretariat for Christian Unity, which prepared this text, to declare that it was in good faith, that it was not playing politics, to justify washing its hands. The secretariat and the world-wide episcopacy cannot ignore the fact that there is a state that calls itself Israel, that that state claims to embody Judaism, that what is said of Judaism as a religion is inevitably interpreted by Israel as being said of itself as a state and a world-wide Zionist movement, that any declaration in favor of Judaism as a religion is exploited by Israel as a support given indirectly to the imperialist and expansionist politics of worldwide Zionism against the Arab countries. Nobody doubts that the council does not wish this interpretation, but Israel wishes it, and the Fathers of the council, as responsible and realistic leaders, must not lend themselves to this maneuver, above all in the circumstances where the tension between the Arab states and Israel is at its maximum, without mentioning that the draft of the text leaves itself open even to criticisms of the theological order. What is said about Judaism is not false, but it does not represent all the revealed truth. Being incomplete, it can easily be also considered partisan, saying only, on the subject of Judaism, what is pleasing to Jews. In the face of what this painful position has done to the Church in Arab countries, where Orthodox and Protestants have broken the ties with Catholicism, causing a substantial lag in the ecumenical movement, which had begun under better auspices, we believe that it is useful, as much to fulfill our responsibilities as to clarify world opinion, to publish the notes, documents, and commentaries that His Beatitude the Patriarch, with the concurrence of the hierarchy of our Church, has made public until now on this subject.


5 Comments:

Blogger Michael Jadison said...

This is very informative, thank you for posting this. Further information on the role of Eastern Catholic bishops during the debate and drafting of "Nostra Aetate" can be found here or, more directly, here.

7:08 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Michael, thanks for the links.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Dina said...

Thanks for all this information, Crystal.
Change is not easy.

12:04 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Dina,

Yes, I keep hoping things will get better and better. At least Pope Francis seems more interested in friendship between out two faiths than the previous pope.

12:11 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Oops - that should be "our two faiths" :)

12:12 PM  

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