Faith Without Prejudice, Eugene Fischer

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Faith Without Prejudice

Rebuilding Christian Attitudes Toward Judaism

By Eugene J. Fischer

Excerpts from the text:

Introduction: John & Isaac

Begins with a focus on Pope John XXIII and his predecessor Pope Pius XI, both of whom were concerned with the plight of Jews during WWII.

Pope Pius XI said in 1938: “The sacrifice of Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, the sacrifice of Melchizedek, in three strokes, in three lines, in three steps show the whole religious history of humanity…Abraham is called our patriarch, our ancestor. Anti-Semitism is not compatible with the thought and the sublime reality expressed in the Mass…Through Christ and in Christ, we are the spiritual descendents of Abraham. Spiritually, we are Semites” (Documentation Catholique, 39, 1938, col. 1460). (p.19)

The constitution of Jews set forth by Pope Alexander III and Pope Innocent II set a precedent for all popes. It said that ‘since through the Jews our own (Christian) faith is truly proved, they must not be oppressed grievously by the faithful.” Fisher said that “the Jewish people continue to play an essential role in God’s plan of salvation. Christian existence is dependent upon Jewish survival.” (p.20)

It was a Jewish Historian, Jules Isaac, who convinced Pope John XXII that something should be done about ridding Christian teachings of the many anti-Jewish myths.  With the assembly of the Second Vatican Council, this issue was addressed with a special statement in their Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. This act opened the door for new dialogue between the two faiths and the chapters of this book describe items that can be tackled in these new discussions.

Ch.1  A Bridge Across Time

  • Customary ceremony for papal coronation in the medieval period – Torah Roll Ceremony (p.23-24)
  • Example of Christians who helped Jews escape death by the crusaders (p.25)
  • Review of conflict and its origins (p.27-34)
    • Sections: New Testament (early unity of Christianity & Judaism p.28), Family Quarrel (metaphor for relationship between Christians and Jews), Basic Disagreement, Seeds of Mistrust, The Pharisees, Competition for Converts, Pagan Anti-Semitism
  • Reconciliation: The Second Vatican Council (p.34) – Tells how Catholics have taken steps to amend past wrongs towards Jews.

Ch. 2 Understanding Jesus, The Faithful Jew

Chapter looks at insights to be gained by reading the New Testament in the light of Jesus’ personal commitment to Judaism. Emphasizes the similarities between Jesus’ teaching and that of the Pharisees (p.39-55)

  • Sections: The Law of Love, Jesus & the Talmud, Hillel & Shammai, The Sermon on the Mount, Parables & Parallels
  • Basic aspects of traditional Christian theology are rooted in the Judaism of the Pharisees
    • Christian liturgy is based on the synagogue service
    • Order of the Mass follows the order of the Passover Seder
    • Pentecost, which comes fifty days after Passover in Judaism and fifty days after Easter in Christianity, celebrates the rounding of the people of God.
    • Major beliefs such as heaven and hell, the Last Judgment, the spiritualization of the temple sacrifice, angels and devil, the resurrection of the body, and the direct worship of God as Father. (p.54)

Ch.3 Are the Gospels Anti-Semitic?

The Gospels are not anti-Semitic, though if they are not properly understood within the context of their time it can show Judaism in a bad light. “To an audience deeply familiar with Judaism, as were the first readers of the Gospels, there would be no need for lengthy background explanations of the ways in which the New Testament speaks of Jews and Judaism.” However, the de-Judaizing process that occurred in Christianity soon after the close of the New Testament period led to a tendency for Jewish origins to be undervalued in Christianity (p.56-71)

  • Human Emotion & Divine Inspiration – Fisher says Catholics need to understand the context of the four Gospels and how they vary.
  • John & the Jews – describes how the term “Jews” is used in John, unlike in other Gospels. “Jews” refers to anyone “Christian or non-Christian, Jewish or pagan, who would knowingly reject the person of the risen Christ or the preaching of the Good News.” (p.60)
  • Matthew’s Apologetics – At the time Matthew’s Gospel was written the Christian community was dominated by Gentiles, and the two faiths were growing farther apart and tensions were high. Situation explains the negative representation of Jews in his Gospel.
    • Sections: The Anti-thesis in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount (p.64), Matthew’s Additions to the Sources (p.68)

Ch.4 Who Killed Jesus?

According to the Catechism of the Council of Trent (16th c.) the crucifixion was Christ’s free decision, and in order for humanity to be saved through Christ’s redeeming passion, all humanity must be seen as sharing in the guilt for the deed. (p. 72-81)

  • Sacred history – The New Testament is an interpretation of the meaning of real historical events. *”As Christians, we are saved only to the extent that we identify ourselves as the crucifiers of Jesus.”* (p.73)
  • Reconstructing the Event – Declaration on the Relationship of the church to non-Christian Religions: “What happened in Jesus’ passion cannot be charged against all Jews then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today.”
    • The Chief of Priests and the Sadducean Aristocracy – “The chief priests and the scribes heard of this and began to look for a way to destroy him. They were at the same time afraid of him because the whole crowd was under the spell of his teaching” (Mk. 11:18). Who were theses priests? (p.74-76)
  • The Role of Rome – Jesus was condemned for political – not religious reasons (Lk. 23:2-5)
    • Pilate was known to line the roads of Judea with crucified victims, sentenced to death on the barest hint of “revolutionary” actions or attitudes. Jesus was probably one of these.(p.77)
  • St. Matthew’s Passion Account – Improves the image of Pilalte in order to appease the Roman sensitivity. (p.78)
  • Practical Applications: Preparing for Holy Week
    • The Israel Study Group – published a version of the passion narrative based on the results of modern biblical scholarship. It avoids/corrects many of the previous distortions in understanding.

Ch.5 Dialogue for the Future

In this chapter Fisher looks at basic Church teachings that he feels will help Christians to affirm the role of Judaism in God’s plan without diluting their (Christians) own faith. “Dialogue, properly understood, should seek to help Jews to become better Jews and Christians to become better Christians.”(p. 82-88)

  • God is Faithful – “the Sinai covenant between God and the Jews remains in force today. The Jewish people, elected by God to play a unique role in the divine plan, continue to be the chosen people, for God is faithful to his promises.” (p.83 & 87)
  • Root & Branch – “If the root is consecrated, so too are the branches. If some of the branches were cut off and you (gentiles), a branch of the wild olive tree, have been grafted in among the others, and have come to share in the rich root of the olive, do not boast against the branches. If you do boast, remember that you do not support the root: the root supports you” (Rom. 11:16-18) (Speaks of Paul’s image of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity p.85)

Ch.6 Celebrations and Activities

Chapter offers suggestions on how to replace negative views and feelings of Jews within Christian communities with positive ones.(p.89-108)

  • Prayer – “Our Father” prayer is one of the few prayers that both Christians and Jews share/find acceptable.
  • Celebrating Jewish Feasts – Christians celebrating Seder as a part of Holy Week leading up to Easter (p.93), also outlines many other Jewish holy days (p.94-97).
  • Holy Week and the Passion – Refer to chapter 3 & 4 – try to work info into homilies at liturgy esp. during Holy week, and add to textbooks in Catholic schools.
  • Para-liturgical Celebrations – suggestions on alternative readings (p.99-104)
  • Classroom Activities- Sunday School (p.104-108)

Ch.7 Christian Teaching and Judaism Today: A Study of Religion Texts

A review of studies done on Catholic religious textbooks from 1950 to 1965. Study identified a large number of items that still needed to be updated based on Vatican Council II statements. Pinpointed where negative statements about Jews were most likely to be found, but also highlights areas of greatest improvement in Catholic teachings. (p.109-120)