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  • Supersessionism Rears Its Ugly Head in the Church’s Dominus Iesus: A Contextual Analysis
  • Samuel M Edelman and Samuel M. Edelman (bio)

Ambiguity and ambivalence have marked the Catholic Churches’ relationship with the Jewish people and Judaism since Saul of Tarsus converted and became Paul. Condemnation and protection have been the twin pillars of Vatican policy towards the Jews since the Church became Rome’s Church under Constantine. 1 Degradation and a good interest rate were the watchwords of the medieval Church. The Jews may have been a royal pain, but they were necessary. The Church needed its Jews. They needed them to show the vast unwashed how much better they all were than the Jews; the Church took over all that was good in Judaism while at the same time throwing out the bad. The Church was the new Israel, the new chosen, and the Gospels and the other early Church writings that made up the New Testament were to supersede Judaism and the Jews. Unfortunately for both the Church and the Jews those vast unwashed sometimes did not understand the subtlety of Church ambivalence and ambiguity. Those who could not see the difference between the Church’s need to vilify and demonize the Jews and their need to keep the Jews around from a theological perspective, murdered millions of Jews over the 2000 years of Church history. The logical conclusion drawn by the populace was that they now had carte blanche to destroy those evil Jews.

During the last 60 years the Catholic Church has found itself in a position of great controversy. Once again ambiguity and ambivalence has marked the relationship between the Church and the Jewish community. In light of Auschwitz, the Catholic Church has had to confront the question of doctrines that had been central to Church that may have had an impact in setting the groundwork for future atrocities against the Jews. In the post-Shoah world what will be the Church’s relationship with the Jewish people? It has been only in the last 50-plus years that some in the Catholic Church have begun to understand that Jesus himself would have been one of the six million murdered by the Nazis. This understanding places in question some of the most critical and crucial dogmas of the Church of last two thousand years. It places into question the Church’s [End Page 4] “teaching of contempt” of the Jews for not accepting the divinity of Jesus. It places into question the Church’s false accusation of Jewish deicide. It places into question the supersessionist doctrine of the Church. It also questions the Church’s role in 2000 years of antisemitism. Finally, it places into question the Church’s institutional silence in light of the deaths of 6,000,000 Jews. Yet, most of all it places into question the Church’s own relationship to itself and to its Jewish roots.

On one hand Pope John Paul II has moved mountains to bring about reconciliation between Jews and Catholics. On the other hand the church moves with speed to beatify Edith Stein and Pope Pius XII, while closing down the Vatican archives to a joint Jewish-Catholic commission. It moves to convert Auschwitz into a Catholic shrine while remaining silent on the words of Catholic anti-Jewish proponents such as Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran. It remains silent in the face of outrageous anti-Jewish statements by Bashir Assad, president of Syria, made while the Pope stood next to him. The activities of the excommunicated anti-Jewish prelate Levevre still resonate among some from the right of the Catholic Church. In spite of the good faith effort of many in the Church from Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration Nostra Aetate to the German and French Church hierarchies and the efforts of Cardinal O’Connor, until recently there has been very little movement to translate these exciting and important events down to the parish level. I say recently because it has not been long since the beginning of what seems to be a growing movement to confront the issues of the church’s long history of anti-Judaism and its...

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