- From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933–1965 by John Connelly
John Connelly’s lucid new work encapsulates the tensions underlying the present Catholic theological approach to the interrelationship of Jews and Christians. Centuries of Church teaching supported a relatively stable approach by the institutional Church. The racist-inspired Holocaust underscored the deficiencies of the traditional approach. The present data-driven work shows how discerning Catholic scholars and other authorities overcame long-standing approaches “to do” theology in the light of new times.
Tensions survive, of course. Recently, for example, American bishops asserted that Catholics look forward to the inclusion of the entire “people of Israel” into the Church. The bishops of Vatican II, however, had been careful not to proclaim such a position, looking to Paul’s Letter to the Romans in order to delineate the contemporary teaching that recognizes that Jews were still bound by the Covenant that they had made with God. Such tensions remain to be reconciled.
Connelly launches his study with an overview of pre–World War II Catholic attitudes toward racism. The Catholic Church stood for the unity of mankind, but this did not stop groups such as German Catholics from indulging in a racist theology after World War I. The basic question asked by German theologians was that if races belonged to nature, which was essentially good, what duties did Catholics have toward [End Page 111] those whose ethnicities differed from their own? The German Jesuit theologian Hermann Muckermann—also a developmental biologist—argued that when it came to the Jews, his secular counterparts were correct in proposing that baptism did not obliterate Jewish genetic traits—and that these included the stain of having killed Christ. Muckermann acknowledged as well the widespread belief that race determined culture. Despite such attitudes, Muckermann was consulted by both Pius XI and Pius XII on confronting racism.
Karl Adam, a distinguished scholar whose views were part of mainstream Catholic theology for decades, resurrected the Thomistic principle that “grace presumes nature,” and actually perfects nature—but Adam reinterpreted the rule “love your neighbor as yourself by making “self Christian and German. Nazi actions such as anti-Jewish boycotts thereby became acts of “self-defense” aimed at constraining perceived Jewish influence. Adam’s views influenced such Catholic leaders as Yves Congar, Karl Rahner, and Paul VI. In 1935 Cardinal Bertram told German bishops at the diocesan synod of Breslau that “race, soil, and blood” were precious values that God had created. Yet this and related racist expressions of contemporary Catholic thought represented only one side of the story.
From around 1933, a small band of German Catholics—most of them formerly Jewish or Protestant converts—began organizing a robust opposition to racism, in particular its antisemitic forms, from outposts along Germany’s borders. Dissenting from the dominant anti-Judaic theology of mainstream Catholicism, these figures produced a nascent intellectual momentum that would subsequently carry the German Church forward into Vatican II. Studies of Catholic opposition to Hitler have tended to focus on the Vatican and the German bishops, but that is not where the action was. To see how another Catholic intellectual tradition confronted Nazism we need to look in such places as Salzburg, Vienna, Paris, and the Netherlands. The most immediate enemies for reform Catholics here were not the Nazis themselves, but rather other Catholics attracted to Nazism—leaders such as Bishop Alois Hudal and Joseph Eberle, both of whom sought to build intellectual bridges to Nazism.
Connelly’s major contribution is to convey the intellectual complexity of these Catholic thinkers, to follow their theological evolution, and to record contradictory directions in their thinking as they confronted their ecclesial and secular cultures. Careful consideration is given to Johannes Oesterreicher, Karl Thieme, and Waldemar Gurian as they interacted with one another and repeatedly adjusted their positions on the Jewish-Christian relationship. It took time for these figures to grasp Catholic anti-Judaism’s relationship to racial antisemitism. While...