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Relations between Catholicism and Judaism

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Title: Relations between Catholicism and Judaism  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Holy See–Israel relations, Ecône consecrations, Christian–Jewish reconciliation, Dual-covenant theology, Judeo-Christian
Collection: Catholicism and Judaism, History of Roman Catholicism, Judaism and Other Religions
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Relations between Catholicism and Judaism

Relations between Catholicism and Judaism deals with the current attitude of the Catholic Church towards Judaism and Jews, the attitude of Jews toward Catholicism and Catholics, and the changes in the relationship since World War II.


  • Background 1
  • Second World War and the Holocaust 2
  • Jewish "perfidy" 3
  • Jewish deicide 4
  • Antisemitism 5
  • Modern Catholic teachings about Judaism 6
  • Significant outstanding issues 7
    • Pius XII 7.1
    • Church repentance 7.2
    • Traditionalist Catholics 7.3
    • Arab Catholics 7.4
    • Media treatment of the Church 7.5
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Bibliography 10
  • External links 11


The Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples may have been to mark to the Jewish feast of Passover. Today, Catholics recall the Last Supper in the Mass.

Christianity started as a Jewish creed in Land of Israel in the mid-1st century. The first Christians were Jewish and the early spread of Christianity was aided by the wide extent of the Jewish diaspora in the Roman Empire. Though Jesus was not accepted as the Messiah among Jewish leaders, worshipers of the diverging religions initially co-existed within the Jewish synagogues, reading the Old Testament, singing the Psalms and joining in the various rituals of the Jewish calendar. Christians moved away from Jews in subsequent centuries, but modern Catholicism has retained much of its Hebrew literary heritage, the Old Testament (Tanakh).[1]

Even as pagans and gentiles increasingly began to attend Christian worship, the Jewish framework remained strong. While the relationship of Paul the Apostle and Judaism is still debated, he initially took part in the reactive Jewish persecution of the early Christian movement, but following his conversion, he became a leading exponent for Christianity branching away from Judaism and becoming a religion open to all, which could move away from strict Jewish dietary laws and the requirement of circumcision.[2] Judaism was recognized as a legal religion by Julius Caesar but the relationship was volatile resulting in several Jewish-Roman wars. Christianity did not receive legal recognition until the 313 Edict of Milan. The reign of the Emperor Constantine elevated Christianity to the preferred religion of the Roman State - while reducing the position of paganism and Judaism, with Christianity becoming the State church of the Roman Empire in 380. The dominance of Christianity was to flourish and outlast the Roman Empire.[3]

Following the Fall of Rome, and during the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church became a temporal power in its own right.

Second World War and the Holocaust

In the modern world, anti-Jewish sentiment reached its zenith with the murderous racial anti-Semitism of the Nazi Holocaust. In the aftermath of the defeat of Hitler's Germany, and discovery of the extent of Nazi war crimes, the long history of Christian anti-Judaism came to be critically examined by scholars attempting to explain the origins of the Holocaust. Though Christians revered the Jewish scriptures, they had traditionally placed blame on Jewish leaders for the crucifixion of Jesus. A movement for reconciliation grew. According to the historian Geoffrey Blainey, "In the following forty years, Christians and Jews were to come together more closely than at perhaps any other time since the half-century after Christ had died.[4]

Jewish "perfidy"

A new understanding of the relationship between Catholics and Jews is also reflected in the revised liturgy of Good Friday in a particular way. The pre-1962 version of the Good Friday Prayer of the Roman Rite had Catholics praying that the "perfidis Judaeis" might be converted to "the truth." The English cognate "perfidious" had, over the centuries, gradually acquired the sense of "treacherous." In order to eliminate misunderstanding on this point, Pope Pius XII ordered in 1955 that, in Catholic liturgical books, the Latin word "perfidis" be properly translated "unbelieving", ensuring that the prayer be understood in its original sense: praying for the Jews who remained "unbelieving" concerning the Messiah. Indeed, the same adjective was used in many of the ancient rituals for receiving non-Christian converts into the Catholic Church.

Owing to the enduring potential for confusion and misunderstanding because of the divergence of English usage from the original Latin meaning, Pope John XXIII ordered that the Latin adjective "perfidis" be dropped from the Good Friday prayer for the Jews; in 1960 he ordered it removed from all rituals for the reception of converts.[5] As part of the revision of the Roman Missal, the prayer was completely rewritten. The current prayer of the Roman Liturgy for Good Friday prays for "the Jewish people, first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of His name and in faithfulness to His covenant."

Jewish deicide

In 1962, Pope John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council, commonly known as Vatican II, which was a pastoral ecumenical council of the Catholic church. It was closed under Pope Paul VI in 1965. One of the most revolutionary changes that resulted from interpretations of this council's documents concerned the church's attitude to the Jews and the relationship with Judaism.

Among other things, the Second Vatican Council addressed the charge of Jewish deicide, repudiating the belief in the collective Jewish guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus stating that, even though some Jewish authorities and those who followed them called for Jesus' death, the blame for what happened cannot be laid at the door of all Jews living at that time, nor can the Jews in our time be held guilty. The Council issued the declaration Nostra aetate ("In Our Time"), which reads in part:

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. The Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.


Pope Gregory the Great's 598 Bull wrote of a duty of Christians to protect Jews, which became official church doctrine.

Nostra aetate goes on to re-state the Church attitude to anti-Semitism, the treatment of Jews and describes the Church's relationship with Jews as a shared patrimony:

Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

The Church attitude to the mistreatment of Jews is not new, though the experience of the Holocaust brought on an urgency to its renewal. Around 400, [7] Thus, in the Papal States, Jews enjoyed a level of protection in law.[6]

While a "persecuting spirit" often existed among the general population through the Middle Ages, Jewish communities often had to turn to the [7] Papal Bulls reiterating the duty of protection were issued by various Popes, Following attacks on Jews by the First Crusade, during which over five thousand Jews were slaughtered in Europe, Pope Callixtus II (c. 1120) issued "Sicut Judaeis", which served as a papal charter of protection to Jews. Following further attacks, the bull was reaffirmed by many popes including Alexander III, Celestine III (1191-1198), Innocent III (1199), Honorius III (1216), Gregory IX (1235), Innocent IV (1246), Alexander IV (1255), Urban IV (1262), Gregory X (1272 & 1274), Nicholas III, Martin IV (1281), Honorius IV (1285-1287), Nicholas IV (1288-92), Clement VI (1348), Urban V (1365), Boniface IX (1389), Martin V (1422), and Nicholas V (1447).[8][9] The bull forbade Christians, on pain of excommunication, from forcing Jews to convert, from harming them, from taking their property, from disturbing the celebration of their festivals, and from interfering with their cemeteries. After then, the doctrine was maintained in form only, with many anti-Jewish measures being enacted and certain Popes, including Paul IV oppressed the Jews.

Modern Catholic teachings about Judaism

To further the goal of reconciliation, the Catholic Church in 1971 established an internal International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations. (This Committee is not a part of the Church's Magisterium.)

On May 4, 2001, at the 17th meeting of the International Liaison Committee in New York, Church officials stated that they would change how Judaism is dealt with in Catholic seminaries and schools. In part, they stated:

The curricula of Catholic seminaries and schools of theology should reflect the central importance of the Church's new understanding of its relationship to Jews....Courses on Bible, developments by which both the Church and rabbinic Judaism emerged from early Judaism will establish a substantial foundation for ameliorating "the painful ignorance of the history and traditions of Judaism of which only negative aspects and often caricature seem to form part of the stock ideas of many Christians. (See notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Catholic Preaching and Catechesis, #27, 1985[10])
...Courses dealing with the biblical, historical and theological aspects of relations between Jews and Christians should be an integral part of the seminary and theologate curriculum, and not merely electives. All who graduate from Catholic seminaries and theology schools should have studied the revolution in Catholic teaching on Jews and Judaism from Nostra aetate to the prayer of Pope John Paul II in Jerusalem at the Western Wall on March 26, 2000....For historic reasons, many Jews find it difficult to overcome generational memories of anti-Semitic oppression. Therefore: Lay and Religious Jewish leaders need to advocate and promote a program of education in our Jewish schools and seminaries – about the history of Catholic-Jewish relations and knowledge of Christianity and its relationship to Judaism....Encouragement of dialogue between the two faiths does involve recognition, understanding and respect for each other's beliefs, without having to accept them. It is particularly important that Jewish schools teach about the Second Vatican Council, and subsequent documents and attitudinal changes that opened new perspectives and possibilities for both faiths.

On October 2015 the Catholic Church in Poland has published a letter referring to antisemitism as a sin against the commandment to love the neighbor. The letter also acknowledged the heroism of the Poles who risked their lives to shelter Jews as Nazi Germany carried out the Holocaust in occupied Poland. The bishops who signed the letter cited the Polish Pope John Paul II who opposed to antisemitism, and believed in founding Catholic-Jewish relations.[11]

Significant outstanding issues

Pius XII

  • The declared "Venerable" status of Pope Pius XII, who many Jewish groups believe did little to aid Jews during the Holocaust.
  • The Vatican's continued policy of allowing only partial access to its extensive World War II era archives. Many Jewish groups wish to have full access to Vatican archives to determine whether or not Pope Pius XII did enough to help Jews before or during the war, or whether he held some sympathy for the Nazi regime.

Church repentance

In addition, although the Jewish community appreciated John Paul II's 1994 statement, We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, which offered a mea culpa for the role of Christians in the Holocaust, some Jewish groups felt that the statement was insufficient, as it focused on individual members of the Church who helped the Nazis, portraying them as acting against the teachings of the Church.

Some critics consider the statement to be irresponsible, as it absolved the Church itself of any blame. Lingering disputes also remain about some of the practical aftereffects of the Holocaust, including the question of how to deal with Jewish children baptized during the Second World War who were never returned to their Jewish families and people.

Traditionalist Catholics

The term "traditionalist Catholics" often is used to apply to Catholic Christians who are particularly devoted to practicing the ancient traditions of the Church; yet there are also groups calling themselves "traditionalist Catholics" that either reject many of the changes made since Vatican II, or regard Vatican II as an invalid Council, or who broke away entirely from the Catholic Church after Vatican II. Some of these so-called traditionalist Catholics believe that the Pope at the time, and all Popes since, have led the majority of Catholic clergy and laity into heresy. They view interfaith dialogue with Jews as unnecessary and potentially leading to a "watering-down" of the Catholic faith. In the view of some traditionalist Catholics, Jews are believed to be damned unless they convert to Christianity. This, of course, is not the view of all who identify themselves as "traditional".

Arab Catholics

Continuing tensions in the Middle East impacts on relations between Jews and Catholics in the region and beyond. Relations with Arab Christians in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria often parallel those relations with Arab Muslims and remain difficult, especially with regards to the question of anti-zionism and Zionism.

Media treatment of the Church

In a May 2002 interview with the Italian-Catholic publication 30 Giorni, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Maradiaga claimed that Jews influenced the media to exploit the recent controversy regarding sexual abuse by Catholic priests in order to divert attention from the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. This provoked outrage from the Anti-Defamation League, especially since Maradiaga has a reputation as a moderate and that he is regarded as a papabile.[12] The high-profile Don Pierino Gelmini of Italy, himself personally accused of sexually abusing a number of young men, put the blame on a nebulous "Jewish radical chic" in an interview with the Corriere della Sera.[13][14] He later apologized and shifted the blame onto the Freemasons.[15] The bishop Giacomo Babini described the scandal's exposure as a refined "Zionist attack" in an April 2010 newspaper interview.[16]

See also


  1. ^ Geoffrey Blainey; A Short History of Christianity; Viking; 2011; pp.32-35
  2. ^ Geoffrey Blainey; A Short History of Christianity; Viking; 2011; pp.37-38
  3. ^ Geoffrey Blainey; A Short History of Christianity; Viking; 2011; pp.72-75
  4. ^ Geoffrey Blainey; A Short History of Christianity; Viking; 2011; pp.501-502
  5. ^ See: Time Magazine August 15 1960
  6. ^ a b Lecture by Dr David Neiman: The Church and the Jews II: Popes Gregory I and Leo III; published by iTunes, 2009
  7. ^ a b History of TolerationCatholic Encyclopedia - ; web 22 June 2013
  8. ^ Deutsch, Gotthard; Jacobs, Joseph (1906). "The Popes" in The Jewish Encyclopedia, KTAV Publishing, New York. Accessed 12 July 2013.
  9. ^ Simonsohn, Shlomo (1988). The Apostolic See and the Jews, Documents: 492-1404. Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, pp. 68, 143, 211, 242, 245-246, 249, 254, 260, 265, 396, 430, 507.
  10. ^ "Vatican Notes". Retrieved 2009-05-06. 
  11. ^ "Church in Poland tells Catholics ‘antisemitism is a sin’ – and condemns ‘indifference’ of some Christians during holocaust". CFCA. Retrieved 30 October 2015. 
  12. ^ ADL Outraged by Honduran Cardinal's Jewish Conspiracy Theory
  13. ^ Fisher, Ian (17 August 2008). "Vatican Plays Down Meeting That Angered Jewish Groups". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
  14. ^ "Sex Abuse Charges a 'Conspiracy': Priest" (5 August 2007). Independent Online. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
  15. ^ "Chiedo scusa agli ebrei" (7 August 2008). Retrieved 7 July 2010. (Italian)
  16. ^ Kington, Tom (11 April 2010). "Bishop 'Blames Jews' for Criticism of Catholic church Record on Abuse". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2010.


  • Ain, Stewart. "Staying The Course: John Paul II built a closeness between the Vatican and Jewish community, and Jewish leaders don’t expect that to change", The Jewish Week, April 8, 2005
  • Lipman, Steve. "The Jewish Critique: Amid the pope’s remarkable record on the Jews, issues linger", The Jewish Week, April 8, 2005

External links

  • of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews
  • Staying The Course: John Paul II built a closeness between the Vatican and Jewish community, and Jewish leaders don’t expect that to change
  • Catholic Encyclopedia Article on Judaism. Of particular interest is section four: "Judaism and Church Legislation." (The Catholic Encyclopedia was written before Vatican II, and may reflect attitudes that no longer characterize the Catholic view of Judaism.)
  • TIMELINE - Pope Benedict angers Jews – a timeline of recent events in Catholic-Jewish relations (Reuters, January 25, 2009)
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