In 1965 the Second Vatican Council declared that God loves the Jews. Before that, the Church had taught for centuries that Jews were cursed by God and, in the 1940s, mostly kept silent as Jews were slaughtered by the Nazis. How did an institution whose wisdom is said to be unchanging undertake one of the most enormous, yet undiscussed, ideological swings in modern history?
The radical shift of Vatican II grew out of a buried history, a theological struggle in Central Europe in the years just before the Holocaust, when a small group of Catholic converts (especially former Jew Johannes Oesterreicher and former Protestant Karl Thieme) fought to keep Nazi racism from entering their newfound church. Through decades of engagement, extending from debates in academic journals, to popular education, to lobbying in the corridors of the Vatican, this unlikely duo overcame the most problematic aspect of Catholic history. Their success came not through appeals to morality but rather from a rediscovery of neglected portions of scripture.
From Enemy to Brother illuminates the baffling silence of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust, showing how the ancient teaching of deicide-according to which the Jews were condemned to suffer until they turned to Christ-constituted the Church's only language to talk about the Jews. As he explores the process of theological change, John Connelly moves from the speechless Vatican to those Catholics who endeavored to find a new language to speak to the Jews on the eve of, and in the shadow of, the Holocaust.
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About the Author
John Connelly is Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley.
Read an Excerpt
From Chapter Two: The Race Question
Those with basic knowledge of the New Testament must wonder how Catholicism could turn racist. In the Gospels of Mark and Matthew, Christ distilled all commandments into two: the first "to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength;” the second to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Who was one's neighbor? Christ responded with the parable about a man left to die and brought back to life by a passerby of a different ethnicity: a Samaritan. The point was not to ask who was a neighbor but to be a neighbor. If loving one's neighbor was not enough, Christ went on to instruct his followers also to love their enemies. No human being could be excluded from the love of a follower of Christ.
Yet if Christ's words have been read for centuries, they have also been interpreted. Why follow Christ's command to love one's neighbor? The traditional answer was: in order to gain salvation for oneself. This ultimate goal had the effect of dividing neighbors from one another, a fact admitted by the Vatican's Osservatore Romano at the height of its battle with Benito Mussolini over race laws in 1938. The Church, the editors wrote, had always "tried to demolish the barriers that divide humanity spiritually and to develop in all men sentiments of fraternity and love." But that was simply a preface to the actual message. Above all the Church had a duty to "shield its children from the dangers that threaten faith," and therefore its Teaching Office established Canonical impediments to protect Catholics from marriage with "Jews and pagans" as well as "schismatic heretics."
In premodern Europe Catholics lived in closed communities that tended to restrict intimacies with non-Catholics. An anti-Catholic campaign under Bismarck reinforced such insularity as Catholics sought to protect themselves through networks of associations, including sports clubs, newspapers, mutual aid societies, trade unions, and fraternities. Catholics could keep to themselves from cradle to grave. Elsewhere, Catholics created their own schools in order to focus sociability upon themselves, and Catholic families tended to reproduce Catholic families. These calculations came under strain with accelerating urbanization of the early twentieth century, hence the concern expressed in Osservatore Romano. In 1916, the Vatican's Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Gasparri described the problem for the freshly appointed Nuncio to Munich, Eugenio Pacelli – later Pius XII. Especially members of the middle class "tolerate no restraints on their private lives," Gasparri wrote. "They enter into relationships with Protestants and persons of every other religion, so that mixed marriages in Bavaria have markedly increased, resulting in extreme harm to the Catholic Church."
What happened when outsiders approached this well-fortified Catholic world hoping for assistance? For answers generations of priests turned to the Theologiae moralis of the French Jesuit Jean Pierre Gury, printed from the 1850s in many editions and languages, providing instruction for preaching but also for the confessional. Gury portrayed the one-to-one relation of Christ's parable of the Samaritan as exceptional and wrote that love of neighbor must be "ordered." Neighbors differ, their needs differ, and the things we can do for them differ. The highest obligation was to love oneself, because one is closest to oneself, and one's prime concern had to be with salvation, because of "the danger of eternal damnation or of death." Christians were obliged to risk their lives only when neighbors could not assist themselves in attaining eternal life, that is, when they were threatened with the fires of hell. In the case of Jews that would mean that the mission impulse had to outweigh all other possible duties. If another's mortal life was in danger, Christians were not obliged to endanger their own lives. What if one encountered demands on one's charity from more than one neighbor?
Table of Contents
1 The Problem of Catholic Racism 11
2 The Race Question 36
3 German Volk and Christian Reich 65
4 Catholics against Racism and Antisemitism 94
5 Conspiring to Make the Vatican Speak 147
6 Conversion in the Shadow of Auschwitz 174
7 Who are the Jews? 210
8 The Second Vatican Council 239
9 A Particular Mission for the Jews 273
What People are Saying About This
An excellent resource for those studying the Holocaust, racism more generally, and the developments leading up to Vatican II's statement on Christianity's relation to the Jewish People.
John T. Pawlikowski, OSM, Catholic Theological Union
This path-breaking book, based on extensive documentation, will be essential reading for all those interested in Christian-Jewish relations and the history of antisemitism.
Antony Polonsky, Brandeis University and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
A brilliantly original and an extremely important reconstruction of what motivated the Roman Catholic Church in the 1960s to declare a new and positive appreciation of Jews and Judaism.
Susannah Heschel, author of The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany
From Enemy to Brother is an astonishing achievement, one of the most significant books written on the history of twentieth-century Catholicism.
John T. McGreevy, University of Notre Dame