What a bold, chest-thumping statement. An unwatchful reader might come off thinking that the Roman Catholic Church played absolutely no role whatsoever in attitudes that led to the killing of the Jews during Hitlers’s regime.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
Rubinstein here is lumping “the Catholic Church” together with “its teachings”. Even here, “the definition of the word ‘church’” comes into play.
I’ve been asked why I picked up this series, “The Popes Against the Jews” just now, and I think that some of the Roman Catholics who wander over here may find this interesting. It’s something that’s hit very close to home with me.
In my “resignation letter” to my parish priest, dated July 1999, I wrote this:
I am deeply disillusioned with the Catholic Church, and I have been for a long time. Not that I believe that, in a moral sense, the Church is too strict or anything like that. I would have to say my disillusionment has more to do more with the Church’s attitude about itself.See how naïve I was back then. I thought it was “the Church’s attitude toward itself,” when really, it was “the way the Church defined itself” that was the problem. (Or maybe I was just being kind calling it an “attitude.”)
Over the years, my life has been marked by some degree of devotion to Christ. A friend of mine, [name], noticed this and invited me to an “evening of recollection,” sponsored by Opus Dei. I was amazed by the number of relatively young men who sought to follow Christ in such a complete way, in their daily lives.
I had mentioned to you once, in passing, that I had been attending these evenings of recollection. At any rate, the guys at Opus Dei started quoting out of the new Catechism the way Baptists quote out of Scripture. I mentioned this to [name], and eventually we got into a friendly religious argument. The basis for the argument was that I believed the Protestant Reformers were justified in protesting the (many) abuses of the Church of the day, and that it was Rome’s response to them that caused most of the schisms.
Things got a bit heated (mostly via e-mail), [name] asked to stop the discussion, and I have been quiet about it ever since. But because of that discussion, I looked more intently at the Catholic/Protestant debates (current and past), and I decided that the Catholics are on the short end of that argument.
In fact, it is the “official” Roman Catholic response in this matter which speaks as directly to what I am talking about as almost anything except for the massive cover-up of abusive priests by bishops. Generally speaking, these are held to be things outside of the circle, not doctrinally related, except insofar as they stem from the Roman Catholic Church’s definition of itself. This is precisely the “attitude” which is to be condemned.
This struck me especially while reading Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, which introduced the Catechism of the Catholic Church “which contains a complete and systematic exposition of Christian moral teaching.”
The thing that struck me was this phrase:
At all times, but particularly in the last two centuries, the Popes, whether individually or together with the College of Bishops, have developed and proposed a moral teaching regarding the many different spheres of human life. In Christ's name and with his authority they have exhorted, passed judgment and explained (Section 4, emphasis in the original).My thought was, where were you, where was this “moral teaching” prior to these “last two centuries”?
Rome defines itself in Lumen Gentium,” Vatican II’s “Dogmatic Constitution of the Church. This is Rome’s official definition of itself.
Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element. For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature [that is, Christ’s flesh] inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body. (LG 8)Note what is being said here. Christ is both God and man. In the Incarnation, he “assumed” a human nature that is “inseparably united to Him.” In a similar way, the church hierarchy that we have seen throughout history, which claims to be affirmed in itself through an unverifiable “apostolic succession,” – “the visible social structure” of the Church, is “comparably” “inseparably united” to Christ.
Just in case there is any question about what this means:
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”. This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, … (LG 8)“The Roman Catholic Church” here defines and identifies itself, (and subsequent statements have affirmed this), as “the one church of Christ” – founded instantly at the moment the words of Matt 16:18 were spoken – in majestic and glorious authority from that moment till the present.
Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, [and defined as it is] is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved. (LG 14)
But right here, at the heart of its definition of itself, that Rome not only makes, but emphasizes, another one of its fundamental misunderstandings of what the Scripture is saying. The hierarchy of the Roman Church so completely identifies itself with “Christ” that it has completely cut off its own ability to repent, lest it accuse Christ of sin.
As I’ve noted, this identification found its articulation in the Reformation. Turretin described it this way:
Thus this day the Romanists (although they are anything but the true church of Christ) still boast of their having alone the name of church and do not blush to display the standard of that which they oppose. In this manner, hiding themselves under the specious title of the antiquity and infallibility of the Catholic church, they think they can, as with one blow, beat down and settle the controversy waged against them concerning the various most destructive errors introduced into the heavenly doctrine. (Francis Turretin, “Institutes of Elenctic Theology, translated by George Musgrave Giger; edited by James T. Dennison, Jr.: Phillipsburg, NJ, P&R Publishing, ©1997, Vol. 3, pg 2).This was a not-so-cutesy way of trying to “define” itself out of a problem. In defining itself as “the one Church of Christ” or “the Church that Christ Founded”, the Roman hierarchy, in one fell swoop, sought to remove from itself any notion of accountability for what Turretin called “destructive errors introduced into the heavenly doctrine.”
Being “the pillar and foundation of the truth” is not a call to authoritatively uphold teaching in some infallible way. It is a call to holy living. It is precisely here, as James says, “Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” and “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” This is the true place where in Rome’s definition of “the faith” fides quae -- “the teaching” (see Rubinstein above) -- the Roman hierarchy has failed grievously.
Back to this issue of “The Popes Against the Jews.”
In its own official document responding to the Holocaust, We Remember: A Reflection On The Shoah, Rome shifts the blame away from itself.
Before this horrible genocide, which the leaders of nations and Jewish communities themselves found hard to believe at the very moment when it was being mercilessly put into effect, no one can remain indifferent, least of all the Church, by reason of her very close bonds of spiritual kinship with the Jewish people and her remembrance of the injustices of the past. The Church's relationship to the Jewish people is unlike the one she shares with any other religion. However, it is not only a question of recalling the past. The common future of Jews and Christians demands that we remember, for "there is no future without memory". History itself is memoria futuri. …
Later, when the Emperors themselves converted to Christianity, they at first continued to guarantee Jewish privileges. But Christian mobs who attacked pagan temples sometimes did the same to synagogues, not without being influenced by certain interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people as a whole. "In the Christian world—I do not say on the part of the Church as such—erroneous and unjust interpretations of the New Testament regarding the Jewish people and their alleged culpability have circulated for too long, engendering feelings of hostility towards this people". Such interpretations of the New Testament have been totally and definitively rejected by the Second Vatican Council. [Oh, the poor, poor Church, getting blamed for these “certain interpretations”.]
Despite the Christian preaching of love for all, even for one's enemies, the prevailing mentality down the centuries penalized minorities and those who were in any way "different". Sentiments of anti-Judaism in some Christian quarters, and the gap which existed between the Church and the Jewish people, led to a generalized discrimination, which ended at times in expulsions or attempts at forced conversions. In a large part of the "Christian" world, until the end of the 18th century, those who were not Christian did not always enjoy a fully guaranteed juridical status. Despite that fact, Jews throughout Christendom held on to their religious traditions and communal customs. They were therefore looked upon with a certain suspicion and mistrust. In times of crisis such as famine, war, pestilence or social tensions, the Jewish minority was sometimes taken as a scapegoat and became the victim of violence, looting, even massacres.
By the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century, Jews generally had achieved an equal standing with other citizens in most States and a certain number of them held influential positions in society. But in that same historical context, notably in the 19th century, a false and exacerbated nationalism took hold. In a climate of eventful social change, Jews were often accused of exercising an influence disproportionate to their numbers. Thus there began to spread in varying degrees throughout most of Europe an anti-Judaism that was essentially more sociological and political than religious.
At the same time, theories began to appear which denied the unity of the human race, affirming an original diversity of races. In the 20th century, National Socialism in Germany used these ideas as a pseudo-scientific basis for a distinction between so called Nordic-Aryan races and supposedly inferior races. Furthermore, an extremist form of nationalism was heightened in Germany by the defeat of 1918 and the demanding conditions imposed by the victors, with the consequence that many saw in National Socialism a solution to their country's problems and cooperated politically with this movement.
The Church in Germany replied by condemning racism. The condemnation first appeared in the preaching of some of the clergy, in the public teaching of the Catholic Bishops, and in the writings of lay Catholic journalists….
Thus we cannot ignore the difference which exists between anti-Semitism, based on theories contrary to the constant teaching of the Church on the unity of the human race and on the equal dignity of all races and peoples, and the long-standing sentiments of mistrust and hostility that we call anti-Judaism, of which, unfortunately, Christians also have been guilty.
We deeply regret the errors and failures of those sons and daughters of the Church….
At the end of this Millennium the Catholic Church desires to express her deep sorrow for the failures of her sons and daughters in every age. This is an act of repentance (teshuva), since, as members of the Church, we are linked to the sins as well as the merits of all her children.
This is not repentance. At its most fundamental level, the call of Jesus to “repent” (Matthew 4:17) is just simply Christ’s call to take accountability for the one serious moral issue that we all face, sin, and to reject it. Man sins and offends God; the one and only response that Christ asks of us is to “repent” in the face of this sin. It is the only response.
Rome not only fails to repent. It has irrevocably defined itself out of both the need to and the ability to repent. It shifts blame to “the sons and daughters” of “the Church”. “The Church” itself refuses to repent. And in doing so, it exhibits “the fruit” by which it is recognized (Matt 7:16).
In our day, what do we call a person who refuses to take responsibility for his own actions? We have a word for that. I just can’t think of it right now.