Sunday, March 31, 2013

From Enemy to Brother - John Connelly

Cover: From Enemy to Brother in HARDCOVER 

There is one other event which transcends the limits of the year, since it is measured in centuries and millennia in the history of this city and of this Church. I thank Divine Providence that I was able to visit our "elder brothers" in the faith of Abraham in their Roman Synagogue! Blessed be the God of our fathers! The God of peace!
Pope John Paul, II December 31, 1986 
How did this epochal change of understanding and its particular expression of brotherhood come to pass, this official, and personal Papal renunciation of centuries of Christian disparagement of Jews and Judaism?  John Connelly, UC Berkeley historian, finds its roots in the efforts of Catholic intellectuals - largely converts - from the border regions of northern and central Europe.  In his much lauded  intellectual history From Enemy to Brother  Connelly justifies his subtitle `The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews 1933 - 1965'.
It is a brilliant intellectual history locating the origins of the change in Austrian and central European Catholic intellectuals who fought Nazi racism and sought to respond appropriately to the Holocaust.  The struggle was not a liberal repudiation of racism nor was it a simple repetition of "love your neighbor".  It yielded an epochal theological embrace - that Judaism is the root, and Christianity a branch grafted to the root.  They finally accomplished a revolution at Vatican II, abolishing the "mission to the Jews" and transforming the relation of Christian to Jew as an ecumenical one of equals, not of evangelist to stranger.

At the center of the narrative are Johannes Osterreicher - an Austrian Jewish convert and Karl Thieme - a Protestant convert - as intellectual sparring partners struggle against Nazi racism, and then `anti-judaism' to find a basis for resolving the ancient conflicts of Jews and Christians.  They developed their theology rooted in Paul - the self-described Apostle to the Gentiles.  In his letter to the Romans Paul affirmed God's loyalty to the Jews, but not without ambiguity:
In respect to the gospel, they are enemies on your account; but in respect to election, they are beloved because of the patriarchs. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.  [Romans 11]
This yielded Nostra Aetate, the great Vatican II statement of respect for other religions and repudiation of anti-semitism and embrace of the Church's Judaic "root" to which Gentiles are "grafted", concluding:

We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man's relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: "He who does not love does not know God" (1 John 4:8).
No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.
The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to "maintain good fellowship among the nations" (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men, so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven. 
Though generally laudatory, Garry Wills, in the New York Review of Books, laments that Connelly   did not write a biography of John nee' Johannes Osterreicher.   Wills would have done better to confess a personal preference for biography.  But I, like Michael Winter, in a review at NCR online find Connelly's account of the exegetical history to be  compelling.  And I agree with Connelly's student Gene Zubovich.  He writes at U.S. Intellectual History Blog that Connelly has produced  an exciting intellectual history which opens new avenues of exploration - including the remarkable observation that in the Church's triumph over racism and anti-Judaism liberalism was not a force, but rather the shock of the Holocaust demanded reconciliation of its horrors with a Christian eschatology to which I, like other moderns, have payed little heed.

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