April 18, 2002
volume 13, no. 74

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The Biblical Commission on the Jews: Changes in Doctrine and New Anathemas    Part II

By Atila Sinke Guimarães

Translated and edited by Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.

    Following is the SECOND INSTALLMENT of a seven-part treatise and critique of the Pontifical Biblical Commission's document The Hebrew People and its Holy Scriptures in the Christian Bible. This is a comprehensive response by Atila Sinke Guimarães to the entire document. Atila reviewed the original Italian work by the PBC titled "Il populo ebraico e le sue Sacre Scritture nella Bibbia cristiana," Preface by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2001, 213 pp. which we sent to him. He then wrote his review and translated the excerpts he used from Italian to Portuguese. Dr. Marian has worked closely with him in translating and editing his critique from Portuguese into English. Atila and Marian have graciously accepted our request to critique the book while all in the United States still wait for the English translation. The response is too important to delay because what is contained in the Vatican document will truly alarm you. For the list of the 21 members of the Pontifical Biblica Commission see PBC Members

For installments thus far, see Archive below

II. An Extreme of Historicism

    In the Introduction to The Hebrew People, the PBC defends the idea that after the imprisonment and death of so many Jews in the Nazi concentration camps in World War II, an imperious need imposes itself to re-examine relations between Christians and Jews.

    Here is the actual text of the PBC:

    "Modern times have led Christians to become better aware of the fraternal bonds that closely unite us to the Hebrew people. During World War II, tragic events …. subjected the Hebrew people to an extremely grave trial that threatened their very existence in a large part of Europe. In these circumstances, some Christians did not give proof of the spiritual resistance that one would expect from disciples of Christ by not taking the corresponding initiatives. Other Christians, on the contrary, offered a generous help to the Hebrews in danger …. After that terrible tragedy, the need to examine carefully the question of [Christian] relations with the Hebrew people imposes itself. An enormous undertaking of study and reflection has already been carried out in this sense. The PBC deemed it opportune to offer its contribution to this effort in its field of competence" (p. 15).

    The PBC explains that the Bible has various relations with the Hebrew scriptures, some in the state of "tension." With the aim of re-interpreting Scriptures to "advance the dialogue between Christians and Jews" (p. 16), the PBC published the book I am analyzing here.

    Therefore, influenced by the so-called "holocaust" of the Jews, the Biblical Commission presents its new conception for relations of the Church with the Jews.

    A new conception? Yes and no.

    Yes, in that it is one of the first times that the Conciliar Church has officially adopted and applied the parameters of the "historical method" in a document, and tried to impose its conclusions upon the whole body of the faithful. [10]

[10. Recently, Gregory Baum, a renowned progressivist theologian, sustained that Ratzinger had also applied the "historical method" in a Note (July 1, 2001) of the Congregation he directs. In it, Ratzinger would have tried to justify that the Catholic Church could have both condemned certain theses of Antonio Rosmini in 1887, and now have approved the same condemned theses. Gregory Baum wrote against Ratzinger claming that there was not an evolution that had taken place, but an essential contradiction between the two attitudes ("Ratzinger explains how condemnation was right then, and wrong now," National Catholic Reporter, January 25, 2002). ]

    No, in that it is well known that with respect to the Jews, this same perspective was adopted by the so-called "political theology," whose "father" and principal representative was the Austrian Catholic theologian Johann Baptist Metz. Until recently considered a radical, Fr. Metz has now been "justified" for his ideas, since they are accepted in this new document of the Biblical Commission and formally endorsed by Cardinal Ratzinger (see Section VII [to be carried on May 6th] ). Permit me to recall a reliable detail of interest. Fr. Metz also was considered a "Catholic spokesman" for the Jewish School of Frankfurt, one of the most influential institutions in contemporary philosophical thought. [11]

[11. The hippie movement and the student revolutions of 1968 at Berkeley and the Sorbonne were largely inspired by the thinking of Herbert Marcuse, affiliated to the Frankfurt School. The forerunner of Postmodernism was Jürgen Habermas, a member of the Frankfurt School. The principal authors of Poststructuralism cite Walter Benjamin, a member of the same School, as the source of their work. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, both members of the Frankfurt School, co-authored Elements of Anti-Semitism (1947), considered the base for the accusation that Christianity itself is the source of anti-Semitism (Michael Minnicino, "The Dark Age," on The Frankfurt School website). Today this idea is widely accepted in the progressivist milieu. "Liberation theology" of South America was also inspired by the "political theology" of Fr. Metz, which followed the thinking of the Frankfurt School. Now it seems that the same School is projecting its influence on the book The Hebrew People by the Pontifical Biblical Commission. ]

    In its work, the PBC adopted criteria similar to those of Fr. Metz. Let me give some examples. Metz, who used the name Auschwitz as a synonym for what was later called the "holocaust," imagined "Auschwitz as a symbol of the horrendous crime against the Jewish people." [12] From this fact, Metz drew doctrinal consequences. He considered that "any theodicy [defense of God by natural reasons] …. that does not take this catastrophe as a departure point is a blasphemy." [13] He then asked: "Can our [Catholic] theology be the same before and after Auschwitz?" In The Hebrew People, the PBC echoes this thinking of Metz, who asked: "Shouldn't Auschwitz provide the occasion for a radical self-examination of Christianity and theology?" [14] Like the PBC, Fr. Metz thought it was "exploitation" and "thievery" when "we use texts from the Jewish tradition for our Christian preaching." [15] Another question that concerned him, which is also addressed by the PBC's book, was "a profound theological problem, that is, whether Christianity is disposed to and capable of recognizing the messianic tradition of Judaism in its proper insuperable character and with its perennial messianic dignity, without either denying or degrading the Christological mystery that sustains Christianity." [16]

[12. Johann Baptist Metz, "Cristianos y judios después de Auschwitz," in Más alla della Religión Burguesa (Salamanca: Sigueme, 1982), p. 25. ]
[13. Ibid., p. 27. ]
[14. Ibid., p. 30. ]
[15. Ibid., p. 29. ]
[16. Ibid., p. 30. ]

    Consequently, he defends the position that theology and the Bible must be reinterpreted after the tragedy that happened to the Jews in World War II. This coincides with the thinking of the PBC.

    Confirming its words in the Introduction, the PBC reaffirms the thesis: "The change caused by the extermination of the Jews …. has stimulated all the Churches to completely re-think their relations with Judaism and, as a consequence, to reconsider their interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. Some have asked themselves whether Christians should repent for their appropriation of the Hebrew Bible and an interpretation that no Jew could accept. Should Christians, then, read the Bible with the Hebrews in order to respect its Jewish origin?" (pp. 54-5).

    The PBC's adoption of such principles warrants a moment of reflection.

    I am against Nazism in theory and in practice. I am, therefore, against the racial persecution of the Jews. This does not prevent me, however, from being strongly against the Jewish religion because it denies and combats innumerable dogmas of the Catholic Church.

    My point here is not to discuss whether the Nazi extermination of the Jews had the vast proportions the interested parties are claiming. I do not enter into the merit of this question. I am addressing a different point. What I do not understand is why a racial catastrophe should change the bi-millennial interpretation of the Church about what was revealed by God. One thing has nothing to do with the other. What was true before the catastrophe continues to be true afterward.

    To be consistent when one adopts this system of interpretation proposed by the PCB, one would have to suppose a complete relativization of Divine Revelation in Scriptures. That is to say, not only a relativization with regard to the sacred authors, as I noted above, but a relativization with regard to those who read Scriptures. Each new historical situation would require a new interpretation by the readers. We would have reached an extreme of historicism: the complete relativization of the object analyzed as well as the complete relativization of the criteria in the mind of the one who analyzes. Each age would have the right to make its own interpretation of Scripture based on the events and circumstances of their particular times. The method of analysis of the PBC's book The Hebrew People situates itself precisely in this extreme of historicism.

    Monday, April 22: Part Three Imprecise Language and Suspicious Texts

List of Members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission PREFACE by Cardinal Ratzinger
Part One: Historical-Doctrinal Presuppositions

Thursday, April 18, 2002
volume 13, no. 71
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