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From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933–1965
From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933–1965
John Connelly
Harvard University Press, 2012
384 pp., $37.00

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Michael A. Skaggs


All Hands on Deck

New beginnings for Catholic-Jewish relations.

On March 27th, 1959, the barque of Peter shuddered, her captain having jerked the wheel—to port, we might say. As the Good Friday liturgy proceeded in St. Peter's Basilica, the man chanting the service arrived at a prayer containing intentions for various segments of humankind. For one group, though, the congregation would not say "Amen," and neither would they genuflect and rise as they had for the other groups. The leader chanted "Oremus et pro perfidis Judaeis / Let us pray also for the faithless Jews." And the pope said stop.

John XXIII, who had been elected only a few months earlier after serving as nuncio to several European countries where he had observed the rise of the Nazi menace and helped Jews escape to safety, stopped the liturgy and asked the man to chant the prayer again. Only this time, he was to leave out perfidis. The omission reversed centuries of describing Judaism as "faithless." Later in his papacy, John met with a delegation of rabbis at the Vatican, greeting them with words from Genesis 45 "I am Joseph, your brother."

Six years later, the Catholic Church officially embraced John's unscripted rejection of anti-Semitism. The assembled bishops of the Second Vatican Council approved Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, by an overwhelming majority. The document implied a rejection of the old Catholic charge of deicide, condemned anti-Semitism, and expressed regret for the centuries of abuse inflicted upon Jews by Christians. Two books with seemingly conflicting accounts shed much welcome light on just how this leap in interfaith relations came to pass. Despite their differences, the books do show how the key players unknowingly relied upon each other—theologians laying the intellectual groundwork for high-ranking prelates to push an at-times hostile audience toward a new appreciation for their relations with Judaism. The end point was agreement by the vast majority of the world's Catholic ...

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