Last night I had the extreme pleasure of playing “driver” for Idris Edward Cardinal Cassidy, taking him to the Jewish Holocaust Centre here in Melbourne for one of his (now very rare) public speaking events. The topic for the night was “The Effect of the Holocaust on Christian and Jewish Theology”, and the other guest speakers were Rev. Tim Costello and Rabbi Fred Morgan.
Rabbi Fred is the Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Israel, the largest Progressive Synagogue here in Melbourne. He is a great scholar and worthy successor to the grand old gentleman, Rabbi John Levi. Tim Costello is a Baptist minister, currently the CEO of World Vision Australia and one time mayor of St Kilda–but most people know him as the brother of our Federal Treasurer, Peter Costello. I have often wished I could be a fly on the wall at Costello Christmas dinners…
Driving the Cardinal meant that I was personally able to thank him for all his work on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999), and pointed out the great role that it played in my life journey. (I also pointed out that Dominus Iesus was also a significantly POSITIVE document in my life, which caused him to chuckle!). Re the JDDJ, he said that it was probably the most significant achievement in all his time as the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. When God asks him to give an account of his stewardship on judgement day, he said that he could at least point to that. There may be those of you out there who have a poor opinion of the Joint Declaration, but one needs to acknowledge what a significant step forward it has been in the ecumenical endeavour. It is taking time, but it is having its effect also in the Catholic Church, as Catholics themselves are re-owning the importance of stressing that all salvation is by grace alone through Christ alone.
Which leads to the topic of the evening: “The Effect of the Holocaust on Christian and Jewish Theology”. We have been talking in these pages about the prayer for the conversion of the Jews in the new mass.
(By the way, in my conversation with the Cardinal–who was asked about this prayer at the recent International assembly of the Council of Christians and Jews in Sydney–and came across a little unsure of the detail–I pointed out that the Motu Proprio is actually a good thing for the Jewish-Catholic relationship because at least it puts in place the mechanisms by which that particular prayer might be modified; a point which he said he will use in the future if asked about it again.)
In my little blog on the prayer and its implications, I pointed out that
The experience of the Shoah has awakened the Church to the deplorable history of anti-semitism in relation to which it has not been innocent. It will take much time, effort, prayer and charity for the parameters of our new relationship to be fully revealed.
This was basically the theme of last night’s very well attended event. Tim Costello talked a lot about the Protestant history during the Holocaust–with special mention of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Fred Morgan pointed out the well known fact that Melbourne has the greatest number of holocaust survivors outside of Israel–or at least that it did: he said that about 50% of the funerals he conducts are for survivors, and so the numbers are fast falling. Nevertheless, the effects of that event are still very evindent in those known as “Second- or Third-generation survivors”.
Fred’s presenation was actually quite hard hitting for the Jewish audience. The theme of the evening was “theology”–and Fred opined that in fact most Jews are fairly lazy about this, prefering to emphasise practice over theology. However, one cannot say “I belive in God” or “I don’t believe in God” without asking who this God is about whom we form such opinions. He outlined three major areas of Jewish reflection on the Shoah: 1) The Shoah as a punishment from God for unfaithfulness, 2) What the Shoah says about the nature of God (eg. God was in hiding during this time / Or The Shoah shows that God is not an interventionist who directly acts for his people), 3) the importance of the land of Israel and Zionism (this latter as a theological construct and not just a political or historical or sociological reality). While he did not personally agree with all the ideas put forward, he pointed out the need to answer these questions. This rather stirred up the Jewish audience.
However, Cardinal Cassidy was the first to speak, and he did so starting with the Second Vatican Council’s statement on the Jews in Nostra Aetate–a statement that was a direct result of Catholic reflection upon the horror of the Shoah–and the question of her own implication in it. He ended by refering to the US document Reflections on Covenant and Mission–something for which I chided him afterwards in the car, saying “You were a little bit naughty in suggesting that this was the accepted teaching of the Church?” “Well, its on the table”, he replied.
Yes, it is on the table, and as such is a valuable document. The Cardinal also told me how significant the night’s event was. When he began in Jewish Catholic dialogue after the Council, the Catholic contingent wanted to talk theology. But the Chief Rabbi got up and said that if they wanted to continue in this vein, then the dialogue would end right here. Theological dialogue was off the table. Whatever the reason for this was (fear of Christian proselytism most likely), the Cardinal noted that in the last ten years or so, there has been a definite openness to talking theology together. I added that the area in which I see this theological dialogue most apparent is when we Christians and Jews get together over the Hebrew Scriptures and start doing exegesis together. (Believe me, it is a very rewarding experience listening to the Rabbis expound scripture).
So here we were last night talking theology. But not only were we doing theology together, we were also talking about the elephant in the room, the Holocaust. (The fact that the German Consul-General and the Polish Consul were present is also significant). You will remember that a few blogs ago, I was suggesting that modern Judaism is Judaism Mk IIA. In fact, post-Holocaust Judaism is possibily even Judaism Mk III. There was a strong suggestion last night that the experience of the Shoah has permanently altered modern Judaism. It certainly led to the establishment of the Zionist dream: their own state in their own homeland for the first time in over two thousand years. This is a big difference–I wonder if it is not a sort of “paschal event”, a dying in the Shoah, and a rising in the State of Israel. (Perhaps that is saying too much, though).
Nevertheless, we Christians need to recognise that as we go about our evangelising mission (a mission to reach every nation of the world, and excluding no human being), speaking to our Jewish brothers and sisters will require a special sensitivity. Good pastors know that it is not the time, when dealing with traumatised victims of tragedy, to come on heavy with an appeal for conversion. Context, as I think I have said before, is everything, and we Christains need to be aware that the context of the modern Christian-Jewish relationship is squarely that of “Post-Holocaust”.
Thank God that we are at least talking theology with one another now. In that, I predict that we will become even more dependant upon the Jewish theologians than in the past–especially in the areas of scriptural exegesis and theodicy. We need to ask ourselves what it is that we as Christians can offer the Jewish people–and our answer had better be something other than the obliteration of their identity. Otherwise we may be in danger of being seen as the ones who handed Hitler a posthumous victory…