Pope Benedict: Jews not to blame for death of Jesus

Icon - St Catherine's Monastery, Mt Sinai

Icon - St Catherine's Monastery, Mt Sinai

Pope Benedict  reiterates Catholic teaching on who was responsible for the death of Jesus in his new book launched on Wednesday morning at the Vatican.

In Jesus of Nazareth-Part II, the Holy Father explains biblically and theologically that there is no scriptural basis for blaming the Jews.  

The Catholic Church issued its most authoritative teaching on the issue in its 1965 Second Vatican Council document Nostra Aetate, which revolutionised the church's relations with  the Jewish people by saying Christ's death could not be attributed to Jews as a whole at the time or today.

Pope Benedict comes to the same conclusion, but he explains how with a thorough, Gospel-by-Gospel analysis in his book, Jesus of Nazareth-Part II, that leaves little doubt that he deeply and personally believes it to be the case: That only a few Temple leaders and a small group of supporters were primarily responsible for Christ's crucifixion.

Interpretations to the contrary have been used for centuries to justify the persecution of Jews.

Jewish scholars said the argument laid out by the German-born pontiff was a landmark statement from a pope that would help fight anti-Semitism today.

"Holocaust survivors know only too well how the centuries-long charge of 'Christ killer' against the Jews created a poisonous climate of hate that was the foundation of anti-Semitic persecution whose ultimate expression was realised in the Holocaust," said Elan Steinberg of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants.

The Pope's book, he said, not only confirms church teaching refuting the deicide charge "but seals it for a new generation of Catholics".

Archbishop Kevin McDonald, Archbishop Emeritus of Southwark, Chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Committee for Catholic Jewish Relations said: “Pope Benedict's new book offers a profound reflection on the meaning of the death of Jesus Christ. It goes to the heart of the Christian mystery and his writing is bold and revealing. It is very appropriate that it is being released as we approach the season of Lent since it provides a very fertile preparation for the celebration of Holy Week.

“As far as the Jewish question is concerned, it is important to see these reflections against the background of the very positive approach that the Pope has adopted to Catholic-Jewish dialogue both in his words and deeds. He makes it clear that he wants the book to contribute to Christian-Jewish dialogue and his treatment of key religious themes like worship and sacrifice offers a steer and a focus for dialogue.”

Dom Henry Wansbrough OSB, Ampleforth Abbey, chairman of the Trusteees of the Catholic Biblical Association.“Benedict XVI writes with the deft touch of a mature scholar and an experienced teacher. He explains his often brilliant insights with simple clarity and the masterly phrase which enlightens and convinces. His purpose is to give a readingwhich leads to a personal encounter with Christ. It is not just a historical study, but builds on the historico-critical method to arrive at a ‘faith-hermeneutic’. It does, of course, discuss historical problems, but the Pope’s primary aim is ‘listening with Jesus’ disciples across the ages’. It is a reading of the gospel not by a historian but by a historically alert theologian, writing from within the Church.”

Jesus of Nazareth Part II will be available in the UK and Ireland from 10 March.

Source: VIS/Simon Caldwell/CTS

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