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Hans Maier

The Blindfolded?

Ecclesia and Synagogue - Then and Now


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 11/2013, P. 723-733.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    In November 1938 in Germany and Austria by the Nazi regime organized pogroms against the Jews took place. Hans Maier, who last held the Romano Guardini Chair of Christian Weltanschauung at the University of Munich, outlines the checkered relationship between church and synagogue.


At the portals of many medieval churches, two female figures stand next to each other: Synagogue and Ekklesia. They embody Judaism and Christianity, the Old and the New Testament. They usually form a contrast: Ekklesia as a triumphant victor, the Synagogue as grieving loser - especially so in the famous representations at the south front of Strasbourg Cathedral and the former Prince's Portal of the Bamberg Cathedral. Such a representation is also located in Münster, at the southeastern choir portal of St. Lambert. But there are other accents that indicate a togetherness, a reciprocal relationship, a mutual dependence. Various interpretations are possible, including this: Also at the moment of her triumph, it is apparently impossible for Ekklesia to live without her partner, the Synagogue. For the two women always appear together; they belong together, form a pair.

Ekklesia looks at us - the Synagogue has the blindfold over her eyes. She is not born blind. She would be able to see if she wanted. But her eyes "are held" - in this way it is felt and formulated by Christians. Since the Jews did not recognize the Messiah, and did not want to recognize him as Savior, they have become "blind". They shut themselves off from Christ, who nevertheless has his origin in their own, the Jewish people. In the eyes of Christians, the blinded, obdurate Synagogue becomes for centuries a symbolic figure: the image of the Jewish people, with all the consequences attached to it - rarely good, mostly bad ones.

Both women are beautiful. But only one, Ekklesia, shows her beauty. The other hides it in sorrow and loneliness. Ekklesia looks into the distance. The synagogue bends to the ground. The one strongly erect - the other beaten and bent. This does not only anticipate the manner in which Christians saw the Jews for a long time; it also determined the way in which Jews among Christians lived after the Occident had become Christian. They were always a minority, often on the defensive, often under pressure to justify themselves. In fact, the Synagogue has to wear mourning, even today, when she draws conclusions about the coexistence with the Christians, when she looks back on centuries in which her legal status was fragile and violence was repeatedly used against her.



And yet, Ekklesia, i.e. the Christian community, has her origin in the Synagogue (if you take this as term for the Jewish people). Jesus was a Jew. The first Christians were Jews. Roman chroniclers initially noticed the people who followed Christ and named themselves after him, as a Jewish sect.


Jews "out of play"?

Christian theology seems to confirm what the stone figure indicates: The Jews, with whom God made the first covenant, are "out of play" since Christ redeemed the world. They must take second place to Christians. The stone tablets of the Old Testament fall manifestly from the hands of the Synagogue figure. The Old Testament breaks into pieces. It breaks into pieces due to the New Testament. Paul admittedly sees that the First Covenant is still in force (though eschatologically fulfilled by Christ). In the Letter to the Romans he prays fervently for the people from which he - and Christ the redeemer! come.

"This is the truth and I am speaking in Christ, without pretence, as my conscience testifies for me in the Holy Spirit; there is great sorrow and unremitting agony in my heart: I could pray that I myself might be accursed and cut off from Christ, if this could benefit the brothers who are my own flesh and blood. They are Israelites; it was they who were adopted as children, the glory was theirs and the covenants; to them were given the Law and the worship of God and the promises. To them belong the fathers and out of them, so far as physical descent is concerned, came Christ who is above all, God, blessed for ever. Amen. (Rom 9:1-5)

But these tones of pain and compassion soon became silent. Especially in the West, the opinion gains increasingly ground that the New Covenant had replaced and 'revoked' the Old Covenant. In his Eucharistic hymn, which is still sung in Catholic churches, Aquinas puts a long discussion, which lasted during the entire early and high Middle Ages, in a nutshell by formulating "et antiquum documentum / novo cedat ritui" - in English: Lo! o'er ancient forms departing, newer rites of grace prevail. This becomes for a long time the doctrine of the church. Even Karl Rahner, SJ, wrote still in 1961 in "Herders Theologischem Taschenlexikon" that in his death Jesus abolished the Old Covenant (so it says in the following editions up to the 1970s). Only the Second Vatican Council stated in the fourth section of its declaration "Nostra Aetate" that "God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers," that He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues, and that in company with the Jews the Church awaits that day, known to God alone (NA 4) {1}. Pope John Paul II spoke succinctly of the "never terminated Old Covenant." In his famous confession of guilt in 2000, he described the Jews as "people of the Covenant."



Ecclesial Spirituality: Traces of Jewish Traditions

The discussions of the theologians about the Old and the New Covenant are of course only one side - one should certainly notice and consider them. But as completion and corrective one must also take prayer and worship, the liturgy, and the Church's spirituality into account. Here the traces of Jewish tradition in the lives of Christians are quite obvious until today - beginning with Amen, Alleluia, Hosanna of the mass up to the forms of the emerging spiritual year, its festivals, commemorative times, liturgical readings. Synagogue and Ekklesia seem here to be very close to each other and to encounter each other both in the liturgical celebration and in everyday prayer.

"The guidelines for the sabbatical morning service of the Synagogue were unchanged transferred to the Christian community's Liturgy of the Word, which had been shifted to the early morning of Sunday. [...] The readings of the synagogal celebration of Sabbath became the basis of the catechumens mass." {2}

With these sentences an expert as Anton Baumstark appreciates the proportion of Jewish elements in Christian divine service.

As a matter of fact, not only many salutations and responses, many readings and prayers of the Mass come from Jewish traditions. Also a central text such as the Sanctus, where the singing of the congregation joins in the song of the angels, points to the Jewish thrice holy. The Old Testament is everywhere present in the readings of the Mass - especially in the Eastern Churches. In the West as time went on, one admittedly tried to replace the Old Testament texts by apostolic ones - but even in the sensitive area of the Holy Week and Easter liturgy, where the Church understandably places her own assets in the foreground, she can not get along without the Old Testament. For how could you illustrate the affiliation Adam - Christ without the texts of Genesis about the creation? How would it be possible to understand the Christians' life in history without the image of the passage of the Israelites through the Red Sea? How should you think about the meaning of the Eucharist without the presaging symbol of manna in the wilderness? (The fact that with increasing development of Christian theology many things of the Old Testament are seen as forebodings and prophetically interpreted towards Christ may disappoint religious Jews up to this day. But is not such an acquisition always better than the sheer forgetting and unlearning of biblical source texts?)

Finally, let us not forget that also the new sprout of the Christian conception of time developed and spread on the espalier of the Jewish year order. Christians and Jews divided the months after the seven-day cycle, which is testified also in earlier Near Eastern cultures. One day in the week was regarded as feast day and day of rest. The Jewish week was not only in Jewish-Christian congregations in practice, it found also a place in the congregations of Greece and Asia Minor. In the course of time, it spread from here all over Europe {3}.



The modern awareness of time as a whole is unthinkable without the influence of the Judeo-Christian world (in this case, one is indeed allowed to use the bulky word formation "Judeo-Christian!). In the ancient world people thought mainly, though not exclusively, cyclically, whereas in the Christian world, which was shaped by Judaism, a linear view of the things gained acceptance. Time no longer swung around its own axis in an "eternal return"; it had a beginning and an end; it became unrepeatable and irreversible: a "once and for all." The human responsibility for coexistence, the public order got thus a definite basis. Times and areas of responsibility emerged. They were the precondition that politics became "man's work," i.e. a manageable task. It was no longer a "fate," which was imposed by heroes on a powerless majority.


Shoah - the Last Word in the Relationship between Jews and Christians?

The key question is: Were these developments in theology and church practice also of benefit to the concrete Jews, i.e. to those people who lived as minorities in the Christian cities of the West - often ghettoized and disadvantaged, but sometimes also self-confident and able to defend themselves? As you know, it is difficult to give a clear answer to this question. With all due caution I will say: They were not entirely without effect.

For as carefully as you have - despite the periods of peaceful coexistence of Christians and Jews in history - to avoid ignoring the suddenly beginning excesses of violence (even in times when we can speak of Judaism but not yet of anti-Semitism!), you should in turn equally not overlook - despite the disasters of violence - the repeated, always anew started attempts of a peaceful coexistence between Jews and Christians. This double face of the Judeo-Christian history has nowhere become so evident to me as in Israel: On the one side are Yad Vashem and the deadly horror of the Holocaust, on the other hand, in Tel Aviv the Nahum Goldman Museum about the Jewish exile - with its amazing view of continuity, mutual understanding, peaceful commonalities.

Certainly, the Holocaust marks for the time being the end of attempts of a Judeo-Christian symbiosis, especially in Germany. Many paths of a cultural emancipation and assimilation, which in the 19th century seemed still to be possible, have been discredited and made impossible by it. To be merged in a liberalized, modernized German society may no longer be a target for Jews who remember their history - after the Holocaust, it is rather a terrible vision.



The paths from Moses Mendelssohn, Heinrich Heine up to Walter Rathenau, Karl Kraus, Fritz Haber, the disintegration of Judaism in a liberally or nationally tinted patriotism or in a linguistic-poetic solidarity with the German reality and the Germans - these can no longer be todays paths. And on the other side, in view of the past also Christians should be skeptical towards this path. On the Christian side, one has all too often worshiped the "Old Testament", but despised, reviled and persecuted the living people of this book.

We must by no means forget the Holocaust. We are not allowed to "draw a line" under it. However, the Holocaust must not be the last word in the relationship between Jews and Christians. Otherwise, the result would be an end to all discussions, all relationships. Otherwise, a Jewish-Christian dialogue would no longer be possible. New beginnings must be allowed, indeed, they are needed more than ever in seemingly hopeless situations. This also applies to the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, Synagogue and Ekklesia.


The most recent council: a new beginning

Is "Nostra Aetate," the declaration of the Second Vatican Council on the relationship to Judaism and other religions, such a new beginning? Johannes Oesterreicher (1904-1993), a Jewish convert and Catholic, who was one of the first major initiators and commentators of this declaration, has emphasized its special, indeed, unique character. In 1967 he wrote, "It is the first time that the Church publicly adopts the Pauline vision of the mystery of Israel." Moreover, the declaration is for him "the Church's praise of God's everlasting loyalty to his chosen people of the Jews." {4}

Like the initiative for the Council in general, the initiative for a Conciliar Declaration on the relations between the Church and the people of Israel came from Pope John XXIII. Already in September 1960, he commissioned Cardinal Augustin Bea, SJ, the President of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, with the preparations. Revealingly, he chose him and not the actually responsible "Holy Office," the later Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which under Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani pursued a rather traditional course. To the skeptical question of a Jewish visitor, the French historian Jules Isaac, who in the same year gave the pope a dossier on Judeo-Christian issues, whether he could probably have a little hope for such a declaration he replied, "You have reason for more than hope." Of course, so said the pope, everything had first to be discussed and clarified by the relevant authorities. Much study would be required. Papal dicta would be out of place: "What you see here is not an absolute monarchy." {5}

Already a year before, John XXIII had taken a decisive step. He had changed the old Good Friday intercession for the Jews. He had erased the word "perfidus" from the invitation "Oremus pro perfidis Iudaeis," and the phrase "perfidia Iudaica" from the text.



In the older Latin, "perfidus" originally meant simply incredulous, but in the course of time it took on the pejorative meaning of "disloyal, perfidious." The removal of those offending terms was a necessary first step towards the Jews. Previous efforts to eliminate the discriminatory expression, as they had already been undertaken by the "Amici Israel" at the time of Pius XI had always failed, due to the opposition of the Holy Office.

John XXIII did even more. At a meeting with American Jews in October 1960, he welcomed the visitors with the words, "Son io, Giuseppe, il fratello Vestro - I am Joseph your brother!" Oesterreicher comments on it:

"This greeting taken from the story of Joseph in Egypt, which allowed him the use of the baptismal name Joseph instead of the papal name John, makes it clear that with its help the Pope wanted to break the chains of centuries of estrangement between Christians and Jews."

At this point, I may insert some personal memories {6}. They illustrate what is happening in Germany before and after the Council. The first refers to Gertrud Luckner (1900-1995) in Freiburg. I became acquainted with her during the war, and after 1945 I met her often on Sundays in the church of Adelhausen. In the Nazi era she had helped persecuted Jews, incidentally, on behalf of the Freiburg Archbishop Conrad Gröber. She was arrested and taken to the women's concentration camp Ravensbrück, which she seriously ill survived. After her liberation in 1948 she founded the "Freiburger Rundbrief," which advocated the Jewish-Christian encounter. Together with Karl Thieme she began to struggle bravely for changing the old Good Friday intercession "pro perfidis Iudaeis." At that time, in the 1950s, in the discussions with Old Testament scholars, questions and issues arose which are relevant until today: Should be used the term of Old Testament or rather Hebrew Bible? Should Jews be persuaded to be baptized - or should one be satisfied with the fact that they go their own way? Has in Christianity the Old Covenant "given way" to the New Covenant, as we are singing in the "Tantum ergo"? Or does it continue to apply - with all the consequences which this had for Christianity and especially for the relationship between Christians and Jews?

My second memory is the historian and theologian Karl Thieme. As an opponent of National Socialism, he emigrated in 1935 to Switzerland. He spoke at the first post-war Katholikentag in Mainz in 1948 about "The Jewish Question". At the suggestion of the Freiburg newsletter circle, also the problem of reparations was treated in Mainz. In a resolution every Christian was called on,

"to do his/her part in order to ensure that the Christian population abstains from an already resurgent anti-Semitism. As fathers, as mothers, as teachers, as pastors we must live and teach the true Christian attitude of love also towards Jews [...]."



Also the Katholikentage of 1949, 1950 and 1951 had the Christian-Jewish topic on their agenda - especially Berlin in 1952, where Gertrud Luckner talked about "Jews and Christians" and Karl Thieme about "The Older Brother".

But it was only in 1966 in Bamberg, immediately after the Second Vatican Council, that for the first time a Jewish speaker went to the lectern at a Katholikentag, namely the then 45-year-old Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich. My third remembrance is devoted to him. Together with Gertrud Luckner he gave the public lecture on the topic "The Catholicism after Vatican II and the Jews." Ehrlich's introductory lecture is admittedly qualified only as "introductory opinion from the Jewish side." The thorough and detailed main lecture, which is worth reading up to this day, was Gertrud Luckner's part. And yet, the three and a half printed pages of Ehrlich's opinion designate a historic beginning: Since that time Jewish guests are regularly present at Katholikentagen with speeches and discussions - up to this day.

At the Katholikentag in Trier (1970) the working group "The communities and the Jewish fellow citizens" approached the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) with a resolution. It suggested the creation of a permanent committee, which in the future should prepare for every Katholikentag a Judeo-Christian contribution to the program. The first ecumenical Kirchentag in Germany, the Augsburg Pentecostal Meeting in 1971, put this suggestion into action. On behalf of the committee, Professor Klaus Hemmerle, the then Spiritual Director of ZdK, sought Jewish partners for a discussion group "Jews and Christians." That same year, the discussion group "Jews and Christians" was founded. It still exists today and is "as an organ of theological dialogue at national level the only Judeo-Christian body of its kind in Europe", as the current chairman Hanspeter Heinz put it.


The new Note of Mutual Recognition

Already in 1965 "Nostra Aetate" had formulated a basic precondition of understanding between Jews and Christians: In order to get on closer terms with each other, one has first to become acquainted with each other. Therefore - so the conciliar text - "this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues." (NA 4) Since that time, in Germany this dialogue has been promoted mainly by various initiatives and the mentioned personalities. It was possible to eliminate lots of mistrust, and many misunderstandings. What was important was the new tone of mutual recognition of Jews and Christians, as it was first heard in "Nostra Aetate" - after two millennia of alienation, which often turned into hostility.



The Council has not only changed the internal shape of the church, the forms and texts of divine worship and sacraments, the fundamental order of the ecclesiastical year and the calendar, the liturgy of the hours, the blessings and pontifical rites. It also has redefined the position of the Catholic Church "outward" - in and towards the world. With new words and concepts, it has described the relationships of the faithful to Judaism, to the other denominations and religions, to the non-believers. This is most evident in the post-conciliar new Good Friday intercessions. Pope Paul VI formulated them in the spirit of the council fathers when the Roman Missal was revised. Their German version was approved by the Bishops' Conferences of Germany, Austria and Switzerland on 23 September 1974 in Salzburg for liturgical use.

None of the Good Friday intercessions remained as it was before. The request, for instance, that God "subjugates the principalities and powers" under the Church was removed from the intercession for the Church - after the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church "Lumen Gentium" the "subjicere principatus et potestates" was no longer appropriate. For according to the view of the Council, the church was "not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example, humility and self-sacrifice." (LG 8)

Extremely revealing is the change of the following intercessions. The prayer "pro haereticis et schismaticis" became the prayer "for the unity of Christians." The old intercession for the heathens ("pagani") was divided into two: for those who do not believe in Christ, and for those who do not believe in God. For the first time it is only prayed "that the Holy Spirit may enlighten and guide them on the way of salvation" (the earlier version still read, "Our God and Lord may rescue them from all fallacies and call them back to the holy Mother, the Catholic Apostolic Church"; the Oration spoke of the souls which are deceived "by diabolical deceit - diabolica fraus"). The new intercession for those who do not believe in God is tuned to a similar note. For them it is prayed that they with the help of God "follow their conscience and thus come to the God and Father of all men" (earlier it still read: the "misery of sin" - iniquitas - should be removed from their hearts, and they should be liberated from "idolatry"- idolorum cultura.

The reason for these changes is evident. After the Council Fathers had in "Nostra Aetate" developed a new positive view of the non-Christian religions, the old ways of talking about non-Catholics and non-Christians - in which it was about liberation from "blindness," from "idolatry", "error" and "malice" - were simply no longer suitable. New manners of speaking had to be found. Or should the Catholics really continue, as in ancient times, to pray for the "heretical" Protestants, the "idolatrous" non-Christians, and moreover also for the "perfidious", the "blind" Jews?

Of all the conciliar reformulations, the change of the intercession for the Jews by Pope Paul VI has rightly found the most attention.



It brought a long process of change and reconsideration in the Catholic Church to an end. Directed to the address of the Jews, the old liturgy still said, "that acknowledging the light of thy Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness." Darkness - here the image of the blind, the blinded Synagogue continues to have an influence. Now it says:

"Let us pray for the Jewish people, the first to hear the word of God, that they may continue to grow in the love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant. ... that the people you first made your own may arrive at the fullness of redemption."

This is, as it seems to me, an appropriate response to new theological insights, as they were presented already before the Second Vatican Council (as e.g. by Johannes Oesterreicher and Franz Mussner). The new intercession is carefully worded. It takes into account the by the Council renewed teaching on the continued validity of the First Covenant. Or should you have continued to remind the Jews that they were actually blind, deluded people, that they would only be able as baptized to reach the fullness of salvation? Pointing to the Synagogue with the blindfold on the Cathedral, a Strasbourg bishop once said to me, "Today the Ekklesia should actually wear the blindfold." He alluded to the Holocaust, for which the Christians certainly can not be held directly responsible. But it took place in a civilization which was shaped by Christianity - without fundamental, desparate resistance of the Christians.

Unfortunately, in the since 2007 approved "extraordinary form" of the Roman rite, the old tones are again discernible - here it is prayed for the Jews that "our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men." This has triggered a fierce debate. Many Jews rightly asked whether they now needed more knowledge and enlightenment than the pope and the Church, whether they were, for their salvation's sake, obligated to believe in Christ as the Savior of all people.

I think, one should stick to Pope Paul VI's careful formulation; it is still regarded as the "ordinary form" of the Roman Rite. One should not forestall God' unfathomable will. To pray for the "enlightenment" of the Jews - this has for Christians in today's time a touch of arrogance. Here, the idea is not far that "conversion" is necessary for the Jews in order to attain salvation. But after the Holocaust, every form of "mission to the Jews" is for Christians out of the question {7}.



Upright Synagogue - no Triumphant Church

Ekklesia and Synagogue - what is the position of the two today after centuries of estrangement, after the historic disaster which we experienced in the first half of the 20th century? How has their shape, their relationship since that time changed? How does it look like today - after the Second Vatican Council, after "Nostra Aetate", after the visit of Pope John Paul II in the Roman synagogue, after the confession of guilt spoken by him in 2000 for the whole Church, after the visits of the Popes at Yad Vashem and Auschwitz?

One conclusion is clear: the Synagogue is able to straighten up. She no longer needs to be paralysed by mourning. She it able to firmly re-take the stone tablets into her hands without having to fear that they will slip from her hands and break, because like in old times God also today adheres to the Covenant with his first-chosen, first-loved people. And she no longer needs to wear the blindfold, because she was and is not blind. With her unrestricted view, she is able to look at her younger relative Ekklesia, mindful of the fact that her fate is inextricably linked with her's, due to the fact that - to quote "Nostra Aetate" - "the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people's exodus from the land of bondage." (NA 4)

In view of the recent past but also of earlier breaks and failures, Ekklesia on the other hand must give up all pride, every triumphalism - that triumphalism to which many of her stone-carved figures at the entrances of cathedrals bear witness. She should realize that a Church Triumphant on earth is not possible - a Church Suffering and a Church Militant, however, exist. And she should look at the Synagogue on an equal footing: not with the intention to teach and convert her, but - again "Nostra Aetate" - in the awareness of the heritage which Christianity has in common with the Jews.

Does this mean a new Synagogue, a new Ekklesia? In view of the burden of history, the thought might be somewhat utopian. But we all, both Jews and Christians, are able to contribute something to it, so that such an idea takes shape. We should plan to support it with passion. The 9th November is reason enough.

    For the printing revised and supplemented lecture, held on 9 November 2012 in the hour of commemoration of the Christian-Jewish society in the synagogue Münster / Westphalia.



{1} About the theological development of the subject until the Second Vatican Council see Roman A. Siebenrock, Theologischer Kommentar zur Erklärung über die Haltung der Kirche zu den nichtchristlichen Religionen, in: Herders Theologischer Kommentar zum Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzil. Volume 3. Edited by Peter Hünermann / Bernd Jochen Hilberath. Freiburg 2005, 593-677, 599-614.

{2} Anton Baumstark, Vom geschichtlichen Werden der Liturgie. Freiburg 1923, 13, 15.



{3} Hans Maier, Die christliche Zeitrechnung. Freiburg 62013, 14 ff., 23 ff.

{4} Johannes Oesterreicher, Kommentierende Einleitung zu NA, in: LThK².E, volume 2, 406-478.

{5} Ibid. 407 ff., here also the following quotations.

{6} About the following see Hans Maier, Böse Jahre, gute Jahre. Ein Leben 1931 ff. München ²2013, 98, 102, 228.

{7} About the recent heated discussion about the mission to the Jews in 2009, which was triggered by the on 5th February 2008 published Latin version of the Good Friday prayer in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite of Mass, see the following contradictory statements: Robert Spaemann, Gott ist kein Bigamist, in: FAZ, 20. 4. 2009; Rudolf Zewell, In Treue zu seinem Bund. Das Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken sagt ,Nein zur Judenmission', in: Rheinischer Merkur, 28. 4. 2009; Michael Brenner, Gott ist kein Christ, in: FAZ, 28. 4. 2009; Hans Maier, Wer hat die Binde vor den Augen?, in: Die Welt, 16. 5. 2009.


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