Jewish Journal

Spiritual Border Crossing and Change

by  David A. Lehrer

May 31, 2012 | 1:02 pm

It isn’t often that one reads an article that connects dots that have long seemed disconnected, but it does occasionally happen

Last night I was reading one of my favorite magazines, The New Republic (I have been a subscriber for decades) and came across a book review of From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933–1965 by John Connelly, the review is by Peter E. Gordon.

Admittedly, I haven’t read From Enemy to Brother but the lengthy review is, in itself, fascinating. It details the book’s analysis of the development and adoption of the revolutionary document, Nostra Aetate (In Our Times), which may have been the single most significant development in Catholic-Jewish relations in two millennia. Adopted as part of the transformational Second Vatican Council convened by Pope John XXIII, Nostra Aetate changed the liturgy of the Church as well as its attitude towards its “older brother”, the Jewish community.

The new teaching of Vatican II implied that the relation between Judaism and Christianity was no longer understood as competitive or successive (with the former a mere preparation for the latter) but complementary. The revolutionary idea of a “two covenant theology” drew upon a variety of theological sources (including Jewish ones, possibly including the medieval writings of Maimonides and the modern writings of Franz Rosenzweig).

What is intriguing about the article and the book it describes is its revelation that essential to the process of the Church transforming its two thousand year old attitudes was the world view and input of key converted Jews and Protestants in the hierarchy (e.g. John Osterreicher and Karl Thieme) who brought a new and different attitude to doctrinal anti-Semitism and notions that had pervaded the Church for millennia.

According to the review, it was the role of these “border crossers” that made the transformational change of Nostra Aetate possible. As it points out,

The revolution would not have succeeded at all were it not for the curious phenomenon of border-crossing by which outsiders became insiders who then transformed the Church they had joined.

It’s a fascinating look at one of the seminal events in inter-religious relations of our time which also speaks to the importance of “border crossers” and diversity—-getting different opinions from different folks who can offer new perspectives and attitudes.

I have often wondered how the enormous changes of Vatican II came to an institution reticent to change itself (as are almost all religious institutions) and impact many of its adherents who favored tradition and the rituals they had grown up with and been taught. This article offers an interesting insight how such epic change happens and the dynamics of it.

The article and, I trust, the book are worth a read.

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