Saturday, November 07, 2009

Enabling the Holocaust - Constantine's Sword

(Pope Benedict XVI at Auschwitz) Once a Catholic priest, author James Carroll's faith in authority was broken by the Vietnam War. He left the church and began a rigorous study of the history of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism, distinguishing an extraordinary story that deepens the understanding of the forces that made the seemingly incomprehensible Holocaust comprehensible.

(Constantine) Prior to 342, Christianity used many of the life affirming symbols including the fish, peacock, Chi-Rho, and other pagan like symbols. They didn't use the crucifix. That changed when Roman leader Constantine I had a vision of the cross on the eve of battle. The vision inspired him to victory, converted him to Christianity, and with his consolidation of power, cemented the establishment of the Catholic Church at the root of power. The Cross, the Roman instrument of execution, became the central image of the religion, and it had a byproduct, antisemitism and an increase in the emphasis of the false assertion that Jews were responsible for the execution of Christ. Many still believe this. Mel Gibson (who has been caught making anti-semitic statements) presents this view in his film The Passion of the Christ.

Skipping how this assertion was born (see the history of New Testament), it persisted, and the crusades made sure Jewish towns and villages were included on the list of those to be slaughtered and burned. Seeking to legitimize their new religion with conversions, Christians were outraged with the Jews, God's chosen insiders most ripe for inclusion into the new religion, that remained content with their given Judaism. Bad turned dramatically to worse when reformer Martin Luther poured fuel onto the "Jews killed Jesus" fire. A respectable high school education covers Luther's famous posting of the 95 Theses at a Wittenburg church in 1517, the development that gave birth to Protestantism. However, high school kids are not taught about Luther's rabid hatred of the Jews. Evidence exists that Luther initially had no hostile sentiments, but like his Christian predecessors of 50-200 AD, he grew outraged when Jews did not embrace his Protestantism. Furious, in 1543 Luther published On the Jews and their Lies. Consider the sentiments behind what happened in Rome 12 years later.

1. Jews are to own no real estate.
2. Jews are to attend no Christian university.
3. Jews are to hire no Christian servants.
4. Jews' mercantile roles are to be strictly regulated.
5. Jews taxes are to be increased.
6. Jews are no longer to ignore the ancient requirement to wear distinction clothing and badges.
7. Jews are to refuse to be addressed as "sir" by Christians.
8. Jews are to live on a single street, or in a distinctive quarter cut off from other sections of the town or city. This quarter is to have only one entrance.

Cum Nimis Absurdum Pope Paul IV, July 1555.

Rome created a ghetto for Jews in 1555, 400 years before the Nazis created the infamous ghetto in Warsaw. Why? What remains insufficiently distinguished is the profound role Christianity played in establishing the precedents necessary to enable the Holocaust. In 1933, Edith Stein, the brilliant German Jewish philosopher who converted to Christianity and became a nun, wrote Pope Pius XII a letter warning of the brutal anti-Semitism of the Nazis and the impending violence. All of her predictions came true (and then some). The Pope never responded to her letter. Stein fled Germany, but was arrested in the Netherlands and killed at Auschwitz in 1942.

In March 2000, Pope John Paul II made a truly momentous visit to Jerusalem, visiting the Wailing Wall and submitting a published letter into one of its crevices.

In May 2009, Pope Benedict XVI visited Israel and gave an address acknowledging the Holocaust where "Jews were exterminated under a godless regime." He said nothing about Christianity's culpability, Edith Stein, the silence of Pope Pius XII at the time, or the church's 1939 invitation to Hitler himself to see the seamless robe of Christ (falsely believed at the time to have been worn by Christ) at the Cathedral of Trier.

Hitler declined the invitation.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

God Bless You for saying what almost no one has the courage to say.

The Nazis exploited an opening the Christians created.

11/07/2009 9:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The book is excellent, but does require a fair amount of time. There is an outstanding movie that summarizes the material.

John Paul II "got it" far more deeply than the current Pope.

There are many other instances of genocide, but none quite so organized and "condoned." Another item that most don't realize is the extent of Polish antisemitism.

After the war, Poles let it be known that if surviving Jews returned to their Polish towns, they would be killed. Poland has no Jewish population.

I don't think Christians will ever really get their level of accountability and responsibility in what happened. Martin Luther's hatred probably provides the best picture of what

11/08/2009 9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hit the button by mistake. Luther provides the best picture of what is being discussed here. The Christians just couldn't live and let live when Jews declined the invitation to convert.

11/08/2009 9:33 AM  
Blogger The Navigator said...

I had no idea they had made this excellent book into a film. They must have really whittled it down to fit it into such a short documentary.

I know x4mr had to skip a lot, but I'm surprised he skipped St. Ambrose and the legend of Helena (Constantine's mother) finding the "true cross" in Jerusalem. The tale says that the Jews hid the crucifix "because it proved the Jews killed Jesus." The view was that finding the cross would bring about the "final defeat" of the Jews.

It really is an amazing book. With hindsight, one can see the whole thing as a slowly growing snow ball, crawling at first but never stopping, slowly, yet inevitably, gaining size and momentum over the centuries.

With an understanding of the background, Nazism looks like a spark falling on gunpowder. We will never know what would have happened if Hitler's politics were free of the racial hysteria and strictly focused on Germany's political, military, and economic power.

11/08/2009 1:48 PM  
Blogger x4mr said...

I like your snow ball metaphor and it captures a lot. Of course I left a lot out. As you start to include something (Helena and the "real cross") then you feel the need to include more (Ambrose). Then you find yourself saying, "Oh, I should mention Augustine's City of God and then you get into ..." and it keeps going, so I just stuck to Constantine himself and Martin Luther.

The bottom line is that the unfolding Christian "story," on many levels, increasingly demonized the Jews as illegitimate creatures who literally did not belong on the planet.

The Pope John Paul II visit to Jerusalem in 2000 was HUGE. This is the note he put in the Wall.

God of our fathers,
You chose Abraham and his descendants
to bring your Name to the Nations:
we are deeply saddened
by the behaviour of those
who in the course of history
have caused these children of yours to suffer,
and asking your forgiveness
we wish to commit ourselves
to genuine brotherhood
with the people of the Covenant.

Jerusalem 26, March 2000

Signed: John Paul II

11/08/2009 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had NO IDEA about any of this. Wow.

11/09/2009 1:50 PM  

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