Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, died Friday. He was a contender to have become pope and he was a liberal who was still respected and worked together with Papal conservatives. For more on his positions see the obituaries of the AP and NCR. Martini retired to Jerusalem and was active in Jewish-Christian relations. In a nutshell, he advocated that Catholics should study Judaism and understand Judaism in its own context; he also was working toward a Catholic theology of the land of Israel that acknowledges Israeli sovereignty as well as a greater Catholic appreciation of the land.As rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, Cardinal Martini created a program under which Catholic students go to Israel to study Judaism, biblical archaeology and Hebrew language. The two most important documents are his November 2004 speech at Rome’s Gregorian University and his book Verso Gerusalemme (Towards Jerusalem).
Martini was known for having potentially liberal views, at least by Vatican standards, on birth control, brain death, same-sex marriage, and celibacy. We will never know what he would or would not have done if he had become Pope. But what we do know is that when you look in European book stores, both religious and secular, there are copies in the window Verso Gerusalemme (Towards Jerusalem); people are reading and enjoying his thought. The second thing we know is that the attraction is because of his open engagement with the thoughts of his readers. In his book “Towards Jerusalem”, he says he does not divide the world into believers and non-believers, but into those who think and those who don’t
In the 2004 speech at Gregorian University in Rome, Cardinal Martini said that Catholics could not fully understand their own faith without a meaningful understanding of Judaism. He recalls anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism with sorrow and a need to help eradicate it in the future. He sees a continuous link of the Jews with God and the need to entirely eradicate the Patristic supersesionalism. In one of his other books “Christianity and Judaism: A Historical and Theological Overview” he explicitly rejects Augustine’s thinking on the Jews- the ‘theory of substitution’ whereby the New Israel of the church became a substitute of ancient Israel.” He wants all aspects of Catholic liturgy, doctrine and spiritual life to reflect this new understanding of Judaism.
Here one recalls the painful history of the past, with centuries of closures, ostracisms, reciprocal misunderstandings and calumnies. It is a history that we cannot remember without a deep sense of sorrow and humiliation, all the more so as we gradually realize how, in this respect, many Christians have behaved in opposition to the Gospel, and thus have obscured the truth and the love that ought always to flow from the Church of Christ. Today things are changing, but we need time and energy, even because new events in the history of our times give the virus of antisemitism the opportunity to spread and to give rise to condemnatory theories and judgments.
We must make sure that the faithful gain a renewed awareness of their link with the children of Abraham, with all the resulting consequences for the doctrine, the discipline, the liturgy and the spiritual life of the Church, as well as her mission in the world of today.
It is necessary for the Church to elaborate a better self-understanding of her own nature and mission in relation with the Jewish people. Before anything else, this necessitates a heightened attention to what the Jewish people thinks and says about itself.
Martini thinks that it is not enough for the Church to be against Anti-Semitism but it needs to study post-Biblical Judaism and the entire history of the Jews. Priests need education in Judaism. Catholics have to see the State of Israel in modern political terms and keep out of the conflict. Leave the conflict to the experts and politicians. Catholics need to do daily teshuvah for the sorrows they caused. Christianity has to reground itself in Judaism and the Jewish tradition.
It is necessary to acquire an understanding of post-Biblical Judaism, which, until very recently, was almost totally lacking in the Catholic Church. For this reason it is necessary – and I have said it more than once – not only to know the books and the traditions that after the destruction of the Temple continued to maintain in life a [specifically] Jewish hope, but also to widen our horizons to the entire history, the customs, the artistic, scientific, literary and musical talents of the Jewish people. It is thus necessary to cultivate an attitude of esteem and of love towards this people. Simple anti-antisemitism is not enough. It is thus necessary to develop motivations for a friendship that in the heart of the other increasingly reads the thoughts that we share, and that finds a space for the differences, making sure however that these differences do not lead to conflict or dismissal.
First of all, in the formation of the future priests it shall be necessary to emphasize the knowledge of Biblical and post-Biblical Judaism. Over the last years, a certain progress has been made in this direction, but much remains to be done, especially because up to now only few have received this type of formation.
Where there are conflicts, as at present between Israelis and Palestinians, it is necessary to remain in the middle and to work so that all violence may cease and everyone may learn to understand the pain of the other. For this reason I have chosen to live in Jerusalem most of the time and I have set as my main priority the prayer of intercession, so that the people of the Middle East, and in particular Jews and Palestinians, might discover the ways of mutual trust and dialogue.
The second stage is the conversion of the heart, in Hebrew teshuva. For the Jew, every day is made for the teshuva of the individual and of the community. Indeed for us, therefore, every day is an opportunity to begin to ask God and our brothers and sisters to accept our sorrow for the evil that we have done and the good that we have forgotten to accomplish. Let us humbly approach our Jewish brothers and sisters, the history of their suffering, of their martyrdom, of the persecutions that they have undergone. Let us remove the tendentious interpretations of passages included in the New Testament and in other writings. Let us eliminate the misunderstandings that still make us suspicious of our reciprocal good will. Actually, we all ardently desire the same thing: to be authentic, to be faithful to the truth that we all know.
The third stage is that of study, and subsequently of dialogue. In its search for truth, humankind builds schools, research centers and universities.
I am convinced that a deeper understanding of Judaism and its currents is vital for the Church, not only so as to overcome a centuries-old ignorance and to begin a fruitful dialogue, but also to deepen the understanding that the Church has of itself. In other words, I would like to emphasize the importance, for the theology of Christian praxis, of the study of the problems derived from the interruption of the contribution that the theology and the praxis of Jewish-Christians was giving to the early Christian community. It is a fact that the first great schism, that between Jews and Christians, has deprived the Church of the help it would have received from the Jewish tradition.
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Even though Martini’s book on Jerusalem is in every Italian bookstore, it has not been translated into English. It has however been translated into Hebrew “Likrat yerushalayim: Masa el shoresheha hayehudi’im shel hanatzrut” (“Verso Gerusalemme”) by Carlo Maria Martini, translated from the Italian by Dov Ancona, Carmel, 189 pages
The traditional Catholic approach to the Holy Land (which is not the same as the diverse Protestant approaches) is to limit the discussion to the land where Jesus walked, similar to the holiness of the other Biblical lands of Asia Minor and Rome (see Robert Wilken’s superb book The Land Called Holy) Martini was attempted to return Catholic thought to the land, its actual earth and flora, its geography, its Jewishness, as well as celebrating figures such as Jerome who attempted to understand the Bible though Hebrew and Judaism. (On Jerome and the bible see the YU PHD, Jay Braverman, Jerome’s Commentary on Daniel. Washington: Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1978– a summary is available here in this article.)
Although in Jerusalem Christmas day is, in the civic calendar, a day like any other (this year it falls on shabbat, that is, on the Jewish day of weekly rest, but without reference to our feast), many people notice that this is a day of great rejoicing for Christians and are quick to offer their good wishes when they meet me. They say: «Hag sameah», which is the usual expression of good will on Jewish feasts and can be translated: May your feast be glad, may it bring you joy
I prefer to celebrate on the morning of Christmas, with some young students from the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Rome who are frequenting the Jewish University of Jerusalem. We say the mass in what is known as the cave of Saint Jerome… I am attracted and moved by the figure of Saint Jerome. This intelligent and tenacious scholar, tired of the ambitions and gossip of Rome, decided to withdraw to Bethlehem to pray and study intensely the Jewish and Christian scriptures, devoting himself above all to the work of translation into Latin from the original tongues… Like Saint Jerome, even if very far from his holiness, and from his ascetic and scholarly rigor, I also feel myself here in Jerusalem to adore the Lord born for us and to study the Scriptures of the Jewish people and those of the early Christian community. I would like thus to get to know more deeply something of the mystery of God and man, that I have met so often in my office as bishop.
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Martini was awarded an honorary doctorate from Hebrew University- here is an excerpt from his acceptance speech.
Very soon I realized that the language of the Bible was somewhat different from languages used in the modern world. And I started to ask myself how biblical language related to these other ways of speaking: to the language of daily life, the language spoken in the market place, on the bus and on the train, the language of human love, the language of human work, especially of the agricultural world, the language which transmitted to new generations the simple rules through which we are able to relate to our neighbour and to survive in the daily competition of life. With these contemporary languages the way of speaking used by the biblical books has of course many similarities, with maybe the exception of the ethical and moral language, which in the Scripture is much more absolute and exacting.
The Bible, in effect, expresses itself usually in ordinary language, full of symbols, proverbs, parables, examples and stories, sometimes bringing paradoxes and provocative expressions. In this way, it tries to express things and values as they are felt by our sensitivity and emotions. On the other hand, scientific language, tries to describe things in their reciprocal and objective relationships, apart (as far as this is possible) from the personality of the observer. But once we have understood this difference, there is no more reason to be scandalized by the simple language of Scripture, the aim and purpose of which is different from that of a scientific affirmation, but has its truth, dignity and purpose.
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