Righting Relations after the Holocaust and Vatican II: Essays in Honor of John T. Pawlikowski, OSM

Updated: Aug 28, 2018

Edited by Elena G. Procario-Foley and Robert A. Cathey

Reviewed by Eugene J. Fisher



The essays in this excellent volume are written by scholars from the Americas and Europe, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims, reflecting the globalization and interreligious dialogue in our time. Aptly titled, it honors one of the great theologians of social ethics and pioneers of Catholic-Jewish relations. John Pawlikowski is a friend and colleague of mine with whom I have collaborated on many projects over the years and I can attest that he is well worthy of the honor and admiration the contributors to this volume, themselves leaders in their own fields, here give to him.


The book has eighteen chapters, perhaps not a coincidental number since 18 in Hebrew is the number for chaim, life, and John has enlivened the lives of innumerable people with his writings and personal engagement. It opens with an insightful forward by another great pioneer in Jewish-Christian relations, Judith H. Banki, whose work in the field with the American Jewish Committee goes back before the Second Vatican Council and, indeed, was instrumental in the development of the conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate which rejected Christianity's ancient teaching of contempt against Jews and Judaism, a source of the racial antisemitism that rationalized the Holocaust, and started the Catholic Church on the path of “righting relations” with Jews, Muslims, and other world religions. Professor Elena Procario-Foley of Iona College deftly introduces the conception of the book, which at the same time summarizes the work leading to Nostra Aetate, the significance of that document, advances in related fields since the Council, and propositions, often brilliant, for future progress and scholarship.


The book is divided into three parts: Ethics and Theology, Holocaust Studies, and Interreligious Studies. Mary Doak of the University of San Diego opens the first part with a study of the works of Reinhold Niebuhr and Pawlikowski on social ethics in our global age, pointing out areas where Pawlikowski furthered and clarified Niebuhr. Robert Cathey of McCormick Theological Seminary, Chicago, delves into Pawlikowski's Christology and how it challenges the Presbyterian/Reformed churches to rethink their understanding of Christology. Edward Kessler, director of the Woolf Institute, Cambridge, England describes a theology of dialogue, especially Jewish-Christian relations, as a basis for developing a social foundation for the common good of all within a given society. In the fourth chapter, Martin M. Lintner, OSM, like Pawlikowski a Servite, deeply probes the meaning of love of neighbor (Leviticus 19:18) both biblically and from the perspective of the Jewish philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas' idea of alterity, providing insights as well from Martin Buber.


One of the most significant essays in this collection is that of Michael S. Kogan, professor emeritus at Montclair State University, “Welcoming Jesus Home.” He does commit a small error in interpreting Galatians as “replacement theology,” since Paul's argument was not against Judaism as such but an argument that Gentile converts to Christianity need not observe the whole of the law but just (as Judaism also believes) the Noahide covenant with all humanity (p. 74). The concluding section of his essay (pp.85-93), “Jesus: Beyond the Usual Categories” takes a positive stance, from a Jewish perspective, not only of Jesus' teachings, which were indeed very Jewish but of the core Christian doctrine about Jesus, the Incarnation. His groundbreaking thoughts, it is to be hoped, will become the basis for numerous Jewish-Christian dialogues.


Jon Nilson, professor emeritus at Loyola University and a Catholic member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation from 1984 to 2007, draws out the pedagogical and pastoral theological implications of Pawlikowski's writings. He takes into account and informs readers of major developments in the works of other Catholic scholars such as Karl Rahner, David Tracy, and Philip Cunningham, as well as official Church documents and how they have been presented by Vatican officials such as Walter Kasper.


The section on Holocaust studies opens with a provocative piece by noted scholar John K. Roth, Founding Director of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights at Claremont McKenna College. In “God Isn't Fixing This,” Roth explores the experiences of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust/Shoah, applying the philosophy of Albert Camus and others. We, of course, are the problem, but can we be the solution? Roth describes the actions of a Catholic Italian, Leronzo Perrone, a labor conscript in Auschwitz, who surreptitiously brought food to a Jewish Italian, Primo Levi, saving his life, and those of others. A model for us all.


Stephen Leonard Jacobs, professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Alabama, meditates on the “righteous gentiles,” those who risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis, asking why these relatively few did so. He summarizes research in the field and concludes that with a challenge to the reader: individuals can and must make a difference for the better in the world, and with a list of questions asking readers “what would you do?” There are no easy answers to these questions. Victoria Barnett of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum begins with the “Ten Points of Seelisburg,” produced in 1947 by a group of leading Christians and Jews to spell out a theological foundation for removing anti-Judaism from Christian thought and expression. She describes how ethical, historical and religious intersected during the Shoah and how these intersections need to be studied in contemporary Jewish/Christian dialogues today, describing the difficulties and potential for change in Christian theology and self-understanding.


Menhaz Afridi, a Muslim and director of the Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College, discusses our Muslim, Christian and Jewish memories of each “Other,” how these are often self-serving and wrong, and how, through dialogue and learning to understand the “other” as they understand themselves can help us to “right relations” between the Abrahamic faiths.


Katherina von Kellenbach, a professor at St. Mary's College of Maryland, similarly speaks of the “purification of memory,” how we misunderstand and can learn to properly understand historical and present relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. She notes the importance of Nostra Aetate, but also its omissions, a number of which have been addressed in statements of various Christian groups, the popes and the Holy See since 1965. She also notes that much of what has been officially stated has yet to be embodied in Christian textbooks and from the pulpits of our churches. Carol Rittner, RSM, professor emerita of Holocaust Studies at Stockton University takes up von Kellenbach's challenge and examines the pastoral and pedagogical challenges and choices, noting how the righteous gentiles can be used as models in Christian classrooms and sermons.


Part III of this remarkable collection is titled “Interreligious Studies.” But it is about more than academic studies. Susannah Heschel, the daughter of the great rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Martin Luther King and who, as she aptly narrates, was influential in the development of Nostra Aetate. She speaks, rightly to my mind, of Pawlikowski as a “prophet ecumenist,” a title equally applicable, of course, to her father. In narrating her father's relationship with Cardinal Bea, entrusted by the pope with overseeing the development of a statement by the Second Vatican Council on Jews and Judaism, and Heschel's highly significant 1964meeting with Pope Paul VI. Relying on her father's memories and notes, Heschel here makes an important contribution to understanding the history and intent of Nostra Aetate.


Amy-Jill Levine, Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt and co-editor of The Jewish Annotated New Testament, New Revised Standard Version Bible Translation: Second Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), outlines the progress in the dialogue since Nostra Aetate, putting in a kind word for my own work in the field during my time at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (p. 231) and summarizing the official Catholic and Jewish statements to date. She carefully critiques traditional readings of key gospel texts often used to malign Jews and Judaism, and typological readings of the Hebrew Scriptures/Tanach. She urges dioceses and bishops' conferences to work with Catholic universities, seminaries and local parish schools to disseminate to Catholic teachers and preachers the advances that have been made in the Catholic understanding of Judaism and understanding the New Testament through Jewish eyes. Ruth Langer, professor of Jewish Studies at Boston College follows this up with how Jews have and can in the future present a fair understanding of Christianity in Jewish liturgy, providing lessons that Catholics can learn from with regard to our own liturgical practices.


Carmen M. Nanko-Fernandez and Jean-Pierre Ruiz, professors at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and St. John's University in New York, respectively, open up what will be a new world for many readers, the history and present reality of Latino/a Catholic-Jewish relations, centering especially on Puerto Rico and signs of Jewish-Catholic convivencia in the large Puerto Rican “diaspora” communities of the U.S. Mary C. Boys, herself one of the great pioneers of Jewish-Christian relations in the U.S. and professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York traces the trajectory of the development of Nostra Aetate from World War II to its declaration by the Second Vatican Council, and key developments since 1965, concluding with a challenge for “confession and recommitment” (pp. 305-310). Yehezkel Landau of Israel, who has long worked there for Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations and Israeli-Palestinian peace building, provides a moving “Jewish tribute” to Pawlikowski the man and to his work. James Carroll of Harvard provides an equally moving Afterword drawing especially on his personal experiences in Boston.


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