Johann Reuchlin on the 500th Anniversary of His Death

Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522)

Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522)

The advancement of knowledge in any discipline involves both intensive research by individuals and collaboration among scholars across languages and cultures. In past centuries European scholars used Latin as the common language for exchange.

Serious efforts were made to build on the legacy of ancient translations of the Hebrew Bible in Greek and Latin. The translation of Aristotle’s works and Arabic commentaries brought new challenges to revitalize the search for knowledge. Sometimes these endeavors developed in a spirit of collaboration and with a search for justice on behalf of a minority.

Johann Reuchlin (1455–1522) was educated in the Latin of the Middle Ages, but he learned Hebrew to share areas of Jewish scholarship and practice with people of good will and intellectual curiosity. After meeting Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463 -1494) in Florence in 1490, Reuchlin became interested in Kabbalah. His purpose included the elucidation of Jewish mystical traditions for the benefit of Christian theology and piety.

The great contribution of Reuchlin was not only to tap Jewish sources, but also to defend the rights of Jews (grounded in Roman law beginning with the privileges granted long ago by Julius Caesar) and to respect the Jewish literary heritage.

After the invention of the printing press, the ancient practice of burning books was less destructive of a heritage but has continued into modern times as an act of rejection regarding the value of another culture. At great personal cost, Reuchlin defended the Jewish texts that others tried to defile. His “Expert Opinion concerning the Destruction of Jewish Books” opposed confiscation of Jewish liturgical and theological books. Jews were to be treated kindly to fulfill the command to love our neighbor.

Tragically that teaching of the Torah (Lev 19:18) and Jesus was ignored in many Christian settings! The witness of scholars today can be enhanced by recalling those who struggled against bigotry in their time.

See my review of Franz Posset, Johann Reuchlin (1465- 1522): A Theological Biography in SCJR 13 no. 1 (2018) p. 1-3.

Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Cardinal Gregory

His Eminence, Wilton Cardinal Gregory, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C., gave a lecture about the future of Jewish-Christian dialogue on Zoom to an international virtual gathering of 500 or more participants on March 31, 2022.

Cardinal Gregory has a long experience as the co-chair of the United States Bishops Conference-National Council of Synagogues dialogue. He reviewed key points in the Church’s development of the principles of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra aetate) over the past 55 years.

Cardinal Gregory also pointed to the development of mutual understanding and the challenges we still face, including a concerted response to expressions of anti-Jewish bigotry in violent forms. As Catholic leaders continue the efforts to educate the faithful, they also pledge that a strong stand against antisemitism in any form is required of Christians.

Regarding the future, Cardinal Gregory touched on three areas:

  • widening the exchanges between Catholics and Jews on the local level
  • joint outreach whereby Catholics and Jews serve the needs of the wider world
  • reaching the younger generation of both communities

Rabbi Burton Visotzky, professor and interfaith coordinator in Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), moderated the program and presented questions for the speaker. The John Paul II Center sponsored the event, an annual lecture in Rome, with financial support from the Russell Berrie Foundation.

JTS recorded the event, which you can watch below, or you can select to watch it directly on JTS’s YouTube channel.

The World Day of the Sick

Emmanuel Levinas

On February 11th, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Church remembers those who are sick and suffering throughout the world. Again this year we think of the common threat of Covid-19 on the vulnerable in every society!

The message of Pope Francis to prepare for this day of prayer for the sick was given on December 10, 2021 and may be accessed on the Vatican’s website here.

I recommend that we consider the challenge of this text to all groups of people, from health care workers to ordinary members in every society.

There is much to ponder in the Pope’s message, including a quotation from the writings of Emmanuel Levinas, the Jewish philosopher whose ethical reflections resonate deeply with those searching to understand the impact of God’s Word on our lives.

Over the centuries the healing ministry of service to those who suffer in body or spirit has been noted by Pope Francis.  As in his focus over the years, he draws attention to ongoing needs of so many throughout the world, especially the poor in remote places.

May we be inspired to reach out to those in need! When our turn comes, may we show appreciation to all who help!

U.N. Resolution Adopted on 80th Anniversary of the Wannsee Conference

The 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference was commemorated last week.The 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference was commemorated last week. The event was presented in this way by Diane Cole in her review of Peter Longerich’s book Wannsee: The Road to the Final Solution (Oxford University Press, 2022):

A single meeting can distill the essence of evil. Eighty years ago, on Jan. 20, 1942, Reinhard Heydrich, the head of the SS intelligence service and security police, presided over a high-level meeting with 14 Nazi colleagues at the elegant Wannsee villa near Berlin. The agenda: to discuss “the final solution of the Jewish question in Europe.” (The Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2022)

In 1933 the Nazi attack on the Jewish people in Germany began with legislation and demonstrations of hatred. These were intensified on both levels in the coming years. From 1938 I applied immediately the laws discriminating against Jews to all the countries taken into the Reich. After the War began in 1939, the killing of Jewish civilians was an integral part of conquest, but Reinhard Heydrich brought the nightmare of the ghettos into the horror of the death camps in the Wannsee Conference.

The New York Times has a report on the Wannsee Conference by Katrin Bennhold, “80 Years Ago the Nazis Planned the ‘Final Solution.’ It Took 90 Minutes.” There is also an account of the United Nations’ condemnation of denial and distortion of the Holocaust, “the Nazi genocide that killed nearly six million Jews and millions of others” (Rick Gladstone, “U.N. Approves Israeli Measure to Condemn Denial of the Holocaust”).

The resolution reaffirms that the Holocaust “will forever be a warning to all people of the dangers of hatred, bigotry, racism and prejudice.”

Anti-Jewish bigotry, usually called “antisemitism,” is a Protean monster that takes many shapes and forms. The strange visitor to the synagogue in Colleyville, Texas on January 14th came with a perception, which shows that any mistaken view about Jews and Judaism may lead to devastating results. Mercifully, in this case, there was no loss of innocent lives but such an international incident is extremely worrying! Dr. Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University in Atlanta offers a very pertinent reflection, “For Jews, Going to Services Is an Act of Courage,” in The New York Times.

The history of the Shoah (Holocaust) is studied at Seton Hall and other universities so that people of good will have ways of educating our peers and of guiding the younger generation to wholesome attitudes and to deeds in the service of positive interfaith and intercultural relations.

Each year on January 27th the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau is commemorated by the United Nations as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. May this year’s commemoration be an occasion to express gratitude for the U.N. resolution enacted on January 20, 2022.

The Watchman

Watch Tower on The Watchman post

“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, you shall warn them for me.” (Ezekiel  3:17)

Each summer we see, with heartbreaking photos, the coverage of wildfires in the western states. A while ago someone remarked that there were no such fires in western Canada. “Not so,” said I, “they are widespread but are seldom reported here.” Recently reports have come from southern Europe, Turkey and Australia, showing that the danger is widespread.

Fear of such fires should lead to prevention of accidents on campsites and other human causes. The incredible accusation of arson is made from time-to-time. May anyone with such a temptation find and accept counselling!

When I was seven my family moved to a town in a mountain valley of north-east central British Columbia (B.C.), near the headwaters of the Fraser River. The lumber industry was the main source of employment. Trees provided livelihood in return for hard work. Every winter logs were hauled onto the river for a journey south after the ice broke. Trucks crossed the river on sawdust “roads.”  Danger lurked for the driver of a vehicle that plunged as the ice broke.

One of the mountains, seven miles from the town, was called “Lookout Mountain.”  The only telephone in the town was to the dwelling of the watchman who spent the summer months scanning the skies for any sign of a fire. His was a lonely life of dedicated vigilance. Was this appreciated or taken for granted? As a child I cannot remember, but I hope that people expressed their gratitude!

In 1945 we heard a story that, from the Aleutian Islands, then occupied by Japan, thousands of small glass prisms were sent on miniature parachutes to the B.C. forests. This hope for wanton destruction could not be reversed when the war ended.  Such acts posed less of a problem than landmines but the intention was malevolent and should be prohibited as unethical in any society. Such a warfare on trees is forbidden in the Law of Moses. Deuteronomy 20:19-20 begins with a prohibition against warriors cutting down trees but then concedes that building siegeworks requires use of this resource. The specific command is “Do not cut down the fruit trees!”

The image of a watchman guarding against natural disaster or the attack of enemies is applied to the spiritual and moral order in the prophet Ezekiel. A priest from birth, the young man, taken into exile in Babylon area in 597 B.C., was called to be a prophet in 593 (Ez 3:16-21, 33:1-9). The image selected to depict the serious nature of the call is the teacher giving warning to those going astray. Whether they heed or avoid the admonition, the person called to teach cannot ignore the challenge because God’s full message must be proclaimed.

In the context of forest fires today we hear of responsible leaders warning a community of imminent danger. Some refuse to leave, hoping for a change of wind or a drenching rainfall. The refusal to cooperate may be life-threatening. In the various situations of life in a community, may all, young and old, heed the teacher’s exhortation or admonition!

World Day of the Poor

This special day of prayer and action was instituted by Pope Francis at the end of the Jubilee of Mercy, celebrated in 2015. On June 13, 2021 Pope Francis presented a message, “The Poor you will always have with you,” as a preparation for this coming November 14, the 33rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, as World Day of the Poor.

The Gospel text quoted as the title of the papal message is Mark 14:7. The account in Mark 14:3-9 is the basis for a reflection on the woman who anointed Jesus’ head with a special perfumed oil. After she was criticized sharply for the extravagant gesture, Jesus defended her because she anticipated his death whereby his poverty was made evident. “That nameless woman, meant perhaps to represent all those women who down through the centuries would be silenced and suffer violence, thus became the first of those women who were significantly present at the supreme moment of Christ’s life: his death, burial and resurrection. Women, so often discriminated against and excluded from positions of responsibility, are seen in the Gospels to play a leading role in the history of revelation.”

Pope Francis then reflects on the way the poor in every generation “know the suffering of Christ through their own suffering… We are called to discover Christ in them, to lend them our voice in their causes, but also to be their friends…”

Often we hear or read the similar episode in John 12:1-8, where the statement of Jesus, “You always have the poor with you but you do not always have me” may lead to a shrug of the shoulder: What can I do about it? This seems to imply that poverty is inevitable in every generation. Mark’s text, however, includes a reference to the Book of Deuteronomy. Pope Francis notes that Jesus calls us to seek every opportunity to do good. “Behind it, we can glimpse the ancient biblical command of Deuteronomy 15:7-11.” Thus Jesus has challenged his disciples to obey this precept in relation to the parable of the sheep and goats on the Day of Judgment (see Matthew 25:31-46).

The text of this message for the World Day of the Poor is available on the Vatican website here.

May every day find us open to the true needs of the poor!

Acknowledging Genocide

For many centuries the history of conflicts and wars has been written by the victors. The memory of atrocities, however, is recorded in the oral traditions among survivors of those who lost their freedom and, in some cases, their identity.

Since the Second World War, when the term “genocide” was coined by Raphael Lemke, the relentless attack on civilians in minorities has been seen as uniquely odious.

What degree of humility and self-judgment is necessary for a government to acknowledge responsibility for an attack aimed at the destruction of an entire ethnic community? Has this ever happened by the governing power under which the vicious acts took place? Not likely in the past. We hope that genocide will never occur again!

For centuries African communities have been under the domination of European naval powers. Both material resources and human lives have been exploited without any regard for the Golden Rule, a guiding principle applicable in every community and culture (See Scarboro Missions: https://www.scarboromissions.ca/golden-rule).

In recent weeks the German government acknowledged that the military attack from 1904-1908 on two tribes in South-West Africa (now called Namibia) constituted genocide. “The German government also agreed to establish a fund worth 1.1 billion euros, to be distributed over three decades, as part of the accord” (“Germany Officially Recognizes Mass Killings in Colonial-Era Namibia as Genocide,” Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2021). The descendants of Herero and Nama tribes claim that the negotiations should have been with their representatives rather than with the Namibian government. A government official said that “the two sides had reached an agreement in principle, which must be presented to representatives of the Herero and Nama communities and debated in parliament” (Wall Street Journal, May 29-30, 2021).

May a focus on the needs of these two communities living on “reservations” bring a modicum of reparation for past crimes!

Prayer for Peace between Israelis and Palestinians

The Church is always in prayer for the cessation of conflict in all parts of the world and especially in the Middle East. May the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians cease!

Pope Francis and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops offer reflections in a spirit of prayer and hope.

After the Regina Coeli prayer in St Peter’s Square on May 16, 2021, Pope Francis  made an appeal for justice and peace:

Dear brothers and sisters! I am following with great concern what is happening in the Holy Land. In these days, violent armed clashes between the Gaza Strip and Israel have gained the upper hand, risk degenerating into a spiral of death and destruction. Many people have been injured and many innocent people have died. Among them are even children, and this is terrible and unacceptable. Their death is a sign that they do not want to build the future, but they want to destroy it.

Moreover, the growing hatred and violence that is involving various cities in Israel is a serious wound to fraternity and to peaceful coexistence among the citizens, which will be difficult to heal if we do not open immediately to dialogue. I wonder: where will hatred and vengeance lead? Do we really think we can build peace by destroying the other? “In the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and who has called them to live together as brothers and sisters” (cf. Document on Human Fraternity) I make an appeal to calm and, to who is responsible for it, to put a stop to the din of weapons and to follow the paths of peace, even with the help of the International Community.

Let us pray constantly that the Israelis and Palestinians may find the path of dialogue and forgiveness, to be patient builders of peace and justice, opening up, step after step, to a common hope, to a coexistence among brothers and sisters.

Let us pray for the victims, in particular for the children; let us pray for peace to the Queen of Peace.

To view Pope Francis’ entire prayer and reflection, please visit the Vatican’s website here or watch the video below, which includes an English translation.

The U.S. Bishops’ Chairman for International Justice and Peace also renewed prayers for Israel and Palestine. Please see https://www.usccb.org/news/2021/us-bishops-chairman-international-justice-and-peace-renews-prayers-israel-and-palestine.

All are invited to join in intercession for those who suffer and for the good will of all who can contribute to healing and peace-building.

Eve Shea (1947-2021)

Eve Shea, M.A.

Lifelong learning was exemplified by Eve Shea who graduated from the M.A. program in Jewish-Christian Studies in 2017. She and her husband, Tim, had been friends and supporters of Sister Joseph Spring’s Assumption College for Sisters in Denville, and the sisters and priests in Jewish-Christian Studies also became beneficiaries of their generosity.  Eve’s life-experience and studies moved her into action to promote justice and harmony in the world around her.

As one of her professors, Rabbi Dr. Alan Brill offed a beautiful eulogy for Eve’s funeral.  With his permission, I quote from his text:

“The first eulogy in the Bible is when Abraham came to eulogize Sarah (Genesis 23:2). The Jewish Rabbinic tradition says about that verse in Genesis that “The righteous are considered alive even after death.” Sarah achieves this distinction and so did our beloved Eve.

What is immortal and lasting in a life? It is that the person lives in our memories, our lives, and our values. Our love and respect for Eve lives on.

What were Eve’s most cherished values?  She cared about other people and the injustices they suffered. She wanted to overcome hatred, she wanted to overcome anti-Judaism, and she wanted people to learn to respect one another.  She also strongly believed in education…She also valued family, friendships, and relationships- as well as community. She volunteered for many local organizations…

We loved and cherished her. Eve will be missed.

I will close with a quote from a Jewish funeral prayer.

God, full of mercy, Who dwells above, give Eve true rest on the wings of the Divine Presence, among the holy, and glorious who shine like the sky. May her rest be in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, may the All-Merciful One shelter her with the cover of His wings forever, and bind her soul in the bond of life. The Lord is her heritage; may she rest in her resting-place in peace; and let us say: Amen.”

Radio at the Service of Humanity

The first Vatican Radio microphone.

Communication by the airwaves was already in use during World War I. In Germany the Nazi party offered a radio to every family, but tuned it exclusively for the promotion of National Socialist ideology! Listening to another station brought severe penalties and Hitler Youth leaders called for children to report their elders.

During the Nazi period in Europe, people beyond the reach of the Nazis used this medium to combat the errors and vicious activities of Nazi Germany. After the young priest John M. Oesterreicher had fled from Austria to Paris, he used radio to elucidate the Christian message in contrast to the propaganda coming from Germany. In research of Nazi archives in Coblenz, Father Robert Graham found that a stenographer had recorded Father Oesterreicher’s sermons.  In 1986 Dr. Erica Weinzeirl edited the collection under the title: Wider die Tyrannei des Rassenwahns. Rundfunkansprachen aus dem ersten Jahr von Hitlers Krieg. (Geyer Edition Wien, Salzburg, 1986).

In 1931, under Pope Pius XI, the Holy See introduced radio as a means for international communication.  See the commemoration of this milestone in “Vatican Radio turns 90.”

As technology advances, the Church incorporates these manifestations of human ingenuity into the service of the Word of God. May this continue to promote the profound human need and desire for understanding, justice and true peace!