JMC : Antisemitism / by Jacques Maritain

II. The Divine Significance of the Dispersion of Israel

LET us now take up the question of the dispersion of Israel, understood in its divine significance. As I wrote in a recent study,{1} from which I am here borrowing several pages, whatever may be the economic, political or cultural forms, which are superficially covered by the problem of the dispersion of Israel among the nations, this problem is and remains in truth a sacred mystery, of which St. Paul, in the Epistle to the Romans, gives us in a sublime summary the principal elements.

If there are Jews among the readers of this essay, they will understand, I am sure, that as a Christian I try to understand, from a Christian viewpoint, something of the history of their people. They know that, according to St. Paul, we gentile Christians have been grafted on to the predestined olive tree of Israel in place of the branches which did not recognise the Messiah foretold by the prophets. Thus we are converts to the God of Israel who is the true God, to the Father whom Israel recognised, to the Son whom it rejected. Christianity, then, is the overflowing expansion and the supernatural fulfilment of Judaism.

The Vocation of Israel

Referring to the Jews, his brothers in the flesh to whom he wished to be anathema, St. Paul had such a profound and tender love for them "who are Israelites; to whom belongeth the adoption as of children, and the glory, and the testament, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom Christ came according to the flesh,"{2} that he wrote that "if the loss of them be the reconciliation of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?"{3} "For," continues the apostle, "I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery (lest you should be wise in your own conceits), that a blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles come in; and so all Israel should be saved. . . . As concerning the Gospel, indeed they are enemies for your sake: but as touching the election they are most dear for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance. For as you also in times past did not believe God, but now have obtained mercy through their unbelief, so these also now have not believed, for your mercy, that they also may now obtain mercy. For God hath concluded all in unbelief, that He may have mercy on all."{4}

Thus from the first Israel appears to us a mystery; of the same order as the mystery of the world and the mystery of the Church. Like them it is a mystery lying at the very core of redemption. And we must say that, if St. Paul be right, what is called the Jewish problem is an insoluble problem, that is, one without definitive solution until the great redintegration foretold by the apostle, which will resemble a resurrection from the dead.

Between Israel and the world, as between the Church and the world, there is a suprahuman relation. It is only by considering this triad, that one can form some idea, even enigmatically, of the mystery of Israel. It seems to me that we have here as our sole guiding thread a sort of inverted analogy with the Church. We realise that the Church is not a mere administrative organisation dispensing religion. According to its own teaching about itself, it is a mysterious body in which living bonds, in order to accomplish a divine task, unite souls with one another, and with God. The Church is the mystical body of Christ. Indeed, Jewish thought is itself aware that in a quite different sense and in its own way, Israel is a corpus mysticum, a mystical body. A recent work by Erich Kahler, Israel unter den Völkern, emphasises this point particularly. The bond which unifies Israel is not simply the bond of flesh and blood, or that of an ethico-historical community; it is a sacred and suprahistorical bond, of promise and yearning rather than of possession. In the eyes of a Christian who remembers that the promises of God are irrevocable and without repentance, Israel continues its sacred mission, but in the darkness of the world preferred on so unforgettable an occasion to the holy darkness of God. Israel, like the Church, is in the world and not of the world. But since the day when it stumbled, because its leaders chose the world, it is bound to the world, prisoner and victim of that world which it loves, but of which it is not, shall not be, and never can be. Thus is the mystery of Israel understood from a Christian viewpoint.

The communion of this mystical body is the communion of mundane hope. Israel passionately hopes, waits, yearns for the coming of God on earth, the kingdom of God here below. With an eternal will, a supernatural and nonrational will, it desires justice in time, in nature, and in the cities of man.

So, like the world and its history, Israel and its action in the world are ambivalent realities. Because the longing for the absolute in the world can take all forms, some good, others evil. Hence it comes that, in the astonishing complexity of the forms it assumes, simultaneously pregnant with good and evil, there will always be found something to glorify and something to degrade Israel. "Antisemites talk of the Jews," said Péguy. "Now I am going to venture on a paradox: antisemites know nothing about the Jews." Again, he said: "I know this people well. There is no portion of its epidermis that is not painful, where there is not some old bruise, some ancient contusion, some secret woe, the memory of a secret woe, a scar, a wound, a laceration of the Orient or of the Occident."

It is not a question of deciding whether you find Jews attractive or repulsive -- that is a matter of temperament -- but whether they have a right to common justice and the common brotherhood of man? If men could tolerate each other only on condition of having no complaint against each other, all the provinces of every country would constantly be at war. The most curious fact, moreover, is that many antisemites declare that they have only praise for Jews they have known personally, but nevertheless feel that it is a sacred obligation to hate the Jews. Which is one way, among others, of paying tribute to that mystery of Israel which we are considering.

But what, then, is that vocation of Israel which persists in darkness, and of which we were just speaking? First of all, there is its vocation as a witness to the Scriptures. But more, while the Church is assigned the labour of supernatural and supratemporal redemption of the world, Israel, we believe, is assigned, on the plane and within the limits of secular history, a task of earthly activisation of the mass of the world. Israel, which is not of the world, is to be found at the very heart of the world's structure, stimulating it, exasperating it, moving it. Like an alien body, like an activating leaven injected into the mass, it gives the world no peace, it bars slumber, it teaches the world to be discontented and restless as long as the world has not God; it stimulates the movement of history.

The Spiritual Essence of Antisemitism

It seems to me that these considerations explain something of the spiritual essence of antisemitism.

The diverse particular causes which the observer may assign to antisemitism (from the feeling of hate for the foreigner natural to any social group, down to religious hatreds -- alas, that these two words can be so coupled! -- to the manifold inconveniences produced by some waves of immigration), mask an underlying spring of hatred deeper down. If the world hates the Jews, it is because the world clearly senses that they will always be "outsiders" in a supernatural sense, it is because the world detests their passion for the absolute and the unbearable stimulus which it inflicts. It is the vocation of Israel that the world execrates. To be hated by the world is their glory, as it is also the glory of Christians who live by faith. But Christians know that the Messiah has already conquered the world.

Thus hatred of Jews and hatred of Christians spring from a common source, from the same recalcitrance of the world, which desires to be wounded neither with the wounds of Adam nor with the wounds of the Saviour, neither by the goad of Israel for its movement in time, nor by the cross of Jesus for eternal life. We are good enough as we are, says the world, we have no need of grace or transfiguration, we ourselves will accomplish our own happiness in our own nature. This is neither Christian hope in a helping God, nor Jewish hope for a God on earth. It is the hope of animal life and its power, deep and, in a sense, sacred, demonic, when it masters the human being who thinks himself deceived by the emissaries of the absolute.

Racial tellurianism is antisemitic and anti-Christian. Communist atheism is not antisemitic: it is satisfied in being against God universally. In one as in the other, the same absolute naturalism, the same detestation of all asceticism and all transcendence, is to be found at work. It is the mystical life of the world which is to blossom heroically, as it were; every mystical body constituted apart from the world must be rejected as such.

The French are not inclined to prostrate themselves before the world; even when they lose their heads, it is in order to worship the goddess of Reason. That is why it seems to me that they will never be deeply antisemitic. They make fun of Jews as they do of their "curés," but genuine antisemitic mania never goes beyond the limits of a glorified petty bourgeois ideology. I do not overlook the violent propaganda being spread to-day in certain circles, I think artificially and sometimes venally. Those who know the French youth well, particularly the Catholic French youth, are confident that it will never march except in the name of liberty, generosity and intelligence.

Jews and Christians

Have I succeeded in giving some idea of the pathetic situation of the Jewish people? Have I shown how, often despite itself, it manifests, sometimes in contrasting forms, a materialised messianism (which is the dark side of its dedication to the Absolute), but also admirable ardour, intelligence and dynamism, and so bears witness to the divine in human history? Thence come the conflicts and the tension which, under all sorts of masks, necessarily prevail between Israel and the nations.

It is an illusion to believe that that tension can completely vanish; but it is a villainy to desire to put an end to the problem by antisemitic violence (whether openly persecutory or politically mitigated) -- one of those villainies natural to the human animal (whether he be an Arab and himself the descendant of Shem, or a Slav, a Latin or a German), and from which only Christianity, to the extent that it is really lived, can deliver the nations. The only way is to accept the state of tension and to face it in each specific case, not with hatred, but with that concrete intelligence which love demands from each, so that he may come to an early understanding with his adversary while they travel together, and in the consciousness that "all have sinned and need the glory of God," omnes quidem peccaverunt, et egent gloria Dei. "The history of the Jews," said Léon Bloy, "bars the history of the human race as a dyke bars the flood, in order to raise its level."

On the spiritual plane, the drama of love between Israel and its God, if we are to believe St. Paul, will reach a dénouement only with the reconciliation of the Synagogue and the Church. On the temporal plane, if there is to be no earlier truly definitive solution to the problem of Israel, there are nevertheless some partial or provisional solutions, particular responses whose discovery is the task of political wisdom and which each historic age must seek.

The period of history in which we live is for the Jewish people a time of accumulated difficulties. In the economic field the abandonment of free competition, the rise of autarkia and state capitalist régimes, deals a severe blow to Jewish industry and endeavour. Recently published studies of the economic situation of world Jewry indicate the growing pauperisation of the Jewish masses.

In the political and moral fields, the development of various types of totalitarianism, all of which regard the nonconformist as a biological enemy of the secular community, menaces the natural attachment of the Jews to independence and liberty.

In the spiritual field, the upsurge of unprecedented and ferocious forms of paganism signifies an inevitable conflict, already terribly begun, with that people who, though surrounded by the pagans of another epoch, knew how to pay heroic tribute to the sanctity of a personal and transcendent God.

I have come to believe that if the world should triumph over the errors and evils oppressing it to-day and should contrive to establish the rule of a civilisation, new and more consonant with human dignity, the solutions at once pluralist and personalist, which would have to prevail generally in such a régime, would likewise characterise those efforts which such an historic climate must inspire to regulate the Jewish question. As I tried to explain elsewhere,{5} a pluralism founded on the dignity of the human person, and established on the basis of complete equality of civic rights and effective respect for the liberties of the person in his individual and social life, would then recognise, in certain determined matters, an ethico-juridical status proper to various spiritual families, or even, sometimes, to various national communities which enter into the convivium of the temporal city. But such solutions (which though far removed from the old Liberalism, are thoroughly opposed to the ignominious mediaevalist Hitlerian parody, and which tend to strengthen the links of justice and brotherly friendship between the various elements of the same civil society) could only be considered in a general new régime of civilisation, freed from the ills of capitalistic materialism as well as from the even greater ills of Fascism, Racism and Communism. Those who at present suggest a special status for the Jews are actually thinking of measures of discrimination against them. They are the victims of the absurd illusion, according to which the Jewish question (poisoned as are all the questions of to-day by the general crisis suffered by a civilisation which is sick and in a state of transformation) is the only or the principal cause of this crisis; they imagine that the "solution" which consists of sacrificing the Jews would end the evils whose roots plunge, in fact, into the very depths of the economic, moral, spiritual and political structures of our civilisation. Infected by the contagion of the errors propagated by the racist mentality, they serve this mentality, whether they wish to or not. Some of them are fierce antisemites who pretend to be good apostles; others protest that they are not antisemites, and consider themselves as dispassionate realists. One and all they are Herr Hitler's messengers, who have not even the excuse of passion.

Strictly speaking, the only suitable "realism" here would be that which understands the reality of the horror whereby the cult of hatred and the rejection of all human sentiment threaten the universe; the only "realism" which a Christian has the right to profess in such a matter is the one that warns us that the least word which might convey the merest shadow of an indulgence or concession toward racism, runs the risk of assisting the Powers of Evil and of dripping with innocent blood.

If we now turn more particularly toward the Christians, it appears, that being themselves grafted on to the olive tree of Israel, they must look on the men involved in the Jewish tragedy with a brotherly eye and, as the apostle Paul teaches them, not without trembling for themselves. It is certainly possible for Christians to be antisemites, since one observes the phenomenon frequently enough. But it is possible for them only when they obey the spirit of the world rather than the spirit of Christianity.

Strangely enough certain Christians are heard to remark: "Has the world been moved, they say, by the massacres of so many Christians in Russia, Spain, and Mexico? We will be stirred by the Jewish persecutions when the world will be stirred by the sufferings of our own."

When I hear this manner of reasoning, I wonder how it is that all of a sudden, and without anyone telling me anything about it, my religion has become changed. Does the Gospel teach us that if a brother has sinned against me, by omission or otherwise, it is justifiable to sin against him in the same fashion? Jesus said: "These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone." Now it is said: "Because these things have been left undone, you ought not to do those." Because certain people have been lacking in justice and in love, others must be similarly deficient. . . .

Besides, it is not true to say that the world remained indifferent to the suffering of Christians in Russia, Spain and Mexico.{6} It is, however, true to say that many who to-day are full of indignation because of Racism remained quite cold regarding the discriminatory laws enacted by certain governments against religious Orders, and regarding the anti-Christian persecutions which have raged or are raging in so many countries. I object to such unjust indifference and such one-eyed pity; but I do not want to lay myself open to the same objection.

Among careless or partisan writers many historic confusions arise from the intermingling in medieval civilisation of the affairs of the Church and the affairs of a secular Commonwealth religiously organised, where mundane interests and both the good and evil of human social life were steeped in religion. If one makes the proper distinctions, one can see that, in a temporal civilisation where the régime of the ghetto -- not to speak of the drama of the Marranos and the Spanish Inquisition -- lent itself to the worst antisemitic passions and excesses, the Church itself and as such (apart from a few of its ministers) was not responsible for these excesses.{7} It is well enough known that the Popes repeatedly defended the Jews, notably against the absurd charge of ritual murder, and that all in all the Jews were generally less unhappy and less badly treated in the Papal States than elsewhere.

Western civilisation, emerging from the Holy Roman Empire and the medieval régime, while in danger of collapsing in other respects, as we know, freed itself from the gross impurities which this régime brought in its wake; and it would be a singular aberration if Christians wished to return to those impurities at the moment when they have lost their historic reason for existing. To-day antisemitism is no longer one of those accidental blemishes of a temporal Christendom in which the evil was mixed with the good; it is an error of the spirit contaminating Christians. I recall to the reader's mind that in a document of the Holy Office dated September 5th, 1928, which was directed against the mistakes of a too zealous "Association of the Friends of Israel," the Catholic Church explicitly condemned this error of antisemitism. Racist errors were again condemned (April 13th, 1938) in a pontifical document (letter of the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities).

It is well known that Pope Pius XI spoke out vigorously against the racist campaign and racist measures inaugurated by the Italian Government in imitation of the German Government. To the concept and word race, figuring in the theories imported from Germany, he opposed magnificently the ancient Latin ideas of gens and populus, the connotation of which belong much more to the moral than to the biological order.

The following passages of a discourse pronounced in September, 1938, before the directors of the Belgian Catholic Radio Agency are also to be noted. Commenting upon the words of the Canon of the Mass sacrificium Patriarchae nostri Abraham, the sacrifice of our father Abraham, the Pope said, "Notice that Abraham is called our Patriarch, our ancestor. Antisemitism is incompatible with the thought and sublime reality expressed in this text. It is a movement in which we Christians can have no part whatsoever. . . Antisemitism is unacceptable. Spiritually we are Semites."

Spiritually we are Semites. No stronger word has been spoken by a Christian against antisemitism, and this Christian is the successor of the apostle Peter.

As for its moral characterisation from the Catholic viewpoint, antisemitism, if it spreads among those calling themselves disciples of Jesus Christ, seems to be a pathological phenomenon, which indicates a deterioration of Christian conscience when it becomes incapable of accepting its own historic responsibilities and of remaining existentially faithful to the high exigencies of Christian truth. Then, instead of recognising the trials and shocks of history as the visitations of God, and instead of shouldering those burdens of justice and charity demanded by that great fact, it turns aside to substitute phantoms relating to an entire race, phantoms which derive a certain consistency from various real or fancied pretexts; and in giving free rein to feelings of hate which it believes justified by religion, it seeks for itself a sort of alibi.

It is no little matter, however, for a Christian to hate or to despise or to wish to treat degradingly the race from which sprung his God and the Immaculate Mother of his God. That is why the bitter zeal of antisemitism always turns in the end into a bitter zeal against Christianity itself.

"Suppose," wrote Léon Bloy, "that people about you were to speak continually of your father and your mother with the greatest contempt, and to have for them only insults or outrageous sarcasms, what would be your sentiments? Well, that is exactly what is happening to Our Lord Jesus Christ. We forget, or rather we do not wish to know, that as a man Our Lord was a Jew, the epitome par excellence of the Jewish nature, the Lion of Judah; that His Mother was a Jewess, the flower of the Jewish race; that the apostles were Jews, along with all the prophets; finally, that our whole liturgy is based on Jewish books. How, then, can we express the enormity of the outrage and the blasphemy involved in vilifying the Jewish race?"

{1} "L'Impossible Antisémitisme" appeared first in Les Juifs (Plon, 1937), and later in our Questions de Conscience (Desclée De Brouwer, 1938).

{2} Rom. ix. 4.

{3} Rom. xi. 15.

{4} Rom. xi. 25, 26, 28-32

{5} Cf. "L'Impossible Antisémitisme," in Questions de Conscience, Paris, 1938, pp. 86-89.

{6} Notably, various rabbinical organisations in the United States and France protested against the persecutions of Christians, as was revealed in a news release of the Catholic Worker, December 5th, 1938.

{7} If we avoid a unilateral selection of texts, and if there were sufficient acquaintance with the philosophy of history, it would be understood that neither the policy adopted at certain periods regarding the Jews by medieval Christendom, nor the supervening mistakes and abuses which may have occurred, prove that the Catholic Church is bound to antisemitism. I mention this for the benefit of certain Italian Fascist writers, as well as for certain American anti-Fascist

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