Jews as Christ Killers

Bishop Richard Williamson of the Society of St Pius X (SSPX) is up to his old tricks and has angered the European Council of Rabbis with his remarks about the Jews’ role in the crucifixion of Jesus. The bishop believes Jews are Christ-killers — and his latest words on the subject come as Pope Benedict XVI begins an inter-faith summit in Assisi. Among his many attributes, I must say Bishop Williamson has great timing.

The Guardian ran a story last week on the Jewish reaction to the bishop’s comments. However, the story had some problems. “Bishop’s blog raises tensions between Jews and the Vatican” misstates church history and makes assumptions about the relationship of Bishop Williamson to the Catholic Church. And like most reporting on Vatican-Jewish relations misses or misunderstands the pope’s outstretched hand to the Jews.

Let’s take a look at the story. It begins with the the author’s interpretation of events, a sentence clarifying who Williamson is, what he believes and what the Catholic Church teaches, is followed by quotes from his latest missive and the ECR’s response.

Relations between Jews and Catholics are under immense strain after a bishop made controversial remarks on his blog.

Richard Williamson, who has previously denied the existence of gas chambers and the murder of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, accused the Jews of killing Jesus, a charge that divided the two faiths for centuries until Pope Benedict XVI declared this year that Jews could not be held responsible for Jesus’s death.

In his weekly post, Williamson wrote that “the killing of Jesus was truly ‘deicide’ ” and that “only the Jews (leaders and people) were the prime agents of the deicide because it is obvious from the gospels that the gentile most involved, Pontius Pilate, … would never have condemned Jesus to death had not the Jewish leaders roused the Jewish people to clamour for his crucifixion.”

His comments have angered Jewish leaders and Holocaust survivors, who are urging Rome to cease reconciliation talks with the ultra-traditionalist splinter group to which Williamson belongs, the Society of St Pius X. Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of the European Council of Rabbis said: “We call upon the Catholic church to suspend negotiations with extremist Catholic tendencies until it is clear that these groups show a clear commitment to tackling antisemitism within their ranks.”

Let’s start with the obvious problem and then move back to the deeper issue of identity. The Catholic Church did not stop accusing “the Jews of killing Jesus” in 2010. On 28 Oct 1965 Pope Paul VI promulgated the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate). A product of the Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate rejected the charge of deicide leveled against the Jews.

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. The Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, … [and the Church] decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

What happened in 2010 was the publication of excerpts from the pope’s latest book, Jesus of Nazareth – Holy Week: From Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, which was published in March of this year. The Daily Mail reported that in his new book Benedict:

confronts the controversial text of St Matthew’s Gospel in which ‘the Jews’ demand the execution of Jesus and shout to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate: ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children.’

The passage has been described as a ‘rallying cry for anti-Semites down the centuries’.

But the Pope said when St Matthew wrote ‘the Jews’ he meant the mob in Pilate’s courtyard and not the Jewish people in general.

As such the crowd was representative of the whole of sinful humanity, he added.

In addition to the factual error, the identification of Richard Williamson in this article I also find problematic. It is possible for a man to be Roman Catholic and a bishop, but also for that same man not to be a Roman Catholic bishop. Richard Williamson is not a Roman Catholic bishop — he is a bishop of the Society of St Piux X, and his consecration as a bishop in 1988 led to his excommunication from the Catholic Church. The way the first sentence is worded implies that Williamson is a Roman Catholic bishop (and the photo caption identifies him as such.)

The SSPX and the Vatican have been engaged in talks to end the split — which is (rather confusingly) not a schism. As blogger Fr John Zuhlsdorf  notes:

In the 1988 Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta Pope John Paul used the word “schism“.  It looks like a schism, to be sure.  But officials of the [Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei] have affirmed over the last few years that while Archbishop Lefebvre’s actions in 1988 were schismatic acts, the SSPX did not in fact go into schism.

In 2009 the excommunication was lifted, but Williamson has not been permitted to function as a bishop. His denial of the Holocaust and rejection of Nostra Aetate led the Vatican to state that  “in order to be admitted to episcopal functions within the Church, [Williamson] will have to take his distance, in an absolutely unequivocal and public fashion, from his position on the Shoah, which the Holy Father was not aware of when the excommunication was lifted.”

It is not just the Vatican who is appalled. Williamson’s comments were also published in defiance of his SSPX Superior General, Bishop Bernard Fellay, who not only ordered him to stop making “any public statements on political or historical issues”, but has also denounced his anti-Semitism.

In a limited sense, Williamson is right in saying that Jews are Christ-killers. The catechism states that “All sinners were the authors of Christ’s Passion” (cf CCC 598). However this means that all Jews, all Gentiles — you, me, everyone — is responsible for the crucifixion. But that is not what Williamson is saying and while the Guardian story at its close does note that the Vatican has asked Williamson to recant, the overall tone of the story does not give a true sense of the church’s rejection of this pernicious evil.

Christianity’s relations with Jews and Judaism has been fraught with cruelty, abuse and murder. The Catholic Church should not be singled out on this point, however. Quakers aside, I am hard pressed to think of any Christian body that has not behaved badly. However, the past few decades have seen great strides in Catholic-Jewish relations. Cardinal Ratzinger, as he was then, was and is a consistent and strong voice for rapprochement — when I covered Catholic – Jewish relations in Europe for the Jerusalem Post I heard time and again from members of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and other Jewish leaders of their respect and appreciation for Joseph Ratzinger (and later Benedict XVI).

It is the absence of this underlying element, Joseph Ratzinger’s philo-Semitism, that distorts the reporting on the Vatican’s relations with Jews and Judaism. (That and factual errors.)

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  • Russell J Berry

    Bishop Williamson – not simply ‘Williamson’, which you call him as a seemingly gratuitous insult – is, not withstanding the apparent reasoning of your argument, a Catholic Bishop in the Roman Rite and in full communion with all the Saints and Popes in heaven. I do not know what he teaches that can be said to be contrary to or differing from the perennial Doctrine of the Church – the same simply and self-evidently cannot be said for all too many others, including the present Pope. He is, thus, most certainly a validly and licitly consecrated Bishop, as even the neo-Modernist Congregations at Rome have had officially to acknowledge. Many in that place – and in the UK and the USA – are no longer recognisably Catholic and would, in a sane and coherent ecclesiastical world, be suspended a divinis or excommunicated for Modernism and/or neo-protestant heresy. Bishop Williamsons thoughts concerning the ‘holocaust’ are the opinions of one man on a matter of historical contention. Bishop Williamson would not pretend to speak for the Church on a matter of secular history but he is free in the civilised world to express his views. He is also entitled to be wrong and he, being an intelligent man of no small intellect and erudition, will always alter his view in accordance with undoubted fact, as and when he comes upon it. The ‘civilised world’ however does not include the Federal Republic of Germany or the French Republic in both of which there is no true freedom of speech or expression. Bishop Fellay, who is to the heartfelt regret of many the Superior General of the SSPX seems more interested in clothing himself is cardinalatial red than openly and unambiguously defending the Truth.

  • Daniel

    Thank you, geoconger for your post! I am so glad to see a clear light shed on this subject! The anti-Jewish and Anti-Catholic biases of so many media outlets, and their muddled thinking, and unclear definition of terms, mean that many readers are misinformed if they rely on them for understanding of these issues and topics. The only thing I regret about your post is its brevity. Of course brevity means it is to the point, and, to some degree, more difficult to misinterpret because of clarity of focus. Keep up the good work, please!

  • astorian

    I have to ask, then… was Maimonides an anti-Semite?

    After all, if the suggestion that “the Jews” were responsible for the death of Jesus is automatically anti-semitic, Maimonides was as guilty as anyone.

    In his famed Letter to Yemen, Maimonides states clearly that Jesus was a blaspheming heretic who WAS killed by the Jewish authorities, and got exactly what he deserved.

    Writing from the safety of a Muslim land, Maimonides wrote exactly what he an MANY leading Jewish thinkers believed. Note that maimonides NEVER tries to argue that “Silly, bigoted Christians blame us, when of course it was the Romans who killed Jesus.”

    So… was Maimonides an anti-Semite?

  • SouthCoast

    “As such the crowd was representative of the whole of sinful humanity, ” Which is why, at Easter Mass, we in the congregation have the response “Crucity him!” as our part of the Passion. Not that one would have expected a member of the press to know this! (And, in any case, the words “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” effectively closes the case on anyone’s “guilt”: He forgave them, it’s out of our jurisdiction.)

  • Izzy

    @astorian:

    I’ve looked through http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Epistle_to_Yemen, and I’ve found what you are probably referring to:

    He impelled people to believe that he was a prophet sent by God to clarify perplexities in the Torah, and that he was the Messiah that was predicted by each and every seer. He interpreted the Torah and its precepts in such a fashion as to lead to their total annulment, to the abolition of all its commandments and to the violation of its prohibitions. The sages, of blessed memory, having become aware of his plans before his reputation spread among our people, meted out fitting punishment to him.

    Thus, you are correct, but as the notes to this section say, the Rambam was willing to accept the historical events as the enemies of Judaism saw them, and to argue logically against them. Because, the argument that “we cannot even agree on historical events” is weak if the person arguing it is already in a weakened political position.

  • Will

    Not to mention the passages in the Talmud about how “Yeshu” was executed for blasphemy.

  • Jerry

    In the 1988 Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta Pope John Paul used the word “schism“. It looks like a schism, to be sure. But officials of the [Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei] have affirmed over the last few years that while Archbishop Lefebvre’s actions in 1988 were schismatic acts, the SSPX did not in fact go into schism.

    That certainly confuses me. Even if I knew all the theological hair-splitting that went into that statement, I’m not sure that I’d agree this situation does not pass the duck test (“if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck”).

    It is possible for a man to be Roman Catholic and a bishop, but also for that same man not to be a Roman Catholic bishop. Richard Williamson is not a Roman Catholic bishop — he is a bishop of the Society of St Piux X, and his consecration as a bishop in 1988 led to his excommunication from the Catholic Church.

    But since SSPX is not a schism, then what is an SSPX Bishop? SSPX is sort-of, semi, more-or-less, in communion with the Catholic Church. So is an SSPX Bishop more-or-less, somewhat but not really a Catholic Bishop?

    And if he was excommunicated, how can he be a Roman Catholic any more?

    I know there’s an answer to that, but when I pull a few metaphorical feet back, the answer is lost in a deep fog bank. So I don’t fault the reporter all that much for getting this particular point wrong.

    My head hurts.

  • Klaas

    Williamson entered the/converted to the SSPX from the Anglican church. He did not belong to the Roman Catholic Church before he became a member of the SSPX.So, this entire thing is overblown in most media when they so often assert that “the Pope took him back into the bosom of the Church”. He never was part of that “bosom” anyhow. And he is not now, in a;; truth.

  • Fidel

    I am really ticked off at some individuals in the SSPX who are engrained with such schismatic tendencies that it seems that they do not even want to be acknowledged by other Catholics. So stupid. Somehow, some parishioners in the SSPX are convincing other parishioners that Bishop Fellay is a liberal and ambitious Bishop not interested in the good of the SSPX. I am sick of it.
    Bishop Williamson is good and extremely profitable to listen to on some issues but not so on others, the same is true of everybody. Bishop Williamson needs to be obedient. Bishop Fellay needs to be very intelligent in his actions.
    I fear the SSPX will split even if the Holy Father and Bishop Fellay agree that Vatican II must be read through the lens of the Council of Trent, etc.

  • astorian

    I shouldn’t HAVE to add this disclaimer, but I will:

    I think it’s absurd to blame any modern Jew for the death of Jesus. People who weren’t around 2,000 years ago bear no special responsibility for the crucifixion, and there’s no justification for persecuting Jews as “Christ-killers.”

    I brought up Maimonides, however, to illustrate a point: TODAY, a Christian who says that the Jewish authorities of Jesus’ day were responsible for his death is almost automatically called an anti-semite. Jewish authors like Hyam Maccoby insist that the Romans bear all the guilt for Christ’s death, that the Jewish authorities bear none, and that any Christian who suggests otherwise is committing something close to blood libel.

    I merely note that leading Jews were NOT always so unanimous or adamant in their insistence that the Jewish authorities were completely innocent. When safe from retaliation from Christians, leading Jews like Maimonides felt very comfortable in saying (essentially), “Heck yeah, we killed Jesus, and the dirty blasphemer had it coming!”

  • Hector

    Astorian,

    I don’t agree. I think most sensible and fair minded people would agree that the Jewish authorities of the day bore primary responsibility for the death of Jesus, and that Pilate and the Romans played only a secondary role. That much is clear from the Gospel texts. It doesn’t make you an anti-Semite, it simply makes you a person interested in historical truth. Your Maimonides quotation is very much for the point.

    What distinguishes anti-Semites from the rest of us is that they blame Jews today, for the crimes of the Jewish authorities two thousand years ago. (And really, Hyam Maccoby was a virulently anti-Christian nutjob who speaks for no one but himself).

  • Jason

    “I don’t agree. I think most sensible and fair minded people would agree that the Jewish authorities of the day bore primary responsibility for the death of Jesus, and that Pilate and the Romans played only a secondary role. That much is clear from the Gospel texts.”

    For 19+ centuries, we’ve been reading text and ignoring context. What Hector completely overlooks in this assertion is that a) crucifixion was an exclusively Roman punishment, and b) by the time of the Roman occupation, the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) was a Roman appointee and essentially a Roman enforcer. The Pharisees (of both Bet Hillel, the sect of which Jesus was a sympathizer, and Bet Shammai) hated the High Priest. When the Jewish-Roman War broke out in 66 AD, they got rid of the High Priest.

    Jesus was viewed as a rebel – albeit a nonviolent rebel – against Roman authority and its Jewish collaborators who ran the Temple. Jerusalem during Passover was like a mountainside overgrown with dry brush just waiting for a lightning strike: in other words, it was a tinderbox. There had been several Jewish uprisings during Pilate’s tenure and in the decade or so preceding his proconsulship, and they all started on the Temple Mount. As such, there can be no doubt that when Jesus and his disciples entered the Temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and released all of the animals gathered there for ritual sacrifice, he was a marked man. Indeed, the VERY reason that Pilate was in Jerusalem (his provincial headquarters were in Caesarea, on the coast) was that it was Passover. The most sacred holiday of the Jews during which they celebrated their liberation from Egyptian oppression while they were under Roman oppression and occupation was an inherently tense and potentially explosive time. The Roman authorities would have had a ZERO TOLERANCE policy for even a whiff of rebellious behavior or speech. Caiaphas and his assistants were, as I say, despised by the Pharisees (and by the uber-nationalistic Jews of the Zealot party) because they were viewed as illegtimate Roman puppets. Caiaphas’s loyalty was to his Roman overlords, not the Torah – which is to say, Caiaphas valued peace and obedience at all costs. Jesus, therefore, was executed because he was viewed as a rebel against the unholy alliance of Gentile secular power and collaborative religious authority. Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday just a few days before his arrest should be a clearer indication of how he was viewed by “the Jews.”

  • http://abitmoredetail.wordpress.com Randy McDonald

    “Williamson entered the/converted to the SSPX from the Anglican church. He did not belong to the Roman Catholic Church before he became a member of the SSPX.So, this entire thing is overblown in most media when they so often assert that “the Pope took him back into the bosom of the Church”. ”

    When a friend of mine first heard of the case of the SSPX and Williamson’s anti-Semitism, it took him a couple minutes’ worth of Googling to find on their website–archived now–an essay talking calmly about how it was a well-proven fact that Jews ritually murdered Christian children.

    At very best, the Church has astonishingly incompetent researchers. Proof of the sort of vicious anti-Semitism that the church renounced was accessible via the organization’s home page, after all.

  • http://catholicecology.blogspot.com/ Bill P.

    An excellent, well-researched post. Thanks much!

  • sari

    “What distinguishes anti-Semites from the rest of us is that they blame Jews today, for the crimes of the Jewish authorities two thousand years ago.”

    No, Hector, anti-Semites are people who hate Jews and Judaism, period. Alleged deicide is only one of many reasons put forth to hate Jews.

  • Bob Wickline

    The Jewish people are no more guilty of the death of JESUS than any of the rest of us sinners for whom He died to redeem. The Romans actually did the physical killing. And,Yes! the Jewish Multitude cried out for his cricifixion~ but then, all our sins cry out for the salvation that comes through His precious shed blood. If you truly want to know WHO decreed the death of JESUS, read Isaiah #53…ALMIGHTY GOD decreed that JESUS must die. In JESUS’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, JESUS makes it very clear by WHOSE PERFECT AUTHORITY that He had to go to the Cross~ to fulfill His FATHER’S Will!!! The Jews and the rest of us were all the reason for the death and suffering of JESUS. It was GOD’S Purpose from the foundation of the world. John 3:16

  • Raman

    Isn’t it rather strange and narcissistic to make such a hullaballoo about the alleged killing of Jesus, anyway?

    Which prophet worth his salt is not killed for his preaching? It goes with the job, like a soldier being killed.

    There is something so demeaning about this obsessive whining – a soldier does not complain about having to lay down his life.

  • Hector

    Re: There is something so demeaning about this obsessive whining – a soldier does not complain about having to lay down his life.

    Raman,

    Jesus answered you here: “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!”

    In any case, the killing of Jesus was the only killing in human history of a perfectly innocent and sinless Man, and thus it is fitting that it’s the subject of particular remembrance.

    Jason,

    Re: What Hector completely overlooks in this assertion is that a) crucifixion was an exclusively Roman punishment, and

    False, Alexander Jannaeus had 800 Pharisees crucified in 88 BC. As for the main body of your comment, the Gospels make it clear that Pilate didn’t want to kill Jesus, that he acted out of moral cowardice, and that Caiaphas and company sought Jesus’ death for religious as well as political motives. He was convicted of blasphemy, after all, not sedition (though John’s Gospel makes it clear that fear of sedition was part of the deeper motives of the council).

    Look, it should be possible to say that 1) Jesus was executed primarily because of pressure from the Jewish High Priests, 2) his execution was in no sense of the word in accordance with either Jewish law, or with Jewish theology (first century Judaism strongly discouraged the death penalty in general, and his trial was a completely put-up job), and 3) neither Judaism as a religion, nor any Jews living today, were responsible for his death. Acknowledging these facts doesn’t require that we do violence to history.

  • Jason

    Hector, your analysis is incomplete. You’re playing the piano with only the black or white keys. Sorry, but, as I say, reading the text without understanding context is poor exegesis.

  • Karen

    Hector, Jason has more history on his side and the acts of Alexander Jannaeus a century before had little to do with who used crucifixion at the time of Jesus. Caiaphas was substantially a Roman tool, who believed collaboration necessary to protect the Judeans. Pilate was clearly bloodthirsty and had already brutally killed huge numbers of Samaritans in order to prevent rebellion according to Josephus, so many that Vitellius ordered him back to Rome and replaced him with Marcellus. Philo of Alexandria also writes of Pilates ruthlessness. The picture of Pilate differs in each of the Christian gospels, which were written down at a time when antagonizing the Romans was dangerous. As the Ecole Initiative put it:

    Church tradition portrayed Pilate in increasingly favourable terms. In the second century Gospel of Peter, Jesus is condemned not by Pilate but by Herod Antipas. Tertullian asserted that Pilate was a Christian at heart and that he wrote a letter to Tiberius to explain what had happened at Jesus’ trial (Apology 21). Eusebius cited a tradition that Pilate had committed suicide in the reign of Gaius Caligula out of remorse for his part in Jesus’ condemnation (Hist. Eccl. 2.7.1). The fourth or fifth century Gospel of Nicodemus (which contains the Acts of Pilate), though far from “Christianising” Pilate, also depicts the governor as more friendly towards Jesus than any of the canonical gospels. Pilate was canonised by the Coptic and Ethiopic churches.

    Astorian, I think the Rambam got his facts wrong about Jesus, not difficult to do when the narrative was reinterpreted by the Greeks and Romans in a manner that was far from Jesus’s actual Jewish statements. I think that very few if his statements in the Yemeni letter are historically supportable. He criticized practices rather recently added by the Oral Torah, as demonstrated by ignoring handwashing before meals or healing on the Sabbath, neither of which are Torah laws. His insistence that he came not to change a jot or tittle of the Law was probably a stance against codification of the Mishna.

    I do find the status of the Bishopric in SSPX to be both fascinating and confusing. Obviously the writer was as confused as I am.

  • Daniel

    What has any or most of this to do with journalistic coverage of the events?

  • Daniel II

    to say the Jews asked for Jesus to be put to death and asked for his blood to be on their heads and the heads of their children is wrong.. talk about revisionism

  • Observer

    No Jew alive today had anything to do with the death of Christ. End of story.

  • Daniel II

    No white person alive today had anything to do with Slavery, no “non-Jew” had anything to do with the Holocaust, but ramifications are still seen to this day.
    Sanguis eius super nos et super filios nostros
    “His blood be on us, and on our children!”
    If the sins of the past are visited upon other races, why should this be discounted?

  • Daniel II

    Much more important and perhaps appropriate, no human alive today is responsible for Adam’s sin, but we must be cleansed of it correct? They are guilty of Deicide, and only be converting are they cleansed of that sin.


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