A Cross Too Heavy: Pope Pius XII and the Jews of Europe by Paul O’Shea (auth.)

By Paul O’Shea (auth.)

The papacy of Pius XII (1939-1958) has been a resource of near-constant feedback and debate considering his dying, fairly due to his alleged silence through the Holocaust. Paul O'Shea examines his little-studied pre-papal lifestyles to illustrate that Pius used to be neither an anti-Semitic villain nor a 'lamb with no stain.'

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His conversion from being a devout Pharisaic Jew and an active persecutor of the early Christian community to a committed follower of Jesus became the prototype of Christian discipleship. Paul’s conversion experience had convinced him of the inadequacy of Halakah and Torah as vehicles of salvation. The death and resurrection of Jesus not only overshadowed the Law, but rendered the Law superf luous. Paul’s conf lict with Judaism stemmed from his unwavering assertion of salvation and justification through faith without the necessity of observing the “works” of the Law.

All that was good in the Hebrew Bible was set forth for the benefit of Christians. The Old Testament had no inherent value of its own. ”18 The argument remained unchanged until Vatican II promulgated Dei Verbum (the word of God), which encouraged Catholics to turn to the scriptures as the living and organic Word of God, valid and authentic in both testaments for Jews and Christians. In September 1943, the Jews of Rome were about to be subjected to the full force of Nazi persecution. It is further evidence of the otherworldly view of the pope that he wrote an encyclical reinforcing traditional supersessionism at a moment when the most vulnerable people in Europe needed to hear from the bishop of Rome words of uncompromising moral leadership as demanded by the very scriptures of which he wrote.

To stand against the weight of centuries of anti-Judaism and theologies of contempt and supersessionism was never required during his formative years. His priestly studies were undertaken at a time when the Church was still reeling from the aftershocks of the French Revolution and the perceived onslaught of secularism—both manifestations of the power of liberals, Freemasons, socialists, and Jews. Catholic teaching regarding the Jews remained consistent for fifteen centuries from Augustine. The commentaries of Aquinas and others served only to reinforce points and general practicalities.

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