The Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), the preeminent traditionalist Catholic organization in the world, has issued a statement disagreeing with Pope Benedict’s recent exoneration of the Jewish people for the sin of deicide. SSPX affirms that “The responsibility of the Jewish people as such for the death of Christ has been the constant teaching of the Magisterium, based on Scripture and the Church Fathers.” For good measure, SSPX also states clearly that they believe in the doctrine of supercessionism.
One aspect of the statement that I’m having a hard time parsing is the following bullet:
“It is important to distinguish today between the Jewish race (which has little to do with Christ’s crucifixion), present day Israel (including the Zionists who were forced to emigrated mostly from Russia), and the Jewish religion (led by rabbis, the doctrinal successors of the Sanhedrin which rejected Christ).”
It sounds like SSPX may be saying that adherents of the Jewish religion are guilty of deicide but that irreligious members of “the Jewish race” may not be. But I’m not sure that I am correctly interpreting this rather ambiguous passage. I also don’t see how “present day Israel” fits into the picture.
Probably the most surprising and indefensible aspect of SSPX’s statement is the passage where they claim that “theological interpretations, based on Romans XII [sic?], or [sic] the Jewish responsibility for Christ’s death have certainly not been the justification for any alleged Jewish persecution by the Church in the Middle Ages.” I am obviously not a Catholic theologian and I would not presume to dictate to SSPX whether they should believe that contemporary Jews bear responsibility for the death of Jesus. I do, however, feel comfortable stating that their claim that the deicide charge was never used by Christians to justify the persecution of Jews is absolutely, outrageously wrong.
The deicide theme is ubiquitous in Christian anti-Jewish polemical literature, from Zeno of Verona and John Chrysostom in the fourth century, to the Pugio Fidei of Raymond Martini in the thirteenth, and beyond. It is true that to my knowledge no pope ever formally adopted the deicide charge, but it is indisputable that the notion that Jews were responsible for killing Christ was one of the driving factors in medieval Christian persecution of Jews. Who can forget the chilling logic preserved in the Christian Crusade chronicles, which summarized the attitude of those who destroyed entire communities of Jews in 1096:
“They said, ‘Why are they occupied with doing battle against the Muslims in the vicinity of Jerusalem? Indeed among them is a people which does not acknowledge their deity. What is more, their ancestors crucified their god. Why should we let them live? Why should they dwell among us? Let our swords begin with their heads. After that we shall go on the way of our pilgrimage.’”
[Note: The SSPX eventually removed the statement from their website. I have retained it as a PDF file, which may be accessed here.]