On Anti-Semitism

Jacques Maritain, who in the 1940's taught at Princeton University, was an outstanding Roman Catholic philosopher. This article appeared in the Journal Christianity and Crisis, October 6, 1941. 

Jacques MaritainI have already spoken of anti-Semitism many times. I never would have thought that I would have to do so in connection with anti-Semitic laws promulgated by a French government—which are a denial of the traditions and the spirit of my country. I am well aware that these decrees have been adopted under German pressure and through the machinations of Laval. I also know that the French people by and large are astounded at and disgusted with these laws. The fact remains, however, that the Vichy leaders have enforced anti-Semitic laws in a more and more strict and iniquitous fashion, depriving French Jews of every governmental and cultural position, imposing upon them all kinds of restrictions with regard to liberal and commercial professions, mercilessly striking many of them who were wounded for their country during the present war, and hypocritically trying to hide a bad conscience under a pseudonational pathos in which religious and racial considerations are shamefully mixed. A small part of the bourgeoisie and the country gentry, poisoned by filthy newspapers, is letting itself be permeated by racist baseness. Anti-Semitic German films are shown in movie-theaters even in the unoccupied part of France, and we have been told that a Catholic periodical was suspended for one month for having boldly protested against such an action. Despite innumerable private testimonies of help and solidarity given—often at great risk—to persecuted Jews, despite innumerable touching signs of friendship and fidelity that dismissed Jewish professors received from their students, no public protest has been made by any educational body; and some new corporative institutions, among the liberal professions, are willingly admitting a kind of numerus clausus.

The psychic poisons are more active than the physical ones; it is unfortunately inevitable that, little by little, many souls should bow down. If the anti-Semitic regulations and propaganda are to endure for some years, we may imagine that many weak people will resign themselves to the worst. They will think that, after all, the concentration camps are more comfortable for their neighbors than the Jews say, and finally they will find themselves perfectly able to look at or contribute to the destruction of their friends, with the smile of a clear conscience (life must go on!). I have firm confidence in the natural virtues and the moral resistance of the common people of France. I know we must trust them; yet it is not only in thinking of the Jews, but in thinking of my country that I feel horrified by the anti-Semitic corruption of souls that is being furthered in France by a leadership that still dares speak of honor.

It is also for Christianity that I fear. Perhaps the danger is greater in countries that have not—not as yet—experienced Nazi terrorism. We have been told that in some countries of South America anti-Semitism is spreading among some sections of Catholic youth and Catholic intellectuals, despite the teachings of the Pope and the efforts of their own bishops. It is impossible to compromise with anti-Semitism; it carries in itself, as in a living germ, all the spiritual evil of Nazism. Anti-Semitism is the moral Fifth Column in the Christian conscience.

"Spiritually we are Semites," Pius XI said. "Anti-Semitism is unacceptable." I should like to emphasize in this paper the spiritual aspect of this question.

May I point out that the most impressive Christian formulas concerning the spiritual essence of anti-Semitism may be found in a book recently published by a Jewish writer who seems himself strangely unaware of their profoundly Christian meaning. I do not know whether Maurice Samuel shares even in Jewish piety; perhaps he is a God-seeking soul deprived of any definite dogmas, believing himself to be "freed" from any trust in divine revelation, of either the Old or the New Covenant. The testimony that he brings appears all the more significant because prophetic intuitions are all the more striking when they pass through slumbering or stubborn prophets who perceive only in an obscure way what they convey to us.

"We shall never understand," Mr. Samuel says, "the maniacal, world-wide seizure of anti-Semitism unless we transpose the terms. It is of Christ that the Nazi-Fascists are afraid; it is in his omnipotence that they believe; it is he that they are determined madly to obliterate. But the names of Christ and Christianity are too overwhelming, and the habit of submission to them is too deeply ingrained after centuries and centuries of teaching. Therefore they must, I repeat, make their assault on those who were responsible for the birth and spread of Christianity. They must spit on the Jews as the ‘Christ-killers’ because they long to spit on the Jews as the Christ-givers." (Maurice Samuel, The Great Hatred. New York, 1940)

The simple fact of feeling no sympathy for the Jews or being more sensitive to their faults than to their virtues is not anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is fear, scorn and hatred of the Jewish race or people, and a desire to subject them to discriminative measures. There are many forms and degrees of anti-Semitism. Not to speak of the demented forms we are facing at present, it can take the form of a supercilious nationalist and aristocratic bias of pride and prejudice; or a plain desire to rid oneself of competitors; or a routine of vanity fair; or even an innocent verbal mania. In reality no one is innocent. In each one the seed is hidden, more or less inert or active, of that spiritual disease which today throughout the world is bursting out into a homicidal, myth-making phobia, and the secret soul of which is resentment against the Gospel: "Christophobia."

Leon Bloy said that the "veil" to which Saint Paul refers and which covers the eyes of Israel is now passing "from the Jews to the Christians." This statement, which is harsh on the Gentiles and on the Christian distorters of Christianity, helps us understand something of the extensive and violent persecution of which the Jews today are victims, and of the spiritual upheaval that has been going on for years among many of them, denoting deep inward changes, particularly in respect to the person of Christ.

The growing solicitude in Israel’s heart for the Just Man crucified through the error of the high priests is a symptom of unquestionable importance. Today in America representative Jewish writers like Sholem Asch and Waldo Frank are trying to reintegrate the Gospel into the brotherhood of Israel. While not yet recognizing Jesus as the Messiah, they do recognize him as the most pure Jewish figure in human history. They themselves would be disturbed to be considered as leaning toward Christianity. Yet while remaining closer than ever to Judaism, they believe that the Gospel transcends the Old Testament and consider it a divine flower issuing from the stem of the Patriarchs and the Prophets. Never forgetful of the conflicts of history and of the harsh treatment received by their people, the authors of Salvation and of The New Discovery of America have long known and loved mediæval Christianity and Catholic spiritual life. They agree with Maurice Samuel that "Christophobia" is the spiritual essence of the demoniacal racism of our pagan world. Many other signs give evidence that Israel is beginning to open its eyes, whereas the eyes of many self-styled Christians are blinded, darkened by the exhalations of the old pagan blood suddenly, ferociously welling up once more among Gentiles.

"Jesus Christ is in agony until the end of the world," said Pascal. Christ suffers in every innocent man who is persecuted. His agony is heard in the cries of so many human beings humiliated and tortured, in the suffering of all those images and likenesses of God treated worse than beasts. He has taken all these things upon himself, he has suffered every wound. "Fear not, my child, I have already travelled that road. On each step of the abominable way I have left for you a drop of my blood and the print of my mercy."

But in the mystical body of the Church, the surplus humanity that Christ finds in each of the members of this his body is called upon, insofar as each is a part of the whole, to participate in the work of this body, which is the redemption continued throughout time. Through and in the passion of his mystical body, Christ continues actively to perform the task for which he came; he acts as the Savior and Redeemer of mankind.

Israel’s passion is not a co-redemptive passion, achieving for the eternal salvation of souls what is lacking (as concerns application, not merits) in the Savior’s sufferings. It is suffered for the goading on of the world’s temporal life. In itself, it is the passion of a being caught up in the temporal destiny of the world, which both irritates the world and seeks to emancipate it, and on which the world avenges itself for the pangs of its history. This does not mean that Christ is absent from the passion of Israel. Could he forget his people, who are still loved because of their fathers and to whom have been made promises without repentance? Jesus Christ suffers in the passion of Israel. In striking Israel, the anti-Semites strike him, insult him and spit on him. To persecute the house of Israel is to persecute Christ, not in his mystical body as when the Church is persecuted, but in his fleshly lineage and in his forgetful people whom he ceaselessly loves and calls. In the passion of Israel, Christ suffers and acts as the shepherd of Zion and the Messiah of Israel, in order gradually to conform his people to him. If there are any in the world today—but where are they ?—who give heed to the meaning of the great racist persecutions and who try to understand this meaning, they will see Israel as drawn along the road to Calvary, by reason of that very vocation which I have indicated, and because the slave merchants will not pardon Israel for the demands it and its Christ have implanted in the heart of the world’s temporal life, demands that will ever cry "no" to the tyranny of force. Despite itself Israel is climbing Calvary, side by side with Christians—whose vocation concerns the kingdom of God more than the temporal history of the world; and these strange companions are at times surprised to find each other mounting the same path. As in Marc Chagall’s beautiful painting, the poor Jews, without understanding it, are swept along in the great tempest of the Crucifixion, around Christ who is stretched

Across the lost world
At the four corners of the horizon
Fire and Flames
Poor Jews from everywhere are walking
No one claims them
They have no place on the earth
To rest—not a stone
The wandering Jews

Raïssa Maritain, Chagall (Lettre de Nuit)

The central fact, which has its deepest meaning for the philosophy of history and for human destiny—and which no one seems to take into account—is that the passion of Israel today is taking on more and more distinctly the form of the Cross.

Christ crucified extends his arms toward both Jews and Gentiles; he died, St. Paul says, in order to reconcile the two peoples, and to break down the dividing barrier of enmity between them. "For he is our peace, he that hath made both one, and hath broken down the dividing barrier of enmity. He hath brought to naught in his flesh the law of commandments framed in decrees, that in himself he might create of the two one new man, and make peace and reconcile both in one body to God through the cross, slaying by means thereof their enmity." (St. Paul, Ephesians 2:14-16)

If the Jewish people did not hear the call made to them by the dying Christ, yet do they remain ever summoned. If the Gentiles indeed heard the call, now racist paganism casts them away from it and from him who is our peace. Anti-Semitic hatred is a directly anti-Christic frenzy to make vain the blood of Jesus and to make void his death. Agony now is the way of achieving that reconciliation, that breaking down of the barrier of enmity—which the madness of men prevented love from accomplishing, and the frustration of which is the most refined torment in the sufferings of the Messiah—a universal agony in the likeness of that of the Savior, both the agony of the racked, abandoned Jews and of the racked, abandoned Christians who live by faith. More than ever, the mystical body of Christ needs the people of God. In the darkness of the present day, that moment seems invisibly to be in preparation, however remote it still may be, when their reintegration, as St. Thomas puts it, will "call back to life the Gentiles, that is to say the lukewarm faithful, when ‘on account of the progress of iniquity, the charity of a great number shall have waxed cold’ (Matthew 14:12)." (St.Thomas Aquinas, in ep. ad Romanos, xi, lect. 2.)

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