Calling Good Evil – on A Moral Reckoning by Daniel Goldhagen

Jewish author Daniel Goldhagen’s recent book, A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust And Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (Alfred A. Knopf; 362 pages; $25.00), contains what may be considered the ultimate aim of all the Holocaust propaganda which came before. The accusation that the Church’s most fundamental doctrine is the reason why there is Christian antisemitism, and because of this, the dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus (no salvation outside the Church) must be officially renounced by the Church.

Root cause of antisemitism?

In his chapter “Repairing the Harm” (pp. 259 – 261), Goldhagen writes:

Take, for example, the Catholic Church’s denial that Jews can be saved without embracing Jesus. This critical view encompasses and fuels many of the Church’s deprecating views of Jews and of Judaism as inferior, false, and wayward. Some have argued that it is a root cause, if not the root cause, of Christian antisemitism. A prominent Christian participant in Christian-Jewish dialogue, Helen Fry, who has edited a wide-ranging and searching volume with many of the dialogue’s most important contributions from Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, reflects on the unfinished tasks ahead in the volume’s concluding essay, ‘Challenges for the Future.’ She observes that ‘until the churches make theological space for Judaism by accepting it as a legitimate path of salvation, then much anti-Judaism will remain. As long as Judaism is not granted a salvific status in its own right, Christians will continue to see it as an inferior and inadequate faith. This soteriological reappraisal is, I suggest, vital for future relations between Jews and Christians.’

Although some progressive Catholics assert that the Jews can find salvation through Judaism, and although Church representatives occasionally drop hints that this is possible, the Christian Bible is unambiguous in stating that ‘there is no salvation through anyone else [but Jesus], nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.’ The Church’s official doctrine, faithful to Christian Scriptures and now in existence for almost two millennia, is unbending and unequivocal: Jews cannot attain salvation through Judaism. It declares ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation.

. . . So the Church declares, ‘Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.’ How would this not pertain to Jews? The Church’s doctrinal account of who will descend into the ‘eternity’ of hell ‘where they suffer the punishments of … “eternal fire,” ‘ announces that hell, or as Jesus calls it, ‘Gehenna,’ is ‘reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted ‘ (my emphasis [-Goldhagen]) — as Jews do today and as they did during the time of Jesus and when the Gospels were written and for whom the Gospel authors seemed to have specifically inserted such damning statements.

John Paul II and other Vatican leaders are aware that some progressive Catholics are adopting pluralist positions on salvation, and that there is grumbling within the Church among those who would loosen Catholicism’s claimed stranglehold on salvation even ever so slightly. In an explicit and pointed rebuke to them and their religious ‘relativistic mentality’— including to those in the Christian-Jewish dialogue who are particularly concerned with countermanding Catholicism’s supersessionist teachings about Jews, with Catholicism’s antisemitic tradition, and with its explicit denial that Judaism is a path to salvation — the Pontifical Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, defiantly ushered in the new millennium by reaffirming in Dominus Iesus of 2000, a document which John Paul II ‘with sure knowledge and by his apostolic authority, ratified and confirmed’ that it is ‘contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions.’ Why? Because ‘the prayers and the rituals of the other religions’ are lacking in ‘a divine origin or an ex opere operato salvific efficacy.’ So that there can be no misunderstanding, Dominus Iesus declared that ‘those solutions that propose a salvific action of God beyond the unique mediation of Christ would be contrary to Christian and Catholic faith.’ (Italics in original, bold emphasis mine — BDM.)

And how is the Church to fix this state of affairs?
Renounce Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus !

Goldhagen continues on page 261:

Until the Catholic Church inscribes in its official doctrine reformed statements of the sort that I have just discussed, and until the Church announces them loudly, emphatically, and repeatedly, so that there is no doubt and no possibility of misunderstanding about them, we should not mistake the theological reflections of some Catholics or hints by the Church, no matter how encouraging they may sound, as anything but what they are: laudable personal reflections and intimations. Given the damage that the Church’s antisemitic, anti-Jewish, anti-Judaic — call them what you will — doctrinal and theological positions have caused, is it really too much to expect the Catholic Church to announce their nullification and replacement of such still existing injurious and demeaning doctrine and theology as unambiguously and forcefully as it possibly can?

Summarizing, then, what Daniel Jonah Goldhagen writes in his most recent book: the Catholic Church’s dogma extra ecclesiam nulla salus lies at the very heart of antisemitism as practiced by Christians. While he praises those Liberal Catholics and Modernists for their attempts at being pluralistic about salvation, he sees that the Church has always taught and, to this day, continues officially to teach that there is no possibility of salvation outside her pale. (An aside: he certainly knows Catholic teaching on this subject!)

As “no salvation outside the Church” is the cause of the antisemitic attitude of Christians, it is necessary to renounce it “loudly, emphatically, and repeatedly.” It would seem that Mr. Goldhagen even wants the Pope himself to issue an anti-dogma directly contradicting the Church’s foundational teaching. (Incidentally, another thing Mr. Goldhagen wants the Holy Father to drop is papal infallibility, thus renouncing his authority to bind Catholic consciences on matters of faith and morals.)

We know that this papal “anti-dogma” could not happen. It may be that the Pope is forced to speak on this issue, and it may be that propagandists like Mr. Goldhagen force him to speak. It may be then and only then that the Pope will take on the responsibility imposed upon him by his office of confirming the brethren. Let us pray that the Holy Father does in fact speak authoritatively on this issue, so that all those who have not the Faith may acknowledge the light of God’s truth, and be rescued from their darkness.