Looking Luther in the face
Jean-Marie de Bourqueney
Translation Canon Tony Dickinson
The question of Jewish-Christian relations is most certainly a painful story. From being one Jewish movement among others, quickly in competition with the Pharisees, Christianity became first a distinct religion, then a state religion, and then a power. Its political domination of the West, but also its wish to define The Truth as one and indivisible provoked a number of tragic episodes, despite a few blessed digressions, that we must not forget any longer… Martin Luther, the 500th anniversary of whose posting the theses we are commemorating, had among other things, and like many other people, some radical comments against the Jews, among which subtlety was not their primary characteristic. The age was, moreover, not soft when it came to insults. Reread the correspondence between Luther and Muentzer and you will see that insults were after all a widespread means of communication…
But we have to go further. To say that Luther had some regrettable views is not enough. We need to understand! To understand why a theological way of thinking, in other respects a harbinger of modernity, could at this point lapse into categorical rejection of the Jews. Many explanations have been put forward, especially since 1945: a Luther worn-out and ill, become melancholic, political and economic circumstances which pushed him into these comments, etc. Yes, but that is no longer enough. Pierre-Olivier Léchot suggests here a way of taking the problem back to basics: Luther’s comments are the perverse consequence of a theological position which is, however, defensible. It is in reaching the end of his christocentrism in the reading of the Old Testament that Luther comes to talking about Jewish “blood”. This file avoids the ecueil often encountered in rereading history after the Shoah, in other words, after the final consequence of successive derives. Anachronism watches us all.
Yes, we must look Luther in the face. In avoiding other snares which would be a form of beatifying Luther or, conversely, an irrational accusation against a man of the 16th century, in making him responsible for the ills of the 20th century. This honesty then passes through a form of critical subtlety to which Pierre-Olivier Léchot invites us. In 1980 at Mainz Pope John Paul II officially put an end to the “theology of substitution”, according to which the Church was “substituted” for the Jewish people in the plan of God. in doing this, he reopened the possibility of a truthful dialogue. It is probable that we protestants have to make this effort to see how certain of our dogmas or our practices, particularly the way in which we read the Old Testament, can carry the seeds of a tragic derapage. The possibility of dialogue with other convictions remains for us a fundamental criterion of every theological construction.