“Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger on Christians and Jews,” edited by Jean Duchesne, translated by Jean Duchesne, Maurice Cuvee de Murville and Rebecca Howell Balinski. Paulist Press (Mahwah, N.J., 2010). 192 pp., $16.95.
Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger (1926-2007) was a key figure in Catholic-Jewish relations both in France as the archbishop of Paris and internationally, especially during the tenure of Blessed John Paul II. Born Aron Lustiger, he converted to Catholicism in 1940. A survivor, he lost his mother and numerous other relatives in the Shoah (Holocaust).
Collected in “Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger on Christians and Jews” are several of his most important addresses, a couple of which I was privileged to attend in person. The texts begin with an utterly fascinating interview in an Israeli newspaper. Cardinal Lustiger never stopped considering himself a Jew, and was very knowledgeable about Jews and Judaism, so it might be said that the perfect Catholic-Jewish dialogue would be Cardinal Lustiger talking to himself.
The reader thus gets a bifocal view, at once Jewish and Catholic, on the issues of the dialogue that he discusses. This is especially true when he is talking about the Shoah, of which he was an intended victim, like any other Jew under Nazi domination. At one point, he speaks of the Righteous Gentiles who provided him with forged documents, got him across the demarcation line, warned him of imminent arrest, hid him and never betrayed him.
The chapters range from a 1982 interview in the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth through addresses in Brazil, Chicago, New York, Tel Aviv and New Haven, Conn. The volume includes an introduction by fellow theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles and a very helpful afterword by Rabbi Alan Brill of Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J.
Cardinal Lustiger wrote his thoughts in an open and engaging style that is accessible to all, and often very moving, as with his probings of the Shoah. Readers will get not only perceptive analyses of the history of Jewish-Christian relations, but a profound look at the theology of the Catholic Church with respect to Jews and Judaism.
Basing his arguments on the best of ancient and contemporary Catholic thought and official statements, Cardinal Lustiger shows how God’s covenant with the Jewish people remains valid and ongoing, even while it is extended to the Gentiles, the non-Jewish peoples of the world, through the Jew, Jesus. His reasoning and ability to communicate such central truths of Catholic theology, along with coping with those who have not yet caught up with contemporary Catholic thought and official teaching, are well established in the documents of the church and challenge us to move beyond the present and look to the future.
Indeed, the final entry in the volume, “Where Jews and Christians Work Together,” sets forth six areas in which the unique relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people can make a difference for all humanity: human dignity and rights, moral and ethical issues, social and political issues, modern rational criticism, direct religious encounters and engaging with each other in the larger pluralistic societies in which we live.
Fisher is professor of Catholic-Jewish studies at St. Leo University in Florida and retired associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.