Vol 39 No 1
God does care!
JOB AND THE TSUNAMI
INNOCENT SUFFERING AND THE CHRISTIAN GOD: SOME PHILOSOPHICAL REFLECTIONS
SIXTY YEARS AFTER AUSCHWITZ: WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY?
Idris Edward Cassidy
CATHOLIC DEVOTION AND THE UNITY OF CHRISTIANS
THE UKRAINIAN GREEK-CATHOLIC CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA AND THE FILIOQUE: A RETURN
TO EASTERN CHRISTIAN TRADITION
IN FEAR AND GREAT JOY: FORTY YEARS OF FEMINIST BIBLICAL SCHOLARSHIP
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
years after Auschwitz: What does it mean for Christian Theology?
THE SIXTIETH ANNIVERSARY of the liberation of Auschwitz is rightly re-membered
as a singular moment in the history of the Jewish people. Auschwitz is
significant not only for the Jewish People but for many others, among
them believing Christians and especially Christian theologians.
Auschwitz is an icon of the Holocaust. At one level it is one among many
concentration camps, work camps and places of torture where significant
minorities, like gays, gipsies and the intellectually and physically disabled
were exterminated. As an icon it sums up the horror that human beings
can, and do, kill each other for reasons other than self-preservation.
The very existence of Auschwitz raises the question for the Christian
theologian, not only how could this happen, but what does Auschwitz mean
for the existence of Christianity itself? This question is not an idle
one, given the fact that ordinary Christian men and women worked in these
places of extermination; they supported the existence of the camps or
chose to ignore their existence to keep themselves safe. Believing Christians,
lay and ordained, were members of the Nazi Party and at least two Catholic
bishops were supporters. In the icon of Auschwitz the Jewish nation, together
with all members of victimised minorities exterminated, tortured or degraded
in camps, point the finger of accusation at the Christian community: how
could you do this to us? How could you let this happen and call yourselves
Not all German Christians were complicit in the Holocaust. Holy men and
women like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Fritz Meyer stood out against Nazism.
Many, as in the case of Meyer, a Jesuit Priest, were not supported by
church leaders or fellow Christians.
Seeking a Solution: Johann-Baptist Metz
Following the Second World War German theologians and schools of theology
began to explore the question of what Auschwitz and the Holocaust means
for theology. Believing Christians, both Lutheran and Roman Catholic,
Germans especially, were compelled to explore the question of their complicity
in the Holocaust. Among the leaders was one of the most famous German
schools of theology, at the University of Münster. And a particular
theologian-priest, Johann-Baptist Metz, became prominent in this exploration.
Metzs experience of war was short. As a teenage soldier he had been
ordered to take a message from his forward post back to the central command.
When he returned to his unit he found them all deadyoung boys like
himself. He asked himself why? This profound experience radically changed
his whole way of thinking. He began to ask: What happens to you when you
suffer and die? What do I dare hope for you and, in the end, also for
His theological insight ran counter to the prevailing piety of individual
salvation, and he expressed it thus: It is not who saves me, but
who saves you? Salvation is communitarian; it is the act of a people
and takes place within a people. In this we find a return to the fundamental
Hebrew notion of salvation that had been lost in the Christian tradition
because of the influence of Greek philosophy. God saves a people.
Metz turned to the question of Auschwitz and asked the question at the
heart of many others reflections: As a Christian, complicit in the
event of the Holocaust and heir to centuries of Christian hatred against
the Jewish nation, how can I pray, how can I believe, how can I worship,
how can I theologise after Auschwitz? In short, is there salvation after
Solidarity with Those Who Suffer
Metzs question is highly significant. Answering it demands of the
enquirer a deep concern for the other, their salvation and
their eternal life. It exposes us, writes Metz, to the irreducibility
of the narrative of suffering, and forces Christians to explore
the relationship between suffering and death, and the praxis and question
of hope. This, he discerned, was the source of the solidarity he experienced
for his dead comrades as he looked at their lifeless faces.
Solidarity with the other, in their suffering and death, gives the believer
the right to believe and the means to pray. The answer to Metzs
question came from deep within the Jewish experience of the Holocaust:
You can pray after Auschwitz only because we prayed in Auschwitz.
That answer revealed the long ignored Hebrew tradition as source of Christian
theology and revealed solidarity with the suffering as authenticator of
theological insight. Both of these had been obscured in the centuries
of theology preceding the Holocaust. Their absence, at the theological
level, made the Holocaust possible.
As a result, the study of the Hebrew Scriptures and Hebrew worship were
revived in German theology as disciplines in themselves, and not merely
Christian adjuncts. In order to fully understand the Christian tradition,
these theologians argued, especially in the area of worship the heart
and soul of theology, it is first necessary to know and understand the
The Churchs GuiltThen and Now
Most significant since the Second World War and the Holocaust is the continuing
question concerning the Churchs silence, first explored in Hochhuths
play, Der Stellvertreter, (Representative, or Ambassador,
in some translations). In this play Pope Pius XIIs silence is called
The Churchs position during this period is complex, but the lack
of a definite and unequivocal statement from Pope Pius XII has left Catholics
and other Christians wondering what the real position of the Catholic
Church was. Simply put, no one knows for certain whether the Institutional
Catholic Church agreed or disagreed with the Holocaust. This lack of clarity
and the subsequent arguments surrounding Pius role have bred a distrust
of the Institution. Even the courageous words of von Galen, Bishop of
Münster, in opposing Nazi thinking, never mentioned the Jewish People.
More recently the German Bishops letter celebrating the canonisation
of Edith Stein implied that the Dutch Bishops denunciation of Nazism
led to the deportation of Jews from the Netherlands (among whom were Edith
Stein and her sister). Yet the Dutch Bishops have never been accused of
complicity. Even the choice of Edith Stein as a Catholic martyr of the
Holocaust has seemed to many a distortion of the Catholic Churchs
For many contemporary Catholics in countries like Germany, Austria and
the Netherlands, the painful question lingers: Can I believe in a Church
that may have been complicit through its silence in the event of the Holocaust?
I believe that this reason cannot be avoided if one is serious about addressing
the significant rejection of the Church by post-World War II generations.
I would suggest that this rejection is linked to a deep and widespread
lack of trust in the Institutional Church that at its root is a question
about the Churchs ability and willingness to face the truth of its
position. In more recent times, the crisis of clergy sexual abuse has
shown that the institutional management of the Church continues to put
the safety of the institution before the victim, thereby refusing solidarity
with the victim. In this instance, victims suffer at the hands of the
Churchs ministers, both those who commit the act and those who cover
it up. The issue remains the same, namely, a crisis of trust predicated
on an avoidance of truth. Trust can only exist where truth abounds and
where truth is avoided, trust dies.
In the memory of the Holocaust we have to ask ourselves do we pray
any differently because of Auschwitz? That is, are we any more attuned
to the needs of the poor and dispossessed? Do we live in greater solidarity
with them than our predecessors? Have we grasped the essential difference
between a piety built on individual salvation and a theology built on
the salvation of a people? Is the Institutional Church anymore at one
with those who have to live out their lives in a secular world and does
it, as teacher, live in solidarity with Jesus disciples? Solidarity
with the human story is what we see in the Jesus of the Gospels, and this
solidarity is what, I believe, many people are seeking today and, I fear,
few are finding.
Metzs theology, challenges us to address religion as it is now,
not as it was 100 years ago. It teaches us to hold dear the memory of
suffering in history and not avoid the painful questions of injustice;
to seek the truth; to value solidarity with the suffering and the dead,
and see in the past our future; to reject the tenets of middle-class complacency
and seek instead to live out the dangerous memory of the Passion, a memory
which constantly looks for a better social and political world for all
This in the end will change also the way we pray. We will be able to pray
both in adversity and in prosperity with the spiritual robustness of the
Had not the Lord been with us,
Let Israel say,
Had not the Lord been with us-
When men rose against us,
Then would they have swallowed us alive.
When their fury was inflamed against us, then would the waters have overwhelmed
The torrent would have swept over us;
Over us then would have swept the raging waters.
Blessed be the Lord who did not leave us a prey to their teeth.
We were rescued like a bird from the fowlers snare;
Broken was the snare
And we were freed.
Our help is in the name of the Lord
Who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 124 (NAB)
Joe Grayland is a priest of the Diocese of
Palmerston North, NZ. He specialises in Liturgy and Sacramental Theology.
His doctoral thesis (University of Münster) was on Liturgical Architecture.