Byron L. Sherwin, "Christian Theologians and the Holocaust," in Byron L. Sherwin and Susan G. Amant, eds., Encountering the Holocaust: An Interdisciplinary Survey, Chicago: Impast Press, 1979, pp. 424-435

Abstract by Jerry Darring


Christian theologians have taken three positions regarding Jews and Judaism. The first position regards the Holocaust as an affirmation of classical attitudes towards Jews and Judaism, a demonstration that they are God's rejected people because of their rejection and murder of Jesus. The second position seeks to repudiate social antisemitism but maintains that Christian theological anti-Judaism is based on basic faith structures that cannot be dismantled. The third position "maintains that since social anti-Semitism is the praxis of which theological anti-Semitism is the theory, one must deplore social anti-Semitism while attempting to reformulate Christian doctrine so as to eliminate or radically modify the premises from which theological anti-Semitism flows" (425).

The first two positions stress the uniqueness and finality of Christ as the sole mediator of salvation, the embodiment of the New Israel which replaces the Old Israel. Judaism is an obsolete faith, and Jews can only be saved by casting off their stubbornness and affirming Jesus as the Christ. This "displacement myth" has been attacked by theologians such as Rosemary Ruether, Franklin Littell, and Gregory Baum, but it was espoused by such eminent scholars as Cardinal Charles Journet, Jacques Maritain, Jean Danielou, and Karl Barth, and by the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1954.

The third position, rejecting the displacement myth, was espoused by Protestants Paul Tillich, Reinhold Niebuhr, Franklin Littell, and Roy Eckardt, and Catholic Rosemary Ruether, "probably the most radical theological response to the Holocaust in Christian circles" (431). Their efforts find a certain parallel in the Jewish writings of Franz Rosenzweig and Abraham J. Heschel.

Topics for further research include: theodicy after the Holocaust; the response to the Holocaust in liturgy; integration of the Holocaust into religious school curricula; the role of the Church during World War II vis-a-vis the "Final Solution"; reactions amongst American Jewry and Christianity; the contributions of novelists, poets, and other literary artists.