A First Papal Audience

  • Norman C. Tobias


Isaac’s heated exchanges with his reviewers faded in 1949 when the opportunity arose to plead his case to a higher authority. In October of that year, when on vacation in Rome, he met with certain Catholic clergy, including Père Marie-Benoît, then spiritual director of the Grand Institut des Capucins in Rome. Isaac was encouraged to request a billet de l’audience publique with Pius XII at Castel Gandolfo. Isaac’s first reaction was to resist; as a Jew, he had nothing to do with the Pope. P. Marie-Benoît persisted and Isaac relented, deciding the time was right to inform Pope Pius XII that the decision of the Sacred Congregation of the Rites on 10 June 1948 to authorize in the Good Friday prayer for the Jews the translation of perfidis as not perfidy, but unbelief in Christian revelation, had been necessary, but not sufficient. The Good Friday prayer for the Jews had not always been the only prayer for the Jews in the Roman liturgical cycle. “The Church does indeed know its duty; it has never failed to join mercy to reprobation,” Isaac wrote. “‘We must have pity on them [the Jews], fast and pray for them,’ we read in the Didascalia, a liturgical breviary dating to the third century… One must ‘pray for them,’ Saint Justin said, Saint Augustine repeated. But there is prayer and there is prayer.” The prayers for the Jews would be reduced ultimately to one (already known to Gregory of Tours in the sixth century)—the oremus on Good Friday—the day of universal redemption when Catholics are called to pray for the various states and sections of humanity, including heretics and pagans. In this prayer, Catholics prayed pro perfidis Judaeis (for the perfidious Jews) and petitioned God to have mercy on the Judaica perfidia (Jewish perfidy). Since the ninth century, the silent prayer on bended knee between the solemn exhortation and the official prayer, as well as the Amen in response, to the official prayer, had been omitted in the intercession for the Jews (no doubt, offered Maritain in his 1921 lecture at the Semaine des Écrivains Catholiques, out of a “sacred horror of sorts that [the Church] reserves for the perfidy of the Synagogue”. “Better no prayer than a prayer like this,” lamented Isaac. Certain Catholic authors felt the accusation overreached. “In fact, in the Latin of late antiquity, (the time of Gregory the Great) when many of the prayers of our liturgy were composed,” wrote then Augustinian priest Gregory Baum in 1957–58, “perfidia simply meant unbelief or disbelief, and thus the prayer was not meant to accuse the Jews of the despicable moral quality called perfidy in modern language, but merely to attribute to them a lack of faith in Jesus Christ. They are unbelievers; and their unbelief has a peculiar quality distinct from the unbelief of heretics and heathens.”

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© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Norman C. Tobias
    • 1
  1. 1.University of TorontoTorontoCanada

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