Der Standard (03/24/04)
Cardinal Franz König who will be buried next Saturday, March 27, was a pioneer of Christian- Jewish dialogue. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and the Viennese Professor for Jewish Studies, Professor Jacob Allerhand, wish to carry on this tradition. A conversation with Hans Rauscher.
Standard: Professor Allerhand, you held conversations on a regular basis with Cardinal König. What did you speak about?
Allerhand: I once invited him to a lecture given at B’nai B’rith and since that time we spoke once a month. We compared the Bible, the Koran and the Psalms and discussed the question, who is Christ? I told him where I cannot agree is the claim of Jesus as the son of God. For me Christ is a Pharisee (in the sense of a scholar) who revolted.
Standard: Cardinal Schönborn, have you seen the film from Mel Gibson?
Schönborn: Neither of us has seen it and I have also discovered that neither of us will see it. One doesn’t have to see everything. I don’t wish to let myself be influenced by the current hectic regarding the film. There are many ways to meditate about the Passion of Jesus. I have my own way.
Allerhand: I don’t allow myself to be dictated to just because a certain Mel Gibson has hit upon the idea. I don’t wish to be part of the psychosis surrounding this film.
Standard: But there are Catholic voices, as for example that of the priest von St. Stephan, who welcomes the film.
Schönborn: Every year we hear during Easter time the story of Christ’s sufferings. We have learned a great deal over the past few decades about the trial of Jesus through a more detailed knowledge of the Jewish tradition. That has been acknowledged in the catechism of the Catholic Church. Today, no Catholic who relies on Catholic teachings can claim that the Jewish people are globally guilty of the death of Christ. Thanks to Cardinal König’s considerable contribution, the text containing the declaration of the Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate, on the relationship to non-Christian religions explicitly stated that. From a Christian standpoint, we must admit that the death of Christ is, in a mystical sense, the consequence of our sins. In admitting this, a final stroke is given the tragic story of the accusations of the Jewish people.
Allerhand: I would like to go a bit further. It concerns basically the death of Christ. What would have been if he hadn’t died on the cross? No resurrection? Let’s assume that we really killed Christ. Then the Christians, said profanely, should be thankful that we killed him, otherwise there would be no Christianity.
Schönborn: From a Christian understanding, he is the Son of God who became man and he was man from the first moment of his human existence. It’s not like in the Jewish tradition which has the idea that Elijah ascended into heaven without going through death. We naturally dismiss what Islam says of Jesus that he didn’t die on the cross but someone else did and that Jesus ascended into heaven.
Standard: So, you are carrying on the Christian-Jewish dialogue?
Schönborn: I am proud and grateful because it is something more than just an inter-religious dialogue. For me it is clear that God chose a people. And through these people, according to the prophets as well as to Jesus, all people throughout the world should be blessed. This is God’s unique decision and no one can dismiss it.
Standard: Now, there is, however, a third monotheistic religion that concerns the Jews and Christians and that is Islam.
Allerhand: Some months ago a professor from the Al Azhar University in Cairo was here. And someone said: ‘Thank goodness we have at our universities a hermeneutics of the Bible’s New- and Old Testament. And these hermeneutics’, he said, ‘do not diminish the value of these books. I hope that we one day can speak also about the Koran the same way.’ The Professor stood up and said: ‘never, never, never.’
Schönborn: We cannot avoid listening to one another, nor not allow ourselves to differ; we must show respect for one another’s religion. If in Saudi Arabia religious freedom is still totally ignored, we must say that that is unacceptable in the 21st century.
Standard: It looks as if there will be negotiations regarding Turkey’s accession into the European Union (EU). What does that mean for you?
Schönborn: I have a very simple question: Where are Europe’s borders? There is surely a number of countries that lie geographically within Europe, such as Croatia or Serbia or Bosnia, with which accession negotiations are, however, not being conducted. As long as Europe is not geographically unified, it is a step taken too early.
Christoph Kardinal Schönborn is the Archbishop of Vienna since 1995 and as of 1999 the Cardinal. As Secretary of the Editorial Committee, he has worked in collaboration with others on the“Catechism of the Catholic Church,” published in 1993.
Jacob Allerhand is Prof. Emeritus for Jewish- and Hebrew Studies at the University of Vienna. His special area includes, among expertise on other topics, the history and origins of Yiddish, about which he has published a book. He was also Vice President of the Jewish Association, “B’nai B’rith.”