The Pope has reiterated that the Jewish people do not hold any collective guilt over the death of Christ.
In his new theological work, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, Pope Benedict XVI addresses the difficult passage in Matthew’s Gospel which speaks of the crowd shouting: “Let his blood be on us and on our children.”
Drawing also from the accounts of Mark and John, the pope argues that the crowd spoken of refers to the “dominant priestly circle” and supporters of the rebel Barabbas, and therefore “not the Jewish people as such.”
Notably, he states that the words do not amount to a curse upon the Jews because Jesus’ blood was shed for all people.
He writes: “The Christian will remember that Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment, it brings reconciliation.
“It is not poured out against anyone, it is poured out for many, for all," he adds. “Read in the light of faith, [Matthew’s reference to blood] means that we all stand in need of the purifying power of love which is his blood.
“These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation.”
The pope’s exegesis reflects the position laid down by the Catholic Church in Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions promulgated by the Second Vatican Council in 1965.
Part four of the Declaration explicitly stated that the Jews “should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God” and rejected anti-Semitism in all its forms.
The book has been wholeheartedly endorsed by the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, who encouraged people to read it over Lent.
"The depth of Pope Benedict XVI's scholarship is clearly manifest on each page," he said. "Yet it is expressed in a most attractive and easily accessible style which grants the reader a fresh understanding of the events at the heart of our faith, those of Holy Week and Easter.
"This book more than meets its author's desire to help us to meet Jesus and to believe in him: a meeting through which 'God draws us into himself in order as it were to lead us out beyond ourselves into the infinite breadth of his greatness and his love' (p 96)."
Chief Executive of the Council of Christians and Jews, Dave Gifford, said the pope’s book was “timely” and “refreshing,” and should be read by the church and Catholics in particular at a time of growing anti-Semitism.
He welcomed the pope’s rejection of any scriptural basis for anti-Semitism and his call for fresh theological reflection of the Scriptures in this respect.
“A lot of Jews were concerned that relations with the church were cooling off," said Gifford. “Although the Pope is only echoing what have been the views of many in the Christian community and the Catholic Church for a long time – that Jews are not collectively responsible for the death of Jesus – what is good about this book is that the Pope is actually stating it and that must be good news for Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Catholic relations.”
The pope’s new book is the second volume in his exploration of Jesus, following the 2007 release of Jesus of Nazareth.