Rorate Caeli

The First Vatican Council and the Conversion of Israel

“We congratulate you, dear sons, for this, that transferred to the light and kingdom of God and admitted to the heritage of the Lord, you dedicate the power of Christian charity deposited in you to bringing about the salvation of those with whom you once lived in darkness . . . We ask God for this, that just as his grace has already shone for you, likewise, by your zeal and work, it may enlighten the mind of your brethren and lead all of them, as soon as possible, before us, so that at last there may be only one flock and one shepherd.” Letter of Blessed Pope Pius IX, Gratulamur vobis, February 8, 1865, to Fathers Augustin and Joseph Lémann, two of the most illustrious French Jewish converts of the nineteenth century, who dedicated their lives to the conversion of their people.

During the First Vatican Council, the brothers Lémann obtained 510 signatures of bishops for a petition asking the Holy Father and the Council to issue a general invitation to the Jewish people to believe in Jesus Christ. They stopped gathering signatures at 510, although they believed they could have gathered more, out of deference for the dogma of papal infallibility, the petition for which had gathered 518 signatures. Not a single nation present at the Council in the person of its bishops was absent from the petition to solemnly call Israel to faith in Jesus Christ (except Poland whose bishops the Czar had prevented from attending).

Pius IX accepted the request with joy—it was similar to his universal public appeal to non-Catholic Christians to return to the Catholic Church—and he promised that it would be placed on the Council’s agenda for its next session, foreseen for October or November 1870. Although this session was never held due to the final seizure of Rome by the liberal Kingdom of Italy in the same year, the bishops’ signing of the petition for an appeal to the Jewish people for their conversion was one of the most unanimous activities they did during the Council as the two brothers visited them personally to solicit signatures. Bishop Dupanloup of Orléans, one of the leaders of the minority opposed to defining papal infallibility, deliberately placed his signature under that of Louis Pie of Poitiers, renowned proponent of the definition.

From the text of the petition signed by the bishops: “The undersigned Fathers . . . ask the holy ecumenical Council of the Vatican to deign to give their solicitous attention and admonishment, by a most paternal invitation, to the most unfortunate nation of Israel too . . . [T]hat it express the wish, that fatigued by a wait as fruitless as it has been long, the Israelites hurry to recognize the Messiah, our Savior Jesus Christ, truly promised to Abraham and announced by Moses: thus completing and in this way crowning the Mosaic religion without changing it.

“On the one hand, the undersigned Fathers have the most firm confidence that the Holy Council will have compassion on the Israelites, because they are still most dear to God on account of their Fathers, and because it is from them that Christ was born according to the flesh.

“On the other hand, the same Fathers share the sweet and intimate hope that this address of tenderness and honor will, with the help of the Holy Spirit, be welcomed by many of the children of Abraham, because the obstacles which stopped them until this day seem to disappear more and more since the ancient wall of separation fell down.

“May Heaven therefore be pleased to bring it about that as soon as possible they acclaim Christ, telling him, Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

“May Heaven make them run to throw themselves in the arms of the Immaculate Virgin Mary who, already their sister according to the flesh, also wants to be their mother according to grace, as she is ours!”

To take a single example of the attitude of many bishops, we can read what the brothers Lémann reported of the words and reaction of the bishop of Bayonne, France: “We others, descendants of the pagan Gentiles, were the wild tree, but your brothers, for their part, were the sweetness of the olive. Grafted on the olive tree which is our Lord Jesus Christ, how could we not give all our attention to the beneficial branches, the poor Jews, in order to restore to them the sweetness of the olive.” For a moment the bishop was unable to find his inkpot and exclaimed, “If I don’t have any ink, I will find the blood in my veins in order to sign.”

Summarized and quoted from Théotime DE SAINT JUST, [Capuchin],
Les frères Lémann. Juifs Convertis, Paris, 1937.

1 comment:

  1. We are pleased to introduce our new contributor, Bonetus, a very wise and pious man.