A Deep Stephen Fry-ing

Pax Christi, everybody!

I just want to begin this post by saying this is for everybody.

I recently watched a debate with Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry arguing against the position that The Catholic Church is a force for good in the world. I recognize that this is not the right place to argue for or against this position, but there are definitely some things that were said that could definitely use discussion. For instance, twice in the debate did Stephen Fry claim that the church taught that the Jews were collectively responsible for the Death of Christus until 1964, but nobody seemed to address nor press him on this assertion. Is this true?


Is what true?

  • That the official Roman Catholic position was that Jews, as a group, were “Christ-killers”?
  • That Stephen Fry claimed, in a debate with Christopher Hitchens, at least twice that the Roman Catholic Church taught that the Jews were collectively responsible for the Death of Jesus until 1964?
  • Yes, the assertion is true, and an objection to the assertion would have been foolish.

It’s true, but let’s not forget to look at the big picture. The whole church is responsible for many centuries of antisemitism.


And despite its many flaws, the church has been a force for good.


Last year when the pandemic was so severe in Italy, I remember reading of a priest who sat with one victim in a hospital while the person was dying, so he wouldn’t die alone. The priest subsequently died of COVID too.


There’s a Wikipedia article on the book:

(Hey, @NickolaosPappas):

why bad things happen to innocent people

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What a dreadful shame that this idea was entertained and accepted in The Church. Was this always the case? There were certainly Church Fathers that made shameful claims, but did this mean the Western Church had always believed in this collective responsibility?

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Not just the western church


It’s too bad there are no Christian NGOs doing any good. World Vision, MCC and MDS are worthless.


Amnesty International was founded by a Catholic. AI advocates for all prisoners of conscience.

We could go on and on about the good Christians do, but it wouldn’t reach anybody.


This was interesting. From this I gather that these attitudes were not always unanimous nor universal, but still, the fact that Christians have abused their spiritual forefathers is harrowing.

The origin of anti-judaism is old in the catholic tradition. One important person in provoking these kind of sentiments is John Chrysostom (c. 347-407), the archbishop of Constantinople. It is still somewhat unclear whether his critical writings and sermons were targeted against Judaizing Christians or Jews in general. Chrysostom was probably worried of losing members of his flock to those who spoke for circumcision, keeping sabbath and celebrating Jewish festivals. Anyhow, his sermons gave momentum to claims that Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. Unfortunately, John Chrysostom is a respected saint in old churches so his writings have had weight.

As long as the Jesus movement was lead by persons who were familiar with the hebrew culture and way of thinking, this kind of claims would not have prevailed. When the leadership switched to former pagans, things started to go to directions that can be questioned. This is one example. Claims that Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Jesus paved way to hard persecution of Jews in so called ‘Christian’ regions.

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With great power comes the capacity for great abuse. Every pope was first (and always) a man. Seems like the Catholic Church is always finding new ways to struggle with this maxim. And still it is true that there are still and always many who are inspired by the church to attempt to do great good and many succeed.


The questions regarding how Jews were treated down the centuries is complicated; initially almost all Christians were Jews and gentiles converted to the Faith were few. A number of events worked against the Jews. The first one that comes to mind is the war with Rome that more or less destroyed the Jewish nation. As many Jews left Palestine, they formed communities in a variety of cultures and nations. I recall an excellent book, I think title Travel to Jerusalem (?) that dealt with this question from through to the establishing Israel as a nation. Russia (Orthodox Christians) had brutal periods when Jews were extremely abused. The Catholic Church was not alone - but the causes for the mistreatment of Jews during various periods were numerous and those in power used Christianity and the crucifixion of Christ to further their aims. Awful periods in Europe and the Easters powers, and I am sure we can find people nowadays who would still say, but the Jews killed Christ, so therefore…sad statement.

I remember saying to an Orthodox person (who believe me, would not hurt anyone), that Christ was born a Jew - the response was utter shock (probably thought I would go to hell for such a statement).


The whole church. Heck, many Christians today still blame the Jews. Anti-semitism is built into a lot of Christian theology. The Pharisees are literally caricatured as an uppity and excessively legalistic group. Law law law. No, they believed in Gods grace and the forgiveness of sins as well. Some adhered to the law so strictly because they loved God and it was his law! It’s very very easy to draw anti-Semitic beliefs out of the NT, especially when read through concordist lens. A lot of a Christians seem to accept accommodation for the OT but unconsciously revert to concordism when reading the NT (“the Jews”).

The idea of an “Old” testament, as in obsolete or no longer relevant is pejorative. I bet Jesus would have found it odd if his followers hand-waved and dismissed the law right after him. In Matthew Jesus didn’t seem to think the Hebrew canon at the time was “old news.” It was sacred scripture to him and the first Christians who proof-text hunted it. I try to use the term Hebrew Scriptures when I’m not being lazy.

The truth of the matter is Jesus crucified on a Roman cross but parts of the Christian Testament to me hint at exculpating Rome or at least doesn’t want to implicate them directly. Even Pilate didn’t want to crucify Jesus but he pacified a mob of Jews who chose a revolutionary murderer over Jesus. I don’t see that as historical.

The problem is Christians don’t read GMark, the first Gospel, in its post 70CE context and it’s response to Flavian propaganda about the destruction of the Temple, or how Barabbas is more a symbol for the Jews messing up and choosing the wrong messiah (in fighting that happened during the war!).



Very true.

That is true. The Hebrew Bible was the only Bible the early Christians had.

The New Testament is built on the Hebrew Bible. The movements to dump or downplay the Old Testament are rooted in anti-Semitism. It’s the same problem with replacement theology (supersessions theology). In Vatican II the RC church abandoned the idea of replacement theology.

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Nothing about historical Christianity stands out as unnatural (that can’t be censorable surely?)


Or as supernatural either IMO.

Nothing unnatural about power corrupting though.


More on Christianity as a force for good:

Christians established the first public hospitals and had an outreach to the sick early on. See History of Hospitals. There are still many religious-affiliated hospitals, especially Catholic ones, but other denominations as well.

There are whole religious orders dedicated to medicine. Do you know the PBS show “Call the Midwife”? It’s based on a true story about a religious order of Anglican nuns who provided care for poor, pregnant women living in London’s East End. Without these nuns the poor women would have nowhere to go. (The NHS now provides these services.)


Another example of what may contradict ‘hatred for Jews’; I know of people (Orthodox) who publicly denounce the Jews, especially the current situation in Palestine, yet I also know they and their neighbors faced possible execution during the war as they hid Jews from Nazis.


“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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