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Pictures in Church: No. 330
With a convert priest's view of Simone Well
By HILDA GRAEF
INTEREST in the relations between Christians and Jews is far less evident in this country than it is in the United States. This is due. no doubt. to the much greater influence of the Jewish Community in America as well as to the presence in the States of a group of very influential intellectual Catholic converts from Judaism.
One of these converts, Fr. John M. Oesterreicher, well known through his successful book " Walls are Crumbling," is now editing a " Yearbook of Judaeo-Christian Studies" called " The Bridge" (Pantheon Books, $3.95), the first volume of which appeared in 1955, the second in 1956. Among the contributors are many well-known names such as Mgr. Journet, Raissa Maritain, Dom Christopher Butler and Fr. Alexander Jones.
THE contents of the first two volumes of this new venture are as varied as they are interesting. and they are brilliantly edited.
Each volume contains a series of " Studies," " Perspectives," " Surveys" and book reviews.
The "Studies " are devoted partly to Biblical research. partly to modern problems. For example. in the first volume Raissa Maritain has a fascinating discussion on "Abraham and the Ascent of Conscience," the Abbot of Downside examines the Gospel according to St. Matthew. and Cornelia and Irving Sussman study the art of Marc Chagall and Fr. Oesterreicher the " Enigma of Simone Weil."
"Perspectives" are shorter essays on more specialised subjects such as the Jewish burial service. the problem of the justice of Shylock and the Blessings of the Jewish Prayer Book.
" Surveys " deal with topical questions such as the Finaly Case and Anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.
These few examples will show the variety of content as well as the importance of the subjects discussed in these excellently produced and well illustrated volumes.
THE contributions themselves are of a uniformly high standard. Within the limits of a review it is impossible to give more than a quick impression of some of the many valuable articles.
The series is rightly introduced by Raissa Maritain 's study of Abraham, the father of the faith of Jews and Christians alike, which has as a subtitle "A philosophical meditation on the first ages of man."
The author discusses with great frankness some moral difficulties in the story of Abraham, and from there goes on to examine the moral progress of the conscience of mankind as well as the moral quality that constituted Adam's innocence heford his fall.
Rather than have recourse. as did most of the Fathers, to a wholly allegorical exegesis of morally difficult passages of the Old Testament. Mme. Maritain points out that " not only innocence but sanctity itself . . is compatible with a conscience not fully illumined. . . A perfectly upright conscience. then. can be in certain respects a 'twilight' conscience. In fact, compared with the stainless light of the conscience of Mary and the absolute light of the conscience of Jesus, the conscience of all the saints ... can be called twilight."
* * FR. JONES opens the second volume of the series with a study of the Word of Scripture as a Seed: " Scripture grows, ripens into Christ, is Christ, for the Word of God is a seed." be writes.
In a very illuminating analysis of Scriptural passages he traces God's revelation to man from the creation to Hie choice of Israel, God's special people: " To pose the question of Israel's chosenness," he writes. " is to pose the very question which divides the modern world so radically and dangerously, the question of the supernatural."
By thus taking this crucial question right back to its origin in the choice of lsrael,as the people of God. the author shows not only the unity of the Bible in its two Testaments but also the obligations of Christian love to the Jews whom he calls. with Jacques Maritain, "a fallen Church."
This love for the people of Mary, which ought to be the mark of the true Christian, is shown to be paradoxically absent from the subject of Fr. Oesterreicher's very illuminating study of Simone Weil. The present reviewer has always considered hers one of the inflated reputations of our time that only too often confuses neurosis with mysticism.
Fr. Oesterreicher shows with great charity and tact as well as overwhelming evidence that she was never really near the Church. and that she completely misunderstood Christ Himself : " In spite of her reiterated ' one must think Christ as God and man ' she went, driven by a strange restlessness, from Him to Greek philosophy and poetry, to Egyptian myths and the Hindu scriptures, ever looking for Him elsewhere"
And so, " having all along misconstrued the mysteries of Faith. Simone Weil had to misunderstand, even rebel against, the Godgiven mission of the ancient Israel . . . Her vocabulary here is borrowed from the crudest antiSemitism . . . Having made her own image of God, a silent, absent God, Simone Weil could not hear the God of Israel." (In the English translations of her works the most offensive passages have been left out.)
And he concludes: "A dark fabric woven of subtle despair-such is Simone Weil's thought."
We have cited Fr. Oesterreicher's words at length because we believe they are a long overdue criticism of a very arresting contemporary figure whose spectacular actions and attractive style have blinded Catholics to the dangers of her fundamentally pessimistic and syncretistic opinions.
These brief indications can do no more than commend this new publication to English readers in the hope that at least Catholic libraries will be able to make it available in this country.