Legacies: Karl Adam & Jules Isaac

BAD EDUCATION

In his article on Karl Adam (“Reformer and Racialist,” January 18), John Connelly demonstrates how the terms of Adam’s theology proved to be so compatible with, and supportive of, Nazi ideology. How are we to account for Adam’s enthusiastic support for an ideology so antithetical to the spirit of Catholicism?

For a partial but very profound solution to this paradox, we can turn to the German-Jewish phenomenological philosopher Aron Gurwitsch, who wrote a manuscript titled “Some Philosophical Roots of Nazism.” While recognizing that Nazism had more than one cause, he focuses on an underlying and pervasive philosophical force that affected the German psyche and culture. He concludes that the lack of resistance to the Nazi ideology on the part of the intellectual classes of Germany was a result of the romantic and nationalistic ideas of Hegel and Fichte that had been taught in German universities for over a century.

Karl Adam would not have escaped this philosophical influence. It was a virus that infected all German intellectual and cultural life. Although expressed at times in lofty spiritual terms, the Hegelian philosophy that formed the German intellectual class was at root materialistic and naturalistic—what Husserl would diagnose as philosophical naturalism. Gurwitsch rightly saw it as a philosophy that destroyed all universal truth, including the freedom and dignity of human beings, by reducing them to nothing more than their race or blood. Catholicism has not been immune to this naturalistic virus, by which human beings are turned into mere objects. Witness our own history with the Jewish people, our penchant to support wars of aggression, and even our meek response to state-approved torture. Connelly is on target to cite Kierkegaard’s caution that Christianity is not about speculation. Only the Christ of the Gospels can save Christianity from the corruption of philosophical naturalism.

DAVID L. SMITH, CSSp
Pittsburgh, Pa.
 

 

THE BEST LAID PLANS...

The moderate tone and balance in John Connelly’s article made his revelations about Karl Adam all the more chilling. Connelly’s warning about speculation reminded me of a talk some years ago at Woodstock College in Maryland. The speaker was eloquent in describing Teilhard de Chardin’s material/spiritual evolutionary vision. I was captivated. But then Cardinal Avery Dulles commented quietly that while the theory is indeed attractive, things just might not work out that way. I don’t recall his exact words but the message was clear: The human enterprise might fall short, so that it would take God’s intervention to set things right. This means that as individuals we must be on guard against any kind of hubris. And the best way to do that is to stay rooted in the Gospels, where Christ shows sympathy with all sorts of sin and frailty but has a very short fuse with the self-righteous.

LEO GAFNEY
Lakeville, Conn.

 

JULES ISAAC’S LEGACY

Kudos to John Wilkins for his well-balanced essay on the origins of Catholic-Jewish religious understanding (“The Beginning of the Beginning,” January 18). It should be pointed out, however, that the man who prompted Pope John XXIII to include Judaism in the deliberations at the Second Vatican Council was not Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel but the French Jew Jules Isaac. Isaac’s book Jesus and Israel, more than any other document, changed the way Christians looked at Jews. Most of Isaac’s family was wiped out at Auschwitz. After speaking with Isaac, the pope personally sent him to Cardinal Bea with the instruction to include the Jews in the council’s work, thereby bypassing the curia.

MICHAEL PHAYER
Columbia, Md.

Published in the 2008-02-15 issue: 
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