February 2018: Antwerp Conference on Jews and Jesuits

On February 1 and 2, the Institute of Jewish Studies at the University of Antwerp and the University Centre Saint-Ignatius Antwerp co-host a two-day conference on “Jews and Jesuits: Contacts Across the Ages.” The event celebrates the tenth year of Antwerp’s Chair for Jewish-Christian Relations. According to the program, the conference examines “the interactions and mutual influences between the Society of Jesus and Jewish communities throughout history, including today.”

The keynote address will be delivered by Robert A. Maryks of Boston College. A full program is available online and appears below. Further information is also available online.


Thursday, February 1

1. Intellectual Encounters between Jesuits and Jews

Chair: Vivian Liska (Institute of Jewish Studies)

“Two Early Modern Flemish Jesuits and Their Encounters with Jews Past and Present,” Theodor Dunkelgrün (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge)

— In this lecture, Dunkelgrün will look at two Flemish Jesuits, one born in the Northern Netherlands but active in Leuven and Antwerp in the sixteenth century, the other from Antwerp and active both there and in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. The first, Johannes Willemsz Harlemius (1538-1578), was professor of Old Testament and Oriental languages at the Leuven Jesuit College, professor of Hebrew at the Leuven Collegium Trilingue and Jesuit Vice-Provincial of Flanders. Dunkelgrün will discuss Harlemius’s biblical scholarship, his contributions to the Antwerp Polyglot Bible, and will try to uncover aspects of his reading of post-Biblical Jewish literature. In the second half of his talk, he will look at Franciscus van den Enden (1602-1677), a poet and political thinker, who was a Jesuit from 1619-1633. Van den Enden left Antwerp and the Jesuits for Amsterdam, where he founded a Latin school, and is most famous for having taught the young Baruch Spinoza there. Dunkelgrün will attempt to identify aspects of Spinoza’s thought that might well have been shaped by Van den Enden. The cases of Harlemius and Van den Enden provide a variety of ways in which early modern Jesuits encountered Jews, on the page or in person. The encounter between Van den Enden and Spinoza, Dunkelgrün suggests, teaches us that the early modern legacies of Jesuit and Jewish learned culture can also be found far beyond Seminary and Synagogue, leaving deep traces in the lives and works of those formed in those communities which they never entirely abandoned.


“Robert Bellarmine: A Critical Advocate of the Rabbinic Bible,” Piet van Boxel (Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford)

— One of the major hallmarks of Church policy during the second half of the 16th century was the determined attempt to control the ever-growing book production either by means of prohibiting or expurgating books with blasphemous, heretical and offensive content. In this undertaking Jesuits such as Francisco Torres, Antonio Possevino and Robert Bellarmine played different roles. This paper will present a comparison of their activities with the main focus on Robert Bellarmine, whose selective and critical use of Jewish biblical commentaries created a platform for Jewish-Christian discussion.



2. Mutual Influences in the Formation of Identity and Authority

Chair: Vivian Liska (Institute of Jewish Studies)

“In Search of (Epistemic) Authority: The Amsterdam New Jews and the Jesuit Heritage,” Irene Zwiep (Institute of Culture and History, University of Amsterdam)

— Much has been written on the conversos’ return to Judaism. In their effort to develop a Jewish modus vivendi on the remnants of an Iberian past, the Amsterdam New Jews were considered an archetype of theological-political experiment. Much emphasis has been put on their culture as the outcome of encounter and conflict: between Renaissance and Rabbinism, and between Christian scholarly ferment and Jewish self-discovery. Plausible though this approach has proven, it tends to understate one aspect of the process: its transitory, transitional nature. For the Amsterdam New Jews, living and thinking Jewish was not a matter of restoration, but of transformation. In this paper, Zwiep would like to take yet another look at the learned discussions that helped smooth the process by trying to square “familiar” Scripture with the rabbinic canon. The rejudaization of Scripture not only triggered new forms of literacy (of chumash and derash rather than chapter and verse) but also raised the issue of epistemic authority. How to reconcile biblical truth with its—often oddly divergent—rabbinic understanding? In the context of a young community-in-the-making, this question could not go unanswered. For obvious reasons, it was not the rabbinic establishment who took up the gauntlet, but a semi-elite of lay thinkers that included Uriel da Costa, Immanuel Aboab and Menasseh ben Israel. In this paper, we will zoom in on their basic epistemological parameters, most prominently on their conceptualizations of reason and revelation in relation to notions of authority and truth. As we shall see, it was their affinity with Jesuit Late Scholasticism that helped them safeguard Scripture as a source of Jewish knowledge. That is, until the appearance of Spinoza, whose Tractatus can be read as a systematic Umwertung of the dominant discourse of his youth.


“Jesuits and the Formation of Jewish Identity in Early Modern Italy,” David Ruderman (Department of History, University of Pennsylvania)

— This paper revisits the well-known and several less well-known sources suggesting the positive impact of the Society of Jesus in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on various Jewish intellectuals in Italy. In several of his earlier books, Ruderman speculated on the impact of Jesuit spirituality, educational institutions, and moral reform on Italian Jewry. Others have subsequently noticed this same phenomenon. On the basis of this evidence, can we speak of a kind of Catholic/Jesuit Judaism emerging among certain Italian Jews who took note of Jesuit institutions and articulations of faith and identified profoundly with the religious and pedagogic values of their Catholic neighbors?



3. The History of the Exchange between Jesuits and Jews

“Is There a Judeo-Christian Tradition? A European Perspective,” book Presentation by editor Emmanuel Nathan (Faculty of Theology and Philosophy, Australian Catholic University)

— The term “Judeo-Christian” in reference to a tradition, heritage, ethic, civilization, faith etc. has been used in a wide variety of contexts with widely diverging meanings. Contrary to popular belief, the term was not coined in the United States in the middle of the 20th century but in 1831 in Germany by Ferdinand Christian Baur. By acknowledging and returning to this European perspective and context, the volume engages the historical, theological, philosophical and political dimensions of the term’s development. This book, published by De Gruyter Mouton in March 2016, is a collection of the contributions at the sixth edition of the UCSIA/IJS Chair for Jewish-Christian Relations in February 2014.



Keynote address: “Jesuits and Jews: A Tragic Couple,” Keynote lecture by Robert A. Maryks (Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences, Boston College)

— The improved relationship between Jews and Christians, and particularly Jews and Jesuits, has been among the most significant and promising historical developments since the Second World War. The road toward that new situation has many markers but it would be a very common perception to see the adoption of the declaration Nostra aetate during the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) as the most decisive early step toward reconciliation between these two faith communities. The Society of Jesus has been a leader in the Catholic Church’s dialogue with the Jewish people, most clearly, but certainly not exclusively, in the role that the Jesuit cardinal Augustin Bea (1881–1968) exercised in formulating this groundbreaking document. The history of the encounters between Jews and Jesuits has long been in need of a thorough investigation because both were significant players in Modernity and had important interactions. Jesuits and Jews did form a distinctive couple, in part because they were both the most frequent victims for those who sought a total, diabolical explanation for how history operated, although it must be said that the suffering that was endured as a consequence cannot be compared. This paper traces the most important markers in the history of the relationship between Jews and Jesuits in the last half millennium.



Friday, February 2

4. Conversos and Jesuits

Chair: Dominiek Lootens (UCSIA)

“Father António Vieira S.J. on Conversion and Judeo-Gentile Interactions,” Claude (Dov) B. Stuczynski (Department of General History, Bar-Ilan University)

— Father António Vieira (1608-1697) was a devoted missionary of Brazilian Amerindians and a committed advocate of Converso social and religious integration against Inquisitorial biased persecution and ethnic exclusion based on “purity of blood.” In this lecture Stuczynski will argue that his conversion plans for Gentiles and Jews (including Converso Judaizers) were conceived in two different historical moments. A combination of Vieira’s theological and prophetical tracts (e.g. the Clavis Prophetarum) and his political activities on behalf of both Amerindians and Conversos will show a strong Paulinian penchant. Stuczynski will ask whether his diachronic way of conceiving the conversion of the Jews and the Gentiles was related to his Jesuit affiliation.


“The Real Turning Point: Antonio Possevino (1533-1611), New Christians and Jews,” Emanuele Colombo (Catholic Studies Faculty, DePaul University, Chicago)

— In this paper, Colombo studies three aspects of the life and the works of Antonio Possevino, one of the most fascinating and still understudied early modern Jesuits. First, his commitment in contrasting the anti-converso policy introduced in the Society of Jesus during the fifth General Congregation; second, his alleged Jewish ancestry; and third, Possevino’s attitude towards the Jews. These three aspects, often presented as intertwined, are from Colombo’s perspective three different and separate issues. Possevino does not show a sympathetic view towards Jews but emphasizes the value of their conversion. A sincere conversion and the sacrament of Baptism are “the real turning point” and are more efficacious than any blood or race distinction. This idea of conversion is at the origin of Possevino’s understanding of the Society of Jesus and the Catholic Church.



5. Jewish-Jesuit Relations Today
Chair: Luc Braeckmans (UCSIA)

“Dutch Jesuits with Jewish Roots in the 20th Century,” Paul Begheyn S.J. (Netherlands Institute of Jesuit Studies, Amsterdam)

— Between the late 1920s and the end of the Second Vatican Council (1965) seven men of Jewish descent entered the Dutch Province of the Society: four Dutchmen, two Germans and one South-African. This paper presents the situation of the Jews in the Netherlands, including the attitude of the Roman Catholic Church and the Dutch Jesuits towards them. Of each of the Jesuits with Jewish roots the genealogical background is given, as well as the career within the Society of Jesus. Among them we find a novice master, the editors of the weekly newspaper De Linie and the monthly review Streven, the Postulator General in Rome, and missionaries in Indonesia and Zimbabwe. We have done research on their publications, in order to see if there are any references to the Jewish faith and history. A major part of this paper will deal with the life and work of Peter Gumpel (born 1923 in Hamburg), Professor emeritus of the Gregorian University in Rome), and relator in the cause for beatification of Pope Pius XII, which was halted in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI.

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