Deicide: The execution of Jesus
Who is/was responsible, according
to the Roman Catholic
In 1965, the Roman Catholic Church partially abandoned its historical stance
towards Jews and Judaism. In a remarkable reversal of their position, the Church rejected
its earlier teachings that:
All of the Jews in Palestine circa 30 CE were
responsible for the execution of Jesus.
- All Jews who are currently living are also responsible for Jesus' death.
- God has rejected Jews because they murdered Jesus.
In this essay, we describe some of the charges of deicide (murder of God)
leveled at Jews by the Roman Catholic church down through history, some recent comments by Catholic
authors, and the 1965 Second Vatican
Council (Vatican II) document "Nostra Aetate," which
reversed Church teaching.
About the transferability of sin:
In essentially all of the world's religions and ethical systems, an
individual is held responsible for their own actions. It is considered
immoral to punish a friend, relative, or stranger of the wrongdoer for the
crimes that the latter has committed. However, throughout the Bible, there are passages which
teach that innocent people can be held responsible and punished for the sinful behavior of others.
This is often referred to as the "imputation" of sin. Three
of many biblical examples are:
||Many Christian denominations interpret the story of Adam and Eve in
the Garden of Eden as the "fall of humanity." Although they committed
a sin, their descendents down to the present day who inherit this original sin.
||Joshua ordered the murder in cold blood of an entire family --
husband, wife, and children -- because the father had committed theft.
||Many Christian denominations teach the principle of the
atonement: that during the torture of Jesus
on the cross, everyone's sin was transferred to him. His death made individual
salvation possible to those who trust him as
Lord and Savior.
Similarly, many Roman Catholic leaders
throughout much of the church's history laid the responsibility
for Jesus' execution on all Jews from the 1st century
CE, to the present time, and "up to the end of the world." (Origen).
This provided the theological justification for almost two
millennia of oppression and mass murder of Jews in
Christian lands. Many commentator believe that this tyranny laid the
foundation for the Sho'ah -- the Nazi Holocaust.
Some ancient statements and actions by the Catholic Church and its leaders:
Some profoundly anti-Judaic statements by Church leaders are listed below. "Pharsea" has
collected many more. 1
||3rd century CE:|
||Origen (185 - 254 CE): "The blood of Jesus falls not only on
the Jews of that time, but on all generations of Jews up to the end of the
||St. Cyprian of Carthage (circa 200 - 258): "This name
rebukes and condemns the Jews who not only spurned Christ faithlessly, but
also cruelly executed Him Who was announced to them by the prophets, and
sent first to their nation. No longer may they call God their Father,
because the Lord confounds and refutes them, saying: 'your father is the
devil' [John 8:44]. O sinful nation, O people weighed down with guilt,
breed of evil-doers, lawless children, you have turned your backs on the
Lord and have provoked the Holy One of Israel."
||4th century CE:
||St Athanasius (circa 296 - 373): Jews "...have no abiding
place, but they wander everywhere .... But in every place they transgress
the law, and as the judgments of God require; they keep days of grief
instead of gladness. Now the cause of this to them was the slaying of the
Lord, and that they did not reverence the Only Begotten .... Therefore the
Lord cursed them under the figure of the fig tree."
||St. Hilary of Poitiers (315 - 367) referred to Jews as a perverse people
who God has cursed forever.
||John of Antioch (347 - 407) (a.k.a. John Chrysostom): He
delivered a group of four homilies titled "Against the Jews".
Homily 4 said, in part: "The difference between the Jews and us in not
a small one, is it? Is the dispute between us over ordinary, everyday
matters, so that you think the two religions are really one and the same?
Why are you mixing what cannot be mixed? They crucified the Christ whom
you adore as God. Do you see how great the difference is? How is it, then,
that you keep running to those who slew Christ when you say that you
worship him whom they crucified?" 2
||5th century CE:
||St. Jerome (circa 345 - 420): "Judas betrayed Me [Jesus],
the Jews persecuted and crucified Me....In particular, this is the story
of Judas; in general it is that of the Jews....Judas is cursed, that in
Judas the Jews may be accursed."
||St. Augustine (354 - 430) wrote: "The true image of the Hebrew is
Judas Iscariot, who sells the Lord for silver. The Jew can never understand the Scriptures
and forever will bear the guilt for the death of Jesus."
On another occasion, he wrote: "Judaism, since Christ, is a corruption;
indeed, Judas is the image of the Jewish people: their understanding of
Scripture is carnal; they bear the guilt for the death of the Savior, for
through their fathers they have killed Christ." 1
||The 17th Church Council of Toledo, Spain
in 694 CE defined Jews as
the serfs of the prince. This was based, in part, on the beliefs by Chrysostom, Origen,
Jerome, and other church fathers that God punished the Jews with perpetual slavery because
of their collective responsibility for the death of Jesus. 3
||11th to 13th centuries:
||The First Crusade was launched
in 1096 CE. Although
the prime goal of the crusades was to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim control, Jews were a
secondary target of opportunity. As the soldiers passed through Europe on the way to the Holy Land, large
numbers of Jews were challenged with the order: "Christ-killers, embrace the Cross or die!"
12,000 Jews in the Rhine Valley alone were killed in the first Crusade. This behavior
continued for eight additional crusades until the 9th Crusade in 1272.
Hundreds of thousands of defenseless Jews died in the attacks.
||Pope Innocent III wrote to the archbishops of Sens and Paris in
1200 CE that
"the Jews, by their own guilt, are consigned to perpetual servitude because they
crucified the Lord...As slaves rejected by God, in whose death they wickedly conspire,
they shall by the effect of this very action, recognize themselves as the slaves of those
whom Christ's death set free..."
In an epistle to the Count of Nevers, he wrote: "....the Jews, against
whom the blood of Christ calls out, although they ought not to be killed,
nevertheless, as wanderers they must remain upon the earth until their
faces are filled with shame and they seek the name of the Lord Jesus
In an epistle to the Hierarchy of France, he wrote: "Crucifiers of
Christ ought to be held in continual subjection."
||Blessed Juliana of Norwich (1342 - 1423), "I knew in my
faith that the Jews were accursed and condemned without end, except those
who were converted [to Christianity]."
||Pope Innocent IV (1432 - 1492): "...strictly
forbidding that Jews henceforth have Christian nurses or servants, that
the sons of a free woman may not serve the sons of a bondswoman, but as
slaves condemned by the Lord, whose death they wickedly plotted, they at
least outwardly recognize themselves as slaves of those whom the death of
Christ made free and themselves slaves."
St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori (1696 - 1787): "Poor Jews! You
invoked a dreadful curse upon your own heads in saying: 'His blood be on
us and our children'; and that curse, miserable race, you carry upon you
to this day, and to the end of time you shall endure the chastisement of
that innocent blood." Liguori was referring to Matthew 27:21-25
which describes an alleged interchange between Pilate, the Roman
Procurator of Palestine and Phoenicia, and a Jewish mob. These
verses are probably responsible for more loss of Jewish life than
any other passage in the Bible:
Matthew 27:21-25: "The governor
answered and said unto them, Whether of the twain will ye that I
release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, What
shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto
him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil
hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be
crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that
rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before
the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just
person: see ye to it. Then answered all the people, and said, His
blood be on us, and on our children." King James Version.
1955: Josef Blinzler, "The trial of Jesus:"
Blinzler, "...a noted Roman Catholic scholar who teaches New Testament
studies at the diocesan seminary of Passau in Bavaria,"
"Anyone who undertakes to assess the trial of Jesus as a historical
and legal event, reconstructing it from the gospel narratives of the
passion, must come to the same conclusion that the early Christian preachers
did, namely, that the main responsibility rests on the Jewish side... His
enemies were not concerned for the law, or even for a false concept of the
law, but were aiming at the destruction of Jesus at any price... It was a
judicial murder." 5
1965: Nostra Aetate declaration:
On 1965-OCT-28, at the Second Vatican Council, the
Vatican issued "Nostra Aetate," ("In our time") a "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to non-Christian
The original plan was to discuss the
relationship between Judaism and the Roman Catholic Church in "De
Oecumenismo," the "Dogmatic Constitution on Ecumenism."
This would have been a remarkable development, because it would have accepted the
concept that Jews and Christians together constitute one people of God.
However, opposition arose from Asian and African bishops. An alternative
approach was then selected. The topic was transferred to a separate declaration,
"Nostra Aetate," which describes the Church's relationships to all
non-Christian religions. Judaism was treated as only one among many
The document contained two new and
revolutionary teachings in which the Church reversed its historical
||In the past, the church had always believed that "extra ecclesiam
nulla salus" ("There is no salvation outside the Church").
Nostra Aetate stated that some non-Christians could be saved within
their own faith, and thus avoid being sent to Hell when they died. Devout and
conscientious Jews, Hindus, Muslims, etc. had a chance to attain heaven.
||In the past, the church had always held that all Jews from the 1st
century to the 20th shared responsibility for Jesus death. Nostra
Aetate stated that this is no longer a belief of the Church.
Some important passages of Nostra
||"The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in [non-Christian
religions]." This implies that other religions are not totally in error,
from the Catholic perspective. They contain elements of truth.
||"[The Church] also recalls that the Apostles, the Church's main-stay and
pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ's Gospel to the
world, sprang from the Jewish people." Curiously, they did not
describe Jesus, Mary and Joseph as Jewish.
||"Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great,
this Sacred Synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect
which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as fraternal
||"The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination
against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or
religion." Notably missing from this list is sex and
orientation. The Church actively teaches and promotes certain types of
discrimination against women (in ordination for example) and against
persons with homosexual orientation.
Concerning Judaism and Jews:
||The Declaration notes that, according to the Gospels, some Jews in Palestine advocated
the execution of Jesus. It says: "...the Jewish authorities and those
who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ (cf John
||The Declaration was written in Latin and has been translated
into many languages. One English translation, found on the American
University (AU) Listserv, had a curious wording in one passage that
discusses the persons responsible for Jesus' execution. Their
"...neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor all Jews today,
can be charged with the crimes committed during his passion." This
translation has a number of ramifications:|
||It implies that some Jews during the 1st century
CE can be held responsible for the crime. This follows naturally
if the Gospels are believed to be accurate recordings of historical
events. According to author William Nicholls, Vatican II did
not "confront the historical evidence that makes it most likely
that even the Jewish authorities did not 'press for the death of
Christ'." -- that is, that the Gospel record of Jesus' trials
may well be unrelated to historical events.
||It states that all Jews who were alive at the time of Jesus'
execution cannot be held responsible for his death. That makes
sense, because it is probable that only a small minority of the Jews
who were alive circa 30 CE were aware of the
events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion. Jews in Spain, Rome,
Cyprus, Alexandria, etc. would probably never have heard of Jesus at
||By stating that "all Jews today" cannot be held responsible
for Jesus' death, it appears to imply that some Jews today can be
legitimately charged with killing Jesus. This raises the question of
exactly which present-day Jews are guilty of Jesus' murder.
||By the same reasoning, presumably some Jews between the 1st century and now are also
The Vatican website publishes a different English translation. It
states: "...what happened in His passion cannot be charged against
all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of
today." 8 This
subtle shift in the wording has a profound effect on its meaning:
||As in the case of the AU translation, it implies that some, but
not all, of the Jews in the 1st century
CE can be held responsible for the crime.
||It implies that none of "the Jews of today" can be held
responsible for Jesus' death in the 1st century.
We hope that the Vatican translation is a more correct rendering of
the original Latin.
Continuing with the AU translation:
||"Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this
followed from the Holy Scriptures."
||"...the Church...decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism,
directed against Jews at any time and by anyone." Draft versions of
the Document had used the word "condemns" in place of "decries."
The softer term appears to have been chosen as a result of pressure from
Arab bishops and "from diplomatic representatives made to the Vatican
by Arab envoys." 7
Draft versions of the Document had specifically stated that the term "deicide"
cannot legitimately be used in reference to Jews. This passage was removed.
According to Nicholls:
"The Arab lobbyists had argued that to ban the word deicide would
tend to legitimate the Zionist state, with adverse political consequences
for the Catholic church in the Middle East; the bishops from the area had
suggested that there might be fears for the safety of Arab Christians if
this happened." 7
Nicholls commented that the Document did not mention the need for
repentance for past oppression and mass murders of
Jews by the Church. It does not ask Jews for forgiveness.
Nicholls writes that this is a glaring error because other Vatican II documents:
forgiveness for the Church from Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and
Muslims. This is perhaps the greatest weakness of the statement. Perhaps
it would not have passed the council if it had [been included]." 7
The Vatican apologizes:
Partial apologies did
over three decades later:
||The Vatican issued a
document "We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah" on 1998-MAR-16.
9 It recognized the
relative inactivity and silence of many Roman Catholics during the Nazi
||On 2000-MAR-1, in Paris,
representatives of the Roman Catholic Church held a press conference
which, according to Reuters, "outlined a framework for seeking
forgiveness for past errors without necessarily admitting responsibility
for them." 10 The
French translation of a new church document: "Memory and
Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past" was released
at that time. More details.
||During the Day of
Pardon mass on Sunday, 2000-MAR-12, Pope John Paul II delivered a
homily in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. He included an apology for wrong
done to "women, Jews,
[Roma], other Christians and Catholics." Referring to the
church's relationship to Jews, the pope said:
"We are deeply saddened
by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these
children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness, we wish to
commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood." He explained that "The
reference to errors and sins in a liturgy must be frank and capable of
specifying guilt; yet given the number of sins committed in the course
of 20 centuries, it must be necessarily be rather summary. [sic]"
In these apologies, blame was placed on individual Roman Catholics --
not on the Church. This is in accordance with Catholic belief that the
Church has always remained free of error.
In the Declaration, the Pope referred to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism by name.
He made no specific reference to the Church valuing other religions
of the world, including North American spirituality,
Animist religions, various Neopagan religions, other Aboriginal religions, etc. However,
it could be argued that the
general intent of the Declaration appears to include them.
Additional material can be
seen at Reference 12.
1974: Hans Kűng. "On Being a Christian:"
Hans Kung comes from the liberal wing of Roman Catholicism. In 1979, after a
dispute over the infallibility of the pope, he was denied the right to teach as
a Catholic theologian. He teaches at the University of Tubingen and remains one
of the most prominent and outspoken theologians. He wrote:
"What all the (gospel) evangelists make absolutely clear is that Jesus
was innocently condemned...It is clearly established as an indisputable fact
that Jesus was handed over by the Jewish authorities to the Roman governor,
Pontius Pilate... He (Jesus) was murdered." 13
1994: Raymond Brown, "The Death of the Messiah:"
Brown's two volume set on the death of Jesus commented on the guilt of some
1st century Jews for the death of Jesus:
"When the Jewish, Christian and pagan evidence is assembled, the
involvement of Jews in the death of Jesus approaches certainty... Given the
conclusion just reached, the issues of responsibility and guilt are
inevitable. Reading the Gospels will convince most that at least, although
troublesome, Jesus was a sincere religious figure who taught truth and
helped many, and that therefore crucifying him was a great injustice... No
matter what [salvationist] good came out of the death of Jesus, some human
beings put him to death and the issue of their responsibility and/or guilt
remains... Accordingly I think it is required of me to discuss the ways,
some of them strongly anti-Jewish, in which the Gospels have discussed the
Jewish role in the death of Jesus..." 14
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
"Pharsea," "The Supposed Perfidy of the Jews," Faithful to the
Truth, at: http://www.geocities.com/
- St. John Chrysostom, "Eight
Homilies Against the Jews," Medieval Sourcebook, at:
Max Solbrekken, "The Jews & Jesus: Mistreatment of Jews: Christian
shame," at: http://www.mswm.org/jews.htm
Book review of Josef Blinzler, "The Trial Of Jesus," Theology
Josef Blinzler, "The Trial Of Jesus; The Jewish and Roman
Proceedings against Jesus Christ," The Newman Press, (1959), Pages 290
Pope Paul VI, "Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian
Religions (Nostra Aetate)," 1965-OCT-28. Available at: http://listserv.american.edu/
William Nicholls, "Christian Antisemitism: A history of hate,"
Jason Aronson Inc., (1995), Pages 363 & 364.
- Pope Paul VI, "Declaration
on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate),"
1965-OCT-28. Available at:
- "The Catholic Church and
the Holocaust," First Things magazine, 1998-MAY, at:
- Crispian Balmer, "Catholic
Church establishes forgiveness framework," Reuters, 2000-MAR-1. See:
- V.L. Simpson, "Pope plans
historic apology for sins of Catholic Church," Associated Press,
"Theology Library: Non-Christian Religions," at:
Hans Kűng, "On Being a Christian," Pages 332 & 336
Raymond Brown, "The Death of the Messiah," Pages 382 & 386.
Copyright 1998 to 2007 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-JUN-23
Last update: 2007-MAY-20
Author: B.A. Robinson