The Christian Theologian of Zion

From the February 2014 Print Edition

Israel could not have hoped for as passionate an admirer as Fr. Marcel-Jacques Dubois, this most Israeli of traditionalist Catholic theologians, yet received at the same time almost as passionate a critic. His story and its theological legacy bring into sharp relief some of the permanent obstacles in Jewish–Christian relations.Born in 1920 into a traditional Catholic family in rural France, at the age of eighteen he asserted his independence of spirit by joining the Dominican Order. Together with fourteen of his Dominican brothers, during the war he helped conceal Jewish children within the walls of Catholic institutions. At the request of the order, he spent the last forty-five years of his life as a Christian thinker on the Jewish question and a senior Church envoy to the Jewish state.In 1962, Pope John XXIII pronounced to the Second Vatican Council that “the Church should never depart from the sacred treasure of truth inherited from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and the new forms of life introduced into the modern world.” It was in this spirit of mediating tradition with the challenges of the twentieth century that the forty-two-year-old Dubois, recognized as a gifted theologian and scholar of Thomas Aquinas, was tasked by his superiors with strengthening the Catholic presence in Israel.Having lived during the Holocaust, Dubois regarded the establishment of Israel as profoundly improbable and nearly sublime. Submitting himself almost as a pilgrim to the common experience of immigrants to Israel, he succeeded in mastering the Hebrew culture, and more gradually in cultivating a deep familiarity with Israeli academic and intellectual life. His first permanent Israeli home was the small but later influential West Jerusalem Dominican community, the House of Saint Isaiah. Continue Reading »