Possibly among the most significant events in church history was witnessed in an English cathedral on Sunday May 8th.
The Church of England chose to mark the 800th anniversary of the notorious Synod of Oxford with a strongly Hebraic service of repentance for historic anti-Semitism. And it took place, appropriately, in the city’s Christ Church Cathedral, with many Jews present.
It was the 1222 synod that passed a raft of laws which paved the way for the eventual expulsion of Jews from England in 1290, the first such decree in Europe. Among the many humiliations imposed upon the Jewish community by the synod was the requirement – another first in Europe – to wear a badge of identity.
Also introduced were the infamous ‘blood libels’, accusing Jews of using Christian blood in their Passover sacrifices.
The Bishop of Lichfield, Rt Rev Dr Michael Ipgrave, rightly described it as a “painful and shameful” history, with the synod’s decision shaping the entire medieval church in Europe in contributing to the teaching of contempt for Jews.
As Christians, he said, they were there to remember and to repent, adding: “As Christians and Jews together, we are here to rebuild.”
In a very moving ceremony liberally infused with haunting music, along with choral renditions sung in Hebrew, the bishop made it clear that the God of Israel is the one “whom Christians also believe to be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Journalist Rebecca Abrams, who outlined the decisions of the historic synod, noted how “unimaginable” this service would have been in medieval England.
Leading the prayers, Rt Rev William Kenney pointed out how Jesus often quoted the Torah (the first five books of the Bible, foundational to Judaism) in his teaching, and acknowledged “with shame and penitence” the synod’s decrees.
Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain read a passage from Leviticus in Hebrew and said afterwards: “I think the Jews of 1222 would have been astonished to hear Hebrew ring out in this cathedral.”
Archdeacon of Oxford, Ven Jonathan Chaffey, spoke of the “profound significance” of a ceremony dealing with “penitence for all acts of anti-Semitism and religious persecution”.
I have it on good authority that this service, along with the God’s Unfailing Word report which also addressed this issue, had been strongly advocated in recent years by Love Never Fails, an umbrella organisation for a number of support groups like Christian Friends of Israel and the Church’s Ministry among the Jewish people.
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