FOR the past week a 10-nation conference at Cambridge has been hammering out ways and means of bringing Christians and Jews closer together.
Representing Jews, Catholics and most other major Christian denominations, the conference has met on much less thorny ground than it would have done a year ago, when the Vatican 11 Declaration had not yet "absolved" the Jews from the guilt of Christ's death.
In fact it was last August at Geneva that a ChristianJewish dialogue ended with the depressing admission : they could not agree that Christians and Jews even believe in the same God.
But in the autumn the Vatican declaration was passed. Its final version was less openhearted to the Jews than many would have liked, but at least it cut the ground from beneath any Catholics who might still feel that anti-semitism was a good thing. For the Catholic Church has now condemned it outright.
Since then, representatives of both religions have been feeling their way more insistently towards mutual recognition. In this country a few months ago Cardinal Heenan called for a reeducation of Catholics away from the anti-Jewish prejudice that still lingers on among us. About the same time he set up a Centre for Jewish Studies in West London.
The Church of England and the Free Churches have on the whole been far outstripping us in this long-needed movement of charity and understanding towards the people from which the Church of Christ sprang.
But apart from the anti-Jewish superstitions that have been so long ingrained in Christians, there are religious and political difficulties which must be kept clearly in mind.
The chief religious stumbling block is that Christianity stands or falls by the belief that Christ is God. Over these 2,000 years, Jewish theology has not been developing in such a way as to accept this belief without denying that God is One.
Politically, there is a growing movement among devout Jews everywhere to concentrate their racial aspirations on the State of Israel. This closing of ranks is largely the fault of such atrocities as the Hitler regime. But it is a defence also against the snowball effect of persecution by Christians generally over the centuries.
The result of it all is that it is no longer enough to patronise the Jews with "forgiveness". They rightly retort that Christians must ask forgiveness before we can talk of giving it.
So the experts who make up the International Consultative Committee of Organisations for Christian-Jewish Co-operation have had their work cut out for them at their Cambridge meeting this week.
The conference will not bring about immediate reconciliation all round. But it has been a tremendous step in this direction, in an atmosphere of more genuine goodwill between Christians and Jews than they have ever enjoyed before.