Nostra Aetate

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Nostra Aetate (Latin: In our Time) is the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council. Passed by a vote of 2,221 to 88 of the assembled bishops, this declaration was promulgated on October 28, 1965, by Pope Paul VI.[1]

The first draft, entitled "Decretum de Judaeis" ("Decree on the Jews"), was completed in November 1961, approximately fourteen months after Cardinal Bea was commissioned by Pope John XXIII. This draft essentially went nowhere, never having been submitted to the Council, which opened on 11 October 1962.

Summary of the final text of Nostra Aetate[edit]

  1. Introduction
  2. Hindus, Buddhists, and other religions
  3. Muslims
  4. Jews
  5. Conclusion

The Declaration begins by describing the unity of the origin of all people, and the fact that they all return to God; hence their final goal is also one. It describes the eternal questions which have dogged men since the beginning, and how the various religious traditions have tried to answer them.

It mentions some of the answers that some Hindus, Buddhists, and members of other faiths have suggested for such philosophical questions. It notes the willingness of the Catholic Church to accept some truths present in other religions in so much as they reflect Catholic teaching and may lead souls to the Christ.

Part three goes on to say that the Catholic Church regards the Muslims with esteem, and then continues by describing some of the things Islam has in common with Christianity and Catholicism: worship of One God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, Merciful and Omnipotent, Who has spoken to men; the Muslims' respect for Abraham and Mary, and the great respect they have for Jesus, whom they consider to be a Prophet and not God. The synod urged all Catholics and Muslims to forget the hostilities and differences of the past and to work together for mutual understanding and benefit.

Part four speaks of the bond that ties the people of the 'New Covenant' (Christians) to Abraham's stock (Jews). It states that even though some Jewish authorities and those who followed them called for Jesus' death, the blame for this cannot be laid at the door of all those Jews present at that time, nor can the Jews in our time be held as guilty, thus repudiating an indiscriminate charge of Jewish deicide; 'the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God'. The Declaration also decries all displays of antisemitism made at any time by anyone.

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. The Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

The fifth part states that all men are created in God's image, and that it is contrary to the teaching of the Church to discriminate against, show hatred towards or harass any person or people on the basis of colour, race, religion, condition of life and so on.

Post-Conciliar developments[edit]

Nostra Aetate was one of Vatican II's three declarations, the other documents consisting of nine decrees and four constitutions. It was the shortest of the documents and contained few, if any, references to the debates and the rationale that had gone into its making; therefore, the changes to be brought about by the declaration on the Church's Relations with non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, carried implications not fully appreciated at the time.

The 1974 "Guidelines"[edit]

To flesh out these implications and ramifications, the Vatican's Commission on Interrelegious Relations with the Jews issued its Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate in late 1974.

The 1985 "Notes"[edit]

This was followed by that same body's Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in the Teaching and Catechesis of the Roman Catholic Church in 1985. These developments were paralleled by accompanying statements from the U.S. bishops.

Nostra Aetate 40 years on[edit]

The above-referenced statements by the Vatican's Commission for Interreligious Relations with the Jews, as well as other developments, including the establishment of more than two dozen centers for Christian-Jewish understanding at Catholic institutions of higher learning in the United States along with the participation by rabbis in seminarian formation training, demonstrate how the church has embraced Nostra Aetate.

The significance of Nostra Aetate as a new starting point in the Church's relations with Judaism, in light of the foregoing, can be appreciated from the vantage point of the passage of forty years. The U.S. Congress passed a resolution acknowledging Nostra Aetate at forty,[2] and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. also noted this anniversary. This is in addition to the marking of the occasion at the Vatican's Gregorian University itself and at major centers of Christian-Jewish understanding around the United States.

Notes and references[edit]

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