Nostra aetate

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Second Vatican Ecumenical Council
Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum Secundum  (Latin)
Petersdom von Engelsburg gesehen.jpg
Saint Peter's Basilica
Venue of the Second Vatican Council
Date 11 October 1962 (11 October 1962) – 8 December 1965 (8 December 1965)
Accepted by Catholic Church
Previous council
First Vatican Council
Convoked by Pope John XXIII
President
Attendance up to 2,625[1]
Topics The Church in itself, its sole salvific role as the one, true and complete Christian faith, also in relation to ecumenism among other religions, in relation to the modern world, renewal of consecrated life, liturgical disciplines, etc.
Documents and statements

Four Constitutions:

Three Declarations:

Nine Decrees:

Chronological list of ecumenical councils

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 28 October 1965, by Pope Paul VI.[2] Pope John XXIII had originally conceived it as an expression of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jews. Over the course of several substantial revisions, the focus of the document was broadened to address relationships with several faiths. Opposition from conservative elements in the Church was overcome and support gained from Jewish organisations.[3]

Evolution of the text[edit]

Cardinal Augustin Bea, credited with drafting Nostra aetate and guiding it in numerous meetings through various obstacles during the Second Vatican Council. Bea was the first President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

Decretum de Iudaeis[edit]

The first draft, entitled Decretum de Iudaeis ("Decree on the Jews"), was completed in November 1961, approximately fourteen months after Pope John XXIII tasked Cardinal Augustin Bea, a Jesuit and biblical scholar, with its composition. This text was not submitted to the Council, which opened on 11 October 1962. It read:

The Church, the Bride of Christ, acknowledges with a heart full of gratitude that, according to God's mysterious saving design, the beginnings of her faith and election go as far back as to the Israel of the Patriarchs and Prophets. Thus she acknowledges that all Christian believers, children of Abraham by faith (see Gal 3:7), are included in his call. Similarly, her salvation is prefigured in the deliverance of the Chosen People out of Egypt, as in a sacramental sign (Liturgy of the Easter Vigil). And the Church, a new creation in Christ (see Eph 2:15), can never forget that she is the spiritual continuation of the people with whom, in His mercy and gracious condescension, God made the Old Covenant.

The Church, in fact, believes that Christ, who "is our peace," embraces Jews and Gentiles with one and the same love and that He made the two one (see Eph 2:14). She rejoices that the union of these two "in one body" (Eph 2:16) proclaims the whole world's reconciliation in Christ. Even though the greater part of the Jewish people has remained separated from Christ, it would be an injustice to call this people accursed, since they are greatly beloved for the sake of the Fathers and the promises made to them (see Rom 11:28). The Church loves this people. From them sprang Christ the Lord, who reigns in glory in heaven; from them sprang the Virgin Mary, mother of all Christians; from them came the Apostles, the pillars and bulwark of the Church (1 Tim 3:15).

Furthermore, the Church believes in the union of the Jewish people with herself as an integral part of Christian hope. With unshaken faith and deep longing the Church awaits union with this people. At the time of Christ's coming, "a remnant chosen by grace" (Rom 11:5), the very first fruits of the Church, accepted the Eternal Word. The Church believes, however, with the Apostle that at the appointed time, the fullness of the children of Abraham according to the flesh will embrace him who is salvation (see Rom 11:12, 26). Their acceptance will be life from the dead (see Rom 11:15).

As the Church, like a mother, condemns most severely injustices committed against innocent people everywhere, so she raises her voice in loud protest against all wrongs done to Jews, whether in the past or in our time. Whoever despises or persecutes this people does injury to the Catholic Church.

Second draft[edit]

The first draft was then reworked as a supplementary fourth chapter of a "Decree on Ecumenism". Debate on this document, "On the Attitude of Catholics Toward Non-Christians and Especially Toward Jews", although distributed to the Council's Second Session on 8 November 1963, was postponed until the Third Session. This draft was notable for addressing the "deicide" charge against the Jews directly, saying "it is wrong to call them an accursed people, ... or a deicidal people". The text read:

Now that we have dealt with the principles of Catholic ecumenism, we do not wish to pass over in silence the fact that the same principles should be applied, taking differences in condition duly into account, in the matter of speaking and cooperation with people who are not Christians, who, nevertheless, worship God, or at least in a spirit of good will conscientiously endeavor to observe the moral law innate in human nature.

This applies especially in the case of the Jews, who as a people are connected with the Church of Christ in a special relationship.

The Church of Christ acknowledges with a grateful heart that the beginnings of the faith and of its election, along with the saving mystery of God, can already be found among the Patriarchs and Prophets. For all the believers in Christ, the sons of Abraham according to the faith (cf. Gal. 3:7), are included in the vocation of that same Patriarch and that the salvation of the Church is mystically prefigured in the exodus of the Chosen People from the land of bondage. The Church, a new creature in Christ (cf. Eph. 2:15), cannot forget that it is a continuation of that people with whom of old God, out of his ineffable mercy, was pleased to make his Old Covenant.

In addition the Church believes that Christ, our Peace, embraced both Jews and Gentiles in a single love and made them one (cf. Eph. 2:14) and by the union of both is one body (cf. Eph. 2:17) announced the reconciliation of the entire world in Christ. Although a large part of the Chosen People is still far from Christ, yet it is wrong to call them an accursed people, since they remain very dear to God because of the Fathers and the gifts given them (cf. Rom.11:28), or [to call them] a deicidal people, since the Lord, by his passion and death, washes away the sins of all men, which were the cause of the passion and death of Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17; 1 Cor. 2:8) The death of Christ is not to be attributed to an entire people then alive, and even less to a people today. Therefore, let priests be careful not to say anything, in catechetical instruction or in preaching, that might give rise to hatred or contempt of the Jews in the hearts of their hearers. Nor does the Church forget that Christ Jesus was born of that people according to the flesh, that the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ, was thus born, that thus were born the Apostles, the foundation and pillars of the Church.

Therefore, since the Church has so much of a common patrimony with the Synagogue, this Holy Synod intends in every way to promote and further mutual knowledge and esteem obtained by theological studies and fraternal discussions; and, moreover, as it severely reproves injuries to people anywhere, even more so does it, with maternal heart, deplore and condemn hatred and persecution of Jews, whether committed of old or in our own times.

The third draft[edit]

The third draft, "On the Jews and Non-Christians", took the form of an appendix to the "Schema on Ecumenism". It deleted the word "deicidal" and added material on other religions, especially Muslims. In presenting the document to the Council on 28 September 1964, Cardinal Bea encouraged the Council Fathers to strengthen it. They discussed this draft on 28 and 29 September.

(On the inheritance common to Christians and Jews.)

The Church of Christ gladly acknowledges that the beginnings of its faith and election, in accordance with God's mystery of salvation, are to be found already among the Patriarchs and Prophets. Indeed, all Christians believe that, as sons of Abraham by faith (cf. Gal 3 7) they are included in this Patriarch's vocation and that the salvation of the Church is mystically prefigured in the exodus of the chosen people from the land of bondage. Nor can the Church as a new creation in Christ (cf. Eph. 2, 15) and as the people of the New Covenant ever forget that it is a continuation of that people with whom God in his ineffable mercy once designed to enter into the Old Covenant and to whom he chose to entrust the revelation contained in the Books of the Old Testament.

Moreover, the Church does not forget that from this Jewish people were born Christ, the Virgin Mary, as well as the apostles, the foundation and the pillars of the Church.

Further, the Church was always mindful and will never overlook Apostle Paul's words relating to the Jews, to whom belong "the adoption as sons and the glory, and the covenants and the giving of the law, and the worship, and the promises" (Rom. 9, 4).

Since such is the inheritance accepted by Christians from the Jews, this Holy Council is resolved expressly to further and to recommend mutual understanding and appreciation, to be obtained by theological study and fraternal discussion and, beyond that, just as it severely disapproves of any wrong inflicted upon human beings everywhere, it also deplores and condemns hatred and maltreatment of Jews.

It is also worth remembering that the union of the Jewish people with the Church is a part of the Christian hope. Accordingly, and following the teaching of Apostle Paul (cf. Rom. 11, 25), the Church expects in unshakable faith and with ardent desire the entrance of that people into the fullness of the people of God established by Christ.

Everyone should be careful, therefore, not to present the Jewish people as a rejected nation, whether it in catechetical instruction, in preaching of God's Word or in daily conversation. Neither should anything be said or done that could alienate human minds from the Jews. Equally, all should be on their guard not to impute to the Jews of our time that which was perpetrated in the Passion of Christ.

(All people have God as Father.)
The Lord Jesus has clearly confirmed that God is the Father of all humanity, as this was already stated in the Writings of the Old Testament and is suggested by reason itself. But we surely cannot appeal or pray to God as the Father of all, if we deny brotherly behavior to some people who are all created in the image of God. The attitude of humanity toward God as Father and the attitude of individuals to their brothers and sisters are so closely connected that any negation of human brotherhood carries with it or leads to the negation of God himself for whom there can be no favoritism (cf. 2 Par. 18, 7; Rom. 2, 11; Eph. 6, 9; Col. 3, 25; 1 Pet. 1, 17). The First Commandment is in fact so interwoven with the second that we cannot be forgiven our offenses unless we ourselves wholeheartedly forgive those who have offended us. Indeed, it was said already in the Old Law: "Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why do each of us deal treacherously with his brother?" (Mal. 2, 10); the same is even more clearly reaffirmed in the New Law: "He that does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this is the commandment we have from God, that he who loves God loves his brother also." (1 Jn. 4, 20-21.)

Impelled by such love for our brothers, let us consider with great diligence views and doctrines which, though in many points are different from ours, in so many others, however, carry the ray of that truth which gives light to every person born into this world. Thus we embrace also, and first of all, the Moslems who worship one personal and recompensing God and who in religious feeling as well as through many channels of human culture come near to us.

(Any kind of discrimination is to be condemned.)
In consequence, any theory or practice which leads to discrimination among individuals or between nation and nation, insofar as human dignity and the rights flowing therefrom are concerned, is devoid of foundation.

It is imperative, therefore, that all people of good will and Christians in particular abstain from any discrimination or abuse of human beings on grounds of their race, color, social status or religion. On the contrary, this Holy Council solemnly entreats believing Christians "to maintain friendly relations among the gentiles" (1 Pet. 2, 12) and if possible and insofar as it depends on them, to maintain peace with all people (cf. Rom. 12, 18); it enjoins them, moreover, to love not only the neighbor, but even the enemies, should they think they have any, so that they should be in truth the sons of the Father who is in heaven and who makes his sun rise over all (cf. Mt. 5, 44-45).

Discussion of the third draft[edit]

The publicly recorded debate on the third draft took place on 28 September 1964 and on the following days. Since the Vatican Council archives are still "substantially inaccessible", it is difficult to measure the impact of the public and the behind-the-scenes initiatives.[4] Participants included Cardinals Joseph Ritter of St. Louis, Richard Cushing of Boston, Albert Meyer of Chicago, and Lawrence Shehan of Baltimore, Lercaro of Bologne, Liénart of Lille, König of Vienna, and Léger of Montreal, and Franjo Šeper of Zagreb, as well as a number of lesser prelates.[5]

Cardinal Cushing[edit]

The language suggested by Cardinal Cushing of Boston was echoed in the final version the Council approved:

1. We must cast the Declaration on the Jews in a much more positive form, one not so timid, but much more loving. ... For the sake of our common heritage we, the children of Abraham according to the spirit, must foster a special reverence and love for the children of Abraham according to the flesh. As children of Adam, they are our kin, as children of Abraham they are Christ's blood relatives. 2. So far as the guilt of Jews in the death of our Saviour is concerned, the rejection of the Messiah by His own, is according to Scripture, a mystery—a mystery given us for our instruction, not for our self-exaltation. ... We cannot sit in judgement on the onetime leaders of Israel—God alone is their judge. Much less can we burden later generations of Jews with any burden of guilt for the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, for the death of the Saviour of the world, except that universal guilt in which we all have a part. ... In clear and unmistakable language, we must deny, therefore, that the Jews are guilty of our Saviour's death. We must condemn especially those who seek to justify, as Christian deeds, discrimination, hatred and even persecution of Jews. ... 3. I ask myself, Venerable Brothers, whether we should not humbly acknowledge before the whole world that, toward their Jewish brethren, Christians have all too often not shown themselves as true Christians, as faithful followers of Christ. How many [Jews] have suffered in our own time? How many died because Christians were indifferent and kept silent? ... If in recent years, not many Christian voices were raised against those injustices, at least let ours now be heard in humility.[6]

Archbishop Heenan[edit]

John Carmel Heenan of Westminster said:

In this century, the Jews have endured grievous, indeed, inhuman sufferings. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who on the cross forgave [His Actual] persecutors, I humbly ask that our Declaration publicly acknowledge that the Jewish people, as such, is not guilty of the Lord's death. It would doubtless be unjust were one to blame all the Christians of Europe for the murder of six million Jews in Germany and Poland in our own day. In the same way, I maintain that it is unjust to condemn the whole Jewish people for the death of Christ.[7]

Bishop Leven[edit]

Auxiliary Bishop of San Antonio Stephen Leven objected to text's failure to address the charge of deicide, which some thought "unworthy of a Conciliar document". He said: "we have to deal here with not with a philosophical entity, but with an infamous abuse that was invented by Christians for the sole purpose of bringing shame and disgrace upon Jews. For hundreds of years, and even in our own century, Christians have flung the word 'deicide' into the faces of Jews in order to justify all kinds of excesses, even murder. ... We must remove this word from the vocabulary of Christians, so that it can never again be turned against the Jews."[8]

Cardinal Meyer[edit]

Cardinal Meyer said: "Following the teaching of Scripture, St. Thomas makes two points: [1] No single individual Jew of Christ's time was subjectively guilty of deicide, since all acted in ignorance of Christ's divinity. This must be said explicitly in our text. [2] The bulk of Jews should be acquitted of any formal guilt because they followed their leaders out of ignorance. As proof of this St. Thomas refers to St. Peter: 'I know that you acted in ignorance' (Ac 3:17). Finally it must be also said where the real guilt of the torment of Christ lies: 'He died for us and for our salvation'."[9]

Archbishop O'Boyle[edit]

Archbishop Patrick O'Boyle of Washington said: "The word 'conversion' awakens in the hearts of Jews memories of persecutions, sufferings, and the forced denials of all truths that a Jew loves with sincerity and good faith. So a Jew, when he hears that Catholics are seeking to further his 'conversion', thinks of the reintroduction of that type of proselytism that for centuries assaulted his rights and personal dignity. ... It would be better if we were to express our hope for the turning of the Jews [to Christ] in such a way that they, too, can perceive with respect its honesty and our humble recognition that the mystery of salvation does not depend on us, but upon God's transcendent act." He offered the following text: "Furthermore, it is worthy of remembrance that the union of the Jewish and Christian people is part of Christian Hope. With Unshaken faith and deep longing the Church awaits that union which God will bring about in His own time and in a way still hidden in His wisdom."[10]

Cardinal Ritter[edit]

Cardinal Joseph Ritter of St. Louis suggested the following text:

For this reason, all must take care that they in no way present the Jewish people as rejected or deicidal, or throw blame for all the crimes committed during the Passion of Christ upon the whole people then living and, a fortiori, upon the Jews of our own time. All these [evil deeds] are really the responsibility of all sinful people and especially of Christians who have fallen into sin. The Catechism of the Council of Trent recalls this truth in all bluntness: the guilt of the Crucifixion rests above all upon those who repeatedly relapse into sin. For as our sins brought Christ the Lord to death upon the Cross, so those who wallow in sin and vice in fact crucify the Son of God anew insofar as depends on them and hold Him up to contempt (see Heb. 6:6).[11]

The fourth draft[edit]

The critical paragraphs read:

3. About the Muslims

The Church regards Muslims with esteem: they adore the one God, living and enduring, the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth who has spoken to people; they strive to obey wholeheartedly His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham did, to whose faith they happily link their own.

Though Muslims do not acknowledge the divinity of Jesus, they revere Him as a Prophet. They also honor Mary, His Virgin-Mother; at times they call on her with devotion. Furthermore, they await the day of judgment when God will reward all those who have risen.

Furthermore, as they worship God through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, so they seek to make the moral life—be it that of the individual or that of the family and society—conform to His Will.

In the course of centuries, however, not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims. Hence this Sacred Synod urges all not only to forget the past but also to work honestly for mutual understanding and to further as well as guard together social justice, all moral goods, especially peace and freedom, so that all of humanity may benefit from their endeavor.

4. About the Jews
As this Sacred Synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock.

With a grateful heart, the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God's saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election were already among the patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ—Abraham's sons according to faith—were included in the same patriarch's call, likewise that her salvation is mystically foreshadowed by the chosen people's exodus from the land of bondage.

The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament from the people with whom God in His ineffable mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she feeds upon the root of that cultivated olive tree into which the wild shoots of the Gentiles have been grafted (cf. Rom. 11, 17–24). Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ our Peace reconciled the Jews and Gentiles, making both one (cf. Eph. 2, 14, 16).

The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: "Theirs is the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and of them is the Christ according to the flesh," the Son of Mary the Virgin (Rom. 9, 4–5). No less does she recall that the Apostles, the Church's foundation stones and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ's Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people.

Even though a large part of the Jews did not accept the Gospel, they remain most dear to God, according to the Apostle, for the sake of the patriarchs, since Gods gifts and call are irrevocable (cf. Rom. 11, 28 f.). In company with the prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and "serve Him shoulder to shoulder" (Soph. 3, 9; cf. Is. 66, 3, 9; cf. Is. 66, 23; Ps. 65, 4; Rom. 11, 11–32).

Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is of such magnitude, this Sacred Synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual knowledge and respect that are, above all, the fruit of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues. Moreover, this Synod, in her rejection of injustices of whatever kind and wherever inflicted upon people, and recalling our common patrimony, deplores and condemns hatred and persecutions of Jews, whether they arose in former or in our own days.

May all, then, see to it that in their catechetical work or in their preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that could give rise to hatred or contempt of Jews in the hearts of Christians. May they never present the Jewish people as one rejected, cursed, or guilty of deicide. All that happened to Christ in His passion cannot be attributed to the whole people then alive, much less to that of today. Besides, the Church has always held and holds now that Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of all people and out of infinite love. Therefore, Christian preaching is to proclaim the Cross of Christ as a sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.

Nostra aetate[edit]

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

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 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.

The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: "theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:4–5), the Son of the Virgin Mary. She 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.

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 mind of Christ to discriminate against, show hatred towards or harass any person or people on the basis of colour, race, religion, and condition of life.

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.

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.[12]

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.

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,[13] and the United States 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.

The Vatican's Commission for Religious Relations with Jews released a new document exploring the unresolved theological questions at the heart of Christian–Jewish dialogue. Entitled The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable, it marked the 50th anniversary of the ground-breaking declaration Nostra Aetate.[14]

See also[edit]

Drafters

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]