Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing
Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate
(December 1, 1974)
Issued by the Commission for Religious Relations
with the Jews.
The Declaration Nostra Aetate, issued by the Second Vatican Council on 28 October 1965, "on the relationship of the Church to nonChristian religions" (n. 4 ), marks an important milestone in the history of JewishChristian relations.
Moreover, the step taken by the Council finds its historical setting in circumstances deeply affected by the memory of the persecution and massacre of Jews which took place in Europe just before and during the Second World War.
Although Christianity sprang from Judaism, taking from it certain. essential elements of its faith and divine cult, the gap dividing them was deepened more and more, to such an extent that Christian and Jew hardly knew each other.
After two thousand years, too often marked by mutual ignorance and frequent confrontation, the Declaration Nostra Aetate provides an opportunity to open or to continue a dialogue with a view to better mutual understanding. Over the past nine years, many steps in this direction have been taken in various countries. As a result, it is easier to distinguish the conditions under which a new relationship between Jews and Christians may be worked out and developed. This seems the right moment to propose, following the guidelines of the Council, some concrete suggestions born of experience, hoping that they will help to bring into actual existence in the life of the Church the intentions expressed in the conciliar document.
While referring the reader back to this document, we may simply restate here that the spiritual bonds and historical links binding the Churchto Judaism condemn (as opposed to. the very spirit of Christianity) all forms of antiSemitism and discrimination, which in any case the dignity of the human person alone would suffice to condemn. Further still these links and relationships render obligatory a better mutual understanding and renewed mutual esteem. On the practical level in particular, Christians trust therefore strive to acquire a better knowledge of the basic components of the religious tradition of Judaism; they must strive to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience.
With due respect for such matters of principle, we simply propose some first practical applications in different essential areas of the Church's life, with a view to launching or developing sound relations between Catholics and their Jewish brothers.
- Teaching & Education
- Joint Social Action
To tell the truth, such relations as there have been between Jew and Christian have scarcely ever risen above the level of monologue. From now on, real dialogue must be established.
Dialogue presupposes that each side wishes to know the other, and wishes to increase and deepen its knowledge of the other. It constitutes a particularly suitable means of favoring a better mutual knowledge and, especially in the case of dialogue between Jews and Christians, of probing the riches of one's own tradition. Dialogue demands respect for the other as he is; above all, respect for his faith and his religious convictions.
In virtue of her divine mission, and her very nature, the Church must preach Jesus Christ to the world (Ad Gentes 2). Lest the witness of Catholics to Jesus Christ should give offense to Jews, they must take care to live and spread their Christian faith while maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration Dignitatis Humanae). They will likewise strive to understand the difficulties which arise for the Jewish soul-rightly imbued with an extremely high, pure notion of the divine transcendence-when faced with the mystery of the incarnate Word.
While it is true that a widespread air of suspicion, inspired by an unfortunate past, is still dominant in this particular area, Christians, for their part, will be able to see to what extent the responsibility is theirs and deduce practical conclusions for the future.
In addition to friendly talks, competent people will be encouraged to meet and to study together the many problems deriving from the fundamental convictions of Judaism and of Christianity. In order not to hurt (even involuntarily) those taking part, it will be vital to guarantee, not only tact, but a great openness of spirit and diffidence with respect to one's own prejudices.
In whatever circumstances as shall prove possible and mutually acceptable, one might encourage a common meeting in the presence of God, in prayer and silent meditation, a highly efficacious way of finding that humility, that openness of heart and mind, necessary prerequisites for a deep knowledge of oneself and of others. In particular, that will be done in connection with great causes such as the struggle for peace and Justice.
The existing links between the Christian
liturgy and the Jewish liturgy will be borne
in mind. The idea of a living community in
the service of God, and in the service of
men for the love of God, such as it is realized
in the liturgy, is just as characteristic
of the Jewish liturgy as it is of the Christian
one. To improve JewishChristian relations,
it is important to take cognizance of those
common elements of the liturgical life (formulas,
feasts, rites, etc.) in which the Bible holds
an essential place.
An effort will be made to acquire a better
understanding of whatever in the Old Testament
retains its own perpetual value (cf. Dei
Verbum, 1415), since that has not
been canceled by the later interpretation
of the New Testament. Rather, the New Testament
brings out the full meaning of the Old, while
both Old and New illumine and explain each
other (cf. <ibid.>, 16). This is all
the more important since liturgical reform
is now bringing the text of the Old Testament
ever more frequently to the attention of Christians.
When commenting on biblical texts, emphasis
will be laid on the continuity of our faith
with that of the earlier Covenant, in the
perspective of the promises, without minimizing
those elements of Christianity which are original.
We believe that those promises were fulfilled
with the first coming of Christ. But it is
none the less true that we still await their
perfect fulfillment in his glorious return
at the end of time.
With respect to liturgical readings, care
will be taken to see that homilies based on
them will not distort their meaning, especially
when it is a question of passages which seem
to show the Jewish people as such in an unfavorable
light. Efforts will be made so to instruct
the Christian people that they will understand
the true interpretation of all the texts and
their meaning for the contemporary believer.
Commissions entrusted with the task of liturgical
translation will pay particular attention
to the way in which they express those phrases
and passages which Christians, if not well
informed, might .misunderstand because of
prejudice. Obviously, one cannot alter the
text of the Bible. The point is that, with
a version destined for liturgical use, there
should be an overriding preoccupation to
bring out explicitly the meaning of a text,
(1) while taking scriptural studies into account.
The preceding remarks also apply to introductions
to biblical readings, to the Prayer of the
Faithful, and to commentaries printed in missals
used by the laity.
Although there is still a great deal of
work to be done, a better understanding of
Judaism itself and its relationship to Christianity
has been achieved in recent years thanks to
the teaching of the Church, the study and
research of scholars, as also to the beginning
of dialogue. In this respect, the following
facts deserve to be recalled.
It is the same God, "inspirer and
author of the books of both Testaments,"
(Dei Verbum, 16), who speaks both
in the old and new Covenants.
Judaism in the time of Christ and the
Apostles was a complex reality, embracing
many different trends, many spiritual, religious,
social and cultural values.
The Old Testament and the Jewish tradition
founded upon it must not be see against
the New Testament in such a way that the
former seems to constitute a religion of
only justice, fear and legalism, with no
appeal to the love of God and neighbor (cf.
Deut. 6, 6, Lev. 19, 18, Matt 22, 3440).
Jesus was born of the Jewish people, as
were his Apostles and a large number of
his first disciples. When he revealed himself
as the Messiah and Son of God (cf. Matt
16, 16), the bearer of the new Gospel message,
he did so as the fulfillment and perfection
of the earlier Revelation. And, although
his teaching had a profoundly new character,
Christ, nevertheless, in many instances,
took his stand on the teaching of the Old
Testament. The New Testament is profoundly
marked by its relation to the Old. As the
Second Vatican Council declared: "God,
the inspirer and author of the books of
both Testaments, wisely arranged that the
New Testament be hidden in the Old and the
Old be made manifest in the New" (Dei
Verbum, 16). Jesus also used teaching
methods similar to those employed by the
rabbis of his time.
With regard to the trial and death Of
Jesus, the Council recalled that "what
happened in his passion cannot be blamed
upon all the Jews then living, without distinction,
nor upon the Jews of today" (Nostra
The history of Judaism did not end with
the destruction of Jerusalem, but rather
went on to develop a religious tradition.
And, although we believe that the importance
and meaning of that tradition were deeply
affected by the coming of Christ, it is
still nonetheless rich in religious values.
With the prophets and the apostle Paul,
"the Church awaits the day, known to
God alone, on which all peoples will address
the Lord in a single voice and serve him
with one accord" (Soph 3, 9)"
(Nostra Aetate, 4).
Information concerning these questions is
important at all levels of Christian instruction
and education. Among sources of information,
special attention should be paid to the following:
The effective use of these means presupposes
the thorough formation of instructors and
educators in training what best to do on the
pastoral level, research into the problems
bearing on Judaism and JewishChristian
relations will be encouraged among specialists,
particularly in the fields of exegesis, theology
history and sociology. Higher institutions
of Catholic research, in association if possible
with other similar Christian institutions
and experts, are invited to contribute to
the solution of such problems, Wherever possible,
chairs of Jewish studies will be created,
and collaboration with Jewish scholars encouraged.
Jewish and Christian tradition, founded
on the Word of God, is aware of the value
of the human person, the image of God. Love
of the same Cod must show itself in effective
action for the good of mankind. In the spirit
of the prophets, Jews and Christians will
work willingly together, seeking social justice
and peace at every level-local, nations and
At the same time, such collaboration can
do much to foster mutual understanding and
The Second Vatican Council has pointed out
the path to follow in promoting deep fellowship
between Jews and Christians. But there is
still a long road ahead.
The problem of JewishChristian relations
concerns the Church as such, since it is when
"pondering her own mystery" that
she encounters the mystery of Israel! Therefore,
even in areas where no Jewish communities
exist, this remains an important problem.
There is also an ecumenical aspect to the
question: the very return of Christians to
the sources and origins of their faith, grafted
on to the earlier Covenant, helps the search
for unity in Christ, the cornerstone.
In this field, the bishops will know what
best to do on the pastoral level within the
general disciplinary framework of the Church
and in line with the common teaching of her
magisterium. For example, they will create
some suitable commissions or secretariats
on a national or regional level, or appoint
some competent person to promote the implementation
of the conciliar directives and the suggestions
On 22 October 1974, the Holy Father instituted
for the universal Church this Commission for
Religious Relations with the Jews, joined
to the Secretariat for Promoting Christian
Unity. This special Commission, created to
encourage and foster religious relations between
Jews and Catholics-and to do so eventually
in collaboration with other Christians will
be, within the limits of its competence, at
the service of all interested organizations,
providing information for them, and helping
them to pursue their task in conformity with
the instructions of the Holy See.
The Commission wishes to develop this collaboration
in order to implement, correctly and effectively,
the express intentions of the Council.
Given at Rome, 1 December 1974.
JOHANNES Card. WILLEBRANDS
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