Thursday, October 28, 2010

Happy 45th Anniversary: Nostra Aetate

45 years ago today, 28 October 1965, five documents from the Second Vatican Council were formally promulgated by Pope Paul VI.  Arguably the most significant of the five was Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christians.  This was a groundbreaking document on many levels.  For one thing, the document proclaims that "the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy" in other religions.  It also deplores all forms of racism, prejudice and persecution.

The document was hotly debated, and it went through several drafts.  It began life as a rather straightforward statement on the church's relationship with the Jewish people.  It was later broadened to include ALL non-Christian religions, specifically remarking on Hinduism and Buddhism, with special attention paid to Islam and most especially, Judaism.

The document calls of dialogue and for respect of our shared foundations, and it's a message that's still needed today.  It's probably the shortest of all the Vatican II documents, and you can read it here.

Given the fact that World War II, and the Holocaust, had ended less than 20 years before, and the fact that most of Europe was still recovering from the effects of that devastation, the document grew of the bishops' desire that such things must not happen again, and the text ends:

"The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men and women, or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion.  On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to 'maintain good fellowship among the nations' (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all, so that they may truly be children of the Father who is in heaven."

Hard to believe it's been 45 years since this document made headlines.  We still have a long way to go!


  1. Open Question:
    What in 2010 is different to 1965? What challenges does relativism pose to this dialogue with non-christians ?
    How can this dialogue bear fruit at a time when many spiritual not religious see this very dialogue as a green light for their faith jumping and DIY spirituality?

  2. Hmmmmm:

    Some things to consider:

    --For many years now, there has been an ongoing Roman Catholic-Moslem dialogue taking place here in the United States. In fact, there are three such "conversations" going currently in the US (East/ Midwest/ West). The Midwest variant met last week in Milwaukee. According to one participant I know (a local RC Priest/pastor) it was a genuine success.

    --For over seven years now, the RC Diocese of Toledo has had a "Covenant" relationship with the Northwest Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. This covenant calls for congregations of both sides within that dialogue to work together in any way they can. In 2007, almost 60 people from BOTH groups took part in an ecumenical pilgrimage to European sites important to both Lutheran and Catholic traditions: Berlin, Erfurt, Wittenberg, Assisi and the Vatican.

    --For years, Jesuit-run John Carroll University in suburban Cleveland has had an open and very friendly relationship with the Jewish community which surrounds it. (At one time, someone told me that this neighborhood around JCU is 45% Roman Catholic; 45% Jewish; and 10% everything else.) I suspect, but do not know, that Jesuit run Xavier University in Cincinnati shares students and faculty with Hebrew Union College/ Jewish Institute of Religion because they are so close geographically.

    Collaboration and respect and articulation among major religious groups is far more common than you might suspect -- at least in the Midwest.

    Deacon Norb in Ohio