The Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews (CRRJ) and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), the official partner representing world Jewry, this week exchanged messages to mark the 55th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council.
Pope John 23rd had originally conceived Nostra Aetate 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 was gained from Jewish organizations.
That milestone document was issued on October 28, 1965, with Chapter 4 in it specifically addressing Judaism, inaugurating a new and constructive era in Jewish–Catholic relations.
Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of CRRJ, and Rabbi Noam Marans, Chair of IJCIC, issued statements affirming the reconciliatory themes of Nostra Aetate and praising the progress achieved during the past 55 years.
Cardinal Koch’s message states, “It is without doubt that ‘Nostra aetate’ (Ch.4) laid the foundation for relations between Catholics and Jews and can therefore rightly be considered to be the ‘Magna Carta’ of Catholic-Jewish relations.”
Rabbi Marans’s message notes that Nostra Aetate (Ch.4) “has been dramatically amplified by papal visits to synagogues, to the horrific yet sacred sites of the crimes of the Holocaust, and to the State of Israel following the establishment of Vatican-Israel diplomatic relations in 1993.”
The first draft, entitled Decretum de Iudaeis (Decree on the Jews), was completed in November 1961, two years before Pope John 23rd died.
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).