Saturday, October 25, 2008

Nostra Aetate

Augustin Cardinal Bea SJ

October is a month of many anniversaries and commemorations in the Catholic Church.

One of the most important is the commemoration of the document Nostra Aetate promulgated on 28th October 1965.

The main force behind the Declaration was Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ (May 28, 1881 -November 16, 1968) who amongst other things was the confessor to Pope Pius XII.

On October 14 and 15, 1965, the Fathers of the Roman Catholic Church, assembled in Rome at the fourth and final session of the Second Vatican Council, approved by an overwhelming majority (1,763 to 250) a declaration on "The Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions," with its long-awaited statement on the people of the Jewish faith.

On October 28, the document (after a final public vote of 2221 - 91) was promulgated by Pope Paul VI.

The document was entitled Nostra Aetate

On the anniversary of the Declaration, Cardinal Walter Kasper gave a talk on the importance of the document: the website version is here

He explained why the document is still of importance and why its teaching must still be taught:

"Let me begin not with a personal confession: When I was asked to say some words about the anniversary of the Conciliar Declaration Nostra aetate my first instinct was anger. I asked: What can anyone say that is new, what has not yet been already said over and over, and that everybody already knows?

But then I had to repent. Everybody knows? Forty years ago the Second Vatican Council began. In Word and Church history this is only a short time, but today half an eternity. Not only due to the fact that a long memory in our hasty world is not very well developed, but also that all people under 40 years were not even born when Pope John XXIII opened the Council, and all under 50 years cannot have any personal memory on these stirring years full of debates, full of hopes and disillusions as well, but full also of breakthroughs – not the least on Jewish-Christian relations.

In the meantime a new generation has grown up, for which all this, which for us – sorry for this – for us older people was a joyful experience is past and often enough forgotten.

So we face a new situation where the teaching of Nostra aetate has to be transmitted and explained.

Moreover there are alarming signs of new anti-Semitism we had thought had been overcome. Not the least the tragic conflict in the Middle East does not make things any easier, and new efforts are needed in order for us not to lose sight of each other but to remain together. "

The declaration clearly states that what happened in the Passion of Jesus cannot be attributed to all the Jews of his time, nor to the Jews of today. It stresses that Jews "should not be presented as rejected by God or accursed, as if this follows from Holy Scriptures," and that no one is to teach or preach "anything that is inconsistent with the truth of the Gospel." Indeed, the Church "deplores hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism directed at Jews at any time and by anyone."

The long history of this Declaration is set out in a .pdf document here and also in a Wikipedia article here and in an article here

Perhaps the recent discussions on the beatification of Pope Pius XII have to be seen against the history of Nostra Aetate and the steps towards "dialogue" after the Declaration mentioned in the reflections of Cardinal Kasper.