The Drafting of Nostra Aetate
The process of bringing Nostra Aetate to birth was a difficult labor. It was not clear whether the proposed statement should be a free-standing document, part of the planned constitution on the Church, part of an ecumenical text on Christian unity, or, as ultimately happened, be contained within a declaration on the Church’s relations with all the other religions of the world. There was opposition to the endeavor from both inside and outside the Council. Some bishops recoiled at the thought of changing long-standing teachings, while others feared for the safety of Christians in Arab countries. The foreign offices of various Middle-eastern countries publicly campaigned against any statement that absolved “the Jews” of the crime of crucifying Jesus. Procedural maneuvers were employed in an effort to scuttle the document.
Despite these travails, on October 28, 1965 the declaration was officially promulgated after a final, overwhelmingly favorable vote. For the first time in its almost two thousand year history, a formal council of the Catholic Church had issued an authoritative declaration on Catholic-Jewish relations. This page charts the development of the Declaration through its successive major drafts.
Decree on the Jews (November 1961)
On the Attitudes of Catholics toward Non-Christians and Especially Toward Jews (November 1963)
Appendix to the Declaration on Ecumenism on the Jews (March, 1964)
On the Jews and Non-Christians (September 1964)
Declaration on the Church's Relationship to Non-Christian Religions (November 1964)
Amendments to Section 4 (March and May 1965)
Nostra Aetate (October 28, 1965)
All of the following texts were composed in Latin. The English versions here are based on translations appearing in The New York Herald Tribune, Sept. 30, 1964; The Catholic Herald (London), December 4, 1964; Arthur Gilbert, The Vatican Council and the Jews (Cleveland and New York: World Publishing, 1968); John M. Oesterreicher, The New Encounter between Christians and Jews (New York: Philosophical Library, 1986); Beatrice Bruteau, ed., Merton and Judaism, Holiness in Words: Recognition, Repentance, and Renewal (Louisville, KY : Fons Vitae, 2003).
1. Decree on the Jews (Decretum de Iudaeis)
On Sept 18, 1960, Pope John XXII had directed Cardinal Augustin Bea, head of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, to prepare for the upcoming Second Vatican Council a draft of a projected statement on the Church's relationship with the Jewish people. This first draft was completed in Novermber 1961 by experts assisting Bea. It was never submitted to the Council.
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," enbraces 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 the 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.
2. On the Attitude of Catholics Toward Non-Christians and Especially Toward Jews
Concerned that a draft finally be submitted to the Council, Cardinal Bea recast the first draft as a supplementary fourth chapter to the projected Decree on Ecumenism, which was already being deliberated. The new version was distributed to the Council at the Second Session, November 8, 1963, but in December debate on it was again postponed until the Third Session.
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.
3. Appendix to the Declaration on Ecumenism on the Jews (March, 1964)
With a heart full of gratitude, the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s mysterious saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election can already be found among the Patriarchs and Prophets. For all Christians believers, Abraham’s children by faith (cf. Gal 3:7), are included in the same Patriarch’s call and the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed in the deliverance of the chosen people out of the land of bondage. The Church, a new creation in Christ (cf. Eph 2:15) and people of the New Covenant can never forget that she is the continuation of that people with whom God, in His inexpressible mercy, was once pleased to enter into the Old Covenantand to whom He chose to entrust the revelation contained in the Books of the Old Testament.
Indeed, the Church believes that Christ, our Peace, freely faced His passion and death, because of the sins of all people. Nor does the Church forget that Christ was born of the Jewish people according to the flesh, that the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ, was thus born, that thus were born the Apostles, the bulwark and the pillars of the Church.
Since the patrimony common both to Christians and Jews is thus of such a magnitude, this Sacred Synod wants to foster and recommend in every way mutual understanding and respect which is, above all, the fruit of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues; moreover, in her rejection of injustices of any kind and wherever inflicted upon people, deplores and condemns hatred and persecution of the Jews, whether it arose in the past or in our own times.
May all, then, ensure that in their catechetical work or in their preaching they never present the Jewish people as one rejected, cursed, or guilty of deicide nor do teach anything that could give rise to hatred or contempt of the Jews in the hearts of Christians.
For all such words or actions would be contrary to the will of Jesus Christ, who embraces Jews and Gentiles with one and the same love.
Translation by Maria Brutti from the original Latin text, see Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Ecumenici Vaticani Secundi (Vaticanis: Typis Polyglottis, 1990), vol. 5, pars 2, 283-284.
4. On the Jews and Non-Christians
This text was submitted to the Council in September 1964 by the Council's Coordinating Commission and debated in the Council on September 28-29, 1964. This iteration had been publicly discussed in the news media as a "watered down" version of the undebated but disseminated draft from the previous November. It was offered as an appendix to the Schema on Ecumenism. Note the new section on believers in other world religions, especially Muslims, the implication that guilt for the crucifixion might be attributed to Jews of Jesus' generation, and the rephrasing of a paragraph that was now widely interpreted to call for the conversion of Jews to Christianity. In introducing it on Sept. 28, Cardinal Bea made it clear that his Secretariat was not responsible for this revision and encouraged the Council Fathers to strengthen it. Over two dozen bishops and cardinals urged precisely that.
(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).
5. Declaration on the Church's Relationship to Non-Christian Religions
This text, revised by Cardinal Bea in the light of the Council's deliberations on September 28-29, was distributed to Council Fathers near the end of the Third Session on November 18, 1964, now as a free-standing document. The first prelimary vote occured on November 20 with the following results — Yes: 1,651; Yes with reservations: 242; No: 99. Over the next year, the final form of the Declaration was achieved. It was officially promulgated by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965 after a final vote of — Yes: 2221; No: 88. In comparing this penultimate text with the final version of Nostra Aetate, note in section 4 the additional wording in the final text about Jewish rejection of the Gospel and role in the crucifixion, the removal of the word "deicide," and the revision of "condemns" to "deplores" regarding antisemitism.
In our time, when the human race is day by day being drawn closer together and the ties between diverse peoples are made stronger, the Church earnestly considers her relationship toward non-Christian religions.
For all peoples constitute one community, and have one origin, for God made the entire human race to live over all the face of the earth (cf. Acts 17, 26). One, too, is their ultimate end God: His providence, His goodness—of which creation is the witness—His saving design extends toward all people (cf. Wisd. 8, Acts 14, 17; Rom. 2, 6-7, 1 Tim. 2, 4). And in the end all the elect will be united in that Holy City whose light is the glory of God, that City where the nations will walk in His radiance (cf. Rev. 21, 24f).
People expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved mysteries of the human condition, mysteries that move human hearts today just as they did in olden times: What is man? What is the meaning, what is the purpose of our existence? What is the moral good, what sin? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment, and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate, inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence, which is the fountain as well as the destiny of our beings?
2. About the various non-Christian religions
Ever since anicent times, numerous peoples have had a certain perception of that hidden Power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human lives: some have even come to know of a Supreme Being and Father. Religions, however, that are entwined with an advanced culture have been able to use, in their struggle for an answer to humanity's great questions, more refined concepts and a more developed language.
In Hinduism, for instance, people try to plumb the depths of the divine mystery, expressing it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through keen efforts of a philosophical kind; they seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition through ascetical methods, profound meditation, and a flight to God, full of love and trust.
Buddhism realizes the radical inadequacy of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which people, with minds devout and confident, seek to liberate themselves, through a self-denial and inner cleansing, from the fleetingness of things, and to attain a state of lasting quiet. Other religions, everywhere on earth, counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by offering paths, doctrines, rules of life, and sacred rites.
The Catholic Church rejects nothing in these religions that is true and holy. For ceaselessly she proclaims Christ, "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (Jn. 14, 6), in whom God reconciled all things to Himself (cf. 2 Cor. 15, 19). Having learned of various paths of salvation (cf. Irenacus, Adv. Haer, IV, 28, 2; PG 7, 1062), she regards with sincere reverence those ways of action and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though different from the ones she sets forth, reflect nonetheless a ray of that Truth which enlightens all human beings.
The Church, therefore, urges her children to converse and collaborate with the followers of other religions in order to preserve, indeed to advance, those spiritual and moral goods as well as those socio-cultural values that have a home among people of other religious traditions.
3. About the Moslems
The Church regards Moslems 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 inscutable decrees, just as Abraham did, to whose faith they happily link their own.
Though Moslems 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 Moslems. 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 Chnst’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 ther 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 m 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.
5. About universal brotherhood that excludes all discrimination
We cannot truly address God the Father of all, if we refuse to treat certain people in a brotherly way, even though they are created in His image. The relation of people to God the Father and their relation to their borthers and sisters are so intimately linked, one to the other, that Scripture is able to say: "He who does not love does not know God" (1 Jn. 4, 8; cf. 1 Jn. 2, 9-1; Lk. 10, 25-37).
Thus the ground is removed from any theory or practice that, so far as their human dignity is concerned, discriminates between one individual and another or people and people, creating a different set of rights for each of them.
All people, therefore, but especially Christians, must refrain from discrimination against, or abuse of, others because of their race, color, creed or walk of life. But this is not enough. Treading the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this Sacred Synod ardently implores the faithful that they rather "maintain friendly relations among the Gentiles" (1 Pet. 2, 12) and live, if possible, that is, so far as it depends on them, in peace with all (cf. Rom. 12, 18), so that they may really be sons of the Father who is in heaven (cf. Mt. 5, 44).
6. Amendments to Section 4 (March and May 1965)
4. [On the Jewish Religion]
As the Sacred Synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock.
Thus the Church of Christ (……….) acknowledges that, according to God’s mysterious saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are already found among the Patriarchs, Moses and the Prophets…….
The Church, therefore, can never forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through this people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy was once pleased to enter into the Old Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles, thus making the two one in Himself.
As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, nor did a greater par of the Jews accept the Gospel; indeed not just a few opposed its spreading. Nevertheless, as the Apostle testifies, the Jews are still greatly beloved by God, whose gifts and call are irrevocable, for the sake of the Fathers.
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. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews therefore should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this came from the Holy Scriptures. All should then ensure 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 form of 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, persecution or displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.
Besides, as the Church has always held and still holds, Christ freely faced His passion and death, because of the sins of all people and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. Therefore, Christian preaching is to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God’s all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.
Translation from the original Latin text by Maria Brutti, see Acta Synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Ecumenici Vaticani Secundi (Vaticanis: Typis Polyglottis, 1977), vol. 4, pars 4, 693-695.