2000 YEARS:







Home Page for the Theological Works of Thomas G. Lederer



I. The Importance of Nostra Aetate

"True peace will come only when every individual finds peace within himself; when we have all vanquished and transformed our hatred for our fellow human beings--of whatever race--into love, although perhaps that is asking too much." Etty Hillesum

The above quotation is excerpted from the book An Interrupted Life-The Diaries of Etty Hillesum 1941-43 (Hillesum 151). In that heart-rending biographical diary, a young Jewish woman provides details, personal intimacies, and spiritual insights as she awaits what will ultimately be her tragic demise in a World War II Nazi death camp.

Etty Hillesum died in Auschwitz in November 1943. She was a victim of the Holocaust, (or shoal as it is sometimes now called,) which was a systematic effort by Nazi Germany during and prior to the Second World War to exterminate European Jews in its attempt to dominate the western world.

Yet, Ms. Hillesum's haunting words live on and provide us with a poignant background for "the flowering of Jewish-Catholic dialogue." (Fisher, Klenicki, title). That dialogue has been focused since October 28, 1965 and the publication of Nostra Aetate, a pivotal, precedent-setting Vatican II document which addressed relations between Catholics and non-Christian religions.

The essence of Nostra Aetate was and is seen as groundbreaking. It was also viewed in some quarters as an act of courage, as noted by Cardinal Johanes Willebrands, then president of the Pontifical Council for Religious Relations with the Jews. The Cardinal stated, "Never before has a systematic, positive, comprehensive, careful, and daring presentation of Jews and Judaism been made in the church (qtd. in Fisher, Klenicki , In Our Time 4).

Nostra Aetate: just 15 lengthy sentences, yet it is viewed as having launched a movement to reverse two-thousand years of hatred, oppression, vilification, annihilation of Jews by Catholics in the name of God. Its publication as a Vatican II document came a scant 20 years after the cessation of one of the worst examples of genocide in human history.

"Given the long, tragic centuries of oppression and persecution, of Crusading violence and Inquisitional torture, of exile and forced baptism, of ghettos and pogroms, 'daring' may be an understatement for what those 2221 bishops (achieved,)" said Dr. Eugene J. Fisher, Executive Secretary of the Secretariat for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. (Fisher, Klenicki, In Our Time 5).

Whether Hitler's unspeakably in-human acts against Jews were inspired by ethnic hatred, religious prejudice, and/or by a heinous economic system, Catholics around the world today are being called by Pope John Paul II to accept some accountability for the religious pretense used by Nazi hatemongers. According to the Pope, it was much easier for Christians to turn away from the reality of gas chambers and death camps with preconceptions of Jewish responsibility for Christ's death coursing through the veins of those transfused with early childhood Christian religious education.

"In the Christian world...the wrong and unjust interpretations of the New Testament relating to the Jewish people and their presumed guilt circulated for too long, contributing to feeling of hostility toward these people," said Pope John Paul II in October 1997 in an address to theologians taking part in a Vatican symposium on the roots of anti-Semitism in Christian teachings. "This contributed to soothing consciences to the point that, when a wave of persecutions swept Europe fueled by pagan anti-Semitism...the spiritual resistance of many was not that which humanity expected from the Disciples of Christ." (qtd. in New York Times 1)

Indeed, Nostra Aetate has changed the nature of Catholic-Jewish relations forever. With that concilliar document, Church teachings built a foundation for much greater steps toward understanding, acceptance, and dialogue with the Jewish people.

"Like the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, Nostra Aetate broke new ground and provided the mandate for constructive change," said Rabbi A. James Rudin, National Interreligious Affairs Director of the American Jewish Committee. (Fisher, Rudin, Tannenbaum 15).

In 1986, a 97-page book was published and distributed jointly by the National Catholic Council of Bishops and the B'nai B'rith. The book was entitled Pope John Paul II on Jews and Judaism, and it contained numerous texts and commentary which "enable the reader to chart the extraordinary contributions made by Pope John Paul II to the historic dialogue between Jews and Christians today." (Fisher, Klenicki On Jews and Judaism 4).

The present pontiff's thoughts on Catholic relations with Jews are a part of the harvest of seeds sown back in 1965 by the 2,221 bishops who endorsed Nostra Aetate. With Nostra Aetate and subsequent relevant teachings now an integral part of Church teaching, it is imperative that all who call themselves "Catholic" to examine the context of 2000 years of Church attitudes toward Jews. By studying current teachings juxtaposed to prior attitudes and events, there can be a better sense for how relations between Catholics and Jews can further evolve in the future as the 21st century looms as just a few clock ticks away.

By looking back over the centuries leading up to Nostra Aetate, by introspectively examining our own world 33 years later, and by glancing toward the future, Catholics may get a truly Christian perspective of those whom Pope John Paul II refers to as, "our elder brothers, the Jewish people, who gave Jesus Christ to all mankind." (qtd. in Daily News 4).

II. 2000 Years of Jewish-Catholic Relations

"The days are coming says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the Lord. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the Lord. All from the least to the greatest shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember sins no more." Jeremiah 31:31-34 (Catholic Study Bible page 989)

While we speak about the tenuous relationship between Christians and Jews dating back to the time of Christ, the seeds for the schism within Judaism may have been planted more than 500 years prior. Jeremiah was one of a group of distinguished prophets whose works became part of the Old Testament canon. The Jewish "wisdom" prophets lectured, warned, blamed, and cajoled all who would listen about the sins of their own people, the resulting punishments that God had prescribed for them, and what they had to do to get back into God's good graces.

Some prophets targeted Jewish monarchs as an idolatrous distraction which prevented the people from properly hearing the Word of God. Other prophets still maintained that Jews should continue to believe that God would not abandon his chosen people. Regardless of the specific message, it was clear that the overall prophetic approach to God’s covenant with the Jewish people was changing.

"A good century after the return from Exile...the doctrine of retribution, of God's righteousness, which rewards and punishes...had been shattered," said Catholic theologian Hans Kung in his book Judaism: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow (Kung 113).

In the passage quoted from Jeremiah above, the prophet is predicting that a new covenant would be formed between God and his people, an agreement that would supersede the pact made between Moses and God upon Sinai and at the Red Sea. The first covenant, Jeremiah indicated, would become null and void because of the sins of the Jewish people. The new covenant would absolve these sins and reaffirm God's fidelity to his people.

"This famous prophecy provides the foundation and the core of the central theological teaching of the New Testament," said The Collegeville Bible Commentary on the Old Testament. "It underlies, but without explicit references, much of the 'new life' theology of St. John and is central to the teaching of Jesus in John's Last Supper discourse." (Collegeville 469).

While Jeremiah is interpreted from many perspectives, some early Christian apologists proof-texted his words as an indication that the Jews had been cast aside by God because they had not remained faithful to Him and his Mosaic covenant. Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophesies, so some claimed, and the Jews would remain shunned and doomed to wander through the desert until they repented by accepting the personification of God's saving grace.

"The Old Israel along with its Old Testament...had been succeeded, fulfilled, completed, replaced, and/or displaced by the New Israel, the New Testament, the Christian Church, the new people of God," said Rabbi A. James Rudin about the Christian attitude during the formative years of the Church (Fisher, Rudin, Tannebaum 9).

Sensitivity relating to the perceived expiration of the first Mosaic covenant has brought forth a minor controversy in recent decades about the political correctness of referring to the Old Testament as being "old." Some Catholic Scripture professors express a preference for "Hebrew Scriptures," while others apologetically retain the old reference to prevent confusion. (Pazcuzzi 2/97). The issue of Judaism having been superceded by Christianity will be addressed at various points in this paper.

In addition to the writings of Jeremiah, other Old Testament works written in the centuries prior to the birth Christ pointed to the coming of a messiah to save the Jewish people from their continuing history of enslavement, persecution, and dislocation. Some Jews waited for a David-like king to rescue them. Others felt that Jesus Christ--who had suffered for the sins of his people, the one who had endured and conquered death--was the true messiah. Whether the messiah had come or the messiah was still yet to come was the key issue between the Jews who remained Jews during the first and succeeding centuries versus those who founded the sect which worshipped Christ and became known as "Christians."

While the theological implications of resurrection also became a significant issue between the two branches of Judaism, historical documents suggest that Jews and Christian Jews were still worshipping together around the middle of the first century, and were discussing and acknowledging their differences. Reverend Robert S. Smith suggests that, at that stage, the differences between Jews and Christian were seemingly more like "a family fight," not necessarily showing signs of the formation of a new religion (Smith 10/18/97).

Toward the end of the first century, however, relations between the two sects began to seriously deteriorate. As Christian zealots, apologists, Church Fathers, and first and second century scribes made their case for Christianity amidst Greek and Roman persecution, they directed vehement attacks at the Jews, from whom Christian Jews had more or less officially broken off from following the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 80 AD. At that time, Jewish leaders who remained faithful to Mosaic Law, began excommunicating Christian Jews, ending decades of relatively peaceful coexistence and shared worship.

What seemed to exacerbate the rift between the Jews of the first century and Christians to a point of no return was the accusation of "diecide," that by conspiring with the Romans to crucify Jesus, the Jews who did not embrace the prophesied Messiah had actually killed God on earth.

"To murder God: the very phrase is chilling! " said Rabbi Rudin in his analysis of Jewish-Christian relations "The charge was hurled at an entire people, and not solely at the Jewish people who were alive at the time of Jesus" (Fisher, Rudin, Tannebaum 10).

To seemingly gain favor with the Roman hierarchy, early Christian writings emphasized Jewish involvement in the death of Christ and minimized the Roman role. This is especially evident in the Gospel of John.

"The Gospel of John contains some of the most hostile anti-Jewish statements in the Christian scriptures," said R. Alan Culpepper, Scripture Professor at the Southern Baptist Seminary in his essay "The Gospel of John as a Threat to Jewish-Christian Relations." "So sharp is the contrast in that gospel between Jesus' exhortations to his followers to love one another and the hostile references to the Jews that Kaufmann Kohler commented that John is 'a gospel of Christian love and Jew hatred.'" (Charlesworth page 21).

Anti-Jewish sentiment could not only be found in the Gospels but also in the writings of St. Paul, himself a converted Jew, and someone who once lovingly analogized the relations between Judaism and gentile Christianity as a grafted olive branch.

"In proclaiming his Christian message Paul stressed that the Jewish nation had been rejected by God, and the new Covenant had superseded the old," said David Cohn-Sherbok, in his book The Crucified Jew. "In these ways the New Testament laid the foundations for later Christian hostility to the Jewish nation...and served as the basis for the early Church's vilification of the Jews" (Cohn-Sherbok xv).

In his book Jesus Through the Centuries, Jaroslav Pelikan also raises the issue of Catholic theological focus fueling the flames of Christian hatred of the Jews.

"Would there have been such anti-Semitism, would there have been so many pogroms, would there have been an Auschwitz, if every Christian church and every Christian home had focused its devotion on icons of Mary not only as Mother of God but as the Jewish maiden?" asked Pelikan. "And Jesus as Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph in the context of the history of a suffering Israel and a suffering humanity?" (qtd. in Charlesworth page 51).

According to Cohn-Sherbok, a theology professor at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, anti-Jewish hostility which, he claimed, had evolved from the Adversos Judeos of the Church Fathers, continued into medieval times. On their way to the Crusades to free the Holy Land from Moslem control, Christian crusaders routinely massacred Jewish communities as part of their religious zeal.

The persecution of Jews has been so pervading and so rampant down through the centuries that one might be tempted to overlook some attempts at humane treatment. Bernard of Clairvaux served as the spiritual leader of the Second Christian Crusade in 1144. He was greatly distressed by the slaughter of five thousand European Jews during the First Crusade in 1096 and he spoke out to prevent a repeat performance. Pope Calixtus II in 1120 issued the Papal Bull Sicut Judaeis. That document forbade the mistreatment of Jews, and that same document was invoked by others Popes in later reigns. Despite the efforts of Bernard and Calixtus, hundreds more Jews were slaughtered during the Second Crusade (NCR 12/12/97 24)

Stories circulated among Christians at various points in history about Jewish rituals that required the blood of Christian children. On into the Middle Ages, Jews were not just reviled for their non-Christian religious beliefs but were condemned as being satanic, blasphemers, and as a "sub-species of the human race." (Cohn-Sherbok page xvi.) Major Jewish exterminations followed a medieval fable, which blamed the Jews for the poisoning drinking water and causing plagues.

Post-medieval literature depicted Jewish caricatures and stereotypes such as Shakespeare's image of Shylock in the "Merchant of Venice." Martin Luther spoke as harshly about Jews as he did about the Catholic Church when he initiated the Protestant Reformation. 1492 was not just the year that the Spanish monarchy bankrolled Columbus' expedition to the New World. In that same year, the Catholic Spanish rulers brought anti-Jewish contempt to a logical conclusion with its Inquisition, the expulsion of Jews from their nation and the torture of those who claimed to have been converted.

From the Middle Ages on down through modern times, Jews were persecuted throughout Europe, as social and economic steps were taken to counter what were seen as demonic traits coupled with purported genetic predisposition to greed, gluttony, and manipulation of the monetary system. In many European nations, Jews were forced to live in isolated ghettos, were prevented from owning land, were limited in their vocations, and were forced to wear identifiable clothing.

"The centuries of Judaism after the Crusades are full of enforced religious dialogues, compulsory baptisms, burnings of the Talmud...of condemnations, expulsions, resettlements, plunderings, torture, and murder," said Hans Kung in regard to what some view as the punishment for the Jewish complicity in Christ's death. (Kung 349.)

"Any attempts to rationalize the evil that has been done to Jews down through the centuries reeks of triumphalism," said Father Robert S. Smith in response to a suggestion by another professor at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception that throughout history, anti-Semitism must be taken within context of the times. "It should be clear to all Christians that, in terms of relations with the Jews, the Holy Spirit has failed us" (Smith 10/18/97).

In fairness, over the first 1900 years after the Jewish schism, not all of Catholic and Christian attitudes toward Jews were uniformly oppressive. For limited periods of time, there were tolerable conditions in some countries for people of the Jewish faith. There were also some Catholic leaders who found ways to show tolerance and understanding toward the Jews. It also must be noted that there was, conversely, contempt in word, writings, and deeds displayed by rabbinical Judaism toward Christians during these centuries as well.

Recent efforts by Jewish historians such as David Biale of Berkeley emphasize the success, achievements, and power bases that Jews did have at various points during this time period (Kung page 159.) Although it predominates its history, the Jewish heritage is not simply one of continual suffering, persecution, and subservience.

Nonetheless, the majority of available historical evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that theologically-fueled anti-Semitism prevailed during the nineteen centuries following Christ's death, and many of these attitudes and persecutions provided logical segues which led up to 20th century European anti-Semitic atrocities.

III. The Years Prior to Nostra Aetate

Within the first half of a twentieth century time-line, one might take particular note of two World Wars, massive European emigration to America, alternating global economic boom and bust, and a rapidly mechanized society from which the automobile sprang forth.

In the latter years of the ninetieth century, Theodor Herzl fueled Zionist dreams of the establishment of Palestine as a Jewish state. The first half of the twentieth century saw, however, immigration to America as providing a more immediate abatement of Jewish suffering in Europe.

The years before and after World War I were particularly difficult for the Jews who were unable to book passage on a westward ride to freedom. In Germany, Jews were scapegoats for any and all problems that affected German society. There were outcries against Jewish assimilation, against the danger they posed with their attitudes and rituals, the perceived threat of an international Jewish conspiracy. The rise of the Nazi party in the 1930's fanned the flames of anti-Semitism in Germany, while pogroms were established in Russia to deal with its Jewish "problem." Judeo-phobia was rampant in western European nations such as in Britain and France where it was believed that Jews were responsible for the spread of Bolshevism, and clandestine plots to control the world's gold supply.

While an improvement over the persecution and abuse left behind in Europe, America was certainly not paradise for the emigrated Jewish population

" The Jews are barely admitted to major country clubs, and most of the time they are barred," said Hilaire Belloc after a trip to the United States in 1922. "They have no real civic standing. They are excluded from I don't know how many hotels. The universities, particularly Harvard, have openly organized their defenses against the invasion of new Jewish students." (qtd. in Cohn-Sherbok 191).

There were also feuds within the American Jewish population itself as Reform Judaism irritated those who had brought Orthodox and Conservative religious traditions with them from Europe. While the automobile was one of the most important technological advances of the twentieth century, it unfortunately brought into the limelight one of America's most blatant anti-Semites: Henry Ford. During the 1930's, a Catholic priest used the coat tails of a devastating economic to gain national attention with a radio program which broadcast his unrelenting hatred for the Jews.

"The 'Radio Priest,' Charles Coughlin began his career in the mainstream of Catholic social welfare teachings but became increasingly anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi," said Charles R. Morris in his book American Catholic. "By 1932, (Coughlin's radio program) commanded up to twice the number of listeners as today's immensely popular Rush Limbaugh show." (Morris 147.)

It is difficult to find words to describe in concise terms what occurred during World War II as Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime exterminated millions of European Jews. Jews were hunted like animals; robbed of their homes, their loved ones, their possessions; crushed into railroad cars or death camps storage facilities like cattle to slaughter; subjected to various forms of mental and physical torture; and summarily executed by firing squads, in gas chambers, if they actually had survived any of the prior mistreatment.

"This same people, which had received from God the commandment: 'Thou shalt not kill' has felt in itself in a special way what it means to be killed," said Pope John Paul II at Auschwitz in 1979 (Fisher, Klenicki, On Jews and Judaism 47).

In a recent book which condemns the participation of German citizens in the Nazi acts of genocide, author Daniel Johan Goldhagen provides a graphic description of the murders of Jews from the perspective of the executioners:

"Blood, bone, and brains were flying about, often landing on the killers, smirching their faces and staining their clothes. Cries and wails of people awaiting their imminent slaughter or consumed in death throes reverberated in German ears (Goldenhagen 22).

In the wake of this unspeakable loss of life, Jews continued to find refuge in America, and also in the establishment of their own Jewish State of Israel. In 1948, Theodor Herzl's dream was in many ways realized as David Ben-Gurion harnessed Zionist determination from many diverse global resources to finally establish a land where Jews might call home. While the battle continues to find peace among the Arabs who had previously inhabited the area formerly known as Palestine, the founding of Israel was as much a symbolic moral victory as it was territorial conquest. The establishment of a Jewish homeland is, however, still very much work in progress.

"Through enormous effort and with great sacrifice, a Jewish commonwealth has emerged in the most volatile and sensitive region of the globe," said Robert M. Seltzer, Associate Professor of History at Hunter College. "Love for Zion runs like a golden thread through Jewish tradition. Translation of this concept into reality as the new State of Israel in the old Land of Israel is certainly one of the most poignant dramas of modern history" (qtd. in Fisher, Rudin, Tannenbaum 61).

As previously noted, Monsignor Donald M. Beckmann, Director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre was contacted about reference material for this project. With a touch of tragic irony, it should be noted that three separate requests were made for a complete list of all Catholic Church documents relating to official teachings about the Jewish religion. The repeated requests were due to disbelief on my part that the list was so small.

"It may be said that the reason that neither popes nor councils felt called upon to decree officially on the church's doctrinal position with regard to Judaism was most likely that no one questioned the negative portrait of the Jewish religion drawn by the church fathers in the early centuries," said Eugene Fisher (Fisher, Klenicki , In Our Time 4).

Prior to this century, there had been a number of minor papal and conciliar decrees about Jews and Judaism, although they were mostly in regard to defining the position of Jews within a Christian society, not "to determine the meaning of Judaism from the point of view of Catholic doctrine" (Fisher, Klenicki, In Our Time 3).

Eugene Fisher refers to Gregory the Great's sixth century "Constitution for the Jews" as "grudgingly protectionist legislation," which was reaffirmed by popes throughout the Middle Ages down through our modern era (Fisher, Klenicki, In Our Time 3). A much more negative decree emerged from the Fourth Latern Council in 1215, which provided for the official establishment of ghettos. Beyond these two documents, little Church teaching predated the 1965 Vatican II document Nostra Aetate.

A book was recently published describing the authorship of a 1938 Papal Encyclical intended to be highly critical of anti-Semitism. The document ultimately never saw the light of day until almost seventy years after it was written. In their book The Hidden Encyclical of Pius XI, Georges Passeleco and Bernard Suchecky weave a tale of intrigue, which author Garry Wills describes in the book's preface as, "the stuff of spy novels" (Passeleco, Suchecky ix).

The authors contend that Pope Pius XI in 1938 commissioned an encyclical be written as an official church document condemning anti-Semitism. The document was written but not published due to the untimely death of Pius XI. His successor, Pope Pius XII, subsequently chose not to publish the document. It is the contention of some that, were the document published, the resulting outcry might have somehow stopped or limited Hitler's extermination of European Jews.

"It (the encyclical) suggests that Pius XII, though no anti-Semite himself, did not share his predecessor's intensity of opposition to that moral evil (the Nazi regime,)" said the authors of The Hidden Encyclical of Pius XI. "This might reflect a personality difference between the two, Pius XII being less inclined to take a controversial stand and distancing himself from what he may have regarded as rash impulsiveness on the part of the other" (Passeleco and Suchecky 4).

In less charitable commentary, Pius XII is seen having resisted openly criticizing the Nazi atrocities for diplomatic reasons. He is, however, praised by some, including Father Vincent A. Lapomarda, coordinator of the Holocaust collection at the College of Holy Cross, who cites New York Times editorials written in 1941 and 1942 in which Pius was referred to as the "lonely voice," one of the few prominent public figures speaking out about the Jewish victims (NCR 12/12/97 22).

Still others defend Pius XII by suggesting that he sincerely believed that his speaking out against Hitler would only mean the loss of more lives. Instead, he is believed to have worked behind the scenes, reportedly having taken steps to rescue upwards of 800,000 Jews from Nazi death camps (Strynkowski 4/10/95).

Pius XII was also not the only world leader criticized for failure to act against the Nazi murders of Jews and non-Jews alike. Despite the fact that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had committed American troops and war effort to the defeat of the Nazi attempt to take over the Western world, he was still criticized for not finding a more expeditious way to close down Hilter's campaign of extermination.

( Editor's Note: further controversy surrounding this issue emerged in October 1999 with the publication of the book Hitler's Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII, written by John Cornwell [Viking Press.] As expected, the book was praised by opponents of the Pope and criticized by his supporters.)

IV. Prelude to Nostra Aetate

Monsignor John Strynkowski, formerly the rector of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, currently a parish pastor and a professor of ecclessiology, was in Rome working at the Vatican during the Second Vatican Council in the 1960's. Monsignor Strynkowski saw the process leading up to Vatican II as somewhat more complex.

Within the syllabus for his course entitled "Church" is included what he deems as some of the direct reasons for the calling of Vatican II. World War II itself opened theological eyes that may have somehow remained oblivious to the horrors of World War I. Overall, various historical events and trends had led to a de-Christianization of Europe. Unimaginable loss of life was experienced between and within Christian countries, although for non-religious reasons. The memories of Nazi atrocities were still vivid and feelings of guilt were rampant as some envisioned what a united Christian voice might have prevented. In Europe, the seeds of ecumenism were sown as various Christian churches had worked during the war in concert against Fascism. (Strynkowski 1/30/95.)

Western intellectuals were growing disenchanted with the Church stances that ran counter to science and modern philosophy. Empires had collapsed before, during, and after the war and new nations had emerged seeking their own religious identity. (Strynkowski 1/30/95.)

An explosion of theological, liturgical, and ecumenical exploration evolved from some of the aforementioned causes and effects. Names such as Congar, Rahner, Lejonet, de Chardin became known as challengers of time-worn Catholic theological thought. The Roman Curia condemned these courageous religious thinkers, yet their persistent work cut a direct path toward the renewal efforts, which crystallized during the 1960's with Vatican II.

"It was a repeated pattern of yesterday's suspects becoming today's heroes," said Monsignor John Strynkowski during a classroom lecture on the events leading to Vatican II. (Strynkowski 1/30/95.)

Despite his reputation for a conservative and tentative approach to the unconventional, Pope Pius XII was tolerant and supportive of efforts to renew and to modernize the Church. However, the man who provided the overwhelming impetus for the calling of a Second Vatican Council was Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the 262nd Pope of Rome, most commonly known as Pope John XXII. On January 20, 1959, Pope John XXIII referred to his idea for an ecumenical council as "a little holy madness." (Fisher, Rudin, Tanenbaum 14)

"Pope John XXIII was a cunning revolutionary," said Robert Blair Kaiser in the preface for his book1963 book Pope, Council, and the World. "Far from being the caretaker that the Church expected, John created an atmosphere in which, said Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray, a lot of things came unstuck;old patterns of thought, behavior, feeling. They were not challenged or refuted but rather just dropped" (Kaiser vii).

Reflecting his work behind the scenes during World War II to save Jews from extermination, and perhaps foreshadowing the coming of Nostra Aetate, one of the first rituals he "dropped" after becoming Pope was the prayer for the "perfidious Jews." (Strynkowski 4/10/95.)

In 1961, Pope John first revealed his intention to target one of the world's oldest blood feud, the theological war between Christians and Jews. According to Time Magazine correspondent Robert Blair Kaiser, the Pope had administered the sacrament of Confirmation to a young Jewish boy who had been secretly baptized.

"(Pope John) told him to continue being a good Jew in his community, go to synagogue, support the Jewish school, because 'by being a Catholic, you do not become any less a Jew, ' " said Kaiser in his book written at and during the Vatican II. (Kaiser 49)

Around that same time, with the Pope's ecumenical council a reality and on the immediate horizon, John XXIII asked Cardinal Augustine Bea to work on a document which might dispel lingering Catholic myths about Jews being the "deicide people, a myth that has nurtured anti-Semitism for centuries." (Kaiser 49)

Cardinal Bea prepared such a schema and word went out almost immediately alerting various Arab nations. Arab diplomats lobbied against an official Catholic document aimed at minimizing anti-Semitism and even threatened reprisals against Catholics. Bea felt compelled, with what is believed to have been some pressure from John XXII's successor, Pope Paul VI, to withdraw the document before he was to have presented it before Vatican II's Central Preparatory Commission in June 1962. The new Pope had scheduled a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was concerned that controversy over the Nostra Aetate might nullify any potential benefits from the trip.

"Conservatively oriented clergy and outside groups tried to obstruct consideration of Judaism altogether, using arguments familiar from medieval disputations," said Rabbi Leon Klenicki in a book he edited with Dr. Eugene Fisher, In Our Time: the Flowering of Jewish Catholic Dialogue. "A current of anti-Jewish theology was evident in articles and books' distributed openly or clandestinely among the Council Fathers" (Fisher, Klenicki 78).

In addition to aggressive editing, Nostra Aetate's primary focus on Judaism was watered down somewhat with a more pronounced emphasis on ecumenism and on other non-Christian religions. Jewish organizations began lobbying for retention of emphasis on the "deicide" and anti-Semitism issues. As is often the case with any document affecting pluralistic diplomacy, no one side was completely satisfied with the end result. Nonetheless, the symbolic importance of this document within the scope of 2000 years of Catholic-Jewish relations could not be diminished.

More so than any other document to come from the Second Vatican Council process, Nostra Aetate attracted the most world-wide attention and controversy. The Arabs were not the only groups with concerns about the Vatican II document on Catholic relations with Jews. There were some very negative reactions from Protestants and Eastern Orthodox as well. Ultimately, following some discretionary editing and various diplomatic tactics, Nostra Aetate was introduced to the Council in November 1963.

On September 25, 1965, Cardinal Bea commented on Nostra Aetate as a vote by the 2221 Council Fathers drew near:

"I can only begin with the fact that this Declaration must be counted among the matters in which public opinion has shown greatest concern," said the Cardinal as he spoke of the "Jewish declaration." "Scarcely any other schema has been written up so much and so widely in periodicals…Many will judge the Council good or bad by its approval or disapproval of the Declaration" (qtd. in Fisher, Rudin, Tannebaum 39).

Nostra Aetate was promulgated on October 28, 1965.

V. Nostra Aetate

  1. The Text




    ON OCTOBER 28, 1965

    1.In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely he relationship to non- Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.

    One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth.(1) One also is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extend to all men,(2) until that time when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light.(3)

    Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? 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: whence do we come, and where are we going?

    2.From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense.

    Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language. Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.(4)

    The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

    3.The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

    Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

    4.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 saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ-Abraham’s sons according to faith (6)-are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously 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 through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient 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.(7) Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.(8)

    The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen:

    "theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:4-5), the Son of the Virgin Mary. She also recalls that the Apostles, the Church's main-stay and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ's Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people.

    As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation,(9) nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading.(10) Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is the witness of the Apostle.(11) 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 in a single voice and "serve him shoulder to shoulder" (Soph. 3:9).(12)

    Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.

    True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ;(13) 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 should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, 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 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, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

    Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church’s preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God’s all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.

    5.We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man's relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: "He who does not love does not know God" (1 John 4:8).

    No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.

    The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men 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 men,(14) so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.(15) (Flannery 738-742)

    B. Synopsis

    Section One of Nostra Aetate is introductory and serves to set the scene for what follows. Nowadays, proposes the document, [Note: According to Monsignor Beckmann, this approach is rather unusual since more often than not, Vatican documents usually do not portray a sense of timeliness but rather suggest, "as the church has always taught" (Beckmann 10/23/97)] the Church is inclined to look to find what various people of various nations and religions have in common in order to promote "unity and love" (NA 1). This first section suggests that all people come from the same God and that all people tend to look toward religion as a means for unraveling life's mysteries about our origins, the purpose of our lives, what is to transpire as our lives run out, and where we go from there.

    Section Two indicates that the "Council Fathers agreed to recognize the contributions of various religions to the promotion of spiritual, moral, and cultural goods as well as to the realization of peace, freedom and social justice" (O'Connell 109). There is, however, a subtle allusion to the differences between an historical religion (such as Christianity) and religions that more readily reflect ways and patterns of life in specially developed language, e.g. Hinduism and Buddhism. The document quotes from the Gospel of John when it politely asserts that Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6) While Catholics must accept the historical truths of Christianity, they may also accept the moral truths of other religions.

    In this document originally intended by Pope John XXIII to help bind the wounds left by twenty centuries of Christian anti-Semitism, Section Three of Nostra Aetate addresses relations with Moslems for reasons previously mentioned. However, the Council Fathers may have been dodging a bullet, avoiding an unintended conflagration by not defining the primary reasons for the many disputes between Christianity and the Moslem faith down through the centuries.

    "No reference is made to Muslim assertions about the role of Mohammed or the authority of Koran as definitive divine revelation," said author and theology professor J. Patout Burns in an essay about Nostra Aetate included in an anthology entitled Vatican II and Its Documents: An American Reappraisal, edited by Timothy O'Connell. "Neglecting the foundation of the conflict between the two religious traditions, the Council asks that past quarrels be forgotten, that all strive for mutual understanding and cooperation in promoting human welfare"(112).

    As the document moves on to discuss the relations with Jews in Section Four, such differences can no longer be politically dismissed. While the authors link the New Covenant genealogically with Abraham, and the quotation from Paul about the metaphorical grafted tree branch, a line is drawn at the point where Jews "for the most part did not accept the Gospel" (NA 3).

    The document goes on to suggest, by reinterpreting Romans 9:4-5 that God did not reject Israel, nor did he withdraw his promise to the Jews. This section also repudiates the ideas that Jews are accursed, or can be blamed as a race for the death of Christ. Acknowledging theological differences as noted below, nonetheless, the authors indicate, that Jews, Gentile, and Christians will all one day be united in Christ.

    Section Five represents the Council Fathers statement against anti-Semitism. Catholics are asked to utilize and follow the teachings of Christ in their relations with non-Christians, so as not to discriminate against anyone based on race, color, economic standing, or religion. "Christians are also called upon to be at peace with all humanity, including those who ignore, disregard, or reject Christ" (O'Connell 114).

  2. Theological Implications

By establishing some territorial boundaries between Catholic Christianity and non-Christian religions, the Council Fathers also indirectly provided some theological insight about Catholic theology as a by-product of their work on Nostra Aetate.

Just as Section One served to define the nature of humanity and disparate belief systems, a similar analysis might serve to humble a Catholic's sense of personal theology and the ability to issue absolute pronouncements. Catholicism must subsist upon faith, not proof.

"Because religious judgments fail this standard," said J. Patout Burns, "they are regarded as matters of private taste which cannot affect another person" (O'Connell 115).

The Catholic Christian must view Christ within the context and mediation of community. Christian faith as established in the early Church during the first centuries AD was contingent upon historical events, spiritual phenomena, and religious witness that occurred within a communal context. Just as Nostra Aetate sketches portraits of non-Christian communities, the paradigm of a Christian community develops as a figure/ground relationship.

"Thus, for example, the apostolic communities had to know Jesus as exercising full authority with the Christian community in order to assert that he would judge the non-believing nations as well," said J. Patout Burns, "Because the experience of Jesus and faith in his saving work is mediated by the Christian community, it does not give the believer a foundation for devaluing the Church and asserting that Christ and his Spirit operate indiscriminately through all religious traditions"(O'Connell 115).

It appears as if the Council Fathers were saying that toleration and homogenization are two very different and distinct concepts when it comes to the saving graces of Jesus Christ. Monsignor John Strynkowski, suggests that such language and the pressure that required inclusion of this message of theological exclusivity thirty-three years ago might not have been duplicated were Nostra Aetate written today.

"Certain parts of Nostra Aetate, especially NA 4 would have been written differently today in light of the goals of ecumenism that the document had set out to accomplish," said Monsignor Strynkowski during a lecture on Nostra Aetate in the Spring Semester of 1995 at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception (Strynkowski 4/10/95).

It appears that, just as Nostra Aetate sought to acknowledge non-Christian religions without diminishing the unique theological character of Catholicism, the Council Fathers saw the process of salvation in a similar vein. The document, did however, use numerous Biblical passages to indicate that salvation was open to any and all who experienced conversion.

"The Acts of the Apostles recounts the way in which the Holy Spirit moved out beyond the Christian community," said J. Patout Burns. "Even Augustine recognized the Holy Spirit as the source of the Catholic desire to reconcile schismatics and to spread the gospel to non-believers" (O'Connell 116).

Additionally, Karl Rahner's presence may be particularly evident as the Council attempted to make clear that good works and Christ-like actions might lead non-Christians down a road to salvation as well.

"Karl Rahner discovered within the commitment of one human being to another the reality of that trust in the goodness of God which has been recognized as salvific in the life and death of Jesus and his saints," said Burns (O'Connell 116).

D. The Jewish Reaction to Nostra Aetate

"Where there are two Jews, there are three opinions," said Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum in his essay "A Jewish Viewpoint on Nostra Aetate," as he quoted "a commonplace pun which is a Jewish self-critical way of describing the deep-seated democracy and pluralism that exists in Jewish life." (Fisher, Rudin, Tanenbaum 51)

Rabbi Tanenbaum took note of the effect that media headlines had on the reaction of Jews to the Second Vatican Council's adoption of Nostra Aetate. He indicated that headlines such as, "Vatican Council Exonerates Jews for Death of Christ," were not looked upon as olive branches but rather inflammatory rhetoric, fanning flames, not dousing the fire (Fisher, Rudin, Tanenbaum 51).

"No Jew in my acquaintance ever felt guilty for the death of Jesus," said Rabbi Tanenbaum. (Fisher, Rudin, Tanenbaum 51)

Other concerns raised by Jews about Nostra Aetate were:

    1. The politics and lobbying associated with the formulation of Nostra Aetate was public knowledge. Some Jews felt that their people were being judged, were on trial to see just how complicitous they were in the death of Christ and whether or not the Council Fathers might give them a suspended sentence or might pardon them.
    2. The Council watered down its language used to comment upon the "hated, persecutions, and manifestations of anti-Semitism directed against Jews." NA 4 The Jewish observers were looking for something stronger such as a condemnation, the notion of sinfulness attached to anti-Jewish teaching, the ideal that anti-Semitism was anti-Christian.
    3. There were no references to the State of Israel, clearly a diplomatic step taken to avoid offending Arab nations and non-Jewish residents living in Israel.
    4. Although the Holocaust may have been an important factor in John XXIII's having requested that Nostra Aetate be written, the Nazi atrocities were never mentioned.
    5. Some Jews were looking for an actual apology, much as those given to Moslems and Protestants within other conciliar declarations. ("How many more millions of our brothers and sisters will need to be slaughtered before any word of contrition or repentance is heard in the seats of ancient Christian glory," was a question heard from various factions within the Jewish community, perhaps rhetorical in nature. (Fisher, Rudin, Tanenbaum 52)
    6. The theology of Nostra Aetate exhibited an ignorance of Jewish theology.
    7. The Jewish heritage of Jesus Christ was ignored. Despite its many imperfections its shortcomings, its warts, its slights, itsoversights, its concessions, Nostra Aetate was an important symbolic beginning to concrete steps to healing 2000 years of unspeakable hatred in the name of God.

"Even though we will continue to hold different theological beliefs, and even though we may differ on certain contemporary issues and questions, Nostra Aetate has freed Catholics and Jews from the tight chains of the past," said Rabbi A. James Rudin in his essay "The Dramatic Impact of Nostra Aetate" (Fisher, Rudin, Tanenbaum 18).

VI. After Nostra Aetate

Although Pope John XXIII may have envisioned his declaration supporting dramatically improved relations between Catholics and Jews being trumpeted around the globe, the diplomatically chiseled Nostra Aetate was more like muted acapella. Yet, what followed was much more along the lines of what Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the 262nd Pope of Rome, would have hoped and prayed for as he confirmed that young Jewish boy 37 years ago in Rome. So much has followed on the heels of Nostra Aetate to bring Catholics and Jews closer to their original common heritage.

In 1969, a statement was issued by a plenary session of the episcopal members of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. As one might ascertain from the name of the committee, it was not a likely source for momentous verbiage about Catholic-Jewish relations. Nonetheless, the episcopates put forth a model for Catholics finding a true Scriptural exegesis via a Jewish perspective.

"Catholics must draw upon the resources of the Jewish tradition for interpreting these (Biblical) books," said Rev. John Pawlikowski in his essay "New Trends in Catholic Religious Thought. "This call to take seriously Jewish interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures represents a measure of affirmation regarding the ongoing validity of the Jewish covenantal tradition." (Fisher, Rudin, Tanenbaum 170)

In October 1974, Pope Paul VI instituted the "Commission for the Catholic Church's Religious Relations with the Jews," with Johannes Cardinal Willebrands as its President. A few short months later--a milli-second in Vatican chronology--The Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (no. 4) was issued. Where Nostra Aetate had fallen short in the eyes of its critics, this document provided some very specific, practical recommendations for bridging the gap between the two faiths.

The first part of this document summarized some of the primary points made by Nostra Aetate, notably the condemnation of anti-Semitism and a proposal for reciprocal understanding, respect, and esteem. This 1974 document then proceeded to move far beyond its predecessor with suggested approaches to improved relations.

"The suggestions put forward are intended to give ideas to those who were asking themselves how to start on a local level that dialogue which the text invites them to begin and to develop," said Dr. Eugene Fisher in the book he edited with Rabbi Leon Klenicki, In Our Time: The Flowering of Jewish-Catholic Dialogue. "Likewise one cannot fail to hope that our Jewish brothers too may find in it useful indications for their participation in a commitment which is common" (Fisher, Klenicki 30-31).

"The Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate (no. 4)" recommended that dialogue, extensive doctrinal research, and common prayer be developed. Links between Jewish and Catholic liturgy, it stated, should also be explored especially in the area of interpreting Biblical texts. The opportunity for collaborative teaching and education ventures should be explored. Additionally, it was recommended that common social action should be initiated especially in the areas of social justice and peace.

Critics took note of differences in language between The Guidelines and Nostra Aetate. The word "condemn" was used in reference to anti-Semitism rather than "decries." The post-Biblical religious tradition--often referred to as "rabbinic"--was acknowledged in the second document. The 1974 study takes note of some rhetorical excesses in the New Testament regarding the stereotyping of Pharisees. It was suggested that Catholics should not look upon the New Testament as a supercession of the Old, but rather a logical extension. While a reference was made to the Holocaust, the State of Israel still went without notice (Fisher, Klenicki, In Our Time 19-24).

"The Second Vatican Council has pointed out the path to follow in promoting deep fellowship between Jews and Christians," said the conclusion of The Guidelines in 1974, "But there is still a long road ahead" (Flannery 748).

In commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of Nostra Aetate, the Commission for the Catholic Church's Religious Relations with the Jews issued on June 24, 1985--on the feast of John the Baptist--a document entitled Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis. While the term "notes" (in Italian it is "sussidi," translated "helps" or "aids") seems a bit tame in comparison to an English phrase such as "declaration," the context and content of document were authoritative and firm.

The Commission drew from the inspired words of Pope John Paul II who, on March 6, 1982, stated that there was still much work that needed to be done in the area of Catholic-Jewish relations, and there was a need to plant the seeds for the "flowering of Jewish-Catholic dialogue" in the fertile fields of the young.

"We should aim, in this field, that Catholic teaching at its different levels, in Catechesis to children and young people, presents Jews and Judaism, not only in an honest and objective manner, free from prejudices and without offences, but also with full awareness of the heritage common to Jews and Christians," said the Pope to the Commission (Fisher, Klenicki On Jews and Judaism 39).

One subtle yet poignant note is that the release of Notes on the feast day of John the Baptist was not accidental. Since John is referred to by some as the "Jewish Saint," since he died before did Jesus, it served as a reminder that one need not be baptized into the church to be saved. The issue of salvation was met head on by Commission member Bishop Jorge Mejia with strong, definitive language as he introduced the document.

"While the statement affirms the centrality of Christ and his unique value in the economy of salvation, clearly this does not mean, however, that the Jews cannot and should not have salvific gifts from their own teachings," said Bishop Mejia (Fisher, Klenicki, In Our Time13).

Notes included a rather technical and theological comparison between the Old and New Testament, including further discussion on the terms "old" and "new." There was considerable analysis following up on Bishop Mejia's words which indicated that eschatologically speaking, the New Testament and Hebrew scriptures are both part of human beings "called to sense God's ultimate purpose" (Fisher and Klenicki, In Our Time14).

The third and fourth sections of Notes provide some detailed practical instruction on interpreting the juxtaposition of Jesus, Jews, and Judaism in the New Testament.

"The notion that Jesus in his life and teachings somehow opposed Judaism and Jewish law is thoroughly debunked," said Dr. Eugene Fisher in In Our Time. "Jesus remained a faithful observant Jew all his life, though offering some unique insights into Jewish tradition." (Fisher Klenicki, In Our Time15)

The Commission placed an entirely different spin on the notion of Jews having been cursed to wander through the world dispersed (Diaspora) in punishment for their role in the death of Jesus. In Notes, the notion is that Jews were dispersed around the world to spread their divine witness, and to offer a global example of their fidelity to God.

Unlike the previous two documents published by the Holy See in reference to Jews and Catholics, this document does indeed take note of the State of Israel. The Commission hedges a bit, though, and takes an unusual step by quoting a stance put forth by the U.S Bishops ten years earlier. The Holy See rarely quotes a local document, but may have this time for political reasons. Notes cautions Catholics that the State of Israel should be seen in a historic context and ultimately interpreted within God's design. Additionally, Catholics should also resist "making their own particular religious interpretation but to see the State in reference to the common principles of international law." (Fisher Klenicki, In Our Time17)

Some Jewish leaders still found Notes to exhibit some of the same limitations that were put forth in previous Holy See documents on Catholic-Jewish relations. Rabbi Leon Klenicki did not see a clear message of acceptance for salvation in both religions. He detected a note of triumphalism in one section and likened it to statements from Cyprian and Origen, that "outside the Church there is no salvation" (Fisher, Klenicki, In Our Time 89).

Klenicki also took offense to the reference to Jesus having been put to death by "authorities of the Jews and those who followed their lead." To the Rabbi, this assertion has no historical grounds (Fisher Klenicki, In Our Time 90).

In 1988, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy used Notes as a basis for preaching guidelines. Including was a variation on the Vatican II theme of "already but not yet."

"Both Christianity and Judaism seal their worship with a common hope: "Thy Kingdom Come! With the Jewish people, we await the complete realization of the messianic age," said the NCCB (Fisher, Klenicki, On Jews and Judaism 14).

VII. Pope John Paul II

A Polish cardinal named Karol Wojtyla became Pope in 1978. Besides his not being Italian, he differed from most of his twentieth-century predecessors in that he came to the Vatican without a diplomatic career background. Growing up in the Polish town of Wadowice whose population was 30% Jewish gave him some valuable exposure to Jewish ways of life. His temporal thinking had been greatly influenced by Cyprian Norwid, Polish philosopher and playwright who had great admiration for the Jewish culture and had actively fought their persecution.

It became clear from the outset of his papacy that Pope John Paul II was determined to continue building upon the foundation provided by Nostra Aetate and the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. Wherever he might travel, he would seek out communities with predominately Jewish populations and direct specific comments which reflected his own background, his commitment to Nostra Aetate, and his commitment to the work of his predecessors.

According to Eugene Fisher and Rabbi Leon Klenicki, the overall message of Pope John Paul II is "starkly unambiguous: the Church is not alone in the world as 'the people of God.' The Church is joined by the Jewish people in its proclamation of the oneness of God and the true nature of human history, which is defined by its end, the coming 'Reign of God'" (Fisher Klenicki On Jews and Judaism 8).

Pope John Paul II emphasizes a spiritual theme found at the core of Nostra Aetate, that there is a fraternal bond between Catholics and Jews, a link going back to Abraham. While the Pope often refers to Jews as "our elder brothers," in a context of heritage, he has learned to walk a rather fine line, being careful not to allow that endearing Biblical term from becoming an insult implying suppression or obsolescence. The Pope has persistently used powerful language to establish Judaism as a contemporary, existential force, "a living heritage which must be understood and preserved in its depth and richness by us Catholic Christians" (Fisher, Klenicki On Jews and Judaism 11).

Pope John Paul II has attempted to didactically push aside the concept of Catholic triumphalism, which inappropriately supports the concept that, if the Jewish faith begot Catholic Christianity, it died during childbirth. Conversely, he contends that the "Catholic faith is rooted in the eternal truths of the Hebrew Scriptures and in the irrevocable covenant made with Abraham" (Fisher Klenicki On Jews and Judaism 13).

Nostra Aetate (1965,) Vatican Guidelines, (1974,) and Notes(1985,) might have been pivotal in launching the inspirational reconciliation between two faiths which had been at war for almost two thousand years. Nonetheless, the documents were deficient in the eyes of some Jewish leaders in regard to the centuries of persecution, most specifically the horrors of the World War II Holocaust. Words such as "decries" or "condemn" were used as official commentary on anti-Semitism.

Pope John Paul II has taken those pronouncements to a much higher level by indicating in a 1986 address to Australian Jewish leaders that, "no theological justification could ever be found for acts of discrimination or persecution against Jews. In fact, such acts must be held as sinful" (Fisher, Klenicki On Jews and Judaism 96-97).

As previously noted, the pope took a major step forward in the Catholic-Jewish healing process with his October 1997 speech in which he acknowledged that by "blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus, certain Christian teachings had helped fuel anti-Semitism (The New York Times 11/1/97 1).

As groundbreaking as the Pope's statement might have been, some Jewish leaders still await an official apology from the Vatican for the Nazi Holocaust and an accounting for what the Holy See did or did not do to help the Jews during World War II. The Vatican has not been forthcoming with such accommodations because, observers suggest, such pronouncements might imply much greater direct Catholic responsibility for the deaths of millions of Jews than is reasonable to deduce.

Another bone of contention among Jewish leaders regarding attempts by Catholic leadership to mend relations between Catholics and Jews was the issue of the State of Israel. While the reference in Notes to the State of Israel was the first such official notation and acknowledgement by the Holy See, it suggested to some that the allusion was merely political, only "in reference to the common principles of international law" (Fisher Klenicki, In Our Time 87).

In an essay entitled "From Argument to Dialogue: Nostra Aetate Twenty-Five Years Later," Rabbi Leon Klenicki spells out the concerns expressed by Jewish leaders in regard to the Vatican falling far short of acknowledging a religious fulfillment in the establishment of the State of Israel.

"This suggestion disregards the millennia of the Jewish relationship to the land of Israel and Jerusalem, and the proclamation of this relationship in the daily liturgy, in the Passover celebration, and in almost all areas of Jewish spirituality," said Rabbi Klenicki (Fisher, Klenicki In Our Time 87).

On December 30, 1993, a fundamental agreement was signed by the Holy See and the State of Israel as a major step in establishing official relations between the Catholic hierarchy and the Jewish Holy Land. While still clinging to carefully couched language about the multi-religious significance of the nation, the need for a lasting peace between Israelis and Arabs, the rights of free worship for Catholic Palestinians in the region, the international acceptance by Israel of international borders and accords, most Jewish leaders saw the agreement as a significant step forward in relations between the Vatican and the State of Israel.

"The character of Vatican relations with Zionism, and the Jewish State has shifted over time but retains some enduring elements," said F. Michael Perko, S.J. in a paper entitled "Sound and Lasting Basis: Relations Between the Holy See, the Zionist Movement, and Israel 1896-1996." "As the Church's theological understanding of Jews and Judaism has changed, the early rationale of opposition to Zionist aspirations because of Jewish denial of Jesus’ divinity virtually disappeared" (Perko 15).

In other words, any hedging on the Israeli issue by the Vatican can now be viewed within the contemporary context of statecraft, not lingering, unresolved anti-Semitism.

The true essence of Pope John Paul II's attempts to heal wounds left by the bitter historical, theological, and sociological relations between Catholics and Jews may not be realized for decades. What may result from careful analysis of his words and works in this area is that he finally moved the Catholic Church away of age old misconceptions, opened the door to new ideas and future dialogue, and yet he kept such progress within the scope of a pluralistic, ever-changing world. When Pope John Paul II speaks, he speaks for every Catholic.

When he speaks out about relations between Catholics and Jews he speaks out of love and respect for the Jewish people but also within the context of Nostra Aetate, a plan conceived by Pope John XXIII, endorsed by 2300 bishops, and developed by a compliant faithful. The world owes John Paul II a tremendous debt for having helped stimulate that kind of progress.

VIII. The Future

Some of the aforementioned individuals are included within a continuously expanding core of authors, scholars, and clergy devoted to the cause of enhancing Catholic and Jewish relations. Dr. Eugene J. Fisher, Rabbi Leon Klenicki, Father John Pawlikowski, Dr. Marc H. Tanenbaum, Rabbi A. James Rudin, Dr. Lawrence Boadt et.al. comprise an integral part of this growing movement. Here on Long Island, Monsignor Donald M. Beckmann, Director of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, devotes a major part of his ministry to bettering relations between Catholics and Jews in Nassau and Suffolk parishes and synagogues.

There is considerable evidence that such efforts are being made throughout the United States as well as in various countries around the globe. The huge popularity gained in recent years by the "God Squad," the writing and television partnership between Rockville Centre's Monsignor Thomas Hartman and Melville's Rabbi Marc Gellman is part of such efforts. The work of Rev. Monsignor Royale M. Vadakin and Rabbi Alfred Wolf began in California but has been expanded nationwide. Huntington, Long Island attorney Ronald Goldstein is part of a group examining the opportunities for concurrent changes in both Catholic and Jewish liturgy.

Rev. Pawlikowski's book Christ in the Light of the Christian-Jewish Dialogue presents a very important focus for future theological relations between the two faiths. He summarizes his convictions into four basic areas which he classifies as being an inclusive part of Catholic Christology: [Note: Notre Dame theology Professor Richard P. McBrien defines "Christology" as the "critical theological reflection upon the Christian confession that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ.") (McBrien 311)]:

    1. that the Christ event did not invalidate the Jewish faith perspective.
    2. That Christianity is not superior to Judaism, nor is it the fulfillment of Judaism as previously maintained.
    3. That the Sinai covenant is in principle as crucial to Christian faith expression as the covenant in Christ.
    4. And that Christianity needs to reincorporate dimensions from its original Jewish context.

"Such a Christology needs to make room both for the ongoing validity of the Jewish covenant and for the recognition of its unique and central insights that presently are not incorporated, or are at least understated by the Christian church," said Fr. Pawlikowski in his essay "New Trends in Catholic Religious Thought" (Fisher Rudin Tanenbaum 178).

While there may be an apparent dearth in women's names in the above listing, the female presence in the movement must be acknowledged. Professor, Catholic theologian, and a recurrent faculty member of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception staff, Dr. Monika Hellwig is recognized as having formulated the concept of a single, expanding covenant, once again a spin-off of the Vatican II theology of "already but not yet.".

"There is a most important sense in which Jesus is not yet Messiah," said Professor Hellwig in a paper entitled, "Christian Theology and the Covenant of Israel." "The eschatological tension has not been resolved. Logically the Messianic Event should be seen as lengthy, complex, unfinished and mysterious." (qtd. in Fisher, Rudin, Tanenbaum 173)

Professor and theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether shares views similar to Professor Hellwig. In a paper entitled "An Invitation to Jewish-Christian Dialogue: In What Sense Can We Say That Jesus Was 'The Christ'?" Dr. Ruether joins other Christian theologians in rejecting the idea that human conditions over the past two thousand years might provide any possibility that a Messianic event could have been completed merely with Christ's having come (Fisher, Rudin, Tanenbaum 178).

Judith Herschcopf Banki is Associate National Director of International Affairs of the American Jewish Committee. Her focus in relations between the two faiths is primarily educational. In her essay "Religious Education Before and After Vatican II," Dr. Banki takes note of the need for educational paradigm modification in textbooks and classroom teaching for Christians and Jews, in America, and around the world.

While concerted emphasis has seemingly been placed upon improved efforts to educate Catholics about Jews, there are, indicates Dr. Banki, great steps necessary to educate Jews about Catholics. She discusses in her essay attempts to dispel the hatred, mistrust, and stereo-typing harbored by many Jews toward Christians, and the tremendous need for development of new texts and teaching resources.

On the positive side, Dr. Banki takes note of the ever-growing number of aggressive steps being taken in religious seminaries to expand the dialogue. This phenomenon is quite evident at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception where Rabbis Leon Klenicki and Asher Finkel have taught for years.

"The progress that has been made since Vatican II is remarkable against a background of estrangement that preceded it," said Dr. Banki. " But we have much work to do together." (Fisher, Rudin, Tanenbaum 133)


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