Celebrating Nostra Aetate




50 Years ago on 28 October, the Catholic Church issued Nostra Aetate, which expressed new relations with other religions. Here, Pope Francis greets Jain Nuns in St Peter’s Square, Rome, on the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate


Nostra aetate (Latin: In our Time) is the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions of the Second Vatican Council. Passed by a vote of 2,221 to 88 of the assembled bishops, this declaration was promulgated on October 28, 1965, by Pope Paul VI. In Australia, this anniversary was observed with a special celebration at the Great Synagogue, Sydney.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. This document transformed the Church’s attitude towards believers from other religions. For the first time in history, the Church spoke positively about other religions. The Declaration is widely considered a “watershed” in the relations between Catholics and believers from other religions. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have called it the Magna Carta of the Church’s new attitude and approach to other religions. It continues to inspire and to guide Catholics in forging relationships of mutual respect and collaboration.

The Latin title is taken from the opening lines and means “in our time”. The 50th anniversary provides us the opportunity to read the Declaration again, to appreciate its significance, to celebrate its fruits, but most of all, to apply it to the multi-religious reality of Australia and the world “in our time”, midway through the second decade of the third millennium.

History of the Declaration

Nostra Aetate is part of Vatican II’s updating the Catholic Church to bring it into relationship with the modern world. Its genesis was in the mind and heart of Pope John XXIII, who had witnessed first-hand the tribulation of the Jewish people during the Second World War and had used his then office as Apostolic Delegate to Turkey to provide them safe passage. After a meeting with the Jewish historian, Jules Isaac, who presented him with a document showing how Church teaching had contributed to the anti-Semitism which had fuelled the Shoah/Holocaust, the good Pope John directed that changing this situation was to be included in the preparations for the Council. Originally it was to be a statement on the Jews only, included in the document on the Church.

Cardinal Augustine Bea steered the text through several drafts in the Vatican Council. In the volatile atmosphere of that time, shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel, the bishops of the Middle East cautioned that a statement on the Jews only would be seen as taking political sides and would have negative consequences for the Christian minorities. Accordingly, a section was added on Islam and relations with Muslims. The bishops of Asia then asserted that their very different situation of living as a minority among the believers of the other world religions was overlooked, so further sections were added. In the process, the statement became a separate document in its own right. On 28 October 1965, in the fourth and final session, the Council Fathers approved the final draft with an overwhelming majority of 2,221 to 88. This ringing endorsement made Nostra Aetate the official Catholic teaching on relations with believers from other religions.

Summary of the Contents

Nostra Aetate consists of five brief sections:

1. A statement on the unity of the human race, our shared origin and destiny, with religions providing answers to our common questions about the meaning of life, suffering, good and evil and what lies beyond death;

2. A description of religion as a response to a hidden power, with reference to the practices and teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism, stating that the Catholic Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions;

3. A positive treatment of Muslim affinities with Catholic teaching and practice, based on references to some of the Pillars and beliefs of Islam, proposing that past hostilities be put aside in favour of mutual understanding and cooperation for the common good.

4. An account of the spiritual ties between Christians and Jews, which reproves indiscriminate accusations of Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus, affirms the ongoing validity of the Covenant between God and the people of Israel, and repudiates hatred, persecution and anti-Semitism as contrary to God’s universal love;

5. A final affirmation that since we call God “Father”, all human beings are brothers and sisters, made in God’s image, so there should be no unjust discrimination but Christians should live peaceably with all.

Observances

A Celebration of 50 Years of Nostra Aetate was held at the Great Synagogue, Sydney on 28 October. Josie Lacey, President of the NSW Branch of Religions for Peace attended this event.



Josie Lacey with Dr Giovanni Farquar and Dr Judith Banki an internationally renowned writer at the Great Synagogue in Sydney to mark the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate. Judith Banki was witness to the development of this historic declaration which she recorded. An honour to meet and hear this great Jewish woman .

You can read the Australian Catholic Bishops note on the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate here.

On 28 October, Pope Frances conducted a General Audience in St Peter’s Square on the Anniversary of Nostra Aetate. You may read a full account of the General Audience here.

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50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate on 28 October 2015