"Nostra Aetate" was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965 – exactly 50 years ago. Among others, it exonerated the Jewish people of the collective blame of Jesus’ death – one of the main sources of religious anti-Semitism throughout history.
Pope Francis (October 28, 2015): The Council, with the Declaration Nostra Aetate, has indicated the way: "yes" to rediscovering Christianity’s Jewish roots; "no" to every form of anti-Semitism and blame for every wrong, discrimination and persecution deriving from it.
"Nostra Aetate" is the declaration on the relation of the Catholic Church to non-Christian religions. The document passed by a vote of 2,221 to 88 at the Second Vatican Council and was promulgated on October 28, 1965 by Pope Paul VI – exactly 50 years ago. This document marked a historical and theological change, exonerating the Jewish people of the collective blame of Jesus’ death – an accusation that has been one of the main sources of religious anti-Semitism throughout history.
The document stated: "… 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." The text goes on to condemn anti-Semitism: "… The Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews … decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone."
Christians and Jews have traveled a long path in the last 2,000 years, marked by centuries of Christian denigration and oppression of the Jews. The Church’s approach to the Jewish state has also evolved dramatically in the last 100 years.
In 1904, the founder of Zionism Theodor Herzl met with Pope Pius X and asked for his support for the establishment of a Jewish state. The Pope rejected the idea categorically and the Holy See objected to the Partition Resolution of 1947.
"Nostra Aetate" marked a new beginning in the interfaith dialogue between Israel and the Church, based on mutual respect. The widespread perception by Catholics of the Jews, until 1965, as condemned by God to suffer exile and degradation was replaced by the words of Pope John Paul II: "You are our dearly beloved brothers…our elder brothers," and Pope Francis: "A Christian cannot be anti-Semitic because of our common roots."
Following the 1967 Six-Day War, all of Jerusalem and the Christian holy sites came under Israeli control. Direct contact between Israel and leading figures in the Catholic world increased in frequency. Then, in 1984, for the first time, the "State of Israel" was mentioned in a signed Papal document, and the historic religious bond between the Jewish people and Israel was recognized. The Catholic Church published a number of other documents with guidelines for the implementation of "Nostra Aetate" and the correct way to present Jews and Judaism in Catholic teaching and prayers.
The Fundamental Agreement of 1993 was the next milestone – both a political agreement between two states, and a historic agreement of reconciliation between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people. The agreement is based on four fundamental points: the establishment of diplomatic relations, the commitment to cooperate in combating anti-Semitism, the promotion of cultural and academic exchanges, and cooperation in encouraging Christian pilgrimages.
The historic visits to Israel of Pope John Paul II in 2000, and Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 were followed by Pope Francis’ visit to Israel in May 2014. These visits contributed significantly to the process of reconciliation, recognition and dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, and to Israel’s relations with the Holy See.
Fifty years after "Nostra Aetate", the Jewish-Catholic dialogue is open, honest, and warm. The main challenge today is to spread the message of "Nostra Aetate" in Christian communities throughout the world.
Pope Francis on the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of "Nostra Aetate": "Deserving of special gratitude to God is the veritable transformation of Christian-Jewish relations in these 50 years. Indifference and opposition have changed into cooperation and benevolence. From enemies and strangers we have become friends and brothers. The Council, with the Declaration Nostra Aetate, has indicated the way: "yes" to rediscovering Christianity’s Jewish roots; "no" to every form of anti-Semitism and blame for every wrong, discrimination and persecution deriving from it."
Letter Placed by Pope John Paul II at the Western Wall
March 26, 2000
Copyright: GPO/Avi Ohayon
God of our fathers,
You chose Abraham and his descendants
to bring your Name to the Nations:
we are deeply saddened
by the behaviour of those
who in the course of history
have caused these children of yours to suffer,
and asking your forgiveness
we wish to commit ourselves
to genuine brotherhood
with the people of the Covenant.
Jerusalem, 26 March 2000
Signed: John Paul II