Nostra Aetate – A Christian Declaration on Inter-Religious Relations

Cardinal Augustine Bea consults with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel in 1963

Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions

by the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church and declared official church teaching by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965.

The momentous declaration marked a radical departure from nearly 2000 years of the church’s condemnation of Judaism. Nostra Aetate explicitly states that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God.” Instead, the church categorically “decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.”

With regard to Islam, Nosta Aetate states that “the church regards with esteem also the Muslims…Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and …to promote together…social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.”

Extending the circle to all religions, Nostra Aetate finally includes the admonition that “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.”

A helpful analysis of the developments leading to the radical shift in Roman Catholic teaching, is John Connelly’s book From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965. Harvard University Press, 2012. More information here.

For a summary of the impact of Nostra Aetate on inter-religious relations over the past 50 years, see Nostra Aetate: Celebrating 50 Years of the Catholic Church’s dialogue with Jews and Muslims, ed. Pim Valkenberg &‎ Anthony Cirelli, The Catholic University of America Press, 2016. More information here.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate in 2015, an interfaith gathering was held in New York City with Pope Francis, Jewish and Muslim representatives, as well as leaders from other religious traditions.

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