“Vatican Council II, The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Volume I” by Austin Flannery, O.P.
Costello Publishing Company, Northport, New York, 1996, 1,036 pages,
Document in Review, Nostra Aetate, p.738-742. Grades 9 and higher.
Anti-Semitism is a bigoted prejudice that allows attacks on Jewish people, synagogues or institutions. It has happened throughout the last 2,000 years with evil outbursts of violence against individual Jews and the religion of Judaism.
Last week, in Pittsburgh, a number of worshippers were murdered in a local synagogue by a twisted, anti-Semantic attacker. The local churches of all religions have come to the aid of this bereaved synagogue. A local mosque provided thousands of dollars of funds for the victims. The Bishop of Pittsburgh spoke out strongly against the violence. Vatican II addressed this very important concern in one of the final documents of the Council. Entitled Nostra Aetate (“In Our Times”), the Church has given Catholics in particular and all Christians in general a grace-filled document to guide their actions.
At the crucifixion of Jesus, the mob and the Jewish leadership pressed the hesitant Pontius Pilate to condemn Our Lord. Pilate knows Jesus is innocent and tries to get him released. But when his hand is finally forced, he turns Christ over for execution. The rabble, inspired by the High Priest, then shouts that His (Jesus) blood would be upon them and their children. (Mt 27:25) With this, Jesus is led to His crucifixion.
Several things are important to note here. First, thousands of Jews were present in Jerusalem during the Feast of Passover. Most of them were not standing in front of Pilate and had no hand in these events. Hence they have no guilt. Second, the mob does not represent the Jewish people, let alone have the authority to call down a curse on the Jewish people.
Unfortunately, over the centuries, the events at the Crucifixion will be used by bigots to commit horrific attacks on Jews. The worst in history were the events during the Holocaust.
Because of this history of bloodshed and hatred, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) wrote the Declaration On The Relation of the Church To Non-Christian Religions. As is normal with formal church documents, the first several words in the opening of the document are what the document becomes known as. This document starts with the Latin words, Nostra Aetate (In Our Times) and is always referred to as such. Nostra Aetate begins with some positive thoughts on Hinduism and Buddhism. Islam is treated with high regard because of its monotheism, the belief in the God of Abraham.
In the second half of the document, Nostra Aetate discusses the relationship of the Catholic Church and Judaism. It traces the marvelous plan of salvation that God begins with Moses and the Prophets. Using St. Paul’s analogy from Romans 11:28-29, all Gentiles are like wild branches that have been grafted onto the Jewish tree started by God to prepare for the Incarnation. This in no way is meant to be demeaning to Gentiles as St. Paul simply is pointing out that God’s plan of salvation began with the Jews.
In powerful words, Nostra Aetate then states that though the mob pressed for Christ’s death, that neither Jews at the time nor all the Jews in our age can be called accursed and rejected by God. The horrible accusation that Jews are “Christ-killers” cannot be used without violating the Catholic faith, and the Bible may not be interpreted to allow the persecution of the Jews.
Nostra Aetate concludes by decrying all hatred and acts of anti-Semitism against the Jewish people.
Nostra Aetate is a short, easy to understand document. 2,221 bishops voted for the document against 88 opposing bishops. Pope Paul VI signed the document. If this had been a football game the score would have been 222 to 8. A formal council document, approved by the overwhelming number of bishops of the Church and signed by the pope can be considered to be in the Deposit of the Faith. We thank the Council Fathers for their beautiful document defending the Faith and condemning anti-Semitism.
Nostra Aetate can be easily found on the internet. I hope you take the opportunity to read this seminal document in Jewish-Catholic relations.