- Created: December 10, 2015
- Written by Norbert J. Hofmann
It was originally intended as early as the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate to publish a document of the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews. For several reasons, this was not possible in 2005. Looking back, we can say that it was better to have waited until today because the theological issues in the current document have been intensely discussed in detail especially over the last ten years.
It is not the intention of the document to put a final point on these discussions. Rather, it wants to be an incentive to the continuation and deepening of the theological dimension of the Catholic-Jewish dialogue. The Commission for Religious Relations with Judaism refers to the same objective that Pope Francis has set, namely to ensure that the Catholic-Jewish dialogue acquires greater depth and breadth from the theological point of view. Here, too, is one of the main reasons why this document is published at this time: the theological dialogue between Jews and Catholics should receive new impetus.
It is our hope that Catholic theologians engaged for a long time in Jewish-Catholic dialogue will take in and further develop the reflections contained in the document. In fact, the document is aimed primarily at those who are active in this dialogue. However, it may also be useful to those interested, more generally, in Jewish-Catholic relations.
The document was developed not only on the basis of the statements of Catholic faith, but also taking into account the positions of our dialogue partners. At one point in the preparation of the document, in fact, Jewish consultants were also involved, being asked for an opinion on the adequacy of the text in regard to Judaism. In the text there are references not only to the Old and the New Testament, but also to the Mishnah and the Talmud. The preparation of the document lasted a total of two and half years since its initial drafts in 2013. Pope Benedict XVI had already agreed to the preparation of such a document, but only with the "placet" given by Pope Francis shortly after his election could the work commence.
From the beginning there has been close collaboration with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which is of course always consulted when it comes to Vatican theological texts. In this regard, we would like to thank His Eminence Cardinal Gerhard Müller and his staff for their expertise and availability in this joint work.
Since Cardinal Koch, Cardinal Müller and myself are native German speakers, the first draft of the document was drafted in German. A small group of four people, two representatives of our Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, and two representatives of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, prepared the first version of the document before it was translated into English. The text was read by both Cardinals, who proposed some revisions, after which an international consultation of consultors of our Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews was organized. These consultors, on the basis of the English text, put forward suggestions for improving the document. In light of these observations, the text was revised and sent to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which, in turn, referred it to its own consultors. The English version of the document was further revised taking these suggestions into account. This means that the document is the result of collective work to which many competent people have contributed. We are sincerely grateful to all of them.
After authorization was granted in September 2015 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the text was presented to the Secretary of State, who, shortly after, in October 2015, gave the green light for its publication. Pope Francis had already given his consent in December 2014 to the publication of a document by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews for the 50th anniversary of the promulgation of Nostra Aetate (no. 4).
The exact date of the commemoration of Nostra Aetate was on October 28, the day when, fifty years ago, the Declaration was promulgated by the Second Vatican Council. That same day, Pope Francis dedicated his general audience to the Council's Declaration. From the beginning it was decided not to publish this document—which is the fourth document of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews—as part of the celebrations of October 28, but to set aside a distinct and separate moment. The earliest date for us was today, December 10, since in November we were still finalizing the translations of the text. As already noted, the original text is in English, but versions are also available in Italian, French, Spanish and German.
For today's presentation of the document, we have invited two Jewish friends, who were also involved in the process of preparation of the text: Rabbi David Rosen of Jerusalem from the American Jewish Committee and Dr. Edward Kesseler of the Woolf Institute in Cambridge. I think it is an eloquent and positive sign that Jewish leaders with whom we conduct Catholic-Jewish dialogue are also involved in the presentation of this document. The public will surely be interested in knowing how our Jewish interlocutors welcomed the document.
Of course, and I want to reiterate this, this document is a Catholic text, formulated from a Catholic perspective, since it is normal that as believing Christians we clearly affirm our identity as a faith in dialogue with Judaism, as we expect our Jewish dialogue partners to do. Only in this way can mutual respect and mutual appreciation grow, only then can we both know each other better and become a blessing for others.