Roman Catholic Documents & Statements


Second Vatican Council

Precursors to Nostra Aetate

Thieme Karl 1953

Karl Thieme (1953)

In the wake of the Nazi genocide of Jews during the Second World War, some Christian theologians grappled with the question of the relationship of the Christian Church to the Jewish people. Between 1945-1965 they increasingly turned to chapters 9-11 of Paul's Letter to the Romans, reading it in ways that affirmed Jewish life with God. Some significant documents and writings from this period are collected here. Many of their ideas and insights were incorporated into the Second Vatican Council Declaration, Nostra Aetate and similar statements from other Christian communities.

For a detailed study of these pioneering efforts, see John Connelly, From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965 (Harvard University Press, 2012).


Conciliar Deliberations on Nostra Aetate

Vatican II Second Vatican CouncilDuring its third session in 1964, the Second Vatican Council, after many delays, formally debated a draft text of what would become Nostra Aetate, the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Relations. Cardinal Augustin Bea, president on the Secretariat for Christian Unity presented the Council on September 25, 1964 with the latest draft, entitled "On the Jews and Non-Christians." The Council's Coordinating Commission had the previous spring significantly rewritten the Secretariat's earlier version, and this was the iteration presented by the cardinal to the Council. On September 28-29, most of the Council fathers who spoke criticized this rewriting and urged that a more compelling document be prepared. Some commentators would later call these exchanges the "Great Debate" on Nostra Aetate.

In 1966, Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum of the American Jewish Committee wrote about this "Great Debate":

The moment of truth, as those of us who were privileged to be in Rome were able to observe, occurred on those two days when thirty-five cardinals and bishops from twenty-two countries arose on the floor of St. Peter's, and one after another, in terms more powerful and committed than had ever been heard before, called upon the Catholic Church to condemn anti-Semitism as a sin against the conscience of the church.  Thirty-one of the cardinals and bishops from every major continent of the world took positions regarding Catholic attitudes in relation to the Jewish people, Judaism, the role of Israel in salvation history, the synagogue and its continued relevance, conversion, anti-Semitism—positions that have never been heard before in 1,900 years of Catholic-Jewish history, positions articulated with such friendship, indeed, fraternal love, as to make clear that a profound turning point had taken place in our lifetime.  ... The publication of the full texts of the interventions would be a valuable contribution, in my judgment, to a fuller understanding of the historic implications of the Council's actions for the future of Catholic-Jewish relations.

["Vatican II: An Interfaith Appraisal: A Jewish Viewpoint," J. Banki & E. Fisher, eds., A Prophet for Our Time: An Anthology of the Writings of Rabbi Marc H. Tanenbaum (Fordham, 2002), 85.]

Implementing this suggestion more than four decades later, Dialogika is happy to make available here an English translation of the relevant Latin Synodal Acts of the Council for those three days prepared by Patrick T. Brannan, S.J. and edited by Philip A. Cunningham, both of Saint Joseph's University.

Some of the published endnotes for the various speeches seem to have been incomplete, partial, or missing. This is reflected by terms such as "lacking" in certain of the endnotes. Others seem to have been inserted on the basis of marginal handwritten notations made in the texts submitted to the Council secretary.

It is hoped that these materials will contribute to the celebration of Nostra Aetate's 50th anniversary in 2015.

The Drafting of Nostra Aetate

Bea AugustinThe process of bringing Nostra Aetate to birth was a difficult challenge for Cardinal Augustin Bea, president of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, to whom Pope John XXIII had given this task.

Initially meant  to be a statement only "On the Jews," it was not clear whether it should be a free-standing document, part of the planned constitution on the Church, part of an ecumenical text on Christian unity, or, as ultimately happened, be contained within a declaration on the Catholic Church’s relations with all the religions of the world.

There was opposition to the endeavor from both inside and outside the Council. Some bishops recoiled at the thought of changing long-standing teachings, while others feared for the safety of Christian minorities in  predominantly Muslim countries. Some prelates employed procedural maneuvers in an effort to scuttle the document, and there were delays in scheduling a formal Council debate on the text.  In addition, the foreign offices of some nations in the Middle East publicly campaigned against any statement that absolved “the Jews” of the alleged crime of crucifying Jesus.

Despite these travails, after working through a series of drafts the declaration was officially promulgated following a final, overwhelmingly favorable vote of Yes: 2221; No: 88 on October 28, 1965.  For the first time in its almost two thousand year history, a formal council of the Catholic Church had issued an authoritative declaration on Catholic-Jewish relations. This section charts the development of the Declaration through its successive major drafts.

All of the following texts were composed in Latin. The English versions here are based on translations appearing in The New York Herald Tribune, Sept. 30, 1964; The Catholic Herald (London), December 4, 1964; Arthur Gilbert, The Vatican Council and the Jews (Cleveland and New York: World Publishing, 1968); John M. Oesterreicher, The New Encounter between Christians and Jews (New York: Philosophical Library, 1986); Beatrice Bruteau, ed., Merton and Judaism, Holiness in Words: Recognition, Repentance, and Renewal (Louisville, KY : Fons Vitae, 2003), and Philip A. Cunningham, Norbert J. Hofmann, and Joseph Sievers, The Catholic Church and the Jewish People: Recent Reflections from Rome (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007),Appendix 1.


Pope Benedict XVI

Pope Benedict XVI
These statements and documents by Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013) relevant to Jewish-Christian relations are listed chronologically. Also presented here are pertinent writings by the future pope when as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he served as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Pope John Paul II

Pope Benedict XVI
The long papacy of Karol Wojtyla (1978-2005) was extremely significant for the building of positive relations between Jews and Christians. His friendships with Jews beginning from his boyhood in Poland produced a deeply personal commitment to promoting Christian-Jewish reconciliation, as can be seen from the large number of relevant texts listed below. He was canonized a saint by Pope Francis on April 27, 2014.

Kurt Cardinal Koch

Koch Kurt 3On July 1, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI appointed the then Bishop of Basel, Switzerland, Kurt Koch, to be the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, succeeding the retiring Cardinal Walter Kasper. In this capacity, he also is President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews.  On November 20, 2010, he was elevated to the College of Cardinals. He has served as President of the Swiss Episcopal Conference and is a member of the Swiss Council of Religions.

This page gathers his addresses and writings concerning Catholic-Jewish relations.

Walter Cardinal Kasper

Cardinal Walter Kasper
When on May 3, 2001 Pope John Paul II appointed Cardinal Walter Kasper as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity — which includes the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, he had selected a noted theologian and professor. The author of the highly regarded book, Jesus the Christ and former professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Tubingen, Cardinal Kasper brought his theological skills to the work of the Commission, as is evident in the important essays and addresses on Christian-Jewish Relations that are gathered below. He retired as President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in 2010.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis
The election to the papacy of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J. of Argentina, on March 13, 2013, to succeed the retired Benedict XVI, was historic in many ways.  He was the first Latin American pope, the first member of the Jesuits (Society of Jesus), and the first to choose Saint Francis of Assisi for his papal name. This page presents his texts pertinent to Christian-Jewish and interreligious relations.