Nostra Aetate deliberations

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Subsequent Draft of the "Declaration on the Church's Relationship to Non-Christian Religions"

This text, revised by Cardinal Bea in the light of the Council's deliberations on September 28-29, was distributed to Council Fathers near the end of the Third Session on November 18, 1964, now as a free-standing document.

The Council record explained one revision resulting from the "Great Debate" as follows: "The paragraph concerning the church's eschatological hope is changed. Many fathers asked that in the expression of this hope, since it concerns the mystery [of Israel], any appearance of proselytism be avoided. Other fathers requested that it somehow be expressed that Christian hope also embraces all peoples. By this present [revised] paragraph we wish to satisfy all these desires" [Acta Syn.III.8, 648].

The first prelimary vote on this next draft occured on November 20 with these results — Yes: 1,651; Yes with reservations: 242; No: 99.
Over the next year, the final form of the Declaration was achieved. In comparing the penultimate text below with the final version of Nostra Aetate, note in section 4 the additional wording in the latter about Jewish rejection of the Gospel and role in the crucifixion, the removal of the word "deicide," and the revision of "condemns" to "deplores" regarding antisemitism.

The final text of Nostra Aetate was officially promulgated by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965 after a final vote of — Yes: 2221; No: 88. 

1. Preamble

In our time, when the human race is day by day being drawn closer together and the ties between diverse peoples are made stronger, the Church earnestly considers her relationship toward non-Christian religions.

For all peoples constitute one community, and have one origin, for God made the entire human race to live over all the face of the earth (cf. Acts 17, 26). One, too, is their ultimate end God: His providence, His goodness—of which creation is the witness—His saving design extends toward all people (cf. Wisd. 8, Acts 14, 17; Rom. 2, 6-7, 1 Tim. 2, 4). And in the end all the elect will be united in that Holy City whose light is the glory of God, that City where the nations will walk in His radiance (cf. Rev. 21, 24f).

People expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved mysteries of the human condition, mysteries that move human hearts today just as they did in olden times: What is humanity?  What is the meaning, what is the purpose of our existence?  What is the moral good, what sin?  Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment, and retribution after death?  What, finally, is that ultimate, inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence, which is the fountain as well as the destiny of our beings?

2. About the various non-Christian religions

Ever since ancient times, numerous peoples have had a certain perception of that hidden Power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human lives: some have even come to know of a Supreme Being and Father.  Religions, however, that are entwined with an advanced culture have been able to use, in their struggle for an answer to humanity's great questions, more refined concepts and a more developed language.

In Hinduism, for instance, people try to plumb the depths of the divine mystery, expressing it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through keen efforts of a philosophical kind; they seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition through ascetical methods, profound meditation, and a flight to God, full of love and trust.

Buddhism realizes the radical inadequacy of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which people, with minds devout and confident, seek to liberate themselves, through a self-denial and inner cleansing, from the fleetingness of things, and to attain a state of lasting quiet.  Other religions, everywhere on earth, counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by offering paths, doctrines, rules of life, and sacred rites.

The Catholic Church rejects nothing in these religions that is true and holy.  For ceaselessly she proclaims Christ, "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (Jn. 14, 6), in whom God reconciled all things to Himself (cf. 2 Cor. 15, 19).  Having learned of various paths of salvation (cf. Irenacus, Adv. Haer, IV, 28, 2; PG 7, 1062), she regards with sincere reverence those ways of action and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though different from the ones she sets forth, reflect nonetheless a ray of that Truth which enlightens all human beings.

The Church, therefore, urges her children to converse and collaborate with the followers of other religions in order to preserve, indeed to advance, those spiritual and moral goods as well as those socio-cultural values that have a home among people of other religious traditions.

3. About the Moslems

The Church regards Moslems with esteem: they adore the one God, living and enduring, the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth who has spoken to people; they strive to obey wholeheartedly His inscutable decrees, just as Abraham did, to whose faith they happily link their own.

Though Moslems do not acknowledge the divinity of Jesus, they revere Him as a Prophet.  They also honor Mary, His Virgin-Mother; at times they call on her with devotion.  Furthermore, they await the day of judgment when God will reward all those who have risen.

Furthermore, as they worship God through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, so they seek to make the moral life—be it that of the individual or that of the family and society—conform to His Will.

In the course of centuries, however, not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems.  Hence this Sacred Synod urges all not only to forget the past but also to work honestly for mutual understanding and to further as well as guard together social justice, all moral goods, especially peace and freedom, so that all of humanity may benefit from their endeavor.

4. About the Jews

As this Sacred Synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock.

With a grateful heart, the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God's saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election were already among the patriarchs, Moses, and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ — Abraham's sons according to faith — were included in the same patriarch's call, likewise that her salvation is mystically foreshadowed by the chosen people's exodus from the land of bondage.

The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament from the people with whom God in His ineffable mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant.  Nor can she forget that she feeds upon the root of that cultivated olive tree into which the wild shoots of the Gentiles have been grafted (cf. Rom. 11, 17-24).  Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ our Peace reconciled the Jews and Gentiles, making both one (cf. Eph. 2, 14, 16).

The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: "Theirs is the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.  Theirs are the patriarchs, and of them is the Christ according to the flesh," the Son of Mary the Virgin (Rom. 9, 4-5).  No less does she recall that the Apostles, the Church's foundation stones and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Chnst’s Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people.

Even though a large part of the Jews did not accept the Gospel, they remain most dear to God, according to the Apostle, for the sake of the patriarchs, since Gods gifts and call are irrevocable (cf. Rom. 11, 28 f.).  In company with the prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and "serve Him shoulder to shoulder" (Soph. 3, 9; cf. Is. 66, 3, 9; cf. Is. 66, 23; Ps. 65, 4; Rom. 11, 11-32).

Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is of such magnitude, this Sacred Synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual knowledge and respect that are, above all, the fruit of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.  Moreover, this Synod, in her rejection of injustices of whatever kind and wherever inflicted upon people, and recalling our common patrimony, deplores and condemns hatred and persecutions of Jews, whether they arose in former or in our own days.

May all, then, see to it that in their catechetical work or in their preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that could give rise to hatred or contempt of Jews in the hearts of Christians.  May they never present the Jewish people as one rejected, cursed, or guilty of deicide.  All that happened to Christ in His passion cannot be attributed to the whole people then alive, much less to that of today. Besides, the Church has always held and holds now that Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of all people and out of infinite love.  Therefore, Christian preaching is to proclaim the Cross of Christ as a sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.

5. About universal brotherhood that excludes all discrimination

We cannot truly address God the Father of all, if we refuse to treat certain people in a brotherly way, even though they are created in His image.  The relation of people to God the Father and their relation to their borthers and sisters are so intimately linked, one to the other, that Scripture is able to say: "He who does not love does not know God" (1 Jn. 4, 8; cf. 1 Jn. 2, 9-1; Lk. 10, 25-37).

Thus the ground is removed from any theory or practice that, so far as their human dignity is concerned, discriminates between one individual and another or people and people, creating a different set of rights for each of them.

All people, therefore, but especially Christians, must refrain from discrimination against, or abuse of, others because of their race, color, creed or walk of life.  But this is not enough.  Treading the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this Sacred Synod ardently implores the faithful that they rather "maintain friendly relations among the Gentiles" (1 Pet. 2, 12) and live, if possible, that is, so far as it depends on them, in peace with all (cf. Rom. 12, 18), so that they may really be sons of the Father who is in heaven (cf. Mt. 5, 44).