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.

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# Article Title Date Author
1 Submitted Draft: "On the Jews and Non-Christians" September 01, 1964 Second Vatican Council Coordinating Commission
2 Report on the Statement "On Jews and Non-Christians" September 25, 1964 Augustin Cardinal Bea
3 The Council's Deliberations (1) September 28, 1964 Council Fathers at Vatican II
4 The Council's Deliberations (2) September 29, 1964 Council Fathers at Vatican II
5 The Council's Deliberations (3) September 29, 1964 Council Fathers at Vatican II
6 Subsequent Draft of the "Declaration on the Church's Relationship to Non-Christian Religions" November 18, 1964 Council Fathers at Vatican II