Nostra Aetate deliberations
- Created: September 25, 1964
- Written by Augustin Cardinal Bea
1. Since I am about to speak about the draft of the Statement “On Jews and Non-Christians,” how shall I start if not from the fact that this statement is certainly included among the subjects for which public opinion, as it is called, manifests the greatest interest. Hardly any other draft has had so much written about it in the newspapers, and these are very widely circulated. Whatever has to be said about the reasons for this interest, and about the judgment concerning the validity of it, it is obviously clear just from the fact of this interest that public opinion is turning its eyes to the Church precisely on this issue and that from the approval or non-approval of this Declaration many will make favorable or unfavorable judgments concerning the Council. This fact is certainly neither the sole nor principal reason for the necessity of this Declaration. For, in the first place, the Church’s fidelity in the following the example of Christ and His Apostles demands the Declaration. On the other hand, however, these rather external reasons also ought not to be overlooked. They also make it very clear that the request of some of the Venerable Fathers, that this question be completely removed from the list of items to be dealt with, is manifestly impossible. Our Secretariat has seriously examined the reasons these Fathers have advanced and has taken every care that this text of the Declaration be diligently reviewed in accordance with the decisions thus far expressed by the Fathers of the Council. Also the members of the Committee, entrusted with the coordination of the Council’s works, know that they have spent no little time on this brief text.
2. This is the process involved in such a review. First of all, in accordance with the decisions expressed in the Hall at the second Session of the Council, the short introduction that was found in the prior text at the beginning of the chapter was elaborated and became the second part of the Statement.1 Therefore, the draft is now made up of two almost equal parts: one concerning the Jews, the other concerning non-Christians.2
3. As for the first part, which concerns the Jews, the text is above all somewhat better arranged, so that, of course, there is a better flow of ideas. Likewise, some new ideas have been added, especially two texts from the Epistle to the Romans, namely about the privileges of the elected people (9, 4) and about the Christian hope for their final union with the elected people of the New Testament, that is the Church (11, 25).
4. The main target for the introduction of significant changes was the question of the so-called “deicide.” It is known that this issue was very fully discussed in the print media. This, however, was done without any cooperation or intervention on the part of the Secretariat. Therefore, the principal elements of this issue ought to be pointed out to you. It concerns the question whether and in what way the guilt for the condemnation and death of Christ the Lord has to be attributed to the Jewish people, as such. For quite a few modern Jews maintain that the conviction concerning the stated culpability of the people as such is the main root of so-called antisemitism and, therefore, the source of the many evils and persecutions to which the Jews have been subjected throughout the ages. Of course, this assertion is scarcely tenable. Last year in our report on this same draft that took place in this Hall I clearly asserted: “Do we [not] know very well that there are quite a few reasons for antisemitism that do not relate to the religious sphere, but belong to the politico-nationalistic, or psychological or social or economic spheres? On the other hand, however, one cannot deny that there are present in the history of different nations not a few instances where that conviction about the guilt of the Jewish people as such has led to their considering and calling the Jews with whom they lived a “deicide” people who are rejected and accursed, and therefore to despising them, indeed, even to persecuting them. Therefore, the Jews today most earnestly insist that the Council publicly and solemnly admit to the contrary that the death of the Lord is not to be attributed in any way to the Jewish people as such. But, the immediate question is: is such a declaration possible on the part of the Council. If it is possible, how is it be done and what should its tenor be?
As it is clear, there is no question here, nor could there be such a question, of denying any point of doctrine that3 is found in Scripture. Rather this is the question: Certainly the leaders of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, although they were not elected in a democratic fashion, were considered, and have to be considered, in accordance with the mentality of the times and of Sacred Scripture itself, the legitimate authority of the people. Their tragic burden rests upon the fact that their authority4 was dealing with the condemnation and death of Jesus the Christ. But one has to ask, what was this burden? Did those first people in Jerusalem fully understand the divinity of Christ, and therefore, are they formally to be said to be deicides? Our Lord, while on the cross, prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23, 34). If this account is not an empty formula – God forbid – it certainly means that the Jews had no idea of what they were doing. St. Peter as well, when he was speaking to the people of Judea about the crucifixion, said, “I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” (Acts 3, 17). Therefore, St. Peter also excuses them in some way! Likewise St, Paul (Acts 13, 27). Moreover, whatever knowledge the leaders in Jerusalem had, can the entire Jewish people of that time as such in this way and simply be accused because of the actions of their leaders in Jerusalem of destroying Christ? Statistics show that in apostolic times the diaspora in the Roman Empire numbered about four and one-half millions.5 Are all of these6 to be accused of the things that the Sanhedrin carried out on that sorrowful Good Friday? And even given, not conceded, that those acts can be attributed to all the people of that time as such, by what right can they be imputed to the present-day Jewish people? Do we ever in any instance blame any other people for what their ancestors or leaders did nineteen centuries before?
5. Our Secretariat took pains to give consideration to these dimensions. The purpose was two-fold: on the one hand that the blame of those who decreed that Christ the Lord be led to the cross according to the Gospel accounts be affirmed; and on another that the blame not be ascribed to the people as such, and much less to today’s people.7 In this instance, however, it does not help to appeal to the fact that Christ the Lord died for all people. For, this fact8 at least indicates that the blame for the Lord’s death in the historical order – and this is our only concern here – has to be transferred to all people and that they in the historical order were the efficient cause of the Lord’s death. On the other hand, however, the Jewish people as such – both in Christ’s time and even more in our time – should not in the least be accused for a fault that is not theirs. I ask, therefore, that this problem and it various aspects be kept in mind as you examine this part of the Declaration.
It is clear that because of the difficulty of the question, and in the attempt also to meet the Fathers’ desires and difficulties, several formulas, one after another, were successively tried. As a result many consultations took place on different issues, which, as many of you know, even became, I do not know how, publicly known. On this occasion both the Council Fathers and others, even non-Catholics and non-Christians, asked that the question of “deicide” nevertheless be treated somehow in the declaration. It would be tedious to deal with these deliberations one by one. Let it be sufficient to give some indication of how one arrived at the text that you have at hand. Permit one addition: these considerations took a long time. As a result it was not yet permitted to submit this section of the Declaration to the members of the Secretariat for examination. For, inasmuch as the Secretariat completed all the other material in its session in March, it did not seem right to gather in Rome once more the Members just for this additional section. So, all that remains is to submit for your examination and discussion the draft of the Declaration, Venerable Fathers. As you see, it deals with a matter of great importance, which is, however, at the same time very difficult.
Therefore, our Secretariat will graciously accept your suggestions concerning this part of the Declaration to bring the issue in the best way possible to a good conclusion according to the will of the Council.
6. Something remains to be said about the second part of the Declaration that concerns our relationship with non-Christian religions9 As I have already said in the general discussion of the draft “On Ecumenism” that occurred last year, quite a few people desired a fuller10 treatment of our relationship to followers of non-Christian religions, and some Fathers also asked that Muslims be explicitly mentioned. No one fails to see the importance of this point in present-day circumstances; for, since representatives of different non-Christian religions generally are seeking some contacts with the Catholic Church, and all religions in general are today surrounded either by practical impiety or even by militant theoretical atheism that are widely spreading. When our Secretariat first touched upon this theme, indeed even up to May of this year, there was no other Commission or Secretariat to address the matter (the Secretariat for non-Christian Religions was not established until about the feast of Pentecost this year); consequently, we had no recouse except for our Secretariat to take charge of this matter.11 Therefore, with the assistance of some of the experts of the Council we strived to work out some sort of first draft. After examination of this draft, the Coordinating Commission with a letter of 18 April decided that three ideas were to be especially expounded in this part: namely, God is the Father of all human beings and they are His children; and they are, therefore, brothers and sisters of one another; consequently, every kind of discrimination, force and persecution exercised for reasons of nationality or race must be condemned. The Secretariat did as best as it could to comply with this decision.
In working out the drafts explicit mention also has been made of Muslims in accordance with the desire of many of the Fathers. On this point, however, may we say that the text concerning them has been praised by especially qualified men, namely by the Institute of Oriental Studies, founded by the Dominican Fathers in Cairo, and by the African Mission Fathers (The White Fathers) of the Pontifical Institute of Oriental Studies in Tunisia.
Since, however, all the other materials that the Secretariat dealt with were already released by the beginning of March, it was not permitted to submit this part of the Declaration to the judgment of the Members of the Secretariat. This submission will now be able to be made, after you, Venerable Fathers, express your mind concerning the draft.
Before I come to a close, may I be permitted to add a word about the relationship of this Declaration with the draft on Ecumenism? As you may recall from the discussion last year, the inclusion of this material in the draft “On Ecumenism” was not acceptable to quite a number of Fathers. This fact is easily understood because “Ecumenism” in the strict sense signifies action to promote the unity of Christians. Because, however, of the deep relationship that exists between the Church, that is the elected people of the New Covenant, and the elected people of the Old Covenant, which is common to all Christians, there is obviously a connection between ecumenical activity and the question dealt with in this Declaration. Nevertheless, the connection between Christians and the Jewish people is less strict than the relations that exist among Christians themselves. Therefore, this material concerning our relationship towards the Jews is somehow separated from the draft “On Ecumenism,” and, therefore, is not dealt with in any chapter of the draft “On Ecumenism,” but is handled separately in some Declaration that is added on to the draft “On Ecumenism” only rather externally. In this way perhaps everyone will be able to be satisfied, or more easily, because the question of location is not that important.
* * *
In conclusion, permit me to express the nature and importance of the questions that are treated in this brief draft. It deals with matters of the greatest importance for the Church and for the modern world. As to the relation to non-Christians the importance of this matter is already clear from that fact that this topic is being dealt with for the first time in the history of the Church by any Council, and also from the fact that the Holy See has set up a special instrument to foster relations with non-Christian religions. The same is also abundantly clear from the programmatic Encyclical Letter of the Supreme Pontiff “Ecclesiam Suam,” where there is discussion of non-Christians and of dialogue with them. Let us, moreover, consider that at issue here is the relationship of Catholics to hundreds of millions of human beings, charity towards those people, and fraternal assistance to them or cooperation with them.12
As for the Jewish people, it should be again and again clearly asserted, there is no concern here for any political question, but for a purely religious question. We are not talking about Zionism or about the political State, Israel,13 but of the followers of the religion of Moses, wherever they live in the world. Nor is it a question of heaping honors and praises on the Jewish people, of extolling them over other nations, or of giving them any privileges. Some think that the draft suffers from the fact that it makes no mention of all the things – and they are not a few – that Christ the Lord sharply said to the Jews or about them, and that it does not recall the divine benefits that this people lost because of their incredulity. They claim, therefore, that the draft does not present a sufficiently fair image of the real condition of this people. If quite a few Fathers are of this opinion, we will clearly subject the matter to a careful examination. It may, however, be permissible at present to suggest that the aim of the Declaration is scarcely to give an image, and one that is complete and perfect in every instance, of the condition of the Jewish people. Otherwise, how much would have to be said, how much evidence14 would have to have to be produced! The Lord Jesus certainly spoke very sharply about this people and to the people, as we know, for example, from St. Matthew’s Gospel, but He did all of this with charity to warn them of the hour that was returning, that “they might know the time of their visitation” (cf. Lk, 19, 44), and accept the graces offered to them, and thus be saved. St. Paul as well wrote to the Thessalonians about the Jews: “who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and displease God and oppose all men by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they may be saved – so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon then at last!” (1 Thess 2, 15 ff.). But, on the other hand, the same Apostle affirmed: “I am speaking the truth in Christ ... that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For, I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren ...” (Rom, 9, 1-30). Our Declaration has, therefore, this goal and purpose, that the Church imitate Christ and His Apostles in this charity, that it be renewed in this imitation, as it considers in what way God has worked out her salvation, how many benefits He has conferred upon her through this people. And to the degree that it is a question of the condemnation and death of the Lord at Jerusalem, that were brought on by the activity of the Jewish leaders, it is our function to imitate Christ the Lord’s charity on the cross as he prayed to His Father for them, and excused His persecutors with these words “they know not what they do;” to imitate the charity of the Prince of the Apostles and of the Apostle of the Gentiles. If the Lord while suffering persecution behaved in this way towards His persecutors how much more should we nurture charity to the current members of the Jewish people who share no guilt in that affair? While, then, the Church in this Council is devoted to her own renewal, and in accordance with the well known expression of the Supreme Pontiff John XXIII, of happy memory, is diligently renewing herself in the great ardor of her youth, it seems that we should be involved in this matter so that the Church may be renewed in this aspect as well. This renewal is of such importance that it is worth the effort to expose ourselves to the danger that some people may perhaps take advantage of this Declaration for political purposes. For at stake are our duties to truth and justice, our duty of thanks to God, of our duty to imitate faithfully and very closely Christ the Lord Himself and His Apostles Peter and Paul. In discharging these offices the Church and this Council can in no way permit the involvement of political authority or consideration in this affair.
1. In the speech: (n. 33).
2. These two parts end (n. 34) with the condemnation of all forms of discrimination.
3. In the New Testament, especially.
5. therefore much more, much more than in Palestine itself.
6. those in the diaspora
7. Therefore the text in n.32 (p. 47) the final two lines are proposed: “Moreover, let Christians take care not to put the blame for what was done in the Passion and Death of Christ on the Jews of our times.” Therefore, the question of deicide on the part of the leaders of the people and the people of that time does not seem to be considered in this draft.
8. this is certainly very true, but this.
9. I mention non-Christian religions: the title says “On Jews and non-Christians,” but non-Christians are also atheists, therefore it seems that the reality has to be more clearly expressed.
11. sufficiently difficult.
12. in those things that belong to religion and morals.
13. established in Palestine.
14. doctrinal and historical.