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.

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# Article Title Date Author
1 Decree on the Jews (Decretum de Iudaeis) November 1961 Secretariat for Christian Unity
2 On the Attitude of Catholics Toward Non-Christians and Especially Toward Jews November 1963 Secretariat for Christian Unity
3 Appendix 'On the Jews' to the "Declaration on Ecumenism" March 1964 Secretariat for Christian Unity
4 On the Jews and Non-Christians September 1964 Second Vatican Council Coordinating Commission
5 Declaration on the Church's Relationship to Non-Christian Religions November 1964 Secretariat for Christian Unity
6 Amendments to Section 4 March 1965 Secretariat for Christian Unity