Nostra Aetate and the Jews



I hope that you’ve been carefully reading Nostra Aetate along with Todd. Midstream: A Jewish Monthly Review held a panel on Nostra Aetate, printed in its September/October 2005 issue. Dr Eugene Fisher, associate director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was asked, “What were the most revolutionary teachings of Nostra Aetate?”

Here’s his response:

The ancient Christian polemics of contempt against Jews and Judaism became so pervasively accepted by the Church Fathers and later Christian theologians that no one for almost two millennia ever thought to question its basic notions: collective guilt, divine punishment, replacement of the Jewish covenant with the Christian one, etc. Since there were no effective challenges to the polemics, no formal Council of the universal Church ever debated them in a systematic way. Thus, Nostra Aetate, distinctive among the Conciliar documents, does not cite previous Councils of the Church, nor the Church Fathers, nor even theologians of the stature of Augustine and Aquinas. It was, as Cardinal Walter Kasper of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews has said, the very “beginning of the beginning” of the Church’s official understanding of its relationship to Jews.

Nostra Aetate begins by noting that unlike its reflections on other world religions, the Church encounters the mystery of Israel when she delves into her own mystery, since the Church is foundationally Jewish in its origins and in its faith. St. Paul, in the only passage where he looks at whether his arguments against requiring Torah observance of gentile converts lead to the conclusion that God has revoked his Covenant with the Jews, emphatically answered that it could not: “Theirs is the sonship, the glory and the covenants” (Romans 9:4). Note the present tense. By the time of the Council, it had become conventional to translate this passage in the past tense, contrary to the obvious intent of the author. Here, a simple correction in translation of a single word opened profound new vistas of Catholic theological exploration.

If God’s Covenant with the Jews “is” rather than “was,” then supersessionism (replacement theology) falls. With it falls the notion that God has rejected His People, Israel. And with that falls the theological necessity of the collective guilt of Jews for the death of Jesus, which becomes merely an historical issue of the few leaders of the Temple priesthood actually involved.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to Nostra Aetate and the Jews

  1. Pingback: Pope Benedict on the Eucharist « Catholic Sensibility

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