Martin M. van Brauman


On October 15, 1965, the Second Vatican Council ratified the Nostra Aetate (In Our Time), the Roman Catholic “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.”[1] The guiding spirit of change for the Second Vatican Council was Pope John XXIII (1958-1963), who helped Balkan Jews escape Nazi death contrary to the wishes of his superiors in the Vatican while he was the pope’s apostolic delegate to Turkey.[2]  Pope John gave the task of preparing a declaration on Jewish relationship to Augustine Cardinal Bea, the head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for Christian Unity.[3]

After the Pope’s death in June 1963, Cardinal Bea completed the papal charge of the Nostra Aetate.[4]  Pope Paul VI promulgated it as the official doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church on October 28, 1965 in spite of internal Church and Arab protests.[5]  The Nostra Aetate affirmed that God’s covenant continues with the Jewish people and that “the ongoing vitality of the Jewish religion is part of God’s plan.”[6]

Subsequent to Nostra Aetate, Catholic theologian Professors Didier Pollefeyt and Jürgen Manemann stated that for the Jews the Covenant of Torah is sufficient for redemption and for the Gentiles Jesus is necessary for salvation.[7]  Professor Didier Pollefeyt wrote in Christology after Auschwitz: A Catholic Perspective that the Christian church must acknowledge the reality, in which it exists, is understood only when Israel’s continuing covenant with God is both recognized and confessed as essential to it.

On December 10, 2015, the Commission For Religious Relations With The Jews published “A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of ‘Nostra Aetate’ (No. 4).” The document presents the current theological questions that have developed since the Second Vatican Council and the importance for a continuation of Jewish-Catholic dialogue.  God began by choosing a people through Abraham and setting them apart by taking them out of bondage in Egypt and revealing himself through the establishment of the covenant at Sinai.  At Sinai, the twelve tribes become a nation people and a witness to the world of the redeeming God.  This covenant means a relationship with God and God reveals himself in his Word with the history of the Jewish people.

The paper further states that the Torah is the instruction for a life in the proper relationship with God. Through Torah study, the Jew receives communion with God.  In the June 30, 2015 address to members of the International Council of Christians and Jews, Pope Francis stated:

The Christian confessions find their unity in Christ; Judaism finds its unity in the Torah.  Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh in the world; for Jews the Word of God is present above all in the Torah. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the One God, the God of the Covenant, who reveals himself through his Word.  In seeking a right attitude towards God, Christians turn to Christ as the fount of new life, and Jews to the teaching of the Torah.

In response to whether God has repudiated the Jewish people, the paper quotes at the top of the title page from Romans 11:29 that “The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable” and states that “the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery.”  The paper follows with the quote from Romans 11:33:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways.   

How can the Christian belief in the universal salvation through Jesus be combined with the equally clear statement of faith in the irrevocable covenant of God with Israel through the Jewish people?  The Catholic Church is saying that it is not a matter of missionary efforts to convert Jews, but rather the expectation within the mysteries of God’s work that someday “all peoples will call on God with one voice and serve him shoulder to shoulder.”



[1] Jeremy Cohen, Christ Killers: The Jews and the Passion from the Bible to the Big Screen, (1st ed. 2007), pp. 167, 173.

[2] Ibid., p. 173.

[3] Ibid., p. 172.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., p. 173.

[6] James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, (1st ed. 2001), p. 38.

[7] Berger, Alan L. and David Patterson, Jewish-Christian Dialogue: Drawing Honey from the Rock, (1st ed. 2008), p. 23.

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