Nostra Aetate

Nostra Aetate is the Vatican II document which is a Declaration on the Relation of the Church with  Non-Christian Religions. Nostra Aetate was promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 28 October 1965. This is the shortest of all the Vatican II documents.

It is five sections and begins with a reflection on how “In our times” as the world is growing closer together the Church should look at the relationship with non-Christian religions.  As we all came from the same place (God) and are all hoping for the same final goal (God). People turn to religions to help the answer the big questions in life What is man? the meaning of life?  sin? purposes does suffering serve? Other religions throughout the world try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing “ways,” comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. Regarding with reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones the Church holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.

The next bit goes into the other big Abrahamic religions and reflects on them. It begins with the Muslims noting the similarities that Christians share with Muslims, the same God, Abraham, Mary and Jesus (although not as God but as a prophet) are all held in esteem in the religion and they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Paul VI and the Bishops gathered in Rome “urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.” The focus then turns to the Jewish people as those in the new Covenant are spiritually ties to the old Covenant. It has the important section where it says that “what happened in Christ’s passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.” It’s an earth shaking statement since for a long time the Jewish people were who people blamed for the death of Jesus but Paul VI says that they do not have the right to say that. Then It goes on to re-state what was said in the Papal Bull Sicut Judaeis, that the Church is against all types of hatred and persecutions toward the Jewish people because of our shared father but also the spiritual love expressed in the Gospel.

The whole declaration wraps up with the grand statement that we are all made by God and therefore Brothers and Sisters.  The Bishops in Rome “ardently implores the Christian faithful to “maintain good fellowship among the nations” (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men, so that they may truly be children of the Father who is in heaven.”