“The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable: a Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic–Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of ‘Nostra Aetate’ (No. 4)” is the title of the document published by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, presented this morning in the Holy See Press Office. The panel was composed of Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the dicastery; Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee, the theologian Professor Edward Kessler of Cambridge, and Fr. Norbert Hoffmann, S.D.B.
Cardinal Koch recalled that on 28 October this year, in accordance with Pope Francis’ wishes, a special general audience was organized to commemorate the promulgation of the Conciliar declaration “Nostra Aetate” exactly fifty years earlier. The audience was attended by numerous representatives of other religions, whose presence demonstrated that the declaration represented a cornerstone in the change in Church’s attitude towards other religions. The Commission chaired by the cardinal decided this year to present a new document returning to the theological principles of the fourth part of “Nostra Aetate”, extending and exploring them in further depth where they regard the relations between the Catholic Church and Jews.
He said, “It is an explicitly theological document that intends to retrace and clarify the issues that have emerged during the recent decades of the Jewish-Catholic dialogue. Prior to this text, no other document of a strictly theological nature has been published by our Commission: the three preceding documents, ‘Guidelines and suggestions for implementing the Conciliar Declaration “Nostra Aetate” (No. 4)’ (1974), ‘Notes on the correct way to present Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Catholic Church’ (1985) and ‘We remember: a reflection on the Shoah’ (1998), referred mainly to concrete themes, useful for dialogue with Judaism from a practical point of view”.
The new document – summarized below, along with a link to the full text – seeks to emphasise that dialogue with Judaism after fifty years now stands on solid ground, as during this period significant results have been achieved. “We are very grateful for the efforts that have been made by both Jews and Catholics for the promotion of our dialogue”, concluded Cardinal Koch. “But it is very important to remember that, as emphasized in the document and especially from a theological point of view, we are only at a new beginning: many questions remain open and require further study”.
Rabbi Rosen highlighted that the new document shows “not only the advancement of the recommendations of the 1974 Guidelines on ‘Nostra Aetate’, to appreciate and respect Jewish self-understanding, but also a deepening recognition of the place of the Torah in the life of the Jewish people and, in accordance with the Pontifical Biblical Commission’s work, an acknowledgement of the integrity of Jewish reading of the Bible that is different from the Christian one. Indeed, the very fact that the document also quotes extensively from Jewish rabbinical sources is further testimony of this respect”.
The rabbi also mentioned that, as Cardinal Koch and Fr. Hoffman had already mentioned, “this is a Catholic document reflecting Catholic theology. Inevitably, then, there are passages in it that do not resonate with a Jewish theology”. He notes the importance of appreciating “the centrality that the Land of Israel plays in the historic and contemporary religious life of the Jewish people”.
“Indeed even in terms of the historical survey of the milestones along this remarkable journey since ‘Nostra Aetate’, the establishment of full bilateral relations between the State of Israel and the Holy See (very much guided and promoted by St. John Paul II) was one of the historic highlights. Moreover, the preamble and the first article of the Fundamental Agreement between the two parties precisely acknowledges this significance. Without ‘Nostra Aetate’, the establishment of these relations would surely not have been feasible. The Fundamental Agreement not only paved the way for the historic papal pilgrimages to the Holy Land and thus to the establishment of the bilateral commission with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, but arguably reflected more than anything else the fact that the Catholic Church had truly repudiated its portrayal of the Jewish people as condemned wanderers to be homeless until the final advent”.
“The reference to peace in the Holy land as pertinent to the Catholic-Jewish relationship is also important. The peoples there live in mutual alienation and disappointment, and I believe that the Catholic Church can play an important role in rebuilding trust, such as the initiative of prayer for peace taken by Pope Francis. Let me express the hope that there soon will be further initiatives to enable religion to be a source of healing rather than conflict; and to ensure that these are coordinated with those who have the political authority to pave the way to enable the land and the city of peace to fulfil its name”.
Summary of “The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable”
The Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews has published today the document “The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable: a Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of ‘Nostra Aetate’ (No. 4)”. The text consists of a Preface and seven chapters, entitled: “A brief history of the impact of ‘Nostra Aetate’ (No.4) over the last 50 years”, “The special theological status of Jewish-Catholic dialogue”, “Revelation in history as ‘Word of God’ in Judaism and Christianity”, “The relationship between the Old and New Testament and the Old and New Covenant”, “The universality of salvation in Jesus Christ and God’s unrevoked covenant with Israel”, “The Church’s mandate to evangelize in relation to Judaism”, and “The goals of dialogue with Judaism”.
“Fifty years ago”, says the Preface, “the declaration ‘Nostra Aetate’ of the Second Vatican Council was promulgated. Its fourth article presents the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people in a new theological framework. The following reflections aim at looking back with gratitude on all that has been achieved over the last decades in the Jewish–Catholic relationship, providing at the same time a new stimulus for the future. Stressing once again the unique status of this relationship within the wider ambit of interreligious dialogue, theological questions are further discussed, such as the relevance of revelation, the relationship between the Old and the New Covenant, the relationship between the universality of salvation in Jesus Christ and the affirmation that the covenant of God with Israel has never been revoked, and the Church’s mandate to evangelize in relation to Judaism. This document presents Catholic reflections on these questions, placing them in a theological context, in order that their significance may be deepened for members of both faith traditions. The text is not a magisterial document or doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church, but is a reflection prepared by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews on current theological questions that have developed since the Second Vatican Council. It is intended to be a starting point for further theological thought with a view to enriching and intensifying the theological dimension of Jewish–Catholic dialogue”.
The first chapter explains that great steps have been taken in the dialogue over the last fifty years, and from a detached co–existence we have arrived at a deep friendship. The Conciliar declaration “Nostra aetate” (No.4) definitively clarified, for the first time, the theological position of the Catholic Church with respect to Judaism; the document has had a profound impact on many levels.
With regard to the special theological status of Jewish-Catholic dialogue, the second chapter affirms that due to the Jewish roots of Christianity, the dialogue with Judaism cannot in any way be compared with the dialogue with the other world religions. Jesus can only be understood in the Jewish context of his time, even though as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God he transcends that historical horizon.
God reveals himself in his Word, he communicates with humanity. For Jews, this Word is present in the Torah; for Christians, the Word of God is incarnated in Jesus Christ. However, the Word of God is indivisible and calls people to respond in such a way that enables them to live in the right relationship with God, as explained in the third chapter.
The relationship between the Old and New Testament and the Old and New Covenant is the subject of the fourth chapter. There is an indissoluble unity between them, even though the two Testaments are interpreted differently by Jews and Christians on the basis of their respective religious traditions. For Christians, the Old Testament is to be comprehended and interpreted in the light of the New Testament. The Old and the New Testament are part of the one and only history of the covenant between God and his people, even though the New Testament is to be considered as the fulfilment of the promises of the Old.
The fifth chapter emphasizes that through Jesus Christ – and through his death and resurrection – all people have a part in salvation, all are saved. Although Jews cannot believe in Jesus Christ as the universal redeemer, they have a part in salvation, because the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. How that can be possible remains an unfathomable mystery in the salvific plan of God.
The sixth chapter considers the Church’s mandate to evangelize in relation to Judaism. While in the dialogue with Judaism Catholics bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ, they refrain from active attempts at conversion or mission towards Jews. The Catholic Church does not envisage any institutional mission towards the Jews.
In the seventh and final chapter, it is concluded that engaging in fraternal dialogue, Jews and Catholics must learn to understand one another better, to seek reconciliation increasingly, and to commit themselves together to promote justice, peace and the care of creation, and to make every effort to oppose anti–Semitism. They must intensify their cooperation in the humanitarian sphere in assisting the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized, in order to become, together, a blessing for the world.
The full text of the document can be consulted at: