Marking Fifty Years of Improved Jewish-Catholic relations.

Marking Fifty Years of Improved Jewish-Catholic relations.

A blog by Tim Burton-Jones

In 1965, something truly remarkable happened; something scholars might describe it as a paradigm shift. The Vatican released a document, as a part of the Second Vatican Council, that has transformed the way Christians and Jews relate to one another. This document was entitled, Nostra Aetate. And no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either.

The more observant among you may have noticed that this year is exactly fifty years on from the release of Nostra Aetate and so to celebrate this landmark, our friends at the Council of Christians and Jews have organised a series of events to discuss just how remarkable and transformative this document has been.

I was fortunate enough to attend one of these events at the rather impressive JW3 building, in Finchley. On the panel for the first half of this event were Rabbis David Rosen and Jeremy Lawrence, Archbishop Kevin McDonald, and Revd Dr Andrew Wingate. Having read the document itself, I was aware that it was quite profound in a number of ways. It wasn’t, however, until I had listened to these speakers that I realised just how seismic this document has been. 

Archbishop Kevin kicked off the discussion by explaining some of the basic context surrounding Nostra Aetate. As was explained, the Nostra Aetate document emerged as a part of the Second Vatican Council, which, as opposed to previous councils, was convened not to solve a specific problem, but to facilitate the Catholic Church’s increased engagement with the wider world.

The release of Nostra Aetate came just two decades after the unspeakable tragedy of the Holocaust and, as such, was primarily written to reassess the relationship between Catholics and Jews. The document does discuss the relationship between Catholics and other faith groups, but the dominant message from Nostra Aetate relates to the Jewish people.

The Rabbi David Rosen, a leading expert in Nostra Aetate, (among many other topics) followed on from Archbishop Kevin by highlighting that this landmark moment saw a dramatic revolution of how the Church viewed the Jews. Rabbi Rosen illustrated his point by explaining that, prior to Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church opposed any involvement in the Council of Christians and Jews. After Nostra Aetate was released, however, the Catholic Church changed its position. Not merely did the Church become more open to engaging in dialogue with the Jewish community, but Catholic leaders started to refer to Jewish communities as ‘Dearly beloved elder brothers’.

The most poignant moment of the morning arrived when Rabbi Rosen reflected on how the impact of Nostra Aetate highlights for everyone the timeless message that no relationship is ever so far gone as to be beyond repair. Although the relationship between the Church and the Jewish community had been damaged in the centuries leading up to the release of Nostra Aetate, fifty years on, I was sitting in the shadow of the legacy of this document, watching on as faith leaders acclaimed the power of our shared narrative. In front of me there were people deeply passionate about their own faiths who saw that there is something uniquely profitable in sharing with and learning from others of another faith.

It is thanks to this document that we now have a strong bond of dialogue between these two communities. I have come away from this seminar with a sense that there is so much to be learnt from the faith of others. Not only this, but there is a potential in interfaith relationships for a meeting of the minds and hearts that can be truly transformative for our communities.

Author: Mr Tim Burton-Jones

Date: 12 May 2015