The 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate: The Past, Present and Future of the Christian-Jewish Relationship
2015 International Conference of the International Council of Christians and Jews | Rome, Italy, 28 June – 1 July, 2015
Dr Raymond Canning, Executive Secretary of the Bishops Commission for Ecumenism and Inter-religious Relations, meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican.
Towards the very end of the final session of the Second Vatican Council, the document Nostra Aetate,
the “Declaration on the Church’s Relation to Non-Christian Religions,”
received definitive approval from the Council Fathers meeting in Rome.
At the heart of the declaration is the relationship of the Church to the Jewish people, “the descendants of Abraham” (NA 4).
As the Jewish French historian Jules Isaac had demonstrated in his book The Teaching of Contempt: Christian Roots of Anti-Semitism,
Christians had throughout history presented a distorted image of the
Jews and their religion. So Pope John XXIII’s meeting in audience with
Jules Isaac on 13 June 1960 was ground-breaking in that it was there
that the Pope agreed to the request to raise the question of the Jews
during the coming Council.
As the theologian Yves Congar stated at the time, if twenty years
after Auschwitz the Council had said nothing about its relations with
the Jews, the moral credibility of the Church would have been
The approved text of the “Declaration on the Church’s Relation to
Non-Christian Religions” promulgated on 28 October 1965 was intended to
put an end to every form of anti-Semitism within Christianity and to
express the Church’s acknowledgment of its own Jewish roots.
The Declaration shows that, on the basis of sound biblical and
historical arguments, the Church was able to set aside centuries of
traditional animosity towards the Jews, and also to create a space for
genuine interreligious dialogue more broadly.
It was fitting then that the International Council of Christians and
Jews (ICCJ) should hold its 2015 Conference in Rome to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that landmark document, Nostra Aetate. As Philip A. Cunningham, the ICCJ President, writes in his introduction to the Conference program:
In addition to looking at the remarkable history and current state of
the new relationship, we will also ask: where do we go in the next
fifty years? Clearly we … are all enriched by the diverse ways in which
Christian-Jewish relations have unfolded in different parts of the
Some people have led the way in grappling with the horrible legacy of
the Shoah. Some have stressed forming personal friendships as
paramount. When sustained conversation occurs, theological dialogue can
attain a profound depth…. Elsewhere trilateral relations with Islam are
Key moments of the Conference were the visit to the Rome Synagogue
and the meeting with the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Rabbi Riccardo Shemuel De
Segni, and the audience with Pope Francis in the Sala Clementina at the
In his address to the more than 250 Conference delegates the Pope
reminded them that the seeds of cooperation between the ICCJ and the
Catholic Church had been sown as early as 1947, when the “Emergency
Conference on Antisemitism” held in the Swiss town of Seelisberg
formulated basic statements which influenced the Second Vatican Council
in its reflection on Judaism. It was this reflection that found
expression in the signal 1965 Declaration Nostra Aetate.