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Dialogue between Christians and Muslims in the light of Nostra Aetate, is the topic that is ging to be discussed in this article. Nostra Aetate is one of the sixteen Vatican II documents . It is part of documents otherwise known as declaration.

That of Nostra Aetate is about the relations between the Chruch and non-christian religions.

Nostra Aetate

Nostra Aetate is one of sixteen documents from Vatican II. It is a part of the conciliar documents called Declaration. Nostra Aetate concerns relations between the Church and non-Christian religions. Therefore, this declaration appears under the original title of Déclaration de Ecclesiae habitudine ad religiones non christianas, which in English is: Declaration on the relationship of the Church with non-Christian religions. This Declaration was promulgated on 28 October, 1965, under the seal of Pope Paul VI and under the impetus of Cardinal Béa.

The Nostra Aetate Declaration came about during a time of renewal and updating of the Catholic Church. While looking ahead to Vatican II, the Church found itself among other religions that were seeking salvation.

In today’s world, Christianity is increasingly seen as one religion amid many others, and does not even have the advantage of constituting the greatest numbers.1

Faced with this diversity of religions, the Church was in a situation where the world and its attitudes had changed. The Church was no longer in a sphere where it considered herself as having a monopoly on the salvation of man, as in the times of Vatican I. The Church was no longer closed within herself due to this conception from Vatican I: Outside of the Church there is no salvation. This conception explained that

no one can be saved, no matter how great his alms may be or even if he sheds his blood in the name of Christ, if he has not remained in the breast and in the unity of the Catholic Church.2

It was in a spirit of conversion of the Church that Nostra Aetate was brought about. This conversion was the fruit of recognizing that other religions bear within them the seeds of divine truth. The Second Vatican Council declared that the

Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these religions. It has a high regard for the manner and conduct, the precepts and doctrines… 3

Indeed, the Church had come to a level where it was fully aware of living with people of other religions.

Nostra Aetate asserts,

all stem from one stock which God created to people the entire earth (see Acts 17:26), and also because all share a common destiny, namely God. His . . . saving designs extend to all humankind . . .4

Historically, this was not at first intended to be a declaration concerning non-Christian religions; it was even far from talking about Islam. Pope John XXIII announced on 25 January, 1959, three projects in which there was no mention of the Church’s relationship with other world religions. The three projects for the Council were: Synod for the Diocese of Rome; Ecumenical Council; and reform of canon law. It was thanks to the Ecumenical Council that the Declaration Nostra Aetate was born. In fact, during the pre-preparatory phase of the Council (17 May, 1959 – 5 June, 1959), a secretariat for Christian unity, presided over by Cardinal Bea, was set up. This Secretariat was a body of dialogue with estranged Christians. No commission had been assigned to the Church’s relationship with non-Christian religions.

However, it is believed that Nostra Aetate actually began to germinate in the preparatory phase (14 November, 1961 – 11 October, 1962). In this phase, Pope John XXIII refocused the objective of the Council, which was to enhance the substance of thought and of human and Christian life.5 In fact, the Pope had been moved by the suffering of the Jews during the Second World War. He was devoted to the cause of the Jews in Istanbul and elsewhere.6 His compassion and his visits to the Jews prompted various Jewish organizations to meet the Pope to thank him. To this end, the Pope envisaged a decree regarding the Jews. He entrusted the task to Cardinal Bea, who oversaw the Secretariat for Christian Unity. The Pope also wanted to invite Christians to change their attitude in relationship to Jews, who were considered to have committed deicide by being responsible for the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. Due to this attitude, the Jews suspected that the Church was in collusion with Nazism during the Second World War. After the war, the Jews worked together …to bring the Council to publicly and solemnly profess that the death of the Lord should not be attributed to the Jewish people as such.7 In a concrete manner, Jules Isaac and a Jewish delegation visited the Pope on 17 October, 1960,8 to ask him to put an end to the teaching of contempt for the Jews in catechesis, liturgy and preaching. 9. All of these events justified the Pope’s desire to produce a decree on the Jews, which was entrusted to Cardinal Bea, who therefore explained in the introduction of Nostra Aetate that at first, it was only intended to be a short statement on the attitude of Christians toward Jews.10

How did this, which was only intended to be a simple proposed decree on Jews, become an adopted statement which, in its final version, extended to Muslims in a declaration?

The text on Muslims was elaborated upon in a climate of political pressure placed on the Council. In fact, at the time of preparation and consultations on the text regarding the relations of the Church with Jews, there were rumours in the Arab countries11 that the Council was preparing a text on the question of the legitimacy of the State of Israel. So, during the preparation, Cardinal Bea wondered:

Was it possible to avoid any misunderstandings and to remove, from the outset, the impression held by some of the governments in the Middle-East, that the primary issue of the declaration was the political recognition of the State of Israel.12

In regard to these rumours about the decree on the Jews, Cardinal Bea firmly explained that the problem this decree wanted to resolve was purely religious and not political :

The problem is strictly religious; the decree is addressed to Catholics to teach them the attitude that, in imitation of Christ, they must have respect for the Jews.13

But the Council Fathers maintained concerns about the scope of this decree. The text of this decree needed to be extended to other non-Christian religions because in places where Christians are in the minority, the opposing parties would not fail to use it for political purposes14. Since Christians and Jews do not live only in Israel, but find themselves in the midst of other religions in all parts of the world, the Council needed to extend the Christian attitude to other non-Christian religions.

Therefore, the Council was aware of the reality of religious plurality in which its people lived. Pope Paul VI, the new head of the Council, was persuaded of this pluralism as a result of his trip to the Holy Land where he had the opportunity to address non-Christians. The Pope created a new secretariat that would be responsible specifically for the relationship of the Church with non-Christian religions. This secretariat, created on 17 May, 1964, was entrusted to Cardinal Marella, who had the task of working under the direction given by Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Ecclesiam suam. This encyclical already contained the vocabulary of dialogue between the Church and non-Christian religions, and was addressed particularly to monotheistic worshippers of God and to the faithful of major Afro-Asian religions. The statement, which would be drawn up at the conclusion of this Council, was already being written in a manner of dialogue with non-Christian religions.

Nostra Aetate was a declaration promulgated two decades after the Second World War. This was in a period where technological progress was underway for reconstruction. It was also a time when people were looking for guidance on how to better live together with respect for the dignity of man.

We can conclude that the Nostra Aetate Declaration was not an objective of the Council’s plans. But following the course of events during the time in which the Council was taking place, the Holy Spirit brought about this conciliar document. Its birth was brought about by the various concerns submitted to the Council by non-Christian religions themselves. So, what is the vision of Nostra Aetate in its final version as a declaration?

Nostra Aetate consists of five paragraphs that define its scope. We have an introduction which stipulates that the human race forms a single community, created by the same God. This unique, divine parenthood gives the same destiny to all people, that of being united in the holy city 17. Having the same eschatological destiny, all peoples of earth must seek how to live together. In effect, this introduction

signals the phenomenon of the unification of the present world through the development of bonds and relationships between peoples 18

Next, Nostra Aetate addresses the various non-Christian religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism. The Church finds in these religions noble, spiritual and moral values that edify the human person before God. These values are the ways of behaving and living, the rules and doctrines 19 of these religions. Considering these shared values, the Church is open to dialogue with these religions for the common edification of man in the eyes of God. Thus, the Church « urges its sons and daughters to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions . . . while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, together with their social life and culture.20

Nostra Aetate also examines the relationship of Christians with the people of the Old Testament, the Jewish people. The declaration recognizes bonds of unity that Christians have with the Jewish people. The Church holds onto the roots of its faith in the revelations21 of the Old Testament. So, although the Church is faced with the controversy of the crime of deicide attributed to the Jews, Nostra Aetate encourages mutual knowledge and respect, the exchange of biblical and theological studies and fraternal dialogue22 between Christians and Jews.

After having invited Christians to be open to Jews and other religions with respect and the wish for mutual knowledge, we now focus on the relationship between Christians and Muslims. In fact, the vision of the Nostra Aetate Declaration is also oriented towards the relationship of Christians with Muslims. How does Nostra Aetate go about inculcating in Christians an openness to Muslims? Nostra Aetate first describes the foundations of the Muslim religion. The Declaration wants to show the characteristics of the Muslim religion that are similar to those of Christianity. In this description, it appears that Islam is monotheistic, just like Christianity. The common point of this monotheism is certainly that of claiming just one God, and more precisely, the God of Abraham. Indeed, the Declaration recognizes and affirms that Muslims

worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to humanity.23.

Apart from this common ancestry, the Declaration presents the great religious practices of the Muslims, which include their spiritual and moral life, that bring humanity closer to God.

With this divine paternity and these common values, Nostra Aetate

invites Christians and Muslims to overcome their feelings, rooted in the past, to understand and work together to advance all the moral and social values that they share in common.24.

With this invitation,Nostra Aetate engages Christians and Muslims to be on the road for the promotion of justice, social values, peace and liberty.25.

Finally, the Nostra Aetate > Declaration concludes with a call to universal brotherhood, a pledge to build a world of justice, peace and liberty. For Nostra Aetate, this brotherhood is built upon dialogue and collaboration among members of various religions. Indeed, through this brotherhood, the Declaration seeks to banish any discrimination between different religions. This discrimination undermines the dignity of humanity and violates both spiritual and human rights.

Therefore Nostra Aetate invites all humans, especially Christians, to see in every human person the image of God. Thus, the final aim of Nostra Aetate can be expressed in these terms: the Council

…earnestly begs the Christian faithful to ‘conduct themselves well among the Gentiles’ (1 Pet 2:12) and if possible, as far as depends on them, to be at peace with all people (see Rom 12:18) and in that way to be true daughters and sons of the Father who is in heaven (see Mt 5:45)26.

Ultimately, we can say thatNostra Aetate guides the spirit in the search for the common good between Christians and members of non-Christian religions through collaborative dialogue. Indeed, Christians must walk with men and women of other religions from this time onward since there is a sharing of the fundamental values that animate the life of every human being. Thus, according to Lichtenberg, Nostra Aetate constitutes new guidelines for the Christian attitude toward the faithful of other religions.27. These guidelines, according to Nostra Aetate, are accomplished in a dialogue that can only be effective through mutual understanding, respect and love.

Jean Paul Silué, sma

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Footnotes

1. G. M.-M. COTTIER, e.a, Vatican II, Les relations de l'Eglise avec les religions non-chrétiennes, Déclaration Nostra Aetate, sous la direction de A.-M. Henry, Coll. Unam Sanctam, Paris, Cerf, 1966, p. 13.

2. DENZINGER, Symboles et définition de la foi catholique n° 1351, Cerf, 1996, Decret du 4 février 1442, pp. 387-388, in Esprit et Vie, n° 240 octobre 2011 Nostra Aetate, reconnaître la foi de l'autre en soi, par le P. Christian SALENSON, p. 2.

3. VATICAN II, Nostra Aetate, 1967, N°2.

4. VATICAN II, Nostra Aetate, 1967, N°1.

5. René LAURENTIN, Enjeu du concile, Paris, Seuil, 1961, p. 97.

6. Idemp.112.

7. Idemp.133.

8. G. M.-M. COTTIER, e.a, Vatican II, Les relations de l'Eglise avec les religions non-chrétiennes, Déclaration Nostra Aetate, sous la direction de A.-M. Henry, Coll. Unam Sanctam, Paris, Cerf, 1966, p. 12.

9. Idemp.57.

10. Christian SALENSON, (Père), Nostra Aetate, reconnaître la foi de l'autre en soi, in Esprit et Vie

11. Ibidem.

12. G. M.-M. COTTIER, e.a, Vatican II, Les relations de l'Eglise avec les religions non-chrétiennes, Déclaration Nostra Aetate, sous la direction de A.-M. Henry, Coll. Unam Sanctam, Paris, Cerf, 1966, p. 37.

13. Idemp.40.

14. Idemp.38.

15. Idemp.41.

16. Idemp.46.

17. VATICAN II, Nostra Aetate, 1967, N°1.

18. J.-P. LICHTENBERG, Le concile dans la vie, L'Eglise et les religions non-chrétiennes Casterman-Paris-Tournai, Salvator-Mulhouse, 1967, p. 35.

19. VATICAN II, op.cit, N°2.

20. Ibidem 

21. VATICAN II, Nostra Aetate, 1967, N°4.

22. J.-P. LICHTENBERG, Le concile dans la vie, L'Eglise et les religions non-chrétiennes Casterman-Paris-Tournai, Salvator-Mulhouse, 1967, p. 36.

23. VATICAN II, Nostra Aetate, 1967, N°3.

24. J.-P. LICHTENBERG, Le concile dans la vie, L'Eglise et les religions non-chrétiennes Casterman-Paris-Tournai, Salvator-Mulhouse, 1967, p. 65.

25. VATICAN II, Nostra Aetate, 1967, N°3.

26. Idem N°5.

27. J.-P. LICHTENBERG, Le concile dans la vie, L'Eglise et les religions non-chrétiennes Casterman-Paris-Tournai, Salvator-Mulhouse, 1967, p. 23.