A Jubilee for All Time

by Gilbert Rosenthal, Lutterworth, £30

Few of the documents produced by the Second Vatican Council made more of a splash than Nostra Aetate. Its first three sections mused, in general terms, on relations between Catholicism and all non-Christian faiths, but the fourth portion, focusing on Judaism, represented a watershed moment.

The text emphasises the Jewish roots of Christianity. Anti-Semitism was declared to be deplorable and the notion of Jewish communal guilt for Christ’s death was jettisoned. At centre stage stood an insistence that God’s covenant with Israel remained valid. The goal was to encourage meaningful and respectful encounter between Judaism and Catholicism, and this process has gathered welcome steam over the past few decades.

We have witnessed a “demonstrable shift from a pre-Nostra Aetate monologue about Jews to an instructive (and sometimes difficult) dialogue with Jews”, writes one contributor. As various chapters explain, this current has spread far beyond Catholicism, with many Protestants and Orthodox Christians travelling similar paths. Too much back-patting would be premature, however. Nostra Aetate only emerged after “sharp debates and disagreements” and, during the Council’s discussions, it was “a complicated and contentious document”.

Debate about its consequences has not evaporated. The enduring validity of God’s covenant with Judaism can’t help but raise issues about whether Christian evangelism of Jewish people remains legitimate, and even the document’s broad success has provoked unanticipated setbacks. Relations between Catholicism and Judaism are now so improved that, according to one contributor, the “tragic past is often forgotten or unknown to younger generations”.

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