Uncharted Waters

The Future of Catholic-Jewish Relations

It has been almost forty-one years since Nostra aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, transformed relations between Catholics and Jews, effectively repudiating the church’s long history of anti-Jewish and even anti-Semitic teaching.

The declaration opened up bold new paths, even as it left many theological questions unanswered. As Pope Benedict XVI noted when visiting the Roonstrasse Synagogue of Cologne in August 2005, “much still remains to be done.” Jews and Christians “must come to know one another much more and much better,” the pope elaborated, “for only in this way will it be possible to arrive at a shared interpretation of disputed historical questions, and, above all, to make progress toward a theological evaluation of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity.”

To understand what “still remains to be done”—and how challenging is the task of arriving at that shared interpretation—one must keep in mind the magnitude of the transformation Nostra aetate initiated back in 1965. It’s sometimes hard to recall just how hostile pre–Vatican II theological understandings of Judaism were. Take, for example, the 1938 draft of an encyclical on...

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About the Author

Philip A. Cunningham is the executive director of the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College.