The following was a college essay written by Ben Duphiney. It has been edited and approved by Paul Gillett. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.
The foundation of Nostra Aetate is friendship. From its opening line, this document is about the “bonds of friendship between different people” (NA, 1). In an attempt to “foster unity and charity among individuals” of non-Christian religions, the Second Vatican Council published this concise, nonetheless important declaration (NA, 1). Despite its brevity, Nostra Aetate is a guide for Catholics, other Christians, and the human race as it grapples with man’s greatest questions: “What is man? What is the meaning of and purpose of life?…What happens after death?” (NA, 1). These existential, timeless questions are asked among all human beings––among different religions––and the wonder binds men and women together, as one race looking for meaning in the world through transcendentals.
All humans, throughout history, have had “certain awareness of a hidden power…a recognition of a supreme being” (NA, 2). Through natural reason, man can come to know that a supreme being, whom Christians, Muslims, and Jews call God, exists. Using natural reason––philosophy––is also present in Hinduism. This religion explores “the divine mystery and express[es] it both in the limitless riches of myth and accurately defined insights of philosophy” (NA, 2). Another example is Buddhism, which “testifies to the essential inadequacy of the changing world…by which man can…attain a state of perfect liberation” (NA, 2). The theme of transcendence is popular among the three monotheistic religions and other religions. Despite the differences in practice, ritual, and belief, these religions recognize that “men find fullness in their religious life” (NA, 2).
While recognizing the common traits among religions, Nostra Aetatae teaches that the Church “urges her sons to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions.” These two virtues––prudence and charity––allow for the proper framework within dialogue. While there will be disagreements among fundamental doctrines within each religion, that does not mean that dialogue cannot be prudently and charitably sought. These virtues ought to be practiced, in order to “preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians” (NA, 2). This is an extremely important point in the document, and often overlooked by many Catholics; Catholics and other Christians are urged to encourage members of other religions to practice theirs and not condemn non-Christians for not sharing the same beliefs. While, respectfully, Catholic are to encourage this practice, they also must remember that “Christ…is the way, the truth, and the life” and that the Church is the fullness of truth (NA, 2; cf. John 14:6).
The Church highly respects the Islamic faith, especially because “they worship one God, who is one, living, subsistent, merciful and mighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to men” which is similar to the Christian faith (NA, 3). Muslim and Christian, while different in many ways, are also similar in many ways––and this should be celebrated, rather than used as a tool for division. Muslims, “although not acknowledging him as God…venerate Jesus as a prophet, [and] his virgin Mother” and they “await the day of judgment and…the resurrection of the dead” (NA, 3). Among these similarities, the Second Vatican Council “pleads…to forget the past, and urges that a sincere effort be made to achieve mutual understanding…[letting man] together persevere and promote peace…and moral value” (NA, 3). This plea is remarkable, considering that Muslim and Christian relations have been deteriorating, especially following the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center. This document is still relevant today, maintaining a perpetual guide for Christians and Muslims throughout the world. In addition to Islam, Judaism has a special relationship with Christianity, and the Council recognized this by “remember[ing] the spiritual ties which link the people of the New Covenant to the stock of Abraham” (NA, 4).
Steeped in the richness of the Old Testament, the Church “draws nourishment from that good olive tree onto which the wild olive branches of the Gentiles have grafted” (NA, 4). The sons of Abraham are included within the greater plan for salvation as God’s chosen people. Muslims, as well as Jews, are part of this lineage of Abraham, thus playing a part in salvation. Christ, the Church believes, is “our peace…[who has] reconciled Jews and Gentiles and made them one in himself” (NA, 4; cf. Ephesians 2:14-16). Through the cross, there is one.
In response to the teaching that Jews killed Jesus, the Council spoke also about relations with Jews. While Jews “did not recognize God’s moment when it came,” they remained “very dear to God…since God does not take back the gifts he bestowed or the choice he made” (NA, 4). Respecting the common heritage, this document “wishes to encourage and further mutual understanding and appreciation” because the foundation of Christianity is Judaism (NA, 4); the roots are the Catholic Church are found in the scriptures of the Old Testament. The Council also firmly states that “neither all Jews…nor Jews today can be charged with the crimes committed during [Christ’s] passion” (NA, 4). While the document is unambiguous in stating that “the Church is the new people of God,” this deliberate declaration condemns any sort of accusations or persecutions against Jews, which goes against the teachings of Christ (NA, 4). While “remembering the common heritage with the Jews and…moved…by charity,” the Church teaches that any forms of hate or antisemitism are deplorable and contrary to Christ and the mission of the Church.
Nostra Aetate, like many documents from the Second Vatican Council, concludes with the importance of human dignity. “All men are created in God’s image,” which is why dignity and respect must always be present in dialogue; this truth is fundamental to all human persons, despite differences in creeds or races. “Any discrimination between individual and individual” is “foreign to Christ” and therefore foreign to the Church (NA, 5). As the continuation of Peter and Paul, the Church continues to strive “to be at peace with all men” and to respect all human persons, despite the differences found in religions (NA, 5). Humanity is one in Christ, and that unity should be celebrated, embraced, nurtured, and loved.