Guidelines and Suggestions

for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration

Nostra Aetate, No. 4

Doubtful person, hands on hips, choosing

A Brief Overview of the 1974 "Guidelines"

by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews (CRRJ)

Vatican Curia | 1 December 1974

Context

“Guidelines” is shorthand for the lengthy title of the CRRJ's first major statement: "Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration Nostra Aetate No.4".

It was issued on 1 December 1974, just weeks after the establishment of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews (CRRJ), joined to the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. This Commission was “created to encourage and foster religious relations between Jews and Catholics”, and “to do so eventually in collaboration with other Christians” (see "Guidelines", Conclusion).

Written thirty years after the end of World War II, nine years after the end of Vatican II, with these "Guidelines" the Commission tables challenges facing the Catholic Church which are relatively new in their articulation and attempts at resolution.

Significance

Pope John Paul II repeatedly drew attention to these "Guidelines", highlighting their interpretative role with respect to the Vatican II Declaration Nostra Aetate. What Nostra Aetate taught, "Guidelines" helps us to implement. “Just do it” seems to have been the Pope’s message in repeatedly directing the faithful to these "Guidelines". [1]

Bear in mind that this 1974 document is best read today in the context of the Second Vatican Council and in view of the fruits of scholarship and Jewish-Christian dialogue over the past several decades.

Readability

"Guidelines" is relatively brief and easy to read. Its points are clear and simply stated, without detracting from its impact. Some of its one-line ‘gems’ are frequently quoted in the Jewish-Christian dialogue today.

Content: A selection of key points

Preamble

In directing the reader to Nostra Aetate, "Guidelines" restates two key implications rendered by the spiritual bonds and historical links binding the Church to Judaism: (i) all forms of antisemitism are condemned, and (ii) a better mutual understanding and renewed mutual esteem are desired.

"Guidelines" calls for Christians to listen to Jews (rather than presume to know what Judaism is about). “Christians must therefore strive to acquire a better knowledge of the basic components of the religious tradition of Judaism; they must strive to learn by what essential traits Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience.” (Emphasis added.)

I. Dialogue

The Commission is frank in its assessment of the situation in 1974: “To tell the truth, such relations as there have been between Jew and Christian have scarcely ever risen above the level of monologue. From now on, real dialogue must be established.”

Sensitivity is urged on the part of Christians, attentive not only to the wounds of antisemitism but also to the credal convictions of “the Jewish soul—rightly imbued with an extremely high, pure notion of the divine transcendence—when faced with the mystery of the Incarnate Word.”

II. Liturgy

In relation to the Church’s liturgical life, "Guidelines" encourages:

  • Awareness of existing links between the Christian liturgy and the Jewish liturgy. “The idea of a living community in the service of God . . . is just as characteristic of the Jewish liturgy as it is of the Christian one.”

  • Appreciation of the Old Testament, which “retains its own perpetual value (cf. Dei Verbum, 14-15), since that has not been cancelled by the later interpretation of the New Testament.”

  • Emphasis on the continuity of Christian faith with the earlier Covenant (without minimising those elements of Christianity which are original).

  • Awareness that fulfilment in Christ has a future component, as well as a present-day expression.

  • Careful handling of Scripture texts, so that homilies and liturgical translations do not misrepresent Judaism.

III. Teaching and Education

The document affirms recent scholarly developments and, in this light, reminds the reader that:

  • It is the same God who speaks both in the old and new Covenants (cf. DV, 16).

  • Judaism in the time of Christ and the Apostles was a complex reality.

  • “The Old Testament and the Jewish tradition must not be set against the New Testament in such a way that the former seems to constitute a religion of only justice, fear and legalism, with no appeal to the love of God and neighbor (cf: Dt. 6:5; Lv. 19:18; Mt. 22:34-40).”

  • “Jesus was born of the Jewish people . . .” While he was the Messiah, Son of God, bearer of the new Gospel message, in many instances he “took his stand on the teaching of the Old Testament” and used teaching methods similar to those used by the rabbis of his day.

  • Jews must not be collectively blamed for Christ’s passion and death (cf. , 4).

  • The history of Judaism did not end with the destruction of Jerusalem, but went on to develop a religious tradition “rich in religious values” which continues to this day.

  • Information about Jewish-Christian relations is important at all levels of Christian instruction and education (e.g., catechism, religious textbooks, history books, mass-media).  

  • Higher institutions of Catholic research are encouraged to study these matters, to create chairs of Jewish studies and to collaborate with Jewish scholars.

IV. Social Action

  • “In the spirit of the prophets, Jews and Christians will work willingly together, seeking social justice and peace at every level” of society. In doing so, they will not only benefit humanity but foster mutual understanding and esteem.

Conclusion

It is when "pondering her own mystery" that the Church encounters the mystery of Israel. Therefore, even in areas where no Jewish communities exist, Jewish-Christian relations remains a key issue for Christians. Guidelines observes an ecumenical aspect: “the very return of Christians to the sources and origins of their faith, grafted on to the earlier Covenant, helps the search for unity in Christ, the cornerstone.”

The document closes on a note of confidence that Bishops “will know what best to do” in taking the agenda forward. “For example, they will create some suitable commissions or secretariats on a national or regional level, or appoint some competent person to promote the implementation of the conciliar directives and the suggestions made above.”

************************************************************************************************************
 

The points above are a guide to the 1974 CRRJ "Guidelines"; however nothing replaces reading the document itself. Access it here at the Dialogika online library (maintained by the Council of Centres on Jewish-Christian Relations and the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia).

Footnote 1: See Philip A. Cunningham, “Official Ecclesial Documents to Implement Vatican II on Relations with Jews: Study Them, Become Immersed in Them, and Put Them into Practice”, Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 4, no. 1 (2009): 1–36, https://doi.org/10.6017/scjr.v4i1.1521. Philip Cunningham is Professor of Theology and Director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia.

© Teresa Pirola, 2021. lightoftorah.net.

Reproduction for non-commercial purposes permitted with acknowledgement of website.

Quotations from the 1974 "Guidelines" have been accessed at the Dialogika website.