Nostra Aetate: Fifty Years Later

If there was ever a time for Catholics to be familiar with how to accurately proclaim the beauty of the Catholic faith while maintaining respectful dialogue with our neighbors of other mainstream faith communities, the twenty-first century is such an occasion. This endeavor finds significant rhetorical reinforcement in the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) – specifically, in the watershed 1965 document Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. With interreligious dialogue in the interest of good will serving as an ideally shared goal in this markedly pluralistic era, Catholics (and anyone of any faith community, for that matter) would do well to read the book Nostra Aetate: Celebrating 50 Years of the Catholic Church’s Dialogue with Jews and Muslims, edited by Dr. Pim Valkenberg and Dr. Anthony Cirelli, and published in 2016 by Catholic University of America Press.

The material for Nostra Aetate: Celebrating 50 Years of the Catholic Church’s Dialogue with Jews and Muslims originated with a conference held May 19-21, 2015, co-sponsored by The Catholic University of America’s School of Theology and Religious Studies and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. In order to gain a better idea of the scope of the conference, you can read a description of its prospects dated March 18, 2015, followed by a description of its achievements dated June 4, 2015. The book’s introduction by CUA President Dr. John Garvey provides the scope of this endeavor:

“Perhaps the best way to approach the contributions on the topic is first to ask ourselves what we aim to accomplish in interfaith dialogue. That we should foster dialogue with people of other faiths is now almost universally accepted. Why we should foster dialogue is a question still worth exploring” (page xiv).

Lest interreligious dialogue, at least from the time-honored Catholic perspective, be misconstrued as a flimsy enterprise that jeopardizes adherence to the key underpinnings of our dogmatic and doctrinal presuppositions, Dr. Garvey goes on to remind us that “in interreligious dialogue, the tenets of faith are not on the table for bargaining” (page xiv). Likewise:

“We come to our conversations with a certitude of faith. Less than two months after the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, for example, the [Second Vatican] Council released the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. It affirmed that only Christ ‘fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear’ [GS 22]. Catholics are not going to change their minds about that” (page xv).

Dr. Garvey subsequently indicates the good will that is necessary in order to remain open to the possibility of simultaneously peaceful and fruitful interreligious dialogue at this juncture in history:

“The essays in this volume provide an opportunity to reflect with profound gratitude on the remarkable strides the Church has made in her dialogue with Muslims and Jews since the promulgation of Nostra Aetate fifty years ago. As we contemplate the fruits this dialogue has borne and consider the future of these conversations, we can say with the Psalmist, ‘How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!’ [Psalm 133:1]” (page xviii).

There were numerous contributors to the content of Nostra Aetate: Celebrating 50 Years of the Catholic Church’s Dialogue with Jews and Muslims. Following an editors’ note by Pim Valkenberg and Anthony Cirelli, a foreword by Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski, an introduction by John Garvey, and a translation of Nostra Aetate by Fr. Thomas F. Stransky, C.S.P., contributors comprising men and women from various faith communities covered certain pertinent topics that have thus been delineated within the text. Contributors to the topic of “Historical and Theological Context” included Fr. Thomas F. Stransky, C.S.P., Pim Valkenberg, and Michael Root. Contributors to the topic of “Asian Religious” included James Fredericks, Fr. Francis X. Clooney, S.J., and Anuttama Dasa. Contributors to the topic of “Dialogue with Muslims” included Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Sidney H. Griffith, Sayyid M. Syeed, Bishop Dennis Madden, Archbishop Michael L. Fitzgerald, M.Afr., and Sayed Hassan Akhlaq Hussaini. Contributors to the topic of “Dialogue with Jews” included Cardinal Kurt Koch, Rabbi Irving Greenberg, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, and Rabbi Noam E. Marans. Contributors to the topic of “Local Reception in the United States and the Academy” included Larry Golemon, Fr. John W. Crossin, O.S.F.S., Anthony Cirelli, Pim Valkenberg, Judi Longdin, Ann M. Garrido, and Fr. Mark Morozowich.

Catholics, along with those of good will from other faiths, from all walks of life (not only professional academic practitioners), in any vocation, and in any circumstances, will benefit resoundingly from reading Pim Valkenberg and Anthony Cirelli’s Nostra Aetate: Celebrating 50 Years of the Catholic Church’s Dialogue with Jews and Muslims. At 344 pages, it is comprehensive, yet in an organized, cohesive, steadily digestible fashion that will allow the reader to better fathom what is at stake regarding interreligious dialogue between members of mainstream faiths in the twenty-first century. If you are interested in gaining a surer appreciation for the Catholic faith vis-à-vis positive relations with other faith communities, this is a must-read. You can find the book on the website for Catholic University of America Press, or through Amazon.

Justin McClain

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Justin, his wife Bernadette, and their three children (John-Paul, Mary Christine, and Thérèse) live in Bowie, Maryland. Justin has taught theology and Spanish at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, since 2006. He has degrees from the University of Maryland - College Park, the Universidad de Salamanca (Spain), and Staffordshire University (England), and he has studied philosophy and theology at Seton Hall University, the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and the University of Notre Dame's Satellite Theological Education Program. Justin has written for Ave Maria Press, Aleteia, EpicPew, Our Sunday Visitor, Catholic365, Church Life, and various other publications. He is on Twitter (@McClainJustin).

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