Nostra Aetate: At Fifty, Why Does It Matter

By: Dr. Michael Reid Trice

In 2014 the Second Vatican Council reached mid-life. In infancy, Vatican II (1962-1965) inspired soul-searching by Catholics around the globe.  It invited additional Christian communities to go and do likewise. In the late 1960’s and 70’s, an infectious confidence for liberation swept through ecumenical and interreligious circles around the world.  For its part, the Christian imagination was inspired in the hope for deeper unity unseen since before the dawn of the Reformation.  At this same moment, the Church was awakening to its own historical complicity toward additional communities of culture and faith, in particular, the Jewish people.

Vatican II took place in a global environment that had been dramatically altered by two world wars.  In general terms, the second half of the 20th century responded to the atrocities of the first fifty years by creating organizations (i.e., The United Nations, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity) and documents (i.e., The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Nostra Aetate) that were the results of serious study and reassessment.  These documents were crafted as both treaty and embargo: A treaty from the hostilities within the modern human soul that opened our eyes to the utter banality of cruelty and evil; and, an embargo on human activity that aimed to deter us from the reenactment of these hostilities in the form of tomorrow’s genocide.  At the dawn of the 21st century, we forget that we live in the shadow of the forces that shaped these institutions and documents.  In fact, the world’s high ambitions for a new age were not unalloyed by a latent fear about our conduct in the age previous.  The absence of millions upon millions of voices on the planet, testify to this truth.

This introduction to Nostra Aetate is the first part of a publication on Vatican II that will be published later in 2014.

Trice75Author, Michael Reid Trice, is Assistant Dean for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue, and Assistant Professor of Ecumenical and Practical Theology at the Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry.

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