GUIDELINES ON RELIGIOUS RELATIONS WITH THE JEWS (N.4)
Committee for Religious Relations with the Jews
The Declaration , issued by the Second Vatican
Council on 28 October, 1965, "on the relationship of the Church to non-
-Christian religions" (n.4), marks an important milestone in the history
of Jewish-Christian relations.
1 December 1974
Moreover, the step taken by the Council finds its historical setting
in circumstances deeply affected by the memory of the persecution and
massacre of Jews which took place in Europe just before and during the
Second World War.
Although Christianity sprang from Judaism, taking from it certain
essential elements of its faith and divine worship, the gap dividing
them was deepened more and more, to such an extent that Christian and
Jew hardly knew each other.
After two thousand years, too often marked by mutual ignorance and
frequent confrontation, the Declaration provides an
opportunity to open or to continue a dialogue with a view to better
mutual understanding. Over the past nine years, many steps in this
direction have been taken in various countries. As a result, it is
easier to define the conditions under which a new relationship between
Jews and Christians may be worked out and developed. This seems the
right moment to propose, following the guidelines of the Council, some
concrete suggestions born of experience, hoping that they will help to
bring into actual existence in the life of the Church the intentions
expressed in the conciliar document.
While referring the reader back to this document, we may simply
restate here that the spiritual bonds and historical links binding the
Church to Judaism condemn (as opposed to the very spirit of
Christianity) all forms of anti-semitism and discrimination, which in
any case the dignity of the human person alone would suffice to condemn.
Further still, these links and relationships render obligatory a better
mutual understanding and renewed mutual esteem. On the practical level
in particular, 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 the Jews define
themselves in the light of their own religious experience.
With due respect for such matters of principle, we simply propose
some first practical applications in different essential areas of the
Church's life, with a view to launching or developing sound relations
between Catholics and their Jewish brothers.
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.
Dialogue presupposes that each side wishes to know the other, and
wishes to increase and deepen its knowledge of the other. It
constitutes a particularly suitable means of favoring a better mutual
knowledge and, especially in the case of dialogue between Jews and
Christians, of probing the riches of one's own tradition. Dialogue
demands respect for the other as he is; above all, respect for his faith
and his religious convictions.
In virtue of her divine mission, and her very nature, the Church
must preach Jesus Christ to the world (, n. 2). Lest the
witness of Catholics to Jesus Christ should give offence to Jews, they
must take care to live and spread their Christian faith while
maintaining the strictest respect for religious liberty in line with the
teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Declaration ). They will likewise strive to understand the difficulties
which arise for the Jewish soul -- rightly imbued with an extremely
high, pure notion of the divine transcendence -- when faced with the
mystery of the incarnate Word.
While it is true that a widespread air of suspicion, inspired by an
unfortunate past, is still dominant in this particular area, Christians,
for their part, will be able to see to what extent the responsibility is
theirs and deduce practical conclusions for the future.
In addition to friendly talks, competent people will be encouraged
to meet and to study together the many problems deriving from the
fundamental convictions of Judaism and of Christianity. In order not to
hurt (even involuntarily) those taking part, it will be vital to
guarantee, not only tact, but a great openness of spirit and diffidence
with respect to one's own prejudices.
In whatever circumstances as shall prove possible and mutually
acceptable, one might encourage a common meeting in the presence of God,
in prayer and silent meditation -- a highly efficacious way of finding
that humility, that openness of heart and mind, necessary prerequisites
for a deep knowledge of oneself and of others. In particular, that will
be done in conjunction with great causes such as the struggle for peace
The existing links between the Christian liturgy and the Jewish
liturgy will be borne in mind. The idea of a living community in the
service of God, and in the service of men for the love of God, such as
it is realized in the liturgy, is just as characteristic of the Jewish
liturgy as it is of the Christian one. To improve Jewish-Christian
relations, it is important to take cognizance of those common elements
of the liturgical life (formulas, feasts, rites, etc.) in which the
Bible holds an essential place.
An effort will be made to acquire a better understanding of whatever
in the Old Testament retains its own perpetual value (cf. ,
n. 14-15), since that has not been cancelled by the later
interpretations of the New Testament. Rather, the New Testament brings
out the full meaning of the Old, while both Old and New illumine and
explain each other (cf. , n. 16). This is all the more important
since liturgical reform is now bringing the text of the Old Testament
ever more frequently to the attention of Christians.
When commenting on biblical texts, emphasis will be laid on the
continuity of our faith with that of the earlier Covenant, in the
perspective of the promises, without minimizing those elements of
Christianity which are original. We believe that those promises were
fulfilled with the first coming of Christ. But it is none the less true
that we still await their perfect fulfilment in his glorious return at
the end of time.
With respect to liturgical readings, care will be taken to see that
homilies based on them will not distort their meaning, especially when
it is a question of passages which seem to show the Jewish people as
such in an unfavorable light. Efforts will be made so to instruct the
Christian people that they will understand the true interpretation of
all the texts and their meaning for the contemporary believer.
Commissions entrusted with the task of liturgical translation will
pay particular attention to the way in which they express those phrases
and passages which Christians, if not well informed, might misunderstand
because of prejudice. Obviously, one cannot alter the text of the
Bible. The point is that, with a version destined for liturgical use,
there should be an overriding preoccupation to bring out explicitly the
meaning of a text,  while taking scriptural studies into account.
The preceding remarks also apply to introductions to biblical
readings, to the Prayer of the Faithful, and to commentaries printed in
missals used by the laity.
III. TEACHING AND EDUCATION
Although there is still a great deal of work to be done, a better
understanding of Judaism itself and its relationship to Christianity has
been achieved in recent years thanks to the teaching of the Church, the
study and research of scholars, and also to the beginning of dialogue.
In this respect, the following facts deserve to be recalled.
It is the same God, "inspirer and author of the books of both
Testaments," (Dei Verbum>, n. 16), who speaks both in the old and new
Judaism in the time of Christ and the Apostles was a complex
reality, embracing many different trends, many spiritual, religious,
social and cultural values.
The Old Testament and the Jewish tradition founded upon it 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. Deut. 6:5, Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:34-
Jesus was born of the Jewish people, as were his Apostles and a
large number of his first disciples. When he revealed himself as the
Messiah and Son of God (cf. Mt. 16:16), the bearer of the new Gospel
messages, he did so as the fulfilment and perfection of the earlier
Revelation. And, although his teaching had a profoundly new character,
Christ nevertheless, in many instances, took his stand on the teaching
of the Old Testament. The New Testament is profoundly marked by its
relation to the Old. As the Second Vatican Council declared: "God, the
inspirer and author of the books of both Testaments, wisely arranged
that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest
in the New" (Dei Verbum>, n. 16). Jesus also used teaching methods
similar to those employed by the rabbis of his time.
With regard to the trial and death of Jesus, the Council recalled
that "what happened in his passion cannot be blamed upon all the Jews
then living, without distinction, nor upon the Jews of today" (, n. 4).
The history of Judaism did not end with the destruction of
Jerusalem, but rather went on to develop a religious tradition. And,
although we believe that the importance and meaning of that tradition
were deeply affected by the coming of Christ, it is still nonetheless
rich in religious values.
With the prophets and the apostle Paul, "the Church awaits the day,
known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a
single voice and 'serve him with one accord'"(Soph. 3:9) (, n. 4).
Information concerning these questions is important at all levels of
Christian instruction and education. Among sources of information,
special attention should be paid to the following:
catechisms and religious textbooks
the mass-media (press, radio, cinema, television)
The effective use of these means presupposes the thorough formation
of instructors and educators in training schools, seminaries and
Research into the problems bearing on Judaism and Jewish-Christian
relations will be encouraged among specialists, particularly in the
fields of exegesis, theology, history and sociology. Higher
institutions of Catholic research, in association if possible with other
similar Christian institutions and experts, are invited to contribute to
the solution of such problems. Wherever possible, chairs of Jewish
studies will be created, and collaboration with Jewish scholars
IV. JOINT SOCIAL ACTION
Jewish and Christian tradition, founded on the Word of God, is aware
of the value of the human person, the image of God. Love of the same God
must show itself in effective action for the good of mankind. In the
spirit of the prophets, Jews and Christians will work together, seeking
social justice and peace at every level -- local, national and
At the same time, such collaboration can do much to foster mutual
understanding and esteem.
The Second Vatican Council has pointed out the path to follow in
promoting deep fellowship between Jews and Christians. But there is
still a long road ahead.
The problem of Jewish-Christian relations concerns the Church as
such, since it is when "pondering her own mystery" that she encounters
the mystery of Israel. Therefore, even in areas where no Jewish
communities exist, this remains an important problem. There is also an
ecumenical aspect to the question: 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.
In this field, the bishops will know what best to do on the pastoral
level, within the general disciplinary framework of the Church and in
line with the common teaching of her magisterium. 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
On 22 October, 1974, the Holy Father instituted for the universal
Church this Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, joined to
the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. This special Commission,
created to encourage and foster religious relations between Jews and
Catholics -- and to do so eventually in collaboration with other
Christians -- will be, within the limits of its competence, at the
service of all interested organizations, providing information for them,
and helping them to pursue their task in conformity with the
instructions of the Holy See.
The Commission wishes to develop this collaboration in order to
implement, correctly and effectively, the express intentions of the
(The English text was issued by the Commission. An Italian
text was published in , 4 Jan. 1975.)
1. Thus the formula "the Jews," in St. John, sometimes according
to the context means "the leaders of the Jews," or "the
adversaries of Jesus," terms which express better the thought
of the evangelist and avoid appearing to arraign the Jewish
people as such. Another example is the use of the words
"pharisee" and "pharisaism," which have taken on a largely