Paul VI Renounces the “Collective Guilt” of Jews in Christ’s Death Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

As part of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI recognized that Jews had a positive and special relationship with Christians and that to blame Jews for the Passion and death of Jesus on the cross was theologically incorrect. This declaration marked a major break with the Roman Catholic tradition, which was traditionally hostile to Judaism.

Summary of Event

For centuries, Christian traditions (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) had been hostile toward Judaism. Jews, it was argued, had rejected Jesus Christ and pressed for his crucifixion. This created what has been termed a “collective Jewish guilt” for deicide, the killing of Christ. Thus, Jews had separated themselves from God and had seen their “Old Covenant” with God superseded by a “New Covenant” between God and the Christians. Only by conversion to Christianity could Jews find salvation. This charge of deicide and theological separation from God was used to justify religious, social, and political discrimination Racial and ethnic discrimination;Jews against Jews. Religious anti-Judaism contributed to racial anti-Semitism, which led to the Holocaust. Christianity;Catholic doctrines Roman Catholic Church;and Jews[Jews] Jews;blamed for Christ’s death Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (1962-1965) Vatican II (1962-1965)[Vatican 02] Roman Catholic Church;Vatican II[Vatican 02] Declaration Nostra Aetate [kw]Paul VI Renounces the “Collective Guilt” of Jews in Christ’s Death (Oct. 28, 1965)[Paul 06 Renounces the Collective Guilt of Jews in Christs Death] [kw]"Collective Guilt" of Jews in Christ’s Death, Paul VI Renounces the (Oct. 28, 1965)[Collective Guilt of Jews in Christs Death, Paul 06 Renounces the] [kw]Jews in Christ’s Death, Paul VI Renounces the “Collective Guilt” of (Oct. 28, 1965) [kw]Christ’s Death, Paul VI Renounces the “Collective Guilt” of Jews in (Oct. 28, 1965)[Christs Death, Paul 06 Renounces the Collective Guilt of Jews in] Christianity;Catholic doctrines Roman Catholic Church;and Jews[Jews] Jews;blamed for Christ’s death Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (1962-1965) Vatican II (1962-1965)[Vatican 02] Roman Catholic Church;Vatican II[Vatican 02] Declaration Nostra Aetate [g]Europe;Oct. 28, 1965: Paul VI Renounces the “Collective Guilt” of Jews in Christ’s Death[08620] [g]Italy;Oct. 28, 1965: Paul VI Renounces the “Collective Guilt” of Jews in Christ’s Death[08620] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;Oct. 28, 1965: Paul VI Renounces the “Collective Guilt” of Jews in Christ’s Death[08620] [c]Organizations and institutions;Oct. 28, 1965: Paul VI Renounces the “Collective Guilt” of Jews in Christ’s Death[08620] Paul VI John XXIII Bea, Augustin

Many Christians, after 1945, came to believe that this tradition of anti-Judaism was tragically wrong, so they sought reform. In 1959, when Pope John XXIII called for an ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church to address aggiornamento (updating) of the Church’s doctrines and practices, he made a special point of putting the so-called Jewish question on the agenda. During World War II he had, as an active priest in Greece and France, seen the disastrous results of Nazi anti-Semitism at first hand. In 1960, he made clear his desire for reform by appointing a well-known Jesuit scholar of Hebrew texts, Cardinal Augustin Bea, to an influential committee that would draft the statements concerning the Church’s relations with Jews. The Second Vatican Council was formally summoned in 1961 and sat in four sessions: in 1962 under John XXIII; in 1963; in 1964; and in 1965 under his successor Pope Paul VI.

During this period, debates within the Church on the Jewish question were detailed, vigorous, and lengthy. Traditionalists were concerned about the implications of an apparent change in Roman Catholic doctrines regarding Jews, while reformers sought to correct apparent misinterpretations of specific verses of scripture. Interested parties outside the Catholic Church also let their voices be heard. Arab and Palestinian groups were concerned about the contemporary policies of the state of Israel. Jewish and Protestant groups were concerned about the causes for and the legacy of the Holocaust. Representatives of other religions were concerned about how Catholic doctrines affected them.

In its final form, the Jewish question was addressed in the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. This declaration was approved by the council in draft form in 1964. It was approved by a vote of 2,221-88 and was promulgated by Paul VI on October 28, 1965. The Latin text begins with the words “Nostra Aetate.”

The declaration deals generally with non-Christian religions, naming specifically Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. In a carefully worded statement, the declaration maintains, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.” Regarding Judaism specifically, the declaration emphasizes the commonalities between Judaism and Christianity, and states that “Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God.” Though some drafts had used the specific word “deicide” to describe the traditional Christian view that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’s death on the cross, the final form of the declaration chose other wording: “[W]hat happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.” The Holocaust was not mentioned by name, but the declaration said that the Church “decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time by anyone.”

Pope Paul VI.

(Library of Congress)

The implications of this new formulation of Roman Catholic doctrine were profound, but not immediate. The Vatican worked for years to develop its Guidelines on Religious Relations with the Jews Guidelines on Religious Relations with the Jews (church document) (1975). In 1985, the Vatican issued Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Teaching in the Roman Catholic Church Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Teaching in the Roman Catholic Church (church document) and in 1998, it issued We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah We Remember (church document) (“Shoah” in this context means “Holocaust”). The famous Oberammergau Passion Play, a reenactment of Jesus’s suffering and death performed in a Bavarian village regularly since 1634, was not fully purged of its anti-Jewish message of deicide until its production in 2000. From time to time those who feared that the Catholic Church might return to its former hostility toward Jews saw items of concern, for example in the elevation to sainthood of Edith Stein, a convert from Judaism to Roman Catholicism, in 1998.

Significance

Although approval of Pope Paul VI’s declaration of 1965 was not unanimous, there was widespread praise from both Christians and Jews. Pope John Paul II John Paul II (pope 1978-2005) regularly referred to the document as he reached out to Jews. Both the twentieth and the fortieth anniversaries of Nostra Aetate were noted positively by many commentators. It is clear that the document marked a major turning point in relations between Roman Catholics and Jews (and, in a broader sense, between Christians and Jews).

In a published commentary on the declaration, Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granator Bretton-Granator, Gary of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote, “Despite its brevity, the document has forever transformed the relationship between Roman Catholics and Jews. In several bold paragraphs, Nostra Aetate repudiates the ancient Christian charge against Jews as ’Christ-killers’ and reaffirms God’s eternal covenant with the Jewish people.” Christianity;Catholic doctrines Roman Catholic Church;and Jews[Jews] Jews;blamed for Christ’s death Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (1962-1965) Vatican II (1962-1965)[Vatican 02] Roman Catholic Church;Vatican II[Vatican 02] Declaration Nostra Aetate

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Alberigo, Giuseppe, and Joseph A. Komonchak, eds. History of Vatican II. 5 vols. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, Leuven, and Peeters, 1995-2006. A lengthy account, from official Roman Catholic sources, of all aspects of the council, from its inception under John XXIII through its conclusion under Paul VI. This history puts the key document on the Jewish question into its broader context at the council and provides details about the debates and the politics surrounding the declaration.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bea, Augustin. The Church and the Jewish People: A Commentary on the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. New York: Harper & Row, 1966. This Jesuit scholar and cardinal of the Church played the key role in developing the statement on the Jews at the council.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Boadt, Lawrence, Helga Croner, and Leon Klenicki, eds. Biblical Studies: Meeting Ground of Jews and Christians. New York: Paulist Press, 1980. An anthology on biblical interpretation in the light of Nostra Aetate by prominent Jewish and Roman Catholic scholars.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Flannery, Austin P., ed. Documents of Vatican II. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdman, 1975. A primary source publication. The documents, including Nostra Aetate, are also available at http://www.vatican.va/archive/.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Greeley, Andrew. The Catholic Revolution: New Wine, Old Wineskins, and the Second Vatican Council. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004. Greeley, both a Catholic priest and a sociology professor, examines the implementation of decisions from the Second Vatican Council. This book is less about the fights between conservatives and progressives within the Catholic Church and more about the numerous huge social changes in both American society and the American Catholic Church in the 1970’s-1980’s against which Vatican II decisions were set.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">O’Connor, Michael Patrick. “The Universality of Salvation: Christianity, Judaism, and Other Religions in Dante, Nostra Aetate, and the New Catechism.” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 33, no. 4 (Fall, 1996). A scholarly comparison of three basic documents on views of the salvation of persons who are not of the Roman Catholic faith.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Oesterreicher, John M. The New Encounter Between Christians and Jews. New York: Philosophical Library, 1986. A detailed account of the creation of the Nostra Aetate, by a Roman Catholic priest who worked closely with the bishops at the Second Vatican Council.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stransky, Thomas. “The Genesis of Nostra Aetate.” America (October 24, 2005). A brief, well-informed, journalistic account of the controversies surrounding the declaration, published by a leading Jesuit magazine, in honor of the document’s fortieth anniversary.

Pius XII Proclaims the Doctrine of the Assumption

Teilhard de Chardin Attempts to Reconcile Religion and Evolution

Pope John XXIII Issues Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris

Second Vatican Council Meets

Hochhuth Stages a Critique of Pope Pius XII’s Silence During the Holocaust

Paul VI Visits the Holy Land

Michener’s Best Seller The Source Explores Jewish History

Roman Catholic Church Reaffirms Its Position Against Birth Control

Categories: History Content