June 2021


It has significantly changed the approach of Catholicism towards non-Christian religions. It is considered to be a founding text for dialogue with other religious denominations, the fruit of a long editorial work.

The central part of the document concerns Judaism: "Scrutinizing the mystery of the Church, the Holy Council recalls the bond which spiritually connects the people of the New Testament with the lineage of Abraham.... Because of such a great spiritual patrimony, common to Christians and Jews, the Holy Council wishes to encourage and recommend mutual knowledge and esteem, which will arise above all from biblical and theological studies, as well as from fraternal dialogue".

These words represent the recognition of the Jewish roots of Christianity and the unique relationship between the Christian faith and Judaism, as John Paul II emphasized in April 1986 during his visit to the synagogue in Rome. A theme which Joseph Ratzinger also reflected on as a theologian, and who, as Bishop of Rome, visiting the Synagogue of Rome in January 2010, recalled how "the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council represented for Catholics a fixed point to which they could constantly refer in their attitude and relations with the Jewish people, marking a new and significant stage. The Council gave a decisive impetus to the commitment to follow an irrevocable path of dialogue, fraternity and friendship".

Another decisive statement in the document concerns the condemnation of anti-Semitism. In addition to deploring "the hatred, persecutions and manifestations of anti-Semitism, which, whatever their time and their perpetrators, have been directed against the Jews", the Council's declaration explains that responsibility for the death of Jesus should not be attributed to all Jews. "Even though Jewish authorities and their followers pushed for the death of Christ, what was done during his Passion cannot be imputed to all living Jews indiscriminately. Then neither to the Jews of our time".

In the first part of Nostra Aetate, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions in general are cited, explaining, "likewise, other religions found throughout the world are striving in various ways to meet the anxiety of the human heart by proposing ways, that is to say, doctrines, rules of life and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. It considers with sincere respect those ways of acting and living, those rules and doctrines which, though differing in many respects from what it holds and proposes, nevertheless often reflect a ray of truth which enlightens all men".

An important paragraph is devoted to the Muslim faith. "The Church also looks with esteem on Muslims, who worship the one God, living and subsisting, merciful and almighty, creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men. They seek to submit with all their souls to the decrees of God, even if they are hidden, as Abraham submitted to God, to whom the Islamic faith willingly refers. Although they do not recognize Jesus as God, they venerate him as a prophet; they honor his virginal Mother, Mary, and sometimes even invoke him with piety. Moreover, they are waiting for the Day of Judgment, when God will reward all men after resurrecting them. Therefore they esteem the moral life and worship God, especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting".

In November 1979, meeting with the small Catholic community in Ankara, John Paul II reaffirmed the Church's esteem for Islam and declared that "faith in God, professed in common by the descendants of Abraham, Christians, Muslims and Jews, when sincerely lived and put into practice, is the sure foundation of the dignity, brotherhood and freedom of men and the principle of right moral conduct and social coexistence. And that is not all: as a consequence of this faith in God the Creator and transcendent, man is at the summit of creation".

An important step on this path is represented by another speech by John Paul II, delivered in August 1985 in Casablanca, Morocco, to young Muslims. "Christians and Muslims, we have much in common, as believers and as men," said John Paul II before these thousands of young Moroccans. We live in the same world, criss-crossed by many signs of hope, but also by many signs of anguish. Abraham is for us the same model of faith in God, submission to his will and trust in his goodness. We believe in the same God, the only God, the living God, the God who creates the worlds and brings his creatures to their perfection". John Paul II recalled that "dialogue between Christians and Muslims is today more necessary than ever. It stems from our fidelity to God and presupposes that we know how to recognize God by faith and witness to him by word and deed in a world that is increasingly secularized and, at times, atheistic".

The following year, on 27 October 1986, the Supreme Pontiff summoned to Assisi the representatives of the religions of the world to pray for the peace that was threatened, a meeting that had become a symbol of dialogue and common commitment among believers of different confessions. "The gathering of so many religious leaders to pray is in itself an invitation...

The world today to realize that there is another dimension to peace and another way of promoting it, which is not the result of negotiations, political compromise or economic bargaining. But the result of prayer, which, despite the diversity of religions, expresses a relationship with a supreme power beyond our mere human capacity."

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of this event in Assisi, Benedict XVI warned against the threat posed by the abuse of the name of God to justify hatred and violence, citing the use of violence perpetrated by Christians throughout history ("we recognize this, full of shame"), but he also observed that "the 'no' to God produced cruelty and violence without measure, which was possible only because man no longer recognized any standard and no longer judged above himself, but took as his standard only himself. The horrors of the concentration camps clearly show the consequences of the absence of God".

The conciliar declaration Nostra Aetate concludes with a paragraph on "Universal Brotherhood": "We cannot invoke God, Father of all men, if we refuse to behave fraternally towards some of the men created in the image of God. The relationship of man to God the Father and the relationship of man to his fellow human beings are so closely linked that Scripture says: "He who does not love does not know God" (1 Jn 4:8). This undermines the basis of any theory or practice which introduces discrimination between man and man, between people and people, with regard to human dignity and the rights deriving therefrom". Reference to this tradition is made in the Document on Human Fraternity

signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmad Al-Tayyeb on February 4, 2019 in Abu Dhabi, writes "In the name of God who created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and called them to live together as brothers among themselves, in order to populate the earth and spread the values of goodness, charity and peace".