This Dec. 8, it will have been 50 years since the close of the Second Vatican Council, the most important event in the Catholic Church in the 20th century, and very likely for many centuries into the past and future. Nearly all the Catholic bishops of the world, including our own Bishop William A. O'Connor, attended the four sessions of the Council at St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, from 1962 to 1965.
It is difficult to sum up Vatican II, and the 16 documents it produced (see vatican.va for the document texts), in a brief column or in a few words. I try to do so by saying that, whereas the previous 20 ecumenical councils of the Catholic Christian church treated the church as a "given" and therefore not subject to examination or analysis, Vatican II took up the business of a reflexive and searching analysis of the phenomenon of "church" and the mystery of its presence in the world.
The Council did so above all by acknowledging the pluralism of the human society in which we live. Not wavering from the conviction that Jesus is the unique Savior by whom we are to discover how to be fully and truly human, the Council fathers affirmed the need for the members of the church to engage in respectful dialogue with people of varying points of view.
Among the 16 documents of Vatican II is the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, issued on Oct. 28, 1965; this relatively brief document is usually referred to by its opening words in the Latin original, Nostra Aetate (In Our Age). This declaration is well known for its affirmation of Christian ties to Judaism and our affinity with the other great monotheistic religion, Islam. Mentioning Hinduism and Buddhism as well, the Council fathers exhorted, "Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians."
I am happy to recommend to you an event on these topics coming up in St. Louis in a few weeks.
It is called "Not only Nostra Aetate: The Church and Judaism, Fifty Years after Vatican II," and the presenter is Massimo Faggioli, associate professor of Theology and director of the Institute for Catholicism and Citizenship, University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minn. This will be held Sunday, Aug. 30, 7 p.m., at Aquinas Institute of Theology, 23 S. Spring Avenue, St. Louis, Mo.
From the publicity for this event: "The relationship between Roman Catholicism and Judaism was reset at Vatican II by Nostra Aetate, but also by other documents. In this presentation Dr. Massimo Faggioli will evaluate the legacy of Nostra Aetate and develop it for the future by considering the whole of conciliar and post-conciliar teachings against the temptations to 'reform the reforms' of Vatican II." Dr. Faggioli is the author of Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning (Paulist Press, 2012).
Free parking will be available at Laclede Garage (corner of Laclede Avenue and Grand Boulevard). Pre-registration for this event is encouraged, and you are asked to call (314) 442-3871 or email .
This event is co-sponsored by the Aquinas Institute of Theology, Eden Theological Seminary and the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis/The Michael and Barbara Newmark Institute for Human Relations. Supporting organizations are The Holocaust Museum and Learning Center; Marvin and Harlene Wool Endowment Fund; Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis and the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.