Summary of Declaration on Church’s Relations With Non-Christians

This is a summary of the ecumenical council’s declaration on the Church’s relations with non-Christians.

I. Introduction

The community of all peoples is one. One is their origin, for God made the entire human race live on all the face of the earth. One, too, is their ultimate end, God. Men expect from the various religions answers to the riddles of the human condition: What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of our lives? What is the moral good and what is sin? What are death, judgment, and retribution after death?

II. The Diverse Non-Christian Religions

Ever since primordial days, numerous peoples have had a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events that make up the lives of men; some have even come to know of a Supreme Being and Father. Religions in an advanced culture have been able to use more refined concepts and a more developed language in their struggle for an answer to man’s religious questions.

In Hinduism, men use myths and philosophical ways in the effort to fathom the divine mystery; they seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition through ascetical methods, meditation, and a flight to God.

Buddhism realizes the radical inadequacy of this changeable world. It teaches the way of liberation, through self-denial and inner purification, in order to attain a state of lasting rest.

Other religions counter the restlessness of the human heart by proposing ways, that is to say, doctrines, rules of life and sacred rites.

Nothing that is true and holy in these religions is scorned by the Catholic Church. Ceaselessly the Church proclaims Christ, “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” in whom God reconciled all things to Himself. The Church regards with sincere reverence those ways of action and of life, precepts and teachings which, although they differ from the ones she sets forth, reflect nonetheless a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.

The Church, therefore, admonishes Catholics that they converse and collaborate with the followers of other religions in order to serve, indeed, advance those spiritual and moral goods as well as those socio-cultural values that have a home among men of other religious traditions.

III. The Moslems

The Church esteems the Moslems: they adore the one God who is a living and all-powerful God, the Creator of heaven and earth who has spoken to men. They strive to obey even His incomprehensible decrees, just as Abraham did, to whose faith they like to link their own. Though Moslems do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a Prophet. They also honor Mary, His Virgin-Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. They await the day of judgment when God will reward all those who have risen. They worship God through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. They seek to make the moral life — be it that of the individual or that of the family and society — conform to His will.

In the past many quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems. The council urges all not only to forget the past but also to work honestly for mutual understanding and to further as well as guard together social justice, all moral goods, especially peace and freedom, so that mankind may benefit.

IV. The Jews

The council searches into the mystery of the Church. The Church of Christ gratefully acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election were already among the patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. All Christians — Abraham’s sons according to faith — were included in the same patriarch’s call. The Church cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament from the people with whom God in His mercy concluded the former Covenant. The Church believes that by His Cross Christ reconciled Jews and Gentiles, making both one.

The Church keeps in mind what St. Paul says about his kinsmen: “Theirs is the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and of them is the Christ according to the flesh” (Rom. 9, 4-5), the Son of Mary the Virgin. The apostles, as well as most of the early disciples, sprang from the Jewish people.

Even though a large part of the Jews did not accept the Gospel, they remain dear to God for the sake of the patriarchs. God’s gifts and call are irrevocable (cf. Rom. 11, 28f). The Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and “serve Him shoulder to shoulder” (Zeph. 3, 9).

The spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is very rich. Thus, the council supports and recommends their mutual knowledge and respect — the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies, as well as of fraternal dialogue. The council, in her rejection of any injustice, is mindful of this common patrimony between Christians and Jews. Thus, the council deplores and condemns hatred and persecution of Jews, whether they arose in former or in our own days.

Nothing in catechetical work or preaching should teach anything that could give rise to hatred or contempt of Jews in the hearts of Christians. The Jewish people should never be presented as one rejected, cursed or guilty of deicide. What happened to Christ in His Passion cannot be attributed to the whole people then alive, much less to that of today. Besides, the Church held and holds that Christ underwent His Passion and death freely, because of the sins of all men and out of infinite love. Christian preaching proclaims the Cross of Christ as the sign of God’s all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.

V. Universal Brotherhood, Without Discrimination.

We cannot address God, the Father of us all, if we refuse to treat some men or other in a brotherly way. “He who does not love does not know God” (I John 4, 8). Any theory or practice that, so far as their human dignity is concerned, discriminates between man and man or people and people, creating a different set of rights for each of them, has no foundation. All men, especially Christians, must refrain from discrimination against, or harassment of, others because of their race, color, creed, or walk of life. Catholics should “maintain good conduct among the Gentiles” (I Pet. 2, 12) and live, so far as it depends on them, in peace with all men, so that they may really be sons of the Father who is in heaven.

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