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On December 10th, 2015, the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews issued a reflection on current theological questions they believed have developed since the Second Vatican Council. The writers describe the document as being a starting point for further religious thought with a view to “enriching and intensifying the theological dimension of Jewish-Catholic dialogue.1

One would hope the Commission emphasized the necessity for Jews to recognize Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior, and to explain to them the dire state of their unbaptized souls. Alas, instead of evangelizing the Jews with true ecumenism, the writers choose to placate Jewish groups with a false ecumenism. Among a multitude of errors, the Commission states: The New Covenant has not superseded the Old Covenant,2 the Jews are not accursed by God,3 the Jews receive a share in communion with God by observing the Torah,4 and that Jews, while rejecting our Lord Jesus Christ, still participate in God’s salvation through “an unfathomable divine mystery".5

The document has been hailed by conciliar authorities, Jewish organizations, and the secular media as a milestone for interreligious relations between Catholics and Jews. But it’s actually full of poisonous errors that cause great scandal to both Jew and Catholic alike.

The Document’s Origins: Nostra Ætate

Part One

While perusing the Commission’s statements on the Jews, it becomes abundantly clear the document’s doctrinal basis is rooted in the Second Vatican Council’s declaration, Nostra Ætate. The declaration, which concerns the relation of the Catholic Church to non-Christian religions, makes some worrisome comments regarding the Mohammedans and other peoples in false faiths. But for purposes of this analysis, we’ll focus solely on its section dedicated to the Jews. A proper examination of the errors and ambiguities in this declaration is necessary, as you’ll later see the Commission using these abovementioned problems as a launching pad to set off baseless propositions. Here’s the English translation of the first two parts of Section 4 in Nostra Ætate (emphasis mine):

As the sacred synod searches into the mysteries of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock.

Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes all who believe in Christ-Abraham’s sons according to faith are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people’s exodus from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people of God with home God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles, making both one in Himself.6

The last sentence in this paragraph is terribly ambiguous and potentially scandalous, as it possibly implies the Jews (in their false religion) are united with the Gentiles in the Holy Catholic Church. If the Council Fathers7 specified Jews, ethnically, were reconciled with the Gentiles, I would have no problem with this, as it is true Jesus died to redeem all of mankind. But given Nostra Ætate is explicitly described via the Vatican’s own website as “A Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” and the sentences preceding the statement in question recall the patriarchs of the Jewish faith, it seems as if the Council Fathers are trying to claim unbaptized Jews, still worshipping in the Jewish false faith, are connected to the salvation within the Catholic Church.

Fittingly enough, the Commission for Relations with the Jews proclaims just this, incorrectly stating Jews, while denying our Lord Jesus Christ, are still mysteriously participants in God’s salvation.8

Part II

The problems with Nostra Ætate don’t stop there. Pope Paul VI makes a suggestion later in the document contrary to traditional Catholic instruction. In the 5th part of Section 4, the Council Fathers state (emphasis mine):

Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.9

The last sentence in this paragraph creates a two-fold issue. Let’s start with the biblical question first.

The errors of consorting the Jews on biblical and theological matters are made apparent after reading Cornelius à Lapide’s commentary on Sacred Scripture. The Flemish Jesuit, commenting on 2 Corinthians 3: 13-15, states Jews have a veil over their heart and are blind to the light of the Gospel. Here’s the relevant passage from the Douay-Rheims Bible:

And not as Moses put a veil upon his face, that the children of Israel might not steadfastly look on the face of that which is made void. But their senses were made dull. For, until this present day, the selfsame veil, in the reading of the Old Testament, remaineth not taken away (because in Christ it is made void). But even until this day, when Moses is read, the veil is upon their heart. But when they shall be converted to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away.10

Analyzing these verses, à Lapide states Saint Paul provides the allegorical meaning of this veiling: For to the Jews, the Old Testament is covered with a veil, so that they do not see the New Testament and Christ contained in it.11 Catholics have had the veil removed by Christ, and Jesus will remove the veil from the Jews when they are converted near the end of time. But to this day, the veil is still upon the Jews’ hearts. À Lapide further describes this veil as the foolish pertinacity with which the Jews still stubbornly cling to the carnal sacrifices and rites of the Old Law.12 They cannot comprehend the Old Testament properly and fail to see Christ signified by so many figures, prophecies, ceremonies, and sacrifices.13

This analysis begets the obvious question: Why should we EVER want to consult people who deny our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit? Jews repudiate the New Testament and cannot accurately interpret the Old Testament due to their hardened hearts. Meanwhile, we know the Catholic Church was founded by the Lord Jesus Christ on the rock Saint Peter in the year 33 A.D., and that she has the promise from Christ Himself that He will be with her until the end of the world. It should be us explicating the Old Testament to the Jews; not the other way around. Asking them for their input is a recipe for disaster as it will inevitably lead to misinterpretations and scandal wherewith Catholics become influenced by Jewish unbelief.   

As for comradely dialoging, this fraternizing with Jews is in opposition to decrees by Pope Alexander III and the Council of Basel. Alexander III forbade Christians under heavy penalties to accept permanent domestic service under Jews.14 In the decretal Ad haec, de Judaeis, the Holy Father explained his decision, stating Jewish ways do not harmonize with Catholic ways, and through continual intercourse and unceasing acquaintance the minds of the simple could be turned to Jewish superstition and faithlessness.15 The Council of Basel reiterated this sentiment, commanding both diocesan bishops and secular powers to prohibit Christians from joining together with Jews in festivities, marriages, and much conversation.16

To the secularite these measures might sound draconian, but both parties were undoubtedly acting out of charity for their flocks. A simple-minded Catholic who apostatizes and converts to the Jewish false faith commits a terrible mortal sin. He forsakes the Lamb of God and concomitantly denies the Holy Spirit. Such an issue is no small matter, as said person would have to abjure Judaism, confess their sin with a contrite heart, and then do incredible penance to make reparation for so great an injustice.   

And as a quick aside, one shouldn’t look at Popes Alexander III’s and the Council of Basel’s words in a vacuum. The Council of Basel issued guidelines for Jews and neophytes who wished to convert, and reminded Catholics to exhibit Christian charity toward their neighbor:

This holy synod through the tender mercy of God exhorts all, both ecclesiastics and secular persons, to stretch out helping hands to such converts if they are poor or in need at the time of their conversion. Bishops should exhort Christians to aid these converts and should themselves support them from the income of churches, as far as they can, and from what passes through their hands for the benefit of the poor, and they should defend them with fatherly solicitude from detraction and invective.17

This is true Catholic ecumenism. Evangelizing Jews and other individuals in false religions, all the while helping them spiritually and temporally in their conversion process.

Part III

Finally, the Council Fathers commit one of the most significant departures from tradition near the end of Nostra Ætate. For transparency’s sake, I will provide the entire paragraph but highlight the statements of concern. The Council Fathers state (emphasis mine):

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as reject or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.18

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, numerous popes and saints claimed the Jews are cursed for murdering Jesus. In direct opposition to the italicized text above, Pope Clement VIII said the Bible itself says the Jews are an accursed people.19 Cornelius à Lapide supports the pope’s remark with his commentary on the Book of Matthew. He explains this infinitely righteous and just sentence placed on the Jews while enlightening us on Matthew 27:25, “And the whole people [the Jews] answering, said: His blood be upon us and our children.20” The Jesuit’s observations on this verse (emphasis mine):

Let the guilt thou fearest be transferred from thee to us. If there be any guilt, may we and our posterity atone for it. But we do not acknowledge any guilt, and consequently, as not fearing any punishment, we boldly call it down on ourselves. And thus have they subjected not only themselves, but their very latest descendants, to God’s displeasure. They feel it indeed even to this day in its full force, in being scattered over all the world, without a city, or temple, or sacrifice, or priest, or prince, and being a subject race in all countries. It was, too, in punishment for Christ’s crucifixion that Titus ordered five hundred Jews to be crucified every day at the siege of Jerusalem, as they crowded out of the city in search of food, “so that at last there was no room for the crosses, and no crosses for the bodies (Joseph. B. J., vi. 12). “This curse,” says Jerome, “rests on them even to this day, and the blood of the Lord is not taken away from them,” as Daniel foretold (ix. 27).21

Closing Remarks

Nostra Ætate is an error-filled, ambiguous document harmful to both Catholics and non-Catholics. Regarding the Jews, Nostra Ætate is riddled with terribly vague phrases that seem to suggest the Jews can be saved in their false faith, all the while denying our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It also scandalizes Jews and Catholics by suggesting good fruit can be born from Jewish scriptural exegesis. In reality, Jews have veils over their hearts, and it is the Catholic Church who needs to explain the Bible to them. Finally, the Council Fathers wrongly state the Jews are not cursed, when Sacred Scripture shows otherwise. The Jews rejected Jesus, insulted Him, mocked Him, and took devilish delight in His sufferings. The sentence placed upon them is still in effect now as it was in the 1st century A.D.

With that being said, it remains equally true God creates no man for Hell. Pope Saint Pius X confirms man is made in the image and likeness of God, and states we proclaim this because the human soul is spiritual and rational, free in its operations, capable of knowing and loving God, and of enjoying Him forever.22 The Jews, as a religious people, are most certainly cursed. But God in His ineffable mercy still provides each individual Jew with enough grace to enter Heaven. It is on us, privileged souls bestowed with membership in Christ’s Church, to pray fervently for the Jews to not resist grace, see the errors of their ways, and convert to the Catholic faith.  

A Tale for Our Times: Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne    

Speaking of Jews converting, I want to end this essay with an incredible story about a Jewish man who was entirely converted by God’s grace and the Blessed Virgin’s intercession. His pre-conversion name was Alphonse Ratisbonne. He was a French Jewish banker who was incredibly hostile towards the Catholic faith. Despite his brother converting to Catholicism and becoming a priest, Ratisbonne reviled the Catholic Church and vowed never to enter.23

His resentment toward the Catholic faith persisted until he received the Miraculous Medal from a French nobleman. While in Rome one day, Ratisbonne was deriding Catholicism in a conversation with Baron Theodore de Bussières. The French aristocrat, ardent in his faith and confidence in the Blessed Virgin, challenged Ratisbonne to wear the Miraculous Medal and recite one Memorare each day. Ratisbonne, although initially receiving the medal to disprove the effectiveness of it, consented to the arrangement.24

As Ratisbonne prayed each day, so too did Baron de Bussières and his French nobility cohorts. Count de Laferronnays in particular prayed fervently for Ratisbonne’s conversion. Extremely ill, the patrician offered up to God his life for the conversion of the Jewish banker. On the day in which the Count prayed more than 20 Memorares in a church for this intention, he suffered a heart attack, received the Last Sacraments, and died.25

Providentially enough, Alphonse Ratisbonne’s conversion took place in the same church where Count de Laferronnays’s funeral would be held. Baron de Bussières, travelling to the Basilica of Saint Andrea delle Fratte to arrange the Requiem Mass, met Ratisbonne along the way, and asked the banker to accompany him to the church. Ratisbonne complied, and soon found himself admiring the building’s 17th century Baroque architecture. When de Bussières departed into the sacristy to discuss matters with a priest, Ratisbonne’s miraculous transformation took place. Alone in the church, marveling at the building’s art work and sculptures, he came across a side altar to Saint Michael the Archangel and was suddenly visited by the Blessed Virgin Mary in all her regal glory.26

I could summarize this event, but it is best told from Ratisbonne’s own perspective. Looking back on the experience, the now devout Catholic recounted (emphasis mine):

My first utterance was an expression of gratitude to M. de Laferronnays and to the Archiconfrérie of Notre Dame de Victoires. I knew intuitively that M. de Laferronnays had prayed for me. I cannot tell how I knew it, any more than I can account for the truths of which I had suddenly gained both the knowledge and the belief. All I can say is, that at the moment when the Blessed Virgin made a sign with her hand, the veil fell from my eyes; not one veil only, but all the veils which were wrapped around me disappeared, just as snow melts beneath the rays of the sun.

I came forth from a tomb, from an abyss of darkness; and I was living, perfectly energetically living… and yet I shed tears. I saw before me the fearful miseries from which I had been rescued by the mercy of God; I shuddered at the sight of my innumerable sins, and I was stupefied, melted, almost crushed by a sense of wonder and of gratitude…27

Alphonse Ratisbonne, once a reviler of Catholicism, became Fr. Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, a zealous Jesuit priest. He, along with his brother Marie-Théodor, founded the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, a religious order specifically focused on the conversion of the Jews. In 1855, Ratisbonne moved to the Holy Land and labored extensively for the conversion of his Jewish confreres. After nearly 30 years in Jerusalem, Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne gave up his soul on May 6th, 1884. He died in the ancient village of Ein Karem, reputed by Catholic tradition to be the birth place of Saint John the Baptist.

Moral of the Story

In an era where the hierarchy has abandoned its divinely-ordained mission to go and teach all nations, and where false ecumenism has taken its place, it is up to the remnant of laity and religious faithful to tradition to bear the cross for the conversion of the Jews. We must be like Count de Laferronnays and offer up our sufferings, labors, and prayers for the conversion of the Jewish people. We must likewise evangelize fellow Catholics and enlighten them on the manifold errors being perpetuated in the Vatican II-era about the Church’s mission towards the Jews. The Old Covenant has been superseded by the New and Everlasting Covenant. The Jews need to convert in order to be saved, and we need to do all we can to help them in their conversion process.

I highly recommend anyone reading this to add the conversion of the Jews to their daily prayer intentions and pray a perpetual novena/rosary for the Jews. While the Jews are accursed (and rightfully so), they are still dear to God. Jesus is more than willing to dispense His greatest graces on them for their conversion, as is seen in the case of Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne.

If you’ve made it this far, I thank you for reading through this essay. I hope it has revealed to you the serious errors in Nostra Ætate and on the Vatican’s approach towards Jews since the Second Vatican Council.

  • 1. “A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of ‘NOSTRA AETATE’ (NO.4).” (Hereafter CRRJ). Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. Preface.
  • 2. CRRJ §17 and §30.
  • 3. CRRJ §23.
  • 4. CRRJ §24.
  • 5. CRRJ §36.
  • 6. Nostra Ætate, §4.
  • 7. I use this term in a general sense and am not referring to every individual present at the Second Vatican Council. Rather, only those who voted in favor of Nostra Ætate and have not renounced their support for it.
  • 8. CRRJ §36.
  • 9. Nostra Ætate, §4.
  • 10. 2 Corinthians 3: 13-16. Douay-Rheims Bible.
  • 11. À Lapide, Cornelius. “The Great Commentary of Cornelius À Lapide.” (Hereafter TGC). Translated and edited by W.F. Cobb. Edinburgh, vol. 8, 1908. Page 33. Web.
  • 12. TGC, page 34.
  • 13. Ibid.
  • 14. A Quo Primum, §5.
  • 15. Ibid.
  • 16. Council of Basel, Session 19.
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. Nostra Ætate, §4.
  • 19. Wilensky, Gabriel. “Six Million Crucifixions: How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust.” QWERTY Publishers, June 1st 2010, Web. Page 314. Please note this citation is not an approval of this book, but rather a reference from which I could cite the relevant quote.
  • 20. Matthew 27:25. Douay-Rheims Bible.
  • 21. À Lapide, Cornelius. “The Great Commentary of Cornelius À Lapide.” Translated by Thomas W. Mossman, B.A. Assisted by various scholars. London, ed. 3, vol. 3, 1891. Pages 267-268. Web.
  • 22. Pope Saint Pius X. “Catholic Catechism of Saint Pius X (1908).” Amazon Digital Services LLC. 7 Feb. 2010. Kindle. Page 11.
  • 23. “The Conversion of Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne.” Web.
  • 24. “Alphonse Ratisbonne’s Conversion – II.” 23 Aug. 2010. Web.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Ibid.
  • 27. Marie Théodore Renouard de Bussières (vicomte.) and Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne. “The conversion of m. Marie-Alphonse Ratisbonne, ed. by W. Lockhart.” Edited by William Lockhart. Oxford University, 1855. Digitized 5 Mar. 2007. Web. Pages 67-68.