2.0 Nostra Aetate

The superiors can make mistakes, but we in obeying can never make a mistake. There is only one exception: if a superior should ever command a thing clearly evident to be a sin, even the smallest sin. This is a thing that does not happen in practice. In such a case the superior would not be the representative of God, and we would not be obliged to obey him. Apart from the superiors we cannot trust our reason, which can make a mistake. Only God, only He, infallible, most holy, most loving, He is our Lord, Father, Creator, End, Reason, Strength, Love… Our Everything!” -St. Kolbe (cf. Ricciardi, Rev. Antonio O.F.M. Conv. St. Maximilian Kolbe Apostle of our Difficult Age. Translated by Daugthers of St. Paul. Daugters of Saint Paul, 1982 page 84)

The purpose of the prelude quote is the emphasis on superiors commanding something that is a sin in St. Kolbe’s opinion does not happen in practice. Thus, when debating Nostra Aetate I will not be looking for error, but looking for truth. One quote from here or there taken with the view that it is wrong will seem wrong. Yet, if you have the attitude of reverent submission of intellect it will not take long for you mind to see how it is truly correct and in line with the faith. (especially as the whole document is read together and with other Vatican II works.)

So it is that that messianic people (The Church), although it does not actually include all men, and at times may look like a small flock, is nonetheless a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race.” –Lumen Gentium #9 Vatican Website Translation

2.1 Buddhism

One of the most common arguments against Vatican II has to do with Nostra Aetate. In paragraph 2 you can read the following, “Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing “ways,” comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites.http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html

It is claimed that Vatican II teaches that Buddhism is a way to reach perfect liberation through personal effort alone. Taken in this way the paragraph is clearly false as only Jesus can offer prefect liberation and we can only attain this through grace not personal effort only.

But that is not what Vatican II says. If we read the text carefully we can see that Buddhism teaches a way to reach perfect liberation. The translation above is from the Vatican website. Other translations such as Costello Publishing Company’s Vatican Council II the Basic Sixteen Document translates docetur as proposes. Hence the sentence reads that Buddhism proposes a way. Taken in context with the next sentence which states that other religions try to counter human restlessness in different ways it becomes clear that Vatican II is not in error. First, saying that Buddhism teaches or proposes something is not the same as agreeing with the teachings validity. Second, the next sentence says that all religions propose ways to liberation but also does not mean that we agree with those ways. This first and second interpretation is the only way to make sense of the end of paragraph 2 which says, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.” Why would the paragraph claim that religious life in its fullness dwells with Christ and that she must proclaim this if other religions like Buddhism offer perfect liberation? Because the paragraph was not meant to mean that Buddhism validly teaches its followers perfect liberation but only proclaims to.

The argument claiming that Vatican II teaches error about Buddhism in Nostra Aetate fails to consider the entire paragraph which the quotation is taken from. Now one might argue that the wording does give the wrong impression, but taken in context with the following sentences the meaning becomes clear enough.

2.2 Hinduism

Again in paragraph 2. “Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry.” This is often claimed that Vatican II teaches that Hinduism with its many false gods and through myth expresses an inexhaustible mystery which is God. Yet, I think that is misusing the text. All it says is that through myth (which can be endlessly created by humanity) Hinduism contemplates the divine mystery. It does not mean that the false gods can fully represent God or His mystery but that at least some aspect is hinted at therein. (all created things bear at least some resemblance to God as remote as it may be) It does not also mean that Hinduism does not need Christ for its fullness as paragraph 2 ends as noted in section 2.1. “For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.” Romans 1:20. Hence, Hinduism sees something of God but does so inadequately through false gods.

2.3 Great Other Resource on the Subject

No Salvation Outside of the Catholic Church – Great Article linked here

2.4 Other Arguments, Muslims etc…

Claim: Nostra Aetate #3 says that Muslims worship the creator of heaven and earth, but Muslims don’t worship the Trinity so this is wrong.

Response: It has been the position of the Church since the Apostles that the Jews worship God – the same God as the Catholics even though they do not recognize Jesus nor the Holy Spirit as God. The same logic here applies to Muslims who profess (i.e. does not necessarily mean do) to hold the faith of Abraham like the Jews. To deny this is to deny the link between the Old and New Testaments. This would destroy a basic tenant of Catholic thought resulting in a form of Gnosticism which held that the Old Testament God was not the same as the God of the New Testament. The Muslims get many things wrong. Yet, they get somethings right as well. Nostra Aetate clearly states in paragraph #2 that the Catholic Church holds the fullness of salvation. “Indeed, she [Church] proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.

In Fact, Pope St. Pius X goes even further than Vatican II in his Catechism Q12 under the communion of the saints section. All Vatican II says is that the Muslims worship God – that they are theists. St. Pius X’s catechism goes so far as to say that they worship the true God! That is something to recall when debating this issue. It was not something Vatican II came up with, and it never used the word true, just God as to point out that they are theists.

Claim: Nostra Aetate #4 says the Jews are very dear to God and that the Church should have mutual esteem and exchange knowledge with the Jew. Yet, the Jews rejected Jesus and need to be called back from their false religion so the Church cannot esteem them.

Response: The council of Trent was clear when it taught that all of sinful humanity not only the Jews were responsible for Jesus death. To say that the Jews rejected Jesus is the same as saying that most of secular society rejected Jesus. Do you esteem secular society/Roman society/Greek culture in any way? We can esteem some parts because although these cultures did reject Jesus some parts were not totally bad nor did all reject Jesus. The Apostles when they became Christian did not cease to be Jews! Nor did Jesus himself ever stop being Jewish! Catholicism was built upon Judaism. Even today there are Jews who convert, (they themselves never rejected Jesus 2000 years ago), become Christian and never stop being Jews. Why do they never stop? Because Christianity is not a repudiation of Judaism but a fulfillment. Just as Mary is given a special place as Mother of God, the Jews were given a special place as the people (race) from which Jesus was born and from which Christianity sprung. Catholicism is a incarnational thing. Esteem for the Jews, or that God holds them very dear is part and parcel with the incarnational nature of the incarnation. We don’t have to be afraid of esteeming some Jewish knowledge because they have preserved some valid understanding of the Old Testament which we as Christian sometimes forget.

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