Sunday, March 26, 2006

Nostra Aetate

I'm cheered by the Badmash boys above, and appalled by the ordeal of Abdul Rahman, the Christian convert on trial for his life in Afghanistan so I thought that maybe I would distract myself this Sunday, and perhaps surprise a few people, by reviewing how Catholic doctrine is much closer to the inclusive life affirming attitude of "many names, one emoticon" than it is to a narrow doctrinaire assertion of Sharia law. (I am as ever thankful to Wikipedia for a lot of the information.)

The Second Vatican Council's 1965 "Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions" is called Nostra Aetate: follow the link (which will take you to the English version of the document on the Vatican's website) and read it for yourself. It is a short piece that will only take a few minutes to scan.

The Church's "task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations" is stressed in the first paragraph.

The second part of the Declaration talks about Hindus and Buddhists. It specifically 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.

Part three goes on to say that the Catholic Church regards the Muslims with esteem, and then continues by describing some of the things Islam has in common with Christianity and Catholicism: worship of One God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, Merciful and Omnipotent, Who has spoken to men; the Muslims' respect for Abraham and Mary, and the great respect they have for Jesus.

Part four speaks of the bond that ties the people of the 'New Covenant' to Abraham's stock (i.e. Christians to Jews) and decries all displays of antisemitism made at any time by anyone.

The final section of the Declaration states that all men are created in God's image, and that it is contrary to the teaching of the Church to discriminate against, show hatred towards or harass anybody on the basis of colour, race, or religion.

In 2000, John Paul II issued a statement to emphasising that the Church continued in the position of Vatican II that salvation was available to believers of other faiths:

The Gospel teaches us that those who live in accordance with the Beatitudes - the poor in spirit, the pure of heart, those who bear lovingly the sufferings of life - will enter God's kingdom.

All who seek God with a sincere heart, including those who do not know Christ and his church, contribute under the influence of grace to the building of this kingdom.

Last year, the new Pope Benedict said of Jewish Christian relations (thought the sentiment relates to relationships of all people of goodwill I think):
Forty years have passed since my predecessor Pope Paul VI promulgated the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on the Church's relation to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, which opened up a new era of relations with the Jewish People and offered a basis for a sincere theological dialogue. This anniversary gives us abundant reason to express gratitude to Almighty God for the witness of all those, who despite a complex and often painful history, and especially after the tragic experience of the Shoah, which was inspired by a neo-pagan racist ideology, worked courageously to foster reconciliation and improved understanding between Christians and Jews

I'm no theologian or apologist, or indeed PR man, but it seems to me that this Catholicism is about as far from the chauvinistic barbarism of the Afghan court as it is possible get, and it is a position that is not very widely known, appreciated or even suspected.

At the same time I would be a fool not to acknowledge that far worse religious savagery rent these islands as the Welsh Tudor sisters Mary and Elizabeth persecuted Protestants and Catholics respectively.

Despair is a sin against hope. If the British can move on, so can anyone else.

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