Jan. 15th, 2015: Conference on "Nostra Aetate"

On January 15th, 2015, a top-class and very well-attended study afternoon around Nostra Aetate was held in the auditorium 47; this document of the Second Vatican Council was adopted on October 25th of 1965 and thus turned fifty this year.

The study afternoon was hosted by the Koordinierungsausschuss für christlich-jüdische Zusammenarbeit (Dr. Markus Himmelbauer), the Institute for Jewish Studies (Prof. Gerhard Langer) and both Viennese theological faculties (Prof. Marianne Grohmann; Prof. Wolfgang Treitler). Furthermore, Dr. Himmelbauer from the coordination committee has ensured that everywhere in Austria at all theological faculties and clerical academies similar events take place during this week approaching January 17th, the Day of Judaism, thereby launching a unique kind of event series. It was not about giving an account of the conciliar text from different perspectives – which has been done frequently in the past time anyhow – but about readopting loose ends and developing what has been initiated or what has newly burst open further: Nostra Aetate as decisive impetus and as multifaceted task for a new, in-depth brotherly and sisterly relationship between Christians and Jews going far beyond the confessional Catholic ambit.

In the auditorium 47 Prof. Stefan Schima (Faculty of Law, Institute for Philosophy of Law, Religious and Culture Law) provided more than 150 students with an insight into the university's history from 1867 to 1945 and its manifest antisemitic developments, which was not negligibly carried out by Christian social minded people in association with German Nationals. In 1928/29 the then rector of the university, Theodor Innitzer, the subsequent Archbishop and Cardinal of Vienna, put up significant resistance, but took a very ambiguous stance at the time of Hitler's invasion of Austria. - Dr. Ed Kessler (Cambridge, Woolf Institute Studying Relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims) pointed out an urgent Christian task assigned by Nostra Aetate consisting of the development of a theology of the Divine Alliance that does not just assert God's eternal alliance with Israel, but also reflects on it within the Christian understanding of the alliance in a way that does not curtail God's alliance with Israel. Starting with the Jewish belief that God lives and stays with his people (shekhinah) Kessler tried to lay out a pathway to the Christian theme of Incarnation even if it is not recognised in Judaism. - Prof. Johanna Rahner (University of Tübingen; Institute for Dogmatics, History of Dogma and Ecumenic Theology) showed how the aftermath of Nostra Aetate within the Catholic church made the realisation of the church's guilt as to its involvement in the Shoah more and more apparent. Decisive figures in this regard were Johann Baptist Metz in the domain of Catholic Theology and John Paul II as part of the governing body of the church, whereas the document of the Congregation of the Faith Dominus Iesus under Joseph Ratzinger is contradictory to it. From a Christian perspective it remains a problem how the claim to accomplishment through Christ does not lead to the negation of Judaism. - Prof. Ursula Rudnick (University of Hannover; Institute for Theology and Religious Science) retraced the rapprochement to Judaism by the EKD (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland). The change from 1948, where the conviction was still formulated that the election of Israel had been passed on to the church, to our present days, where Judaism is a topic in theology, shows striking alterations here too.

At the end panel anchored by Markus Himmelbauer current topics were discussed, amongst them Europe's present antisemitism. The fact that it becomes most visible where there are no Jews shows two different things: Antisemitism is a culturally imparted phenomenon and as such perhaps “a social disease”. It loses its force to the extent to which encounters with Jews take place. First and foremost it has to be fought by Christians and Muslims.