Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims

By O'Collins, Gerald | Theological Studies, June 2015 | Go to article overview

Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims


O'Collins, Gerald, Theological Studies


Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims. By Gavin D'Costa. New York: Oxford University, 2014. Pp. xii + 252. $99.

This clear and well-organized volume draws on an admirable amount of research in primary and secondary sources. While concentrating on the two documents from the Second Vatican Council that offer new teaching on Jews and Muslims, Lumen gentium and Nostra aetate, D'C. also attends to what can be gleaned from Unitatis redintegratio, Ad gentes, and Gaudium et spes. Furthermore, he rightly argues that, through what Dei verbum taught on the nature and history of God's saving self-revelation, the document also concerns the religious situation of Jews and Muslims.

Retrieving the traditional terminology of "theological notes," D'C. summarizes Vatican II's teaching on Jews and Muslims in propositions or sententiae. Whether others will want to follow D'C. in his precise way of classification remains unclear, but he valuably highlights the different grades of authority in official teaching.

When sorting out the appropriate "notes," D'C. frequently introduces "the deposit of faith" (DF), a traditional term for all that God has revealed in Christ and through the Holy Spirit for our salvation, considered as a treasure entrusted to the church to be preserved, interpreted, lived, and proclaimed faithfully to all people until the end of time. Hence, when Vatican II cited Romans 11 for its teaching on the Jewish people, it was "recovering," not the deposit of faith as such (122; see 143, 158), but rather an inspired witness to the DF. In general, it is not that the DF "testifies" to some truth (158; in this case that some Jews were involved in the death of Jesus), rather it is the inspired Gospels that testify to this truth in the DF.

D'C. repeatedly recognizes that the teaching of Vatican II on Jews and Muslims constituted "development," "novelty," and "reform," but insists that this did not entail doctrinal "discontinuity." Here he differs from Pope Benedict XVI, who said at the end of an address to the Roman Curia on December 22,2005, "It is precisely [in a] combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of reform consists." Vatican II could not make various reforms in church teaching and practice without introducing some measure of discontinuity. Or to use D'C.'s term, there can be no "novelty" without some degree of discontinuity with what was previously taught and practiced.

Dealing with the anathema that the Council of Florence pronounced against "pagans, Jews, heretics, and schismatics," as D'C. rightly notes, that council presumed that these four groups were all in bad faith and did not allow, as Vatican II did, for the possibility of their "invincible ignorance. …

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