On Dec. 7th, Fr. Kail Ellis, O.S.A., presented a talk entitled, The Role of the Patriarchs and Bishops of the Eastern Church on the Development of Nostra Aetate: Vatican II’s Document on Islam at Villanova University.
The Second Vatican Council issued a remarkable document on October 28, 1965, in which the Catholic Church for the first time formalized an expanded attitude of dialogical respect toward the major non-Christian religions of the world: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. The declaration, Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) stated, “In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, [the Catholic Church] considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.” The Catholic Church, the document went on to state, “rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions,” but rather looks “with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings, which, though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets forth, nevertheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.”
Fr. Ellis states, “In the paper on The Role of the Patriarchs and Bishops of the Eastern Church, I tried to give the “back story” by trying to show that the statement on Islam did not just appear serendipitously in reaction to a statement on the Jews. Rather, the Church has a long and complicated history of scholarship with Islam. I take up the story in the mid-nineteenth century under Pope Pius IX and conclude with the Christian scholars on Islam and Paul VI in the mid-twentieth century and Vatican II. I have noted especially the role of the Dominicans and the Missionaries of Africa, (the White Fathers) who had established institutes for the study of Islam in Cairo and Tunis respectively in the first half of the twentieth century.”