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January 25: Vatican II

Lawrence Bush
January 25, 2010

Smiling Pope John XXIIIOn this date in 1959, Pope John XXIII announced that he would be convening an Ecumenical Council — the first in a century — within the Catholic Church. This “Second Vatican Council,” or Vatican II, required three years of preparation and ran from 1962 to 1965. Vatican II led to much modernization and liberalization of Catholicism, including the publication of Nostre Aetate (“In Our Age”), a document that absolved Jews of guilt for deicide, condemned all displays of anti-Semitism, and repudiated the teaching that Jews are rejected or accursed by God. Accepted by the assembled bishops in a 2,221-88 vote, Nostre Aetate was promulgated on October 28, 1965 by Pope Paul VI, who had succeeded Pope John XXIII during the course of the Ecumenical Council. This opened the door to the first era of non-coercive Catholic-Jewish dialogue in history.
The chief rabbi of Rome is sitting with the pope in an historic tete-a-tete. Sipping tea and sharing their hopes for the world, the two religious leaders have really let down their hair. Soon the rabbi asks: ‘What about you, Your Holiness, and your personal ambitions? Is there anything more that you yourself want out of life?’
“What more could I hope for?” the pope replied. “Once I was a mere parish priest — now I’m the Holy Father! I’m infallible. And I have the power to do enormous good.”
“Still,” the rabbi coaxes him, “there is always hope for something more, something higher . . .”
“Higher?” says the pope with a laugh. “There is nothing higher in our church — or are you saying that I should aspire to be the Lord Above, God Himself?”
“Well,” says the rabbi with a shrug, “one of our boys made it.” —Author unknown

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.