The Diplomat and the Pioneer in Jewish-Catholic relations prior to Nostra Aetate: Jo Willebrands and Toon Ramselaar

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A combined search of documents in the secret archives of the Vatican and of hith-erto unexplored Dutch archives sheds new light on the genesis of Nostra aetate, the declaration of Vatican II, mainly on Judaism. Two Dutch Catholics exercised a decisive influence upon the making of this declaration: monsignors Johannes Willebrands and Anton Ramselaar. In 1958 and 1960 Ramselaar organized a meeting with international pioneers in Jewish-Christian relations at the Dutch city of Apeldoorn. Research into Dutch and Vatican archives proves the decisive influence of these meetings upon Nostra aetate. In addition, original documents demonstrate that, for the pioneers, the State of Israel was not just a political affair but also the recognition of the Jewish right to survive as a people. Later attempts to marginalize this aspect of the Apeldoorn memorandum coincided with the exclusion of the issues of the State of Israel and World War II as too political. Without Willebrands’s ingenious strategic powers that took over Ramselaar’s network of pioneers, while sticking to traditional theological insights, the declaration would probably never have been promulgated. However, without Ramselaar’s courage, Nostra aetate would not even have been considered a necessity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-488
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Ecumenical Studies
Issue number3
Early online date23 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014



  • Vatican 2; Nostra Aetate ;Judaism; Catholicism; Willebrands,

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