St. Jerome and the Jews

Recently anti-Semitism has become revitalized, and it is sad to see some Orthodox Christians on board, using the Fathers of the Church as support (despite condemnations by the Serbian bishops, former Patriarch Alexei II of Moscow, and Patriarch Bartholomew). A thorough and honest study of the Fathers will, I hope, show that, no matter how one-sided their views on Judaism may have been, they cannot be used to such an end.

St. Jerome is often cited as an anti-Jewish Church Father. In his fight with St. Augustine over the interpretation of Galatians 2:14, he comes across as far more hostile to Judaism. Furthermore, in Letter 84.3, he – defending himself from the accusation he had studied too much under Jews – says: “If it is expedient to hate any men and to loath any race, I have a strange dislike to those of the circumcision. For up to the present day they persecute our Lord Jesus Christ in the synagogues of Satan. Yet can anyone find fault with me for having had a Jew as a teacher?”

Samuel Krauss has an almost comprehensive study of Jerome’s references to Judaism in The Jewish Quarterly Review, vol. 6, no. 2, January 1894, pp. 225-261. Most of the references that he documents are negative, including complaints about Palestinian Jews’ wealth, and that they charged Christians more for lessons (though, this should not be understood as a specifically Jewish thing: from personal experience, I can attest that to this day it is still common for Christian and Muslim Levantine Arabs to charge foreigners higher prices). It should not be forgotten that Jerome was friendly with his Jewish tutors, some of whom even were educated in the New Testament and explained it to Christians (Commentary on Isaiah 11:1).

On p. 229 of the Jewish Quarterly Review article, Krauss mentions a couple more positive remarks. The most remarkable comes from Jerome’s commentary on Hosea 3:1 (“And the Lord said to me: Go yet again, and love a woman beloved of her friend, and an adulteress: as the Lord loves the children of Israel, and they look to strange gods, and love the husks of grapes”):

Let it be noted that the adulterous woman signifies the Jews of the present time, who, far from God, from knowledge of the Scriptures, and from the grace of the Holy Spirit, are loved by the Lord, Who expectat (waits for/expects) the salvation of all, and opens the doors to the penitent, and nonetheless these people love useless things, the traditions of men, and their ‘deuterosis’ fantasies [i.e., their Torah traditions], having no longer grapes, nor wine, nor a press full of must, but old husks which have been discarded (PL 25:842).

Overall it is a negative comment, but still noteworthy that he says God still loves the Jews, and waits for the salvation of all. I am not sure if he means all the Jews, or all of humankind. I figure it is the former, and perhaps he is referring to Romans 11:26, which was commonly interpreted by the Fathers as referring to the salvation of the Jews (at least in the last days). The takeaway is that one of the most anti-Jewish fathers, Jerome, while never letting Jews ‘off the hook’ for sticking to the Old Covenant, nevertheless states that God stills love them.

St. John Chrysostom, 1st Homily after His Return from Exile

Below is St. John Chrysostom’s first homily after his return from exile (Sermo post reditum ab exsilio 1). I have roughly translated it from two French sources: this one, and this one. The original French translators in fact used two difference sources for the homily: the first one translated this version of the homily, and the second translated this version. There are quite a few differences in phrasing, and some differences which are somewhat more substantial; notably, in the first version, Galatians 3:28 is cited after Chrysostom says “men and women rivaled one another,” whereas in the second, the citation is preceded by “I address myself to both men and women.” Additionally, the first version ends with the doxology given below, whereas the second uses a Trinitarian doxology. I have followed the first version except where the French gave me trouble. Emilio Bonfiglio has examined Chrysostom’s homilies on his exile (both before the exile and after his return) and decided that only this homily, and part of his first homily before the exile, are genuine. He also examines the two versions of this homily, but I do not have access to his works, so I have not read what he says about them.

1. What to say and and where to begin? Blessed be God! It is what I told you when I left, it is what I say to return on my return; but I had not stopped repeating it in exile. You recall that I cited the example of Job and I cried with him: “Blessed be the name of the Lord unto ages of ages!” (Job 1:21). This is the token I left with you, and this is my hymn of gratitude: “Blessed be the name of the Lord unto ages of ages!” The events changed, the cry of soul glorifying God remains always the same. I gave thanks when I was exiled, and on return I give thanks still. Yes, the events are quite different; but the winter and the summer have one goal, the fecundity of the earth. Blessed be God who permitted my removal; blessed be God who returned me to you; blessed be God who unleashes the storm; blessed be God who dissipates it and gives us back serenity! If I speak thus, it is to teach you to bless the Lord ceaselessly. If you are happy, bless Him, and you will keep your happiness. If you are in misfortune, bless Him, and your misfortune will end. In the midst of prosperity, Job thanked Him; but he praised Him no less when he fell into poverty. He was not greedy before, he was not a blasphemer after: everything changed, except his soul. The calm does not dull the vigor of the pilot, nor does the storm overcome it. Blessed, then, is God, both when I was separated from you and when I return to you. It is His providence with disposes all things. Moreover, one may separate me from you in body, but never in thought.

See the magnificent results of the intrigues of our enemies. They have given new life to your zeal, inflamed your love, they have given me countless friends; before, I was loved only by my own, but today I have the sympathy of the Jews themselves. My enemies thought to tear me from my spiritual family, but they have joined me to strangers. But we owe them no thanks; thanks is due to God alone, who used their malice to our glory. The Jews crucified our Lord, and the world was saved by this sacrifice; but it is not to the Jews, but to the Crucified I give thanks. May they thus open their eyes to the divine light, and see the peace and the honor that their intrigues have given us. Before all this, the church alone was full; now the public square has become the church. From over there to here is but one soul. With no one to impose silence on your gathering, all saw your profound silence, all were plunged in compunction. Some sang psalms, other encouraged them. Today the circus is open, yet no one is found there. The whole city came in torrents to the church. Your voice is like a river spurting up to the heavens, a testimony to the love you have for your father. Your prayers are more radiant to me than a diadem. The men and the women rivaled one another: “In Christ Jesus, there is no male or female” (Galatians 3:28). How can I tell you the power of the Lord? You know well the truth of what I am saying: when one bears temptations, one draws great fruit.

2. This is why I have brought you in the temple of the Apostles; exiled, we have drawn near to those who were exiled. We have been encompassed by intrigues, they too were victims of them. We have come near to Timothy, that new Paul. We have drawn near to those holy bodies, which bear the marks of Christ. Never fear trials if you have a generous heart; such is how the saints have been crowned. A great tribulation outside, a far greater peace inside. May you not be spared by trials! The pastor rejoices in the work that he bears for his sheep. What shall I say? Where shall I throw the divine seed? I see no free place. Where shall I carry out my work? The vineyard is full. Where to build? The temple is completed; the nave is full, my nets are tearing because of the abundance of fish. What shall I do? But it is not the time for work. I exhort you, not because you need it, but to testify to the profound love I have for you. There is every where the crops in all their richness. So many sheep, and not a single wolf; such a harvest and nowhere a thorn; such a flourishing vineyard, and not a fox. These pernicious beasts have been overcome, the wolves have disappeared. And who put them to flight? It was not the shepherd, not me; it was you, the sheep.

O generosity of my flock! In the absence of your shepherd, it has put the wolves to flight! O beauty, or rather, O chastity of the wife! In the absence of the husband, she kept adulterers at bay. This is how she has let shine her true beauty; this is how she has let her wisdom shine. And how have you chased away adulterers? Without doubt because you love your husband. But how? By the greatness of your chastity. I took up no arms, I seized neither sword nor dagger, I only showed them my beauty, and their eyes could not bear the brilliance. Where are they now? In disarray. Where are we? In joy. The emperors are with us; with us are the men invested with power. What more can I say? What else can I add? “May the Lord add blessings upon you: upon you, and upon your children” (Ps. 115:14); may the heart of His love open up to your trust. I will stop here, giving thanks again, for all things, to the goodness of God, to Whom be glory unto ages of ages. Amen.

St. John Chrysostom, That We Must Not Anathematize Either the Living or the Dead

St. John Chrysostom preached the following little-known homily in Antioch, when there was a schism between Nicene Christians, some supporting the bishop Meletius, others supporting Paulinus. Both St. Athanasius and St. Basil worked to reconcile the two groups, but to little avail, as the split outlived both. Two of Meletius’s priests, who supported Apollinaris (of heresy fame), broke off in the 360s. In the following homily St. John attempts to suppress the heated rivalry between the partisans of the two groups. I have translated it (roughly) from the French translation here. A phrase here and there may be mistranslated, but overall it is certainly correct. It can be found in PG 48:943. Enjoy his words and, if need be, take them to heart.

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Origen and St. Jerome on the Historicity of Scripture

This is sort of a preparation for my proposed post about my understanding of scriptural infallibility from the Fathers. It would be too long to include in that post, but it gives support to what I will say therein.

Now, St. Jerome is often given as an example of a Father who was rather fundamentalist about the historicity of scriptural narratives. As such, he is occasionally contrasted with the ‘allegorizing’ Origen. Jerome has been given this reputation in part due to a passage in his Commentary on Philemon 5:

Someone believes in the Creator God. He is not able to believe unless he first believes that the things written about his saints are true: that Adam was formed by God; that Noah alone was saved from the shipwrecked world; that Abraham, when first commanded to depart from his land and kinsmen, left to his descendants circumcision…

St. Jerome goes on to list other things which the faithful must believe: the binding of Isaac, the plagues in Egypt, the sun standing still in Joshua, Elijah ascending in a fiery chariot, and so on. But ironically, Jerome essentially is lifting this passage from none other than Origen, who wrote on Philemon v. 5 (cited in Pamphilus, Apology for Origen, 125):

He who believes in God and accepts that his teachings are true also believes that Adam was formed as the first man. He believes that God fashioned Eve to be Adam’s wife by taking one of his ribs. He also believes that Enosh truly “hoped to call upon the name of the Lord God”; and that Enoch was translated, because he had pleased God for two hundred years after he became the father of Methusaleh. He believes that Noah received an oracle to build an ark and that he alone, together with only those who had entered with him into the ark, was saved from the flood. Likewise, he believes that Abraham merited God’s approval and showed hospitality to three men, one of whom was the Lord, when he was under the oak of Mamre. He also believes the things concerning Isaac, both the manner of his birth, that he was offered by his father, and that he merited to hear oracles from God […] And he believes that Jesus son of Nun, having been heard by God, made the sun stand still over Gibeon and the moon over the valley of Helon.

Origen continues in this way, mentioning other facts from the Old Testament. If all of Origen’s works were lost save this fragment, doubtless we would have scholars claiming him as a clear example of a “fundamentalist”. But since more of his works have survived, we should compare this with what he says elsewhere, as quoted in the Philocalia of Origen (commonly attributed to Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian), 17f.:

Anyway, will any man of sense suppose that there was a first day, and a second, and a third, evening and morning, without sun and moon and stars? And the first, as it were, even without a heaven? And who is so silly as to imagine God, like a husbandman, planted a garden eastward, and put in it a tree of life, which could be seen and felt, so that whoever tasted of the fruit with his bodily teeth received the gift of life, and further that anyone as he masticated the fruit of this tree partook of good and evil? […] Why, even the Gospels abound in incidents of the same kind. We read of the Devil taking Jesus into a lofty mountain, that from thence he might show Him the kingdoms of the whole world and their glory. […] And, similarly, the careful student may observe countless other instances in the Gospels, and may thus be convinced that with the historical events, literally true, different ones are interwoven which never occurred.

Right after this passage, though, Origen defends himself from the charge that he believes none of the Bible is historically true. He gives a list of biblical events which he believes (not unlike the one quoted above) and concludes, “those things which are true historically are many more than those connected with them which contain merely a spiritual sense.”

We can summarize this by remarking that the Fathers can be quite stringent in holding to the historicity of what the Bible relates, including Origen. That said, they also all agree that sometimes Scripture should not be taken literally – John Chrysostom and Jerome included – although they usually only say this when a literal interpretation would mean saying something absurd about God (e.g., that He walked in the Garden of Eden). Origen also explicitly extends this to where interpreting Scripture literally would have us saying something absurd about nature or morals (but Gregory of Nyssa follows him here, e.g., Life of Moses, II.100).

P.S. Sometimes it is claimed that St. Jerome called Genesis a writing told in the manner of a popular poet (i.e., a folk-tale). This, however, does not come from St. Jerome and the misattribution ultimately stems from a mix-up that C. S. Lewis made between Jerome and something in Colet; for more details, see Arend Smilde’s excellent article.

Review of ‘Jesus, Interpreted’ by Matthew Ramage

In an old post I mentioned how excited I was to hear about a new book from Matthew Ramage, Jesus, Interpreted: Benedict XVI, Bart Ehrman, and the Historical Truth of the Gospels (CUA Press, 2017). Ramage is a bright Catholic scholar whose writings focus on the intersection of biblical scholarship with faith. I enjoyed his earlier work Dark Passages of the Bible, so I was pretty sure his latest work on the would be of equally high quality.

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C. S. Lewis on Revisionism

All theology of the liberal type involves at some point – and often involves throughout – the claim that the real behaviour and purpose and teaching of Christ came very rapidly to be misunderstood and misrepresented by His followers, and has been recovered or exhumed only by modern scholars. Now long before I became interested in theology I had met this kind of theory elsewhere. The tradition of Jowett still dominated the study of ancient philosophy when I was reading Greats. One was brought up to believe that the real meaning of Plato had been misunderstood by Aristotle and widely travestied by the neo-Platonists, only to be recovered by the moderns. When recovered, it turned out (most fortunately) that Plato had really all along been an English Hegelian, rather like T. H. Green. I have met it a third time in my own professional studies; every week a clever undergraduate, every quarter a dull American don, discovers for the first time what some Shakesperian play really meant. But in this third instance I am a privileged person. The revolution in thought and sentiment which has occurred in my own lifetime is so great that I belong, mentally, to Shakespeare’s world far more than to that of these recent interpreters. I see – I feel it in my bones – I know beyond argument – that most of their interpretations are merely impossible; they involve a way of looking at things which was not known in 1914, much less in the Jacobean period. This daily confirms my suspicion of the same approach to Plato or the New Testament. The idea that any man or writer should be opaque to those who lived in the same culture, spoke the same language, shared the same habitual imagery and unconscious assumptions, and yet be transparent to those who have none of these advantages, is in my opinion preposterous. There is an a priori improbability in it which almost no argument and no evidence could counterbalance.

Source: C. S. Lewis, ‘Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism,’ in Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), ed. Walter Hooper, pp. 157-158.

I was pleased to read the above passage in Lewis’s essay on biblical scholarship, as the same thought occurred to me when I was first reading about the various historians of philosophy who thought Aristotle had gotten Plato wrong. How was I to believe modern scholars working on the basis of a limited set of texts over the one who was actually Plato’s pupil for many years? Likewise, how am I to hold (as some scholars maintain) that a single verse, Mark 10:18, shows that Jesus did not think of himself as God when St. Paul, who knew the disciples first-hand, clearly did not interpret Jesus’s teachings this way? In any case, Lewis’s essay is excellent throughout and, in my opinion, should be required reading for seminarians.

Palmieri’s Biography of Eugenios Boulgaris

Below is the biography of Eugenios Boulgaris written by Aurelio Palmieri, an early 20th century Catholic expert in the Eastern churches (hence the prejudiced remarks near the end, despite Palmieri being one of the more kinder Catholic experts on the East of his time). It is from the Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, vol. 12, col. 1236-1238. I have not translated the second part of the entry, which is a very brief summary of Boulgaris’s theological works, but I may in the future. I have included the in-text citations of Palmieri, but for the full bibliography, refer to the end of the entry. I myself have added footnotes which show where Palmieri’s account diverges from a more modern biography, that provided by Efthymios Nikolaides in Science and Eastern Orthodoxy: From the Greek Fathers to the Age of Globalization (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011).

BOULGARIS Eugenios. – I. Biography. II. Theological Works.

I. Biography. – The most learned of the Greek theologians of the 18th century was born in Corfu in 1716, of Peter Boulgaris and Jeannette Paramythiotis. His family was originally from Zante (Zakynthos), and this is why those from Zante argue with Corfu over the glory of having give him birth. Idromenos, Ἡ πατρὶς Εὐγενίου τοῦ Βουλγάρεως, Parnassòs, 1881, vol. V, p. 209-216. If we follow Demetrakopoulos, Eugenios Boulgaris himself affirms that he was born in Corfu. Ὀρθόδοξος Ἑλλάς, Leipzig, 1872, p. 189. He received the baptismal name Eleutherios (Eleftherios) in memory of the miraculous delivery of his birthplace, saved from the Turks through the intercession of Saint Spyridon.

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