Anti-Semitism in the Church Fathers & Catholic History

Anti-Semitism in the Church Fathers & Catholic History November 29, 2016

Resources and Recent Catholic Repentance


Dave & Judy Armstrong in the underground tunnel tour next to the current Western or “Wailing” Wall in Jerusalem (October 2014): exploring the ancient temple retaining walls built by Herod, in Jesus’ time. [photograph by Margie Prox Sindelar]




Suggested Examples of Patristic Anti-Semitism
St. Ignatius of Antioch (98-117 A.D.) – Epistle to the Magnesians

For if we are still practicing Judaism, we admit that we have not received God’s favor…it is wrong to talk about Jesus Christ and live like Jews. For Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity.
St. Justin Martyr – Dialogue with Trypho (Between 138A.D. and 161 A.D.)

We too, would observe your circumcision of the flesh, your Sabbath days, and in a word, all you festivals, if we were not aware of the reason why they were imposed upon you, namely, because of your sins and the hardness of heart. The custom of circumcising the flesh, handed down from Abraham, was given to you as a distinguishing mark, to set you off from other nations and from us Christians. The purpose of this was that you and only you might suffer the afflictions that are now justly yours; that only your land be desolated, and you cities ruined by fire, that the fruits of you land be eaten by strangers before your very eyes; that not one of you be permitted to enter your city of Jerusalem. Your circumcision of the flesh is the only mark by which you can certainly be distinguished from other men…as I stated before it was by reason of your sins and the sins of your fathers that, among other precepts, God imposed upon you the observance of the sabbath as a mark.
Origen of Alexandria (185-254 A.D.)

We may thus assert in utter confidence that the Jews will not return to their earlier situation, for they have committed the most abominable of crimes, in forming this conspiracy against the Savior of the human race…hence the city where Jesus suffered was necessarily destroyed, the Jewish nation was driven from its country, and another people was called by God to the blessed election.
St. John Chrysostom (344-407 A.D.) – From Homily I of his “Eight Homilies Against the Jews”
Many, I know, respect the Jews and think that their present way of life is a venerable one. This is why I hasten to uproot and tear out this deadly opinion. I said that the synagogue is no better than a theater and I bring forward a prophet as my witness. Surely the Jews are not more deserving of belief than their prophets. “You had a harlot’s brow; you became shameless before all”. Where a harlot has set herself up, that place is a brothel. But the synagogue is not only a brothel and a theater; it also is a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts. Jeremiah said: “Your house has become for me the den of a hyena”. He does not simply say “of wild beast”, but “of a filthy wild beast”, and again: “I have abandoned my house, I have cast off my inheritance”. But when God forsakes a people, what hope of salvation is left? When God forsakes a place, that place becomes the dwelling of demons. (2) But at any rate the Jews say that they, too, adore God. God forbid that I say that. No Jew adores God! Who says so? The Son of God says so. For he said: “If you were to know my Father, you would also know me. But you neither know me nor do you know my Father”. Could I produce a witness more trustworthy than the Son of God? (3) If, then, the Jews fail to know the Father, if they crucified the Son, if they thrust off the help of the Spirit, who should not make bold to declare plainly that the synagogue is a dwelling of demons? God is not worshipped there. Heaven forbid! From now on it remains a place of idolatry. But still some people pay it honor as a holy place.
St. Augustine (c. 354-430 A.D.), Confessions, 12.14

How hateful to me are the enemies of your Scripture! How I wish that you would slay them (the Jews) with your two-edged sword, so that there should be none to oppose your word! Gladly would I have them die to themselves and live to you!

Regular blog contributor “Jordanes” commented on the above passages:

It is necessary to distinguish between anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism — neither of which are permitted by the Church today, but still the former is distinct and quite different from the latter. Of your suggested examples of patristic anti-Semitism, the only one that qualifies as unquestionable anti-Semitism is the quote from St. John Chrysostom’ infamous homilies against the Jews.

But the other passages do not in any way qualify as anti-Semitism. At worst they are examples of the common anti-Judaism found in the early Fathers, and the passage from St. Ignatius isn’t even anti-Judaism, but would be “anti-Judaising.” St. Ignatius was condemning the heresy that Christians had an obligation to observe the Law of Moses, and the New Testament itself condemns the same heresy. Of course many absurdly and stupidly claim the New Testament is anti-Semitic too.

Again, the passages from St. Justin and Origen are examples of anti-Judaism, not anti-Semitism. The passage from St. Augustine, however, is not even anti-Judaism, but is a vehemently expressed desire that Jews who are opposed to Christianity would be converted.

Counter-Example: Pope St. Gregory the Great
For it is necessary to gather those who are at odds with the Christian religion the unity of faith by meekness, by kindness, by admonishing, by persuading, lest these…should be repelled by threats and terrors. They ought, therefore, to come together to hear from you the Word of God in a kindly frame of mind, rather than stricken with dread, result of a harshness that goes beyond due limits. (Synan, The Popes and the Jews in the Middle Ages, p. 45)
June 591: Censure of Virgil, bishop of Arles and Theodore, bishop of Marseilles, for having baptized Jews by force. They are to desist. (Simonsohn, Shlomo, p.4)
November 602: Admonition to Paschasius, bishop of Naples, to ensure that the Jews are not disturbed in the celebration of their religious festivals. (The Apostolic See and the Jews, Documents: 492-1404; Simonsohn, Shlomo, p.23)
TO PASCASIUS, BISHOP OF NAPLES: Those who, with sincere intent, desire to lead people outside the Christian religion to the correct faith, ought to make the effort by means of what is pleasant, not with what is harsh, lest opposition drive afar the m ind of men whom reasoning…could have attracted. Those who act otherwise…demonstrate that they are concerned with their own enterprises, rather than with those of God!
Now, the Jews dwelling in Naples have registered a complaint with Us, asserting that certain people are attempting, in an unreasonable fashion, to restrain them from some of the solemnities connected with their own feast days, as it has been lawful for them to observe or celebrate these up to now, an d for their forefathers from long ages past…For of what use is this, when…it avails nothing toward their faith and conversion?…One must act, therefore, in such a way that…they might desire to follow us rather than to fly from us…Rather let them enjoy their lawful liberty to observe and to celebrate their festivities, as they have enjoyed this up until now. (Synan, 217)
General Information

“Anti-Semitism of the ‘Church Fathers'”

“Anti-Judaism in Early Christianity” (Wikipedia)

“History of Antisemitism” (Wikipedia)

Articles from a Catholic Perspective 

Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions: Vatican II)

“Judaism and Christianity,” Dr. Warren Carroll

“Anti-Semitism in the Roman Catholic Church: Repudiation During the 20th Century” (ReligiousTolerance.Org)

“Jewish-Christian Relations: Mixed Signals From the Vatican,” Christopher Blosser

“Pope Benedict XVI and the Jews,” Christopher Blosser

“Pope Benedict XVI, Child of Abraham,” Rabbi David Rosen

“How Future Pope Won the Respect of Jewish Leaders,” Meghan Clyne

“Are the Gospels Anti-Semitic?”, David B. Currie (This Rock)

“The New Testament and Anti-Semitism,” Jimmy Akin (This Rock)

“The Corporate Conversion of Israel,” Jimmy Akin (This Rock)

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem: An Open Letter to William Cardinal Keeler,” Rosalind Moss (This Rock)

“On Jewish History,” Christopher Dawson

Catholic Encyclopedia: “Judaism”

Catholic Encyclopedia: “History of the Jews”

“John Paul II and Anti-Semitism: A Personal Experience,” Jean Stern

“Auschwitz: the Triumph of Evil in a Society Without God,” Remi Hoeckman, O.P.

Nostra Aetate: A Milestone,” Pier Francesco Fumagalli

“Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past” (International Theological Commission, headed by Cardinal Ratzinger)

“Anti-Semitism: A Wound to be Healed,” Walter Cardinal Kasper

“Some Reflections on Nostra aetate,” Walter Cardinal Kasper

Statement Opposing Anti-Semitism (Abp. Antoniao Canizares)

“We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy

“The Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews: A Crucial Endeavour of the Catholic Church,” Cardinal Edward Idris Cassidy

“The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible” (Pontifical Biblical Commission)

Guidelines and Suggestions for Implementing the Conciliar Declaration “Nostra Aetate” (Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews)

Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church (Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews)

Address to the Members of the British Council for Christians and Jews (Pope St. John Paul II)

Address to a Symposium on the Roots of Anti-Judaism (Pope St. John Paul II)

Address to the Jewish Community in Hungary (Pope St. John Paul II)

Address to Representatives of Jewish Organizations in America (Pope St. John Paul II)

Address on the 25th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate (Pope St. John Paul II)

Universal Prayer: Confession of Sins and Asking for Forgiveness (Pope St. John Paul II)

Address to Dr. Riccardo di Segni, Chief Rabbi of Rome (Pope Benedict XVI)


Articles from an Orthodox Standpoint

“Was St. John Chrysostom Anti-Semitic?,” Orthodox Christian Information Center

“Orthodoxy and Antisemitism,” Steve Hayes

“Orthodox Theologians Decry Anti-Semitism in Liturgy,” Catholic World News

“The Jewish Question in the Russian Orthodox Church,” Gregory Benevitch


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