Born Again the Biblical Way

 

Salvation


Born Again – The Biblical Way

by Robert Klaus


Are you “born again”???  That is one of the most commonly asked questions whenever an Evangelical meets a Catholic.  A typical response from a Catholic will be their eyes glazing over; a few stammering mumbled words, and a quick change of the subject.  The question does not make much sense to a Catholic…the phrase itself is not really in the Catholic lexicon.

The problem here is that Evangelicals and Catholics are defining the phrase “born again” two entirely different ways.

To an Evangelical the phrase means “to have a conversion experience” in which someone commits their very being to Christ.  And in making that interior conversion they oftentimes, in keeping with the traditions of Evangelical churches, will say the “Sinners Prayer” in which they publicly confess their repentance from sin and their acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior.

A Catholic will wholeheartedly agree that in order to be saved a person MUST have an interior conversion to Christ.  A person MUST also repent of their sins and make Christ their Lord and Savior.  So Catholics and Evangelicals can agree on that aspect of salvation.

But…to Catholics the phrase “born again” means something other than having a conversion experience.

In fact, if you read much history you will quickly discover that it was only in the last couple of centuries that ANYONE ever connected a conversion experience to the phrase “born again.” It is the observation of this writer that Evangelicals hijacked that term and redefined it.

Ever since the Apostolic era the phrase “born again” was always applied to the concept of baptismal regeneration. That is the unanimous witness of the Early Church (For evidence to back this up please see this link: born again). But since most Evangelicals do not believe that we are regenerated through baptism, they sought a new meaning to the biblical phrase. And hence they began, less than two centuries ago, to apply the term to a conversion experience.

So this begs the obvious question: What is a Christian? Well…a Christian is someone who is joined by grace to Christ. All Christians can agree on that. So now the next question becomes: How does one enter into the New Covenant and so be joined by grace to Christ?

And here we can look to Scripture to give us the answer. All Christians (both Catholic and non-Catholic alike) believe that the Old Covenant foreshadowed the New Covenant. We agree that the Old points to something that is Reality in the New. For example…the rite of circumcision was how one entered into the Old Covenant. Nobody disagrees with that. When a person (usually when they were eight days old unless the individual was a Gentile convert to Judaism) was circumcised they were then joined into the covenantal family of God.

So, if circumcision foreshadows something in the New Covenant…what was it?

According to St. Paul, in Col 2:11-12, circumcision was replaced with Baptism in the New Covenant:

11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; 12 and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

And so we can see that Christians are circumcised in a special way: in the circumcision of Christ when we are buried with Him in baptism. Therefore, circumcision foreshadowed baptism. And if that is the case then it follows that whereas one entered into the Old Covenant via circumcision one now enters into the New Covenant via baptism. And this fits perfectly with the passage cited above. For St. Paul is telling his readers that in baptism we are “buried WITH Christ” so that when God “raised” Him from the dead we too (meaning those who were first buried with Him in baptism) can rise AGAIN.

This theme is also seen quite clearly in Romans 6:4 in which St. Paul says:

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

And here we can see that a person who is born physically alive but spiritually fallen and dead can be regenerated into new life. How? By being baptized INTO the death of Christ – by being mysteriously joined to Him in death – so that by the power of the Father through the working of the Holy Spirit – when Christ is raised from the dead we too will rise WITH Him into “newness of life.”

Newness of life = born again. Get the connection?

Now this presents some great difficulties for Evangelicals who claim that we are born again ONLY by a conversion experience BEFORE we are baptized (a baptism only being seen as an after-the-fact symbolic-only act of obedience).

Why?

Simply stated, it is because if we are born again by our conversion experience before baptism, then it renders Paul’s words as absurd. One cannot be “born again” BEFORE one is buried into death can one? If we are born again (in a conversion experience) and then afterwards are baptized into the death of Christ (wow that second life sure was short) and then rise again in “newness of life” does that mean that we are born again – again??? Are we born a third time?

And so the term “born again” has ALWAYS meant to all Christians everywhere (until the modern era in which Evangelicals – primarily in America – hijacked the term) to refer to baptismal regeneration. That was what Jesus was referring to when, in John 3:5, He spoke of the necessity of being born again of “water AND the spirit.” That is also why Peter said that “baptism now saves” us (1 Peter 3:21). Simply stated, we are saved ONLY by the grace we receive in the New Covenant and the New Covenant is entered into via baptism. * See Footnote below.

All that being said, we are NOT saying that if we are baptized that we are therefore automatically saved no matter what. No. For we also teach that those of us old enough to know and understand the Lord – and hence old enough to actually sin and rupture our relationship with God – we MUST also be conformed to Christ. We MUST be interiorly converted to Christ. We must repent of our sins and we must walk in His footsteps making Him our personal Lord and Savior.

And so both Catholics and Evangelicals agree that we must be converted and we must be born again…but how it is that we define the phrase itself is under dispute in this modern era.

So, are baptized Catholics “born again”? Yes. Are they saved merely by their baptism even if they have not converted their lives to Christ? No. Both are necessary to salvation.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, in Mark 16:16, said as much when He said this:

“He who believes and is baptize will be saved…”

Faith AND baptism are both necessary, no matter in what order they manifest themselves.

Amen.

* Footnote: This is ordinarily through Sacramental Baptism via the direct ministry of the Church, but, in extraordinary circumstances, one can also be baptized in a non-sacramental manner that is mysterious to us via “The baptism of desire” (the Good Thief would have desired baptism if he had been allowed) or “The baptism of blood” (some of the Christian martyrs went to their deaths without having been sacramentally baptized). In such cases Jesus Himself will baptize those whom the Church cannot even though sacramental baptism through the ministry of the Church is the norm and the expressed design of Christ.

Robert Klaus
The Catholic Legate
March 18, 2006

Dialogue With A Dispensationalist

Salvation


Dialogue With A Dispensationalist

Robert Klaus provides a brief overview of dispensationalism and then exposes its errors regarding St. Paul’s role in the New Testament. His opponent’s comments are in blue.


The Dispensationalist “movement” had John Nelson Darby as its founder back in the 1830s. Following two generations later was CI Scofield who was the first to take Darby’s rather novel ideas and systematize them by way of a special Study Bible with all of the verses that are pertinent to Dispensationalism cross-referenced.
Modern day Dispensationalists have become very popular in the American eye, starting with author Hal Lindsey (The Late Great Planet Earth) and continuing on with Tim LaHaye, the author of the vastly popular Left Behind series. Dispensationalists are positively obsessed with End Times topics in general, and with the Rapture theory in particular.

“The rapture,” of course, is the belief that Christ will come again and take up into heaven those who make up “the Church” – that is to say “born again” believing Christians – prior to seven years of tribulation for those who are left behind.

Thus, those who are raptured into heaven not only escape death but also escape the tribulations that God rains down on earth. After the seven year so-called “Great Tribulation” Christ will come again and establish a 1000 year reign on earth (called “The Millennial Reign”) – thus ushering in the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies about the Kingdom of Israel – a literal and physical kingdom centered in Jerusalem at the rebuilt and restored Temple.
It should be noted that Dispensationalists often dispute among themselves as to where the Word should be “rightly divided” as well as disputing between themselves if the rapture will occur before, during, or after the Great Tribulation. The majority of Dispensationalists are known as “Pre-tribulation Millennialists” since they hold that the rapture will occur before the Tribulation after which Christ will reign in the earthly Kingdom of Israel for 1000 years.
Dispensationalists do not view the era of Grace, that is to say the Church Age, to be a continuation and fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Rather, they believe that Salvation History is broken up and divided into several different periods of time – called “dispensations.” The idea is that God has specific “programs” in mind that are addressed specifically to the people within any given era…with little or no connection from one dispensation to the next.
Catholics, as well as many mainstream Protestants, believe that the Church founded by Christ on the Apostles is the Kingdom of God on earth since the Church is nothing less than the continuation of the Incarnational ministry of Christ. Dispensationalists dispute that notion and insist that there is a sharp separation between the “Church” and the “Kingdom” (by which they mean the literal earthly reign of Christ in Israel).
Thus, they believe that Jesus and the 12 Apostles, since they were Jews who directed their evangelization efforts to the nation of Israel, are in “Israel’s program” whereas the Apostle Paul, since he was known as the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” is in the “Church program.” Therefore Dispensationalists believe that all four Gospel books in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) plus the first 8 chapters of Acts (since chapter 9 marks the conversion of Paul – the Apostle to the Gentiles), all pertain to Jews only, whereas the balance of the New Testament (especially the Epistles written by Paul) pertain specifically to the Gentiles and the “Church Age.”
Therefore they, as Gentiles, paint themselves into a rather odd corner in that they are Christians who view the words of Paul to have more direct influence on them than they view the Gospels or the words of Christ Himself.
The bottom line is that they perceive that the ministry of Christ and the 12 Apostles was to be directed solely toward converting the nation of Israel. When that proved to be a lost cause, due to the rejection of Christ by the Jews in the first century, God put the “Israel Program” on the shelf, so to speak, and instead raised Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles and thus entered the “Church Age” which is viewed as sort of a “parenthesis” in Salvation History. So, for the last 2000 years we have been in the Church Age and will remain there until God decides to rapture up the Church and once again send down Jesus (The Second Coming) to reign in earthly Israel.
Thus, the “Church Age” will have been raptured into heaven and the “Israel Program” will be taken off the shelf and re-opened. At the end of the literal 1000 year reign of Christ in Israel, a great battle between Satan and his minions will ensue against Christ and His Angelic forces. This will result in the end of time and God emerging triumphant and Satan finally and eternally defeated and vanquished. Again, please note that this is only a general summary since many Dispensationalists dispute exactly where to “rightly divide the Word” and hence they argue among themselves as to the actual order that these prophesied events will unfold.
Dispensationalists therefore have a very hyper-Pauline theology in which anything that Paul says (as Dispensationalists interpret his words, of course) will “trump” anything else that even Jesus might say. They are able to dismiss the words of Jesus by remarking that Jesus was talking to Jews and since they are Gentile they do not have to pay as much attention to them as the words of Paul. This, of course, is a very stilted and unnatural way of reading Scripture. It is, frankly, dangerous.
So…with this background in mind, please read the following dialog between myself and a Dispensationalist. The actual dialog is much longer than this excerpt, but it will serve the purpose of exposing some of the fallacies that Dispensationalists bring to the table – especially when it comes to their over-emphasis on the role of Paul. Remember that they have a vested interest in separating and clearly dividing Paul and his Gospel (to the Gentiles) from the Gospel preached by Peter and the other Apostles.

I am not mocking Peter and I don’t believe that Paul is my “pope” but if there was such a thing as a “pope” Paul would be most likely choice because he was given the “revelation of the mystery of Christ” which Peter had to learn from him.
Peter did NOT “learn from” Paul. Read Acts 10 (the account of the conversion of the Gentile man named Cornelius by way of Peter’s divinely mandated visit to his home) in which – clearly – Peter received a Divine Revelation completely independently of Paul – unless you want to claim that the being who came to Peter in his vision was really was really Paul and not an angel. 😉
Your claim that Paul taught Peter about the inclusion of Gentiles into the Covenant is totally baseless and a gross distortion of the Bible.
When Paul came on the scene in the book of Acts Peter disappears off the scene.
You are reading as a modern day American (which can be a dangerous thing since the Bible is anything but a modern American document). The Bible in general (and Acts in particular) is not written as if it is a linear history textbook trying to tell the whole story from A to Z…so why are you acting as if it is?
The other thing is that Luke, clearly, intended to write another book picking up where Acts abruptly left off. For whatever reason, known only to God, the “sequel” was either never written or it was lost. Obviously God did not want it written or in the canon. But the point here is that, objectively speaking, Peter went on in his ministry and DID things even if we do not have written accounts of it. What I am saying is that just because Peter “disappears” from the Bible does NOT mean than he “disappeared off the scene” as you so boldly claim.
The only recorded Gentiles Peter ever preached to was Cornelius and his family and he had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do that. Peter did not go “kicking and screaming.” Rather, Peter was naturally caught off guard, so to speak, because the Revelation he received was something that was new (and unexpected) to him. According to Acts 10:19 Peter was “pondering” the Revelation – he wasn’t fighting against it (kicking and screaming) as per your assertion.
Also – you are obviously trying to minimize the importance of this passage since it is so lethal to your hyper-Pauline heterodoxy. Even if you are correct (and I can prove that you are not correct) that Peter preached to “only” Cornelius…well…it still must be admitted by you that that one event was HUGE.
Firstly, it wasn’t as if Peter stumbled upon some poor hapless Gentile and decided (on his own) to preach to him on the spur of the moment as a whim. Rather, Peter was commanded by divine mandate to seek out Cornelius and to preach to him. It was God Himself who commanded this and so you would be wise to recognize the significance of this event instead of minimizing its import.
Secondly, the record DOES prove that Peter was not taught by Paul, but rather Peter received his understanding regarding the Gentiles directly through Divine Revelation – PRECISELY the same way that Paul received his own understanding regarding the Gentiles. Why you should put so much emphasis on Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus and so little emphasis on Peter’s vision with regard to Cornelius only belies your own hyper-Pauline bias that keeps you and all Dispensationalists blinded to Truth.
Thirdly it can be Biblically demonstrated that Peter preached to more Gentiles than “only” Cornelius. I realize that you qualified your assertion by saying that the Cornelius event was the only “recorded” instance of Peter preaching to Gentiles, but that is simply not true…and a careful reading of Acts and Galatians proves my point.
Here is why…
Remember the incident mentioned in Galatians 2 of Paul “rebuking” Peter because Peter turned away from the Gentiles and instead sat at table with the Judaizers? Think for a moment about what that is REALLY saying. Is it saying that Peter was rebuked for never preaching to the Gentiles, or was he rebuked for TURNING AWAY from the Gentiles THAT HE WAS HERETOFOR EVANGELIZING so that he would not scandalize the Judaizers??? Obviously Peter had to have been preaching to more Gentiles than “only” Cornelius – and this is “recorded” in Scripture…if one were to carefully read the text without hyper-Pauline bias. Galatians 2:12 proves my point:

“For before    certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but    when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing    the circumcision party.”

There is another reason. Follow me here:
Step 1 we see Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10. We learn that Peter received his new understanding of God’s Will for the Gentiles directly by Divine Revelation (not from Paul).
Step 2 we see in chapter 11 starting in verse 1 that the other “Apostles and the brethren in Judea” learned from Peter that the Gentiles “ALSO” had received the word of God. So the entire hierarchy within the Apostolic church in Judea learned of God’s Will for the Gentiles FROM PETER (not Paul!).
Step 3 we see (verse 18) that Peter’s instruction to them as to the Divine nature of the Revelation he received from an angel effectively “silenced” those in the hierarchy who were previously objecting to Peter’s actions with Cornelius. Even they acknowledged that “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.” So the very center of the Church knew of God’s Will for the Gentiles at that very moment. And the center of the Church learned this from Peter – not Paul.
Step 4 we see (verse 20) that men from Cyprus and Cyrene arrived in Antioch (just a short journey from Jerusalem – and we know from Scripture that there was much communication between Jerusalem and Antioch) where they too preached to Gentiles (just like Peter had preached to Cornelius). As of this point in time – Paul is living in Tarsus and has not arrived on the “Gentile scene,” so to speak, in Antioch. But these other men (from Cyprus and Cyrene) THEY did preach to Gentiles. And they preached to the Gentiles with much success. Verse 21 tells us that these men (not Paul) were able to “greatly” increase the number of Gentile believers in Antioch.
Step 5 we see (verse 22) that news of this great increase of Gentile converts came to the ears of the hierarchy in Jerusalem (as I said – it is a short distance and there was much communicated between the two cities). So, what did they do? They “sent Barnabas” (not Paul) to oversee the whole situation at Antioch. When Barnabas arrived (verse 23) he was greatly pleased by what he found and, in verse 24, the efforts of Barnabas resulted in the Gentile population continuing to grow the Church in Antioch to such a degree that he needed some help.
Step 6 we see (verses 25-26) the FIRST TIME IN ALL OF SCRIPTURE that here – finally – Paul is specifically referenced to be in the company of Gentiles (although it is highly possible that Paul had preached to Gentiles while living in Tarsus – but Scripture does not spell that out for us). Barnabas went to Tarsus (where Paul had been living at the time) and “recruited” him (for lack of a better word) to help out in Antioch. Paul and Barnabas “worked” at Antioch for a whole year – again with great success.
So, my point here is that your claim that the Cornelius event is supposedly the only recorded time that Peter preached to Gentiles is a baseless argument (as per Galatians 2). Not only that, but you are also ignoring the Biblical evidence that says that (1) Peter informed the Church hierarchy of his Revelation, and (2) the events that followed in Antioch (when the men from Cyprus and Cyrene preached to Gentiles) were an indirect result of Peter’s instruction to the universal Church. According to Scripture, the Church in Antioch had “greatly increased” its number of Gentile converts long before Paul went to Antioch.
Let’s look at the record of Paul’s initial activities as a Christian:
Step 1 is Paul’s conversion in Acts 9. Paul receives a Divine Revelation from Jesus Himself. He is sent on to Damascus where he eventually meets with Ananias (a Jewish Christian). Ananias also received a Revelation and he is told that Saul is “a chosen instrument” to carry God’s name to Gentiles. That is the first time we learn of God’s plans for Saul/Paul with regard to the Gentiles…and it is interesting that we learn of it through the Revelation given to Ananias (and not through the Revelation given to Paul).
So…what does Saul/Paul do next?
Step 2 in verses 19-22 we learn that after several days with the (Jewish) disciples in Damascus Saul did his first preaching as a Christian. Where did he preach? In a Synagogue to Jews (not Gentiles)!
Verses 22 reads:

“But Saul    increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews    who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the    Christ.”

There is no mention yet of Saul preaching to Gentiles.
Step 3 tells us, in verses 23-25, that the JEWS (not the Gentiles) tried to kill him and so he escaped (to Jerusalem).
Step 4, in verses 26-27, he eventually meets the Apostles. Barnabas vouched for his conversion and therefore the hierarchy of the Church accepted Saul as a brother in Christ.
Step 5, in verses 28-29, we see a soon-to-be familiar pattern emerge. Saul preached to the “Hellenists” in Jerusalem. The “Hellenists” were not Gentile Greeks, but rather they are Greek speaking Jews! Therefore Saul had still not preached to Gentiles. And these Hellenists, being non-Christian Jews, tried to kill him, just as the Jews in Damascus had tried to kill him previously.
Step 6, verse 30, explains that the Church in Jerusalem, presumably fearing for Saul’s life, sent him off (eventually) to Tarsus. Tarsus, of course, is where he was from originally. It is a safe assumption that Saul returned back to his family or old neighborhood (since Jews are very clannish this should be a safe assumption – but it is admittedly only speculation) where he lived until the day that Barnabas arrived to recruit him for the Church’s work in Antioch (preaching to Gentiles).
Still, up until Paul’s arrival in Antioch there is not one explicit Biblical word about Saul/Paul preaching anything to a Gentile. It can be fairly speculated that Paul may have preached to Gentiles while in Tarsus since we know that there was a Gentile Christian population in Tarsus by the time of the Jerusalem Council in that the Council sent a letter to the gentile believers in “Cilicia” – the province where Tarsus is – even though we don’t know with certainty who evangelized these believers (see Acts 15:23). I personally believe that Paul had most likely preached to the Gentiles there prior to his departure to Antioch…but that is speculation on my part.
And all of this tells us that not only was Paul NOT involved in teaching the universal Church as to God’s Will for the Gentiles (According to Acts 11 it was Peter who taught the Church this – not Paul), but it also tells us that the act of preaching to Gentiles was already in practice long before Paul’s arrival in Antioch – even by those in the Church who were not even Apostles and had not received any Revelation themselves (such as Barnabas and the men from Cyprus and Cyrene).
Therefore the Revelation about Gentiles that Paul received was NOT “unique” to Paul alone (as you Dispensationalists continually assert again and again)…hence the Gospel that Paul preached was not contrary to, or separated from, what the wider Church in general, and the other Apostles in particular, were already preaching and practicing independently of Paul.
And for proof that what the Apostles (and especially Peter) preached was IN ACCORD with Paul’s gospel message – and therefore Paul’s gospel was NOT unique or separate – can be found in Acts 15 at the Council of Jerusalem.
Before we delve into Acts 15, though, let’s set the stage:
Step 1 is Acts 12 whereby we learn that King Herod began a great persecution of the Church. He killed the Apostle James (brother of John) and had Peter arrested. With divine assistance (from an angel sent by God) Peter escaped the prison and sent a message to the other “James” (the one who was now the head of the local Church in Jerusalem) and then went into hiding. Basically the Apostles “got out of Dodge” and the local Church that remained was forced to go underground, under James who was a very Jewish (i.e., not at all Gentile-like) leader.
Step 2, in Acts 13, we switch the story over to Antioch where Paul and Barnabas where working hard at building the Church – and where there was great success at evangelizing Gentiles.
But here we suddenly find yet another Divine Revelation. According to verses 2-4 the Holy Spirit came to – not Paul alone – but rather to the local Church leadership. And here the Spirit commanded that they – the Church – “set aside” Paul AND Barnabas so that they could go on a special mission. So…the Church then laid hands on them (their formal Episcopal ordination) and they went on their way on Paul’s historic “First Missionary Journey”. It is interesting that the vision was not given to Paul directly and exclusively, but rather the mandate was given to the Church itself to set Paul and Barnabas aside for God’s Divine purposes. In that respect Paul worked under the Church – not independently from it.
In step 3 (Chapters 14 and 15:1) we can see that, with the Apostles in hiding and scattered (there is a tradition that Peter went to Rome for the first time during this period – but that is mere speculation) due to Herod’s persecution of the now underground Church, the Judaizing faction in Jerusalem gained in influence – or at least they were more vocal and active. The Judaizers, being aware of the influx of Gentiles in Antioch, went to Antioch (remember that Paul and Barnabas had already been sent on their journey) whereby they began to teach the Gentiles that they must first become Jews (in the Mosaic Law way of understanding what makes one a child of the Covenant) before they can become Christians. Hence, they began to preach that Gentiles had to be circumcised before they could join the New Covenant family. There was nobody in Antioch (or Jerusalem) to dissuade the Judaizers from adding this Mosaic burden to the Gentile converts. At least there was nobody until Paul and Barnabas returned back to Antioch after their first missionary journey was ended. And that is when the fertilizer hit the proverbial ventilator, so to speak.
In step 4 things take a very interesting turn. Acts 15:2 reads:
And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them [the Judaizers], Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question [about circumcision being a requirement for salvation].
Okay – what is going on here? There was great dissention and debate about “this question.” “This question” must have been something new to the Church (for if it wasn’t new then it would already have been dealt with, right?) and both sides agreed that ONLY way to definitively settle the dispute would be an appeal to the Apostles themselves and the “elders” of the Church hierarchy (which, by the way, also demonstrates that the Church was not merely a bunch of independent local congregations with no central authoritative structure).
So, if you take a moment and reflect on what this is saying to us, there were two mutually exclusive sides to this disputed new question, but only one of the sides could be *in accord* with the Apostles and their views.
And so, the parties from Antioch (both sides) headed to Jerusalem where the Church hierarchy was gathered together to settle the matter. In verses 6-7 we read that the gathered elders/Apostles and both parties from Antioch began “much debate” UNTIL Peter rose and spoke. Verse 7 says that AFTER there had been much debate, Peter rose and spoke (thus implying that Peter silenced the debate when he rose to speak).
And here, in step 5, we read what Peter said (verse 7):

“Brethren,    you know that in the early days God made choice among you,    that BY MY MOUTH [not Paul’s mouth] the Gentiles should    hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God who knows    the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit    just as he did to us; 9 and he made no distinction between us    and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith.”

Well, I must say that that is a very powerful statement – and one that many hyper-Pauline Protestants gloss over as if it isn’t even there.
But – it gets even better:

10 Now therefore    WHY DO YOU make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck    of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been    able to bear? 11 But WE believe that we shall be saved    through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”    

Whoa. Let’s not go too fast here. Notice that Peter is making a CONTRAST between those who are putting a yoke on the Gentiles (the Judaizers) and those who are not. Not only that, but Peter squarely contrasts (and therefore excludes) himself with the Judaizers. Notice that Peter did NOT ask “Why do WE put a yoke…” but rather – in speaking directly to the Judaizers – he asked “Why do YOU….”

Peter is saying that this practice of Judaizing is NOT something that is in accord with anything that he or the other Apostles have taught or practiced. For if, for example, Peter had demanded circumcision for Cornelius then Peter would have asked “Why do WE” instead of asking “Why do YOU.”

And this notion is reinforced even further when James, the head of the Church in Jerusalem (the hotbed, if you will, of the Judaizing faction who had come from Jerusalem and into Antioch) rose up later (in verses 19-21) and stated this:

19 Therefore my    judgment is THAT WE SHOULD NOT TROUBLE those of the Gentiles    who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from    the pollutions of idols and from unchastity and from what is    strangled and from blood. 21 For from early generations Moses    has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read    every sabbath in the synagogues.”

So again we have another reference point of compare and contrast. James, the head of the Church in Jerusalem, in speaking directly to those in his flock who had been Judaizing said, “…WE should not trouble…” as contrasted with Peter’s words of “Why do YOU.”

The bottom line in all of this is that what Paul was preaching in terms of “his gospel” as it pertains to the Gentiles was NOT UNIQUE (as you have claimed over and over again in our various emails), but rather what Paul preached to them was in accord with what the Apostles were ALREADY DOING long before Paul ever interacted with the rest of the Church on the Gentile mission field. For evidence of that, all you need to do is consider all the time in Antioch when Barnabas was there BEFORE Paul arrived…were they circumcising Gentiles then? Of course not. Therefore the Church was not in accord with the Judaizers at any time prior to when the new “question” question arose and became hotly debated. And thus Paul’s “gospel” was not unique and divided and separated from that of the gospel preached by the Apostles to the Jews.

For if “Paul’s Gospel” was so unique and “different” than that which the 12 Apostles (and their disciples such as Barnabas) had been preaching prior to Paul’s arrival in Antioch, Paul would have – necessarily – “straightened out” what the Gentiles had been taught previously. We have no words in Scripture whereby Paul said to the Gentiles in Antioch, “I know that the man the Apostles sent to you taught you ABC, but I am here to tell you that I am the Apostle to the Gentiles and therefore I now am about to teach you XYZ – a completely unique and different Gospel than you had been previously taught.” We never see those words. Why not? Because when Paul arrived at Antioch he found Gentile believers who were perfectly orthodox in their beliefs. Paul’s Gospel was not “unique” and “separated” from the Apostolic teaching with regard to the Gentiles.

Dispensationalists are grasping at straws.

Robert Klaus

The Catholic Legate

June 10, 2005

A Response to Robert Sungenis on “Works of the Law”

Salvation


A Response to Robert Sungenis on “Works of the Law”

by Art Sippo


In the continuing spiral of Robert Sungenis out of the Catholic Church, he attacks virtually every Catholic scholar and apologist he can find trying to justify his own infidelity to the Papal Magisterium and Vatican Council II. I have become the target of numerous long winded and misleading assaults including some accusing me of holding positions that Mr. Sungenis knows I do not support. We have discussed these matters in detail over the years, but in his procrustean way, it is easier to attack what he wants me to have said than to oppose what I really said. The vast majority of his objections are trivial and mean spirited requiring nothing more than a sigh and rejoicing to God that I am being persecuted unjustly for His Name’s sake. But there are some issues that I think are quite critical to Catholic apologetics in our day and which deserves to be addressed seriously: What did St. Paul mean by the phrase “works of the law”? When he used this phrase was he referring to what would later be known as the Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian heresies or “works righteousness”? Can St. Paul’s writings be used to oppose Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and “works righteousness”? Did St. Paul condemn all of the Jews – including himself before his conversion – as purveyors of “works righteousness”? After his conversion did St. Paul require that Jews stop being observant of the Mosaic Law?

In the Sungenisist screed, “works of the law” as used in the Pauline Corpus allegedly means “all works as having any part at all in justification.” Now as a Catholic I thoroughly agree with Sungenis that no works that we do prior to justification contribute in any way to justification except in those cases where good works are a preparation for the reception of it. In some cases – like that of St. Paul on the Damascus Road – there were no good works that preceded and prepared the person for justification.  

But in the context of Romans 3:28, St. Paul was not talking about goods works in general. He was talking particularly about the works required by the Mosaic Law and whether or not it was necessary for a Christian to perform them after conversion in order to be saved. This is absolutely clear from the context and can be seen by quoting the relevant section of the epistle:

Romans 3: 28    For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works    of law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God    of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, 30 since God is one;    and he will justify the circumcised on the ground of their    faith and the uncircumcised through their faith. 31 Do we    then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the    contrary, we uphold the law.

This quotation makes it clear that the view opposite to the one St. Paul espoused in verse 28 was not that one could earn salvation by trying to do good works, but rather that one did not have to bean observant Jew in order to benefit from faith in Jesus. In fact, St. Paul even showed that there were two different principles of justification operative in his day: one for the circumcised and one for the uncircumcised. (This is a point made recently by John Gager in his book Reinventing Paul.) Yet in both cases faith is the first principle from which justification proceeds. The circumcised who kept the Jewish Law were justified because their observance of the Law was grounded in faith in God and his Messiah. The uncircumcised (i.e., Gentiles who were not observant Jews) who followed the law in their hearts were justified directly through faith in God and his Son which was the necessary presupposition for the good works they performed thereafter. This was precisely what St. Paul had taught in the previous chapter of Romans:

Romans 2:1    Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when    you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you    condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very    same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls    upon those who do such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man, that    when you judge those who do such things and yet do them    yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you    presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and    patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to    lead you to repentance? 5 But by your hard and impenitent    heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of    wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.6 For he    will render to every man according to his works: 7 to those    who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and    immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who    are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness,    there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and    distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first    and also the Greek,10 but glory and honor and peace for every    one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For    God shows no partiality. 12 All who have sinned without the    law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned    under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the    hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the    doers of the law who will be justified. 14 When Gentiles who    have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are    a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15    They show that what the law requires is written on their    hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their    conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on that    day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of    men by Christ Jesus.

St. Paul made it clear that it was only good works performed in faith — not works performed before faith or apaart from faith – that were necessary for receiving the reward of eternal life. He made it clear that only those who do what the law required would be justified, not those who merely heard it proclaimed to them or who paid lip service to it while not obeying it.

St. Paul also made a distinction in Romans 2 between the Jewish Law and the law of the Gentiles, which was “written on their hearts.” Clearly, his intention in Romans 2 was to show that the Gentiles do not need to observe the Law of Moses to be considered righteous before God. But rather they must respond in faith to the grace they had received in their hearts as believing Christians and members of the new covenant wrought by Christ. This is not something new but a theme found in several Old Testament passages:

2 Chronicles    31:21 And in every work that he began in the service of the    house of God, and in the law, and in the commandments, to    seek his God, he did [it] with all his heart, and prospered.     

Ezra 7:10 For    Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and    to do [it], and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.     

Job 22:22    Receive, I pray thee, the law from his mouth, and lay up his    words in thine heart.  

Psalm 37:31    The law of his God [is] in his heart; none of his steps shall    slide.  

Psalm 40:8 I    delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law [is] within my    heart.  

Psalm 119:34    Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall    observe it with [my] whole heart.  

Proverbs 3:1    My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my    commandments:

Isaiah 51:7    Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in    whose heart [is] my law; fear ye not the reproach of men,    neither be ye afraid of their revilings.  

Jeremiah 31    “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will    make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of    Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their    fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the    land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was    their husband, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant    which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,    says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will    write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they    shall be my people.

Even with regard to the Mosaic Law, the righteous man of the Old Testament was he who internalized its requirements and observed them “from the heart” not merely by externally going through the motions. We can see that what St. Paul recommended for the Gentiles in Romans 2 was precisely what the Old Testament recognized as normative for Jews under the Mosaic Covenant with the only difference being that the Gentiles’ good works would proceed purely from faith while in the Old Testament, Jews were expected to have faith in God’s revelation in the Torah and to internalize the principles taught in the Mosaic Law. St. Paul’s entire argument in Romans and Galatians was precisely that the position he was expounding was nothing new but actually part of Jewish teaching. He made this clear in Galatians:

Galatians 2:    15 We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile    sinners,  16 knowing that a man is not justified by    works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we    have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by    faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by    works of the law shall no one be justified.

St. Paul taught that as a practicing Jew he knew that no one would be justified by works of the law but rather through faith in the Messiah. He does not treat justification by faith as something new but as part of the Jewish religious heritage. It is this theme of continuity between the Old and New Covenants that St. Paul sees a bridging the gap between the two testaments. What was foreshadowed in the old would be made real in the new.

That quotation noted above from Jeremiah 31 is critical because it has been seen in classical Christian apologetics as a reference to the new covenant in Christ. Here, Jeremiah clearly recognized that there would be a new covenant with Israel that would not require adherence to an external law but rather one that proceeded directly from divine action on the heart. It predicted that in the covenant that would supersede that of Moses, the old requirement to be an observant Jew would no longer be necessary but conscientious moral action would still be required. Jeremiah did not see this as a discontinuity between the covenants but as the next logical next step in God’s dealings with men. The Law in its spirit would not be abolished but internalized placing Jews in a more intimate relationship with God. This was already anticipated in the Old Covenant. The expectation was that there would be a new and greater covenant which would move beyond the mere observance of the Mosaic Law.

This is made most explicit in the NT in Hebrews 8 where this section of Jeremiah is quoted:

Hebrews 8: 7    For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would    have been no occasion for a second. 8 For He finds fault with    them when He says: “The days will come, says the Lord,    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel    and with the house of Judah; 9 not like the covenant that I    made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the    hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they didn’t    continue in my covenant, and so I paid no heed to them, says    the Lord. 10 This is the covenant that I will make with the    house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put    my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and    I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they    shall not teach every one his fellow or every one his    brother, saying, `Know the Lord,’ for all shall know me, from    the least of them to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful    toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no    more.” 13 In speaking of a new covenant he treats the    first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing    old is ready to vanish away.

The NT confirmed that the old covenant would become obsolete, but it did not predict its immediate demise. Rather it said that the old covenant would “fade away.” There was an ambivalence there that saw Judaism as a continuing reality in the Christian era that would be of eschatological significance. St. Paul tells us:

Romans 11: 25    Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to    understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon    part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come    in, 26 and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,    “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish    ungodliness from Jacob”; 27 “and this will be my    covenant with them when I take away their sins.” 28 As    regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake;    but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of    their forefathers.29 For the gifts and the call of God are    irrevocable.30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but    now have received mercy because of their disobedience,31 so    they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy    shown to you they also may receive mercy. 32 For God has    consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy    upon all.

St. Paul saw that in his day God was not done with the Jews even though they had rejected Jesus as a whole. He predicted that when the Gentile world had been fully evangelized, the Jews themselves would begin to convert en masse. This would be a sign of the end times and bring to completion the work of Christ so that God might have mercy on all mankind. God would save all of Israel from both the old and the new covenants. But it would all be based on faith in Jesus Christ – Yeshua Meshiach—the the Lord and Savior of all men, the Gentiles first and then the Jews.

In summary, St. Paul in Romans 3:28ff made it clear that by “works of the law” he was referring to the practices of observant Jews based upon the Mosaic Law – moral, ritual, political, economic, dietary, etc. – the observance of which he taught were not necessary for the justification of Gentile Christians. He was thereby condemning the practice of Judaizing – the claim that Gentiles had to become observant Jews in order to be Christians. St. Paul did not say that observance of the Mosaic Law was optional for the circumcised Christian Jew, but rather that it needed to be grounded in faith in Jesus in order to justify him. He reaffirmed this position in Acts 21.  

Acts 21: 17    When we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us    gladly.18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James;    and all the elders were present.19 After greeting them, he    related one by one the things that God had done among the    Gentiles through his ministry.20 And when they heard it, they    glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother,    how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have    believed; they are all zealous for the law,21 and they have    been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among    the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise    their children or observe the customs.22 What then is to be    done? They will certainly hear that you have come.23 Do    therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a    vow;24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and    pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus    all will know that there is nothing in what they have been    told about you but that you yourself live in observance of    the law.25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have    sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from    what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from    what is strangled and from unchastity.”26 Then Paul took    the men, and the next day he purified himself with them and    went into the temple, to give notice when the days of    purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented    for every one of them.

Implicit in both the OT and NT was an expectation that the new covenant which would supersede that of Moses and render it obsolete. Yet in the NT itself we do not see the old covenant completely eliminated. Christian Jews remained observant of the Mosaic Law in the Apostolic Church and the real question at that time was not whether they should stop observing the Law but whether the Gentiles should start to do so. At no time was the practice of observing “works of the law” by Jewish Christians equated to or condemned as “works righteousness.” Rather circumcision was seen as a pledge to God to obey the whole Law of Moses and any Christian who received circumcision either before or after his conversion to Christ was expected to carry out the obligations thereof.

This was the real issue. The Jewish Rabbis at the time of Christ actively discouraged the circumcision of Gentiles because they thought that it would not be possible for them to learn to keep the law. This sentiment was echoed in the NT:

Acts 15:7 And    after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to    them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God    made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should    hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God who knows    the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit    just as he did to us; 9 and he made no distinction between us    and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Act 15:10 Now    therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon    the neck of the [GENTILE] disciples which neither our fathers    nor we have been able to bear?

Act 15:11 But    we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the    Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

St. Peter made a distinction between the Jewish and Gentile Christians and showed no sign that the situation was going to change. At no time did he imply that the Jewish Christians would become non-observant while he clearly said that the Gentile Christians would not be expected to be circumcised. Being an observant Jew was the standard for Jewish Christians and so they were expected to pursue “works of the law” in accordance with their commitment to circumcision, but St. Peter made it clear that both Jewish and Gentile Christians were to be saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. “Works of the law” in that context followed from the ground of faith and were not opposed to the Gospel but proceeded from being a Jewish Christian.  

So it is incorrect to state as Sungenis has on numerous occasions that the phrase “works of the law” equates to “works righteousness.” Neither St. Paul nor St. Peter understood that to be the case and the Catholic Tradition likewise does not make such an identification. Sungenis’ approach to this issue is quite Protestant because he equates the Mosaic Law with “works righteousness” and acts as if St. Paul’s main concern in Romans 3 was to oppose any practice of any type of law either before or after justification, especially the Jewish law. The traditional Catholic understanding was that a response to the Gospel was required of the justified person. Thus good works were necessary for salvation after one had joined the Church and that St. Paul expected Jewish Christians to keep the Mosaic Law while Gentile Christians were to practice the moral law after conversion. It is Protestants who have traditionally tried to equate all good works with “works righteousness,” even those pursued after justification. As we have seen, the NT did not support this idea and neither did the Catholic Tradition. It is true that the Catholic Tradition has opposed the idea that good works done before justification have any part in justification itself, but it has never officially identified “works righteousness” with the term “works of the law.”

I am afraid that Sungenis is equivocating on the use of these terms in order to support a form of theological anti-Semitism.. He takes a negative view of the phrase “works of the law” because he wants to label all Jews before, during, and after Christ as being guilty of “works righteousness.” This is ludicrous because prior to the coming of Jesus, Judaism was the true religion revealed by God and it is clear from the teaching of both the OT and the NT that there were righteous men in the OT. The quotations given above show that the OT ideal of a heartfelt faithful observance of the Mosaic Law was itself a foreshadowing of the later teaching of Jesus and St. Paul. St. Paul showed that, as a Jew, he knew that it was not works but the faith underlying them that was the real ground of justification. He did not see justification by faith as opposed to the Mosaic Law but rather as upholding it. As such, St. Paul remained an observant Jew all of his life and did not try to stop other Jewish Christians from keeping the law. St. Paul’s diatribes opposing the observance of the Jewish Law were directed towards the Judaizers, not towards Christian Jews.  

Now Sungenis claims that Dr. Scott Hahn, myself, and other Catholic apologists limit the meaning of “works of the law” strictly to the ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic Law while insisting that the moral aspects of the Law must still be kept prior to justification in order for a person to be justified. This is a lie and he knows it. I have discussed this matter with him in detail several times. The “works of the law” that St. Paul referred to in Romans 3:28 and elsewhere represented the entire Law with all of its parts. As Christians, we are not obliged to keep any of the Mosaic Law as if we were practicing Jews. But we are obliged by our faith in Jesus to accept and live according to the moral principles inherent in the Mosaic Law (e.g., the 10 Commandments). Observance of the moral law is not strictly speaking a requirement before becoming a Christian (though it is recommended from a practical viewpoint that the putative convert recognize the obligation to be moral) but it is a requirement once one is a Christian.

Sungenis further claims that Dr, Hahn and I do not believe that “works righteousness” is condemned by St. Paul or that his epistles can be used to condemn it and similar errors like Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Again, Sungenis is lying. As believing Catholics, Scott Hahn and I reject Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, and all other forms of “works righteousness.” We are happy to do so using the authority of St. Paul’s epistles. There is plenty of grist for the anti-Pelagian mill throughout the Pauline Corpus. Sungenis points out a number of quotations that show this. But Sungenis insists that the Fathers and Councils of the Church defined the phrase “works of the law” where it is used by St. Paul as referring to all works of any kind whether based on the Law of Moses or not. He provides not a single reference to support this claim. Instead he refers to the universal condemnation of justification by works throughout Christian history and claims that this of necessity requires us to equate the biblical phrase “works of the law” with “works righteousness.” This is not biblical exegesis but the retrojection and eisegesis of dogmatic and systematic theology from later centuries into the biblical text. Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism were problems during and after the 4th Century AD. The fact that the Church Fathers in those centuries quoted St. Paul against these heresies does not mean that St. Paul was consciously writing against these errors. He was writing against similar errors in his own day, but we should not jump to conclusions that make St. Paul out to be “anti-Pelagian” so that he can champion our modern dogmatic positions.

There were people in the 1st Century AD who apparently thought that their works made them deserving of justification and the Pauline Corpus contains criticisms of them. For example:

Rom 9:31 but    that Israel who pursued the righteousness which is based on    law did not succeed in fulfilling that law. 32 Why? Because    they did not pursue it through faith, but as if it were based    on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,  

Titus 3:5 Not    by works of righteousness which we have done, but according    to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and    renewing of the Holy Ghost;

Eph 2:8 For by    grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your    own doing, it is the gift of God– 9 not because of works,    lest any man should boast. 10 For we are his workmanship,    created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared    beforehand, that we should walk in them.

The people St. Paul was opposing in these quotations either externalized the Jewish Law while ignoring the promise made to Abraham or assumed that God has chosen them for salvation because of good works done before their conversion. But notice that St. Paul is not really opposing Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism. Pelagianism taught that after conversion, the Christian could be saved by his own effort with the help of actual grace. It implicitly denied the existence of sanctifying grace and original sin. Semi-Pelagianism taught that after conversion, man and God contributed different yet indispensable parts to justification, which worked together additively to achieve salvation. Indeed these later heresies were variations on the theme of “works righteousness” and were incompatible with the teaching of St. Paul, but technically they were not explicitly condemned in Scripture. They were condemned by abstracting principles from Scripture and applying them in a new context.  

When the Scriptures were used to refute these errors, the Fathers and Councils did not refer to Romans 3:28 or to any of the other places in the Pauline Corpus (i.e., Romans 9:32, Galatians 2:16, 3:2, 3:5, or 3:10) where the phrase “works of the law” occurred. For example, in Sungenis’ enumeration of the biblical quotations from the Council of Orange which condemned Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism, the Council never once referred to any of those passages. Neither has Sungenis quoted the Magisterium as having done so in any documents. As such, Sungenis has not shown that the meaning of the phrase “works of the law” has been defined for Catholics as necessarily referring to “works righteousness.” He has instead inferred it because he wants that to be true.

Now it is possible that Sungenis could come up with some references among the Fathers and theologians in which such an identification was made, but that would prove nothing. The non-infallible opinions of isolated theologians no matter how venerable do not compel our assent. We remain free to disagree with their views for academic reasons. That is why there are no definitive biblical commentaries published by the Magisterium. Except in a few notable instances (e.g., John 3:5, & Matthew 16:18), the Church has rarely given an official exegesis for most biblical passages. And even when she did so, it did not preclude additional meanings being found there.  

Unfortunately, Sungenisism does not recognize this. According to Sungenis, unless your biblical exegesis is found in the opinions of earlier “approved sources” it is not Catholic. There can be no new insights or benefits derived from modern scholarship in such a system and it explicitly denies the possibility of development of doctrine. In doing this, Sungenis espouses an error that enemies of the faith such have James White have unjustly accused the Catholic Church of professing: Sola Traditio (Tradition Alone).  

The Sacred Scriptures are a direct source of Divine Revelation and do not need to be filtered through Sacred Tradition in order to be interpreted. This was confirmed at Vatican Council II in Dei Verbum (The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation):

11. Those divinely revealed    realities which are contained and presented in Sacred    Scripture have been committed to writing under the    inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church,    relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim.    3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20,3:15-16), holds that the books of both    the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their    parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the    inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author    and have been handed on as such to the Church herself. In    composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed    by Him they made use of their powers and abilities, so that    with Him acting in them and through them, they, as true    authors, consigned to writing everything and only those    things which He wanted.

Therefore, since everything    asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be    held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the    books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly,    faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put    into sacred, writings for the sake of salvation. Therefore    “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for    teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of    manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who    belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of    every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).

As Catholics we give pride of place to the exegesis of the Church Fathers especially when it developed a consensus in teaching such as with John 6:53ff on the Eucharist. But, the Scriptures themselves are Divine Revelation and are materially sufficient to confirm Catholic doctrine on their own. Catholics can and should immerse themselves in the study of the Biblical text in order to learn and defend the faith. I have always found that a devout reading of the Bible confirms Catholic teaching especially against Protestant claims and I have used readings from Scripture as primary sources for teaching catechetics.  

It is therefore not necessary to merely repeat the biblical exegesis of past generations. We can approach the Scriptures in each generation with new perspectives and – under the guidance of the Magisterium – develop new and deeper insights into the Biblical Revelation. Again Dei Verbum says:

12. However, since God speaks    in Sacred Scripture through men in human fashion, the    interpreter of Sacred Scripture, in order to see clearly what    God wanted to communicate to us, should carefully investigate    what meaning the sacred writers really intended, and what God    wanted to manifest by means of their words. To search out the    intention of the sacred writers, attention should be given,    among other things, to “literary forms.” For truth    is set forth and expressed differently in texts which are    variously historical, prophetic, poetic, or of other forms of    discourse. The interpreter must investigate what meaning the    sacred writer intended to express and actually expressed in    particular circumstances by using contemporary literary forms    in accordance with the situation of his own time and culture.    For the correct understanding of what the sacred author    wanted to assert, due attention must be paid to the customary    and characteristic styles of feeling, speaking and narrating    which prevailed at the time of the sacred writer, and to the    patterns men normally employed at that period in their    everyday dealings with one another.

But, since Holy Scripture must    be read and interpreted in the same spirit in which it was    written, no less serious attention must be given to the    content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of    the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living    tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account    along with the harmony which exists between elements of the    faith. It is the task of exegetes to work according to these    rules toward a better understanding and explanation of the    meaning of Sacred Scripture, so that through preparatory    study the judgment of the Church may mature. For all of what    has been said about the way of interpreting Scripture is    subject finally to the judgment of the Church, which carries    out the divine commission and ministry of guarding and    interpreting the     word of God.

When Sungenis tries to limit biblical exegesis to only those sources that he favors, he reverts to a reductive and Protestant methodology which fails to achieve the goal of true “catholicity” which is not theological uniformity, but unity in diversity. It is perfectly legitimate for Catholic scholars to disagree on particular points of biblical exegesis while remaining Catholics in good standing. They must always defer in the end to the judgment of the Magisterium and resist the temptation to replace the teaching authority of the Church with their own opinions and methodologies no matter how scholarly they may think they are. The real problem comes when one party or another strikes out on their own and ignores the direction in which the Pope and the bishops are leading the Church. Sungenis’ own attacks on Vatican Council II and on Pope John Paul II show how little he really understands about Catholic theology and how far he has strayed from this ideal.  

I have often defended Sungenis’ right to hold unpopular – even somewhat extreme – positions on biblical exegesis (e.g., magical creationism and geocentricism) which did not contradict previous Magisterial teaching. In return I had only asked of him that he respect my right to disagree with him. Up until recently, this truce held between us and was a sign of mutual respect.

In recent times, Sungenis had wandered off into dangerous territory openly espousing Anti-Semitic opinions that were lacking both in veracity and charity. It was also clear that he held both Vatican II and Pope John Paul II in contempt and specifically condemned the positive direction that the Church was taking with regard to inter-religious dialogue, especially with the Jews. Despite heroic efforts on my part to dissuade him from such an unwise path opposing the direction in which the Magisteirum was leading the Church, his statements became more reckless, vituperative, and personally insulting. After a particularly nasty response to me in which he listed a catena of Anti-Semitic slurs allegedly derived for the writings of several saints, I could no longer tolerate his attitude. It is always the Catholic way to think better of others than we do of ourselves and to defend every person’s right to a good reputation until necessity demands otherwise. Blanket statements condemning whole classes of living people which are based on unfounded allegations made imprudently in the past are unworthy of the followers of Christ. It doesn’t matter who made such statements.  

The Holy Spirit is leading the Church in our day to a more positive appreciation of non-Catholics and their belief systems. This has been long overdue and we should welcome it as the Catholic Church’s “coming of age” in a pluralistic world. The temptation is to see Catholicism as just another religion separate and distinct from all others. But that is not what we are called to be. We are to be the leaven in the loaf; the salt that gives savor to the human condition; a shining city on a hill. We must integrate Christ into the life of mankind and share the Gospel in new ways so that faith in Christ is not seen as a kind of religious or cultural imperialism. The Catholic Church cannot and must not become just another denomination; one choice among many on the smorgasbord of available religions. We must be seen as indispensable to mankind as the embassy of Christ to the world. We cannot retreat into a nostalgic, anti-Magisterial triumphalism and claim to be truly Catholic.

St. Paul recognized this very problem in the position of the Judaizers of his day. They would have reduced Christianity to just another Jewish sect and abolished all distinctive differences between Jews and Gentiles. For him, the problem was “works of the law” and the Jewish attachment to the status quo which did not recognize the primacy of a common inner faith over a diversity of external customs. Maybe this is the real reason why Sungenis opposes the viewpoints on “works of the law” which Dr. Hahn and I support. He wants to stay in a Catholic ghetto as much as the Judaizers had wanted to remain in a Jewish one.

I remain hopeful that Mr. Sungenis will eventually see the error of his ways and return to full fellowship in the Catholic Church and submission to her Magisterium. I also hope that he will once again appreciate the diversity that is central to catholicity. He has a lot of friends who have been praying and fretting over the recent change in the direction of his work away from the Catholic mainstream. I hope this paper will help to explain what I think are some important issues in this controversy and help lead Bob Sungenis back home with us where he belongs.

Art Sippo

The Catholic Legate

September 1, 2004

An Analysis of Romans 9:10-24

Salvation


An Analysis of Romans 9:10-24

by Art Sippo


And not only this, but    when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our    father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor    having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God    according to election might stand, not of works but of Him    who calls), 12 it was said to her, “The older shall    serve the younger.” (v.10-12)

To what was Jacob elected? Was it to salvation? Or was it to the promise of Abraham? The two are not necessarily synonymous. In the Protestant religions where ‘salvation’ is equated with an arbitrary act of a capricious God who acts hedonistically solely for “his own good pleasure” salvation is an irrational and unmotivated act that has no logical connection to the qualities of the person being saved. This is based on a philosophy of Voluntarism stemming form Ockham’s theory ‘absolute divine power.’ According to Voluntarism, if God is bound to act by a moral standard, that standard sits in judgement on Him and He is not truly sovereign. ‘Good and evil’ in this system are defined purely by the will of God, not by the actions that God requires of men. Since there is no essential goodness, God can dispose of any person without regard to what they have done. The Bible real knows nothing of this demonic idea. Instead, it preaches the existence of essential goodness and evil and promises rewards and punishments accordingly. Just a brief example:

“When I say to the    wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not    speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall    die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your    hand. “But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn    from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die    in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life. “Now    as for you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus you    have spoken, saying, “Surely our transgressions and our    sins are upon us, and we are rotting away in them; how then    can we survive?”‘  “Say to them, ‘As I live!’    declares the Lord GOD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of    the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and    live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways! Why then will    you die, O house of Israel?’     “And you, son of man, say to your fellow citizens, ‘The    righteousness of a righteous man will not deliver him in the    day of his transgression, and as for the wickedness of the    wicked, he will not stumble because of it in the day when he    turns from his wickedness; whereas a righteous man will not    be able to live by his righteousness on the day when he    commits sin.’ “When I say to the righteous he will    surely live, and he so trusts in his righteousness that he    commits iniquity, none of his righteous deeds will be    remembered; but in that same iniquity of his which he has    committed he will die. “But when I say to the wicked,    ‘You will surely die,’ and he turns from his sin and    practices justice and righteousness, if a wicked man restores    a pledge, pays back what he has taken by robbery, walks by    the statutes which ensure life without committing iniquity,    he shall surely live; he shall not die. “None of his    sins that he has committed will be remembered against him. He    has practiced justice and righteousness; he shall surely    live. “Yet your fellow citizens say, ‘The way of the    Lord is not right,’ when it is their own way that is not    right. “When the righteous turns from his righteousness    and commits iniquity, then he shall die in it. “But when    the wicked turns from his wickedness and practices justice    and righteousness, he will live by them. “Yet you say,    ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ O house of Israel, I will    judge each of you according to his ways.” (Ezekiel    33:8-20)

You, therefore, have no    excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at    whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning    yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.    Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such    things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass    judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you    will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the    riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing    that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because    of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are    storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath,    when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will    give to each person according to what he has done.”     To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory,    honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. for those    who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow    evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble    and distress for every human being who does evil: first for    the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for    everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the    Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. All who sin apart    from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who    sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not    those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but    it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.    (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature    things required by the law, they are a law for themselves,    even though they do not have the law, since they show that    the requirements of the law are written on their hearts,    their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts    now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place    on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus    Christ, as my gospel declares. Now you, if you call yourself    a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your    relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what    is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are    convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for    those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a    teacher of infants, because you have in the law the    embodiment of knowledge and truth– you, then, who teach    others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against    stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not    commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols,    do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you    dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written:    “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of    you.”Circumcision has value if you observe    the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though    you had not been circumcised. If those who are not    circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be    regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not    circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you    who, even though you have the written code and circumcision,    are a lawbreaker. A man is not a Jew if he is only one    outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.    No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is    circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written    code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.    (Romans 2:1-29)

In both of these excerpts, the Bible teaches that God will judge men according to their works and not according to some arbitrary standard of his own that merely meets his ‘good pleasure’ as prots have misrepresented it. Notice that in the above section of Romans 9 St. Paul does NOT say that Esau was damned but rather he emphasizes that “the older will serve the younger.” This seems to be dealing with something other than ‘salvation’ in the strict sense.

I would therefore say that this section of Romans (chapters 9-11) is dealing with the question of why the Gentiles have started flocking towards faith in Christ while the Jews as a whole (not individually) have not. Many Jews were claiming that Jesus was not the Messiah and this is troubling because if he was the Jewish Messiah, shouldn’t the Jews recognize him? St. Paul is showing that this is not necessary. In the OT there were several examples of the elder child loosing the birth right to a younger one: Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Reuben and Joseph, Eliab and David. We see this also with the Kings of Israel where the first king (Saul) was supplanted by the second king (David). That story is doubly interesting because Jonathan was the rightful heir to Saul’s throne and both a ‘brother’ of David and a righteous man. Nevertheless, he was passed over.

The point here is therefore that the traditional human order of succession does not bind God. he may choose whomever he wills for his own purpose.

As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (v.13)

This phrase does not necessarily mean that God hated Esau. In Semitic idiom to “hate” can mean to love less. This statement therefore can simply mean that God favored Jacob over Esau. There is good reason for assuming this. We are told in Genesis:

Jacob sent messengers ahead of    him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of    Edom. He instructed them: “This is what you are to say    to my master Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been    staying with Laban and have remained there till now. I have    cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and    maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that    I may find favor in your eyes.’ ” When the messengers    returned to Jacob, they said, “We went to your brother    Esau, and now he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men    are with him.” In great fear and distress Jacob divided    the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks    and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes    and attacks one group, the group that is left may    escape.” Then Jacob prayed, “O God of my father    Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O LORD , who said to me, ‘Go    back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you    prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness    you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I    crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save    me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid    he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their    children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper    and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea,    which cannot be counted.’ ” He spent the night there,    and from what he had with him he selected a gift for his    brother Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats,    two hundred ewes and twenty rams, thirty female camels with    their young, forty cows and ten bulls, and twenty female    donkeys and ten male donkeys. He put them in the care of his    servants, each herd by itself, and said to his servants,    “Go ahead of me, and keep some space between the    herds.” (Genesis 32:3-16)

Esau, when the time came and he was put in power over Jacob, embraced his brother and refused to accept gifts because he was already wealthy and he did not want to diminish his brother. Esau was successful in the land of Edom living among the descendents of Ishmael. He is not depicted as an unrighteous reprobate, but rather as a good man whom God favored with worldly success who at last had made peace with Jacob. There is no evidence that Esau was cursed by God. For this reason, it makes more sense to understand Romans 9:13 as saying that God preferred Jacob over Esau while still blessing the two.

What shall we say    then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! 15    For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I    will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I    will have compassion.” 16 So then it is not of him who    wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.    (v.14-16)

This is a classic statement about the sovereignty of God. Notice what this DOESN’T say. It does not say that God will condemn whomever he wills to but only that he will be merciful on anyone whom he chooses. This is why the Council of Orange in 529AD determined that God predestines the righteous to glory but does not actively predestine the wicked to perdition. This council’s teaching was defined as official Church teaching by the Popes contemporary to it and reaffirmed later at the Council of Nicea II in 787AD.

This is locus classicus for the doctrine that there is no strict merit before God. God is not obligated to reward the creature for morally upright works done by the natural man apart from God or His covenants. This does not exclude the possibility of condign merit {due to the obedience of faith under enabling grace}or even congruous merit {rewards based on a covenantal agreement}.

For the Scripture says    to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you    up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be    declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on    whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.    (v.17-18)

God used Pharoah to demonstrate his power. If you read Exodus, it is clear that Pharoah was never a righteous person. There were times that he was tempted to let the Hebrews go as God had requested, but then God hardened his heart so that he would not act in an outwardly good way when his heart was far from it. God had no mercy on Pharoah but withdrew even basic “common grace” from him and allowed Pharoah’s innate rebellion free reign. God did not ‘make’ Pharoah sin. He removed his grace so that Pharoah’s sin was all the more visible and egregious. This was the position that Luther took in his book The Bondage of the Will and I think that on this matter he was quite correct. The rest of that book contained many questionable ideas and I do not endorse it in its entirety.

You will say to me    then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has    resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to    reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who    formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does    not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump    to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?    (v.19-21)

Here is the really deep mystery of God’s sovereignty over creation. Even though God is ULTIMATELY responsible for everything that happens, man must accept some moral responsibility. If that were not the case, then God would be the author of sin. This is a problem with the supralapsarian position taken by many Calvinists. We have been made by God and he ordains our ends but SOMEHOW we still have free will and are are responsible for our actions while God is free from any taint of moral blame. What the objector in these verses was seen as doing according to St. Paul is denying free will and moral responsibility, not divine predestination. God made us with free will and we misuse it. That is not God’s fault. It is ours.

Admittedly, this is not a simple matter to resolve. How can God be toatlly sovereign while man is still personally responsible for sin? There is no simple answer. This is a mystery that should humble us. But we need to have faith in God and his goodness as well as his overall sovereignty. Likewise we must accept moral responsibility and admit that we are sinners before God.

What if God, wanting    to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with    much longsuffering the vessels of wrath were fit for    destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His    glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared    beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews    only, but also of the Gentiles? (v.22-24)

Note once again that only the “vessels of mercy” have been “prepared beforehand” {protoimesen} for glory but the “vessels of wrath” have not been prepared beforehand for perdition. They “were fit” {karatestismena} for destruction. The words “Prepared beforehand were in the aorist active indicative implying continued action by God from the past to the present. The words “were fit” are in the perfect passive participle indicating a condition perduring from the past. Two different words in different tenses and voices. This is more evidence that there is no active predestination to wickedness but rather that those born into sin remain in sin unless elected by God’s grace.

Art Sippo

The Catholic Legate

September 1, 2004

Catholic Atonement

Salvation


Catholic Atonement

by Mark Bonocore


The conception of Christ’s atonement is a central issue which separates Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) Christians from the heretical Protestants, who misunderstand both the Lord’s Incarnation and the all-loving nature of God.  Namely, we do not believe, and it is a BIG mistake to believe, that God the Father demanded the cruel torture and death of His only Beloved Son –the worse sin mankind ever committed.  No. God the Father does not demand sin. God the Father is not some wrathful “Germanic sky god” (e.g. Odin), and He did not demand the death of Jesus so as to satisfy some sense of ‘wrathful justice.’ To believe this (as most Protestants do) is a form of Arianism, in that it makes the loving nature of Jesus something distinct from the “wrathful and just” nature of the Father.   Rather, the Father is “one in Being with the Son,” and He did not demand the cruel torture and death of the Son. Rather, WE are the ones who demanded the cruel torture and death of Jesus. The Father merely demanded that Jesus go to the ultimate human extent of  loving us (i.e., “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for those he loves.”).

The best way to explain this mystery is to look at if from the point of view of the Bridegroom-and-Bride motif that runs all through Scripture.  Jesus, the New and sinless Adam, is born as a man. However, He is not a man like the rest of us, since He is not fallen like the rest of us, but is completely without sin, which is what makes Him the New Adam.  So, Jesus the New Adam has our human nature as it should be, but not as it is.  Thus, something more needs to be done in order for Him to save us — that is, a “connection” (Covenant) needs to be made between us and the sinless New Adam.  That Covenant will be a one-Flesh Covenant, just like a marriage covenant.  Thus, the New Adam comes to us as the Bridegroom, and wishes to become “one-flesh” with us, the Bride.  Now, it was quite possible for sinful mankind (the Bride) to accept the Incarnate Jesus just as He was, and so become “one flesh” with Him in holiness (i.e. this is how Jesus was able to give Himself to His followers in the Eucharist at the Last Supper — that is, before His passion and death on the Cross).  Yet, since mankind as a whole would not accept Jesus and become “one flesh” with Him in holiness, Jesus was forced (by the demands of love) to become one flesh with us in sin.  This is what was happening in the Garden of Gethsemane, and why Jesus was so upset — because He was taking our sins onto Himself; and for the first time in His human life, the sinless New Adam felt the guilt, fear, dirtiness, and desperation that is associated with sin — something He had no “knowledge” (intimate experience) of before. Because He, like His mother (and like Adam and Eve before the fall) literally had no idea what sin is like. And, as a still-sinless (guiltless) Person, He could clearly see the horror of sin – let alone the sins of ALL of us combined!    

By taking our sins onto Himself, Jesus was then compelled to pay the price for them under the Law and that price was death.  Thus, the sinless Bridegroom, becoming one-flesh with the Bride (sinful humanity) in the only way She would let Him become one-flesh with her, takes on her sins, and dies for her, thus completing His Incarnation and His solidarity with sinners, and making forgiveness in His Name possible for everyone. This is why Jesus had to suffer and die, and not because of some arbitrary standard of justice imposed by the Father, but because of our refusal to become one-flesh with Him in any other way.  

Essentially, when we say that Jesus “took our sins onto Himself” or that He “became sin,” all that we mean is that the sinless New Adam united Himself to our sinful humanity in a very real but mysterious way. Yet, this by no means implies that He Himself became guilty of sin – whether our sins of a sin of His own.  Rather, in an act of solidarity and Covenantal intimacy, Jesus stood where any one of us (or all of us) should justly stand before the Law of God — that is, as someone condemned to death (“death” being the wages of sin), and gave everything He could give as a human being (a perfect human being) — His human life — in order to redeem His fellow human beings –His Bride.  This is what Adam should have offered to do for the sake of his bride Eve in the garden. But, instead of interceding with God for her (or offering to pay the punishment for her), Adam joined Eve in the guilt of sin. This is why Jesus had to come — why there had to be a Messiah Who could redeem, not one person (one bride), but all of us via an act of solidarity with us. And this is precisely how we can say. “Having thus established him in solidarity with us sinners, God “did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all”, so that we might be “reconciled to God by the death of his Son”. (CCC,407)

And this “solidarity with us sinners” (which is more than mere solidarity but a literal, one-flesh Covenant) is pointed to all through Jesus’ ministry, beginning with His baptism in the Jordan by John — an act in which He Who was all-holy submitted to a baptism of repentance when He had nothing to Personally repent for!   That is precisely what anointed Jesus (with the Holy Spirit) as the Messiah, and what began Him on His road to the Cross.  That is, in submitting to John’s baptism of repentance, and so offering to equate Himself (His perfect and sinless self) with us sinners, Jesus, the New Adam, became what the first Adam failed to be — the intercessory Messiah, and Son of God in the truest sense – something only the eternal Son of God could do.  

Mark Bonocore

The Catholic Legate

March 24, 2004

The Atonement of Christ

Salvation


The Atonement of Christ

by Art Sippo


The issue concerning the Catholic and traditional Protestant attitudes to the atonement is a very good one. There is actually a lot of diversity in both the Catholic and Protestant camps on this subject, so I do not want to treat the topic simplistically. However, there are some broad principles of difference which I think will help to show the differences between the Catholic and Protestant views. Catholicism sees the atonement as an act of God’s love for Man. He loved us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). Love needs to be understood in the classical sense of “willing the good of the other for the sake of the other.” This is not an emotional response, but a volition one.

I think Ezekiel says it best:

Eze 18:23 Have    I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord GOD,and not rather that he should turn from his way    and live?Eze 33:11 Say to them,    As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure inthe death of the wicked, but that the wicked    turn from his way and live…

Eze 11:19 And    I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit    withinyou; and I will take    the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give theman heart of flesh:Eze 36:26 A new heart also will I give you, and    a new spirit will I putwithin you: and I will    take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and Iwill give you an heart of flesh.

In other words, the love of God for man is not merely an act of God’s omnipotent sovereign will, but, more importantly, an act of His willed generosity, beneficence, unselfishness, and transforming goodness. He wills us to be good and the atonement makes us so. Properly speaking then, by His Incarnation, Jesus comes into solidarity with mankind and does for us what we could not do for ourselves. St. Anselm developed this brilliantly in his book Cur Deus Homo? (“Why God Become Man?). He showed that the offense of human sin against the infinite glory and goodness of God results in an infinite debt of honor that cannot be paid by mere mortal man. Only a divine being could make sufficient amends for such a horrible offense. Merely forgiving humanity would not have been enough because mankind was fallen and mired in the thrall of sinfulness. Men needed to be not only forgiven but regenerated. It was therefore necessary (in St. Anselm’s view) that Man be reconciled to God by the work of a redeemer who was both divine and human. Such a redeemer could merit infinite forgiveness before God on behalf of his fellow human beings. Furthermore, he would also obtain for them a sharing in the divine life of the Trinity such that all men would become Sons of God and partakers of the divine nature. Thus, they would be saved from sin itself, not merely from the consequences of past sins. This was not merely an act of kindness on Jesus’ part over and against the anger of his Father. It was what God himself willed. Remember what St. John wrote:

1Jo 4:8 He who    does not love does not know God; for God is love.1Jo 4:9 In this the love of God was made    manifest among us, that God senthis only Son into the world, so that we might    live through him.1Jo 4:10 In this is    love, not that we loved God but that he loved us andsent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.1Jo 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the    Father has sent his Son as     the Savior    of the world.1Jo 4:15 Whoever    confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him,and he in God.     1Jo 4:16    So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love,    and hewho abides in love    abides in God, and God abides in him.

Jhn 3:16 For    God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that    whoeverbelieves in him should    not perish but have eternal life.Jhn 3:17 For God sent the Son into the world,    not to condemn the world, butthat the world might be saved through him.

God was not so angry with the world that He had to beat up on someone (i.e., Jesus). Rather, He loved it so much that He sent His Son to save it. This work made forgiveness possible so that he could “remember our sins no more.”  Jesus saved us from the punishments of sin and death not by being punished in our place by acting on our behalf. Jesus did the will of the Father even to the point of immolation by evil and jealous men at the behest of demonic powers. He persevered as a perfectly good man even in the face of temptation, torture, and death without loosing ‘faith’ in God or the resolve to “do the will of the Father.”

I put ‘faith’ in quotations because technically Jesus did not have faith as you and I do. He had direct knowledge of God — the beatific vision — and so did not require “confident assurance of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Jesus saw God directly even in his human mind and had access to all knowledge through his divine nature. This absolutely certain knowledge functioned in Christ just like the virtue of faith does in all other men. Christ was man perfected. When we go to heaven, we too will have this type of knowledge. While on Earth, though we have only partial knowledge of the things of God , which lacks full epistemological certainty. Thus St. Paul says:

1Cor 13:12 For    now we see through a mirror, dimly; but then [we shall see]    face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even    as also I am known.

In Christ Jesus, God himself bore the responsibility for the evil which had come to exist in the world that He had created. God pledged to set things straight “cross My heart and hope to die.” For this reason, we Christians have no philosophical ‘problem of evil.’ It is not just we who suffer for the sake of evil, but God himself. We who gather under the cross do so in the faith that God will settle all accounts, make the crooked path straight, make the rough road smooth, vindicate the good, and punish the wicked. The death of His Son is His pledge to us that it shall be so. When Christ hung on the cross, His suffering was the consequence of all human sinfulness: past, present and future. He bore our sins for us and suffered for them. What he suffered was not the punishment due for our sins. That would have required eternal damnation. Rather, He accepted responsibility for human sins as the God who created our world, the first born of all creation, and the New Adam of a regenerate race. He took our sins upon himself, nailed them to a tree and they died with him:

Col 2:14    Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against    us,which was contrary to    us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to hiscross;

Christ’s resurrection was His literal transformation from death to life. By His perseverance in love both of the Father and of his fellow men, Jesus had gained victory over the wages of sin (i.e., death) and risen to a new ETERNAL life that sin could no longer destroy. St. Paul teaches:

Rom 6:1 What    shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace mayabound?Rom 6:2 By no means!    How can we who died to sin still live in it?Rom 6:3 Do you not know that all of us who have    been baptized into ChristJesus were baptized    into his death?Rom 6:4 We were buried    therefore with him by baptism into death, so that asChrist was raised from the dead by the glory of    the Father, we too mightwalk in newness of    life.Rom 6:5 For if we have    been united with him in a death like his, we shallcertainly be united with him in a resurrection    like his.Rom 6:6 We know that    our old self was crucified with him so that the sinfulbody might be destroyed, and we might no longer    be enslaved to sin.Rom 6:7 For he who has    died is freed from sin.Rom 6:8 But if we have    died with Christ, we believe that we shall also livewith him.Rom 6:9 For we know    that Christ being raised from the dead will never dieagain; death no longer has dominion over him.Rom 6:10 The death he died he died to sin, once    for all, but the life helives he lives to God.Rom 6:11 So you also must consider yourselves    dead to sin and alive to Godin Christ Jesus.Rom 6:12 Let not sin therefore reign in your    mortal bodies, to make you obeytheir passions.Rom 6:13 Do not yield your members to sin as    instruments of wickedness, butyield yourselves to God as men who have been    brought from death to life, andyour members to God as instruments of    righteousness.Rom 6:14 For sin will    have no dominion over you, since you are not under lawbut under grace.

When we are baptized, we are put into union with Christ and with his new life so that we ARE no longer under the power of sin. By baptism we are regenerated and become “Christ-like” as St. Paul teaches in Galatians: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Since Jesus acted on our behalf, he was our “vicar”, our representative. Hence, His substitution was vicarious. As St. Paul wrote:

2Cr 5:17    Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the    oldhas passed away,    behold, the new has come.2Cr 5:18 All this is    from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himselfand gave us the ministry of reconciliation;2Cr 5:19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling    the world to himself, notcounting their    trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message ofreconciliation.2Cr 5:20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, God    making his appeal through us.We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be    reconciled to God.2Cr 5:21 For our sake    he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in himwe might become the righteousness of God.

In the classical Protestant system (especially that of Calvin), the wrath of God against sin put mankind at total enmity with God.

Read Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon Sinner in the Hands of an Angry God to see how Protestantism in general and Calvinism in particular depicted Mankind in the eyes of God. Note these references:

“…So    that, thus it is that natural men are held in the hand of    God, over the pit of hell; they have deserved the fiery pit,    and are already sentenced to it; and God is dreadfully    provoked, his anger is as great towards them as to those that    are actually suffering the executions of the fierceness of    his wrath in hell, and they have done nothing in the least to    appease or abate that anger, neither is God in the least    bound by any promise to hold them up one moment; the devil is    waiting for them, hell is gaping for them, the flames gather    and flash about them, and would fain lay hold on them, and    swallow them up; the fire pent up in their own hearts is    struggling to break out: and they have no interest in any    Mediator, there are no means within reach that can be any    security to them. In short, they have no refuge, nothing to    take hold of, all that preserves them every moment is the    mere arbitrary will, and uncovenanted, unobliged forbearance    of an incensed God…”    

“…The    God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a    spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you,    and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like    fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be    cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have    you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable    in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in    ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a    stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his    hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment.    It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to    hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in    this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is    no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into    hell since you arose in the morning, but that God’s hand has    held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you    have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house    of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner    of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else    that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very    moment drop down into hell…”

This is an extreme view of human nature as totally depraved and, in light of what Ezekiel said, I would further submit that it is unbiblical. But this is consistent with what Luther and Calvin said.

In this viewpoint, God’s anger and revulsion towards man cannot merely be appeased. He must “spend” his anger by punishing someone. Justice must be done. Someone must be punished for the sins of men. That is where Jesus came in. In a perverted parody of the Anselmian thesis, Jesus did not bear responsibility for our sins and make satisfaction for them. Instead, He was punished BY GOD for the sins of man as a substitution for us. Consequently, sin itself was not destroyed on the Cross. Only the CONSEQUENCE of sin was. Sin still remains in us. That is why the Protestant notion of justification talks about the forensic imputation of an external, alien righteousness. Under the Protestant rubric, justification does not make us righteous.

Jesus’ work consisted in substituting himself for us on the cross: “paying our fine”, “suffering our punishment”, or “serving our sentence.” It was merely a legal technicality by which punishment was meted out to Jesus without any transformation occurring in the guilty human as a result. This was a penal substitution with the penalty for our sins being imposed on Jesus and not upon us. After the Cross, Christ sent the Holy Spirit to assist Men in becoming righteous by a gradual process of sanctification. Conceptually, these are 2 separate and distinct activities. By contrast, Catholicism sees justification and sanctification as integrated together as part of a single process.

The Catholic scheme I gave above is my own. There are other schemes proposed by Catholics, but they are similar to mine in their concern for the love of God as the real motive behind the atonement. For a good general Catholic overview, the best book is What is Redemption? by Philippe De La Trinite. It is out of print but you can get it from on-line used book services (e.g., http://www.bookfinder.com/) or by interlibrary loan through the Public Library.

Art Sippo

The Catholic Legate

February 25, 2004

The Fathers and the Return of the Jews

Salvation


The Fathers and the Return of the Jews

Mark Cameron 3: First, Robert, I want to thank you for this dialogue. I am going to suggest a few ways in which we may be able to narrow our differences and come to a consensus. Then I would like to propose taking a step back and looking at the question of the relationship of the Church and the Jewish people in a broader context.

R. Sungenis 2: Mark, I understand why you might find Ott supporting your view, but let’s read what he says.

On page 486 he writes: “The conversion of the Jews: In Rom. 11:25-32, St. Paul reveals ‘the mystery’ : When the fullness, that is the number ordained by God, of the Gentiles has entered the kingdom of God ‘all Israel’ will be converted and saved. There is question of a morally universal conversion of the Jews.”

First, Ott is saying nothing different than what I have said. If you read my essay carefully, I maintain that “all Israel” will be saved when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.

Second, Ott offers no exegesis of the text, so we don’t know in which direction he is going. As I explained by using the context of Romans 11, God has been saving Jews, and will continue to save Jews, until the end of time. The sum total of all those Jews is “all Israel,” and thus it can be safely said, as God promised to Abraham, that all Israel will be saved, but whether this will be a massive conversion in the future is nowhere taught in Scripture, nor does Ott himself say so.

In fact, Ott says just the opposite. He says, “There is question of a morally universal conversion of the Jews.” In other words, he knows that there are people, such as yourself, who teach there will be a universal conversion, but to Ott that view is at best a “question.”

Mark Cameron 3: Yes, you do say “’all Israel’ will be saved when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in”, but you mean by this something quite different from what the Church has historically understood. You assert that “all Israel” means those Jews who are being converted at the present time, making a grammatical argument as to why “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” and “and so all Israel will be saved” should not be understood to be sequential events. But the witness of the Church’s understanding of this passage is that the salvation of all Israel will occur after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. Ott is referring to this conversion of the Jews as one of the signs of the Second Coming, so clearly he does mean something different than what you have said. He believes this conversion will occur after the fullness of the Gentiles have come in. The “question” is not when the event will occur, but the scope. Will it simply be a large-scale conversion of the Jews, or a “morally universal one.”

R. Sungenis 3: I beg to differ with you, Mark. There is no one “witness of the Church” on this issue, since by the very citations you have brought forth there is much equivocation among the few Fathers who wrote about it. They diverge on whether the conversion is all-sequential or partly-sequential; on whether it refers to a remnant or a universal salvation; on whether its national or just spiritual; on whether Elijah and Enoch will appear, or only Elijah, or neither of them. None of them refer to patristic precedent for their beliefs (except a casual reference from Augustine to a nameless group of people), and consequently, the few that do offer comments, base their opinions only on what they personally believe Scripture to be teaching. Since they rely on no patristic mandate but their own exegetical understanding of Romans 11, then they leave themselves open to be argued against on that basis. Since none of them offer a detailed exegesis of the passage; or interact with any of the contextual or grammatical issues at stake, and offer virtually no supporting Scripture with accompanying exegesis to back up their claims, then there is virtually no convincing evidence they have to offer. As I said before, we are only bound to them when they are in unanimity on a particular point. And since we are covering a topic that is quite prone and open to various interpretations, as even they themselves admit, then there is simply no “witness of the Church” which you can marshal in this debate.

As for the “sequential” issue, I also beg to differ with you, for I DO see it as sequential. “All Israel” will not be saved until the fulness of the Gentiles comes in. The saving of “all Israel” will not happen, sequentially, until the fulness of the Gentiles comes in. Regardless of whether there are Jews being saved now, the fact is, I am abiding by the grammar of Romans 11:25-26.

As for Ott, if you read it carefully, Mark, he says nothing different than what I just said above. He is careful not to elaborate on what Romans 11:25-26 actually means. All he does is quote the verse and then put a disclaimer on the end saying that a morally universal conversion is in question. There is simply nothing for you to go on here.

R. Sungenis 2: Third, let’s look at what Ott says about your Elijah theory. He writes:

“The    conversion of the Jewish people is frequently brought into a    causal connection with the coming-again of Elias, BUT WITHOUT    SUFFICIENT FOUNDATION. The Prophet Malachy announces:     ‘Behold, I will send you Elias the Prophet before the    coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he    shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the    heart of the children to their fathers: lest I come, and    strike the earth with anathema.’ Jewry understood the    passage as referring to a physical coming-again of Elias    (Ecclus 48:10) but erroneously placed it in the beginning of    the Messianic era, and saw in Elias a precursor of the    Messiah (John 1:21; Mt 16:14). Jesus confirms the coming of    Elias, but refers it to the appearance of John the Baptist;    of whom the Angel had foretold that he would go before the    Lord, that is, God in the spirit and in the power of Elias    (Luke 1:17): ‘He (John) is Elias, who (according to the    prophecy of the Prophet) is to come’ (Mt 11:14).     ‘But I say to you that Elias is already come: and they    knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they had a    mind (Mt 17:12; Mk 9:13). JESUS DOES NOT SPEAK EXPLICITLY OF    A FUTURE COMING OF ELIAS BEFORE THE GENERAL JUDGMENT,    PROBABLY NOT EVEN IN MT 17:11 (‘Elias indeed shall come    and restore all things’), in which the prophecy of    Malachias is simply reproduced. JESUS SEE IT ALREADY    FULFILLED IN THE APPEARANCE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (Mt.    17:12).”

As you can see, Mark, Ott agrees with my position. Obviously, Ott is aware of the few Fathers that said Elijah would come in the future, but he dismisses them as “without sufficient foundation,” as I do. Ott agrees that Jesus did not teach it either, but insists that Jesus taught that Elijah came figuratively in the person is John the Baptist.

Mark Cameron 3: I wouldn’t say that Ott agrees with your position entirely. He simply says that the contrary (traditional) interpretation is not proven. He says that the return of Elijah theory is “without sufficient foundation”, and asserts that Jesus does not “explicitly” speak of a future coming of Elijah, “probably not even in Matt. 17:11”. It seems to me that he leaves the Elijah theory as open, but not proven, and not as central to the tradition as what he has already asserted: that there will be an end times conversion of the Jews.

R. Sungenis 3: Of course. I leave the Elijah theory “open,” too, but that doesn’t mean I teach with certainty, as I see some Catholics doing today, that Elijah WILL return to convert the Jews sometime in the future. Moreover, if Ott is leaning in any direction on this issue it is certainly not in entertaining the idea that Elijah will return bodily in the future. That to him is more of a Jewish myth than a Christian truth.

Mark Cameron: The Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, edited by Dom Bernard Orchard, 1953, says of Romans 11:25-32: “From the present, (verses) 1-24, St. Paul turns his attention to the future. The time will come when the present problem of Israel’s exclusion from the salvation of the Messias will cease to exist because of her conversion, which will follow the conversion of the Gentiles. The final conversion of Israel could not be known to St. Paul from any natural source…” It then goes on to argue that St. Paul deduces the “final conversion of Israel” from the permanence of God’s promises and prophecies, which promise the eventual salvation of Israel.

R. Sungenis 2: Again, we have the same problem. Orchard offers no exegesis of the very passage he is citing. He, as other commentators on this passage do without sufficient study, merely proof-text the passage, thinking that a mere citation of it proves their point. As I told John Pacheco, Orchard did not not address the Greek text of Romans 11, and thus he was oblivious to the fact that the passage could be saying the very opposite of what he claims it says. Until you offer a commentary that delves into the exegetical issues regarding Romans 11, then citing them really doesn’t offer any persuasive evidence.

Mark Cameron 3: I hadn’t read, or hadn’t noticed, John P’s earlier citation of Orchard in your debate, as I was focusing on your assertions about the Fathers, so I am coming anew to this issue. Reading your previous dialogue, I realize that you went beyond saying that Orchard didn’t offer exegesis of the passage to asserting that he was incapable of doing so, saying “The quote you have from Dom Orchard misses this, of course, since he didn’t know Greek,” and, regarding the issue of whether a definitive marker of the future tense is necessary in v. 27, “Orchard would not be able to catch this.”

Now this is absurd! Dom Bernard Orchard is one of the most important Catholic New Testament scholars of the 20th century. Among his many works are “A Synopsis of the Four Gospels in Greek.” You couldn’t even get a good degree from an English university without a good knowledge of Greek back when Dom Orchard started his career – let alone become the leading Catholic Biblical scholar.

I suggest that the reason that there is no detailed exegesis of this passage is that he did not think that the standard Catholic interpretation (first, the coming in of the fullness of the Gentiles, then, the conversion of the Jews) was in need of any defence in a commentary intended for a fairly general audience of priests and educated laity.

R. Sungenis 3: Wishful thinking, Mark. As you can see from the information provided to you previously that the contextual and grammatical issues permeate the exegesis of Romans 11, it is simply unconscionable that a modern exegete could propose an interpretation of Romans 11 without recourse to the Greek grammar and context. If Orchard had a working knowledge of Greek, then it was his responsibility to apply that knowledge to Romans 11, for without it, he leaves himself wide open to refutation. A matter as simple as whether the Greek achri hou continues the action of the main verb or terminates it is absolutely essential in determining the meaning of Romans 11:25-26, and without acknowledging that Greek variable, no one has any business offering an interpretation of the passage. I find it interesting that Catholics appreciate it is pointed out that the Greek grammar of heos hou in Matthew 1:25 can easily be interpreted to continue the action of the main verb, thereby saving Mary’s perpetual virginity, yet, because they have a pet belief in the future restoration of Israel, they don’t like it when it is pointed out that the very same adverbial construction as that of Matthew 1:25 would make their conclusions somewhat less than dogmatic.

Mark Cameron: The more I search the Fathers, the broader the consensus seems to be. To add to the Augustine and Chrysostom quotes I found earlier, here are a few more:

Pope St. Gregory the Great, Moralia in Iob (Preface, X, 20): “After the loss of Job’s possessions, after all his bereavements, after all the suffering of his wounds, after all his angry debates, it is good that he is consoled by twofold repayment. In just this way does the holy church, while it is still in this world, receive twofold reward for the trials it sustains, when all the gentile nations have been brought into its midst, at the end of time, and the church converts even the hearts of the Jews to its cause. Thus it is written, ‘Until the fulness of nations enters and so all Israel is saved.’”

R. Sungenis 2: Again, Mark, this is vague at best. First, you’ll notice that Gregory does not cite any earlier patristic witness. In order for a massive conversion of Jews at the end of time to be the abiding view of the Church, there would have had to be an apostolic teaching that such was the case. As it stands, none of the early Fathers speak of such a massive conversion in the distant future, let alone say they received such teaching from the apostles.

Second, Gregory offers no exegesis of the crucial phrases in the Romans 11 text (e.g., “fullness of the Gentiles,” “so all Israel is saved”).

Third, Gregory does not specify a massive conversion of Jews, and thus there is nothing that departs from the stipulation in Romans 11 that a “remnant” of Jews will be saved, either now or in the future.

M. Cameron 3: Gregory didn’t need to cite earlier witnesses because this was so well known. It is featured prominently in St. Augustine’s City of God, one of the most widely read books in Latin Christendom, where it is already referred to as a common belief among the faithful. He offers no exegesis because, again, he didn’t feel he had to (and, as I will discuss below, modern scientific exegesis, textual criticism, etc. was unknown to the Fathers).

R. Sungenis 3: Again, we are not looking for the popularity of the belief, but the patristic consensus and unanimity of the Fathers. There is none, and Augustine doesn’t point to any. As for your statement that “he offers no exegesis because he didn’t fell he had to,” is presumptuous and gratuitous, Mark. Not only did Augustine equivocate on this very issue (as I pointed out before), but when he wanted to argue a point and was certain of his position, he spared no “exegesis” or reasoning from the text. You don’t catch Augustine “proof-texting” when he wants to drive home a point, but proof-texting is certainly what he does in some instances with Enoch and Romans 11. The reason is plain. There is simply little information to extract from Scripture on this very complicated topic, as is the case with most prophecy. Moreover, Augustine didn’t know Greek or Hebrew. He didn’t have a reading knowledge of Greek until he was an old man, but by then most of his material had been written, except for the treatises on Predestination.

Mark Cameron 3: I do think you make a valid third point, however. There is a tension between the suggestion that “a remnant” will be saved and “all Israel” will be saved. Is “all Israel” all the Jews living in the end times, or simply a remnant – presumably a large, significant group, but not necessarily the entire Jewish people? This is why Ott says that there is a “question” about a morally universal conversion. Some texts refer to a universal conversion of the Jews, but other important texts refer to a remnant being saved in the last days.

R. Sungenis 3: Well, you’re just proving my point. For them to equivocate on such a major point just shows that there was no consensus, and that a major difficulty with the context of Romans 11 was never sufficiently overcome. Of course, I would have little argument with the “remnant” interpretation, for to argue against it would defeat my whole purpose. But it is not so easy for you, for if you reject the “remnant” interpretation, then, in being required to be faithful to the meaning of “all” in the phrase “all Israel,” would require you to interpret it as referring to every last Jew in the future conversion you envision. My interpretation is faithful to the word “all,” since I say that “all Israel” refers to all the people of Israel who will have been saved from Abraham to the end of time. Hence, if I really wanted to press the issue with the futurists, the very same futurists who insist that the interpretation of Romans 11:25-26 means that “all Israel” can only refer to a group of Jews at the end of time, then I will be just as persnickety about their interpretation of the word “all.” If they say that it really doesn’t have to refer to every Jew of the future, then their interpretation can be dismissed out of hand.

R. Sungenis 2: My contention is that your view actually LIMITS the salvation of the Jews, since your view is so fixated on a mass future conversion that you minimize the salvation of the Jews in the present time and since Pentecost. Your view is that God is not already doing a work among the Jews, but is reserving that for some obscure moment at the end of time. But, as the passages from Luke and other citations show, that is not what the New Testament predicts. All those passages speak of God coming to the Jews at the First Coming of Christ, and that is why 3,000 Jews and Gentiles converted on Pentecost Day, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy that God would send the Redeemer to them from Zion, as I pointed out in Luke 1:68-79. On the other hand, you have no passage, other than your personal interpretation of Romans 11:25-26, to support your claim of a massive conversion in the future, a passage that not even the person you cited (Ott) sees as proof.

Mark Cameron 3: I disagree with this. There have always been Jewish converts to the faith. In recent times, one thinks of St. Edith Stein, former chief rabbi of Rome Eugenio Zolli, doctor and writer Karl Stern, Cardinal Lustiger, author Rhonda Chervin, columnist Robert Novak, former abortionist turned pro-life leader Dr. Bernard Nathanson, etc. Of course God is doing a work among the Jews. But the fact is, Jewish conversions have always been a trickle, not a flood. There has never been a mass conversion of the Jewish people as there was of the Roman Empire, the Franks, the Irish, the English, the Germans, the Goans, the Filipinos, etc. It is passing strange that the people who have been most prepared for the Gospel, heirs of over 1000 years of prophecy pointing towards it, have been among the least receptive to it. What Scripture and Tradition tell us is that this is deliberately the case. God has hardened the hearts of the Jewish people, in part for their rejection of Christ, but also in part because the continued existence of the Jewish people and faith is a witness to many of the truths of Christianity, and because of God’s plan of ultimate redemption for the Jewish nation at the end of time. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t encourage Jewish conversion, but that we shouldn’t necessarily expect it on a large scale, and certainly shouldn’t coerce it. The continued existence of Judaism is part of God’s plan of salvation, something which is not the case for any other religion.

R. Sungenis 3: I beg to differ, Mark. Judaism, if you really want to be honest about what it believes of Christianity, is not “part of God’s plan of salvation,” no more than Islam, being 1,500 hundred years old is part of God’s plan of salvation. As for the “trickle” concept, there was always a trickle of true believers in Jewry. There never were large masses who followed God, even in their glory years. Only two from Egypt entered the land of Canaan, yet there were more than a million who left Egypt. The Judges period was marked by continued unfaithfulness. Except for David, Josiah and Hezekiah, all of Israel and Judah’s 43 kings had severe problems, two-thirds of them being declared “evil in the sight of the Lord.” In Elijah’s time there were only 7,000, out of a nation of about 10 million, who didn’t bow the knee to Baal. So, if we base what we see today on precedent, there is really no change. Jews are being saved, but it is still a trickle, and that is because, as God said himself, they are a “stiffnecked” people. It was the very reason he rejected them nationally.

Mark Cameron: Now, before going on the Medievals, I have to note that the statements you made regarding the view of the fathers were quite unequivocal. “The consensus among the early Fathers is that there is no divinely mandated future glory for national Israel” I agree that there is no divinely predicted glory for a future state of Israel, but there is assuredly a consensus prediction of the conversion of the Jews. You say, “There are only a few personalities who even address the issue of Israel in the future,” and quote seven, adding “only two Fathers hold out for any future large restoration of faith in Israel.” This suggests that you have searched long and hard to see what the Fathers have had to say about this topic, and found only a few quotes, mostly arguing against a future conversion.

Yet with just a little bit of searching around, I have found four more quotes you had missed. (Indeed, I found several others, but not as directly pertinent as the ones I have given).

R. Sungenis 2: Mark, in reality, this is what you have found: (1) two commentators, one of which disagrees with your view of Elijah and reserves a universal conversion of Jews as a “question,” while the other commentator offers no exegesis of Romans 11 to support his conclusion. (2) You offered the view of Chrysostom, which as I said in my last view, bases his conclusion on a uninspired translation of Malachi 4:5, as does John Damascene, and both of which go against Jerome’s translation. (3) You offered Gregory, but as you can see, he does not offer any patristic support or Scriptural exegesis to back up his view. (4) You offered Augustine, but at best Augustine’s view is equivocal, since he says opposite things in different places. Even Augustine does not cite patristic witness to support even his more positive statements, and even his positive statement lends itself to being interpreted in more than one way.

Further, even if I were to accept Augustine, Chrysostom, Gregory and John Damascene as witnesses, this DOES NOT represent a “consensus” of Fathers. A “consensus” of Fathers is the “unanimous consent of the Fathers.” It means that, except for a few detractors, ALL the Fathers took the same view. Pope Leo XIII taught in Providentissimus Deus that, unless the Fathers all took the same view, we were not bound to accept them. For example, most of the Fathers took the view that the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6 were angels who had sex with women. Alexander of Alexandria, Chrysostom and Augustine disagreed, and said that it referred to the godly line of Seth. Although in the minority, the view opting for “godly line of Seth” is the one most accepted by the Church today.

M. Cameron 3: The point is, even if it is not a total consensus, which would be a sign of infallible teaching, there is a strong patristic tendency to interpret Romans 11:25-27 as implying a future conversion of the Jews. You has argued that there was a consensus against this view, which there clearly is not. Since my last reply, John Loughnan pointed me towards a whole series of additional patristic quotes in favour of this view. Fr. Augustin Lemann, himself a Jewish convert of the late 19th century, records, in addition to St. Augustine, the following patristic witnesses to this tradition: Tertullian, L. V, contra Marcion, Chap.IX ; Origen, Sixth Homily on the Book of Numbers, towards the end. St. Hilary, Commentary on Psalm 58 ; St. Ambrose, Book about the Patriarch Joseph. St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Chap. XI; St. Jerome, Commentary on Micheas, Chap. II; Commentary on Malachias, Chap. III, etc.; St Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Genesis, Book, V, etc.; St. Prosper of Aquitaine, The Calling of the Gentiles, Book I, Chap. XXI. Cassiodorus, Commentary on Psalm 102; Preniasius, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Chap.XI. St. Gregory the Great, Liber Moralium, lib. II, etc.; St. Isidore, Book about the Calling of the Gentiles, Chap. V.

R. Sungenis 3: Mark, these names and references don’t really mean much unless you can produce the exact statement that you think supports your view. If you haven’t looked any of these up, then you should wait till you do.

Mark Cameron 3: Now, we have discussed several of these Fathers before, but Tertullian, Origen (who you had quoted as ambivalent on the identity of “all Israel”), Ambrose, Prosper, Cassiodorus, Preniasus, and Isidore are new additions to the list. The only one of these quotes I could find on line was Tertullian – the earliest witness to this tradition:

“Christ is the proper and legitimate High Priest of God. He is the Pontiff of the priesthood of the uncircumcision, constituted such, even then, for the Gentiles, by whom He was to be more fully received, although at His last coming He will favour with His acceptance and blessing the circumcision also, even the race of Abraham, which by and by is to acknowledge Him.” Tertullian, L. V, contra Marcion, Chap.IX

It is significant that Tertullian writes about this in his critique of the Marcionites, who attempted to throw out the Old Testament on the grounds that the Jewish religion was utterly worthless to Christians. Tertullian argues at length how a knowledge of Jewish law, traditions, liturgy, and Scriptures are essential as witness to Christian truth.

R. Sungenis 3: Correction, the Marcionites attempted to throw out the Old Testament, not the “Jewish religion.” The Jewish religion was already thrown out. The Marcionites believed that the OT served no useful purpose for the Christian Church, but the Church retorted that the OT contained valuable principles for the Christian life, namely, the Ten Commandments. As for Tertullian, if he limits the favoring to the last coming, then he is wrong, since no one will be saved at Christ’s second coming, for at that time, salvation is over. Moreover, he is also wrong if he limits the favoring to the future, since Luke 1:68-79; Acts 2:16-21; 15:16-18 all say the favoring occurred at the first coming of Christ. The whole point of Paul’s argument in Romans 11:1-2 is that “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew,” since God saved Paul and is still saving a remnant of Jews today just as He did in the OT, which is precisely what Paul says in Romans 11:3-5.

Mark Cameron 3: There is a fuller version of the quote from Cyril of Alexandria, which we already had seen, that makes its importance even more explicit:

‘Towards the end of time, Our Lord Jesus Christ will effect the reconciliation of His former persecutor Israel with Himself. Everybody who knows Holy Scripture is aware that, in the course of time, this people will return to the love of Christ by the submission of faith … Yes, one day, after the conversion of the Gentiles, Israel will be converted, and the Jews will be astonished at the treasure they will find in Christ.’

It would be interesting to go back and dig up these other quotes (and the references in the other lists from Cornelius a Lapide, etc.), but the fact is there are many patristic witnesses to this tradition, and a significant number to the return of Elijah tradition as well.

R. Sungenis 3: “Everybody who knows Holy Scripture”? Then why was the “everyone” so equivocal as to how it was going to occur? Why was did this “everyone” refer to no apostolic-patristic consensus that had such a view? What “Scripture” did this “everyone” rely on to give them such dogmatism, other than the somewhat obscure passage in Romans 11:25-26 and Malachi 4:2 (which we already saw had no consensus of interpretation among them)?

Mark Cameron 3: Here, however, is the kicker. Lemann’s work is quoted by a priest who you yourself have quoted as “the expert on Catholic/Jewish relations” and “a man who was totally dedicated to our Catholic traditions,” Fr. Dennis Fahey in The Kingship of Christ and The Conversion of The Jewish Nation.

Fr. Fahey concludes his citation of these sources with this:

“The conversion of the Jewish people to the True Supernatural Messias is, therefore, certain, in spite of the overwhelming evidence of uncompromising hostility to Him on their part at the present time. Their conversion will be a glorious triumph for the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It will be a special source of exultation for Her, when Her own people will at last acclaim Her Divine Son as their King and welcome as their Queen Her who is their Sister according to the flesh, and who so ardently desires to be their Mother according to the Divine Life of Grace. She will then be able to pour forth anew the heartfelt thanksgiving of Her Magnificat: ‘He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.’”

Now, I strongly disagree with Fr. Fahey on many points. I think his conflation of Orthodox Judaism with Masonic and socialist revolutionism in his notion of “Jewish naturalism” is grossly wrong. There is a huge difference between Orthodox Jews, living according to the Torah and Jewish tradition, and the many Jews who have left their faith for liberalism and secularism. Fahey sees them all as part of the same vast Hebraic conspiracy.

R. Sungenis 3: You’ll be surprised to know that in reading Fr. Fahey’s treatment of the conversion of Israel, it was at that time I began to do some serious investigation into this issue. I found that the majority of Fr. Fahey’s patristic support was wanting. He had about a half dozen or so citations, but I didn’t find them either convincing or representative of a unanimity. There were just too many conflicts and contradictions on their interpretations of the text in Romans 11. And again, if these witnesses are going to base their view of Israel’s future on an exegesis of the text, then that exegesis better be thorough and exact, otherwise it is not worth the paper it is written on.

Mark Cameron 3: I agree with Hilaire Belloc on this point when he says, “We are asked to believe that this political upheaval [the Bolshevik revolution by which the Jews got control of Russia] was part of one highly organised plot centuries old the agents of which were millions of human beings all pledged to the destruction of our society and acting in complete discipline under a few leaders superhumanly wise. The thing is nonsense on the face of it. Men have no capacity for acting in this fashion . . . moreover the motive is completely lacking. Why merely destroy, and why, if your object is merely to destroy, manifest wide differences in your aims?… The conception of a vast age-long plot, culminating in the contemporary Russian affair, will not hold water.”

However, there is no question that Fr. Fahey spent a great deal of time (some would suggest too much time) studying the Jewish question. He was one of the most negative Catholics of the twentieth century in his view of the Jews. And yet he was an ardent defender of the Church’s traditional belief in the eventual conversion of the Jews at the last times.

Now let’s go on again to the medievals.

Mark Cameron: The 10th century French Abbot Adso wrote a treatise of the Antichrist that became very influential in the Middle Ages. In it he wrote:

“Lest the Antichrist come suddenly and without warning and deceive and destroy the whole human race by his error, before his arrival the two great prophets Enoch and Elijah will be sent into the world. They will defend God’s faithful against the attack of the Antichrist with divine arms and will instruct, comfort, and prepare the elect for battle with three and a half years teaching and preaching. These two very great prophets and teachers will convert the sons of Israel who will live in that time to the faith, and they will make their belief unconquerable among the elect in the face of the affliction of so great a storm. At that time what scripture says will be fulfilled ‘If the number of sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, their remnant will be saved’.”

R. Sungenis 2: The problem here, Mark, is that the abbot has misread the passage. There are only two passages in Scripture that have these elements, Isaiah 10:22 and Romans 9:27. Isaiah 10:22 reads: O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. Romans 9:27 quotes from Isaiah 10:22. But you’ll notice that neither passage predicts a massive conversion of the Jews, but only what I’ve been saying all along – that only a “remnant” will be saved.

M. Cameron 3: This gets back to what I said earlier about a tension between “all Israel” meaning “all the Jews” or “a remnant of the Jewish nation” being saved at the end of time. I think the tradition is close to unanimous that this refers to future events, but is not as clear as to the scale of the future conversion. I have found several other important medieval passages that refer to a remnant of the Jews being saved in the end times.

R. Sungenis 3: Mark, it’s a little bit more than a “tension.” It is a massive contradiction. If “all Israel” means “all the remnant,” then we can stop this discussion right here. Your job is to prove that “all Israel” means ALL Israel, both by patristic unanimity and exegesis of Scripture. If you can’t, then you have conceded the argument between us, for then it would be the “remnant” by default, and you’ll be in my corner.

M. Cameron 2: St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a Commentary on Epistle to the Romans, in which he wrote: “The blindness of the Jews will endure until the fullness of the gentiles have accepted the faith. And this is in accord with what the Apostle says below about the salvation of the Jews, namely, that after the fullness of the nations have entered, ‘all Israel will be saved’, not individually as at present, but universally.”

He goes on to make it clear that he is referring here to “the conversion of the Jews at the end of the world.”

R. Sungenis: Thomas has every right to his opinion, just as he did with the Immaculate Conception, but that fact is he offers no exegesis or patristic support for the idea of a “universal” conversion. In fact, he is the first to use the word “universal,” and thus, it is quite unprecedented.

M. Cameron 3: There is a big difference between St. Thomas’ views on the Immaculate Conception, where he was not followed by the Church, and this issue where he is speaking consistently with what the Fathers and Doctors said before him and after him. I would agree that while many of the earlier quotes seemed to speak of generally all the Jews living at the end times, St. Thomas does appear to be the first to specify a universal conversion.

R. Sungenis 3: Well, this again proves that there is not a consensus of opinion, but a diversity of opinion. The whole issue revolves around whether it is universal or not universal.

Mark Cameron 2: Moving on to the Counter Reformation era, the great Jesuit apologist St. Robert Bellarmine writes in De Summo Pontifice (I, 3) about “the coming of Enoch and Elias, who live even now and shall live until they come to oppose Antichrist himself, and to preserve the elect in the faith of Christ, and in the end shall convert the Jews, and it is certain that this is not yet fulfilled.”

R. Sungenis: First, if this concept is being based on Scripture, as most of them do in reference to Romans 11:25-26, then where is the Scripture that says Enoch is going to return to earth to convert the Jews? There is no such passage in Scripture. Enoch is mention only in Hebrews 11:5 and Jude 1:14 (outside of his OT references), but neither of them speak of him returning. Second, Bellarmine cites no Scripture, nor any patristic witness, to back up the claim.

The only place in Scripture that even remotely suggests something along these lines is Apocalypse 11:5-6, which reads: “And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.”

The problem with this, however, is that the passage does not specifically name Enoch or Elijah. Elijah is sometimes associated with the passage only because he once prayed that it would not rain in Israel (James 5:17-18). But Enoch is not even alluded to, since there is no such action he performed during his lifetime. This is why Enoch is sometimes left out of the predictions (as is the case with Venerable Bede). The only other personage that could fill the description is Moses, since Exodus records him as turning water into blood, yet curiously, none of the aforementioned interpreters mention Moses as a possibility, even though he fits the description better than Enoch.

So what you have, Mark, is a confusing assortment of ideas, with little, if any, Scriptural backing, and that from the very people who claim to be getting their ideas from Scripture, not Tradition. In addition, the Apocalypse is a highly symbolic treatise, especially Chapter 11, of which many exegetes have seen as a symbolic representation of the Church preaching the gospel during the New Testament era, signified by the “two-by-two” formula used in the passage (cf., Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1; 2 Cor 13:1; Eph 2:15; 1 Cor 14:29).

Mark Cameron 3: Whether Enoch and Elijah are the “two witnesses” is a bit of a side issue. There is fairly universal consensus that Elijah is one of the. The scriptural basis for this is that Hebrews 9:27 says it is appointed for all men once to die. The only men who never died in Scripture are Elijah and Enoch. Enoch was known as a prophet of the Apocalypse, and Jude 1:14 quotes from the apocryphal Book of Enoch, “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, behold the LORD cometh with ten thousands of his saints.” So, it would not be surprising to see Enoch return in an end times context. The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (4th century) has Enoch say the following: “I am Enoch who pleased God, and was translated by him. And this is Elijah the Tishbite. We are also to live to the end of the age; but then we are about to be sent by God to resist Antichrist, and be slain by him, and to rise after three days, and to be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord.” While of course this is not canonical, this does show that the early Church saw Enoch and Elijah reflected in this passage.

I will admit that the Fathers are reading Elijah and Enoch in to their understanding of these passages, but as I will argue below, this searching for symbolic meanings is essential to the Catholic understanding of Scripture.

R. Sungenis 3: I guess the old saying is true that one man’s treasure is another man’s trash. The treasure you see is that some of them at least think Elijah might return. The trash is that they aren’t sure Elijah will come (as Ott agrees), nor that Enoch will be with him. So again, Mark, we don’t have any solid evidence, but we do have a lot of speculation. Interpretation of prophecy is filled with it, so I’m not surprised to see it here.

Mark Cameron 2: Writing on Matthew 17:11-12 (“Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.”), Lapide says that Elias will: “Restore all things: that is, convert the Jews to Christ as the Messiah promised to themselves and there forefathers.”

He goes on to say that: “Falsely do the Calvinists refer all these things to the first Advent of Christ, and explain both mentions of Elias – viz., in verses 11 and 12 – to mean John the Baptist. For they think that Elias, whom Malachi predicted shall come as the precursor of Christ (Mal. 4:5), is John the Baptist, and there is no other who shall come with Enoch before Christ’s second Advent…”

R. Sungenis 2: If that is the case, Mark, then why would Ott say that such a view was erroneous?

M. Cameron 3: Ott doesn’t say this view is erroneous, just not sufficiently proven. Clearly, by 1952 in Germany, even in orthodox Catholic circles, the taste for symbolic, prophetic interpretations of Scripture had diminished. Lapide might well have accused Ott of following Calvinist error (at least in this one instance).

R. Sungenis 3: No, he does not say “sufficiently proven,” rather, “without sufficient foundation,” which means that those who propose it have little basis for doing so, and I agree, for the same reasons Ott lists.

Mark Cameron 2: Writing on Matthew 23:37-39 (“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”), Lapide writes:

“It is possible that this passage may be understood of the Jews, who about the end of the world shall be converted to Christ by the preaching of Elias, and who, when He shall presently come to judgment, will acknowledge Him to be the Messiah, the Blessed of the Lord.”

R. Sungenis 2: Mark, did you catch the words “It is possible” in the first part of his sentence? Obviously, Lapide is not offering this as the definitive interpretation for the Church. He is smart enough to know that all this is quite speculative, since there is very little information to go on. And since he, as you already admitted, equivocates between a literal and spiritual interpretation, he certainly isn’t the definitive witness you are looking for. And again, notice that he leaves out Enoch. I think this lack of conviction is even more significant in the case of Lapide, since of all the medievals, he would be the one person who would know what the patristic and medieval consensus was, since he catalogued most of it.

M. Cameron 3: Lapide is hardly dismissing this interpretation. He has already said explicitly that he expects the return of Elijah to convert the Jews in his discussion of Matthew 17 and Romans 11. The only question in his interpretation of Matthew 23 is whether this is yet additional support for this view.

R. Sungenis 3: The fact that there is no consensus on Matt 23:37-39 that Lapide can point to in order to support his interpretation of Elijah again shows you that the proposition is at best speculative.

Mark Cameron 2: In summary, it looks to me like the vast majority of the Fathers, the Medievals the and Counter-Reformation doctors, and recent pre-Vatican II exegetes are all in agreement about a conversion of the Jews before the end of the world (possibly converted by the preaching of Elijah and Enoch as prophesied in Malachi and Revelations) as a sign of Christ’s coming.

With St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. John Chrysostom, the Venerable Bede, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, and Cornelius a Lapide on my side of the argument, and having shown that all but one of your quotes are from one modern source that gives only snippets of the Fathers, I think the onus of showing that the Fathers and Doctors did not believe in a future mass conversion of the Jews now falls on you.

My other question is, given the broad consensus I have found in Catholic sources saying that there will be such a future conversion of Jews to the faith, some from sources that you must have seen before in your wide reading, why are you so keen to deny this teaching? I do not claim that belief in the future conversion of the Jews, or a future coming of Elijah before the Second Coming, for that matter, are de fide teaching. But they certainly seem to represent the consensus of two millennia of Catholic exegesis. What is the purpose in trying to deny this?

R. Sungenis: You don’t have a “broad consensus,” you have merely a half dozen or so citations, many of which are equivocal, all of which offer no exegesis, little of which cite early patristic support for their view, some of which can be taken in a spiritual as well as literal sense, many of which leave out crucial details (e.g., Enoch), all of which have only the obscure passage of Romans 11:25-26 as their Scriptural base; all of which base their view on the highly symbolic passage in Apocalypse 11:5-6; many of which ignore those against their view; and all who are summed up by one of our greatest theologian/historians as holding a “questionable” view of universal conversion of Jews, and an erroneous view of Elijah, namely, Ludwig Ott.

M. Cameron 3: Let me add a few more medieval and later sources to our “vast cloud of witnesses” on this issue. Father Lemann, who I cited above, cites the following:

Venerable Bede, Commentary on Psalm 58, etc.

St. Anselm, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Chap. II ;

St. Peter Damian, Sermon 66.

St. Bernard, Letter 363

St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Chapter XI, 4 Suarez, Sermon 66

We have already seen St. Bede and St. Thomas, but Sts. Anselm, Peter Damian, Bernard, and the theologian Suarez are new sources to check. In my own further researches, I have come across several more.

R. Sungenis 3: Produce the quotes, Mark, and then we’ll talk about them.

Mark Cameron 3: The Glossa Ordinaria, the primary medieval source book for Sriptural interpretation, which reflects the consensus of Western Fathers like Augustine and Jerome, says this of Romans 11:27: “Hoc erit in fine quando prFdicatione EliF et Enoch convertentur JudFi, unde per Malachiam: Mittam vobis Eliam Thesbitem qui convertet corda patrum ad filios, et corda filiorum ad patrem (Mal. IV); ut intelligant filii ut patres, id est ut prophetF intellexerunt.”

My freehand translation: “This is the prediction that in the end Elias and Enoch will convert the Jews, as Malachi says, ‘I will send you Elias the Tishbite who will convert the hearts of the father to the sons and the sons to the father, (Mal. IV)” (Note Enoch gets included here.)

R. Sungenis 3: Now we’re back to Enoch again? What happened to Lapide’s view that only Elijah was returning? Moreover, without the context, we don’t know whether the GO is accepting, rejecting, or just commenting on what some people believed Mal 4:2 was predicting. Also, we’re back to the mistranslation of the Hebrew text of Mal 4:2. It DOES NOT say Tishbite. If you claim that the GO is showing us the “consensus of Western Fathers…like Jerome,” then obviously the GO is misrepresenting Jerome, since his Vulgate did not have the word “Tishbite.” Apparently, all the GO is doing is reiterating the same error made by Augustine. Besides, we have our own GO in Ott, and he says the Elijah theory does not have “sufficient foundation.”

Mark Cameron 3: Pope Innocent III, in a quite negative letter about the Jews to the Kings of France and Germany Regi Francorum, nonetheless prefaces it by saying that it is “not displeasing to the Lord, but rather, acceptable to Him that the Dispersion of the Jews should live and do service under Catholic Kings and Christian princes – the remnants of which then will finally be saved (Romans 9:3-24), since in those days Judah will be saved (Jeremiah 33:6-26) and Israel will dwell in mutual trust.”

(Notice that this great Pope applies Jeremiah’s prophecy of restoration to the Jewish nation in the future, not solely to the first coming or to the Church.)

R. Sungenis 3: This quote doesn’t do anything to support your argument. First, Innocent speaks only of a “remnant,” and thus we’re back to the equivocation between a universal conversion and a remnant conversion. Since Innocent III lived just prior to Aquinas, we then have two witnesses who have diametrically opposed views on the subject. Second, there is hardly sufficient evidence here that Innocent is applying the salvation of the remnant to the distant future. Apparently, you are interpreting the word “finally” as applying to the distant future, but that is hardly provable. In fact, you have Innocent III misinterpreting both Scripture’s testimony in Hebrews 8-10, and the teaching of the Church, that Jeremiah 31-33 applies to the first coming. The “branch” that Jeremiah mentions in 33:15 refers to the same Branch in Isaiah 4:2 and 11:1, which refer to the first coming of Christ. The reference to “David” in Jeremiah 33 is fulfilled at the first coming, as Acts 15:16-18 speaks of “rebuilding the tabernacle of David.” Luke 1:68-79 assures us that the remembering of the covenant and the salvation to the house of David occurred at the first coming. Acts 2:21-22 tells us that the gospel of salvation to Israel occurred at Pentecost, and 3000 Jews and Gentiles were saved.

Mark Cameron 3: Gregory IX and Martin V also use this formula of predicting a future “remnant will be saved”:

“Whereas the Jews are made to the image of God, and a remnant of them will one day be saved, and whereas they have sought our protection: following in the footsteps of our predecessors We command that they be not molested in their synagogues; that their laws, rights and customs be not assailed; that they be not baptized by force, constrained to observe Christian festivals, nor to wear new badges, and that they be not hindered in their business relations with Christians.” Martin V, Declaration on the Protection of the Jews, 1419

This view – the eventual salvation of the Jews (or at least of a remnant at the end times) is hardly a minority position, but so standard that it features in the basic scriptural aid of the medieval church, and papal bulls.

R. Sungenis 3: So now we have a pope who lived almost two centuries after Aquinas (Martin V) who still says that only a remnant will be saved, not the universal salvation envisioned by Aquinas. Further, there is no indication that Martin does not believe that there is a remnant being saved in his day. The verb “will one day be saved,” is just a vague reference that, in the end, some Jews will be saved. In any case, Martin is not gushing over a Jewish conversion, nor does he expect some spectacular movement of God upon them. If a miraculous and substantial movement of God upon the Jews was the abiding message of the Middle Ages (as you claim) then either Martin missed it, or he didn’t believe it. The other possibility, Mark, is that Martin was simply reiterating what the major consensus was – that there will be no massive conversion of Jews at any time, and that only a remnant of Jews will be saved, just as Romans 11:5, 14, 23 says.

R. Sungenis 2: I have been known to be wrong at times, and I am open to being disproven on anything I say. But considering the less than definitive evidence you’ve brought forth, I don’t feel persuaded to change my view. At best it is an open question. Also, the fact that you didn’t interact with any of the exegesis I brought forth in my last post, but relied solely on somewhat equivocal and unclear references from various Fathers and Medievals, there is little I find compelling.

M. Cameron 3: What I am asking you to consider is that there are more important issues than scientific exegesis of passages. The reception of scripture in the Church should take priority over a technical interpretation of what the literal Greek or Hebrew of a text reads.

R. Sungenis 3: What is the “reception of scripture in the Church,” Mark? Apparently, it is your interpretation of what the Fathers and Medievals taught on this issue, which, as I have painstakingly shown, is full of equivocations and contradictions. When you give me a unanimity of belief then you have room to accuse me of rejecting the “reception of scripture in the Church.” As for “scientific exegesis” and the “technical interpretation of what the literal Greek or Hebrew of a text reads,” are you suggesting, Mark, that the Catholic Church would sanction views that are opposed to a what the literal Greek or Hebrew reads? Moreover, as I said earlier, the few Fathers that give their views regarding the future of the Jews base their view on their own personal interpretation of Romans 11, not on a “reception of scripture in the Church.” You won’t find any of them saying: “Well, this is the view that was passed down to us from the early Church, and thus we must believe it.” They do that with the Incarnation and the Trinity, but not prophecies about Israel.

Hence, if they base their views on an exegesis of Romans 11, then it is to Romans 11 we will go. Since that is the case, we’re going to need all the “technical” and “scientific” analysis we can muster to understand the “literal Greek or Hebrew of the text,” are we not? Or would you suggest that we just glibly go into the text and make some cursory reading of its contents and walk away with a mere impression of what it says? Is that the way Leo XIII or Pius XII taught us to investigate Scripture? I don’t think so. In fact, Leo spoke to us about the “revival amongst us of Greek learning which give a strong impetus to biblical studies” (Prov. Deus, 1, B, 2c). He said that Scripture was “dictated by the Holy Spirit” (Prov Deus, 1, A, b). Leo also said that: “For although the meaning of the Hebrew and Greek is substantially rendered by the Vulgate, nevertheless, wherever there may be ambiguity or want of clearness, the ‘examination of the older tongues,’ to quote St. Augustine, will be useful and advantageous” (Prov Deus, 2, B, 3).

In fact, Leo also taught that one can “push inquiry and exposition beyond what the Fathers have done, provided he carefully observe the rule so wisely laid down by St. Augustine – not to depart from the literal and obvious sense…” (Prov Deus, 2, C, d). So you see, Mark, that according to Leo, the literal and obvious sense of Scripture takes precedence even beyond the Fathers, unless, of course, they are in unanimity on a given interpretation, which is obviously not the case regarding Romans 11. Leo’s “literal and obvious” sense, and his “revival amongst us of Greek,” say only one thing, Mark – your appeal to avoid “scientific exegesis” and “technical interpretation of the literal Greek” is highly inappropriate.

Mark Cameron 2: Just as a P.S. to my previous reply, I want to address this specific issue. Chrysostom and Augsutine were not “confused” about the return of Elijah because of their reliance on the LXX. They looked for a return of Elijah in the flesh because Jewish tradition had long predicted it.

R. Sungenis 2: How does “Jewish tradition” establish Catholic belief? The “Jewish tradition” also believed that the Messiah would not come as a suffering servant but as a conquering king. Are you saying that we should have paid attention to that “tradition” and perhaps denied that the babe in Bethlehem actually was the Messiah? I don’t think so. Moreover, Ott already told you that the idea of Elijah coming-again was from “Jewry,” yet he put no stock in that interpretation.

M. Cameron 3: Jewish tradition does not establish Catholic belief, but it can shape it – particularly those Jewish traditions which were already known at the time of Christ. (Later Rabbinic traditions, of course, may be false traditions, some developed in direct opposition to Chritsianity.) The prediction of Elijah’s return before the coming of the Messiah was certainly known at the time of Our Lord. But John the Baptist explicitly denies being Elijah (John 1:21). The only way Matthew 17:11-12 can be interpreted consistently with John 1:21 is if 17:12 refers to John the Baptist as symbolically filling the role of Elijah, while Matt. 17:11 still refers to a return of Elijah still to come. The evidence is that the Church continued to look for the coming of Elijah (Revelations 11:3, the Gospel of Nicodemus, Augustine, Chrysostom, etc.)

R. Sungenis 3: Are you now deciding to argue the point from a “scientific” and “technical” exegesis of Scripture, Mark? If you want to get into such a contest, I’ll be happy to oblige you, but I find your above appeal to the exegesis of these texts to be quite ironic and hypocritical, since you seem to aver allowing the same analysis to Romans 11. This only shows that, when you think the “technical” interpretation is in your favor, you won’t hesitate to use it as an authority. As for your references, using Apoc 11:3 is certainly begging the question, is it not? The Gospel of Nicodemus is apocryphal. And Augustine and Chrysostom based their interpretation of Elijah on a faulty translation of the Hebrew text in the LXX.

Mark Cameron 2: Our Lord implies in Matthew 17:11-12 that there will be two comings of Elijah – a coming of the actual at the end of time to “restore all things”, but a figurative coming of Elijah in spirit in the form of John the Baptist. Cornelius a Lapide calls it a “Calvinist error” to believe that verses 11 and 12 both refer to John the Baptist.

R. Sungenis 2: Then I suppose Lapide would accuse Ludwig Ott of holding to a “Calvinist error.”

M. Cameron: Perhaps! As I’ve said, it’s not surprising that even as orthodox a scholar as Ott is influenced by his times in Germany in 1952 compared to Lapide writing at the height of the Counter-Reformation.

R. Sungenis 3: Oh, now you claim Ott was influenced by Nazis?? Come on, Mark, what is this? Are you stopping just short of calling Ott an anti-semite? This is the most ridiculous comment you have made in this whole discussion. Please don’t bring this issue down to this level, for you will completely turn me off to discussing it any longer with you.

Mark Cameron 2: Furthermore, awareness of the Hebrew text is no proof of accuracy. The LXX has an older textual tradition than the Masoretic text and many of the earlier Hebrew texts. The Church has always recognized the value of the Septuagint. It remains the official Old Testament text of the Greek Church, and the oldest Latin text, the vetus Itala, was a direct translation of the Septuagint. Jerome’s Vulgate borrowed from Hebrew texts to correct some errors in the Vetus Itala, but in other cases it was the Hebrew texts that were in error.

R. Sungenis 2: I’m afraid you have it exactly backwards, Mark. The Hebrew was the originally inspired text, meticulously copied by the Jews in Palestine, and that’s the reason we have a Masoretic text that is as good as it is. I suggest you read Ernst Wurthwein’s book “The Text of the Old Testament.” Here’s one section of his chapter on the comparison of the Septuagint to the Masoretic Text: “…today we recognize that the LXX neither was nor was intended to be a precise scholarly translation. Many other factors and interests played a part in its formation. An uncritical use of it which ignores these factors can only lead to false conclusions. In the following paragraphs a few basic considerations are noted, with the reminder that the LXX differs so greatly from book to book that no generalizations can be made with reservations. (a) If we are tempted to prefer the LXX to the Masoretic text as an older witness to the text, we should recall the unevenness of its own textual tradition. Whereas the consonantal text of the Masoretic Text has remained remarkably constant since the second century, the Septuagint manuscripts even centuries later have widely divergent texts…” (pp. 63-64).

The rest of the chapter adds much more information than I can put here.

In any case, the official translation of the Catholic Church, which resides only in the Latin Vulgate, does not have “Thesbite,” rather, it has “prophet,” just as the Hebrew text does, so whatever your opinion about the LXX, it has been trumped by the Church’s official translation, and that is what I will go by.

Mark Cameron 3: I don’t know why you are referring me to a conservative German Protestant scholar, who of course will argue for the superiority of the Rabbinic Hebrew text which the Protestant churches adopted as their canon in opposition to the Catholic Church. In fact, some Protestant scholars have argued that the Massoretic text is infallible. But as the Catholic Encyclopedia says: “The Septuagint is the most ancient translation of the Old Testament and consequently is invaluable to critics for understanding and correcting the Hebrew text (Massorah), the latter, such as it has come down to us, being the text established by the Massoretes in the sixth century A.D. Many textual corruptions, additions, omissions, or transpositions must have crept into the Hebrew text between the third and second centuries B.C. and the sixth and seventh centuries of our era; the manuscripts therefore which the Seventy had at their disposal, may in places have been better than the Massoretic manuscripts.”

R. Sungenis 3: That information was compiled long before the new evidence was found by Wurthwein and even Catholic scholars, such as Zerwick, Lyonnet, Sabourin, et al. But the most important fact that you are ignoring, Mark, is that the Catholic Church’s own official translation of Mal 4:2 DOES NOT HAVE the word “Thesbite,” it has “prophet,” and every Catholic English translation has “prophet,” not “Thesbite.” So you’re barking up the wrong tree, Mark. You can argue the superiority of the LXX in many cases, but you simply have no evidence of it in Mal 4:2, and that is the only passage we are discussing with a textual variant.

Mark Cameron 3: More recently, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been discovered – an earlier Hebrew text than the late Hellenistic / early medieval Massoretic version – and scholars have established that in many places the DSS agrees more closely with the LXX than the Massoretes.

R. Sungenis 3: But we’re not arguing about “many places.” We are arguing about Mal 4:2 only. If you have some evidence that “Thesbite” is the proper translation, and that all the Masoretic texts are wrong, and that Jerome was wrong, and that the Catholic Church was wrong in allowing Jerome to ignore the LXX in Mal 4:2, the please show me.

Mark Cameron 3: I am not arguing that one text or translation is “inspired” while the others are not, simply that we cannot make the assumption that the standard Hebrew text is the more accurate one. Furthermore, we must be open to God’s work through the Church in passing on truth. Inspiration doesn’t simply belong to the inspire authors, but to the Church which preserves and transmits the text from generation to generation.

R. Sungenis 3: If that is the case, Mark, then you just torpedoed your own ship, since the Church has decided to preserve “prophet” in Mal 4:2, not “Thesbite.”

Mark Cameron 2: A most important example is the LXX use of “parthenos” (virgin) in Isaiah 7:14 where the hebrew texts have “almah” (young woman). Was St. Matthew, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrong when he quoted the “inaccurate” Septuagint rather than the “accurate” Hebrew in applying this prophecy to the virgin birth of Our Lord?

R. Sungenis 3: This is quite an elementary mistake, Mark. The word almah appears seven times in the Hebrew Old Testament (cf., Gn 24:43; Ex 2:8; Ps 68:25; Pr 30:19; Sg 1:3; 6:8; Is 7:14). None of the passages suggest that almah refers to a woman who is married or has had sexual relations… The usage of almah in Pr 30:19 also refers to a virgin. In this passage, “the way of a man with a maid (almah),” who is assumed to be a virgin since she is unmarried, is contrasted in the next verse, Pr 30:20, with an “adulterous woman (isha)” who is understood as married but having sexual relations with other men…

Mark Cameron 3: Pr. 30:19 could be understood to imply sexual relations. Pr. 30:20 is not necessarily a contrast, but could be a parallel. In any case, the Septuagint translators got it right. Later Jewish translators (the Aquila version, etc.) and countless Jewish, liberal, and agnostic exegetes have argued that they got it wrong. Don’t you think this is a case of God working through the translators and the Church which preserved the texts, as well as the original prophet?

R. Sungenis 3: As for Prov 30:19-20, I’m not interested in “implications” or “could be’s.” If there is nothing definitive there for you, you don’t have an argument. Besides, you missed the most important argument, which is that Genesis 24 uses both almah and bethulah in the same context referring to the same person. As for the LXX, where does the Church teach that “God works through translators” in any direct way? The Church teaches God inspired the original Hebrew, and that the LXX may or may not be correct. I hope you don’t believe in the myth that God inspired the 72 translators of the LXX so that they all came out with the same version.

Mark Cameron 2: The point I am trying to make is that, regardless of whether Malachi originally wrote “Elijah the Tishbite” or “Elijah the prophet”, the Holy Spirit has often used the LX translations and the interpretive traditions of the Church to draw deeper meaning out of the passages than a clinical, literal analysis of the texts would suggest. If we are to really understand what this passage, or any other passage of Scripture, means in a prophetic sense, we have to go beyond parsing the Greek and Hebrew and study how the text has been received and understood in the tradition of the Church.

R. Sungenis 2: The Holy Spirit didn’t inspire the LXX, Mark, and neither did He inspire the Jewish interpretation of the passage. As for the “tradition of the Church,” the fact remains that Chrysostom did not know Hebrew, and therefore couldn’t even know what the original said. Jerome, which is the one key person representing our “tradition” in regards to judgments about the Hebrew and Greek texts, chose the word “prophet” and rejected the word “Thesbite.” THAT is our tradition, Mark, since every other person who followed in Church history used the Vulgate and read “Heliam prophetam” not “Elion ton Thesbiten.”

Mark Cameron 3: We have seen that the Glossa Ordinaria passed on the other version. And of course, every scholar in the Eastern Church would have continued to use the LXX.

R. Sungenis 3: Since when is the GO our authority, Mark? Did the Council of Trent authorize the GO or the Vulgate as our official translation? Did Leo tell us to go to the original Hebrew of the Old Testament or to prefer the LXX?

Mark Cameron 2: This is a general difficulty I have with your exegesis of Romans 11:25-27: you are very keen to show that the grammatical structure of the passage could support your interpretation of the text as denying that it refers to future end times events. But the question is not simply what the grammatical structure of the Greek suggests, but how the text is understood according to the analogia fidei.

R. Sungenis 2: As I explained quite thoroughly above in the analysis of all the “analogy of faith” you brought forward, it is a best equivocal.

Mark Cameron 3: It may be equivocal, in that there are minority views and there is the possibility of other interpretations, but it is a considerable harmony to this view. There is a harmony with other passages in the Old and new testaments, and a harmony of patristic witnesses. Interpretation according to the analogy of faith means interpreting texts harmoniously with each other, Church tradition, and Catholic doctrine. I believe that the interpretation of Romans 11:25-27 as implying a future conversion of the Jews at the end times is the most obvious way to read this passage in accordance with the analogy of faith.

R. Sungenis 3: You can “think” it all you want, Mark, but you haven’t proven it by any stretch of the imagination. There is much more speculation than there is “harmony” in the witnesses. For that matter, you haven’t even attempted to exegete the biblical text in any detail, rather, you just keep proof-texting Romans 11:25-27 as if just citing it is somehow going to prove your point.

Mark Cameron 2: That is why I put more “stock” in St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom’s exegesis according to the Church’s traditional understanding than I do in your exegesis based on strict attention to the Greek text.

R. Sungenis 2: Neither Augustine nor Chrysostom “exegeted” Romans 11:25-26. They simply referred to the text. Even at that, Augustine’s view is equivocal. As for my “exegesis based on strict attention to the Greek text,” you can dismiss it if you wish, Mark, but the Greek text is the inspired and inerrant word of God. Unless you can show a viable and provable alternative to the Greek text, then I’m afraid you don’t have much of a case.

Mark Cameron 3: As I have said, scientific exegesis – determining the original texts, parsing the grammar, etc., is a very modern way of reading Scripture.

R. Sungenis 3: I suggest you read Leo XIII’s encyclical on biblical interpretation before you start making your accusations about “modern way of reading Scripture,” Mark.

Mark Cameron 3: Traditionally, the Church has read Scripture with an eye to the allegorical meaning. And the “literal” meaning was not understood as a “literalist” interpretation, but as a surface level, common sense interpretation. A common sense interpretation of Romans 11:25-26 certainly sounds like all Israel being saved in 11:26 is an event that follows the fullness of the Gentiles coming in 11:25 chronologically.

Your strict construction of the grammar shows that there may be another possibility, but it hardly negates that surface level meaning that apparently almost everybody who has read this text for 2000 years has understood.

R. Sungenis 3: I don’t know what the “allegorical meaning” has to do with this discussion. As for “common sense interpretation of Romans 11:25-26″ that “certainly sounds like all Israel being saved,” if you claim that this is the plain reading of the text, then I will hold you to it. If you don’t believe “all Israel” refers to all the Jews from Abraham to the end of time who will be saved, but instead think that it refers to some future time at or near the end of time, then the plain reading of the text will also require you to interpret “all Israel” as referring to every last Jew in that future time period. “All” Israel does not mean a “vast majority” or a “significant amount,” or anything less than every Jew.

Apparently, the only one to see this requirement in a futuristic interpretation is Aquinas (yet Innocent III, Martin V disagreed with him). It is precisely because of this requirement that the futuristic view doesn’t make sense, since it requires an unprecedented conversion of Jews that was not even true when they were the apple of God’s eye in the OT! At no time in their history was their ever such a massive conversion. At each instance there was only a remnant who were saved. And the irony is that the interpretation that there will be such a massive conversion is all based on one obscure verse in Romans 11 that has several possible interpretations to its words. So if you want to go with the “common sense” or “plain sense” of the text, Mark, then please explain to me how you avoid the plain meaning of the word “all.” At least my interpretation is faithful to what that word means.

Mark Cameron 3: More generally, as Newman warns us, we run the risk of error if we rely overly on the literal sense of Scripture, which he saw infesting the Protestant Church of his day. In The Arians of the Fourth Century, Newman writes of the heresy ridden Church of Antioch:

“[T]he immediate source of that fertility in heresy, which is the unhappy distinction of the Syrian Church, was its celebrated Exegetical School. The history of that school is summed up in the broad characteristic fact, on the one hand that it devoted itself to the literal and critical interpretation of Scripture, and on the other that it gave rise first to the Arian and then to the Nestorian heresy. In all ages of the Church, her teachers have shown a disinclination to confine themselves to the mere literal interpretation of Scripture. Her most subtle and powerful method of proof, whether in ancient or modern times, is the mystical sense, which is so frequently used in doctrinal controversy as on many occasions to supersede any other. In the early centuries we find this method of interpretation to be the very ground for receiving as revealed the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Whether we betake ourselves to the Ante-Nicene writers or the Nicene, certain texts will meet us, which do not obviously refer to that doctrine, yet are put forward as palmary proofs of it. {405} On the other hand, if evidence be wanted of the connexion of heterodoxy and biblical criticism in that age, it is found in the fact that, not long after their contemporaneous appearance in Syria, they are found combined in the person of Theodore of Heraclea, so called from the place both of his birth and his bishoprick, an able commentator and an active enemy of St. Athanasius, though a Thracian unconnected except by sympathy with the Patriarchate of Antioch. The case had been the same in a still earlier age;-the Jews clung to the literal sense of the Old Testament and rejected the Gospel; the Christian Apologists proved its divinity by means of the allegorical. The formal connexion of this mode of interpretation with Christian theology is noticed by Porphyry, who speaks of Origen and others as borrowing it from heathen philosophy, both in explanation of the Old Testament and in defence of their own doctrine. It may almost be laid down as an historical fact that the mystical interpretation and orthodoxy will stand or fall together.”

In An Essay on the Development of Doctrine, Newman takes up the point again:

“[M]ystical interpretation of Holy Scripture… [is] one of the characteristic conditions or principles on which the teaching of the Church has ever proceeded.

[T]his has been the doctrine of all ages of the Church, as is shown by the disinclination of her teachers to confine themselves to the mere literal interpretation of Scripture. Her most subtle and powerful method of proof, whether in ancient or modern times, is the mystical sense, which is so frequently used in doctrinal controversy as on many occasions to supersede any other. Thus the Council of Trent appeals to the peace-offering spoken of in Malachi in proof of the Eucharistic Sacrifice; to the water and blood issuing from our Lord’s side, and to the mention of “waters” in the Apocalypse, in admonishing on the subject of the mixture of water with the wine in the Oblation. Thus Bellarmine defends Monastic celibacy by our Lord’s words in Matthew xix., and refers to ‘We went through fire and water;’ &c., in the Psalm, as an argument for Purgatory; and these, as is plain, are but specimens of a rule. Now, on turning to primitive controversy, we find this method of interpretation to be the very basis of the proof of the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Whether we betake ourselves to the Ante-Nicene writers or the Nicene, certain texts will meet us, which do not obviously refer to that doctrine, yet are put forward as palmary proofs of it. Such are, in respect of our Lord’s divinity, ‘My heart is inditing of a good matter,’ or ‘has burst forth with a good Word;’ ‘he Lord made’ or ‘possessed Me in the beginning of His ways;’ ‘I was with Him, in whom He delighted;’ ‘In Thy Light shall we see Light;’ ‘Who shall declare His generation?’ ‘She is the Breath of the Power of God;’ and ‘His Eternal Power and Godhead.’”

Be careful that in your grammatical parsing of the text and sticking to the strict literal sense that you don’t willy nilly throw out valuable Church traditions that have found apostolic teaching confirmed in apparently unrelated passages of Scripture.

R. Sungenis 3: After you read Pope Leo XIII’s treatise on interpreting Scripture in its “literal and obvious sense,” then also realize that I didn’t throw out any “valuable Church tradition,” since there isn’t one to speak of. When you have Aquinas saying “universal” and Pope Martin V says “remnant,” and Lapide saying “Elijah” and someone else saying “Enoch,” and a host of other divergent interpretations, you don’t have a unanimity, Mark, you have your own wishful thinking on this subject.

R. Sungenis 2: One final note, Mark, is that when it comes to prophecy, there really is no one view espoused by the Church. That is precisely why you see such a divergence of opinion and equivocation among even the witnesses you bring forward.

Mark Cameron 3: yes, I agree. There is no infallible interpretation of this text proposed as a de fide belief. There is a considerable witness in the tradition, however, to the interpretation of this text.

Robert Sungenis 2: Nevertheless, a universal conversion would simply be totally adverse to everything God has ever done with regard to Jews and Gentiles. Ever since the beginning of time, there have only been a percentage of the world’s people who have sought and remained with the Lord. From Abel and Noah, to the time Israel entered Canaan when only two of the original group that left Egypt remained faithful, to the time of David, there was only a remnant of Jews who believed, even in their glory years. God simply does not do “universal” conversions. He does not coerce people to believe in Him on massive scales or somehow bend the wills of all a particular people in spite of their obstinance. That has never been His way. The constant theme in Scripture is that only a remnant of people will turn to Him out of the free will God gave them.

St. Paul says the same of the Jews in Romans 11:23. He says: “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.”

Notice that their conversion is based on “IF they do not continue in their unbelief” God will graft them in. It is not that God somehow sprinkles some pixie dust on them so that all their wills are irresistibly drawn to God at some future time. Rather, the constant message of Scripture is that God is saving Jews who bend the knee to Him now, and has always been doing so, according to His promise to Abraham, and the sum total of all those will be the “all Israel” who is saved.

Mark Cameron 3: I would accept that this future conversion does not imply a loss of free will, or necessarily imply a unanimous conversion. But there have been large scale conversions of whole nations.

R. Sungenis 3: What you “accept” and what the text demands are apparently two different things. The text says “all Israel,” not some. If, as is the case, you see “all Israel” and figure that this must be something more than a remnant, then by what authority do you then retreat from the meaning of “all” that brought you beyond a remnant and then adopt a view that is somewhere between a remnant and all?? You see, Mark, you want your cake and eat it, too. You want to dismiss the remnant idea because you see the word “all,” but when someone presses you to take “all” to mean “all,” you suddenly develop an aversion and declare that “all” really doesn’t mean “all.” As for “large scale conversions of whole nations,” perhaps you can give me an example rather than just making an assertion. I personally don’t know of any. In any case, it never happened in Israel, not even in their glory days.

Mark Cameron 3: Furthermore, in the case of the Jews, we have the testimony that their hearts have been specially hardened by God. This leaves open the possibility that he could later soften their hearts so that they could recognize the Messiah they had missed. Elijah’s preaching may be the proximate cause of this conversion, which may be accompanied by a traumatic event, such as the persecutions of Antichrist leading many Jews to suddenly recognize who the real Christ was.

R. Sungenis 3: Romans 11:23 says that the hardening will cease when Israel stops their disbelief, not when God performs some kind of miraculous conversion. The only action God does is grafting them in again once they’ve turned to Him.

Mark Cameron 3: Now, I agree that there is no single, infallible interpretation of prophecy. I would also agree that there are ambiguities about this prophecy. (e.g. Will the conversion be accompanied by the return of Elijah? Will Elijah be accompanied by Enoch or Moses? Will all remaining Jews convert, or simply a sizeable “remnant of Israel”) If you accept my qualifications of this teaching, I hope that you will accept that the belief in a future conversion of the Jews as a sign of the end times is a common teaching well established in the tradition. I will agree with you that this teaching is not infallible and not entirely clear, if you will agree with me that the future conversion of the Jews was widely taught by the Fathers, the medievals, and later scholars.

R. Sungenis 3: I will agree that some type of conversion of the Jews was taught by some Fathers and some medievals, beyond that I offer you no qualifiers, since the testimony is much too equivocal and the conclusions much too varied.

Mark Cameron 3: The belief that in the end a “remnant will be saved” is one of the factors that has led many Popes to teach at least tolerance and respect for the Jews. The other factor is St. Augustine’s theology of Jewish witness – that the Jewish people continue to exist in order to testify by their existence, by their traditions, and by their Scriptures, to the truth of Christianity. If you are game to continue this conversation, I would like to suggest that Augustine’s theology of witness, rightly understood and stripped of medieval polemicism, can still be a useful way to understand the roles of Christianity and Judaism, and why we should respect the continuing presence of Judaism as being part of God’s plan, even if we do not believe that the Jewish covenant can save.

R. Sungenis 3: I agree with Augustine about why the Jews are still with us, but if you really want some “polemics” against the Jews as a race of people against Christianity, Mark, then you ought to read some of Augustine’s statements against the Jews. He certainly would not have agreed with your insistence that Judaism is somehow beneficial for Christianity. The same type of “polemics” were in the Fathers’ testimony about the Jews as was in the Middle Age theologians, for that is where they got it. I suggest you stop trying to make room for Judaism, Mark, for if you continue this line of thinking, you might someday be forced to accept “all” that Judaism has taught, including their repudiation of Jesus Christ that survives intact in their views to this present day. Until if and when Judaism repudiates their denial of the divinity and messiahship of Jesus Christ, I want little to do with them. If somehow you think that placating them with overtures toward the validity of Judaism is somehow going to soften them up, you are only fooling yourself. That is not the way the gospel is to be preached. The model is in Acts 3:12-26.

Thanks for the dialogue.

God be with you.

Robert Sungenis Apr. 17.03

The Fathers and the Return of the Jews

Salvation


The Fathers and the Return of the Jews

After reading the dialogue John Pacheco and Robert Sungenis were having on the Old Covenant Never Being Revoked, fellow traditionalist Mark Cameron decided to do a little research about what the patristic witness on this issue really is.

Part 2


Mark Cameron: First, Robert, I want to thank you for this dialogue. I am going to suggest a few ways in which we may be able to narrow our differences and come to a consensus. Then I would like to propose taking a step back and looking at the question of the relationship of the Church and the Jewish people in a broader context.

R. Sungenis: Mark, I understand why you might find Ott supporting your view, but let’s read what he says.

On page 486 he writes: “The conversion of the Jews: In Rom. 11:25-32, St. Paul reveals ‘the mystery’ : When the fullness, that is the number ordained by God, of the Gentiles has entered the kingdom of God ‘all Israel’ will be converted and saved. There is question of a morally universal conversion of the Jews.”

First, Ott is saying nothing different than what I have said. If you read my essay carefully, I maintain that “all Israel” will be saved when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.

Second, Ott offers no exegesis of the text, so we don’t know in which direction he is going. As I explained by using the context of Romans 11, God has been saving Jews, and will continue to save Jews, until the end of time. The sum total of all those Jews is “all Israel,” and thus it can be safely said, as God promised to Abraham, that all Israel will be saved, but whether this will be a massive conversion in the future is nowhere taught in Scripture, nor does Ott himself say so.

In fact, Ott says just the opposite. He says, “There is question of a morally universal conversion of the Jews.” In other words, he knows that there are people, such as yourself, who teach there will be a universal conversion, but to Ott that view is at best a “question.”

Mark Cameron: Yes, you do say “’all Israel’ will be saved when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in”, but you mean by this something quite different from what the Church has historically understood. You assert that “all Israel” means those Jews who are being converted at the present time, making a grammatical argument as to why “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” and “and so all Israel will be saved” should not be understood to be sequential events. But the witness of the Church’s understanding of this passage is that the salvation of all Israel will occur after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. Ott is referring to this conversion of the Jews as one of the signs of the Second Coming, so clearly he does mean something different than what you have said. He believes this conversion will occur after the fullness of the Gentiles have come in. The “question” is not when the event will occur, but the scope. Will it simply be a large-scale conversion of the Jews, or a “morally universal one.”

R. Sungenis: Third, let’s look at what Ott says about your Elijah theory. He writes:

“The    conversion of the Jewish people is frequently brought into a    causal connection with the coming-again of Elias, BUT WITHOUT    SUFFICIENT FOUNDATION. The Prophet Malachy announces:     ‘Behold, I will send you Elias the Prophet before the    coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he    shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the    heart of the children to their fathers: lest I come, and    strike the earth with anathema.’ Jewry understood the    passage as referring to a physical coming-again of Elias    (Ecclus 48:10) but erroneously placed it in the beginning of    the Messianic era, and saw in Elias a precursor of the    Messiah (John 1:21; Mt 16:14). Jesus confirms the coming of    Elias, but refers it to the appearance of John the Baptist;    of whom the Angel had foretold that he would go before the    Lord, that is, God in the spirit and in the power of Elias    (Luke 1:17): ‘He (John) is Elias, who (according to the    prophecy of the Prophet) is to come’ (Mt 11:14).     ‘But I say to you that Elias is already come: and they    knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they had a    mind (Mt 17:12; Mk 9:13). JESUS DOES NOT SPEAK EXPLICITLY OF    A FUTURE COMING OF ELIAS BEFORE THE GENERAL JUDGMENT,    PROBABLY NOT EVEN IN MT 17:11 (‘Elias indeed shall come    and restore all things’), in which the prophecy of    Malachias is simply reproduced. JESUS SEE IT ALREADY    FULFILLED IN THE APPEARANCE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (Mt.    17:12).”

As you can see, Mark, Ott agrees with my position. Obviously, Ott is aware of the few Fathers that said Elijah would come in the future, but he dismisses them as “without sufficient foundation,” as I do. Ott agrees that Jesus did not teach it either, but insists that Jesus taught that Elijah came figuratively in the person is John the Baptist.

Mark Cameron: I wouldn’t say that Ott agrees with your position entirely. He simply says that the contrary (traditional) interpretation is not proven. He says that the return of Elijah theory is “without sufficient foundation”, and asserts that Jesus does not “explicitly” speak of a future coming of Elijah, “probably not even in Matt. 17:11”. It seems to me that he leaves the Elijah theory as open, but not proven, and not as central to the tradition as what he has already asserted: that there will be an end times conversion of the Jews.


Mark Cameron: The Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, edited by Dom Bernard Orchard, 1953, says of Romans 11:25-32: “From the present, (verses) 1-24, St. Paul turns his attention to the future. The time will come when the present problem of Israel’s exclusion from the salvation of the Messias will cease to exist because of her conversion, which will follow the conversion of the Gentiles. The final conversion of Israel could not be known to St. Paul from any natural source…” It then goes on to argue that St. Paul deduces the “final conversion of Israel” from the permanence of God’s promises and prophecies, which promise the eventual salvation of Israel.

R. Sungenis: Again, we have the same problem. Orchard offers no exegesis of the very passage he is citing. He, as other commentators on this passage do without sufficient study, merely proof-text the passage, thinking that a mere citation of it proves their point. As I told John Pacheco, Orchard did not not address the Greek text of Romans 11, and thus he was oblivious to the fact that the passage could be saying the very opposite of what he claims it says. Until you offer a commentary that delves into the exegetical issues regarding Romans 11, then citing them really doesn’t offer any persuasive evidence.

Mark Cameron: I hadn’t read, or hadn’t noticed, John P’s earlier citation of Orchard in your debate, as I was focusing on your assertions about the Fathers, so I am coming anew to this issue. Reading your previous dialogue, I realize that you went beyond saying that Orchard didn’t offer exegesis of the passage to asserting that he was incapable of doing so, saying “The quote you have from Dom Orchard misses this, of course, since he didn’t know Greek,” and, regarding the issue of whether a definitive marker of the future tense is necessary in v. 27, “Orchard would not be able to catch this.”

Now this is absurd! Dom Bernard Orchard is one of the most important Catholic New Testament scholars of the 20th century. Among his many works are “A Synopsis of the Four Gospels in Greek.” You couldn’t even get a good degree from an English university without a good knowledge of Greek back when Dom Orchard started his career – let alone become the leading Catholic Biblical scholar.

I suggest that the reason that there is no detailed exegesis of this passage is that he did not think that the standard Catholic interpretation (first, the coming in of the fullness of the Gentiles, then, the conversion of the Jews) was in need of any defence in a commentary intended for a fairly general audience of priests and educated laity.

Mark Cameron: The more I search the Fathers, the broader the consensus seems to be. To add to the Augustine and Chrysostom quotes I found earlier, here are a few more:

Pope St. Gregory the Great, Moralia in Iob (Preface, X, 20): “After the loss of Job’s possessions, after all his bereavements, after all the suffering of his wounds, after all his angry debates, it is good that he is consoled by twofold repayment. In just this way does the holy church, while it is still in this world, receive twofold reward for the trials it sustains, when all the gentile nations have been brought into its midst, at the end of time, and the church converts even the hearts of the Jews to its cause. Thus it is written, ‘Until the fulness of nations enters and so all Israel is saved.’”

R. Sungenis: Again, Mark, this is vague at best. First, you’ll notice that Gregory does not cite any earlier patristic witness. In order for a massive conversion of Jews at the end of time to be the abiding view of the Church, there would have had to be an apostolic teaching that such was the case. As it stands, none of the early Fathers speak of such a massive conversion in the distant future, let alone say they received such teaching from the apostles.

Second, Gregory offers no exegesis of the crucial phrases in the Romans 11 text (e.g., “fullness of the Gentiles,” “so all Israel is saved”).

Third, Gregory does not specify a massive conversion of Jews, and thus there is nothing that departs from the stipulation in Romans 11 that a “remnant” of Jews will be saved, either now or in the future.


M. Cameron: Gregory didn’t need to cite earlier witnesses because this was so well known. It is featured prominently in St. Augustine’s City of God, one of the most widely read books in Latin Christendom, where it is already referred to as a common belief among the faithful. He offers no exegesis because, again, he didn’t feel he had to (and, as I will discuss below, modern scientific exegesis, textual criticism, etc. was unknown to the Fathers). I do think you make a valid third point, however. There is a tension between the suggestion that “a remnant” will be saved and “all Israel” will be saved. Is “all Israel” all the Jews living in the end times, or simply a remnant – presumably a large, significant group, but not necessarily the entire Jewish people? This is why Ott says that there is a “question” about a morally universal conversion. Some texts refer to a universal conversion of the Jews, but other important texts refer to a remnant being saved in the last days.

R. Sungenis: My contention is that your view actually LIMITS the salvation of the Jews, since your view is so fixated on a mass future conversion that you minimize the salvation of the Jews in the present time and since Pentecost. Your view is that God is not already doing a work among the Jews, but is reserving that for some obscure moment at the end of time. But, as the passages from Luke and other citations show, that is not what the New Testament predicts. All those passages speak of God coming to the Jews at the First Coming of Christ, and that is why 3,000 Jews and Gentiles converted on Pentecost Day, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy that God would send the Redeemer to them from Zion, as I pointed out in Luke 1:68-79. On the other hand, you have no passage, other than your personal interpretation of Romans 11:25-26, to support your claim of a massive conversion in the future, a passage that not even the person you cited (Ott) sees as proof.

Mark Cameron: I disagree with this. There have always been Jewish converts to the faith. In recent times, one thinks of St. Edith Stein, former chief rabbi of Rome Eugenio Zolli, doctor and writer Karl Stern, Cardinal Lustiger, author Rhonda Chervin, columnist Robert Novak, former abortionist turned pro-life leader Dr. Bernard Nathanson, etc. Of course God is doing a work among the Jews. But the fact is, Jewish conversions have always been a trickle, not a flood. There has never been a mass conversion of the Jewish people as there was of the Roman Empire, the Franks, the Irish, the English, the Germans, the Goans, the Filipinos, etc. It is passing strange that the people who have been most prepared for the Gospel, heirs of over 1000 years of prophecy pointing towards it, have been among the least receptive to it. What Scripture and Tradition tell us is that this is deliberately the case. God has hardened the hearts of the Jewish people, in part for their rejection of Christ, but also in part because the continued existence of the Jewish people and faith is a witness to many of the truths of Christianity, and because of God’s plan of ultimate redemption for the Jewish nation at the end of time. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t encourage Jewish conversion, but that we shouldn’t necessarily expect it on a large scale, and certainly shouldn’t coerce it. The continued existence of Judaism is part of God’s plan of salvation, something which is not the case for any other religion.


Mark Cameron: Now, before going on the Medievals, I have to note that the statements you made regarding the view of the fathers were quite unequivocal. “The consensus among the early Fathers is that there is no divinely mandated future glory for national Israel” I agree that there is no divinely predicted glory for a future state of Israel, but there is assuredly a consensus prediction of the conversion of the Jews. You say, “There are only a few personalities who even address the issue of Israel in the future,” and quote seven, adding “only two Fathers hold out for any future large restoration of faith in Israel.” This suggests that you have searched long and hard to see what the Fathers have had to say about this topic, and found only a few quotes, mostly arguing against a future conversion.

Yet with just a little bit of searching around, I have found four more quotes you had missed. (Indeed, I found several others, but not as directly pertinent as the ones I have given).

R. Sungenis: Mark, in reality, this is what you have found: (1) two commentators, one of which disagrees with your view of Elijah and reserves a universal conversion of Jews as a “question,” while the other commentator offers no exegesis of Romans 11 to support his conclusion. (2) You offered the view of Chrysostom, which as I said in my last view, bases his conclusion on a uninspired translation of Malachi 4:5, as does John Damascene, and both of which go against Jerome’s translation. (3) You offered Gregory, but as you can see, he does not offer any patristic support or Scriptural exegesis to back up his view. (4) You offered Augustine, but at best Augustine’s view is equivocal, since he says opposite things in different places. Even Augustine does not cite patristic witness to support even his more positive statements, and even his positive statement lends itself to being interpreted in more than one way.

Further, even if I were to accept Augustine, Chrysostom, Gregory and John Damascene as witnesses, this DOES NOT represent a “consensus” of Fathers. A “consensus” of Fathers is the “unanimous consent of the Fathers.” It means that, except for a few detractors, ALL the Fathers took the same view. Pope Leo XIII taught in Providentissimus Deus that, unless the Fathers all took the same view, we were not bound to accept them. For example, most of the Fathers took the view that the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6 were angels who had sex with women. Alexander of Alexandria, Chrysostom and Augustine disagreed, and said that it referred to the godly line of Seth. Although in the minority, the view opting for “godly line of Seth” is the one most accepted by the Church today.

M. Cameron: The point is, even if it is not a total consensus, which would be a sign of infallible teaching, there is a strong patristic tendency to interpret Romans 11:25-27 as implying a future conversion of the Jews. You has argued that there was a consensus against this view, which there clearly is not. Since my last reply, John Loughnan pointed me towards a whole series of additional patristic quotes in favour of this view. Fr. Augustin Lemann, himself a Jewish convert of the late 19th century, records, in addition to St. Augustine, the following patristic witnesses to this tradition: Tertullian, L. V, contra Marcion, Chap.IX ; Origen, Sixth Homily on the Book of Numbers, towards the end. St. Hilary, Commentary on Psalm 58 ; St. Ambrose, Book about the Patriarch Joseph. St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Chap. XI; St. Jerome, Commentary on Micheas, Chap. II; Commentary on Malachias, Chap. III, etc.; St Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on Genesis, Book, V, etc.; St. Prosper of Aquitaine, The Calling of the Gentiles, Book I, Chap. XXI. Cassiodorus, Commentary on Psalm 102; Preniasius, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Chap.XI. St. Gregory the Great, Liber Moralium, lib. II, etc.; St. Isidore, Book about the Calling of the Gentiles, Chap. V. Now, we have discussed several of these Fathers before, but Tertullian, Origen (who you had quoted as ambivalent on the identity of “all Israel”), Ambrose, Prosper, Cassiodorus, Preniasus, and Isidore are new additions to the list. The only one of these quotes I could find on line was Tertullian – the earliest witness to this tradition: “Christ is the proper and legitimate High Priest of God. He is the Pontiff of the priesthood of the uncircumcision, constituted such, even then, for the Gentiles, by whom He was to be more fully received, although at His last coming He will favour with His acceptance and blessing the circumcision also, even the race of Abraham, which by and by is to acknowledge Him.” Tertullian, L. V, contra Marcion, Chap.IX

It is significant that Tertullian writes about this in his critique of the Marcionites, who attempted to throw out the Old Testament on the grounds that the Jewish religion was utterly worthless to Christians. Tertullian argues at length how a knowledge of Jewish law, traditions, liturgy, and Scriptures are essential as witness to Christian truth.

There is a fuller version of the quote from Cyril of Alexandria, which we already had seen, that makes its importance even more explicit:

‘Towards the    end of time, Our Lord Jesus Christ will effect the    reconciliation of His former persecutor Israel with Himself.    Everybody who knows Holy Scripture is aware that, in the    course of time, this people will return to the love of Christ    by the submission of faith … Yes, one day, after the    conversion of the Gentiles, Israel will be converted, and the    Jews will be astonished at the treasure they will find in    Christ.’

It would be interesting to go back and dig up these other quotes (and the references in the other lists from Cornelius a Lapide, etc.), but the fact is there are many patristic witnesses to this tradition, and a significant number to the return of Elijah tradition as well.

Here, however, is the kicker. Lemann’s work is quoted by a priest who you yourself have quoted as “the expert on Catholic/Jewish relations” and “a man who was totally dedicated to our Catholic traditions,” Fr. Dennis Fahey in The Kingship of Christ and The Conversion of The Jewish Nation.

Fr. Fahey concludes his citation of these sources with this:

“The    conversion of the Jewish people to the True Supernatural    Messias is, therefore, certain, in spite of the overwhelming    evidence of uncompromising hostility to Him on their part at    the present time. Their conversion will be a glorious triumph    for the Immaculate Heart of Mary. It will be a special source    of exultation for Her, when Her own people will at last    acclaim Her Divine Son as their King and welcome as their    Queen Her who is their Sister according to the flesh, and who    so ardently desires to be their Mother according to the    Divine Life of Grace. She will then be able to pour forth    anew the heartfelt thanksgiving of Her Magnificat: ‘He    hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy:    as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for    ever.’”

Now, I strongly disagree with Fr. Fahey on many points. I think his conflation of Orthodox Judaism with Masonic and socialist revolutionism in his notion of “Jewish naturalism” is grossly wrong. There is a huge difference between Orthodox Jews, living according to the Torah and Jewish tradition, and the many Jews who have left their faith for liberalism and secularism. Fahey sees them all as part of the same vast Hebraic conspiracy.

I agree with Hilaire Belloc on this point when he says, “We are asked to believe that this political upheaval [the Bolshevik revolution by which the Jews got control of Russia] was part of one highly organised plot centuries old the agents of which were millions of human beings all pledged to the destruction of our society and acting in complete discipline under a few leaders superhumanly wise. The thing is nonsense on the face of it. Men have no capacity for acting in this fashion . . . moreover the motive is completely lacking. Why merely destroy, and why, if your object is merely to destroy, manifest wide differences in your aims?… The conception of a vast age-long plot, culminating in the contemporary Russian affair, will not hold water.”

However, there is no question that Fr. Fahey spent a great deal of time (some would suggest too much time) studying the Jewish question. He was one of the most negative Catholics of the twentieth century in his view of the Jews. And yet he was an ardent defender of the Church’s traditional belief in the eventual conversion of the Jews at the last times.

Now let’s go on again to the medievals.


Mark Cameron: The 10th century French Abbot Adso wrote a treatise of the Antichrist that became very influential in the Middle Ages. In it he wrote:

“Lest the    Antichrist come suddenly and without warning and deceive and    destroy the whole human race by his error, before his arrival    the two great prophets Enoch and Elijah will be sent into the    world. They will defend God’s faithful against the attack of    the Antichrist with divine arms and will instruct, comfort,    and prepare the elect for battle with three and a half years    teaching and preaching. These two very great prophets and    teachers will convert the sons of Israel who will live in    that time to the faith, and they will make their belief    unconquerable among the elect in the face of the affliction    of so great a storm. At that time what scripture says will be    fulfilled ‘If the number of sons of Israel be like the    sand of the sea, their remnant will be saved’.”

R. Sungenis: The problem here, Mark, is that the abbot has misread the passage. There are only two passages in Scripture that have these elements, Isaiah 10:22 and Romans 9:27. Isaiah 10:22 reads: O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. Romans 9:27 quotes from Isaiah 10:22. But you’ll notice that neither passage predicts a massive conversion of the Jews, but only what I’ve been saying all along – that only a “remnant” will be saved.

M. Cameron: This gets back to what I said earlier about a tension between “all Israel” meaning “all the Jews” or “a remnant of the Jewish nation” being saved at the end of time. I think the tradition is close to unanimous that this refers to future events, but is not as clear as to the scale of the future conversion. I have found several other important medieval passages that refer to a remnant of the Jews being saved in the end times.


M. Cameron: St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a Commentary on Epistle to the Romans, in which he wrote: “The blindness of the Jews will endure until the fullness of the gentiles have accepted the faith. And this is in accord with what the Apostle says below about the salvation of the Jews, namely, that after the fullness of the nations have entered, ‘all Israel will be saved’, not individually as at present, but universally.” He goes on to make it clear that he is referring here to “the conversion of the Jews at the end of the world.”

R. Sungenis: Thomas has every right to h

is opinion, just as he did with the Immaculate Conception, but that fact is he offers no exegesis or patristic support for the idea of a “universal” conversion. In fact, he is the first to use the word “universal,” and thus, it is quite unprecedented.

M. Cameron: There is a big difference between St. Thomas’ views on the Immaculate Conception, where he was not followed by the Church, and this issue where he is speaking consistently with what the Fathers and Doctors said before him and after him. I would agree that while many of the earlier quotes seemed to speak of generally all the Jews living at the end times, St. Thomas does appear to be the first to specify a universal conversion.


Mark Cameron: Moving on to the Counter Reformation era, the great Jesuit apologist St. Robert Bellarmine writes in De Summo Pontifice (I, 3) about “the coming of Enoch and Elias, who live even now and shall live until they come to oppose Antichrist himself, and to preserve the elect in the faith of Christ, and in the end shall convert the Jews, and it is certain that this is not yet fulfilled.”

R. Sungenis: First, if this concept is being based on Scripture, as most of them do in reference to Romans 11:25-26, then where is the Scripture that says Enoch is going to return to earth to convert the Jews? There is no such passage in Scripture. Enoch is mention only in Hebrews 11:5 and Jude 1:14 (outside of his OT references), but neither of them speak of him returning. Second, Bellarmine cites no Scripture, nor any patristic witness, to back up the claim.

The only place in Scripture that even remotely suggests something along these lines is Apocalypse 11:5-6, which reads: “And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.”

The problem with this, however, is that the passage does not specifically name Enoch or Elijah. Elijah is sometimes associated with the passage only because he once prayed that it would not rain in Israel (James 5:17-18). But Enoch is not even alluded to, since there is no such action he performed during his lifetime. This is why Enoch is sometimes left out of the predictions (as is the case with Venerable Bede). The only other personage that could fill the description is Moses, since Exodus records him as turning water into blood, yet curiously, none of the aforementioned interpreters mention Moses as a possibility, even though he fits the description better than Enoch.

So what you have, Mark, is a confusing assortment of ideas, with little, if any, Scriptural backing, and that from the very people who claim to be getting their ideas from Scripture, not Tradition. In addition, the Apocalypse is a highly symbolic treatise, especially Chapter 11, of which many exegetes have seen as a symbolic representation of the Church preaching the gospel during the New Testament era, signified by the “two-by-two” formula used in the passage (cf., Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1; 2 Cor 13:1; Eph 2:15; 1 Cor 14:29).

Mark Cameron: Whether Enoch and Elijah are the “two witnesses” is a bit of a side issue. There is fairly universal consensus that Elijah is one of the. The scriptural basis for this is that Hebrews 9:27 says it is appointed for all men once to die. The only men who never died in Scripture are Elijah and Enoch. Enoch was known as a prophet of the Apocalypse, and Jude 1:14 quotes from the apocryphal Book of Enoch, “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, behold the LORD cometh with ten thousands of his saints.” So, it would not be surprising to see Enoch return in an end times context. The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (4th century) has Enoch say the following: “I am Enoch who pleased God, and was translated by him. And this is Elijah the Tishbite. We are also to live to the end of the age; but then we are about to be sent by God to resist Antichrist, and be slain by him, and to rise after three days, and to be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord.” While of course this is not canonical, this does show that the early Church saw Enoch and Elijah reflected in this passage.

I will admit that the Fathers are reading Elijah and Enoch in to their understanding of these passages, but as I will argue below, this searching for symbolic meanings is essential to the Catholic understanding of Scripture.


Mark Cameron: Writing on Matthew 17:11-12 (“Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.”), Lapide says that Elias will: “Restore all things: that is, convert the Jews to Christ as the Messiah promised to themselves and there forefathers.”

He goes on to say that: “Falsely do the Calvinists refer all these things to the first Advent of Christ, and explain both mentions of Elias – viz., in verses 11 and 12 – to mean John the Baptist. For they think that Elias, whom Malachi predicted shall come as the precursor of Christ (Mal. 4:5), is John the Baptist, and there is no other who shall come with Enoch before Christ’s second Advent…”

R. Sungenis: If that is the case, Mark, then why would Ott say that such a view was erroneous?

M. Cameron: Ott doesn’t say this view is erroneous, just not sufficiently proven. Clearly, by 1952 in Germany, even in orthodox Catholic circles, the taste for symbolic, prophetic interpretations of Scripture had diminished. Lapide might well have accused Ott of following Calvinist error (at least in this one instance).


Mark Cameron: Writing on Matthew 23:37-39 (“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”), Lapide writes:

“It is    possible that this passage may be understood of the Jews, who    about the end of the world shall be converted to Christ by    the preaching of Elias, and who, when He shall presently come    to judgment, will acknowledge Him to be the Messiah, the    Blessed of the Lord.”

R. Sungenis: Mark, did you catch the words “It is possible” in the first part of his sentence? Obviously, Lapide is not offering this as the definitive interpretation for the Church. He is smart enough to know that all this is quite speculative, since there is very little information to go on. And since he, as you already admitted, equivocates between a literal and spiritual interpretation, he certainly isn’t the definitive witness you are looking for. And again, notice that he leaves out Enoch. I think this lack of conviction is even more significant in the case of Lapide, since of all the medievals, he would be the one person who would know what the patristic and medieval consensus was, since he catalogued most of it.

M. Cameron: Lapide is hardly dismissing this interpretation. He has already said explicitly that he expects the return of Elijah to convert the Jews in his discussion of Matthew 17 and Romans 11. The only question in his interpretation of Matthew 23 is whether this is yet additional support for this view.


Mark Cameron: In summary, it looks to me like the vast majority of the Fathers, the Medievals the and Counter-Reformation doctors, and recent pre-Vatican II exegetes are all in agreement about a conversion of the Jews before the end of the world (possibly converted by the preaching of Elijah and Enoch as prophesied in Malachi and Revelations) as a sign of Christ’s coming.

With St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. John Chrysostom, the Venerable Bede, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, and Cornelius a Lapide on my side of the argument, and having shown that all but one of your quotes are from one modern source that gives only snippets of the Fathers, I think the onus of showing that the Fathers and Doctors did not believe in a future mass conversion of the Jews now falls on you.

My other question is, given the broad consensus I have found in Catholic sources saying that there will be such a future conversion of Jews to the faith, some from sources that you must have seen before in your wide reading, why are you so keen to deny this teaching? I do not claim that belief in the future conversion of the Jews, or a future coming of Elijah before the Second Coming, for that matter, are de fide teaching. But they certainly seem to represent the consensus of two millennia of Catholic exegesis. What is the purpose in trying to deny this?

R. Sungenis: You don’t have a “broad consensus,” you have merely a half dozen or so citations, many of which are equivocal, all of which offer no exegesis, little of which cite early patristic support for their view, some of which can be taken in

a spiritual as well as literal sense, many of which leave out crucial details (e.g., Enoch), all of which have only the obscure passage of Romans 11:25-26 as their Scriptural base; all of which base their view on the highly symbolic passage in Apocalypse 11:5-6; many of which ignore those against their view; and all who are summed up by one of our greatest theologian/historians as holding a “questionable” view of universal conversion of Jews, and an erroneous view of Elijah, namely, Ludwig Ott.

M. Cameron: Let me add a few more medieval and later sources to our “vast cloud of witnesses” on this issue. Father Lemann, who I cited above, cites the following:

Venerable    Bede, Commentary on Psalm 58, etc.     St. Anselm, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Chap. II    ;     St. Peter Damian, Sermon 66.     St. Bernard, Letter 363     St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans,    Chapter XI, 4     Suarez, Sermon 66

We have already seen St. Bede and St. Thomas, but Sts. Anselm, Peter Damian, Bernard, and the theologian Suarez are new sources to check. In my own further researches, I have come across several more.

The Glossa Ordinaria, the primary medieval source book for Sriptural interpretation, which reflects the consensus of Western Fathers like Augustine and Jerome, says this of Romans 11:27: “Hoc erit in fine quando prædicatione Eliæ et Enoch convertentur Judæi, unde per Malachiam: Mittam vobis Eliam Thesbitem qui convertet corda patrum ad filios, et corda filiorum ad patrem (Mal. IV); ut intelligant filii ut patres, id est ut prophetæ intellexerunt.”

My freehand translation: “This is the prediction that in the end Elias and Enoch will convert the Jews, as Malachi says, ‘I will send you Elias the Tishbite who will convert the hearts of the father to the sons and the sons to the father, (Mal. IV)” (Note Enoch gets included here.)

Pope Innocent III, in a quite negative letter about the Jews to the Kings of France and Germany Regi Francorum, nonetheless prefaces it by saying that it is “not displeasing to the Lord, but rather, acceptable to Him that the Dispersion of the Jews should live and do service under Catholic Kings and Christian princes – the remnants of which then will finally be saved (Romans 9:3-24), since in those days Judah will be saved (Jeremiah 33:6-26) and Israel will dwell in mutual trust.”

(Notice that this great Pope applies Jeremiah’s prophecy of restoration to the Jewish nation in the future, not solely to the first coming or to the Church.)

Gregory IX and Martin V also use this formula of predicting a future “remnant will be saved”:

“Whereas    the Jews are made to the image of God, and a remnant of them    will one day be saved, and whereas they have sought our    protection: following in the footsteps of our predecessors We    command that they be not molested in their synagogues; that    their laws, rights and customs be not assailed; that they be    not baptized by force, constrained to observe Christian    festivals, nor to wear new badges, and that they be not    hindered in their business relations with Christians.”     Martin V, Declaration on the Protection of the Jews, 1419

This view – the eventual salvation of the Jews (or at least of a remnant at the end times) is hardly a minority position, but so standard that it features in the basic scriptural aid of the medieval church, and papal bulls.

R. Sungenis: I have been known to be wrong at times, and I am open to being disproven on anything I say. But considering the less than definitive evidence you’ve brought forth, I don’t feel persuaded to change my view. At best it is an open question. Also, the fact that you didn’t interact with any of the exegesis I brought forth in my last post, but relied solely on somewhat equivocal and unclear references from various Fathers and Medievals, there is little I find compelling.

M. Cameron: What I am asking you to consider is that there are more important issues than scientific exegesis of passages. The reception of scripture in the Church should take priority over a technical interpretation of what the literal Greek or Hebrew of a text reads.


Mark Cameron: Just as a P.S. to my previous reply, I want to address this specific issue. Chrysostom and Augsutine were not “confused” about the return of Elijah because of their reliance on the LXX. They looked for a return of Elijah in the flesh because Jewish tradition had long predicted it.

R. Sungenis: How does “Jewish tradition” establish Catholic belief? The “Jewish tradition” also believed that the Messiah would not come as a suffering servant but as a conquering king. Are you saying that we should have paid attention to that “tradition” and perhaps denied that the babe in Bethlehem actually was the Messiah? I don’t think so. Moreover, Ott already told you that the idea of Elijah coming-again was from “Jewry,” yet he put no stock in that interpretation.

M. Cameron: Jewish tradition does not establish Catholic belief, but it can shape it – particularly those Jewish traditions which were already known at the time of Christ. (Later Rabbinic traditions, of course, may be false traditions, some developed in direct opposition to Chritsianity.) The prediction of Elijah’s return before the coming of the Messiah was certainly known at the time of Our Lord. But John the Baptist explicitly denies being Elijah (John 1:21). The only way Matthew 17:11-12 can be interpreted consistently with John 1:21 is if 17:12 refers to John the Baptist as symbolically filling the role of Elijah, while Matt. 17:11 still refers to a return of Elijah still to come. The evidence is that the Church continued to look for the coming of Elijah (Revelations 11:3, the Gospel of Nicodemus, Augustine, Chrysostom, etc.)


Mark Cameron: Our Lord implies in Matthew 17:11-12 that there will be two comings of Elijah – a coming of the actual at the end of time to “restore all things”, but a figurative coming of Elijah in spirit in the form of John the Baptist. Cornelius a Lapide calls it a “Calvinist error” to believe that verses 11 and 12 both refer to John the Baptist.

R. Sungenis: Then I suppose Lapide would accuse Ludwig Ott of holding to a “Calvinist error.”

M. Cameron: Perhaps! As I’ve said, it’s not surprising that even as orthodox a scholar as Ott is influenced by his times in Germany in 1952 compared to Lapide writing at the height of the Counter-Reformation.


Mark Cameron: Furthermore, awareness of the Hebrew text is no proof of accuracy. The LXX has an older textual tradition than the Masoretic text and many of the earlier Hebrew texts. The Church has always recognized the value of the Septuagint. It remains the official Old Testament text of the Greek Church, and the oldest Latin text, the vetus Itala, was a direct translation of the Septuagint. Jerome’s Vulgate borrowed from Hebrew texts to correct some errors in the Vetus Itala, but in other cases it was the Hebrew texts that were in error.

R. Sungenis: I’m afraid you have it exactly backwards, Mark. The Hebrew was the originally inspired text, meticulously copied by the Jews in Palestine, and that’s the reason we have a Masoretic text that is as good as it is. I suggest you read Ernst Wurthwein’s book “The Text of the Old Testament.” Here’s one section of his chapter on the comparison of the Septuagint to the Masoretic Text: “…today we recognize that the LXX neither was nor was intended to be a precise scholarly translation. Many other factors and interests played a part in its formation. An uncritical use of it which ignores these factors can only lead to false conclusions. In the following paragraphs a few basic considerations are noted, with the reminder that the LXX differs so greatly from book to book that no generalizations can be made with reservations. (a) If we are tempted to prefer the LXX to the Masoretic text as an older witness to the text, we should recall the unevenness of its own textual tradition. Whereas the consonantal text of the Masoretic Text has remained remarkably constant since the second century, the Septuagint manuscripts even centuries later have widely divergent texts…” (pp. 63-64).

The rest of the chapter adds much more information than I can put here.

In any case, the official translation of the Catholic Church, which resides only in the Latin Vulgate, does not have “Thesbite,” rather, it has “prophet,” just as the Hebrew text does, so whatever your opinion about the LXX, it has been trumped by the Church’s official translation, and that is what I will go by.

Mark Cameron: I don’t know why you are referring me to a conservative German Protestant scholar, who of course will argue for the superiority of the Rabbinic Hebrew text which the Protestant churches adopted as their canon in opposition to the Catholic Church. In fact, some Protestant scholars have argued that the Massoretic text is infallible. But as the Catholic Encyclopedia says: “The Septuagint is the most ancient translation of the Old Testament and consequently is invaluable to critics for understanding and correcting the Hebrew text (Massorah), the latter, such as it has come down to us, being the text established by the Massoretes in the sixth century A.D. Many textual corruptions, additions, omissions, or transpositions must have crept into the Hebrew text between the third and second centuries B.C. and the sixth and seventh centuries of our era; the manuscripts therefore which the Seventy had at their disposal, may in places have been better than the Massoretic manuscripts.”

More recently, the Dead Sea Scrolls have been discovered – an earlier Hebrew text than the late Hellenistic / early medieval Massoretic version – and scholars have established that in many places the DSS agrees more closely with the LXX than the Massoretes.

I am not arguing that one text or translation is “inspired” while the others are not, simply that we cannot make the assumption that the standard Hebrew text is the more accurate one. Furthermore, we must be open to God’s work through the Church in passing on truth. Inspiration doesn’t simply belong to the inspire authors, but to the Church which preserves and transmits the text from generation to generation.


Mark Cameron: A most important example is the LXX use of “parthenos” (virgin) in Isaiah 7:14 where the hebrew texts have “almah” (young woman). Was St. Matthew, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrong when he quoted the “inaccurate” Septuagint rather than the “accurate” Hebrew in applying this prophecy to the virgin birth of Our Lord?

R. Sungenis: This is quite an elementary mistake, Mark. The word almah appears seven times in the Hebrew Old Testament (cf., Gn 24:43; Ex 2:8; Ps 68:25; Pr 30:19; Sg 1:3; 6:8; Is 7:14). None of the passages suggest that almah refers to a woman who is married or has had sexual relations… The usage of almah in Pr 30:19 also refers to a virgin. In this passage, “the way of a man with a maid (almah),” who is assumed to be a virgin since she is unmarried, is contrasted in the next verse, Pr 30:20, with an “adulterous woman (isha)” who is understood as married but having sexual relations with other men…

Mark Cameron: Pr. 30:19 could be understood to imply sexual relations. Pr. 30:20 is not necessarily a contrast, but could be a parallel. In any case, the Septuagint translators got it right. Later Jewish translators (the Aquila version, etc.) and countless Jewish, liberal, and agnostic exegetes have argued that they got it wrong. Don’t you think this is a case of God working through the translators and the Church which preserved the texts, as well as the original prophet?


Mark Cameron: The point I am trying to make is that, regardless of whether Malachi originally wrote “Elijah the Tishbite” or “Elijah the prophet”, the Holy Spirit has often used the LX translations and the interpretive traditions of the Church to draw deeper meaning out of the passages than a clinical, literal analysis of the texts would suggest. If we are to really understand what this passage, or any other passage of Scripture, means in a prophetic sense, we have to go beyond parsing the Greek and Hebrew and study how the text has been received and understood in the tradition of the Church.

R. Sungenis: The Holy Spirit didn’t inspire the LXX, Mark, and neither did He inspire the Jewish interpretation of the passage. As for the “tradition of the Church,” the fact remains that Chrysostom did not know Hebrew, and therefore couldn’t even know what the original said. Jerome, which is the one key person representing our “tradition” in regards to judgments about the Hebrew and Greek texts, chose the word “prophet” and rejected the word “Thesbite.” THAT is our tradition, Mark, since every other person who followed in Church history used the Vulgate and read “Heliam prophetam” not “Elion ton Thesbiten.”

Mark Cameron: We have seen that the Glossa Ordinaria passed on the other version. And of course, every scholar in the Eastern Church would have continued to use the LXX.


Mark Cameron: This is a general difficulty I have with your exegesis of Romans 11:25-27: you are very keen to show that the grammatical structure of the passage could support your interpretation of the text as denying that it refers to future end times events. But the question is not simply what the grammatical structure of the Greek suggests, but how the text is understood according to the analogia fidei.

R. Sungenis: As I explained quite thoroughly above in the analysis of all the “analogy of faith” you brought forward, it is a best equivocal.

Mark Cameron: It may be equivocal, in that there are minority views and there is the possibility of other interpretations, but it is a considerable harmony to this view. There is a harmony with other passages in the Old and new testaments, and a harmony of patristic witnesses. Interpretation according to the analogy of faith means interpreting texts harmoniously with each other, Church tradition, and Catholic doctrine. I believe that the interpretation of Romans 11:25-27 as implying a future conversion of the Jews at the end times is the most obvious way to read this passage in accordance with the analogy of faith.

Mark Cameron: That is why I put more “stock” in St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom’s exegesis according to the Church’s traditional understanding than I do in your exegesis based on strict attention to the Greek text.

R. Sungenis: Neither Augustine nor Chrysostom “exegeted” Romans 11:25-26. They simply referred to the text. Even at that, Augustine’s view is equivocal. As for my “exegesis based on strict attention to the Greek text,” you can dismiss it if you wish, Mark, but the Greek text is the inspired and inerrant word of God. Unless you can show a viable and provable alternative to the Greek text, then I’m afraid you don’t have much of a case.

Mark Cameron: As I have said, scientific exegesis – determining the original texts, parsing the grammar, etc., is a very modern way of reading Scripture. Traditionally, the Church has read Scripture with an eye to the allegorical meaning. And the “literal” meaning was not understood as a “literalist” interpretation, but as a surface level, common sense interpretation. A common sense interpretation of Romans 11:25-26 certainly sounds like all Israel being saved in 11:26 is an event that follows the fullness of the Gentiles coming in 11:25 chronologically. Your strict construction of the grammar shows that there may be another possibility, but it hardly negates that surface level meaning that apparently almost everybody who has read this text for 2000 years has understood.

More generally, as Newman warns us, we run the risk of error if we rely overly on the literal sense of Scripture, which he saw infesting the Protestant Church of his day. In The Arians of the Fourth Century, Newman writes of the heresy ridden Church of Antioch:

“[T]he    immediate source of that fertility in heresy, which is the    unhappy distinction of the Syrian Church, was its celebrated    Exegetical School. The history of that school is summed up in    the broad characteristic fact, on the one hand that it    devoted itself to the literal and critical interpretation of    Scripture, and on the other that it gave rise first to the    Arian and then to the Nestorian heresy. In all ages of the    Church, her teachers have shown a disinclination to confine    themselves to the mere literal interpretation of Scripture.    Her most subtle and powerful method of proof, whether in    ancient or modern times, is the mystical sense, which is so    frequently used in doctrinal controversy as on many occasions    to supersede any other. In the early centuries we find this    method of interpretation to be the very ground for receiving    as revealed the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Whether we    betake ourselves to the Ante-Nicene writers or the Nicene,    certain texts will meet us, which do not obviously refer to    that doctrine, yet are put forward as palmary proofs of it.    {405} On the other hand, if evidence be wanted of the    connexion of heterodoxy and biblical criticism in that age,    it is found in the fact that, not long after their    contemporaneous appearance in Syria, they are found combined    in the person of Theodore of Heraclea, so called from the    place both of his birth and his bishoprick, an able    commentator and an active enemy of St. Athanasius, though a    Thracian unconnected except by sympathy with the Patriarchate    of Antioch. The case had been the same in a still earlier    age;—the Jews clung to the literal sense of the Old    Testament and rejected the Gospel; the Christian Apologists    proved its divinity by means of the allegorical. The formal    connexion of this mode of interpretation with Christian    theology is noticed by Porphyry, who speaks of Origen and    others as borrowing it from heathen philosophy, both in    explanation of the Old Testament and in defence of their own    doctrine. It may almost be laid down as an historical fact    that the mystical interpretation and orthodoxy will stand or    fall together.”

In An Essay on the Development of Doctrine, Newman takes up the point again:

“[M]ystical    interpretation of Holy Scripture… [is] one of the    characteristic conditions or principles on which the teaching    of the Church has ever proceeded.

[T]his has    been the doctrine of all ages of the Church, as is shown by    the disinclination of her teachers to confine themselves to    the mere literal interpretation of Scripture. Her most subtle    and powerful method of proof, whether in ancient or modern    times, is the mystical sense, which is so frequently used in    doctrinal controversy as on many occasions to supersede any    other. Thus the Council of Trent appeals to the    peace-offering spoken of in Malachi in proof of the    Eucharistic Sacrifice; to the water and blood issuing from    our Lord’s side, and to the mention of “waters” in    the Apocalypse, in admonishing on the subject of the mixture    of water with the wine in the Oblation. Thus Bellarmine    defends Monastic celibacy by our Lord’s words in Matthew    xix., and refers to ‘We went through fire and    water;’ &c., in the Psalm, as an argument for    Purgatory; and these, as is plain, are but specimens of a    rule. Now, on turning to primitive controversy, we find this    method of interpretation to be the very basis of the proof of    the Catholic doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Whether we betake    ourselves to the Ante-Nicene writers or the Nicene, certain    texts will meet us, which do not obviously refer to that    doctrine, yet are put forward as palmary proofs of it. Such    are, in respect of our Lord’s divinity, ‘My heart is    inditing of a good matter,’ or ‘has burst forth    with a good Word;’ ‘he Lord made’ or     ‘possessed Me in the beginning of His ways;’    ‘I was with Him, in whom He delighted;’ ‘In    Thy Light shall we see Light;’ ‘Who shall declare    His generation?’ ‘She is the Breath of the Power of    God;’ and ‘His Eternal Power and    Godhead.’”

Be careful that in your grammatical parsing of the text and sticking to the strict literal sense that you don’t willy nilly throw out valuable Church traditions that have found apostolic teaching confirmed in apparently unrelated passages of Scripture.

One final note, Mark, is that when it comes to prophecy, there really is no one view espoused by the Church. That is precisely why you see such a divergence of opinion and equivocation among even the witnesses you bring forward.

Mark Cameron: yes, I agree. There is no infallible interpretation of this text proposed as a de fide belief. There is a considerable witness in the tradition, however, to the interpretation of this text.

Robert Sungenis: Nevertheless, a universal conversion would simply be totally adverse to everything God has ever done with regard to Jews and Gentiles. Ever since the beginning of time, there have only been a percentage of the world’s people who have sought and remained with the Lord. From Abel and Noah, to the time Israel entered Canaan when only two of the original group that left Egypt remained faithful, to the time of David, there was only a remnant of Jews who believed, even in their glory years. God simply does not do “universal” conversions. He does not coerce people to believe in Him on massive scales or somehow bend the wills of all a particular people in spite of their obstinance. That has never been His way. The constant theme in Scripture is that only a remnant of people will turn to Him out of the free will God gave them.

St. Paul says the same of the Jews in Romans 11:23. He says: “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.”

Notice that their conversion is based on “IF they do not continue in their unbelief” God will graft them in. It is not that God somehow sprinkles some pixie dust on them so that all their wills are irresistibly drawn to God at some future time. Rather, the constant message of Scripture is that God is saving Jews who bend the knee to Him now, and has always been doing so, according to His promise to Abraham, and the sum total of all those will be the “all Israel” who is saved.

Mark Cameron: I would accept that this future conversion does not imply a loss of free will, or necessarily imply a unanimous conversion. But there have been large scale conversions of whole nations. Furthermore, in the case of the Jews, we have the testimony that their hearts have been specially hardened by God. This leaves open the possibility that he could later soften their hearts so that they could recognize the Messiah they had missed. Elijah’s preaching may be the proximate cause of this conversion, which may be accompanied by a traumatic event, such as the persecutions of Antichrist leading many Jews to suddenly recognize who the real Christ was.

Now, I agree that there is no single, infallible interpretation of prophecy. I would also agree that there are ambiguities about this prophecy. (e.g. Will the conversion be accompanied by the return of Elijah? Will Elijah be accompanied by Enoch or Moses? Will all remaining Jews convert, or simply a sizeable “remnant of Israel”) If you accept my qualifications of this teaching, I hope that you will accept that the belief in a future conversion of the Jews as a sign of the end times is a common teaching well established in the tradition. I will agree with you that this teaching is not infallible and not entirely clear, if you will agree with me that the future conversion of the Jews was widely taught by the Fathers, the medievals, and later scholars.

The belief that in the end a “remnant will be saved” is one of the factors that has led many Popes to teach at least tolerance and respect for the Jews. The other factor is St. Augustine’s theology of Jewish witness – that the Jewish people continue to exist in order to testify by their existence, by their traditions, and by their Scriptures, to the truth of Christianity. If you are game to continue this conversation, I would like to suggest that Augustine’s theology of witness, rightly understood and stripped of medieval polemicism, can still be a useful way to understand the roles of Christianity and Judaism, and why we should respect the continuing presence of Judaism as being part of God’s plan, even if we do not believe that the Jewish covenant can save.

The Fathers and the Return of the Jews

Salvation


The Fathers and the Return of the Jews

After reading the dialogue John Pacheco and Robert Sungenis were having on the Old Covenant Never Being Revoked, fellow traditionalist Mark Cameron decided to do a little research about what the patristic witness on this issue really is. This is Robert Sungenis’ response.

Part 2


Mark Cameron: Apparently, you do not find my quotes from the Catholic Encyclopedia, Augustine, or Chrysostom to be persuasive, saying “quoting Augustine and Chrysostom as referring to some future conversion of Jews, especially when in other places Augustine says something quite the opposite of what appears to be said above, hardly forms a ‘consensus’ of Patristic witness to support your contention. There were over a hundred fathers worthy of note, and hardly any of them predict a future conversion of the Jews, let alone a massive conversion.”

Actually, the quotes I found were the best I could do in an hour or two of fiddling around on the Internet. But your challenge drove me to do a bit more research in my own books and the local Catholic seminary library. I come away more persuaded than ever that there was a broad Patristic, Medieval, and Counter-Reformation consensus about a final conversion of the Jews.

Let’s start with recent (but orthodox, pre-Vatican II) authorities. You note that the Catholic Encyclopedia article has no authority beyond that of its author. But my point was that he makes this assertion as common knowledge of what the Fathers taught, just as Augustine calls the idea of a final conversion “a familiar theme in the conversation and heart of the faithful.”

Other recent authorities have also repeated the same belief as representing a common consensus. Ludwig Ott lists “the conversion of the Jews” as one of the “Signs of the Second Coming” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 1952, p. 486-487), citing Romans 11:25-32 as his authority.

R. Sungenis: Mark, I understand why you might find Ott supporting your view, but let’s read what he says.

On page 486 he writes: “The conversion of the Jews: In Rom. 11:25-32, St. Paul reveals ‘the mystery’ : When the fullness, that is the number ordained by God, of the Gentiles has entered the kingdom of God ‘all Israel’ will be converted and saved. There is question of a morally universal conversion of the Jews.”

First, Ott is saying nothing different than what I have said. If you read my essay carefully, I maintain that “all Israel” will be saved when the fullness of the Gentiles comes in.

Second, Ott offers no exegesis of the text, so we don’t know in which direction he is going. As I explained by using the context of Romans 11, God has been saving Jews, and will continue to save Jews, until the end of time. The sum total of all those Jews is “all Israel,” and thus it can be safely said, as God promised to Abraham, that all Israel will be saved, but whether this will be a massive conversion in the future is nowhere taught in Scripture, nor does Ott himself say so.

In fact, Ott says just the opposite. He says, “There is question of a morally universal conversion of the Jews.” In other words, he knows that there are people, such as yourself, who teach there will be a universal conversion, but to Ott that view is at best a “question.”

Third, let’s look at what Ott says about your Elijah theory. He writes:

“The    conversion of the Jewish people is frequently brought into a    causal connection with the coming-again of Elias, BUT WITHOUT    SUFFICIENT FOUNDATION. The Prophet Malachy announces:     ‘Behold, I will send you Elias the Prophet before the    coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he    shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and the    heart of the children to their fathers: lest I come, and    strike the earth with anathema.’ Jewry understood the    passage as referring to a physical coming-again of Elias    (Ecclus 48:10) but erroneously placed it in the beginning of    the Messianic era, and saw in Elias a precursor of the    Messiah (John 1:21; Mt 16:14). Jesus confirms the coming of    Elias, but refers it to the appearance of John the Baptist;    of whom the Angel had foretold that he would go before the    Lord, that is, God in the spirit and in the power of Elias    (Luke 1:17): ‘He (John) is Elias, who (according to the    prophecy of the Prophet) is to come’ (Mt 11:14).     ‘But I say to you that Elias is already come: and they    knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they had a    mind (Mt 17:12; Mk 9:13). JESUS DOES NOT SPEAK EXPLICITLY OF    A FUTURE COMING OF ELIAS BEFORE THE GENERAL JUDGMENT,    PROBABLY NOT EVEN IN MT 17:11 (‘Elias indeed shall come    and restore all things’), in which the prophecy of    Malachias is simply reproduced. JESUS SEE IT ALREADY    FULFILLED IN THE APPEARANCE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST (Mt.    17:12).”

As you can see, Mark, Ott agrees with my position. Obviously, Ott is aware of the few Fathers that said Elijah would come in the future, but he dismisses them as “without sufficient foundation,” as I do. Ott agrees that Jesus did not teach it either, but insists that Jesus taught that Elijah came figuratively in the person is John the Baptist.

Mark Cameron: The Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, edited by Dom Bernard Orchard, 1953, says of Romans 11:25-32: “From the present, (verses) 1-24, St. Paul turns his attention to the future. The time will come when the present problem of Israel’s exclusion from the salvation of the Messias will cease to exist because of her conversion, which will follow the conversion of the Gentiles. The final conversion of Israel could not be known to St. Paul from any natural source…” It then goes on to argue that St. Paul deduces the “final conversion of Israel” from the permanence of God’s promises and prophecies, which promise the eventual salvation of Israel.

R. Sungenis: Again, we have the same problem. Orchard offers no exegesis of the very passage he is citing. He, as other commentators on this passage do without sufficient study, merely proof-text the passage, thinking that a mere citation of it proves their point. As I told John Pacheco, Orchard did not not address the Greek text of Romans 11, and thus he was oblivious to the fact that the passage could be saying the very opposite of what he claims it says. Until you offer a commentary that delves into the exegetical issues regarding Romans 11, then citing them really doesn’t offer any persuasive evidence.

Mark Cameron: Now, granted that the Catholic Encyclopedia, Ott, and Orchard’s Commentary have no magisterial authority, it must be admitted that all of these orthodox, pre-Vatican II standard sources seem to treat the “final conversion of Israel” as a given. Why would this be unless there was a considerable consensus of Fathers and Catholic exegetes behind it?

R. Sungenis: Mark, you’ll find in many of these proof-texting commentaries the author cites very few if any patristic witness to support the contention. In fact, Ott admits to no such consensus, rather, he says that there is a “question” as to whether “all Israel” refers to a universal conversion.

Mark Cameron: The more I search the Fathers, the broader the consensus seems to be. To add to the Augustine and Chrysostom quotes I found earlier, here are a few more:

Pope St.    Gregory the Great, Moralia in Iob (Preface, X, 20):     “After the loss of Job’s possessions, after all his    bereavements, after all the suffering of his wounds, after    all his angry debates, it is good that he is consoled by    twofold repayment. In just this way does the holy church,    while it is still in this world, receive twofold reward for    the trials it sustains, when all the gentile nations have    been brought into its midst, at the end of time, and the    church converts even the hearts of the Jews to its cause.    Thus it is written, ‘Until the fulness of nations enters    and so all Israel is saved.’”

R. Sungenis: Again, Mark, this is vague at best. First, you’ll notice that Gregory does not cite any earlier patristic witness. In order for a massive conversion of Jews at the end of time to be the abiding view of the Church, there would have had to be an apostolic teaching that such was the case. As it stands, none of the early Fathers speak of such a massive conversion in the distant future, let alone say they received such teaching from the apostles.

Second, Gregory offers no exegesis of the crucial phrases in the Romans 11 text (e.g., “fullness of the Gentiles,” “so all Israel is saved”).

Third, Gregory does not specify a massive conversion of Jews, and thus there is nothing that departs from the stipulation in Romans 11 that a “remnant” of Jews will be saved, either now or in the future.

My contention is that your view actually LIMITS the salvation of the Jews, since your view is so fixated on a mass future conversion that you minimize the salvation of the Jews in the present time and since Pentecost. Your view is that God is not already doing a work among the Jews, but is reserving that for some obscure moment at the end of time. But, as the passages from Luke and other citations show, that is not what the New Testament predicts. All those passages speak of God coming to the Jews at the First Coming of Christ, and that is why 3,000 Jews and Gentiles converted on Pentecost Day, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy that God would send the Redeemer to them from Zion, as I pointed out in Luke 1:68-79. On the other hand, you have no passage, other than your personal interpretation of Romans 11:25-26, to support your claim of a massive conversion in the future, a passage that not even the person you cited (Ott) sees as proof.

Mark Cameron: St. John Damascene, De Fide Orthodoxa (IV, 26, “Concerning the Antichrist”): “First, therefore, it is necessary that the Gospel should be preached among all nations: And then shall that wicked one be revealed, even him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, whom the Lord shall consume with the word of His mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming…But Enoch and Elias the Thesbite shall be sent and shall ‘turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ that is, the synagogue to our Lord Jesus Christ and the preaching of the apostles”

R. Sungenis: Again, Mark, there are problems. First, John Damascene is rather late in the patristic record, and thus he offers little evidence of an apostolic precedent for his view. He certainly doesn’t cite any patristic witness to back up his claims. Second, you see that he makes the same mistake that Chrysostom made in depending on the LXX translation of Malachi 4:5, referring to Elijah as the “Thesbite,” the very same critique that Ott offered to you.

Mark Cameron: Now, before going on the Medievals, I have to note that the statements you made regarding the view of the fathers were quite unequivocal. “The consensus among the early Fathers is that there is no divinely mandated future glory for national Israel” I agree that there is no divinely predicted glory for a future state of Israel, but there is assuredly a consensus prediction of the conversion of the Jews. You say, “There are only a few personalities who even address the issue of Israel in the future,” and quote seven, adding “only two Fathers hold out for any future large restoration of faith in Israel.” This suggests that you have searched long and hard to see what the Fathers have had to say about this topic, and found only a few quotes, mostly arguing against a future conversion.

Yet with just a little bit of searching around, I have found four more quotes you had missed. (Indeed, I found several others, but not as directly pertinent as the ones I have given).

R. Sungenis: Mark, in reality, this is what you have found: (1) two commentators, one of which disagrees with your view of Eljah and reserves a universal conversion of Jews as a “question,” while the other commentator offers no exegesis of Romans 11 to support his conclusion. (2) You offered the view of Chrysostom, which as I said in my last view, bases his conclusion on a uninspired translation of Malachi 4:5, as does John Damascene, and both of which go against Jerome’s translation. (3) You offered Gregory, but as you can see, he does not offer any patristic support or Scriptural exegesis to back up his view. (4) You offered Augustine, but at best Augustine’s view is equivocal, since he says opposite things in different places. Even Augustine does not cite patristic witness to support even his more positive statements, and even his positive statement lends itself to being interpreted in more than one way.

Further, even if I were to accept Augustine, Chrysostom, Gregory and John Damascene as witnesses, this DOES NOT represent a “consensus” of Fathers. A “consensus” of Fathers is the “unanimous consent of the Fathers.” It means that, except for a few detractors, ALL the Fathers took the same view. Pope Leo XIII taught in Providentissimus Deus that, unless the Fathers all took the same view, we were not bound to accept them. For example, most of the Fathers took the view that the “Sons of God” in Genesis 6 were angels who had sex with women. Alexander of Alexandria, Chrysostom and Augustine disagreed, and said that it referred to the godly line of Seth. Although in the minority, the view opting for “godly line of Seth” is the one most accepted by the Church today.

Mark Cameron: Furthermore, in my own research, I realized that six of the seven quotes you adduce and all the citations are from one source: the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture volume on Romans. This hardly justifies your unequivocal statements about what the Fathers thought on this issue.

R. Sungenis: It makes little difference from what contemporary volume that I cite that Fathers. The important matter is that the Fathers are cited. Since, as is evident from the citations, not all the Fathers agreed on this issue, then it is open for discussion, even today. Thus, when I hear of someone making dogmatic statements that there will be a massive conversion of Jews in the future due to the witness of a heaven-sent Elijah, I have every right to show that not only is there little patristic witness for such a view, but those who aspire to it offer virtually no precedent for their view, nor any solid Scriptural exegesis that would support their claims.

Mark Cameron: And even from this one source, you have been selective. You quote Theodoret as saying “all Israel” means “all those who believe,” but another quote from the very same homily, also quoted in the ACCS, says this: “Paul insists that only a part of Israel has been hardened, for many of them believe. He thus encourages them not to despair that others will be saved as well. After the Gentiles accepted the gospel, the Jews would believe, when the great Elijah would come to them and bring them the doctrine of the faith. The Lord himself said as much: ‘Elijah will come and will restore all things.’”

So, even if Theodoret understands “all Israel” as meaning “all the faithful,” he still believes that there will be a future conversion of the Jews to be grafted back into the true spiritual Israel of the Church.

R. Sungenis: Perhaps, but even in that case, Theodoret doesn’t say that the Elijah to come refers to a future coming near the end of time. For all you know, Theodoret may be speaking of the time of Christ when he said that John the Baptist was Elijah. I’m not saying that he is, but only that the information in the quote is not definitive. In any case, I can simply say that Theodoret is working under the same notion of Elijah’s future return that Ott said was a misinterpretation of Scripture.

Mark Cameron: I would suggest that this also applies to Augustine, who may recognize the Church as the true Israel, but also foresees a conversion of the Jews (indeed, the quote I produced from The City of God was a much more important source to future Church teaching than the quote in ACCS from one of Augustine’s many letters.)

I also find that you have shortened the St. John Chrysostom quote in a way that reduces any suggestion of a future conversion (“does not apply it to some distant event in the future”). You quote Chrysostom as saying: “God’s covenant will be fulfilled not when they are circumcised…but when they obtain the forgiveness of sins…it will certainly come to pass.”

But the full quote is this: “God’s covenant will be fulfilled not when they are circumcised, nor when they do other deeds of the law, but when they obtain the forgiveness of sins. If this has been promised but has not yet happened in their case, nor have they enjoyed the forgiveness of sins in baptism, it will certainly come to pass.” This language of fulfillment of the covenant that “has been promised but has not yet happened in their case” (which you omitted) sounds more like “a distant event in the future.”

R. Sungenis: But again, Mark, even this quote is not definitive, since Chrysostom says “IF….this has not yet happened in their case.” But the point is that it HAS happened, and continues to happen, as Paul made clear in Romans 11:5, 14, 23, as a remnant of Jews, beginning at Pentecost, were added to the Church, and “some” of the whole nation is saved, and “regrafted” into the olive tree even though the whole nation was cut off.

Mark Cameron: So what do we have? Of the seven you cite, Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoret, Augustine, Chrysostom, and Jerome (the last three among the most important of all the Fathers) all believe in a future salvation of the Jews (although some in various places talk of the Church, not the Jews, as the true Israel). Origen is mystified, saying says “only God knows” what “all Israel” and “the fullness of the Gentiles” is supposed to mean. Only the heretical Pelagius overtly denies that the salvation of Israel is an event in the future.

R. Sungenis: There were other Fathers who had heretical ideas, but we don’t reject their other views out of hand (Hippolytus, Theodore, et al).

Mark Cameron: Furthermore, I have found several other Fathers, including St. Gregory the Great and St. John Damascene, who predict a future conversion of the Jews. That makes seven Fathers for a future conversion, Origen neutral, and one heretic against. To me, that sounds like a consensus of the Fathers for a future conversion of the Jews.

R. Sungenis: Again, most of them are equivocal on the issue; they do not cite it as apostolic or early patristic doctrine; they do not exegete the passages in question; they base their interpretation on a faulty translation of Malachi 4:5, and in any case, they do not form a unanimous consent since they are very few in number and vary among themselves. That is why Ott says that such view are in “question,” and that the view of Elijah returning is fallacious.

Mark Cameron: Now, let’s see how this matter was treated by the Medievals.

The Venerable Bede says in his Explanation of the Apocalypse, “it is well believed that the wicked Jews will be deceived as well as deceive, but that others will understand the law spiritually through the instruction of the great prophet Elijah, and will be incorporated among the members of the Church, and bravely overcome the enemy.”

In a letter to his Abbot Eusebius about his Explanatio, Bede also writes:

“He has    foretold that the Jews are to be made subject to the Church,    and that there is to be a trial of the world at large, and    that He Himself will come quickly.”

R. Sungenis: But what happened to Enoch? You quoted John Damascene earlier as saying that both Enoch and Elijah were returning. The coincidence about this is that Venerable Bede and John Damascene lived close to each other, but seem to be confused about who is going to be returning. This again reveals that there was no conclusive patristic support of the view.

Mark Cameron: The 10th century French Abbot Adso wrote a treatise of the Antichrist that became very influential in the Middle Ages. In it he wrote:

“Lest the    Antichrist come suddenly and without warning and deceive and    destroy the whole human race by his error, before his arrival    the two great prophets Enoch and Elijah will be sent into the    world. They will defend God’s faithful against the attack of    the Antichrist with divine arms and will instruct, comfort,    and prepare the elect for battle with three and a half years    teaching and preaching. These two very great prophets and    teachers will convert the sons of Israel who will live in    that time to the faith, and they will make their belief    unconquerable among the elect in the face of the affliction    of so great a storm. At that time what scripture says will be    fulfilled ‘If the number of sons of Israel be like the    sand of the sea, their remnant will be saved’.”

R. Sungenis: The problem here, Mark, is that the abbot has misread the passage. There are only two passages in Scripture that have these elements, Isaiah 10:22 and Romans 9:27. Isaiah 10:22 reads: O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. Romans 9:27 quotes from Isaiah 10:22. But you’ll notice that neither passage predicts a massive conversion of the Jews, but only what I’ve been saying all along – that only a “remnant” will be saved.

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a Commentary on Epistle to the Romans, in which he wrote: “The blindness of the Jews will endure until the fullness of the gentiles have accepted the faith. And this is in accord with what the Apostle says below about the salvation of the Jews, namely, that after the fullness of the nations have entered, ‘all Israel will be saved’, not individually as at present, but universally.” He goes on to make it clear that he is referring here to “the conversion of the Jews at the end of the world.”

R. Sungenis: Thomas has every right to his opinion, just as he did with the Immaculate Conception, but that fact is he offers no exegesis or patristic support for the idea of a “universal” conversion. In fact, he is the first to use the word “universal,” and thus, it is quite unprecedented.

Mark Cameron: Moving on to the Counter Reformation era, the great Jesuit apologist St. Robert Bellarmine writes in De Summo Pontifice (I, 3) about “the coming of Enoch and Elias, who live even now and shall live until they come to oppose Antichrist himself, and to preserve the elect in the faith of Christ, and in the end shall convert the Jews, and it is certain that this is not yet fulfilled.”

R. Sungenis: First, if this concept is being based on Scripture, as most of them do in reference to Romans 11:25-26, then where is the Scripture that says Enoch is going to return to earth to convert the Jews? There is no such passage in Scripture. Enoch is mention only in Hebrews 11:5 and Jude 1:14 (outside of his OT references), but neither of them speak of him returning. Second, Bellarmine cites no Scripture, nor any patristic witness, to back up the claim.

The only place in Scripture that even remotely suggests something along these lines is Apocalypse 11:5-6, which reads: “And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.”

The problem with this, however, is that the passage does not specifically name Enoch or Elijah. Elijah is sometimes associated with the passage only because he once prayed that it would not rain in Israel (James 5:17-18). But Enoch is not even alluded to, since there is no such action he performed during his lifetime. This is why Enoch is sometimes left out of the predictions (as is the case with Venerable Bede). The only other personage that could fill the description is Moses, since Exodus records him as turning water into blood, yet curiously, none of the aforementioned interpreters mention Moses as a possibility, even though he fits the description better than Enoch.

So what you have, Mark, is a confusing assortment of ideas, with little, if any, Scriptural backing, and that from the very people who claim to be getting their ideas from Scripture, not Tradition. In addition, the Apocalypse is a highly symbolic treatise, especially Chapter 11, of which many exegetes have seen as a symbolic representation of the Church preaching the gospel during the New Testament era, signified by the “two-by-two” formula used in the passage (cf., Mark 6:7; Luke 10:1; 2 Cor 13:1; Eph 2:15; 1 Cor 14:29).

Mark Cameron: The great exegete Cornelius a Lapide has a commentary on Romans, but I could only find it in Latin. My Latin is rusty, but he seems to say that “all Israel” can be understood either spiritually as meaning all the elect – whether Jew or gentile – or literally as meaning all the Jews who will be converted at the end of time, quoting various Fathers and Doctors on both sides.

However, in his commentary on Matthew, which I did find in English, he teaches clearly about the conversion of the Jews at the end of time. Writing on Matthew 17:11-12 (“Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.”), Lapide says that Elias will: “Restore all things: that is, convert the Jews to Christ as the Messiah promised to themselves and there forefathers.”

He goes on to say that: “Falsely do the Calvinists refer all these things to the first Advent of Christ, and explain both mentions of Elias – viz., in verses 11 and 12 – to mean John the Baptist. For they think that Elias, whom Malachi predicted shall come as the precursor of Christ (Mal. 4:5), is John the Baptist, and there is no other who shall come with Enoch before Christ’s second Advent…” R. Sungenis: If that is the case, Mark, then why would Ott say that such a view was erroneous?

Mark Cameron: Writing on Matthew 23:37-39 (“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”), Lapide writes:

“It is    possible that this passage may be understood of the Jews, who    about the end of the world shall be converted to Christ by    the preaching of Elias, and who, when He shall presently come    to judgment, will acknowledge Him to be the Messiah, the    Blessed of the Lord.”

R. Sungenis: Mark, did you catch the words “It is possible” in the first part of his sentence? Obviously, Lapide is not offering this as the definitive interpretation for the Church. He is smart enough to know that all this is quite speculative, since there is very little information to go on. And since he, as you already admitted, equivocates between a literal and spiritual interpretation, he certainly isn’t the definitive witness you are looking for. And again, notice that he leaves out Enoch. I think this lack of conviction is even more significant in the case of Lapide, since of all the medievals, he would be the one person who would know what the patristic and medieval consensus was, since he catalogued most of it.

Mark Cameron: In summary, it looks to me like the vast majority of the Fathers, the Medievals the and Counter-Reformation doctors, and recent pre-Vatican II exegetes are all in agreement about a conversion of the Jews before the end of the world (possibly converted by the preaching of Elijah and Enoch as prophesied in Malachi and Revelations) as a sign of Christ’s coming.

With St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. John Chrysostom, the Venerable Bede, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, and Cornelius a Lapide on my side of the argument, and having shown that all but one of your quotes are from one modern source that gives only snippets of the Fathers, I think the onus of showing that the Fathers and Doctors did not believe in a future mass conversion of the Jews now falls on you.

My other question is, given the broad consensus I have found in Catholic sources saying that there will be such a future conversion of Jews to the faith, some from sources that you must have seen before in your wide reading, why are you so keen to deny this teaching? I do not claim that belief in the future conversion of the Jews, or a future coming of Elijah before the Second Coming, for that matter, are de fide teaching. But they certainly seem to represent the consensus of two millennia of Catholic exegesis. What is the purpose in trying to deny this?

R. Sungenis: You don’t have a “broad consensus,” you have merely a half dozen or so citations, many of which are equivocal, all of which offer no exegesis, little of which cite early patristic support for their view, some of which can be taken in a spiritual as well as literal sense, many of which leave out crucial details (e.g., Enoch), all of which have only the obscure passage of Romans 11:25-26 as their Scriptural base; all of which base their view on the highly symbolic passage in Apocalypse 11:5-6; many of which ignore those against their view; and all who are summed up by one of our greatest theologian/historians as holding a “questionable” view of universal conversion of Jews, and an erroneous view of Elijah, namely, Ludwig Ott.

Mark Cameron: I can understand the desire to refute Protestant fundamentalist “dispensationalist” theology, or Catholic modernists like Cardinal Kasper who suggest that the Jewish covenant remains salvific. But these teachings, while they certainly try to use Romans 9-11 to establish their erroneous theology, go far beyond the standard, orthodox Catholic teaching of an eventual conversion of the Jews in the last times. This does not imply a millennial Jewish kingdom or the ongoing salvific validity of the Old Covenant – simply that the Jewish people who were pruned off of the olive tree due to their infidelity at the time of Christ will at the last, in God’s mercy, be engrafted back on. I fear that in your desire to refute certain wrong elements of modern theology you are running the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

R. Sungenis: I understand why you think so, Mark, but with the above reasons I gave you, I hope you can better see why I take the position. Of course, I have been known to be wrong at times, and I am open to being disproven on anything I say. But considering the less than definitive evidence you’ve brought forth, I don’t feel persuaded to change my view. At best it is an open question. Also, the fact that you didn’t interact with any of the exegesis I brought forth in my last post, but relied solely on somewhat equivocal and unclear references from various Fathers and Medievals, there is little I find compelling.

There is something interesting you need to know about Chrysostom’s interpretation of Malachi 4:5. He makes a blatant error in basing his conclusion of the supposition that it reads “Elijah the Tishbite.” This is not correct.

Not knowing Hebrew, Chrysostom and Augustine often end up in unsupported exegesis by relying only on the LXX. Jerome, who knew Hebrew, did not translate Malachi 4:5 as “the Tishbite.”

Neither the original Hebrew, nor the Latin Vulgate, had “the Tishbite” added to Elijah. The Hebrew reads ELIYAH HANABIYA (that is, “Elijah the prophet”). The Latin Vulgate reads “Heliam prophetam,” while the Douay-Rheims reads “Elias the prophet.” There are no Hebrew textual variants with any other reading. Chrysostom is getting his reading from the LXX which has “Elion ton Thesbiten,” but this is obviously a mere Jewish interpretation of the passage, not the inspired text. In fact, this may have been the reason the Jews were confused regarding the real nature of Elijah’s appearance, and missed his identity being fulfilled in John the Baptist (cf., Matt 16:14; 17:10). Obviously, if they were looking for the “Tishbite” instead of John the Baptist, they would have been mislead by their own translation of the Hebrew text, and apparently so was Chrysostom. If he can make such an error with the text, then we certainly can’t put much stock in is conclusions about anything else regarding Elijah’s appearance.

Mark Cameron: Just as a P.S. to my previous reply, I want to address this specific issue. Chrysostom and Augsutine were not “confused” about the return of Elijah because of their reliance on the LXX. They looked for a return of Elijah in the flesh because Jewish tradition had long predicted it.

R. Sungenis: How does “Jewish tradition” establish Catholic belief? The “Jewish tradition” also believed that the Messiah would not come as a suffering servant but as a conquering king. Are you saying that we should have paid attention to that “tradition” and perhaps denied that the babe in Bethlehem actually was the Messiah? I don’t think so. Moreover, Ott already told you that the idea of Elijah coming-again was from “Jewry,” yet he put no stock in that interpretation.

Mark Cameron: Elijah (and Enoch) never physically died, but were assumed into heaven bodily. Thus, many predicted their return.

R. Sungenis: The problem here, Mark, is that you are trying to make their translation into heaven to be a cause and effect matter for their return to earth, but that is at best unprovable.

Mark Cameron: The “two witnesses” of Revelations 11 have traditionally been understood to be Enoch and Elijah.

R. Sungenis: Only by a relatively few. Moreover, many of them leave out Enoch, as I have noted above.

Mark Cameron: Our Lord implies in Matthew 17:11-12 that there will be two comings of Elijah – a coming of the actual at the end of time to “restore all things”, but a figurative coming of Elijah in spirit in the form of John the Baptist. Cornelius a Lapide calls it a “Calvinist error” to believe that verses 11 and 12 both refer to John the Baptist.

R. Sungenis: Then I suppose Lapide would accuse Ludwig Ott of holding to a “Calvinist error.”

Mark Cameron: Furthermore, awareness of the Hebrew text is no proof of accuracy. The LXX has an older textual tradition than the Masoretic text and many of the earlier Hebrew texts. The Church has always recognized the value of the Septuagint. It remains the official Old Testament text of the Greek Church, and the oldest Latin text, the vetus Itala, was a direct translation of the Septuagint. Jerome’s Vulgate borrowed from Hebrew texts to correct some errors in the Vetus Itala, but in other cases it was the Hebrew texts that were in error.

R. Sungenis: I’m afraid you have it exactly backwards, Mark. The Hebrew was the originally inspired text, meticulously copied by the Jews in Palestine, and that’s the reason we have a Masoretic text that is as good as it is. I suggest you read Ernst Wurthwein’s book “The Text of the Old Testament.” Here’s one section of his chapter on the comparison of the Septuagint to the Masoretic Text: “…today we recognize that the LXX neither was nor was intended to be a precise scholarly translation. Many other factors and interests played a part in its formation. An uncritical use of it which ignores these factors can only lead to false conclusions. In the following paragraphs a few basic considerations are noted, with the reminder that the LXX differs so greatly from book to book that no generalizations can be made with reservations. (a) If we are tempted to prefer the LXX to the Masoretic text as an older witness to the text, we should recall the unevenness of its own textual tradition. Whereas the consonantal text of the Masoretic Text has remained remarkably constant since the second century, the Septuagint manuscripts even centuries later have widely divergent texts…” (pp. 63-64).

The rest of the chapter adds much more information than I can put here.

In any case, the official translation of the Catholic Church, which resides only in the Latin Vulgate, does not have “Thesbite,” rather, it has “prophet,” just as the Hebrew text does, so whatever your opinion about the LXX, it has been trumped by the Church’s official translation, and that is what I will go by.

Mark Cameron: A most important example is the LXX use of “parthenos” (virgin) in Isaiah 7:14 where the hebrew texts have “almah” (young woman). Was St. Matthew, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrong when he quoted the “inaccurate” Septuagint rather than the “accurate” Hebrew in applying this prophecy to the virgin birth of Our Lord?

R. Sungenis: This is quite an elementary mistake, Mark. The word almah appears seven times in the Hebrew Old Testament (cf., Gn 24:43; Ex 2:8; Ps 68:25; Pr 30:19; Sg 1:3; 6:8; Is 7:14). None of the passages suggest that almah refers to a woman who is married or has had sexual relations. Conversely, there are explicit indications that almah refers to an unmarried woman who has had no sexual relations. First, in Gn 24:43, almah is used to refer to Rebecca before she is married to Isaac. Yet in the same context (Gn 24:16), Rebecca is referred to as bethulah (“An exceeding beautiful maid, a virgin, and not known to man…”). This interchange of terms means that almah could be interchanged with bethulah, and was thus understood to designate a virgin. In addition, Rebecca is called a “maid” in the same passage (Gn 24:16), from the Hebrew word naarah which, similar to almah, refers in Hebrew to a young woman, but also a virgin (see the use of naarah in Dt 22:15-29 in which the husband suspects his wife was not a virgin when they married). Identical to the interchange of almah and bethulah evident in Gn 24:16, 43, in Dt 22:23, 28; Jg 21:12; 1Kg 1:2; Es 2:3 naarah and bethulah are interchanged. Added to these is the use of bethulah in Ex 22:16, which, in a similar context to that of Dt 22, also refers to virginity before marriage.

The usage of almah in Pr 30:19 also refers to a virgin. In this passage, “the way of a man with a maid (almah),” who is assumed to be a virgin since she is unmarried, is contrasted in the next verse, Pr 30:20, with an “adulterous woman (isha)” who is understood as married but having sexual relations with other men. The usage of almah in Sg 1:3 leads to the same conclusion, since in the context the maidens are attracted to the loving man of Solomon’s Song, implying they are refraining from sexual relations with him so that the loving man can be intimate with his one and only lover. The above passages also show that almah refers to more than identifying a girl or young woman. Almah has procreative overtones, referring in the main to a young woman who has the potential of engaging in sexual relations but who has refrained for one reason or another. This connotation, of course, would also fit the Blessed Virgin Mary who, tradition holds, took a vow of celibacy. The above analysis is confirmed by the fact that the LXX translates the Hebrew almah with the Greek parthenos (“virgin”) in both Gn 24:43 and Is 7:14, showing that the Alexandrian Jews understood the latter term to be identical with the former. Moreover, the LXX rendering includes the Greek article hee in the phrase hee parthenos) as does Matthew, following the article cha in the Hebrew of Is 7:14 cha-almah. Hence, the “sign” is not merely “a virgin,” that is, she is not any young woman who shall conceive by normal means, but “the virgin.” The stature engendered by the article coincides with the testimony of the greatness of her offspring (cf., Mc 5:3; Is 8:8; 9:5-6; 11:1-10).

Mark Cameron: The point I am trying to make is that, regardless of whether Malachi originally wrote “Elijah the Tishbite” or “Elijah the prophet”, the Holy Spirit has often used the LX translations and the interpretive traditions of the Church to draw deeper meaning out of the passages than a clinical, literal analysis of the texts would suggest. If we are to really understand what this passage, or any other passage of Scripture, means in a prophetic sense, we have to go beyond parsing the Greek and Hebrew and study how the text has been received and understood in the tradition of the Church.

R. Sungenis: The Holy Spirit didn’t inspire the LXX, Mark, and neither did He inspire the Jewish interpretation of the passage. As for the “tradition of the Church,” the fact remains that Chrysostom did not know Hebrew, and therefore couldn’t even know what the original said. Jerome, which is the one key person representing our “tradition” in regards to judgments about the Hebrew and Greek texts, chose the word “prophet” and rejected the word “Thesbite.” THAT is our tradition, Mark, since every other person who followed in Church history used the Vulgate and read “Heliam prophetam” not “Elion ton Thesbiten.”

Mark Cameron: This is a general difficulty I have with your exegesis of Romans 11:25-27: you are very keen to show that the grammatical structure of the passage could support your interpretation of the text as denying that it refers to future end times events. But the question is not simply what the grammatical structure of the Greek suggests, but how the text is understood according to the analogia fidei.

R. Sungenis: As I explained quite thoroughly above in the analysis of all the “analogy of faith” your brought forward, it is a best equivocal.

Mark Cameron: When read in the context of passages like Matthew 17:11 (the future coming of Elijah), Matthew 23:39 (future recognition of the crucified Christ by the Jews), Revelations 11 (the two witnesses, hinting at Elijah and Enoch), and in the context of the Church’s understanding of the passage, it has clearly been understood prophetically to refer to a future conversion of the Jews.

R. Sungenis: Matthew 17:11 is not to be interpreted as you assert according to Ott, the very witness you brought forward for your own view. As for Mt 23:39, Lapide merely said it was “possible” to refer to the Jews in the future, not definite. As for Apocalypse 11, the half dozen citations to which you appealed were equivocal as to whether Enoch was represented. On top of all that, not one of the witnesses ever provide exegesis of the passages, nor cited early patristic support for their interpretation, nor showed that the apostolic tradition demanded their interpretation. If these are the only passages of Scripture you have, the result is you have a weak case at best, since there is no Scripture that makes an explicit and undeniable claim that there will be a mass conversion of Jews at the end of time. As I said in my last post, Apoc 1:7 shows the Jews “wailing” at Christ’s return, not being joyful.

Mark Cameron: That is why I put more “stock” in St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom’s exegesis according to the Church’s traditional understanding than I do in your exegesis based on strict attention to the Greek text.

R. Sungenis: Neither Augustine nor Chrysostom “exegeted” Romans 11:25-26. They simply referred to the text. Even at that, Augustine’s view is equivocal. As for my “exegesis based on strict attention to the Greek text,” you can dismiss it if you wish, Mark, but the Greek text is the inspired and inerrant word of God. Unless you can show a viable and provable alternative to the Greek text, then I’m afraid you don’t have much of a case.

One final note, Mark, is that when it comes to prophecy, there really is no one view espoused by the Church. That is precisely why you see such a divergence of opinion and equivocation among even the witnesses you bring forward.

Nevertheless, a universal conversion would simply be totally adverse to everything God has ever done with regard to Jews and Gentiles. Ever since the beginning of time, there have only been a percentage of the world’s people who have sought and remained with the Lord. From Abel and Noah, to the time Israel entered Canaan when only two of the original group that left Egypt remained faithful, to the time of David, there was only a remnant of Jews who believed, even in their glory years. God simply does not do “universal” conversions. He does not coerce people to believe in Him on massive scales or somehow bend the wills of all a particular people in spite of their obstinance. That has never been His way. The constant theme in Scripture is that only a remnant of people will turn to Him out of the free will God gave them.

St. Paul says the same of the Jews in Romans 11:23. He says: “And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.”

Notice that their conversion is based on “IF they do not continue in their unbelief” God will graft them in. It is not that God somehow sprinkles some pixie dust on them so that all their wills are irresistibly drawn to God at some future time. Rather, the constant message of Scripture is that God is saving Jews who bend the knee to Him now, and has always been doing so, according to His promise to Abraham, and the sum total of all those will be the “all Israel” who is saved.

Robert Sungenis Catholic Apologetics Intl. 4-07-03

The Fathers and the Return of the Jews

Salvation


The Fathers and the Return of the Jews

After reading the dialogue John Pacheco and Robert Sungenis were having on the Old Covenant Never Being Revoked, fellow traditionalist Mark Cameron decided to do a little research about what the patristic witness on this issue really is. The evidence might surprise you.

Part 2


 

Apparently, you do not find my quotes from the Catholic Encyclopedia, Augustine, or Chrysostom to be persuasive, saying “quoting Augustine and Chrysostom as referring to some future conversion of Jews, especially when in other places Augustine says something quite the opposite of what appears to be said above, hardly forms a ‘consensus’ of Patristic witness to support your contention. There were over a hundred fathers worthy of note, and hardly any of them predict a future conversion of the Jews, let alone a massive conversion.”

Actually, the quotes I found were the best I could do in an hour or two of fiddling around on the Internet.  But your challenge drove me to do a bit more research in my own books and the local Catholic seminary library.  I come away more persuaded than ever that there was a broad Patristic, Medieval, and Counter-Reformation consensus about a final conversion of the Jews.

 

Let’s start with recent (but orthodox, pre-Vatican II) authorities.  You note that the Catholic Encyclopedia article has no authority beyond that of its author.  But my point was that he makes this assertion as common knowledge of what the Fathers taught, just as Augustine calls the idea of a final conversion “a familiar theme in the conversation and heart of the faithful.”

 

Other recent authorities have also repeated the same belief as representing a common consensus.  Ludwig Ott lists “the conversion of the Jews” as one of the “Signs of the Second Coming” (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 1952, p. 486-487), citing Romans 11:25-32 as his authority.

 

The Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, edited by Dom Bernard Orchard, 1953, says of Romans 11:25-32: “From the present, (verses) 1-24, St. Paul turns his attention to the future.  The time will come when the present problem of Israel’s exclusion from the salvation of the Messias will cease to exist because of her conversion, which will follow the conversion of the Gentiles.  The final conversion of Israel could not be known to St. Paul from any natural source.”  It then goes on to argue that St. Paul deduces the “final conversion of Israel” from the permanence of God’s promises and prophecies, which promise the eventual salvation of Israel.

 

Now, granted that the Catholic Encyclopedia, Ott, and Orchard’s Commentary have no magisterial authority, it must be admitted that all of these orthodox, pre-Vatican II standard sources seem to treat the “final conversion of Israel” as a given.  Why would this be unless there was a considerable consensus of Fathers and Catholic exegetes behind it?

 

The more I search the Fathers, the broader the consensus seems to be.  To add to the Augustine and Chrysostom quotes I found earlier, here are a few more:

 

Pope St. Gregory the Great, Moralia in Iob (Preface, X, 20):

 

“After the loss of Job’s possessions, after all his bereavements, after all the suffering of his wounds, after all his angry debates, it is good that he is consoled by twofold repayment. In just this way does the holy church, while it is still in this world, receive twofold reward for the trials it sustains, when all the gentile nations have been brought into its midst, at the end of time, and the church converts even the hearts of the Jews to its cause.  Thus it is written, ‘Until the fulness of nations enters and so all Israel is saved.'”

 

St. John Damascene, De Fide Orthodoxa (IV, 26, “Concerning the Antichrist”)

“First, therefore, it is necessary that the Gospel should be preached among all nations: And then shall that wicked one be revealed, even him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, whom the Lord shall consume with the word of His mouth and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming.

But Enoch and Elias the Thesbite shall be sent and shall ‘turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ that is, the synagogue to our Lord Jesus Christ and the preaching of the apostles

Now, before going on the Medievals, I have to note that the statements you made regarding the view of the fathers were quite unequivocal.  “The consensus among the early Fathers is that there is no divinely mandated future glory for national Israel”  I agree that there is no divinely predicted glory for a future state of Israel, but there is assuredly a consensus prediction of the conversion of the Jews.  You say, “There are only a few personalities who even address the issue of Israel in the future,” and quote seven, adding “only two Fathers hold out for any future large restoration of faith in Israel.”  This suggests that you have searched long and hard to see what the Fathers have had to say about this topic, and found only a few quotes, mostly arguing against a future conversion.

Yet with just a little bit of searching around, I have found four more quotes you had missed. (Indeed, I found several others, but not as directly pertinent as the ones I have given).  Furthermore, in my own research, I realized that six of the seven quotes you adduce and all the citations are from one source: the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture volume on Romans.  This hardly justifies your unequivocal statements about what the Fathers thought on this issue.

And even from this one source, you have been selective.  You quote Theodoret as saying “all Israel” means “all those who believe,” but another quote from the very same homily, also quoted in the ACCS, says this:

“Paul insists that only a part of Israel has been hardened, for many of them believe.  He thus encourages them not to despair that others will be saved as well.  After the Gentiles accepted the gospel, the Jews would believe, when the great Elijah would come to them and bring them the doctrine of the faith.  The Lord himself said as much: ‘Elijah will come and will restore all things.’

So, even if Theodoret understands “all Israel” as meaning “all the faithful,” he still believes that there will be a future conversion of the Jews to be grafted back into the true spiritual Israel of the Church.  I would suggest that this also applies to Augustine, who may recognize the Church as the true Israel, but also foresees a conversion of the Jews (indeed, the quote I produced from The City of God was a much more important source to future Church teaching than the quote in ACCS from one of Augustine’s many letters.)

I also find that you have shortened the St. John Chrysostom quote in a way that reduces any suggestion of a future conversion (“does not apply it to some distant event in the future”).  You quote Chrysostom as saying: “God’s covenant will be fulfilled not when they are circumcised…but when they obtain the forgiveness of sins…it will certainly come to pass.” 

But the full quote is this: “God’s covenant will be fulfilled not when they are circumcised, nor when they do other deeds of the law, but when they obtain the forgiveness of sins.  If this has been promised but has not yet happened in their case, nor have they enjoyed the forgiveness of sins in baptism, it will certainly come to pass.”  This language of fulfillment of the covenant that “has been promised but has not yet happened in their case” (which you omitted) sounds more like “a distant event in the future.”

So what do we have?  Of the seven you cite, Cyril of Alexandria, Theodoret, Augustine, Chrysostom, and Jerome (the last three among the most important of all the Fathers) all believe in a future salvation of the Jews (although some in various places talk of the Church, not the Jews, as the true Israel).  Origen is mystified, saying says “only God knows” what “all Israel” and “the fullness of the Gentiles” is supposed to mean.   Only the heretical Pelagius overtly denies that the salvation of Israel is an event in the future.  Furthermore, I have found several other Fathers, including St. Gregory the Great and St. John Damascene, who predict a future conversion of the Jews.  That makes seven Fathers for a future conversion, Origen neutral, and one heretic against.  To me, that sounds like a consensus of the Fathers for a future conversion of the Jews.

Now, let’s see how this matter was treated by the Medievals.

The Venerable Bede says in his Explanation of the Apocalypse, “it is well believed that the wicked Jews will be deceived as well as deceive, but that others will understand the law spiritually through the instruction of the great prophet Elijah, and will be incorporated among the members of the Church, and bravely overcome the enemy.” 

In a letter to his Abbot Eusebius about his Explanatio, Bede also writes:

“He has foretold that the Jews are to be made subject to the Church, and that there is to be a trial of the world at large, and that He Himself will come quickly.”

The 10th century French Abbot Adso wrote a treatise of the Antichrist that became very influential in the Middle Ages.  In it he wrote:

“Lest the Antichrist come suddenly and without warning and deceive and destroy the whole human race by his error, before his arrival the two great prophets Enoch and Elijah will be sent into the world. They will defend God’s faithful against the attack of the Antichrist with divine arms and will instruct, comfort, and prepare the elect for battle with three and a half years teaching and preaching. These two very great prophets and teachers will convert the sons of Israel who will live in that time to the faith, and they will make their belief unconquerable among the elect in the face of the affliction of so great a storm. At that time what scripture says will be fulfilled ‘If the number of sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, their remnant will be saved’.”

St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a Commentary on Epistle to the Romans, in which he wrote:

“The blindness of the Jews will endure until the fullness of the gentiles have accepted the faith.  And this is in accord with what the Apostle says below about the salvation of the Jews, namely, that after the fullness of the nations have entered, ‘all Israel will be saved’, not individually as at present, but universally.”

He goes on to make it clear that he is referring here to “the conversion of the Jews at the end of the world.

Moving on to the Counter Reformation era, the great Jesuit apologist St. Robert Bellarmine writes in De Summo Pontifice (I, 3) about “the coming of Enoch and Elias, who live even now and shall live until they come to oppose Antichrist himself, and to preserve the elect in the faith of Christ, and in the end shall convert the Jews, and it is certain that this is not yet fulfilled.

The great exegete Cornelius a Lapide has a commentary on Romans, but I could only find it in Latin.  My Latin is rusty, but he seems to say that “all Israel” can be understood either spiritually as meaning all the elect – whether Jew or gentile – or literally as meaning all the Jews who will be converted at the end of time, quoting various Fathers and Doctors on both sides.

However, in his commentary on Matthew, which I did find in English, he teaches clearly about the conversion of the Jews at the end of time.  Writing on Matthew 17:11-12 (“Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands.”), Lapide says that Elias will: “Restore all things: that is, convert the Jews to Christ as the Messiah promised to themselves and there forefathers.”

He goes on to say that: “Falsely do the Calvinists refer all these things to the first Advent of Christ, and explain both mentions of Elias – viz., in verses 11 and 12 – to mean John the Baptist.  For they think that Elias, whom Malachi predicted shall come as the precursor of Christ (Mal. 4:5), is John the Baptist, and there is no other who shall come with Enoch before Christ’s second Advent.”

Writing on Matthew 23:37-39 (“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!  Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”), Lapide writes:

“It is possible that this passage may be understood of the Jews, who about the end of the world shall be converted to Christ by the preaching of Elias, and who, when He shall presently come to judgment, will acknowledge Him to be the Messiah, the Blessed of the Lord.

In summary, it looks to me like the vast majority of the Fathers, the Medievals the and Counter-Reformation doctors, and recent pre-Vatican II exegetes are all in agreement about a conversion of the Jews before the end of the world (possibly converted by the preaching of Elijah and Enoch as prophesied in Malachi and Revelations) as a sign of Christ’s coming.

With St. Augustine, St. Jerome, Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. John Chrysostom, the Venerable Bede, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Robert Bellarmine, and Cornelius a Lapide on my side of the argument, and having shown that all but one of your quotes are from one modern source that gives only snippets of the Fathers, I think the onus of showing that the Fathers and Doctors did not believe in a future mass conversion of the Jews now falls on you.

My other question is, given the broad consensus I have found in Catholic sources saying that there will be such a future conversion of Jews to the faith, some from sources that you must have seen before in your wide reading, why are you so keen to deny this teaching?  I do not claim that belief in the future conversion of the Jews, or a future coming of Elijah before the Second Coming, for that matter, are de fide teaching.  But they certainly seem to represent the consensus of two millennia of Catholic exegesis.  What is the purpose in trying to deny this? 

I can understand the desire to refute Protestant fundamentalist “dispensationalist” theology, or Catholic modernists like Cardinal Kasper who suggest that the Jewish covenant remains salvific.  But these teachings, while they certainly try to use Romans 9-11 to establish their erroneous theology, go far beyond the standard, orthodox Catholic teaching of an eventual conversion of the Jews in the last times.  This does not imply a millennial Jewish kingdom or the ongoing salvific validity of the Old Covenant – simply that the Jewish people who were pruned off of the olive tree due to their infidelity at the time of Christ will at the last, in God’s mercy, be engrafted back on.  I fear that in your desire to refute certain wrong elements of modern theology you are running the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


R. Sungenis: There is something interesting you need to know about Chrysostom’s interpretation of Malachi 4:5. He makes a blatant error in basing his conclusion of the supposition that it reads “Elijah the Tishbite.” This is not correct.
Not knowing Hebrew, Chrysostom and Augustine often end up in unsupported exegesis by relying only on the LXX. Jerome, who knew Hebrew, did not translate Malachi 4:5 as “the Tishbite.”
Neither the original Hebrew, nor the Latin Vulgate, had “the Tishbite” added to Elijah. The Hebrew reads ELIYAH HANABIYA (that is, “Elijah the prophet”). The Latin Vulgate reads “Heliam prophetam,” while the Douay-Rheims reads “Elias the prophet.” There are no Hebrew textual variants with any other reading. Chrysostom is getting his reading from the LXX which has “Elion ton Thesbiten,” but this is obviously a mere Jewish interpretation of the passage, not the inspired text. In fact, this may have been the reason the Jews were confused regarding the real nature of Elijah’s appearance, and missed his identity being fulfilled in John the Baptist (cf., Matt 16:14; 17:10). Obviously, if they were looking for the “Tishbite” instead of John the Baptist, they would have been mislead by their own translation of the Hebrew text, and apparently so was Chrysostom. If he can make such an error with the text, then we certainly can’t put much stock in is conclusions about anything else regarding Elijah’s appearance.   M. Cameron  Just as a P.S. to my previous reply, I want to address this specific issue.  Chrysostom and Augsutine were not “confused” about the return of Elijah because of their reliance on the LXX.  They looked for a return of Elijah in the flesh because Jewish tradition had long predicted it.  Elijah (and Enoch) never physically died, but were assumed into heaven bodily.  Thus, many predicted their return.  The “two witnesses” of Revelations 11 have traditionally been understood to be Enoch and Elijah.  Our Lord implies in Matthew 17:11-12 that there will be two comings of Elijah – a coming of the actual at the end of time to “restore all things”, but a figurative coming of Elijah in spirit in the form of John the Baptist.  Cornelius a Lapide calls it a “Calvinist error” to believe that verses 11 and 12 both refer to John the Baptist.   Furthermore, awareness of the Hebrew text is no proof of accuracy.  The LXX has an older textual tradition than the Masoretic text and many of the earlier Hebrew texts.  The Church has always recognized the value of the Septuagint.  It remains the official Old Testament text of the Greek Church, and the oldest Latin text, the vetus Itala, was a direct translation of the Septuagint.  Jerome’s Vulgate borrowed from Hebrew texts to correct some errors in the Vetus Itala, but in other cases it was the Hebrew texts that were in error.   A most important example is the LXX use of “parthenos” (virgin) in Isaiah 7:14 where the hebrew texts have “almah” (young woman).  Was St. Matthew, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrong when he quoted the “inaccurate” Septuagint rather than the “accurate” Hebrew in applying this prophecy to the virgin birth of Our Lord?   The point I am trying to make is that, regardless of whether Malachi originally wrote “Elijah the Tishbite” or “Elijah the prophet”, the Holy Spirit has often used the LX translations and the interpretive traditions of the Church to draw deeper meaning out of the passages than a clinical, literal analysis of the texts would suggest.  If we are to really understand what this passage, or any other passage of Scripture, means in a prophetic sense, we have to go beyond parsing the Greek and Hebrew and study how the text has been received and understood in the tradition of the Church.    This is a general difficulty I have with your exegesis of Romans 11:25-27: you are very keen to show that the grammatical structure of the passage could support your interpretation of the text as denying that it refers to future end times events.  But the question is not simply what the grammatical structure of the Greek suggests, but how the text is understood according to the analogia fidei.  When read in the context of passages like Matthew 17:11 (the future coming of Elijah), Matthew 23:39 (future recognition of the crucified Christ by the Jews), Revelations 11 (the two witnesses, hinting at Elijah and Enoch), and in the context of the Church’s understanding of the passage, it has clearly been understood prophetically to refer to a future conversion of the Jews.   That is why I put more “stock” in St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom’s exegesis according to the Church’s traditional understanding than I do in your exegesis based on strict attention to the Greek text.

Sincerely,

Mark Cameron

Mark Cameron’s Blogspot

April 5, 2003