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’ first response.
Mark Cameron: By way of background to Robert, I am a traditional Catholic worshipping under the Ecclesia Dei indult, living in Ottawa, Canada. I know John P. from various events here in Ottawa, but I have not been directly involved in his apostolate. I have watched Robert’s moves towards traditional Catholicism with interest and sympathy, although I believe you have made some big errors regarding both geocentrism and some of your statements on Judaism, Zionism, and the Talmud.
R. Sungenis: It is, of course, you’re prerogative to believe so, but if you have some specific “errors” you think I am teaching, then by all means, let me see them. I’m always open to correction, Mark, if you can make a case. I want nothing but the truth. END
Mark Cameron: That being said, I still think you are a talented apologist who makes many excellent points – your recent critique of Scott Hahn’s dissertation and the incipient Protestantism of his methods of exegesis, for instance, was brilliant.
R. Sungenis: Thank you, Mark. I’m glad you see the truth of that issue. I wish more people would. END
Mark Cameron: I read your dialogue with John Pacheco on Romans 11 and the conversion of the Jews on the CAI website. While I am not qualified to comment on your detailed exegesis of Romans 11:25-27 and the other relevant verses, I think you are wrong in your assertion that the Church does not teach that this passage refers to a future conversion of the Jews.
Traditionally, that is precisely what the Church has taught. The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article on the “General Judgment” states:
“Conversion of the Jews: According to the interpretation of the Fathers, the conversion of the Jews towards the end of the world is foretold by St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans (11:25-26): ‘For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery, . . . that blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles should come in. And so all Israel should be saved as it is written: There shall come out of Sion, he that shall deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.'”
R. Sungenis: Mark, I understand why you might hold this in high esteem, but let me warn you that the Catholic Encyclopedia is not our official authority on these matters. As for the CE’s comment on Romans 11:25-26, that is merely the statement of a single person who has no ecclesiastical authority, except to write his opinion. If, as he says, his view of Romans 11 is the “interpretation of the Fathers,” what Fathers does he list in the article? I’m sure if he had listed them, you would have spared no expense in making me privy to them. Statements such as “According to the interpretation of the Fathers” mean absolutely nothing unless the person writing such a statement tells us which Fathers believed said doctrine, with references. His statement “according to the interpretation of the Fathers” makes it sound as if dozens of Fathers held to the idea, but you and I know that is simply not the case. Below, you only find two Fathers who you think support the idea. In fact, such statements are very misleading, since they give the impression to the uniformed reader that there is no question that a consensus among the Fathers existed. END
Mark Cameron: You write that only two Fathers, Sts. Jerome and Cyril of Alexandria, predict the final conversion of the Jews. But in fact this belief is held by close to a consensus of the Fathers. Sts. Augustine and Chrysostom, who you quote as opposing this belief, say elsewhere that there will be a final conversion:
Augustine, City of God XX.29
After admonishing them to give heed to the law of Moses, as he foresaw that for a long time to come they would not understand it spiritually and rightly, he went on to say, “And, behold, I will send to you Elias the Tishbite before the great and signal day of the Lord come: and he shall turn the heart of the father to the son, and the heart of a man to his next of kin, lest I come and utterly smite the earth.” **It is a familiar theme in the conversation and heart of the faithful, that in the last days before the judgment the Jews shall believe in the true Christ, that is, our Christ, by means of this great and admirable prophet Elias who shall expound the law to them.** For not without reason do we hope that before the coming of our Judge and Saviour Elias shall come, because we have good reason to believe that he is now alive; for, as Scripture most distinctly informs us, he was taken up from this life in a chariot of fire. When, therefore, he is come, he shall give a spiritual explanation of the law which the Jews at present understand carnally, and shall thus “turn the heart of the father to the son,” that is, the heart of fathers to their children; for the Septuagint translators have frequently put the singular for the plural number. And the meaning is, that the sons, that is, the Jews, shall understand the law as the fathers, that is, the prophets, and among them Moses himself, understood it.
R. Sungenis: Again, I appreciate the effort here Mark, but I must say that 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. Instead, many of these same Fathers wrote many essays remarking about the unbelief of the Jews, and how it will continue to the end of time. Surely, in recognizing the Jews’ unbelief these same Fathers would also be anxious to write about a future conversion of Jews if this had been the consensus among them. As it stands, it must not have been a consensus, since hardly any of them write about a future conversion.
As for Augustine, there is nothing in the above quote that refers to a national restoration nor a massive conversion of Jews. Augustine simply says that Elijah will return to speak to the Jews. He doesn’t say how many, nor does the passage from which he quotes (Malachi 4:5-6). In keeping with his remark in Letters 149, Augustine still has in view a remnant of Jews, and thus he is not departing from his view.
Second, it is by no means a consensus among the Fathers, or the Medievals, nor has the Church made any statement to this effect â€“ that Elijah will return in person before the end of time. Although that idea is floated around by some people, there is little support for that idea. At best, it is an open issue.
Third, the New Testament makes clear that Malachi’s prophecies of the coming of Elijah are not necessarily referring to a future return of Elijah, in body, to the earth before the end of time. The only interpretation the New Testament gives us about Malachi’s prophecy is that it is to be interpreted as referring to John the Baptist who came in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Matthew 11:14; 17:3; Mark 9:11-12). That much we know for sure.
One of the most important verses in regard to this is Luke 1:16-17, which refers to John the Baptist.
“And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
As you can see, Luke 1:16-17 is quoting from Malachi 4:5-6, and it is applied to the first coming of Christ, as are all the other prophecies about the conversion of Israel. I don’t know one prophecy that confines Israel’s conversion to the end of time.
In fact, Luke 1:16-17 matches the prophecy of Zachariah in Luke 1:67-79, which refers to the salvation of Israel as occurring with the first coming of Christ (the same passage I sent to John):
68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; 72 to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, 73 the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, 74 to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life. 76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, 78 through the ter mercy of our God, when the day shall dawn upon us from on high 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Added to this is the fact that “the day of the Lord” is not confined to the end of time. Acts 2:19-21 refers to Christ’s death as the time when Joel’s prophecy of the “day of the Lord” was fulfilled.
“And I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth beneath, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; 20 the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and manifest day. 21 And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The gospels record that the sun was darkened at the death of Jesus, in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Matt 23:45).
Finally, there is no reference in the Old or New Testament that specifically and categorically teaches that Elijah will come just prior to the return of Christ, nor any verse that specifically teaches a future mass conversion of the Jewish people or national restoration, other than what has been happening for the past two-thousand year in the remnant. Elijah’s “future coming,” if there is such an incident, may refer to nothing more than the Lord coming with all his saints at the very end of time to usher in the New Heaven and New Earth (1 Thess 3:13; 4:14-17).
Mark Cameron: St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of Matthew, HOMILY LVII.
For the Scriptures speak of two advents of Christ, both this that is past, and that which is to come; and declaring these Paul said, “The grace of God, that bringeth salvation, hath appeared, teaching us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and godly.”Behold the one, hear how he declares the other also; for having said these things, he added, “Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.”And the prophets too mention both; of the one, however, that is, of the second, they say Elias will be the forerunner. For of the first, John was forerunner; whom Christ called also Elias, not because he was Elias, but because he was fulfilling the ministry of that prophet. For as the one shall be forerunner of the second advent, so was the other too of the first. But the Scribes, confusing these things and perverting the people, made mention of that other only to the people, the second advent, and said, “If this man is the Christ, Elias ought to have come beforehand.” Therefore the disciples too speak as follows, “How then say the Scribes, Elias must first come ?” Therefore also the Pharisees sent unto John, and asked him, “Art thou Elias?”making no mention anywhere of the former advent. What then is the solution, which Christ alleged? “Elias indeed cometh then, before my second advent; and now too is Elias come;” so calling John. In this sense Elias is come: but if thou wouldest seek the Tishbite, he is coming. Wherefore also He said, “Elias truly cometh, and shall restore all things.”All what things? Such as the Prophet Malachi spake of; for “I will send you,” saith He, “Elias the Tishbite, who shall restore the heart of father to son, lest I come and utterly smite the earth.”
Seest thou the accuracy of prophetical language? how, because Christ called John, Elias, by reasoning of their community of office, lest thou shouldest suppose this to be the meaning of the prophet too in this place, He added His country also, saying, “the Tishbite;”whereas John was not a Tishbite. And herewith He sets down another sign also, saying, “Lest I come and utterly smite the earth,” signifying His second and dreadful advent. For in the first He came not to smite the earth. For, “I came not,” saith He, “to judge the world, but to save the world.”
To show therefore that the Tishbite comes before that other advent, which hath the judgment, He said this. And the reason too of his coming He teaches withal. And what is this reason? **That when He is come, he may persuade the Jews to believe in Christ, and that they may not all utterly perish at His coming. Wherefore He too, guiding them on to that remembrance, saith, “And he shall restore all things;” that is, shall correct the unbelief of the Jews that are then in being.**
Hence the extreme accuracy of his expression; in that he said not, “He will restore the heart of the son to the father,” but “of the father to the son.”For the Jews being fathers of the apostles, his meaning is, that he will restore to the doctrines of their sons, that is, of the apostles, the hearts of the fathers, that is, the Jewish people’s mind.
“But I say unto you, that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them. Then they understood that He spake to them of John.”
And yet neither the Scribes said this, nor the Scriptures; but because now they were sharper and more attentive to His sayings, they quickly caught His meaning.
And whence did the disciples know this? He had already told them, “He is Elias, which was for to come;”but here, that he hath come; and again, that “Elias cometh and will restore all things.” But be not thou troubled, nor imagine that His statement wavers, though at one time He said, “he will come,” at another, “he hath come.” For all these things are true. Since when He saith, “Elias indeed cometh, and will restore all things,” He means Elias himself, and **the conversion of the Jews which is then to take place**; but when He saith, “Which was for to come,” He calls John, Elias, with regard to the manner of his administration. Yea, and so the prophets used to call very one of their approved kings, David; and the Jews, “rulers of Sodom,”and “sons of Ethiopians;” because of their ways. For as the other shall be forerunner of the second advent, so was this of the first.
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.
In any case, even if Chrysostom were right about the “correcting the unbelief of the Jews that are then in being,” this does not necessarily refer to some massive conversion or national restoration. If, as Chrysostom admits himself, that there are two advents of Elijah, and yet the first advent of Elijah (viz., John the Baptist) yielded only a remnant of Jewish believers (Romans 11:5), then by prophetic equilibrium, there would only be a remnant who turn from their unbelief at the end of time. This is why, for example, Apocalypse 1:7 speaks of Jews at Christ’s return “seeing the one whom they pierced” and “wailing” at his return. The Greek word for “wailing” refers to utter sorrow and dismay, and there is no hint in that verse, or any other verse, that there is going to be a massive conversion of Jews at the end. END
Mark Cameron: Now, I would agree with Robert that this conversion of Israel means simply a religious conversion in the last times. It does not necessarily imply a political restoration of Israel, still less does it imply fundamentalist dispensationalist theology. (I am a supporter of Israel, but on secular political grounds, not religious ones. To me, it is promises made to Jewish settlers by the British Colonial administration, just reparations for the Holocaust, failure of the Arab states to accept a reasonable compromise in 1948, and legitimate right of conquest in defensive wars in 1948 and 1967, and not the Old Testament or Revelations which underlies the Jewish claim to a state.) However, Catholic eschatology has traditionally held that there will be a mass conversion of the Jewish people to the true faith just before the Second Coming. I am at a loss to understand why Mr. Sungenis is so keen to deny this traditional exegesis.
R. Sungenis: Mark, I challenge you to show any consensus of Patristic or Medieval thought, or any pope or council, which has ever taught that “Catholic eschatology has traditionally held that there will be a mass conversion of the Jewish people to the true faith just before the Second Coming.” At best, you have a couple of Fathers referring to a conversion of Jews, but none of them refer to a “mass conversion.” In addition, we see above that Chrysostom has based his interpretation on an incorrect reading of Malachi 4:5. If your conception where such a “traditional” idea, we would be finding it all over the Patrictics and Medievals. But not only do we not find any such consensus, we actually have Fathers that are opposed to such an idea, as I detailed previously.
Robert Sungenis 4-02-03