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.

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