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.
Robert and John, 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. 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.
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.'”
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.
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 every 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.
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.
April 3, 2003