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Church Fathers

CHURCH FATHERS, term designating the spiritual and doctrinal proponents of Christianity during its first centuries. First reserved for bishops, the designation was later also accorded to other ecclesiastical authorities. The criteria of eligibility for this designation are (1) orthodoxy of doctrine (i.e., identification with the teachings of the official Church); (2) saintliness of conduct; (3) ecclesiastical approbation; (4) seniority. The authority of the Church Fathers resides in the principle accepted by the Church of considering tradition a source of faith. The patristic period ends in the West in 636 with the death of *Isidore of Seville and in the Orient in 749 with that of John of Damascus. In the main, two aspects concerning the relationship between the Church Fathers and the Jews and Judaism are discussed here: their contribution to anti-Jewish polemics; and their knowledge of Hebrew and rabbinic teachings.

Mention should be made of the "Epistle of Barnabas" (second century), a New Testament apocryphal work in Greek, which is unique in the literature of the early Church for its radical anti-Jewish attitude. According to the anonymous author of this text, the Jews have misunderstood the Law by interpreting it literally instead of looking for the spiritual meaning. The author stresses the obligation of Christians not to celebrate the Sabbath, but Sunday, the day of the resurrection of Jesus. ARISTIDES OF ATHENS, in his Apologia addressed to Emperor Hadrian in about 123–24, attacks the Jews at the same time as he polemicizes against the Barbarians and the Greeks. The first Christian polemicist to attack the Jews directly was ARISTON OF PELLA (mid-second century) in his "Dialogue of Jason and Papiscus"; this work has been lost and only the preface to a Latin translation (also lost) is extant. The first anti-Jewish polemic in Greek which has been almost entirely preserved is the "Dialogue with Tryphon" by JUSTIN (d. 165), the most important Christian apologist of the second century. The work is an adaptation of a debate which perhaps actually took place between Justin and a philosopher who lived in Ereẓ Israel, possibly R. *Tarfon . The discussion, which lasted two days, deals with the validity of Old Testament Law, the divinity of Jesus, and the Christian claim that the Nations represent a New Israel. Justin's work contains a considerable amount of aggadic material. Bishop APOLLINARIS OF HIERAPOLIS (Phrygia) wrote a polemic work against the Jews in about 175. The first anti-Jewish polemic in Latin, Adversus Iudaeos, dates from about 200 and was written by TERTULLIAN. It purports to present a written refutation of Jewish objections put forward in the course of an actual discussion during which the Christian spokesmen against the Jews could not make themselves heard. Here again, the discussion concerns the validity of the Law, the messiahship and divinity of Jesus, the rejection of the Jews, and the choice of the Christianized pagans in their place as the People of God.

To the beginning of the third century belongs the Contra Judaeos attributed to HIPPOLYTUS OF ROME which imputes the existing miserable condition of the Jews to their rejection of Jesus. *CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (d. before 215), whose work contains many aggadic elements, attempts to prove to the pagans that the Greek philosophers are indebted to Jewish learning, while also seeking to answer the Jewish argument reproaching Christianity for fragmentation into numerous sects. In an even more complicated fashion, *ORIGEN (d. 253) is compelled in the same work, Contra Celsum, to take up to a certain extent the defense of Judaism and, simultaneously, to refute the anti-Christian arguments which the pagans borrowed from the Jews. It is believed that the mother of Origen was Jewish. He himself certainly maintained relations with the members of the family of the Palestinian patriarch. *Jerome also noted his indebtedness to Jewish teachers for his knowledge of both the Hebrew language and aggadic sources.

Before the middle of the third century, CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE presented a series of biblical testimonia for use in discussions against the Jews, probably inspired by a similar collection in Greek which already existed in the second century. Four other anti-Jewish works have been attributed erroneously to Cyprian: a sermon Adversus Iudaeos; a treatise De montibus Sina et Sion, which attempts to point out the differences between the Old and New Testament laws; a preface to the Latin translation of the "Dialogue between Jason and Papiscus" entitled De iudaica incredulitate; and De Pascha computus, on determining the date of Easter. A pastoral letter De cibis iudaicis of Bishop NOVATIAN (third century), which evidently belongs to the same period, warns Christians against observing Jewish dietary laws. Novatian also wrote other anti-Jewish works on circumcision and the Sabbath, which have been lost.

*EUSEBIUS OF CAESAREA , who had a Jewish teacher to whom he is indebted for certain exegetical interpretations, points out to potential converts in his Praeparatio Evangelica (between 312 and 322), that the Christians have done well to prefer the theology of the Hebrews to paganism. In his Historia Ecclesiastica, the same author attempts to prove that immediately after their plot against Jesus, the Jews were struck by all manner of misfortunes by a kind of chastisement from heaven. Eusebius also participated in the paschal controversy: he insisted on the mystic significance of Passover which comes to its fulfillment in the Easter feast. JULIUS FIRMICUS MATERNUS is the first author of the patristic period to polemicize against the Jews on the subject of the Trinity, De erroribus profanarum religionum (336). In contrast to Eusebius (see above), GREGORY OF NYSSA, in his "Great Catechism" (386–7), takes up the defense of Catholic dogmas simultaneously against the pagans, the Jews, and the heretics. APHRAATES (first half of the fourth century), the first Syriac Church Father, in his Demonstrationes does not direct any missionary activity toward the Jews. If he argues against them, it is only to strengthen the faith of his own Christian believers who were often perturbed by the arguments of the Jews. In this respect, he examines, in particular, circumcision, the Passover, the Sabbath, and the Jewish dietary observances. EPHREM THE SYRIAN (c. 306–373), in three of his "Hymns on Faith" in Syriac, polemicizes against both Arian heretics and the Jews.

JOHN *CHRYSOSTOM (354–407) delivered eight sermons of extreme violence against the Jews while he was in Antioch. These were intended to warn certain Christians against the attraction which Judaism exerted over them to the extent that they participated in the Jewish festivals or adopted Jewish practices. The apologetic treatise Contra Judaeos et Gentiles attributed to John Chrysostom is of doubtful authenticity. DIODORE OF TARSUS (d. before 394) also wrote an anti-Jewish polemic. *JEROME (c. 345–c. 419) did not write a work directly intended as an anti-Jewish polemic. Passages scattered throughout his work contain adverse comments on the Jews. His significance for Jews, however, lies in the fact that he had recourse to the original Hebrew for the elaboration of a new Latin translation of the Bible and frequently used rabbinic exegesis and aggadic traditions to clarify the Scriptures. His numerous scattered references to the Jews in Ereẓ Israel during the fourth century provide a good insight into Jewish political and social conditions, family life, cultural standards, religious life, and especially in the case of the heretical movements, the Judaizing Christians and their messianic expectations. *AMBROSE OF MILAN manifested a violent anti-Judaism both in practice, as on the occasion of the destruction of the synagogue of Callinicum, and on the theological level, by several polemical epistles. *AUGUSTINE , who, on the contrary, does not appear to have had any personal contacts with Jews, defined his doctrine concerning them in his "Sermon against the Jews" where he asserts that even though they deserved the most severe punishment for having put Jesus to death, they have been kept alive by Divine Providence to serve, together with their Scriptures, as witnesses to the truth of Christianity. Augustine's reputation from his own times as a violently anti-Jewish author explains why many other anti-Jewish treatises by unknown or obscure authors have been attributed to him. The last Syriac Church Father to polemicize against the Jews was JACOB OF SERUGH (Sarug; 451–521), whose seven "Sermons against the Jews," still unpublished, are simple repetitions of themes already traditional in the Syriac Church. On the other hand, the "Letter of Consolation" addressed to the Himyarite martyrs, which has also been attributed to Jacob of Serugh, was the result of a new concrete situation: the persecution of the Christians in southern Arabia after the conversion to Judaism of *Yusuf Dhu Nuwas, king of the Himyarites.

QUODVULTDEUS, a disciple of Augustine and briefly bishop of Carthage (437–39), wrote two works which attack the Jews along with pagans and heretics. While Pope LEO THE GREAT (pope from 440 to 461) did not compose any anti-Jewish works (he fought the Manicheans with extreme violence), an anti-Jewish sermon has been attributed to him. MAXIMUS OF TURIN (d. between 408 and 423) delivered at least two sermons in which he polemicizes against the Jews. However, the "Treatise against the Jews" attributed to him was in fact written by the Arian bishop Maximinus. CAESARIUS OF ARLES (c. 470–543) deals with the "Comparison between the Church and the Synagogue" in one of his sermons. In another, he compares the two sons in the Gospel parable (Luke 15:11ff.) to the Jews and the gentiles. On the other hand, it is not certain whether the sermon in which Christians are warned against partaking meals with Jews really belongs to him. Pope *GREGORY THE GREAT (c. 540–604) was often compelled to intervene in matters affecting the Jews, as evidenced in his correspondence. The most important doctrinal and practical point which he was thus brought to formulate concerns the formal prohibition of the use of force in missionary activities among the Jews. ISIDORE OF SEVILLE (c. 560–636) is known as the last of the Latin Church Fathers. He wrote two important anti-Jewish treatises: De fide catholica ex Vetere et Novo Testamento contra Judaeos, consisting of a collection of scriptural testimonies (similar to the model already furnished by Cyprian, mentioned above; here, however, the testimonies are drawn from both the Old and New Testaments), and Quaestiones adversus Judaeos et caeteros infideles, the "other infidels" being in fact Judaizing Christians.

[Bernhard Blumenkranz]

Church Fathers and the Aggadah

Many Church Fathers lived and were active in Ereẓ Israel. Some of them studied with Jews learning Hebrew and even the Bible and its exegesis, useful to many of them in polemics against Judaism and the Jews. Hence their writings contain numerous aggadic and even halakhic traditions, some of which are otherwise unknown. Many aggadic phenomena are explicable only against the background of anti-Christian polemics, which contributed significantly to the flowering of the aggadah in Ereẓ Israel. This, as opposed to the situation in Babylonia, is indicated by Abbahu's statement in a conversation with sectarians (minim): "We [of Ereẓ Israel] who frequently meet with you, set ourselves the task of thoroughly studying it [i.e., the Bible], but they [i.e., those of Babylonia] do not study it so carefully" (Av. Zar. 4a).

Polemics with the Church Fathers led to a change in the appraisal of biblical figures by the Ereẓ Israel sages. In Second Temple times and at the beginning of the mishnaic period the repentance of the people of Nineveh was regarded as so exemplary that it was alluded to in the words of admonition addressed to the people on a public fast day (Ta'an. 1). The Babylonian sages praised the people of Nineveh even where their actions seemed highly irregular (Ta'an. 16a). In that same period, however, the Ereẓ Israel sages contended that the people of Nineveh had effected a "forged penitence," marked even by forcefulness and pressuring of the Almighty (TJ, Ta'an. 2:1, 65b). It is only in Midrashim of the seventh century C.E. that the people of Nineveh were once more praised in Ereẓ Israel. Through Jewish influence the Christians also came to regard the repentance of the people of Nineveh as exemplary; although they contrasted it with the stubbornness of the Jews both in biblical times and in those days. Church Fathers, such as Jerome and, in particular, Ephrem the Syrian, made considerable use of the repentance of the people of Nineveh to attack the Jews for rejecting Jesus and as a result the last of the tannaim and also the amoraim of Ereẓ Israel revised their appraisal of the repentance of the people of Nineveh. This revision was unnecessary in Babylonia where Christianity was weak and suppressed, and was no longer required in Ereẓ Israel after the Arab conquest of the country.

Because of the attitude of the Church Fathers, the EreẓIsrael tannaim and amoraim from the days of the Second Temple adopted a different view of apocryphal literature. Hence the aggadah of the Ereẓ Israel sages from the second to the seventh century C.E. not only ignored the *Apocalypse , but completely altered its appraisal of various biblical events and personalities occupying a prominent place in that literature. Thus, for example, Enoch, who was highly praised in the literature of the Second Temple period, was disparaged by the Ereẓ Israel sages because he was regarded by the Christians as the prototype of Jesus. Not until the seventh century C.E. did the sages once more refer approvingly to him. Similarly, the identification of "the sons of God" (Gen. 6:2) with angels, current in Judaism throughout the entire Second Temple period, was no longer popular with the Ereẓ Israel sages once Christianity used it for its own purposes. Worthy of note is the influence of the aggadah in both content and form upon the Church Fathers' approach to the Bible.

[Moshe David Herr]


COLLECTIONS OF PATRISTIC TEXTS: J.P. Migne (ed.), Patrologia Graeca (1857–86); idem (ed.), Patrologia Latina; R. Graffin and F. Nau (eds.), Patrologia Orientalis (1903– ); Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum (1886– ); Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller… (1897– ); Corpus Christianorum (1954– ). PRINCIPAL STUDIES: Krauss, in: JQR, 5 (1892/93), 122–57; 6 (1893/94), 82–99, 225–61; Juster, Juifs; J. Parkes, Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue (1934); A.L. Williams, Adversus Judaeos (1935); B. Blumenkranz, Die Judenpredigt Augustins (1946); idem, Les auteurs chrétiens latins… (1963); J. Quasten, Patrology, 3 vols. (1950–60); B. Altaner, Patrology (1960); M. Simon, Verus Israel (19642). IN THE AGGADAH: M. Rahmer, Die hebraeischen Traditionen in den Werken des Hieronymus, 2 vols. (1861–1902); Bacher, in: JQR, 3 (1890/91), 357–60; Krauss, ibid., 5 (1892/93), 122–57; 6 (1893/94), 82–99, 225–61; L. Ginzberg, Die Haggada bei den Kirchenvaetern… (1899, 1900); idem, in: GBL, 41 (1922), 115–36; Bardy in: RB, 34 (1925), 217–52; idem, in: Revue Bénédictine, 46 (1934), 145–53; Urbach, in: Tarbiz, 17 (1945/46), 1–11; 18 (1946/47), 1–27; 20 (1948/49), 118–22; 25 (1955/56), 272–89; 30 (1960/61), 148–70; idem, in: Zion, 16 no. 3–4 (1951), 1–27.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.