Augustine’s “Treatise against the Jews”

Augustine’s Tractatus adversus Judaeos (Treatise against the Jews) is probably unfamiliar to most of us.  This short work – a homily, or a pamphlet – is printed in the Patrologia Latina vol. 42, cols 51-64.[1]  But I was quite unaware that an English translation exists, in Fathers of the Church 27, published under the title Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects.[2]

I came across this treatise in the context of an accusation of anti-Semitism, referenced to 7:10 (“This is said about Christ whom you, in your parents, led to death.”)  It is difficult to understand quite how anyone could consider that this treatise is designed to stir up hatred in any way, if they have actually read it, and especially chapter 10.  But at least some of the ‘complaints’ of anti-Semitism that I have seen look, in reality, as if they are merely malicious, and designed purely for polemical advantage.

Since we seem to be dealing with treatises concerned with the Jews, and it is not easy to find this translation online, I thought that it might be helpful to give this translation – now in the public domain – here.  It was made from the PL text, according to the introduction.  Note that I have modernised the language slightly at one or two points.

Chapter 1

The blessed apostle Paul, the teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth, admonishes us with precepts when he exhorts us to remain firmly fixed in the same faith of which he was made the fitting minister; he instils fear in us by example when he says: ‘See then, the goodness and the severity of God: his severity towards those who have fallen, but the goodness of God towards you if you abide in his goodness.’ Assuredly he said this about the Jews who, as branches of that olive tree which was fruitful in its root of the holy patriarchs, have been broken off on account of their unbelief, so that, because of the faith of the Gentiles, the wild olive was grafted on and shared in the richness of the true olive tree after the natural branches had been cut off. He warns, however: ‘do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, still it is not you that supports the stem, but the stem you.’ And since some of the Jews are saved, he immediately adds: ‘otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in; for God is able to graft them back.’ They, however, who persist in their unbelief are judged by the Lord, who says: ‘but the children of the kingdom will go into the darkness outside: there will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.’ Of the Gentiles, on the contrary, who persevere in goodness, He says in addition: ‘many will come from the east and from the west, and will feast with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.’ By the just severity of God, therefore, the unbelieving pride of the native branches is broken away from the living patriarchal root, and, by the grace of divine goodness, the faithful humility of the wild olive is ingrafted.

 (2) When these Scriptural words are quoted to the Jews, they scorn the Gospel and the Apostle; they do not listen to what we say because they do not understand what they read. Certainly, if they understood what the Prophet, whom they read, is foretelling: ‘I have given you to be the light of the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth’ they would not be so blind and so sick as not to recognize in Jesus Christ both light and salvation. Likewise, if they understood to whom the prophecy refers which they sing so fruitlessly and without meaning: ‘Their sound has gone forth into all the earth: and their words unto the ends of the world,’ they would awaken to the voice of the Apostles, and would sense that their words are divine. Consequently, testimonies are to be selected from sacred Scripture, which has great authority among the Jews, and if they do not want to be cured by means of this advantage offered them, they can at least be convicted by its evident truth.

Chapter 2

(3) First of all, however, this error of theirs must be refuted, that the Books of the Old Testament do not concern us at all, because we observe the new sacraments and no longer preserve the old. For they say to us: ‘What is the reading of the Law and the Prophets doing among you who do not want to follow the precepts contained in them?’ They base their complaint on the fact that we do not circumcise the foreskin of the male, and we eat the flesh of animals which the Law declares unclean, and we do not observe the Sabbath, new moons and their festival days in a purely human way, nor do we offer sacrifice to God with victims of cattle, nor do we celebrate the Pasch as they do with sheep and unleavened bread, nor do we revere the other ancient sacraments which the Apostle classifies under the general expression of shadows of things to come, since at their time they signified events to be revealed which we have accepted and recognized as already revealed, so that with the shadows removed we are enjoying their uncovered light. It would take too long, however, to dispute these charges one by one; how we are circumcised by putting off the old man and not in despoiling our natural body; how their abstinence from certain foods of animals corresponds to our mortification in habits and morals; how we present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God before whom we intelligently pour forth our souls in holy desires, instead of in blood; how we are cleansed from all iniquity by the Blood of Christ as the Immaculate Lamb. Christ is even prefigured in the old sacrifices by the goat because He took the likeness of our flesh of sin; nor does one who recognizes Christ as the greatest victim refuse to see Him, in the horns of the cross, prefigured in the bull. When we find rest in Him we truly observe the Sabbath, and the observance of the new moon is the sanctification of our new life. Christ is our Pasch; our unleavened bread is sincerity of truth without the leaven of decay. If there are any other events over which there is no need for delay at this time, events which have been represented by those ancient signs, they have come to an end in Him whose kingdom will be without end. It was necessary, indeed, that all things be fulfilled in Him, who came to fulfill, not to destroy, the Law or the Prophets.

Chapter 3

(4) Christ, then, did not change the ancient signs of events to come by censuring them; He changed them by their fulfillment. As there were signs which announced that Christ had already come, so there were signs foretelling that He would come. What else is intended to be meant when certain psalms, which the Jews themselves read and esteem with the authority of scared writings, are so designated that they have written in their titles ‘For those things that shall be changed.’ The text of these same psalms actually foretells Christ. They were so designated because they foretold the change that Christ would make—just as we know that through Christ the change has been fulfilled, so that the people of God, now the Christians, no longer have to keep the observances of the days of the Prophets; not because the observances have been condemned, but because they have been changed; not that the realities, that were themselves signified, might be lost, but that the signs of the events might befit their times.

Chapter 4

(5) Accordingly, in Psalm 44 (for that is the first of the psalms bearing the title, ‘For those things that shall be changed’—where one also reads: ‘A canticle for the Beloved’), Christ is quite evidently manifested: ‘you are beautiful above the sons of men’; ‘Who though he was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clung to.’ In this psalm it is said to Him: ‘Gird your sword upon your thigh,’ because He was about to speak to men in His human flesh. By the figure ‘sword,’ speech, of course, is signified; by thigh, the body, for He ‘emptied himself, taking the nature of a slave,’ that He who through His divinity was ‘beautiful above the sons of men’ through infirmity might become what another Prophet said of Him: ‘and we have seen him, and there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness; but His countenance is downcast, and He is acquainted with infirmity.’ The same Psalm 44 shows very plainly that Christ is not only man but also God, for it continues: ‘your throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of your kingdom is a sceptre of uprightness. you hast loved justice, and hated iniquity: therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows,’ Christ is named, in fact, from the word ‘anointing,’ which in Greek is chrisma. He Himself is God anointed by God, who changed this corporeal into a spiritual anointing, along with the rest of the sacraments. This psalm speaks to Him also of the Church: ‘The queen stood on your right hand, in gilded clothing; surrounded with variety.’ Here is signified the variety of languages of all the people within the Church, in whom, nevertheless, there is one simple faith, for ‘All the beauty of the king’s daughter is within.’ The psalm then addresses the Church: ‘Hearken, O daughter and see’; hear the promise, see it fulfilled; and ‘forget your people and your father’s house.’ Thus the new is fulfilled; thus the old is changed. ‘And the king shall greatly desire your beauty.’ The beauty, which He Himself made through Himself, He did not find in you. How could you be beautiful in His eyes when you were disfigured with your sins? So that you will not think, however, that your hope must be placed in men, the Prophet goes on to say: ‘for he is the Lord your God.’ That you might not despise the nature of a slave, that you might not scorn the infirmity of the Mighty One and the lowliness of the Lofty One, he says: ‘He is your God.’ In what appears small, the Mighty One hides; in the shadow of death hides the Sun of Justice; in the reproach of the Cross, the Lord of Glory. No matter that persecutors put Him to death, or unbelievers deny Him, ‘He is the Lord your God.’ Through His Body are changed the things that before were prefigured through shadows.

Chapter 5

(6) Psalm 68 also includes in its title the words: ‘For the things that shall be entirely changed.’ This psalm sings of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, assuming to Himself even certain words of His members, that is, of His faithful. For He Himself did not have any sin, but carried our sins; whence the psalm says: ‘and my offences are not hidden from you.’ Here is written and foretold what we read in the Gospel as having happened: ‘And they gave me gall for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.’ In Him, therefore, the old events have been changed which the title of the psalm predicted were to be changed. The Jews, reading the psalm and not understanding it, think that they are saying something when they ask us how we accept the authority of the Law and the Prophets since we do not observe the rites which there are prescribed. We do not observe them because they have been changed; those rites have been changed, moreover, which were foretold would be changed. We believe in Him by whose revelation they have been changed; hence, we do not observe the rites prescribed there because we understand what is being prophesied, but we hold fast to the promises made there. Moreover, they who make these charges against us have inherited the bitterness of their parents, who gave the Lord gall for His food; are still emulating the ancients who offered Him vinegar to drink. That is the reason why they do not understand that in the gall and vinegar the following anathema is fulfilled, ‘Let their table become as a snare before them, and a recompense, and a stumbling-block.’ They themselves have become full of gall and bitterness in serving food of gall and vinegar to the Living Bread. How else do they look upon these prophecies in the psalm: ‘Let their eyes be darkened that they see not,’ and how are they to be upright in order to lift up their heart, they about whom it has been foretold, ‘and their back bend you down always’? These prophecies have not been made, however, about all the Jews; only about those to whom the predictions apply. These indictments do not concern those who believed in Christ at that time because of these very prophecies, nor those who have believed in Christ up to the present or who, henceforth, up to the end of the world, will believe in Christ, that is, the true Israel who will see the Lord face to face. ‘For they are not all Israelites who are sprung from Israel; nor because they are the descendants of Abraham, are they all his children; but: Through Isaac shall your posterity bear your name. This is to say, they are not the sons of God who are the children of the flesh, but it is the children of promise who are reckoned as a posterity.’ They belong to the spiritual Sion and the cities of Judah, that is, to the churches about whom the Apostle says, ‘And I was unknown by sight to the Churches of Judah, which were in Christ,’ since a little later in the same psalm appears, ‘For God will save Sion, and the cities of Judah shall be built up. And they shall dwell there, and acquire it by inheritance. And the seed of his servants shall possess it; and they that love his name shall dwell therein.’ When the Jews hear these words they take them in their natural meaning and imagine an earthly Jerusalem which is in slavery with her children, not our eternal mother who is in heaven.

Chapter 6

(7) Psalm 79 is likewise entitled: ‘For the things that shall be changed.’ In this psalm among other things is written: ‘look down from heaven, and see, and visit this vineyard: And perfect what your right hand has planted: and upon the son of man whom you have confirmed for yourself. This is the vineyard of which is said: ‘you have brought a vineyard out of Egypt.’ Christ did not plant another; by His coming He changed that one into a better vineyard. Accordingly, we find in the Gospel: ‘He will utterly destroy those evil men, and will let out the vineyard to other vine-dressers.’ The Gospel does not say: ‘He will uproot, and will plant another,’ but, ‘this same vineyard He will let out to other vine-dressers.’ The City of God and congregation of the children of promise must be filled with the same community of saints by the death and succession of mortal men, and at the end of the world will receive its due immortality in all men. This same thought is expressed differently by means of the fruitful olive tree in another psalm, which says: ‘But I, as a fruitful olive tree in the house of God, have hoped in the mercy of God for ever, yea, for ever and ever.’ It was not because the unbelievers and the proud had been broken away and the branches were on that account unfruitful and the wild olive of the Gentiles was ingrafted that the root of the patriarchs and Prophets died. ‘For if your people, O Israel,’ says Isaiah, ‘shall be as the sand of the sea, a remnant of them shall be saved, but through Him about whom the psalm says: ‘and upon the son of man whom you have confirmed for yourself,’ and  about whom is reiterated, ‘Let your hand be upon the man of your right hand: and upon the son of man whom you have confirmed for yourself. And we depart from you.’ Through this Son of Man, Christ Jesus, and from His remnant, that is, the Apostles and the many others who from among the Israelites have believed in Christ as God, and with the increasing plenitude of the Gentiles, the holy vineyard is being completed. Thus, in the passing of the old rites and in the institution of the new, the title of the psalm, ‘For the things that shall be changed,’ is fulfilled.

(8) Consequently, it is necessary to review with the Jews the more evident testimonies. Whether they consent to them or dissent, they cannot escape being sensible to them: ‘Behold the days shall come, says the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Jacob: not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.’ This change, certainly having been foretold, is not indicated through the titles of psalms for the understanding few; it is expressed in the unmistaken proclamation of the Prophet. Clearly, a new covenant is promised, not according to that covenant which was made with the people when they were led out of Egypt. Since, then, there are in the Old Testament precepts which we who belong to the New Testament are not compelled to observe, why do not the Jews realize that they have remained stationary in useless antiquity rather than hurl charges against us who hold fast to the new promises, because we do not observe the old? Just as it is written in the Canticle of Canticles: ‘The day has broken, let the shadows retire,’ the spiritual meaning has already dawned, the natural action has already ceased. ‘The God of gods, the Lord has spoken: and he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof’; certainly the whole world is called to the new covenant which another psalm also makes known: ‘Sing to the Lord a new canticle: sing to the Lord, all the earth.’ Not, then, as the God of gods formerly spoke from Mount Sinai to one people, whom He called from Egypt, but He has spoken in this manner in order to summon the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. If the Jew were willing to understand the speech he would hear this call, and would be among those whom the same psalm addresses: ‘Hear, O my people, and I will speak to you: O Israel, and I will testify to you: I am God, your God. I will not reprove you for your sacrifices: and your burnt offerings are always in my sight. I will not take calves out of your house: nor the goats out of your flocks. For all the beasts of the woods are mine: the cattle on the hills, and the oxen. I know all the fowls of the air: and with me is the beauty of the field. If I should be hungry, I would not tell you: for the world is mine and the fulness thereof. Shall I eat the flesh of bullocks? or shall I drink the blood of goats? Offer to God the sacrifice of praise: and pay your vows to the most High. And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.’ Assuredly, here, too, the change of the ancient sacrifices is manifest. God foretold that the time would come when He would no longer accept the old sacrifices; He revealed to His worshipers a sacrifice of praise. He did not make this revelation because He was seeking after praise from us as if He needed it, but that in our praise He was looking to our salvation. The closing of the psalm makes His purpose quite evident: ‘The sacrifice of praise shall glorify me: and there is the way by which I will show him the salvation of God.’ What in truth is the salvation of God, if not the Son of God, the Saviour of the world; the Son as day from the Father as day, that is, Light from Light, whose arrival the New Testament has revealed? So, too, where it is said: ‘Sing you to the Lord a new canticle: sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing you to the Lord and bless His name,’ He Himself is at once shown to be worthy to be proclaimed, and it is added: ‘shew forth his salvation from day to day.’ He Himself as priest and victim has fulfilled the sacrifice of praise, granting pardon for evil works and lavishly bestowing the grace to perform good works. The sacrifice of praise is offered to the Lord by His worshipers for this end: ‘Let him who takes pride, take pride in the Lord.’

Chapter 7

(9) When the Jews hear the following words from the psalm, they answer with their heads held high: ‘We are they; the psalm is about us; it is said to us. We are Israel, the people of God; we recognize ourselves in the words of the speaker: “Hear, O my people, and I will speak to you: O Israel, and I will testify to you.”‘ What shall we say to these things? We know, of course, the spiritual Israel about which the Apostle says: ‘And whoever follows this rule, peace and mercy upon them, even upon the Israel of God.’ The Israel, however, about which the Apostle says: ‘Behold Israel according to the flesh,’ we know to be the natural Israel; but the Jews do not grasp this meaning and as a result they prove themselves indisputably natural. It may be well to address them for just a little while as if they were present: And so you belong to that people whom ‘the God of gods has called from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof’? Were you not brought from Egypt to the land of Canaan? Not thither were you called from the rising of the sun to its setting, but from there you were dispersed to the rising of the sun and to its setting. Do you not rather belong to His enemies referred to in the psalm; ‘My God shall let me see over my enemies: slay them not, lest at any time they forget your law. Scatter them by the power’? That is the reason why, not unmindful of the Law of God, but bearing that same Law about for a covenant to the Gentiles and a reproach to yourselves, you unknowingly are ministering the Law to a people that has been called from the rising to the setting of the sun. Or will you really deny it? Then, too, those events foretold with such great authority, fulfilled with such manifestation— do you either with great blindness fail to consider them, or with remarkable impudence refuse to acknowledge them? What reply, then, are you going to make to what the Prophet Isaiah proclaims: ‘And in the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be prepared on the top of mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills, and all the nations shall come to it, and shall say: Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God Jacob, and he will teach us the way of salvation, and we will walk in it: for the law shall come forth from Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’ Or here, too, are you going to say: ‘We are they,’ since you heard the house of Jacob and Sion and Jerusalem? As if we were denying that Christ the Lord according to the flesh is from the seed of Jacob, Christ who is represented by the mountain lifted high above the tops of the mountains because by His height He transcends all heights; or are we to deny that the Apostles and those Churches of Judaea, which after the Resurrection of Christ continued to believe in Him, belong to the house of Jacob; or is another people to be understood as the spiritual Jacob other than the Christian people themselves, who, although younger than the people of Judaea, have surpassed them in increases and have replaced them, that the Scripture might be fulfilled in the figure of the two brothers, ‘and the elder shall serve the younger’? Sion, however, and Jerusalem, although spiritually understood as the Church, are nevertheless a fitting witness against the Jews, because from that place where they crucified Christ the Law and the Word of God has proceeded to the Gentiles. The Law, in fact, which was given them through Moses, on account of which they are quite proudly exalted and by virtue of which they are far better convicted, is understood to have come forth from Mount Sinai, not from Sion and Jerusalem. After forty years, to be sure, they arrived with the Law itself at the land of promise where Sion is, which is called Jerusalem. They did not, however, receive it there or from there. The Gospel of Christ and the Law of faith certainly did proceed from there, just as the Lord Himself said after His Resurrection when speaking to His disciples and showing them that the prophecies of the divine Scriptures had been fulfilled in Himself: ‘Thus it is written; and thus the Christ should suffer, and should rise again from the dead on the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’ See what Isaiah prophesied: ‘for the law shall come forth from Sion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’ There according to the promise of the Lord, the Holy Spirit came down and filled those who were assembled in the one house and prompted them to speak in the native languages of all ‘the people’ gathered together. From there they went out and preached the Gospel to the understanding of all nations. Just as the Law which proceeded from Mount Sinai had been written by the Finger of God, signifying the Holy Spirit, fifty days after the celebration of the Pasch, in the same way, this Law which proceeded from Sion and Jerusalem is written on the tablets of the heart of the holy Evangelists by the Holy Spirit—not on tablets of stone—on the fiftieth day after the true Pasch of the Passion and Resurrection of the Lord Christ, on the day on which the Holy Spirit who had been promised before had been sent.

 (10) Go now, O Israelites by nature, not by spirit; go now and even contradict this very apparent truth. When you hear: ‘Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob’ say: ‘We are of the house of Jacob,’ so that like blind men you may dash against the mountain, and with your face badly bruised you smash your head the worse. If you sincerely want to say: ‘We are they’ [the house of Jacob], say it when you hear: ‘for the wickedness of my people was he led to death.’ This is said about Christ whom you, in your parents, led to death; just like a sheep was led to sacrifice, that the Pasch which unknowingly you celebrate, unknowingly you fulfill in your madness. If you truly want to say: ‘We are the house of Jacob,’ then say it when you hear: ‘Blind the heart of this people, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes.’ Then say: ‘We are they,’ when you hear: ‘I have spread forth my hands all the day to an unbelieving and contradicting people.’ Say: ‘We are they,’ when you hear: ‘Let their eyes be darkened that they see not; and their back bend you down always.’ In these and other prophetic words of this kind say: ‘We are they.’ Without any doubt you are, but you are so blind that you say you are what you are not, and do not recognize yourselves for what you really are.

Chapter 8

(11) Listen carefully for just a minute to what I am going to say in reference to these even more obvious testimonies. Most certainly, when you hear: ‘in good Israel,’ you say: ‘We are Israel,’ and when you hear: ‘in good Jacob,’ you say: ‘We are Jacob.’ And when you are asked why, you reply: ‘Because Jacob himself is also Israel, and we are descendants of the patriarch; hence, we are distinguished by the merited name of our father.’ We are not, therefore, rousing you from a deep and heavy sleep to spiritual matters which you do not grasp. Nor are we now attempting to show you, blind and deaf as you are in your spiritual senses, how these words are to be accepted spiritually. Surely, just as you admitted and as a perusal of the Book of Genesis manifestly affirms, Jacob and Israel are one and the same; that is the reason why you boast that the house of Jacob is the house of Israel. What did the Prophet Isaiah mean, however, when he announced that a mountain would be prepared on the summits of the mountains, to which all peoples were going to come? The Law and the Word of God was going to proceed from Sion and Jerusalem to all nations, not from Mount Sinai to one nation. This we see most evidently fulfilled in Christ and the Christians. A little later, the Prophet says: ‘O house of Jacob, come you, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.’ Here, surely, you will speak your usual piece: ‘We are the house of Jacob’; but listen a moment to what follows, and when you have said what you want to say, hear what you do not want to hear. The Prophet continues: ‘For he has cast off his people, the house of Israel.’ Here say: ‘We are the house of Israel’; here acknowledge yourselves and forgive us for reminding you of these facts. If you hear them willingly, they are said for your encouragement; if, however, you hear them indignantly, then they are said for a reproach. Yet, they must be said, whether you are willing or unwilling. Behold, not I, but the Prophet whom you read—through whom you cannot deny God has spoken, to whom you cannot deny the authority of the sacred Scriptures—at the Lord’s command vehemently cries out and lifts up his voice like a trumpet and, rebuking you, says: ‘O house of Jacob, come you, and let us walk in the light of the Lord. You, in the person of your parents, have killed Christ. For a long time you have not believed in Him and you have opposed Him, but you are not yet lost, because you are still alive; you have time now for repentance; only come now. You should have come long ago, of course, but come now; your days are not yet ended; the last day is still to come. Or, if you believe that as the house of Jacob you have followed the Prophet, that now you are walking in the light of the Lord, declare yourselves the house of Israel which He has cast off. We have shown both, those whom with His divine call He has separated from that house, and those whom He cast off because they did not heed the call. Not only did He call the Apostles from that house, but even after the Resurrection He called a great many peoples. That is why, as we mentioned earlier, He cast off those whom you imitate by your unbelief, and by imitating them you are lingering in the same danger of destruction. If, on the contrary, you are they whom He called from there, where are those whom He cast off? For you cannot say that He cast off any other nation, when the Prophet cries out: ‘For he has cast off his people, the house of Israel.’ See what you are, not what you boast to be. Moreover, He also cast off that vineyard from which He expected a yield of grapes and received thorns instead, and as a result commanded His clouds not to rain down upon it. Furthermore, He called them away from there to whom He says: ‘Judge between me and my vineyard;’ about whom the Lord also says: ‘And if I cast out devils by Beelzebub, by whom do your children cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges’; to whom He makes this promise: ‘you shall also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’ That is where the house of Jacob, which has been called and has walked in the light of the Lord, will sit to judge the house of Israel, that is, the people of that house whom He has cast off. How is it that, according to the same Prophet: ‘The stone which the builders rejected: the same is become the head of the corner,’ unless because circumcised and uncircumcised meet and unite in the keystone, like the union of two adjacent walls, as it were, in the kiss of peace. That is the reason that the Apostle says: ‘For he himself is our peace, he it is who has made both one.’ They who have followed His call—whether from the house of Jacob or from the house of Israel—are cleaving to the corner-stone and walking in the light of the Lord; they, however, whom He cast off from the house of Jacob or Israel are themselves builders of destruction and rejecters of the corner-stone.

Chapter 9

(12) Lastly, O Jews, if you try to distort these prophetic words into another meaning according to the dictates of your heart, you resist the Son of God against your own salvation. If you, I say, choose to understand by these testimonies that the house of Jacob or Israel is the same people, both called and cast off—not called in respect to some and cast off in respect to others, but the entire house called to walk in the light of the Lord, inasmuch as the reason why the house had been cast off was because its people were not walking in the light of the Lord; or some of the house certainly were called and others cast off in such a way that without any separation having been of the Lord’s table as regards the sacrifice of Christ; both called and cast off were under the same old sacraments, to be sure, both those who walked in the light of the Lord and observed His precepts and those who rejected justice and deserved to be abandoned by it—if you choose to interpret these testimonies in this manner, what are you going to say and how will you interpret another Prophet who cuts this reply away entirely, shouting with unmistakable manifestation: ‘I have no pleasure in you says the Lord Almighty: and I will not receive a gift of your hand. For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place sacrifice is offered to my name, a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty.’ Finally, with what words do you cry out against such evidence? Why do you continue to exalt yourselves so impudently beyond measure that you perish all the more miserably and with graver destruction? ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ He says; not anyone, but ‘the Lord Almighty.’ Why do you glory so much in the seed of Abraham, you who, whenever you hear Jacob or Israel, or the house of Jacob or the house of Israel, whenever any praise is uttered, assert so energetically that such praise can refer only to you? The Lord Almighty says: ‘I have no pleasure in you, and I will not receive a gift of your hand.’ Certainly, you cannot deny that here the Lord not only refuses to receive a gift from your hands, but you do not offer Him a gift with your hands. Only one place has been established by the Law of the Lord where He commanded you to offer a gift with your hands; He absolutely forbade any other place. Since, therefore, you have lost this place through your own fault, you dare not offer in any other place the sacrifice which He permitted you to offer there. Behold fulfilled to the letter what the Prophet says: ‘And I will not receive a gift of your hand.’ If in the earthly Jerusalem you still had a temple and altar, you could say that the prophecy has been fulfilled in the pagans among you whose sacrifices the Lord does not receive; of others from among you and in you, however, who keep the commandments of God He does accept gifts. It can be said, therefore, that according to the Law that has come from Mount Sinai there is not one of you who is able to offer sacrifice with his hands. Nor was the prophecy and its fulfillment such that the prophetic judgment permits you to answer: ‘We do not offer flesh with our hands, but with our hearts and lips we offer praise as the psalm: “Offer to God the sacrifice of praise.”‘ Even here He opposes you who says: ‘I have no pleasure in you.’

(13) In the next place, do not suppose that because you do not offer sacrifice and God does not accept it from your hands, a sacrifice is not being offered to God, which He certainly does not need who needs the goods of no one of us. Nevertheless, since He is not without sacrifice which is for our benefit, not His, He adds: ‘For from the rising of the sun even to the going down, my name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place sacrifice is offered to my name, a clean oblation: for my name is great among the Gentiles, says the Lord Almighty.’ What do you say to that? Open your eyes at last, at any time, and see, from the rising of the sun even to its setting—not in one place as established with you, but everywhere—the sacrifice of the Christians is being offered; not to any god at all, but to Him who foretold these events, to the God of Israel. For this reason, in another place, He says to His Church: ‘And he who delivered you, the very God of Israel shall be called the God of all the earth.’ Search the Scriptures through which you believe that you have eternal life. Actually, you would have it, if you recognized Christ in the Scripture and cleaved to Him. Search the sacred writings carefully; the same writings bear witness to the world about this sacrifice which is being offered to the God of Israel, not by your nation alone from whose hands He foretold He would not take the gift; it is being offered by all nations who say, ‘Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord’; not in one place, in the earthly Jerusalem, as you were bidden; everywhere, even in Jerusalem itself, according to the order of Melchizedech, not according to the order of Aaron. It was said to Christ and about Christ long before it was prophesied: The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent: you are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedech.’ What does ‘The Lord has sworn’ mean except that He confirmed with unshaken truth what He said? What is the meaning of ‘he will not repent’ if not that absolutely for no reason whatsoever will He change this priesthood? God does not repent as man does. We speak of repentance in God despite the idea of anything changing which was instituted by God and thought to be lasting. In the same sense He says: The Lord has sworn, and he will not repent; you art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.’ He shows clearly enough that He had repented, that is, He had willed to change the priesthood which He had established according to the order of Aaron. We see the fulfillment of both: of Aaron, there is no longer any priesthood in any temple; of Christ, the priesthood continues everlastingly in heaven.

 (14) To this light of the Lord the Prophet calls you when he says: ‘O house of Jacob, come you and let us walk in the light of the Lord.’ You ‘house of Jacob’ whom He has called and elected, not ‘you’ whom He has cast off, ‘For he has cast off his people, the house of Israel.’ Whoever of you from the house of Jacob choose to come, you will belong to that house which He has called; you will be free from that house which He has cast off. The light of the Lord in which the Gentiles walk, that is the light about which the same Prophet speaks: ‘I have given you to be the light of the Gentiles, that you may be my salvation even to the farthest part of the earth.’ To whom, if not to Christ, is this said? In whom is it fulfilled if not in Christ? This light is not in you of whom it has been said over and over again: ‘God has given them a spirit of stupor; eyes that they may not see, and ears that they may not hear, until this present day.’ Not in you, I say, is this light, for with plenty of blindness you rejected the stone which was made the corner-stone. ‘Come you to him and be enlightened.’ What is ‘Come’ if not believe? Where may you go in order to come to Him, since He is the stone of which Daniel the Prophet speaks, that stone which grew into such a mighty mountain that it filled the whole earth? The Gentiles who also say: ‘Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord’ do not seek to go and reach a fixed place anywhere in the world. Wherever they are, that is where they ascend, because sacrifice is offered in every place according to the order of Melchizedech. Similarly, another Prophet says: ‘God shall consume all the gods of the Gentiles of the earth: and they shall adore him every man from his own place.’ Therefore, when you hear: ‘Come to him,’ you do not hear: Prepare ships or pack animals, and load yourselves with your victims, and go a great distance to the place where God will receive your sacrifice of devotion, but: Come to Him who is being preached in your ears, come to Him who is being glorified before your eyes. You will not be worn out with walking, for you come to Him there where you believe in Him.

Chapter 10

 (15) Dearly beloved, whether the Jews receive these divine testimonies with joy or with indignation, nevertheless, when we can, let us proclaim them with great love for the Jews. Let us not proudly glory against the broken branches; let us rather reflect by whose grace it is, and by much mercy, and on what root, we have been ingrafted. Then, not savoring of pride, but with a deep sense of humility, not insulting with presumption, but rejoicing with trembling, let us say: ‘Come you and let us walk in the light of the Lord,’ because His ‘name is great among the Gentiles.’ If they hear Him and obey Him, they will be among them to whom Scripture says: ‘Come you to him and be enlightened: and your faces shall not be confounded.’ If, however, they hear and do not obey, if they see and are jealous, they are among them of whom the psalm says: ‘The wicked shall see, and shall be angry, he shall gnash with his teeth and pine away.’ ‘But I,’ the Church says to Christ, ‘as a fruitful olive tree in the house of God, have hoped in the mercy of God for ever, yea for ever and ever.’

  1. [1]A French translation by Aubert (1897) may be found online here.
  2. [2]Augustine, “Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects”, Fathers of the Church vol. 27, Catholic University of America Press (1955), p.387-417.  The tractatus is included as “In Answer to the Jews”, introduced and translated by Sister Marie Liguori.  Preview is here.  The introduction on p.387 discusses the date; probably after 425 AD, because it uses ideas from the City of God.

2 thoughts on “Augustine’s “Treatise against the Jews”

  1. having just finished Pink’s ‘exposition on Hebrews’, this is a most loving, caring and accurate treatise.
    thank you

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