A translation query in Augustine’s “Treatise against the Jews”

I received today an interesting query about an old post from 2015 in which I give an English translation of Augustine’s Adversus Judaeos.  This involves some looking up, so I thought I would blog about it.

Daniel Boyarin’s “Carnal Israel”  begins with a brief quote from Augustine’s Tractatus adversus Judaeos, (vii, 9)  which reads as follows:

‘Behold Israel according to the flesh’ (1 Cor. 10:18). This we know to be the carnal Israel; but the Jews do not grasp this meaning and as a result the prove themselves indisputably carnal.

You translate these verses differently:

‘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.

I understand carnal and natural to be similar words, but with very different connotations.

The full title of the book is Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture, and there is a preview here.  I could not discover where Mr. Boyarin got his translation, but it appears at the very start of his book and he needs the meaning of “carnal” here.

The words that I reproduced in  my post are those of the Fathers of the Church series translator, p.402-3.  I modified this only to remove “thee” and “thou” in a couple of places.  Here it is, with a bit of context.

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.

The first place to start is with the Latin, which is online here.  The translation has altered the chapter divisions (drat them), but indicated the Patrologia Latina division, which is chapter 9.

Novimus quidem Israel spiritualem, de quo dicit Apostolus, Et quicumque hanc regulam sequuntur, pax super illos et misericordia, et super Israel Dei (Galal. vi, 16): istum autem Israel scimus esse carnalem, de quo idem dicit, Videte Israel secundum carnem (I Cor. x, 18). Sed ista isti non capiunt, et eo se ipsos carnales esse convincunt.

The next place to look is at the bible text referenced, in the Latin.  This is online here.  Augustine would most likely have used an Old Latin text rather than the Vulgate, but they probably did not differ here.

18 Videte Israel secundum carnem: nonne qui edunt hostias, participes sunt altaris?

18 Behold Israel according to the flesh: are not they, that eat of the sacrifices, partakers of the altar?

We may as well have the Greek also:

18 βλέπετε τὸν Ἰσραὴλ κατὰ σάρκα· [a]οὐχ οἱ ἐσθίοντες τὰς θυσίας κοινωνοὶ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου εἰσίν;

It’s a little hard to translate that first phrase, especially without paraphrasing.   I was a little surprised to see that modern versions like the NIV, NRSV and even the ESV simply fail to translate κατὰ σάρκα.  The KJV (and of course the Douai) do translate it.  I confess that this omission seems worrying to me.

The passage in 1 Corinthians is talking about idolatry.  If you take part in a heathen sacrifice, you become part of the worship.  As part of this, Paul uses the analogy of an ordinary observant non-Christian Jew, sacrificing at the temple, who becomes part of that worship.  So the sense is about Jew versus Christian here.

Based on this, I can respond to the original query.  Both “natural” and “carnal” have the same meaning here – ordinary, worldly, not someone who has become a Christian and lives by the Holy Spirit and obeys His commandments.  But in our age of pornography, I think “carnal” today has gained a meaning which is not intended here, of worldly vices and indulgence.

So I can see why the 1950s translator decided to avoid it, to avoid that conclusion.  It may also be that in 1950s America it was difficult to use in print a word that might seem anti-semitic.


A quotation from Augustine: “God doesn’t love you as you are; he hates you as you are.”

A tweet this evening:

God doesn’t love you as you are; he hates you as you are.


“You must be born again.”

But is it from Augustine?

In fact it is taken from M. C. Hollingworth, “Grace, confession, and the Pilgrim City: the political significance of St.Augustine of Hippo’s creation narratives”, Durham University thesis (2008), vol. 2, p.225, n.22, which is online here, but I will quote because such things vanish:

22 … Cf. Serm., IX, 9: ‘[God] doesn’t love you as you are, He hates you as you are. That’s why He is sorry for you, because He hates you as you are, and wants to make you as you are not yet., This thinking is presumably the background to Augustine’s exegesis of Matthew 7: 3-5, which features in a number of places in his writings.

Dr H. tells us that this is his own translation.

But of course we all want to check!  Augustine is a voluminous writer, so something just called “Sermons” tends to make the heart sink.  The bibliographical information refers to the Città Nuova collected edition of his works (contents here), to which nobody has access.  (I wonder whether Italians have collections of PDFs of these things?  I bet they do!)

Fortunately “Sermones” is listed in the Clavis Patrum Latinorum, as item 284, referencing the Patrologia Latina vols. 38 and 39.  And so when we look at the PL38, column 82, we find sermon 9, chapter 8, and the words:

Placeat tibi Deus qualis est, ama qualis est: non te ipse amat qualis es, sed odit te qualis es.

Which is our source.  The Latin for the whole sermon is online at The Latin LIbrary here.

Rather to my surprise, I find that I have on disk a copy of the English translation of this sermon, made by the “New City Press”, as part of their series, The Works of Saint Augustine: A translation for the 21st Century.  This volume has the title: Sermons, (1-19) on the Old Testament. Volume III/1. It was translated from the Italian edition above by Edmund Hill, OP, and appeared in 1990.  The sermon is entitled “Discourse on the ten strings of the harp”, preached in 420.  The division of the chapters presumably also from the Citta Nuova edition, and disagrees with the PL text.  Here is a chunk of it, talking about “Put off the old man and put on the new man”.  Page 267:

Such people are often tripped by thoughts like this, and they say to themselves, “If it were possible to do this, God would not be threatening us, he would not say all those things through the prophets to discourage people, but he would have come to be indulgent to everybody and pardon everybody, and after he came he wouldn’t send anyone to hell.” Now because he is unjust he wants to make God unjust too. God wants to make you like him, and you are trying to make God like you. Be satisfied with God as he is, not as you would like him to be. You are all twisted, and you want God to be like what you are, not like what he is. But if you are satisfied with him as he is, then you will correct yourself and align your heart along that straight rule from which you are now all warped and twisted. Be satisfied with God as he is, love him as he is.

He doesn’t love you as you are, he hates you as you are. That’s why he is sorry for you, because he hates you as you are, and wants to make you as you are not yet. Let him make you, I said, the sort of person you are not yet. What he did not promise you, you know, is to make you what he is. Oh yes, you shall be what he is, after a fashion, that is to say, an imitator of God like an image, but not the kind of image that the son is. After all there are different kinds of images even among men. A man’s son bears the image of his father, and is what his father is, because he is a man like his father. But your image in a mirror is not what you are. Your image is in your son in one way, in quite a different way in the mirror. Your image is in your son by way of equality of nature, but in the mirror how far it is from your nature! And yet it is a kind of image of you, though not like the one in your son which is identical in nature.

So the quotation is indeed authentic.


Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis: Unfinished Book) – online in English

Dr Isabella Image has kindly written to me and offered to make available her translation of Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber (The Literal Interpretation of Genesis: Unfinished Book = CPL 268).  Dr Image has worked on several academic translations, so it is very nice indeed to have this one made available.  She has also kindly made the result public domain, so please circulate it freely.  Here it is:

The footnote and formatting is my responsibility tho.

I have also added the files to Archive.org here.

A very literal translation already exists on the web here, at Google sites.  The Patrologia Latina text may be found online here, and indeed also Italian and Spanish versions.

Dr Image adds:

You’ll want to know my credentials: my classics BA & MPhil were at Cambridge and my patristics DPhil was at Oxford. I’ve published Augustine translations before (with Walsh & Collard) and also my doctorate (on Hilary of Poitiers).

It is very good news indeed to have this.  Thank you!

UPDATE 16 Sept 2023: Four different works by Augustine are listed in the Clavis Patrum Latinorum.  These are CPL 265, De Genesi contra Manichaeos; CPL 266, De Genesi ad litterarum l. xii; CPL 267, De Genesis ad litteram l. xii. Capitula; and this work, CPL 268, De Genesi ad litteram imperfectus liber which he abandoned.  He wrote still other works on the Hexameron and the Heptateuch.

A number of English translations exist of all of these confusingly-named works.

  • St Augustine, On Genesis, tr. John E. Rotelle, in: The Works of St Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, part 1, vol. 13, New City Press (2006), ISBN 1-56548-175-5 and 1-56548-201-8.  This contains CPL 265, 266 and 268.
  • St Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, tr. John Hammond Taylor, in: Ancient Christian Writers 41 (1982), 2 vols, ISBN: 0-8091-0326-5 and ISBN: 0-8091-0327-3.  This contains CPL 266 only.
  • St Augustine, On Genesis: Two Books on Genesis Against the Manichees and On the Literal Interpretation of Genesis, an unfinished book, tr. Roland J. Teske, in: Fathers of the Church 84 (1991).  This contains CPL 265 and 268.  ISBN 0-8132-0084-9 and 0-8132-0088-7 (pbk).

Augustine, De divinatione daemonum / On the divination of demons – now online in English

How is it that demons are able to predict the future, and so support the pagan practices of oracles, soothsaying, and the like?  This question bothered some of those around St Augustine, and he wrote a short treatise to answer it, De divinatione demonum (CPL 306).

It is very well worth reading.  But there is no freely available translation accessible online.  Today I heard from Mattias Gassman, who prepared his own translation of it while a British Academy post-doctoral fellow.  He has kindly made it available here, and also on his own new and interesting blog, Multa Legenda (https://multalegenda.wordpress.com/).  Here are the files:

Dr G. modestly adds that:

…the translation aims rather at literalism than style, though some concessions to ease of reading are inevitable. The target audience are people who want to know what Augustine said, and might be able at least to consult the Latin, even if they cannot really read it.

But it is a very decent bit of work.  Thank you very much!


Augustine’s “De ordine” and his comment on prostitution

One of the earliest works of St Augustine is a work that he wrote in 386 AD at a country villa while preparing for baptism.  It is one of a number of works that he wrote at that time.  Augustine had just abandoned his job as a teacher of philosophy, but the milieu is still that of late philosophy.

The work is De ordine, “On Order”, which Robert P. Russell, the first translator, revised to a more meaningful “Divine Providence and the Problem of Evil”.[1]  The work is concerned with explaining how God controls everything that happens in the world, even the bad things, although he is not responsible for them.  Given in dialogue form, it records a discussion between Augustine and his friends and a couple of students.

In De ordine book 2, chapter 4, we read the following statement:

TRYGETIUS: … Indeed, the entire life of the unwise, although it is by no means consistent and by no means well regulated by themselves, is, nevertheless, necessarily included in the order of things by Divine Providence. And, certain places having been arranged, so to speak, by that ineffable and eternal law, it is by no means permitted to be where it ought not to be. Thus it happens that whoever narrow-mindedly considers this life [the life of the “unwise”] by itself alone is repelled by its enormous foulness, and turns away in sheer disgust. But, if he raises the eyes of the mind and broadens his field of vision and surveys all things as a whole, then he will find nothing unarranged, unclassed, or unassigned to its own place.’

AUGUSTINE: … Now, you were looking for just one or two illustrations for that opinion of yours. To me there already occur countless illustrations which bring me to complete agreement.

What more hideous than a hangman? What more cruel and ferocious than his character? Yet he holds a necessary post in the very midst of laws, and he is incorporated into the order of a well-regulated state; himself criminal in character, he is nevertheless, by others’ arrangement, the penalty of evildoers.

What can be mentioned more sordid, more bereft of decency, or more full of turpitude than prostitutes, procurers, and the other pests of that sort? Remove prostitutes from human affairs, and you will unsettle everything because of lusts; place them in the position of matrons, and you will dishonor these latter by disgrace and ignominy. This class of people is, therefore, by its own mode of life most unchaste in its morals; by the law of order, it is most vile in social condition.

And is it not true that in the bodies of animals there are certain members which you could not bear to look at, if you should view them by themselves alone? But the order of nature has designed that because they are needful they shall not be lacking, and because they are uncomely they shall not be prominent. And these ugly members, by keeping their proper places, have provided a better position for the more comely ones.[2]

(Paragraphing mine).  The argument is fundamentally one in which Augustine is trying to explain how God controls evil and makes a use of it, assigning it a role in our broken society, but does not endorse it or take responsibility for it.  The examples are incidental.  Augustine was not describing how a society should be, but how his society was.  The social order of the Western Roman Empire was pagan to the end.

Unfortunately this idea, that prostitution and pimping were a necessary evil, like the hangman, was picked up by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa theologica, 2a 2ae, q. 10. a; 11. c, who used it to illustrate the idea that human legislators may at times permit certain evils for the purpose of avoiding greater ones.  This led to the awful institution of legalised brothels in Catholic countries, the abuse of women for profit, even in Rome itself.[3]

As the Fathers of the Church editor is keen to point out, Augustine spoke rather more clearly in Contra Faustum Manichaeum, book 22, chapter 61 (Latin here, English here):

Consulta quippe aeterna lex illa, quae ordinem naturalem conservari iubet, pertubari vetat, non nisi propagationis causa statuit hominis concubitum fieri, et hoc non nisi socialiter ordinato connubio, quod non pervertat vinculum pacis: et ideo prostitutio feminarum, non ad substituendam prolem, sed ad satiandam libidinem propositarum, divina atque aeterna lege damnatur.

Obviously by that eternal law, which commands that the natural order be conserved, and forbids it to be disturbed, human sex is not established to happen unless for the cause of propagation, and this not unless a marriage has taken place, so that the bond of peace is not overthrown/corrupted: and likewise the prostitution of women who offer themselves, not for the begetting of offspring but for the sating of lust, is condemned by the divine and eternal law.

The “bond of peace” is of course the institution of marriage.  Certainly this indicates that Augustine reaffirms that prostitution is wrong.

It is remarkable what men will do to justify an evil, if they stand to profit by it.  Indeed only this week I came across someone campaigning to “legalise prostitution”.  Prostitution is legal; it is pimping that is not, so the campaign is to permit the legal trade in women to resume.  I pointed out that prostitution was awful; and he had the cheek to ask me sneerily, “Why is prostitution awful”.  Those willing to commit some obvious evil are seldom ashamed to lie about it as well.

Curiously the second half of the NPNF translation is wrong at this point, reading:

Undoubtedly, by the eternal law, which requires the preservation of natural order, and forbids the transgression of it, conjugal intercourse should take place only for the procreation of children, and after the celebration of marriage, so as to maintain the bond of peace. Therefore, the prostitution of women, merely for the gratification of sinful passion, is condemned by the divine and eternal law.

What happened to “non ad substituendam prolem”, one wonders.

  1. [1]“Writings of Saint Augustine volume 1”, in: Fathers of the Church 5 (1948), p.229-334
  2. [2]Key passage p.287-8.
  3. [3]See for another example, Michael M. Hammer, “Prostitution in Urban Brothels in Late Medieval Austria”, online here.  It seems to  be a paper from this 2017 seminar “Forgotten Women from a Forgotten Region: Prostitutes and Female Slaves in Central and Eastern Europe in the Long Middle Ages” here.

A false quotation of Augustine against the Jews

A correspondent wrote to me some time back, asking:

I’m currently translating John Gray’s booklet ‘Seven types of atheism’ into Dutch. On p. 17 Gray cites this line from Augustine’s ‘Pamflet against the Jews’: ‘The true image of the Hebrew is Judas Iscariot, who sells the Lord for silver. The Jews can never understand scripture, and forever bear the guilt of the death of Christ.’ I cannot find this line in your translation. What could be the matter here?

The gentleman is not the only one to wonder.  Anti-Christian quotations of the fathers are nearly always misquotations or frauds, as I discovered long ago when I reviewed a book of them.

Arie W. Zweip, Christ, the Spirit and the Community of God: Essays on the Acts of the Apostles,  Mohr Siebeck, 2010, wanders off his theme and into a discussion of anti-semitism.  But on page 90, he is obliged to add a note:

5. An Intermezzo: Fake Quotes

At this point I must make a brief but significant detour. Not infrequently Jerome’s and Augustine’s names are mentioned on the internet as outspoken propagators of Christian anti-Semitism. On a number of websites Jerome is quoted as having said that the Jews are “Judaic serpents of whom Judas was the model”, and also: “They (the Jews) are serpents, haters of all men. Their image is Judas. Their psalms and prayers are but the braying of donkeys”.

However, when I checked the quotations against the original, I could not trace their provenance. Virtually all authors quote these words without mentioning the exact source. There is a passage in Jerome’s commentary on Amos that comes close to it (“iudaeorum quoque oratio et psalmi, quos in synagogis canunt, et haereticorum composita laudatio tumultus est domino, et ut ita dicam, grunnitus suis et clamor asinorum, quorum magis cantibus israelis opera comparantur”),54 but the very references to serpents and to Judas are conspicuously absent. In his Verus Israel, Marcel Simon does quote the words of Jerome with a source reference, but he refers to Migne’s Patrologia Latina 26:1224, which is clearly wrong. It seems that we have here a clear example of a “fake quotation” that is running a life of its own.

I suspect the same is true of two anti-Semitic quotations not seldom attributed to Augustine that I was unable to trace: “The true image of the Hebrew is Judas Iscariot, who sells the Lord for silver. The Jew can never understand the scriptures and forever will bear the guilt for the death of Jesus’, and “Judaism, since Christ, is a corruption; indeed Judas is the image of the Jewish people: their understanding of Scripture is carnal; they bear the guilt for the death of the Savior, for through their fathers they have killed Christ. The Jews held Him; the Jews insulted Him; the Jews bound Him; they crowned Him with thorns; they scourged Him; they hanged Him upon a tree”. All this is not to say that Jerome and Augustine did not articulate anti-Semitic sentiments (they clearly did) nor to deny that they may have said things to that effect, but such allegations need to be corroborated by meticulous research and sound evidence, especially so in cases with such wide-ranging implications.

54. Jerome, Commentariorum in Amos; CCSL 76:2, LLT 589.

My own search revealed no source.  No doubt there is one, at some remote remove.  It may perhaps turn out to be someone’s summary of what they felt Augustine intended.


Augustine, Homily 229F and Matthew 27:25

I’ve made a bit of an effort today to finish off my series on references to Matthew 27:25 in patristic literature.  One of these references can be found in one of Augustine’s sermons, number 229F (which was one of those discovered by G. Morin in the 1930’s).

Today I was able to access the New City Press translation of all of Augustine’s sermons, in 11 very smart-looking volumes, and I thought that, as it is short, I’d just give this sermon complete.  Here it is.  I have omitted the footnotes, however.

    *    *    *    *

Date: after 418

We have believed in the resurrection of Christ, though we never saw it, on hearing the writings of those who didn’t believe, even when they saw.

1. Some people saw the resurrection of the Lord, others did not believe it when told about it; and they were chided by the Lord, now present among them, because they had not believed those who saw it and brought them the news. What a stupendous favor done to the nations, and to those born long afterward! What has God granted those who now fill the churches of Christ? The holy apostles had gone round with the Lord, heard the word of truth from his mouth, seen him raise the dead; and they didn’t believe that the Lord had risen. We though, born long afterward, have never seen his bodily presence, never heard a word from the mouth of his flesh, never observed with these eyes any miracle performed by him; and yet we have come to believe, on hearing what was written by those who at the time refused to believe. They didn’t believe a most recent event when news of it was brought them; they wrote something for us to read, we heard it, and we believe.

That the Lord Jesus, though, declined to appear to the Jews is because he did not judge them worthy to see the Lord Christ after the resurrection; he showed himself to his own people, not to strangers. And while his own people were preaching, strangers came to believe;4 and those who had been strangers became his own. I mean, many of those, as you can read in the Acts of the Apostles; many of those who crucified the Lord, who defiled themselves by shedding his blood; many of those who said, His blood be upon us and upon our children (Mt 27:25), later on came to believe the apostles bringing them the good news of the resurrection. His blood was indeed upon them, but it was to wash them, not to destroy them; well, upon some to destroy them, upon others to cleanse them; upon those to be destroyed, injustice; upon those to be cleansed, in mercy.

And now too, do all have faith? Just as at that time some of the Jews themselves believed, others did not, so too now with the nations; some have come to believe, others don’t believe. Not everyone has faith (2 Thes 3:2). Those who do have faith, though, believe by God’s grace; they mustn’t pride themselves on it. It’s a gift from God. Is the reason God chose us, do you suppose, that we were good? He didn’t choose good people, but people he wished to make good. We were all in the shadow of death, we were all being held, bundled together in the lump of sin coming from Adam. With the root infected, what sort of fruit could be born of the tree of the human race? But the one who would heal the infection came without infection, and the one who came to clean up sins came without sin.

How Jacob, in his wrestling with the angel, prefigured both the Jews who believed in Christ and those who rejected him.

2. Don’t concentrate on the Jews who are now chaff, that is, who derive from the threshing floor that was threshed then. I mean, if we were to think a bit, my brothers and sisters, from the Jews came the prophets, from the Jews the patriarchs, from the Jews the apostles, from the Jews the virgin Mary who gave birth to Christ, from the Jews later on came Paul as a believer, and so many thousands baptized on one day, from the Jews innumerable Churches of Christians. But all that grain is now stored in the granary; with the chaff the devil will be having his fun.

Believing Jews and unbelieving Jews. Where were they first condemned? In the first of them, in the father of all of them, Jacob himself, who was also called Israel. Jacob: “Supplanter” or “Heel”; Israel: “Seeing God.” When he returned from Mesopotamia with his children, an angel wrestled with him, representing Christ; and while he wrestled, though he surpassed him in strength, he still seemed to succumb to him, and Jacob to prevail. In the same sort of way the Lord Christ too succumbed to the Jews; they prevailed when they killed him.

He was overcome by superior strength; precisely when he was overcome, that was when he overcame for us. What’s that—when he was overcome was when he overcame for us? Because when he suffered, he shed the blood with which he redeemed us.

So then, that’s what’s written: Jacob prevailed over him. And yet Jacob himself, who was wrestling, acknowledged the mystery involved. A man, wrestling with an angel, prevailed over him; and when he said, Let me go, the one who had prevailed said, I am not letting you go, unless you bless me. O grand and splendid mystery! Overcome, he blesses, just as having suffered, he sets free; that is when the blessing was completed. What are you called? he said to him. He replied, Jacob. You shall not be called Jacob, he said, but you shall be called Israel (Gen 32:25-29). The imposition of such a great name is a great blessing. “Israel,” as I said, means “Seeing God”; one man’s name, everyone’s reward. Everyone’s; but provided they believe and are blessed, both Jews and Greeks. Greeks, you see, is what the apostle calls all nationalities, the reason being that the Greek language has such prestige among the nations. Glory, he says, and honor—they are the apostle’s words—glory and honor and peace to everyone doing good, to Jew first and Greek; wrath and indignation, trouble and distress on every soul doing evil, to Jews first and Greeks (Rom 2:10.9). Good for good Jews, bad for bad ones; good for good Gentiles, bad for bad ones.

If you have come to believe in Christ, recognize yourself as blessed; if you have denied Christ, recognize yourself as lame.

3. The Jews shouldn’t pat themselves on the back, and say, “There you are, Jacob all the same is our father; he prevailed over the angel and was blessed by the angel.”

We, though, reply, “People of Israel, look at yourself there. Israel isn’t what you are, it’s what you’re called, but aren’t; the name’s all wrong in you, the crime remains in you.”

But he says to me, “Look, my father is Jacob, my father is Israel. There’s the name; where’s the crime?”

“Read the story, discover yourself in it there. You see, it’s written there, And he touched Jacob on the breadth of his thigh, and it withered, and he began to limp (Gen 32:26). Jacob, one man, both blessed and lame. Blessed in whom, and lame in whom? If you have come to believe in Christ, recognize yourself as blessed. If you have denied Christ, recognize yourself as lame; it means, you see, that you are one of those about whom the prophet says, They have limped off from their paths (Ps 18:45).

Where were the holy women from, to whom the Lord first showed himself as he rose again? From the Jews, weren’t they? Where were the apostles from, who even if they didn’t believe the women when they first brought them the news, nonetheless heard Jesus himself later on, and acknowledged his rebuke, and adhered to his teaching? From the Jews, weren’t they? There’s Israel for you, blessed. But limping in many, blessed only in few; that, you see, is the breadth of the thigh—the majority of his race. It didn’t simply say, “He touched his thigh,” but the breadth of his thigh. Where you have the breadth of the thigh, you undoubtedly have the majority of the race. And what’s so surprising about that? I acknowledge the few grains, and I’m astonished at the heap of chaff? But I see what is due for the granary, and what for the flames. And now, let them listen; they’re still alive; let them correct their limping, let them come to the blessing.


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]Online here.  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.

Augustine to Jerome on the inspiration of scripture

An interesting article at ThinkTheology.co.uk draws together some useful quotations from St. Augustine on the inspiration of scripture.

The quotations come from Augustine’s letter 82, addressed to St. Jerome himself.

For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it.

As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason.

I believe, my brother, that this is your own opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of prophets or of apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error … (82.3)

But you will say it is better to believe that the Apostle Paul wrote what was not true, than to believe that the Apostle Peter did what was not right. On this principle, we must say (which far be it from us to say), that it is better to believe that the gospel history is false, than to believe that Christ was denied by Peter; and better to charge the book of Kings with false statements, than believe that so great a prophet, and one so signally chosen by the Lord God as David was, committed adultery in lusting after and taking away the wife of another, and committed such detestable homicide in procuring the death of her husband.

Better far that I should read with certainty and persuasion of its truth the Holy Scripture, placed on the highest (even the heavenly) pinnacle of authority, and should, without questioning the trustworthiness of its statements, learn from it that men have been either commended, or corrected, or condemned, than that, through fear of believing that by men, who, though of most praiseworthy excellence, were no more than men, actions deserving rebuke might sometimes be done, I should admit suspicions affecting the trustworthiness of the whole oracles of God. (82.5)

The translation is the 19th century one, which may be found online here.

I have never collected ancient statements concerned with the inspiration of scripture; doing so would certainly be an interesting and useful exercise.  But I do recall another passage of Augustine on scripture which deserves quotation here.  It is from De genesim ad litteram (On Genesis, literally expounded), book 2, chapter 9:

It is frequently asked what our belief must be about the form and shape of heaven according to Sacred Scripture. Many scholars engaged in lengthy discussions on these matter, but the sacred writers with their deeper wisdom have omitted them. Such subjects are of no profit for those who seek beatitude, and, what is worse, they take up precious time that ought to be given to what is spiritually beneficial. What concern is it of mine whether heaven is a sphere and the earth is enclosed by it and suspended in the middle of the universe, or whether heaven like a disk above the earth covers it on one side?

But the credibility of Scripture is at stake, and as I have indicated more than once, there is danger that a man uninstructed in divine revelation, discovering something in Scripture or hearing from it something that seems to be at variance with the knowledge that he has acquired, may resolutely withhold his assent in other matters where Scripture presents useful admonitions, narratives, or declarations. Hence, I must say briefly that in the matter of the shape of heaven the sacred writers knew the truth, but that the Spirit of God, who spoke through them, did not wish to teach men these facts that would be of no avail to their salvation.

This translation is as translated by J.H.Taylor, 1982.

All of this is sensible stuff.

We must always remember that there are only two groups of Christians; those whose ultimate authority is the word of scripture, and those who have come to think it is not the ultimate authority, and so, inevitably, give the last word elsewhere — invariably to the world, then to the flesh, and finally to the devil.  It is not enough to mean well; we must think well also.  It isn’t very clever to be so clever that we talk ourselves out of salvation.


The patristic idea that God is outside of time

A post in an online forum drew my attention to some passages in which God is described explicitly as being outside of time, and seeing all eternity as the present.

The first source mentioned is Augustine, Confessions, book 11.  The old NPNF translation is here, and a look at the (Victorian) headings for the chapters reveals some very interesting ideas:

Chapter X.-The Rashness of Those Who Inquire What God Did Before He Created Heaven and Earth.

Chapter XI.-They Who Ask This Have Not as Yet Known the Eternity of God, Which is Exempt from the Relation of Time.

Chapter XII.-What God Did Before the Creation of the World.

Chapter XIII.-Before the Times Created by God, Times Were Not.

Chapter XIV.-Neither Time Past Nor Future, But the Present Only, Really is.

Chapter XV.-There is Only a Moment of Present Time.

Chapter XVI.-Time Can Only Be Perceived or Measured While It is Passing.

Chapter XVII.-Nevertheless There is Time Past and Future.

Chapter XVIII.-Past and Future Times Cannot Be Thought of But as Present.

Chapter XIX.-We are Ignorant in What Manner God Teaches Future Things.

It is unfortunate that the translator used mock-Jacobean English, in a manner more or less impenetrable even to someone as well-educated as the readers of this blog must be.  For instance one passage in chapter 11 is rendered:

… in the Eternal nothing passeth away, but that the whole is present; but no time is wholly present ….

Fortunately I was able to find other versions:

In the Eternal, on the other hand, nothing passes away, but the whole is simultaneously present. (Outler translation[1])

In the eternal, nothing is transient, but the whole is present. (Chadwick translation.[2])

Boethius expresses a similar view in the Consolation of Philosophy, book 5, which is online here:

If one may not unworthily compare this present time with the divine, just as you can see things in this your temporal present, so God sees all things in His eternal present. Wherefore this divine foreknowledge does not change the nature or individual qualities of things: it sees things present in its understanding just as they will result some time in the future.

The translator of Boethius adds a useful note directing us to the Timaeus of Plato, “ch. xi. 38 B”, and stating that where Boethius refers to people who ‘hear that Plato thought, etc.,’ this is because this was the teaching of some of Plato’s successors at the Academy. Plato himself thought otherwise.

The passage referenced from Plato’s Timaeus 11 is as follows:

For there were no days  and nights and months and years before the heaven was created, but when  he constructed the heaven he created them also. They are all parts of time,  and the past and future are created species of time, which we unconsciously but wrongly transfer to the eternal essence; for we say that he “was,” he “is,” he “will be,” but the truth is that “is” alone is properly attributed to him, and that “was” and “will be” only to be spoken of becoming in time,  for they are motions, but that which is immovably the same cannot become  older or younger by time, nor ever did or has become, or hereafter will  be, older or younger, nor is subject at all to any of those states which  affect moving and sensible things and of which generation is the cause.  These are the forms of time, which imitates eternity and revolves according  to a law of number. Moreover, when we say that what has become is become  and what becomes is becoming, and that what will become is about to become  and that the non-existent is non-existent-all these are inaccurate modes  of expression. But perhaps this whole subject will be more suitably discussed  on some other occasion.

Time, then, and the heaven came into being at the same instant  in order that, having been created together, if ever there was to be a  dissolution of them, they might be dissolved together. It was framed after  the pattern of the eternal nature, that it might resemble this as far as  was possible; for the pattern exists from eternity, and the created heaven  has been, and is, and will be, in all time. Such was the mind and thought  of God in the creation of time.

Chadwick adds a note referring us to Plotinus 3.7.3, which reads:

All [Eternity’s] content is in immediate concentration as at one point; nothing in it ever knows development: all remains identical within itself, knowing nothing of change, for ever in a Now since nothing of it has passed away or will come into being, but what it is now, that it is ever.

What we have here, then, is a philosophical idea from the Platonic school, being adopted by the Fathers to deal with the difficult question of the relationships of time and eternity.

As with all such borrowings, we may use them if they clarify what the scriptures tell us; but with the reservation that, if they cease to be useful, they are merely theories and may be discarded.

  1. [1]A.C. Outler, Augustine: Confessions and Enchiridion, Library of Christian Classics, Westminster Press, 1955,  p.252.
  2. [2]Henry Chadwick, Augustine: Confessions, Oxford World’s Classics, Oxford University Press, 1991.