“The blood of Jesus falls not only on the Jews of that time, but on all generations of Jews up to the end of the world.” (Origen)
The Adversus Judeaos (Against the Jews)
For two centuries following the “John” gospel Church Fathers relentlessly picked up on the scriptural polemics and attacked “the Jews” in a literature that became known as Adversus Judeaos (“Against the Jews). Adversus polemicists included some of the most famous early Christian theologians: Justin, Jerome, Irenaeus and Eusebius.
Justin Martyr: (100-165) was one of the original Church Fathers who is described as “more tolerant, at least for Jews who, mostly after the fall of Jerusalem, identified with the messianic movement. Still, at the ripe age of 16 he was said to have accused “the Jews” of being,
“behind all the persecutions of the Christians. They wandered through the country everywhere hating and undermining the Christian faith."
In his best know work, Dialogue with Trypho, Justin observes that early proselytes,
“blaspheme His name, and wish to torture and put to death us who believe in Him; for in all points they strive to be like [Jews].”
Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339) is considered by the Church the first historian of Christianity. His reference to a Testimonium Flavianum in Josephus Antiquities 18.3.3 has also drawn suspicion that he wrote and inserted the text in Josephus to provide “historical evidence” for Jesus as mortal. Prior to Eusebius’ “discovery,” there was no mention of a “Testimonium” and it is highly unlikely that the single “Jewish” source for Jesus existence would have gone unmentioned for nearly two hundred years.
In a paper, Following Abraham into the Twenty-first Century: Building Jewish-Christian Relations Today JoAnn Magnuson writes that Eusebius,
“claimed that Jews in every community crucified a Christian at their Purim festival as a rejection of Jesus.”
This may represent the first appearance of the “blood libel” in Christian literature, a slander which would haunt the imaginations of Late Middle Ages Christians and inspire the torture and murder of so many Jews.
Saint Ambrose (b. around 340), another prominent Church Father, described the Jews in 379 as,
“the most worthless of all men. They are lecherous, greedy, rapacious. They are perfidious murderers of Christ. They worship the Devil. Their religion is a sickness. The Jews are the odious assassins of Christ and for killing God there is no expiation possible, no indulgence or pardon. Christians may never cease vengeance, and the Jew must live in servitude forever. God always hated the Jews. It is essential that all Christians hate them."
In 388 Ambrose defended another bishop accused before the emperor of burning down a synagogue. The emperor ordered the offending bishop to rebuild the synagogue, to which Ambrose demanded of the emperor,
"Who cares if a synagogue - a home of unbelief, a house of impiety, a receptacle of folly, which God himself has condemned - is burned?"
“Coming down from the altar to face him, the bishop declared he would not continue the Eucharist until the emperor obeyed. The emperor bowed to this threat of excommunication.”
Further examples of the Adversus:
Hilary (c. 300 – c. 368): “Jews are a perverse people accursed by God forever.”
Gregory of Nyssa, (c. 335 – c. 395): “the Jews are a brood of vipers, haters of goodness.”
St. Jerome, (c. 347 –420): “If you call it [a synagogue] a brothel, a den of vice, the Devil's refuge, Satan's fortress, a place to deprave the soul, an abyss of every conceivable disaster or whatever you will, you are still saying less than it deserves.”
While “the Jews” were never far from the thoughts and writings of emergent Christian theology the period between the second and fourth century was also a period of competition with Judaism for converts. Paul’s “reforms” to Jewish rites of conversion indicate the intensity of the competition. But there was also a sectarian competition over Jesus’ mission and even his nature. Some “Christians” asserted Jesus as entirely human, others as entirely divine. This debate would only be resolved in 325 at the Council of Nicea. Jesus’ nature would become official with the adoption of Christianity as state religion in 380, as codified in the Edict of Thessalonica.
Sylvester I (314-335), pope at the time of Nicea, ordered:
“No priest shall… be friendly or sociable with Jews, nor should anyone take food of drink with the Jews, for if this was decreed by the holy apostles, it is incumbent upon the faithful to obey their command; and the synod shall excommunicate anyone who does not comply with this order.”
In the end catholic Christianity emerged ascendant and from its new status the Church set out to eliminate deviant sects and individuals which it deemed “heretical.”
The fourth century marked the adoption of Catholic Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. This was a period of new-found power, prestige and self-confidence that might have marked an easing of strictures against the Jews. Instead, particularly during the second half of the century, it intensified its anti-Judaic polemic and persecution continued. Adversus polemics remained focused on the established themes.
St. Gregory, bishop of Nyssa (c. 335–c. 395):
“Jews are slayers of the Lord, murderers of the prophets, enemies and haters of God, adversaries of grace, enemies of their fathers’ faith, advocates of the devil, a brood of vipers, slanderers, scoffers, men of darkened minds, the leaven of Pharisees, a congregation of demons, sinners, wicked men, haters of goodness!”
But the most influential contributors to Adversus literature for the future were two fourth century saints, John Chrysostum and Augustine of Hippo.
St. John Chrysostum (347-407), is frequently described as "the greatest preacher in the early church. His sermons echo down the centuries and continue to be held as examples in seminaries today. Fr. James Parkes, a student of theology in 1934, described Chrysostum’s homilies as worthy inspiration to Hitler and the unfolding Holocaust:
“Are they not inveterate murderers, destroyers, men possessed by the devil? Jews are impure and impious, and their synagogue is a house of prostitution, a lair of beasts, a place of shame and ridicule, the domicile of the devil, as is the soul of the Jew... As a matter of fact, Jews worship the devil; their rites are criminal and unchaste; their religion a disease; their synagogue an assembly of crooks, a den of thieves, a cavern of devils, an abyss of perdition!” (Homily 4:1)
If Chrysostum’s voice conveys an hysterical tone his contemporary Augustine speaks in a more subdued and rational voice. But “moderation” in tone does not hide identity of message:“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.”