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Question 149

Q: Most of the early church fathers encouraged anti-Semitism.

Men like Justin Martyr, Jerome, Cyril, the Patriarch of Alexandria, Chrysostom, the Patriarch of Constantinople, Thomas Aquinas, and other leading members of the early Church expressed hatred toward Jewish people. Does Reform Theology, which they taught, encourage this teaching that God hates the Jews?  

Asked by: Edith


A: Well Edith, before I get into the substance of your question, I do need to say that the people that you have listed would not generally be placed in the category of reformed theology.

When we think of reformed theology, we usually think of John Calvin, and it is expressed most clearly, I think, in the early days of the Presbyterian Church. That was reformed theology. And it would be wrong for you assume that the ones that you listed would fit into that category, because obviously they go back centuries before Calvin.

Tragically, however, the fact is that the early church fathers, and you are quite correct, had a great deal of anti-Semitism. Thomas Aquinas, a leading catholic theologian, as well as others throughout the history of the church in Europe, spoke against and hated the Jews. In fact, Luther said some terrible things about the Jews. He expected that now that he had uncovered the Gospel, he expected them to believe, and when they didn’t, he lashed out against them in terrible ways.

Here’s the bottom line, the anti-Semitism in the Church was always based, not on race, but on theology. There was the idea that the Jews were the Christ-killers, and because of that wrong assumption, they were often hated and persecuted.

Today you oftentimes find anti-Semitism that is based purely on race. Hitler’s version of anti-Semitism was a matter of race, not theology. However, we must keep in mind that hatred of the Jews is always wrong. The Church greatly sinned, and in a sense, we continue to pay the price.

The truth is, yes, the Jews they consented to the crucifixion of Jesus, the Romans did the deed, but we all were there. Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” It was our sin that put Jesus on the cross. So we must love everyone, and recognize that judgment ultimately rests with God.

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