Un-parting the Ways: Christian-Jewish Relations in the First Six Centuries and the Modern Times

Lisa Filipek

God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the Nations: we are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.

– The written words of Pope John Paul II that were slipped into a crack of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, 2000

          Almost from its inception, the Christian Church has struggled with its relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people. The Church itself emerged as a sect within Judaism, often referred to by scholars as the Jewish Movement, but quickly began to differentiate itself as it became clear that the path to growth was not within Judaism but within the wider world of the Gentiles. It would take several centuries for Christianity to fully separate itself from Judaism, but the biggest shifts would begin as early as the first century CE. Throughout the first few centuries, Christian leaders and apologists would grapple with one of the central tensions of the new religion: how can Christianity claim itself as the natural and rightful extension of Judaism while refusing to follow many Jewish laws and customs? The solutions to these questions would take the shape of harsh and negative anti-Jewish rhetoric that would continue to influence the theology and doctrine of the Catholic Church for nearly two thousand years.

          This paper will explore the creation of anti-Jewish rhetoric in the ancient Church and its lingering impact in modern times. First, I will discuss the relations between Christians and Jews in the ancient Church, paying particular attention to the separation of the two. I will then examine select hymns written by St. Ephrem as an example of anti-Jewish polemics and apologetics in the first centuries. Written in the mid to late fourth century CE, St. Ephrem’s hymns provide insight into Christian theology during a time when the Church struggled internally to establish orthodox teachings and beliefs. Next, I will look at the impact this rhetoric had on the modern Church up through the Second Vatican Council. At that time, the Council will issue the declaration Nostra Aetate[1], which will offer a radically new theology of Judaism in light of the Holocaust. I will then examine how this radical shift in doctrine came to be written and what impact this document has had in the fifty years since publication. Lastly I will consider the next steps for the Church in light of these changes.

          It is important to note here that "anti-Jewish" and "anti-Semitic are not interchangeable terms. Anti-Jewish or Anti-Judaism is “a long-standing sentiment… of mistrust and hostility’ held by Christians against Jews because the former… rejected Jesus Christ’s teachings and were purportedly responsible for his crucifixion”.[2] This is specifically referencing negative claims about Judaism and the Jews based on religious matters. Anti-Semitism, on the other hand, was a term coined in the late nineteenth century by the German journalist Wilhelm Marr. It is a “racially based prejudice against Jews which denigrates and demeans them principally because of their ethnicity rather than their faith”.[3] This should include other Semitic groups, such as Arabs, but in practice is used only in discussing prejudice against Jews and Judaism. Both terms reference negative sentiments against the Jewish people; the former is based on faith and the latter is based on ethnicity.  When speaking of anti-Jewish rhetoric in the first centuries, it is important to keep in mind that this prejudice is faith based; however, as we will discuss later in this paper, these sentiments likely gave weight and support to the development of anti-Semitic thoughts in the Christian world.

Christian-Jewish Relations in the Ancient Church

          In the first centuries a theological and socio-political battle was playing out between the emerging Christian religion and Judaism. Both the Christians and the Jews laid claim to being the chosen people of God and to being the rightful interpreters of the Hebrew scripture.[4] This battle was a zero sum game, as only one religion could emerge as the legitimate heirs of God’s covenant with Israel. Early Christians sought a way to use their connection to Judaism as a basis for legitimacy, while establishing a distinct identity separate from Judaism. This distinction often took the form of polemics and apologetics, standard rhetoric styles of the time that often shock modern readers with their harshness.[5]

          When considering the polemic and apologetic writings of the early Christians, it is important to keep in mind the political disparity between the two groups. While Judaism was not a major world religion, it did hold an established minority position at the time, being recognized as such by the Roman Empire and receiving certain benefits and privileges. Christianity, as the newcomer to the world of religions, was at a disadvantage in the ancient world. Until at least the Edict of Milan, Christianity will remain in a politically unstable space within the Roman Empire and consequently, will remain relatively small. As such, the influence and reach of such rhetoric would not have had damning consequences for the Jewish religion. At this stage in the game, the Christians are essentially punching up at a more established and recognized religion in an attempt to take over some of that legitimacy.

          Scholars generally group this early Christian anti-Jewish work under the heading of Adversus Judaeos, a term popularized by St. John Chrysostom’s homilies of the same name delivered in the fourth century.[6] The origins of these writing can be traced back to the origins of the Christian faith, when it was still a sect within the established Jewish religion. Both Jesus and his first followers were practicing Jews living in Palestine and so were many of the original converts to the faith. This created conflict and division within Judaism that found its way into the Gospel texts. For instance, Matthew’s Gospel speaks of Jesus’s conflicts with Pharisees, Sadducees, and other Jewish religious groups, in a way that mirrored the conflict between Matthew’s community and local Jewish leaders.[7] John’s Gospel, which was the last of the four to be written, refers to all of Jesus’ opponents as “Jews," effectively creating a distinction between Jews who became Christian and those who did not. The split from Judaism would take several centuries to complete; however, Christianity began to evolve into its own religion separate from Judaism around the time of the first Jewish-Roman war in 66 CE, which resulted in the destruction of the Second Temple.[8]

          While some Jewish Christians were busy fighting internal battles with other Jewish leaders, others were out making strong inroads with Gentile converts. It quickly became clear that the future of the Church lay with the Gentiles rather than the Jews. This created new dilemmas for the early Church, as it navigated how best to incorporate Gentiles into the faith and which aspects of Jewish law would be retained. As the Christian Church grew further from its Jewish history, it became necessary to establish a distinct identity for this new c hurch. The identity needed to be rooted in the antiquity of Judaism but also provide reasoning for maintaining these beliefs while ignoring the customs and laws. The greatest tension in the early Church was establishing legitimacy and identity, while walking the line between claiming a continuity and discontinuity with the Jewish faith and lineage.[9] The early Church Fathers would find their justification for the legitimacy of the new Christian identity within the theology of the destruction of the Second Temple.

            The destruction of the Temple would be understood by both Jewish Christians and Jews as a punishment from God. Jewish life and worship was centered around the Temple, and without it, Jews were unable to offer sacrifices to God. What could the Jewish people have done to so displease God? Early Christian apologists, particularly those living in Palestine, such as Justin Martyr, Origen, and Eusebius, would associate the destruction of the Temple with the Jewish guilt for killing Jesus, the Messiah.[10] By rejecting Jesus as their Messiah and handing him over to be killed, the Jews committed a sin so great as to be in breach of their covenant with God.[11] By destroying the Temple, God rejected Jewish law and sacrifice as imperfect and thus no longer acknowledged the Jews as the Chosen People of God.[12] As punishment, Jews, for all time, would be left to wander in the diaspora without being able to return to their homeland.[13] God formed a new covenant, through Jesus, with the Christians, that abolished the old laws and covenants and began anew.[14] In this way, the apologists were able to make a claim as the new chosen people of the God of Israel, while also explaining away the need to follow all of the Jewish customs.

The Life of St. Ephrem

            St. Ephrem was born in Nisibis in the beginning of the fourth century CE. At the time of his birth, Nisibis was an important political center, located as it was near the contested borders of the Roman and Persian Empires. Political stability was threatened often in Ephrem’s life, and the fortunes of Christians would likewise fluctuate with the changes of leadership. He was born just after the Diocletian persecutions and would begin much of his ministry under the rule of Constantine. However, in later years, conflict with the Persians would cause him to move to Edessa, where he would experience persecution by Julian, an apostate Roman Emperor. Eventually the Persian Empire would conquer Syria. This upheaval and threat to Christianity in the region would play a large role in St. Ephrem's writings and hymns.[15]

            Judaism constituted a substantial minority in the city of Nisibis for nearly a thousand years, as it served as the thoroughfare for temple offerings for the Jews in Mesopotamia. After the destruction of the Second Temple, it became a center of rabbinic Judaism. As in other areas throughout the ancient world, the fortunes of the Jews and the Christians were often in direct opposition, with each group blaming, whether correctly or not, the other for the persecutions they faced. As the Jews in Nisibis grew in power, Christians, like Ephrem, became more committed to apologetics and polemics that created clear divisions between the religions and issued more elaborate Christian exegesis of the Old Testament.[16]

St. Ephrem was a strong supporter of the newly emerging Orthodox Christianity as set forth by the Council of Nicea and used his writings to bolster Christian teaching. His violent rhetoric leaves little space for his listeners to subscribe to any belief other than strict orthodoxy.[17] Nowhere is this clearer than in his writings about the Jewish people. While his work, written in the Syriac language, would not be a mainstay in later Western Christian theology, it was extremely influential within Syria. It is important to remember that his hymns in particular were written to be sung and were thus incorporated into Syriac language liturgy, giving them a wide reach in his native country.[18]

Ephrem’s Hymns

          In this lifetime, St. Ephrem would write hundreds of hymns across a wide variety of topics. While he did not specifically focus on Jews or Judaism as the main topic of any one hymn, anti-Jewish rhetoric still found its way into many of his hymns. For this paper, I will focus on two hymns that epitomize anti-Jewish rhetoric in the fourth century, and in particular, Ephrem’s way of incorporating this rhetoric into other topics.

          In Hymn Against Julian, the King Who Apostatized & Against the Heretics and the Jews[19], St. Ephrem writes harshly against the Emperor Julian, who Ephrem views as a false Emperor ruling in Syria. While a ruler, Julian showed great support for pagans and Jews while at the same time, alienating Christianity by issuing many anti-Christian laws. While attacking Julian, Ephrem often pivots to include subtle (and not so subtle) attacks on Judaism, using many standard anti-Jewish motifs. For instance, at times, he refers to the Jewish people as “the circumcised” in order to create a clear delineation between Jews and all other people.[20] This was a common practice in Christian apologetics, who claimed that circumcision was not a mark of honor bestowed on God’s chosen people, but rather a punishment created by an omniscient God to mark those who would later be responsible for the death of Jesus.[21]

          Ephrem also reinforced the notion that God destroyed the Second Temple as punishment for the Jewish people’s rejection and killing of Jesus on the cross. Emperor Julian, as a bid to win over the Jews and as a way of angering the Christians, promised to rebuild the Temple, a promise he was unable to keep. St. Ephrem used this failure as a means to reinforce the notion that the Jewish people could never be redeemed, and the Temple, one sign of their covenant with God, would never be rebuilt:

But Daniel passed judgement on Jerusalem and determined

That it would not be rebuilt, and Zion believed him.

They themselves wailed and wept: he cut off and cast out their hope.[22]

          St. Ephrem not only emphasizes the notion that God cannot forgive this great sin of the Jewish people, but also claims that the Jews have themselves turned away from God. Emperor Julian creates a golden coin with the image of a bull. St. Ephrem creates a parallel here between the golden bull and the golden calf created by Aaron for the Hebrews (Ex. 32): “for they recognized in that bull their ancient calf."[23] St. Ephrem claims that upon seeing the bull, the Jewish people rejoiced and cried, “Behold the gods that will lead your captives up from Babylon into the land they devastated, as the molten calf led you out of Egypt!”[24] While the Hebrews in Exodus will ultimately repent and turn away from the false idol under the direction of Moses, the Jewish people, however, without adequate leadership and lacking a Temple, have chosen to embrace this new idol.[25]

          It is important to recognize here that this rhetoric is doing more than just creating a distinction between Christianity and Judaism. It is establishing a sense of “otherness” for the Jewish people, an otherness that is not just distinct but also inferior. Ephrem would go still further. During a mass before the Easter/Passover season, the congregation in his Church sang the words for his Hymns on Unleavened Bread. These hymns included lines such as “Glory be to Christ through whose body the unleavened bread of the [Jewish] People became obsolete, together with the [Jewish] People itself!”[26] He warns the congregation away from celebrating Passover with the line “The evil [Jewish] People that wants our death, enticing, gives us food of death”.[27] These lines do more than just negate the Jewish faith; they negate the Jewish people themselves.

          In these hymns, Ephrem moves from setting up the Jewish people as an inferior “Other”, to encouraging animosity and hatred of the Jewish people. He established the idea that the Jewish people are a threat to Christians, not just ideologically but also physically. This type of rhetoric codified in liturgical hymns and doctrines, given preference and authority due to its antiquity, would become very problematic as the Christian Church evolved from a struggling sect within Judaism to a major world power throughout the Western World.

Christian-Jewish Relations in Modern Times

          St. Ephrem was only one of many Christians – including St. Paul and the Gospel authors – who incorporated anti-Jewish rhetoric into their writings and teachings. These teachings were incorporated into the foundational teachings and doctrines of the Church and would go largely unchallenged until the twentieth century. In January of 1959, less than ninety days following his election to the papacy, Pope John XXIII would shock the Catholic Church, and the world, by declaring “a general council for the universal Church.
"[28] The Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, would be tasked with tackling the changing needs of the Church within the modern world and to promote greater unity with other Christians.[29]

            One of the most controversial topics raised in the Council was the “Decree on the Jews.” Pope John XXIII had a special interest in seeing this topic revisited during the Council and appointed the newly elevated Cardinal Augustin Bea to oversee its drafting. This would prove to be a particularly prescient choice, as Cardinal Bea would go to extraordinary lengths during the six years of the Council to ensure that this topic remained on the agenda and that the anti-Jewish sentiments of the early Church Fathers were overturned. Throughout the four sessions of the Council, the Decree on the Jews would be bounced around between different schema and drafting committees and risk being removed altogether multiple times. Ultimately, what was once meant to be a concluding section in the schema on ecumenism found its way into a unique declaration that would encompass all non-Christian religions. The Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, or Nostra Aetate as it is more commonly called, was approved by the Council and promulgated on October 28, 1965. The final document would receive 88 negative votes, the second most of any Vatican II document.[30]

            The logical next question, then, is why were so many of the Council Fathers opposed to a new understanding of the Church’s relations with other religions and in particular the Jews? The considerable opposition was driven by political considerations from Arabic countries, bishops of the churches in the Middle East, and a still pervasive anti-Semitic culture within the Church traditions.[31]

          The concerns in the Arab world were largely focused on the conflict in Palestine. Arab leaders feared that this shift in theology would correspond to increased support for Zionism and a recognition of the State of Israel. [32] Bishops from majority Arab countries echoed these concerns, as they worried about ramifications for their own churches. These fears were not unwarranted, as there were many protests and demonstrations against the Catholic Church during the time of the Council.[33] While Cardinal Bea repeatedly made clear that the Council was concerned with religious and not political matters, these fears were only enhanced during the final intercession of the Council, when Bea and his associates delivered Arabic translations of the schema to Roman consulates throughout the Middle East.[34]

          The other, more pervasive, opponents to the document were the traditionalists on the Council. They were greatly concerned about the theological implications of the new decree. Father O’Malley notes that at play was the “deeper and all too widespread anti-Semitism that based itself on the New Testament."[35] How could the Church claim that the Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus, when the passion accounts in the Gospels, particularly in Matthew and John, clearly indicate their culpability?[36] Does this shift in theology require the Church to deny the Gospels? Also at stake was the issue of Jewish salvation and conversion. If the covenant is acknowledged as valid, does that put Judaism on the same level as Christianity? All of these concerns were not directly addressed, but the majority of the Council members were open to a new understanding of Christianity and Judaism and so the declaration was ratified.

Nostra Aetate, no. 4

            Despite the turmoil in the Council and the many concessions made throughout the process, Nostra Aetate still represented a radical shift in the Catholic theology of religions and in particular Catholic teachings on the Jewish faith. Dr. Eugene J. Fischer of the USCCB notes that “Nostra Aetate, for all practical purposes, brings the Church’s teaching…concerning…a doctrinal understanding of the relationship between the Church as 'People of God' and 'God’s People' Israel”.[37] This is made evident when considering the Church teachings referenced by NA, in particular, section 4. Rather than source the rich history of Catholic teaching, this section makes reference only to Biblical passages and one reference to the conciliar document Lumen Gentium. In a sense, Nostra Aetate is taking the Church back to the first century and allowing it to take a different path in its relations to the Jewish people. Section four begins by affirming the deep connection between Christianity and Judaism, calling the latter the “root” from which the Church draws sustenance.[38] It then speaks of the conflict between the two faiths, acknowledging that the Jews did not recognize the Messiah nor accept the Gospel. Then, rather than reaffirm the polemic teachings of the early Church, Nostra Aetate reaffirms the Jewish faith: “Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers”.[39] Using the words of St. Paul to the Romans, NA rejects supersessionist teachings about Jewish scripture and law and reconfirms the covenantal relationship with God: “Theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises”.[40]

            The biggest blow to anti-Jewish rhetoric came in the final portion of section four. The declaration acknowledges that there were Jews involved in Christ’s crucifixion, but it completely rejects the notion that this guilt is shared by all Jews: “What happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews today.”[41] This statement, though extremely radical and deeply important, falls short of what Cardinal Bea originally hoped for from this document. The word “deicide” was removed from the original decree early in the process and due to various concessions that were required along the way, was never restored. However, this statement is still powerful, as the idea of Jewish guilt for the death of Christ was the foundation of all anti-Jewish rhetoric. The document strikes a second blow against anti-Jewish rhetoric by affirming that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.”[42] In the closing of the section, NA strongly admonishes anti-Semitism[43] and opens the door for a greater conversation within the Church about its own teachings and doctrines.[44]

            Nostra Aetate is certainly an imperfect document. It avoids fully condemning the theology of deicide by shying away from the word. Despite its condemnation of anti-Semitism, it does not acknowledge any culpability on the part of the Church in the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world. Despite these shortcomings and concessions, it was a necessary first step in opening up dialogue and improved relations with the Jewish people.

The Aftermath

          Nostra Aetate and the work of Vatican II opened up new avenues for interreligious dialogue between Catholics and other non-Christian religions. NA ushered in “a new language of discourse never previously heard in the Catholic Church concerning Jews”.[45] However, it was only a beginning. In the intervening fifty years, many subsequent documents and teachings were issued by the Catholic Church to tackle this new theology of religions introduced in the conciliar documents.

          In the wake of NA, Jewish leaders acknowledged the importance of NA, in particular its condemnation of anti-Semitism in the aftermath of the Shoah.  However, the document failed to acknowledge the Church’s role in the Holocaust or prior Jewish persecutions. This exclusion was largely due to Pope Paul VI’s influence on the document.[46] The Catholic Church would meet this criticism in several ways. In 1998, the Church issued We Remember: Reflections on the Shoah, as a reflection on its role within the horrific events of World War II. In 2000, Pope John Paul II would write a formal apology and place it within the Western Wall. While there are still Jewish leaders who feel that Church has not fully apologized or not been clear enough in acknowledging its guilt, Edward Kessler suggests that in order for Catholic-Jewish dialogue to progress, it is time to move forward. He notes the danger that “by focusing solely on the Shoah, Jews and Christians will gain a distorted view of themselves and each other”, with Christians stuck in a position of guilt and Jews in a position of victimhood.[47]

          Instead, the Catholic Church can show respect for the current issues and concerns of modern Jews by recognizing the Jewish desire for statehood and the return to Israel. In 70 CE, the ancient Jews and Christians watched as the Romans destroyed the Second Temple, putting an end to Temple worship. This gave fuel for anti-Jewish polemics that saw the destruction of the Temple as a sign of the broken covenant with God. The destruction of the Temple was seen by early Christians as a clear sign of God’s repudiation of the Jewish people, the breaking point of the original covenant, and an irredeemable finality. Judaism was delegitimized as a religion and the people of Israel were left to wander in the diaspora for eternity as punishment. As Catholic theology around deicide and the covenant with Israel evolves, so too must the Catholic understanding and theology of Zionism.

          In modern times, the concerns are no longer just about rebuilding the Temple, but rather about reestablishing the Jewish State in Jerusalem.[48] This is a central issue for modern Jews, but also one that the Catholic Church completely ignored in NA and the subsequent writings.[49] However, what the Church has failed to respond to in words, it has begun to clarify through actions. In 1904, Pope Pius X, in a meeting asking for help to return the Jews to Israel, famously said that “the Jews have not recognized our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people”.[50] Ninety years later, Pope John Paul II would officially recognize the state of Israel, and ten years after that, he would travel to Israel to seek forgiveness for the anti-Semitism within the Church by slipping an apology into a crack in the Western Wall. These actions of the modern popes would help to “repudiate the theology of perpetual wandering…which argued against the possibility of a restored, sovereign Jewish State as part of the punishment” for killing Jesus.[51]

            On the other side of the dialogue, much work is also taking place within Judaism to align with the changes in Christian-Jewish relations. In fact, many Orthodox and Progressive Jews came together in 2000 to issue Dabru Emet, their response to Nostra Aetate.[52] Similar in length to NA, the document laid out eight statements of beliefs about Christians, in an effort to focus on commonalities and to foster a desire within Jews to learn more about Christianity. Dabru Emet includes both statements of agreement, e.g. worship of the same God, use of the same Scripture, and statements that challenge Jewish understandings of Christians, e.g. Christians were not solely responsible for Nazism, opening relationships between the two will not weaken Judaism. This document was an acknowledgement that relations were possible and that in order to create more fruitful dialogue, the faithful on both sides have to work through certain prejudices and ignorance.


            The anti-Jewish rhetoric in the first centuries was employed to establish the legitimacy of the emerging Catholic faith and to create a distinct identity for the new Church. At the time, it was common practice to employ harsh and cruel language within polemical and apologetic writings; the early Church fathers were not alone in doing this. However, those writings that served a very specific purpose for the early Church were ultimately codified into the doctrines and teachings of the Church and would remain unchallenged for nearly two thousand years.

            That challenge would come during the Second Vatican Council. At that time, the world was in a very different place. Both Christianity and Judaism were major religions in the world and Christianity had been a political power in the West for roughly fifteen hundred years. The Church was no longer threatened by socio-political instability or the threat of persecutions and so it was able to re-engage in its theology of Judaism from a very different place. The result was a radical shift in theology that reversed the polemics of the early Church and acknowledged the legitimacy of Judaism.

            However, the radical nature of Nostra Aetate is not just a change in Christian-Jewish relations, but also a change in the very nature of Catholic theological identity. If the Church acknowledges that Jews receive salvation through their covenant with God, what does that mean for its understanding of Christ’s role in salvation? If Jesus is the full revelation of God’s word, then how can Catholics accept that the Hebrew laws and scriptures are sufficient for Jews? Wouldn’t this still demand a need for conversion of the Jews?[53] How does Christianity engage with Scripture, in particular Gospel passages, that incorporate anti-Jewish rhetoric in light of new understandings of Judaism? What does Christian identity look like if it is not a replacement of God’s covenant with the Jewish people? These are the large questions that the Catholic Church has been grappling with, to various degrees of success, over the last fifty years. There is still much more that must be considered. These challenges must be embraced as the fruits of a Council that was inspired to tangle with the modern world in a real and meaningful way. I look forward to the continued challenge, as a Catholic, of finding our way through these issues.


[1] Hereafter referenced by its customary abbreviation, NA.

[2] Peter M. Marendy, "Anti-Semitism, Christianity, and the Catholic Church: origins, consequences, and responses," Journal of Church and State 47.2 (2005): 290.

[3] Marendy, “Anti-Semitism, Christianity, and the Catholic Church”, 290.

[4] See Adam Gregerman, Building on the Ruins of the Temple: Apologetics and Polemics in Early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism, (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 2.

[5] See Gregerman, Building on the Ruins of the Temple, 3.

[6] Tertullian and other writers would also employ this title for their own writings about Christian-Jewish encounters and dialogue.

[7] See Marendy, “Anti-Semitism, Christianity, and the Catholic Church”, 291.

[8] See Gregerman, Building on the Ruins of the Temple, 4.

[9] See Gregerman, Building on the Ruins of the Temple, 24.

[10] Melito of Sardis would introduce the idea of the Jews killing God’s son and St. John Chrysostom would be the first to use the term “deicide”. See Marendy, “Anti-Semitism, Christianity, and the Catholic Church”, 294.

[11] This rhetoric would find support in the Letter to the Hebrews, particularly Heb 8:13 and 10:9.

[12] The apologists drew inspiration from anti-Jewish New Testament passages, in particular Hebrews 10. Hebrews 10:1. “Since the law has only a shadow of good things to come and not the true form of realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually made year after year, make perfect those who approach.” Note all Bible quotes are from the NRSV version unless otherwise specified.

[13] The apologists believed that Jewish culpability for denying Christ and allowing him to be killed was passed on to all future generations, so that the covenant was broken forever. (See Matthew 27:25 “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’”)

[14] Hebrews 8:13 “In speaking of a ‘new covenant’, he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.”

[15] See Kathleen E. McVey, Introduction to Hymns, by St. Ephrem, trans. Kathleen E. McVey (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 14.

[16] See McVey, “Introduction”, 14.

[17] See Shepardson, Anti-Judaism and Christian Orthodoxy, 3.

[18] See Christine C. Shepardson, Anti-Judaism and Christian Orthodoxy: Ephrem's Hymns in Fourth-Century Syria (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2008), 3.

[19] All quotes from “Hymns Against Julian” will be referenced by the abbreviation CJ, as used by The Classics of Western Spirituality. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns, trans. Kathleen E. McVey (New York: Paulist Press, 1989).

[20] For example in CJ 1.16, St. Ephrem writes, “The circumcised saw the image that suddenly was a bull.”  Paul would employ the same rhetoric in his letter to the Galatians (Gal. 2:7-9) warning against circumcision for the Gentiles.

[21] See Gregerman, Building on the Ruins of the Temple, 37.

[22] CJ 4.23

[23] CJ 1.16

[24] CJ 1.17

[25] See McVey, “Introduction”, 37.

[26] Shepardson, Anti-Judaism and Christian Orthodoxy, I.

[27] Shepardson, Anti-Judaism and Christian Orthodoxy, I.

[28] John XIII’s address to a group of Cardinals, as quoted from Guiseppe Alberigo, A Brief History of Vatican II, trans. Matthew Sherry (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006), 1-3.

[29] See Alberigo, A Brief History, 1-3.

[30] See Guiseppe Alberigo, History of Vatican II: Volume V, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006), 226.

[31] See Guiseppe Alberigo, History of Vatican II: Volume III, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006), 58.

[32] See John W. O’Malley, What Happened At Vatican II (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008), 220.

[33] See Guiseppe Alberigo, History of Vatican II: Volume IV, trans. Matthew J. O’Connell (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006), 547.

[34] See Alberigo, Vol. V, 215.

[35] O’Malley, What Happened, 221.

[36] E.g. Mt 27:22-26; Jn 19:14-16

[37] John T. Pawlikowski, “Reflection on Covenant and Mission Forty Years After Nostra Aetate,” CrossCurrents, 56.4 (2007): 70.

[38] NA, 4.

[39] NA, 4.

[40] NA, 4 quoting Rom 9:4-5. To note here, some of the Council members argued against the use of this quotation claiming that it twisted Paul’s true meaning. See Alberigo, Vol. V, 222-3.

[41] NA, 4.

[42] NA 4.

[43] NA,4: “[T]he Church…decries hated, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone”

[44] NA, 4: “No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people.”

[45] Edward Kessler, "I Am Joseph, Your Brother: A Jewish Perspective on Christian-Jewish Relations Since Nostra Aetate No. 4,” Theological Studies, 74.1 (2013), 48.

[46] During the Council, a new German play called Der Stellvertreter, or The Deputy, became popular. The play criticized Pope Pius XII’s role in the Holocaust accusing him of condoning Nazism through silence. Pope Paul, a close friend and strong supporter of Pius XII, was concerned that any acknowledgment of guilt in past persecutions would be seen as an endorsement of these criticisms. See O’Malley, What Happened, 221.

[47] Kessler, “I am Joseph, Your Brother”, 57.

[48] Kessler, “I Am Joseph, Your Brother”, 6.

[49] As noted above, Nostra Aetate chose to avoid the political quagmire of the conflict between Arabs and Jews over Palestine. Had Cardinal Bea attempted to introduce any theology around Jewish nationhood or Zionism, the entire decree would have been stricken from the agenda.

[50] Kessler, “I am Joseph, Your Brother”, 6.

[51] Kessler, “I Am Joseph, Your Brother”, 6.

[52] Kessler, “I am Joseph, Your Brother”, 2.

[53] Both of these topics will be tackled in Dominus Iesus, which was received to very mixed reviews by the interreligious and ecumenical communities both within and without the Catholic Church.


Alberigo, Guiseppe. A Brief History of Vatican II. Translated by Matthew Sherry. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006.

Alberigo, Guiseppe. History of Vatican II: Volume III. Translated by Matthew J. O’Connell. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006.

Alberigo, Guiseppe. History of Vatican II: Volume IV. Translated by Matthew J. O’Connell. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006.

Alberigo, Guiseppe. History of Vatican II: Volume V. Translated by Matthew J. O’Connell. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006.

Ephrem the Syrian. Hymns. Translated by Kathleen E. McVey. New York: Paulist Press, 1989.

Gregerman, Adam. Building on the Ruins of the Temple: Apologetics and Polemics in Early Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016.

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Marendy, Peter M. "Anti-Semitism, Christianity, and the Catholic Church: origins, consequences, and responses." Journal of Church and State 47.2 (2005): 289-307.

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In the MA program in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, we encourage our students to undertake graduate level research that allows them to connect their coursework to an exploration in which they pursue a topic in greater depth, enhancing their research skills in the process.  For our course in ancient Christian theology and history, “The First Six Centuries,” the graduate students are asked to relate their study of the early church to contemporary issues in Christian theology.  This is a challenging exercise, as the social and cultural contexts during which a first-century Jewish sect was transformed into a new religion are very different from our own.  Where are the continuities in Christian theology across the centuries?  How has theology developed and changed?  The essays by Lisa Filipek and Kaitlin Stasinski are excellent examples of how to make the past present through theological reasoning. -- Dr. Christopher Denny