What were the views of the Church Fathers on Jews and Judaism during the Patristic Era?
The Church Father occasionally wrote about the subject of the Jews and Judaism. None seems to be anti-semitic in tone. John Chrysostom however did deliver eight sermons of extreme violence against the Jews while he was in Antioch, but these were intended to warn certain Christians against the attraction which Judaism exerted over them to the extent that they participated in the Jewish festivals or adopted Jewish practices.
Writing against the Jews or Judaism does not necessarily entail something of an anti-Semitic nature. One must in all sincerity have truly read what the Church Fathers have written, before making a conclusion.
The following source is from the Jewish Virtual Library on the subject of the Church Fathers:
Church Fathers, term designating the spiritual and doctrinal proponents of Christianity during its first centuries. First reserved for bishops, the designation was later also accorded to other ecclesiastical authorities. The criteria of eligibility for this designation are (1) orthodoxy of doctrine (i.e., identification with the teachings of the official Church); (2) saintliness of conduct; (3) ecclesiastical approbation; (4) seniority. The authority of the Church Fathers resides in the principle accepted by the Church of considering tradition a source of faith. The patristic period ends in the West in 636 with the death of *Isidore of Seville and in the Orient in 749 with that of John of Damascus. In the main, two aspects concerning the relationship between the Church Fathers and the Jews and Judaism are discussed here: their contribution to anti-Jewish polemics; and their knowledge of Hebrew and rabbinic teachings.
Mention should be made of the "Epistle of Barnabas" (second century), a New Testament apocryphal work in Greek, which is unique in the literature of the early Church for its radical anti-Jewish attitude. According to the anonymous author of this text, the Jews have misunderstood the Law by interpreting it literally instead of looking for the spiritual meaning. The author stresses the obligation of Christians not to celebrate the Sabbath, but Sunday, the day of the resurrection of Jesus. Aristides of Athens, in his Apologia addressed to Emperor Hadrian in about 123–24, attacks the Jews at the same time as he polemicizes against the Barbarians and the Greeks. The first Christian polemicist to attack the Jews directly was Ariston of Pella (mid-second century) in his "Dialogue of Jason and Papiscus"; this work has been lost and only the preface to a Latin translation (also lost) is extant. The first anti-Jewish polemic in Greek which has been almost entirely preserved is the "Dialogue with Tryphon" by Justin (d. 165), the most important Christian apologist of the second century. The work is an adaptation of a debate which perhaps actually took place between Justin and a philosopher who lived in Ereẓ Israel, possibly R. *Tarfon . The discussion, which lasted two days, deals with the validity of Old Testament Law, the divinity of Jesus, and the Christian claim that the Nations represent a New Israel. Justin's work contains a considerable amount of aggadic material.
Bishop Appollinaris of Hierapolis (Phrygia) wrote a polemic work against the Jews in about 175. The first anti-Jewish polemic in Latin, Adversus Iudaeos, dates from about 200 and was written by Tertullian. It purports to present a written refutation of Jewish objections put forward in the course of an actual discussion during which the Christian spokesmen against the Jews could not make themselves heard. Here again, the discussion concerns the validity of the Law, the messiahship and divinity of Jesus, the rejection of the Jews, and the choice of the Christianized pagans in their place as the People of God.
To the beginning of the third century belongs the Contra Judaeos attributed to Hippolytus of Rome which imputes the existing miserable condition of the Jews to their rejection of Jesus. Clement of Alexandria (d. before 215), whose work contains many aggadic elements, attempts to prove to the pagans that the Greek philosophers are indebted to Jewish learning, while also seeking to answer the Jewish argument reproaching Christianity for fragmentation into numerous sects. In an even more complicated fashion, *Origen (d. 253) is compelled in the same work, Contra Celsum, to take up to a certain extent the defense of Judaism and, simultaneously, to refute the anti-Christian arguments which the pagans borrowed from the Jews. It is believed that the mother of Origen was Jewish. He himself certainly maintained relations with the members of the family of the Palestinian patriarch. Jeromealso noted his indebtedness to Jewish teachers for his knowledge of both the Hebrew language and aggadic sources.
Before the middle of the third century, Cyprian of Carthage presented a series of biblical testimonia for use in discussions against the Jews, probably inspired by a similar collection in Greek which already existed in the second century. Four other anti-Jewish works have been attributed erroneously to Cyprian: a sermon Adversus Iudaeos; a treatise De montibus Sina et Sion, which attempts to point out the differences between the Old and New Testament laws; a preface to the Latin translation of the "Dialogue between Jason and Papiscus" entitled De iudaica incredulitate; and De Pascha computus, on determining the date of Easter. A pastoral letter De cibis iudaicis of Bishop Novatian (third century), which evidently belongs to the same period, warns Christians against observing Jewish dietary laws. Novatian also wrote other anti-Jewish works on circumcision and the Sabbath, which have been lost.
Eusibius of Caesaria, who had a Jewish teacher to whom he is indebted for certain exegetical interpretations, points out to potential converts in his Praeparatio Evangelica (between 312 and 322), that the Christians have done well to prefer the theology of the Hebrews to paganism. In his Historia Ecclesiastica, the same author attempts to prove that immediately after their plot against Jesus, the Jews were struck by all manner of misfortunes by a kind of chastisement from heaven. Eusebius also participated in the paschal controversy: he insisted on the mystic significance of Passover which comes to its fulfillment in the Easter feast.
Julius Firmicus Maternus is the first author of the patristic period to polemicize against the Jews on the subject of the Trinity, ***De erroribus profanarum religionum *** (336). In contrast to Eusebius, Gregory of Nyssa, in his "Great Catechism" (386–7), takes up the defense of Catholic dogmas simultaneously against the pagans, the Jews, and the heretics. Aphraates (first half of the fourth century), the first Syriac Church Father, in his Demonstrationes does not direct any missionary activity toward the Jews. If he argues against them, it is only to strengthen the faith of his own Christian believers who were often perturbed by the arguments of the Jews. In this respect, he examines, in particular, circumcision, the Passover, the Sabbath, and the Jewish dietary observances. Ephrem the Syrian (c. 306–373), in three of his "Hymns on Faith" in Syriac, polemicizes against both Arian heretics and the Jews.
John Chrysostom (354–407) delivered eight sermons of extreme violence against the Jews while he was in Antioch. These were intended to warn certain Christians against the attraction which Judaism exerted over them to the extent that they participated in the Jewish festivals or adopted Jewish practices. The apologetic treatise Contra Judaeos et Gentiles attributed to John Chrysostom is of doubtful authenticity. DIODORE OF TARSUS (d. before 394) also wrote an anti-Jewish polemic.
Jerome (c. 345–c. 419) did not write a work directly intended as an anti-Jewish polemic. Passages scattered throughout his work contain adverse comments on the Jews. His significance for Jews, however, lies in the fact that he had recourse to the original Hebrew for the elaboration of a new Latin translation of the Bible and frequently used rabbinic exegesis and aggadic traditions to clarify the Scriptures. His numerous scattered references to the Jews in Ereẓ Israel during the fourth century provide a good insight into Jewish political and social conditions, family life, cultural standards, religious life, and especially in the case of the heretical movements, the Judaizing Christians and their messianic expectations. *AMBROSE OF MILAN manifested a violent anti-Judaism both in practice, as on the occasion of the destruction of the synagogue of Callinicum, and on the theological level, by several polemical epistles. *AUGUSTINE , who, on the contrary, does not appear to have had any personal contacts with Jews, defined his doctrine concerning them in his "Sermon against the Jews" where he asserts that even though they deserved the most severe punishment for having put Jesus to death, they have been kept alive by Divine Providence to serve, together with their Scriptures, as witnesses to the truth of Christianity. Augustine's reputation from his own times as a violently anti-Jewish author explains why many other anti-Jewish treatises by unknown or obscure authors have been attributed to him. The last Syriac Church Father to polemicize against the Jews was Jacob of Serugh (Sarug; 451–521), whose seven "Sermons against the Jews," still unpublished, are simple repetitions of themes already traditional in the Syriac Church. On the other hand, the "Letter of Consolation" addressed to the Himyarite martyrs, which has also been attributed to Jacob of Serugh, was the result of a new concrete situation: the persecution of the Christians in southern Arabia after the conversion to Judaism of *Yusuf Dhu Nuwas, king of the Himyarites.
Quodvultdeus, a disciple of Augustine and briefly bishop of Carthage (437–39), wrote two works which attack the Jews along with pagans and heretics. While Pope Leo the Great (pope from 440 to 461) did not compose any anti-Jewish works (he fought the Manicheans with extreme violence), an anti-Jewish sermon has been attributed to him.
Maximus of Turin (d. between 408 and 423) delivered at least two sermons in which he polemicizes against the Jews. However, the "Treatise against the Jews" attributed to him was in fact written by the Arian bishop Maximinus.
Caerarius of Arles (c. 470–543) deals with the "Comparison between the Church and the Synagogue" in one of his sermons. In another, he compares the two sons in the Gospel parable (Luke 15:11ff.) to the Jews and the gentiles. On the other hand, it is not certain whether the sermon in which Christians are warned against partaking meals with Jews really belongs to him.
Pope Gregory the Great (c. 540–604) was often compelled to intervene in matters affecting the Jews, as evidenced in his correspondence. The most important doctrinal and practical point which he was thus brought to formulate concerns the formal prohibition of the use of force in missionary activities among the Jews.
Isidore of Seville (c. 560–636) is known as the last of the Latin Church Fathers. He wrote two important anti-Jewish treatises: De fide catholica ex Vetere et Novo Testamento contra Judaeos, consisting of a collection of scriptural testimonies (similar to the model already furnished by Cyprian, mentioned above; here, however, the testimonies are drawn from both the Old and New Testaments), and Quaestiones adversus Judaeos et caeteros infideles, the "other infidels" being in fact Judaizing Christians.
Wikipedia on Antisemitism in Christianity has the following to say:
After Paul's death, Christianity emerged as a separate religion, and Pauline Christianity emerged as the dominant form of Christianity, especially after Paul, James and the other apostles agreed on a compromise set of requirements.[Acts 15] Some Christians continued to adhere to aspects of Jewish law, but they were few in number and often considered heretics by the Church. One example is the Ebionites, who seem to have denied the virgin birth of Jesus, the physical Resurrection of Jesus, and most of the books that were later canonized as the New Testament. For example, the Ethiopian Orthodox still continue Old Testament practices such as the Sabbath. As late as the 4th century Church Father John Chrysostom complained that some Christians were still attending Jewish synagogues.
The Church Fathers identified Jews and Judaism with heresy and declared the people of Israel to be extra Deum (lat. "outside of God"). Saint Peter of Antioch referred to Christians that refused to worship religious images as having "Jewish minds". In the early second century AD, the heretic Marcion of Sinope (c. 85 – c. 160 AD) declared that the Jewish God was a different God, inferior to the Christian one, and rejected the Jewish scriptures as the product of a lesser deity. Marcion's teachings, which were extremely popular, rejected Judaism not only as an incomplete revelation, but as a false one as well, but, at the same time, allowed less blame to be placed on the Jews personally for having not recognized Jesus, since, in Marcion's worldview, Jesus was not sent by the lesser Jewish God, but by the supreme Christian God, whom the Jews had no reason to recognize.
In combating Marcion, orthodox apologists conceded that Judaism was an incomplete and inferior religion to Christianity, while also defending the Jewish scriptures as canonical. The Church Father Tertullian (c. 155 – c. 240 AD) had a particularly intense personal dislike towards the Jews and argued that the Gentiles had been chosen by God to replace the Jews, because they were worthier and more honorable. Origen of Alexandria (c. 184 – c. 253) was more knowledgeable about Judaism than any of the other Church Fathers, having studied Hebrew, met Rabbi Hillel the Younger, consulted and debated with Jewish scholars, and been influenced by the allegorical interpretations of Philo of Alexandria. Origen defended the canonicity of the Old Testament and defended Jews of the past as having been chosen by God for their merits. Nonetheless, he condemned contemporary Jews for not understanding their own Law, insisted that Christians were the "true Israel", and blamed the Jews for the death of Christ. He did, however, maintain that Jews would eventually attain salvation in the final apocatastasis.
Patristic bishops of the patristic era such as Augustine argued that the Jews should be left alive and suffering as a perpetual reminder of their murder of Christ. Like his anti-Jewish teacher, Ambrose of Milan, he defined Jews as a special subset of those damned to hell. As "Witness People", he sanctified collective punishment for the Jewish deicide and enslavement of Jews to Catholics: "Not by bodily death, shall the ungodly race of carnal Jews perish ... 'Scatter them abroad, take away their strength. And bring them down O Lord'". Augustine claimed to "love" the Jews but as a means to convert them to Christianity. Sometimes he identified all Jews with the evil Judas and developed the doctrine (together with St. Cyprian) that there was "no salvation outside the Church".
Other Church Fathers, such as John Chrysostom, went further in their condemnation. The Catholic editor Paul Harkins wrote that St. John Chrysostom's anti-Jewish theology "is no longer tenable (..) For these objectively unchristian acts he cannot be excused, even if he is the product of his times." John Chrysostom held, as most Church Fathers did, that the sins of all Jews were communal and endless, to him his Jewish neighbours were the collective representation of all alleged crimes of all preexisting Jews. All Church Fathers applied the passages of the New Testament concerning the alleged advocation of the crucifixion of Christ to all Jews of his day, the Jews were the ultimate evil. However, John Chrysostom went so far to say that because Jews rejected the Christian God in human flesh, Christ, they therefore deserved to be killed: "grew fit for slaughter." In citing the New Testament,[Luke 19:27] he claimed that Jesus was speaking about Jews when he said, "as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them before me."
St. Jerome identified Jews with Judas Iscariot and the immoral use of money ("Judas is cursed, that in Judas the Jews may be accursed... their prayers turn into sins"). Jerome's homiletical assaults, that may have served as the basis for the anti-Jewish Good Friday liturgy, contrasts Jews with the evil, and that "the ceremonies of the Jews are harmful and deadly to Christians", whoever keeps them was doomed to the devil: "My enemies are the Jews; they have conspired in hatred against Me, crucified Me, heaped evils of all kinds upon Me, blasphemed Me."
Ephraim the Syrian wrote polemics against Jews in the 4th century, including the repeated accusation that Satan dwells among them as a partner. The writings were directed at Christians who were being proselytized by Jews. Ephraim feared that they were slipping back into Judaism; thus, he portrayed the Jews as enemies of Christianity, like Satan, to emphasize the contrast between the two religions, namely, that Christianity was Godly and true and Judaism was Satanic and false. Like John Chrysostom, his objective was to dissuade Christians from reverting to Judaism by emphasizing what he saw as the wickedness of the Jews and their religion.