“ ‘The elder shall serve the younger,’ is understood … to mean that the elder people, the Jews, shall serve the younger people, the Christians.”
Augustine of Hippo was born on 13 November 354 and died on 28 August 430. He was an theologian and philosopher whose writings influenced the development of Western Christianity more than any other figure until Aquinas, Luther Calvin and Barth.
He was the bishop of Hippo Regius (present-day Annaba, Algeria) located in the Roman province of Africa. He is viewed as one of the most important Church Fathers in the Western Christianity for his writings in the Patristic Era. Among his most important works are City of God
According to his contemporary, Jerome, Augustine “established anew the ancient Faith.” In his early years, he was heavily influenced by Manichaeism and afterward by the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus. After his baptism and conversion to Christianity in 387, Augustine developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and perspectives. Believing that the grace of Christ was indispensable to human freedom, he helped formulate the doctrine of original sin and made seminal contributions to the development of just war theory.
When the Western Roman Empire began to disintegrate, Augustine developed the concept of the Catholic Church as a spiritual City of God (in a book of the same name), distinct from the material Earthly City. His thoughts profoundly influenced the medieval worldview. The segment of the Church that adhered to the concept of the Trinity as defined by the Council of Nicaea and the Council of Constantinople closely identified with Augustine’s City of God.
Mitchel A Levin, thisdayinjewishhistory, gives the traditional Jewish view of St Augustine on the Jews.
354: Birthdate of St. Augustine of Hippo. While St. Augustine may be held in high regard by the Roman Catholic Church, he held the Jews in especially low regard. In his famous work The City of God, Augustine reports that the Jews were exiled because of their rejection of Jesus. The dispersal of the Jews to so many different places is a way of reminding Christians that their belief in Jesus as Messiah is correct. The exile came about because the Jews were enemies of the Church, but the Jews must not be slain so that they can finally see the error of their ways and repent. The sword of Constantine and the cross of Augustine would soon draw together to make a bitter brew for Jews for centuries to come.
Drawing us into the life, times, and thought of Augustine of Hippo (396–430), Fredriksen focuses on the period of astounding creativity that led to his new understanding of Paul and to his great classic, The Confessions. She shows how Augustine’s struggle to read the Bible led him to a new theological vision, one that countered the anti-Judaism not only of his Manichaean opponents but also of his own church. The Christian Empire, Augustine held, was right to ban paganism and to coerce heretics. But the source of ancient Jewish scripture and current Jewish practice, he argued, was the very same as that of the New Testament and of the church—namely, God himself. Accordingly, he urged, Jews were to be left alone. Conceived as a vividly original way to defend Christian ideas about Jesus and about the Old Testament, Augustine’s theological innovation survived the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, and it ultimately served to protect Jewish lives against the brutality of medieval crusades.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for Augustine, this amazing saint, theologian and man of God. Thank you for his ability to engage with all the issues of his day and articulate his faith to those of his time and context, and for many centuries to come. Thank you for his ability to explain the message of the Gospel to the Greco-Roman world of philosophy, politics and power. But Lord, have mercy on those tarnished by his influence and teaching on Jews and Judaism, that would take such a supersessionist turn. We lament the discourse of replacement, setting the Jewish people as inferior, condemned to be “reluctant witnesses” to the truth of Christianity, and at the mercy of Christian rulers who showed them no mercy. May the legacy of Augustine be refined, purified and cleansed of error in this respect, and may his memory, one of the great teachers of the church, become a blessing also for the Jewish people, as his voluminous teaching the mystery of the Messiah may be re-expressed without prejudice or hatred. In Yeshua’s name, Amen.
City of God
Book XVI, Chapter 31—Of Isaac, Who Was Born According to the Promise, Whose Name Was Given on Account of the Laughter of Both Parents.
After these things a son was born to Abraham, according to God’s promise, of Sarah, and was called Isaac, which means laughter. For his father had laughed when he was promised to him, in wondering delight, and his mother, when he was again promised by those three men, had laughed, doubting for joy; yet she was blamed by the angel because that laughter, although it was for joy, yet was not full of faith. Afterwards she was confirmed in faith by the same angel. From this, then, the boy got his name. For when Isaac was born and called by that name, Sarah showed that her laughter was not that of scornful reproach, but that of joyful praise; for she said, “God hath made me to laugh, so that every one who hears will laugh with me.” Then in a little while the bond maid was cast out of the house with her son; and, according to the apostle, these two women signify the old and new covenants—Sarah representing that of the Jerusalem which is above, that is, the city of God.
Book XVI, Chapter 35.—What Was Indicated by the Divine Answer About the Twins Still Shut Up in the Womb of Rebecca Their Mother.
Let us now see how the times of the city of God run on from this point among Abraham’s descendants. In the time from the first year of Isaac’s life to the seventieth, when his sons were born, the only memorable thing is, that when he prayed God that his wife, who was barren, might bear, and the Lord granted what he sought, and she conceived, the twins leapt while still enclosed in her womb. And when she was troubled by this struggle, and inquired of the Lord, she received this answer: “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall overcome the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger.” The Apostle Paul would have us understand this as a great instance of grace; for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, the younger is chosen without any good desert and the elder is rejected, when beyond doubt, as regards original sin, both were alike, and as regards actual sin, neither had any. But the plan of the work on hand does not permit me to speak more fully of this matter now, and I have said much about it in other works. Only that saying, “The elder shall serve the younger,” is understood by our writers, almost without exception, to mean that the elder people, the Jews, shall serve the younger people, the Christians. And truly, although this might seem to be fulfilled in the Idumean nation, which was born of the elder (who had two names, being called both Esau and Edom, whence the name Idumeans), because it was afterwards to be overcome by the people which sprang from the younger, that is, by the Israelites, and was to become subject to them; yet it is more suitable to believe that, when it was said, “The one people shall overcome the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger,” that prophecy meant some greater thing; and what is that except what is evidently fulfilled in the Jews and Christians.
Book XVII, Chapter 7—Of the Disruption of the Kingdom of Israel, by Which the Perpetual Division of the Spiritual from the Carnal Israel Was Prefigured.
Again Saul sinned through disobedience, and again Samuel says to him in the word of the Lord, “Because thou hast despised the word of the Lord, the Lord hath despised thee, that thou mayest not be king over Israel.” And again for the same sin, when Saul confessed it, and prayed for pardon, and besought Samuel to return with him to appease the Lord, he said, “I will not return with thee: for thou hast despised the word of the Lord, and the Lord will despise thee that thou mayest not be king over Israel. And Samuel turned his face to go away, and Saul laid hold upon the skirt of his mantle, and rent it. And Samuel said unto him, The Lord hath rent the kingdom from Israel out of thine hand this day, and will give it to thy neighbor, who is good above thee, and will divide Israel in twain. And He will not be changed, neither will He repent: for He is not as a man, that He should repent; who threatens and does not persist.” He to whom it is said, “The Lord will despise thee that thou mayest not be king over Israel,” and “The Lord hath rent the kingdom from Israel out of thine hand this day,” reigned forty years over Israel,—that is, just as long a time as David himself,—yet heard this in the first period of his reign, that we may understand it was said because none of his race was to reign, and that we may look to the race of David, whence also is sprung, according to the flesh, the Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…
…We see that this sentence concerning this division of the people of Israel, divinely uttered in these words, has been altogether irremediable and quite perpetual. For whoever have turned, or are turning, or shall turn thence to Christ, it has been according to the foreknowledge of God, not according to the one and the same nature of the human race. Certainly none of the Israelites, who, cleaving to Christ, have continued in Him, shall ever be among those Israelites who persist in being His enemies even to the end of this life, but shall for ever remain in the separation which is here foretold. For the Old Testament, from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, profiteth nothing, unless because it bears witness to the New Testament. Otherwise, however long Moses is read, the veil is put over their heart; but when any one shall turn thence to Christ, the veil shall be taken away. For the very desire of those who turn is changed from the old to the new, so that each no longer desires to obtain carnal but spiritual felicity. Wherefore that great prophet Samuel himself, before he had anointed Saul, when he had cried to the Lord for Israel, and He had heard him, and when he had offered a whole burnt-offering, as the aliens were coming to battle against the people of God, and the Lord thundered above them and they were confused, and fell before Israel and were overcome; [then] he took one stone and set it up between the old and new Massephat [Mizpeh], and called its name Ebenezer, which means “the stone of the helper,” and said, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.” Massephat is interpreted “desire.” That stone of the helper is the mediation of the Saviour, by which we go from the old Massephat to the new,—that is, from the desire with which carnal happiness was expected in the carnal kingdom to the desire with which the truest spiritual happiness is expected in the kingdom of heaven; and since nothing is better than that, the Lord helpeth us hitherto.
Book XVIII, Chapter 46—Of the Birth of Our Saviour, Whereby the Word Was Made Flesh; And of the Dispersion of the Jews Among All Nations, as Had Been Prophesied.
While Herod, therefore, reigned in Judea, and Caesar Augustus was emperor at Rome, the state of the republic being already changed, and the world being set at peace by him, Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judah, man manifest out of a human virgin, God hidden out of God the Father. For so had the prophet foretold: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which, being interpreted, is, God with us.” [ Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23] He did many miracles that He might commend God in Himself, some of which, even as many as seemed sufficient to proclaim Him, are contained in the evangelic Scripture. The first of these is, that He was so wonderfully born, and the last, that with His body raised up again from the dead He ascended into heaven. But the Jews who slew Him, and would not believe in Him, because it behoved Him to die and rise again, were yet more miserably wasted by the Romans, and utterly rooted out from their kingdom, where aliens had already ruled over them, and were dispersed through the lands (so that indeed there is no place where they are not), and are thus by their own Scriptures a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ. And very many of them, considering this, even before His passion, but chiefly after His resurrection, believed on Him, of whom it was predicted, “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant shall be saved.” [Isaiah 10:22 and Romans 9:27-28] But the rest are blinded, of whom it was predicted, “Let their table be made before them a trap, and a retribution, and a stumbling-block. Let their eyes be darkened lest they see, and bow down their back alway.” [Psalm 69:22-23 and Romans 9:9-10] Therefore, when they do not believe our Scriptures, their own, which they blindly read, are fulfilled in them, lest perchance any one should say that the Christians have forged these prophecies about Christ which are quoted under the name of the sibyl, or of others, if such there be, who do not belong to the Jewish people. For us, indeed, those suffice which are quoted from the books of our enemies, to whom we make our acknowledgment, on account of this testimony which, in spite of themselves, they contribute by their possession of these books, while they themselves are dispersed among all nations, wherever the Church of Christ is spread abroad. For a prophecy about this thing was sent before in the Psalms, which they also read, where it is written, “My God, His mercy shall prevent me. My God hath shown me concerning mine enemies, that Thou shalt not slay them, lest they should at last forget Thy law: disperse them in Thy might.”[Psalm 69:10-11] Therefore God has shown the Church in her enemies the Jews the grace of His compassion, since, as saith the apostle, “their offence is the salvation of the Gentiles.”[Romans 11:11] And therefore He has not slain them, that is, He has not let the knowledge that they are Jews be lost in them, although they have been conquered by the Romans, lest they should forget the law of God, and their testimony should be of no avail in this matter of which we treat. But it was not enough that he should say, “Slay them not, lest they should at last forget Thy law,” unless he had also added, “Disperse them;” because if they had only been in their own land with that testimony of the Scriptures, and not every where, certainly the Church which is everywhere could not have had them as witnesses among all nations to the prophecies which were sent before concerning Christ.
On Christian Doctrine
Book III, Chapter 5— It Is A Wretched Slavery Which Takes The Figurative Expressions of Scripture in A Literal Sense.
But the ambiguities of metaphorical words, about which I am next to speak, demand no ordinary care and diligence. In the first place, we must beware of taking a figurative expression literally. For the saying of the apostle applies in this case too: “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”(2) For when what is said figuratively is taken as if it were said literally, it is understood in a carnal manner. And nothing is more fittingly called the death of the soul than when that in it which raises it above the brutes, the intelligence namely, is put in subjection to the flesh by a blind adherence to the letter. For he who follows the letter takes figurative words as if they were proper, and does not carry out what is indicated by a proper word into its secondary signification; but, if he hears of the Sabbath, for example, thinks of nothing but the one day out of seven which recurs in constant succession; and when he hears of a sacrifice, does not carry his thoughts beyond the customary offerings of victims from the flock, and of the fruits of the earth. Now it is surely a miserable slavery of the soul to take signs for things, and to be unable to lift the eye of the mind above what is corporeal and created, that it may drink in eternal light.
Book III, Chapter 6— Utility of The Bondage of The Jews.
This bondage, however, in the case of the Jewish people, differed widely from what it was in the case of the other nations; because, though the former were in bondage to temporal things, it was in such a way that in all these the One God was put before their minds. And although they paid attention to the signs of spiritual realities in place of the realities themselves, not knowing to what the signs referred, still they had this conviction rooted in their minds, that in subjecting themselves to such a bondage they were doing the pleasure of the one invisible God of all. And the apostle describes this bondage as being like to that of boys under the guidance of a schoolmaster. And those who clung obstinately to such signs could not endure our Lord’s neglect of them when the time for their revelation had come; and hence their leaders brought it as a charge against Him that He healed on the Sabbath, and the people, clinging to these signs as if they were realities, could not believe that one who refused to observe them in the way the Jews did was God, or came from God. But those who did believe, from among whom the first Church at Jerusalem was formed, showed clearly how great an advantage it had been to be so guided by the schoolmaster that signs, which had been for a season imposed on the obedient, fixed the thoughts of those who observed them on the worship of the One God who made heaven and earth. These men, because they had been very near to spiritual things (for even in the temporal and carnal offerings and types, though they did not clearly apprehend their spiritual meaning, they had learnt to adore the One Eternal God,) were filled with such a measure of the Holy Spirit that they sold all their goods, and laid their price at the apostles’ feet to be distributed among the needy, and consecrated themselves wholly to God as a new temple, of which the old temple they were serving was but the earthly type.