Isaac ch 2 Degenerate State of Judaism_2

Isaac ch 2 Degenerate State of Judaism_2 - The Degenerate...

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II THE DEGENERATE STATE OF JUDAISM AT THE TIME OF JESUS 1 Another theological contention, in- vented, reinforced, and propagated for hundreds of years, is that at the time of .J eeus the religl:on of Israel was mere legalism without a soul. The degenerate state of Judaism at the dawn of the Christian era is another of the favorite themes of the teaching of contempt. According to its doc- trines, which are so deep-rooted even today, the re- ligion of Israel, desiccated, ossified, reduced to 74 The Degenerate State of Judaism 75 mere formalism and ritual, was at the time of Jesus no more than legalism without a soul, without fervor, without any true aspiration toward God. This contention has its source in the earliest .Tudeo-Christian controversies over the rrorah- the Law of Moses-and its observance. The Chris- tian apologists maintained that with the coming of Christ, the Law had been fulfilled and superseded. They taught that the .Tews were attached to the letter and not the spirit of the law because they were" carnal" beings, blinded by Satan, incapa- ble of understanding the real meaning of their own Scriptures. During the fourth century, the first century of the Christian empire, the Church Fathers return constantly to this theme. Saint Jerome does not hesitate to declare of the .J ews that" their prayers and psalms are like the inarticulate cries of ani- mals. " Saint John Chrysostom, preaching in 386 at Antioch, where there were still a number of Christians sympathetic to the old Law, rails bit- terly against the "carnal" .Iows (those "unclean and savage beasts"), against the synagogue ("the honse of the devil"), and against the .Towishreli- gion, which is by now no more than" a mockery, a parody, and a disgrace." 1 Some two hundred years later, Pope Gregory the Great, although infinitely more humane in his treatment of the Jews, and more restrained in the tone of his writings, remains inflexible on this
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76 The Teaching of Contempt point: " [The Jewish people] have been faithful only to the letter of the divine commandments. ... A people more dedicated to the world than to the truth ... who had but a fleshly understanding of the Incarnation of God, and refused to see in Him anything but a man." From this to the assertion that Judaism had degenerated into mere" superstition," and at the time of the coming of Christ was a "fallen" reli- gion, is only a step, and it was not long in being taken. In the sixteenth century, at the time of the Reformation, this seemed as obvious to the Re- formed Church as it had to the Church of Rome: "Matters had come to such a pass with these people, so great and so widespread were the abuses, so thoroughly had the high priests extin- guished the pure light of doctrine through their negligence or malice, that there scarcely remained any respect for the Law." (Calvin, Commentaries on the New Testament, I, p. 155) Oddly enough, it is in our own time, when his- torical research has made possible a better under- standing of the true nature of pre-Christian Juda- ism, and of the vitality it has never ceased to demonstrate, that the theme
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