Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Theology of Prejudice

Bob has recently promised that he will only address Jewish issues if they are of a theological nature, because that is where he has “expertise” (Response to P. Catan). Aside from the fact that Bob has already violated this promise (see here), the implication seems to be that Catholics should be able to trust him on theological issues involving Jews because of this “expertise in theology.”

Unfortunately, the validity of this argument is undermined by the evidence of Bob’s own writings. If anyone should understand that fact, it should be Bob and his patrons. Bob has long made the case that scientists are too often blinded to truth by their strong personal, philosophical biases (e.g., evolution, heliocentrism). Catholic prelates have even raised similar concerns on occasion.

When one believes something strongly, it can be very difficult to analyze information objectively. At times, it may be difficult to even search out contrary evidence. Little thought may be given as to where one might search. One can stare directly at evidence and miss it entirely because of strongly held biases. One may grossly exaggerate the relevance or strength of supportive evidence. And the deeper the prejudice, of course, the more likely one is to fall into any or all of these traps, quite irrespective of any purported level of “expertise.” In such cases, in fact, “expertise” may even serve to obfuscate the truth, to make what is false appear true, or at least reasonable, to those less informed. It takes great discipline, humility and self-knowledge to mitigate or neutralize such bias.

By his own private and public admission, Bob has acknowledged that he still personally holds to many of the anti-Semitic statements he has made (link). And unfortunately, Bob manifestly does not possess the kind of discipline, humility and self-knowledge necessary to neutralize his deep prejudice. There is ample evidence that his theological work has suffered from it.

For instance, Bob has seriously misrepresented the evidence in regard to the following issues because of this deeply held prejudice against Jews: 1) The “Conversion of the Jews” in the end-times, 2) The identity of the Antichrist, 3) The status of Limbo, 4) The Good Friday Prayer (link) 5) The identity of the Olive Tree or “Root” 6) The status of the Jewish people according to Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. This is only a small sample, but these examples will serve to illustrate the pattern.

While his writing on these topics may not be as virulent as his writing on Jewish ethnic, social and political issues, it is seriously tainted by his prejudice, nonetheless. As such, it is sufficiently evident why Bishop Rhoades has directed Bob to refrain from commenting on Jews or Judaism. When Jews are involved, it is manifest that Bob is neither capable of reliably expressing himself with charity nor able to handle the evidence with any semblance of scholarly detachment.

For his own sake and for the sake of everyone he confuses and scandalizes, Bob needs to obey his bishop.

1) The Conversion of the Jews:

As noted here, Bob has been on something of a crusade over the past several years to belittle and discount the belief that Jews as a people will one day have their relationship with God fully restored, having been grafted back on to what St. Paul describes as "their own olive tree" (Rom. 11:24) alongside the Gentiles.
Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4, Article 5, Article 6, Article 7, Article 8, Article 9, Article 10

He has grossly understated the patristic evidence arrayed against him, at one point dismissing it as almost non-existent (Link 1, Link 2, Link 3). He has grossly over-estimated the weight of his personal exegesis of Romans 11 while at the same time making palpable errors in his treatment of that passage of Scripture. He has accused Jewish convert Roy Schoeman of “confiscating” Hosea 3:5 for “Zionism” because he sees in it support for “the conversion of the Jews”, an exegetical belief shared by other Catholic scholars, including Fr. Leo Haydock and Catholic prelates, including Bl. Pope Pius IX. And he has erroneously claimed that no one, aside from him, has exegeted Romans 11 in detail in regard to this issue. Here are only a few sample statements:

At best, you have a couple of Fathers referring to a conversion of Jews, but none of them refer to a ‘mass conversion.’” (Intense Dialogue)

Hosea 3:5 is one of the passages Church tradition has understood as fulfilled in the first coming of Christ, but Schoeman is trying to confiscate it for Zionism.” (Judaizers in the Catholic Church, an article, by the way, that is still active at CAI/BTF).

Finally, let me say that the main reason I hold to the "remnant" idea of Jewish conversions, both now and in the future, is due to the contextual and grammatical information in Romans 11:25-26 (from Michael Forrest and the Jews).

I just don't see anything in the passage that teaches a mass conversion of Jews in the future. This is especially important for the mere fact that not one Catholic exegete in all of Church history (at least that I can find) has done a detailed and comprehensive grammatical and syntactical analysis of Romans 11:25-27. Those who have addressed this passage merely took a phrase here or there from the context and formed an opinion (from Michael Forrest and the Jews).

As illustrated above, Bob’s personal Scriptural exegesis is the engine that drives his conclusions. And he sets out his own view of Romans 11 by giving the “context” of St. Paul’s remarks. This is very important because he falls into an elementary error and shows that his whole understanding of the chapter is characterized by a completely erroneous idea of what St. Paul is saying.

In his review of Roy Schoeman’s book Salvation is From the Jews in the Fall 2005 issue of The Latin Mass, Sungenis says,

The very reason Romans 11 was written is that, after God rejected and decimated the Jews in the first century, the question of whether any Jew could still be saved came to the fore, which is the very reason St. Paul opens the chapter with: “Has God foresaken the Jew?” (p. 54; emphasis added.)

The reader should be rubbing his eyes and reading that again. Does Bob actually mean what he says here? First, God “rejected . . . the Jews in the first century”? This is a plainly erroneous statement. Bob would not have had to go any further than verse 1 of Romans 11 to get the answer to that question: “God has not rejected His people, has He? By no means!” (Rom 11:1). St. Paul’s poses his question using the Greek particle , which means that it expects the answer No. And this answer he supplies himself in the very next sentence—the emphatically negative answer, mē genoito can be rendered in English as, “Absolutely not!”, “By no means!”, etc. So according to St. Paul, God had not rejected his people the Jews in the first century, whereas Sungenis said that He had. This is Bob’s first error. But the second is far worse.

Bob also asserts that God had “decimated” the Jews in the first century. Now it’s true that there was a great destruction of the Jewish nation in the first century. But when did this take place? In A.D. 70. And when was St. Paul executed? Around A.D. 66. And when was the Epistle to the Romans written? Scholars typically date it c. A.D. 56-58.

Incredibly, Bob would have his readers believe that St. Paul wrote Romans 11 in reaction to an event which would not occur for another 14 years. It may be worth rereading that last sentence.

This is, of course, a monumental error. Surely he can’t have made the elementary error of asserting that Romans 11 was written to answer a question that could only be raised by the destruction of the Jews in A.D. 70, right? Surely he would try to recast it by claiming that’s not what he meant by “decimated”, right? Wrong. He asserted this elsewhere, in an argument with Dr. Art Sippo, and made his monumental error explicit and undeniable:

R. Sungenis4: I personally don’t see what the difficulty is. The “gifts and call of God” that are “irrevocable” refers to the fact that God will never take away the possibility of salvation for the Jews, since he made an irrevocable promise to Abraham about their salvation.

Why would the salvation of the Jew be an issue that needed to be reiterated? Because Paul opens up the chapter by asking: “Has God forsaken the Jews?”

After God abolished the Old Covenant in 33 AD and destroyed the Jews in 70 AD for their unbelief, a curious observer might ask: “Well, does that mean the Jews can no longer be saved?” The answer comes back, “No, God has not forsaken the Jews, for I Paul, a Jew from Benjamin, have been saved; and even in the OT God had a remnant of Jewish believers that he saved, even though most of the nation was in apostasy.” That is the context of Romans 11:1-8. ("CAI Answers Its Critics", emphasis added.)

There it is in black and white. According to Sungenis, an integral part of “the context of Romans 11:1-8” includes an event which took place at least twelve years after the chapter was written, indeed three years after St. Paul was dead! It is hard to express the magnitude of this error without lapsing into ridicule. And this from a man who is constantly reminding everyone about his accomplishments and academic credentials:

I have spent the last 32 years in intensive study and writing about theology and religion. Additionally, my books have received the Catholic Church’s imprimatur; my articles have been published by over a dozen reputable journals and periodicals; I have written and hosted television programs for EWTN; I have been a guest commentator on CNN and the BBC; I have debated the best and brightest of opposing religions before live audiences, and I continue to be a sought after speaker. ("My Ph.D.", pp. 5-6).

This fundamental error clearly demonstrates what so many have been saying all along. Bob Sungenis is not competent to engage Jewish issues because his deep bias and—to say it plainly—bigotry clouds his judgment and renders his writings on the topic full of serious errors.

Now let’s once again apply Bob's own standards to himself. Sungenis regularly dismisses the views of his opponents if he can catch them in a blunder. Rushing in where angels should fear to tread, he does this even with Doctors of the Church, such as St. John Chrysostom:

If he can make such an error with the text, then we certainly can't put much stock in [his] conclusions about anything else regarding Elijah's appearance. ("Intense Dialogue")

So if an alleged error on the part of a saint and scholar of the stature of St. John Chrysostom means that we "can't put much stock in [his] conclusions about anything else" on the topic, then how seriously should we take Bob's views on Romans 11?

[I]f these witnesses are going to base their view of Israel’s future on an exegesis of the text, then that exegesis better be thorough and exact, otherwise it is not worth the paper it is written on. ("Intense Dialogue")

Not worth the paper its written on would be an accurate assessment of Bob's writings on Romans 11, according to his own standard. We believe this example clearly demonstrates that Sungenis approaches Romans 11 as a propagandist rather than a sober scholar.

With respect to Bob’s contention that he just couldn’t find any Catholic scholars who had done a detailed historico-grammatical exgesis of Romans 11, below you will find a list of no less than sixteen full-length, detailed commentaries on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans by Catholic authors who utilize the very modern exegetical techniques mentioned by Bob above:

Aletti, J. N. Romans, International Bible Commentary, W.R. Farmer, ed., Collegeville 1998.

Byrne, B. Romans, Sacra Pagina 6, Collegeville 1996.

Cornely, R. Commentarius in S. Pauli Apostoli epistolas. I, Epistola ad Romanos. Parisiis : P. Lethielleux, 1896.

Fitzmyer, J. A. Romans, Anchor Bible 33, New York 1993.

Huby, J. and S. Lyonnet. Saint Paul, Épître aux Romains; traduction et commentaire. Verbum salutis 10, Paris: Beauchesne 1957.

Johnson, L. T. Reading Romans. A Literary and Theological Commentary, Reading the New Testament, New York 1997, Macon , Ga. 2001.

Kuss, O., Der Römerbrief, 3 vols., Regensburg: Pustet 1957, 1959, 1978.

Lagrange, M. J., Saint Paul: Épître aux Romains, Etudes bibliques, Paris: Librairie Lecoffre, J. Gabalda, 1950.

Légasse, S., L'épître de Paul aux Romans, Lectio Divina Commentaires 10, Paris: Cerf, 2002.

Penna, R., Lettera ai Romani, 2 vols., Scritti delle origini cristiane ; 6, Bologna: EBD 2004, 2006.

Pitta, A., Lettera ai Romani. Nuova versione, introduzione e commento, I libri biblici NT 6, Milano: Paoline, 2001.

Schaefer, Aloys, 1853-1914. Erklärung des Briefes an die Römer. Munster : Aschendorff, 1891.

Schlier, H., Der Römerbrief, Herders theologischer Kommentar zum Neuen Testament ; Bd. 6, Freiburg: Herder, 1977.

Tedros Abraha. La lettera ai Romani : testo e commentari della versione etiopica. Wiesbaden : Harrassowitz, 2001.

Theobald, M., Der Römerbrief. I. Kapitel 1â€"11. II. Kapitel 12â€"16, SKK.NT 6, Stuttgart 1992, 1993. Darmstadt : Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 2000.

Zeller, D., Der Brief an die Römer, Regensburger Neues Testament. Regensburg: Pustet, 1985.

To this list should be added a number of less detailed commentaries which are, nevertheless, backed up by historico-grammatical exegesis, such as Fr. C. J. Callan, The Epistles of St. Paul, Fr. Pierre Grelot’s, L’épître de Saint Paul aux Romains: une lecture pour aujourd’hui and Fr. Daniel Harrington’s, Romans: The Good News According to St. Paul. And this is not to mention numerous technical monographs on various aspects of Romans 11 by renowned Catholic scholars, such as Fr. Ceslas Spicq, Notes de Lexicographie Neo-Testamentaire, 1978 and “AMETAMELETOS dans Rom 11:29", Revue biblique, 67 [April 1960] and the notes in Fr. Maximilian Zerwick’s, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1974).

None of these Catholic scholars were hiding their works from Bob. And not one of them agrees with Bob’s exegesis of Romans 11 vis-à-vis the issue of the “conversion of the Jews”. Yet Bob, who touts a "research doctorate" in theology, claims he couldn’t “find” any of their writings. Did he actually look and then suppress his findings, failing to tell his readers about the massive scholarly consensus arrayed against him? Or was his prejudice such that he decided that looking for views contrary to his own anti-Jewish one just wasn’t necessary?

In our own literature search, we did find one or two modern exegetes who shared Bob’s views to an extent—although this is saying very little since one can find a great many decidedly quirky interpretations represented in the modern literature. Bob himself, however, has never provided the name of a single Father or Doctor of the Church, or any modern scholar who mirrors his idiosyncratic exegesis of Romans 11.

As a final note, it seems particularly noteworthy that no less a renowned scholar than Fr. M. J. Lagrange, founder of the prestigious Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem, has pointed out that it was really the Protestants—especially the undeniably anti-Semitic Martin Luther—who began denying the eventual restoration of the Jews as a people to Christ. And according to Lagrange, even Protestant exegetes have now returned almost entirely to what he called l'exégèse normale (“the normal exegesis”) and it is very true that one searches in vain for Bob’s quirky take on Romans 11 in scholarly non-Catholic commentaries as well. Lagrange’s credentials as a Catholic exegete make him worth quoting at length here (what follows is a translation of the French text of Lagrange):

Though particular individuals convert, the majority of the nation [of Israel] is hardened; this hardening will end when all the nations themselves are converted … In his commentary of 1515/1516, Luther explained the text correctly in the schools, but only, he said, because he followed the authority of the Fathers; the text appeared so obscure to him that the explanation of it in the glossa is different, and he came from there to preemptively deny the conversion of the Jews. This was the opinion of the leaders of Protestantism. The current Protestant exegetes have since returned to the usual interpretation [l'exégèse normale].” (Lagrange, Marie-Joseph, Saint Paul: Epitre aux Romains [Paris, Librairie Lecoffre, J. Gabalda, 1950], p.285)

Indeed, quite opposed to Bob’s view that “all Israel” that is saved in Rom 11:25-6 represents no more than the sum total of a trickle of Jewish converts throughout Church history, Protestant New Testament scholar J. D. G. Dunn states that:

There is now a strong consensus that pas Israel must mean Israel as a whole, as a people whose corporate identity and wholeness would not be lost even if in the event there were some (or indeed many) individual exceptions (Romans, 681).

As we just saw, according to one of the greatest Catholic exegetes of the 20th century, Sungenis’ eccentric view on Rom 11:25-6 is simply the product of a leftover Reformation-Protestant bias. He has not somehow stumbled onto a compelling new exegesis of Romans 11 that we should all adopt. Furthermore, such views have never managed to make it into the Catholic consciousness nor gained any significant scholarly support. Yet, in a remarkable display of pride, Sungenis has chosen to feed his personal views to the public as though they are the gospel truth under the guise of a “Catholic Apologetics Study Bible.”

For more information on this topic, click here.

2) Antichrist as a Jew:

While Bob has fought with all the passion and determination of a Protestant apologist to debunk and discount the near-unanimous witness of the Fathers who wrote on the conversion of the Jews, his attitude toward the Patristic witness becomes remarkably more liberal when the subject is the possible Jewish ethnicity of the Antichrist. The reasons for this liberality are not difficult to discern. The following is adapted from Robert Sungenis and the Jews:

Forrest: Bob conveys a high level of confidence that the Antichrist will be a Jew (from the tribe of Dan), even going so far as to has claim that the Church has “unofficially declared” this (a seemingly heterodox, oxymoron) or that “the Fathers” have taught this. While it is true there are several fathers or saints who believed that the Antichrist will be Jewish (although Bob has never provided a detailed account himself and even some of those he lists do not say what he claims), the importance of his assertion here is the confidence with which he makes it based on this level of evidence. His claim that “the Fathers” taught that the Antichrist would come specifically from the tribe of Dan is much more tenuous. Perhaps even more telling is the fact that this man, a purported Scripture scholar, has never even attempted to publish an exegetical examination of the purported Biblical support for this belief. Yet, he has felt free to reject the impressive Catholic witness arrayed against him in regard to the expectation of a future large-scale conversion of the Jews based almost exclusively on his personal exegesis of Romans 11.

As you read on, please continually keep in mind the very different approach Bob takes on a positive development regarding the Jews as opposed to this very negative one regarding Antichrist: reflexively dismissive of the former and reflexively accepting of the latter. This is the essential point of the entire section: further detailing the breadth and extent of Bob’s deeply negative bias and double standards. If something is negative about Jews, Bob exhibits a clear tendency to uncritically believe, defend and further propagate it. If something is positive about Jews, Bob exhibits a clear tendency to automatically reject and discredit it.

In order to bolster his claim, Bob has exaggerated the weight of the patristic witness in favor of this belief. He has exaggerated the force of the magisterial teaching on this issue (even going so far as to create the new quasi-theological category of “unofficially declared”). He has pressed evidence into his service that he has judged as untrustworthy when writing on a topic unrelated to Jews (the prophecies of St. Nilus). He has relied on the 1911 Encyclopedia (and even mischaracterized what it said in the process) in order to support his beliefs about the Antichrist after previously having dismissed the testimony of same encyclopedia when it soundly supported something he opposes: the “conversion of the Jews.”

3) Jumping on the “Dump Limbo” Bandwagon:

This particular theological position underscores the extent to which prejudice can affect areas that may seem entirely unrelated to that prejudice. What happened in this instance? Bob unquestioningly accepted the erroneous account given by the liberal, mainstream media in regard to the Church’s teaching on Limbo. According to Bob, Limbo was recently officially “removed” from the “teaching of the Church.” Why did such a typically staunch defender of tradition so readily accept this as true? Because he believed that it helped bolster his weak justification for opposing virtually every Father of the Church who took a position on the “conversion of the Jews”.

The biggest problem for Bob is that the liberal mainstream media got it wrong. The Church did not dump Limbo. In fact, the actual study written by the International Theological Commission repeatedly notes that Limbo continues to be a valid theological opinion.

What makes this even more troubling is that this article is an excerpt from one of Bob’s upcoming volumes of his “Catholic Apologetics Study Bible.” See more information here and here.

4) The Good Friday “Demand”

The evidence can be found in a separate article here.

5) The Olive Tree or “Root” of Romans 11

Bob has made a fuss over the identity of the olive tree or “root” written of in Romans 11. In Bob's view, Christ is the Olive Tree or "root", period. In fact, he has once again gone so far as to insist that this is "the constant teaching of the Fathers" in his Catholic Apologetics Study Bible, Volume II. It is worth remembering this pronouncement in contrast to his treatment of the evidence for a future, unusual conversion of the Jewish people to Christ.

Additionally, once again, we will witness Bob’s inability to see the Catholic “both/and” and his animus against all things Jewish. It seems clear on this issue that Bob is on a quest to eradicate or gloss over the presence of Jewish elements from our faith, apparently including the ethnic identity of our savior. Unfortunately, this prejudice has even made its way into Bob’s CASB 2 on the Apocalypse. Bob writes:

Another aspect of this matter concerns the identity of the Olive Tree in Romans 11:17-24. Dispensationalism mistakenly believes that Israel is the Olive Tree. . . . But the context of Romans 11 indicates that Christ is the Olive Tree and Israel is but a mere branch that was broken off for its unbelief but can be grafted back into the Tree…this was also the constant teaching of the Fathers of the Church, a representative sample noted below. (p. 149)

Above we see a classic case of Bob’s methodology. First, he begins by denigrating and stereotyping all of his opposition in order to psychologically soften up his readers. Then he employs dubious exegetical arguments stated in an authoritative manner. Then he exaggerates, dismisses or otherwise mischaracterizes the actual patristic evidence, depending on which suits his purposes. And finally, he provides selective proof of his claims as “a representative sample”.

And it can look convincing . . . unless you take the time to really examine what he claims.

In the case at hand: He began by attempting to associate his detractors with discredited “dispensationalists”. As has already been documented, Sungenis must therefore believe there are many respected Catholic scholars and Fathers of the Church who are “dispensationalists”. Then he engaged in an admixture of non sequitur and ipse dixit in regard to exegetical elements. Christ simply must be the olive tree. There is no other way to interpret it! He continued on to exaggerated the patristic evidence, claiming that it is “the constant teaching of the Fathers of the Church” that Christ is the Olive Tree or the “root” of Romans 11...It certainly sounds as though Bob considers this particular view a consensus! And finally, he supplies selective quotes that “prove” his claim. Only, in this case, not only are the quotes selective, some of them are mischaracterized.

Next, in Bob’s artcle, Judaizers in the Catholic Church, we find the following offensive reaction to Jewish convert David Moss:

This is certainly a novel interpretation. Unfortunately for Moss, it totally distorts the words of Romans 11:17-20… Moss believes that the “root” of Romans 11 is Israel, not Christ, and that as the Gentiles are saved as they are grafted into Israel. This is wrong. The root is Christ, not Israel.….It is as if Moss is saying, “You Gentiles are only saved because of us Jews, and in order to appreciate that fact, you should practice these Jewish rituals.”

Here, Bob’s animus is particularly evident. He was clearly irritated at what he perceived as David Moss’ Jewish arrogance. (“You Gentiles are only saved because of us Jews...”). The nerve of David Moss! But the fact is that Bob’s own negative predispositions are coloring his interpretation of what Moss wrote…as well as the patristic and scholarly evidence.

Click below to view Michael Forrest’s treatment of this issue and see the statements from Fathers, Popes, respected scholars and even the Catechism of the Catholic Church that directly contradict Bob’s claims.

It appears that “black and white-either/or” Bob is at work again:
The Root of Romans 11 and Robert Sungenis and the Jews: David Moss and Roy Schoeman.

Perhaps even more troubling than Sungenis' complete omissions of contrary evidence are the occasions on which he presents truncated quotes, thereby allowing him to attempt to turn the Fathers on their heads.

Take for example the following quote from St. Augustine:

Come, then, and be grafted into the root of the olive tree, in his return to which the apostle rejoices, after by unbelief he had been among the broken branches. He speaks of himself as set free, when he made the happy transition from Judaism to Christianity. For Christ was always preached in the olive tree, and those who did not believe on Him when He came were broken off, while those who believed were grafted in. These are thus warned against pride: "Be not high-minded, but fear; for if God spared not the natural branches, neither will He spare thee." And to prevent despair of those broken off, he adds: "And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again. For if thou weft cut out of the olive tree, which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree." The apostle rejoices in being delivered from the condition of a broken branch, and in being restored to the fatness of the olive tree. So you who have been broken off by error should return and be grafted in again. Those who are still in the wild olive should separate themselves from its barrenness, and become partakers of fertility. (Augustine to Faustus the Manichean, Bk 9 2)

Note that, in this passage, St. Augustine says that "Christ was always preached in the olive tree." Bob is using this passage to prove that, according to St. Augustine, the olive tree is Christ and not Israel. So, Christ was preached in Christ? That makes little sense. On the other hand, St. Augustine's statement makes a great deal of sense if we understand him as saying Christ was preached in Israel. And indeed, St. Augustine explicitly identifies the olive tree as "the holy stock of the Hebrews" in the very book and chapter from which Bob's quotation is taken! The following is the all-important passage which Bob conveniently neglected to quote:

"You say that the apostle, in leaving Judaism, passed from the bitter to the sweet. But the apostle himself says that the Jews, who would not believe in Christ, were branches broken off, and that the Gentiles, a wild olive tree, were grafted into the good olive, that is, the holy stock of the Hebrews, that they might partake of the fatness of the olive."

Clearly, St. Augustine's real position is quite the opposite of the position which Bob has attributed to him. How could Bob have missed this if not by willful blindness?

The story is similar with another of Bob's quotes from St. Augustine.

"Therefore did the Lord at once graft the wild olive into the good olive tree. He did it then when He said, 'Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.'" (Sermons, XXVII, 12).

Again, we may quote from the very same sermon and paragraph which Bob quotes from:

"So then for this reason that people did not come to Him, that is by reason of pride; and the natural branches are said to be broken off from the olive tree, that is from that people founded by the Patriarchs."

Again, St. Augustine says, in the immediate vicinity of the passage which Bob has used to support his theory that the olive tree is Christ and not Israel, that the olive tree is in fact Israel. One would be hard pressed to find a Protestant apologist who has engaged in such egregious and deceptive misrepresentation of the Fathers.

What is more, Ben Douglass provided Sungenis with all this information in an e-mail dated January 14, 2007 - while he was still Sungenis' vice-president, by the way - and reminded him of it again on January 20, stating:

"St. Augustine read the root of Romans 11 as Israel, and he says so in the immediate vicinity of the passages you quoted to argue that the root is Christ and not Israel. Again, you're lobbing softballs at your critics, and it's a good thing I caught this before they did. There could hardly be a clearer illustration of Forrest's thesis that your use of the Fathers is highly tendentious when the subject is Jews and Israel."

This was a few months before the CASB2 was released. Yet, Sungenis allowed the book to go to print without lifting a finger to correct this obvious error.

Bob also blatantly misrepresents the position of St. John Chrysostom. He quotes the following text, in which St. John Chrysostom allegorically applies the olive tree metaphor to the Church:

A few days ago the Church was besieged: an army came, and fire issued from their eyes, yet it did not scorch the olive tree; swords were unsheathed, yet no one received a wound the imperial gates were in distress, but the Church was in security. And yet the tide of war flowed hither; for here the refugee was sought, and we withstood them, not fearing their rage. And wherefore? Because we held as a sure pledge saying "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Two Homilies on Eutropius, Homily 2).

What Bob neglects to mention is that, when St. John Chrysostom directly exegetes the olive tree metaphor in his homilies on Romans, he interprets it as a reference to the Jewish Patriarchs:

Ver. 16. "For if the first-fruits be holy, the lump also is holy; and if the root be holy, so are the branches;"
So calling in this passage by the names of the first-fruit and root Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, the prophets, the patriarchs, all who were of note in the Old Testament; and the branches, those from them who believed...
Ver. 24. "For if thou were cut out of the olive tree, which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree."
If then faith was able to do what was contrary to nature, much more will it that which is according to nature. For if this person, who was cut off from those by nature his fathers, came contrary to nature unto Abraham, much more will you be able to recover your own. For the Gentile's evil lot is according to nature (he being by nature a wild olive), and the good contrary to nature (it being contrary to nature for him to be grafted into Abraham), but your lot on the contrary is the good by nature. For it is not upon another root, as the Gentile, but on your own that you are to be fixed if you are minded to come back (Homilies on Romans, Homily XIX).

Hence, it is indefensible to marshal St. John Chrysostom in support of the contention that the olive tree of Romans 11 is Christ and not Israel. Perhaps most troubling is the fact that Michael Forrest made Bob aware of St. John Chrysostom's real position in September 2006. However, Bob refused to change his book which quotes St. John Chrysostom as representative of the "consensus" of the Fathers regarding the identity of the olive tree.

Bob also quotes St. Irenaeus, who applies the metaphor of being engrafted into the olive tree to being introduced into the spiritual life, and St. Gregory of Nazianzus, who applies it to the Church. None of this comes close to establishing the patristic consensus by means of which Bob attempts to bind Catholic conscienses to his personal exegesis of the identity of the olive tree, lest they come under suspicion for the heresy of dispensationalism.

6) Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI on the Jews

Fairly recently, Bob engaged in a serious distortion of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s words about the Jewish people. Bob has been on another crusade of sorts against the ideas that 1) the Jewish people can be spoken of by Catholics as “Israel” (only the Church is Israel now, according to Bob), 2) the Jewish people are still “chosen” in any sense, 3) that the Jewish people retain any kind of special relationship with God or 4) that they maintain a unique, ongoing role in salvation history.
As is so often the case with Bob, he insists on a completely binary, black and white view of matters. The very Protestant-style “either/or” propositions seem to readily attract him, while the possibility of the Catholic “both/and” seems to continually escape him.

If you view this Q and A, you will see that Bob goes to great lengths to avoid admitting that Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, clearly sees that the Jewish people still retain a unique relationship with God and that they are also still chosen:

Q: God has not, then, retracted His word that Israel is the Chosen People?

A: (Ratzinger): No, because He is faithful. Of course, we can see that Israel still has some way to go. As Christians, we believe that they will in the end be together with us in Christ. But they are not simply done with and left out of God's plans... (God and the World, page 150.)

Yet, amazingly, Bob had the following to say:

R. Sungenis: The Cardinal doesn’t say that the Jews are still the Chosen People (Q and A #17).

One will note that the question posed to the Cardinal (now Pope) was whether God has retracted His choice of Israel. The question implicitly recognizes that Israel was once the Chosen People, and asks whether this status has now been “retracted” (or whether, by logical extension, this status continues today). Cardinal Ratzinger’s unflinching affirmation is that God has not retracted Israel’s status as “the Chosen People.” If God has not retracted this choice, as the Cardinal says, then logically, Israel remains “Chosen.” Additional discussion of the “both/and” concept may be viewed here.

In Q and A #1, Sept-July 2007, we have the following, from the USCCB’s letter on Summorum Pontificum):

14. Does the wider use of the extraordinary form of the rites of Holy Week reflect a change in the Church’s teaching on anti-Semitism ?

“No….When Pope Paul VI issued the Missale Romanum of 1969, the only prayer for the Jewish people in the Roman liturgy was completely revised for Good Friday to reflect a renewed understanding of the Jews as God’s chosen people, “first to hear the word of God.”

Bob’s response?

R. Sungenis: Notice that "God's chosen people" is defined as those "first to hear the word of God," which applies to Jews of the Old Covenant, not today.

The reader is advised to review what the USCCB wrote again. Bob insists that the USCCB intended to refer only to Jews of the Old Covenant, “not today.” This is a patently absurd argument. Are we to believe that the Good Friday prayer is directed at “Jews of the Old Covenant” and not Jews “today”? Obviously, the prayer is intended for the benefit of those Jews living today, and the Church wants to reflect a “renewed understanding” of them as “God’s chosen people.”

The evidence that they are still “chosen” in a valid sense will be dealt with shortly.

However, Bob’s answer manages to degenerate even further as he continues:

(Sungenis): Also, he does not say "the Jews ARE God's chosen people." By using the particle "as," the reference is completely to the past.

The reader is given a glimpse at the kind of grammatical gymnastics Sungenis is capable of playing in order to “prove” his case. However, in this instance, the language is English, not Greek, and as such, any American with a high school diploma can detect the nonsense. Frankly, it is remarkable that he would even attempt to make such an argument.

The contention that the particle “as” has the force of implying the past tense is preposterous:

In general, it is understood that particles are function words that tend to be uninflected — that is, words which do not have suffixes, for example, that reflect grammatical gender, tense or person. However, the term may have a broader definition (Grammatical particles).

Let’s try another example to illustrate that this claim is completely false:

“The New Good Friday prayer is intended to reinforce our understanding of Jesus as the savior of all men.”

This is a perfectly good and accurate sentence, to be sure. So, are we to suppose that the word “as” forces this sentence to mean that Jesus was the savior of all men “completely in the past”?

Certainly, the fact that Bob had the audacity to state something so preposterous in such a factual way ought to make one seriously question exactly what similarly dubious “grammatical” arguments Bob has employed in the Greek, where far fewer people are equipped to detect the grammatical sleight-of-hand.

Finally, unless Bob has devised yet a new grammatical rule, there are other texts to which we can refer that prove conclusively that Cardinal Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) still believes that the Jewish people retain a special, unique relationship with God and that they have a continuing, unique role to play in the story of salvation even today:

...Israel still has a mission to accomplish today. We are in fact waiting for the moment when Israel, too, will say yes to Christ, but we also know that while history still runs its course even this standing at the door fulfills a mission, one that is important for the world (Cardinal Ratzinger, God and the World, pp 149-150; emphasis added).

. . . a new vision of the relationship between the Church and Israel has been born: a sincere willingness to overcome every kind of anti-Judaism, and to initiate a constructive dialogue based on knowledge of each other, and on reconciliation. If such a dialogue is to be fruitful, it must begin with a prayer to our God, first of all that he might grant to us Christians a greater esteem and love for that people, the people of Israel, to whom belong “the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; theirs are the patriarchs, and from them comes Christ according to the flesh, he who is over all, God, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:4-5), and this not only in the past, but still today, “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29) (Cadinal Ratzinger, The Heritage of Abraham, L’Osservatore Romano, 29 December, 2000).

A few things should be noted by the careful reader. First, one will note that the Cardinal says the gifts enumerated in Romans 9:4-5 “belong” to Israel (note well: he freely refers to the Jewish people as “Israel”) – he does not say these gifts “belonged” (only in the past) to Israel. Second, he explicitly says that these things apply “not only in the past, but still today.” It was as if the Holy Father knew that people like Bob would strain to find any way to distort his words. And so, he could not be any clearer.

If Bob finds that Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) disagrees with his eccentric interpretations concerning the Jewish people then he should have the courage to say so. As it is, the lengths to which he must (and is willing!) to go in order to pretend that the Holy Father agrees with him simply further undermines what little credibility he has left and, as we have contended throughout this essay, clearly highlights Bob’s bias and animus on Jewish issues.

Bob seems to consider himself what may be termed an extreme supersessionist. He ostensibly believes that the Jews, as Jews, no longer play any role in God's design for man's salvation and that the Catholic Church has entirely and utterly replaced the role of the Jews in every way in regard to promises, eschatology, etc related to Israel. He claims that this is the Catholic view, although he has never proved this from magisterial texts. Thus his contention that it is tantamount to heresy for a Catholic to reject “supersessionism” is totally misguided, for the Catholic Church has never embraced the crude and extreme supersessionism usually peddled by Sungenis—in fact, the word “supersessionism” itself originated in Protestant circles. What’s more, when one examines his beliefs more closely, it becomes clear that Bob is not truly the extreme supersessionist he portrays himself to be. Even under his own views, it is obvious that the Jewish people still have a unique role to play in salvation history. And it is obvious that God still has a special concern for them as a people.

Of course, it is indisputable that He also has retained an eternal, intimate connection with the Jewish people that is not simply “in the past”. The second Person of the Holy Trinity will forever be a Jew. And He was born of a Jewish woman who we shall ever exalt as the highest, noblest and most pure creature on earth…the Queen of Heaven, Mediatrix of all Graces. These facts cannot be glossed over as of no account.

While Bob denies a special, future “conversion of the Jews”, he does acknowledge that God has promised to continuously bring some Jews to salvation in Christ until the Second Coming:

God has been saving Jews, and will continue to save Jews, until the end of time. (Article)

St. Paul assures us in Romans 11:1-24 that Jews will be saved right up until the Second Coming. (Michael Forrest and the Jews, p. 47)

As St. Paul said in Romans 11:5...there will be a remnant of saved Jews until the end of time. (Question 271 - Are the Jews Cursed by God?)

Apparently, he has not entirely thought through the ramifications of that promise. Has God made any such promises to the Greeks? The Italians? The Egyptians? Are any of these ethnic groups singled out and assured by God Himself that at least some of them will go to heaven in every age throughout the remainder of history? Is there any ethnic group at all aside from the Jews that have been singled out to receive such a promise? No. As such, this is clear evidence, even under Bob’s stingy theology, that God retains a special relationship with the Jewish people.

And what of Bob’s belief that the Antichrist will be Jewish? While negative, certainly this is further evidence that the Jewish people are not finished in regard to the story of salvation. They still have a distinct, unique role to play. Bob cannot have it both ways.

In fact, there was a time when Bob was capable of admitting that there is something special and positive about the relationship between God and the Jewish people:

(Forrest): How can you flatly disagree that St. Paul indicated in vs. 28 that God still cares for the Jews as a genetic people by the phrase "for the sake of the Patriarchs"? What else does this passage mean?...."As concerning the gospel, indeed, they are enemies for your sake: but are touching the election, they are most dear for the sake of the fathers." What else can this mean, other than that God has a particular and continuing concern for them because they descend from the patriarchs?

(Sungenis): I think I was confused by your use of the word "genetic," as if there was something about being Jewish that attracted God. I think you mean to say "ethnic," not genetic. I do agree that there is an "ethnic" issue, and that God intends on saving Jews as an ethnic race of people.
(Email of April 5, 2004)

One wonders what admonishment Bob would offer to Pope Pius IX and the Fathers of Vatican I, in which 1) the Jewish people are referred to as “Israel” and “Israelites”, 2) the “Mosaic” religion is described as not changed, but completed and crowned, 3) the Jews, as a people, are described as “always very dear to God” (not merely those who accept Christ), and 4) we are reminded that the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity is and will forever be of Jewish, according to the flesh.

Postulatum signed by Pope Pius IX and many of the Fathers of the First Vatican Council, 1870:

The undersigned Fathers of the Council humbly yet urgently beseechingly pray that the Holy Ecumenical Council of the Vatican deign to come to the aid of the unfortunate nation of Israel with an entirely paternal invitation; that is, that it express the wish that, finally exhausted by a wait no less futile than long, the Israelites hasten to recognize the Messiah, our Savior Jesus Christ, truly promised to Abraham and announced by Moses; thus completing and crowning, not changing, the Mosaic religion.

On one hand, the undersigned Fathers have the very firm confidence that the holy Council will have compassion on the Israelites, because they are always very dear to God on account of their fathers, and because it is from them that the Christ was born according to the flesh.

On the other hand, the same Fathers share the sweet and intimate hope that this ardent desire of tenderness and honor will be, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, well received by many of the sons of Abraham, because the obstacles which have held them back until now appear to be disappearing more and more, the ancient wall of separation now having fallen.

Would that they then speedily acclaim the Christ, saying “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed be He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Would that they hurl themselves into the arms of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, even now their sister according to the flesh, who wishes likewise to be their mother according to grace as she is ours! (emphasis added)

Sadly, it would appear that Bob is intent upon creating what Pope Pius IX and the Fathers of Vatican I referred to as “obstacles which have held [the Jewish people] back” from coming to Jesus Christ. This list of areas in which Bob’s theology suffers from a manifest prejudice is far from exhaustive—numerous other examples have been cited throughout the articles on this blog. His prejudice will not allow him to process and present the evidence fairly. Truly, to paraphrase St. Paul, a hardening has come upon Bob Sungenis with respect to the Jews.


Follow-up, in-depth examination of some of Sungenis's additional theological errors and prejudice involving Jewish issues: