Jaroslav Pelikan

Origen may … have been the first church father to study Hebrew, “in opposition to the spirit of his time and of his people,” as Jerome says; according to Eusebius, he “learned it thoroughly,” but there is reason to doubt the accuracy of this report. Jerome, however, was rightly celebrated as “a trilingual man” for his competence in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and Augustine clearly admired, perhaps even envied, his ability to “interpret the divine Scriptures in both languages.” […] But it seems safe to propose the generalization that, except for converts from Judaism, it was not until the biblical humanists and the Reformers of the sixteenth century that a knowledge of Hebrew became standard equipment for Christian expositors of the Old Testament. Most of Christian doctrine developed in a church uninformed by any knowledge of the original text of the Hebrew Bible.

Whatever the reasons, Christian theologians writing against Judaism seemed to take their opponents less and less seriously as time went on; and what their apologetic works may have lacked in vigor or fairness, they tended to make up in self-confidence. They no longer looked upon the Jewish community as a continuing participant in the holy history that had produced the church. They no longer gave serious consideration to the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament or to the Jewish background of the New. Therefore the urgency and the poignancy about the mystery of Israel that are so vivid in the New Testament have appeared only occasionally in Christian thought, as in some passages in Augustine; but these are outweighed, even in Augustine, by the many others that speak of Judaism and paganism almost as though they were equally alien to “the people of God” — the church of Gentile Christians.

Surely this de-Judaizing is the most important (and troubling) way in which the era of the early Church Fathers differed from the Apostolic beginnings of the Church. It is fascinating to contemplate an alternate history of Christendom in which Jews and Christians remained in regular conversation and debate.