- Thomas Aquinas on the Jews: Insights into His Commentary on Romans 9–11
In the compelling dialogue today between Jews and Christians, the long and devastating tradition of contempt for Jews within Christianity is a persistent preoccupation. In recent decades, this has prompted historical reexaminations to understand more fully this onerous tradition, with special interest in those who challenged it. Commonly, such treatments have integrated social and theological analyses, but this has often meant modest theological analysis at best.
Boguslawski seeks to correct this problem in reference to the leading theological voice in the matter in the medieval period, St. Thomas Aquinas, and to do so on the basis of the central theological source for this relationship, St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Through a close scrutiny of Aquinas’s seldom examined Commentary on Romans (Super epistolam ad romanos), Boguslawski develops a thesis against the grain—namely, that Aquinas did not in fact perpetuate the dominant adversos Judaeos tradition in presumed continuity with Augustine, but rather substantially corrected that tradition in a positive soteriological assessment of the covenantal role of Judaism and, even more remarkably, a theological basis for a continuing one.
In recent decades, there has been no dearth of scholarship on Aquinas and his understanding of Jews and Judaism, portraying consistency with the Augustinian tradition to which he was so indebted. But Boguslawski has two particular scholars in mind here, arguably the two most important recent interpreters in this area: Jeremy Cohen (The Friars and the Jews: The Evolution of Medieval Anti-Judaism, Ithaca, NY, 1982) and especially John Y. B. Hood (Aquinas and the Jews, Philadelphia, 1995). Both Cohen and Hood focus on the social-historical context in assessing Aquinas’s view of the Jews as thoroughly consistent with Augustinian supersessionism and depreciative of Judaism and Jewish status. This is the traditional view that sets up Boguslawski’s counterassessment in a theological reinterpretation through Aquinas’s exegesis of Romans.
Boguslawski’s thesis is precise and provocative in a threefold sequence. First, he exposits the traditional assessment of Aquinas’s view on the Jews in his own social context and in the Summa Theologiae. Second, he asserts that this analysis needs to be reframed on the basis of Aquinas’s Commentary on the Romans, which presents not only a substantial agreement between the two contemporaneous textual treatments but also posits the stronger influence of the biblical text. Third, from such an exegetical analysis, he claims that Aquinas clearly has a central and positive understanding of the role of the Jews that has not previously been adequately understood. [End Page 603]
The key interpretive basis for Boguslawski is a reframing of Aquinas’s perspective in terms of the concept of God’s providence as the key in Romans 9–11, placing the essential focus in an emphasis on election and predestination. Aquinas, in this Commentary and reflectively in the Summa, asserts a foundational understanding of the Jews as a permanently valued element in divine design and continually essential for Christianity. This thesis runs counter to later Reformation views and much of modern interpretation on the Pauline focus in Romans 9–11 as grounded in the sequential history of salvation and issues of justification rather than providential design. Boguslawski extends his discussion into the area of contemporary traditional and revisionist Romans interpretation but complicates the analysis of the primacy of providence by his citation of a supplemental soteriological key in Aquinas’s focal use of John 4:22 (“. . . for salvation is from the Jews”). Nonetheless, the reframing here in Aquinas’s providential understanding of covenant asserts a most valuable broader biblical agenda.
Boguslawski has provided an important and necessary corrective from a historical-theological perspective. He presents a valuable shift from a social-historical perspective that sees Aquinas as a traditional Augustinian in his view of the Jews, hence a passive voice in the rising hostility of the Church and society against Jews in the thirteenth century, to...