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  • Thomas Aquinas on the Jews: Insights into His Commentary on Romans 9-11
  • John F. X. Knasas
Thomas Aquinas on the Jews: Insights into His Commentary on Romans 9–11, by Steven C. Boguslawski, O.P.New York: Paulist Press, 2008. 145 pp. $18.95.

Despite the size of the work, Boguslawski suffuses it with historical, philosophical, and theological erudition. Hence, given my background only in philosophy, I enter this review with some trepidation. Basically, the work is a comparison of Augustine's and Aquinas' commentaries on Paul's Letter to the Romans, chs. 9–11. The author's thesis is that respective theological differences about predestination and election determine respective differences about the role of the Jewish people in salvation history since Christ. Appreciating the differences between Augustine and Aquinas on the Jews has unsuspected implications for the contemporary debate about Romans.

Aquinas is not a participant in the growing 13th-century intolerance of the Jews. That intolerance waxed because of the exhaustion of Jewish testamentary function solely assigned them by Augustine (p. xv). In Chapter 2, the author also downplays the 13th-century Talmud controversies as inflamers of intolerance, for Pope Innocent IV allowed the Talmud's return to the Jews (p. 26). Augustine's negative view of the Jews did not derive from a threat of missionary competition. Rather, its source was Augustine's theological analysis of the relation between grace and free will. In Augustine's thinking no provision for the rehabilitation of the reprobate exists. God dispenses salvation or damnation as a "response" (p. 71) to the creatures' divinely foreseen fundamental option for or against faith. Divine justice forbids extending mercy to the obdurate (p. 72). Hence, Augustine interprets Paul's end-time remark that all Israel will be saved as speaking about the descendents of the Jewish remnant who believe in the Lord. Such thinking is supersessionist and effectively places unbelieving Jews on the sidelines of history.

Aquinas is much more literal and historical in his understanding of Paul's end-time remark. Boguslawski ascribes Aquinas' difference from Augustine to Aquinas' own understanding of divine election. In Chapter 5 the author, in my opinion, decisively shows that this theological category, already elaborated in the Summa Theologiae, is used both of individuals and corporate entities in [End Page 147] Romans 9 and 11 (p. 101). According to Aquinas, divine election does not proceed from divinely foreseen faith but from God's loving choice. Also, in the current order, subsequent as it is to original sin, God's love for the elect is God's mercy. Since God does not react to the foreseen perfidy of the creature, the creature's infidelity need not be the final word. Many times in the past, God has restored to grace those who have fallen. This will happen again to corporate historical Israel as befits their status as God's chosen people. As the author remarks: "The disbelief of some Jews occasioned God's mercy toward the Gentiles, so that, at some future time, the Jews might obtain mercy as well" (p. 100). In contrast, "nowhere does Augustine state that the Jews' fall is temporary or reparable" (p. 106). Citing from Aquinas' Romans commentary in which Aquinas is speaking of "converted Jews," Boguslawski shows that the role and stature of the Jews are not obliterated from history nor so radically interpreted by Aquinas as to be unrecognizable in the future eschatological drama (p. 8). Contra the claim of John Y. B. Hood, Aquinas definitely is not a continuator of the Ecclesiastical status quo. That would make Aquinas more Augustinian than he is. Some practical conclusions of Aquinas' interpretation of Romans are: because of God's election of Israel, certain "privileges and functions should be safeguarded for them" (p. 45); a "necessity and responsibility" exists for the Christian Church to preserve the role of the Jews in the salvation history (p. 65); Jews possess "ongoing rights and a role" in the divine economy (p. 67)."

The above Thomistic position expressed in the Romans commentary is a breath of fresh air in contemporary discussion of Romans. The debate has precipitated into two camps (p. 124). First, the...


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