Attitude towards Jews


Soon after the conversion of Constantine and the making of Christianity the official state religion of Roman empire, the persecuted all of a sudden turned into persecuters following same manner as the heathens.  Surprisingly Ambrose himself seem to have supported directly or indirectly such actions.

In his treatise on Abraham, Ambrose warns against intermarriage with pagans, Jews, or heretics.

But one such glaring even occured on August 1, 388, C.E., when an angry mob of Christians in the town of Callinicum, in the Roman province of Osrhoene, incited by their bishop burned a synagogue to the ground.


Callinicum corresponds to the present day city of Al-Raqqah, which is the de facto capital of the Islamic State in Syria.


The judicial authorities of the province ordered the rioters of Callinicum and their bishop who incited the riot to compensate the Jews – either by rebuilding the synagogue for them or by paying them so they could undertake the reconstruction themselves. This judgement was confirmed by Theodosius,the emperor himself.  On hearing this  Bishop Ambrose , addressed a letter to the emperor, in which he claimed that it was nothing less than the “glory of God” that was at stake  


"There is, then, no adequate cause for such a commotion, that the people should be so severely punished for the burning of a building, and much less since it is the burning of a synagogue, a home of unbelief, a house of impiety, a receptacle of folly, which God Himself has condemned. For thus we read, where the Lord our God speaks by the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah: 'And I will do to this house, which is called by My Name, wherein ye trust, and to the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh, and I will cast you forth from My sight, as I cast forth your brethren, the whole seed of Ephraim. And do not thou pray for that people, and do not thou ask mercy for them, and do not come near Me on their behalf, for I will not hear thee. Or seest thou not what they do in the cities of Judah?' God forbids intercession to be made for those."


He supported his advise on the basis that it was the jews who had  destroyed the Christian basilicas in Damascus, Gaza, Ashkelon and Alexandria during the time of Julian the Apostate – (although there is no evidence that this was the case).  “Which, then, is of greater importance, the show of discipline or the cause of religion?”


Theodosius did not respond to Ambrose upon which Ambrose took up his chiding in the open pulpit and went to the extent of refusing the communion until he has rectified the order. Ambrose couched his entire appeal in a cloak of love and concern for Theodosius, so that, after the service, when the emperor reproached the priest, saying, "Thou hast preached against me!" Ambrose responded by declaring, "Not against thee, but in thy behalf!" The appeal worked, and the emperor canceled the order he had imposed on the clergy and the churchgoers of Callinicum to rebuild the synagogue.


However in 393, Theodosius, by now the emperor of a united empire, issued an instruction noting that the Jews had a right to congregate in their houses of prayer, and declaring that “those who presume to commit illegal deeds under the name of the Christian religion and attempt to destroy and despoil synagogues” will be severely punished.


In his exposition of Psalm 1, Ambrose says: "Virtues without faith are leaves, flourishing in appearance, but unproductive. How many pagans have mercy and sobriety but no fruit, because they do not attain their purpose! The leaves speedily fall at the wind's breath. Some Jews exhibit purity of life and much diligence and love of study, but bear no fruit and live like leaves."


Attitude towards pagans

One of the many remnants till recent times of heathen worship had been the Altar of Victory in the Senate-house at Rome, which was removed under Gratian. The prefect of Rome, Symmachus, who was Ambrose's first cousin from his mother's side being a heathen appealed to Valentinan II. that it might be restored, and Ambrose successfully opposed this appeal in two Epistles (17, 18) addressed to the young Emperor. Yet again, when Theodosius assumed the imperial power [a.d. 387], a renewed attempt was made and once more frustrated. Later on, Eugenius the usurper judged it politic to take the heathen's side,  the Altar of Victory was once more set up, and the temples stood open as in the days of old.  But this triumph lasted only for a brief period. When Theodosius defeated the usurper at Aquileia, in the spring of 394 it spelled the death of all Pagan religions of Rome, no more to rise as a public force.   .(Letters 17, 18).


Under his influence, emperors Gratian, Valentinian II and Theodosius I carried on a persecution of Paganism;  Theodosius issued the 391 "Theodosian decrees," which with increasing intensity outlawed Pagan practices  The Altar of Victory was removed by Gratian. Ambrose prevailed upon Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius to reject requests to restore the Altar.


It may be good to have a look at the attitude of Christians towards Pagan religions.


"In the period of 313 to 391, both paganism and Christianity were legal religions, with their respective adherents vying for power in the Roman Empire. This period of transition is also known as the Constantinian shift. In 380, Theodosius I made Nicene Christianity the state church of the Roman Empire. Paganism was tolerated for another 12 years, until 392, when Theodosius passed legislation prohibiting all pagan worship.Pagan religions from this point were increasingly persecuted, a process which lasted throughout the 5th century. The closing of the Neoplatonic Academy by decree of Justinian I in 529 marks a conventional end point of both classical paganism and Late Antiquity, after which most of its scholars fled to more tolerant Sassanid Persia.


Lay Christians took advantage of these new anti-pagan laws by destroying and plundering the temples. Theologians and prominent ecclesiastics soon followed. One such example is St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. When Gratian became Roman emperor in 375, Ambrose, who was one of his closest educators, persuaded him to further suppress paganism. The emperor, on Ambrose's advice, confiscated the property of the pagan temples; seized the properties of the Vestal Virgins and pagan priests, and removed the statue of the Goddess of Victory from the Roman Senate.


When Gratian delegated the government of the eastern half of the Roman Empire to Theodosius the Great in 379, the situation became worse for the Pagans. Theodosius prohibited all forms of Pagan worship and allowed the temples to be robbed, plundered, and ruthlessly destroyed by monks and other enterprising Christians and participated in actions by Christians against major pagan sites. Pagans openly voiced their resentment in historical works, such as the writings of Eunapius and Olympiodorus; some writers blamed the Christian hegemony for the 410 Sack of Rome. Christians destroyed almost all such political literature and threatened to cut off the hands of any copyist who dared to make new copies of the offending writings."


Though we have done that throughout history, this approch declaring "Truth should wipe out ignorance" "My religion is the ultimate truth and so we have the right to kill and correct" and "Might is right" attitude.  leads to total intolerance and hence to terrorism based on religious beliefs.  It is true that throughout history this interreligious intolerance and consequent killing of humans, plundering and destruction existed.  We are actually receiving it back as IS and al-Queida forces are returning what we gave doing the early 5 centuries.


The problem with such behaviour is the nullification of freedom of will and choice of individuals. If our ways were indeed the eternal way, God could have done that by his might simply by one word.  The whole story of the incarnation and cross is the story of tolerance and need of dialogue. What we the Sons of God are using is the methods of sons of man.  Are'nt we paying for it in the 21st century? "When people are talking about differences, they are learning. When they are talking, they are not killing. Dialogue and the exchange of perspectives is a good thing indeed….


For Roman Catholic Christians, what has made involvement in inter-religious dialogue even possible is the work of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) called by Pope John XXIII…


"No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination … so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned."" (http://www.mcall.com/features/family/mc-faith-steffen-inter-religious-dialogues-20150327-story.html)



1. In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship.

One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth.(1) One also is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extend to all men,(2) until that time when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light.(3)

Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?

2. From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense.

Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language. Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust. Again, Buddhism, in its various forms, realizes the radical insufficiency of this changeable world; it teaches a way by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, may be able either to acquire the state of perfect liberation, or attain, by their own efforts or through higher help, supreme illumination. Likewise, other religions found everywhere try to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each in its own manner, by proposing "ways," comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites. The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.(4)

The Church, therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,(5) who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.

4. As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock.

Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God's saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ-Abraham's sons according to faith (6)-are included in the same Patriarch's call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people's exodus from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles.(7) Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself.(8)

The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: "theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:4-5), the Son of the Virgin Mary. She also recalls that the Apostles, the Church's main-stay and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ's Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people.

As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation,(9) nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading.(10) Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is the witness of the Apostle.(11) In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and "serve him shoulder to shoulder" (Soph. 3:9).(12)

Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ;(13) still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.

Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.

5. We cannot truly call on God, the Father of all, if we refuse to treat in a brotherly way any man, created as he is in the image of God. Man's relation to God the Father and his relation to men his brothers are so linked together that Scripture says: "He who does not love does not know God" (1 John 4:8).

No foundation therefore remains for any theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people, so far as their human dignity and the rights flowing from it are concerned.

The Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to "maintain good fellowship among the nations" (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men,(14) so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.(15)


1. Cf. Acts 17:26    2. Cf. Wis. 8:1; Acts 14:17; Rom. 2:6-7; 1 Tim. 2:4       3. Cf. Apoc. 21:23f.       4. Cf 2 Cor. 5:18-19
5. Cf St. Gregory VII,
letter XXI to Anzir (Nacir), King of Mauritania (Pl. 148, col. 450f.)       6. Cf. Gal. 3:7       7. Cf. Rom. 11:17-24   
8. Cf.
Eph. 2:14-16           9. Cf. Lk. 19:44            10. Cf. Rom. 11:28
11. Cf.
Rom. 11:28-29; cf. dogmatic Constitution, Lumen Gentium (Light of nations) AAS, 57 (1965) pag. 20
12. Cf.
Is. 66:23; Ps. 65:4; Rom. 11:11-32            13. Cf. John. 19:6            14. Cf. Rom. 12:18         15. Cf. Matt. 5:45


We have seen this warfare even within the Church between various theological groups. I suppose Ambrose contributed to this catastrophe and practice of subjugation to a great extent. It took us 15 to 20 centuries to understand this. The World Council of Churches which was started as a feeble attempt for inter-denominational dialogue still remain incomplete without many Christian Churches as its part.



[FrontPage Include Component]