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PARTICULAR REFLECTIONS ON THE PUNISHMENT OF THE JEWS AND ON THE CORRESPONDING PREDICTIONS OF JESUS AND CHRIST
Whilst I have endeavored to show you uninterruptedly the progression of the counsels of God in the perpetual duration of His People, I have been obliged to hurry over numerous facts which merit profound reflection. Allow me, therefore, here to return to them that you may not miss things so important.
The Fall of the Jews Renders Testimony to the Gospel
And in the first place, Sir, I must beg of you to consider with a more particular attention the fall of the Jews, whose every circumstance bears testimony to the Gospel. Those circumstances are explained to us by infidel authors, by Jews, and by heathens, who, without perceiving the train of God's counsels, have related to us the important facts whereby He has been pleased to manifest it.
We have Josephus, a Jewish author, a most faithful historian, and very well acquainted with the affairs of his nation, whose antiquities he has set forth in an admirable work. He has described the last war, in which the nation perished, having been an eye witness of the war and having held therein a high command in the service of his country.
The Jews furnish us also with other very ancient authors, whose testimonies you will see. They have ancient commentaries upon the books of Scripture, and among others the Chaldaic paraphrases, which they print with their Bibles. They have their book which they name Talmud, that is, doctrine, which they regard no less than the Scripture itself. It is a collection of tracts and sentences of their doctors; and though the parts comprising that great work be not all of equal antiquity, the latest authors quoted in it lived in the earliest ages of the Church. There, amidst numberless irrelevant fables, which take their rise for the most part after the time of our Lord, we find some beautiful remains of the ancient traditions of the Jewish people, and proofs that might convince them.
And first, it is certain from the admission of the Jews, that the Divine vengeance did never more terribly nor more manifestly declare itself than in their last desolation.
Prodigies Which Took Place in the Temple and in the City in the Last Days of Jerusalem
It is a constant tradition, attested in their Talmud, and confirmed by all their Rabbis, that, forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem, which comes pretty near to the time of death of Jesus Christ, strange things were continually seen in the Temple. Daily did there appear new prodigies insomuch as a famous Rabbi cried out one day:
"O Temple, Temple! what is it that moves thee, and why dost thou make thyself afraid?" (1)
What is more noted than that dreadful noise, which was heard by the priests in the sanctuary in the day of Pentecost, and that clear voice which issued forth from the innermost part of that sacred place, "Let us go hence, let us go hence?" The holy angels, guardians of the Temple, loudly declared that they were forsaking it because God, who had there established his dwelling during so many ages, had now given it up to reprobation.
Josephus and Tacitus himself have both related this prodigy. (2) It was perceived only by the priests but there is another prodigy, which was visible to the eyes of all the people, and the like of which was never seen by any other people. "Four years before the war was declared, a peasant," says Josephus, (3) "fell a-crying, 'A voice is gone out from the East, a voice is gone out from the West, a voice is gone out from the four winds: A voice against Jerusalem and against the Temple, a voice against the bridegrooms and the brides, a voice against all the people,'" From that time he ceased neither night nor day, crying, 'Woe', 'Woe to Jerusalem!" He redoubled his cry on the feast days. No other word came out of his mouth: those who pitied him, those who cursed him, those who gave him necessaries of life, heard not from him but that terrible sentence, 'Woe to Jerusalem!'. He was seized, examined, and condemned to be whipped by the magistrates; at every question and every lash, he answered, without ever once complaining, "Woe to Jerusalem!" Being dismissed as a madman, he ran up and down the whole country, incessantly repeated his sad prediction. Seven years did he continue to cry in this manner, without relaxing, yet without weakening in voice. At the time of the last siege of Jerusalem, he shut himself up in the city, patrolling unweariedly round the walls, and crying with all his might, "Woe to the Temple! Woe to the City! Woe to all the people!" At last he added "Woe to myself!" and at the same instant was carried off by a stone shot from an engine.
Would one not think, Sir, that the Divine vengeance had, as it were, become visible in this man, who lived only to pronounce its decress; that it had filled him with its power so that he might match the woes of the people with his cries? Would it not appear that he was at last to perish by an effect of the vengeance he had so long announced, in order to render it the more sensible and striking, by being not only its Prophet and witness, but even its victim?
This Prophet of the woes of Jerusalem was called Jesus. It seemed as if the name of Jesus, a name of salvation and peace, was to prove a fatal omen to the Jews, who had despised it in the Person of our Savior; and as those ungrateful wretches had rejected a Jesus, Who proclaimed to them grace, mercy and life, God sent them another Jesus, who had nothing to proclaim to the but irremediable calamities, and the inevitable decree of their approaching ruin.
The Two Destructions of Jerusalem
Let us penetrate a little deeper into the judgments of God, under the guidance of His Scriptures. Jerusalem and its Temple were twice destroyed; once by Nabuchodonosor, a second time by Titus. But, each time, the justice of God declared itself by the same methods, though more plainly in the latter.
The better to understand this order of the counsels of God, let us lay down before all things this truth so often established in the sacred pages: that one of the most terrible effects of the Divine vengeance is that in punishment of our past sins, it gives us up to our reprobate sense, so that we prove deaf to all its wise admonitions, blind to the ways of salvation that are pointed out to us, ready to believe everything that tends to undo us, foolhardy enough to attempt anything without measuring our strength with that of the enemies we provoke.
Thus perished the first time Jerusalem and her princes, under the hands of Nabuchodonosor, king of Babylon. Feeble, and always beaten by that victorious king, they had often experienced that they made but vain efforts against him, and had been obliged to swear fealty to him. The prophet Jeremias declared to them on God's part, that God Himself had delivered them up to that prince, and that there was no salvation for them but in submitting to the yoke. He spoke to Zedecias, king of Juda, and to all his people, saying, "Bend down your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and you shall live. Why will you die? Why should this city be given up to desolation?" They did not heed his warning. Whilst Nabuchodonosor kept them closely closely blockaded by the prodigious works with which he had encompassed their city, they permitted themselves to be deluded by their false prophets, who filled their minds with imaginary victories, and told them in the name of God, although God had not sent them: "I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. As yet two years of days, and I will cause all the vessels of the house of the Lord to be brought back into this place.. and all the captives of Juda." (Jer. 28:2,3) The people, seduced by these promises, endured hunger and thirst and the hardest extremities, and persisted so long in their insensate boldness, that there was no more mercy for them. The City was overthrown, the Temple was burned down, all was destroyed.
The Divine Vengeance Also Manifest in the Last Ruin
By these signs the Jews knew that the hand of God was upon them. But that the Divine vengeance might be as manifest in the final destruction of Jerusalem as it had been in the first, there appeared in both, the same seduction, the same temerity, and the same hardness of heart.
Although their rebellion had drawn the Roman arms upon them, and though they rashly shook a yoke under which the whole world had bended, Titus was unwilling to destroy them: on the contrary, he had several offers of pardon made them, not only in the beginning of the war, but even when they could no longer escape his hands. He had already raised about Jerusalem a vast high wall, fortified with towers and redoubts as strong as the city itself, when he sent to them Josephus, their fellow-citizen, one of their captains, one of their priests, who had been taken in that war, defending his country. What did he not say to move them? By how many forcible arguments did he invite them to return to submission? He showed them Heaven and earth leagued against them, their destruction inevitable in case of resistance, and at the same time their safety in accepting the clemency of Titus. "Save," said he, "the Holy City, save yourselves, save that Temple, the wonder of the world, which the Romans reverence, and which Titus is loath to destroy." (4) But how was it possible to save people so obstinately resolved to undo themselves? Seduced by their false prophets, they hearkened not to those wise appeals. They were reduced to the last extremity; the famine killed more than the war, and mothers ate their own children. Titus, touched by their calamities, took the gods to witness that he was not the cause of their destruction. During these miseries, they gave credence to the false predictions which promised them the empire of the world. Nay more, when the city was taken, and already on fire in every quarter, those foolish people still believed the false prophets who assured them that the day of salvation was come, (5) so that they might hold out to the last, and that there might be no more mercy for them. Indeed, everything was massacred, the city was utterly demolished, and except some remains of towers, which Titus left as a monument to posterity, there remained not a stone upon a stone.
You see then, Sir, the same vengeance which had before appeared under Sedecias break upon Jerusalem. Titus is no less sent by God than Nabuchodonosor; the Jews perish in the same manner. We see in Jerusalem the same rebellion, the same famine, the same extremitites, the same ways of safety open, the same seduction, the same harness of heart, the same fall; and that every circumstance might exactly tally, the second Temple is burned under Titus in the same month, and the same day of the month, that the first had been under Nabuchodonosor. (6)
There are, however, some very memorable differences between the two overthrows of Jerusalem and the Jews, but all serve to show in the last overthrow a justice more rigorous and more evident. Nabuchodonosor had the Temple set on fire; Titus left nothing untried to save it, though his counselors represented to him that, so long as it stood, the Jews, who held their destiny inseparable from it, would never cease to be rebels. But the fatal day was come; it was the tenth of August, which before had seen the Temple of Solomon burned to the ground. (7) Notwithstanding the prohibitions of Titus made before both Romans and Jews, and notwithstanding the natural inclination of the soldiers, which should have led them rather to plunder than consume so much riches, a soldier prompted, says Josephus, (8) by a Divine impulse, had his companions hold him up to a window till he set fire to that august Temple. Titus flies to the place, and commands them to hasten and extinguish the spreading flame. It seizes the whole in an instant, and that admirable building is reduced to ashes.
But if the obduracy of the Jews under Sedecias was the most terrible effect and surest sign of the Divine vengeance, what shall we say of the blindness which appeared at the time of Titus? In the first ruin of Jerusalem, the Jews at least agreed among themselves; in the last, Jerusalem besieged by the Romans was torn by three opposite factions. (9) If the hatred they all bore the Romans went even to fury, these three factions were no less cruelly exasperated against one another; the conflicts without cost the Jews less blood than those within. The moment they were through sustaining assaults from the foreign enemy, the citizens recommenced their intestine war; violence and robbery reigned through the whole city. When it was perishing, when it was not but one great field covered with dead bodies, the heads of the factions fought for its control. Was not this an image of hell, where the damned hate one another no less than they hate the devils, their common enemies, and where everything is full of pride, confusion, and rage?
Let us confess, Sir, that the justice which God executed upon the Jews by Nabuchodonosor was but a shadow of the justice of which Titus was the minister. What city has ever lost eleven hundred thousand men in seven months, and that in one single siege? That many Jews fell in the last siege of Jerusalem. The Jews had suffered nothing like it from the Chaldeans. Under them their captivity lasted but seventy years: these seventeen hundred years they have been slaves all over the world, nor do they yet find any mitigation of their slavery.
We need no longer wonder that Titus, when returned victorious from the taking of Jerusalem, would not receive the congratulations of the neighboring nations, nor the crowns they sent him in honor of his victory. So many memorable circumstances, the wrath of God so evident, and His hand, which Titus still saw before his eyes, kept him in a profound astonishment: and this made him say, as you heard, that he was not the conqueror, but only the weak instrument of the Divine vengeance.
He knew not the whole secret of God's Providence; the hour was not yet come when the emperors were to acknowledge Jesus Christ. Now was the time of the humiliation and persecution of the Church. Wherefore Titus, enlightened enough to know that Judea perished by a manifest effect of the justice of God, knew not the crime which God had willed to punish so terribly. It was the most heinous of all crimes, a crime then unheard-of, namely, Deicide, which therefore gave occasion to a vengeance such as the world had never seen.
But if we only open our eyes and consider the course of things, neither that crime of the Jews nor its punishment can remain hidden from us.
Verification of the Predictions of Jesus Christ as to the Ruin of the Temple and Jerusalem
Let us remember only what Jesus Christ had foretold them. He had foretold the utter ruin of Jerusalem and of the Temple, "There shall not be left here," says He, "a stone upon a stone." (Matt. 24:1,2) He had foretold the manner in which the ungrateful city would be besieged, and the dreadful circumvallation that was to encompass it. He had foretold that terrible famine which was to distress its inhabitants; nor had He forgotten the false prophets by whom they were to be seduced. He had warned the Jews that the time of their calamity was at hand; He had laid open to them the long series of crimes which were to draw such punishments upon them. In a word, He had traced the whole history of the siege and of the desolation of Jerusalem.
And please, Sir, observe that He made them all these predictions toward the time of His passion, that so they might the better know the cause of their miseries. His Passion drew nigh, when He said to them: "Behold I send to you Prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them you will put to death and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city: that upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zecharias the son of Berachias, whom you killed between the Temple and the altar. Amen, I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the Prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered together my children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou wouldst not? Behold, your house shall be left to you, desolate." (Matt. 23:34-38)
Such is the history of the Jews! They persecuted their Messias, both in His Person, and in that of His followers: they stirred up the whole world against His disciples, and allowed them no rest in any city; they armed the Romans and emperors against the infant Church; they stoned St. Stephen, killed the two James, whose sanctity rendered them venerable even among them; they crucified St. Peter and slew St. Paul with the sword, by the hands of the Gentiles. They needs must perish. So much blood mingled with that of the Prophets whom they have massacred, cries to God for vengeance: Their houses and their city shall be desolate. Their desolation shall be no less than their crime: Jesus Christ forewarns them of it. The time is at hand: "This generation shall not pass till all these things be done;" (Matt. 24:34) and again, "This generation shall not pass till all these things be done;" (Mark 12:30) that is, that the men then living were to be witnesses of these things.
But let us hear the series of our Savior's predictions. As He made His entry into Jerusalem some days before His death, touched with the calamities it was to bring upon that wretched City, He wept over it: ["Ah!" says He, "unhappy City], if thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day [given thee to repent], the things that are to thy peace; but now they are hidden from thy eyes. For the days shall come upon thee: and thy enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and straiten thee on every side, and beat thee flat to the ground, and thy children who are in thee: and they shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone: because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation." (Luke 19:42-44)
This was intimating clearly enough both the manner of the siege and the final effects of the vengeance. But Jesus must not go to execution without denouncing to Jerusalem how much it would be punished one day for the unworthy treatment it was giving Him. As He went to Calvary, bearing His Cross upon His shoulders, "there followed Him a great multitude of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented Him. But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over Me; but weep for yourselves, and for your children. For behold, the days shall come, wherein they shall say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given such. Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: Fall upon us; and to the hills: Cover us. For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?" (Luke 23:27-31) If the innocent, if the just one suffer so rigorous a punishment, what are the guilty to expect?
Did Jeremias ever more bitterly lament the destruction of the Jews? What stronger expressions could the Savior use to paint to them their misery and despair and that dreadful famine fatal to the children and fatal to mothers, who saw their breasts dry up, who had no longer anything but tears to give their children, and who ate the fruit of their wombs?
1. Rabbi Johanan, Son of Zacai. Treat. on the Feast of the Atonement
2. Joseph., The Jewish War, bk.7, ch.2; bk. 6 ch. 5; Tacitus, Histor., bk. 5, ch. 13.
3. The Jewish War
4. Joseph., The Jewish War, bk. 7, ch. 14, bk. 6, ch. 2
5. Joseph., The Jewish War, bk. 7, ch.11
6. Joseph., The Jewish War, bk. 7, ch. 9; bk. 4.
7. Joseph., The Jew. War, bk. 7, ch.9,10; bk. 6
8. Joseph., The Jew. War, same place.
9. Joseph., The Jew. War, bk. 6, 7
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