As expected, many Jewish groups aren't happy. The main reason the article suggest is that in the Jewish mind, any Christian talk of conversion automatically raises the specter of the past, of persecution, pogroms and the "teaching of contempt" which the Church has, supposedly, moved away from. [It has, and rightly so!] But more than this, the Church needs to confront the whole question of Christian mission which, the author acknowledges, is central to Christianity, and its relations to the Jews, something the Church hasn't really done to date. The author then talks a bit about the experience and witness of the Church Fathers (the phrase "satchel bearers" as applied to the Jewish people is from St. Augustine. They were "satchel bearers of revelation" until the coming of Christ), which is less than exemplary, as a caution, and suggests that the Father's anti-Jewish polemic stems from the fact that the majority of Jews failed to convert.
In my reading at least, the article ends a bit abruptly without a clear conclusion, so I'm not entirely sure "where this was going," as one tends to say.
I emailed patristiblogger, noted author and blog-friend Mike Aquilina mainly to get some clarification on the rhetoric of the Fathers. He sent back some links to posts where he's dealt with this topic (here and here), and wrote this:
No one in antiquity behaved according to modern rules of civility, especially in religious matters. If the Fathers were sometimes nasty to Jews, they were nastier to their "separated brethren" among the Christian heresies.Rabbi Neusner is, of course, the one Pope Benedict engages as an interlocutor in a memorable section of Jesus of Nazareth. He has also written, (see this profile on him in Time. H/t Mike]
Have you read Rodney Stark's The Rise of Christianity? If you haven't, please do. It's a very important book — a sociological study of Church growth in the first three centuries. In it he makes several important arguments — one is that the mission to the Jews succeeded. Stark, who was at the time an agnostic, believes that enormous numbers of Jews converted.
Another excellent read is Jacob Neusner's Aphrahat and the Jews. He argues that Aphrahat understood Judaism better than most Jews have understood Judaism, and that his apologies (Demonstrations) are a model for Jewish-Christian dialogue.
I wish I had more time to concentrate on this matter right now. It's very important that we get it right. I don't advocate returning to fourth-century modes of discourse, but neither should we be judging the fourth century by our rules of political correctness. If we do, then the Talmud fails, the Fathers fail. Heck, the Bible fails.
"I'm not offended when Christians eat pork," says Jacob Neusner. At least not usually. The brilliant--and none too patient--Jewish scholar does recall a religion conference where so much of the other white meat was served that he was reduced to a diet of hard-boiled eggs. One day on the food line something snapped, and he rhymed aloud, "I hope you all get trichinosis/And come to believe in the God of Moses." A fellow conferee instantly replied, "And if we don't get such diseases/Will you believe in the God of Jesus?" Neusner cackles. "That's an example of the right way to do Judeo-Christian dialogue," he says. "If religion matters, and it does, then it's not honest to be indifferent to the convictions of others."Amen to that. The liberal way of dealing with religious difference and inter-religious dialogue is to relativize everything, ignore questions of truth, trivialize differences: this stems from a deeply rooted, though I suspect essentially incorrect, modern belief that religious differences inevitably lead to violence, and the way to avoid violence is to remove/reduce/trivialize/relativize religious differences.
True dialogue, of course, involves being firmly rooted in one's own convictions, as one reaches out to, talks with, and is open to, the other.
[It's also incorrect that the Church hasn't examined the question of the mission to the Jews. It has. Cardinal Avery Dulles explains in this 2002 America article on Covenant and Mission. Bottom line, again quoting Mike Aquilina, "If the mission to the Jews isn't valid, then the New Testament makes no sense."]
[It needs to be pointed out that suggesting that the Jesus is as much the Messiah of Jews as he is of Gentiles, while hardly an acceptable theological proposition to a devout and orthodox Jew, is not an expression of anti-Semitism, i.e. of hatred towards the Jews as a culture or people or race!]