I picked up this series at the suggestion of Constantine, who first cited from Kertzer’s work in some comments. But I became fascinated enough with the topic to go this far with it. My hope is to continue, although, the amount of information that I’ve come across in the meantime, supporting Kertzer’s work and even going far beyond it, is very staggering.
My intention is, Lord willing, to continue to publish on this topic, and to give Kertzer’s work the fullest kind of treatment that I’m capable of giving. However, I’m fully aware that this may not be the kind of thing you’d like to read on a full-time basis. And so I’m going to do two things: (a) try and catch up on some of the materials I’ve come across, and (b) continue to publish this on a regular basis, while also commenting on some of the other incidents that Kertzer brings out.
I only have to say that Rome’s evasiveness is truly staggering, and as I mentioned in my latest post, in order to wash its hands of any guilt with respect to the Jewish people, (which it can’t do), it must hang its hat on the nonsensical distinction between “religious anti-Judaism,” which is the term Rome uses to define its own posture toward the Jews over the centuries, and a “racially-motivated anti-Semitism,” which is says are “based on theories contrary to the constant teaching of the Church”.
In “The Popes Against the Jews, Part 1”, this piece links to and provides long selections from William Rubinstein’s review of Kertzer’s work in “First Things”. Rubinstein does not contest the factual nature of what Kertzer presents. “Kertzer skillfully and not unsubtly traces the differences in attitude towards the Jews among the Popes between about 1740 and 1940,” he says. Rather, Rubinstein faults Kertzer’s piece for being ”The Case for the Prosecution”. In other words, “he wasn’t nice to us.”
What Rubinstein doesn’t seem to acknowledge is that Rome had already made its own evasive defense, which I discussed in Part 2: Roman Catholic Defenses and the Evasion of Responsibility.
In ”Part 3: Positing the ‘Big Lie,’ and getting people to believe it”, I begin to cite Kertzer’s introduction and several instances of the work itself. Here is one statement heartily endorsed by both Pope and Holy Office: “Unless Christians act quickly, the Jews … will finally succeed in reducing the Christians to be their slaves. Woe to us if we close our eyes! The Jews’ domination will be hard, inflexible, tyrannical….”
What I’ve been finding, and what Kertzer documents so thoroughly, is that this is one of those statements in which “religious anti-Judaism” can easily be seen to blend into “racially-based anti-Semitism” on the strength of these alarmist statements by the highest officers of the Roman Catholic Church. And despite Rome’s protestations, this is “the constant teaching of the Church”.
In Part 4, I cite from some conciliar documents, notably the Fourth Lateran Council, which also defined the doctrine of “transubstantiation”. And in Part 5, I challenge the notion that “The Church” can both issue forth with the kind of fruit it does, and still somehow provide Godly teaching.
In future installments, I hope to present some of the work of the Reformed theologian Heiko Oberman. Oberman’s work, Harvest of Medieval Theology, is one of the definitive works on that period. It is fascinating that he later shifted his emphasis to study The Roots of Anti-Semitism. Oberman, too, is much less likely to make that fine distinction between “anti-Judaism” and “anti-Semitism”. It promises to provide some fascinating character studies.
Before looking at some of those Reformation-era movements, I think it’s important to summarize that the medieval world, before the first Protestant ever existed, was thoroughly and immersively saturated in this “anti-Judaism”. The official Church was thoroughly and immersively saturated in anti-Semitism:
The tendency of Christianity to shut itself off is clearly apparent in its behavior towards the pagans. Already, before Gregory the Great, the Irish monks had refused to preach the gospel to their hated Anglo-Saxon neighbours, whom they wished to consign to hell. They did not want to run the risk of meeting them in heaven. For a long time the pagan world was a great reservoir of slaves for Christian trade, whether it was conducted by Christian merchants or by Jewish merchants in Christian territory. Conversion, which dried up this fruitful market, was not carried out without hesitation. Anglo-Saxons, Saxons, and Slavs (the last-mentioned gave their name to the human cattle of medieval Christian Europe) supplied the medieval slave-trade before being integrated into the Christian world and thus protected from slavery. One of the great criticisms which Adalbert bishop of Prague made in the late tenth century of his flock, whom he accused of having returned to paganism, was selling Christians to Jewish slave-merchants. A non-Christian was not really human; only a Christian could enjoy the rights of a man, among them protection from slavery. The Christian attitude towards slavery was a manifestation of Christian particularism, the primitive solidarity of the group and the policy of apartheid with regard to outside groups (Jacques Le Goff, “Medieval Civilization,” Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd., ©1988, 1990, 151-152. First published in France as La civilization de l’Occident Medieval, Paris: B. Arthaud, © 1964).* * *
With the Jews, Christians maintained a dialogue throughout the middle ages, which they interrupted with persecutions and massacres. The Jewish usurer, or rather irreplaceable moneylender, was hateful, but necessary and useful. Jews and Christians held debates, especially about the Bible. Public debates and private meetings between priests and rabbis occurred constantly. At the end of the eleventh century, Gilbert Crispin, abbot of Westminster, described in a bestseller his theological disputation with a Jew from Mainz. In the middle of the twelfth century, Andrew of St Victor consulted rabbis because he was anxious to revive biblical exegesis. St Louis narrated to Joinville a discussion between clerics and Jews at the abbey of Cluny. Admittedly, he disapproved of such meetings. ‘“So I tell you,” said the king, “that no one, unless he is an expert theologian should venture to argue with these people. But a layman, whenever he hears the Christian religion abused, should not attempt to defend its tenets, except with his sword, and that he should thrust into the scoundrel’s belly, and as far as it will enter.”’
Some kings, abbots, popes, and above all German emperors protected the Jews. Yet from the end of the eleventh century anti-Semitism unleashed itself in the west. People have blamed this movement on the crusades, and it is not impossible that the crusading spirit gave anti-Semitism an additional, emotive verve, although, if one believes Ralph Glaber, the earliest pogroms seem to have happened in about 1000. It is true that they became far more numerous at the time of the First Crusade. Thus, reported the Annales Saxonici, at Worms and Mainz:
the enemy of the human race did not hesitate to sow tares among the grain, to raise up false prophets, to mix false brothers and loose women in the army of Christ. By their hypocrisy, their lies and their impious suborning they perturbed the Lord’s army . . . . They thought it right to avenge Christ on the pagans and the Jews. That was why they killed 900 Jews in the town of Mainz, without sparing women or children. . . . It was piteous to see the large and numerous heaps of corpses which were taken out of the town of Mainz on wagons.
At about the time of the Second crusade in 1146 appeared the first accusation of ritual murder (the case of William of Norwich, who died in 1144), that is to say the murder of a Christian child whose blood was supposedly mixed into unleavened bread, and of the profanation of the host, a crime that was all the more serious in the Church’s eyes because it was regarded as deicide.
Thenceforth there was to be no lack of false accusations to give the Christians scapegoats in times of discontent or calamity. At the time of the Black Death in 1348 the Jews were accused in many places of having poisoned the wells, and they were massacred. Yet the chief reason for the fact that the Jews were kept apart was the evolution of the economy and the creation of the two worlds of town and countryside. The Jews could not be admitted to the social systems – the feudal system and the communes – that resulted. No one could do homage to a Jew or swear an oath to a Jew.
The Jews thus found themselves little by little excluded from possessing or even being granted land, and also from the professions, including trade. Nothing remained to them except the borderline or illicit forms of commerce or usury. However, it was not until the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation that the Church instituted and encouraged the ghetto. (Le Goff, 317-18)
Rubinstein, in his article, refers to some of these instances as “the Church at its least admirable.” Not to put a fine point on it, but Rubinstein is far too kind to Roman Catholicism. “You can tell a tree by its fruit.”
For Rome, this is all about covering its own story. About maintaining its own boastful claims that it somehow is “unique among all Christian bodies, a visible supreme court (the extraordinary Magisterium) whose sentences (i.e., doctrinal judgments) are rendered as binding upon all Christians.” Rome’s distinction between “religious anti-Judaism” and “racially motivated anti-Semitism” is meaningless to those in the grave.
In the first place, what we are talking about is not “the sins of the children of the Church”. We are talking about “the Roman Catholic Church,” acting as such, in its full, official teaching capacity.
Second, if there is a distinction between “religious anti-Judaism” and “racially motivated anti-Semitism,” it is only in that Pius XII did not, with his own finger, pull any trigger. In the meanwhile, for centuries, the infallible, official Roman Church prepared the soil for “racially-motivated anti-Semitism”, tilled the ground, planted the seeds, cultivated the fruit, and pruned and shaped it wherever it grew. The Roman Hierarchy, in its full, infallible teaching authority, comprised the roots and the trunk and the wooden structure of that monster, and its “infallible teaching” was the sap and nutrient. For the official Roman structure to make these evasions, and to get away with it, as it seems to be doing on so many fronts, is a travesty against humanity.