Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Prayer for the Jews: what about Medieval anti-Semitism?

Another photo of Mass for the Feast of St Gregory the Great. 
The Position Paper on the Prayer for the Jews goes into the question of Medieval anti-Semitism, because of the association between the Traditional Mass and the medieval period. The Middle Ages is when the Traditional Mass assumed its current form in a number of ways. Should we not expect to find in its texts a reflection of Medieval attitudes?

Certainly not in this case, because the Orationes sollemnes, of which the Prayer for the Jews is a part, derive not from the Middle Ages at all, but from Antiquity: probably the 3rd century, with links back to even earlier times. This is the scholarly consensus; the references are in the Position Paper. There is such a thing as Medieval anti-Semitism, and it is a phenomenon which got going in a big way in the 13th century. The Prayer for the Jews of the ancient liturgical tradition was composed a thousand years earlier. That really is rather a long gap.

Relations between Christians and Jews in the Roman Empire were not necessarily very chummy, but when we think of Medieval anti-Semitism there are a number of factors which, obviously, didn't apply in the earlier period. The whole business of European Jews being forced into banking, because there were not allowed to own land, and the subsequent resentment of their usury, for example. The effects of the Crusading movement, which focused attention on 'the infidel' and the betrayal of Christ, which set off anti-Jewish riots. The consequences of the Christian reconquest of Spain, and the problem of integrating large numbers of Muslims and Jews living there into a Christian state. And the theological development which had such bad consequences in the 13th century and later: the Talmud controversy.

Understanding the Talmud controversy gives an important insight into the relationship between the theological milieau of the Prayer for the Jews, and the theological milieu of Medieval anti-Semitism. Up to the time of the controversy there was a theological consensus based on St Paul and on the Fathers, which had three parts. First, the Jewish rejection of Christ was connected with the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles; they were destined to accept the Gospel as a corporate body in the last times. This is found in St Paul and numerous Fathers of the Church. Second, in the meantime the Jews gave witness to the truth, by preserving the Old Testament, which confirmed an important part of the Christian revelation. This is the position of St Augustine, and many others. Third, on a practical level they should be allowed to practice their religion in peace. This was the policy of St Gregory the Great, a policy reiterated in the bull of Pope Callixtus III, Sicut Iudeis, in 1120, which was reissued a number of times thereafter. This legislation attests to the difficulties the Jews were experiencing at the hands of Christians, but there was at least an official theological and legislative effort to oppose the persecution of the Jews.

Then the Talmud Controversy came along. This was the claim, made by a convert Jew, Nicholas Donin, that because they accepted the Talmud, Jews could not be considered as giving witness to the truth. This claim struck at the heart of the former consensus. Another claim of this era was that the Jews who sought Jesus' execution knew he was God, and so were guilty of Deicide, and their descendants with them.

I have neither the space nor the expertise to go into all the details of these controversies. It must suffice to say that that both claims were eventually shown - theologically - to be false, but a great deal of Jewish suffering took place in the meantime. It is during the time of the controvery that we find the most disturbing events, not (or not only) for their level of violence, but for the degree of official Church involvement. Anti-Semitic violence, against persons and property, ceased to be limited to the actions of a mindless mob. The great Orders of Friars were involved; so was the Papacy, as well as secular authorities.

The Postion Paper argues that what this dark period of the Church's history shows is not that there is a problem with what St Paul, the Fathers, and the earliest texts of the liturgy, have to say about the Jews, but that things went wrong when those things were rejected. It was the attack on the Patristic view of the Jews which justified the violence of the 13th and 14th centuries. It was the vindication of the Patristic position, by St Thomas Aquinas, by the Council of Trent, and in other ways, that eventually underpinned the re-establishment of a practical policy of toleration.

There is much which can be said about anti-Semitism in later centuries: about the attitude of Martin Luther, for example; about the conequences of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution; and the rise of nationalism and the Nazis. Catholic involvement in these movements is more complex. But it is obvious, at any rate that the Good Friday Liturgy doesn't reflect the views of, say, the obnoxious anti-Semite Voltaire, or the 'scientific racist' and modernist Renan, let alone the Nazis themselves. Catholics have multiple reasons for rejecting such thinkers, and for their part they are not exactly friendly towards the Church. Catholics did play a part in anti-Semitic movements - a recent article by Francis Philips discusses the role of lapsed Catholics in Hitler's inner circle. But Catholics were also involved prominently in the opposition to them. The 'White Rose' resistance to the Nazis in Munich was formed after Sophie Scholl distributed an anti-Nazi sermon of Cardinal von Galen.

As for the movement for the traditional Mass, Dietrich von Hildebrand and Eric de Savantham, two of the founding fathers of the lay movement, were prominent anti-Nazis. Hildebrand had to flee Germany, and then Austria, to escape the Nazis; de Savantham defected during the war.

The attempt to associate the Traditional Mass with extremist politics and anti-Semitism, like the attempt to associate it with clerical child-abuse (and here), says a lot about the ancient liturgy's opponents. To reiterate an earlier post in this series, the narrative here is not just about the Traditional Mass, but about the Church's whole past: and that includes the Church's teaching. The Church's teaching on sexuality is the real target; I don't think the liberals would care how we worshipped if there was not this important connection between the prestige of the ancient liturgy with the respect due to the Church's ancient teachings.

You can sign up for the annual symposium of the Roman Forum on Italy's Gardone Riviera here. The Roman Forum was founded by Dietrich von Hildebrand, and two places for students from England and Wales - now filled - are sponsored by the Latin Mass Society.

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  1. I think what needs to be addressed is the desire of hiding the truth because it can hurt the feelings of people, lead to wars, violence etc. The unchecked growth of this desire is to blame for many of the problems we see today.

    The Good Friday prayers for the Jews and other Catholic practices should remain because they reflect the truth. If one feels that it can lead to some other problematic behavior, then one has to mitigate such behavior by pointing out the truth behind the evil nature of the behavior. One should certainly NOT consider addressing problematic behavior by suppressing the mention truths.

    1. Amen. If we care for the Jewish people, as we should. If we love the Jewish people, as we should. If we wish for them to be saved, as we should; then we must speak the truth, we must pray for their conversion, and we must work to convert all non-Catholics; including Jews.

  2. If St. Ambrose wrote Letter 40, to the Emperor Theodosius, as he did, then the Church’s position cannot be as straightforward as you say. I write this as someone sympathetic, not to modern accusations, but to St. Ambrose.
    “I declare that I set fire to the synagogue, or at least that I ordered those who did it, that there might not be a place where Christ was denied.”
    See 6-8 for context, and the whole letter for more context.

    Speaking unqualifiedly of the “persecution of the Jews” is confusing and favorable to the Church’s enemies. For some of what they would call persecution, we should seemingly approve of. The judgments of Pope Innocent III, in letters and at Lateran IV, are well-known today. And he is by no means alone.

    All in all, you seem to be taking a position that compromises the Church because of modern attitudes.

    1. I really have no idea what you are trying to show. If you think that St Ambrose's example is normative, what do you make of St Gregory the Great saying that synagoges should not be destroyed, and if destroyed, should be rebuilt?

    2. I’m suggesting the stance St. Ambrose takes against the emperor is inconsistent with your depiction of the early Church’s “theological consensus.” Also, that the judgments of e.g. the 13th century Papacy can’t be waved aside so easily. In sum, that you are downplaying some of the real disagreements which exist between 20th-century and pre-20th-century attitudes. I realize you said going into the details is beyond the scope of your article here, but I don’t think the question you take up can be answered without addressing them.

    3. Well it sounds as though you downplaying the disagreements which exist among the Doctors of the Church. But unless you are going to claim that St Ambrose was in favour of a systematic persecution of Jews, forcible baptism or something like that, my kind of downplaying would appear more reasonable than yours.

    4. I don’t mean to downplay them. I’m not the one offering a complete position on the issue here: you are. I’m pointing out what look like problems with your position. Namely, a consensus which turns out to not be a consensus, and medieval judgments which deserve more hearing.

      If there are tensions here, then I say let’s examine them, with the sense of the faithful. Not hide them.

    5. I do think Nicholas has a point. Taking the medieval case like the deportation of the Jews from Spain, there were very valid historical reasons for doing so (suspicion of collaborating with the Muslims, effect on Jewish converts etc.).

      I also think the idea put forward in this article (as early Church mentality) regarding the waiting till end times for Jews to convert is used incorrectly. While the complete conversion of the Jews as an entire people may take place only at the end of time, it does not obviously exclude attempts to convert individuals before hand. It also does not exclude the results of taking measures against non-Catholics (which also effects Jews) in order to preserve the Catholic faith.

    6. Nicholas: The consensus I referred to was about the role of the Jews in salvation history. You've yet to quote any dissent to that among the Fathers.

      T-C: I don't imagine any more than you that corporate conversion at the end times is incompatible with individual concision before then. Why do you attribute to the paper a position it explicitly denies?

    7. You said the theological consensus had three parts, and the third was “on a practical level they should be allowed to practice their religion in peace.” This isn’t a statement with a rigidly precise meaning, but in our context its natural meaning is modern religious toleration. There are many examples of saints and popes not following this consensus. St. Ambrose is not a man I’d say favors this consensus. Anything from preventing the construction of new synagogues, to outright expulsion. Your use of the word “persecution” also has this problem of an imprecise meaning.

      There is another position which is at least as good a candidate for “theological consensus” — corporate guilt for faithlessness and for the crucifixion, for which reason the temple was destroyed and they were scattered, remained, and ought to remain in “perpetual servitude.” This position is also called “anti-Semitic” today. With your framing in the post, one would think that this position was also a medieval aberration, from a “dark period,” which the Church later rejected. It is that kind of position which people have in mind when they wonder: “what about medieval anti-Semitism?” You leave this position unaddressed, except (it is hard to tell) with a vague dismissal about “Deicide.” Thus the reader takes the wrong lesson. What lesson do I think is missing? That some of the concrete accusations of “anti-Semitism” against the Church are simply true, and therefore a Catholic should not be terribly troubled by the accusation. Would you not agree to precisely the same thing about “sexism?”

    8. Dr. Shaw: The reason I brought the point forward is the following. What is claimed as anti-semitic behavior in medieval times, essentially stems from the idea that the Jews are in a problematic state for denying Christ. So sometimes measures were taken to defend against the error of the Jews. Other times, measures were taken with the hope to convert them.

      So when you present the idea of being saved as a corporate body as a demonstration that patristic teachings do not back the medieval actions, it is with the hope that it will demonstrate the actions during medieval times as being incorrect. But, the argument proves too much because the principle on which the medieval actions were based (Jews were in a dangerous state of error) would then also have to be challenged. Because if that principle holds, then regardless of being saved as a corporate body, the actions of the Church in medieval times becomes defensible.

      So I guess its not so much what is said in the position you presented but the silent implications that I think cause some problems.

    9. Nicholas: the practical policy implications of the first two legs of the consensus comes into focus when the Church has temporal power. And then indeed there is a consensus: from Gregory the Great to the Sicut Iudaeis tradition. As far as Ambrose is concerned, I'd be more interested in his views on the first two legs. Since you can't quote him or anyone else denying those, I remain content with my summary of the situation.

      T-C: the point of the paper is to distinguish different periods in the treatment of the Jews. We should also distinguish different forms of attempted proselytism. Burning down their synagogues and expelling them from the country if they won't convert is different from writing books and engaging them in debate. Since you make neither distinction, I don't see a serious objection to my position here.

    10. Dr. Shaw: I did make a distinction in my first reply on this thread. In fact, I told you to consider the fact that the rejection of Christ by the current Jewish faith also remains a serious error. So action can be taken, not necessarily for conversion, but as a means to defend the faithful from the error. And yes, this did include deportation of the Jews like it happened in Spain.

      So the problem here is that you categorized an entire set of actions that were taken to defend the Catholic faith against a grave error, as being incompatible with the teachings of the early Church. Your conclusion does not necessarily follow.

      It is very possible for the early Church to talk about toleration of the Jewish faith. It is also very valid for the Church to decide against toleration simply because those who cling to the Jewish faith today, as the Apostles themselves attest, is in error for denying Christ.

    11. You seem to be attributing views to me I have not implied. Obviously not everything done in relation to the Jews in the later Middle Ages was wrong. That simply doesn't follow from what I said, and it is absurd.

      As for the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, I am not an expert but from what I know about it, it seems clearly a terrible crime.

    12. Isn't the entire point of your article that the actions taken by the Catholic Church during the medieval times against the adherents to the Jewish faith was simply unacceptable and in contradiction with patristic teaching?

      At least, that is pretty much what I understood your claim to be.

      As for Spain, this is what I see as a problem with your reasoning. Aren't you essentially saying that the Catholic saints and Popes who spoke well of such things in the past were actually doing so regarding a "clearly terrible crime"? It is my understanding that Queen Isabella was well admired among Catholics for what she did.

      So my issue with your form of reasoning is that if the Church were so incompetent as to not immediately condemn and make amends regarding a "clearly terrible crime" (for almost 700+ years), then it reduces the Church to a joke.

    13. No. It's not as simple as that. Slavery is a parallel, so is the Great Western Schism, and Usury. You can find condemnatioins, but you can also find sins, and people looking the other way - even among the saints, what are far from impeccable.

  3. The accusation that Talmudic Judaism is really a new religion that differs from the religion of the Old Testament is usually accompanied by the claim that contemporary Jews are the heirs of the Jews who brought about the crucifixion of Christ. Since the Talmud was compiled several centuries after the time of Christ, these two claims are inconsistent. If Talmudic Judaism is actually a new religion, then the people who follow it have no more religious connection to the Jews who instigated Christ's crucifixion than do the Sikhs. But this inconsistency does not bother the people who are guilty of it; which says a lot about their motives.

    1. The accusation is actually that Talmudic Judaism is a heretical corruption of the religion of the Old Testament. The alleged inconsistency vanishes.

  4. "they were destined to accept the Gospel as a corporate body in the last times"
    I don't think I understand this phrase. Does it mean that at the end of time all Jews who have ever lived will go to heaven? Or does it mean that at the end of time all the Jews alive at that point will convert to Catholicism?

    1. The latter. For example, theologians have connected it with the preaching of the two prophets in Rev. 11:3.

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  6. You asked about how all this had gone down with the Jews. To my mind a more worrying aspect was the presentation to the Press at the Vatican of Cardinal Koch's Statement on the Relationship with the Jews. Sitting beside him was Martin Kessler of the Woolf Institute. The Woolf Institute recently sponsored a document produced under the chairmanship of Lady Butler-Sloss which seems to suggest that any manifestation of Christianity should be removed from public life in this country.

    The paper on the Jews has a long and confusing discussion of supercessionism but in clause 40 comes up with the following two sentences:

    "The Church is therefore obliged to view evangelisation to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views. In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews."

    Whatever one thinks of the argument about supercessionism the first sentence is a statement of the obvious but the second sentence about not trying to convert the Jews is simply a non sequitur.

    Subsequently Cardinal Koch has told us how we should all celebrate the quincentenary of the Reformation. So presumably we should not try to convert non-Catholic Christians. Does Islam as a monotheistic religion fall into the same category?

    This all strikes me a much more worrying attack on the whole mission of the Church rather than just on the Traditional Mass important though that is.