Christians and Jews Today,
Armando Gargiulo s.j.
1. Christians' Debt towards Jews
In this essay, I would like to highlight some important points concerning the way opened by the II Vatican Council about the confrontation between Christianity and Judaism.
This debt concerns centuries of anti-Semitism - or better, anti-Judaism - essentially due to religious reasons. The accusation of being “deicide people”, people “refused” by God, people “condemned to eternal Diaspora”, has exposed Jews to “scorn” since V century.
Some Church Fathers used to call Jews “murderers... God’s enemies, Devil’s advocates, demons” (St. Gregory of Nissa); “snakes whose imagine is Judas, and whose prayer is like a donkey bray” (St.Jerome), “treacherous outlaws, destroyers, dissolute people, similar to pigs… For their deicide there is no possibility of forgiveness, forever scattered in slavery... God hates Jews and has always hated them” (St.John Crisostomo) (1).
Similar judgements resound throughout the texts of the Syrian and Byzantine liturgy: “swarm of deicides, cruel Jewish race”, “damned people, traitors to the grace”… “Since you were raised on the cross, it has started the ruin of Jewish people.”
This sort of accusations has soon been converted into physical violence, such as, for example, the destruction of synagogues, so that even St.Ambrose threatened the Emperor Theodosius, who wanted to restore the synagogue building, which had been burnt by Callinico, with excommunication, also expressing his will to set fire to the synagogue in Milan, too!
Under the Emperor Justinian (VI century), Jews were deprived of many rights. The Emperor Heraclius (VII century) decided to force Jews to be baptised. The official Church did not approve adults to be baptised against their will, but it did nothing to prevent forced baptisms. Therefore, Jews were faced by a dilemma, either baptism or exile.
Their children have often been torn from them and grown up into nunneries. Even in the last century (1858), in Papal States, a child - secretly baptised by a Jewish family’s housemaid, Mortara, - was taken away by force from his parents, who were not able to have him back anymore. He was educated according to Catholic rules and then he became a priest!
Especially at the time of Crusades, a great tempest against Jews broke out. It lasted centuries and centuries, bringing them many forms of humiliation, such as, for example, the duty for Jews of using a special cloth, of living in a separated area of the town ("Ghetto"), of being compulsory present to Christian Sermons (in Rome, this practice was only abolished in 1848 by Pio IX), the confiscation of their properties, the loss of civil rights, such as the admission to university education, craftsmanship and trading practice.
In this context, since Christians were forbidden to practice usury, Jews were actually forced to practice this activity, whose services were fully used even by Christian kings and princes, even though they did not hesitate to resort to expropriation, banishment or slaughter, when their debts got too high!
Since XII century, slanderous accusations started to spread: apart from desecrating hosts, Jews were accused of committing ritual sacrifices of Christian children to use their blood during the celebration of their Easter. Finally, Jews were accused of conspiring to poison wells and determine pestilence! Therefore, they were arrested, condemned and great massacre took place.
For example, in Strasbourg, in 1349, all the Jews - men, women and children - were sent to the stake. In thirty-six hours, 2,000 thousand of them were burnt, while some monks were keeping a cross in front of the tortured people.
At the time of Inquisition, some incredible things happened: dozens of thousands of Jews were massacred, and many more were baptised by force (the so-called marranos). On 30th March 1492 Isabella and Ferdinand decided to banish Jews from Spanish territory within 3 months. It is easy to fancy the terrible consequences.
Historians have acknowledged that Popes, during these centuries of violent persecutions, had a controlling action, which was sometimes unsuccessful. If we compare the situation in Rome to other European countries, it is possible to realise that Popes’ town has been often indulgent towards Jews. Only Innocenzo III and, in particular, Paul IV have distinguished for strictness they treated them with.
2. Christians and Modern Anti-Semitism until Shoah
The French Revolution (1791) gave Jews equality of rights. However, since Church felt attacked and overwhelmed by this anti-religious and anti-Christian force, it protected itself, fighting against liberalism, secularism, socialism and materialism, freemasonry, and linking Judaism to all these negative movements, as if it were the main ally or the organiser of the international “conspiracy” against the Church, in order to submit the whole society.
In this way, the Catholic controversy against Jews was enlarged, so that economic, political and social reasons added to the traditional religious reasons, which remained unchanged.
It is true that “modern anti-Semitism, whose extreme manifestation has been the racist madness represented by National Socialism, has a heathen nature” (F. Cottier’s speech at Vatican Symposium about “Roots of Anti-Judaism in Christian Environment", October 1997). However, some sad episodes were certainly encouraged by a climate of general hostility, suspicion and contempt against Jews, which had been spread all over Europe by Christian anti-Judaism. Here are reported some of those facts:
- Dreyfus's matter (the condemnation of a Jewish officer, accused of espionage and then acknowledged as innocent), which shocked France in 1899, rousing a violent campaign against Jews;
- Pogrom wave (massacres by public acclaim) in Eastern Europe, especially in Russia;
- The incredible invention of “Sages’ Protocols of Zion”, an extraordinary propagandistic tool spread in 1920, according to whom a worldwide “directory” secret would have projected Jew’s rule over the world through democratic radical, socialist and communist ideas (2).
The catholic newspaper La Croix, during the trial against the Jewish captain Dreyfus, wrote: “Jews are like snakes: it is impossible to distinguish the good from the wicked, for this reason, it is necessary to crush them all”.
decided by Nazis
This trial was so shocking that Theodor Herzl, a young journalist from Vienna, started thinking to become Zionism promoter, in order to give Jewish people a refuge. Concerning the possible return of Jews in the Holy Land, in 1920 the newspaper La Croix wrote: “The Holy Land to the deicide People!… the responsible for the greatest crime in the history mustn’t become owner in the same place they committed their offence. They have also abandoned this place, escaping in this way from the curse weighing on them and their children”.
This position had already been expressed in 1897 by the review La Civiltà Cattolica, and had been shared by Pio X. The dislike for Jews in France, where the segregation barriers had first been abolished, became more and more popular as a consequence of the great success of a book, La France juive (The Jewish France), written in 1896 by a Catholic, Edward Drumont, leader of an anti-Semitism, which was a sort of synthesis among Christian anti-Judaism, occultism, racism and “economic” anti-Semitism. All the economic scandals of that period have been ascribed to the moves by Jewish bankers!
This new Christian anti-Judaism shifted towards forms of racism. In an article of 3rd November 1894, Drumont actually wrote: “The case concerning Captain Dreyfus, which determined, also abroad, such a strong emotion, represents nothing but an episode in Jewish history. Judas sold God of mercy and love... eighteen centuries later nothing has changed”, and he goes on citing a range of other alleged betrayals committed by Jews, ending up: “it is the fatal destiny of those people and the curse of the race” (3).
Another writer, Toussenel, materialist philosopher, theorises this racism: “Let a Jew grow up from his birth with an Aryan family: neither the nationality, nor the language will modify an atom of this Jew’s germinal cells (…) Jew, moneylender, money dealer, idle parasite are all just synonyms for me (…) Jewish people’s God is no one else but Satan… Jews’ religion has made them enemies to the human being” (4).
The fact that this was the prevailing opinion in the Catholic world is demonstrated by the several essays published in “Civiltà Cattolica” in these years: "Race sympathy, which for Jews is more important than any patriotism, due to that perturbation climate arose by Dreyfus’s matter, is generally demonstrated. The fact that any Jew, even though deeply naturalised, is unable to stop being first a Jew and than a citizen of the country where he was born and that considered him as a national citizen, is a generally accepted truth as it is an incontestable postulate”. The essay published in the first number of 1898 aimed to prove the mistake made by France in giving Jews nationality and religious liberties in 1791. Previously, in essays published in 1881-82 within the review, it was written about Jews as it follows: “Foreign tribe, enemy of every nation, idle people who have never worked or produced anything” (5).
However, if Jews are such people… whatever race do Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Franz Kafka, Edmund Husserl, and so many other personalities, who have marked the greatest cultural revolutions in contemporary time, come from? Their sense of faithfulness to their own country is proved by those 100,000 Jews who fought during the first world war in the German army. 12,000 Jews died on a population of less than half a million people.
Then, Civiltà Cattolica repeated the accusation of ritual crime: “It is generally proved that the bloody Easter rite… is a general law which impose on every Jew’s conscience the obligation of using Christian children's blood”. However, it does not really exist any historical evidence of such facts! On the contrary, there is the evidence that the cruel anti-Jewish prejudice can chain even the most pious and learned minds!
- 1. J.Elichai, Ebrei e cristiani, Ed.Qiqajon, Comunità di Bose, 1995, p.23. For 30 years, the author has been member of the Catholic-Jewish community. His work is considered “precious” by the French bishop, who is president of Episcopal board for the relationships with Judaism.
- 2. R.Finzi, L’Antisemitismo, Giunti, Firenze, 1997, pp.30-70.
- 3. Essay of 3rd November 1894 in La libre parole. Quot. from R.Finzi, o.c., p.36.
- 4. Ib., p.24.
- 5. Quot. from J.Elichai, o.c., p.43.