Freethought Archives > G W Foote & J M Wheeler > Crimes of Christianity
THE story of the crimes of Christianity against the people from whom it is derived, and to whom it owes its God and Savior, is one which lasts from the time when it first obtained civil power until the present day. Like an unnatural child, Christianity has turned against and pursued its parent with relentless malice. Pious Christians have fulfilled the prophecies by making the name of Jew a byword and a reproach, and have plundered and persecuted the chosen race until their lives became a curse. Yet, hounded from country to country, like beasts of the chase, visited with such atrocities that to escape them mothers have destroyed the children to whom they gave suck, they have not ceased to make their mute but unanswerable protest against the errors of Christianity. Their very persecution has preserved them from merging their individuality in that of other races, and they remain to this day a monument of Christian ingratitude, falsity, and impotence.
Archdeacon Jortin remarks that "The account of the Jews who have been plundered, sent naked into banishment, starved, tortured, left to perish in prisons, hanged and burnt by Christians, would fill many volumes." [140:1] It will only be possible for us to trace the general course of their persecution through the history of Christendom, and to depict some of its prominent scenes. The reader who wishes to pursue the subject has only to consult the authorities in our footnotes. Let him also remember that the crimes of Christianity are found not only in those public scenes of massacre and torture with which its history is filled, but in the private miseries of outraged feelings and desolated homes.
The enmity of Jews and Christians doubtless dates from the time when the chosen people first denied the Messiahship and resurrection of Jesus, and the Christians departed from the Jewish law. It was not, however, until the time of Constantine that Christians could make their opponents feel the terrors of the sword.
"The zeal which Constantine had for Christianity set him against the Jews, as they were enemies to the gospel. He subjected to punishment those who should become proselytes to Judaism, and he ruled the Jews with a strict and heavy hand. He ordered churches to be built, not only where they were necessary, but in those towns and villages which were inhabited almost only by Jews, which must have been a great mortification to the people. He made a law, as an ancient author tells us, which condemned those who should speak evil of Christ to lose half their estate." [141:2]
Constantine issued an edict in which, after upbraiding the Jews with stoning to death any persons who quitted their religion (which they were authorised to do by their divine law), [141:3] he condemned them and their accomplices to the same inhuman punishment. He prohibited them from circumcising their slaves, and ordered all those to be set at liberty who had been so used, or who were willing to embrace Christianity. [141:4] If the slave of a Christian became a Christian he remained a slave, but the slave of a Jew had only to become a Christian to claim his freedom. The Jew who married a Christian incurred the penalty of death. [141:5]
"Under the reign of Constantine, the Jews became the subjects of their revolted children, nor was it long before they experienced the bitterness of domestic tyranny. The civil immunities which had been granted, or conferred, by Severus, were gradually repealed by the Christian princes; and a rash tumult, excited by the Jews of Palestine, seemed to justify the lucrative models of oppression, which were invented by the bishops and eunuchs of the court of Constantius." [142:6]
The edict of Hadrian, prohibiting them from ever approaching the site of Jerusalem, was renewed and enforced, and St. Chrysostom even assures us that when they assembled to rebuild their holy city, Constantine cut off their ears and dispersed them as fugitive slaves throughout the provinces of the empire. Eutychius adds that the emperor obliged them all to be baptised and to eat pork at Easter. [142:7] Constantius burnt all their cities in Palestine and slew all he could find, without sparing even the women and children.
Contrast the behavior of the Christian princes Constantine and Constantius with that of their successor, the Pagan Julian:
"In a public epistle to the nation or community of Jews, dispersed through the provinces, he pities their misfortunes, condemns their oppressors, praises their constancy, declares himself their gracious protector, and expresses a pious hope that, after his return from the Persian war, he may be permitted to pay his grateful vows to the Almighty in his holy city of Jerusalem." [142:8]
Julian did not return from the Persian war, and his untimely death gave an opportunity for the well-known Christian legend that his scheme for rebuilding Jerusalem was frustrated by the direct intervention of the outraged deity.
We have already seen (p. 35) how, in the days of Theodosius, Saint Ambrose, the greatest Christian of his age, vehemently denounced the idea of Christians making restitution to the Jews for burning their synagogues. Theodosius forbade them to build any new places of worship, [142:9] and persecuted them in various ways. Jews and Christians were not to intermarry. If they did so, their connection was illegal, and they were punished for the crime of adultery. This law was introduced before the Christian empire was a century old. [143:1] Like heretics, Jews were only admissible as witnesses when neither plaintiff nor defendant was orthodox. [143:2] Those whose children became converts were obliged to endow them to the satisfaction of the bishops. [143:3] The severe laws against the Jews were relaxed by the Arian emperor Theodoric, but this toleration, says Gibbon, was painful and offensive to the orthodox zeal of the Italian Christians.
"They respected the armed heresy of the Goths; but their pious rage was safely pointed against the rich and defenceless Jews, who had formed their establishments at Naples, Rome, Ravenna, Milan and Genoa, for the benefit of trade and under the sanction of the laws. Their persons were insulted, their effects were pillaged, and their synagogues were burnt by the mad populace of Ravenna and Rome, inflamed, as it should seem, by the most frivolous or extravagant pretences." [143:4]
Restitution was ordered, but this simple act of justice exasperated the discontent of the Catholics, who applauded those who refused their contributions, and "three hundred pulpits deplored the persecution of the Church ."
The contempt of the Jews for relic worship, as idolatry, brought them into frequent troubles. In a sarcastic footnote Gibbon says:
"At Minorca, the relics of St. Stephen converted, in eight days, five hundred and forty Jews; with the help, indeed, of some wholesome severities, such as burning the synagogue, driving the obstinate infidels to starve among the rocks, etc." [143:5]
In Alexandria, in the fifth century, the Jews were routed and expelled from the city, their houses plundered, and their synagogues appropriated to the use of the Church, by St. Cyril, the patriarch. [143:6] This was a sample of what they had to endure in many cities where Christianity was triumphant.
Justinian was noted for his persecution both of Jews and of Samaritans, to whom he gave the virtual choice of baptism or rebellion. But, as Gibbon remarks, "in the creed of Justinian the guilt of murder could not be applied to the slaughter of unbelievers, and he piously labored to establish, with fire and sword, the unity of the Christian faith." [144:7] This emperor did not conceal that his reason for compelling the Jews to keep Easter on the same day as the Christians, to use in their synagogue the Greek or Latin translation of the Old Testament, and to abstain from the Talmudic exposition of the same, was to induce them to become Christians. Dr. Hemen says that:
"Bishops did not hesitate to resort to acts of violence to compel the Jews to become Christians. Bishop Avitus, of Clermont-Ferrand, having preached to the Jews without any results, the Christians destroyed the synagogues." [144:8]
During the whole course of the persecution, the Jews rarely ventured to show resentment against their oppressors, but once they tasted a momentary revenge. When Chosroes, the Persian king, on the decay of the Roman empire, invaded Palestine, the Jews sprang up in arms against their Christian tyrants, and aided in the siege of Jerusalem. The city fell, and the enraged Israelites rushed to the massacre of the Christians. It was a rumor of the time that ninety thousand perished. Every Christian church was demolished. But their triumph was of brief duration, for the emperor Heraclius drove the Persians from Palestine and reduced the Jews to submission. [144:9] Many of them went to Spain, where for a long time they had flourishing settlements. But Christianity extended its power in that country, and as the superstitious Visigoth kings fell under the sway of ecclesiastics, and sought to obtain heaven by obeying the behests of the Church, the position of the Jews became less tolerable.
"The wealth which they accumulated by trade and management of the finances, invited the pious avarice of their masters; and they might be oppressed without danger, as they had lost the use, and even the remembrance, of arms. Sisebut, a Gothic king who reigned in the beginning of the seventh century, proceeded at once to the last extremes of persecution. Ninety thousand Jews were compelled to receive the sacrament of baptism; the fortunes of the obstinate infidels were confiscated, their bodies were tortured, and it seems doubtful whether they were permitted to abandon their native country." [145:1]
This was confirmed by the Council of Toledo (633) which, while hypocritically professing to proselytize by persuasion, made a cruel decree "that all the children of Jews should be taken away from their parents and put into monasteries, or into the hands of religious persons to be instructed in Christianity." [145:2] By another barbarous enactment of this Council any convert found speaking to a Jew became a slave, and the Jew he spoke to was to be publicly scourged. [145:3] So greatly was Christianity concerned for the safety of converted souls, that when Wamba ascended the throne (672) at the instigation of the priests he ordered all the unconverted Jews to leave the kingdom. [145:4] The twelfth Council of Toledo (681) enacted among other intolerant canons:
"That Jews shall not abstain themselves nor withhold their children or slaves from baptism. That Jews shall not presume to observe the Sabbath or any festival of their religion. Any person having a Jew in his service shall deliver him up to the demand of any priest. That the duty of distinguishing Jews belongs solely to the priests." [145:5]
In the space of sixty years we find eight Church councils registering anti-Jewish laws. [145:6] Perhaps the most barbarous of these was enacted by the fourteenth Council of Toledo (694), ordering the abduction of all Jewish children. Elsewhere there was usually alleged some pretext of crime on the part of the parents, but in Spain no other reason was assigned than that of religion, which, said these worthy disciples of Jesus, demanded that children should be severed from unbelieving parents, lest they should participate in their errors and eternal punishment. The Jewish children were ordered to be imprisoned in the monasteries, and to learn the truths and beauties of that improvement on the Jewish revelation which demanded the kidnapping of children. [146:7]
A large portion of the Vosigothic Code is devoted to the treatment of the Jews, and bears plainly the marks of the Christian priesthood. It enacts:
"No Jew is in any manner to revile or abandon the holy Christian faith which the saints received by baptism. No person shall impugn it by word or deed, nor attack it either secretly or overtly. No one shall hide himself to avoid receiving it, nor shall any person secrete one that he may escape. No Jew shalt in future think to return to his errors and excommunicated religion; no one shall imagine, utter, or by any act publish the deceitful religion of the Jews, which is contrary to that of the Christians." [146:8]
They were forbidden to circumcise, to celebrate their peculiar feasts, or to make distinction of meats. Another enactment was this:
"We specially command by this decree that no Jew in any cause can be a witness against a Christian, although the Christian be a slave." [146:9]
Witzia suffered the Jews to return to Spain, but they were soon accused, with plausibility but not with proof, of betraying the country to the Moors. The first successful irruption of the Moslems occurred in 711, and such was their superiority that in less than five years the whole of Spain and Portugal was subjected to their rule. No doubt the sympathies of the oppressed and hunted Jews were with the monotheistic Mohammedans of a common Semitic race. Under the rule of the Moors in Spain they enjoyed their golden age. At once the enforced converts returned to their old faith. Large numbers, persecuted in other parts of Christian Europe, also preferred the rule of the Moslems, under which they shared in the splendor and prosperity of the Moorish Empire. [146:1] While the rest of Europe was sunk in ignorance and barbarity, Mohammedan and Jewish scholars were accelerating the progress of science in the universities of Cordova and Seville. Many Jews attained to high honor and lasting fame as poets, philosophers, astronomers, physicians, mathematicians, and grammarians. [147:2] The Jews even retained their footing when, after the lapse of a few generations, a considerable territory was wrested from the Mohammedans by the Christians. Jewish astronomers were employed by the freethinking Alphonso the Wise, of Castile, the king who thought he could have given the Almighty a few hints in regard to the creation.
In France the Council of Paris (615) forbade Jews to bring any action at law against a Christian until they had received from the bishop "the grace of baptism." Dagobert (630) enjoined all who disbelieved in Christ to leave the kingdom. The greatest portion then left that country. [147:4] But Charlemagne permitted their existence, and they flourished under his rule as under that of his Moslem contemporary, the great Haroun al Rashid.
At Toulouse there was a custom, in consequence of the alleged betrayal of the city to the Saracens, of whipping the Jews three times a year. [147:5] This was afterwards commuted into the whipping of the chief rabbi, which in turn was abolished in the twelfth century on condition of the payment of a large tribute. [147:6] At Beziers it was the annual custom on Easter to stone all the Jews who appeared in the streets and to break their windows. In 1160 the bishop engaged to prevent this on the payment to him of an annual sum of money. The stoning of the Jews at Easter, however, was long a Christian diversion, and in many places they were compelled to keep indoors during the commemoration of this Christian festival. Another annoyance to which they were subjected was the compulsory adoption of some badge -- frequently a round, yellow piece of cloth, worn back and front -- by which they could be easily distinguished. Many Councils regulated the cut of their garments. The Lateran Council (1215) declared that Moses had ordered it, and that it would prevent criminal intercourse between Christians and Jewesses, a precaution as futile as the statement was false. The sage provision really secured that Christian stones should reach the heads for which they were intended.
A favorite accusation against the Jews in the Middle Ages, as a reason for their persecution and plunder, was that of sacrificing a Christian child at their Passover. This crime, however, as their historian shrewdly observed, "they are never said to have practised but at such time as the king was manifestly in want of money." [148:7] Another frequent and still more absurd charge was that of stabbing the consecrated wafer, which Christians thought the body, blood, and divinity of Christ. This charge was varied by circumstances of time and place. A Jew was said to have stolen or purchased the consecrated host and stabbed it, whereupon blood flowed to betray his guilt; and the alleged crime was usually followed by wholesale robbery and massacre. [148:8]
It was, however, during the fever of the Crusades that the Jews suffered most. Pious zeal was turned against all infidels, and the Jews were nearest at hand. If the Crusaders could not reach Jerusalem, they could at least get at the Jews.
"At Verdun, Trèves, Mentz, Spires, Worms, many thousands of that unhappy people were pillaged and massacred, nor had they felt a more bloody stroke since the persecution of Hadrian. A remnant was saved by the firmness of their bishops, who accepted a feigned and transient conversion; but the more obstinate Jews opposed their fanaticism to the fanaticism of the Christians, barricaded their houses, and precipitating themselves, their families, and their wealth into the rivers or the flames, disappointed the malice, or at least the avarice, of their implacable foes." [148:9]
Milman says that "The frightful massacre of this race in all the flourishing cities in Germany and along the Rhine by the soldiers of the Cross, seemed no less justifiable and meritorious than the subjugation of the more remote enemies of the Gospel." [149:1] At Worms they retired to the bishop's palace, but he would not receive them unless they became Christians. Little time was given them for choice. Some consented to be baptised, but many preferred suicide. At Trèves mothers stabbed their daughters on the approach of the crusaders, declaring it better that they should go to Abraham's bosom than fall into the hands of Christians. [149:2] The Rhine was thick with the corpses of murdered Jews. The crusaders swept on, everywhere carrying devastation to the Jewish settlements as they passed through Austria and Hungary.
Persecution raged on the banks of the Danube as well as on the Rhine. It is mentioned that a massacre took place in Bavaria of as many as twelve thousand Jews. [149:3] The Crusaders began a long period of oppression, in which murders and bodily tortures were inflicted upon the Jews in every part of Christendom. They were accused of betraying the designs of the Crusaders to the Saracens, and perhaps the accusation was true, since Jewish merchants maintained constant correspondence with the east, and they had little reason to befriend their Christian oppressors. When Jerusalem was taken by the Crusaders, all the Jews, whether men, women, or children, were ruthlessly massacred, and the pious bandits knelt with tears of joy before the Holy Sepulchre.
After the Saracens retook the holy city the Jews were the victims of a fresh outburst of persecution. Monks went about Europe with banners urging the slaughter of all infidels. The word Hep (said to be initials of Hierosolyma est perdita -- Jerusalem is lost) became the signal for massacre. [149:4] A fanatical priest had only to pronounce it to throw the Christian rabble into paroxysms of murderous rage. The choice of death or conversion was given to the Jews, and their historians are proud to relate that few purchased their lives by perjury. For both the second and third Crusades the Jews were also heavily taxed. [150:5]
In England the treatment of the unhappy race was equally outrageous. They were called "the king's bondsmen," [150:6] and, as on the continent, were employed as sponges to suck up the subjects' wealth and be periodically squeezed to supply the wants of the crown. During the preparations for the expedition of Richard Coeur de Lion, the Crusaders, to show their zeal against unbelievers, plundered and massacred the Jews at Norwich, Stamford, St. Edmondsbury, and other places. A false rumor was spread that the king had issued orders to massacre them. "A command so agreeable," says Hume, "was executed in an instant on such as fell into the hands of the populace." [150:7] At York a more dreadful tragedy was enacted. Five hundred Jews, who had retired to the castle for safety, found themselves unable to defend it; in despair they slew their own wives and children, and, setting fire to the place, they perished in the flames. Hume adds that:
"The gentry of the neighborhood, who were all indebted to the Jews, ran to the cathedral, where their bonds were kept, and made a solemn bonfire of the papers before the altar. The compiler of the Annals of Waverley, in relating these events, blesses the Almighty for thus delivering over this impious race to destruction." [150:8]
John afforded them protection until he wanted money, when all Israelites, without distinction of age or sex, were imprisoned and their wealth confiscated to the exchequer. Cruel torments were used to extort from the reluctant the confession of their secret treasures. The story of the tooth-drawing of the wealthy Jew of Bristol is well-known. Ten thousand marks of silver were required of him. He obstinately refused to pay until he had lost seven teeth, one being drawn every day, but he saved the rest by paying the ransom demanded. The king gained sixty thousand marks by this pious proceeding. Such extravagant demands were frequent, and the unhappy wretches, who paid so dearly for the privilege of being vassals of the crown, were still further plundered by the brave assertors of Magna Charta. [151:9]
Henry III was more tolerant. Yet he is alleged to have sold the Jews to his brother Richard. The Church was their implacable enemy. Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury (1215-28), issued an injunction that Christians should have no communion with Jews or sell them any provisions, under pain of excommunication. [151:1] This was in accordance with a decree of the Lateran Council (1215), which interdicted all commerce between Jews and Christians. [151:2] Their synagogues were given to the Church, and part of their rare collection of Oriental manuscripts enlarged the library at Oxford. [151:3]
In 1235 it was enacted that no Christian should become servant to a Jew. Two years later the houses belonging to the Jews at Norwich were broken into and burnt. In 1239 Jeffrey the Templar ordered a massacre of Jews, and shortly after they were offered the alternative of paying a fine of two thousand marks, or of being immediately banished from the country.
In the reign of Edward I they were violently attacked, many being executed on the charge of clipping coin. They were expelled from the kingdom in 1290, and all their property and debts confiscated to the king. The number of exiles was estimated at about sixteen thousand. [151:4] Let us hope it was only a rumor that the seamen of the Cinque Ports, whence they embarked for France and Germany, robbed them of their valuables and threw the owners into the sea. [152:5] For nearly four centuries from that time no Jew resided in England but at the hazard of his life. The honor of re-admitting them, in spite of the denunciations of bigoted Christians, belongs to Cromwell. [152:6]
Forced to wander from land to land for a living; everywhere declared incapable of possessing landed property, or holding office; trade, which was long despised by the nations of Europe, was their only resource, and they consoled themselves for the injuries they received from Christians by becoming rich at their expense. As early as the sixth century they became noted for usury. Most of the commerce and slave dealing was in their hands. The boasted achievements of the Church in mitigating slavery were largely due to its hatred of the Jews. The Council of Macon (581) ordered that all slaves who embraced Christianity should be released from Jewish masters on payment of twelve "sols." [152:7] If, however, the money was refused, the slave might become free by flight. Liberty was also accorded to any slave whom his master might circumcise. The Councils of Toledo followed more exactly the imperial laws, and enacted that all Christian slaves should be set free without money. No provision was made by the Church against the slavery of Mohammedans, Jews, or Pagans. The Jews, indeed, were veritable slaves during the whole time that Christianity was in the ascendant, and Christian kings, when they could not deplete the purses of their other subjects, put the Jews to torture until heavy ransoms were paid.
Both in France and in Germany they were ground down with extra taxes. Philip Augustus released all Christians from their debts to the Jews, reserving a fifth part to himself. On one Sabbath, in 1182, when all were gathered in their synagogues, the officers of the king surrounded and imprisoned all the worshipers. Their goods were confiscated, and they were expelled from the country. Yet such was their usefulness in pecuniary transactions that they were suffered to return in 1189 on payment of a considerable sum.
St. Louis (1126-70), of all his corrupt race the most bigoted and cruel, twice banished, and twice recalled, the Jews. In 1238-9 the populace of Paris robbed and massacred the hated race and destroyed their quarters. This example was copied in the provinces, where more than two thousand were put to death. [153:8] The saintly king also plundered them to pay the cost of his crusades.
"The regulations of St. Louis upon the Jews are characteristic of his peculiar nature. 'For the salvation of his soul, of the soul of his father and of all his ancestors,' he acquits all Christians of a third part of their debts to the Jews. Henceforth no debts shall be contracted. The Jews shall cease from all usury, and live by the work of their own hands; He was induced by the clergy to insist on their wearing a distinctive badge; a round piece of saffron cloth on their upper coat before and behind, a palm in breadth; and if he find a Jew without this mark, let him take his coat for himself, and let the Jew be fined a sum not exceeding ten pounds, to be set apart for pious uses.'" [153:9]
St. Louis also ordered the Talmud to be burnt. All the Jewish libraries were destroyed, and twenty-four cart-loads of valuable manuscripts committed to the flames. The Councils of Alby and Montpelier, held in his reign, discharged all Christians from paying their debts to Jews, providing they swore that usury was practised by their creditors. [153:1]
Philip the Fair (1306) again expelled the Jews on pretence of their having crucified a Christian boy.
"In one day all the Jews were seized, their property confiscated to the crown, the race expelled from the realm. The clergy, in their zeal for the faith and the hope that their own burthens might be lightened, approved this pious robbery, and rejoiced that France was delivered from the presence of this usurious and miscreant race." [153:2]
Louis X, however, when in want of cash, permitted them to return (1361). In other countries the Jews were burnt and plundered in order to make them embrace Christianity, but in France their property was confiscated in the event of their becoming Christians. The Benedictine, Mabillon, explains this as trying the faith of the new converts, because the purity of Christian morals required a restitution of property acquired through usury! But the true reason, pointed out by Montesquieu, was that the sovereign or seigneurs required a solatium for the taxes which were levied on the Jews as serfs, and which they escaped by becoming Christians.
The Christians sometimes repented their bigotry. The expulsion of the Jews led to the decline of commerce and a diminution of revenue; and when the Church urged persecution the State did not always comply. The Council of Beziers (1246), in interdicting all commerce between Jews and Christians, especially forbade the employment of Jewish physicians under pain of excommunication, [154:3] although the Jewish doctors nearly monopolised the skill of the time. Pope Gregory XIII went a step further. He not only ordered that the Jewish physician who entered the house of a Christian should be punished severely, but also that the sacraments and Christian burial should be refused to anyone who had bean treated by a Jewish doctor. [154:4] We can scarcely wonder that Jewish medicine could not compete with that of the Christians under these conditions.
During the whole time of the Crusades the Jew-hunt continued from place to place. They were expelled from Vienna (1196), Mecklenburg (1225), Breslau (1226), Frankfort (1241), Brandenburg (1243), Munich (1285). They were also chased from Naples and parts of Northern Italy. At Rome they found some shelter, many of the popes being sensible of their financial utility. They were, however, confined to a certain quarter of the city, and were subject to many odious restrictions. Some also found refuge in Poland and Russia, while many emigrated to Mohammedan countries, where they were comparatively well treated.
Closely following on the last crusade was the outbreak of the shepherds in the South of France. These fanatics, who raised an army of peasants to chase the Moors from Spain, like the early crusaders, found it much easier to massacre the unarmed children of Abraham at home. They resolved to pillage the synagogues before proceeding to further exploits, [155:5] All the hated race who could be found were immediately massacred. Six thousand met their death in the town of Estella. [155:6]
"Where they could they fled to the fortified places. Five hundred made their escape to Verdun on the Garonne; the governor gave them a tower to defend; the shepherds assailed them, set fire to the gates; the desperate Jews threw their children, in hopes of mercy, down to the besiegers, and slew each other to a man." [155:7]
Everywhere, even in the great cities, the Jews were left to be remorselessly massacred and their property pillaged. From the walls of Avignon the Pope might have seen the slaughter, but John XXII launched his excommunication, not against the murderers of the inoffensive Jews, but against all who presumed to take the Cross without warrant of the Holy See.
"Even the same year he published violent bulls against the poor persecuted Hebrews, and commanded the bishops to destroy the source of their detestable blasphemies, to burn their Talmuds." [155:8]
The same historian says that:
"The Papal sanction was thus given to the atrocities which followed. In many provinces, says a chronicler, especially in Aquitaine, the Jews were burned without distinction. At Chinon a deep ditch was dug, an enormous pile raised, and one hundred and sixty of both sexes burned together. Many of them plunged into the ditch of their own accord, singing hymns, as though they were going to a wedding. Many women, with their children, threw themselves in to escape forcible baptism." [155:9]The outbreak of the plague known as the Black Death (1348) was the signal for renewed outrages against the people of Israel, whose isolation and stricter dietary probably rendered them less susceptible to the disease. Many Jews were physicians, and were accused of using their arts to destroy the Christians. Numbers were put to the torture, and worthless confessions of guilt were extorted from them. As the plague spread throughout Europe, the ferment against the Jews became general. [156:1] They were accused of poisoning the wells, and bags of offensive matter were sometimes found in such places, thrown there by Christians who sought a pretext for plundering the hated Hebrews. The persecution, which began at Chillon, soon spread to all parts. Hecker, the medical historian, says:
"The noble and mean bound themselves by an oath to extirpate the Jews by fire or sword, and to snatch them from their protectors, of whom the number was so small that throughout all Germany few places can be mentioned where they were not regarded as outlaws, and martyred and burnt. ... All the Jews in Basle, whose number could not have been inconsiderable, were enclosed together in a wooden building, constructed for the purpose, and burned together with it, upon the mere outcry of the people, without sentence or trial, which indeed would have availed them nothing. Soon after the same thing took place at Freyburg." [156:2]
At Frankfort all the Jews in the city were put to death except a few who escaped to Bohemia. [156:3] Wherever the Jews were not burnt they were banished; and being compelled to wander about, they fell into the hands of the country people, who persecuted them with fire and sword. [156:4] At Ulm all the Jewish inhabitants, were burnt, [156:5] and Basnage says there was no place of safety except Lithuania, where Casimir the Great sheltered them, because he was in love with a handsome Jewess named Esther "like the old deliverer of God's people." In Mayence alone twelve thousand Jews are said to have been cruelly massacred. [156:6]
"At Spires, the Jews, driven to despair, assembled in their own habitations, which they set on fire, and thus consumed themselves with their families. The few that remained were forced to submit to baptism; while the dead bodies of the murdered, which lay about the streets, were put into empty wine casks and rolled into the Rhine, lest they should infect the air ... At Strasburg, two thousand Jews were burnt alive in their own burial-ground, where a large scaffold had been erected; a few who promised to embrace Christianity were spared, and their children taken from the pile. The youth and beauty of several females also excited some commiseration, and they were snatched from death against their will. Many, however, who forcibly made their escape from the flames were murdered in the streets." [157:7]
From the year 1349 all residence in that city was forbidden them, and (with the exception of a few families) no Jew was suffered after nightfall in Strasburg until the end of the French Revolution, more than four hundred years later. [157:8]
At Eslingen the whole Jewish community burned themselves in their synagogue, and mothers were seen throwing their children on the pile, to prevent their being baptised, and then precipitating themselves into the flames. Milman says:
"No fanatic monk set the populace in commotion, no public calamity took place, no atrocious or extravagant report was propagated, but it fell upon the heads of this unhappy caste. Fatal tumults were caused by the march of the Flagellants, a set of mad enthusiasts, who passed through the cities of Germany preceded by a crucifix and scourging their naked and bleeding backs as they went, as a punishment for their offences and those of the Christian world. These fanatics atoned, as they supposed, rather than aggravated their sins against the God of mercy, by plundering and murdering the Jews in Frankfort and other places." [157:9]
A fresh outbreak against the Hebrews took place at the end of the fourteenth century. They were expelled from Nurenburg in 1390, and from Prague in the following year. Of the means by which the general hatred was fomented we select one legend, which Milman assures us was commemorated in the city of Brussels at the time when he wrote. A Jew, it was alleged, stole the consecrated host, and took it into the synagogue of Brussels on a Good Friday, where it was treated with the grossest insults and pierced with knives. The blood poured forth profusely, but the obdurate Jews, unmoved by the miracle, dispersed tranquilly to their homes. They resolved to send the holy wafer to Cologne. The woman selected as bearer was secretly a Christian, and denounced the sacrilege.
"The consequences may be anticipated: all the Jews were arrested, put to the torture, convicted, condemned to be torn by red-hot pincers, and then burned alive. The picture of their sufferings as they writhed on the stake is exhibited with horrid coolness, or rather satisfaction, in the book of the legend. And this triumph of faith, supported, as it is said, by many miracles, is to the present day commemorated in one of the first Christian cities of Europe." [158:1]
The miraculous wafer is still kept and adored in the church of St. Gudule at Brussels, a memorial of the atrocious cruelties perpetrated in the name of Christianity, and a proof that the Church feels neither shame for its impostures nor compunction for its crimes.
Another monstrous charge was that of slaughtering a Christian child at the Paschal feast, an accusation which has lasted till our own time, when in the celebrated Tisza-Eszlar trial in Hungary the case against the Jews utterly broke down. [158:2] Yet upon the faith in such stories the names of numerous martyred saints have been added to the Christian calendar.
The Jews were again expelled from France in 1394 on account, it was said, of having killed a convert to Christianity at Paris. For this alleged offence four of the most wealthy Jews were scourged on two successive Sundays at all the cross-roads of Paris, and the synagogue was fined eighteen thousand crowns. [158:3] This punishment, however, did not satisfy the Christian sentiment, and the Jews were banished for ages. Some appear to have returned in 1550, but they held the privilege of domicile by a precarious tenure, being expelled again in 1615. It was not until the outbreak of the French Revolution that they received the rights of citizenship. They were placed on an equality with Christians by the French Republic in September, 1791.
In the Middle Ages, Spain was a second Palestine to the Jews, for in that country they were long defended by the wise policy of the kings, both in Castile and Arragon, from the implacable animosity of the clergy. This protection of the Jews was charged as a crime against Pedro the Cruel by his brother, Henry of Transtamare. Bertrand du Guesclin and his followers, when they marched into Spain to dethrone Pedro, assumed a white cross as the symbol of a holy war, and announced their resolution to exterminate the Jews. "Pedro," said Bertrand to the Black Prince, "is worse than a Saracen, for he holds commerce with the Jews." They acted up to their declaration; no quarter was given to Moor or Jew. "Kill all like sheep and oxen," was the relentless order, "unless they accept baptism." [159:4]
Martinez, a fanatical archdeacon of Seville, in 1391 denounced the Jews in the public square. The populace, goaded to frenzy, rushed on the Hebrew quarter, destroying, pillaging, and massacring, in every direction. No less than four thousand of the hated race fell victims in this barbarous onslaught. Lindo says: "Amidst the yells of the savage mob and the groans of the dying, was heard the voice of the archdeacon, encouraging them in those horrible scenes of carnage and extermination." [159:5]
Hardly three months later these horrid scenes were repeated, and the slaughter was equally great. Some succeeded in effecting their escape, while numbers were sold into slavery to the Moors. Many sought safety by submitting to baptism. Of the thirty thousand Jewish inhabitants of Seville scarcely any remained.
These atrocities were repeated in other towns in Spain. Over fifty thousand were massacred. [159:6] A number of feigned conversions resulted, till early in the fifteenth century the number of Marranos, as they were called, reached two hundred thousand. [160:7] Upon the Jews the legislative enactments were severe. They were prohibited from becoming vintners, grocers, taverners, and especially from being apothecaries, physicians, and nurses. [160:8]
The antipope, Benedict XIII, who was acknowledged in his native country of Arragon, held a solemn disputation between Christians and Jews.
"The pope assisted his advocate by a summary mode of argument. He issued an edict, commanding the Talmud, the bulwark of his antagonists, to be burned, and all blasphemers against Christianity to be punished. The Jews were declared incapable of holding civil offices -- one synagogue alone was to be permitted and after some other enactments it was ordered that all Jews should attend Christian sermons three times a year." [160:9]
Such was the conditions of the Jews when, in 1474, Ferdinand and Isabella succeeded to the united crowns of Arragon and Castile. Torquemada, the confessor to the Queen, established in Spain the Holy Office of the Inquisition, an institution which will receive our attention in a future chapter. It was chiefly directed against the enforced Christians or Marranos. Of the prodigious number who suffered under the Inquisition, Southey says: "The greater part suffered upon the charge of Judaism: it is within the mark to say nineteen out of twenty." [160:1]
According to Milman: "In one year two hundred and eighty were burned in Seville alone; eighty-nine were condemned to perpetual imprisonment in their loathsome cells; seventeen thousand suffered lighter punishment." [160:2] In the following year it is said that not less than two thousand were burned." [160:3] It was considered a presumptive proof of Judaism if a Marrano wore better clothes on Saturday, or omitted to light a fire, or if he gave Hebrew names to his children, which Prescott calls "a provision most whimsically cruel since, by a law of Henry II, he was prohibited under severe penalties from giving them Christian names." [161:4] In 1486 the Inquisitors of Toledo compelled the rabbis of the synagogue to declare what converts had returned to Judaism. Twenty-seven were burned alive, and over two thousand condemned to other penalties. [161:5] But this was insufficient. The clergy continued to excite odium against the Jews for seeking to reconvert the Marranos; and Ferdinand and Isabella, having subdued the Moors of Grenada, determined that the air of Spain should no longer be breathed by any one who did not profess the Christian faith. [161:6] An edict for expelling the Jews was signed by these pious rulers at Grenada on March 30, 1492. [161:7] It ordered all unbaptised Jews to leave the kingdom by the end of July. Any one harboring them after that time was to have all his goods confiscated. It permitted the Jews to sell their property, but they were allowed to take neither gold nor silver with them. [161:8] Isaac Abrabanel, a learned Jew of unblemished reputation, threw himself at the feet of the king and queen, and offered in the name of his nation an immense sum to recruit the finances exhausted by the wars of Grenada.
"The Inquisitors were alarmed. Against all feelings of humanity and justice the royal hearts were steeled, but the appeal to their interests might be more effectual. Thomas de Torquemada advanced into the royal presence bearing a crucifix. 'Behold,' he said, 'him whom Judas sold for thirty pieces of silver. Sell ye him now for a higher price, and render an account of your bargain before God.' The sovereigns trembled before the stern Dominican, and the Jews had no alternative but baptism or exile." [161:9]
No charge was alleged against the Jews save that of seeking to reconvert their Christianised brethren. The number of those expelled has been variously estimated at from one hundred and sixty thousand to eight hundred thousand. Probably the number mentioned by Abrabanel, of three hundred thousand, is nearer the mark than either extreme. [162:1]
Bernaldez, another contemporary and eye-witness, says:
"Within the term fixed by the edict the Jews sold and disposed of their property for a mere nothing; they went about begging Christians to buy, but found no purchasers; fine houses and estates were sold for trifles; a house was exchanged for an ass; and a vineyard given for a little cloth or linen." [162:2]
Terrible incidents are related of their sufferings. On board a ship conveying a great number to Africa the plague broke out. The captain ascribed the infection to his circumcised passengers, and set them all on a desert coast without provisions. [162:3] A mother carrying two infants, walking with her husband, expired on the road; the father, overcome with fatigue, fell fainting near his two children, and on awaking found them dead with hunger. [162:4] A girl was forced before the eyes of her parents, and then her throat was cut lest she should conceive and give birth to a Jew.
"The misery suffered by the unfortunate exiles is almost indescribable. Some of the vessels took fire, and they either perished in the flames or were drowned; others were so overloaded that they sank. Many were wrecked on barren coasts and perished with hunger and cold; those who survived were exposed to further troubles and misfortunes. Some captains purposely prolonged their voyage, to force them to buy water and provisions at any price they chose to exact from their unfortunate victims." [162:5]
Many killed themselves in despair. Some reached the coast of Genoa in a famishing state, and lay perishing on the shore. The clergy approached, with the crucifix in one hand and provisions in the other. Nature was too strong for faith; they yielded and were baptised. [162:6] At Salee, the crew of a large vessel enticed a hundred and fifty children on board, with promises of bread, and then set sail to sell them into slavery, while their frantic mothers implored from the beach the restoration of their only treasure. [163:7]
"A Spanish pilot entered upon a resolution of murdering all the passengers, to revenge, as he said, by their death the blood of Jesus Christ, which they had shed. But he was told that Christ who had shed his blood for man's redemption, did not require a sinner's death. Softened by this remonstrance, he contented himself with stripping them and throwing them upon the shore, where they had fresh miseries to contend with." [163:8]
Many were permitted to pass through Portugal upon payment of a tax. Those who could not pay, or, instead of making their way to the ports, remained in the country, had their children between the years of three and ten wrested from them, to be transported and brought up as Christians in the newly-discovered islands of St. Thomas, then swarming with alligators and beasts of prey. [163:9] Six hundred of the richest families of the Spanish Jews purchased the right to remain in Portugal on payment of sixty thousand gold pieces.
The Portuguese Jews were in turn to experience the effect of Christian charity. Shortly after Don Emanuel came to the throne he sought the hand of the eldest daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella. It was made a condition of his marriage that he should banish from his dominions all Mohammedans and Jews. In December, 1496, Emanuel issued a proclamation ordering that all non-converted Jews should leave Portugal within ten months under pain of confiscation, and that the property should fall to the informer. [163:1] This was not all. On the following Passover, when all the Jews who had chosen exile rather than a lying conversion were assembled in family, it was ordered that all their children under fourteen should be forcibly taken from the parents and brought up in the saving knowledge of the Christian faith. The state of desperation and agony into which the Jews were plunged may be imagined. A contemporary historian, cited by Lindo, says:
"It was a horrid and wretched spectacle to see tender children torn from the arms and breasts of their distressed mothers; fathers, who fondly held them in their embrace, dragged about to force them from their arms. To hear the cries, sighs, groans, lamentations, and female shrieks that filled the air was dreadful. Some were so distracted that they destroyed their children by casting them into wells; others, in fits of despair, made away with themselves." [164:2]
Many children were hidden by their parents, but were ferreted out, dragged to the font, and baptised in the name of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. A wretched mother, from whom six children had been taken, cast herself before the king's carriage, and entreated that the youngest might be restored to console her for the loss of the others. The king, inhumanly smiling at her distress, ordered her to be removed, while his courtiers ridiculed her motherly affliction. [164:3]
By a fresh act of Christian perfidy, Don Emanuel suddenly revoked the order for their embarkation at two of the ports (Oporto and Setubal) which had been named. Many were thrown back upon Lisbon, and the delay made them amenable to the law. [164:4] More than twenty thousand Jews were lodged in a vast barrack, called the Estáos, where every means of fair promise and foul intimidation was used to make them renounce Judaism. [164:5] Milman says: "The more stedfast in their faith were shipped off as slaves, but the spirits of many were broken."
"A fresh edict now went forth, that all children between fourteen and twenty should also be taken from their parents and baptised, and multitudes were dragged forcibly by their hair and by their arms into the churches, and compelled to receive the waters of baptism, together with new names, being afterwards given over to those who undertook to instruct them in the Catholic faith. Next, the parents themselves were seized, and were offered to have their children restored to them if they would consent to be converted; in case of their refusal, they were to be placed in confinement for three days without food or drink. It is indeed wonderful that any mortals could be proof against so terrible and fiendish an ordeal; yet, to the glory of the Hebrew race, very many still remained unmoved. Resistance was, however, not to be tolerated, and it was therefore decreed that the same fate was to be meted out to the adults and to the aged, as had already been the portion of the younger members of the race of Israel. Amid the most heart-rending cries and the most determined resistance, men and women in the flower of their days, or the decrepitude of age, were dragged into the churches and forcibly baptised, amid the mocking and exultation of an excited populace." [165:6]
Ten years afterwards some of these converts were detected celebrating the Passover. This inflamed the popular resentment against them. It happened that a monk was displaying a crucifix, having a piece of red glass to represent the wound in the Savior's side, upon which a light played, which he declared a manifestation of Deity. The devout multitude cried, "A miracle! a miracle!" One man smiled, and said that, as it was a season of drought, it would be better if God manifested himself in water. The scandalised crowd recognised a Marrano. They dragged him to the market-place and murdered him; and his brother, who stood wailing over his body, shared his fate.
"From every quarter the Dominicans rushed forth with crucifixes in their hands, crying out 'Revenge, revenge; down with the heretics; root them out; exterminate them.' A Jewish authority asserts that they offered to everyone who should murder a Jew that his sufferings in purgatory should be limited to a hundred days. The houses of the converts were assailed: men, women, and children involved in a promiscuous massacre -- even those who fled into the churches, embraced the sacred relics, or clung to the crucifixes, were dragged forth and burned." [165:7]
It was only at the end of the third day, when more than three thousand victims had been sacrificed to Christian fury, that the tardy intervention of the law secured a semblance of order. [165:8] But Judaism still lurked in many hearts in the peninsula, and the forced converts were continually persecuted for betraying signs of their ancient faith.
In 1504 the Jews were banished from Naples and Sicily. These states sustained a loss by the expulsion of the industrious though usurious Jews; and the decline of Spain can be largely traced to the same cause.
In Italy their fortunes were as various as the dispositions of the popes, many of whom found an interest in favoring them for a consideration. Others were not so lenient. Pope John XXIII persecuted them himself, issuing many edicts to force them to become Christians, [166:9] and also inciting the Spaniards against them, so that sixteen thousand were forced to abjure their religion. Pope Eugenius IV (1442) prohibited them from eating and drinking with Christians, excluded them from almost every profession, and forced them to wear a badge and pay tithes. [166:1] Julius III served the Talmud as some of his predecessors had served the writings of the heathen philosophers. So strict a search was made for their literature that all the books of the Gemara in Italy are said to have been burnt. This policy was continued under his successor, Paul IV. At Cremona there was a large Jewish academy, with a valuable library. Its destruction was ordered in 1559, and Sextus of Sienna was despatched for the purpose. The fanatical Dominican condemned twelve thousand volumes to the flames, and, had he not been restrained by the more enlightened Italian princes, he would not have spared a single Hebrew book; for he regrets "that the avarice and weakness of princes permitted them to retain Talmudical works." [166:2]
Paul IV taxed the Jews for the support of their brethren who abjured their religion. He confined them to the Ghetto, a separate quarter of the towns in which they were settled, the gates being shut at sunset. They were allowed but one synagogue in each city, and ordered to wear a distinctive badge. They were forbidden to trade with the Christians except in old clothes, and compelled to sell all their lands within six months, which reduced the price below a fifth of their value. [167:3] Munday, who visited Rome in the middle of Elizabeth's reign, says that they were locked up at night, and "that the Jewes may be knowne from any other people, every one weareth a yellow cap or hatte; and if he goe abroade without it they will use him very yll-favouredly." [167:4] He adds that on the first day of the carnival they were obliged to run races from the Porta Popolo "starke naked."
That fierce bigot Pius V sent out a roaring Bull against them, accusing them of magic, of hating the Christians, and of ruining the ecclesiastical state. Finally he expelled them from all places in his dominions except Rome and Ancona. This exception casts doubt on the charges. Two reasons were assigned for the exception; one, that of a Pope, the other, that of a politician. The first was that he retained them in his capital that Christians by seeing them might be put in mind of the passion of the Son of God, and that they might become less wicked by being in the neighborhood of the Holy See. The other and true reason was that they were useful in carrying on the trade with the East and in replenishing the papal exchequer. [167:5]
Gregory XIII pursued the same course. A Bull was published and suspended at the gate of the Jews' quarter, prohibiting the reading of the Talmud, blasphemies against Christ, or ridicule of the ceremonies of the Church. All Jews above twelve years were bound to attend in turn at the weekly sermons preached for their conversion. [167:6] Special preachers were appointed to expound the alleged prophecies of Jesus as the Messiah who had abolished the Law; and to dilate upon the long misery the Jews had suffered from adhering to a different interpretation. The listeners admitted the facts, but rejected the inference. They laughed and spat during the sermon, and to abate the scandal Pope Innocent XI ordered it to be preached in unconsecrated buildings.
"He obliged the preacher to make a prayer to God, but lest the names of Jesus and Mary should scare them it was to be pronounced softly. He appointed an office of Inspector to impose silence upon the talkers. In effect, a man with a long pole goes through the ranks and strikes the fingers of those who laugh or talk. But all in vain, the incredulous Jews will not be converted; and Cardinal Barberini, who was at a great expense to forward these instructions, acknowledged before his death that the conversions made by dint of money are feigned and insignificant." [168:7]
Two other circumstances may be noted in the Papal treatment of the Jews, as the pontiffs have often been praised for affording them protection. One is that they were obliged to give public homage to each new Pope; the other that when they are prayed for yearly on Good Friday, this ceremony is performed without kneeling "because the Church designs to express thereby the horror it preserves for what their ancestors did the same day in falling on their knees before Jesus Christ to mock him." [168:8]
The Reformation did little to alleviate the condition of the Jews. Luther frequently spoke of them with hatred. In his Table Talk he says:
"There are sorcerers among the Jews, who delight in tormenting Christians, for they hold us as dogs. Duke Albert of Saxony well punished one of these wretches. A Jew offered to sell him a talisman covered with strange characters, which he said effectually protected the wearer against any sword or dagger thrust. The duke replied: 'I will essay thy charm upon thyself, Jew,' and putting the talisman round the fellow's neck, he drew his sword and passed it through his body." [168:9]
According to Seckendorf, one of Luther's apologists, he said, "Their synagogues ought to be destroyed, their houses pulled down, their prayer-books, the Talmud, and even the books of the Old Testament, to be taken from them; their rabbis ought to be forbidden to teach, and be compelled to gain their livelihood by hard labor." [169:1] McClintock and Strong's Cyclopedia admits that "it is a fact that all through Germany, where the Protestant element, if anywhere, was strong in those days, their lot actually became harder than it had ever been before." [169:2] They were ground down with extra taxes, and kept in assigned quarters or hunted from place to place. The theologians of Germany urged the destruction of all Hebrew literature with the exception of the Old Testament, and the proposition was approved by the University of Paris. It required the influence of Reuchlin to avert this wholesale proscription.
The Jews were driven out of Brandenburg in 1573, as from Bavaria forty years before. A similar fate befell them in other German states. Hunted from one territory, they purchased refuge in another, and even preserved a certain autonomy by agreeing to the decision of their chief rabbis in all disputes, for it was hopeless to expect justice from a Christian tribunal. They were driven from Vienna in 1699, and their synagogue was turned into a church. [169:3] At Prague a crucifix was erected on the bridge dividing the two cities, to which they were compelled to render homage every time they passed.
But in Holland they were tolerated, and numbers of Jews flocked there from Spain and Portugal. From the latter country came the family which gave birth to Spinoza, the greatest of modern Jews, whose life was worthy of his words. This noble thinker was, however, excommunicated and persecuted by his Jewish brethren, who showed in this case, as in many others, that they also retain the ancient bigotry of their faith.
In the time of Charles V the Hebrews offered an immense sum for permission to return to Spain, but Cardinal Ximenes intervened, declaring, like Torquemada, that to favor the Jews for money was to sell Christ.
The Freethinker, John Toland, was foremost in England in advocating for Jews the rights of citizenship. Their naturalisation was proposed in the last century, but was vehemently opposed by the leading churchmen. Yet a Naturalisation Bill was passed in 1753, though the outcry was so great that it was repealed in the following year. Even so late as 1830, Macaulay was obliged to rebuke the bigotry of Christians. The municipal disabilities of the Jews were removed in 1846; the parliamentary disabilities were not removed till 1860, after many years of acute struggle. Ten times the Liberal party in the House of Commons carried an Emancipation Bill, but each time it was thrown out by the Lords, including the spiritual peers who represented the Church. Jewish worship was placed on the same footing as that of Dissenters in 1855, and they were relieved from Sunday observance in 1871.
The Pope in 1825 revived the old laws against the Jews, compelling them to dwell in a certain quarter of Rome, and to wear a distinguishing badge. [170:4] So late as 1858 the officers of the Inquisition dragged from his home, in a respectable Jewish family at Bologna, a child seven years of age, under the plea that he had been secretly baptised by a servant girl, and so belonged to the Church. Despite the utmost exertions on the part of his friends, Edgar Mortara was never given up. The priests at Rome mockingly told the parents that if they would become Christians they might regain their child. [170:5]
In Turkey and Poland the Jews long enjoyed toleration. But thirty-five thousand were hunted from Russia by the Empress Elizabeth. They were re-admitted by Catherine II., but their ill-treatment has been continued to the present. The numerous Jews in Roumania have been similarly ill-used. So late as 1872 a number of their houses were wrecked. [170:6] The violent outbreak in Russia at the beginning of 1882 will be fresh in the recollection of all.
In persecuting Judaism as a religion the Christians have
stereotyped the Jews as a caste. But as the persecution ceases, the
caste, as Spinoza saw, will be broken down by their absorption into
the surrounding populations. Judaism as a religion will probably
die as the caste is extinguished. This process will take many years
to consumate, but it is powerfully assisted throughout Europe by
the spread of Freethought. Meanwhile the ill-treatment of the Jews
remains a scandal to civilisation, as the history of their fifteen
centuries' persecution is an ineffaceable shame to