The Treatment Of The Jews In The Middle Ages -- By: David S. Schaff
BSac 60:239 (July 1903) p. 547
The Treatment Of The Jews In The Middle Ages
Would that it might be said of the mediaeval church that it felt in the well-being of the Jews, the children of Abraham according to the flesh, a tithe of the interest it manifested in the recovery of the holy places of their ancient land. If outward treatment is to be made the standard of judgment, this cannot be said. They were classed with Saracens. Popes, bishops, and princes, here and there, were inclined to treat them in the spirit of humanity, but the predominant sentiment of Europe was the sentiment of disparagement, contempt, and revenge. The very nations which were draining their energies to send forth armaments to reconquer the Holy Sepulcher joined in persecuting the Jews. Döllinger has said, speaking of the history of the Hebrew people as a whole, that “their fate has been perhaps the most frightful drama of history.” Certainly not the least of the humiliating spectacles in its past annals which the church must contemplate is the treatment which was meted out to the children of Abraham in the Middle Ages by Christian communities and in the name of the Christian faith. Some explanation is afforded by the conduct of the Jews themselves. By their successful and often unscrupulous money dealings, the flaunting of their wealth, their exclusive social tendencies, their racial haughtiness, and their secretiveness, they strained the forbearance of the Christian public to the utmost. William of Newburgh, the English chronicler of
BSac 60:239 (July 1903) p. 548
the twelfth century, states that the effect of the royal protection given to the Jews was to make them proud and stiff-necked against Christians. The statement no doubt contained truth, and expressed the general feeling of the age. The edicts of councils and the conduct of communities put it beyond reasonable question that in an offensive way they showed disdain of the rites and symbols of the Christian faith. The feelings of bitter animosity and retaliation prevailed in all parts from Bohemia to the Atlantic; and, if it had not been for the humanitarian interposition of popes and the protection offered by princes, who were for the most part governed by selfish motives, the sufferings of the Jews would have been more awful than it actually was. How far the manifestation of the spirit of humanity and of Christian forbearance and love might have secured a change in the religious persistence of the Jews can only be matter of surmisal. They were regarded as most strongly intrenched against Christian persuasion. Peter the Venerable, in the Prologue to his Tract against the Jews, said, “Out of the whole ancient world you alone were not ignorant of Christ; yea, all peoples have listened, and you alone do not hear. Every language has confes...
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