Where Was Love & Mercy?
Last month, we explored the first 1,000 years of Christian history in relation to the Jewish people and
This month, let’s consider these questions:
- Why did historical events such as the Crusades and the Inquisition ultimately focus on persecuting Jews?
- Did you know that Martin Luther was sympathetic toward the Jewish people in his early years and then became the source of vile anti-Semitism in his later years?
- Did you know that Adolph Hitler found precedent for his evil actions against the Jewish people right out of the annals of Church history?
- What can we do to change the last 1,800 years of historical anti-Jewish attitudes and actions of the Church? So, let’s continue our pilgrimage on this trail of contempt.
The First Crusade began in the year 1096. This was a period of strife for the
As the Crusaders marched through
For example, at
Is it any wonder that, for the Jewish people, the cross is a symbol of hatred and death, not love, reconciliation and salvation? The cross has literally been taken and used as a sword against the Jewish people. In all, there were nine Crusades. The last was in 1291, when the Moslems once again took possession of the
The Fourth Lateran Council
In 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council of the Church was held. During this council, the doctrine of Transubstantiation was crystallized. Transubstantiation is the doctrine that the flesh and blood of Christ becomes present in the consecrated host (bread) and wine. This doctrine is still believed in the Catholic Church today. This doctrine, together with other statements of the Fourth Lateran Council, became a new source of Christian anti-Semitism.
- Host Desecration: For centuries to follow, accusations of host desecration by Jews were circulated. The “Host Desecration Libel” is that the Jewish people would try to steal a consecrated host and then stab, torment, and burn it in an effort to recrucify Christ. Many illustrated stories showing this fabricated phenomenon were circulated, particularly in
, during the 1400s and 1500s. This teaching is not dead. Let me share a personal example. In the mid-1970s, the children of a Catholic friend came home from a parochial school (in Germany ) with this story told them by a nun trying to teach them respect for the communion host (bread wafer): “A Catholic boy and a Jewish boy went into a Catholic church, and the Jewish boy talked the Christian boy into stealing a communion host. They took it home and went into a closet and stuck it with a pin. The host began to bleed, filled up the closet with blood, and drowned the boys!” This is a variation of the old blood libel charge, particularly since the culprit in the story is a Jew. Boston, MA
- Blood Libel: An offshoot of the host desecration libel is the “blood libel.” The blood libel contends that Jews murder non-Jews, particularly Christians, in order to obtain blood for the Passover or other rituals. It was also purported that Jews needed to drink Christian blood so that their appearance could remain human looking, and Christian blood would also help eliminate the distinctive foetor judaicus, “Jewish smell,” which was converse to the “odor of sanctity” possessed by Christians. Another version of this accusation is that Jews would kidnap Christian babies, kill them, and grind up their bodies to cook in their matza (unleavened bread) for Passover. These libels are easily refuted when one has only the slightest understanding of Jewish dietary laws. Jewish people are forbidden to eat the blood of any animal, much less human blood or flesh. The fact that such a doctrine could come into being shows complete contempt and ignorance of Jewish lifestyle, and the lack of any Christian-Jewish relations and dialogue. Again, these accusations can still be found today. Not too many years ago, a young boy was kidnapped in a town north of
. JoAnn Magnuson, our BFP Education Director in the Minneapolis , has a copy of a flyer that was put on windshields in the area claiming that Jews had kidnapped the child for their Passover rituals. It sounds absurd that such a thing could be claimed in the 1990s, but anti-Semitism does not die an easy death. US
- Distinguishing Marks: Another canon promulgated by the Fourth Lateran Council required Jews to wear a distinguishing mark. The form of the mark varied in different countries, but usually took the form of a badge, or a three-cornered or pointed hat. In this way, Christians could be sure not to inadvertently come into contact with Jewish people. Even in Medieval art, Jews were depicted in paintings and woodcuts with a circle on their clothing or wearing pointed hats. It is important to realize that during this period, many lay and ecclesiastical authorities tried to protect the Jewish community from persecution. Much of the anti-Semitism was now promoted by a rising middle-class. However, the attitudes were based on Church teaching of the past.
The next historical event to blemish world history is the infamous Inquisition promoted by the Church in
In the mid-1400s, the Spanish Inquisition began to identify and prosecute backsliders in the Church. It then spread to the Jewish community. Its first focus was the tens of thousands of Jews who had been forced to be baptized. These baptized Jews were known as Conversos or New Christians. Because of this, they were considered Christians and expected to behave as Christians, even though conversion was not their choice. If a mouse is caught in a cookie jar, this does not make him a cookie. So too, force-baptizing anyone does not make him a Christian. Many of these New Christians took upon themselves a Christian facade in order to live and work in the Christian society of
Others did not, and were persecuted for their faith. Many were still practicing Jewish customs, such as lighting candles on Friday evening, changing the linen on the Sabbath, abstaining from pork and scaleless fish, observing the Feast Days, etc. According to the Inquisition Laws, to be caught practicing any one of 37 Jewish customs was grounds to be brought before the
- If you confessed and did not repent, you were burned alive.
- If you confessed and repented, you were publicly humiliated. Any subsequent slip-ups resulted in certain death.
- If you did not confess, even if you were innocent, you were tortured until you confessed and then were burned.
The Church was not allowed to execute the victim, so they passed them to a secular arm of the Inquisition Court. Blood was not allowed to be shed, thus burning was the execution of choice. This they justified by a text from John 15:6, “If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered, and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.”
Incidentally, all their property was confiscated, enriching the
Finally, we hope for a breath of fresh air. Reformers recognized many errors inherent in the Church and challenged the leadership, the Pope, the bishops, the priests — the whole ecclesiastical body. The Reformation brought about complex and even contradictory repercussions to the evolution of anti-Semitism. One branch of Protestantism, namely the Calvinists and their offshoots, proved less judeophobic than Catholicism until the 20th century.
The other branch, Lutheranism, developed a continuing strain of anti-Semitism due to Luther’s later anti-Jewish views. An immediate consequence of the Reformation was to aggravate the position of the Jews in regions that remained Roman Catholic. The popes were determined to restore order by the strict application of Canon Law. This naturally affected the Jewish people negatively. One result was that from the second half of the 16th century, ghettos were introduced, at first in
Martin Luther: Martin Luther is the father of Lutheranism. During the first period of his ministry, 1513-1523, Luther often condemned the persecution of the Jews and recommended a more tolerant policy toward them, based on the spirit of true brotherhood. In 1523, he wrote a pamphlet, “That Christ Was Born A Jew,” in which he argued that the Jews, who were from the same stock as the founder of Christianity, had been right in refusing to accept the “papal paganism” presented to them as Christianity. He added, “If I had been a Jew and had seen such fools and blockheads teach the Christian faith, I should rather have turned into a pig than become a Christian.”
However, when they did not accept his version of Christianity and convert, Luther turned increasingly hostile to the Jewish people. By the 1530s in his Table Talk Series, he referred to them as “the stiffed-necked Jews, ironhearted and stubborn as the devil.”
Finally, it happened. He printed two pamphlets, in 1542, “On the Jews and Their Lies,” and in 1543, “On The Shem Hamephoras” (The Ineffable Name). These two pamphlets contain some of the most abhorrent and vile language ever written against the Jewish people. Five hundred years later, Hitler found many of his ideas and justifications for his treatment of the Jewish people and the Holocaust in these writings. After all, if the father of the
The Enlightenment And Emancipation
As we move into the era of Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, we find the Jewish people still suffering from a legacy of prejudice. As long as Christianity held unchallenged sway in
Not being able to buy property, they often put their wealth into jewelry or other easily transportable commodities. This and their vocation in banking and money lending, forced upon them by Church authorities since the 12th Century, gave them an undeserved reputation of being obsessed with money.
They became the scapegoat for the ills of the world. When the people of
As we move into the era of Emancipation, the newer 19th century version of anti-Semitism arose on soil, which had been well watered for many centuries in
The Pogroms Of
From 1881 to 1902, there was a series of pogroms against the Jews of Russia. The Pogroms were a series of attacks, accompanied by destruction, the looting of property, murder, and rape, perpetrated by the Christian population of
It is difficult to assess the full scope of the pogroms and the number of victims they claimed because of a civil war affecting
This brings us to the Holocaust, the culmination of 1900 years of bad teaching in Christian society. The Holocaust was Hitler’s Final Solution of the Jewish people.
Six million Jews including 2,000,000 children were violently murdered by Hitler and the Nazis. His Final Solution was to rid the world of the “Jewish vermin,” as he portrayed them in literature, speeches, and films. Hitler concluded that there was an evil in society and the common denominator was Jews who could be found in every city and in every country of
Hitler and his agents were certainly not true Christians. Nazi philosophy was influenced more by pagan mythology. But most Nazis were members in good standing in either Lutheran or Catholic churches. They perpetrated these acts in a historically Christian nation…and there was a deafening silence from the Christian world. Even during the decade before the Final Solution exterminations began, the “Christian West” rejected Jewish emigrants fleeing from the growing Nazi menace, and even prevented them from going to Eretz
Father Neimoeller, writing of this sad chapter of history, said: “First they came for the Communists and I did not speak out – because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out -because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out – because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out – because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
The Holocaust in all of its severity is unique to the Jewish people. While non-Jews were killed in Hitler’s killing machine, they were killed for political or social reasons, such as being mentally ill, prostitutes or homosexuals. The Jewish people as a whole were targets: mothers, children, peasants, doctors, musicians, rabbis, professors, etc. None were exempt, and they were all exterminated JUST BECAUSE THEY WERE JEWS. Fortunately, there were some Christians who acted with compassion to hide or help Jews to escape, e.g. Corrie Ten Boom and the Christians of Le Chambon in
Hitler is gone. Nazi Germany has ceased to exist. However, the “apple of God’s eye” (Zech. ), the Jewish people, are alive, and
Anti-Semitism In The Last 50 Years
From this historical account, it can be seen that the concept of Christian-Jewish relations is a very recent phenomenon. The effort to build genuine Christian-Jewish relationships has only begun in a serious fashion during the last 40 years. Forty years out of nearly 2,000 is not a long time. Much of this effort is in response to the Holocaust; nevertheless, it is happening. Will it last? Only if you are a part of making it last. There is still a battle to be fought. Anti-Semitism isn’t gone, and can be seen or heard in every community. While some would have you believe the world is becoming a better place and anti-Semitism is on the wane, this is not true. Since 1990, anti-Semitic acts around the world have increased, even showing up in places where hardly any Jews live, such as
We also see how
How can we counteract this? We can take a stand, know our facts, and be a collective Christian voice of support and encouragement. This is something that hasn’t been done during all Church history. Yes, there have been Christian individuals who spoke out, but now I believe we have a chance to make a difference because we can show solidarity as a group.
What Should This Mean To Us?
The Jewish people know this history well, while most Christians often ignore it. We prefer to forget about it, because it is an indictment against us. Rev. Dr. Edward Flannery, in his book, The Anguish of the Jews, says that “the only chapters of Christian history known by the Jews were recorded on pages the Church has torn out of the history books and burned.” What does Paul mean in Romans 11 when he points out that the Jewish people are “beloved for the sake of the Fathers,” and that “by our mercy, they will receive mercy?”
It is grievous to think that Satan’s greatest tool against God’s covenant people, the apple of His eye, has been the Church. To say that these historical churchmen who did these terrible things were not real Christians is not accurate, for many of them were. Let us learn a lesson from Martin Luther. No one can doubt his devotion to the Lord, yet he wrote and spoke some of the most terrible anti-Semitic material in history. Like Luther, some of the greatest anti-Semites started out as great supporters of the Jewish people, and then became disappointed when Jews did not fulfill Christian expectations. Apparently, their love was not genuine, but had an ulterior motive. Anti-Semitism is sin and we must constantly guard against it in our hearts and lives. I fully believe that anti-Semitism is the epitome of evil, and the fight against it is a spiritual, as well as a physical, battle. Since the Jews are a God-called, covenantal people, to fight against them is to fight against God. This may be understandable for those of the world, but a tragic error for Christians who believe in the God of
Now that we have heard the truth on this subject, it is time for the Church to grow up and learn to respect God’s covenant people, our elder brothers, and Judaism, the parent faith of our faith. Isaiah the prophet said, “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord; Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him, he was but one, and I blessed him and made him many. The Lord will surely comfort
Paul is clear about God’s natural branches, the Jewish people, when he says of them in Romans , “They are beloved for the sakes of the Patriarchs, for God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.” Christians need to remember, it was by the Jewish people, God’s Chosen people, that Jesus was born, and we received our salvation. They were chosen to live in God’s land,
As Gentile Christians, we have a Jewish connection. In Ephesians 2:11-13, Paul tells us that we Gentiles have been “brought near” by the blood of Jesus to the covenants of the promises, hopes and faith of
Paul tells Christians, “that by our mercy they shall receive God’s mercy.” This love and mercy towards the Jewish people is more than a warm feeling of appreciation. As Christians, we have a debt to
Zechariah 2:8 says of God’s love towards the Jewish people, “He that touches you, touches the apple of His eye.” Today, we can read the Bible for ourselves, and see God’s love for His people,
- It is time for Christians to break with historical anti-Jewish teachings, and make a change for the future. We must act, not out of guilt, but in a humble spirit of love.
- It is time to reinforce God’s covenant WITH His people, and show tangible love and respect to the Jewish people around the world.
- It is also time to join God in His plan for the nation of
today, as He is literally moving heaven and earth to fulfill His prophetic promises of Messianic blessing, as we await the soon coming of the Lord. Israel
As Christians, let us take up the challenge and put aside the anti-Jewish hatred of generations, wherever it may be found around us — be it in our communities, in our churches, in our families, and yes, even if it rises up in our own hearts.
The destiny of the Church is intertwined with the future of
Each one of us can make a difference.