Judaism and Christianity

Author: Dr. Warren Carroll


Dr. Warren Carroll

Dr. Carroll responds to questions presented by John Ata.

A. It is my understanding that there has never been any official Church doctrine or dogma that has proposed the persecution of the Jewish people. Is this true? Has the collective guilt of the Jewish people ever been offical doctrine of the Church.

1. No Catholic Church doctrine prescribes, and no Pope has ordered general persecution of Jews. Some earlier theologians held, and some Church pronouncements have implied collective guilt of the Jews for the crucifixion of Christ, based on the words of His persecutors quoted in the Gospels: "His blood be upon us and upon our children." But this has never been held to mean that all Jews should consequently be punished by human agency; rather, the Church has always sought their conversion. In the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux:

"Is it not a far better triumph for the Church to convince and convert the Jews than to put them all to the sword? Has that prayer which the Church offers for the Jews, from the rising up of the sun to the going down thereof, that the veil may be taken from their hearts so that they may be led from the darkness of error into the light of truth, been instituted in vain? If she did not hope that they would believe and be converted, it would seem useless and vain for her to pray for them. But with the eye of mercy she considers how the Lord regards with favor him who renders good for evil and love for hatred." (St. Bernard of Clairvaux to Archbishop Henry of Mainz, 1146, The Letters of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, tr. Bruno Scott James [London, 1953], p. 466)

In the year 1273 Pope Gregory X issued "an encyclical to all Christians forbidding them to baptize Jews by force or to injure their persons, or to take away their money, or to disturb them during the celebration of their religious festivals." (Horace K. Mann, Lives of the Popes in the Middle Ages, Volume XVI [London, 1929], p. 496)

B. Some of the canons in the 3rd and 4th Lateran council appear to be very anti-semitic in nature. For example, there is one that prohibits Christians from employing Jews as servants. Not wishing to take things out of context, is it possible to provide some background into why these canons were drawn up the way they were. My understanding is that "canons" back then dealt with a lot more civil matters back when Church and State were much more firmly integrated.

2. The Third Lateran Council (1179) prohibited Jews from employing Christians as servants, not Christians from employing Jews. The Council believed it unwise and dangerous for Jews to exercise authority over Christians, fearing that pressure might be put upon them to persuade them to abandon their faith, and believing that Christians should not come under the direct authority of non-Christians. The Church at that time was totally integrated with society and government in every Christian nation; the modern concept of "separation of church and state" was unknown. Exercise of authority in any area was seen as opening the door to exercise of authority in all areas. To have non-Christians exercising authority was therefore seen as unacceptable. Consequently Jews were specifically barred from public office by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). This did not mean that all Jews were regarded as in "servitude" to Christians, only that Christians could not serve Jews or be under their authority. Most Jews operated their own shops and businesses and their property rights in them were respected, as Pope Gregory X's encyclical of 1273 (quoted above) makes clear. A decree of the Fourth Lateran Council required Jews to wear identifying dress. It was feared that Jews might infiltrate Christian groups and organizations without their religious identity being known, and there were instances in Spain where this can be proved to have actually happened, though probably it was rare. The strong sense of religious confession as part of good citizenship and national loyalty helped create a need for this ruling in the context of the time, however offensive in modern eyes. The Fourth Lateran Council pointed out that Jewish law then required the wearing of identifying symbols also, which was correct.

C. What was the rationale the Church used for including the term "perfidious Jews" in the Good Friday Liturgy? My dictionary defines this term to be "of deliberate breach of faith or trust".

3. The word "perfidious" in the old Good Friday liturgy referred to the rejection of God's Son the Messiah by the Jews who called for his crucifixion. He had given them proofs of who He was, but they closed their eyes and ears to them. Though it may be counter-productive to make this point in today's age, this willful blindness to the truth is spectacularly evidenced by the Sanhedrin when they received the report of Jesus' Resurrection from the Roman guards at His tomb. There were 16 guards on duty, only 600 yards from Pilate's government house and residence; they were certainly not all asleep, for sleeping on watch by a Roman soldier was punishable by death. If the Sanhedrin believed their report, they knew a miracle had happened. If they disbelieved it, why did they not denounce them to Pilate and have the apostles arrested for stealing Jesus' body, either with the complicity of the guards or because of their negligence? But the Sanhedrin did neither, instead bribing the guards to say that Jesus' disciples had stolen His body while they slept, and promising to protect them from Pilate. They must have known or at least guessed the truth, and yet refused to believe. In any case, the expression "perfidious" cannot logically apply to Jews apart from the circumstances of the crucifixion, except under a theory of collective guilt, for which see the first paragraph under #1 (above).