Monday, October 29, 2012

Amazon Review - The Conundrum of Jewish Survival in Christian Europe.

Aquinas and the Jews (The Middle Ages Series)
by John Y. B. Hood



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The mystery of Christendom's interaction with the Jews, as John Y. B. Hood points out at the end of "Aquinas and he Jews," is, in the light of the fate of heretics and pagans, not "why were there pogroms and persecutions of Jews" but "why any Jews survived in Europe at all?" The answer to this conundrum lies in the deep ambiguity that is woven throughout the history of Christian and Jewish relations from the beginning. The New Testament contains both statements that are susceptible of bitter anti-Jewish invective and expressions of the promise that all Jews would be saved in time. As Hood documents, the history of the Church was to chart a course between these extremes. Thus, while the Catholic Church followed Roman legal precedents that protected the person and property of the Jews, as well as their right to worship and freedom from forced conversions, it also insisted on the legal and social degradation of Jews so that they would in no sense ever be seen to be looking down or mocking Christians or Christianity.

This is a slim book with a tight focus on the circumstances and thinking of Aquinas in relation to the treatment of the Jews. Ultimately, Hood acquits Aquinas of any and every charge of anti-semitism. Aquinas comes across as almost a modern "liberal" in his staunch refusal to countenance the interference of parental rights with respect to the issue of the forced baptism of Jewish children on natural law grounds. Of course, as Hood points out, that wasn't where Aquinas was actually coming from; he was a conservative Catholic providing a defense of the Catholic tradition of finding an accommodation of Jews under the traditional principle of "de his qui foris sunt" ("of those who are [outside the church]") by which the Church abjured jurisdiction over non-Christians.

The first chapter discusses the theological underpinnings of the relationship between Jews and Christians. The chief relationship consisted of the fact that Christians relied upon Jewish texts. Christians and Jews fought over the interpretations of the same texts; Christians developed a method of typological or symbolic interpretation and claimed that the more literal Jewish style of interpretation was overly "carnal" compared to their spiritual style. Nonetheless, some early church fathers, particularly Augustine felt that a continuing Jewish witness to the reality of Judaeo-Christian texts was necessary for the health of Christianity. This insight by Augustine provided an incentive for Christians to differentiate the treatment of Jews from the treatment of heretics and pagans.

Hood next surveys on the "Thirteenth Century Context." Prior to the second millennium, most Jews were artisans and shopkeepers, not professionals or capitalists. Jews lived in semi-autonomous enclaves under their own laws and judicial regimes. Jews had a reputation that awed Christians; Hebrew was a magical language (much as Latin is the preferred magical language of Horror movies today.) Moving into the twelfth century, Jewish intellectuals were ascendant and Jews were moving into lending to Christians. The history of Jews and Christians prior to that time had seen Christians insisting that Jews not be permitted to be placed into positions of authority over Christians - and that Jews and Christian social interactions should be kept to a minimum. The other side of the coin was the protection of Jews by Popes, such as the repeated publication of Sicut Iudaeis - a constitution for Jews - which protected the lives, property and religious rights of Jews and the papal condemnation of the veracity of lurid popular anti-Jewish stories, such as the "blood libel." Jews were made to wear special "badges" at the Fourth Lateran Council, but this policy had been enacted by Muslims several centuries earlier. (p. 32.)

Hood argues that the "foris" principle tended to weaken in the 13th Century as popes pressed their claims. In addition, Christians were becoming better versed in Hebrew and were learning that the Talmud contained some fairly scurrilous stores about Christ and His mother. This tended to induce churchmen to start to claim a jurisdiction over the blasphemies in the Talmud.

With the third chapter we get to Aquinas proper. Hood looks at the fairly scant discussion of Jews contained in Aquinas corpus by first looking at his treatment of the Jewish people as authors and subject of the religious texts that linked Christians and Jews. Aquinas like his fellows was keen on typological analysis by which deeper symbolic meaning was extracted from - or imposed on - literal texts. Aquinas insisted in opposition to Maimonides that the literal meaning had to be supplemented by typology ad symbology. Aquinas' reading of the text put him into a state of cognitive dissonance where Jews were both admirable followers of the Law which improved them morally and the carnal and frequently fallen subjects of a Law that could do nothing more than increase sin. Hood gives the sense that Aquinas didn't seem to be aware of this contradiction, but rather hewed to one line or the other as the circumstances demanded. Hood finds that Aquinas' treatment of the law and Jewish history both demonstrate a "duality" the paints Jews as both holy and degenerate.

In the fourth chapter, Hood addresses the Aquinas' treatment of Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion. Here, as elsewhere, the primary text are schizophrenic, with some passages implying that "Jews" should be held responsible for knowingly killing their messiah, and with others asking for forgiveness of Jews because of their ignorance. Aquinas followed earlier thinkers in applying the former passages to the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders, while excusing the bulk of Jews as ignorant of who Christ was. Aquinas did find a basis for holding to the culpa Iudaeorum in the Jewish rejection of the Resurrection and their continued adherence to Jewish rituals. Jews were punished by God because they "imitate their parents' malice and approve of Christ's killing." (p.74.)

The fifth chapter examines the "Jews in Christian society." The foundation of Christian treatment of Jews rested on the theological doctrine that although God was punishing the Jews, God still loved the Jews and would eventually see them converted. (p. 77.) It also rested on the Augustinian doctrine that Christianity benefited from the preservation of the Jews. In this chapter, Hood examines how these ideas played out in Question 10 of the Second Part of the Second Part of the Summa Theologica. In this Question, Aquinas affirms that the treatment of the Jews should be different from that of pagans and heretics. Aquinas confirmed the traditional teaching that Jews were not to be molested, forced to convert or have their children baptized without their consent, and were to be left free to worship as Jews. Hood observes that although Christian's attitude toward Jews was becoming more inflexible in the face of a rising Jewish role in society, Aquinas' attitude remained "notably free from hysteria." (p. 84.) Hood, in fact, refers to Aquinas as "relatively tolerant."

This tolerance was not modern tolerance. Aquinas argued for keeping interactions between Christians and Jews as limited as possible, and probably a good deal less than what actually occurred. The key point made by Hood is that the Christian attitude toward Jewish policy was essentially manipulative: Jews were to be shunned unless there was something to be gained from them.

In the final chapter, Hood essentially clears Aquinas of the charge of anti-semitism. Nothing in Aquinas implicates him in any tendency to pogrom, slander or forcible conversion. The only spot where Hood tenuously links Aquinas to anti-semitism is in the area of usury. Aquinas comes across as basically moderate except in the area of usury which he condemned whether practiced by Christians or Jews. In one text, De Regimine Iudaeorum, Aquinas observed that the prince could seize the wealth of usurers in order to return money taken from those who had borrowed or for other social goods. This, according to Hood, became a green-light for temporal rulers to seize Jewish property and expel Jews from their territories. To the extent that this is true, it would seem that Aquinas was not the intentional or direct cause of this result. Rather, Aquinas seems to have been in a tradition that led to a long and unprecedented history of accommodation and survival.

Hood concludes:

"When the gap between theory and perceived reality becomes too great, something gives. By the early 1270s, when Aquians wrote the Summa Theologiae and De Regimine Iudaeaorum, such a gap had developed between the traditional policy of tolerating Jews and the social pressures opposed to that policy. First developed by Augustine and Pope Gregory the Great, the policy of limited toleration had remained intact - or rather had survived in dormant form - through some four centuries of Christian intellectual decline and missionary stasis. The revival of Christian learning, in the mid-eleventh century, led to the rediscovery and codification of this principle, and for more than two hundred years it stood virtually alone against a host of social, religious, and economic pressures that militated against European Jews. Modern historians, informed by the ideals of liberal tolerance, always feel compelled to explain instances of oppression and persecution, but in light of ht treatment meted out to heretics and pagans in the Middle Ages, the long period in which Jews were tolerated in Christian Europe is at least as difficult to account for as their eventual expulsion." (p. 109.)

Aquinas comes out of this book as relatively tolerant, calm and reasonable in his attitudes toward Jews. He doesn't seem to have had any personal animosity toward Jews. He did not traffick in the lurid folk stories that others, such as Martin Luther in the 16th Century did.

This book is readable and accessible. It takes a "warts and all" approach to the subject. It provides a good discussion and critique of Aquinas' relevant writings. The book is short, approximately 110 pages, and it provides a useful source for rebutting arguments by those who want to see only the warts in the relationship between Christians and Jews, and Aquinas' position on the same.

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