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Anti-semitism in the Roman Catholic Church

1st to 20th Century CE

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During the 1st and 2nd century CE:

Circa 30 CE, the primitive Christian movement was one of about two dozen different Jewish religious/political movements, along with the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Zealots, followers of John the Baptist, etc. The immediate followers of Jeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) looked upon themselves as a reform movement within Judaism. Confrontation between the early Christians and various Jewish groups are recorded in the Christian Scriptures (aka New Testament). There are references to instances of persecution of Jewish Christians and Pauline Christians by Jewish groups. The Gospels, particularly the Gospel of John, contains many passages in which the authors condemn "the Jews" as sons of Satan and accuse them of murdering Jesus.

Justin Martyr (circa 100 to 165 CE) and Irenaeus of Lyon (circa 130 to 200 CE) developed the concept of "supercessionism." This is sometimes called the "theology of displacement" or "replacement theology." They taught that the Jews were partly responsible for Jesus' execution. Through this act, and by rejecting Jesus' teachings, the Jews were seen as losing their favored position as God's chosen people. Christianity replaced Judaism in God's eyes as the chosen people. The Christian Church became regarded as the 'true' or 'spiritual' Israel.4 Later, Milito of Sardis (circa 160) "through his misreading of the gospels still more bluntly than Justin held the Jews responsible for the death of Jesus..." 5

Two Church teachings became the foundation stones for centuries of oppression of Jews by the Church:
bullet Supercessionism: (a.k.a. Replacement Theology): The belief that God had rejected the Jews, unilaterally cancelled his covenants with them, and now favored Christians as the new chosen people.
bullet Translated responsibility: Holding all Jews, from the first century onwards, responsible for Jesus' execution circa 30 CE. This includes Jews who lived throughout the Roman Empire in the first century CE who never heard of Jesus, and Jews who were born as much as 19 centuries after Jesus' death.

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During the 4th century CE:

From 315 CE, (when the Roman Empire extended freedom of religion to Christians) to 395 (when Christianity had become the state religion) Christians were able to initiate programs of discrimination and oppression against Jews. Some early examples were:

bullet 306 CE: The church Synod of Elvira banned marriages, sexual intercourse and community contacts between Christians and Jews.
bullet 315: Constantine's Edict of Milan terminated many Jewish rights.
bullet 325: The Council of Nicea decided to separate the celebration of Easter from the Jewish Passover. They stated: "let us have nothing in common with this odious people..."
bullet 337: The marriage of a Jewish man to a Christian woman ecame punishable by death.
bullet 339: Conversion to Judaism became a criminal offense.
bullet 367 - 376: St. Hilary of Poitiers referred to Jews as a perverse people who God has cursed forever. St. Ephroem referred to synagogues as brothels.
bullet 379-395: Emperor Theodosius the Great permitted the destruction of synagogues if it served a religious purpose.
bullet 380: The Bishop of Milan initiated the destruction of a synagogue, which he referred to as "an act pleasing to God."

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During the Middle Ages and Renaissance:

During this period, there were dozens of other instances of persecution of Jews by the church, including exiling Jews from cities, dioceses and entire countries; destruction of synagogues; denial of the right to own land or to hold office; and their reduction to serfdom and slavery. Perhaps the worst instances during these centuries were genocides during the Crusades. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered in cold blood by Christian armies on their way to and from Palestine.

Some of the other acts of oppression included:

bullet 1205: Pope Innocent III wrote to the archbishops of Sens and Paris that "the Jews, by their own guilt, are consigned to perpetual servitude because they crucified the Lord...As slaves rejected by God, in whose death they wickedly conspire, they shall by the effect of this very action, recognize themselves as the slaves of those whom Christ's death set free..." i.e. they would be slaves of Christians.
bullet 1227:  The Synod of Narbonne required Jews to wear an oval badge -- reminiscent of the Star of David that the Nazis required Jews to wear.
bullet 1478: The Spanish Inquisition was organized by the Church in order to detect insincere conversions of Jews to Christianity.
bullet 1516: Venice forced Jews to live only in one parish, called the "Ghetto Novo."
bullet 1555: A Roman Catholic Papal bull, "Cum nimis absurdum," required Jews in Vatican controlled lands to wear badges, and be confined to ghettos. Over 3,000 people were crammed into about 8 acres of land. The public health problems were horrendous.
bullet 1648-9: Massacres of Jews occurred in Nemirov, Polonnoye, Tulchin,  Volhynia, Bar, Lvov, and other cities in Ukraine. About 100,000 Jews were murdered and 300 communities destroyed.

During these centuries, there were a few attempts by various popes to reduce the impact of the church's policies against the Jews. They were largely ignored. None had any lasting impact.

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During 19th and first half of the 20th century CE:

In earlier centuries, persecution by church and state was directed at followers of Judaism. The Church believed that some Jews must be allowed to live, because the biblical book of Revelation indicated that they had a role to play in the "end times." However, since the Church at the time believed that all Jews were responsible for Jesus' death -- past, present and future -- then it was acceptable to make Jews' lives quite miserable. Jews could escape oppression by giving up their religion, converting to Christianity, and being baptized.

Subsequent attacks against Jews were mostly racially motivated, and perpetrated by Christian, governmental and secular groups and individuals. The Jewish people were viewed as a separate race more than as followers of a different religion.

bullet 1806: A French Jesuit Priest, Abbe Barruel, had written a treatise blaming the Masonic Order for the French Revolution. He later issued a letter alleging that Jews, not the Masons were the guilty party. Beliefs in an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world came from this source; they continue today.
bullet 1846 - 1878: Pope Pius IX restored all of the previous restrictions against the Jews within the Vatican state. All Jews under Papal control were confined to Rome's ghetto - the last one in Europe until the Nazis recreated ghettos in the 1930s. Pius IX was beatified in the year 2000 -- the last step before sainthood.
bullet 1881: The assassination of Alexander II of Russia was incorrectly blamed on Jews. About 200 individual pogroms against the Jews followed. ("Pogrom" is a Russian word meaning "devastation" or "riot.")
bullet 1894: French Captain Alfred Dreyfus was framed by antisemitic officers, found guilty and was given a life sentence. The church, government and army united to suppress the truth. Ten years later, he was declared totally innocent. The Dreyfus Affair became world-wide news for years.
bullet 1903+: Anti-Jewish pogroms continued in Russia, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths during the first two decades of the 20th century.
bullet 1905: The Russian secret police wrote a piece of fiction, the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." A Russian Orthodox priest, Sergius Nilus, published them publicly in 1905. It was promoted as the record of "secret rabbinical conferences whose aim was to subjugate and exterminate the Christians." The forgeries are still being circulated. They appear from time to time in Muslim media. Wal-Mart stocked them in their online bookstore until 2004-SEP.
bullet 1930s: Some American clergy used their their radio programs to attack Jews. Father Charles E Coughlin was one of the best known. "In the 1930's, radio audiences heard him rail against the threat of Jews to America's economy and defend Hitler's treatment of Jews as justified in the fight against communism." 3
bullet 1933: Hitler becomes the chancellor of Germany.
bullet 1936: The Nazi government passed the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws, which paralleled earlier Church laws against Jews.
bullet 1936: Cardinal Hloud of Poland urged Catholics to boycott Jewish businesses.
bullet 1938: Hitler brought back various century-old church regulations, ordering all Jews to wear a yellow Star of David as identification.
bullet 1940: The Nazis confined Jews to inner-city ghettos, another technique of the church.
bullet 1941 to 1945: The Nazi Holocaust resulted in the execution of over 6 million Jews, a similar number of non-Jews -- such as Soviet prisoners of war, Polish intellectuals -- about a half million Roma (Gypsies). Also killed were a few thousand Jehovah's Witnesses and an unknown number of homosexuals. Of these victims, only the Jews and Roma were marked for total annihilation. 4

The Roman Catholic Church reversed its theology later in the 20th century and is now a strong supporter of religious tolerance towards Jews.

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References used:

  1. "Saving our souls," The Southern Shofar, Birmingham, AL, at:
  2. Gérard Vallée, "The shaping of Christianity," Paulist Press, (1999), Page 37. Read reviews or order this book safely from the online bookstore
  3. J. Hill & R. Cheadle, "The Bible tells me So," Doubleday, New York NY (1996), Pages 20 to 24. Read reviews or order this book
  4. "History of the Holocaust," Holocaust Memorial Center, at:

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Copyright © 2001 to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-JUL-25
Latest update: 2008-FEB-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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