The Thirteenth Century
During the thirteenth century, western Christendom, building on the sturdy foundations of eleventh- and twelfth-century progress, continued to press forward on several fronts. The population continued to grow; the area of land cleared for agriculture expanded; industry and commerce developed. Related to these developments was enhanced sophistication in political organization. Increasingly large, powerful, and well-organized political units began to emerge in western Christendom, although the most impressive of the pre-thirteenth-century states, that ruled by the German emperor, proved incapable of maintaining itself; it began to disintegrate, plunging Germany into the political weakness that was to plague it into the nineteenth century. Paralleling the decline of the German state, however, was the formation of strong, stable monarchies in England, France, Aragon, and Castile. These extensive and well-run states reflected the increasing sophistication of European society; at the same time, they played a not inconsiderable role in furthering the positive development of European civilization. Improvements in the organizational sphere are similarly notable in the Roman Catholic Church. The bishops exercised greater and greater control over everyday matters in their individual dioceses. Above these bishops stood an ever more powerful papal court, intervening in affairs throughout western Christendom in much the same augmented fashion as the bishops in their own domains. Never before had its leadership controlled so effectively the multifaceted activity of the organized Church. The emergence of innovative forms of ecclesiastical organization, particularly the new orders directly allied with the papacy itself, is especially noteworthy. As we shall see, the Dominicans and the Franciscans played a central role in the new missionizing, in particular, in that branch devoted to the Jews.
Out of these broad improvements in economic and organizational life—or perhaps only parallel to them—came positive developments
in the intellectual and spiritual spheres as well. A new institutional framework for intellectual activity was created. The beginning of the thirteenth century saw the founding of the European universities, institutions that quickly supplanted the old monastic centers of learning and the loose schools that had begun to develop in the major urban enclaves of northern Europe. These new universities were very well equipped to foster the intellectual creativity of rapidly maturing western Christendom. The boundaries of awareness continued to expand. European Christians learned more and more of the vastness of the world that existed outside their borders. This world was perceived as replete with exciting possibilities and opportunities and, at the same time, fraught with danger. Yet more important than growing awareness of the outside world was continued retrieval of the lost intellectual legacy of antiquity. By the middle decades of the thirteenth century, for example, almost the entire Aristotelian corpus had been reclaimed. This recovery of the intellectual riches of antiquity—like so much else that we have described—was not without its problems. These notwithstanding, the stimulation to intellectual development was incalculable. Finally, awareness of the complexities of the inner world of men and women also expanded. New sensitivities to human feeling and to the complexities of human perception and understanding began to be manifested. All of this represented impressive achievement, required substantial effort at control of proliferating information and insight, and often raised serious anxieties and doubts.
From one perspective, then, the thirteenth century can be seen as a period of incomparable material and spiritual strength. Rarely in history has such an extensive area been seemingly so thoroughly unified under the banner of a well-organized and powerful religious organization. The remarkable summae of the period convey a sense of confidence in the capacity of the human mind to achieve understanding, in the orderliness of Christian religious tradition, and in the rationality of the Church's teaching. From this perspective, the enhanced ecclesiastical commitment to missionizing can be seen as a reflection of the brimming confidence of the Christian world at this juncture. Sure of itself and its teaching, the Church committed itself in unusual measure to the effort to carry its incontrovertible position to those outside itself, or, in other words, to those in error.
But these positive developments had an underside. As always, heady achievement raised new problems and issues. Greater awareness of the outside world shattered some of the earlier misplaced self-
confidence of aggressive eleventh- and twelfth-century European society. With greater knowledge of the extent of Muslim power, simplistic visions of military confrontation and decisive victory gave way. Fuller absorption of the intellectual legacy of antiquity raised a host of difficult intellectual problems. The majesty of the thirteenth-century syntheses of Greek philosophy and Christian tradition by such luminaries as Saint Thomas Aquinas cannot obscure the internal discomfort that the Greek legacy occasioned. Greater sensitivity to the inner workings of the human soul similarly provoked new questions and doubts. Disquiet on the part of individuals inevitably coalesced into broader societal concern and doubt, and, not surprisingly, the century of impressive Church organization and intellectual strength was also a century of significant heresy. Throughout western Christendom, but particularly in the Mediterranean areas, the flood of new perceptions and ideas resulted in the development of strikingly innovative teachings. As the agency responsible for monitoring the spiritual climate of western Christendom, the Church had to assess these teachings. On occasion, they were successfully assimilated into the body of existing doctrine and into the organized life of the Church. More often, the conclusion was that the new ideas crossed the limits of the permissible and had to be rejected. Such rejection meant inevitably that these ideas had to be fought and repressed. Thus, the apparent strength and well-being of the Church was balanced by uncertainty and anxiety. Neither for the first time nor for the last, a period of vigor and progress was also a period of insecurity and concern.
As the ecclesiastical leadership of western Christendom marshaled its forces to confront the dangerous developments of the thirteenth century, the highest priority had to be assigned to combating internal heresy. No external danger—at least at this period—could match in significance the threat the heretics posed to the entire fabric of Christian society. Extensive resources of all kinds were allocated to the struggle against dissidence. The assistance of the secular authorities was regularly enlisted—despite the problems involved—in the repression of dissident movements. Clearly, the battle had to be waged on many fronts, ranging from physical repression to spiritual confrontation. From the drive to engage the heretics on a spiritual battlefront emerged the Dominican Order. Convinced that ultimate victory over the heretics of southern France could only be achieved by addressing those in error on intellectual and spiritual grounds, Saint Dominic proposed the development of a cadre of preachers who would be in-
tellectually capable of debating issues of doctrine and spiritually appealing enough to win over the hearts of the dissidents. While the history of the Franciscan Order is somewhat different, it too early on joined itself to the struggle against heresy, again operating on the assumption that intellectual expertise and spiritual elevation would be required to win the struggle against error. Both orders quickly found an important place in the newly emergent institutional framework of intellectual life, the universities. From this vantage point, they became important internal forces in Christian society, evaluators of correct and incorrect and permissible and impermissible, and aggressive opponents of that which they perceived as erroneous and dangerous.
As Christian society looked outside itself, the most obvious and pervasive danger was posed by the world of Islam. The exhilaration that had accompanied the conquest of Jerusalem in the summer months of 1099 was gone. Further contact and engagement had revealed a Muslim world that was more extensive than heretofore imagined. To be sure, during the twelfth century, Christendom made signal gains, and during the thirteenth century, those gains were augmented. But even while these advances were being achieved, there was growing awareness that the Muslims' reservoir of strength was enormous and no rapid and decisive victory could be expected. Voices in Christendom began to suggest alternative approaches to the Muslim enemy. On a practical level, there was increasing cooperation in some sectors of the Mediterranean basin. More important, leading ecclesiastics on occasion suggested that the proper theater of battle and the one in which Christian strength would be invincible lay in the realm of the spirit. Out of this shifting of priorities came an innovative missionizing campaign aimed at the Muslims. As Kedar has convincingly shown, missionizing did not definitively supplant crusading. The two were viewed as alternative tactics to be used against a foe whose resources were richer than earlier suspected.
What was particularly striking about this new missionizing was the seriousness with which it approached the religious tradition of the Muslims. Those leading the effort recognized fairly quickly that, just as the military resources of the Muslims could no longer be dismissed, so too their spiritual resources could not be ignored. Here, of course, respect had limits. The Muslim religious tradition could not be positively evaluated. Nonetheless, it was now deemed necessary to take Muslim teachings seriously enough to learn something about them and combat them with insight and intelligence. The pioneering figure
in this was Peter the Venerable, and the key to his pioneering efforts lay in his stress on the importance of affording access to the classics of Islam, thus setting the stage for combating the ideas they contained. As was true for his innovative approach to Jewish tradition, his attack on Islam remained quite primitive, focusing on ridiculing the minimal information then available. The confrontation with Muslim ideas would have to become—and, in fact, did become—far more sophisticated. But Peter's emphasis on knowledge of the Islamic sources was the beginning of a serious confrontation with Islamic thought. As commitment to spiritual engagement deepened and as confidence in the positive outcome of such spiritual combat increased, the tactical difficulties in presenting the argumentation for Christian truth began to assume greater significance. How were ecclesiastics trained to preach the truth of Christianity and reveal the error of Islam, to penetrate the borders of the Islamic world and lay their arguments before the appropriate audience? A number of approaches were taken—efforts to engage at least the ruling class of Islamic society, military conquest as a means of opening the way for spiritual confrontation, and audacious acts of martyrdom that could not be overlooked by Muslims outside the borders of Christendom and therefore outside the coercive force of the Christian authorities. The difficulties in engaging Muslims in this innovative missionizing effort remained considerable, however.
Of course, there were some Muslims, particularly on the Iberian Peninsula, who lived legitimately under the protection of the Christian kings who had brought increasingly large areas of southern Europe under Christian control. There was little difficulty in engaging such subject Muslims in religious debate under circumstances optimal to the Christian cause. Indeed, these Muslims were, in many cases, prime sources for gaining a command of Arabic and, therefore, knowledge of Islamic literature. Thus, in many senses, they were extremely important to the new missionizing effort, affording the basic information on which it rested and serving as a testing ground for relatively simple implementation of the innovative argumentation. The key figure in this enterprise is generally considered to be Friar Raymond of Penyafort. A man of great energy and diverse abilities, he served as director general of the Dominican Order, confessor to Pope Gregory IX, compiler of the Decretales, and as a decisively influential figure in the Spanish Church. One of the projects in which Friar Raymond immersed himself was the creation of an infrastructure through
which the proper argumentation for winning over the Muslims could be developed. By the mid-thirteenth century, a number of schools of Arabic had been established in Spain, with the overriding goal being the training of missionizing personnel. Armed with knowledge of Arabic, Dominicans like Friar Raymond Martin composed manuals to guide their confreres through the vagaries of Muslim thinking, never for the purpose of dispassionate scholarship but always with the goal of preparation for spiritual jousting.
Discussion of the subject Muslims leads to the issue of the Jews. The Jews within the orbit of Christendom, as well as those living outside its perimeters, did not present themselves as prime dangers or major objects of concern. The basic reason for this was the limited number of Jews both inside and outside Christendom. Nonetheless, they could not be overlooked entirely. In many areas of Christendom, Jews constituted the only legitimate dissenting group, and their regulation could not be neglected. To overlook the Jews would be to court danger. In a society committed to enhanced clarification of the demands of Christian living and to more exacting fulfillment of these demands, the issue of the Jews resident within Christendom, while not a priority of the highest order, had to be addressed. Beyond this, there was the ongoing sense that the Jews represented a muted, continuous reproach to Christians. Given the combination of certainty and insecurity that we have already identified, there was renewed sensitivity to the age-old question of how those people most directly conversant with God's initial revelation could fail to read its implications correctly. This made the Jews, for some in the Church, a matter of greater concern than their limited numbers warranted. Finally, there is an element of the irrational as well. In a society frightened by new awareness of the size and complexity of the external and internal world, dangers were perceived at every turn. Irrational suggestions about Jewish malevolence and power had already begun to circulate in the twelfth century. During the thirteenth century, these stereotypes proliferated, raising wholly unrealistic fears of potential harm that might flow from the Jews.
Before approaching directly the issue of missionizing among the Jews, let us look briefly at the general stance of the Church toward the Jewish residents of western Christendom. The doctrine that had developed as early as the fourth century, with the accession of Christianity to power in the Roman Empire, announced the fundamental legiti-
macy of Judaism in preredemptive Christian society. What was probably at the outset the result of political and social considerations was soon reinforced with theological underpinnings. The notion of the legitimacy of Judaism, however, in no sense implied carte blanche for all forms of Jewish behavior. Key to this notion was the sense of intrinsic limitations on their freedom of action, the essential thrust of which involved the impropriety of any Jewish behavior that might entail harm to the Christian host society. Jews were free to live as Jews so long as their behaviors did not damage the society that had extended its hospitality to them.
The most traditional form of potential Jewish harm imagined by Christian societies was intrusion on the proper religiosity of Christians. Jewish impact on the religious behavior of Christians was outlawed, with drastic punishments specified for both the Christian victim and the Jewish malefactor. Punishment after the fact was not sufficient. It was also the Church's responsibility to obviate the kind of contact that might result in untoward religious influence. Many of the earliest regulations concerning Jewish behavior within Christendom address precisely this issue. It is on these grounds that marriage between Christian and Jew was prohibited, that Jewish ownership of Christian slaves was outlawed, and that Jews were forbidden to hold public office. In all these instances, the fear was that the leverage Jews would enjoy therefrom might be used to influence the religious practices and beliefs of the Christian involved in the relationship. Focusing on this issue enables us to adduce a striking example of the general tendency toward extending and intensifying prior limitations which characterized ecclesiastical innovativeness of the thirteenth century. One may legitimately question whether the danger of contamination of Christian belief by contact with Jews was in actuality enhanced during this century. Whether it was or was not, the Church did extend the restrictions intended to obviate potentially harmful contact. By the middle of the century, the Church had begun lobbying intensively for a new and more far-reaching set of restrictions, especially prohibition of Jews living in rural areas, where Christian-Jewish contact was almost inevitable, and limitation of casual encounter through legislation of distinguishing garb. With the enactment of distinguishing Jewish garb among the proceedings of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, the drive toward minimizing the danger of Jewish religious influence by restricting normal social contact in the severest possible
way reached its apogee. The tendency toward such radical reworking of a traditional concern serves as an excellent illustration of the general tenor of the period.
At this same juncture, a completely new area of concern emerged. Previously, concern with Jewish economic activity had been minimal to nonexistent. Reference to it is only in the larger context of social relations, for example, the issue of slaveholding. During the twelfth century, as the Church intensified its drive against Christian usury, the economic needs of this expansive period, in particular, the need for capital, opened the way for Jewish involvement in moneylending. The political authorities recognized these needs and also saw in this Jewish specialization a source of potential profit on a grand scale. The result was the emergence of the Jewish moneylender as a figure of significance, especially, though not exclusively, in northern Europe. By the early thirteenth century, the Church, which had in some respects paved the way for them, was deeply concerned with the harm Jewish moneylenders might perpetrate. Here, of course, we move beyond the immediate realm of religious impact into the broader sphere of societal well-being. The Church, which often acted as spokesman for the underprivileged, saw itself bound to lobby on behalf of those suffering under the burden of Jewish usury. Thus, the same Fourth Lateran Council that demanded distinguishing Jewish garb also enjoined the princes of Christendom to prevent the Jews from exacting "heavy and immoderate usury" from their Christian debtors. Although the precise line of demarcation between normal and permissible usury and that which was deemed heavy and immoderate was not spelled out in the conciliar edict, there is a general sense that up to 20 percent was to be acceptable, while any amount beyond that was not. The fundamental notion of the Jews as tolerated guests who must not abuse the hospitality extended to them by behaving in a manner harmful to their hosts is operative here once more.
Another stunningly new expression of this underlying concern manifested itself during the middle and late 1230s. In addition to the traditional sense that Jews must not harm Christians, it was also assumed that they must in no way demean or denigrate Christianity. To be sure, Christians historically suspected that Jews did in fact behave among themselves in this unacceptable fashion. Given the generally vituperative tone of interfaith exchange in that period, this was a reasonable—and accurate—assumption. Just as Christians reviled Judaism, so too Jews spoke derogatorily of Christianity, although in the
latter case sotto voce rather than publicly and openly. In the mid-1230s, a convert from Judaism to Christianity confronted the leadership of the Church with evidence that what had long been suspected was true. The reality of Jewish blaspheming of Christianity was intolerable, of course, and the Church, again committed at this juncture to eradicating significant discrepancies between theory and practice, could not sit idly by.
Because much has been written on the campaign against the Talmud, because it is so illustrative of the mood of the Church during the middle decades of the thirteenth century, and because it is, in a number of ways, linked with the new missionizing efforts, we must accord it brief attention. The instigator of this new thrust at identifying and eliminating Jewish harmfulness was a convert, Nicholas Donin. Unfortunately, no real evidence remains on this shadowy figure, who is known only from his anti-Jewish activities of the 1230s and 1240s. Donin approached the papal court—through what intermediaries it is not clear—with a series of broad allegations against the Talmud. One set of claims involved internal Jewish discomfort with the Talmud, a sense that it represented deviation from the norms of biblical teaching. Although given an initial hearing by the officials of the papal court, this line of attack was quickly dropped. More important from the point of view of the Church were the allegations that the Talmud sanctioned, and even recommended, behaviors that were anti-Christian (contravening the prohibition of actions harmful to the Christian host society), that it contained material that blasphemed Christianity (yet another kind of harm), and that it taught doctrines that were fundamentally absurd and hence intolerable. All these allegations were based on firsthand reading of the talmudic sources and roused considerable concern in ecclesiastical circles. Donin had initiated a new area in management of the Jews.
After receiving a careful hearing in the papal court, Donin was dispatched into the kingdoms of western Christendom, charged with responsibility for looking further into the allegations and, where they might be proved accurate, rectifying the intolerable situation. As was the case for all Church programs related to the Jews, this one could not be executed without the support of the secular authorities who functioned as the suzerains of the Jews. These authorities were little interested in the new set of charges and the new ecclesiastical concern. One major figure provided an important exception, and that was King Louis IX of France. With his support and with the assistance of
the Dominicans and Franciscans of Paris, whose involvement in the anti-Talmud campaign was a reasonable extension of their general responsibility for the propriety of doctrine in Christian society, a trial of the Talmud was convened, and a number of the major rabbinic authorities of northern France were forced to serve as witnesses. As was perceptively noted many years ago by the late Yitzhak Baer, the procedure in Paris during spring 1240 was essentially an inquisitorial investigation of the Talmud, with the rabbis serving as witnesses for the prosecution. Jewish denials and protestations notwithstanding, the Talmud was found guilty. The sentence decreed against the offending text was extreme: it was sentenced to burning, and the Jews were forbidden from using the allegedly intolerable text. This was a grievous blow to Jewish life and occasioned strenuous negotiations with the papal court for mitigation. Interestingly, the tack the Jews took in the wake of the trial and condemnation of the Talmud was not to overturn the verdict but rather to mitigate the sentence. These Jews claimed that without the Talmud Jewish life would be impossible and thus the traditional Christian toleration of Jewish life would de facto cease. The case was successfully argued before the papal court. The papacy, which had set the campaign in motion, was responsive to the Jewish argument and suggested to the French royal court that, while the condemnation was just, the sentence should be revised to deletion of offensive passages. In this way, both pressures could be accommodated: the threat to Christian society and Christianity posed by unacceptable talmudic materials would be eliminated, while, at the same time, restoration of the bulk of the Talmud to the Jews would restore the status quo ante of Christian toleration of Judaism and the Jews. Although the French royal court was unwilling to modify its harsh sentence—and, in fact, the Talmud was regularly outlawed in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century France—the softer papal position became the norm elsewhere in western Christendom. For our purposes, three elements in this anti-Talmud campaign are of greatest significance: (1) again, the sense of a thirteenth-century Church committed to exploring all facets of European life in an effort to bring the realities into consonance with the theory of Christian living; (2) the role played in this endeavor by firsthand familiarity with the post-biblical literature of the Jews; and (3) the significance of converts from Judaism to Christianity in providing stimulation to efforts deleterious to the Jews and in providing the direct data on which such efforts were predicated.
Thus, the Jews represented one more element in western Christendom with which a more powerful Church was inevitably concerned. How reasonable such concerns were, or how significant a threat the Jews posed, is not at all clear. What is beyond doubt is the inclusion of the issue of the Jews on the agenda of the thirteenth-century Church, not as an item of highest priority but as an item not to be neglected. It is from this basis that we must approach the issue of missionizing among the Jews. The most important group to be confronted in the renewed mid-thirteenth-century commitment to proselytizing was the internal dissidents; they had to be brought back into the fold at all costs. The realities of military and political power dictated that the Muslims occupy second place on the roster of potential targets. The Jews placed a distant third, for they were not numerically significant, and they showed an age-old recalcitrance that must have dimmed proselytizing enthusiasm. Balancing these negative considerations were a number of positive factors. Unlike the heretics and the Muslims living outside the orbit of Christendom, the Jews (and Muslims living within the Christian sphere) could easily be identified and coerced into hearing the missionizing message. Thus, the tactical problems associated with heretics and the majority of the Muslim world could be eliminated. Moreover, the very recalcitrance of the Jews in a sense made them appealing targets. Since this was a period of intensified commitment to missionizing and of a serious search for new argumentation that would constitute a historic breakthrough, what better test case might be essayed than the Jews. If it were possible to sway significant numbers of this traditionally resistant people, such an achievement would constitute sure evidence of unprecedented success and augur favorably for the broader enterprise. On these grounds, then, an intensified approach to the Jews seemed warranted and worthwhile.
There is yet another factor in the approach to the Jews during the middle decades of the thirteenth century. At this time, there seem to have emerged on the European scene new-style converts from Judaism to Christianity. Such conversion was a relatively common phenomenon during the previous centuries, as was—to a lesser extent—conversion from Christianity to Judaism. The latter was strongly prohibited, since it constituted one of the major fears associated with Jewish presence in Christian society. By and large, it seems that these converts were not drawn from the upper echelons of Jewish society. They appear to have come from the peripheries of the Jewish world
and to have settled into the peripheries of Christian society. During the middle decades of the thirteenth century, we encounter for the first time, in any numbers, converts who clearly came from a more central position in Jewish life and were absorbed into central sectors of Christian society. Not surprisingly, these converts were caught up in issues related to their former coreligionists. The motivation for such ongoing involvement with Judaism and the Jews constitutes a lively subject for speculation. In part, they may have remained concerned with Judaism because it afforded them an opportunity to utilize expertise they had earlier accumulated and thus to win some standing in their new setting. Beyond this, anti-Jewish efforts may have been perceived by these converts as a means for proving the intensity of their commitment to the new religious faith, a way of announcing publicly that there were no lingering attachments to Judaism and that their allegiance was now reserved exclusively for Christianity. Most interesting is the possibility that anti-Jewish activities may have functioned as a vehicle for combating internal doubts occasioned by the momentous change they had imposed on themselves. Through this medium, these new Christians may have been attempting to quell persistent uncertainty about the wrenching act of conversion. All these suggestions are based on general knowledge of the phenomenon of conversion. Unfortunately, the mid-thirteenth-century converts from Judaism to Christianity have left us no significant data with which to study their attitudes to their former faith and their new religion. The speculation, as intriguing as it might be, must remain simply that. The one solid conclusion we emerge with is that, during the middle decades of the thirteenth century, a small group of former Jews played a significant role in the new missionizing initiatives aimed at the Jews. For, whatever the reasons might have been, they brought into the Church intensified interest in converting Jews and contributed also an expertise that was to prove valuable in the new proselytizing endeavor.
The general environment of the mid-thirteenth century thus provided powerful stimulus to a serious effort at missionizing among the Jews, an effort that must be seen in part as simply a concomitant of the general tendency of that brilliant period toward intensified fulfillment of all the central demands of Christian living. While forced conversion had long been eschewed by the Church and hopes for a full-scale conversion of the Jews had been relegated to a future time, there remained an obligation to bring the saving message of Christianity to individual Jews. This obligation had by and large been honored in the breach
during prior centuries. Now, a Christian society committed to narrowing the gap between theory and practice in various spheres of life was ready to shoulder its perceived responsibilities toward the Jews as well. Indeed, missionizing among the Jews was but one more element in a general proselytizing thrust, part of a broader campaign to engage the non-Christian world in spiritual encounter. In one sense, this engagement was undertaken out of profound confidence in the irresistible truth of Christianity; from another perspective, it may reflect the enhanced uncertainty and insecurity associated with the great advances in knowledge that characterized the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. When this new missionizing campaign was undertaken, it was characterized by an unprecedented seriousness of purpose. The resources of a powerful Church were marshaled in support. The Dominican and Franciscan orders became the specialists in this effort, with important expertise provided by former Jews. The leadership of the Church used its formidable lobbying abilities to secure the support of important secular authorities for the campaign, thereby ensuring that the Jews would be regularly exposed to the new missionizing message. Most important, considerable and impressive energies were bent to formulating new lines of argumentation, argumentation that would move far beyond the traditionally unsuccessful claims of the past. The very first step in adumbrating these was an effort to learn more of the Jews and their current thought. Only through understanding the state of the Jewish mind could new claims be developed which might have some chance of penetrating heretofore impregnable Jewish defenses.