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Forced Baptisms Histories of Jews, Christians, and Converts in Papal Rome

Excerpt from Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Negotiated Relations

Popes, the Church, the Jews

Doppo un intervallo piccolissimomi chiamò Monsignor Vicegerente,dicendomi con modo soavissimose meco fosse ognuno conveniente,se qualche Teologo Savjssimoavesse mosso il mio cuore, e mente.Mandati da lui per tal cagioneper ottenere la mia Conversione.

[After a very short timeMonsignor Vicegerent called me,asking me very ingratiatinglywhether anyone had come to me,whether some Most Learned Theologianhad moved my heart and mind,sent by him for that reasonin order to obtain my Conversion.]

Ratto della Signora Anna del Monte, stanza 129

The Institutions of Conversion

The abundant documentary materials in the archives of the Roman Inquisition and the Vicariate of Rome on the complex relations of Roman society and Christian institutions with the Jewish world shed light on a number of aspects of theological, juridical, and institutional history. Above all, they reveal notable discrepancies between the dictates of the law in the realms of social and cultural history and actual social practices.

Primarily, what emerges is the role of the multiple institutions that held powers of decision over the Jews, a situation that led to jurisdictional conflicts-not only between secular civil judges and inquisitorial judges, but also among the various ecclesiastical tribunals. There was an intricate web of jurisdictions in which every institution-the Holy Office in particular-was eager to claim and defend its area of competence, but which also slowed the mechanisms of repression and opened up opportunities for the Jewish community to take action and negotiate. One might even say that the coexistence of a variety of jurisdictions and normative systems ended up favoring a pattern of pacts and "tolerance" in many aspects of the Jews' daily life.

Jews in Rome lived within a complex tangle of competing jurisdictions. Beginning with the reform of the Roman courts instituted in 1612 by Paul V (Borghese), spiritual and disciplinary matters affecting the Jews (conversion, obligatory attendance at sermons, relations between Jews and newly converted Christians) fell under the cardinal vicar, the adjutant bishop of Rome, who also retained some of his authority in civil and criminal matters, even after such cases had been transferred to the courts of the governor and the senator of Rome. The tribunal of the Holy Office handled the most delicate and the most serious cases: those involving blasphemy, magic, or possession of the prohibited Talmud. Given the difficulty of clearly defining the "spiritual" and the "material" in relation to the Jews or setting the borderline between the two, as is obvious from the archival documentation, the Holy Office often arrogated to itself economic matters such as banking and commercial activities, licenses, permissions to participate in fairs, and even the finances of the Jewish community, often infringing upon areas where the cardinal camerlengo and the papal treasurer, not to mention the cardinal vicar, claimed authority.

In 1623 Antonio Ricciullo-a well-known specialist in canon law, vicegerent of Rome from 1627 to 1632, and later archbishop of Cosenza-published his Tractatus de jure personarum extra Ecclesiae gremium existentium, a work that remained a standard reference for legislation regarding the Jews up to the publication of Benedict XIV's decrees. In his Tractatus (reprinted in 1651), Ricciullo explained that, in principle, the Jews were subject to the jurisdiction of the secular courts alone. This was because "infidels" were not part of the body of the Church, but belonged to the citizen body alone (non sunt de corpore ecclesiae sed de corpore Civitatis), and because ecclesiastical laws were not applicable to persons located outside the bosom of the Church (extra eius gremium existentes). Nonetheless, if the crime committed by a Jew was of an ecclesiastical nature or fell under more than one jurisdiction, the judge had to be ecclesiastical, as stated in the constitution of Gregory XIII (Boncompagni), Antiqua Iudaeorum improbitas (1581), which specified the offenses-contempt for the faith, blasphemy, and others-for which trial by inquisitors was mandatory.

Ricciullo added that Rome had a special juridical regime in which, although overall jurisdiction over Jews was the province (privative) of the pope's cardinal vicar and his tribunal, Paul V's constitution established that criminal offenses beyond (praeter) the vicar's domain also (etiam) fell to the governor of Rome, while the court of the Auditor Camerae had responsibility for cases in the economic realm (money lending, banking, and so forth). To end the list, offenses involving Jews and Christians were judged in both the vicar's court and the senator's court. This means that the 1612 court reform was not applied fully, nor did it draw a clear distinction among jurisdictions and magistracies overseeing matters involving Jews. As one eighteenth-century document in the historical archive of the Vicariate of Rome attests, the general reform of the courts decreed in 1612 by Paul V, which touched on the magistracies charged with cases involving Jews (among other matters), was far from reaching full implementation. That document stated:

The jurisdiction of the cardinal vicar over the Jews not only concerns those spiritual things that have been decreed by most holy Canons and Supreme Popes as means for their conversion, or else as impediments to prevent them from expanding their Jewish superstitions and from communicating with Christians on the occasion of their Holidays, but also in their civil and criminal cases. Concerning the spiritual, leaving aside the things that appertain to the Holy Office for which Jews are punished (as Christians are punished) such as Swearing, Magic, owning the Talmud, and other cases, the cardinal vicar, following the Constitution of Gregory XIII that begins "Sancta Mater," can constrain and de facto does constrain the Jews to attend Preaching every Sabbath.

The contention between the Vicariate and the senatorial court over the former's privativa in civil and criminal matters was still intense in the eighteenth century. In fact, the reforms of Paul V, at least those pertaining to jurisdiction over the Jews, had to be reiterated by Benedict XIV. Even in economic areas (for example, licenses to open or keep a shop outside of the ghetto), matters adjudicated by the Apostolic Chamber were often co-opted by the growing authority of the cardinal vicar.

In general, relations between the Jewish community and the various Roman powers show, on the one hand, a close connection between how the Jews were perceived and the role that was conceded to their presence by the authorities and, on the other, procedures for reinforcing papal power through an increasingly precise definition of the jurisdictional powers and responsibilities of the various courts, especially in the later modern age. As time went by, jurisdiction over the Jews became more concentrated in the hands of institutions (for example, the offices of the cardinal vicar and the vicegerent) that were gaining strength in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and that represented a centralization of papal power and control, discernible as well in the popes' increasing emphasis on those same responsibilities. A similar connection between increasing papal power and ways in which the popes made their presence felt in Rome is reflected in urban ritual. One interesting indication of this is the diminishing visibility of the Jewish community among the citizenry of Rome during such major papal ceremonies as the "possession" held immediately after a papal election, when representatives of the Jewish community gathered around the Arch of Titus to present its homage to the new pope. As changes in ceremonial procedures introduced in the modern age (and accompanied by an increasingly rigid antimodern ideology) placed greater and greater emphasis on the figure of the pontiff, even on his physical sacredness, Jewish presence in the ritual procession of the "possession" dwindled, nearly disappearing from the urban scene by the early nineteenth century. In spite of these major changes in the various Roman courts that held powers of decision over the Jews, the Congregation of the Holy Office continued to play a major role.

The Roman Inquisition

The Roman Inquisition's relations with the Jews reflect a quite different, and even opposed, historical process from what occurred with the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. In fact, if in the beginning the Roman Holy Office's antiheretical specialization lacked the anti-Jewish focus of the Spanish and Portuguese tribunals, subsequently the Jewish question acquired a growing prominence and remained typical of much of its operations in the later modern age, thanks also to the linkage between Jews and heretics established by the seventeenth-century canonists. The Christian community's defense against the threat of "diversity" focused on Hebraic otherness and on the infinite number of occasions that required the intervention of the Roman Inquisition thanks to infractions of the many prohibitions that supposedly hindered contacts and exchanges between Jews and Christians, especially where, as was the case in Rome, Jewish communities were large and firmly established.

In principle, the jurisdiction of the tribunal of the Roman Inquisition did not extend to the Jews, who were not included, as "infidels," in the category of heretics. Still, papal jurisprudence and papal constitutions, which were given in the pratiche and the manuals of the Inquisition, subjected the Jews to the jurisdiction of the Congregation in many cases, thus in practice equating them with heretics. The Consultationes canonicae of Giacomo Pignatelli, a text of the latter half of the seventeenth century, continually reprinted and often cited in the opinions of the consultants of the Holy Office throughout the fifteenth century, declared:

Quamvis Judaei, ac Infideles vere, ac proprie haeretici non dicantur, quia non dicitur haereticus, qui non est baptizatus, neque dicitur ab Ecclesia divisus, qui numquam in eius gremio fuit ... negari tamen non potest, quin saltem improprie vocari possint haeretici ac puniri tamquam haeretici.... Hinc est, quod Inquisitores non habent jurisdictionem in Judaeos, et Infideles, ex eo tantum quod tales sunt; sed ex eo, quod nobiscum in nonnullis casibus conveniunt, in quibus eorum juridictioni subiiciuntur.

This text explicitly refers to the constitution of Gregory XIII, Antiqua Judaeorum improbitas of 1581, already cited, which lists the particular cases in which the inquisitors could proceed against Jews and infidels. These were such offenses as challenging or ridiculing points of faith held in common with the Christian religion or prominent in it; the exercise of magical practices, the invocation of demons, divination, and the diffusion of such practices among Christians; and excessive frequentation of Christians. All of these were offenses that could, generally speaking, be inscribed under the categories of blasphemy or contemptus fidei, of magic and superstition, of the accusation of ritual murder, or under those of proselytizing, apostasy, and the solicitation of Jews converted to Christianity to return to the Jewish faith.

Moreover, Cum Hebraeorum malitia, the bull of Clement VIII (Aldobrandini) of 28 February 1593 on the censorship of Jewish books, which was later inserted into Clement's Indice of 1596 and which remained in effect for at least two centuries , prohibited and called for burning "libros et Codices impios Talmudicos ... cabalisticos, atque alios nefarios" or works that implied "haereses, vel errores contra sacras Veteris Legis et Testamenti Scripturas," equating the contents of such texts with the errors of the heretics. On this level of considering the Jews almost as heretics, whether "properly" or "improperly," and on the basis of the highly general principle of the need for guidance in matters of faith, the Roman tribunal enjoyed margins of action and jurisdiction that were ample and secure.

The Congregation, as we have seen, treated a number of matters and offenses. But, both quantitatively and qualitatively, the questions discussed in the Holy Office changed through time, showing fewer and fewer cases related to contemptus fidei, blasphemy, insults to sacred images, and magic-that is, offenses that entered into the paradigm of heresy, properly or improperly-and fewer accusations of ritual murder, but displaying an ever-growing interest (which peaked in the eighteenth century with Benedict XIV) in economic questions and questions related to conversions to Christianity and relapses to Judaism.

Although the question of reversion to Judaism confirms recent historiographic hypotheses that papal policies aimed more at converting the Jews than at persecuting them and that such policies were consolidated through time, it also leads us to reflect on the problem of periodization in the history of Jewish-Christian relations in the long era of the ghettos. Variations in the documentation tell us that this phase was by no means unified or compactly continuous. What is more, the later modern age turns out to be of greater importance than has been thought up to now, showing a clear break with the early modern age. Moreover, proposing a new chronology would necessitate overall comparison with the situation of the Jews in other areas of Europe.

Still, it is interesting that the inquisitorial case load, as reflected in the archives of the Congregation, should be concentrated on baptisms and conversions that were to some degree forced or, in any event, that were seen as to be obtained without thought to their cost. In this connection, which recalls the anti-Jewish tendencies of Catholicism of the modern age, we can observe a process in which the Roman tribunal increasingly blurred the function of guarantee that it had to some degree fulfilled-in particular, through the control of procedures used with the Jews by other institutions involved in the question. The Holy Office thus ended up legitimizing all modes of conversion, even the most extreme and unscrupulous, which in the past had been condemned or at least contained. This process took place at the urging of the popes and with their specific encouragement, following an efficacious strategy aimed particularly at the baptism and conversion of children and women.

Guarantees from the Inquisition?

The popes ended up endorsing the most ferocious accusation thrown at the Jews: that of being child killers, through the claimed practice of ritual murder. Giovanni Miccoli records the response offered by the Congregation of the Holy Office in July 1900, reacting to pressures from English Catholicism that the Holy See put out a definitive denial of the accusation of ritual murder, an accusation directed at the Jews that was made with increasing frequency at the end of the nineteenth century. The document states: "Although neither in the Holy Office nor (in the records of) the Secretary of State, where diligent research has been carried out, is there anything that pertains to such accusations (the papers certainly disappeared in times of revolution, as is shown by certain documents that the Jews put forward in their defense), ritual assassination is nonetheless historically certain: Benedict XIV speaks of it, and the Holy See has canonized it by putting on altars a child killed by them in hatred of the faith." In the same document the "claim" of the Jews to be defended by the Holy See is qualified by the Holy Office as "prideful foolishness."

Although the reference in this text to the disappearance of documents attesting to the accusations and to the reality of ritual murder, removed "in times of revolution" (removed by whom, if not by the Jews themselves?)-a reference that alludes fairly openly to the "objective" complicity of the Jews with "the revolutions" of modern times-is significant enough in itself, also noteworthy here is the official reference, made in the early twentieth century, to the authority and the decrees of a pope of the eighteenth century, Benedict XIV, as a reason to deny all possibility that the Holy See promulgate the requested declaration of the falsity of the accusation of ritual murder. This fact constitutes a useful point of departure for turning back to preceding centuries, when, among other things, requests from the Jews to the Roman Inquisition asking that it intervene on their behalf were not only frequent, but normal and far from being received negatively.

Looking back will permit us to frame the eighteenth century as a crucial turning point in the continual and inexorable evolution of the Church, its institutions, and its legal framework, all of which moved toward an ever greater intransigence against the Jews and an all-out policy of conversion. This was an evolution that crystallized-and not only regarding the accusation of ritual murder-in forms that in large part anticipate the anti-Semitic outbursts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The archives reflect the central prominence of the eighteenth century, but they also show a similar centrality regarding the relations between the popes and the Holy Office in matters concerning the Jews, because it was the popes who pressed for a clear policy to which the Congregation seems to have had to adapt itself gradually. This is true not only of the accusation of ritual murder, where the positions of the consultori (expert consultants) of the Roman tribunal often seem quite moderate, if not downright favorable to guarantees. This was what occurred on several occasions during the eighteenth century, in cases in Viterbo in 1705 and in Ancona in 1711, for example, which resulted in no convictions. Moreover, as we shall see, the famous opinion put forth in 1759 by the inquisitorial consultore Lorenzo Ganganelli regarding accusations of ritual homicide in Poland had to try to balance the stupefying positions expressed only four years earlier by Benedict XIV in the bull Beatus Andreas of 22 February 1755 (although not without forcing the consultore into some awkward positions and at the cost of heavy and deliberate distortion of Benedict's thought). That bull not only openly admitted the reality of ritual murder, but went so far as to predict that future cases would occur.

In the question of the accusation of ritual murder, as in other questions concerning an attitude that might be defined as "Jew hunting," the Roman Inquisition thus gradually abandoned its role and its "guarantist" positions and, outstripped by the popes' increasing rigidity and papal pressures, ended up following the papal directives. On the other hand, as is known, the popes presided over the Congregation's meetings and pronounced all definitive sentences. The entire eighteenth century stands as a turning point, but in particular the papacy of Benedict XIV, during the course of which the pope put forth a determined and fully articulated legislation directed at a definitive settlement of the Jewish question and, in particular, aimed at the topic of baptisms and conversions. To be sure, pressures that influenced this evolution also came from widespread and deliberate anti-Jewish social practices and from the local clergy's enthusiasm for conversion, both of which were gaining greater prominence and legitimacy. In any event, however, the thesis of the "two souls" of Catholicism-that is, the thesis that distinguishes between the "traditionally" more conciliating positions of the popes and the more intolerant attitudes of the people and, at most, of the bishops and local clergy, regular and secular-is simply unsustainable and overly accommodating.