Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Sinking Another Protestant Anti-Catholic Myth

"We have met the enemy and they are ours; two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop." ~Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry

As you, dear reader, may recall, I have been cooling my heels waiting for a translation of an article written in Latin so I can finish my Athanasius paper. Whilst I wistfully whiling away the hours I have been participating in a discussion over at Beggars All pertaining to an article captioned, “Tim Staples Says It’s Wrong to Clap and do the “Wave” at Mass” on all kinds of issues but whether it is ok to clap and do the wave at Mass. I even agreed to do a debate with Turretinfan over whether St. Augustine taught that Christ is physically present in the Eucharist (and hopefully St. John Chrysostom as well). One of the neatest things was getting to discourse with Mr. Steve Hays of Trialblogue fame. (He even insulted me! I feel so complete now.)

An item that we discoursed on is whether or not the Catholic Church promoted anti-Semitism. The issue of whether the Catholic Church was traditionally anti-Semitic is an issue that Protestant apologists, particularly of the Reformed variety, sometimes throw at Catholics when all else fails in attempting to refute a Catholic position. I have seen Professor James White use this gambit in a debate he had with Gerry Matatics, when Mr. Matatics was still a Catholic; I have seen Mr. Swan touch upon it as well on his blog. Since I rarely read Mr. Hays’ Trialblogue, I have not ever seen him use it. I am glad he did in the instance because it gave me the opportunity to offer dispel another of Protestantism’s myths about Catholicism and demonstrate that Protestants really need to read their history books. If they did, they will see that stuff actually happened between NT times and the advent of Martin Luther and can not be simply summed up in two sentences: The Popes were evil. The Catholic Church was evil.

Our discussion started out innocuously enough. I commented that the Catholic Mass borrowed elements of Jewish Sabbath service. I asked rhetorically:
“Did they copy all that stuff from us or do you think that Jewish forms of worship may have had an influence on the formulation of Christian liturgies?”

Mr. Hays responded:
Given the amount of anti-Semitism in traditional Roman Catholicism, that’s a good question.

Another Catholic who went by the handle, “Alex” valiantly defended the Church against Mr. Hays’ charge (Thank you Alex!!!). Mr. Hays countered by citing to the canons of the 4th Lateran Council that referenced Jews as proof of the Catholic Church’s anti-Semitism. (For brevity’s sake, I will state them as Mr. Hays’ listed them later) I eventually got involved in the discussion:

Hi Mr. Hays, I wasn't following closely the discussion about the 4th Lateran Council's Canons. I read your comments a bit closer. Without filling up a fair number of comment boxes, I will merely urge the readers to study European history at the time. There were actual reasons for those canons as opposed to being motivated solely or even primarily anti-Semitism. Second, if one were to read ALL of the canons closely, one would find that they were promulgated in part to protect the Jews and Muslims living among the Christians as well as vice-a-versa.

By the way, was the reformers' anti-semitism any less virulent than the Catholic Church? Can you link us to your critique of Martin Luther's "On the Jews and Their Lies"? Or how about John Calvin's "Ad Quaelstiones et Objecta Juaei Cuiusidam Responsio"?

Mr. Hays responded:

i) You’re ignoring the specific reasons which the canons cite for their discriminatory policies against the Jews.

ii) Why would it be necessary to discriminate against Jews to protect them? What beautifully twisted reasoning! If you want to protect the Jews, why not pass laws which forbid discrimination against Jews rather than passing laws that discriminate against Jews?

[Quoting me]: “By the way, was the reformers' anti-semitism any less virulent than the Catholic Church? Can you link us to your critique of Martin Luther's ‘On the Jews and Their Lies’? Or how about John Calvin's ‘Ad Quaelstiones et Objecta Juaei Cuiusidam Responsio’?”

Then Mr. Hays wrote:

Moral equivalence won’t help you here. Luther and Calvin were fallible.

By contrast, I was quoting from an ecumenical council. An expression of the extraordinary Magisterium. Do you, as a Catholic, regard the canons of an ecumenical council as on a par with the statements of Calvin and Luther?

What follows is my response in toto:

Hello Steve, You wrote:
“Moral equivalence won’t help you here. Luther and Calvin were fallible.”

My response: Now who is engaging in basic-level category errors? I never said Luther and Calvin weren’t fallible. Moreover I was not equating their pronouncements with those of ecumenical councils. Rather, I was trying to point out the glaring error you are making from a historical aspect. I advanced the notion that 12th century [N.B.: perhaps it should be 13th century], Catholic Europe had reasons to promulgate regulations on Non-Christians other than mere anti-Semitism as you and I understand the term in the 21st century. Having read both of the Protestant works I mentioned, I tried to ascertain from you whether you think that the animus that Luther and Calvin showed towards Jews was motivated from any rationale other than mere anti-Semitism. Personally, I think it is funny that I, lowly Catholic apologist, could fashion a better defense of Luther and Calvin in this instance than you if I truly thought it would make a difference at chipping away at your own prejudices here. However, since I do not think such, at least for today, I will not do so here. I will merely address your bullet points and show how silly it is to use the Canons of the 4th Lateran Council as fuel for your rants of anti-Semitism.

You write:

i) You’re ignoring the specific reasons which the canons cite for their discriminatory policies against the Jews.

I reply: Let’s examine the canons in question to see if you are right.
Canon 67:

“The more the Christians are restrained from the practice of usury, the more are they oppressed in this matter by the treachery of the Jews, so that in a short time they exhaust the resources of the Christians. Wishing, therefore, in this matter to protect the Christians against cruel oppression by the Jews, we ordain in this decree that if in the future under any pretext Jews extort from Christians oppressive and immoderate interest, the partnership of the Christians shall be denied them till they have made suitable satisfaction for their excesses. The Christians also, every appeal being set aside, shall, if necessary, be compelled by ecclesiastical censure to abstain from all commercial intercourse with them. We command the princes not to be hostile to the Christians on this account, but rather to strive to hinder the Jews from practicing such excesses. Lastly, we decree that the Jews be compelled by the same punishment (avoidance of commercial intercourse) to make satisfaction for the tithes and offerings due to the churches, which the Christians were accustomed to supply from their houses and other possessions before these properties, under whatever title, fell into the hands of the Jews, that thus the churches may be safeguarded against loss.

Hoffer on 12th Century Ecclesiastical Law: Being the lawyer that I am, this appears to be the 12th century equivalent of a consumer protection law with provisions for punitive damages. Notice that this council is not prohibiting Jews from loaning money or charging interest to Christians, only prohibiting the charging of usurious interest and from using the civil authorities to collect the debt (which in those days, usually involved lengthy incarceration, torture and the seizure of property as opposed to Ecclesiastical courts which imposed penance) often without regard to any sort of due process. Is what the Council promulgates here any difference than the treble damages provisions that many of our consumer and unfair trade practices laws we have in the 21st century? It is anti-Semitism to prohibit someone from charging and collected an unjust amount of interest?

Canon 68:

In some provinces a difference in dress distinguishes the Jews or Saracens from the Christians, but in certain others such a confusion has grown up that they cannot be distinguished by any difference. Thus it happens at times that through error Christians have relations with the women of Jews or Saracens, and Jews and Saracens with Christian women. Therefore, that they may not, under pretext of error of this sort, excuse themselves in the future for the excesses of such prohibited intercourse, we decree that such Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other peoples through the character of their dress. Particularly, since it may be read in the writings of Moses [Numbers 15:37-41], that this very law has been enjoined upon them.

Hoffer on 12th century Ecclesiastical Law: As we see here, it was considered a crime under the laws of both Christian and Muslim countries as well as under Talmudic law for sexual relations to occur between men and women of different religions and the penalties were severe for all concerned. (Any one read Ivanhoe?) The fact is that requiring Jews and Muslims to wear distinguishing clothing was a way of protecting Christians from suffering such penalties due to anything other than intentional sexual relations. It should be noted that under the dhimmitude of the Muslims imposed on Christians in Muslim countries, similar laws were in place. I realize that Nazis did this, but it is really anachronistic to impose their rationale as the reason the Church required distinctive clothing.

[Canon 68 cont.]

Moreover, during the last three days before Easter and especially on Good Friday, they shall not go forth in public at all, for the reason that some of them on these very days, as we hear, do not blush to go forth better dressed and are not afraid to mock the Christians who maintain the memory of the most holy Passion by wearing signs of mourning. This, however, we forbid most severely, that any one should presume at all to break forth in insult to the Redeemer. And since we ought not to ignore any insult to Him who blotted out our disgraceful deeds, we command that such impudent fellows be checked by the secular princes by imposing them proper punishment so that they shall not at all presume to blaspheme Him who was crucified for us.

Hoffer on 12th Century Ecclesiastical Law: It would appear that some Jews and Muslims gave insult to Christians and mocked the Crucifixion of Our Lord by wearing inappropriate clothing and by blaspheming Our Lord. The Council encouraged the civil authorities to pass laws to prohibit such practices. Anyone hear see this as a type of hate-crime legislation against Jews and Muslims?

Canon 69:

Since it is absurd that a blasphemer of Christ exercise authority over Christians, we on account of the boldness of transgressors renew in this general council what the Synod of Toledo (589) wisely enacted in this matter, prohibiting Jews from being given preference in the matter of public offices, since in such capacity they are most troublesome to the Christians. But if anyone should commit such an office to them, let him, after previous warning, be restrained by such punishment as seems proper by the provincial synod which we command to be celebrated every year. The official, however, shall be denied the commercial and other intercourse of the Christians, till in the judgment of the bishop all that he acquired from the Christians from the time he assumed office be restored for the needs of the Christian poor, and the office that he irreverently assumed let him lose with shame. The same we extend also to pagans.

Hoffer on 12th Century Ecclesiastical Law: This law prohibited non-Christians from holding positions that impose criminal and civil sanctions against Christians. Given the fact that they would be given these positions by civil rulers, such appointments were done as an attack by those rulers to undermine the authority of the Church. Example: a bishop would proscribe any authority from carrying out a certain unjust sentence for a certain crime under penalty of excommunication or other censure. To avoid the censure, a ruler would merely appoint non-Christians to carry out the punishments. After all how could a non-Christian be excommunicated? This part of the canon appears to be closing that loop-hole.

Canon 70:

Some (Jews), we understand, who voluntarily approached the waters of holy baptism, do not entirely cast off the old man that they may more perfectly put on the new one, because, retaining remnants of the former rite, they obscure by such a mixture the beauty of the Christian religion. But since it is written: "Accursed is the man that goeth on the two ways" (Ecclus. 2:14), and "a garment that is woven together of woolen and linen" (Deut. 22: ii) ought not to be put on, we decree that such persons be in every way restrained b the prelates from the observance of the former rite, that, having given themselves of their own free will to the Christian religion, salutary coercive action may preserve them in its observance, since not to know the way of the Lord is a lesser evil than to retrace one's steps after it is known.

Hoffer on 12th Century Ecclesiastical Law: Let’s first look at what it does not say. During this time, particularly in Spain, Jews were often forced to convert to Catholicism. When they relapsed, the Spanish authorities dealt with them very harshly, including killing them and/or confiscating their property and taking their children away from them. The Council states that only Jews who VOLUNTARILY converted to Catholicism were prevented from relapsing. Second, the Council enjoined that civil authorities could only use “salutary coercive action” to compel converted Jews to remain Catholic. While I am not an expert on the canon law in those days, I do know that the use of the phrase “salutary coercive action” meant the Church was forbidding the use of executions and torture (I wonder if they would have thought water boarding was torture) to force Jews from relapsing.

Hmmm.....I am sorry Steve, I don’t see all of the blatant anti-Semitism there that you see. I made an appointment to get my eyes checked though. I will let you know after I get my new prescription glass on Fri. to see if I see things any differently.

By the way, the first thing I was taught in law school was that all laws discriminate. If I used your definition of discrimination, I could argue that the law of God discriminates against sinners. Do you think that God will buy that defense at the Last Judgment?

You, of course, can even reject the reasons I have given for the Canons, if you so choose. I did not pore over any notes taken at the Council to check the “legislative history” of the Canons. As far as I am concerned whether you accept what I said or may say on the subject is actually quite irrelevant. I have answered your charge that the 4th Lateran Council was anti-Semitic. More to the point, however, I will point out to all that it is folly to apply modern day concepts to 12th through the 15th century concepts. If you were to do this with the Bible, I would say you were guilty of eisegesis. Since you seek to only do this with history, I will merely charge you with the lesser offense of anachronism.

In conclusion, dear reader, there are many charges that Protestant polemicists and controversialists lay against the Catholic Church. However, with a little patience and a closer examination of the facts, the Catholic apologist can usually demonstrate that is little substance to the charge. In this case, Canons 67-70 of the 4th Lateran Council are not the virulent examples of anti-Semitism Mr. Hays claimed. True, some of the language used to describe Jews was a bit pointed, but it is no harsher than some of the language employed by some apologists of today to describe Catholics and vice-a-versa. But, anyone reading the language of the canons as set forth above a fair reading can not deny that upon closer examination, these so-called virulent, anti-Semitic canons turned out to be not very virulent nor very anti-Semitic at all. Moreover, hatred of Jews was not given as the reason for promulgating the Canons. When placed back into their day, Canons 67-70 were almost ecumenical particularly when one looks at the times that spawned them. In fact, some of the language of the canons even offered Jews a measure of protection from over-zealous Christians.

I hope that this little paper takes the Protestant claim that the 4th Lateran Council promulgated anti-Semitism from shadow and fantasy into the light and truth.

God bless!


Matthew Bellisario said...

Good job Paul. I enjoyed reading how you viewed these canons in their proper context. I learned quite a bit from your posts over on Beggars All. Keep up the good work!

Martin said...

Truly you and Matt & whoever should put together a book with the working title "Dispelling anti-Catholic Myths" You have the talent and it would be a great service.

Alex said...

Are you and Turt still going to have the debate?


Paul Hoffer said...

Hi Alex,

Mr. Fan and I are in discussions right now. I think we are in agreement on the resolution to be debated and just need to work out the details.

God bless!

Alex said...

I imagine that you are a pretty busy guy. I'm looking foward to it.