Religious Histories and Discourses (Blog)

Happiness in Hell and the Tablet: A Controversy in 1892/3

George Mivart was an English convert to Catholicism, a prominent scientist, and an amateur theologian. In the 1870s, he published a number of articles and books that argued that evolution exists, but operates in accordance to a plan laid down by God. For his reconciliation of evolution and theology, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Pope Pius IX in 1876. Encouraged, he went on to argue in a series of articles that happiness exists in Hell. The result was a torrent of letters, sermons and articles in various Catholic newspapers and periodicals, including the Tablet, the Month, the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, the Franciscan Annals and La Civiltà Cattolica. Some were sympathetic, though most were ambivalent or hostile.

St_George_Jackson_Mivart

George Mivart

In July 1893, all of Mivart’s articles on Hell were placed on the Index of forbidden works. At the time, Mivart formally submitted to the decision of the Congregation of the Index. However, in 1899, he protested the decision to keep his works on the Index, withdrew his submission, and subsequently published a series of articles that were critical of the Church. In January 1900, Cardinal Archbishop Vaughan circulated a letter which excluded Mivart from receiving the sacraments. Mivart died just a few months later. This sad finale has been examined elsewhere, but the controversy in 1892 and 1893 has received little attention, and the main focus when it has been examined, has been the placement of his works on the Index. This blog post will instead focus on the Tablet, the semi-official newspaper of the English Catholic hierarchy, and the property of Herbert Vaughan, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. Not only was it the most prominent English Catholic newspaper at the time, it also became a major forum for an intense and bitter debate about happiness in Hell, and it contained a significant variety of responses.

Index Librorum Prohibitorum

Mivart explained in his articles on Hell that his goal was to defend and prove that the Church’s position on the afterlife was rational. His main argument was based on a distinction between two types of suffering, the poena damni, which is to say the loss of the Beatific Vision of God, and the poena sensus, which is to say the suffering of the senses, or punishment by “hell fire.” He pointed out that the Church is “definitely committed to the doctrine that the souls condemned to Hell remain there for all eternity.” However, he argued that the majority of souls in Hell were only condemned to the loss of the Beatific Vision, and not condemned to hell fire.

Mivart pointed out that the Church acknowledges that there are enormous “differences of condition” between those who are “excluded from Heaven.” Mivart argued that only those in a “higher state” of “grace” can desire direct union with God, and thus only they have the possibility of entering Heaven. However, the condition in Hell for those who were never elevated to this supernatural capacity of “grace,” for example, unbaptized infants, was, he reasoned, very different to those who received the supernatural capacity of “grace” and rejected it. Whilst excluded from Heaven, unbaptized children, according to Mivart, enjoy an “eternity of natural happiness” in Hell. Similarly for virtuous pagans from “heathen nations,” who, quote, “die with their moral and intellectual faculties so imperfectly developed as to be, in this matter, like children.” Being unaware of the supernatural capacity for union with God, these residents of Hell do not suffer, though their eternal happiness, according to Mivart, is of a much lower order to the supreme bliss experienced in Heaven. A full natural existence, he argued, complete with happiness, health, companionship, love and peace, is thus compatible with being in Hell. Mivart suggested that this has been the fate of the “immense multitude of mankind” that has died unbaptized. It is, Mivart concluded, only “baptized Christians,” who “knowingly and with malice sin mortally and so persist till death,” who are “really condemned to Hell, there to suffer, not only the state of loss, but the poena sensus also.” Even then, he contended, the level of suffering varies in relation to the demerits of the individual, and, he suggested, even those who suffer the worst afflictions prefer their sufferings to non-existence. Mivart based this on his reading of St. Augustine, who suggested that for every being, existence is preferable to non-existence. Mivart also argued that even the most damned of souls may benefit from a “process of evolution,” which takes place in Hell, and which may gradually reduce their suffering, though never to the extent of raising them to the state of grace, “for the tenants of Hell are its tenants eternally.” Furthermore, he argued, the damned may find in Hell a “kind of harmony with their own mental condition,” and find solace in the society of like-minded souls, who together may hug their chains in their shared situation.

Having outlined (albeit very briefly) some of the key themes from Mivart’s argument for the existence of happiness in Hell, it is now time to turn to some of the responses it provoked in the Tablet. The earliest response in the Tablet was an editorial that appeared in the paper on the 3rd December 1892. The editorial, though critical of most of his arguments, was polite and reasonably sympathetic. According to the editorial, Mivart was operating on “a strictly orthodox basis” and on “solid theological ground” when he argued that “the state of unbaptized infants in the next world is, … one of [natural] happiness,” even though they are excluded “from the Beatific Vision, … outside of Heaven, and therefore in a place which theologically cannot be described by any other name than Hell.” The editorial was however critical of his other arguments. In arguing that unbaptized adults from heathen lands experience a state of natural happiness in Hell, and furthermore narrowing the range of “Hell-deserving” sins for the baptized, he was, the editorial concluded, an advocate for the sinner. The editorial suggested that Mivart’s article moved from the frontier of Catholic teaching to the “territory of personal opinion.” Examining Mivart’s engagement with Augustine, and in particular the ontological claim that “it is always better to be than not to be,” the editorial countered that it might “be better for the general harmony of being as a whole,” that sinners “should exist in Hell rather than pass into nothingness,” but not at all better for the sinners as individuals. Despite its critical reception of Mivart’s article, the editorial did conclude that there was “much that is good and beautiful and true” in it, and that it had been loyally conceived, “with the admirable intention of smoothing the path to faith for those who find in the terrible truths of Eternal Punishment a constant and crucial religious difficulty.”

The issue of the 10th December 1892 contained a number of letters on the subject of happiness in Hell. John McIntyre, a priest who in later years would go on to become Archbishop of Birmingham, submitted a letter which criticised the editorial from the previous week for being overly sympathetic towards Mivart’s article with regard to the fate of unbaptized children. “Theologians of greatest weight,” McIntyre observed, “from St. Augustine onwards, teach by no means the more lenient doctrine [with regard to the fate of unbaptized children].” How then, he asked, “can it be said” that “it is undoubtedly the accepted teaching of the Church that unbaptized children … enjoy a state of natural happiness?” McIntyre refused to venture an explicit opinion as to the actual fate of the souls of unbaptized children, but he certainly objected to any attempt to invoke the teachings of the Church to support the claim that they would experience a measure of happiness in the afterlife.  

A letter submitted by Catholic convert John Godfrey Raupert under the pseudonym of “Viator,” compared and contrasted Mivart’s claims with the propositions laid down by St. Aquinas, on the grounds that Aquinas is widely accepted as a “safe guide” to acceptable theology. According to Viator, Aquinas, unlike Mivart, argued that it is “a mortal sin” for adults, who have reached the age of reason, even if unbaptized, not to use their reason to orient themselves to God. In response to Mivart’s claims that the damned prefer their existence in Hell to non-existence, Viator argued that whilst according to Aquinas it is natural and good to desire to exist, some people override this natural inclination. This, Viator suggested, applies especially to the eternally damned, as to be eternally miserable is a fate worse than ceasing to exist. Raupert would later elaborate upon his defence of the “doctrine of hell”, and in particular the idea of endless as opposed to merely prolonged punishment and torment, in Thoughts on Hell (1899), and Hell and its Problems (1912).

On the 11th December, Edward Bagshawe, the Bishop of Nottingham, submitted a pastoral letter to the priests of his diocese. This was then printed in the Tablet. It argued that Mivart’s article perverted “to a most grievous extent, and in a most dangerous way, the doctrine of the Catholic Church.” Referring to the Council of Florence, which occurred in the 15th century, and the Council of Trent, in the 16th century, the bishop declared that in the case of unbaptized infants, “we are bound by the faith to say that they have sinned in Adam, have truly inherited sin from him, have lost their innocence, have been made unclean, and by nature children of wrath. We are also bound by the faith to say that their souls after death go down immediately into the lower regions.” “It is heresy,” the bishop concluded, “to deny that the souls of unbaptized babies are guilty of sin, or that they are punished for their guilt.”

Several more letters on the subject were published in the Tablet on the 17th December. These were mostly critical of claims that unbaptized children might experience happiness in Hell. For example, a letter from a priest published under the pseudonym “a Priest on the Tremble,” was not directly critical of Mivart, but rather critical of a letter written by Canon James Moyes, the secretary of the Archbishop of Westminster, which had been published in the Daily Telegraph. Canon Moyes had argued that children who died unbaptized experienced some measure of happiness in Hell, on the grounds that “there can be no future punishment awarded to the innocent.” “A Priest on the Tremble” disagreed. He observed that according to the declaration at the Council of Florence, all souls who died in sin, even if “in original sin alone” and not mortal sin, “go down into Hell, to be punished,” albeit to suffer different levels of pain. “A Priest on the Tremble” stated that “the Church defines a future punishment in Hell for those who depart this life with the original stain upon them, as unbaptized infants do,” and he expressed shock at a representative of the Archbishop holding the opinion that “souls infected with original sin” were innocent and would enjoy a “future happiness.”

Not all of the letters were hostile to the idea that the fate of unbaptized children in the next world included some measure of happiness. One letter responded to John McIntyre, stating that the proposition that unbaptized children would not only be “deprived of the sight of God,” but also receive “an eternity of torment,” was, quote, “a proposition so horrible and so utterly revolting to the natural sense of justice implanted in us by God, … that if it was asserted by an angel of light as a fact, I would rather believe that I beheld a devil in disguise, who uttered a blasphemy against the mercy and justice of the Almighty.” The letter suggested that if such was to be the fate of unbaptized infants, then God may as well have “created them already in Hell.”

The author of the original editorial that had appeared in the Tablet on the 3rd December also responded to some of the hostile letters. In response to McIntyre’s argument that important theologians from St. Augustine onwards have taught “by no means the more lenient doctrine [with regard to unbaptized children],” he produced a list of Church Fathers and theologians who argued that the fate of unbaptized children in the next world is not one of suffering, even though they would spend eternity deprived of the vision of God. “That God should inflict … actual positive pain upon myriads of helpless children for a sin which they had no actual share in committing, … and that God should go on inflicting it endlessly and hopelessly during all eternity, is,” the author concluded, “a view, which no name, however respectable, can save from the stigma of being irredeemably coarse and repulsive.”

The Tablet was again full of letters on the 24th December. In response to the suggestion that unbaptized children were innocent, and that God would therefore not inflict them with “positive pain,” John McIntyre offered two points for consideration. Firstly, he implied that such a proposition was contradicted by the amount of “infant misery and suffering that is found the whole world through.” Secondly, he observed that at the Council of Trent, it was decreed that anyone who asserts that Adam injured himself alone, and not all those who followed him, or that Adam’s “sin of disobedience” had not “transfused” sin into the “whole human race,” should be anathematized. This declaration, McIntyre observed, is inconsistent with the idea that unbaptized children are perfectly and helplessly innocent.

The rest of the letters selected for publication on the 24th December supported the argument of the original author of the editorial. One letter expressed astonishment at “how some good people seem anxious to magnify the dominion of the devil at the expense of Christianity.” The letter concluded that “when the Holy Roman Church … shall have defined that all those poor little Innocents are all suffering eternally, it will be time enough for the “priest who trembles” to ask us to tremble with him.” A letter from Archbishop Vaughan’s youngest brother, John Stephen Vaughan, who subsequently went on to become the auxiliary Bishop of Salford, also criticised “A Priest on the Tremble.” While extremely critical of Mivart’s article, he did agree with him that the declaration at the Council of Florence was compatible with the proposition that unbaptized infants in the next world only suffer the pain of loss and not the pain of sense. He observed that “inequality of pain, … does not here mean that the little unbaptized darlings are to be punished by the fire of Hell,” albeit “less severely than souls dead in actual sin,” but rather that they will suffer “the pain of loss only.” Canon Moyes was also critical of “A Priest on the Tremble,” repeating the argument that the term “punishment” in the declaration at the Council of Florence was compatible with unbaptized children suffering merely the pain of exclusion from the Beatific Vision, without the further infliction of physical suffering. He did however clarify that he did not deny that newly born children are marked by the stain of original sin, and that when he had used the term “innocent” in an earlier letter, he had intended it only in a non-theological sense.

The controversy rolled on into 1893. A series of letters in the first three weeks of January, heatedly debated whether the fires of Hell are metaphorical or real, whether it is permitted or illicit for a parish priest to teach his flock that they are only metaphorical, and whether “happiness is compatible with eternal burning.” However, on the 21st January, the editor of the Tablet decided that the controversy had gone on long enough, and he stated that “this correspondence must now cease.”

The controversy did not however cease. Despite the editor’s declaration, there were still occasional letters and articles on the subject in the Tablet and other periodicals throughout 1893. In summing up, most of the letters and articles in the Tablet can be divided into two main camps. Those that agreed with Mivart on just one point, that unbaptized children experience some happiness in Hell, and those that criticised any suggestion that any happiness may be experienced in Hell. One letter even described Mivart’s original article as “the most dangerous and pernicious article that was ever traced by the hand of believer or infidel.” None of the letters or articles argued that the destination of unbaptized children was anywhere other than eternal Limbo or Hell.

The Bishop of Nottingham denounced Mivart’s articles to the Congregation of the Holy Office. Whilst seven years later, Cardinal Archbishop Vaughan decided to exclude Mivart from the sacraments, on this occasion he defended him in a letter to the Holy Office. Nevertheless, the result was that all of Mivart’s articles on Hell were condemned by the Holy Office on the 19th July 1893, and by the Congregation of the Index two days later. In August, Mivart claimed in a letter to one of his friends, that he had been informed that his views on Hell were not condemned as such, and that he was entitled to hold them, but that they were inopportune. Convinced that his articles were placed on the Index merely because the time was not ripe for them, Mivart agreed to submit to the censure on the 10th August 1893. In an article published in December, Mivart defended his decision to submit, but he alluded to his hope that his articles would one day be removed from the Index. He never saw that day.

Several years later, in August 1899, Mivart, gravely ill, and perhaps sensing that he did not have much time left, protested the decision to keep his articles on hell on the Index in a letter to the Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Index. Mivart was not satisfied with the response he received and withdraw his submission. He subsequently published a series of articles that were highly critical of the Church. He also staunchly criticised the Catholic Church for the role it played in the Dreyfus Affair. The Tablet’s response was swift and unequivocal. On 6 January 1900, the editor of the Tablet stated that in the past, a charitable effort had been made to regard Mivart as lying somewhere within the field of theological opinion, or at a regrettable but tolerated divergence from the spirit of the Church. The Tablet now charged Mivart of having crossed a line, concluding that he could no longer be regarded as a member of the Church, but rather as “an outsider and an opponent of the Catholic faith.” According to the Tablet, Mivart had engaged in intellectual vanity, blasphemy, heresy, deception, calumny and cowardice. An exchange of heated letters with Cardinal Vaughan, the owner of the Tablet, ensued. Vaughan required Mivart to sign a profession of faith. Mivart asked the Cardinal to send him a letter expressing regret for “the abusive utterances” in the Tablet before he sign the profession of faith. Mivart categorically refused to sign the profession of faith on 23 January 1900, though by that time, Cardinal Vaughan had already circulated a letter to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Westminster (on 18 January), informing them that Mivart had “declared, or at least seemed to declare, that it is permissible for Catholics to hold certain heresies”. Vaughan forbade his clergy from administering the sacraments to Mivart until “he shall have proved his orthodoxy.” Mivart died just a few weeks later. 

Cecil Chesterton and the Jews

Cecil Chesterton (1879-1918), like his close friend and fellow journalist-author Hilaire Belloc, and his brother G. K. Chesterton, frequently caricatured and stereotyped Jews in his newspaper articles (in particular in the Eye Witness and New Witness newspapers). A number of studies of Jewish stereotypes have shown that over the centuries, “the Jews” have occupied a special place in the Christian imagination. Sometimes they are stereotyped and deprecated as diabolic villains, and sometimes they are stereotyped and praised as virtuous, but they are rarely portrayed simply as normal human beings, with the same failings, virtues and gifts as everyone else. There are “good Jews” and there are “bad Jews”, but in either case, the Jew is different, distinct, “the other”. This observation would seem to apply in particular to Cecil Chesterton. On the one hand Cecil denied that he was antisemitic, rejected any call for Jews to be persecuted, and stated that he liked “many” Jews as individuals. For Cecil, there was something peculiar, quaint and foreign about Jews. He could not help but obsess with them. He stated that “even the less pleasant of them interest me merely because they are Jews” [my emphasis]. He explained that this interest arose because “their peculiarities fascinate me; the curious and often unexpected differences in the attitude of the mind, which mark them off from us, arrest my intelligence and pique my curiosity.” According to Cecil, “Jewish virtues,” “manners” and “morals” are distinct from those of Englishmen, and if that could only be admitted, those virtues could be admired in the same way that “the quaint virtues of the Chinese commend our admiration.” He stated that: “One would readily say to a friend: ‘do come to dinner on Tuesday: I have a Chinese gentleman coming, and he ought to be extraordinarily interesting.’ When people can say that about a Hebrew gentleman, anti-Semitism will be at an end.” Cecil Chesterton, The British Review, May 1913, 161-169.

As others have noted, Cecil was one of the principal anti-Jewish agitators during the prominent Marconi Affair. As far as Cecil was concerned, even though only two Jewish individuals (the Isaacs brothers) were implicated in the scandal, and were not alone in being accused, it was nevertheless a quintessentially Jewish affair. During this episode, in a satirical legal defence in the Eye Witness newspaper, Cecil Chesterton (writing under his nom de plume of Junius) patronisingly “defended” Rufus Isaacs specifically as a Jew, arguing that as a Jew, Rufus Isaacs could not be judged by, or be expected to understand, the morality of a Christian civilisation. He claimed that Rufus hid his Jewishness because he shared the “shyness” and secrecy which was “hereditary” in his “race,” but that it was this very Jewishness that constituted the core of his defence. According to Cecil, Rufus Isaacs should not be tried in an English court by an English jury as he is “not an Englishman” but a Jew. “He is an alien,” Cecil surmised, “a nomad, an Asiatic, the heir of a religious and racial tradition wholly alien from ours. He is amongst us: he is not of us.” He could not, Cecil deduced, be fairly “expected to understand the subtle workings of that queer thing the Christian conscience”. Cecil continued to attack Rufus Isaacs and his brother Godfrey Isaacs in a series of antisemitic articles in the New Witness (the successor to the Eye Witness). According to Cecil, one can locate the roots of the prosperity and political power of the Isaacs, along with other Jewish families, such as the Samuels and Rothschilds, in “usury,” “gambling with the necessities of the people,” and the “systematic bribery of politicians.” In addition to the stereotype of the greedy Jew, he also invoked the image of Jewish secrecy. According to Cecil Chesterton, when “a Jew commits the contemptible act of changing his name into some ludicrous pseudo-European one,” it was his duty to “draw attention to the plain truth about it.” Cecil Chesterton [Junius], “For the Defence: III. In Defence of Sir Rufus Isaacs,” Eye Witness, 4 July 1912, 77-78; Cecil Chesterton [Junius], “An Open Letter to Mr. Israel Zangwill,” New Witness, 19 December 1912, 201.

Cecil Chesterton’s hostility towards Jews was not however confined to, or instigated by, the Marconi scandal. As early as 1905, in a little known book entitled Gladstonian Ghosts, Cecil Chesterton informed his readers that towards the end of the nineteenth century, the “unclean hands of Hebrew finance” had pulled “the wires” of the progressive “Tory revival”. Cecil went on to warn that “one of these days our Hebrew masters will say to us: ‘Very well. You object to conditions; you shall have none. We will import Chinamen freely and without restriction, and they shall supplant white men, not in the mines only, but in every industry throughout South Africa.’” Cecil Chesterton, Gladstonian Ghosts (London: S. C. Brown Langham, [1905]), 17-18, 107.

The image of the Jews as “smart” and “intelligent” has always been something of a double-edged stereotype. On the one hand intelligence is admired, but on the other hand it can be coupled with arrogance and shrewd cunning. Cecil Chesterton’s friend, Hilaire Belloc, provides a clear illustration of this ambivalent stereotype. According to Belloc, one of the marks of “the Jew” is the “lucidity of his thought.” At his best, the Jew may be a devoted scientist or great philosopher. According to Belloc, he is “never muddled” in argument. However, he then goes on to explain that there is “something of the bully” in the Jew’s “exactly constructed process of reasoning.”  A man arguing with a Jew, Belloc contended, may know the Jew to be wrong, but he feels the Jew’s “iron logic offered to him like a pistol presented at the head of his better judgement.” Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922), 81. In 1908, in an anonymously published book entitled G. K. Chesterton: A Criticism, Cecil Chesterton combined the stereotype of the dangerously smart Jew with that of Jewish greed and usury. According to Cecil, Jews had brains, but they lacked all the honourable and chivalrous qualities of a gentleman. He asserted that “our aristocrats were proud of being strong, of being brave, of being handsome, of being chivalrous, of being honourable, of being happy, but never of being clever. The idea that brains were any part of the make-up of a gentleman was never dreamed of in Europe until our rulers fell into the hands of Hebrew moneylenders, who, having brains and not being gentlemen, read into the European idea of aristocracy an intellectualism quite alien to its traditions.” [Cecil Chesterton], G. K. Chesterton: A Criticism (London: Alston Rivers, 1908), 4-5.

Cecil also drew upon the myth of Jewish ritual murder – i.e. the blood libel – as part of his wider construction of Jewish villainy and foreignness. In March 1911, a thirteen year old Christian boy, Andrei Yushchinsky, went missing. His body was found a week later in a cave just outside Kiev. Approximately four months later, Mendel Beilis, a Ukrainian Jew, was accused of the murder. Initially the indictment was simply for murder, but subsequently the prosecution added the charge of ritual murder. This was based on a testimony by a lamplighter, who claimed that he had seen a Jew kidnap the child (the lamplighter apparently later confessed that he had been led into this testimony by the secret police). Beilis was accused of stabbing the child thirteen times, which was supposedly in accordance with a so-called Jewish rite; there was of course no such rite, and it was later revealed that there were over forty stab wounds. Beilis was incarcerated, tortured and interrogated, before finally being brought to trial and found innocent, after a two year wait, in September-October 1913. During this episode, antisemitic leaflets were circulated in Russia, suggesting that the Jews use the blood of Christian children to make Passover matzot, though a great many Russians also leapt to the defence of Beilis. On the international stage, so-called “experts” on the Jews and “ritual murder”, such as Father Pranaitis and authors for the Rome based journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, informed the world in gruesome detail about how Jews supposedly went about ritually murdering Christian children in order to obtain their blood for religious or magical rituals. La Civiltà Cattolica, a periodical constitutionally connected to the Vatican, published two articles which set out to present “medical opinion” to the effect that “death was brought about in three stages: the boy was stabbed in such a manner that all his blood could be collected, he was tortured, and finally his heart was pierced.” This alleged evidence was held by Civiltà Cattolica to indicate “ritual murder, which only Jews could perpetrate, since it required long experience.” “Jewish Trickery and Papal Documents – Apropos of a Recent Trial,” Civiltà Cattolica, April 1914, cited by Charlotte Klein, “Damascus to Kiev: Civiltà Cattolica on Ritual Murder,” in Alan Dundes, ed., The Blood Libel Legend (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), 194-196.

In response to this episode, “the Beilis Affair,” Cecil Chesterton characterised Russian pogroms as something horrible, but also something to be understood as part of an ongoing “bitter historic quarrel” between Israel Zangwill’s people (i.e. “the Jews”) and the people of Russia. The “evidence of the pogroms”, he argued, points to a “savage religious and racial quarrel.” He suggested that it was sometimes “a naturally kindly people like the Russians [who] are led to perpetrate the atrocities,” and sometimes it was the “equally embittered” Jews, who, “when they got a chance of retaliating, would be equally savage.” Referring to the Beilis Affair, Cecil endorsed the blood libel, stating that: “An impartial observer, unconnected with either nation, may reasonably inquire why, if we are asked to believe Russians do abominable things to Jewish children, we should at the same time be asked to regard it as incredible … that Jews do abominable things to Russian children – at Kieff, for instance.” Israel Zangwill, a prominent Anglo-Jewish author and playwright, countered Cecil Chesterton’s accusation, noting that following his logic, we should have to accept that if hooligans throttle Quakers then Quakers must also be throttling hooligans. Zangwill also rightly pointed out that it was implausible that a Jew would murder a Christian child for ritual purposes considering no such ritual exists in Judaism. In response, Cecil Chesterton stated that “as to ‘ritual murder’, Mr. Zangwill, of course, knows that no sane man has ever suggested that it [ritual murder] was a ‘rite’ of the Jewish Church any more than pogroms are rites of the Greek Orthodox Church.” He then proceeded to clarify that what he and others had suggested, is that “there may be ferocious secret societies among the Russian Jews,” and that “as so often happens with persecuted sects, such societies may sanctify very horrible revenges with a religious ritual.” In other words, Cecil Chesterton accepted that responsible Jews did not go around committing ritual murder, but did suggest that a sect of fanatical and vengeful Jews did go around murdering Christian children following a “religious ritual”. Eleven years later, his brother, G. K. Chesterton, similarly suggested as part of his complex multifaceted construction of “the Jew,” that “ritual murder” had occasionally been committed by Jews, not by responsible practitioners of Judaism as such, but by “individual and irresponsible diabolists who did happen to be Jews”. Cecil Chesterton, “Israel and ‘The Melting Pot,’” New Witness, 5 March 1914, 566-567; Cecil Chesterton, “A Letter from Mr. Zangwill,” New Witness, 12 March 1914, 593-594; G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (London: Hodder and Stoughton, [1925]), 136.

Cecil Chesterton also revived the host desecration myth. He stated that “the Jews may or may not have insulted the Host, as was alleged. I do not know.” “But,” he continued, “I do know that they wanted to; because I know what a religion means, and therefore what a religious quarrel means.” This insight into what Cecil Chesterton considered expected conduct in a “religious quarrel” – and his belief that Jews would be involved in the destruction of host wafers, which hold no significance in Judaism – is revealing of his polemical and pugnacious anti-Jewish mindset. Cecil Chesterton, “Israel and ‘The Melting Pot,’” New Witness, 5 March 1914, 566.

Representations of Jews and Judaism in the Works of the Methodist theologian Adam Clarke (1762-1832)

The John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog

In another fruitful collaboration between the University’s Centre for Jewish Studies and the John Rylands Research Institute, Dr Simon Mayers has been working for two months on the Methodist Collections at the John Rylands Library. The subject of the project has been Adam Clarke’s discourse about Jews and Judaism. The study was conducted with the help of the rare books librarian and curator, Dr Peter Nockles, and was funded by a John Rylands Research Institute Seed Corn Fellowship. “This is the first of what is hoped will be a series of Jewish Studies related research proposals using the unique Methodist Collections,” said Daniel Langton, Professor of the History of Jewish-Christian Relations and co-director of the CJS.

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Adam Clarke (1762-1832) was a prominent Methodist theologian, preacher, and biblical scholar in England during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He was elected three times to the Presidency of the Methodist Church’s…

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Adam Clarke, the Jews and Judaism (BAJS conference)

My paper for the forthcoming British Association for Jewish Studies (BAJS) conference (July 2015) will present some of the results of a project examining how Jews and Judaism were represented in the published works and unpublished manuscripts of Adam Clarke (1762-1832). Clarke was a prominent Methodist theologian, preacher and biblical scholar, best known for his eight volume commentary on the Old and New Testaments.

Adam Clarke image - public domain

Adam Clarke

Whilst the research is still ongoing, the material examined so far would seem to reveal that traditional theological stereotypes were a pervasive feature in Adam Clarke’s discourse about both biblical and modern Jews. In his commentaries and sermons, he would often take a passage from the New Testament about “the Pharisees,” “the Sadducees,” “the Herodians,” or the Jewish multitude, and not only expand upon it, but also magnify any polemical antipathy that he found severalfold. For example, according to Clarke, the Jews of antiquity regarded the command to love thy neighbour as applying only to “those of the Jewish race, and all others were considered by them as natural enemies.” The Pharisees in particular were portrayed as not merely hypocritical, wicked, envious, unspiritual, blind and hard-hearted, but also “radically and totally evil”. Clarke also caricatured Jews of subsequent generations, such as the medieval Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, and made numerous references to the Jews of “the present day” (i.e. the early nineteenth century), suggesting that they had changed little from the Jews of antiquity. He argued that it was by divine providence that the Jews had been preserved as a distinct people, downtrodden, ruined and dispersed among the nations, providing unimpeachable “evidence” and living “monuments” to the truth of Christianity.

Clarke also repeated a number of anti-Catholic stereotypes which contained elements reminiscent of his representations of Jews, and which combined and coalesced with them on a number of occasions. He argued that the Jews and Catholics were both superstitious and notable for engaging in profane, blasphemous and ridiculous legends and traditions. For example, he stated in a sermon that “the church of Rome out-did, by innumerable degrees, all that had been done in the Jewish church by the worst of its rabbinical fables, puzzling genealogies, forged traditions, and false glosses on the words of God. And thus the worship of the true God was absorbed and lost in that of the Virgin Mary, and of real or reputed saints.”

This project is supported by a Seed Corn Fellowship from the John Rylands Research Institute, and is envisioned as the first of a series of projects by the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester which will explore the unique Methodist Collections at the John Rylands library (widely recognised as one of the largest and finest collections of its type in the world). 

Canon William Barry (1849-1930) and “the Jews”

Dr William Barry (1849-1930), a Canon of Birmingham Archdiocese during the early twentieth century, and a prolific author, novelist and theologian, developed a composite anti-Jewish construction which drew upon contemporary myths of Jewish usury and greed, conspiracy theories linking Jews and Freemasons, and traditional religious myths about the so-called “Jewish Antichrist”.

In 1905 and 1906, Dr William Barry excoriated Freemasonry. He claimed that Freemasonry falsely professes the cause of universal peace, which it pursues by running down the Army. The Freemasons, he argued, have always been eager to do mischief to the Army and the Church, which was why they supported the cause of Captain Dreyfus. According to Barry, the conflict in France was not a battle between Republicans and the Church, but between Freemasonry and the Church. Barry concluded that people in England know little about the operations of Freemasonry in France because “the people here are guided by the telegrams that appear in the daily papers,” and “these telegrams come from the great news agencies, which are in the hands of syndicates which are generally controlled by Jews.” “The alliance between the Freemasons and the Jews,” Barry concluded, “is a very close one.” “Freemasonry in France: Rev. Dr. Barry Interviewed,” Catholic Herald, 5 October 1906, 10. See also: William Barry, “Freemasons in France,” National Review XLV (July 1905), 826-843; William Barry, Freemasons in France (London: Catholic Truth Society, [1906]).

In 1905-6, Barry was far more concerned with stereotyping Freemasonry than pursuing the so-called “Jewish Question.” However, at some point around 1919, he became obsessed with Jews. In 1919, in response to suggestions made by some newspapers that Catholics and Jews should be excluded from the League of Nations on the grounds that they are “international” and untrustworthy, Barry argued that “on no grounds of race or religion can the League boycott any man, forbidding him to hold office under it, whether Jew, Catholic or Japanese.” However, whilst arguing that Jews and Catholics should both be at liberty to serve in the League of Nations, Barry then went on to inform his readers “that there is a tremendous power concentrated in Hebrew international finance.” Barry asked, “and who does not fear it?” The power of this antisemitic fantasy was such that even when confronting a bigotry that was as prejudicial to Catholics as it was to Jews, Barry could not prevent himself from repeating the stereotype about Jewish finance, even though it would have made his argument simpler if he had focused on the prejudice that both communities suffered. William Barry, “Are Catholics Aliens?,” Catholic Times, 10 May 1919, 7.

Barry developed this anti-Jewish theme in subsequent articles. In an article in 1922 which blended his own ideas with those of Hilaire Belloc, Barry argued that “the Hebrew domination over Europe and America has set in,” and that the social revolution has a “double aspect,” with the Jews as leaders of both. According to Barry, in the West, “the Rothschilds may stand for its triumph without violence in finance, industry, [and] ‘bourgeois’ legislation,” whilst in the East, “the Bolsheviks, tyrants and exploiters of a Russia reduced to chaos, who claim Karl Marx for their prophet, are Israelites almost to a man.” Barry agreed with Belloc that the Jews should be recognised as a separate people and treated accordingly in order to save Christendom from ruin. According to Barry, “the whole structure of our civilized world is Christian, not Jewish.” Barry concluded that Belloc had “rung the peal that should wake us up.” Barry repeated his antisemitic construction of Jewish power and greed in subsequent years. He argued in 1925 that the domination of Europe by Jewish Ministers, financiers and diplomats in France, Bohemia and elsewhere, and in particular a Russia “prostrate under the Bolshevik sons of Israel, furnishes the shameful, the appalling proof which cries aloud that Europe is declining from its sovereign rank.” “How,” he asked, “does the Hebrew contrive to get world-power into his hands?” He also suggested in 1929 that the Jews dominate the stock exchanges in London and Paris, and that the “peasant-farmer” in Bavaria was being exploited with no hope of redemption by the “Semite money-lenders.” William Barry, “The Everlasting Jew,” Universe, 12 May 1922, 8; William Barry, “Is it Peace?,” Catholic Times, 13 June 1925, 9; William Barry, The Coming Age and the Catholic Church (London: Cassell, 1929), 83. See also William Barry, “Disraeli the Jew,” Catholic Times, 24 July 1920.

Barry also incorporated the myth of “the Antichrist” into this anti-Jewish construction. Barry explicitly cited and intertwined narratives about the Jewish Antichrist by Henry Edward Manning, the Archbishop of Westminster from 1865 to 1892, with his own anti-Jewish myths and stereotypes. According to Barry, “the long-drawn anti-Christian movement, centuries old, quickened by victory after victory … is advancing, it may well appear, to universal dominion.” Barry asked, “was no warning given?” He concluded that it was, in “Dr. Manning’s forecast of 1860.” Repeatedly quoting from Manning’s lectures, Barry asserted that the Antichrist would be of Jewish blood. According to Barry, the prophecies of the Church Fathers that Israel would continue to exist, scattered among all people but baring continued enmity to the Church, rising to power in Christendom, and working in “strange alliance” with “the ‘Man of Sin,’ who will … be himself a Jew, though most likely a renegade from his faith and tribe,” were coming true. According to Barry, Cardinal Manning held to be associated in an “Unholy Alliance,” the “Revolution”, the “evil elements in emancipated Judaism”, and the “assailants of Papal Rome.” Barry concluded that “history justifies the forecast which he made of a coming Anti-Christ, now looming large upon our Christian inheritance.” William Barry, “Sign of the Times,” Catholic Times: 30 October 1920; 6 November 1920; 13 November 1920; 20 November 1920; William Barry, “Against God and his Christ,” Catholic Times, 28 April 1923, 9. For more on Archbishop Manning, Canon Barry, and the myth of the “Jewish Antichrist,” see: English Catholic Narratives about the “Jewish Antichrist” (1860 – 1923).

Pope Francis, Robert Hugh Benson, and the “Spirit of the World”

According to a recent report in The Times newspaper (30 January 2015), “the Pope has urged anyone who wants to understand him to read a science fiction novel published in 1907 by Robert Hugh Benson”. Monsignor Benson was an Anglican priest and novelist who embraced Catholicism in 1903. He was the son of Edward White Benson, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury from 1883 to 1896. He passed away in 1914 at the age of 42, possibly from pneumonia judging by an account of the last days of his life by Canon Sharrock in the Tablet, 24 October 1914, 569. The report in The Times observes that his novel, Lord of the World, set in a dystopian twenty-first century, “sees Marxists, humanists and Freemasons taking over a society where euthanasia is obligatory for the ill and Esperanto is the common language. The antichrist returns, becoming the president of the world before going to war with the Catholic Church, precipitating the end of the world.” Tom Kington, “Etonian novelist shaped Pope’s world view,” The Times, 30 January 2015, 40.

Lord of the World Image

The report in the Times had in mind the papal press conference that occurred during a recent flight (on 19 January 2015) from the Philippines to Rome. According to News.Va, the pope stated: “Think of the Balilla [an Italian Fascist youth organization during the 1920s and 1930s], think of the Hitler Youth…. They colonized the people, they wanted to do it. So much suffering … Each people has its own culture, its own history. … But when conditions are imposed by colonizing empires, they seek to make these peoples lose their own identity and create uniformity. This is spherical globalization — all points are equidistant from the centre. And true globalization — I like to say this — is not a sphere. It is important to globalize, but not like the sphere but rather, like the polyhedron. Namely that each people, every part, preserves its identity without being ideologically colonized. This is ‘ideological colonization’. There is a book — excuse me I’m advertising — there is a book, perhaps the style is a bit heavy at the beginning, because it was written in 1907 in London…. At that time, the writer had seen this drama of ideological colonization and described it in that book. It is called Lord of the World. The author is Benson, written in 1907. I suggest you read it. Reading it, you’ll understand well what I mean by ideological colonization” (link to report in News.Va).

Pope Francis made another remark endorsing Benson’s book a year earlier in his homily at Mass on 18 November 2013, suggesting that the novel demonstrates how the “spirit of the world” can lead to “progressivism”, “uniformity of thought” and “apostasy” (link). It seems that Benson’s dystopian drama, Lord of the World, is important for Pope Francis, providing (as far as the pope is concerned) a partly metaphoric, partly prophetic narration of past, present and future history, “ideological colonization,” and the “spirit of the world” (the latter phrase used by Pope Francis and Monsignor Benson on a number of occasions). Others have expressed similar admiration for the novel’s so-called prophetic nature. For example, Joseph Pearce, an English Catholic author, has described Benson’s “novel-nightmare” as a work of prophecy which is “coming true before our very eyes.” Joseph Pearce, Catholic Literary Giants (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), 141. Dale Ahlquist, a fervent supporter of the movement to have G. K. Chesterton declared a saint, despite the anti-Jewish stereotypes and caricatures in Chesterton’s novels and journalistic essays (Chesterton’s stereotypes are discussed in my book, Chesterton’s Jews), has also expressed admiration for Benson’s Lord of the World. According to Ahlquist, “whether or not Monsignor Benson’s picture of our future is accurate, the fact is his picture of our present is chillingly accurate.” Dale Ahlquist, “A surprising book about the end of the world, but we know that the world ends,” The Catholic Servant 17, no. 4 (May 2011), 12 (link).

Benson’s novel combines elements of then – and now – pervasive anti-Masonic conspiracy theories, theological myths about the arrival of the Anti-Christ, and millenarian narratives about the end of the world. Benson was by no means entirely original in combining these themes, or in suggesting that the Anti-Christ would be either Masonic or Jewish. English Catholics had already been exposed to such ideas prior to Lord of the World. For example, Henry Manning, the second Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, had argued that the Anti-Christ would be of the “Jewish race”, and he suggested that the erosion of the Church’s temporal power in the 1860s by the Risorgimento (Italian unification), demonstrated that this Antichrist may already be in the world (link). During the Diana Vaughan hoax in the mid-1890s, letters and articles in various Catholic newspapers (such as the Tablet) supported the idea that a Masonic conspiracy was attempting to destroy the Church, and that an inner-circle of Freemasons called the “Palladians” were worshipping Lucifer (link). Colonel James Ratton, an English Catholic author, argued in 1904 that Jews and Freemasons were conspiring to control the world, and that the so-called “Sovereign Pontiff of Freemasonry” and the Jewish “Anti-Christ” were working together to rebuild Solomon’s Temple (link).

In the alternative history constructed in Benson’s anti-Masonic apocalyptic novel, the twenty-first century world has been divided into three great powers: the “Eastern Empire” (consisting of Russia east of the Ural Mountains, Asia, Australia and New Zealand), “Europe” (consisting of Russia west of the Ural Mountains, Europe and Africa), and the “American Republic” (consisting of the North and South American continents). At the beginning of the novel, these three competing “forces” hold sway across the globe. In the huge Eastern Empire, “a federalism of States,” there are the “Eastern religions,” a volatile melting-pot of Sufism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Islam, and Pantheism. Elsewhere in the world there are only two surviving religions, Catholicism (concentrated primarily in Rome and Ireland) and a religious Masonic “Humanitarianism.” It is explained that “Protestantism is dead”, as “supernatural religion” could not thrive without an “absolute authority”. “Private judgement in matters of faith,” it transpires, led to the “disintegration” of Protestantism. Interestingly, Judaism is not mentioned in the novel, and Jews are only mentioned in passing. However, at one point, Father Percy Franklin (the hero of the novel) does observe that: “A great access of Jews to Freemasonry is to be expected; hitherto they have held aloof to some extent, but the ‘abolition of the Idea of God’ is tending to draw in those Jews, now greatly on the increase once more, who repudiate all notion of a personal Messiah.” Robert Hugh Benson, Lord of the World (1907).

Though described as “anti-supernatural” – i.e. without a belief in God – “Humanitarianism” is portrayed as a new pantheistic religion, providing a succour to satisfy Man’s craving for the supernatural, through the rituals of Freemasonry, and the creed that “God is Man”. Echoing Nietzsche’s famous declaration that “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. … Must we not ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?” [Die fröhliche Wissenschaft 125], this new religion declares that Man, having learned his own divinity, is now God. In Benson’s alternative history, Freemasonry has spread throughout Europe, and has seized control of most of the churches and cathedrals. It has replaced Anglicanism as the official religion of England, and unlike Catholicism, it is permitted to display its symbols. As the novel develops, attendance at Masonic “Humanitarianism” services becomes mandatory (with increasing periods of incarceration mandated for those who refuse to attend). Robert Hugh Benson, Lord of the World (1907).

Mirroring anti-Masonic conspiracy theories, such as the Diana Vaughan narratives – that had the Tablet persuaded at the end of the nineteenth century that “there is an inner Masonry whose workings are unknown to the general run of Masons,” and that “Satanism is practised under circumstances at least pointing to Masonic association” (“Devil Worship in France,” The Tablet, 3 October 1896, 529-530) – the narrator in Benson’s novel explains that an inner circle or higher grade of Freemasonry is responsible for the anti-religious movement. According to the narrator of the novel, “what Catholics had always suspected then became a certainty in the revelations of 1918, when P. Gerome, the Dominican and ex-Mason, had made his disclosures … It had become evident then that Catholics had been right, and that Masonry, in its higher grades at least, had been responsible throughout the world for the strange movement against religion.” Robert Hugh Benson, Lord of the World (1907).

The principal antagonist in the novel is Senator Julian Felsenburgh, a Masonic “Grand Master,” who champions the cause of “Universal Brotherhood,” as the successful “consummation of history” and the manifestation of the “Spirit of the World” (an allusion, it would seem, to Hegel’s teleological philosophy of history and the Weltgeist). In the novel, it becomes increasingly apparent that Felsenburgh is the Anti-Christ, whose arrival will usher in the destruction of the world (which occurs at the end of the novel). He has the power to convince those he meets that he is the true Saviour of the world (for example, at one point Father Percy Franklin recalls people kneeling before a picture of Felsenburgh, or calling out his name on their deathbeds, and in a meeting with the pope, he explains that Felsenburgh was called by some newspapers “the Son of Man” and “the Saviour of the World”). Felsenburgh has a number of special abilities, such as an amazing facility with words and facts, the ability to converse in at least fifteen languages, an astonishing memory, and an intuitive grasp of the histories, expectations, hopes and fears of all sects and castes. This allowed him to negotiate a peace between the various factions in the Eastern Empire, and then between the three empires, resulting in world peace and the end of war. He is later appointed as President of Europe, and ultimately as President of the World. In his capacity as President of Europe, he arranges the bombardment and utter destruction of Rome, which in this alternative history (written of course long before the Lateran Treaty of 1929), had been fully restored to the Church as the sovereign capital of Catholicism – in return for all the other churches in Italy being relinquished to the Humanitarianists. The destruction of Rome occurs when the pope and all but three cardinals (one of whom is Cardinal Percy Franklin) are present. A new pope is elected by the remaining cardinals: Cardinal Franklin, who takes the names Silvester. Pope Silvester III forms a secret Church network. Later, as President of the World, Felsenburgh introduces a new law legalizing the “euthanasia” (i.e. systematic extermination) of all surviving Catholics. At the end of the novel, the Antichrist has discovered the location of the pope and his new College of Cardinals (at Tel Megiddo – Armageddon), and a large force of military Zeppelins (called Volors) is dispatched to wipe out this last vestige of Catholicism. Robert Hugh Benson, Lord of the World (1907).

Pope Francis made no reference to the Anti-Christ and anti-Masonic narratives within Lord of the World. It is thus likely that on the occasions he referred to the novel, he was more concerned with it as a metaphor for globalisation, secularisation, contraception, same-sex marriages, and other so-called evil aspects of the “Spirit of the World” which he has lamented on various occasions, rather than with (a mythologized construction of) Freemasonry. In the novel, Freemasonry & Humanitarianism were linked to the so-called “Spirit of the world”, a concept that Pope Francis has referred to on a number of occasions. At Assisi, the pope stated that a Christian cannot co-exist with the “Spirit of the World,” which, he suggested, leads only to vanity, arrogance and pride. According to Pope Francis, “the Spirit of the World” is the” leprosy” and the “cancer” of society. He explained that the Spirit of the World “is an idol, it is not of God” (report in the Catholic Herald) (report by Zenit). However, whilst Freemasonry and the Anti-Christ were not explicitly evident in his references to Lord of the World, it is unlikely that their presence in the novel would have deterred him. Pope Francis has made many references to Satan, on occasion linking the evil “prince of this world” with the “spirit of the world” (report by Zenit). And with regard to Freemasonry, there are reasons to think that he may consider it an anti-Christian agency. In 2013, returning from Brazil, he made some conciliatory remarks about gay men who seek God, though he went on to criticise gay-rights lobbying. He suggested that such lobbying was orchestrated by Freemasons. “The problem,” he explained, is “lobbying by this orientation, or lobbies of greedy people, political lobbies, Masonic lobbies, so many lobbies. This is the worse problem” (report by the BBC).

It is noteworthy that whatever the pope’s concerns with Freemasonry, his remarks about it have been interpreted as a coded warning about a secret Masonic group in the Vatican by at least one regular correspondent at the Catholic Herald. According to Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, “it is to be noted that the Pope has constantly warned of the desacralisation of the Church, and its turning into an NGO. Is he warning us against the agenda of the masonic lobby?” Lucie-Smith suggests that such an entity, if embedded within the Vatican, would be a “real enemy within.” He concludes: “Let us hope and pray that there is no masonic lobby in the Vatican. But the very fact the Holy Father has mentioned it, makes one wonder.” Alexander Lucie-Smith, “Should we be worried that Pope Francis mentioned a masonic lobby in his famous press conference?”, Catholic Herald, 30 July 2013.

It would seem that there is still a long way to go before the anti-Masonic conspiracy narrative loses its allure.

“The Demons are Interchangeable”: Damian Thompson on Anti-Catholic Conspiracy Theories

History is replete with a number of bizarre yet dangerous anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic conspiracy theories, such as the Diana Vaughan hoax, various narratives about the so-called Jewish and/or Masonic “Anti-Christ”, and the infamous ritual murder blood libels. Jews and Freemasons have also been accused of being secretive, manipulative and greedy, and blamed for supposedly controlling the press, stock markets and international finance. Anti-Catholic conspiracy narratives are no less fantastic, dangerous, and venomous. An excellent recent article in the Catholic Herald by Dr Damian Thompson – an expert on apocalyptic beliefs and Antichrist narratives – justifiably noted that we may “laugh at ludicrous anti-Catholic conspiracies. But we underestimate how many minds they poison.” He observes that conspiracy propagandists are “having a field day constructing alternative realities that frighten us and poison our minds.” And whilst those hostile to Jews and Freemasons have the notorious forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, to fuel their imagination, anti-Catholics have the Monita Secreta (a forged document purported to be the secret protocols of the Jesuits). Damian Thompson, “No, the Jesuits didn’t start World War I,” Catholic Herald, 22 January 2015.

According to Thompson’s lucid consideration in the Catholic Herald, Catholics are accused, even today – or perhaps especially today in this age of the internet and mass media – of all kinds of bizarre things, such as being responsible for the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Thompson explains that according to the conspiracy theory, the Jesuits (and presumably also their so-called accomplices, the “Rothschild/Morgan/Rockefeller cartel”) came up with a diabolic scheme to build a “death ship” – which they would falsely claim to be unsinkable – in order to lure a number of opponents of their so-called US Federal Reserve cartel to a “watery grave”.

The Sinking of the Titanic, Willy Stöwer, 1912

Other anti-Catholic conspiracy theories blame Catholics for starting the First World War, and instigating the 9/11 terrorist attack. As Thompson rightly notes, in the construction of these ludicrous and yet poisonous conspiracy theories: “The demons are interchangeable: Catholics, Freemasons, the Illuminati and, most persistently, Jews. The structure of the story remains broadly the same. ‘They’ are rich, powerful, secretive and plotting world domination. The righteous must act now to thwart their plans.” It is thus unsurprising that Jews and Freemasons have also been blamed for the First World War, and accused of master-minding the attack on the World Trade Center; and if someone was to tell me that a deranged theory exists, accusing “the Illuminati” or “the Knights Templar” of participating in the 9/11 attack, it would not surprise me – such is the surreal nature of the conspiracy theory.

One of the things that impressed me about Thompson’s article, is that it does not shy away from the fact that Catholics too have been “progenitors” of such theories: “Catholics need to face up to the reality that, over 2,000 years, elements in the Church have been progenitors as well as victims of conspiracy theories. Mostly this should be a source of shame – but we need to bear in mind that paranoid thinking is to some extent part of the DNA of Christianity in general; Protestants and Eastern Orthodox are also vulnerable to it.” As Thompson reports: “Alas, certain Right-wing Catholics have not been able to resist the lure of the Protocols: they were favourite reading material of Bishop Richard Williamson, disgraced bishop of the Society of St Pius X (which expelled him in 2012).” Thompson goes on to explain that: “Williamson, though an Englishman, was immersed in a French Catholic conspiratorial subculture that predates the Protocols. Ultra-clericalist Frenchmen in the Third Republic blamed all their misfortunes on Jews and Freemasons.”

Interestingly, as I discovered during my PhD, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, such narratives were not confined to ultra-clerical French Catholics. At the time of the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s, articles and columns in popular English Catholic newspapers, in particular the Tablet (which was not then the liberal Catholic magazine it is today), also went along with such narratives, accusing Jews of conspiring with Freemasons against the Church. For example, a report in the Tablet in March 1897 noted that: “In criticizing the Anti-Semitic policy of the clerical party on the Continent, it must be remembered that the Ghetto is there the focus and centre of the Liberal warfare against Catholicism, and that Jews and Freemasons form everywhere the vanguard of the forces of infidelity. By their address in capturing and manipulating the political machinery and the power of the press, they have contrived in Catholic countries to organize a systematic persecution of the Catholic Church, and to trample on the faith and practices of Catholicism as though they represented but the belief of a contemptible and impotent minority. The alliance of the Synagogue with the Lodges is in all continental countries the symbol of the triumph of infidelity over Christianity, and the creed of modern, no less than of ancient Judaism, is hostility to the Christian name.” See “Anti-Semitism in the Austrian Elections,” The Tablet, 27 March 1897, 481-482. During the Dreyfus Affair, the Tablet reported in February 1898, that it is suspicious that “in the sudden clamour for the revision of the Dreyfus trial … it is a subsidized movement, financed by the moneyed interest, which has made the cause of the Jewish Captain its own.” The Tablet stated that: “We shall not, we trust, be accused of palliating or condoning the excesses of anti-Semitism, by pointing out that the Jews, in France, Italy, and Austria, the three principal Catholic nations of the continent, exercise a political influence entirely disproportioned to their numbers, and that this influence is always exercised against the religion of the country. In close alliance with the Freemasons, … they form the backbone of the party of aggressive liberalism, with war to the knife against the Church as the sum and aim of its policy.” See “Captain Dreyfus and His Champions”, The Tablet, 12 February 1898, 238. Furthermore, during the late nineteenth century, the Tablet and the Catholic Herald were somewhat credulous (though not quite as credulous as La Croix) when it came to reports of Luciferian Freemasonry (for example, during the Diana Vaughan hoax).

Thompson provides other (more theological) examples of conspiracy-like narratives. He explains that the Book of Revelation in the New Testament is “a conspiracy theory whose authors introduced early Christians to the notion of the Antichrist, littering the text with mathematical codes and lurid allegory.” Thompson correctly notes that in some Protestant anti-Catholic narratives, the Pope has been vilified as this shadowy Antichrist figure. Significantly, he also acknowledges and laments that the Antichrist has not been confined to anti-Catholic narratives, but has also been used by some prominent Catholics to vilify non-Catholics: “Today it seems repugnant to Catholics that Luther should have identified the Pope as Antichrist. We forget that both pontiffs and Catholic monarchs had previously taken great pleasure in identifying their own enemies as this Satanic figure, whom the Bible explicitly tells us will emerge from disguise shortly before Jesus returns.” Significantly, as I discovered during my own PhD research (link for brief summary of PhD), such narratives were not confined to pontiffs, Catholic monarchs, or ultra-clericalist French Catholics in the Third Republic. Prominent English Catholics during the nineteenth- and the early twentieth-centuries, such as Father Henry Manning (who went on to become the second Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster) and Canon Dr William Barry (of the Archdiocese of Birmingham), as well as less prominent figures, repeated narratives about how the so-called “Jewish Antichrist” would arrive (or had already arrived) to lead anti-Christian forces against the Church (link for English Catholic Narratives about the “Jewish Antichrist”).

Thompson humbly concludes that he is “not qualified to say what the Church’s theological response should be to this aspect of its heritage.” Not being a Catholic myself, I am even less qualified to comment on the Church’s theological response to this aspects of its heritage, though like Dr Thompson, I believe the Church has a duty to respond in some way, if “it is to heal the wounds it has created.” Thompson suggests that whilst the Church did not invent the conspiracy theory narrative (for example, shadowy inventions similar to the diabolic Antichrist existed in pre-Christian Jewish and pagan myths), “in practical terms it should be alert to its persistence on the fringes of Catholicism.” Unfortunately, he suggests that Pope Francis may have his work cut out if he wishes to address the persistence of such narratives. According to Thompson: “Pope Francis is perceived – and presents himself – as a new broom in the Vatican. Ironically, this may make it more difficult to sweep away the conspiratorial mindset, since he himself hints that corrupt curial officials have seized control of dicasteries.”

Thompson suggests as a first step that the Vatican needs to learn how to better employ the internet. One can only hope that it not already too late in this age of mass media, when blog posts and tweets can circulate the globe and reach a huge audience very quickly, to dismantle the myriad of prejudiced myths and conspiracy theories (whether the role of diabolical villain is assigned to Jews, Freemasons, Catholics, Ahmadi, Roma, or some other group or combination of groups). Unfortunately, one suspects that such pernicious narratives are now resiliently embedded in the digital discourse (though this should not stop us attempting to dismantle them).

 

 

Lives Behind the Stones (Guest Blog Post)

Lives Behind the Stones – Preserving the Past for the Future (A Heritage Lottery Funded Project)

Guest blog post by Rosalind Adam.

Rosalind Adam is a writer and workshop leader with a particular interest in therapeutic writing. She has a history degree and was a teacher for many years. Her publications include: A Children’s History of Leicester, Hometown World Publishers (May 2011) and The Children’s Book of Richard III, The Reading Shop Oadby (July 2014). She has managed two Heritage Lottery funded projects: “Jewish Voices – Memories of Leicester in the 1940s and 50s”, 2008/9 (link for websiteand “The Lives Behind the Stones”, 2013/14 (link for website). Rosalind can be contacted via her blog at http://rosalindadam.blogspot.co.uk

The story of our year’s work on ‘The Lives Behind the Stones’ clearly illustrates how exciting this Heritage Lottery funded project has been. It started out as a plan to catalogue Leicester’s Orthodox Jewish cemetery and turned into a major study of the cemetery, including the creation of a comprehensive website providing full search facilities and many researched stories about members of the community and the history of its growth. The description of the work undertaken during this project is easily written here, but each task represents days, weeks and even months of tortuous researching, checking and rechecking.

With a team of six, plus 37 volunteers, the work has been constant and varied. It began with the realization that there was no correct list of burials at the site, especially those from the early 20th century. The first burial took place in 1902 but most of the families were immigrants, many coming from areas in and around the Pale of Settlement. They would have been Yiddish speakers and this is reflected in the inaccuracies encountered in the handwritten records at the city’s cemeteries office. The workers at the Corporation of Leicester no doubt struggled to understand the broken English of the immigrant families.

The most useful next step was to photograph each headstone and use the information on the headstone as the accurate provider of data but this was hampered by the fact that there were many unmarked graves. Part of the project plan was to fix small plaques onto each unmarked plot and so, to verify the details about each of these plots, it was necessary to research using the limited information available from the written records. This alone took many months but we now have, as far as can be verified, accurate records for each of the almost 1,000 plots at the cemetery.

As with many old graveyards, the early section of Leicester’s Orthodox cemetery had fallen into disrepair. This had been the main impetus for us to carry out the project. We couldn’t allow the stones, and indeed the lives behind those stones, to be lost forever. It has not been possible to repair each stone but, as well as recording all the inscriptions, we have been able to make the cemetery more easily navigable. Row markers have been replaced. Broken kerbstones and other trip hazards have been cleared away. There are now three large information boards at the site; one is a map of all the sections and the other two contain the plot locations of every grave in the cemetery.

Recording all the basic data onto a database in order to inform the search facility on our website was one of the biggest challenges, not only because of the sheer volume of potential data available, but also because everything had to be researched and verified. Some records contain more data than others but all records now have at least some basic information programmed in so that the website is available for genealogical research. The website is still being added to as and when additional data becomes available and new burials will be recorded.

While the website manager was responsible for creating the website and database, it was my job, as project coordinator, to design the pages and produce the text. The most rewarding task for me was to write up the in-depth stories. We have seventeen stories so far and hope to add to this list over time. The stories have been researched by volunteers working alongside members of the project team. The local records office provided much needed training and support as many of the volunteers were unfamiliar with family research or using record office facilities.

Delving into the lives of families over the last century and recording their contributions to the city and community, has been a fascination and a privilege for me. Some arrived in Leicester at the end of complicated and dangerous journeys in their struggle to avoid antisemitic persecutions and we have been able to illustrate their travels with photographs kindly donated by their descendants. Some were inventors and, thanks to the records kept at the National Archives, we have been able to reproduce sections from their original patent applications. Each life had a contribution to make.  We have written about active members of the synagogue, about tailors, market traders, in fact a complete cross-section of society covering over a hundred years of life and death in Leicester’s Jewish community.

The website includes additional material. There are suggestions for ways in which Key Stage 2 teachers could use the vast amount of data which is available there. We have explained how the project was carried out during the year illustrated with photographs where possible. We have written about the cemetery’s history but, most importantly, we now have a complete and searchable record of all the people buried at Leicester’s Orthodox cemetery. This is to be a permanent online facility. We hope that it will also be used as a template for other communities who are concerned about preserving their past for the future.

The website can be found at http://jewish-gilroes.org.uk

English Methodist Newspapers Reporting on the Dreyfus Affair (1899)

Dreyfus Image

In 1898, the main English Methodist newspapers and magazines (the Bible Christian Magazine, the Free Methodist, the Methodist Recorder, and the Methodist Times) largely ignored the Dreyfus Affair , but by July 1899, they were all publicly defending and sympathising with Captain Dreyfus. In July 1899, the Bible Christian Magazine applauded the French Judges who quashed the original “conviction of Dreyfus,” which, the magazine concluded, had been shown to be “obtained by wholesale perjury and forgery.” The magazine depicted Dreyfus as the victim of a sinister plot. In September, the magazine contended that not just Dreyfus, but the French nation was on trial at Rennes. The magazine suggested that the nation’s statesman, administrators and army stood before the eyes of the world, “a discredited product of the age.” In October, the magazine observed that it was not concerned with Dreyfus as an individual per se, but rather with the French people, who were close neighbours, with a history closely interwoven with that of the English. The Bible Christian Magazine claimed that it desired to avoid anti-French sectarianism, noting that “their downfall cannot profit us; their shame is a menace to us, for as they sink they tend to drag us with them.” The magazine thus wished to avoid condemning France to oblivion, desiring instead to restore “a sane France, a justice-loving France, a pure France.” The paper expressed its hope that France would consider the judgement that has been passed upon her by popular opinion across Europe, overcome the “flood of corruption and perjury,” and free herself from “Jesuitism.” See “Dreyfus,” Bible Christian Magazine, July 1899, 471-472; “Distraught France,” Bible Christian Magazine, September 1899, 609; “Our Next Door Neighbour,” Bible Christian Magazine, October 1899, 676-677.

The Free Methodist only contained a few very short reports on the Dreyfus Affair. In September 1899, the paper stated that the verdict at the retrial of Dreyfus excites “mingled feelings of compassion and indignation. Deep sympathy is felt for Captain Dreyfus and his noble wife. To be condemned again after suffering five years’ torture on Devil’s Isle … is very hard indeed.” The paper attributed the verdict of the judges in favour of the army rather than Dreyfus to “stupidity,” “prejudice,” and “moral cowardice.” The Free Methodist linked the Dreyfus Affair to Catholicism and the Pope, arguing that: “the Dreyfus case makes a startling revelation of the corrupt condition of the Church of Rome. The clerical papers of France, and notably those conducted and influenced by priests, have clamoured for this cruel and unjust verdict. The Pope and the bishops have maintained a criminal silence, and the Church which claims to be the true body of Christ has never one word in favour of mercy towards a man who, like his Divine Lord, is a persecuted Jew”. The Free Methodist attributed the “corruption of France and the unjust condemnation of Dreyfus” to “the clerical education system … and the hypocrisy of French priests.” The paper approved when the French Government pardoned and released Captain Dreyfus, and wished him a quick recovery. The paper noted that Dreyfus and his friends should not content themselves with a mere release, as his good name needs to be restored. The paper stated that it is doubtful however that the reputation of “the Church of Rome” can be restored after its “cruel persecution of Dreyfus.” “The Catholics who rejoiced and praised God for the outrageous judgement of Rennes have dealt their Church an irreparable blow,” the paper concluded. See “Notes and Comments,” Free Methodist:  14 September 1899, 625-626, and 28 September 1899, 657.

The Methodist Recorder similarly defended Dreyfus, and attributed the injustice to so-called “Jesuitry”. On 14 September 1899, the paper reported that “it is no exaggeration to say that the act of the Court Martial at Rennes, or rather the act of the five military Judges who re-condemned Captain Dreyfus, has filled the whole world with horror and amazement.” Only the “Anti-Semites and the Jesuits,” the paper suggested, were likely to be pleased with the result. The paper observed that France as a whole should not be condemned, as a large number of people in France believe in the innocence of Captain Dreyfus, and sympathise with the indignation felt by other nations regarding the verdict. “France is not wholly given over to fanatical Jew-baiters, idolaters of the Army, and Jesuitry,” the paper reported. The Methodist Recorder defended English Catholics and Cardinal Herbert Vaughan (the Archbishop of Westminster), noting that “the English Roman Catholics largely share the indignation of their protestant neighbours,” and that “even Cardinal Vaughan himself is on the same side.” The Methodist Recorder was probably swayed by the more positive articles in English Catholic newspapers (including the Tablet) defending Captain Dreyfus at the end of the affair (i.e. in late 1899). See “Editorial Notes,” Methodist Recorder, 14 September 1899.

Despite the comments in the Methodist Recorder defending Cardinal Vaughan, earlier articles in Cardinal Vaughan’s own newspaper, the Tablet, the semi-official newspaper of the English Catholic hierarchy, were bitterly hostile towards Captain Dreyfus, and portrayed his various defenders as part of an anti-Catholic Jewish-Masonic alliance. For example, when Captain Dreyfus was accused of treason at the end of 1894 and beginning of 1895, and sentenced to exile and imprisonment on Devil’s Island, the Tablet was very quick to believe the accusations. The episode according to the Tablet did not merely demonstrate the guilt of one man, but also revealed the so-called growing power of the Jews and Freemasons. In January 1895, the Tablet contained a report in its Paris news section, stating that “there can be little doubt that the trivial punishment inflicted on Captain Dreyfus for what, in a military country like France, is one of the most heinous of crimes, is owing to the fact that he is both a Freemason and a Jew.” According to the Tablet, “while in England the Jews are a harmless and inoffensive tribe, or at most work unaggressively, in France they are the declared and open enemies of the Christian religion; using their wealth and talents to obtain official positions, and the power with which these latter endow them to strike every blow that chance may afford at the Catholic faith; and they never miss a chance.” “The combination of Judaism with Freemasonry is irresistible,” the reported stated, and “it rules France with an iron-gloved hand, and there is no disguise of velvet-covering to soften the grip.” The report in the Tablet concluded that “had a Christian been found guilty of the treachery of Captain Dreyfus he would have been shot,” whereas he “escapes with a comfortable exile, accompanied by his wife and family, and freedom to live his own life subject to the very slightest supervision.” The Tablet continued to maintain this position in 1898. The Tablet reported that “the sudden clamour for the revision of the Dreyfus trial … is a subsidized movement, financed by the moneyed interest which has made the cause of the Jewish Captain its own.” According to the report, if Dreyfus had “belonged to any other race,” there would be no agitation on his behalf. “It looks,” the paper reported, “almost as if the intangibility of the Hebrew were to be elevated to the place of a new dogma of public right, as the final article of the Jacobin creed of the Revolution.” The paper argued that the Dreyfus case has become the battleground for two opposing factions. On the one side stands “the elements that represent and constitute French nationality – the old aristocracy, the army with its Catholic traditions, and the bulk of the Catholic population.” On the other side stands the “cosmopolitan forces of international journalism, Semitic finance, and infidel letters which seek to move the world by the leverage of two great powers, intellect and money.” The Tablet was again explicit in its declaration of an alliance between Jews and Freemasons, and as it had before, it suggested that in certain circumstances, antisemitism was acceptable if regrettable. It stated that: “We shall not, we trust, be accused of palliating or condoning the excesses of anti-Semitism, by pointing out that the Jews, in France, Italy, and Austria, the three principal Catholic nations of the continent, exercise a political influence entirely disproportioned to their numbers, and that this influence is always exercised against the religion of the country. In close alliance with the Freemasons, … they form the backbone of the party of aggressive liberalism, with war to the knife against the Church as the sum and aim of its policy.” See “Notes from Paris,” Tablet, 12 January 1895, 58; “Antisemitism in the Austrian Election,” Tablet, 27 March 1897, 481-482; “Captain Dreyfus and His Champions,” Tablet, 12 February 1898, 238.

Whilst the Methodist Recorder was relatively conciliatory towards Cardinal Archbishop Vaughan and English Catholics – though on 5 October it was critical about Vaughan’s decision to defend the Catholic newspapers’ handling of the Dreyfus Affair – it did report that “the authorities of the Church in Rome, if only because of their silence, cannot be held blameless in the matter. The Pope and his Cardinals may not have had it in their power to prevent the result, but they might, at least, with their great authority, have imposed silence upon those priests in France, who, though a fanatical Press, have inflamed the popular provincial mind.” It invoked Pilate and the image of the crucifixion as an analogy to condemn those who condemned Dreyfus. It stated that the Pope and his Cardinals have “elected to play the part of Pilate and Caiaphas in another tragedy. Knowing, as they must have done in their secret hearts, that an innocent man was being martyred, they were content to let events take their course.” On 21 September, the paper applauded the pardoning of Dreyfus, noting that “no French Government would dream of pardoning an officer of the General Staff twice condemned if there were even the shadow of a doubt as to his innocence.” It again condemned “the forgers and conspirators and liars” who “go scot free, except that they are execrated not only by the world outside France, but by the best and noblest of their own countrymen.” Significantly, the paper argued against an agitation for the boycotting of the Paris Exhibition that was planned for 1900, which it regarded as unfair and unwise, as “the rotten section of the French army is not France, nor is that blind and mad section of the Roman Catholic Church of France of which ‘La Croix’ is the organ, nor yet those dregs of the French Press which stand for all that is unjust and inhuman.” English people should not hate France in general the paper concluded, but rather “honour the noble minority – if minority it still is – that has pleaded for justice to the falsely-accused.” The paper did however “confess to an intense desire to see justice avenged on the real culprits in this great drama.” See “Editorial Notes,” Methodist Recorder: 14 September 1899, 3; 21 September 1899, 3; 5 October 1899, 3.

Of the Methodist newspapers and magazines in 1899, the Methodist Times contained the most prominent anti-Catholicism in its reporting of the Dreyfus Affair. The Methodist Times argued on 21 September 1899 that the Jesuits were to blame for the Dreyfus Affair. Furthermore, whereas the Methodist Recorder mostly defended or praised English Catholics and Cardinal Archbishop Herbert Vaughan, the Methodist Times excoriated Vaughan for his attempts to deflect just criticism, and, quote, “his silence and the silence of all the English Romanist Hierarchy, when every other Christian Church is protesting against the wicked verdict of Rennes.” According to the Methodist Times, Vaughan was the “docile pupil of the French Jesuit school” (in reality, there was no connection between Cardinal Vaughan and the French Jesuits – but his newspaper the Tablet had excoriated Jews and Captain Dreyfus prior to 1899). “The Dreyfus case and the rotten condition of the French Army,” the Methodist Times argued, was “the direct result of the momentous fact that the Jesuits now dominate the French Roman Catholic Church.” The Methodist Times argued that the “great political and ecclesiastical fact of our time is that the Jesuits, after centuries of strife, have at last captured the whole machinery of the Roman Catholic Church, and are gradually crushing out of that Church all those who do not accept their views and methods.” “The more Liberal and manly American Romanism lies prostrate in the dust under the foot of Spanish Romanism,” the paper concluded. Furthermore, the Methodist Times blamed the Jesuits for events throughout Europe: “the Jesuit organisation has brought France into her present position, keeps the unity of Italy in constant peril, threatens the German Empire, will certainly destroy the unity of Austria, and, mainly through Irish agency, is always secretly seeking to undermine the unity of the British Empire.” The same issue of the Methodist Times also contained a couple of reports of Methodists delivering lectures on the Dreyfus Affair and organising protests. One Methodist minister, the Rev. D. A. De Mouilpied, delivered a lecture on France and the “Dreyfus Tragedy” at a crowded chapel in York – according to the paper, 2000 congregants assembled to hear the lecture – and the Superintendent minister organised a letter to be sent from the large congregation to Madame Dreyfus to express “profound sympathy” and “confidence in Captain Dreyfus’s innocent.” The Rev. De Mouilpied then repeated his lecture at another crowded chapel in Sheffield. According to the Methodist Times, the minister declared that the retrial was not a “miscarriage of justice, for there had been no justice”; it had simply been a “cruel and infamous farce.” See “Americanism,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 657; “York: The Dreyfus Tragedy,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 662; “Sheffield: The Dreyfus Infamy,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 662.

Unlike the Methodist Recorder, the Methodist Times called for a firm boycott of the French Exhibition, and argued that “the French people are responsible” for the Dreyfus Affair. “It is transparent nonsense,” the paper argued, “to say that we must not punish the whole nation for the sins of a handful of men, or even of the General Staff of the Army.” According to the paper, the “notorious fact” is that with the exception of a small minority, the whole nation “savagely endorses the abominable crime perpetrated by the court-martial at Rennes.” It was thus morally unacceptable, the paper argued, to go “laughing and smiling and dancing to the Exhibition,” as to do so would be to make oneself party to the “Dreyfus infamy.” Only if the French people – via their Government and Parliament – repent and repudiate the infamies committed in their name, would it be acceptable to attend the Exhibition, the paper contended. See “Notes of Current Events,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 664.

The Methodist Times also contained other reports that were critical or hostile towards Catholicism in October and November 1899. On 26 October, the paper reported and approved a letter sent by George Mivart to The Times newspaper on 17 October, which accused the Church of silently tolerating French Catholic antisemitism during the Dreyfus Affair. In November 1899, the Methodist Times contained a number of reports that the Pope, the Jesuits, and the Catholic newspapers, hated England, and were gloating over calamities faced by the British Empire. According to the paper, “the Jesuits from their standpoint are logically justified in the hatred with which they regard us. Their sentiments are exemplified in the Dreyfus infamy. The British Empire stands for civil and religious freedom, the rights of conscience and the vindication of truth. … the official hierarchy of the Papacy is, and always has been, the deadliest enemy of human freedom and of the rights of man.” According to the paper, the Catholic Church, the Pope, and the Jesuits, are hoping for or planning the downfall of the British Empire. See “Mr. St. George Mivart and the Pope,” Methodist Times, 26 October 1899, 737; “The Pope and the Jesuits Rejoice,” Methodist Times, 2 November 1899, 760; “The Jesuits’ Position Logical,” Methodist Times, 2 November 1899, 760; “Roman Catholicism Losing Ground,” Methodist Times, 2 November 1899, 760; “The Papal Hatred of England,” Methodist Times, 16 November 1899, 796; “The Jesuit Invasion of England,” Methodist Times, 16 November 1899, 796.

Nineteenth-century English anti-Catholicism probably influenced the reporting in some of these Methodist newspapers as much as any sympathy for Jews and Captain Dreyfus. For those with an anti-Catholic axe to grind, such as the Methodist Times, the Dreyfus Affair was a gift, as many Catholic newspapers, especially the French Catholic newspaper La Croix and the Rome based Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica, but also the English Catholic Tablet, were acerbically anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic during (and before) the Diana Vaughan Hoax (1894-1897) and the Dreyfus Affair (1894-1899). Anti-Catholicism in various forms has been a prominent feature of post-reformation British culture and society. According to Bernard Glassman’s study of “protean prejudice,” during the eighteenth century, “Catholics were, by far, the most despised and feared minority group in England. … If, through the years, they had been guilty of portraying the Jew as the nefarious ‘other’ who proved the superiority of Christianity by his sinister behaviour, they, in turn, were viewed in the same way by the Protestant majority.” Though the early Methodists were sometimes “accused of being ‘Papists in disguise’ or ‘Popishly inclined’”, Methodist publications during the late-eighteenth century, and throughout much of the nineteenth century, were disseminators of anti-Catholic narratives. See Bernard Glassman, Protean Prejudice (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1998), 35-36, 44.

A Tale of Religious Angst and Self-Deprecation: The Short Life of Hans Herzl (1890-1930)

Born in 1890, Hans Herzl was the son of Theodor Herzl, a Jewish Austro-Hungarian journalist and one of the main founders of political Zionism at the end of the nineteenth century. Dismayed by antisemitism in Vienna after the election of Karl Lueger as mayor, and by antisemitism in France during the Dreyfus Case, Theodor Herzl concluded that the Jewish people needed to found a nation of their own outside Europe. Theodor Herzl passed away in 1904. In the years that followed, Hans came to disagree with his father’s prognosis. Hans was far more concerned with a search for spiritual rather than political meaning, and believed that a Jewish nation based on politics rather than spirituality was an error for the Jewish people. He believed that for life to have any meaning, it had to be grounded in some sort of metaphysical or religious truth. He spent much of his short life searching for this foundation of truth. It proved to be a forlorn search, and though he had considered the ultimate escape on a number of occasions throughout his life, in 1930, at the age of thirty-nine, he finally decided to commit suicide.

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Hans Herzl Image 2

 Hans Herzl (circa 1925)

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According to Hans Herzl, his mother had a “leaning towards religion,” but his father was influenced more by the “habits of free thought.” He explained that he and his sisters “were only taught two or three simple and short prayers.” Living in England after the death of his father, he “outwardly observed the principal Jewish customs,” whilst losing whatever “inward religion” he possessed. He described his life during this period as “in the main a futile existence,” becoming largely “apathetic in the matter of religion.” In fact, Hans felt himself in desperate need of a faith to sustain him. Ilse Sternberger, in her book about Theodor Herzl’s children, Princes Without a Home (1994), observed that Theodor had regarded the need for God a “passing weakness,” but that Hans needed “the security of a supra-human power to give his life the motive and direction he could not find within himself.” There was, Sternberger convincingly observed, a sense of internal emptiness that Hans was desperate to fill with a “core of certainty, a centre of gravity,” and this led him on quest to find “a religious faith which would totally sustain him.” According to Sternberger, “it was a quest that would leave him disillusioned, drained and desperate.” In his letters and diaries, he frequently recorded his feelings of worthlessness, stated that he despised himself, and expressed thoughts about suicide. As early as 1910, he had written to an uncle explaining that he felt himself “unfit for life,” and that he often thought about putting “an end to so miserable an existence.” In 1919, he wrote a letter to his sister Pauline, informing her that he had come to the conclusion that he had lived too long, that his life had been unsuccessful and sinful, and that his energy had been exhausted. He was extremely self-critical in his diary, condemning his “hankering after distinction” and “greatness,” which he observed had led to his missing “all the realities of life.” According to Sternberger, he recorded that he needed to learn to respect people, that he was full of “all sorts of contempts, spites, hatreds,” and that there was something “warring” within him. “Oh God, I am so ugly!,” Hans declared. His friend and mentor, Father Arthur Day of the Catholic Guild of Israel, had also observed and reported this melancholic side to Hans Herzl’s nature, and his “habitual self-deprecation.” Day observed that Hans was “a continual self-tormentor,” and that he suffered from a “strain of melancholia in his temperament.”

After the First World War, Hans felt completely uncertain about the course of his life. He set out to find a definite religious creed to bolster his sense of identity and to give direction to his existence. During the war he attended the Anglican Church, theosophical meetings, and spiritualist séances, but none of these maintained a lasting hold over him. It was during the early 1920s that he developed his attraction for Catholicism, having been impressed by meetings of the Catholic Evidence Guild in Hyde Park. He did not however immediately convert to Catholicism, which he claimed was partly because he felt “unworthy of being a Catholic.” However, he did embrace Christianity, being baptized by a Baptist community in Vienna. The happiness he gained from joining the Baptist community was short-lived. Before long he doubted his decision, arriving at the conclusion that it was not enough to accept the Christian faith, he must also embrace the “universal” or Catholic Church in order to become a true member of the Christian community. According to Sternberger, after a momentary elation, he “relapsed into darkness,” felt doubt about his conversion into the Baptist community, and doubted “the world as he doubted himself.” Hans returned to England and discussed his feelings of doubt with a cousin, who put him in touch with Father Day, a Jesuit author and the Vice-President of the Catholic Guild of Israel. Father Day provided him with guidance and instruction for joining the Catholic Church. He was received into the Church at the Chapel of Our Lady of Sion, the home of the Catholic Guild of Israel, on 19 October 1924 (link for article in Melilah discussing the Catholic Guild of Israel).

In 1924, the Catholic Guild of Israel was still a relatively new organisation. Whilst it had received the blessing of popes and archbishops, it was finding the actual work of converting English Jews to be difficult and slow. At the annual meeting of the Guild in 1923, Father Day informed the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster that Jews were extremely difficult to convert and that the work was progressing very slowly. He repeated these observations in a booklet entitled Jews and Catholics in 1926. Day even compared the task of bringing the Jews into the Church to that of moving an iceberg. “As with an iceberg the progress is slow. If we were working alone, the process might take 5,000 years; but we are counting on securing the kind and efficient services of the physician Archangel Raphael,” Father Day observed. The securing of Hans Herzl, a Jewish convert with a very distinguished name, was thus a much needed propaganda coup for the Guild. As Day later acknowledged, this “good news” was spread, albeit on a “modest scale,” and Hans was “induced” to “write a short account of his adoption of Catholicism.” This account appeared in two prominent English Catholic newspapers, the Tablet and the Universe, in November 1924. Four months later, in March 1925, Hans published another article in the Universe, discussing Zionism and the Mandate for Palestine, which he believed should be passed from Britain to the Holy See.

In a somewhat ironic twist, Hans Herzl, the son of Theodor Herzl, stood opposed to Zionism, whilst being mentored as a recent convert to Roman Catholicism by Father Arthur Day, an advocate of Zionism. It seems very unlikely that his March 1925 article on Zionism was induced by his mentor Father Day, as in the Catholic Guild of Israel, Day was the voice of support for Zionism. For example, at a Catholic Truth Society meeting in Liverpool in February 1927, Day referred to the “wonderful transformation” of the Jew in Palestine, and he recommended that Zionism should be kept under critical but sympathetic observation. During a debate on the subject of Zionism at a meeting of the Catholic Citizen’s Parliament at Vauxhall, London, in December 1927, Day argued that it is an abnormal state of affairs for a people with a historic past to be without a country to call their own. It is more likely that Father Bede Jarrett, the President of the Guild, encouraged Hans to write it.

Hans Herzl’s self-hating personal remarks sometimes extended to his discourse about Jews. In his March 1925 article in the Universe, Hans observed that from 1881 onwards, the Jews poured out of Russia into Western Europe in order to escape persecution, setting up Jewish colonies in various cities, creating “a minor Jewish problem wherever they appeared, setting up that local irritation which alien bodies produce in living organisms.” In this, Hans Herzl adopted a similar biological vocabulary to his contemporary, the Anglo-French Catholic author, Hilaire Belloc, who had argued in 1911 that the so-called “Jewish Question” was that of “any human organism … which discovers, present and irritant within its tissue, a foreign body.” In 1922, in his antisemitic book entitled The Jews, Belloc rejected both Zionism and Jewish assimilation into Europe as solutions to the so-called Jewish Problem. Instead he argued for a return to the days of the Jewish ghetto. He stated that the ideal solution was to “segregate the alien irritant by an action which takes full account of the thing segregated as well as of the organism segregating it.” Belloc referred to this so-called mutually beneficial segregation of the Jews using the euphemisms of special “privilege” or “recognition” (link for more information on Belloc discussing Jewish segregation). Following suit, Hans Herzl suggested that his father had recognised that these “local irritations” led to a so-called “legitimate anti-Semitism.” Hans believed that his father’s solution, political Zionism and the setting up of a “Jewish National Home in Palestine,” was no longer necessary on the grounds that “there no longer exists a Jewish problem in Eastern Europe.” He rejected the Balfour Declaration, and argued that Jewish money and energy should be channelled to Russia rather than Palestine. Seemingly forgetful of the tribulations of Jews living in “the Pale of Settlement” (the region of Russia to which most Jews were confined) during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, he argued that “if those large sums which wealthy American Jews are now pouring into the Zionist coffers were diverted towards the restoration of Russia,” then “that country which has so long been the national home of the Jewish people in the past could be made habitable for them in the future.” He stated that the only “sort of Mandate in the Middle East” that he could personally conceive of was for “the custody of the Holy places” to be “held by the Holy See.” Significantly, shortly after writing the article for the Universe in 1925, he left the Church.

According to Father Day, Hans Herzl’s “full membership” of the Church cannot have lasted more than six months. This would suggest that he started to abandon the Church around April 1925. Day explained that “H. H. got it into his head that his conversion had been too much boomed by the Catholic Guild of Israel.” He observed that Hans could be over-sensitive, at times morbid, and was hurt by the Guild’s rejoicing at the securing of a distinguished Jewish convert. After he left the Church, Hans accused the Guild of “fanaticism” in his diary on account of being pressured to write about his conversion to Catholicism. According to Day, Hans claimed that his Catholicism collapsed because he felt the Catholic Guild of Israel was more interested in making converts than actually steering souls to God, and because he “had never been convinced of the Divinity of Christ.” Sternberger observes that even though he was no longer admitted to holy communion after his departure from the Church, he still regularly attended mass throughout his life. Sternberger also refers to a number of near reconciliations with the Church. On one occasions, Hans claimed he was considering an offer to help form a special episcopate of Jewish converts to Catholicism in Jerusalem. Towards the end of his life, he talked to a Catholic priest about being reconciled to the Church, though it led to nothing. Father Day also observed that Hans Herzl remained loosely affiliated with the Church. According to Day, whilst his complete membership of the Church only lasted about six months, his falling away from Catholicism was a more gradual process. According to Day, he and Hans continued to be friends after Hans’s departure from the Church, and Hans continued to attend Catholic services. Day observed that Hans often expressed a desire to be reconciled with the Church, but that this was thwarted by his inability to overcome his “pet objections against Catholic theology.”

Hans Herzl’s rejection of Zionism continued after his departure from the Church, and he continued to maintain the belief that the Catholic Church should hold the mandate for the Holy Places in Palestine. After he left the Church, he became friends with a Jewish journalist, Marcel Sternberger. According to Marcel’s wife, Ilse Sternberger, Hans explained to her husband that he believed Zionism had become imperialistic, territorial, and covetous for land, having lost the national idealism which would unite the Jewish people. He argued that Jewish nationalism should be more about a love for the Jewish people, and not tied to territory. According to Sternberger, despite his departure from the Church, he still believed that “the Jewish nation” would be best served by affiliating with “the Papal State,” “the Synagogue” becoming a “constituent member of the World-Church,” with “the Pope, as sovereign of dispersed Jewry.” Hans concluded that the Pope “would be the surest guarantor of Jewish human rights.”

For Hans, the Church proved to be a brief sojourn in a life spent searching for a core belief to sustain him. During his life, he tried Theosophy, Anglicanism, a Baptist community in Vienna, Quakerism and Catholicism. He also spoke to Claude Montefiore about joining the Liberal Synagogue. He embraced Catholicism in 1924 but left the Church in 1925. However, even after he formerly left the Church in 1925, he never entirely turned his back on Catholicism. Ultimately, none of his religious and political commitments brought him lasting happiness, or purged his feelings of angst and uncertainty. In 1930, at the age of thirty-nine, he committed suicide. He shot himself the day before the funeral of his sister Pauline Herzl. He felt guilty for not being able to help Pauline to overcome her emotional problems and addiction to drugs. However, whilst the occasion was his sister’s funeral, the likely cause was his own prolonged depression, exacerbated by his inability to find a lasting faith to give his life a sense of meaning and direction. 

Sources

Hilaire Belloc, “The Jewish Question: The First Solution,” Eye Witness, 5 October 1911.

Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922).

Arthur Day, “Hans Herzl,” Our Lady of Sion, January-March 1932.

Arthur Day, Jews and Catholics (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1926).

Arthur Day, Our Friends the Jews; or, The Confessions of a Proselytizer (London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1943).

Hans Herzl, “How I Became a Catholic,” The Universe, 7 November 1924.

Hans Herzl, “How I Became a Catholic,” The Tablet, 8 November 1924.

Hans Herzl, “National Home for the Jews” and “Jews and Palestine,” The Universe, 20 March 1925.

Ilse Sternberger, Princes Without a Home: Modern Zionism and the Strange Fate of Theodor Herzl’s Children 1900-1945 (San Francisco: International Scholars, 1994).

Minutes of Catholic Guild of Israel meeting, Our Lady of Sion, October-December 1932.

Report of Catholic Guild of Israel Meeting, 27 November 1923, Archives of the Catholic Guild of Israel, Sion Centre for Dialogue and Encounter, London.

Report of debate at the Catholic Citizen’s Parliament at Vauxhall, “Priest’s Defence of Zionism: Fr. Arthur Day, S.J., Advises Catholics to Support it,” Universe, 9 December 1927.

Report of lecture by Arthur Day to the Catholic Truth Society, Liverpool Branch, in “The Church and the Jew,” Catholic Times, 18 February 1927.

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