Religious Histories and Discourses (Blog)
The Catholic Herald was an English Catholic newspaper which was founded and edited by Charles Diamond. The Catholic Herald was the core of a large group of newspapers. At its centre was the “general edition” of the Catholic Herald, which provided the template for over two dozen regional versions of the Catholic Herald and the Catholic News, including the London Catholic Herald, Preston Catholic News, Tyneside Catholic News, Manchester Catholic Herald, Leeds Catholic Herald, Glasgow Observer, and Irish Catholic Herald. For the most part these and other variants were identical to the general edition of the Catholic Herald except for the local news pages. The self-declared mission of the Catholic Herald was to defend and expound Christian civilisation, the Catholic Church, and Irish nationalism. Charles Diamond (1858-1934) was born in Maghera, Ireland, in 1858. He was M.P. for North Monaghan from 1892-1895. He also contested districts of London for the Labour Party in 1918, 1922 and 1924. Diamond was a political firebrand and maverick who frequently got into trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities. He was repeatedly criticised by the English Catholic bishops because he tended to disrespect and undermine their ecclesiastical authority. A resolution was passed by the bishops in 1910, expressing their distaste with the Catholic Herald, which they complained tended to diminish the respect due from Catholics to ecclesiastical authority. Interestingly, Charles Diamond also got into trouble with the British authorities when one of his editorials (on 27 December 1919) suggested that a failed attempt to assassinate John French, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, should not be considered an attempted murder. He argued that the action was justified since “English government in Ireland is not government. It is simply usurpation, brutality, and oppression.” As a result, he spent several months in Pentonville Prison (from January to August 1920).
Charles Diamond saw himself as a champion of Catholicism, Christian civilisation, and Irish nationalism, and he saw the Jews (and Freemasons) as enemies to those concerns. He disliked Jews and Freemasons, not as a consequence of theological concerns per se, but because he believed them to be a foreign and threatening presence within Christian civilisation. He felt that the European nations should have the right to expel the Jews. “His civilisation is not Christian,” the Catholic Herald warned, and “his ethics, his morality, are not Christian. He has a deadly hatred of Christianity”. Whilst he was not concerned with theology per se, Diamond was happy to draw upon aspects of Christian religious narrative in order to make his antisemitic constructions of the Jew more powerful by giving them the semblance of scriptural authority. An editorial in 1914 provides an example. This editorial was written in response to news reports in other newspapers that a rabbi-chaplain had been killed whilst attending a dying Catholic soldier on the battlefield with a crucifix to ease his passing. The editorial stated that this story was improbable. It went on to suggest that there is “ample evidence” to show that most Jews are more than willing to “trample upon the Christian name” and to treat the crucifix with anything but respect. The editorial argued that the Jews had pillaged the Church in France and that their houses are filled with the plunder. The editorial made its construction of the Jew more diabolic by combining traditional religious narratives about the “Pharisees” and “Christ-killers” with more recent stereotypes about Jewish greed. It stated that “the First Christian of all and the Founder of Christianity was put to death, the supreme tragedy of history, by the Jewish people.” The editorial concluded with the following question: “If our Jewish brethren still live under the Old Law, the old dispensation, which permitted ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ and which made it lawful to ‘spoil the Egyptians’ and all others who were not Jews, and if they have in certain specific and proved cases shown themselves ready and willing to act on these principles, are we to take it that the mere mention of the fact is evidence of a bigoted and persecuting spirit?” The paper’s implicit answer was no.
Charles Diamond reinforced his composite construction of the Jew with narratives based on scripture in several other issues of the Catholic Herald. In “The Jew and the World Ferment” (June 1919) and “Jewry” (June 1920), in addition to depicting the Jews as gamblers, usurers, parasites, tyrannical bullies, pathetic sycophants and vulgar materialists, Diamond also stated that “the Scribes and Pharisees, the wealthy Israelites, and most of the selfish and hard hearted multitude, sought only power, and glory and pre-eminence for their nation, and led by their rulers, the high priests and the body of the priesthood, they committed the paramount crime of all time”. Diamond suggested that whilst it is “beyond our province even to speculate” as to “how much of what Christians and non-Christians despise in them and denounce is due to what they have endured during the two thousand years of expiation of their unparalleled crime,” it was apparent that “their sufferings have not improved them.” Other articles and editorials in the Catholic Herald also combined references to “pharisaically dishonest action,” “haters of the Christian name” and “a denial of the Divinity of Christ,” with stereotypes of Jewish greed, cowardice, cunning, secrecy and treachery, and the oft-repeated conspiracy myth of a Jewish-Masonic alliance. The paper later complained that the Jews had used their powerful influence to have a movie, The Kings of Kings, which was released in 1927, modified so that responsibility for the murder of Christ was confined to the Roman authorities and Caiaphas the High Priest, rather than “the Jewish race as a whole.” This was, the Catholic Herald suggested, a gross falsification of the “historical record.”
The Catholic Herald increasingly developed a more malevolent construction of the Jew during and subsequent to the First World War. Diamond claimed that the Jews had looted the Church in France and that “the most sacred Christian objects [are] being bought up by the Jews for a mere song.” This, he suggested, was the result of their (supposed) belief that they still lived under an old dispensation that entitles them to despoil all non-Jewish nations. The claim that Jews feel it is their right to spoil the nations in which they reside and the accusation that they plundered the Church became regular leitmotifs of the Catholic Herald from 1914 onwards. The paper even argued that the First World War was arranged by Jews specifically so they could have another opportunity to pillage. According to the Catholic Herald, “this Hun war was largely the work of the Jews around the Kaiser. It was a huge plan of plunder and pillage, in which the Jew was to get his chance.” The paper continued with this stereotype of Jewish greed and exploitation after the war. In 1919 and 1920, the Catholic Herald acknowledged that Jews have a reputation for being “great philanthropists,” but observed that they nevertheless continue to be despised. The paper concluded that the reason they continue to be hated is that “as a people, taken as a whole, they are given to the worst of vices.” According to the Catholic Herald, the Jews are “gamblers, fond of vulgar display; cruel and domineering when they have power, sycophants and cringers when they are weak or have an end to serve.” According to the paper, the “orthodox Jew” and the “creedless materialistic Jew” were nearly as bad as each other, as the orthodox Jew has a religious creed which encourages “spoiling the stranger,” whilst the secular Jew hovers “like a vampire over the nations.” In the late 1920s, the accusation that Jews plundered the Church in France was transformed into the accusation that they plundered the Christians in Russia; the paper claimed that the Jews were pursuing the identical policy in Russia that they had once pursued in France. According to the Catholic Herald, “the worst characteristics of the human race” find their “highest and fullest expression” in the Jewish people.
Charles Diamond also incorporated the stereotype of Jewish secrecy into his multifaceted construction of the Jew. According to his newspaper in 1916, a group of Jewish money lenders “had dropped their Jew names and taken Irish names in order to disarm suspicion, and the better to swindle others.” The Catholic Herald was also disturbed by reports in other newspapers about “Jewish soldiers who were alleged to have won the highest military decorations in Russia for their bravery.” The paper concluded, with more than a touch of sarcasm, that it is “all right, of course, to praise Jews when they do something meritorious. It appears to be all right even to invent such stories.” In 1919, Diamond maintained that the Jew “is an intrusion, a foreign element in the Christian body politic,” and “he endeavours to get round this by all sorts of dodges and trickery, and tries to hide his Semitic origin and principles by changing his name and pretending to be what he is not.” Throughout the late 1910s and the 1920s, the paper frequently printed its paranoid fears and conspiracy theories about the Jews secretly hiding behind non-Jewish names except when they achieve, or “purchase”, some great honour or distinction; then the Jew has no problem being held up as a credit to his people, the paper complained. The stereotype of Jewish secrecy sometimes coalesced with that of the unpatriotic Jew, resulting in an even more inflammatory stereotype: The Jewish spy. According to the Catholic Herald in 1917, England was “honeycombed with Jew spies and traitors, using, of course, assumed names.” These pro-German Jew spies, the paper argued, “are adapts at treachery, and their co-religionists and friends in the press and elsewhere are ever ready to slander and abuse anyone who calls attention to their proceedings.”
The Catholic Herald also combined its stereotypes and representations of Jews with those of Freemasons; and the paper attacked Jews and Freemasons with equal passion. According to the Catholic Herald, “Freemasonry is a detestable form of secret tyranny as is proved by its implacable hatred of Catholics on the Continent.” The paper argued that Freemasonry is “anti-Christian,” “anti-Catholic,” “anti-nation,” “anti-social” and a “State within the State.” The paper alleged that Freemasons conspire to discredit and attack Catholics, and in particular Catholic priests, as part of its organised campaign against religion. The paper also suggested that Freemasonry has secretly and insidiously infiltrated and “honey-combed” the British army, navy and war office. Its main concern was that as a result these institutions were suffused by a “subtle anti-Catholic spirit.” It also hinted at Masonic naval officers participating in the “most shocking” rites and rituals whilst their vessels were docked in foreign countries. Whilst the Catholic Herald excoriated Jews and Freemasons independently, the paper’s composite construction of the Freemason not only closely mirrored its construction of the secretive, disloyal, anti-social and anti-Christian Jew, it also coalesced with it. For example, the paper stated that “the worst elements of Jewry, as of Atheism and Freemasonry … are the enemies of Christian civilisation as well as of Freedom and Justice.” After the war, one of the articles in the Catholic Herald that accused the Pharisees of murdering Christ and contemporary Jews of failing to improve themselves during their two thousand years of penitence for this “unparalleled crime,” went on to report that whilst the “defeat of Germany” in the war was a “blow to German Jew interests and ambitions, we may rest assured that the Jew trader, the Jew speculator, the Jew financier, the Jew Freemason, the Jew, politically and socially, will emerge from the ordeal the gainer as a whole by the cataclysm.” The paper announced that the “Young Turks” who led the violent revolution in Turkey were predominantly Jews and Freemasons. “Freemasonry in Turkey,” the paper reported,” is “of the atheist Jew brand” and the “Young Turks” who have been put in control of the Ottoman Empire by the Freemasons are “chiefly Salonica Jews, revolutionists, anti-Christians, and atheistical Masons, almost without exception.” The paper blamed the Jews and Freemasons for other revolutions of an anti-clerical nature. For example, in the late 1920s, the paper attributed the persecution of Catholics in Mexico to the “forces of evil represented by Atheists, Freemasons, Communists, Jews and all the other forces of infamy.” In 1931, the paper observed that a tolerance for Christians is not indicated by the fact that Jews do not attempt to proselytise to them. It is, the newspaper indicated, “only too true that the most bitter persecutors of the Catholic Church, in various countries where they have the power, have been, and are Jews.” “The anti-Catholic propaganda for which Jewish Freemasons and others are responsible is a matter of notoriety,” the Catholic Herald concluded.
One focus point for the paper was the Dreyfus Affair. The paper at first began with a comparatively innocuous, albeit ambivalent report, when Captain Dreyfus was initially accused of treason. It suggested in November 1894 that as “the accused has not yet been tried,” he “ought therefore to be presumed innocent until he is found guilty.” It deprecated the French press for its unanimous verdict in condemning Dreyfus before the trial, though it did allude to the power of “the highest Jewish families in France,” who were, the paper claimed, supporting the accused. However, the tone of the paper soon became more hostile. “The traitor Dreyfus,” the Catholic Herald reported in January 1895, “has astounded all France, and even the whole civilized world, by his execrable crime of treason against his country.” His sentence, the paper concluded, “seems far too light for such a detestable crime.” During and subsequent to the First World War, the Catholic Herald repeatedly returned to the Dreyfus Affair and the crisis in France, which had, it suggested, been provoked by the “Masonic-Jewish camarilla.” The paper suggested that the Jews and Freemasons exploited the crisis in France as an opportunity to persecute and exclude Catholics from political positions, to plunder the Church and disestablish the Catholic religion. The paper asked, “has any body of Jews, here or elsewhere, protested against the Jew-freemason-atheist plunder of the French Catholic Church?” The Catholic Herald reasoned that Alfred Dreyfus must have been a Freemason and that the Freemasons supported the Dreyfusard cause because he was a brother of the Lodge. The reality of the case, the paper suggested, was that “a traitorous French Jew was punished for his guilt of treason.” The paper repeatedly argued that when a reporter from the Daily Mail was sent to France to investigate the retrial of Dreyfus and concluded that he seemed to be a little guilty, Dreyfus’ Jewish-Freemason brothers would not accept it. They got their way, the paper concluded, and consequently a second reporter was sent to France with instructions to write “that Dreyfus ‘was innocent’, in face of the evidence and of his own convictions!” The Catholic Herald repeatedly claimed that the Jews and Freemasons had pressured Lord Northcliffe, the owner of the Daily Mail, to declare that Dreyfus was innocent irrespective of his actual guilt.
Charles Diamond’s Catholic Herald continued to repeat anti-Jewish stereotypes and conspiracy theories during the early 1930s. The Catholic Herald did condemn “Hitlerite” Jew-baiting, but the paper simultaneously argued that “the Jews in Germany no doubt played an evil part in pre-war politics.” After describing the attacks upon Jews in Berlin as “outrageous,” the paper went on to argue that Bolshevism was a Jewish movement and that Jewish usury was responsible for much of the then current hatred against Jews. In April 1933, the paper reported that “a leading Jewish representative” had stated in “the press” that “the Catholics of Germany” had stood up against the persecutions of Jews in Germany. According to the Catholic Herald, this Jewish representative also called upon the pope to similarly speak out against Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. The Catholic Herald suggested that the Jewish representative was making an “unwarrantable” claim upon the pope, as “the Holy See does not rush into every conflict, even when challenged by unauthorised persons.” The paper went on to report that “a German Catholic” points out in response that all over the world, in France, in Spain and elsewhere, “it is too true that Jews, especially the Masonic Jews who are so numerous, are the bitter and persistent foes of the Catholic Church.” The paper claimed that the revolution in Spain had the “wholesale” support of Jewry. According to the Catholic Herald, “whenever it can do so, Jewry is the leading and bitter enemy of the Catholic Church.” The paper complained that people protest against the “far lesser wrongs” inflicted upon “a far smaller number of Jews,” whilst ignoring or approving of the horrors inflicted upon millions of Catholics wherever “Protestantism and Atheism and Freemasonry have power.” In October 1933, the editor of the Catholic Herald stated that the “Jewish attitude towards the Catholic Church” is notorious. It is, he asserted, “notorious that the war upon the Church in France which culminated in the robbery of the Church was fiercely helped by Jewish influence, especially the Jewish Masonic Lodges and other atheistic organisations.” According to the paper, most of the £20,000,000 of Church property which was seized by the French Government was bought up by Jews all over France and distributed to Jews all over the world. The editor claimed to have been “in the house of a Jew friend in Paris which was filled in every room with Church property bought at knock-out prices all over France.” The “whole record of the Jewish people is a record of persecution of their neighbours,” the editor argued. According to the paper, “anyone acquainted with the Old Testament knows that fact and anyone acquainted with the first centuries of Christianity knows that the Jews, like St. Paul before his conversion, went about preaching violence and slaughter against Jews who became Christians and against the Christian name everywhere.” In fairness to the Catholic Herald, the paper did go on to state that every Catholic should raise his voice against antisemitism. And yet, in virtually the same breath, the paper reasoned that the widespread attitude of hostility towards Jews was not caused by “the wickedness of those who attack them,” but rather was provoked by the Jews themselves.
Richard Harvey has recently posted (1 February 2016) an interesting blog post on the subject of antisemitism in the French Catholic newspaper La Croix in February 1882 (see below for his blog post). Significantly, La Croix, which was owned and run by the Assumptionist Fathers in France, frequently expressed extreme hostility towards Jews and Freemasons; this hostility was not confined to 1882, but extended throughout the 1880s and 1890s. For example, La Croix claimed in 1886 that Drumont’s “La France Juive”, and Léo Taxil’s “Frères trois points”, had “‘laid bare the two social evils which grow like gangrene in France,’ two social evils, ‘so united up to this time.’” Furthermore, according to La Croix, “the Declaration of the Rights of Man” was the work of “Jewish Freemasonry,” and was intended to give “land, influence, government, and press” to “the enemy.” (La Croix: 19 May 1886, 1; 12 August 1890, 1; originally cited and translated by Norman James Clary, “French Antisemitism During the Years of Drumont and Dreyfus 1886-1906,” PhD thesis, Ohio State University, 1970, pp. 177-178, 215).
This hostility was also manifest in La Croix during the 1890s. Léo Taxil (formerly Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès), a French writer and ex-Freemason, whose writings frequently contained anti-Catholicism and anti-Masonry, constructed the character of Diana Vaughan as a fictitious female apostate from so-called “Palladian” Freemasonry. According to Diana Vaughan’s so-called memories (fabricated by Taxil in a series of instalments from July 1895 through to April 1897), she was a noble-minded lady who abandoned the misguided worship of Lucifer, converted to Roman Catholicism, and revealed the secret satanic inner workings of Freemasonry. In addition to Diana Vaughan’s extravagant memoirs, Taxil also wrote other elaborate stories about devil worship and sinister rituals in Masonic lodges, some of which were published under pseudonyms. These tales included bizarre accounts of Host desecration, Satanic magic, murder, the Antichrist, and the manifestations of Lucifer and Asmodeus. Whilst Taxil was the original inventor of Diana Vaughan, his construction took on a life of its own in a number of French and English Catholic discourses outside of his immediate control. In some of these discourses, the Jews were depicted as in league with the Freemasons, and as helping the Freemasons to undermine the evidence of Diana Vaughan’s existence. Among the admirers of his writings were various French bishops and the editors of La Croix. (Link for English Catholic responses to the Diana Vaughan hoax)
In the months following the end of the Diana Vaughan hoax, the Dreyfus Affair began in earnest. In 1897, La Croix claimed (without the slightest evidence) that a Dreyfusard Syndicate “disposes of not less than 2 million francs, for the purpose of paying secret agents.” The Dreyfusard syndicate, the paper suggested, was behind an “antipatriotic campaign,” which “in order to save the honour of a Dreyfus, puts in peril the security of the country and threatens the honour of our whole army.” (La Croix: ‘L’Affaire Dreyfus’, 18 November 1897, 2; and ‘L’Affaire Dreyfus’, 24 November 1897, 4; originally cited and translated by Clary, “French Antisemitism During the Years of Drumont and Dreyfus 1886-1906,” pp. 177-178, 215).
Significantly, the reports and articles in the then semi-official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Westminster in England were similar in tone to those found in La Croix. For example, according to the Tablet, the Jews in France were “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 Tablet also argued 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.” Conveniently forgetting its own articles about the Jews during the Dreyfus Affair, which at the most generous could be described as ambivalent, and at times as antisemitic as La Croix, the Tablet on 16 September 1899 (i.e. when the injustice of the Dreyfus trials was no longer easy to ignore) described La Croix as an “irresponsible rag” because of its role in agitating against Jews during the Dreyfus Affair. Two weeks later it expressed sympathy for La Croix now that it was the turn of the Assumptionist Fathers to be harassed. The Tablet argued that “some words of La Croix which are less unreasonable than the quotations which have been going the round of the English press may be quoted, not as condoning its faults but in the spirit of giving it its due.” According to the Tablet, La Croix stated that: “the Dreyfus affair was a source of division and suffering. Let it be closed and let silence follow the vicious agitation which has been aroused amongst us by our worst enemies, the Freemasons and foreign Jews.” The Tablet concluded that whilst these comments by La Croix were perhaps not all that could be desired, they provide a counter-balance to the savage attacks against the Church that have appeared in various newspapers. 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; “Opinions on the Dreyfus Judgement,” News From France, Tablet, 16 September 1899, 454; “La Croix and the Pardon of Dreyfus,” News From France, Tablet, 30 September 1899, 535.
Blog post by Richard Harvey (“1 February 1882; French Catholic Paper Complains against the Jews”):
The French Catholic newspaper La Croix publishes an article by Father Francois Picard, head of the Assumptionist order behind the journal, declaring that Jewish bankers and that they are behind all of Europe’s problems. (post from Skepticism.org)
“To whom do the treasuries of Prussia, of Austria, of the German provinces belong? To the Jewish bankers of Frankfurt, Vienna, and Berlin.”
The increasing influence of synagogues cause the
“financial disasters that befall so many families …showing us the all-powerful Jew atop his golden throne and modern societies under the yoke of this gutless king. What do the collapse of nations, the destruction of families, people’s desperation, and the raft of suicides matter to him? The Jew …seeks financial monopoly. He stops at nothing to obtain it.”
The claim that Jews own everything, and furthermore that they acquired their possessions through fraud and deception, is a popular one among anti-Semites. It will often…
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The following is an abridged version of an essay accepted for publication in the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism:
The Mortara Affair was an incident in which a six year old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, was forcibly removed from his family in June 1858 by the Carabinieri (the military police of the Papal States), placed in the care of the Church, and later adopted by Pius IX. This was because a Catholic maid (Anna Morisi), supposedly afraid that Edgardo was about to die, illicitly baptised him when he was an infant – or at least claimed to have done so. Years later she revealed this to Father Feletti, the inquisitor in Bologna. Whether Morisi really baptized Edgardo Mortara as claimed, or fabricated the story during her interrogation by Father Feletti in 1857, remains unknown. There were certainly inconsistencies in her account, which were highlighted during the trial of Father Feletti in 1860. Nevertheless, her story was accepted by the Church. The matter was referred to the Holy Office, which declared that the baptism was valid, and that according to papal law the boy must thus be removed from his family and brought to the House of the Catechumens in Rome to be raised as a Christian. This episode is examined in detail by David Kertzer in his excellent book, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (New York: Vintage, 1998) [link]. According to reports on the internet, Kertzer’s book will soon be adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg [link].
Representation of the abduction by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882).
Whereas most British Catholic publications (such as The Rambler) simply ignored the reports of the Mortara abduction, and the pleas of the Jewish Chronicle for support in protesting against it, the Tablet went beyond silence and fully supported the Pope’s refusal to return the child. On 23 October 1858, following Protestant objections to Edgardo’s abduction by the Church, an editorial in the Tablet argued that an honest Catholic journalist can say nothing about it which Protestant readers will find gratifying. It was necessary, the editorial suggested, to take an “unpopular” stand despite the anticipated “obloquy” it would entail. The Tablet admitted that it adopted not only the “conclusions”, but also the “language” and the “arguments” of L’Univers – the French Catholic periodical of Ultramontanist Louis Veuillot. The Tablet thus presented L’Univers’s position on the Mortara Affair and endorsed it as if it were its own. According to the Tablet/L’Univers, Jews were the guests of the Church of Rome, and welcomed and protected in the papal territories, but whilst the civil law protects Jewish children from being coerced into baptism against their parent’s wishes (except “when in danger of death” or “when forsaken”), another law, of an earlier date, must take precedence: the “law of Christianity.” According to the Tablet/L’Univers, “baptism, which is necessary for salvation, makes us children of the Church.” It was suggested that in the case of the Mortara affair, the family had unwisely disregarded the law forbidding them to have Christian servants, and the maid, having seen the threat of death looming over an ill Edgardo Mortara, wished to make Heaven available to him, and thus baptized him, “legally, according to all appearance, validly, beyond all question.” As the young Mortara child was supposedly “no longer a Jew but a Christian,” it was apparently correct for him to be removed from his family, so that the parents “might not be tempted to make this Christian child apostatise either by violence or fraud, and so ruin a soul purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ.” The Tablet/L’Univers thus concluded that the Pope was right to refuse to bow to pressure, the paramount issue being the safety of a little child and a Christian soul. Untitled editorial with extract from Louis Veuillot’s L’Univers, Tablet, 23 October 1858, 680.
A week later, on 30 October, the front-page news summary in the Tablet noted that “the Mortara case” was continuing to “engage the tongues and pens of men.” The Tablet again inverted the event, so that rather than a case of the Church kidnapping a child from his parents, it was transformed into a matter of the Church defending an innocent child in his choice of religion against the unreasonable demands of his parents. The paper argued that agitations about young Mortara were being provoked by the “maligners of the Holy See.” According to the Tablet, those who insist that the young Mortara child, “a baptised Christian, arrived at the age of reason” (the paper incorrectly stated that the child was eight rather than six years old, though the proposition remains dubious at either age), should be surrendered to his father, and thus raised “as a Jew, to deny his Saviour,” are in essence arguing that “this Christian child has no right, as against his father, to be protected in his religion.” The Tablet contended that the maligners who argue that the father has a “right to force his own religion on the child,” do so at the expense of the “interests of the child.” The paper concluded that the father does not have this right, and no one can “seriously contend” that he does. According to the Tablet, “a legal discussion, the validity of which, according to the law of Rome, is not disputed, has settled that the child Mortara is entitled to be protected in his [Christian] religion against his own father.” The Pope was thus being asked, the paper concluded, to violate the law of Rome, “in order to enable the Jew to force his child to deny the Divinity of Christ as Supreme Legislator”. “Summary,” Tablet, 30 October 1858, 689.
A week later, on 6 November, an editorial in the Tablet suggested that all that is required to resolve the Mortara question is the “little grace” necessary to receive the instruction of the Catechism as it is intended to be received; it concluded that “unfortunately, that little grace is wanting to the furious infidels who create the disturbance, and darken a question clear as the sun at noon.” According to the editorial: “The child Mortara has acquired rights which no human power can take away, but by violence, and for the loss of which no Government can ever make any compensation. The act which made him a Christian is irrevocable, beyond the powers of any tribunal to annul, and by that act he became as a dead child to his Hebrew father (so far as the authority of the latter over his religion was concerned), as completely as if he had died a natural death. Neither he nor his parents, it is true, consented to the deed, but that absence of consent cannot vitiate it, because the act of baptism once validly complete, remains for ever indelible, whatever may be his education or the future habits of his life.” The editorial again inverted the episode, transforming it from the kidnapping of a Jewish child into the protection of a Christian child in his so-called free choice of religion: “The child Mortara, by his baptism came within the jurisdiction of the judges in those [Papal] States, and had a right to the protection which they afford. They were bound to take care that an unprotected subject of the Pope should suffer no damage that they could prevent, and they would have been guilty of a dereliction of imperative duty, if they had not protected the child, as soon as they had ascertained that he had a legal claim to their help.” Invoking the stereotype of the Jewish “Pharisee,” the Tablet argued that the “British Christians” who side with Judaism over the Pope (whilst supporting Protestant societies for the conversion of Jews) are “Pharisees, who magnify the letter of their law, that they may easier kill the spirit.” On 13 November, the paper observed that when considering the Mortara case, “the readers of foreign journals must recollect that an immense proportion of [the journals] in France and Germany belong to Jews.” According to the paper, “Hebrews and Protestants will hunt in couples when Popery is on foot.” Untitled editorial, Tablet, 6 November 1858, 713; “Catholic Intelligence,” Tablet, 13 November 1858, 724.
In summary, the Tablet agreed with Ultramontane publications in Europe, that the six-year-old child, having been (allegedly) baptized, was no longer a Jew but a Christian. It was necessary, the paper concluded, to remove the child from his parents in order to protect his soul from violence. The Tablet regarded it as entirely plausible that Edgardo, though only a young child, had freely abandoned Judaism, embraced Catholicism, and thus had a right to be “protected” against his parents in his so-called free “choice” of religion.
George Oliver Plaque (sourced from “Open Plaques“)
It should be noted in conclusion that whilst the main British Catholic publications of the time (i.e. the Rambler, the Tablet and the Dublin Review) were either silent or supportive of the pope’s decision to hold on to the young Edgardo Mortara, this does mean that British Catholics in general – most of whom had little opportunity to make their views public – were happy about the abduction. At least one prominent British Catholic, the Rev Dr George Oliver, a clergyman, antiquarian and local historian, who was made a Doctor of Divinity by Pope Gregory XVI in 1844, protested the act in a letter to Alex Alexander. The letter was subsequently published in the Western Times and the Jewish Chronicle. According to Oliver, “a father has a natural right over his children, and without his free consent, it is unjustifiable in a Christian to attempt to baptise them.” He declared that the forcible abduction of a Jewish child on the pretence of a secret baptism by a Christian maid was “abominable”. Letter from George Oliver to Alex Alexander, “The Forcible Abduction at Bologna,” Jewish Chronicle, 15 October 1858, 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.
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.
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 (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, ), 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, ), 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)
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.
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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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.
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).
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, ).
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).
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.
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.
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”.
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).