Religious Histories and Discourses (Blog)
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).
Lives Behind the Stones – Preserving the Past for the Future (A Heritage Lottery Funded Project)
Guest blog post by Rosalind Adam.
Rosalind Adam is a writer and workshop leader with a particular interest in therapeutic writing. She has a history degree and was a teacher for many years. Her publications include: A Children’s History of Leicester, Hometown World Publishers (May 2011) and The Children’s Book of Richard III, The Reading Shop Oadby (July 2014). She has managed two Heritage Lottery funded projects: “Jewish Voices – Memories of Leicester in the 1940s and 50s”, 2008/9 (link for website) and “The Lives Behind the Stones”, 2013/14 (link for website). Rosalind can be contacted via her blog at http://rosalindadam.blogspot.co.uk
The story of our year’s work on ‘The Lives Behind the Stones’ clearly illustrates how exciting this Heritage Lottery funded project has been. It started out as a plan to catalogue Leicester’s Orthodox Jewish cemetery and turned into a major study of the cemetery, including the creation of a comprehensive website providing full search facilities and many researched stories about members of the community and the history of its growth. The description of the work undertaken during this project is easily written here, but each task represents days, weeks and even months of tortuous researching, checking and rechecking.
With a team of six, plus 37 volunteers, the work has been constant and varied. It began with the realization that there was no correct list of burials at the site, especially those from the early 20th century. The first burial took place in 1902 but most of the families were immigrants, many coming from areas in and around the Pale of Settlement. They would have been Yiddish speakers and this is reflected in the inaccuracies encountered in the handwritten records at the city’s cemeteries office. The workers at the Corporation of Leicester no doubt struggled to understand the broken English of the immigrant families.
The most useful next step was to photograph each headstone and use the information on the headstone as the accurate provider of data but this was hampered by the fact that there were many unmarked graves. Part of the project plan was to fix small plaques onto each unmarked plot and so, to verify the details about each of these plots, it was necessary to research using the limited information available from the written records. This alone took many months but we now have, as far as can be verified, accurate records for each of the almost 1,000 plots at the cemetery.
As with many old graveyards, the early section of Leicester’s Orthodox cemetery had fallen into disrepair. This had been the main impetus for us to carry out the project. We couldn’t allow the stones, and indeed the lives behind those stones, to be lost forever. It has not been possible to repair each stone but, as well as recording all the inscriptions, we have been able to make the cemetery more easily navigable. Row markers have been replaced. Broken kerbstones and other trip hazards have been cleared away. There are now three large information boards at the site; one is a map of all the sections and the other two contain the plot locations of every grave in the cemetery.
Recording all the basic data onto a database in order to inform the search facility on our website was one of the biggest challenges, not only because of the sheer volume of potential data available, but also because everything had to be researched and verified. Some records contain more data than others but all records now have at least some basic information programmed in so that the website is available for genealogical research. The website is still being added to as and when additional data becomes available and new burials will be recorded.
While the website manager was responsible for creating the website and database, it was my job, as project coordinator, to design the pages and produce the text. The most rewarding task for me was to write up the in-depth stories. We have seventeen stories so far and hope to add to this list over time. The stories have been researched by volunteers working alongside members of the project team. The local records office provided much needed training and support as many of the volunteers were unfamiliar with family research or using record office facilities.
Delving into the lives of families over the last century and recording their contributions to the city and community, has been a fascination and a privilege for me. Some arrived in Leicester at the end of complicated and dangerous journeys in their struggle to avoid antisemitic persecutions and we have been able to illustrate their travels with photographs kindly donated by their descendants. Some were inventors and, thanks to the records kept at the National Archives, we have been able to reproduce sections from their original patent applications. Each life had a contribution to make. We have written about active members of the synagogue, about tailors, market traders, in fact a complete cross-section of society covering over a hundred years of life and death in Leicester’s Jewish community.
The website includes additional material. There are suggestions for ways in which Key Stage 2 teachers could use the vast amount of data which is available there. We have explained how the project was carried out during the year illustrated with photographs where possible. We have written about the cemetery’s history but, most importantly, we now have a complete and searchable record of all the people buried at Leicester’s Orthodox cemetery. This is to be a permanent online facility. We hope that it will also be used as a template for other communities who are concerned about preserving their past for the future.
The website can be found at http://jewish-gilroes.org.uk
In 1898, the main English Methodist newspapers and magazines (the Bible Christian Magazine, the Free Methodist, the Methodist Recorder, and the Methodist Times) largely ignored the Dreyfus Affair , but by July 1899, they were all publicly defending and sympathising with Captain Dreyfus. In July 1899, the Bible Christian Magazine applauded the French Judges who quashed the original “conviction of Dreyfus,” which, the magazine concluded, had been shown to be “obtained by wholesale perjury and forgery.” The magazine depicted Dreyfus as the victim of a sinister plot. In September, the magazine contended that not just Dreyfus, but the French nation was on trial at Rennes. The magazine suggested that the nation’s statesman, administrators and army stood before the eyes of the world, “a discredited product of the age.” In October, the magazine observed that it was not concerned with Dreyfus as an individual per se, but rather with the French people, who were close neighbours, with a history closely interwoven with that of the English. The Bible Christian Magazine claimed that it desired to avoid anti-French sectarianism, noting that “their downfall cannot profit us; their shame is a menace to us, for as they sink they tend to drag us with them.” The magazine thus wished to avoid condemning France to oblivion, desiring instead to restore “a sane France, a justice-loving France, a pure France.” The paper expressed its hope that France would consider the judgement that has been passed upon her by popular opinion across Europe, overcome the “flood of corruption and perjury,” and free herself from “Jesuitism.” See “Dreyfus,” Bible Christian Magazine, July 1899, 471-472; “Distraught France,” Bible Christian Magazine, September 1899, 609; “Our Next Door Neighbour,” Bible Christian Magazine, October 1899, 676-677.
The Free Methodist only contained a few very short reports on the Dreyfus Affair. In September 1899, the paper stated that the verdict at the retrial of Dreyfus excites “mingled feelings of compassion and indignation. Deep sympathy is felt for Captain Dreyfus and his noble wife. To be condemned again after suffering five years’ torture on Devil’s Isle … is very hard indeed.” The paper attributed the verdict of the judges in favour of the army rather than Dreyfus to “stupidity,” “prejudice,” and “moral cowardice.” The Free Methodist linked the Dreyfus Affair to Catholicism and the Pope, arguing that: “the Dreyfus case makes a startling revelation of the corrupt condition of the Church of Rome. The clerical papers of France, and notably those conducted and influenced by priests, have clamoured for this cruel and unjust verdict. The Pope and the bishops have maintained a criminal silence, and the Church which claims to be the true body of Christ has never one word in favour of mercy towards a man who, like his Divine Lord, is a persecuted Jew”. The Free Methodist attributed the “corruption of France and the unjust condemnation of Dreyfus” to “the clerical education system … and the hypocrisy of French priests.” The paper approved when the French Government pardoned and released Captain Dreyfus, and wished him a quick recovery. The paper noted that Dreyfus and his friends should not content themselves with a mere release, as his good name needs to be restored. The paper stated that it is doubtful however that the reputation of “the Church of Rome” can be restored after its “cruel persecution of Dreyfus.” “The Catholics who rejoiced and praised God for the outrageous judgement of Rennes have dealt their Church an irreparable blow,” the paper concluded. See “Notes and Comments,” Free Methodist: 14 September 1899, 625-626, and 28 September 1899, 657.
The Methodist Recorder similarly defended Dreyfus, and attributed the injustice to so-called “Jesuitry”. On 14 September 1899, the paper reported that “it is no exaggeration to say that the act of the Court Martial at Rennes, or rather the act of the five military Judges who re-condemned Captain Dreyfus, has filled the whole world with horror and amazement.” Only the “Anti-Semites and the Jesuits,” the paper suggested, were likely to be pleased with the result. The paper observed that France as a whole should not be condemned, as a large number of people in France believe in the innocence of Captain Dreyfus, and sympathise with the indignation felt by other nations regarding the verdict. “France is not wholly given over to fanatical Jew-baiters, idolaters of the Army, and Jesuitry,” the paper reported. The Methodist Recorder defended English Catholics and Cardinal Herbert Vaughan (the Archbishop of Westminster), noting that “the English Roman Catholics largely share the indignation of their protestant neighbours,” and that “even Cardinal Vaughan himself is on the same side.” The Methodist Recorder was probably swayed by the more positive articles in English Catholic newspapers (including the Tablet) defending Captain Dreyfus at the end of the affair (i.e. in late 1899). See “Editorial Notes,” Methodist Recorder, 14 September 1899.
Despite the comments in the Methodist Recorder defending Cardinal Vaughan, earlier articles in Cardinal Vaughan’s own newspaper, the Tablet, the semi-official newspaper of the English Catholic hierarchy, were bitterly hostile towards Captain Dreyfus, and portrayed his various defenders as part of an anti-Catholic Jewish-Masonic alliance. For example, when Captain Dreyfus was accused of treason at the end of 1894 and beginning of 1895, and sentenced to exile and imprisonment on Devil’s Island, the Tablet was very quick to believe the accusations. The episode according to the Tablet did not merely demonstrate the guilt of one man, but also revealed the so-called growing power of the Jews and Freemasons. In January 1895, the Tablet contained a report in its Paris news section, stating that “there can be little doubt that the trivial punishment inflicted on Captain Dreyfus for what, in a military country like France, is one of the most heinous of crimes, is owing to the fact that he is both a Freemason and a Jew.” According to the Tablet, “while in England the Jews are a harmless and inoffensive tribe, or at most work unaggressively, in France they are the declared and open enemies of the Christian religion; using their wealth and talents to obtain official positions, and the power with which these latter endow them to strike every blow that chance may afford at the Catholic faith; and they never miss a chance.” “The combination of Judaism with Freemasonry is irresistible,” the reported stated, and “it rules France with an iron-gloved hand, and there is no disguise of velvet-covering to soften the grip.” The report in the Tablet concluded that “had a Christian been found guilty of the treachery of Captain Dreyfus he would have been shot,” whereas he “escapes with a comfortable exile, accompanied by his wife and family, and freedom to live his own life subject to the very slightest supervision.” The Tablet continued to maintain this position in 1898. The Tablet reported that “the sudden clamour for the revision of the Dreyfus trial … is a subsidized movement, financed by the moneyed interest which has made the cause of the Jewish Captain its own.” According to the report, if Dreyfus had “belonged to any other race,” there would be no agitation on his behalf. “It looks,” the paper reported, “almost as if the intangibility of the Hebrew were to be elevated to the place of a new dogma of public right, as the final article of the Jacobin creed of the Revolution.” The paper argued that the Dreyfus case has become the battleground for two opposing factions. On the one side stands “the elements that represent and constitute French nationality – the old aristocracy, the army with its Catholic traditions, and the bulk of the Catholic population.” On the other side stands the “cosmopolitan forces of international journalism, Semitic finance, and infidel letters which seek to move the world by the leverage of two great powers, intellect and money.” The Tablet was again explicit in its declaration of an alliance between Jews and Freemasons, and as it had before, it suggested that in certain circumstances, antisemitism was acceptable if regrettable. It stated that: “We shall not, we trust, be accused of palliating or condoning the excesses of anti-Semitism, by pointing out that the Jews, in France, Italy, and Austria, the three principal Catholic nations of the continent, exercise a political influence entirely disproportioned to their numbers, and that this influence is always exercised against the religion of the country. In close alliance with the Freemasons, … they form the backbone of the party of aggressive liberalism, with war to the knife against the Church as the sum and aim of its policy.” See “Notes from Paris,” Tablet, 12 January 1895, 58; “Antisemitism in the Austrian Election,” Tablet, 27 March 1897, 481-482; “Captain Dreyfus and His Champions,” Tablet, 12 February 1898, 238.
Whilst the Methodist Recorder was relatively conciliatory towards Cardinal Archbishop Vaughan and English Catholics – though on 5 October it was critical about Vaughan’s decision to defend the Catholic newspapers’ handling of the Dreyfus Affair – it did report that “the authorities of the Church in Rome, if only because of their silence, cannot be held blameless in the matter. The Pope and his Cardinals may not have had it in their power to prevent the result, but they might, at least, with their great authority, have imposed silence upon those priests in France, who, though a fanatical Press, have inflamed the popular provincial mind.” It invoked Pilate and the image of the crucifixion as an analogy to condemn those who condemned Dreyfus. It stated that the Pope and his Cardinals have “elected to play the part of Pilate and Caiaphas in another tragedy. Knowing, as they must have done in their secret hearts, that an innocent man was being martyred, they were content to let events take their course.” On 21 September, the paper applauded the pardoning of Dreyfus, noting that “no French Government would dream of pardoning an officer of the General Staff twice condemned if there were even the shadow of a doubt as to his innocence.” It again condemned “the forgers and conspirators and liars” who “go scot free, except that they are execrated not only by the world outside France, but by the best and noblest of their own countrymen.” Significantly, the paper argued against an agitation for the boycotting of the Paris Exhibition that was planned for 1900, which it regarded as unfair and unwise, as “the rotten section of the French army is not France, nor is that blind and mad section of the Roman Catholic Church of France of which ‘La Croix’ is the organ, nor yet those dregs of the French Press which stand for all that is unjust and inhuman.” English people should not hate France in general the paper concluded, but rather “honour the noble minority – if minority it still is – that has pleaded for justice to the falsely-accused.” The paper did however “confess to an intense desire to see justice avenged on the real culprits in this great drama.” See “Editorial Notes,” Methodist Recorder: 14 September 1899, 3; 21 September 1899, 3; 5 October 1899, 3.
Of the Methodist newspapers and magazines in 1899, the Methodist Times contained the most prominent anti-Catholicism in its reporting of the Dreyfus Affair. The Methodist Times argued on 21 September 1899 that the Jesuits were to blame for the Dreyfus Affair. Furthermore, whereas the Methodist Recorder mostly defended or praised English Catholics and Cardinal Archbishop Herbert Vaughan, the Methodist Times excoriated Vaughan for his attempts to deflect just criticism, and, quote, “his silence and the silence of all the English Romanist Hierarchy, when every other Christian Church is protesting against the wicked verdict of Rennes.” According to the Methodist Times, Vaughan was the “docile pupil of the French Jesuit school” (in reality, there was no connection between Cardinal Vaughan and the French Jesuits – but his newspaper the Tablet had excoriated Jews and Captain Dreyfus prior to 1899). “The Dreyfus case and the rotten condition of the French Army,” the Methodist Times argued, was “the direct result of the momentous fact that the Jesuits now dominate the French Roman Catholic Church.” The Methodist Times argued that the “great political and ecclesiastical fact of our time is that the Jesuits, after centuries of strife, have at last captured the whole machinery of the Roman Catholic Church, and are gradually crushing out of that Church all those who do not accept their views and methods.” “The more Liberal and manly American Romanism lies prostrate in the dust under the foot of Spanish Romanism,” the paper concluded. Furthermore, the Methodist Times blamed the Jesuits for events throughout Europe: “the Jesuit organisation has brought France into her present position, keeps the unity of Italy in constant peril, threatens the German Empire, will certainly destroy the unity of Austria, and, mainly through Irish agency, is always secretly seeking to undermine the unity of the British Empire.” The same issue of the Methodist Times also contained a couple of reports of Methodists delivering lectures on the Dreyfus Affair and organising protests. One Methodist minister, the Rev. D. A. De Mouilpied, delivered a lecture on France and the “Dreyfus Tragedy” at a crowded chapel in York – according to the paper, 2000 congregants assembled to hear the lecture – and the Superintendent minister organised a letter to be sent from the large congregation to Madame Dreyfus to express “profound sympathy” and “confidence in Captain Dreyfus’s innocent.” The Rev. De Mouilpied then repeated his lecture at another crowded chapel in Sheffield. According to the Methodist Times, the minister declared that the retrial was not a “miscarriage of justice, for there had been no justice”; it had simply been a “cruel and infamous farce.” See “Americanism,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 657; “York: The Dreyfus Tragedy,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 662; “Sheffield: The Dreyfus Infamy,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 662.
Unlike the Methodist Recorder, the Methodist Times called for a firm boycott of the French Exhibition, and argued that “the French people are responsible” for the Dreyfus Affair. “It is transparent nonsense,” the paper argued, “to say that we must not punish the whole nation for the sins of a handful of men, or even of the General Staff of the Army.” According to the paper, the “notorious fact” is that with the exception of a small minority, the whole nation “savagely endorses the abominable crime perpetrated by the court-martial at Rennes.” It was thus morally unacceptable, the paper argued, to go “laughing and smiling and dancing to the Exhibition,” as to do so would be to make oneself party to the “Dreyfus infamy.” Only if the French people – via their Government and Parliament – repent and repudiate the infamies committed in their name, would it be acceptable to attend the Exhibition, the paper contended. See “Notes of Current Events,” Methodist Times, 21 September 1899, 664.
The Methodist Times also contained other reports that were critical or hostile towards Catholicism in October and November 1899. On 26 October, the paper reported and approved a letter sent by George Mivart to The Times newspaper on 17 October, which accused the Church of silently tolerating French Catholic antisemitism during the Dreyfus Affair. In November 1899, the Methodist Times contained a number of reports that the Pope, the Jesuits, and the Catholic newspapers, hated England, and were gloating over calamities faced by the British Empire. According to the paper, “the Jesuits from their standpoint are logically justified in the hatred with which they regard us. Their sentiments are exemplified in the Dreyfus infamy. The British Empire stands for civil and religious freedom, the rights of conscience and the vindication of truth. … the official hierarchy of the Papacy is, and always has been, the deadliest enemy of human freedom and of the rights of man.” According to the paper, the Catholic Church, the Pope, and the Jesuits, are hoping for or planning the downfall of the British Empire. See “Mr. St. George Mivart and the Pope,” Methodist Times, 26 October 1899, 737; “The Pope and the Jesuits Rejoice,” Methodist Times, 2 November 1899, 760; “The Jesuits’ Position Logical,” Methodist Times, 2 November 1899, 760; “Roman Catholicism Losing Ground,” Methodist Times, 2 November 1899, 760; “The Papal Hatred of England,” Methodist Times, 16 November 1899, 796; “The Jesuit Invasion of England,” Methodist Times, 16 November 1899, 796.
Nineteenth-century English anti-Catholicism probably influenced the reporting in some of these Methodist newspapers as much as any sympathy for Jews and Captain Dreyfus. For those with an anti-Catholic axe to grind, such as the Methodist Times, the Dreyfus Affair was a gift, as many Catholic newspapers, especially the French Catholic newspaper La Croix and the Rome based Jesuit periodical La Civiltà Cattolica, but also the English Catholic Tablet, were acerbically anti-Jewish and anti-Masonic during (and before) the Diana Vaughan Hoax (1894-1897) and the Dreyfus Affair (1894-1899). Anti-Catholicism in various forms has been a prominent feature of post-reformation British culture and society. According to Bernard Glassman’s study of “protean prejudice,” during the eighteenth century, “Catholics were, by far, the most despised and feared minority group in England. … If, through the years, they had been guilty of portraying the Jew as the nefarious ‘other’ who proved the superiority of Christianity by his sinister behaviour, they, in turn, were viewed in the same way by the Protestant majority.” Though the early Methodists were sometimes “accused of being ‘Papists in disguise’ or ‘Popishly inclined’”, Methodist publications during the late-eighteenth century, and throughout much of the nineteenth century, were disseminators of anti-Catholic narratives. See Bernard Glassman, Protean Prejudice (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1998), 35-36, 44.
Born in 1890, Hans Herzl was the son of Theodor Herzl, a Jewish Austro-Hungarian journalist and one of the main founding fathers of political Zionism at the end of the nineteenth century. Dismayed by antisemitism in Vienna after the election of Karl Lueger as mayor, and by antisemitism in France during the Dreyfus Case, Theodor Herzl concluded that the Jewish people needed to found a nation of their own outside Europe. Theodor Herzl passed away in 1904. In the years that followed, Hans came to disagree with his father’s prognosis. Hans was far more concerned with a search for spiritual rather than political meaning, and believed that a Jewish nation based on politics rather than spirituality was an error for the Jewish people. He believed that for life to have any meaning, it had to be grounded in some sort of metaphysical or religious truth. He spent much of his short life searching for this foundation of truth. It proved to be a forlorn search, and though he had considered the ultimate escape on a number of occasions throughout his life, in 1930, at the age of thirty-nine, he finally decided to commit suicide.
Hans Herzl (circa 1925)
According to Hans Herzl, his mother had a “leaning towards religion,” but his father was influenced more by the “habits of free thought.” He explained that he and his sisters “were only taught two or three simple and short prayers.” Living in England after the death of his father, he “outwardly observed the principal Jewish customs,” whilst losing whatever “inward religion” he possessed. He described his life during this period as “in the main a futile existence,” becoming largely “apathetic in the matter of religion.” In fact, Hans felt himself in desperate need of a faith to sustain him. Ilse Sternberger, in her book about Theodor Herzl’s children, Princes Without a Home (1994), observed that Theodor had regarded the need for God a “passing weakness,” but that Hans needed “the security of a supra-human power to give his life the motive and direction he could not find within himself.” There was, Sternberger convincingly observed, a sense of internal emptiness that Hans was desperate to fill with a “core of certainty, a centre of gravity,” and this led him on quest to find “a religious faith which would totally sustain him.” According to Sternberger, “it was a quest that would leave him disillusioned, drained and desperate.” In his letters and diaries, he frequently recorded his feelings of worthlessness, stated that he despised himself, and expressed thoughts about suicide. As early as 1910, he had written to an uncle explaining that he felt himself “unfit for life,” and that he often thought about putting “an end to so miserable an existence.” In 1919, he wrote a letter to his sister Pauline, informing her that he had come to the conclusion that he had lived too long, that his life had been unsuccessful and sinful, and that his energy had been exhausted. He was extremely self-critical in his diary, condemning his “hankering after distinction” and “greatness,” which he observed had led to his missing “all the realities of life.” According to Sternberger, he recorded that he needed to learn to respect people, that he was full of “all sorts of contempts, spites, hatreds,” and that there was something “warring” within him. “Oh God, I am so ugly!,” Hans declared. His friend and mentor, Father Arthur Day of the Catholic Guild of Israel, had also observed and reported this melancholic side to Hans Herzl’s nature, and his “habitual self-deprecation.” Day observed that Hans was “a continual self-tormentor,” and that he suffered from a “strain of melancholia in his temperament.”
After the First World War, Hans felt completely uncertain about the course of his life. He set out to find a definite religious creed to bolster his sense of identity and to give direction to his existence. During the war he attended the Anglican Church, theosophical meetings, and spiritualist séances, but none of these maintained a lasting hold over him. It was during the early 1920s that he developed his attraction for Catholicism, having been impressed by meetings of the Catholic Evidence Guild in Hyde Park. He did not however immediately convert to Catholicism, which he claimed was partly because he felt “unworthy of being a Catholic.” However, he did embrace Christianity, being baptized by a Baptist community in Vienna. The happiness he gained from joining the Baptist community was short-lived. Before long he doubted his decision, arriving at the conclusion that it was not enough to accept the Christian faith, he must also embrace the “universal” or Catholic Church in order to become a true member of the Christian community. According to Sternberger, after a momentary elation, he “relapsed into darkness,” felt doubt about his conversion into the Baptist community, and doubted “the world as he doubted himself.” Hans returned to England and discussed his feelings of doubt with a cousin, who put him in touch with Father Day, a Jesuit author and the Vice-President of the Catholic Guild of Israel. Father Day provided him with guidance and instruction for joining the Catholic Church. He was received into the Church at the Chapel of Our Lady of Sion, the home of the Catholic Guild of Israel, on 19 October 1924 (link for article in Melilah discussing the Catholic Guild of Israel).
In 1924, the Catholic Guild of Israel was still a relatively new organisation. Whilst it had received the blessing of popes and archbishops, it was finding the actual work of converting English Jews to be difficult and slow. At the annual meeting of the Guild in 1923, Father Day informed the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster that Jews were extremely difficult to convert and that the work was progressing very slowly. He repeated these observations in a booklet entitled Jews and Catholics in 1926. Day even compared the task of bringing the Jews into the Church to that of moving an iceberg. “As with an iceberg the progress is slow. If we were working alone, the process might take 5,000 years; but we are counting on securing the kind and efficient services of the physician Archangel Raphael,” Father Day observed. The securing of Hans Herzl, a Jewish convert with a very distinguished name, was thus a much needed propaganda coup for the Guild. As Day later acknowledged, this “good news” was spread, albeit on a “modest scale,” and Hans was “induced” to “write a short account of his adoption of Catholicism.” This account appeared in two prominent English Catholic newspapers, the Tablet and the Universe, in November 1924. Four months later, in March 1925, Hans published another article in the Universe, discussing Zionism and the Mandate for Palestine, which he believed should be passed from Britain to the Holy See.
In a somewhat ironic twist, Hans Herzl, the son of Theodor Herzl, stood opposed to Zionism, whilst being mentored as a recent convert to Roman Catholicism by Father Arthur Day, an advocate of Zionism. It seems very unlikely that his March 1925 article on Zionism was induced by his mentor Father Day, as in the Catholic Guild of Israel, Day was the voice of support for Zionism. For example, at a Catholic Truth Society meeting in Liverpool in February 1927, Day referred to the “wonderful transformation” of the Jew in Palestine, and he recommended that Zionism should be kept under critical but sympathetic observation. During a debate on the subject of Zionism at a meeting of the Catholic Citizen’s Parliament at Vauxhall, London, in December 1927, Day argued that it is an abnormal state of affairs for a people with a historic past to be without a country to call their own. It is more likely that Father Bede Jarrett, the President of the Guild, encouraged Hans to write it.
Hans Herzl’s self-hating personal remarks sometimes extended to his discourse about Jews. In his March 1925 article in the Universe, Hans observed that from 1881 onwards, the Jews poured out of Russia into Western Europe in order to escape persecution, setting up Jewish colonies in various cities, creating “a minor Jewish problem wherever they appeared, setting up that local irritation which alien bodies produce in living organisms.” In this, Hans Herzl adopted a similar biological vocabulary to his contemporary, the Anglo-French Catholic author, Hilaire Belloc, who had argued in 1911 that the so-called “Jewish Question” was that of “any human organism … which discovers, present and irritant within its tissue, a foreign body.” In 1922, in his antisemitic book entitled The Jews, Belloc rejected both Zionism and Jewish assimilation into Europe as solutions to the so-called Jewish Problem. Instead he argued for a return to the days of the Jewish ghetto. He stated that the ideal solution was to “segregate the alien irritant by an action which takes full account of the thing segregated as well as of the organism segregating it.” Belloc referred to this so-called mutually beneficial segregation of the Jews as a special “privilege” or “recognition” (link for more information on Belloc discussing Jewish segregation). Following suit, Hans Herzl suggested that his father had recognised that these “local irritations” led to a so-called “legitimate anti-Semitism.” Hans believed that his father’s solution, political Zionism and the setting up of a “Jewish National Home in Palestine,” was no longer necessary on the grounds that “there no longer exists a Jewish problem in Eastern Europe.” He rejected the Balfour Declaration, and argued that Jewish money and energy should be channelled to Russia rather than Palestine. Seemingly forgetful of the tribulations of Jews living in “the Pale of Settlement” (the region of Russia to which most Jews were confined) during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, he argued that “if those large sums which wealthy American Jews are now pouring into the Zionist coffers were diverted towards the restoration of Russia,” then “that country which has so long been the national home of the Jewish people in the past could be made habitable for them in the future.” He stated that the only “sort of Mandate in the Middle East” that he could personally conceive of was for “the custody of the Holy places” to be “held by the Holy See.” Significantly, shortly after writing the article for the Universe in 1925, he left the Church.
According to Father Day, Hans Herzl’s “full membership” of the Church cannot have lasted more than six months. This would suggest that he started to abandon the Church around April 1925. Day explained that “H. H. got it into his head that his conversion had been too much boomed by the Catholic Guild of Israel.” He observed that Hans could be over-sensitive, at times morbid, and was hurt by the Guild’s rejoicing at the securing of a distinguished Jewish convert. After he left the Church, Hans accused the Guild of “fanaticism” in his diary on account of being pressured to write about his conversion to Catholicism. According to Day, Hans claimed that his Catholicism collapsed because he felt the Catholic Guild of Israel was more interested in making converts than actually steering souls to God, and because he “had never been convinced of the Divinity of Christ.” Sternberger observes that even though he was no longer admitted to holy communion after his departure from the Church, he still regularly attended mass throughout his life. Sternberger also refers to a number of near reconciliations with the Church. On one occasions, Hans claimed he was considering an offer to help form a special episcopate of Jewish converts to Catholicism in Jerusalem. Towards the end of his life, he talked to a Catholic priest about being reconciled to the Church, though it led to nothing. Father Day also observed that Hans Herzl remained loosely affiliated with the Church. According to Day, whilst his complete membership of the Church only lasted about six months, his falling away from Catholicism was a more gradual process. According to Day, he and Hans continued to be friends after Hans’s departure from the Church, and Hans continued to attend Catholic services. Day observed that Hans often expressed a desire to be reconciled with the Church, but that this was thwarted by his inability to overcome his “pet objections against Catholic theology.”
Hans Herzl’s rejection of Zionism continued after his departure from the Church, and he continued to maintain the belief that the Catholic Church should hold the mandate for the Holy Places in Palestine. After he left the Church, he became friends with a Jewish journalist, Marcel Sternberger. According to Marcel’s wife, Ilse Sternberger, Hans explained to her husband that he believed Zionism had become imperialistic, territorial, and covetous for land, having lost the national idealism which would unite the Jewish people. He argued that Jewish nationalism should be more about a love for the Jewish people, and not tied to territory. According to Sternberger, despite his departure from the Church, he still believed that “the Jewish nation” would be best served by affiliating with “the Papal State,” “the Synagogue” becoming a “constituent member of the World-Church,” with “the Pope, as sovereign of dispersed Jewry.” Hans concluded that the Pope “would be the surest guarantor of Jewish human rights.”
For Hans, the Church proved to be a brief sojourn in a life spent searching for a core belief to sustain him. During his life, he tried Theosophy, Anglicanism, a Baptist community in Vienna, Quakerism and Catholicism. He also spoke to Claude Montefiore about joining the Liberal Synagogue. He embraced Catholicism in 1924 but left the Church in 1925. However, even after he formerly left the Church in 1925, he never entirely turned his back on Catholicism. Ultimately, none of his religious and political commitments brought him lasting happiness, or purged his feelings of angst and uncertainty. In 1930, at the age of thirty-nine, he committed suicide. He shot himself the day before the funeral of his sister Pauline Herzl. He felt guilty for not being able to help Pauline to overcome her emotional problems and addiction to drugs. However, whilst the occasion was his sister’s funeral, the likely cause was his own prolonged depression, exacerbated by his inability to find a lasting faith to give his life a sense of meaning and direction.
Hilaire Belloc, “The Jewish Question: The First Solution,” Eye Witness, 5 October 1911.
Hilaire Belloc, The Jews (London: Constable, 1922).
Arthur Day, “Hans Herzl,” Our Lady of Sion, January-March 1932.
Arthur Day, Jews and Catholics (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1926).
Arthur Day, Our Friends the Jews; or, The Confessions of a Proselytizer (London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1943).
Hans Herzl, “How I Became a Catholic,” The Universe, 7 November 1924.
Hans Herzl, “How I Became a Catholic,” The Tablet, 8 November 1924.
Hans Herzl, “National Home for the Jews” and “Jews and Palestine,” The Universe, 20 March 1925.
Ilse Sternberger, Princes Without a Home: Modern Zionism and the Strange Fate of Theodor Herzl’s Children 1900-1945 (San Francisco: International Scholars, 1994).
Minutes of Catholic Guild of Israel meeting, Our Lady of Sion, October-December 1932.
Report of Catholic Guild of Israel Meeting, 27 November 1923, Archives of the Catholic Guild of Israel, Sion Centre for Dialogue and Encounter, London.
Report of debate at the Catholic Citizen’s Parliament at Vauxhall, “Priest’s Defence of Zionism: Fr. Arthur Day, S.J., Advises Catholics to Support it,” Universe, 9 December 1927.
Report of lecture by Arthur Day to the Catholic Truth Society, Liverpool Branch, in “The Church and the Jew,” Catholic Times, 18 February 1927.
This time last year (on 22/10/2013), it was reported that Irish police had seized a blonde-haired girl from a Roma family in Dublin. According to the report in the Times newspaper, “the blonde girl with blue eyes, believed to be aged seven, was taken from her Dublin home after a tip-off to police that she did not look like her parents or siblings, who have dark hair and complexions.” The report in the Times noted similarities with other recent cases. For example, it noted that police arrested a Roma woman in Greece in 2008 and accused her of kidnapping a blonde girl. DNA tests later proved that the Roma woman in Greece was the parent. According to Siobhan Curran, the co-ordinator of a Roma support project, “old stereotypes” are being resurrected that could lead to a “witch-hunt” . According to a BBC news report on the following day (23/10/2013), DNA tests proved that the blond girl was the daughter of the Roma parents. A statement by An Garda Síochána (the Irish Police service) observed that “protecting vulnerable children is of paramount importance”.  On the surface the statement seems reasonable enough. However, if tip-offs based on little more than children being blonde-haired are sufficient to lead to them being removed from their Roma parents by police, then Siobhan Curran’s concerns about old stereotypes and a witch-hunt are not without foundation.
As Peter McGuire (lecturer in Irish Folklore at University College Dublin) has observed, the child-kidnapping “Gypsy”, like the ritual murdering Jew, is a character from myth and folktale. For centuries, Jews and Roma have been branded as thieves, parasites, sorcerers, plague-bearers, child-kidnappers and child-murderers. Whilst traditionally Jews have also had the singular dishonour of being branded the murderers of Christ (“the deicides”), the “Gypsies” have been the subject of a similar legend. According to some Christian legends and folktales, a “Gypsy blacksmith” was the only person willing to forge the nails used to crucify Christ. As a parallel to the Wandering Jew myth, there is a legend that whenever the descendants of the “Gypsy blacksmith” find comfort in one place, one of the nails reappears in their tents, causing them to flee in terror . In some cases, deprecating narratives about “the Jews” have been explicitly linked to narratives about “the Gypsies” . McGuire concludes, quite rightly, that it is sad but true that “societies are notoriously resistant to accept or even consider evidence which challenges the ancient prejudices expressed in folklore” . The fact that Roma and Sinti continue to be vilified, and child-kidnapping folktales continue to circulate today in Western Europe, testifies to the resilience and durability of such cultural myths and stereotypes.
The child-kidnapping folktale, a persistent cultural myth, is not the only reason for the persecution of Roma and Sinti. Again like the Jews, the Roma and Sinti have been portrayed as racially inferior, and on this basis persecuted and murdered. During the Second World War, like the Jews, they were subject to a program of extermination. However, according to Simon Wiesenthal, despite the tragedy experienced by Roma and Sinti during the Holocaust, “the tragedy of the gypsies has never really sunk into public awareness” . He was right (as the continued presence of the myth of the child-kidnapping “Gypsy” would seem to demonstrate). Whilst the actual number of Roma and Sinti murdered during the Holocaust (the Shoah – i.e. “the Catastrophe” – for the Jews; the Baro Porrajmos – i.e. “the Great Devouring” – for the Roma) was smaller than that of Jews, a huge proportion of the Roma and Sinti in territories controlled by the Nazis was annihilated. According to Ian Hancock, director of the Program of Romani Studies and the Romani Archives and Documentation Center at the University of Texas at Austin, “of the estimated ca. 20,000 Romanies in Germany in 1939, fully three quarters had been murdered by 1945. Of the 11,200 in Austria, a half were murdered. Of the 50,000 in Poland, 35,000; In Croatia, Estonia, the Netherlands, Lithuania and Luxembourg, almost the entire Romani populations were eradicated.” 
Significantly, like the Jews, Roma and Sinti were regarded as biologically tainted according to Nazi racial laws, and sexual intercourse and mixed marriages with “Gypsies” were forbidden on the grounds that they led to racial defilement. According to Holocaust historian Robert Wistrich, “two thirds of the Polish gypsies died under Nazi occupation” and “between 250,000 and half a million gypsies were sent to their deaths between 1939 and 1945.” Wistrich explains that “the Nazis were particularly hostile to the gypsies as an ‘anti-social’ element and as ‘people of different blood’ who fell under the Nuremberg race laws of 1935.” Whilst some scholars have tried to mitigate the genocide of “Gypsies” on the grounds that they were targeted only as a supposedly anti-social element (a stereotype that has been applied to Jews and Roma), as Wistrich observes, “the Nazis regarded ‘the fight against the Gypsy menace’ after 1939 as ‘a matter of race’ and insisted on the need to ‘separate once and for all the gypsy race (Zigeunertum) from the German nation (Volkstum)’, to prevent the danger of miscegenation.” Wistrich goes on to note that for the Nazis, there was a link between the so-called “Jewish Question” and the so-called “Gypsy Question”: “there was an ideological link between the murder of Jews and gypsies, both of them forming part of a composite Nazi vision of radical ethnic cleansing or ‘purification’ of the Volksgemeinschaft.”  Ian Hancock has examined the attempts (often successful) to mitigate and dismiss the genocide of the Roma in some detail, observing that “earlier writings on the Holocaust, … failed to [recognize and] understand that the ‘criminality’ associated with our people was attributed by the Nazis to a genetically transmitted and incurable disease, and was therefore ideologically racial; instead, writers focused only on the ‘antisocial’ label resulting from it and failed to acknowledge the genetic connection made by the Nazi race scientists themselves.” Like “the handicapped [and] Jews,” the “Gypsies” could not “escape their fate by changing their behaviour or belief. They were selected because they existed.” 
1. “Police seize blonde girl from Roma in Dublin,” The Times, 23 October 2013, p.5. This article was originally posted online late in the evening on 22/10/2013 (link here). Many similar reports were published in the other daily newspapers.
2. “DNA tests prove Dublin Roma girl is part of family,” BBC News Europe, 23 October 2013 (link here).
3. Bernard Glassman, Protean Prejudice: Anti-Semitism in England’s Age of Reason (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1998), 112-113 (see also pp. 111-119).
4. For example, G. K. Chesterton linked the antisemitic stereotype of the greedy Jewish usurer with the myth of the child-kidnapping Gypsy (link here).
5. Peter McGuire, “Do Roma ‘Gypsies’ Really Abduct Children?”, The Huffington Post, 24 October 2013 (link here).
6. Simon Wiesenthal, “Jews and Gypsies,” in Justice not Vengeance (London: Mandarin Paperbacks, 1990), 256-261. Simon Wiesenthal rightly concluded that “Auschwitz is branded into their history as it is into ours.”
7. Ian Hancock, “Downplaying the Porrajmos: The Trend to Minimize the Romani Holocaust,” review of The Nazi Persecution of the Gypsies, by Guenther Lewy (link here). Professor Tony Kushner and professor Donald Bloxham referred to the Porajmos in their examination of scholarship on the Holocaust. They note that the persecution and murder of the Roma during the Holocaust has received minimal attention and recognition. Referring to the uncertain figures for how many Roma were murdered, somewhere between 200,000 and 500,000, they justifiably reason that “the uncertainty about the numbers casts light on how easily Europe gave up these people” and “how little the loss has been addressed.” This is not the only such lacuna in the historiographical scholarship, as other non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, such as the physically and mentally handicapped, homosexuals, Freemasons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, have also received comparatively minimal attention. See Donald Bloxham and Tony Kushner, The Holocaust: Critical Historical Approaches (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), 30-31, 84-85, 143.
8. Robert S. Wisrtich, Hitler and the Holocaust: How and Why the Holocaust Happened (London: Phoenix Press, 2002), 10-12.
9. Ian Hancock, “Romanies and the Holocaust: A Re-evaluation and Overview,” in Dan Stone, ed., The Historiography of the Holocaust (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2004), 383, 394 (see also pp. 384-396). An online version of this chapter is available (link here).
Paul’s second epistle to the community at Thessalonica warned that the second coming of Christ will be preceded by the appearance of “the man of sin,” who will work false miracles and exalt himself over God, setting himself up in God’s Temple, all in accordance with the plans of Satan (2 Thess 2:1-17). The “man of sin” was subsequently linked to the Antichrist mentioned in John’s first and second epistle (1 John 2:18-22, 4:3, 2 John 1:7). Various diabolic figures from the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation have also been interpreted as relating to the Antichrist. These allusions to a diabolic character were fleshed out over time. It was perhaps inevitable that the Jews, already key villains in Christian myths, and the Antichrist, would coalesce into a new mythological character, “the Jewish Antichrist,” whose arrival would mark the beginning of an apocalyptic conflict. The anti-Jewish accusation that the Antichrist, a servant of Satan, will be born to Jews, gained popularity during the Middle Ages. According to Norman Cohn, over time it “came to seem that the world was in the grip of demons and that their human allies were everywhere, even in the heart of Christendom itself.” The Antichrist was regarded as an authentic manifestation of evil, who would lead Satan’s forces in a war against the followers of Christ. The Antichrist was intertwined with millenarian expectations of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth. As Joshua Trachtenberg observed in his study of antisemitic myths, in the modern era the Antichrist legend may be “too easily dismissed as pure fantasy, merely another of the fabulous motifs that entertained the Middle Ages, without exerting any momentous influence upon the thought and action of the common people.” Trachtenberg concluded however that the Antichrist myth was considered by many “a terrifying reality.” The arrival of the Antichrist, as Cohn observed, was considered no mere “phantasy about some remote and indefinite future but a prophecy which was infallible and which at almost any given moment was felt to be on the point of fulfilment.” See Norman Cohn, Europe’s Inner Demons: The Demonisation of Christians in Medieval Christendom (1975; repr., London, Pimlico, 2005), 23; Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and its Relation to Modern Antisemitism (1943; repr. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1983), 32-43; Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of the Millennium (1957; repr., London: Pimlico, 1993), 35, passim.
Sermon and Deeds of the Antichrist, by Luca Signorelli, Circa 1500
A prominent construction of “the Jewish Antichrist” narrative was articulated by Father Henry Manning in the early 1860s (a few years prior to his appointment as the Archbishop of Westminster – i.e. the head of the recently re-constituted English Catholic hierarchy). Manning discussed the arrival of the Jewish Antichrist in a series of lectures delivered in 1860 at the church of St. Mary of the Angels, Bayswater. These lectures discussed the then impending threat to the temporal power of the Church. The lectures were published as a booklet in 1861 , and republished in a larger volume along with a number of other lectures in 1862 . This was a time when the Papal States was being seized and dismantled by the Risorgimento. At this time Father Manning, who had converted to Catholicism in 1851 and was advancing rapidly within the Church, was it seems quite willing to accept the Jew as a scapegoat for the catastrophe. Whilst he later adopted more positive stereotypes of the Jews, he nevertheless republished these lectures verbatim with a new preface in 1880, by which time he had been the Archbishop of Westminster for fifteen years and a Cardinal for five years. See Henry Edward Manning, The Present Crisis of the Holy See Tested by Prophecy (London: Burns & Lambert, 1861), 1-92, and Henry Edward Manning, The Temporal Power of the Vicar of Jesus Christ, (second edition, London, 1862; third edition, London, 1880), Part II, 81-173.
Cardinal Manning (1808-1892)
Manning explained in these lectures that whilst it may “run counter to the popular spirit of these times,” and expose him to “the contempt or compassion of those who believe the world to be governed by the action of the human will alone,” his intention was to examine the present situation of the Church by the “light of a prophecy.” According to Manning, “the theory, that politics and religion have different spheres, is an illusion and a snare.” He referred to a conflict between “two ultimate powers,” two forces arrayed and marshalled against each other, that of “Christ and Antichrist.” Manning argued that “the interpretation universally received by anti-catholic controversialists, whereby, first, Antichrist is held to be a spirit or system, and not a person, and next, to be the Catholic or Roman Church, or the Vicar of the Incarnate Word, is the master-stroke of deceit.” Such a deception, he suggested, was an attempt to allay fears, inspire unwarranted confidence, and misdirect attention from the true Antichrist. The “prophecies of Revelation,” he explained, are explicit about the coming of Antichrist, describing the Antichrist with “the attributes of a person.” According to Manning, “to deny the personality of Antichrist, is therefore to deny the plain testimony of Holy Scripture.” Manning informed his audience that the “[Church] Fathers believed that Antichrist will be of the Jewish race.” He stated that such was the opinion of St. Irenaeus, St. Jerome, the authors of texts ascribed to St. Hippolytus, and St. Ambrose, St. Gregory the Great, the Italian Jesuit theologian Robert Bellarmine (canonised in 1930), and many others. He concluded that they were probably correct, considering that “the Antichrist will come to deceive the Jews, according to the prophecy of our Lord.” Manning explained that whilst the Antichrist will at first pretend to believe in the “law of Moses,” he will only do so “in dissimulation, to deceive them, and to obtain supreme power.” Afterwards he will “reject the law of Moses, and will deny the true God who gave it.” According to Manning, the Antichrist will be received by the Jews because they are still awaiting the coming of their “false Messias,” and “they have prepared themselves for delusion by crucifying the true Messias.” It is not “difficult to understand how those who have lost the true and divine idea of the Messias may accept a false,” Manning stated, and that “being dazzled by the greatness of political and military successes, and inflated with the pantheistic and Socinian notions of the dignity of man, may pay to the person of Antichrist the honour which Christians pay to the true Messias.” The Antichrist, Manning argued, will be “a temporal deliverer, the restorer of their temporal power; or, in other words, a political and military prince.” Manning explained that the only thing that will hinder the arrival of the Antichrist is the Church and Christian civilisation, as “the lawless one … has no antagonist on earth more direct than the Vicar of Jesus Christ.” Manning argued that there are two types of society. The first type is the “natural society” in which “the political order … comes from the will of man.” Conversely, the second type, the “supernatural society,” is that which “still being penetrated by the spirit of faith and of the Catholic unity, is true and faithful to the principles upon which Christendom was first constituted.” He argued that many countries in “Christian Europe” have changed from the supernatural type of society to the natural type of society, banishing religion from politics and the State, and declaring that “all sects are equally participators in the political life and political power of the nation.” Manning clarified that he was not arguing that the Jews (“that race who deny the coming of God in the flesh, that is, who deny the Incarnation”) should naturally be denied “admission to political privileges”. “On the contrary,” he stated, “if there be no other order than the order of nature, it would be a political injustice to exclude any one of the race of Israel from a participation of equal privileges.” However, he then stated that: “I maintain equally, that in the day in which you admit those who deny the Incarnation to an equality of privileges, you remove the social life and order in which you live from the Incarnation to the basis of mere nature.” This, he concluded, “is precisely what was foretold of the antichristian period.” He considered this reduction of the supernatural society, imbued with the spirit of faith, to a mere natural society based on the will of man, in which Jews are granted equal political rights, to be a confirmation of the prophecy of the Antichrist. After the lectures, Manning wrote to his friend (and later four-time British Prime Minister), William Gladstone, about the “Italian Question,” explaining that he would “die with the belief that it is what I have endeavoured to sketch in those lectures on the Antichrist.” See Henry Edward Manning, The Present Crisis of the Holy See Tested by Prophecy (London: Burns & Lambert, 1861), 1, 20-21, 22-34, 44-47; Letter from Manning to Gladstone, 26 October 1861, in Peter Erb, ed., The Correspondence of Henry Manning and William Ewart Gladstone, volume III, 1861-1875 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 13-15.
Significantly, Cardinal Manning later expressed admiration for the communal solidarity and organisation of the Jews, and raised his voice in defence of Jews on a number of occasions. In an address delivered at a meeting organised by the Lord Mayor of London in 1882, Manning condemned the persecution of Jews in Russia, and asked, “for uprightness, for refinement, for generosity, for charity, for all the graces and virtues that adorn humanity where will be found examples brighter or more true of human excellence than in this Hebrew race?” Manning defended Jews from the ritual murder accusations, and was presented with an illuminated address of thanks by Herman Adler, the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, and a number of other prominent Anglo-Jews. In response, Manning stated that: “I can therefore bear witness to the charity and generosity of my Jewish fellow-countrymen. I have found them forward in all good works. In the care of your children, of your sick, and of your poor, you give us a noble example of generosity and efficiency. You are inflexible, as we are also, in maintaining that Education is essentially a religious work. Your Schools, as ours, are firmly and fearlessly religious.—I have been witness of your care of the sick in the festivals of the Metropolitan Free Hospital.—Of the watchful care of your poor I have had full evidence. When, driven out by tyranny in Russia, they came over in multitudes to our shores, I was witness of your wise and efficient administration.” Manning also stated, in a letter written to Sir John Simon in December 1890, that the Jews are: “a race with a sacred history of nearly four thousand years, a present without a parallel, dispersed in all lands, with an imperishable personal identity, isolated and changeless, greatly afflicted, without home or fatherland; visibly reserved for a future of signal mercy. … any man who does not believe [in] their future must be a careless reader, not only of the old Jewish Scriptures, but even of our own.” It would seem that Manning still maintained an essentializing construction of “the Jews” as a distinct and unchanging people singled out for some future purpose, but whereas previously he constructed that image from mythological narratives of the Jewish Antichrist, he now engaged with more positive stereotypes. These positive stereotypes were nevertheless still essentializing constructions drawn from his reading of sacred history and scripture. Whilst any essentializing of a group as “the other” can be dangerous and petrifying, even when couched in such positive terms, it does at least seem clear that Manning’s view about the Jews had changed significantly and for the better. See Transcript of speech by Cardinal Manning, in “Persecution of the Jews in Russia,” Times, 2 February 1882, 4; “The Cardinal Archbishop and the English Jews: Presentation to His Eminence,” Tablet, 1 November 1890, 701; Letter from Cardinal Manning to Sir John Simon, 8 December 1890, printed in “The Cardinal and the Jews,” Tablet, 13 December 1890, 935.
Regrettably, Manning’s earlier theological construction of the Jewish Antichrist, untempered by his later stereotype of the refined, charitable, community-minded Jew, served to influence later English Catholic authors. For example, in 1901 and 1904, Colonel James Ratton, a retired army doctor and anti-Jewish/anti-Masonic author, linked Jews and Freemasons in an alleged anti-Church conspiracy, jointly led by the so-called Jewish Antichrist and the so-called “Sovereign Pontiff of Freemasonry” (discussed in my examination of the Diana Vaughan hoax). In a four-part article published in the Catholic Times in 1920, Canon Dr William Barry, a senior priest in the archdiocese of Birmingham, a respected theologian and a prolific author, explicitly cited and intertwined Manning’s narrative about the Jewish Antichrist, which he treated as an almost prophetic forecast, with his own antisemitic 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, an arch-medium, a revolutionist, a protector of the Jews who would be hailed by them as their saviour. Barry stated that it is clear from “St. Paul’s doctrine of their destiny, and with what St. John and the Fathers have left us concerning the Antichrist,” that the question of the Jew’s role in the fate of Europe will be the “most vital and most decisive of all.” Again citing Manning’s lectures, Barry argued that “the Catholic spirit and the Hebrew genius” are “deadly and changeless antagonists,” locked in conflict as a result of “Israel’s rejection of the Gospel.” “Israel,” he informed his readers, “did surely fulfil the prophets when it gave birth to Christ.” It is doing so yet again, Barry concluded, but this time “in whatever degree it has paved the way for Antichrist.” Barry returned to this subject in the Catholic Times in April 1923. He stated that the prophecy that Israel would “rise to power in Christendom,” in alliance with “the ‘Man of Sin,’ who will … be himself a Jew, though most likely a renegade from his faith and tribe,” was an amazing “stroke of divination.” According to Barry, Cardinal Manning regarded “the Revolution,” “the evil elements in emancipated Judaism,” and “the assailants of Papal Rome,” to be “associated in a common Unholy Alliance.” In June 1923, an editorial in the Month, the periodical of the British Jesuits, referred to Barry’s “notable article” on the Antichrist, and concluded that “in Soviet Russia Manning’s prophecy has actually been realised.” The editorial stated that “Antichrist, in the person of those apostate Jews, is already in power,” and “Marx, another apostate Jew, is his evangelist, and Christianity, especially the Catholicism of Rome, is the object of his bitterest hatred.” See William Barry, “Sign of the Times,” Catholic Times: 30 October 1920, 7; 6 November 1920, 7; 13 November 1920, 7; 20 November 1920, 7; William Barry, “Against God and his Christ,” Catholic Times, 28 April 1923, 9; “Antichrist in Russia,” Topics of the Month, Month CXLI (June 1923), 552-553.
For more on representations of “the Antichrist” in English Catholic discourses, please see pages 50-56 of my article in volume 8 of Melilah: “From the Christ-Killer to the Luciferian: The Mythologized Jew and Freemason in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century English Catholic Discourse” (link to Melilah, volume 8).
In his book on G. K. Chesterton’s so-called “holiness” (an edited collection of essays by various contributors), William Oddie argues that Chesterton was not only a saint but also a “philosemite.” Whilst I have looked at some of Oddie’s arguments elsewhere, I thought it would be a good idea to bring them together and examine them afresh.
One of William Oddie’s arguments is that Chesterton could not have been an antisemite because on a number of occasions he defended Jews from antisemitism. According to Oddie, Chesterton felt protective feelings for Jews from his childhood onwards. He presented a diary entry, dated 5 January 1891, which stated that Chesterton felt so strongly about some vicious acts of cruelty to a Jewish girl in Russia that he was inclined to “knock some-body down”. He also quotes from letters by Chesterton’s alter-ego, Guy Crawford (under which name Chesterton published a series of letters). These were printed in the Debater, the magazine of the “Junior Debating Club,” in 1892. In these letters, Crawford discusses his plans to go to Russia to help “the Hebrews” suffering in pogroms. As William Oddie observed, the series of letters ends with “Guy Crawford” siding with a revolutionary mob in St. Petersburg, and leaping to the defence of a Jewish student. The student, who was killed in this fantastical account, was described by Crawford as “a champion of justice, like thousands who have fallen for it in the dark records of this dark land”. The Guy Crawford letters can be found in G. K. Chesterton [Guy Crawford, pseud.], “The Letters of Three Friends,” Debater III: no.13 (March 1892), 9-11; no.14 (May 1892), 27-29; no.17 (November 1892), 70-71. These examples probably provide a fair reflection of Chesterton’s late teenage attitudes (he was 16 when he wrote the diary entry, and 17-18 when he wrote the “Guy Crawford” letters). However, his childhood and young adult worldview, as with most people, changed as he developed. An example of his developing worldview can be seen in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, published in 1904, when Chesterton was about 30 years of age. William Oddie has himself noted this protean development of views in Chesterton’s life, noting that in this novel, Chesterton expressed “distaste for modernity and progress.” Oddie quite rightly points out that this distaste was “a recent volte-face.” See William Oddie, “The Philosemitism of G.K. Chesterton,” in William Oddie, ed., The Holiness of G.K. Chesterton (Leominster: Gracewing,2010), 124-137 and William Oddie, Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy: The Making of GKC, 1874-1908 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 7-8, 80-81.
This was not however the only volte-face in Chesterton’s worldview and discourse. He also changed his views about the Jews, and his early protective feelings developed into something which at its best was ambiguous and ambivalent, and at its worst hostile, stereotyping and caricaturing. A relatively early, partial, and by his later standards mild manifestation of this volte-face can be found in his novel, Manalive (1912), which reflected his worldview no less than the letters of Guy Crawford. According to the narrator of the story, “wherever there is conflict, crises come in which any soul, personal or racial, unconsciously turns on the world the most hateful of its hundred faces.” In the case of Moses Gould, the Jew in the novel, it was “that smile of the Cynic Triumphant, which has been the tocsin for many a cruel riot in Russian villages or mediaeval towns”. The transition from innocent victim in Russia to cynic-triumphant was only a partial volte-face. The more complete volte-face would come later in the early 1920s, when Chesterton started to claim that the Jews were persecuting Russians. His narratives about the Jewish tyrant were intertwined with stereotypes about the Jewish Bolshevik. For example, in February 1921, Chesterton observed that there was once “a time when English poets and other publicists could always be inspired with instantaneous indignation about the persecuted Jews in Russia. We have heard less about them since we heard more about the persecuting Jews in Russia”. According to Chesterton, it was not necessary for all Jews to support Bolshevism for it to be a Jewish movement. He stated that “it is not necessary to have every man a Jew to make a thing a Jewish movement; it is at least clear that there are quite enough Jews to prevent it from being a Russian movement”. He made a similar point in August 1920: “There has arisen on the ruins of Russia a Jewish servile State, the strongest Jewish power hitherto known in history. We do not say, we should certainly deny, that every Jew is its friend; but we do say that no Jew is in the national sense its enemy”. The “servile State” was an allusion to Hilaire Belloc’s book, The Servile State (1912). According to Belloc, the servile state is a society in which the majority of individuals and families are forced and constrained by “positive law” to labour on behalf of a tight-knit minority of rich capitalist plutocrats or tyrannical Bolsheviks (i.e. the enslavement of “the proletariat”). Chesterton was implying that Russia had been transformed into such a servile State, run for the benefit of the Jews. See G.K. Chesterton, Manalive (London: Thomas Nelson, 1912), 289; G.K. Chesterton, “The Statue and the Irishman,” New Witness, 18 February 1921, 102; G.K. Chesterton, “The Beard of the Bolshevist,” New Witness, 14 January 1921, 22; G.K. Chesterton, “The Feud of the Foreigner,” New Witness, 20 August 1920, 309; Hilaire Belloc, The Servile State (1912).
Oddie also points to Chesterton’s defence of Captain Alfred Dreyfus as further proof of Chesterton’s philosemitism. In 1899, when he was about 25 years of age, Chesterton did (as Oddie rightly notes) write a poem entitled “To a Certain Nation” as a reproach to France for the injustice done to Captain Dreyfus. However, what Oddie neglects to mention is that Chesterton soon reversed his opinion. This volte-face occurred around 1906, when Chesterton was about 32 years of age. In 1906, Chesterton added a note to the second edition of The Wild Knight which reveals that by 1906 he had started to change his position about where the greater injustice lay. The note stated that whilst “there may have been a fog of injustice in the French courts; I know that there was a fog of injustice in the English newspapers.” According to the note, he was unable to reach a “proper verdict on the individual,” which he largely attributed to the “acrid and irrational unanimity of the English Press.” Chesterton maintained this antipathy about Dreyfus and his defenders throughout his life. In letters to The Nation in 1911, Chesterton referred to the Jew “who is a traitor in France and a tyrant in England,” and stated that in “the case of Dreyfus,” he was quite certain that “the British public was systematically and despotically duped by some power – and I naturally wonder what power.” He argued in 1928 that Dreyfus may or may not have been innocent, but that the greater crime was not how he had been treated at trial but how the English newspapers buried the evidence against him. According to Chesterton, “the English newspapers incessantly repeated that there was no evidence against Captain Dreyfus. They then cut out of the reports the evidence that he had been seen in German uniform at the German manoeuvres; or that he had obtained a passport for Italy and then gone to Germany.” Chesterton stated that when he discovered this, “something broke inside my British serenity; and a page of print has never been the same to me again.” In another article (in 1927) Chesterton did defend a Jew, Oscar Slater, from the charge of murder, thereby seemingly showing that Chesterton was not ceaselessly antisemitic. However, seemingly unwilling to defend one Jew without sniping at another, he again repeated as part of this defence of Oscar Slater the accusation that the English newspapers left out “evidence that Dreyfus had appeared in German uniform at the German manoeuvres.” In another article, this time published in 1933, he criticised Hitler and Nazi antisemitism (something he did on a number of occasions as his defenders, including William Oddie, have pointed out), whilst yet again arguing that the English “were never told, for instance, that Dreyfus had got leave to go to Italy and used it to go to Germany; or that he was seen in German uniform at the German manoeuvres.” As Julia Stapleton rightly noted in her book, Christianity, Patriotism, and Nationhood: The England of G. K. Chesterton (2009, 46), it seems that it never occurred to Chesterton to question whether there was any truth in the highly dubious allegations that Dreyfus was seen “in German uniform at the German manoeuvres,” or whether the claims “were suspect and thus beyond the realms of responsible journalism.” See G.K. Chesterton, The Wild Knight, 1st ed. (London: Grant Richards, 1900), 94-96; G.K. Chesterton, The Wild Knight, 2nd ed. (London: Brimley Johnson and Ince, 1906), viii; G.K. Chesterton to the Editor, The Nation: 18 March 1911 and 8 April 1911; G.K. Chesterton, “Dreyfus and Dead Illusions,” G.K.’s Weekly, 25 February 1928, 993; G.K. Chesterton, “In Defence of a Jew,”, G.K.’s Weekly, 27 August 1927, 575; G.K. Chesterton, “The Horse and the Hedge,” G.K.’s Weekly, 30 March 1933, 55.
As previously mentioned, William Oddie also points out (quite rightly) that Chesterton bitterly criticised the Nazis during the 1930s. He was in fact a staunch critic of Hitler and Nazi antisemitism. However, Chesterton considered his critiques of “Hitlerism” and Nazi antisemitism to be entirely consistent with his earlier stereotypes of the Jew and his proposed so-called solutions to the so-called “Jewish Problem”. Chesterton believed that Hitler was right to worry about the so-called Jewish Problem, but wrong in his approach to it. As far as Chesterton was concerned, the rise of Hitlerism clarified the urgency of solving the so-called Jewish Problem. Significantly, he not only continued to maintain his antisemitic stereotypes of the Jew from 1933 onwards, he incorporated them into the very articles in which he condemned and criticised Hitlerism. According to Chesterton in July 1933, “it is perfectly true that the Jews have been very powerful in Germany. It is only just to Hitler to say that they have been too powerful in Germany.” Chesterton argued that it will be very difficult for Hitler to persuade Germans to amputate the Jewish contributions to German culture, such as Heinrich Heine and Felix Mendelssohn. “But again,” he continued, “it is but just to Hitlerism to say that the Jews did infect Germany with a good many things less harmless than the lyrics of Heine or the melodies of Mendelssohn.” Chesterton even seemed to believe in the idea of a Jewish conspiracy, for he went on to state that “it is true that many Jews toiled at that obscure conspiracy against Christendom, which some of them can never abandon; and sometimes it was marked not be obscurity but obscenity. It is true that they were financiers, or in other words usurers; it is true that they fattened on the worst forms of Capitalism; and it is inevitable that, on losing these advantages of Capitalism, they naturally took refuge in its other form, which is Communism”. Chesterton repeated the stereotype of rich greedy Jews in other articles that were critical of Hitler. He condemned “Herr Hitler and his group” for “beat[ing] and bully[ing] poor Jews in concentration camps,” but then he stated that “what is even worse, they do not beat or bully rich Jews who are at the head of big banking houses”. Chesterton repeated the stereotype of the pro-German Jew in his critique of Hitler. He asked, “was Hitler really so ignorant, that he did not know that the Jews were the prop of the Pro-German cause throughout the world?” Chesterton criticised Hitler, and then repeated his claim that there is a Jewish Problem. He explained that “there is a Jewish problem; there is certainly a Jewish culture; and I am inclined to think that it really was too prevalent in Germany. For here we have the Hitlerites themselves, in plain words, saying they are a Chosen Race. Where could they have got that notion? Where could they even have got that phrase, except from the Jews?” See G.K. Chesterton, “The Judaism of Hitler,” G.K.’s Weekly, 20 July 1933, 311; G.K. Chesterton, “On War Books,” G.K.’s Weekly, 10 October 1935, 28; G.K. Chesterton, “A Very Present Help,” G.K.’s Weekly, 4 May 1933, 135; G.K. Chesterton, “A Queer Choice,” G.K.’s Weekly, 29 November 1934, 207.
William Oddie also referred to Michael Coren’s biography of Chesterton which claimed, without any source citation to substantiate the claim, that Chesterton had been defended by the Wiener Library. According to Oddie, “Coren quotes the view of the Wiener Library, the archive of anti-semitism in London, that he was not ‘seriously anti-semitic’, though he ‘played along’ and therefore ‘has the public reputation of anti-semitism.’” However, that defence has subsequently been demolished, with the director of the Wiener Library rejecting the claim in the Wiener Library News. Ben Barkow, the director of the Wiener Library, reported in 2010 that “numerous websites cite a made-up quotation by the Library stating that Chesterton was not antisemitic. Our efforts to have these false attributions removed have largely failed.” The same issue of the Wiener Library News contained a short report (by the present author) on the widely cited “Wiener Library Defence.” Michael Coren has acknowledged that he does not know the name of the librarian that he spoke to. This would suggest that the reported views were the personal sentiments of one of the librarians or volunteers who have worked at the institute, rather than, as Oddie phrases it, “the view of the Wiener Library”. It is of course impossible to verify even this much without a name – and indeed, it may be reasonably asked why the librarian’s name was not collected and cited at the time by Coren if it was supposedly the official view of the Wiener Library. See William Oddie, “The Philosemitism of G.K. Chesterton,” 130; Michael Coren, Gilbert: The Man Who was G. K. Chesterton (London: Jonathan Cape, 1989), 209-210; Ben Barkow, “Director’s Letter,” Wiener Library News, Winter 2010, 2; Simon Mayers, “G. K. Chesterton and the Wiener Library Defence,” Wiener Library News, Winter 2010, 10; Oliver Kamm, “Chesterton defence that doesn’t stand up,” Jewish Chronicle, 10 October 2013 (link). For more on this, see my blog post: “The Resilient Myth that the Wiener Library defends G. K. Chesterton from the charge of antisemitism.”
For those interested, my recent book, Chesterton’s Jews, contains a thorough examination of the antisemitic stereotypes and caricatures in the literature and journalism of G. K. Chesterton.
Ian Ker’s biography of G. K. Chesterton, published in 2011, seems to be widely regarded as the most comprehensive study of Chesterton to date. It is therefore instructive to see how Ian Ker deals with the accusation that Chesterton was antisemitic. Employing Chesterton’s own words, Ker notes that Chesterton and his friends (i.e. Hilaire Belloc and the staff at the New Witness) were often rebuked for “so-called ‘Anti-Semitism’; but it was ‘always much more true to call it Zionism.’” And this would seem to be the main basis for Ker’s defence of Chesterton, the argument that he was not antisemitic because he sympathised with Zionism. Chesterton’s sympathy for Zionism soon waned, and by 1925 his editorials in G.K.’s Weekly were ambivalent if not deprecating towards Zionism (link for more on this). Putting aside the fact that Chesterton’s so-called Zionism largely evaporated in the mid-1920s, the very reasons given for his support of Zionism serve to further demonstrate Chesterton’s distorted views about Jews. Again defending Chesterton and his friends in Chesterton’s own words, Ian Ker argues that the substance of “their ‘heresy’” was “in saying that Jews are Jews; and as a logical consequence that they are not Russian or Roumanians or Italians or Frenchmen or Englishmen.” Ker notes that Chesterton pointed out that his Zionism was based on “the theory that any abnormal qualities in the Jew”, such as being “traders rather than producers” and “cosmopolitans rather than patriots”, are “due to the abnormal position of the Jews.” The claims that “the Jew” has “abnormal qualities” (even if “the Jew” is patronisingly excused rather than blamed for having these abnormal qualities), and that he or she cannot really be English, French, German or Italian, and neither contributes nor feels patriotism for the countries within which he or she lives – views that I am confident Ian Ker does not share with Chesterton – are not just deprecating (so much for the Jews who fought and died for their countries during the First and Second World Wars), but also rooted in pervasive anti-Jewish myths and stereotypes. And yet Ker seems to agree with Chesterton that his “Zionism” was “Semitism” rather than “Anti-Semitism: “if that was ‘Anti-Semitism’, then Chesterton was an ‘Anti-Semite’ – but it would seem more rational to call it Semitism.” I cannot help wondering, if someone was to make similarly unacceptable and bigoted claims about Catholics – and indeed the prejudiced claim was often made in England during the 19th century that Catholics were different, dangerous and disloyal (English Jews and Catholics both having to fight for their emancipation during the 19th century) – and argue that English Catholics should be encouraged to depart England for a Catholic country, and that those who choose to remain should be required to wear distinctive clothing, would Ian Ker regard such prejudiced statements as “Anti-Catholic” or “Catholic”. And if he concluded that they were Anti-Catholic, why is he happy to regard Chesterton’s views as “Semitism” rather than “Anti-Semitism”? In my mind, prejudices, whether anti-Catholic or anti-Jewish (or anti- any other cultural group), are simply unacceptable. See Ian Ker, G. K. Chesterton: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 419-420.
In fairness, Ian Ker does acknowledge that the history of persecutions and pogroms in Europe “should have made Chesterton more cautious in what he said about the Jews.” However, Ker then argues that there were “mitigating” circumstances that should be taken into account. He suggests that Chesterton made these statements after his “beloved brother had died in a patriotic war soon after being found guilty in a libel case brought by a Jewish businessman who had effectively corrupted politicians in the Marconi scandal” and also after “international finance, in which Jews were very prominent, had played a not inconsiderable part in leaving Germany only partially weakened by the Treaty of Versailles.” According to Ker: “When, then, Chesterton demands that any Jew who wishes to occupy a political or social position … ‘must be dressed like an Arab’ to make it clear that he is a foreigner living in a foreign country, we need to bear those factors in mind.” Putting aside the dubious stereotype of the corrupt Jewish plutocrat, there are other flaws in these so-called “mitigating” circumstances. Firstly, Chesterton stated that it was not just particular Jews – or Jews seeking to “occupy a political or social position” as Ker suggests – that should be made to wear the robes of an Arab, but rather “every Jew must be dressed like an Arab”. Chesterton explained that: “If my image is quaint my intention is quite serious; and the point of it is not personal to any particular Jew. The point applies to any Jew, and to our own recovery of healthier relations with him. The point is that we should know where we are; and he would know where he is, which is in a foreign land.” Secondly, Chesterton did not, as Ker suggests, wait until his brother’s death (in December 1918) or the Treaty of Versailles (signed in June 1919) to make these dubious claims. For example, he had already argued that “our Jews” should be required to wear the robes on an Arab in the pages of the New Witness in 1913. See Ian Ker, G. K. Chesterton: A Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 422-423. G. K. Chesterton, “What shall we do with our Jews?”, New Witness, 24 July 1913, 370; and G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, 1920), 227.
Referring to Zionism, Chesterton stated that: “For if the advantage of the ideal to the Jews is to gain the promised land, the advantage to the Gentiles is to get rid of the Jewish problem, and I do not see why we should obtain all their advantage and none of our own. Therefore I would leave as few Jews as possible in other established nations”. Jews leaving Europe was, Chesterton suggested, simply the best way to get rid of the so-called “Jewish Problem”. Chesterton’s defenders would seem to believe that this demonstrates Chesterton’s warm friendly sentiments to Jews, but as Owen Dudley Edwards quite rightly concluded in the Chesterton Review: “to say that a man wishes you and all your people to live somewhere else, is not to say that he likes you. It does mean that he doesn’t want to murder you, but if you call someone an anti-Semite you are not necessarily calling him a Hitler, real or potential.” See G. K. Chesterton, The New Jerusalem (London: Thomas Nelson, 1920), 248; and Owen Dudley Edwards, “Chesterton and Tribalism,” Chesterton Review VI, no.1 (1979-1980), 37.
G. K. Chesterton was a journalist and prolific author of poems, novels, short stories, travel books and social criticism. Prior to the twentieth century, Chesterton expressed sympathy for Jews and hostility towards antisemitism. He was agitated by Russian pogroms and felt sympathy for Captain Dreyfus. However, early into the twentieth century, he developed an irrational fear about the presence of Jews in Christian society. He started to argue that it was the Jews who oppressed the Russians rather than the Russians who oppressed the Jews, and he suggested that Alfred Dreyfus was not as innocent as the English newspapers claimed (click link for more on Chesterton and the Dreyfus Affair). His caricatures of Jews were often that of grotesque creatures dressed up as English people. His fictional and his non-fictional works repeated antisemitic stereotypes of Jewish greed and usury, bolshevism, cowardice, disloyalty and secrecy.
Many of Chesterton’s admirers fervently deny the presence of anti-Jewish hostility in his writings. Some of his defenders believe that Chesterton was an important figure within the Church, perhaps even a prophet or a saint. In fact, a growing number of people would like to see Chesterton canonised as a saint, and no doubt some are concerned that the accusation of antisemitism might prove an obstacle to such efforts. Since the publication of Chesterton’s Jews, the Bishop of Northampton, Peter Doyle, has appointed Canon John Udris to conduct an initial fact-finding investigation into the possibility of starting a cause for the canonisation of Chesterton. According to a report in the Catholic Herald on 3 March 2014, one of the reasons that the bishop selected Canon Udris for this investigation was that he has a “personal devotion to Chesterton,” and could thus be expected to put some “energy” into it. According to the report, referring to Chesterton’s argument that the Jews should be made to wear distinctive clothing so that everyone will know that they are “outsiders” (i.e. foreigners), Canon Udris observed that “you can understand why people make the assumption that he is anti-Semitic. But I would want to make the opposite case.” (Link for more on this canonisation investigation).
During the course of my investigation into Dudley Wright, I have managed to track down most of his books and articles. However, one book (or booklet) has proven elusive: The Fourth Dimension (published in 1906). This book is mentioned in passing in some of his later publications, and according to a biographical entry for Dudley Wright in The Masonic Secretaries’ Journal, this was his first ever published work. One can speculate that this study was an engagement with Charles Howard Hinton’s once influential book, also entitled The Fourth Dimension, which was published in 1904 and republished in 1906. Hinton was an English mathematician and author. Hinton’s book, which influenced or provoked a number of authors, discussed a fourth spatial dimension beyond conventional perception. As Margaret Wertheim observed in The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace (1999, p.193), Hinton was inspired by Plato’s allegory of “prisoners chained in a cave, doomed forever to see only the shadows of the ‘real’ world outside.” For Hinton, three-dimensional space was but a shadow of the “real world”.
Charles Howard Hinton
Hinton’s book sparked wide interest in theosophical and spiritualist circles at the time, and some people asserted that by mediating on Hinton’s four dimensional hyper-cubes or “Tesseracts,” it was possible to catch a glimpse of alternative planes of reality, to interact with ghosts, and to better understand spiritualist phenomena.
Tesseracts from Charles Hinton’s The Fourth Dimension (1906)
A Three-Dimensional Projection of a Tesseract (by Jason Hise).
As it was his first publication, Dudley Wright’s The Fourth Dimension would probably reveal some important clues about how he began his religious journey. It is possible that Dudley Wright believed that Charles Hinton’s Tesseracts might enable him to catch a glimpse of “the other side,” possibly even to see the spirit of his recently deceased son. Whilst Wright wrote hundreds of articles on religion, he seldom invited his readers into his own personal life. However, in an article published in The Mystic on 5 February 1908, and reprinted in Light ten days later, Wright hinted at the nuclear episode in his life that started him on his passionate if not obsessional search for the “underlying truth” of all religious systems, which in Wright’s mind was closely connected to the “immortality” of the soul. According to the article, one day some ten years previously, whilst working in the British Museum, Wright had a vision of his infant son dying after being seized by convulsions. Alarmed, he rushed home, to discover that “everything had happened exactly as [he] had seen it miles distant.” According to Wright, he immediately set out to investigate “the ‘other side’ of life.” He found the visions of Clairvoyants about relatives “long since ‘passed over,’” and about childhood incidents long forgotten, to be reassuringly accurate. [See Dudley Wright, “How I came to Believe in Psychism,” The Mystic, 5 February 1908, p. 59; reprinted in “Jottings,” Light, 15 February 1908, p. 83]. For other references to resurrection, reincarnation, immortality of the soul, and the afterlife in his writings, see Dudley Wright, “Resurrection,” Bible Review, June 1910, pp. 479-483; Dudley Wright, Spiritualism in Relation to the Doctrine of Immortality, Manchester: The Two Worlds, 1910, pp. 1-14; Dudley Wright, “Can Reincarnation Be Demonstrated?,” Occult Review 12, no.4, October 1910, pp. 221-227].
Regrettably, it has so far proven impossible to track down a copy of Wright’s The Fourth Dimension.
* For a detailed examination of Dudley Wright, in which John Belton focused on the Masonic aspects of his life and career, whilst I concentrated on his non-Masonic theological discourse and his search for the “prisca theologia“, please see: Simon Mayers and John Belton, “The Life and Works of Dudley Wright,” Heredom 23, 2015. For a partial bibliography of Dudley Wright’s published and unpublished works, please see: Dudley Wright Bibliography