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Johann Emanuel Veith and the Accusation of Jewish Scriptural Tampering

On this day in 1894, a short article entitled “How a Jew Found Truth” in the Catholic Herald, a popular English Catholic newspaper, argued that there was some merit to the claim that the Jews deliberately remove and obliterate passages from their own Hebrew scriptures in order to hide the truth of Christianity. According to the article, Johann Emanuel Veith (1787-1876; a Jewish convert to Catholicism, director of the school of veterinary medicine at the University of Vienna, and a prominent and popular priest and preacher), used to have passages read to him as a youth from the Old Testament by his father. The Catholic Herald explained that from a young age he had studied his father’s sacred books assiduously, and by the time he was sent to Prague to study philosophy, he already “knew the Scriptures of the Old Testament thoroughly.” According to the article, though Jewish, Johann Veith decided to attend some Catholic religious classes, and he was astounded to discover passages from the Old Testament “concerning the Messiah which he had never read or heard of at home.” The Catholic Herald explained that when he next visited his father, he examined “his father’s old Bible” to check the passages he had discovered at the Catholic religious classes that discussed the messiah, and found that “the pages containing these quotations had been destroyed or glued together or obliterated.” According to the Catholic Herald, when he asked his father for an explanation, the only answer he received was “a severe blow on the side of the face.” It was that blow, the paper explained, that steeled him to study Christian theology, leading him to “the truth of Christianity and of the Catholic Church.” See “How a Jew Found Truth,” Catholic Herald, 23 March 1894.

Image of Veith

Johann Emanuel Veith (painted by the Austrian artist, Josef Kriehuber, 1860)

This story in the Catholic Herald was a modern example of an oft-repeated anti-Jewish claim dating back to antiquity and frequently repeated during the Middle Ages. As Joshua Trachtenberg’s important study of the religious diabolisation of Jews notes, there have been Christians, from antiquity to the modern day, who have believed that the Jews were wilfully malicious and insincere rather than ignorant in their rejection of Christ. For example, some of the early Church Fathers, such as Jerome and Justinian, complained that the rabbis “consciously and deliberately perverted the meaning of the original text.” Medieval scholars even accused Jews of “tampering with the text of the Bible in an effort to destroy its Christological meaning.” See Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and its Relation to Modern Antisemitism (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1943), 15, 153.

One may ask, did Veith really make the claims suggested by the Catholic Herald about his father’s alleged tampering with the Bible? It is difficult to conclusively answer this question. There is anecdotal evidence upon which one may speculate, but this may lead the interpreter to either conclusion. In Veith’s favour, it seems likely that he did publicly refute another malicious anti-Jewish myth, the blood libel. According to Hermann Stack’s classic study of the ritual murder accusation, there are at least three written testimonies to the effect that Veith had publicly stated, at the end of a sermon delivered in Vienna in May 1840 (i.e. shortly after the infamous Damascus blood libel), that there was not a single word of truth in the ritual murder accusation against the Jews. These testimonies were provided by Professor Franz Joseph Molitor (a German Christian Cabalist, and scholar of Hebrew, the Talmud and the Zohar), Dr Eduard Kafka (an Austrian author), and Veith’s brother, Joseph Veith. According to Strack, the concluding words of the sermon were later printed in a Viennese newspaper, the Illustriertes Wiener Extrablatt (on 5 June 1882), though as this was four decades after the sermon was delivered, their accuracy is difficult to check: “I swear here, in the name of the triune God, whom we all acknowledge, before you and all the world, that the falsehood which has been disseminated by cruel cunning, to the effect that the Jews use the blood of a Christian in the celebration of their [Pesach] festival, is a malicious, blasphemous slander, and is contained neither in the books of the Old Testament, nor in the writings of the Talmud, which I know thoroughly and have zealously examined.” Veith’s rejection of the blood libel accusation was also mentioned, albeit in passing, in the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia. See Hermann L. Strack, The Jew and Human Sacrifice, 8th edition (New York: Bloch Publishing, [1909]), 245-248. See also “Blood Accusation,” The Jewish Encyclopedia, vol. 3 (New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1902), 266.

Whilst the explicit and public rejection of one anti-Jewish myth might seem to suggest that it was unlikely that he would endorse another, its evidential basis for determining whether Veith did make the claim reported in the Catholic Herald is at best anecdotal. Furthermore, it seems that there is similar, perhaps stronger, anecdotal evidence suggesting that he might have made the claim. Significantly, it seems to be true that Veith held little love for his father, and spoke of Judaism with bitterness. According to a biography of Veith written by Johann Heinrich Löwe (Veith’s nephew), Veith’s father had the habit of setting him tests every few weeks, and when he failed those tests, he was locked in a small room without food. Veith rejected his father’s wish that he study to become a rabbi, and later wrote (in 1866) that he hated his home Czech town of Klattau, as it was there that he lived a “neglected, mishandled, and joyless childhood, troubled by atrocious examples.” He complained that he “did not even learn Czech, which would have been a thousand times better than the rotten Talmud.” On another occasion, Veith stated that he had been called “from the dung heap to Christianity.” See Johann Heinrich Löwe, Eine Biographie (Vienna, 1879), cited by Adam Bunnell, Before Infallibility: Liberal Catholicism in Biedermeier Vienna (London and Toronto: Associated University Presses, 1990), 60-65.

There are also grounds for believing that if Veith did protest against the blood libel in 1840, he later came to change his mind. In 1854 and again in 1856, a Catholic newspaper, the Wiener Kirchenzeitung, published a declaration, allegedly at Veith’s instigation, to the effect that he regarded the whole story of his having declared that the blood libel was a myth as a “contemptible slander.” Strack rejected this, noting that the language of the article in the Wiener Kirchenzeitung was that of Sebastian Brunner. An Austrian priest, author and newspaper editor, Brunner was obsessed with the so-called Jewish threat to Christian civilisation. Strack is probably right that the language was Brunner’s, but as Brunner was both the editor of the Wiener Kirchenzeitung and a close friend and associate of Veith’s, this would only seem to suggest that Brunner wrote the piece on his friend’s behalf, or influenced his language. As far as I am aware, there is nothing to indicate that Veith ever rejected the statements in the Wiener Kirchenzeitung. See Strack, The Jew and Human Sacrifice, 245-246.

The account of Veith discovering that his father destroyed, glued together and obliterated pages from the sacred text to hide passages alluding to Jesus is highly implausible. Jews read the Tanakh, and Christians read the Old Testament, in very different ways, and as such, non-Christian Jews do not tend to hold that passages in the Tanakh/Old Testament refer to Jesus. Those Jews who believe that the arrival of Jesus was prophesised in the Old Testament are of course likely to embrace, or already have embraced, Christianity. By depicting the Jews as recognising passages in the Tanakh as prophetic references to Jesus, and then wilfully responding by desecrating the relevant scriptural passages by obliteration or gluing together of pages, is to construct an image of Jews as highly malignant creatures. However, Veith was capable of speaking with acerbic sarcasm and bitterness when it came to his political and religious opponents, and when it came to his father, it may well be that he felt he had fair reason to be bitter. Certainly it seems that his personal experiences of being instructed in Judaism were not happy ones. It is thus plausible (though it has proven impossible to verify) that Veith, drawing upon a popular medieval myth, did narrate the rather fantastic story depicted in the Catholic Herald, perhaps as an instance of angry hyperbole. Certainly Veith often spoke badly of his Jewish heritage, and quite probably criticized and challenged his father’s readings of the Tanakh.

Stereotypes of “the Jew” in the Catholic Herald (1894 – 1933)

The Catholic Herald was an English Catholic newspaper which was founded and edited by Charles Diamond. The Catholic Herald was the core of a large group of newspapers. At its centre was the “general edition” of the Catholic Herald, which provided the template for over two dozen regional versions of the Catholic Herald and the Catholic News, including the London Catholic Herald, Preston Catholic News, Tyneside Catholic News, Manchester Catholic Herald, Leeds Catholic Herald, Glasgow Observer, and Irish Catholic Herald. For the most part these and other variants were identical to the general edition of the Catholic Herald except for the local news pages. The self-declared mission of the Catholic Herald was to defend and expound Christian civilisation, the Catholic Church, and Irish nationalism. Charles Diamond (1858-1934) was born in Maghera, Ireland, in 1858. He was M.P. for North Monaghan from 1892-1895. He also contested districts of London for the Labour Party in 1918, 1922 and 1924. Diamond was a political firebrand and maverick who frequently got into trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities. He was repeatedly criticised by the English Catholic bishops because he tended to disrespect and undermine their ecclesiastical authority. A resolution was passed by the bishops in 1910, expressing their distaste with the Catholic Herald, which they complained tended to diminish the respect due from Catholics to ecclesiastical authority. Interestingly, Charles Diamond also got into trouble with the British authorities when one of his editorials (on 27 December 1919) suggested that a failed attempt to assassinate John French, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, should not be considered an attempted murder. He argued that the action was justified since “English government in Ireland is not government. It is simply usurpation, brutality, and oppression.” As a result, he spent several months in Pentonville Prison (from January to August 1920).

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Charles Diamond (1858-1934)

Charles Diamond saw himself as a champion of Catholicism, Christian civilisation, and Irish nationalism, and he saw the Jews (and Freemasons) as enemies to those concerns. He disliked Jews and Freemasons, not as a consequence of theological concerns per se, but because he believed them to be a foreign and threatening presence within Christian civilisation. He felt that the European nations should have the right to expel the Jews. “His civilisation is not Christian,” the Catholic Herald warned, and “his ethics, his morality, are not Christian. He has a deadly hatred of Christianity”. Whilst he was not concerned with theology per se, Diamond was happy to draw upon aspects of Christian religious narrative in order to make his antisemitic constructions of the Jew more powerful by giving them the semblance of scriptural authority. An editorial in 1914 provides an example. This editorial was written in response to news reports in other newspapers that a rabbi-chaplain had been killed whilst attending a dying Catholic soldier on the battlefield with a crucifix to ease his passing. The editorial stated that this story was improbable. It went on to suggest that there is “ample evidence” to show that most Jews are more than willing to “trample upon the Christian name” and to treat the crucifix with anything but respect. The editorial argued that the Jews had pillaged the Church in France and that their houses are filled with the plunder. The editorial made its construction of the Jew more diabolic by combining traditional religious narratives about the “Pharisees” and “Christ-killers” with more recent stereotypes about Jewish greed. It stated that “the First Christian of all and the Founder of Christianity was put to death, the supreme tragedy of history, by the Jewish people.” The editorial concluded with the following question: “If our Jewish brethren still live under the Old Law, the old dispensation, which permitted ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ and which made it lawful to ‘spoil the Egyptians’ and all others who were not Jews, and if they have in certain specific and proved cases shown themselves ready and willing to act on these principles, are we to take it that the mere mention of the fact is evidence of a bigoted and persecuting spirit?” The paper’s implicit answer was no.

Charles Diamond reinforced his composite construction of the Jew with narratives based on scripture in several other issues of the Catholic Herald. In “The Jew and the World Ferment” (June 1919) and “Jewry” (June 1920), in addition to depicting the Jews as gamblers, usurers, parasites, tyrannical bullies, pathetic sycophants and vulgar materialists, Diamond also stated that “the Scribes and Pharisees, the wealthy Israelites, and most of the selfish and hard hearted multitude, sought only power, and glory and pre-eminence for their nation, and led by their rulers, the high priests and the body of the priesthood, they committed the paramount crime of all time”. Diamond suggested that whilst it is “beyond our province even to speculate” as to “how much of what Christians and non-Christians despise in them and denounce is due to what they have endured during the two thousand years of expiation of their unparalleled crime,” it was apparent that “their sufferings have not improved them.” Other articles and editorials in the Catholic Herald also combined references to “pharisaically dishonest action,” “haters of the Christian name” and “a denial of the Divinity of Christ,” with stereotypes of Jewish greed, cowardice, cunning, secrecy and treachery, and the oft-repeated conspiracy myth of a Jewish-Masonic alliance. The paper later complained that the Jews had used their powerful influence to have a movie, The Kings of Kings, which was released in 1927, modified so that responsibility for the murder of Christ was confined to the Roman authorities and Caiaphas the High Priest, rather than “the Jewish race as a whole.” This was, the Catholic Herald suggested, a gross falsification of the “historical record.”

The Catholic Herald increasingly developed a more malevolent construction of the Jew during and subsequent to the First World War. Diamond claimed that the Jews had looted the Church in France and that “the most sacred Christian objects [are] being bought up by the Jews for a mere song.” This, he suggested, was the result of their (supposed) belief that they still lived under an old dispensation that entitles them to despoil all non-Jewish nations. The claim that Jews feel it is their right to spoil the nations in which they reside and the accusation that they plundered the Church became regular leitmotifs of the Catholic Herald from 1914 onwards. The paper even argued that the First World War was arranged by Jews specifically so they could have another opportunity to pillage. According to the Catholic Herald, “this Hun war was largely the work of the Jews around the Kaiser. It was a huge plan of plunder and pillage, in which the Jew was to get his chance.” The paper continued with this stereotype of Jewish greed and exploitation after the war. In 1919 and 1920, the Catholic Herald acknowledged that Jews have a reputation for being “great philanthropists,” but observed that they nevertheless continue to be despised. The paper concluded that the reason they continue to be hated is that “as a people, taken as a whole, they are given to the worst of vices.” According to the Catholic Herald, the Jews are “gamblers, fond of vulgar display; cruel and domineering when they have power, sycophants and cringers when they are weak or have an end to serve.” According to the paper, the “orthodox Jew” and the “creedless materialistic Jew” were nearly as bad as each other, as the orthodox Jew has a religious creed which encourages “spoiling the stranger,” whilst the secular Jew hovers “like a vampire over the nations.” In the late 1920s, the accusation that Jews plundered the Church in France was transformed into the accusation that they plundered the Christians in Russia; the paper claimed that the Jews were pursuing the identical policy in Russia that they had once pursued in France. According to the Catholic Herald, “the worst characteristics of the human race” find their “highest and fullest expression” in the Jewish people.

Charles Diamond also incorporated the stereotype of Jewish secrecy into his multifaceted construction of the Jew. According to his newspaper in 1916, a group of Jewish money lenders “had dropped their Jew names and taken Irish names in order to disarm suspicion, and the better to swindle others.” The Catholic Herald was also disturbed by reports in other newspapers about “Jewish soldiers who were alleged to have won the highest military decorations in Russia for their bravery.” The paper concluded, with more than a touch of sarcasm, that it is “all right, of course, to praise Jews when they do something meritorious. It appears to be all right even to invent such stories.” In 1919, Diamond maintained that the Jew “is an intrusion, a foreign element in the Christian body politic,” and “he endeavours to get round this by all sorts of dodges and trickery, and tries to hide his Semitic origin and principles by changing his name and pretending to be what he is not.” Throughout the late 1910s and the 1920s, the paper frequently printed its paranoid fears and conspiracy theories about the Jews secretly hiding behind non-Jewish names except when they achieve, or “purchase”, some great honour or distinction; then the Jew has no problem being held up as a credit to his people, the paper complained. The stereotype of Jewish secrecy sometimes coalesced with that of the unpatriotic Jew, resulting in an even more inflammatory stereotype: The Jewish spy. According to the Catholic Herald in 1917, England was “honeycombed with Jew spies and traitors, using, of course, assumed names.” These pro-German Jew spies, the paper argued, “are adapts at treachery, and their co-religionists and friends in the press and elsewhere are ever ready to slander and abuse anyone who calls attention to their proceedings.”

The Catholic Herald also combined its stereotypes and representations of Jews with those of Freemasons; and the paper attacked Jews and Freemasons with equal passion. According to the Catholic Herald, “Freemasonry is a detestable form of secret tyranny as is proved by its implacable hatred of Catholics on the Continent.” The paper argued that Freemasonry is “anti-Christian,” “anti-Catholic,” “anti-nation,” “anti-social” and a “State within the State.” The paper alleged that Freemasons conspire to discredit and attack Catholics, and in particular Catholic priests, as part of its organised campaign against religion. The paper also suggested that Freemasonry has secretly and insidiously infiltrated and “honey-combed” the British army, navy and war office. Its main concern was that as a result these institutions were suffused by a “subtle anti-Catholic spirit.” It also hinted at Masonic naval officers participating in the “most shocking” rites and rituals whilst their vessels were docked in foreign countries. Whilst the Catholic Herald excoriated Jews and Freemasons independently, the paper’s composite construction of the Freemason not only closely mirrored its construction of the secretive, disloyal, anti-social and anti-Christian Jew, it also coalesced with it. For example, the paper stated that “the worst elements of Jewry, as of Atheism and Freemasonry … are the enemies of Christian civilisation as well as of Freedom and Justice.” After the war, one of the articles in the Catholic Herald that accused the Pharisees of murdering Christ and contemporary Jews of failing to improve themselves during their two thousand years of penitence for this “unparalleled crime,” went on to report that whilst the “defeat of Germany” in the war was a “blow to German Jew interests and ambitions, we may rest assured that the Jew trader, the Jew speculator, the Jew financier, the Jew Freemason, the Jew, politically and socially, will emerge from the ordeal the gainer as a whole by the cataclysm.” The paper announced that the “Young Turks” who led the violent revolution in Turkey were predominantly Jews and Freemasons. “Freemasonry in Turkey,” the paper reported,” is “of the atheist Jew brand” and the “Young Turks” who have been put in control of the Ottoman Empire by the Freemasons are “chiefly Salonica Jews, revolutionists, anti-Christians, and atheistical Masons, almost without exception.” The paper blamed the Jews and Freemasons for other revolutions of an anti-clerical nature. For example, in the late 1920s, the paper attributed the persecution of Catholics in Mexico to the “forces of evil represented by Atheists, Freemasons, Communists, Jews and all the other forces of infamy.” In 1931, the paper observed that a tolerance for Christians is not indicated by the fact that Jews do not attempt to proselytise to them. It is, the newspaper indicated, “only too true that the most bitter persecutors of the Catholic Church, in various countries where they have the power, have been, and are Jews.” “The anti-Catholic propaganda for which Jewish Freemasons and others are responsible is a matter of notoriety,” the Catholic Herald concluded.

One focus point for the paper was the Dreyfus Affair. The paper at first began with a comparatively innocuous, albeit ambivalent report, when Captain Dreyfus was initially accused of treason. It suggested in November 1894 that as “the accused has not yet been tried,” he “ought therefore to be presumed innocent until he is found guilty.” It deprecated the French press for its unanimous verdict in condemning Dreyfus before the trial, though it did allude to the power of “the highest Jewish families in France,” who were, the paper claimed, supporting the accused. However, the tone of the paper soon became more hostile. “The traitor Dreyfus,” the Catholic Herald reported in January 1895, “has astounded all France, and even the whole civilized world, by his execrable crime of treason against his country.” His sentence, the paper concluded, “seems far too light for such a detestable crime.” During and subsequent to the First World War, the Catholic Herald repeatedly returned to the Dreyfus Affair and the crisis in France, which had, it suggested, been provoked by the “Masonic-Jewish camarilla.” The paper suggested that the Jews and Freemasons exploited the crisis in France as an opportunity to persecute and exclude Catholics from political positions, to plunder the Church and disestablish the Catholic religion. The paper asked, “has any body of Jews, here or elsewhere, protested against the Jew-freemason-atheist plunder of the French Catholic Church?” The Catholic Herald reasoned that Alfred Dreyfus must have been a Freemason and that the Freemasons supported the Dreyfusard cause because he was a brother of the Lodge. The reality of the case, the paper suggested, was that “a traitorous French Jew was punished for his guilt of treason.” The paper repeatedly argued that when a reporter from the Daily Mail was sent to France to investigate the retrial of Dreyfus and concluded that he seemed to be a little guilty, Dreyfus’ Jewish-Freemason brothers would not accept it. They got their way, the paper concluded, and consequently a second reporter was sent to France with instructions to write “that Dreyfus ‘was innocent’, in face of the evidence and of his own convictions!” The Catholic Herald repeatedly claimed that the Jews and Freemasons had pressured Lord Northcliffe, the owner of the Daily Mail, to declare that Dreyfus was innocent irrespective of his actual guilt.

Charles Diamond’s Catholic Herald continued to repeat anti-Jewish stereotypes and conspiracy theories during the early 1930s. The Catholic Herald did condemn “Hitlerite” Jew-baiting, but the paper simultaneously argued that “the Jews in Germany no doubt played an evil part in pre-war politics.” After describing the attacks upon Jews in Berlin as “outrageous,” the paper went on to argue that Bolshevism was a Jewish movement and that Jewish usury was responsible for much of the then current hatred against Jews. In April 1933, the paper reported that “a leading Jewish representative” had stated in “the press” that “the Catholics of Germany” had stood up against the persecutions of Jews in Germany. According to the Catholic Herald, this Jewish representative also called upon the pope to similarly speak out against Hitler’s persecution of the Jews. The Catholic Herald suggested that the Jewish representative was making an “unwarrantable” claim upon the pope, as “the Holy See does not rush into every conflict, even when challenged by unauthorised persons.” The paper went on to report that “a German Catholic” points out in response that all over the world, in France, in Spain and elsewhere, “it is too true that Jews, especially the Masonic Jews who are so numerous, are the bitter and persistent foes of the Catholic Church.” The paper claimed that the revolution in Spain had the “wholesale” support of Jewry. According to the Catholic Herald, “whenever it can do so, Jewry is the leading and bitter enemy of the Catholic Church.” The paper complained that people protest against the “far lesser wrongs” inflicted upon “a far smaller number of Jews,” whilst ignoring or approving of the horrors inflicted upon millions of Catholics wherever “Protestantism and Atheism and Freemasonry have power.” In October 1933, the editor of the Catholic Herald stated that the “Jewish attitude towards the Catholic Church” is notorious. It is, he asserted, “notorious that the war upon the Church in France which culminated in the robbery of the Church was fiercely helped by Jewish influence, especially the Jewish Masonic Lodges and other atheistic organisations.” According to the paper, most of the £20,000,000 of Church property which was seized by the French Government was bought up by Jews all over France and distributed to Jews all over the world. The editor claimed to have been “in the house of a Jew friend in Paris which was filled in every room with Church property bought at knock-out prices all over France.” The “whole record of the Jewish people is a record of persecution of their neighbours,” the editor argued. According to the paper, “anyone acquainted with the Old Testament knows that fact and anyone acquainted with the first centuries of Christianity knows that the Jews, like St. Paul before his conversion, went about preaching violence and slaughter against Jews who became Christians and against the Christian name everywhere.” In fairness to the Catholic Herald, the paper did go on to state that every Catholic should raise his voice against antisemitism.  And yet, in virtually the same breath, the paper reasoned that the widespread attitude of hostility towards Jews was not caused by “the wickedness of those who attack them,” but rather was provoked by the Jews themselves.

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“Miss Diana Vaughan” and the myth of “Luciferian Freemasonry” in English Catholic newspapers (1894-1897) and The Prague Cemetery (2010)

The following is a revised version (with new material added) of an essay published in the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism (link to volume).

In a lecture delivered on 15 May 2008 at Bologna University, and recently published in a new volume of essays, Umberto Eco explains that the process of “inventing the enemy” has featured in almost all cultures. In this lecture, “inventing the enemy” takes on an almost ontological significance, “important not only to define our identity but also to provide us with an obstacle against which to measure our system of values and, in seeking to overcome it, to demonstrate our own worth.” We are, Eco suggests, “beings who need an enemy.” Consequently, “when there is no enemy, we have to invent one.” Eco drew upon a wide range of examples from across history, such as Saint Augustine’s condemnation of the pagans, the diabolisation of prostitutes, lepers, gypsies, lesbians, witches and “the Negro,” the ancient theological myth of the Jewish Antichrist, and Hitler’s construction of “the Jewish mongrel.” He was justifiably disturbed by this process, and the prospect that “our moral sense” may be “impotent when faced with the age-old need for enemies.” I believe it was this widespread cultural cultivation of the so-called “enemy” that Umberto Eco had in mind when he wrote The Prague Cemetery [1].

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The narratives in The Prague Cemetery are often challenging and fantastic, but little more so than some of the episodes and texts upon which they are based. For example, whilst Eco embellished the narratives about Miss Diana Vaughan (in chapter 22 of the Prague Cemetery), they were already in the 1890s, as a sceptical English Catholic critic pointed out in a letter to the Tablet in April 1897, a “preposterous extravagance,” with tales of “the embracing of the chaste Diana by the beautiful demon Asmodeus, the flying through the air on the back of monster eagles down the mouths of volcanoes in full eruption, the profanation of hosts, the blasphemous parodies of Masses and devotions …  and the lion’s tail animated by the devil to make a necklace for Diana.” [2] According to the Diana Vaughan narratives, Lucifer and a veritable cast of demons and monsters were regularly summoned by the “Palladian” Freemasons.

Taxil on Freemasonry ImageDiana Vaughan began her “existence” as a textual invention in a number of discourses in 1894. Léo Taxil (formerly Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès), a French writer and ex-Freemason, whose writings contained anti-Catholicism and anti-Masonryconstructed the character of Diana Vaughan as a fictitious female apostate from so-called “Palladian” Freemasonry. According to Diana Vaughan’s so-called memories (fabricated by Taxil in a series of instalments from July 1895 through to April 1897), she was a noble-minded lady who abandoned the misguided worship of Lucifer, converted to Roman Catholicism, and revealed the secret satanic inner workings of Freemasonry. In the Prague Cemetery, Eco removed the linear development from “Palladian” Freemason to Roman Catholic, thereby introducing a disassociate identity disorder to an already fantastic construction, with the “good” Diana being a virtuous Christian, and the “bad” Diana a sexually depraved Masonic Luciferian. Eco thus added creative flourishes to an already fantastic creation [3].

In addition to Diana Vaughan’s extravagant memoirs, Taxil also wrote other elaborate stories about devil worship and sinister rituals in Masonic lodges, some of which were published under pseudonyms. These tales included bizarre accounts of Host desecration, Satanic magic, murder, the Antichrist, and the manifestations of Lucifer and Asmodeus. Whilst Taxil was the original inventor of Diana Vaughan, his construction took on a life of its own in a number of discourses outside of his immediate control. When Diana Vaughan is discussed, it is usually in the context of French discourse. What is generally unknown is that the Diana Vaughan narratives played an important role in constructing “the enemy” (i.e. “the Jew” and “the Freemason”) in English Catholic discourses during the late nineteenth century.

The English Catholic newspaper in which Diana Vaughan was most frequently discussed was the Tablet, which was owned by Herbert Vaughan, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and head of the English Catholic hierarchy (the shared surname with Diana being coincidental). The veracity of Diana Vaughan’s (which is to say Léo Taxil’s) tales about “Luciferian” Freemasonry were accepted by the editor of the Tablet and several of its readers. Diana Vaughan made her first appearance in the Tablet in a report celebrating the inauguration of the international Anti-Masonic Congress in August 1895. According to the report, the Anti-Masonic Congress aimed to fights the evils of freemasonry and was a “most hopeful augury” for the future. Taking Taxil’s lurid narratives at face value, the Tablet reported that prior to her conversion to Catholicism, Diana Vaughan, “ex-Grand Mistress of the Luciferians or Palladians,”  had tried to set up a more moderate “reformed” sect of Palladium Freemasonry, because despite “the strange perversion of mind by which an intelligent and high-souled woman dedicated herself to the worship of Lucifer,” she was not blind to the “degrading character of the rites practised by her fellow-worshippers” [4]. A year later, in October 1896, the Tablet reported that the Anti-Masonic Congress had set up a “special committee” to deal with the “burning questions” relating to Diana Vaughan. According to the report: “That there is in France a sect devoted to the worship of Lucifer, as the champion of rebellious humanity, is, we believe, a well-attested fact, and the propagation of this diabolical creed has been ascribed by M. Taxil and M. Ricoux to an inner ring of the Masonic body called Palladic Masonry.” The Tablet concluded that a book by Arthur Waite on the myth of Satanism “traverses and impugns these statements, but without any conclusive refutation of their general drift” [5]. 

A number of antisemitic and anti-Masonic articles in the Tablet during the 1890s suggested that Jews and Freemasons were working together to undermine the Church [6]. One clerical contributor to the Tablet, Father Norbert Jones, argued that the Jews were helping the Freemasons by dismissing the evidence proving the existence of Miss Diana Vaughan. According to Father Jones, a member of the Canons Regular of the Lateran, Jews and Freemasons were working together to discredit Diana Vaughan’s damaging revelations of Masonic devil worship. According to Jones, those that “talk of deception in the matter are themselves the real dupes of Jew Masons” [7]. The Diana Vaughan tales were also accepted by Baroness Mary Elizabeth Herbert, a close friend and colleague of Cardinal Vaughan, in the pages of the Dublin Review (despite its name, the Dublin Review was a London based Catholic periodical). Baroness Herbert accepted with enthusiasm Domenico Margiotta’s account of the “noble and generous character” of Diana Vaughan and his claims that Adriano Lemmi was a Jew convert and a Satanist [8].

The Tablet and Dublin Review were not the only English Catholic periodicals to give credence to the Diana Vaughan hoax. On 30 April 1897, a Paris correspondent for the Catholic Herald vented his frustration at “a certain class of Catholic clergymen and the Catholic press, especially in Paris,” who had lapped up the “ridiculous and grotesque stories” about Palladian Freemasonry. He reported that every absurd story about Diana Vaughan was raised “to the height of a dogma” and Catholics who refused to accept them had been branded as “a traitor to the Church and perhaps nearly a Freemason, too” [9]. However, in 1894, the Catholic Herald – a London based Catholic newspaper, owned by the maverick Irish Catholic proprietor-editor Charles Diamond [10] – was among those newspapers that had entertained the reports of Luciferian Freemasonry. On 27 April 1894, the paper reported that according to one of its Paris correspondents, “a recent sacrilegious theft at Notre Dame has been traced to an extraordinary sect known as ‘Luciferians,’ or worshippers of Satan.” According to the report, female Luciferians were stealing consecrated hosts from churches in order to profane in Black Masses. On 11 May 1894, the paper reported that: “the election of Adrian Lemmi as Pontiff of Freemasonry on the Continent has caused a split in the camp. The Perfect Triangle of New York has entered a strong dissent, and Miss Diana Vaughan, who is Grand Mistress of the Perfect Triangle of New York, has given in her resignation, and severed her connection with Freemasonry. In a letter assigning the course of her act, she [Miss Diana Vaughan] states that Lemmi was on the 22nd March, 1844, condemned by the Criminal Court at Marseilles to a year and a day’s imprisonment for theft, and to five years’ police surveillance on his liberation. After quitting prison, however, he made his way furtively to Turkey, and afterwards to Italy, where, joining the Freemasons, he has been raised by them to the supreme position in their body. Such is the head of Continental Freemasonry, whose election has led the Grandmistress of the Order in America to exclaim – ‘How can Masonry ever survive from this corruption and treason?’” [11]

Charles Diamond image 2

A Sketch of Charles Diamond (1892)

On 19 April 1897, a large audience, consisting largely of Catholics and Freemasons, gathered in the auditorium of the Société Géographique in Paris in order to finally meet Diana Vaughan. The audience was consequently stunned when Taxil rather than Diana Vaughan appeared on the stage and announced that the whole tale of Palladian Freemasonry was a hoax. Diana Vaughan, the illusive ex-Grand Mistress of the Luciferians, did not exist. Taxil thanked the Catholic bishops and editors who had encouraged his exposés of Satanic Freemasonry. After Taxil’s announcement that Diana Vaughan and Palladian Freemasonry never existed and that the whole affair had been a hoax, narratives about Palladian and Satanic Freemasonry became less frequent in English Catholic discourses (though other anti-Masonic and antisemitic accusations, including narratives about the arrival of a “Jewish Antichrist“, continued unabated).

The accusations of Satanic Freemasonry – sometimes linked to the narrative about the so-called “Jewish Antichrist” – did not however completely disappear. Colonel James Ratton, an English Catholic, retired army doctor and author, helped to keep them alive. In 1901, he published his book, X-Rays in Freemasonry. This repeated traditional stereotypes about the anti-Christian nature of Freemasonry and its alleged war against the Church. It repeatedly emphasised Jewish involvement in Freemasonry and informed readers that the Jews killed Christ and have clung onto their “anti-Christian” principles and ideals ever since. According to Ratton, these ideals include “the expectation of another Messiah, who, we know, will be Antichrist.” He argued that Freemasonry was Satanic, and that the B’nai B’rith, whose goal he suggested was to dominate all forms of Freemasonry and re-establish King Solomon’s Temple, was a branch of Jewish Freemasonry closed to non-Jews with the exception of visits by the “Inspectors General of the Palladium” (in reality the B’nai B’rith is a Jewish advocacy, communal service and philanthropic society, and not a branch of Freemasonry, though a small handful of its early members, such as Henry Jones and Isaac Rosenbourg, may have been Freemasons). Ratton added new material when he republished X-Rays in 1904. He argued that Zionism is of interest because it has been prophesised that when the Jews return to Jerusalem, “anti-Christ will appear in their midst.” According to Ratton, Freemasonry, guided by the Jews, is preparing to move its headquarters to Jerusalem, and when the B’nai B’rith joins them, “then will anti-Christ appear in alliance with the Sovereign Pontiff of Freemasonry, and incite the international Masonic forces to persecute the Church in such fashion as has never been before” [12]. Montague Summers, an eccentric convert to Catholicism, continued to argue in 1926 that Albert Pike, the alleged founder of Palladian Freemasonry, had been the Grand Master of “societies practising Satanism” [13]. Father Cahill, an Irish Jesuit, argued in Freemasonry and the Anti-Christian Movement (1929), that Freemasonry is associated with occultism, Satanism, the Antichrist, Judaism, Jewish rites, the Cabala and a Judaeo-Masonic anti-Christian movement. He suggested that the Diana Vaughan hoax was probably a Masonic plot to discredit the (supposed) “evidence” that Freemasonry is associated with Satanism. According to the Catholic Times (another English Catholic newspaper), Father Cahill, unlike prominent Freemasons, does not expect readers to accept “even a single point” from his book on faith, for he “proves everything” [14].

Umberto Eco has suggested that the process of “inventing the enemy,” whether that role was assigned to pagans, Jews, Freemasons, gypsies, or another outsider group, has been a deplorable but pervasive feature of civilization. He suggested that cultures require an enemy, and when there is no genuine external threat, an internal one is usually invented in compensation. Eco observed that stereotypes can be destroyed when a genuine effort is made to understand other people without denying or disrespecting their distinctiveness. He seemed, however, far from sanguine about the possibility, implying that the natural human impulse was not inclined towards the dismantling of such myths and stereotypes [15]. The Diana Vaughan narratives in English Catholic newspapers demonstrate the power of discourse to construct a protean reality that is readily accepted, repeated, and adapted by newspaper editor and reader alike. The Diana Vaughan narratives in these newspapers, though in some respects more creative, were by no means particularly exceptional. Similar antisemitic and anti-Masonic themes can also be found in their reporting of other episodes, such as the election of Karl Lueger as mayor of Austria and the Dreyfus Affair. Constructions of “the Jew” and “the Freemason,” blending contemporary stereotypes of greed, cowardice, disloyalty and secrecy with religious myths about deicide, ritual murder, sorcery, devil worship and the Antichrist, were a pervasive theme in a range of English Catholic discourses during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries [16]. And as plenty of other studies have shown, such images were certainly by no means confined to Catholic discourses. The portrayal of “the other” as Satanic and diabolically conspiratorial can be found in a myriad of religious and non-religious discourses, from the middle ages, throughout the twentieth century, and into the present century. It was often the wider cultural consciousness, rather than just disturbed or bitter individuals, that was willing to accept bizarre myths, stereotypes, caricatures and fairy tales about Jews and Freemasons as fact. One can only hope that Eco was being overly pessimistic about the prospects of de-inventing “the enemy”.

Notes

[1] See Umberto Eco, “Inventing the Enemy,” in Inventing the Enemy and Other Occasional Writings, trans. Richard Dixon (London: Harvill Seeker, 2012), 1-21, and Umberto Eco, The Prague Cemetery, trans. Richard Dixon (London: Vintage, 2012). The Prague Cemetery was originally published in 2010 and translated into English in 2012. Umberto Eco’s depiction of cultural obsessions with constructed “enemies” (such as “the Jew,” “the Freemason,” “the negro,” “the gypsy,” “the homosexual,” “the witch” and other so-called villains) is disturbing but highly persuasive.

[2] In this letter to the Tablet, as well as in the Month (the periodical of the British Jesuits), the anonymous critic lamented that “respected ecclesiastics” were found defending the cause of so-called Diana Vaughan. See Letters to the Editor, Tablet, 17 April 1897, 617-618 and “The Diana Vaughan Hoax,” Month 89 (April 1897), 442. It is possible that the anonymous critic was the British Jesuit scholar Herbert Thurston. Thurston was no friend of Freemasonry, which he vehemently criticised in a number of books and articles. Nevertheless, he wrote a letter to the Tablet in January 1897 in which he suggested that the Diana Vaughan revelations were “an exploded myth.” And in 1898, in an article about the antisemitic blood libel accusation, he concluded that the end of the anti-Masonic Diana Vaughan episode, the “disappearance into thin air of the impalpable ‘luciferians,’” seems only to have “added new zest to the pursuit of the unquestionably very real and substantial Israelites.” Herbert Thurston, Letters to the Editor, Tablet, 2 January 1897, 22-23; Herbert Thurston, “Anti-Semitism and the Charge of Ritual Murder,” Month 91 (June 1898), 562. Thurston equivocally defended Jews on a number of occasions from the ritual murder accusation. This is discussed in Simon Mayers, “From the Christ-Killer to the Luciferian: The Mythologized Jew and Freemason in Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century English Catholic Discourse,” Melilah 8 (2011), 41-48 (link to volume 8 of the online edition of Melilah).

[3] Léo Taxil [Miss Diana Vaughan, pseud.], Mémoires d’une Ex-Palladiste (Paris, 1895-1897); Eco, The Prague Cemetery, chap. 22.

[4] “The Anti-Masonic Congress,” Tablet, 17 August 1895, 250-251. In an earlier version of this essay (which focused on the Tablet), published in the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, I mistakenly stated that this report in the Tablet contained the first encounter with Diana Vaughan in the English Catholic newspapers. See Simon Mayers, “From The Tablet to The Prague Cemetery: The Jew, The Freemason, and the Diana Vaughan Hoax,” Journal for the Study of Antisemitism, volume 5, issue 1 (2013), 242 (link for volume). I have since found that the Catholic Herald contained a number of reports discussing Diana Vaughan in 1894 (see footnote 10).

[5] “Report of the Anti-Masonic Congress,” Tablet, 10 October 1896, 565-566.

[6] See for example: “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.

[7] See Norbert Jones, C.R.L., Letters to the Editor, Tablet, 23 January 1897, 138-139. For other letters by Father Jones C.R.L., see the Tablet: 7 November 1896, 741-742 and 10 April 1897, 577. Father Jones was a priest and a member of the Canons Regular of the Lateran. He was appointed to provide Sunday Mass at the Catholic Church at Truro, Cornwell, in 1891. According to reports, his services were popular with both Catholics and Protestants. See “News from the Diocese,” Tablet, 5 August 1893, 236.

[8] Mary Elizabeth Herbert, review of Adriano Lemmi: Supreme Head of the Freemasons and Le Palladisme; Or the Worship of Lucifer, both books by Domenico Margiotta, Dublin Review 118 (January 1896), 192-201.

[9] Paris Correspondent, Our Paris Letter, Catholic Herald, 30 April 1897.

[10] Charles Diamond (1858-1934) was born in Ireland in 1858. He was M.P. for North Monaghan from 1892-1895. He also contested districts of London for the Labour Party in 1918, 1922 and 1924. Diamond was a maverick who frequently got into trouble with the ecclesiastical authorities. He was repeatedly criticised by English Catholic bishops, not for his hostile articles about Jews and Freemasons, but because he tended to disrespect and undermine their ecclesiastical authority.

[11] “A Fiendish Sect,” Catholic Herald, 27 April 1894, and “A Masonic Split,” Catholic Herald, 11 May 1894. See also “Masonic Sacrilege: The Outrage of the Blessed Sacrament: The Worship of Lucifer,” Catholic Herald, 6 July 1894, and “Freemasonry Abjured,” Catholic Herald, 21 September 1894.

[12] James Ratton [A. Cowan, pseud.], X-Rays in Freemasonry (London: Effingham Wilson, 1901); James Ratton [A. Cowan, pseud.], X-Rays in Freemasonry, revised edition (London: Effingham Wilson, 1904). Though published using a pseudonym, Ratton later took credit for X-Rays in Freemasonry in James Ratton, Antichrist: An Historical Review (London: Burns and Oates, 1917). 

[13] Montague Summers, The History of Witchcraft and Demonology (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1926), 8.

[14] Edward Cahill, Freemasonry and the Anti-Christian Movement, 2nd ed. (Dublin: M. H. Gill, 1930), 67-95; “Eminent Jesuit’s Book Evokes Wide Public Interest,” Catholic Times, 8 November 1929, 6. The first edition of Freemasonry and the Anti-Christian Movement was published in 1929. According to Cahill: “The real motives and genesis of the [Diana Vaughan] conspiracy still remain shrouded in mystery. Some (including Masonic writers, who repudiate all connection of the Masonic Order with it) accept Taxil’s explanation at its face-value. Many, probably the majority of non-Masonic authorities, hold that the affair was a colossal Masonic conspiracy organized to throw discredit and ridicule upon the evidence that Satanism and obscenity were associated with certain sections of Freemasonry. … Whatever be the genesis of the affair it is certain that the too-ready credence given to the fantastic inventions which Taxil’s writings contained helped to discredit many things of which there was otherwise reliable evidence” (70-71). 

[15] Umberto Eco, “Inventing the Enemy,” 1-21.

[16] This was examined in my PhD thesis.