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The Tablet and the Mortara Affair (1858)

The following is an abridged version of an essay accepted for publication in the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism:

The Mortara Affair was an incident in which a six year old Jewish child, Edgardo Mortara, was forcibly removed from his family in June 1858 by the Carabinieri (the military police of the Papal States), placed in the care of the Church, and later adopted by Pius IX. This was because a Catholic maid (Anna Morisi), supposedly afraid that Edgardo was about to die, illicitly baptised him when he was an infant – or at least claimed to have done so. Years later she revealed this to Father Feletti, the inquisitor in Bologna. Whether Morisi really baptized Edgardo Mortara as claimed, or fabricated the story during her interrogation by Father Feletti in 1857, remains unknown. There were certainly inconsistencies in her account, which were highlighted during the trial of Father Feletti in 1860. Nevertheless, her story was accepted by the Church. The matter was referred to the Holy Office, which declared that the baptism was valid, and that according to papal law the boy must thus be removed from his family and brought to the House of the Catechumens in Rome to be raised as a Christian. This episode is examined in detail by David Kertzer in his excellent book, The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (New York: Vintage, 1998) [link]. Incidentally, there are plans to adapt Kertzer’s book into a movie directed by Steven Spielberg [link].

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Edgardo Mortara Painting

Representation of the abduction by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim (1800-1882). 

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Whereas most British Catholic publications (such as The Rambler) simply ignored the reports of the Mortara abduction, and the pleas of the Jewish Chronicle for support in protesting against it, the Tablet went beyond silence and fully supported the Pope’s refusal to return the child. On 23 October 1858, following Protestant objections to Edgardo’s abduction by the Church, an editorial in the Tablet argued that an honest Catholic journalist can say nothing about it which Protestant readers will find gratifying. It was necessary, the editorial suggested, to take an “unpopular” stand despite the anticipated “obloquy” it would entail. The Tablet admitted that it adopted not only the “conclusions”, but also the “language” and the “arguments” of L’Univers – the French Catholic periodical of Ultramontanist Louis Veuillot. The Tablet thus presented L’Univers’s position on the Mortara Affair and endorsed it as if it were its own. According to the Tablet/L’Univers, Jews were the guests of the Church of Rome, and welcomed and protected in the papal territories, but whilst the civil law protects Jewish children from being coerced into baptism against their parent’s wishes (except “when in danger of death” or “when forsaken”), another law, of an earlier date, must take precedence: the “law of Christianity.” According to the Tablet/L’Univers, “baptism, which is necessary for salvation, makes us children of the Church.” It was suggested that in the case of the Mortara affair, the family had unwisely disregarded the law forbidding them to have Christian servants, and the maid, having seen the threat of death looming over an ill Edgardo Mortara, wished to make Heaven available to him, and thus baptized him, “legally, according to all appearance, validly, beyond all question.” As the young Mortara child was supposedly “no longer a Jew but a Christian,” it was apparently correct for him to be removed from his family, so that the parents “might not be tempted to make this Christian child apostatise either by violence or fraud, and so ruin a soul purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ.” The Tablet/L’Univers thus concluded that the Pope was right to refuse to bow to pressure, the paramount issue being the safety of a little child and a Christian soul. Untitled editorial with extract from Louis Veuillot’s L’Univers, Tablet, 23 October 1858, 680.

A week later, on 30 October, the front-page news summary in the Tablet noted that “the Mortara case” was continuing to “engage the tongues and pens of men.” The Tablet again inverted the event, so that rather than a case of the Church kidnapping a child from his parents, it was transformed into a matter of the Church defending an innocent child in his choice of religion against the unreasonable demands of his parents. The paper argued that agitations about young Mortara were being provoked by the “maligners of the Holy See.” According to the Tablet, those who insist that the young Mortara child, “a baptised Christian, arrived at the age of reason” (the paper incorrectly stated that the child was eight rather than six years old, though the proposition remains dubious at either age), should be surrendered to his father, and thus raised “as a Jew, to deny his Saviour,” are in essence arguing that “this Christian child has no right, as against his father, to be protected in his religion.” The Tablet contended that the maligners who argue that the father has a “right to force his own religion on the child,” do so at the expense of the “interests of the child.” The paper concluded that the father does not have this right, and no one can “seriously contend” that he does. According to the Tablet, “a legal discussion, the validity of which, according to the law of Rome, is not disputed, has settled that the child Mortara is entitled to be protected in his [Christian] religion against his own father.” The Pope was thus being asked, the paper concluded, to violate the law of Rome, “in order to enable the Jew to force his child to deny the Divinity of Christ as Supreme Legislator”. “Summary,” Tablet, 30 October 1858, 689.

A week later, on 6 November, an editorial in the Tablet suggested that all that is required to resolve the Mortara question is the “little grace” necessary to receive the instruction of the Catechism as it is intended to be received; it concluded that “unfortunately, that little grace is wanting to the furious infidels who create the disturbance, and darken a question clear as the sun at noon.” According to the editorial: “The child Mortara has acquired rights which no human power can take away, but by violence, and for the loss of which no Government can ever make any compensation. The act which made him a Christian is irrevocable, beyond the powers of any tribunal to annul, and by that act he became as a dead child to his Hebrew father (so far as the authority of the latter over his religion was concerned), as completely as if he had died a natural death. Neither he nor his parents, it is true, consented to the deed, but that absence of consent cannot vitiate it, because the act of baptism once validly complete, remains for ever indelible, whatever may be his education or the future habits of his life.” The editorial again inverted the episode, transforming it from the kidnapping of a Jewish child into the protection of a Christian child in his so-called free choice of religion: “The child Mortara, by his baptism came within the jurisdiction of the judges in those [Papal] States, and had a right to the protection which they afford. They were bound to take care that an unprotected subject of the Pope should suffer no damage that they could prevent, and they would have been guilty of a dereliction of imperative duty, if they had not protected the child, as soon as they had ascertained that he had a legal claim to their help.” Invoking the stereotype of the Jewish “Pharisee,” the Tablet argued that the “British Christians” who side with Judaism over the Pope (whilst supporting Protestant societies for the conversion of Jews) are “Pharisees, who magnify the letter of their law, that they may easier kill the spirit.” On 13 November, the paper observed that when considering the Mortara case, “the readers of foreign journals must recollect that an immense proportion of [the journals] in France and Germany belong to Jews.” According to the paper, “Hebrews and Protestants will hunt in couples when Popery is on foot.” Untitled editorial, Tablet, 6 November 1858, 713; “Catholic Intelligence,” Tablet, 13 November 1858, 724.

In summary, the Tablet agreed with Ultramontane publications in Europe, that the six-year-old child, having been (allegedly) baptized, was no longer a Jew but a Christian. It was necessary, the paper concluded, to remove the child from his parents in order to protect his soul from violence. The Tablet regarded it as entirely plausible that Edgardo, though only a young child, had freely abandoned Judaism, embraced Catholicism, and thus had a right to be “protected” against his parents in his so-called free “choice” of religion.

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George Oliver Plaque - Public Domain

George Oliver Plaque (sourced from “Open Plaques“)

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It should be noted in conclusion that whilst the main British Catholic publications of the time (i.e. the Rambler, the Tablet and the Dublin Review) were either silent or supportive of the pope’s decision to hold on to the young Edgardo Mortara, this does mean that British Catholics in general – most of whom had little opportunity to make their views public – were happy about the abduction. At least one prominent British Catholic, the Rev Dr George Oliver, a clergyman, antiquarian and local historian, who was made a Doctor of Divinity by Pope Gregory XVI in 1844, protested the act in a letter to Alex Alexander. The letter was subsequently published in the Western Times and the Jewish Chronicle. According to Oliver, “a father has a natural right over his children, and without his free consent, it is unjustifiable in a Christian to attempt to baptise them.” He declared that the forcible abduction of a Jewish child on the pretence of a secret baptism by a Christian maid was “abominable”. Letter from George Oliver to Alex Alexander, “The Forcible Abduction at Bologna,” Jewish Chronicle, 15 October 1858, 3.

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

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

St_George_Jackson_Mivart

George Mivart

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

Index Librorum Prohibitorum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.