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The Tablet and the Mortara Affair (1858)

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, Kertzer’s book will soon be adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg [link]. This has spurred the publication of an English translation of the until recently unpublished memoirs of Edgardo Mortara with an introduction by Vittorio Messori defending Pius IX’s abduction of the young Jewish child [link], as well a series of online review articles and responses by those who support (e.g. Romanus Cessario in First Things) or abhor this defence of Pius IX (e.g. Robert T. Miller in Public Discourse). [See also Armin Rosen in Tablet Magazine for a brief survey of the recent responses].

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Edgardo Mortara Painting

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

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Returning to the subject in hand, 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.

Myths and Stereotypes of “the Jew” in the Tablet (1850-1900)

The Tablet was the main English Catholic weekly newspaper during the second half of the nineteenth century. It was founded in 1840 by Frederick Lucas, a convert to Catholicism from Quakerism. A year later, Lucas took on John Cox, a Protestant, as a partner at the Tablet. Lucas’s advocacy of Catholic causes, and his criticisms of Protestantism, alienated John Cox. By 1843, the paper was solely in the hands of Lucas, and it remained under his editorship until he passed away in 1855. It quickly established itself as a dedicated English Catholic newspaper. In a number of articles, editorials, and letters in the Tablet during the Lucas years, the Jews were portrayed as usurers, and plunderers of Christian civilization. English Protestants were described as enemies of “Christianity all over the world,” and as allies to the Jews. According to the Tablet, the English Protestants handed churches and convents over to the Jews to plunder, and embraced in brotherhood, non-conformists, Jews, Hindus and Muslims, whilst excluding Catholics, or reducing them to slavery. The Tablet also contained deprecating references to “Pharisees” and “Deicides”. In some cases, these labels were used in purely religious discussions, but in other instances, they were used as symbols and metaphors for Protestants. For example, in 1851, the Tablet criticized the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, claiming that he praised the Reformation, and denounced Catholicism as fanatical, cruel and superstitious. According to the Tablet, the Lord Lieutenant makes his choices, in the “spirit of the Deicides of Jerusalem.”

When Frederick Lucas passed away in October 1855, John Wallis, a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, purchased the paper. Under Wallis, the Tablet was on good terms with the Archbishop of Westminster, and became a semi-official forum for the publication of papal documents. During his proprietor-editorship, articles and editorials continued to lament that Catholics were not only treated worse than other Christians, but also worse than Jews. For example, in June 1857, the newspaper argued that whilst English Catholics have been faithful servants to the Prime Minister, he in turn opens his arms to Jews, but treats Catholics with disdain. A month later, another editorial argued that Jews, unlike Catholics, have foreign blood in their veins, and yet are treated as favoured individuals, even though they are, quote, “of another race.” The paper reported that “the Jew” is “of another race, and his blood pure from admixture with the Saxon, Norman, or Celtic; but notwithstanding the absence of ‘kith and kin’ in the matter, he is the ‘Dowb’ of the Liberals.” According to the editorial, “we who profess the Catholic faith (which the Jew hates), of undoubted English, Irish, or Scottish blood, whose origin is the same with that of the Liberals, who have no other country … cannot excite the millionth part of this sympathy.” It concluded that Catholics, who “have not a drop, probably, of foreign blood in their veins,” find themselves in a position inferior to the Jews.

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 The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (New York: Vintage, 1998: [link]). Significantly, the Mortara episode was also reflected upon by the Tablet. In October 1858, after a wave of indignation across Europe in response to the abduction, a Tablet editorial stated that “honest Catholic journalists” can say nothing about the Mortara affair, which Protestant readers will find “gratifying.” It was necessary, argued the editorial, to take an “unpopular” stand, despite the inevitable criticism. According to the Tablet, the family had brought the problem upon themselves, as they had disregarded the law forbidding them to employ Christian servants. The young maid had simply wanted to make heaven available to Edgardo, and thus had validly baptized him. According to the paper, the young Mortara child was “no longer a Jew but a Christian,” and it was therefore quite right that he be removed from his parents in order to protect his soul and make sure they do not use violence to force him to abandon Christianity. The abduction was thus transformed into a case of the Church defending an innocent child in his free “choice” of religion, against the unreasonable demands of his parents. According to a report in the Tablet on the 30th of October, the agitators who insist that the young Mortara child, “a baptised Christian, arrived at the age of reason,” should be surrendered to his father, and raised as a Jew, are in essence arguing that a “Christian child has no right to be protected in his religion.” The Tablet suggested that those 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”. A week later, the paper argued that “the child Mortara has acquired rights which no human power can take away”; “the act which made him a Christian is irrevocable”. And the week after that, an article in the paper observed that when reading about the Mortara case in foreign journals, one must keep in mind that many of them are owned by Jews, and that “Hebrews and Protestants will hunt in couples when Popery is on foot.” (Link for more information on the Tablet and the Mortara Affair).

Following the Italian War of 1859, most of the Papal States were annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia in 1860. The Kingdom of Italy, with the king of Sardinia at its head, was declared in 1861. Following the Italian War of 1866, Venetia was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. Only a remnant of the Papal States, in particular Rome, remained outside the new kingdom. Jews were often blamed by the Tablet for these events, and the stereotype of the greedy, materialistic, plundering Jew invoked. For example, in March 1866, the paper reprinted a report from another newspaper to the effect that when loyal Catholics arrived in Rome to volunteer for the papal regiments, they were confronted by “swarms of Jews, bag in hand, anxious to transfer to the Ghetto, at as low a price as possible, the defroque of these champions of the Church.” A few months later, during the brief Austria-Prussian war of 1866 (in which Italy fought on the side of Prussia), the Roman Correspondent for the Tablet reported that with regard to the news of the war, Rome’s Catholics were at the mercy of “the telegraph, which is in the hands of the Jews and the revolutionists.” After the war, the Rome correspondent reported that the economy in Italy was in a bad state, and that to address it, Church property was being auctioned off. According to the Tablet, it was only the Jews and revolutionists that would purchase the property, because the rest of the population would not wish to “incur the curse of sacrilege by acquiring it.”

In November 1868, the Tablet was purchased by Hebert Vaughan. Vaughan was a staunch Ultramontanist, and he acquired the paper as a platform to endorse the doctrine of papal infallibility, and to support the First Vatican Council. Vaughan was appointed the Bishop of Salford in 1872, by his mentor, Archbishop Henry Manning. In the early 1890s, Vaughan was appointed to replace Cardinal Manning as the Archbishop of Westminster. Vaughan held onto the paper from 1868 until he died in 1903. During Vaughan’s ownership of the Tablet, “the Jew” and “the Freemason” became frequent subjects for discussion. When Rome was captured by the Italian army in September 1870, the Tablet accused the Jews and Freemasons of being responsible for it. Flipping the Edgardo Mortara abduction on its head, an article in the Tablet reported that the converts from Judaism were being dragged away from their homes, and forced against their will to return to their “old haunts.” The report implied that “the Jews” were behind this, noting that “the Jews have been conspicuously active and successful, they have been prominent in the Revolution in Rome as they have been in all the revolutions and annexations throughout the Peninsular: and they everywhere secure the highest and most lucrative positions.” The paper also reported, that the “bitterest enemies of the Church”, are flocking into Rome, amongst them Jews and Englishmen. On the 31st of December 1870, responding to rumours that a Jew might be elected as mayor of Rome, the Tablet stated that if this were to occur, it would be “the strangest and most shameful phase in the history of Roman dishonour.” According to the Tablet, “as a Jew, he is the declared adversary of Christ and of His Vicar.”

The Tablet continued to build upon these themes during the next few years. For example, the Tablet suggested that the residents of Rome were living under “the old law”, rather than the New Testament. It stated that “our rulers are Jews, our teachers are Jews, our editors and bankers and tradesmen are Jews, and it will be by a special dispensation of mercies if we do not all wake one morning and find ourselves talking Hebrew and going to the synagogue instead of the [Church].” The Tablet suggested that if things continue as they are, the Jews will soon become the owners of Rome and Italy. The Tablet also argued that Jewish teachers – supported by Protestants and Freemasons – were pushing their way into the schools and colleges of Rome, and introducing “Judaic,” “atheistic” and “infidel” teachings.

Around this time, the Tablet also invoked images of Pharisees and crucifiers. For example, in 1873, the Tablet suggested that English journalists and statesman were like the Jews who clamoured for the crucifixion of Jesus. “Our modern Secularists are not even original,” the paper reported, as “in fighting against the spiritual authority, established by God, … they only imitate the perfidious Jews.” And in 1874, the Tablet argued that English Protestants, with their “neutralized Christianity” and denials of Christ, were like the Pharisees. According to the Tablet, those who say down with the Church, are like the Jews who called for the crucifixion of Jesus.

These deprecating images of Jews abruptly ceased in 1876. This was around the time that a variety of British newspapers and magazines, such as the Daily News, the Spectator and Fun, were caricaturing Jews, and suggesting that they were manipulating the country to side with “the Turks” during “the Bulgarian Horrors” and the Russo-Turkish War. A number of reporters and critics attributed Disraeli’s policies to his so-called “Oriental,” “Hebrew,” and “Asian” origins, which supposedly led him to sympathize with “the Turk” against the Christian. For example, the Daily News, alluding to Disraeli’s foreign policy, referred to traces of “the Asian mystery about it”, and an “almost Oriental indifference to cruelty.” The Spectator referred to an English Mohammed-ism, which supported the cause of Turkey, motivated by a “half-conscious hatred of Christianity.” And E. A. Freeman, a Liberal politician and professor of history at Oxford University, referred to him as the ‘Jew Earl’, ‘Philo-Turkish Jew’ and the ‘traitorous Jew’. The Tablet leaped to Disraeli’s defence. The paper suggested that the “barbarism” of Russia was greater than that of Turkey, and it agreed with Disraeli that the agitation was encouraged by Russia as a means to increase its territory. The Tablet stated that it would ideally like to see “the Turks” driven out of Christendom, but it asked, “shall we, however, set in the Turk’s place the Cossack, …, the executioner of Poland, the persecutor of the Church?” The paper observed that it was not long since Russia had “sent hordes of Cossacks” into Poland, with express instructions to “cut to pieces, with God’s help, all Poles and Jews.”

The Tablet not only sided with Disraeli’s policies during the Eastern crisis, it also dismissed accusations that “Judaic sympathies” were acting upon it, and lavished praise upon Disraeli for his literary achievements. This is interesting, because only a few years previously, the Tablet had been critical of Disraeli as both a politician and novelist. For example, in 1870, the paper had blamed Disraeli’s novel, Lothair, for encouraging Paganism and the worship of Astaroth in the streets of Rome. The paper had stated that it must “afford satisfaction to the Right honourable Benjamin Disraeli that the latest effort of his lively imagination, his no-Popery novel, is thus welcomed into the ancient home of the Papacy.” However, when he was raised to the peerage in 1876, the Tablet observed that it was “the legitimate crowning of a great career.” The Tablet went on to state that “as Catholics, we can never quite forgive Mr. Disraeli for writing Lothair,” but we are ready to acknowledge that his policies with regard to “Catholic questions” has been fair. “We can therefore honestly offer our congratulations on the great honour which has been conferred upon him.”

Considering the Tablet’s earlier criticisms of Jews and Disraeli, the Tablet’s sudden U-turn requires some explanation. It seems that the Vatican and the British government were both concerned that their respective interests in the region might be jeopardised if Russia succeeded in defeating the Ottoman Empire. For example, the Suez Canal in Egypt, a vassal state in the Ottoman Empire, was an essential link between Britain and India. Catholics enjoyed a measure of latitude in the Ottoman Empire, whereas the scars of persecution under Russia, especially in Poland, were still raw. William Gladstone, Disraeli’s political opponent, was also harshly critical of the Catholic Church in the 1870s following the First Vatican Council. These factors led the Tablet to defend and support Disraeli, and refute accusations that Judaic sympathies lay behind his policies. The U-turn however did not last long. During the 1880s, the Tablet quickly slipped back into a pattern of criticizing Jews, accusing them of dominating the education systems and money markets of Europe, and turning the University of Vienna into a “Jewish seminary,” and destroying the Union Générale bank.

Sympathy for the plight of Jews in Russia, and hostile stereotypes of Jews, combined and coalesced into an ambivalent brew during the 1880s and early 1890s. For example, in 1882, the Tablet criticized the Russian government for not curbing the persecution of Jews in its territory. The Tablet also asked, why those who complained about “the Turks” during the Russian-Turkish conflict, have no complaint for the Russians, when they slaughter and pillage “unoffending Hebrews.” Conversely, the Tablet also suggested, in the very same articles that defended Jews, that their persecution was partly a result of their rejection and murder of Christ, and their criminal financial activities. The Tablet explained that “we must be just to both sides. There can be no doubt that, in more than one country in the East of Europe, the Jews have given great provocation by extortionate usury and an excessive trade in noxious stimulants. But that is no reason why they should be robbed or murdered.”

The Tablet maintained this ambivalent attitude during the early 1890s. It reported that the cruel persecution of Jews in Russia continued with unabated heat. However, whilst the Tablet continued to criticize Russia, it also suggested that there were many reasons why the Jews were considered “obnoxious”. According to the Tablet, the Jews’ shrewdness enables them to live off their Russian neighbours, and the Jew is “a parasite, the parasite of ignorance, and too often of vice”

In January 1895, the Tablet contained a report in its Paris news section, stating that “there can be little doubt that the trivial punishment inflicted on Captain Dreyfus,” is owing to “the fact that he is both a Freemason and a Jew.” According to the report, “while in England the Jews are a harmless and inoffensive tribe, or at most work unaggressively, in France they are the declared and open enemies of the Christian religion.” According to the Tablet, the Jews use their wealth and talents to obtain official positions, which they then use to attack the Catholic faith at every opportunity. “The combination of Judaism with Freemasonry is irresistible,” the report stated, and “it rules France with an iron-gloved hand”. The report concluded that “had a Christian been found guilty of the treachery of Captain Dreyfus he would have been shot,” whereas Dreyfus “escapes with a comfortable exile”.

After the degradation of Captain Dreyfus in January 1895, the Dreyfus case disappeared from the pages of the Tablet for a few years. However, in the intervening years, there were other articles, editorials and letters about Jews and Freemasons. For example, during the publication of Léo Taxil’s  so-called “Memoirs of Miss Diana Vaughan,” instalments of which were published in France from 1895 to 1897, Freemasonry was accused of hiding an inner circle of highly secretive Luciferianism referred to as “Palladian” Freemasonry. In reality, this Palladian Freemasonry was entirely the invention of Taxil’s bizarrely creative mind, as he finally admitted in 1897. However, the authors of articles, letters and editorials in the Tablet were taken in by the Diana Vaughan hoax. According to an article in the paper in October 1896 : “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 recent book by Arthur Waite “traverses and impugns these statements, but without any conclusive refutation of their general drift.” Father Norbert Jones of the Canons Regular of the Lateran, argued in a letter to the editor of the Tablet that Jews and Freemasons were working together to discredit Diana Vaughan’s damaging revelations of Masonic devil worship. According to Father Jones, those that “talk of deception in the matter are themselves the real dupes of Jew Masons” (link for more information on the Diana Vaughan hoax). And in March 1897, an article in the Tablet celebrated Karl Luegar, the antisemitic mayor of Vienna, for transforming the city from a so-called “fief of the great Hebrew banking interest,” into a “Christian democratic city”. According to the article: “the alliance of the Synagogue with the Lodges is in all continental countries the symbol of the triumph of infidelity over Christianity, and the creed of Judaism is hostility to the Christian name.” Less than a year later, the Jewish-Masonic conspiracy theory was again repeated, when the Dreyfus case returned to the public limelight. In February 1898, the Tablet reported that “the sudden clamour for the revision of the Dreyfus trial,” is a “subsidized movement, financed by the moneyed interest which has made the cause of the Jewish Captain its own.” According to the report, if Dreyfus had “belonged to any other race,” there would be no agitation on his behalf. The Tablet was explicit in its declaration of an alliance between Jews and Freemasons, stating that “the Jews in France, Italy, and Austria, the three principal Catholic nations of the continent, exercise a political influence entirely disproportioned to their numbers, and this influence is always exercised against the religion of the country. In close alliance with the Freemasons, … they form the backbone of the party of aggressive liberalism, with war to the knife against the Church as the sum and aim of its policy.”

In summing up, during the second half of the nineteenth century, Jews were criticized, caricatured and stereotyped under each of the Tablet’s three owner-editors. Jews were stereotyped as greedy, exploitive, foreign villains, bent on political revolution, undermining Christian civilization, plundering the churches, and de-Christianizing Rome. Jews were accused of monopolizing the banks, stock markets, and the Press. A link was often made between Jews and Protestants, with Protestants labelled the enemies of Christianity, and criticized for embracing and defending Jews. Jews were also linked to Freemasons, as two forces supposedly bent on destroying Christian civilization. This was especially the case during the late 1860s and early 1870s, when the paper sought to explain the destruction of the Papal States, and during the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890s. The Tablet was more ambivalent during the 1880s and early 1890s, expressing sympathy for the plight of Jews in Russia, whilst also repeating traditional stereotypes about Jewish greed and deviousness. The only major exception to this pattern of ambivalence or antipathy occurred during the late 1870s, when the Tablet defended Disraeli during “the Bulgarian Horrors” and the Russo-Turkish War, and defended his policies from the accusation of being driven by “Judaic” sympathies.

La Croix, the Tablet, and the Jews

Richard Harvey has recently posted (1 February 2016) an interesting blog post on the subject of antisemitism in the French Catholic newspaper La Croix in February 1882 (see below for his blog post). Significantly, La Croix, which was owned and run by the Assumptionist Fathers in France, frequently expressed extreme hostility towards Jews and Freemasons; this hostility was not confined to 1882, but extended throughout the 1880s and 1890s. For example, La Croix claimed in 1886 that Drumont’s “La France Juive”, and Léo Taxil’s “Frères trois points”, had “‘laid bare the two social evils which grow like gangrene in France,’ two social evils, ‘so united up to this time.’” Furthermore, according to La Croix, “the Declaration of the Rights of Man” was the work of “Jewish Freemasonry,” and was intended to give “land, influence, government, and press” to “the enemy.” (La Croix: 19 May 1886, 1; 12 August 1890, 1; originally cited and translated by Norman James Clary, “French Antisemitism During the Years of Drumont and Dreyfus 1886-1906,” PhD thesis, Ohio State University, 1970, pp. 177-178, 215).

This hostility was also manifest in La Croix during the 1890s. Léo Taxil (formerly Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès), a French writer and ex-Freemason, whose writings frequently contained anti-Catholicism and anti-Masonry, constructed the character of Diana Vaughan as a fictitious female apostate from so-called “Palladian” Freemasonry. According to Diana Vaughan’s so-called memories (fabricated by Taxil in a series of instalments from July 1895 through to April 1897), she was a noble-minded lady who abandoned the misguided worship of Lucifer, converted to Roman Catholicism, and revealed the secret satanic inner workings of Freemasonry. In addition to Diana Vaughan’s extravagant memoirs, Taxil also wrote other elaborate stories about devil worship and sinister rituals in Masonic lodges, some of which were published under pseudonyms. These tales included bizarre accounts of Host desecration, Satanic magic, murder, the Antichrist, and the manifestations of Lucifer and Asmodeus. Whilst Taxil was the original inventor of Diana Vaughan, his construction took on a life of its own in a number of French and English Catholic discourses outside of his immediate control. In some of these discourses, the Jews were depicted as in league with the Freemasons, and as helping the Freemasons to undermine the evidence of Diana Vaughan’s existence. Among the admirers of his writings were various French bishops and the editors of La Croix. (Link for English Catholic responses to the Diana Vaughan hoax)

In the months following the end of the Diana Vaughan hoax, the Dreyfus Affair began in earnest. In 1897, La Croix claimed (without the slightest evidence) that a Dreyfusard Syndicate “disposes of not less than 2 million francs, for the purpose of paying secret agents.” The Dreyfusard syndicate, the paper suggested, was behind an “antipatriotic campaign,” which “in order to save the honour of a Dreyfus, puts in peril the security of the country and threatens the honour of our whole army.” (La Croix: ‘L’Affaire Dreyfus’, 18 November 1897, 2; and ‘L’Affaire Dreyfus’, 24 November 1897, 4; originally cited and translated by Clary, “French Antisemitism During the Years of Drumont and Dreyfus 1886-1906,” pp. 177-178, 215).

Significantly, the reports and articles in the then semi-official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Westminster in England were similar in tone to those found in La Croix. For example, according to the Tablet, the Jews in France were “the declared and open enemies of the Christian religion; using their wealth and talents to obtain official positions, and the power with which these latter endow them to strike every blow that chance may afford at the Catholic faith; and they never miss a chance.” The Tablet also argued that “the Jews, in France, Italy, and Austria, the three principal Catholic nations of the continent, exercise a political influence entirely disproportioned to their numbers, and that this influence is always exercised against the religion of the country. In close alliance with the Freemasons, … they form the backbone of the party of aggressive liberalism, with war to the knife against the Church as the sum and aim of its policy.” Conveniently forgetting its own articles about the Jews during the Dreyfus Affair, which at the most generous could be described as ambivalent, and at times as antisemitic as La Croix, the Tablet on 16 September 1899 (i.e. when the injustice of the Dreyfus trials was no longer easy to ignore) described La Croix as an “irresponsible rag” because of its role in agitating against Jews during the Dreyfus Affair. Two weeks later it expressed sympathy for La Croix now that it was the turn of the Assumptionist Fathers to be harassed. The Tablet argued that “some words of La Croix which are less unreasonable than the quotations which have been going the round of the English press may be quoted, not as condoning its faults but in the spirit of giving it its due.” According to the Tablet, La Croix stated that: “the Dreyfus affair was a source of division and suffering. Let it be closed and let silence follow the vicious agitation which has been aroused amongst us by our worst enemies, the Freemasons and foreign Jews.” The Tablet concluded that whilst these comments by La Croix were perhaps not all that could be desired, they provide a counter-balance to the savage attacks against the Church that have appeared in various newspapers. See “Notes from Paris,” Tablet, 12 January 1895, 58; “Antisemitism in the Austrian Election,” Tablet, 27 March 1897, 481-482; “Captain Dreyfus and His Champions,” Tablet, 12 February 1898, 238; “Opinions on the Dreyfus Judgement,” News From France, Tablet, 16 September 1899, 454; “La Croix and the Pardon of Dreyfus,” News From France, Tablet, 30 September 1899, 535.

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Blog post by Richard Harvey (“1 February 1882; French Catholic Paper Complains against the Jews”):

On This Day In Messianic Jewish History

The French Catholic newspaper La Croix publishes an article by Father Francois Picard, head of the Assumptionist order behind the journal, declaring that Jewish bankers and that they are behind all of Europe’s problems. (post from Skepticism.org)

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Picard writes:

“To whom do the treasuries of Prussia, of Austria, of the German provinces belong? To the Jewish bankers of Frankfurt, Vienna, and Berlin.”

The increasing influence of synagogues cause the

“financial disasters that befall so many families …showing us the all-powerful Jew atop his golden throne and modern societies under the yoke of this gutless king. What do the collapse of nations, the destruction of families, people’s desperation, and the raft of suicides matter to him? The Jew …seeks financial monopoly. He stops at nothing to obtain it.”

The claim that Jews own everything, and furthermore that they acquired their possessions through fraud and deception, is a popular one among anti-Semites. It will often…

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The 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]. According to reports on the internet, Kertzer’s book will soon be adapted into a movie 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. 

English Methodist Newspapers Reporting on the Dreyfus Affair (1899)

Dreyfus Image

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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