Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Rabbi asks a priest a question... part 16

Continued from last week…

Remember the Germanic tribes that came thundering across the frozen Rhine river (maybe) around 400 AD? They did quite well for themselves. They carved up the western Roman empire, establishing kingdoms in France, Spain, North Africa and Italy. By this time most of them were Christians. There was a problem as far as the Catholics of the western Roman Empire were concerned. 

The Germans were Arian (not to be confused with “Aryan,” the made-up race of Hitler and his friends. Our Arians were the followers of the crackpot Egyptian Christian priest Arius who, around 300AD, claimed there was no such thing as a Trinity). Christians who believed that Jesus though really, really special was not eternal, but created in time. The people over whom new German kings ruled were Trinitarian, Catholic Christians and could be troublesome. The King of the Franks converted to Catholicism, but more about him later. Enter Reccared, the Visigoth king of Spain as well as part of southern France from 586 to 601. He decided to renounce Arianism and accept Catholicism.

The Third Council of Toledo (Spain, not Ohio) met in King Reccared's name in May 589, and there his declaration accepting Catholicism was read aloud. The Catholic bishop, St. Leander preached the closing sermon, which his little brother St. Isidore called the “…triumph of the Church upon the conversion of the Goths”. Some say that King Reccared celebrated the triumph of Catholicism by forcing Jews and Arians to convert to mainline Catholicism. Others blame St. Leander and the Catholic bishops for the new anti-Jewish attitude in Spain. Jews had been guaranteed certain freedoms in the Church laws of Spain, but after the council of Toledo those freedoms were increasingly limited. Reccared’s involvement in the new anti-Semitism of the young Spain is disputed by modern historians, but what do they know anyway?

No matter whose fault it was, things got a lot tougher for Jews in Spain. The important reason as far as this disquisition goes, is the why of the new anti-Semitism. The why is quite simple: replacement theology, at least that’s the theory of the brilliant David Goldman in his 2011 book How Civilizations Die.  The theory goes like this. In order to sweet talk King Reccared into becoming the new protector of the Church, it was aired about that the Visigoths, at least the Catholic ones, were the new “chosen people” of God. You can’t have two chosen peoples. God must have dumped one and taken up with the other. This arrangement had already been hinted at in the Christianization of the Roman Empire, but since the empire was just that, an empire, you didn’t really have a people so much as a collection of peoples. The emperors however already saw themselves as the chosen vessels of God.

Emperor Constantine who began the Christian-ization of the Roman Empire in the early fourth century had himself buried in the church of the Holy Apostles, the idea being that he was also an apostle of God chosen to do God’s work on earth.  The plan was to gather relics of all of the Apostles in the church so that Constantine could spend eternity in the company of his fellow apostles. They only managed to get Saint Andrew, Saint Luke and Saint Timothy, only one of whom is actually an apostle, but the point had been made. In the Orthodox Church, Constantine is still called isapostolos” or in English “the equal of the Apostles.”

In the western kingdoms it was possible to go the whole route. Baptize a king, and you baptize a whole nation. The chosen people was us! It didn’t matter if I believed it. The king believed it. We believed it. Depending on whose bread was to be buttered, the Franks, the Burgundians the Lombards, the Vandals the Visigoths as well the Ostrogoths, and any other Goth who managed to conquer a country and wear a crown could be the chosen people, and it anointed sovereign, a New Israel and a new Solomon or David.

Since then nations have regularly decided that they are the new chosen people. The Spanish, the English, the Irish, the list is rather long. The Germans and the Russians were late to assume the mantle of chosen-ness. They decided they were chosen nations sometime in the nineteenth century and they did so with a vengeance. The problem with being a chosen nation was that there were always those pesky Jews, who used to be chosen. Best to be rid of them, no? It is interesting to me that one cannot find the phrase “New Israel” in the New Testament. There is new covenant and new Jerusalem, but no new Israel.

In its beginning, the Church grew by individual conversion claiming that one could be adopted into the people of Israel by baptism. All one needed now was water, buckets and a tribe of barbarians whose king told them to go along with the whole thing. Up until that point one joined Israel by personal conversion. The Gentile, the non-Jew, could join himself to Israel of God by baptism. In effect he joined a people. He became member of the tribe of Christians as Josephus the Jewish historian of the first century called us. However, when you move from God’s choice of persons as members of his chosen people the whole thing changes.

There was no more tribe of Christians there were the Christian tribes of the Vandals or the Visigoths or the Franks, who happened to be the first to take the plunge into the Catholic, Roman, non-Arian baptismal pool. The Franks had great names like Kings Chlodiwg, Sigebert, Chilperic, Queen Brunhilda and Queen Fredegunda, who couldn’t stand each other. I mention them just because these are really cool names. King Chlodwig, however, is important for our story.

He was the first of the Arian German kings to convert to Catholicism, admittedly under pressure from his Catholic wife Queen Clothilda. He realized that it could be a win-win situation. The pope in Rome was being browbeaten by the emperor in Constantinople, and Chlodwig or as you may know him, Clovis was being browbeaten by his Romano-Gallic nobility in what is now France. When he became a Catholic, the pope got a protector and Clovis got legitimacy in France. It was smiles all around. The dynasty of Clovis eventually gave way to the dynasty that included Charlemagne, God’s chosen monarch par excellence! The Franks slowly became the French who talked about the deeds of God through the French (Gesta Dei per Francos). They never quite got over the idea, at least not until recently when they, along with the rest of Europe stopped believing in God.

Where did this leave the un-chosen Jews? Pretty much moving from country to country until the czars of Russia invited them to live in the Slavic lands of the east. By the way, King Clovis, the king of the Franks and protector of the Roman Church was buried in; you guessed it... a church in France called the Church of the Holy Apostles, just like Constantine.

Next week:  How the west lost its Christian faith 400 years ago and nobody noticed until just now.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Rabbi asks a priest a question... part 15

Continued from last week…

There were three major centers of Christianity by the year 150 AD, Antioch in Asia, Alexandria in Africa, and Rome in Europe. These were called the patriarchates, or “father churches.” Jerusalem had been levelled and replaced by the Roman city of Aelia Capitolina and Constantinople didn’t yet exist. These three father churches were thought to be of special distinction because of their founding by St. Peter, whom Jesus chose as leader of the early Church. Peter had founded the church in Antioch, Syria and through his delegate St. Mark was considered the founder of the church in Alexandria, Egypt, but above all, the church founded by St. Peter and also by St. Paul was Rome.

Peter and Paul had both died there and their relics remained there. The early Christians considered the Roman church the first of the churches as evidenced by St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Irenaeus of Lyon. Around 650 AD, the armies of a new prophet swept out of the Arabian Peninsula and in short order captured two of the original patriarchates, Alexandria and Antioch and thus began the slow but steady erosion of Christianity in the lands of its beginning. Rome, too, had been conquered by the Germanic tribes of the west, but something else happened there. The conquerors were converted by the conquered and soon there were mass baptisms of Germanic tribes into the Roman Church. They may have become Christians, but the mass conversions meant that they were not the most literate nor best educated of believers. Among these new Christians, the Jews continued in their uneasy but useful position, living their lives largely without threat to life and limb. (Note: I use the world “largely.” There were certainly some incidents of major persecution during the era, but nothing like what was to come.)

Christianity in the East held on under the new rulers and their new religion. In fact, the invaders didn’t try to convert them. The Christians paid a special tax and their governmental and technical expertise was useful to the new masters. That started to change in around 900 AD.  300 years after the first Arab invasion of Roman Christian territory, the great Christian centers, Egypt, Syria, Tunisia started to become Arabized. Christians found themselves under increasing pressure to convert to the new religion. There had been an increase during the previous century in the persecution of those Christians still remaining in the Holy Land and pilgrimage to the Christian shrines had been forbidden. In addition to the increasing Arabic pressure, a central Asian people, the Turks accepted the new religion and its prophet, and did so with the devotion of new converts.

An ambassador from Constantinople arrived in Rome in 1095 from the Byzantine/Roman emperor Alexius asking for help against these new invaders, the Turks who were invading what was left of the old Roman Christian empire. The pope called a council in Clermont in France and urged the nobility of Europe to come to the aid of their Christian brothers in the east in addition to the depredation of the Turkish invaders.

Around this same time, the Fatimid Caliph of Cairo al-Hakim, (or Hakim the crazy to those who knew him well) under whose jurisdiction the Holy Land fell, decreed that the Christians would no longer be allowed to observe the feasts of Epiphany or Easter. Wine was outlawed not just for Muslims but for Christians, which made the celebration of Mass impossible, and wasn’t much appreciated by Jews either who use wine in their religious rituals. In 1005, he ordered Jews and Christians to wear distinctive item of clothing. In1009, al- Hakim ordered the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher in order to end the Holy Fire ceremony that he was sure was a fraud. Eventually all Christian religious buildings in the Holy Land were confiscated or destroyed. The situation in the Holy Land, and the Turkish juggernaut into the remaining Christian territory, (which was only stopped in 1683 at the gates of Vienna,) finally woke up a sleeping Christendom. The nobility of Europe “took the cross,” that is, they pledged themselves to make pilgrimage to the holy sites. Access to the Christian shrines could only be had by means of war with the rulers of the east.  The nobility of Europe prepared for war. The peasants of Europe were not to be outdone by the nobility and felt no need to prepare. God would help them! A holy (and probably looney) hermit named Peter decided to act on the pope’s call to liberate the formerly Christian lands of the east. He gathered 20,000 peasants together in Easter 1096 and declared a people’s crusade. They promptly started the march to Jerusalem though they weren’t quite sure where Jerusalem was. This did not strike them as a problem.

 At one point they seem to have been led by a goose. I quote Albert of Aachen, a contemporary source:

There was also another abominable wickedness in this gathering of people on foot, who were stupid and insanely irresponsible…They claimed that a certain goose was inspired by the Holy Ghost, and a she-goat filled with no less than the same, and they had made these their leaders for this holy journey to Jerusalem; they even worshipped them excessively, and as the beasts directed their courses for them in their animal way, many of the troops believed they were confirming it to be true according to the entire purpose of the spirit.”

Things soon went from stupid to evil when the goose died and was replaced by politicians. Peter the Hermit was joined by Count Emicho of Flonheim who knew a good thing when he saw it. The peoples crusade arrived in Germany in spring 1096, and promptly started slaughtering Jews, the reasoning being, “We don’t have to wait until Jerusalem to kill the enemies of Christ, we’ve got plenty of Jews right here in the Rhine valley.” In Speyer, Worms, Mainz and Cologne, Jews died by the thousands despite the efforts by Catholic bishops to protect them. Things changed for "We’re right. You’re wrong.” to “We’re right. You’re dead.” When they finally got the Roman/Byzantine Empire, they were ambushed by the Turks and what goes around comes around. Of the 20,000 only 3,000 survived. The delicate balance ended. Jews became even useful to the moneyed interests of the west. Now there was a way to cancel debts to Jewish moneylenders. Preach a crusade and kill the Jews. How efficient! 

Next week: How odd of God to choose the Jews.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Rabbi asks a priest a question... part 14

Continued from last week…

December 31, 406, or maybe 405 the Rhine River froze solid or maybe it didn’t. What did happen is this: three German tribes, the Vandals, Alans and Suebi, managed to cross the Rhine. The Rhine and the Danube were the natural northern borders of the Roman Empire, which had been Christian for almost a century. One can picture a German barbarian walking out on the ice stamping his feet and shouting, “Come on, Hildegund, Schnell! Vee is moofing to France! 

In the search for plumbing, wine and the other amenities of Roman life, the German barbarians crossed the border en masse and there just weren’t enough soldiers to stop them. The bulk of the army was back in the east fighting Visigoths, the Germanic cousins of the Vandals and their friends. The Roman Empire in the west pretty much crumbled. The Visigoths reached Italy from the east while the Vandals went down through France and Spain and reached Italy from the North African coast. Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 and again really sacked by the Vandals in 455.

The Vandals and the Visigoths were Christian sort of. They were Arians. Remember the Arians? They were the people who thought the idea of a Triune God was crazy and Ariansim appealed to militarist monarchies like the Germans with its neat chain of command. The German barbarians took their religion seriously and thus were not very nice to any Trinitarian Nicene Catholics who got in their way. One of those Nicene Catholics was St Augustine, the bishop of the town of Hippo Regius in what is now Algeria. (Did you know that North Africa, just like Egypt, Turkey, Syria and the Holy Land were once the heartlands of the Catholic faith?) The Vandals besieged Hippo as St. Augustine lay dying and eventually captured the city, burning everything except Augustine’s cathedral and library. The survival of so many of his writings insured that he would be one of the greatest theological influences in Europe. He commented on just about everything in his 75 years and he was the dominant voice in the western attitude toward the Jews for almost a thousand years.

Augustine was never shy about his opinions. He was always denouncing heretical opinions. He thoroughly denounced any movements in the Church that rejected the Hebrew Scriptures and the fierce tribal God of the Jews. Augustine held the Catholic view that the God of the New and Old Testaments were one and the same, that the Old Testament was divinely inspired and that the Jews were a people specially chosen by God. They were chosen in the Old Testament to bring forth the messiah. They were chosen in the New Testament for a somewhat less desirable task. Augustine believed Jewish people would be converted at the end of time, but the destruction of the temple and the scattering of Jews by Rome fulfilled Old Testament prophecy. God had spared them in their unconverted state as a warning to Christians of what could happen to those who reject Christ. They should be allowed to live unmolested in Christian lands and lead free and unhindered lives.

Augustine believed that the Old Testament referred to the Jews in the verse, “Slay them not, lest they should at last forget Your law” (Psalm 59:11). Augustine. (God) has said, ‘but whosoever shall kill Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.’… not by bodily death shall the ungodly race of carnal Jews perish. For whoever destroys them in this way shall suffer sevenfold vengeance, that is, shall bring upon himself the sevenfold penalty under which the Jews lie for the crucifixion of Christ. ’So to the end of the seven days of time, the continued preservation of the Jews will be a proof to believing Christians of the subjection merited by those who, in the pride of their kingdom, put the Lord to death.” (St. Augustine, “Contra Judaeos”) It sounds pretty awful at first read, but Augustine’s likening the Jews to Cain threatened anyone who would harm them with a curse. (Looking at modern German, French and Russian demographics, Augustine may have had a point!)

So from the year 400 AD until almost 1100 AD, the teaching of Augustine prevailed in the west and the Jews became a protected and increasingly valued (though not necessarily beloved) part of European society. Christian Europe had a problem. The Scriptures seemed to forbid usury, the taking interest on a loan from a fellow Christian. How does one do business without a system of credit? Enter the Jews. There was no law in scripture that forbad having the infidel Jews loaning money at interest to their Christian neighbors.

Jews were a readymade banking society. They were a small group of very mobile people who had trusted contacts throughout the Middle East and Europe among their fellow Jews scattered throughout the world. They were able to travel and do business where a Muslim or Christian might be unwelcome, and they were literate! The great emperor Charlemagne (800 AD) was never quite able to write his own name, though he really tried. Jews could read write and count! Jews became the grease that allowed the wheels of commerce to turn in an increasingly isolated and illiterate world. It was always good to have a few of them around, not too many, but a few. So it went until 1096.

Next week: Count Emicho and a goose filled with the Holy Spirit (I’m not making this up either!)