Renaissance And Reformation

Get Paid To Write Online

Get Paid to Write at Home

Get Instant Access

The Age of the Renaissance and Reformation was for the Jew the Age of the Inquisition and the Ghetto. Expelled in theory from the greater part of Western Europe as social parasites, blasphemers and magicians, the Jews as a racial group were usually confined to the Ghetto; yet a few distinguished individuals* did very much to further the culture which Christian scholars regarded as valuable, and the biblical criticism which gave the Reformation its intellectual foundation. In no previous century, perhaps, had the Jewish influence been so far-reaching; never before had it produced such obvious effects on the history of European civilization.

The Reformation which finally disintegrated the mediaeval synthesis was mainly a reaction from philo-

* An interesting example of the influence of distinguished Jews in an earlier period is that of Gabirol, known to mediaeval Christians as Avicebron, and never suspected of having been a Jew. 4'The Scholastics who fought about his philosophy had no idea that he was a Jew and renowned as a writer of religious hymns used in the Synagogue. The reason is inherent in the work itself____Gabirol nowhere betrays his Judaism in the Forts Vitae.

He never quotes a biblical verse or a Talmudic dictum... .The treatise is purely speculative. And so, for centuries, Gabirol marched through the philosophic schools of Mediaeval Europe, some taking him for a Christian and some for a Mohammedan, none suspecting that he was a Jew. It was on November 12, 1846, that the learned world was startled by the announcement of Solomon Munk in the Literaturblatt des Orients that the well-known Scholastic Avicebron was identical with the still better-known Solomonibn Gabirol'' (S.R.P. p. xxxn). For Maimonides and others, see above, pp. 233 sqq.

sophy to history. Christianity had always been in one sense the religion of a book: but the Reformation changed the status of that book. Instead of remaining a storehouse of Schoolmen's premisses, it then became a historical tradition to be lived into; and the speculations of the infidel Jew were regarded as intrinsically interesting. The Renaissance Christ lived in a Jewish environment and believed Jewish ideas; He may even have been a Kabbalist, and His teaching was probably more akin to the Secret Tradition of Israel than to the ratiocinations of the Schoolmen. Pico della Mirandola was convinced that4' No science yields greater proof of the Divinity of Christ than magic and the Kabbalah"; and Reuchlin used similar methods to deduce the doctrine of the Trinity from the first verse of Genesis.1 Pope Sixtus IV was so fascinated by this new orientation of Christian theology that he tried to get the Kabbalistic writings translated into Latin as a textbook for young divinity students; and at the same time, in northern Europe, heretics were assimilating Jewish esoteric ideas to the already subversive mysticism of the Netherlands. But whereas in Italy the speculations of the Christian Kabbalists were sterilized by writers like Leo Judah, and took their place as one element in the elegant sentimentalism and dilettantism of the day,* they were

* Vide A. E. Waite, The Holy Kabbalah, p. 429, London, 1929. Referring to The Mysteries of Love, he writes: "We look in vain for the essential doctrines of Jewish theosophy, as these are enshrined in the Zohar. We have in their place the elegant sentimentalism which characterized Italian literature at that period. There is not one trace of characteristic Hebrew thought. There is nothing which would make us even suspect a Jewish authorship except such negative evidence as the absence of any Christian reference. If the work can be said to recall anything outside the belles lettres loosely associated in Germany with some of the crudest and most fanatical sects which emerged from the chaos of the Reformation. In more respectable and philosophical circles there was also a genuine and direct influence of real Judaism on Christian thought, an influence which was deprecated by all the ecclesiastical authorities alike. " It has not been generally recognized that when Calvin burned Michael Servetus at Geneva in 1553, he was trying to burn away the influence exercised by Marrano Judaism on the dogmas of Christianity."2 But though Servetus died, his ideas lived on in many types of immanental theology, and prepared the way for Spinoza; while his interpretation of Isa. liii has had a very illustrious history within the Christian churches, and takes its place in the Antio-chene or Adoptianist tradition in Christology.

We shall consider in this essay, therefore, (1) the social status of the Jews in the sixteenth century, and their influence on Christian economic and political ideas; (2) the Christian debt to the Jews as biblical critics and teachers of Hebrew; (3) the general influence of Jewish biblical theology on the Reformation; and (4) the cultural importance of the "Secret Tradition55 of Israel as expressed in the Kabbalah and the Zohar.

(1) The social relations between Jews and Christians in the early Middle Ages were not usually unfriendly. The Ghetto was an institution of the future and the Jews fitted into society under more or less normal conditions, despite the efforts of the Church to segregate of the sixteenth century in Italy, it is certain Sufic poets adapted to the understanding of Venetian ladies in the days of the Doges."

It is essential to realize that much sixteenth-century Kabbalism was no more than a literary fashion with little or no religious or philosophical influence.

lpii 17

them. They were on friendly terms with a large number of Christian traders and played a normal part in civic life. As Dr Abrahams points out, the anti-semitic calumnies which we are apt to regard as normal mediaeval beliefs were usually the creations of fanatical or biased leaders rather than the results of everyday experience. Anti-semitic myths can usually be traced to fanatical instigators who created an ill-feeling which did not otherwise exist Usury doubtless helped to make the Jews unpopular, but here again the masses were less affected than the classes, as it was usually from the nobility and aristocracy that the Jews drew their most frequent clients... .The masses never charged the Jews with the fault most common in attacks on them, viz. lack of social interest It was the theologians who proclaimed the Jews antisocial and the haters of their kind. This supposed enmity of the Jews to the human race was dinned into the ears of the masses until the calumny became part of the popular creed.3

But since the beginning of the Crusades the position of the Jews had become more and more dangerous. Not only were they greatly affected by the destruction of the Languedoc civilization; the Church waged war on them as a group of infidels in all the countries of Europe. They were expelled from England in 1290; and the French kings vacillated in their policy, reconciling economic expediency with a Catholic conscience by a combination of intermittent protection and perpetual extortion. The Spanish Jews, who formed the largest and most prosperous community in Europe, were comparatively safe; but they were soon imperilled by the religious and political centralization pursued by Ferdinand and Isabella. When in 1492 they were officially expelled, they were ruined economically and left stranded with no permanent home in the midst of a hostile Europe. But this expulsion, though involving terrible hardships to the Jews themselves, was of great importance in the history of European civilization. Not only did it lead directly to the complete ruin of Spain in the later sixteenth century; it also scattered the most advanced Jews of the day, and diffused their culture very widely, mainly from their centres in Holland, Poland and Italy.

The expulsion from Spain was mainly the activity of the centralizing State authorities and of the National Inquisition which served their purposes. Many of the Cortes in the more democratic and commercial states strongly objected to the policy on economic and social grounds; and as the heterogeneous nature of Spanish society made the activities of the Inquisition very dangerous to almost everyone—for who could feel safe when even the omission of the Gloria from a chanted psalm was adequate proof of Crypto-Judaism?—the persecution of Marrano and Jew was never based on popular sentiment.

In Germany, where there were many cases of mob atrocities, the case was different. The fanatical popular hatred of Jews was one feature of the general hysteria which is noted by all Reformation historians. It may have been due to neuroses following on plague, or to economic hardship in the more backward parts, and it has been explained in the latter way by the Communist historian Kautsky. It may have been furthered by a general fear of anarchy and invasion in a country where feudalism was disintegrating in a peculiarly unpleasant manner; or we may blame the Mendicant Friars and their teachings for the mass production of

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Responses

  • cedivar twofoot
    What was the renaissance and reformation of isreal?
    10 months ago
  • kisanet
    How did jewdisum in europe influence the renaissance?
    3 months ago

Post a comment