Only twenty times in the history of the Catholic Church has a Pope convened a General or Ecumenical Council. As one would expect, therefore, the matter under discussion at such meetings is hardly trivial. With the Pope’s approval, and under his guidance and sanction, the prelates of an Ecumenical Council, assembled by the Holy Father from the whole Catholic world, may define dogmas which are infallible in point of Catholic teaching. They may also issue edicts, counsels, and decrees which are universally binding on all the faithful.
Although the problem of the infidel Jew is not foreign to the discussions of any of the Church’s twenty Councils, there is one Council in particular, the Fourth Lateran, held in the year 1215, which treats of the Jews at detailed length. Explicitly, and for all time, the Council drafted what might be called a Christian “bill of non-rights” for the Jews. As the Fourth Lateran Council’s legislations are codified and come down to us, these Jew-restraining laws comprise chapters 67, 68, 69, and 70 of the acts of the Council.
Chapter 67 hits at the heart of Jewish power in any Christian society — the bulging Jewish pocketbook. It is entitled, “Concerning the Usuries of the Jews,” and the text provides the mechanics for a total Christian boycott of any Jewish merchant or commercial agent who exacts unreasonable fees from Christians. A happy adjunct to this chapter is the provision that if any Jew should come into possession of real property once owned by a Christian, he will be required to pay taxes on this property to the local parish priest.
In the next chapter, the prelates of the Council provide a most commendable remedy for the dangers of social intercourse with the Jews. The pertinent section reads, “Lest, therefore, excesses of this often-condemned intermingling should have any further excuse for spreading, under cover of such an error, we decree that Jews of either sex, in every Christian province, and at all times, be distinguished in public from other people by a difference of dress, as we also read they were commanded to do by Moses (Lev. 19). Moreover, in the days of lamentation and of Our Lord’s Passion, let them not at all come out in public, because some of them on such days (as we are told) are not ashamed to walk around in splendid attire, and are not afraid to mock at the Christians who, commemorating the Passion, show forth signs of lamentation.”
The Fourth Lateran Council’s 69th chapter is a masterpiece of governmental discretion: “It is most absurd that a blasphemer of Christ should exercise power over Christians, and inasmuch as the Council of Toledo prudently decreed concerning this matter, we, on account of the audacity of those who have disobeyed, renew its decree in this chapter, forbidding that the Jews be given public offices, because under such a pretext they molest the Christians. But if anyone should commit to them such an office, let him, after a warning, be punished befittingly by a provincial council (which we decree should be held every year). As for the Jew who received the office, he should be denied all communion with Christians, both in commerce and other matters, until whatever he had acquired from the Christians, on the occasion of receiving the office, be converted, accordingly as the bishop of the diocese should provide, into the use of the poor among the Christians. Also, he should renounce with shame the office which he irreverently assumed ... ”
Finally, that most delicate of all the Church’s Jewish problems is generally dealt with by chapter 70. It is the perpetual puzzle of the Jewish convert to Christianity. How much can we trust him? What standard can be imposed to determine his sincerity? How can we keep him from lapsing into the perfidy of Judaism?
Quoting the principle that “it is less evil not to know the way of the Lord than, having known it, to turn back,” the Council recommends, without further elaboration, that those in authority over Jewish converts may help them to become truly Catholic by “the imposition of salutary constraint.”
Somewhere, even in the United States, there may be a Jewish convert who has not written a book or been interviewed for a magazine; but we have not encountered him. Most of the clan cannot wait for the waters of baptism to dry upon their heads before they scurry to their typewriters. And what is the message they are so frantic to communicate? A public renunciation of Judaism with all its works and pomps? A promise to break swiftly and cleanly with their perfidious past? Never. Their anxiety is prompted by a single consideration: they want it understood that, in becoming Catholics, they are in no sense abandoning Jewry; that they who have just accepted the Messias feel still inseparably bound to those who reject Him. Nightclub-entertainer Lillian Roth, whose conversion to the Church was so nationally exploited, puts it neatly: “I will always be a Jew, no matter what faith I follow.”
It is precisely this attitude that has made the Church always uneasy about Jewish converts: this insistence on thinking — and acting — not as members of the Mystical Body of Christ, but as members of the anti-Christian, unregenerate Jewish race. Indeed, these converts commonly justify their becoming Catholics on the score that it helps them to realize more fully their Jewishness. And the more deeply they penetrate into the Church’s life, the more Jewish they apparently become. A startling (but representative) indication of the Jewish convert’s scale of values is the statement of Father Ambrose Schaeffer, O.S.B., reported in a Catholic magazine: “I feel that I’m a better Jew now that I’m a priest.”
A letter to the editor, appearing in the National Jewish Post and signed, “Mr. & Mrs. Joe Smith, Las Vegas,” reads: “Wanna hear something cute? We drove our son Jacob to camp July 1 and along the way big boulders once in a while would read ‘Jesus Saves.’ As we rode along, a big boulder suddenly flashed before us in large white letters: ‘Finklestein Saves.’ We got a big kick out of it.”
And from the Brooklyn Jewish Examiner, by columnist Albert Friedman: “Recently we attended, in the line of duty, a conference on civil rights to which delegates from many groups were invited ... and we were pleased at the large turnout of Jewish delegates: the church hall was filled. Then came the minister’s invocation. As we bowed our head in honor of interfaith accord, the pastor gave forth with a long tribute to Jesus. There was a weary sigh from the Jewish members of the audience. We wondered, then, as we’ve wondered so often: why do they do such things? The minister, a man of great sincerity and dignity, unquestionably meant well. But was he in utter ignorance of Jewish beliefs and customs? Was he unconscious of Jewish sensibilities? It was a relief to hear the closing benediction by a Rabbi. His words were brief and moving and he referred to the ‘god of all mankind’ and prayed for the realization of ‘universal brotherhood in our time.’ ”
The mid-1930s have been characterized as the period when “American liberals sponsored luncheons against Franco.” The observation is amusing, but misleading. Such fatuous endeavors may have typified Gentile efforts to oppose Catholic Spain; but the Jews had a surer approach.
From the moment the Spanish Civil War began in July, 1936, it was evident that world Jewry was determined that the Communist forces should triumph. Every resource of Jewish wealth and propaganda was mobilized for a total assault. From every nation Jews flocked to Spain to organize and direct operations. Cardinal Baudrillart, Rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris, declared at the war’s end: “Personal sources allow me to affirm that at the beginning of the Spanish revolution, sixty Russian Jews crossed the Pyrenees to play the role of executive agents, to burn churches and convents, to pillage them, to profane sacred things, and to instruct the Spaniards, who would not have dared by themselves to put their hands on the objects of their age-old veneration.”
Commanding the notorious Abraham Lincoln Brigade (American volunteers fighting for the Reds) were the Jews Milton Wolff and John Gates (born Israel Ragenstrief) — the latter of whom is now editor of the Daily Worker. These two controlled more than 600 other Jews from the United States. Another detachment, from Eastern Europe, formed the Yiddish-speaking Botvin Brigade, named for a young Jewish Communist who had been executed in Poland. In his book, The Fighting Jew, author Ralph Nunberg concludes the account of his co-racists in Spain: “And there were many other Jews besides, who came from all over the world to fight on one side, for one idea, for one victory.”
Though ultimately the Jews did not get their victory, the tens of thousands of ruined churches, desecrated altars, demolished shrines, and violated convents left Spain with grim evidence of Jewish intent. There was also another reminder of the sort of activity Jews will advocate and applaud — in the form of a statistic released by the Spanish hierarchy: in the first seven months of fighting, Red troops murdered eleven Catholic bishops and 16,750 Catholic priests.
If any of our readers happened to stray by a synagogue one night last and heard a strange, woeful melody pouring forth, he was probably listening to the Kol Nidre. For one month the Jews celebrated their most solemn religious festival, Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement); and the liturgical high-point of the Yom Kippur observance is the singing of the Kol Nidre.
What our wandering reader may not have realized is that the annual exercise of intoning this hymn performs for the Jews a most remarkable function. As that mournful wail reverberates through the synagogues of the world, the Jews are readying themselves for another strenuous year among the Gentiles. They are, then and there, dissolving all promises, oaths, and obligations that they may incur during the next twelve months.
The following authorized translation of the Kol Nidre (“All Vows”) appears in a book of Jewish prayers published by the Hebrew Publishing Company of New York: “All vows, obligations, oaths or anathemas, pledges of all names, which we have vowed, sworn, devoted, or bound ourselves to, from this Day of Atonement until the next Day of Atonement (whose arrival we hope for in happiness), we repent, aforehand, of them all. They shall all be deemed absolved, forgiven, annulled, void and made of no effect; they shall not be binding, nor have any power; the vows shall not be reckoned vows, the obligations shall not be obligatory, nor the oaths considered as oaths.”
Though in spirit it is as old as the Talmud, Jewish historians trace this astonishing declaration in its present form to medieval Spain — where, before the Inquisition intervened, some four million Jews advanced themselves in Church and state by posing as Christians. Through the simple device of annually chanting the Kol Nidre formula, these secret-Jews (“Marranos”) conditioned their Jewish consciences for swearing belief in Christ while despising Him, loyalty to the Church while plotting its destruction. “Kol Nidre was no dry document to them,” says the Jewish Advocate of Boston. “Every phrase was freighted with significance, every word carried salvation.”
Eventually, in 1492, Queen Isabella got on to the “significance” with which the phrases of the Kol Nidre were freighted, and had the Jews expelled from Spain. But this action by no means put an end to the Jews’ annual singings. The Kol Nidre had proven its utility; it quickly passed into the ritual of world Jewry, as the central feature of the Yom Kippur ceremonies.
Last month, virtually every adult Jew in the United States went to his synagogue to renew his Kol Nidre disavowals. Non-Jewish Americans will be noting the effects of this visit during the coming year.
It was one hundred and twenty years ago this fall that Dom Prosper Gueranger commenced in earnest the revival of Benedictine monastic life in France. And, side-by-side with this revival, there went, necessarily, a restoration of the Church’s liturgy — the sublime “daily work” of the monks. Dom Gueranger’s abbey at Solesmes became the exemplar of orthodox observance in everything pertaining to the sacred liturgy. Out of gratitude, Pope St. Pius X entrusted to the monks of Solesmes his entire program for publishing the official Vatican edition of the Church’s liturgical music, the Gregorian Chant.
If the spirit of Solesmes, with its conscious sense of continuing in all fullness the life of our Catholic past, could be captured by any one author, Dom Gueranger himself has done it in his The Liturgical Year. Through forty editions and a century of use, Dom Gueranger’s work has been a treasure chest of Catholic observance and tradition.
It was with understandable confidence, therefore, that we thought to consult Dom Gueranger, preserver of things Catholic, for a few summary observations on the Jews. A re-look at The Liturgical Year rewarded us with: “For eighteen centuries Israel has been without prince or leader ... After all these long ages of suffering and humiliation, the justice of the Father is not appeased ... The very sight of the chastisement inflicted on the murderers proclaims to the world that they were the deicides. Their crime was an unparalleled one; its punishment is to be so, too; it is to last to the end of time — The mark of Parricide here fastens on this ungrateful and sacrilegious people; Cain-like, they shall wander, fugitives on the earth. Eighteen hundred years have passed since then: slavery, misery and contempt have been their portion: but the mark is still upon them.”