Jews and Heretics in Catholic Poland: A Beleaguered Church in the Post-Reformation Era

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Contrary to the common contention that the Catholic Church triumphed in Counter-Reformation Poland, this study reveals that from the rise of the Reformation and the rapid dissemination of its new ideas, the Catholic Church was overcome with a strong sense of insecurity. The beleaguered Church sought to separate Catholics from non-Catholics: Jews and heretics. This process helped form a Polish identity that led to racial anti-Semitism and to the exclusion of even most assimilated Jews from the category of Poles. The book portrays Jews not only as victims of Church persecution but as active influential participants in Polish society.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Teter makes a major contribution in illuminating the complexities of Poland's 18th century. Essential.” —Choice

"This volume not only fills a gaping hole in the historical literature on Polish Catholicism and Polish-Jewish relations, but it does so with admirable professionalism. Jews and Heretics in Catholic Poland will remain the standard work on Catholic Judeophobia in early-modern Poland for years to come. . . . Should be read not only by specialists in early-modern religious history, but by anyone interested in the history of antisemitism, Jewish- Catholic relations, or Polish history more generally. —Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"Teter is correct in distinguishing the power of the Polish Church from that in many other European countires, especially given the power of the Polish nobility, which by the eighteenth century was basically a republic of the Magnates. Some nobles attracted to Protestantism returned to the Church to keep their political power. The Polish triangle of pwer, a system of checks and balances, included the Church, the nobles, and the monarch. She also correctly stresses the ebb and flow of the privileges of Jews depending on the vicissitudes of the Polish state at the time. She makes the good point that the Church would co-operate with other powers in so far as the outcome would be good for the Church itself." - Helena J. Czosnyka, St. Louis School of Pharmacy

"Teter has touched on a very important problem and posed a challenging thesis. She provides a myriad of examples to illustrate her conclusions...This book should find its way to libraries and seminars dealing with religious issues of Commonwealth, as well as of Europe."
Jakub Basista, American Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521856737
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 12/31/2005
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 9.02 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Magda Teter is Assistant Professor of History at Wesleyan University. She is the recipient of the Koret Foundation publication prize and has been published in English, Polish and Hebrew in such journals as Jewish History, AJS Review and Gal-Ed.

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Cambridge University Press
0521856736 - Jews and Heretics in Catholic Poland - A Beleaguered Church in the Post-Reformation Era - by Magda Teter


ON JANUARY 16, 2004, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTED THAT ISRAEL'S chief rabbis, Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar, had received an audience with Pope John Paul Ⅱ. The rabbis asked the pope to speak out against anti-Semitism and to devote a day in the Catholic calendar "for study and reflection on the Jewish faith."1 The pope replied that he had "striven to promote Jewish-Catholic dialogue and to foster ever greater understanding, respect and cooperation." But, in his native country of Poland, the Polish society and the Catholic Church continued to struggle with the difficult legacy of Polish-Jewish relations. Surrounded by denial, condemnations, and apologetics, the question of relations between the Polish Catholic Church and the Jews still stirs strong emotions and controversies even though of the millions of Jews in Poland in 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, fewer than twenty thousand remain.

One such controversy centered around a painting, formerly known as Infanticidia or "Ritual Murder by Jews," in the cathedral church in Sandomierz, a small town in southeastern Poland.2 The painting depicts the murder of a Christian child by Jews, a crime of which Sandomierz Jews were accused a number of times in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The painting itself is said to commemorate a murder of 1710. These tales were popularized in two notorious books published contemporaneously by the local priest, Stefan Żuchowski, instigator of one of the trials of Jews for such alleged crimes3 and commissioner of the painting.4

The painting portrays the episode as Żuchowski imagined it; it corresponds to the sequence related in his book Process kryminalny [A Criminal Trial]: a Christian woman's offering of the child to the Jews; torture of the child in a barrel lined with protruding nails; extraction of the child's blood; and the culminating scene of the child's body devoured and then vomited out by a dog. This image is a vivid instance both of the Catholic perception of Jewish hostility toward Christians and also of Catholic anti-Jewish sentiments in the premodern period.5 Following the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Poland and Israel in the 1990s and the appointment of a Jewish-Catholic committee on reconciliation, a demand arose that this painting be removed from the church, as other paintings of this sort had been in Poland, as in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, near Pope John Paul Ⅱ's hometown of Wadowice. The painting was kept in place but a new description was added, reading "The alleged ritual murder by Jews."

Most of those who called for the painting's removal had argued that it aroused anti-Semitism. They failed to note that the painting does not stand alone. It is one in a series of sixteen violent and evocative paintings, entitled "Martyrologium Romanum," covering the walls of the Sandomierz Cathedral.6 In this series depicting Catholic martyrdom at the hands of non-Catholics, conceived and commissioned by Żuchowski, Sandomierz's castle explodes, blown up by Protestant Swedes. Bodies fly in the air. In a second painting, Muslim Tatars slaughter Sandomierz Dominicans. On the side panels, "infidels" butcher Catholics. Blood and body parts are scattered around. Elaborate methods of torture are conspicuously present in each painting. The series underlines the Polish Catholics' perception of non-Catholics, Jews, heretics, and other "infidels" as deadly enemies of the Church. Jews are but one of many, though central and most intimate in the series of paintings.7

These paintings, like the sermons and polemics of the time, tell a history that complicates the common view among modern historians that, by the early 1600s, the Counter-Reformation had triumphed in Poland.8 The paintings, as well as other contemporary Church sources, reveal that the Church continued to feel not triumphant but threatened well into the eighteenth century. The Church in Poland had achieved nominal gains among the Polish nobility, most of whom after a short affair with Protestantism returned to Catholicism by the second half of the seventeenth century; but it had not triumphed, and it knew that it had not.

Indeed, the challenges of the Reformation had weakened the Church. Jakub Wujek, the popular sixteenth-century preacher and author of the Polish Catholic translation of the Bible, compared the Church to a boat in a storm imperiled by "heavy winds from Jews, Turks, pagans and heretics, and sometimes even bad Christians."9 Well into the eighteenth century, the far-from-triumphant rhetoric of Polish Church leaders pleaded for recognition of the Catholic Church as the only legitimate religion. The pre-Reformation united Church had been "torn apart" by heretics, so a popular late seventeenth-century catechism explained. Heretics had introduced "different faith and different teachings."10 They defied Catholic observances by vocal opposition to "confessions, [performing] last rites and accepting the Holiest Sacrifice [Mass]," rites that had existed since the beginning of "the Church of God."11 Church writers claimed that Poland was being punished by God for tolerating this religious dissent, or as one argued because of the "varietas," religious diversity, and challenges to the legitimacy of Catholicism.12 As late as 1733, during elections to choose the next monarch of Poland after the death of King August Ⅱ, Bishop Jan Felix Szaniawski thundered:

The Catholic Religion has been abhorred by dissidents, schismatics and others, the churches and their immunity have been violated. Some [Catholics] have been killed, others taken prisoners. Dualitas [religious duality] did it...Let us put our Crown on the Throne of God, which many will try to obtain but only one will achieve. Let us plead with God that he will place [the crown] on the head of one who is able to maintain the Catholic Faith, our Laws and Freedoms, and who is able to preserve the Unity of the Kingdom.13

The bishop was appealing to the protonationalistic feelings of the Polish nobility, according to which the nobles were the Polish nation.14 Diverse in religious convictions in the sixteenth century, by the second half of the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth century the nobility, as a consequence of Poland's wars with its non-Catholic neighbors, had increasingly identified with Catholicism. Political threats from non-Catholics had come to symbolize threats to the country itself, which the nobles considered synonymous with themselves.

The religious diversity of Poland, or, as Bishop Szaniawski saw it, dualitas [duality], was expressed in a variety of ways but had a single central meaning: "we, Catholics," and they, the Others - heretics, Jews, schismatics, and sinners - all stigmatized as "foreign" and as a threat to the unity of the Church. In books and sermons that the clergy addressed to Polish nobles, these Others were described as a threat even to the well-being of Poland itself.15 Such religious appeals with a political message are typical of published sermons and treatises, in contrast to unpublished sermons extant in manuscripts, which tend to focus instead on common sins of the flesh. The published works, some of which were sermons delivered at political occasions, sought to influence those in power, that is, the nobles, appealing to their sense of identity and to their fears for their country.16 As one preacher asked: How can there be "a common good without the True Religion?" He declared that "heresies create discord in Kingdoms...they ruin kingdoms, unlike the True Religion, which consolidates them."17

The "True Religion" was identified as Catholicism. Opposed to that "True Religion" were all the non-Catholics - heretics, Jews, Turks, and schismatics, as the Eastern Orthodox were called - all outsiders and all seen as enemies of the Church. Thus, the series of paintings in the cathedral church in Sandomierz underlines these sentiments, as do Bishop Szembek's words in 1714: "The Catholic Church rejects, condemns and curses all pagan errors...heresies and all schisms. It condemns and excludes from the community of the faithful all pagans, Jews, heretics, schismatics, and bad and disobedient Catholics."18 A late seventeenth-century Jesuit preacher, Woiciech Tylkowski, declared that it was not appropriate to pray in public for "the cursed heretics, schismatics, Jews and pagans," for "they do not belong to the Church" and, therefore, should derive no spiritual benefit from it.19 Another Jesuit, Stefan Wielowieyski, did pray for sinners, schismatics, heretics, Jews, and pagans, but only in order to convert to Catholicism those who had fallen outside of Church control.20 Jews, but not Jews alone, were attacked by the Church.

The Catholic Church of the post-Reformation period strove to reestablish its religious hegemony to become the "only one Church," but it failed in that mission. The vast Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth continued to be religiously diverse. Even Poland itself was not to become homogeneously Catholic until the end of the Second World War, when it lost not only its Jewish population to the Nazi death camps but also, for different reasons, its Ukrainians, its Byelorussians, and its Lithuanians of the eastern territories of Poland, annexed by the Soviet Union after the war; it lost its Germans as well, expelled from the western areas that became part of modern Poland. Early modern Poland, in vivid contrast, had been a home to the largest Jewish community in the world. Jews had settled and flourished in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in response to its extensive economic opportunities. It was, in addition, a home to Eastern Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Protestants. Catholics were not even a majority in early modern Poland.

The Church's post-Reformation influence in Poland was hindered, too, by the dynamics of power there. From the mid-seventeenth century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth had been ravaged by military and political conflicts with its non-Catholic neighbors: Orthodox Russia to the east, Protestant Sweden to the north, Protestant Prussia to the west, and the Muslim Ottoman state to the south. Only the Habsburg Monarchy was Catholic, and yet, because of complicated political alliances, Poland's relations with it were cold. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth itself was weak; between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, its political structure had shifted from a strong monarchy to a state ruled by powerful nobles.21 Although these ruling nobles supported many new Catholic churches and displayed religious devotion both by funding many new altars, paintings, and other religious art, and by leaving their private wealth to the Church in their wills, when it suited them they paid little attention to Church teachings, and often used their political power to limit the Church's political influence. They sought to end the Church's historically privileged fiscal status of freedom from taxation. Thus, even among the nobles, the "Counter-Reformation" victory was tenuous. The Polish Church longed for a strong Catholic monarch it could count on more easily than on the many - disobedient - lords. But the Church could not even count on a king. For a large part of the eighteenth century, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was headed by a king from Saxony, who was a convert from Lutheranism, and whose entourage included Lutherans.

One could argue that the Church never really held power and total control in Poland, even prior to the Reformation, for most of the society in that period was only nominally Christian; not all towns and villages had permanent parishes, and the level of education of both clergy and laity was far from satisfactory. The Polish Catholic clergy itself understood clearly that after the Reformation the Church had been permanently weakened. The Protestant Reformation had distanced the Church even farther from achieving its goal of religious hegemony, and had exposed its limitations and vulnerability. The Protestant Reformation boosted the number of perceived Church "enemies," which earlier, at least on a religious level, had been confined almost exclusively to Jews and, in a different way, to Muslims, or "the Saracens."

In its defensive, even reactionary, stance, the Catholic Church in Poland, as elsewhere, began in consequence to define and enforce more closely the social and religious boundaries that separated it from Others.22 Its hostile rhetoric excluded those who did not accept that "there is only one Church" and sharpened religious commitments and identities. Historians have called this period the age of confessionalization.23

The nobles' relationship with Jews highlighted the failure of the Catholic Church to establish broader social control and discipline in Poland. For the Church, Jews had symbolic significance, for Jews had been seen by the Church as its earliest theological threat, and hence as its earliest "enemy." In the Church's ideal society, Jews may be tolerated but only in a circumscribed place that would remind them of their "exile" and of their divine punishment for their failure to accept Jesus and "the only one Church with its pastor," the pope. In Poland itself, the nobles often ignored this symbolism, and Jews became prominent leaseholders, merchants, and administrators of the nobles' estates, sometimes occupying positions of power over Christians themselves. In their insubordination to the Church's teachings, the nobles disrupted the order the Church had dreamed of establishing and controlling.

At the same time, Jews, as the most prominent theological and symbolic threat to the Christian Church from antiquity, provided a model for the Church's battles against its challengers. Anti-Jewish rhetoric became an instrument in the Church's wider struggle for domination. The Jewish presence in Poland made the Church's own rhetoric more relevant. References to Jews appeared, sometimes prominently, in Catholic sermons and polemical literature, usually not as the actual focus but rather as a symbol of the hostile forces Catholic clergy relentlessly attacked.

Jews were not the only ones against whom the Polish clergy fostered feelings of hostility, and they had a place, if a limited one, within Catholic Christianity. Christian heretics, such as Protestants and others, did not. Anti-Jewish rhetoric was employed against these heretics, and also against the nobles who, because of their political and economic power, could not be directly attacked. Symbolic Jews and their sins - even, indeed, their piety - were cited in moralistic Catholic sermons to illuminate the severity of the sins of "bad and disobedient Catholics," that is, Catholics such as those who preferred to go to a tavern on a Sunday rather than to attend a mass.

To place the Catholic Church's attitudes toward Jews in post-Reformation Poland into a niche of Church anti-Semitism is tempting. The Church did indeed have animosity toward Jews, and certain works by Polish Catholic clergy did contain vitriolic polemic against Jews. Yet, just as the painting, "Infanticide," in the cathedral church in Sandomierz, depicting Jews killing a Christian child, must be seen in the context of the other sixteen paintings of violent deaths of Catholics at the hands of non-Catholic enemies - Protestant Swedes, Muslims, Tatars, or ancient pagans - so too the Church's attitudes toward Jews have to be seen in an even broader context of anxieties that the Catholic clergy experienced and fostered.

Hostility toward Jews in post-Reformation Poland was part of the Church's desire for social and religious control, discipline, and influence. So too is it part of Catholic cultural history; with the invention of printing, the hostile anti-Jewish stereotypes entered literary culture in Poland with other books from the West and remained an important part of this culture into the eighteenth century. This occurred at least in part as a consequence of the cultural insularity of the post-Reformation Polish Church.

In the eighteenth century, when the Catholic Church in Rome and in France was facing the challenges of the Enlightenment, the Catholic Church in Poland was still waging the battles of the century-and-a-half before, when Martin Luther and other Reformers threatened the Church's hegemony. And even in the century of the Enlightenment, the Catholic clergy in Poland continued to turn back to centuries-old sources and methods, filling their literature with medieval tales and imagery that the Church in the West seems to have abandoned.

The Catholic Church's use of Jews, real or symbolic, as instruments for its wider struggles propagated anti-Jewish sentiments in Poland and ultimately disseminated a virulent animosity against those real Jews with whom Polish Christians had daily contacts. Vilified and dehumanized from premodern times, Jews eventually found themselves permanently excluded from a Polish nation that increasingly saw itself as Catholic. The creation of a Polish Catholic national identity had begun with the nobles in the early modern period and extended to other Polish Catholics in modern times, when the modern Polish nation refused to accept as Poles Orthodox Christians, Protestants, or Jews. But, in the modern era of nationalism, Eastern Orthodox Christians could identify as Ukrainians or Byelorussians, and Pro- testants, such as Lutherans, as Germans. Religious identity became increasingly linked to nationality and to the state. And, once religious identity, nationality, and the state became one, Polish Jews, after centuries in Poland, now found themselves regarded as strangers. The premodern anti-Jewish stereotypes that challenged the Jews' very humanity and extended beyond religion to permeate their very nature translated into racist anti-Semitism that denied even most assimilated Jews their identity as Poles.24

Such was the modern fallout of a process of the Church's search for religious hegemony that had begun in premodern times. Yet, it would be a mistake to say that this consequence was a conscious goal of the Church. The Church's intent was rather to prevent pollution and corruption of its own flock, to cripple its opponents, and to establish social and political control over the larger society. Its goal was to bring all groups under its embrace, to convert or to control. The permanent exclusion of Jews, especially of converted Jews, was a contradiction of the Church's theology and of its ideals.25


"One Mystical Body…Only One Shepherd": The Church Ideals of Social Order

IN 1302, POPE BONIFACE VIII WROTE IN HIS BULL UNAM SANCTAM, "WE declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff."1 The bull was a culmination of a theory of hierarchy of power developed over several centuries by Church jurists and theologians. That theory established an ideal of a society, a respublica Christiana, a broader Christian ecclesia. In its highest form that society was to be entirely Christian, functioning according to Christian laws and dogmas. It was to be, in the words of Pope Boniface Ⅷ, "one sole mystical body whose Head is Christ and the head of Christ is God, and his vicar Peter and Peter's successor."2 The pope claimed the supremacy of spiritual power and a hierarchy of power in the world: "For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgment if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremiah concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: 'Behold to-day I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms and the rest...Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God' [Rom 13:2]."3


Pope Boniface Ⅷ justified the claim of papal supreme authority in his Unam Sanctam by citing a medieval interpretation of an ambiguous verse in Luke 22:38, "Behold, here are two swords." According to the theory of "two swords," the Apostle Peter had received two swords from Jesus. In the eyes of medieval Church jurists, one sword represented temporal power, the other, spiritual power. Church jurists asserted that all temporal power and political authority derived from the Roman pontiff, Peter's successor, in effect "Christ's vicar" on earth, the heir of the legacy of two swords and the two powers they represented. Although the pontiff voluntarily relinquished to the emperor the sword of temporal power, the emperor's power (and, by implication, also that of other temporal rulers) derived from God through the pope, who was the supreme authority over both temporal and spiritual matters.4 The bull Unam Sanctam left little ambiguity about the papal claims of power:

We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: 'Behold, here are two swords' - that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: 'Put up thy sword into thy scabbard' [Matthew 26:52]. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but one ought to be administered for the benefit of the Church, the other by the Church; the one in the hands of the priest; the other by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest [my emphasis]. However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority [should be] subjected to spiritual power. For since the Apostle said: 'There is no power except from God and the things that are, are ordained of God' [Rom 13:1-2], but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.5

The legitimacy of temporal power was to remain perpetually subject to the Church's spiritual authority. Lay rulers were to serve the good of the ecclesia.

There were earthly implications of the Church's position on the superiority of the spiritual over the temporal power. Tithes, the monetary obligations to the Church, became a worldly symbol of recognition of the Church's ideal political order. "Hence we must recognize more clearly," Unam Sanctam asserted, "that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal. This we see very clearly also by the payment, benediction, and consecration of the tithes, by the acceptance of power itself and by the government even of things."6

But Unam Sanctam was an ideal. The reality was much more complex, as even the context surrounding this very bull revealed. Unam Sanctam was issued as a protest against the erosion of papal authority. Asserting the superiority of papal authority over that of the monarch, it reflected a conflict between Pope Boniface Ⅷ and the king of France, Philip Ⅳ (the Fair). The king had taxed the clergy, and, in response, the pope issued first a bull, Clericis Laicos, forbidding such taxation, whereupon King Philip the Fair banned exportation of gold from France, thus depriving the papacy of revenue.7 The French party, in turn, plotted to declare Boniface a heretic and depose him. It was in this context of crisis that Pope Boniface Ⅷ issued his powerful bull. But, after Boniface's death, the cardinals, influenced by the French king, elected as pope Clement Ⅴ, who in 1305, under pressure from the French, moved from Rome to Avignon to become the first of the Avignonese popes.8 As Gordon Leff has argued, from the fourteenth century on the papacy and the Church as a whole "became less rather than more powerful."9

The Church and the Papacy would never return to the height of prestige and power it held during the rule of Pope Innocent Ⅲ at the turn of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.10 But, even at that pinnacle, the Church was plagued with heresies and dissent.11 Centuries of struggles between the Church - at times more specifically, the papacy - and the lay rulers ensued. The ideal of Church hierocracy proved unattainable, but the Church never ceased to strive to fulfill the ideal of its supreme power in the world of the spirit and in the world of flesh.

Reflecting the political reality of late antiquity and before the Church emerged as a visible power within the Roman Empire, ancient Christian jurists had agreed on the existence of parallel structures of temporal and spiritual powers, the former represented by the Empire, the latter by the Church.12 As the Roman Empire was transformed in the West into separate independent principalities, and in the East into Byzantium, the Christian Church began to assume a stronger position of authority - especially in the fragmented West, where the office of the emperor disappeared. In the East, in the Byzantine Empire, where the imperial presence survived, the legacy of the emperor as source of both temporal and spiritual authority persisted. It lessened the intensity of the power struggle between the Byzantine emperor and Church patriarchs, such as that which developed in the West between emperors and kings and the papacy. In the East, the emperor continued to play an important role in affairs of the Church.13

It took the West several centuries to return to the very idea of the Roman Empire, with an emperor at its head. In the meantime, chaos caused by the breakup of the empire and the lack of imperial authority enabled the pope, the bishop of Rome, to emerge as the principal authority. Still, in Western Europe, the idea of the empire lingered, and by the ninth century it was back. It proved to be the source of conflicts between the Church and the state that were to last for centuries.14 In 800, when Pope Leo Ⅲ arranged to crown Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne was displeased; he understood that an act of papal coronation implied that his own imperial authority derived from the pontiff and hence was subordinate to it.15

The notion that temporal authority derived legitimacy from the spiritual authority of the Church had been tested a few decades earlier when the Frankish king, Pippin Ⅲ, seeking legitimacy for his power, was anointed, first by Boniface, a missionary who later became a saint, and subsequently, in 754, by Pope Stephen Ⅲ.16 But if Pippin Ⅲ needed such confirmation of his power, many other kings and subsequent emperors, like Charlemagne, were convinced that their authority needed no such papal endorsement. Centuries later the continuing conflict manifested itself in the form of controversies over appointments of bishops, taxation of the clergy, and even over who held authority over Jews.17 These conflicts were never resolved in practice, and the Church found itself perpetually dependent on the lay powers. At times even the popes' own political and economic existence rested in the hands of monarchs, as did indeed that of Pope Boniface Ⅷ.

By the end of the sixteenth century, the understanding of pontifical powers had changed and the Papal States, territories in central Italy where from 756 to 1870 the pope had political sovereignty, had been transformed into a real political state, with an army, a bureaucracy, and a well-organized diplomatic corps. In 1595 Paolo Paruta wrote in his report to the Senate in Venice: "The Roman Pontiff can be considered to embody two persons: the head and shepherd of all of Christianity, in the Catholic and Apostolic Church the Vicar of Christ and a true successor of Peter; and a temporal prince who controls a state in Italy...The Pontiff rules the whole Ecclesiastic State with a supreme authority...relying regarding all things on solely on his will."18 The symbolic spiritual power had become a real political power; in consequence, the mystical theology may have lost some of its allure. As Paolo Prodi has argued, the pope became the prince with the authority to apply Church laws in the papal territories that elsewhere had been left to the discretion of the secular authorities.19 But beyond the Papal States, the Church leaders continued to demand obedience from temporal rulers.20


Nor was the "sword" of spiritual authority of the Church securely held. From the earliest days of Christianity, centuries before the doctrine of two swords, Christian leaders felt threatened, first by Jews, and later also by Christian heretics. Christianity had emerged from among several Jewish sects during the last decades of the Second Temple period, and needed to validate itself in the light of Jewish persistence in rejecting Christianity's claims that the Messiah had already come.21 Christian thinkers and theologians turned to the Hebrew Scriptures, which they began to call "the Old Testament," and pointed to passages that, in their opinion, "proved" their claim that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in the Jewish Scriptures. It resulted in a paradox. On the one hand, Christianity sought its validity in the Hebrew Scriptures; on the other hand, it sought to invalidate Jewish religious beliefs and practices based on the same texts.22

Jews dismissed Christians in the early period and attacked them for failing to observe Jewish law. For their part, the Romans persecuted the new sect, accusing them of immorality and cannibalism, a charge later Christians would raise against Jews. The second-century Christian writer Justin the Martyr23 captured these challenges in his dialogue with Trypho, the Jew:

After they had finished their discourse on this subject [war in Judea], I thus began again, and said: Is there any objection, gentlemen, that you have to make against us, besides this, viz. that we do not live according to the law; that we are not circumcised as your ancestors were; nor observe the Sabbaths as you do? Do you find any fault with our lives and conversations? I mean, do you believe that we eat the flesh of men; and that after an entertainment, when the candles are put out, we are defiled with unlawful mixtures?24

Although the persecution of Christians and charges of cannibalism came primarily from non-Christian gentiles,25 Justin lashed out against Jews:

For other nations are not so culpable for the injury that is done to us, and Christ himself, as you; who first caused them to entertain so great a prejudice against that Just One, and us his disciples and followers. For after you had crucified him, who alone was unblameable and just, by whose stripes they are healed who come unto the Father by him; after ye knew that he was risen from the dead, and ascended up into heaven, as the ancient prophecies foretold concerning him; ye were so far from repenting of those evil deeds which ye have committed that even then ye dispatched from Jerusalem into all countries select missionaries to inform them that the impious sect of Christians latterly sprung up worshipped no God; and to spread abroad those false and scandalous reproaches, which all that are unacquainted with us and our religion, do even to this day lay to our charge.26

© Cambridge University Press
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Table of Contents

Preface and acknowledgements; Notes; Abbreviations; Map of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth; Introduction; 1. 'One Mystical Body … Only One Shepherd': church ideal of spiritual and social hierarchy; 2. The upset social order: Nobles and the Jews in Poland; 3. Heresy and the fleeting 'Triumph of the Counter-Reformation'; 4. 'Bad and cruel Catholics': Christian sins and social intimacies between Jews and Christians; 5. 'A shameful offence': The Nobles and Their Jews; 6. 'Countless Books against common Faith': Catholic insularity and anti-Jewish polemic; 7. 'Warding off heretical depravity': 'Whom does the Catholic church reject, condemn and curse?'; Conclusion: did the Counter Reformation triumph in Poland? Glossary; Abbreviations; Notes; Bibliography; Index.

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