Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/316

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
304
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

labored conscientiously and with all their powers to convert the Jews. This did not happen, however. The men who were capacitated for such a work were completely wanting until the beginning of the thirteenth century, and even after the rise of the mendicant orders, a part of whose work was to institute missions among the Jews, there was very seldom a theologian who could lay claim to the education indispensable to this end. An interpretation of the prophetical books (of the Old Testament), which could have made an impression upon educated Jews, was beyond the powers of that time. That great flood of allegorical interpretations, which ruled the Biblical literature of the Christians, appeared to Israelitish Biblical scholars the empty play of an arbitrary and unbridled imagination. The early Church stood, in general, much nearer to the Old Testament people and faith; the great alterations and new formations of the middle ages had immeasurably widened the gap. The worship of images, which, according to the Israelitish view, contradicted the Decalogue, the whole scheme of dominion and compulsion which had been organized by Hildebrand, the religious wars with the system of indulgences—these were things that made the conversion of a Jew uncommonly difficult; and the pictorial representations of the Trinity, that appeared in the latter part of the middle age, must have seemed like a confirmation of the charges of tritheism which they brought against the Christians. In many places, indeed, the Jews were compelled to hear discourses aiming at their conversion by the monks, but an effect opposite to what was intended was unavoidably produced. It is told of the preacher-monk Vincenz Ferrer, that his eloquence effected 30,000 conversions in Spain. But these ostensible conversions took place in the midst of the horrors of the slaughter of 1391 and of the ensuing occurrences, and the apostasy that soon commenced of 17,000 new converts indicates how much the conversions were worth.

If a Jew voluntarily became a Christian, he lost everything that union with a people holding so firmly and faithfully together had hitherto secured him, and by no means did he win the favor of the Christians; rather did his condition in most cases become worse. For the Church met him with suspicion. In Rome, indeed, it was regarded as a rule, to which there was hardly any exception, that a baptized Jew would relapse. If he had means, it was made a duty for him to return all the interest he had taken, a sum often in excess of his present possessions; and in France it was even the custom to confiscate all his goods, and indemnify the king or baron for his loss of a bondsman, and of the income derived from him. Two laws of Charles VII destroyed this custom; but this very monarch took from the Jews, who avoided exile by embracing Christianity, two thirds of their property for himself; and his contemporaries thought this a softening of the severity of the old statutes. If the converted Jew was poor, he experienced the lack of the means of subsistence; for he had not learned