His Holiness Pope Benedict XIV
Encyclical on Judaism in Poland
June 14, 1751
To the Primate, Archbishops and Bishops, of the Kingdom of Poland.
Venerable Brothers, We give you Greeting and Our Apostolic Blessing.
GOD IN HIS GOODNESS allowed Catholicism to take root in Poland at the end of the tenth century during the reign of Our predecessor Leo VIII. At the time, the efforts of King Mieszko and his Christian consort Dobrava (Dlugosz, Annalium vestrorum Scriptorum, 2, 94) encouraged the spread of Christianity. Since then pious and devout Poles have continued the faithful practice of their new religion. During this time various sects have attempted to establish themselves in Poland and to spread the seeds of their errors, heresies, and evil opinions. But the faithful Polish people have strongly withstood their efforts.
We esteem the glorious memory of Polish martyrs, confessors, virgins and holy men; their exemplary lives are recorded in the holy annals of the Church. We also recall the many successful councils and synods which gloriously defeated the Lutherans who tried tenaciously, using a variety of methods, to establish a foothold and welcome in this kingdom. At that time indeed the great council of Piotrkow met under Our great predecessor and fellow citizen Gregory XIII, with prelate Lippomano, bishop of Verona and Apostolic nuncio, as its president. To the great glory of God it prohibited the principle of freedom of conscience; adherents of this principle were seeking to introduce and establish it in Poland. Another threat to Christians has been the influence of Jewish faithlessness; this influence was strong because Christians and Jews were living in the same cities and towns. However their influence was minimized because the Polish bishops did all they could to aid the Poles in their resistance to the Jews. What the bishops did is recorded in the large tome which contains the constitutions of the synods of the province of Gniezno. These facts establish most clearly and plainly the great glory which the Polish nation has won for its zeal in preserving the holy religion embraced by its ancestors so many ages before.
2. In regard to the matter of the Jews We must express our concern, which causes Us to cry aloud: "the best color has been changed." Our credible experts in Polish affairs and the citizens of Poland itself who communicated with Us have informed Us that the number of Jews in that country has greatly increased. In fact, some cities and towns which had been predominantly Christian are now practically devoid of Christians.
The Jews have so replaced the Christians that some parishes are about to lose their ministers because their revenue has dwindled so drastically. Because the Jews control businesses selling liquor and even wine, they are therefore allowed to supervise the collection of public revenues. They have also gained control of inns, bankrupt estates, villages and public land by means of which they have subjugated poor Christian farmers. The Jews are cruel taskmasters, not only working the farmers harshly and forcing them to carry excessive loads, but also whipping them for punishment. So it has come about that those poor farmers are the subjects of the Jews, submissive to their will and power. Furthermore, although the power to punish lies with the Christian official, he must comply with the commands of the Jews and inflict the punishments they desire. If he doesn't, he would lose his post. Therefore the tyrannical orders of the Jews have to be carried out.
3. In addition to the harm done to Christians in these regards, other unreasonable matters can result in even greater loss and danger. The most serious is that some households of the great have employed a Jew as "Superintendent-of-the-Household"; in this capacity, they not only administer domestic and economic matters, but they also ceaselessly exhibit and flaunt authority over the Christians they are living with. It is now even commonplace for Christians and Jews to intermingle anywhere. But what is even less comprehensible is that Jews fearlessly keep Christians of both sexes in their houses as their domestics, bound to their service. Furthermore, by means of their particular practice of commerce, they amass a great store of money and then by an exorbitant rate of interest utterly destroy the wealth and inheritance of Christians. Even if they borrow money from Christians at heavy and undue interest with their synagogues as surety, it is obvious to anyone who thinks about it that they do so to employ the money borrowed from Christians in their commercial dealings; this enables them to make enough profit to pay the agreed interest and simultaneously increase their own store. At the same time, they gain as many defenders of their synagogues and themselves as they have creditors.
4. The famous monk, Radulph, inspired long ago by an excess of zeal, was so inflamed against the Jews that he traversed Germany and France in the twelfth century and, by preaching against the Jews as the enemies of our holy religion, incited Christians to destroy them. This resulted in the deaths of a very large number of Jews. What must we think his deeds or thoughts would be if he were now alive and saw what was happening in Poland? But the great St. Bernard opposed this immoderate and maddened zeal of Radulph, and wrote to the clergy and people of eastern France:
The Jews are not to be persecuted: they are not to be slaughtered: they are not even to be driven out. Examine the divine writings concerning them. We read in the psalm a new kind of prophecy concerning the Jews: God has shown me, says the Church, on the subject of my enemies, not to slay them in case they should ever forget my people. Alive, however, they are eminent reminders for us of the Lord's suffering. On this account they are scattered through all lands in order that they may be witnesses to Our redemption while they pay the just penalties for so great a crime. (Epistle 363)And he writes this to Henry, Archbishop of Mainz:
Doesn't the Church every day triumph more fully over the Jews in convicting or converting them than if once and for all she destroyed them with the edge of the sword: Surely it is not in vain that the Church has established the universal prayer which is offered up for the faithless Jews from the rising of the sun to its setting, that the Lord God may remove the veil from their hearts, that they may be rescued from their darkness into the light of truth. For unless it hoped that those who do not believe would believe, it would obviously be futile and empty to pray for them. (Epistle 365)5. Peter, abbot of Cluny, likewise wrote against Radulph to King Louis of France, and urged him not to allow the destruction of the Jews. But at the same time he encouraged him to punish their excesses and to strip them of the property they had taken from Christians or had acquired by usury; he should then devote the value of this to the use and benefit of holy religion, as may be seen in the Annals of Venerable Cardinal Baronius (1146). In this matter, as in all others, We adopt the same norm of action as did the Roman Pontiffs who were Our venerable predecessors. Alexander III forbade Christians under heavy penalties to accept permanent domestic service under Jews. "Let them not continually devote themselves to the service of Jews for a wage." He sets out the reason for this in the decretal. "Because Jewish ways do not harmonize in any way with ours and they could easily turn the minds of the simple to their own superstitions and faithlessness through continual intercourse and unceasing acquaintance." Innocent III, after saying that Jews were being received by Christians into their cities, warns that the method and condition of this reception should guard against their repaying the benefit with evildoing. "They on being admitted to our acquaintance in a spirit of mercy, repay us, the popular proverb says, as the mouse in the wallet, the snake in the lap and fire in the bosom usually repay their host." The same Pope stated that it was fitting for Jews to serve Christians rather than vice versa and added: "Let not the sons of the free woman be servants of the sons of the handmaid; but as servants rejected by their lord for whose death they evilly conspired, let them realize that the result of this deed is to make them servants of those whom Christ's death made free," as we read in his decretal. Likewise in the decretal under the same heading, he forbids the promotion of Jews to public office: "forbidding Jews to be promoted to public offices since in such circumstances they may be very dangerous to Christians." Innocent IV, also, in writing to St. Louis, King of France, who intended to drive the Jews beyond the boundaries of his kingdom, approves of this plan since the Jews gave very little heed to the regulations made by the Apostolic See in their regard: "Since We strive with all Our heart for the salvation of souls, We grant you full power by the authority of this letter to expel the Jews, particularly since We have learned that they do not obey the said statutes issued by this See against them" (Raynaldus, Annals, A.D. 1253, no. 34).
6. But if it is asked what matters the Apostolic See forbids to Jews living in the same cities as Christians, We will say that all those activities which are now allowed in Poland are forbidden; these We recounted above. There is no need of much reading to understand that this is the clear truth of the matter. It is enough to peruse decretals with the heading ; the constitutions of Our predecessors, the Roman Pontiffs Nicholas IV, Paul IV, St. Pius V, Gregory XIII and Clement VIII are readily available in the Roman Bullarium. To understand these matters most clearly, Venerable Brothers, you do not even need to read those. You will recall the statutes and prescripts of the synods of your predecessors; they always entered in their constitutions every measure concerning the Jews which was sanctioned and ordained by the Roman Pontiffs.
7. The essence of the difficulty, however, is that either the sanctions of the synods are forgotten or they are not put into effect. To you then, Venerable Brothers, passes the task of renewing those sanctions. The nature of your office requires that you carefully encourage their implementation. In this matter begin with the clergy, as is fair and reasonable. These will have to show others the right way to act, and light the way for the rest by their example. For in God's mercy, We hope that the good example of the clergy will lead the straying laity back to the straight path. You will be able to give these orders and commands easily and confidently, in that neither your property nor your privileges are hired to Jews; furthermore you do no business with them and you neither lend them money nor borrow from them. Thus, you will be free from and unaffected by all dealings with them.
8. The sacred canons, prescribe that in the most important cases, such as the present, censures should be imposed upon the recalcitrant; and that those cases which bode danger and ruin to religion should be reckoned as reserved cases in which only the bishop can give absolution. The Council of Trent considered your jurisdiction when it affirmed your right to reserve cases. It did not restrict such cases to public crimes only, but extended them to include more notorious and serious cases, provided they were not purely internal. But we have often said that some cases should be considered more notorious and serious. These are cases, to which men are more prone, which are a danger both to ecclesiastical discipline and to the salvation of the souls which have been entrusted to your episcopal care. We have discussed these at length in Our treatise, Book 5, 5.
9. In this matter We will help as much as possible. If you have to proceed against ecclesiastics exempt from your jurisdiction, you will doubtless encounter additional difficulties. Therefore We are giving Our Venerable Brother Archbishop Nicaenus, Our Nuncio there, a mandate appropriate for this business, in order that he may supply for you the necessary means from the powers entrusted to him. At the same time We promise you that when the situation arises, We will cooperate energetically and effectively with those whose combined authority and power are appropriate to remove this stain of shame from Poland. But first Venerable Brothers, ask aid from God, the source of all things. From Him beg help for Us and this Apostolic See. And while We embrace you in the fullness of charity, We lovingly impart to you, Our brothers, and to the flocks entrusted to your care, Our Apostolic Blessing.
Given at Castelgandolfo on the 14th of June 1751 in the eleventh year of Our Pontificate.