The Relationship between the Papacy and the Jews in Twelfth-Century Rome: Papal Attitudes toward Biblical Judaism and Contemporary European Jewry

The Relationship between the Papacy and the Jews in Twelfth-Century Rome: Papal Attitudes toward Biblical Judaism and Contemporary European Jewry

By Marie Therese Champagne

PhD Dissertation, Louisiana State Univesity, 2005

Abstract: The relationship of the papacy to the Jews in the Middle Ages, which had developed under the influences of Patristic writers, Roman law, and papal precedent, was marked in the twelfth century by toleration and increasing restriction, but also by papal protection. Between the First Crusade massacres of Jews and the restrictions and persecutions of the thirteenth century, the twelfth century is set apart as a unique era in the lives of European Jews. As Eugenius III (1145-1153) and Alexander III (1159-1181) extended their protection to the Jews of Rome and perhaps all of Christendom through the papal document Sicut Judaeis, and simultaneously proclaimed Christianity’s doctrinal superiority over Judaism, the Roman Jews also acknowledged the pope as their temporal lord and ruler in Rome through their presentation of the Torah. Other motivations for that contractual relationship perhaps existed, including the popes’ need for financial backing. Eugenius III and Alexander III lived in exile through much of their reigns and struggled to maintain control of the Patrimony, a major source of papal revenues.

During the same era, Eugenius III and Alexander III publicly promoted the Church’s inheritance of biblical Judaism in the claim that the Treasures of the Temple of Herod existed in the Lateran basilica. Lateran texts, special liturgical rituals, and papal processions through Rome reinforced that claim. At the same time, the attitudinal influences of the Cistercians Nicolaus Maniacutius and Bernard of Clairvaux on Eugenius, and the Jewish steward Jechiel in the papal household on Alexander, cannot be measured definitively but suggest a paradoxical relationship with the Jews. The history of continuing papal conflicts with the Roman Commune and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa confirms that Eugenius and Alexander unceasingly sought to establish their authority and power over Rome, the Patrimony, and Christendom throughout their papacies, and used popular perceptions that the Church possessed the Temple Treasures to buttress that authority. The popes’ emphasis on biblical Judaism and actions toward the Roman and European Jews reflects a multi-faceted mosaic of papal attitudes toward the Jews and biblical Judaism between 1145 and 1181.

Introduction: Relationships are based on opinions and attitudes, beliefs and perceptions. These facets of the relationship between Christians and Jews have varied in character, value, and intensity over the centuries since the inception of the movement within Judaism by followers of Jesus Christ. As Christianity grew and developed doctrinally into a religious system separate from Judaism, attitudes voiced by Church leaders, and particularly by the papacy, often determined the nature of the relationship between Christians and Jews, reinforcing or promoting popular perceptions and beliefs.

During the twelfth century, the papacy apparently encouraged commonly-held Christian and Jewish perceptions that the legendary Treasures of the Temple of Herod were in Rome, and used them to promote publicly the Church’s identification with the heritage of the biblical Jews, and to buttress papal power and authority. This dissertation focuses on a portion of that century, during which Popes Eugenius III (1145-53) and Alexander III (1159- 1181) reigned as popes. The Temple Treasures, as physical and symbolic elements intrinsic to the Covenant between the Jews and Yahweh, remained powerful and revered objects in the minds of both Christians and Jews. Throughout the Middle Ages the sculptures on the Arch of Titus in Rome reminded Roman Jews of the loss of both the Treasures and the Temple during the first-century CE war with Rome. Ecclesiastical ritual at St. John Lateran, and papal adventus processions through the city of Rome and the Arch of Titus reinforced Christian beliefs that the Church had inherited the heritage of biblical Judaism and superseded the Temple in validity.

Click here to read this thesis from Louisiana State University

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