Commentary Magazine


The Foot of Pride, by Malcolm Hay

Christians Against Jews
The Foot of Pride.
by Malcolm Hay.
Beacon Press. 352 pp. $3.75.

 

Malcolm Hay has devoted most of a busy life to analyzing and deflating legends which have given rise to religious prejudice. The present book discusses the well-circulated superstitions which for many centuries have fanned Christian hatred of the Jew. No one will read it for pleasure, and we may doubt that many of those who might read it for profit will do so.

But Hay is a reputable scholar and his bibliography is extensive, though weak in German literature particularly. This book, perforce selective, is a review of anti-Semitic writings by professed Christians rather than a history of the mighty duel which has been engaged in by the two groups, though bits of the chronicle are sandwiched in to orient the reader.

After a somewhat perfunctory summary of conditions in ancient Rome, and a reference to the Johannine Gospel, Hay presents the first virulent Christian anti-Semite, St. John Chrysostom, who gave stature to the notion that the Jewish people were responsible for the death of Christ and therefore destined to be a living object lesson ever after. No such view had been held in apostolic times. But whereas Chrysostom seems to have been motivated primarily by a desire to prevent fraternizing between Jews and Christians, vulgar writerssome of them in high station—served quite different purposes after the dawn of the Middle Ages. Millions as a result began to believe that Christian boys were murdered for ritual purposes, that consecrated hosts were stolen from tabernacles so that the body of Christ might be tormented anew, and that treating a Jew with kindness and courtesy was an act of religious treason. Belief inevitably led in an emotional time to action, and so there came into being the dread sequence of medieval pogroms, no doubt the most ignoble of Christian betrayals of Christian teaching. Hay’s analysis of how a charge of “deicide” led to wild efforts to avenge such a crime is succinct but good. One should not contend that all this lies in the dead past and that modern Christians are brought up on different fare. Of course many of them are. Today no reputable theologian would repeat the anti-Semitic fables of the Middle Ages, but unfortunately the theological knowledge of many Christians (and Jews) is no better than their spelling and arithmetic.

Hay is at any rate able to follow the development of literary comment which had its roots in the prevalent doctrine about Judaism and in the social situation then existing. Western Europe was at least nominally Catholic, and a clergy which took its missionary tasks seriously found it difficult to believe that the Jews resisted conversion because of honest religious conviction. The term perfidis Judaeis (perfidious Jews), which had early appeared in a prayer which is part of the Good Friday liturgy, was therefore used not in its original sense—that is, “without faith”—but in a new one, namely “treacherous.” The end of the Middle Ages did not, however, bring about a notable change. Indeed, if one compares the efforts of St. Bernard, who preached against the massacres of Jews by mobs aroused to the pitch of fever by propaganda for the Crusades, or Pope Innocent III, with the Reformers or the leaders of the Counter-Reformation, one is inclined to feel that the situation deteriorated. That for a time the Christian world pursued witches rather than Jews afforded, it is true, a diversion.

A less naively religious modern time proceeded to confer luster upon a less theological series of anti-Semitic assumptions. Indeed, when Hitler was ready to embark upon his career of genocide, it was a great Catholic prelate, Cardinal Faulhaber of Munich, who rose to oppose him. The Cardinal, incidentally, is not mentioned by Hay. Hitler and the vast army of those who supported or agreed with him, in all the countries of the world, were not interested in whether the Jews had murdered Christ or in why they were so difficult to convert. Their contention, apart from crude prejudices embosomed in pseudo-biology, was that while Jews had an undercover grip on high finance, they were also the originators and apostles of Bolshevism. That Communism and all its affiliates are inspired by Jews is today the great Gentile mirage. Did not Karl Marx write Das Kapital?? We must unfortunately understand that for many Christians Felix Frankfurter is the begetter of Alger Hiss, and Trotsky the secret soul of Stalinism.

Hay adds nothing to the discussion of the Nazi perversion, but deals very effectively with some of its precursors, who to be sure did not anticipate Auschwitz. Hilaire Belloc’s The Jews, the only anti-Semitic tract in English by a writer of talent, is shown to be derived from the writings of Edouard Drumont, instigator and propagator of numerous alleged Jewish “conspiracies.” Had Belloc written his book merely to report “what many people say about Jews”—instead of himself subscribing to the legends—he might have rendered some service. For the basic contemporary canards are all here. The “conspiracies” are accounted for by Jewish characteristics as diverse as the absence of a Jewish peasantry and the lack of a Jewish military tradition.

Israel is accepted by Hay with joy, in part because it proves that Jews can be farm workers and soldiers, and he spends some time reviewing Christian opposition to Zionism. It appears that admiration for the Arabs and poorly disguised contempt for Jews were more prevalent in England than in the United States. At any rate, the collection of barbed comments which Hay provides is nasty enough. Still it does not follow that many non-Jews who viewed Zionism critically were at bottom anti-Semitic. When Hay writes that the “gates of Israel are open to all who wish to enter; the Shield of David will protect them, and their children,” he is voicing a hope which not a few will share who cannot rid themselves of fears that this may not be so.

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When one has allowed the long and bitter story of Christian cruelty towards Jews to unfold, one cannot help feeling that it is uniquely horrible. Read what the otherwise gentle poet, Edmund Spenser, suggested be done with the recalcitrant Irish. Ponder the fate of the Japanese converts to Christianity made by Francis Xavier. Or review the story of the pillage of Silesia in 1945. Yet these seem episodic in their horrible way, whereas the infamy suffered by the Jew has been chronic. Nevertheless, thank God, it would be possible to write another book about the persistent efforts of many Christians to dam up the waters of hatred with love. Hay does not ignore them. He adduces St. Bernard, Léon Bloy, Charles Péguy, and others. There are many others.

Religious controversy between Christians and Jews, regardless of the fact that it has now become argument between several kinds of Christians and Jews, is unavoidable. It is merely to be hoped that the discussion can be conducted without venom, hate, and fiction. That few are aware of the long irenic tradition, though it is as old as St. Paul and as modern as Louis Finkelstein, is deplorable. Hay does not adduce the two greatest modem English Catholic theologians, Cardinal Newman and Baron von Huegel, who for all their fervent commitment to Christian teaching spoke of Judaism with respect. And how many of us recall that in Germany itself there was nobility? The German Catholic Center Party had from its inception in the mid-19th century a program directive to uphold and defend the rights of Jewish fellow citizens, and it was faithful to that directive until it was suppressed. Nor was there anywhere during the hectic years that followed the First World War a man who op posed anti-Semitism with greater vigor and conviction than did Ernst Troeltsch. I mention these, and wish I could add many more, because it seems to me that the story of a great hate should not lead one to forget the possible narrative of a great effort to mitigate that hate. Let me add, however, that I wish I could be as sanguine about the course of future history as Hay seems to be. I prefer to pray that American democracy may be the soil in which Christianity and Judaism may grow in amity.

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