- Christogenea Saturdays
The Jews in Europe: The Reuchlin Affair Revisited, Part 2
In the first segment of our presentation from chapter 7 of The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit and its Impact on World History by E. Michael Jones, we saw how it was that Johannes Reuchlin, a trained lawyer and a man who in his own time was widely considered to be one of the greatest scholars in Europe – second only to Erasmus of Rotterdam – became infatuated with the Kabbalah and took upon himself the role as defender of the Talmud and the other anti-Christian writings of the Jews. However it is important to understand that this was only a part, although it was a significant and important part, of the much wider unrest within the Church itself in regard to literary and scientific studies. Jones had stated in the first part of this chapter that “Humanistic studies of the sort promoted by Erasmus of Rotterdam had suggested that a new day of Enlightened tolerance was about to dawn after the long night of scholastic obscurantism, and so the Jews were emboldened to act.”
It is readily evident that at this time the limitations which the institutions within the Roman Catholic Church had long imposed upon the study and publication of profane literature were being increasingly rebelled against by men within those Church institutions, and Erasmus was a leader in that struggle. In Part 3 of our series on Martin Luther in Life and Death, we had said the following about Erasmus:
“… the celebrated Catholic priest, Erasmus, was actually a humanist and not at all a Christian. In turn, Erasmus had fostered the development of an entire collection of fellow humanists inside the Catholic church organization in Germany….”
We have already seen, in the writings of students of Erasmus such as Mutian, that humanists were also basically ecumenists, professing the validity of all religions in the deception that all religions really worship the same god. Now we hope to exhibit how humanists were also apologists for the Jews, and had fully infiltrated the courts of the papacy and the bishoprics of the empire….
Then, summarizing all the evidence we had witnessed in support of those statements throughout the early portions of that same series of presentations, we said in Part 7, subtitled Luther and the Humanists, that:
In the earlier portions of this presentation, we have already discussed at length how Luther had fallen in with many of the noted German humanists while he was a young student at the university of Erfurt, where among his closest friends was the future noted humanist and so-called 'poet' called Crotus Rubianus. We saw that when Luther had decided to enter the monastery after a personal epiphany, many of his humanist friends had been shocked at his sudden piety and his turn to Christianity.
We had also discussed at length the humanism of the Catholic priest Erasmus, and how Erasmus had used his own name, position and notoriety to encourage and cultivate many of the young German humanists from inside of the Church itself. Another Catholic priest turned impious pagan humanist was Mutian, who was a Catholic prebendary and professor at Erfurt and who became the leader of the rather large group of humanists there. Mutian's group of humanists came to the very vocal and active support of Johann Reuchlin in the Reuchlin Controversy, which we had also discussed here at length.
We had also seen illustrated that the objectives of these humanists was to replace Christianity with immoral and pagan humanism within the church itself, and that they also promoted lasciviousness and all forms of immorality including even the promotion of perverted forms of sexual awareness among children….
Now, we cannot repeat all of the supporting evidence for those statements here now, which took many weeks to present here last year. However, as we have explained, now we are making a new examination of the Reuchlin Controversy from the somewhat enhanced perspective of E. Michael Jones, because we hope to expose in further depth the Jewish treachery which underlies the rise of humanism leading up to the Reformation.
As we have also seen attested, the fight to destroy the Talmud had manifested itself several times over the centuries, and most notably in the famous 13th century Disputation of Paris in which the Converso Jew Nicholas Donin was involved. However the Dominicans especially, even though it was for all the wrong reasons, had long wanted to force the Jews to dispose of their books, errantly believing that the books themselves were the source of inherent Jewish wickedness. We must forgive them to a degree for being blind to the issue of race and genetics, however the Spanish had in some degree come to recognize those issues several decades before Reuchlin.
Erasmus was a humanist, and while most humanists were apparently not Jews, the Jews benefited greatly from the humanist struggle within the Church by using men such as Reuchlin to attach to it their own struggle to keep the Talmud. Erasmus and the humanists, being ecumenists as well as pagans and esteeming all religions as having equal validity, readily accepted the Jews as partners in their struggle against the Church, and rallied to the support of Reuchlin. The bottom line seems to be this: that in spite of all of the faults of the Roman Catholic Church, the traditional Roman Catholics sought to uphold Christian morality in the face of pagan decadence, and were also against the Jews and their writings, even though they wrongly attributed Jewish wickedness to confession rather than race. But the pagan humanists promoted decadence, and were also friends and supporters of the Jews and defended their confession as well as their race. History has proven, that from the very beginning pagan humanists have allied themselves with the Jews in a partnership to recreate Sodom and Gomorrah atop the graveyard of traditional European Christianity. Parenthetically, we do not know how Erasmus and Reuchlin came to be esteemed as the two greatest scholars in the German Empire, but we can only imagine that the devils had something to do with that as well.
We had ended the first part of our presentation of this chapter and Jones’ discussion of the Reuchlin Controversy with a study of Reuchlin’s infatuation with the Kabbalah and other Jewish writings. This infatuation led Reuchlin to esteem the Jewish writings above the Christian, where Reuchlin went so far as to claim that the Bible could not be understood without the Jewish writings and a study of the Hebrew language. Now, we must agree with Reuchlin on the part concerning the language, and even extend that understanding to the Greek of Scripture as well. But we would confute Reuchlin’s idea that we need post-Christian Jewish literature, or that we need Jews at all, in order to facilitate those studies.
As Jones redacts his statements, Reuchlin went so far as to uphold the idea that:
Since "the Jews are our archivists, librarians and antiquarians, who preserve books that can serve as witnesses to our faith," Christians should "take care of the existing books, protect and respect them, rather than burn them, for from them flows the true meaning of the language and our understanding of Sacred Scripture."
Then Jones rather correctly concludes that:
One needn't be a learned theologian to see that Reuchlin was turning the Talmud into a meta-Scripture that would serve as the criterion of what was valid in the Bible. The hermetic texts had become the real Scriptures, and they were to be interpreted not by the Catholic Church, but by the nascent academic establishment, which had taken instruction at the feet of the rabbis in an atmosphere of quasi-Masonic hermeticism.
In response to that we had remarked of the naiveté of Reuchlin is astounding, and also how that same naiveté had preponderated amongst learned men of the time. We also suggested that because of such naiveté among the humanists, that the Jews would indeed come to rule over Christendom. The result which we see was inevitable even then. As a reading of Martin Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies clearly demonstrates, for most of his life Martin Luther shared that same naiveté, and only came to understand Jewish treachery and perfidy towards the end of his life, when it was too late for him to change course or even affect the permissive attitudes towards the Jews within the church that bore his name. Less than three years after the publication of his first tract warning his countrymen of the Jews, Luther was dead.
Here we shall commence with this chapter of Jones’ book, which is titled Reuchlin v. Pfefferkorn. Upon a supposed investigation of blasphemous Jewish books, Reuchlin could only find offense in two rather late tracts which, despite their use in Germany, were of little traditional significance to Jews. With that, Reuchlin took to defending the Kabbalah, the Talmud, which he had never read, and all the traditional Jewish writings, and then he had extended his opinions to far more than a mere defense, but even began promoting them to Christians. Being at the point where Reuchlin has gone so far as asserting that the Jews and Jewish writings should be the filter through which Christians should understand Scripture, as if Christians should learn about God only from the devil, Jones responds in protest to Reuchlin’s methods and motives by asking:
And who was to decide whether a particular Hebrew text was blasphemous or instead a "buried treasure"? The implication seems clear: only those who knew Hebrew were qualified to decide. The ultimate authority in the Church devolved upon those who had taken hermetic instruction from the rabbis, as had Reuchlin. Otherwise, "the Jews ought to be left in peace in their synagogues, and in the exercise of ceremonies, rites, customs, habits and devotions, especially when they do not go against what is right and do not manifestly insult our Christian church" because "the Christian church has nothing to do with them ... as long as the Jews keep the peace, they ought to be left in peace. And all this must be observed so that they cannot say that they are being forced and compelled to convert to our faith." 61 In an especially self-serving passage, Reuchlin recommended that the German universities should "hire for the next ten years two lecturers each, who would be capable and have the task of teaching students Hebrew and instructing them in this language.... If this is done, I doubt not that in a few years our students will be so well versed in the Hebrew language that they will be able to bring the Jews over to our side with reasonable and friendly words and gentle means." 62
[As we have already remarked, from a standpoint of doctrine Reuchlin was basically a Christian in name only. He was under the impression that the Kabbalah agreed with Christianity because the Kabbalah teaches that man can ultimately become a God. But quite to the contrary, Christ did not become a God, but instead, Christ was God who became a man. Reuchlin’s profession is therefore a Jewish profession and anti-Christ in its nature. Jones continues:]
Pfefferkorn gained access to Reuchlin's report and was outraged. Every scholar appointed to the commission had written in favor of Pfefferkorn's proposal, except Reuchlin. Pfefferkorn gave his interpretation of what had happened in Handt Spiegel (Hand Mirror), published in Spring, 1511. Pfefferkorn claimed "a fat Jew sat on his book," 63 which is to say, Reuchlin had been suborned by the Jews. "All," Pfefferkorn continued, "with the exception of Johannes Reuchlin, unanimously declared and wrote for Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit. His report alone ... supported the perfidy of the Jews rather than the Apostolic See and the most holy cause of our faith." 64 Pfefferkorn denounced Reuchlin as a "half-Jew" and a "Judas." 65 As a result of Reuchlin's recommendation, the emperor did not renew the mandate to confiscate the Jewish books. Reuchlin had killed the project, and Pfefferkorn was furious.
Pfefferkorn correctly claimed "the Jews bribed Christians in high places … and they filled the ears of the good Emperor with false advice, so that His imperial Majesty gave orders to restore the books to the Jews." 66 Pfefferkorn knew about the bribe Levi Zion gave the Margrave of Baden; he claimed that Reuchlin had been bribed also because the Jews had told him, "Reuchlin knows how to deal with you and oppose you.... They told me that they were in close contact with Reuchlin and very well informed about this matter." Pfefferkorn recalled the German proverb, "Die Gelehrten, Die Verkehrten," which is to say, "The learned are easily corrupted." 67
Pfefferkorn felt doubly betrayed because, on the basis of his private consultation with Reuchlin in 1510, felt he had nothing to fear from Reuchlin. "He treated me most cordially," he reported, "and expressed pleasure at my coming, and what is more he instructed me in what to do in the presence of the Emperor, of which I have proof in his own handwriting. Then when he had cleverly found out everything about the matter from me, he falsely reassured me and devoutly promised to write to me. He did no such thing, but instead traduced me in his report to His Royal Majesty, contrary to his promise and acting, most impiously .... And so he betrayed me, as Judas betrayed Christ."68 [We must note the reversal of roles, as Pfefferkorn is a Converso Jew and Reuchlin most assuredly a true German.]
Reuchlin was furious when he learned Pfefferkorn was privy to what he considered a confidential evaluation, meant only for the emperor's eyes. He accused Pfefferkorn of breaking the seal on his report and gaining illicit access. Reuchlin claimed Pfefferkorn was a pawn of the Cologne Dominicans. In 1518, Ortwin Gratius [eariler Jones had spelled it Ortuinus Gratius], a leader of the Cologne Dominicans, denied they bore any responsibility for the publication of the Handt Spiegel. Pfefferkorn was in Mainz when Handt Spiegel appeared at the Frankfurt book convention in April 1511. Taking Reuchlin's part in the controversy, Graetz [the heavily biased Jewish historian] also claimed Pfefferkorn was a pawn of the Dominicans, who concocted the scheme to confiscate the Talmud so they could extort money from the Jews. Since the Jews "could not do without the Talmud," they "would pour their wealth into Dominican coffers to have the confiscation annulled." 69 Graetz also claimed Pfefferkorn lured Reuchlin into "a cunningly devised trap," 70 but gives no evidence to support his claim.
The Dominicans accused Reuchlin of disingenuousness. The Jews' hatred for Christians was universally known; every Jew who had left Judaism could tell stories about it. Only a few Christians, "especially Johannes Reuchlin from Stuckarten" denied this hatred and would not admit that Jews prayed against Christians. Anyone who denied this knew nothing of Jewish scriptures; Reuchlin's admitted ignorance of the Talmud meant he had not written the document that appeared under his name. Reuchlin was handicapped in responding because he was caught in a contradiction. He claimed the Talmud was not pernicious, and yet he admitted he had never read it. The Dominicans pressed the issue, reminding Reuchlin that there weren't just two pernicious Jewish books, and that the Jews did not proscribe the two he mentioned. Quite to the contrary, the Jews read from Toledoth Jeschu every year at Christmastime in the hope that God would punish Jesus because of his false teaching.
After Pfefferkorn published Handt Spiegel, Reuchlin took his case to the emperor. Not content to wait for a legal verdict, Reuchlin joined battle in the realm of political publishing, newly created by the invention of the printing press. In late August or early September of 1511, Reuchlin issued his pamphlet Augenspiegel (Eye Mirror or Spectacles - an image of a pair of glasses was on the title page), which defended both Jewish books and his own integrity as a disinterested scholar. But, according to Graetz, Reuchlin was an avowed enemy of the circumcised. Reuchlin's writings were suffused with racism, including routine reference to Pfefferkorn as a "taufft jud," what the Spaniards would term a marrano or converso. [In our last segment we saw Jones use the phrase, and were not aware that he finally defines it here. He misspelled it as “tauf iud” on other occasions where he used it, so it is no wonder we could not find a translation. He evidently also misspelled it here, as it should apparently be “tauft jud”, which merely refers to a “baptized Jew”.] Reuchlin wanted to rescue the Jewish scriptures for the cabalists. Neither he nor his colleagues were fond of Jews. Indeed, their dislike of Jews did not stop even after the Jew became baptized. In this, they were less like their forbears of the crusades and more like their descendants of the Third Reich, who felt, as Edith Stein was to learn, that baptism did not erase Jewishness, because Jewishness was a racial phenomenon, not religious. Pfefferkorn complained bitterly and often about the racist remarks of professors and preachers, who, as fellow Christians, should have accepted him as a brother, but instead made remarks like "To trust a Jew is like putting a snake to your bosom, a burning coal in your lap, and a mouse in your pocket." 71 Pfefferkorn thought that way about Jews, too, but was offended that his fellow Christians thought that way about him after his baptism.
[It may be noted that these haters of the Jews would have been traditional Christian professors and preachers, rather than the pagan humanists. Jones seems to be accepting of Graetz’s charge that Reuchlin was a racist against the Jews, even though Jones himself had admitted previously that Reuchlin was more than eager to learn Hebrew and the Kabbalah “at the feet of the rabbis”, as he himself had put it. The two claims are seemingly contradictory, and we do not believe that Reuchlin was a racist at all. Continuing with our account:]
In November 1510, the theology faculty at the university of Cologne issued two reports responding to Reuchlin's letter to the emperor. The theologians reminded Reuchlin that the Talmud contained "not only errors and false statements, but also blasphemies and heresies against their own law." 72 [The traditional Roman Catholics errantly saw the Old Testament law as Jewish law.] For this reason, Popes Gregory and Innocent had "ordered the said book to be burned." The Talmud and the Caballah were "corrupt;" they were fundamentally different from and therefore did not "convey the intention of Moses' books and those of other [Hebrew] prophets and wise men." 73 Unlike Reuchlin, who sought to preserve the books to derive esoteric knowledge from them, the faculty at Cologne decreed that Pfefferkorn and the Dominicans were acting for the common good. That meant "it would be impious and irreligious to allow them the use of such books which they, who are mockers and blasphemers of the Lord Christ, might use to teach their children." 74 Proceeding against the Talmud was "in the interest of the Christian faith as well as of the Jews' salvation," 75 an idea that Reuchlin subverted when he said what Jews believed was none of their business. The Dominicans then reiterated the concerns articulated at the Fourth Lateran Council 300 years earlier:
it seems expedient to prevent the Jews from practicing usury and to allow them to take up honest work for a living, but let them be distinguished from Christians by a badge, and let them be taught in their own language by experienced converts about the true law and the prophets for the glory of God, their own salvation and the increase of the Christian faith. 76
[While the Fourth Lateran Council made this profession in the early 13th century, when the Jews were forcibly converted in Spain in the decades which followed, they were still not restricted from usury and forced into honest vacations, and every time Christians tried to force those things upon the Jews, they have failed. So ultimately, Luther’s solution was to take everything from them, books as well as property, and force them to live in open fields. That too, would have ultimately failed to rehabilitate the Jew. Continuing with Jones:]
The emperor was unmoved. He refused to order re-confiscation of the books. Reuchlin was wrong when he claimed the Talmud had never been burned, but he was right in claiming that the piety of his ancestors' generation exceeded that of his own. As we have seen, a new spirit was abroad, one which condoned blasphemy in the name of scholarship and disapproved of burning books as something that educated people did not do.
[Here it must be noted that if Reuchlin truly claimed in such a context that “the piety of his ancestors' generation exceeded that of his own”, then he must have been approving of the impiety of his own generation in order to accept its consequences. Accepting the idea that “burning books (w)as something that educated people did not do” goes hand-in-hand with the acceptance of progressivism as something good and modern, rather than as something wicked and destructive, undermining Christian society.]
The Jews were overjoyed by the emperor's verdict. Like their ancestors at the foot of Mount Sinai, the Jews made two images, "one of Johann Reuchlin in angelic form, like a prophet; the other, of Pfefferkorn, in the shape of a devil." 77 [So once again Jones accepts the lie, that the Jews are the Old Testament Israelites, when in fact the Jews are the Old Testament Canaanites and Edomites. He continues:] They danced around the images like pagans around a sacrifice, genuflecting to Reuchlin's image and sticking knives into Pfefferkorn's. Pfefferkorn and Hoogstraten were outraged by Jewish effrontery. "If the Jews are permitted to retain the books that have been taken from them by imperial mandate," Hoogstraten wrote, "they will be confirmed in their perfidy; they will insult Christians and cast in their teeth that the books would not have been restored to them by imperial edict if they were not true and holy." 78
Hoogstraten did not claim the Jews had bribed Reuchlin, but others did. Gregor Reisch, a Carthusian prior, made the claim, which is reported by Geiger. 79 Graetz said bribery was the charge that bothered Reuchlin the most, and he rejected it forcefully. Reuchlin admitted he had had dealings with Jews, but he was infuriated over the claim he had been bribed by the Jews: "I say therefore, by the highest faith, that in my entire life from the days of my childhood up to this hour that I have not received one nickel, not one penny, from the Jews, neither have I received gold or silver nor have I hope to." 80 "No Jew," he continued, "offered me rent, services or any kind of reward. And anyone who writes otherwise injures my honor and is a liar and a base villain." 81
Reuchlin's Augenspiegel caused an immediate sensation. Within a few weeks, it was read all over the Germanies. Pfefferkorn claimed the Jews rushed out to buy Reuchlin's book as soon as they heard it dealt with them favorably. But Geiger claims that once the Jews got their books back in 1510, they lost interest in the controversy. Graetz claims the Jews naturally saw Reuchlin as their champion and just as naturally promoted his book. They were pleased and dumbfounded "to find that so distinguished a man as Reuchlin would set an accuser of the Jews in the pillory as a calumniator and liar." 82 Having one of the most distinguished Christian scholars in Europe defend the Talmud left Jews rubbing their eyes in amazement. The Jews rushed out to buy Reuchlin's book, and, using their commercial connections, made it an instant bestseller, perhaps the first in history. "The Jews," according to Graetz, "greedily bought a book in which for the first time a man of honor entered the lists on their behalf.... They rejoiced at having found a champion ... Who would find fault with them for laboring in the promulgation of Reuchlin's pamphlet?" 83
In September 1511, Peter Meyer, a pastor in Frankfurt, allowed Pfefferkorn to preach a counter-attack on Reuchlin's pamphlet, something which outraged Reuchlin even more since Pfefferkorn was a married layman. The Dominicans were furious because Reuchlin had ruined their centuries-old campaign to convert the Jews; they demanded confiscation and destruction of any remaining copies of the Augenspiegel. Arnold von Tungern, a leader of the Cologne faction, wrote to the emperor complaining that the Augenspiegel was full of assertions promoting Judaism that would strengthen the Jews in their defiance of the Christian faith. Since Reuchlin boldly refused to retract his errors and countered with threats of his own, von Tungern concluded correctly that he knew that he had many supporters ready to protect him. Virtually the entire Humanist community had united behind Reuchlin, and out of that group would come many "Reformers," including Martin Luther and Ulrich von Hutten, who later wrote to Reuchlin pledging his support.
[To the contrary, Ulrich von Hutten was never a “Reformer”. As we had discussed at great length in our series on Luther, Hutten was an immoral pagan humanist, a licentious man who died of syphilis, who desired to undermine Roman Church authority and loot the Catholic clergy in the process. Like the other German humanists, he first rallied to Reuchlin’s cause, and then to Luther’s, looking only for a vehicle by which to achieve his own ends. While Luther may have been a humanist in many respects, he was nevertheless a true Reformer who sought to correct the Roman Church and only broke with it upon realizing that correction was impossible, during the indulgences dispute. It is our opinion that Jones, being a traditional Roman Catholic himself, is either ignorant of or apathetic to the real problems with the Medieval Church which helped to give credibility to the Reformation. Jones continues:]
By this point, the controversy had gone well beyond its initial impetus. Geiger says the affair began as a crusade against Jews, but the confrontation between humanists and scholastics soon eclipsed the original issue. [This was quite fortuitous for the Jews, because now they could benefit from the outcome without risking the danger of being seen as the center of the controversy. But the shift in focus, which occurred as the humanists rallied to the cause of the Jews on the side of Reuchlin, may not have been a coincidence. Continuing with Jones:] By 1511, he said, "the business of the [Jewish] books was over," and the intellectual battle began ... its character changed for this and assumed an essentially different form. There were barely any references to the books from that point on, and none at all to the Jews. At issue was the right to express one's opinion freely, to counter the inquisitorial fixation on heresy." 84 But the focus of the debate also shifted because Reuchlin, with images of the Spanish Inquisition fresh in his mind, felt that the charges of Judaizing were serious to the point of being life-threatening. As a result he wanted to guide the uproar into safer channels.
In September 1513, Jacob Hoogstraten summonsed Reuchlin to appear before the Inquisition in Mainz to defend himself against charges of heresy and Judaizing. If the issue, as Geiger claimed, was no longer the Jews, Hoogstraten was unaware of the change. "You," the Dominican wrote to Reuchlin
appeared before Christian readers as a champion of the perfidious Jews. And you made this impression also on the Jews themselves, who are hostile toward the Cross and the blood through which we have been purified and redeemed. As we hear, they read your tract, which has been written and published in our vernacular language, and disseminated it. Thus you have given them an opportunity to deride us more than ever, for they found that among Christians and especially Christians who had a reputation for great learning, you were the only one who spoke on their behalf and maintained and defended their cause. 85
The Dominicans got an order from the emperor allowing them to confiscate copies of the Augenspiegel and to burn them in public. The students at the university protested, but the confiscation continued, and all were to be burned on October 12, when an order halting the burning arrived. Pfefferkorn countered by publishing Brandspiegel (Burning Mirror), which Geiger calls "poisonous," demanding the Jews be expelled from Worms, Frankfurt, and Regensburg "forever." 86 Undeterred, Reuchlin appealed to the emperor, claiming that his opponents weren't theologians; they were theologists. The Cologne crowd were all slanderers. According to Geiger, Reuchlin gave as good as he got. Reuchlin's bitterness drove him to repeat the scurrilous stories about Mrs. Pfefferkorn's reputed sexual relations with the Cologne Dominicans. In June 1513 the emperor imposed silence on all parties.
In July, the theology faculty at the University of Louvain rendered its verdict. Cologne and Louvain would later become centers of the anti-Lutheran movement, and both considered themselves defenders of the faith. The theologians of Louvain concluded that Reuchlin's Augenspiegel had numerous errors, casting into question the orthodoxy of its author and promoting the cause of the Jews; therefore, all remaining copies should be confiscated and burned. The Cologne Theology faculty concurred in August. The theologians of Mainz followed suit shortly thereafter. The Augenspiegel was to be consigned to the flames. The theologians at Erfurt, a bastion of the new humanism and soon to go over to the Reformed camp, demurred. They found the pamphlet full of errors, but Reuchlin was not guilty because he never intended to publish it. The Augenspiegel was heretical, but its author was not a heretic, seemed to be their conclusion. [That sounds sort of like the Protestant motto, hate the sin, love the sinner.] In May 1514, a delegate from Cologne met with the theology faculty of the University of Paris to elicit their opinion. Louis XII, the French monarch, reminded the theologians there that St. Louis, his predecessor, had ordered the burning of the Talmud when he was king.
Recognizing the seriousness of the charges, Reuchlin employed a dual strategy to escape being burned at the stake. He engaged in a publicity campaign, enlisting the support of prominent writers like Erasmus and experienced publicists like Ulrich von Hutten, and he also waged a legal battle. He issued a public statement against "the Cologne slanderers" while pursuing a legal challenge to Mainz's jurisdiction over his case. He used the press to reformulate the issue from the dangerous charge of Judaizing, redirecting it to the safer issue of academic freedom. Reuchlin portrayed himself as a learned preservationist who wanted to keep the obscurantists [meaning those who would obscure literature contrary to perceived Christian doctrine, as Erasmus also used the term] from consigning valuable historical documents to the flames. Reuchlin portrayed his battle with Pfefferkorn as a contest between "scholars, who respected books as cultural witnesses," against boors, who had no appreciation for them. 87 [Here Jones credits Reuchlin with commanding the Humanists to his cause, where the impression we got from our histories was that the Humanists, upon discovery of it, had rallied to Reuchlin’s cause.] More specifically, "it pitted Reuchlin the humanist against Pfefferkorn and his supporters, the scholastic theologians of Cologne." 88 This implied that the study of ancient languages had priority over Aristotelian logic [referring to the dialectic methods of the Medieval theologians], which was a controversial assertion, but nowhere as controversial as the claim that Reuchlin was a Judaizer. Pfefferkorn and the Dominicans fought an uphill battle to portray themselves as the champions of orthodoxy fighting Judaizing heretics because large segments of the intellectual establishment thought humanistic letters more palatable than scholasticism, which they disdained as moribund.
Reuchlin's strategy was apparent from the opening lines of his Defensio Contra calumniatores suos Colonienses: "their speech is rustic and barbarous; they are inexperienced in the Latin language and disgusted with humanistic studies." 89 Reuchlin launched an ad hominem attack on Pfefferkorn as someone "who is ignorant of theology and law, inexperienced in literature, and knowing no book written in the Latin language." 90 Although Pfefferkorn knew no Latin, his knowledge of Hebrew was superior to Reuchlin's, a charge Reuchlin attempted to deflect by saying Pfefferkorn, who was "equipped only with some childish, trite Jewish stuff undertook to write against me and published a slanderous book in German, full of invented charges." 91 That "trite Jewish stuff," though, was not insignificant: the discussion began as a dispute over the content of books written in Hebrew, books Reuchlin had apparently not read. [It was documented earlier, that Reuchlin had never actually read the Talmud.] Pfefferkorn then raised the bigger question, which echoed unresolved throughout the Realist vs. Nominalist debate since before Huss: "Learning," Pfefferkorn replied, "is no defense against the charge of depravity. All the heretics are proof of this, for they were always the most learned men." 92
As an integral part of his ad hominem attack on Pfefferkorn, Reuchlin rolled out one racial slur after another, referring to Pfefferkorn as "that Jew sprinkled with water." 93 Reuchlin and his humanist allies routinely referred to Pfefferkorn as the "tauf iud," a slur that simultaneously maligned Jews and the sacrament of baptism. The frequency of this slur indicated that the rise of racism in Europe and the decline of the Catholic faith, specifically skepticism about the efficacy of the sacraments, were one and the same thing. Gone were the days when the howling mob would chase the Jew to the baptismal font and then let him walk away unharmed through the very same mob, like Moses dry-shod through the Red Sea, after becoming a Christian.
[Sadly, the Humanists understood what the Roman Catholic Church had failed to come to terms with during the Spanish Inquisition, when even Isabella had to put the pope in his place: that Jewish treachery is a matter of their race, and not of their confession. Because the Church adopted a policy concerning baptism which was actually anti-Christian and contrary to nature, it suffered ridicule. It would not have suffered that ridicule if it had kept to the Gospel of Christ over the doctrines of men.]
Willibald Pirckheimer came to Reuchlin's defense in 1517, about the time Luther nailed his theses to the door in Wittenberg. An initial supporter of the Reformed cause, Pirckheimer became quickly disillusioned with Luther's ruthless politics and the pillaging of the monasteries for political gain; he returned to the Catholic faith. [Pirckheimer was a highly educated Renaissance humanist at Nuremberg, a lawyer and a translator of classical Greek and Latin texts into German.] In defending Reuchlin, Pirckheimer mounted an attack on Pfefferkorn by casting doubt on the efficacy of his baptism, and by extension the sacrament itself, which was suddenly powerless when faced with racial characteristics deeply ingrained in Jews. To strengthen his case, Pirckheimer referred to recent events in Spain,
which will serve as a warning to us not to trust in extemporized and feigned conversions. It would have been much better for the so-called marranos to stay with their native perfidy than to simulate true religion and be Judaizers in secret. For we had several examples of what we can expect from these inveterate sinners who have been badly converted. The emperor ... wanted to indicate that converted Jews have as much in common with pious Christians as mice with cats. 94
[To quote from a paper at Christogenea entitled Baptism – In What?: It is observed at Matt. 23:15 that the Pharisees were proselytizing (“converting”) all sorts of people into Judaism. It seems that after the absorption of the Edomites into Judaea recorded by Josephus (i.e. Antiquities 13:9:1) and Strabo (16.2.34) and explained by Paul (Romans chapters 9 to 11), that anything became possible. Baptism – not the cleansing of one who was already an Israelite, but rather seen as the mystical metamorphosis of one who was not – was an important part of such proselytizing. John Lightfoot, the 17th century cleric, in volume 2 on pages 55 to 63 in A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, explains the details of this proselytizing: “Whensoever any heathen will betake himself, and be joined to the covenant of Israel ... and take the yoke of the law upon him, voluntary circumcision, baptism, and oblation, are required ... ‘If an Israelite take a Gentile child ... or find a Gentile infant, and baptizeth him in the name of a proselyte – behold, he is a proselyte’ ... First, You see baptism inseparably joined to the circumcision of proselytes ... Secondly, Observing from these things which have been spoken, how very known and frequent the use of baptism was among the Jews, the reason appears very easy why the Sanhedrim, by their messengers, inquire not of John concerning the reason of baptism, but concerning the authority of the baptizer; not what baptism meant, but whence he had a license so to baptize, John 1:25...” and Lightfoot goes on to explain that once a proselyte was baptized he was considered “an Israelite in all respects”, the same attitude that all of the so-called ‘churches’ have today, taking anyone at all in off the streets and baptizing them as ‘Christians’! Yet it is evident that John did no such thing, for he wouldn’t baptize a viper: Matt. 3:7, Luke 3:7.
To this very day, unbeknownst to most Christians, the mikvah or ritual bath is a part of the religious ritual which must be undergone by converts to Judaism. It is clearly the leaven of the Pharisees which Christ had renounced. A bath in water does not change one’s inherent nature, but the early Roman Catholic Church had adopted such an idea from the Jews. In contrast, in Acts chapters 11 and 15 the apostle Peter attests that the Holy Spirit had come upon those hearing and accepting the Word of God without such a baptism, and as Christ Himself attested, that was the true Christian baptism. The Roman Catholic Church deserves ridicule for following the Jews instead of Christ, but the Humanists used the Church error to their own advantage. Quite oddly, in spite of this realization by the Humanists the Protestant denominations which came out of the Reformation all maintained the same basic doctrine concerning baptism that the Roman Catholic Church had upheld. Continuing with Jones:]
The humanists cheerfully joined forces [with Pirckheimer] to promote similar racial views. Pirckheimer is outraged that Pfefferkorn referred to Reuchlin as a "semi-Jew," but his outrage is purely racial. To Pirckheimer, the Jew is a function of his biology; and in this he agrees with the Jews who reminded Christ they were "sperma Abraamu." [Like the Jews and the Medieval Christians who followed them, Jones must also think that Christ needed correction. But reading John chapter 8, Christ actually refutes them all. They may have been of the seed of Abraham, but their lineage came through Esau rather than Jacob, for which reason they were also children of the devil, as Esau was a fornicator. To understand the refutation of the Jews’ claims by Christ, one must understand what he said in Luke 11, what Paul explained in Romans 9, and the inter-testamental history of Judaea recorded by Flavius Josephus and briefly corroborated by Strabo.] Pfefferkorn, though, innocently represented the traditional Catholic position by claiming that biology was irrelevant. The real issue, which the humanists tried to obfuscate and ignore, is that Reuchlin was a "demi-Jew" because of his Judaizing positions, not because of his DNA. The humanists, prey to the racism that had just reared its ugly head, chose not to see things that way.
[Jones also seems to be representing the anti-Christian and traditional Catholic position which claims that biology is irrelevant. But did the humanists really feel that way, or were they rather latching onto any device possible by which to insult and discredit their adversaries, which was certainly the method they had used in all of their diatribes against their enemies, whether they be Converso Jews, the Pope, or even the Dominican monks. How could the humanists really be racists, if they took to defending Reuchlin for his defense of the Jewish books long before they began their derisive attacks on Pfefferkorn? Continuing with Jones:]
"Reuchlin's numerous friends," Graetz writes, referring indirectly to Pirckheimer, "were indignant at the insolence of a baptized Jew, who pretended to be more sound in faith than a born Christian in good standing." 95 Graetz's refusal to see the term "baptized Jew" as something of a contradiction in terms demonstrates that he shared the racial prejudices of the humanist establishment. Erasmus said of Pfefferkorn that "he could not have done a greater service to his fellow believers [sic, i.e., the Jews], than by making use of the hypocritical ruse of becoming a Christian in order to betray Christianity." 96 "This half Jew," Erasmus continued, "has done more damage to Christianity, than the whole pack of Jews together." 97 Pfefferkorn was theologically correct to refer to Reuchlin as a "half-Jew" because of Reuchlin's Judaizing, but Erasmus was guilty of nothing but racism when he leveled the same accusation against Pfefferkorn. He too was casting aspersions on the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism. "Now that he has put on the mask of the Christian, he truly plays the Jew. Now at last he is true to his race. They have slandered Christ, but Christ [sic, not] only. He raves against many upright men of proven virtue and learning." 98 This muddled racist thinking indicated a precipitous decline in the faith of the sort that would become manifest when the Reformation broke out a few years later.
[The Jew Heinrich Graetz clearly understood that the baptized Jew was still a Jew, as the Spanish had also learned the hard way, but Jones evidently thinks that it is evil for either a Jew or a Christian to recognize the realities of nature.
If Erasmus was exhibiting racism in this instance, why would he refer to Jews as Pfefferkorn’s “fellow believers”? And why would he refer to Pfefferkorn as a “half-Jew”, and not a Jew entirely? Rather, it seems that the accusation Erasmus is making is that Pfefferkorn is a false convert, as the labels he uses are not truly racial in nature. Erasmus is only returning to Pfefferkorn the same language that Pfefferkorn used against Reuchlin, and insinuating that Pfefferkorn is a false convert operating on behalf of the Jews.
Neither were Pirckheimer’s remarks truly racist, since he used the analogy in reference to cats and mice in the context of Converso Jews who claimed to be Christian but who were secretly practicing Judaism, as was the experience in Spain, which he cited “as a warning to us not to trust in extemporized and feigned conversions.” The remark cited makes no mention of the possibility of sincere conversions. Jones needs much more evidence to substantiate his claims of racism.
It almost seems as if Jones is looking for racism so that he may characterize racism as an anti-Christian idea, and attribute that to the Jews as well. He then goes so far as to blame disaffection with the Roman Catholic Church on racism! In truth, God is a racist and it is unfortunate that the Germans were not. If the Germans were racists, they would have followed Luther’s advice when he published On the Jews and Their Lies, but they did not. Continuing with Jones:]
In a letter to Pirckheimer, Erasmus said Pfefferkorn's actions show he is "a Jew and a half whom no kind of misdeed could make worse than he already is." 99 Erasmus then adds rash judgment to his offenses against Pfefferkorn, intimating Pfefferkorn "chose to be baptized for no other reason than to be in a better position to destroy Christianity, and by mixing with us, infect the whole people with his Jewish poison. For what harm could he have inflicted, if he had remained a Jew? But now that he has put on the mask of the Christian, he truly plays the Jew. Now at last he is true to his race." 100 The irony of intellectual lights like Erasmus supporting anti-Semitic Christian Judaizers was not lost on Pfefferkorn, the orthodox Jewish convert, and it saddened him.
Even the mere recognition of race does not make Erasmus a racist, since his attacks were not on Pfefferkorn’s race but on the sincerity of his conversion. What Erasmus was doing was using a straw-man argument, and accusing Pfefferkorn of what Reuchlin was actually guilty of as a means of deflecting criticism of Reuchlin for Judaizing. But Erasmus was hardly guilty of racism. It was the goal of Erasmus to end what he had called the obscurantism of the Roman Catholic Church, so that he and his fellow humanists could satiate their desire for profane and often immoral literature. If the Dominican monks prevailed over Reuchlin, the cause of the pagan humanists like Erasmus would suffer as well, and since Pfefferkorn was their mouthpiece he was suffering the ire of Erasmus. But here Jones continues to perpetuate his false accusations of racism:
Reuchlin continued his racial attack on Pfefferkorn throughout Augenspiegel, feigning outrage at how "that Jew, baptized with water, rose up in the church, a married layman before the congregation of faithful, that is, before the assembled church and preached about the word of God and the Christian faith in an authoritative manner, he - a butcher and an ignoramus - blessed the people with the sign of the Cross." 101 Reuchlin's reference to Pfefferkorn as a "butcher" shows his familiarity with the slanders the Regensburg Jews had promoted against Pfefferkorn. The reference also shows that he was not averse to stooping to their level.
[Even here, the basis for Reuchlin’s criticism was the fact that Pfefferkorn was married and a layman, and according to the Catholic orthodoxy of the time, he should not have taken the pulpit. So Reuchlin’s appeal to Pfefferkorn’s being a Jew is in the context of an insinuation that his conversion was not sincere because of his transgression of the tradition. That is not necessarily racist.]
One commentator noticed "the irony inherent in the fact that [the Cologne Dominicans] supported Pfefferkorn, an ethnic Jew, while manifesting paranoid fear of all things Jewish." 102 But the irony is illusory: there is no contradiction. The Dominicans believed in the sincerity of Pfefferkorn's conversion, and as a result did not consider him a Jew. The humanists, though, had no qualms about casting aspersions on the efficacy of the sacrament of baptism, engaging in racial slurs, and throwing their lot wholeheartedly in with a Judaizer.
[And here is Jones’ true bias. Jones characterizes the attacks of the Humanists on Pfefferkorn as racist, because Jones believes in the Catholic Church claims concerning the efficacy of baptism. But the criticisms of the Humanists are not racist in the sense which Jones imagines. If they were racists, how could they have been found supporting Reuchlin in the first place? The humanists are only attacking the sincerity of Pfefferkorn’s conversion (yet Christians saw all Jews as equally treacherous because of their confession, not because of their race), and for that reason Erasmus accused him of being in league with his “fellow believers”. Strange it is, that Jones could characterize Reuchlin as a racist, when he had advised that the Universities hire rabbis to assist in the study of Scripture and language. Continuing with Jones:]
After Hoogstraten demanded that Reuchlin appear before the Tribunal in Mainz, Reuchlin panicked and tried to get the trial moved to the more sympathetic papal court at Speyer. He wrote in Hebrew to Bonet de Lates, the pope's Jewish physician, asking him, who "moves daily in the private chambers of the pope and whose body is in his care,"103 to influence the pontiff to remove the case from the jurisdiction of the Dominicans at Mainz. Both Geiger and Graetz consider the letter conclusive evidence that proves Reuchlin conspired with the Jews. [Even if he did not, the letter shows that Reuchlin was hardly a “racist”.] "Had the Cologne contingent read the letter," writes Geiger, the milder and less ideological of the two Jewish historians, "then they would have had fresh ammunition added to their charge that Reuchlin was a Judaizer, because Reuchlin was even more fawning toward Bonet de Lates than the usual Hebrew epistolary style demanded. No German Christian had ever written to a Jew in terms like this before." 104 Reuchlin added that he had defended the usefulness of the Jews' books and so had drawn the hatred of the Cologne crowd. Reuchlin ended by saying that he did not fear a papal verdict, only being dragged into a court under the influence of the Dominicans.
Graetz confirms that Reuchlin had "secret intercourse with the rabbis." 105 He cites Reuchlin's letter in Hebrew to Bonet de Lates as an attempt "to win over Leo X [Giovanni de Medici] so that the trial might not take place in Cologne or its vicinity, where his cause would be lost." 106 Reuchlin told Bonet de Lates in great detail "how only his extraordinary efforts had saved the Talmud from destruction" in a particularly damning fashion, even to someone like Graetz, who was heavily prejudiced in his favor. "Had the Dominicans been able to get a hold of and read this letter," Graetz says, "they could have brought forward incontestable proof of Reuchlin's friendliness towards the Jews, for in it he wrote much that he had publicly denied." 107 Reuchlin, in other words, used his position on the commission to advance the cause of the Jews, and now he was citing this service in his letter to the pope's Jewish physician, and asking for payment - if not in money, then certainly in services. Given this frank demand for quid pro quo, Graetz finds it "natural that Bonet de Lates brought all his influence to bear in favor of Reuchlin.” 108
Bonet de Lates must have been especially effective. Reuchlin's case was transferred to the Bishop of Speyer in November 1513, and there Hoogstraten lost his case the following April. All charges of heresy against Reuchlin were dismissed; Hoogstraten was found guilty of slander and ordered to pay a fine or face excommunication. The Dominicans raged when the judgment was announced. When the verdict was announced in Cologne, Pfefferkorn ripped it from the wall and tore it into pieces.
Shortly after the verdict, Pfefferkorn responded with another pamphlet, Sturm Glock or Storm Warning or Storm Bell. In it, Pfefferkorn referred with retrospective satisfaction to the condemnation of Augenspiegel issued by the theology department of the University of Paris. He also left no doubt about the magnitude of the danger for the entire church that Reuchlin represented as the head of a new heretical movement. Pfefferkorn claimed Reuchlin was a new Huss, encouraged and paid for by the Jews, whose followers could do more harm to the church than any external enemy. Reuchlin was the real demi-Jew. Reuchlin, the Judaizer, should be feared because from his movement would spill disorders that would make the Hussite wars of the 15th Century look like a picnic by comparison. 109
In response to Sturm Glock, Reuchlin published a self-serving anthology of letters of support he had received entitled Clarorum virorum epistolae, Letters of Famous Men, in which he predicted that when the scholastic theologians were done with him, they would "gag all poets, one after another." 110 Other humanists embraced Reuchlin's interpretation and began a letter-writing campaign to mobilize public opinion against the Dominican theologians.
We have already seen in our presentations of the career of Martin Luther that the Humanists would abandon Reuchlin, who ultimately lost his case but only suffered token punishment, and take up the cause of Luther. But Reuchlin despised Luther and remained a Catholic, which even caused him to become estranged with his own nephew and protege, Philip Melanchthon. While Reuchlin was not the vehicle, the humanists which rallied to Luther’s cause continued to side with the Jews, and the Jews ultimately saw the Reformation as a blessing to their own aspirations, and they initially admired Luther.
We have one more segment before we conclude Jones’ chapter, and move on to hopefully discuss the greater consequences of the relationship between the Humanists and the Jews.