International Medieval Congress, Leeds, UK, July 2002
Deeana Copeland Klepper

Jewish Expulsion and Jewish Exile in Scholastic Thought

Based on the rhetoric of certain kinds of documents– expulsion decrees and  chronicles, for  example– scholars sometimes assume that by the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, expulsion of the Jews from one kingdom or another was universally considered a laudable act, one which reflected well on a ruler and served as proof of his piety. When Elizabeth Brown, reconsidering the alleged expulsion of the Jews from France in 1322 needed to account for Philip V’s possible motives in such an expulsion, she suggested that, like other orders promulgated in the final year before his death,  the directive may have been issued as a means of ensuring his salvation. Jeremy Cohen’s work has conditioned us to think that this was so at least in part because Christian theology regarding the place of Jews in Christendom was changing,  moving away from Augustine’s Jew-as-witness toward a notion of Jew as dangerous heretic. The very fact that expulsions increase in the late thirteenth century seems to indicate a growing acceptance of the policy, and the conclusion drawn is that the Church must have found the practice desirable, or at least defensible.  Yet  expulsion very often resulted from jurisdictional conflicts rather than (as is often assumed) in response to usury, popular animosity, alleged ritualistic crimes, or as a result of the more vague category of “theological intolerance”.  When we look at scholastic writing from the period of the most devastating expulsions in the west in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, it seems that there was actually considerable ambivalence about the expulsion of Jews as a policy. Though individual French kings may well have felt that pursuing a policy of expulsion could benefit them in the afterlife, it is important to distinguish between the merit that might have accrued to them for cleansing a Christian kingdom of usury (most often the presumed crime and justification for expulsion in western Europe) and the idea that expelling Jews itself was a meritorious  act and desirable end.

Expulsion did not fit readily into the Christian understanding of Jewish exile which sat at the core of late medieval scholastic culture. Exile was considered  an ongoing, divinely ordained condition for the Jews--a condition entirely independent of geographical space--and there was concern as to how expulsion might relate to that condition. While Hebrew texts describe the experience of expulsion as a reenactment of an ongoing exile, as yet another episode in an ongoing dispersion, the Christians scholars I’ll be looking at today were careful not to look at expulsion through that lens. In order to demonstrate the difficult relationship between exile and expulsion in Christian thought,  I’d now like to turn to a few texts from around the period of the  expulsion from France in 1306: a legal opinion (Oldratus de Ponte), a scholastic quodlibetal question (Jacques de Thérine), and a Bible commentary (Nicholas of Lyra).

Oldratus de Ponte

Perhaps the best known legal discussion of expulsion, thanks to its edition and translation by Norman Zacour some years ago, is the brief fourteenth-century legal consilium of Oldratus de Ponte written at Avignon in the early part of the fourteenth century in the wake of the expulsions from France. (Remember that during this period Avignon was papal territory, and so the local Jewish community was exempt from the decree. Thus not only was the Avignon Jewish community safe, but Avignon also became a destination for Jews leaving other areas. Clearly the consilium must be read in the context of this influx.)  Oldratus asked specifically whether a prince has the right to expel Jews, using the occasion to distinguish between princely and  ecclesiastical power, and reconciling the Church’s continued embrace of Augusintian theology with the needs of secular rulers. Oldratus clearly assumed that usury (rather than general perfidy, host desecration, etc.) IS the reason for expulsion, and protection of Christian souls from this exploitation requires princely judgement. When talking about expulsion, Oldratus carefully avoided the language of exile or making any kind of connection with exile. He specifically used the verb “to expel” and when searching for biblical justification for expulsion it was not the divine punishment of “dispersion”, “captivity,” “affliction” or “desolation” of exile  that he cited, but rather the “casting out” of Hagar  (presented not by name but as “that serving woman from whom the Jews descend”). Drawing on one of the earliest images of Jews in the Christian tradition (a notion Paul introduced in the Epistle to Galatians), the Jews’ expulsion from Christian lands echoed the biblical conflict between master and servant. Just as Sarah found it necessary to cast out Hagar for her insolence and transgressions, so a contemporary Christian ruler might find it necessary to send away Jews previously allowed to live in the midst of Christian society.

The Glossa ordinaria -- an essential tool in any Christian study of the Bible during this period,--introduced Genesis 16 by explaining that in the mystical sense Hagar represented the earthly Jerusalem and the carnality of the old law while Sarah represented the heavenly Jerusalem and the promise of the new law. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, the cast-off son while Sarah waited for Isaac. Hagar/the Jews were born into servitude, Sarah/the Christians were born into the freedom of grace. Walter Cahn has noted a sudden and dramatic increase in the representation of the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael as an artistic motif in the thirteenth century. His argument -- that this new imagery reflects new attitudes about expulsion--helps strengthen and broaden the link between the image of Hagar and the expulsion of the Jews.  His presentation of a number of Paris Bibles with illuminated initials in Paul’s Epistles showing St. Paul himself casting  Hagar out may also serve to remind us of the blurring that often occured between the typological Jew as representative of Old Law and living Jews. Clearly, the identification of Hagar with the Jews, or at least with the Old Law, was as old as Christianity itself; what was new in the consilium (and perhaps in the art as well)  was the linking of the Hagar imagery to the expulsion of actual Jewish communities in the present.

The punishment of expulsion was imposed by an earthly ruler for specific infractions, but if we extend the biblical parallel, clearly there must be an assumption of divine approbation as well (In Genesis God tells Abraham, “listen to your wife”). Nevertheles, expulsion was not associated with the larger judgement of God in the captivity, and the Jews’ position in Christendom remained unchanged. Oldratus concluded that while clearly a prince must be allowed to send away the Jews when they pose a material or spiritual danger to the realm, the Church cannot and should not remove Jews from Christian society entirely, so that they might remain as witnesses for the truth of Christianity.  Throughout his determination on the legality of expulsion as a policy,  a distinction between expulsion and dispersion held firm.

Jacques de Thérine

Given the drama that surely surrounded the actual process of expulsion, it is interesting to see how little discussion it generated in scholastic literature. Scholars at the University of Paris, for example, not only witnessed the chaos of mass departure from the city like everyone else, they were also involved in gathering, evaluating, censoring, and sometimes burning Hebrew  books, presiding over trials of relapsed converts and so on. Yet Palémon Glorieux’s enormous collection of Parisian quodlibetal questions identifies just one question related to expulsion, that disputed by the (Cistercian) Master in Theology, Jacques de Thérine in December 1306, in the first disputational session following the expulsion of the Jews earlier that year. Jacques asked the question “whether Jews expelled from one land ought to be expelled from others.”  It is interesting to note that the author of this sole question, as we will see, was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of expulsion, though he conceded it may be legitimate in certain cases for the well-being of Christian souls.

Jacques was no stranger to controversy or to church-state wrangling over power and authority. He sat on the panel of Paris scholars presiding over the trial of the Templars in 1306 and would later participate in the dramatic trials of Marguerite Porete, Guiard de Croissonasart, as well as an anonymous “relapsed Jew” tried in 1309-1310. He was very well acquainted with the French royal court and seems to have been on good terms with the crown. There is no question but that expulsion in his mind was related to usury-- the only point introduced in favor of the proposition voiced the concern that if Jews were allowed to move to another area after having been expelled for usury, there was a danger that they would simply continue their usurious practices in this new place. (Jewish perfidy or unbelief were absolutely not among the reasons for expulsion in Jacques’ question, as he cited Jewish unbelief as actually having a positive effect upon Christian piety.)

But  in spite of the danger of usury, maintaing the Jews’ presence in Christian society, upholding their place in exile and looking forward to their eventual conversion was essential in Jacques’ mind. As in Oldratus’s concilium, there was  a clear distinction between expulsion and exile. Expulsion was a legal perogative, exile was a theological state of being. It is perhaps worth remembering here that while for Jews relief from exile meant ingathering and return to Zion, for Christians the relief of Jewish exile could mean only conversion to Christianity and absorption into the body of the Church.  Moving the Jews from one Christian land to another didn’t change the rules of the game, and while it could potentially impede the unfolding of Jewish and Christian destinies , it didn’t make any fundamental change in the landscape of exile. Certainly the experience of  expulsion in no way re-cycled the experience of captivity from the promised land. Dispersio meant being separated from God’s grace (cf. Glossa Ordinaria on Hagar), not moving from one geographical location to another.

After expressing the concern about usury mentioned above,  the argument offered against the proposition was that “we should imitate the ancient fathers who permitted the Jews to live among Christians.”  The response to the question was then built around six reasons why Jews are (and ought to be) permitted to live among Christians and must not be completely expelled:

1) to confirm Christian faith  as representatives of God’s first covenant 2) to serve as a continual remembrance of Christ’s passion 3) to perfect and fortify Christian faith (Christians through challenge become stronger. This includes miracles performed, such as miraculous hosts, etc.) 4) on account of the glory  and exaltation of Christ 5) on account of imitation of the fathers 6) on account of their final conversion.

Ultimately, said Jacques, it would NOT be expedient to expell the Jews completely. Jacques insisted that the Jews must not be completely expelled so that they might remain dispersed/ in exile . Throughout, Jacques is very clear in his use of language; human princes may “expel”, but words like “dispersion, captivity, desolation,” are only used to refer to the current theological state of the Jews. Thus the policy of a specific ruler does not impact on the state of exile; the suffering that may occur as a result of expulsion exists within the space of exile but does not directly impact upon it.

Nicholas of Lyra

Nicholas of Lyra was a Franciscan biblical exegete and Hebraist active in Paris from about 1300 until his death in 1349. He wrote the most widely used (and most frequently published) Bible commentary in Europe from the time of its composition at the beginning of the fourteenth century until its final edition in the early seventeenth. The commentary is noteworthy for its frequent use of post-biblical Jewish exegesis—particularly Rashi, who is cited on just about every page of the Old Testament and quite frequently in the New. A master in theology, Nicholas presided at the same high profile trials  as had Jacques de Thérine (the Templars and Marguerite Porete), and they surely knew each other. Nicholas remained above many of the conflicts  ravaging the Franciscan Order at that time, and seems to have made it through his entire life without getting into significant conflict with anyone (a major achievement for a prominent Franciscan in those days!) Philip Buc has demonstrated the very close connection  Nicholas maintained with the royal court in Paris and has found that contemporary political concerns often found their way into Nicholas’s exegesis:  In Nicholas’s writing, he argues, one finds   “a high degree of communication between the spheres of actual politics and scholastic  discourse.” (Krey & Smith, Nicholas of Lyra: The Senses of Scripture, 108)

 Nicholas was extremely active in the couvent de cordeliers (the Franciscan convent) and the university of Paris during the expulsions, readmissions, and renewed expulsions of the early fourteenth century. He was Franciscan Provincial minister of Burgundy during a time when Burgundy was receiving Jews forced out of Paris. One would expect to find that the expulsions impacted somehow on his commentary, written over a period of about 30 years in the midst of all this turmoil.  Yet explicit references to the expulsion(s) are absent from his commentary. Nicholas did comment on why contemporary Jews failed to convert, he wrestled continually in his writing with what he perceived as an apparent contradiction between Jewish exegetical insight and Jewish unbelief in Christian truth. So why with his experience of watching the exiles leave, particularly given his close connection with the Royal court and his almost certain involvement in going through the books of the departed Jews, did he not comment here?

The silence may have meant that expulsion from one western land or another had no particular relevance for Nicholas in considering the drama surrounding the fate of God’s first chosen people, a subject he addressed at great length throughout his writings. But it seems more likely that the silence may have come from a discomfort with the policy—a discomfort that, unlike Jacque de Thérine, his close ties with the court may have made him loathe to make public. Philip IV had, after all, expelled 80 friars in 1303 for siding with Pope Boniface VIII over him in their explosive confrontation. Without explicit discussion of the policy, we may still perhaps detect in his commentary on the expulsion of Hagar an implicit critique of the events of his day.

Nicholas of Lyra’s literal commentary on the Bible assumed knowledge of the Glossa ordinaria; Sometimes, like Rashi, his model, who discussed traditional derash before introducing his own peshat interpretation, Nicholas commented on traditional spiritual understandings of the text before presenting his own literal explanation. Given the way Nicholas operated, the text on the expulsion of Hagar would have been a likely launching point for a discussion of “casting out” or expulsion. But he did not pursue such a discussion. Because of his literal exegetical agenda, he was not interested in the old allegorical interpretation associating Hagar with the Jews and the Old Testament, yet he knew of this association and knew that his readers would have it in mind. But instead of commenting or making any kind of connection between the rejection of Hagar and the expulsion of the Jews, he concentrated on Hagar’s noble birth, understanding her (following Jewish traditions) to be either pharaoh’s daughter or one of his wives, and then turned to the family situation of Sarah, who could not conceive and who could therefore experience the status of parenthood only through adoption. Nicholas appeared far more interested in ancient parenting customs than in the relative chosenness of the two women, and he carefully avoided drawing any conclusions about Christian -Jewish relations from his models. At the key phrase: “Your servant is in your hand” he said only that this meant “in your power to castigate and humiliate as it seems appropriate to you.” There was no line drawn connecting this with the Christian castigation (expulsion) of Jews, although that notion appeared in the Glossa and Oldratus' consilium. So while on the one hand, we have only silence on the question of Jewish expulsion, perhaps indirectly Nicholas was speaking after all. Perhaps in Nicholas’s elevation of Hagar, his emphasis on her nobility  during a time when other Christian texts focused on her rejection and her servile status, we should see a commentary on Christian understanding of Jews and Jewish tradition, and perhaps a commentary on the expulsions as well.

Conclusion

It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of Jewish exile in Christian thought. The dispersion of the Jews following the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and Vespasian was understood as divine punishment for the rejection (not necessarily the killing) of Christ and therefore of God’s grace. By about 1100, the extraordinary length of the current exile became a common theme in Christian texts; a witness to the magnitude of the Jews’ crime. If the Babylonian exile, punishment for the horrible sin of idolatry and the killing of God’s prophets lasted less than 75 years,  Christian authors wrote, then how much greater must the second crime have been!  The historical fact of Israel’s exile was considered perhaps the greatest proof of Christianity; and though the exile had an original geographical component, it had come to be understood primarily as a spiritual state of alienation from God.

The language used in Christian discussion of  Jewish exile during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was dramatic and consistent and seems not to have been transferred to discussion of expulsion. Jacques de Thérine and Oldratus only used the word “expellere” with regard to modern Jews. It was only when discussing the exile as punishment for Christ’s death that Jacques turned to words like  dispersio and desolatio. The Jews were continually dispersed and desolate, even when living safely and prosperously among Christians—no more or less so when expelled. Exile was a specific spiritual state: outside God’s Grace—the heavenly Jerusalem represented by the Church-- all is essentially equal.  The expulsions left surprisingly little mark on scholastic discussion of exile, in part because whether the Jews experienced their punishment within one European realm or another was not particularly important. (If the expulsions left little mark elsewhere in scholastic writing, perhaps we may attribute that to the theologians' unwillingness to support the policy and the perceived risk of challenging the policy.) Whether or not there was a significant shift in the theological understanding of the Jew in the later Middle Ages (and I’m not convinced that was the case), it is clear that the Jew as witness to Christian truth remained an important concept in the age of expulsions. If necessary, it was  possible to reconcile this theology with the kind of localized expulsion reluctantly  supported by Jacques de Thérines – but the ideal was not a Christendom without Jews, merely a society where particularly corrupt Jews (that is, those who entangled Christians in usury) would be controlled. Rather than serving as a reminder of exile, expulsion was seen as a punishment for abusing the generosity of Christian society; it was not designed to alter the basic relationship between the Jews and Christendom. As  Hagar payed a terrible price for betraying the generosity of her mistress, so Jews who betrayed their masters’ generosity could be forced to pay a similar price.

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