Primary Texts on History of Relations

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POPE GREGORY I, "Letters on the Treatment of Jews" (591, 598) - excerpts

[From Jacob R. Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World, pp. 111-113.]

To Virgilius, Bishop of Arles, and Theodorus, Bishop of Marseilles, in Gaul (June 591):

Though the opportunity of a suitable time and suitable persons for writing to your Fraternity and duly returning your salutation has failed me so far, the result has been that I can now at one and the same time acquit myself of what is due to love and fraternal relationship, and also touch on the complaint of certain persons which has reached us, with respect to the way in which the souls of the erring should be saved.

Very many, though indeed of the Jewish religion, resident in this province [Rome], and from time to time traveling for various matters of business to the regions of Marseilles, have apprised us that many of the Jews settled in those parts have been brought to font of baptism more by force than by preaching. Now I consider the intention in such cases to be worthy of praise, and allow that it proceeds from love of the Lord. But I fear lest this same intention, unless adequate justification from Holy Scripture accompany it, should either have no profitable effect; or there will ensue further (God forbid) the loss of the very souls which we wish to save.

For, when any one is brought to the font of baptism, not by the sweetness of preaching but by compulsion, he returns to his former superstition, and dies the worse from having been born again.

Let, therefore, your Fraternity stir up such men by frequent preaching, to the end that through the sweetness of their teacher they may desire the more to change their old life. For so our purpose is rightly accomplished, and the mind of the convert returns not again to his former vomit. Wherefore discourse must be addressed to them, such as may burn up the thorns of error in them, and illuminate what is dark in them by preaching, so that your Fraternity may through your frequent admonition receive a reward for them, so far as God may grant it, to the regeneration of a new life.

To Victor, Bishop of Palermo (June 598)

Just as one ought not to grant any freedom to the Jews in their synagogues beyond that permitted by law, so should the Jews in no way suffer in those things already conceded to them.

To Fantinus, Administrator of Palermo (October 598)

A little while ago we wrote to Victor, our brother and fellow-bishop, that-inasmuch as certain of the Jews have complained in a petition presented to us that synagogues with their guest-chambers [for the poor and ailing], situated in the city of Palermo, had been unreasonably taken possession of by him-he should keep aloof from the consecration of them [as churches] until it could be ascertained whether this thing had actually been done, lest perchance injury should appear to have been alleged by the Jews of their own [ill] will. And, indeed, having regard to his priestly office, we could not easily believe that our aforesaid brother [Victor] had done anything unsuitably.

But, we found from the report of Salarius, our notary, who was afterwards there, that there had been no reasonable cause for taking possession of those synagogues, and that they had been unadvisedly and rashly consecrated. We therefore enjoin your Excellency (since what has once been consecrated cannot any more be restored to the Jews) that it by your care to see that our aforesaid brother and fellow-bishop pay the price at which our sons, the glorious Venantius the Patrician and Urbicus the Abbot, may value the synagogues themselves with the guest-chambers that are under them or annexed to their walls, and the gardens thereto adjoining. Thus what he has caused to be taken possession of may belong to the Church, and they [the Jews] may in no way be oppressed or suffer any injustice.

Moreover, let the books or ornaments that have been carried off be in like manner sought for. And, if any have been openly taken away, we desire them also to be restored without any question. For, as there ought to be no license for them to do anything in their synagogues beyond what is decreed by law, so neither damage nor any cost ought to be brought upon them contrary to justice and equity, as we ourselves have already written.