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POPE INNOCENT III, On the Jews and Forced Baptisms (1199, 1201, 1209)

 [First two texts courtesy of The Medieval Sourcebook]


Letter on the Jews (1199)

We decree that no Christian shall use violence to compel the Jews to accept baptism. But if a Jew, of his own accord, because of a change in his faith, shall have taken refuge with Christians, after his wish has been made known, he may be made a Christian without any opposition. For anyone who has not of his own will sought Christian baptism cannot have the true Christian faith. No Christian shall do the Jews any personal injury, except in executing the judgments of a judge, or deprive them of their possessions, or change the rights and privileges which they have been accustomed to have. During the celebration of their festivals, no one shall disturb them by beating them with clubs or by throwing stones at them. No one shall compel them to render any services except those which they have been accustomed to render. And to prevent the baseness and avarice of wicked men we forbid anyone to deface or damage their cemeteries or to extort money from them by threatening to exhume the bodies of their dead....


Constitutio Pro Judeis: An Edict in Favor of the Jews (September 15, 1199)

Although in many ways the disbelief of the Jews must be reproved, since nevertheless through them our own faith is truly proved, they must not be oppressed grievously by the faithful as the prophet says: "Do not slay them, lest these be forgetful of Thy Law," [Ps. 58 (59):12] as if he were saying more openly: "Do not wipe out the Jews completely, lest perhaps Christians might be able to forget Thy Law, which the former, although not understanding it, present in their books to those who do understand it."

Just as, therefore there ought not to be license for the Jews to presume to go beyond what is permitted them by law in their synagogues, so in those which have been conceded to them, they ought to suffer no prejudice. These men, therefore, since they wish rather to go on in their own hardness than to know the revelations of the prophets and the mysteries of the Law, and to come to a knowledge of the Christian faith, still, since they beseech the help of Our defense, We, out of the meekness proper to Christian piety, and keeping in the footprints of Our predecessors of happy memory, the Roman Pontiffs Calixtus, Eugene, Alexander, Clement, and Celestine, admit their petition, and We grant them the shield of Our protection.

For we make the law that no Christian compel them, unwilling or refusing, by violence to come to baptism. But if any one of them should spontaneously, and for the sake of faith, fly to the Christians, once his choice has become evident, let him be made a Christian without any calumny. Indeed, he is not considered to possess the true faith of the Christianity who is recognized to have come to Christian baptism, not spontaneously, but unwillingly.

Too, no Christian ought to presume, apart from the juridical sentence of the territorial power, wickedly to injure their persons, or with violence to take away their property, or to change the good customs which they have had until now in whatever region they inhabit.

Besides, in the celebration of their own festivals, no one ought to disturb them in any way, with clubs or stones, nor ought any one try to require from them or to extort from them services they do not owe, except for those they have been accustomed from times past to perform.

In addition to these, We decree, blocking the wickedness and avarice of evil men, that no one ought to dare to mutilate or diminish a Jewish cemetery, nor, in order to get short term money, to exhume bodies once they have been buried.

If anyone, however shall attempt, the tenor of this decree once known, to go against it - may this be far from happening! - let him be punished by the vengeance of excommunication, unless he correct his presumption by making equivalent satisfaction.

We desire, however, that only those be fortified by the guard of this protection who shall have presumed no plotting for the subversion of the Christian faith.

Given at the Lateran, by the hand of Raynaldus, Archbishop of Acerenza, acting for the Chancellor, on the 17th day before the Kalends of October, in the second indiction, and the 1199th year of the Incarnation of the Lord, and in the second year of the pontificate of the Lord Pope, Innocent III.


Papal Bull on Forced Baptisms (1201)

[From Alexis P. Rubin, ed., Scattered Among the Nations (Wall & Emerson, 1993), pp. 50-51.]

Assuredly, it is contrary to the Christian faith that one who is unwilling and totally opposed to [being baptized] be constrained to adopt and observe Christianity. For this reason, some make a distinction, which is valid, between those who are unwilling and those who are constrained. It is thus that he who is led to Christianity by violence, by fear, and by torture, and who receives the sacrament of baptism to avoid harm (even as he who comes falsely to baptism), receives indeed the stamp of Christianity and can be obliged to observe the Christian faith, even as he who expresses a conditional will, although in absolute terms he is unwilling. It is in this fashion that the decree of the Council of Toledo must be understood, which stated that those who previously had been forced to become Christians, as was done in the time of the most pious Prince Sisebut, and their association with the divine sacraments having been established, by the grace of the baptism received, they themselves having been anointed by the holy oil and having participated in the body of the Lord, must be duly constrained to abide by the faith they had accepted by force. However, he who has never consented, but has altogether opposed it, has received neither the stamp nor the purpose, for it is better to object expressly than to manifest the slightest consent. ...

Letter to the Count of Nevers (January 1209)

[From Solomon Grayzel, The Church and the Jews in the XIIIth Century – A Study of Their Relations during the Years 1198-1254 (New York: Hermon Press, 1966), p. 95.]


The Lord made Cain a wanderer and a fugitive over the earth, but set a mark upon him, making his head to shake, lest any finding him should slay him. Thus the Jews, against whom the blood of Jesus Christ calls out, although they ought not be killed, lest the Christian people forget the Divine Law, yet as wanderers ought they to remain upon the earth, until their countenance be filled with shame and they seek the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord. That is why blasphemers of the Christian name ought . . . to be forced into the servitude of which they made themselves deserving when they raised sacrilegious hands against Him Who had come to confer true liberty upon them, thus calling down His blood upon themselves and upon their children.