Monday, 31 January 2011

A traditional Catholic theologian on sex in marriage - Part 1

Cross-posted at Reggie's Reviews

Further to my recent post on casuistry, here is a sample of a traditional Catholic moralist's teaching on sex in marriage.  It is taken from Giovanni Maria Chiericato (Joannes Clericati), Decisiones de Matrimonio, Venice 1716, XXXVIII.11.  The translation is mine.  I have changed the format of the text to make it more easily readable, and I have removed a number of references to other works.

These are the main themes of Chiericato's work:

1.  It is somewhat technical and legalistic, and is written with a view to assisting priests in hearing confessions.  In these respects, it is typical of traditional Catholic moral theology.

2.  It affirms that marital sex is a good thing.  Marital sex is ordained by God and forms an inherent part of the marriage relationship.  It is an act of justice and charity.

3.  However, it must be done for the right reason.  This principle derives from the Aristotelian idea of fulfilling one's telos or purpose and the notion that what is natural is good.  These ideas permeate Catholic sexual morality.  The result is that, while taking pleasure in having sex with one's spouse is not an inherently bad thing, it can be bad if it forms the sole or main purpose of the act.

4.  The primary object of marital sex is to produce children for the glory of God.  This is not the only object of the act, however: in particular, it is sufficient if the spouses have sex purely in order to avoid the temptation of looking for sexual satisfaction elsewhere.

5.  A spouse is bound to have sex if the other spouse requests it, with certain exceptions.

Here is the translation:

The first question is whether marital intercourse is a good deed

It seems that the answer is that it is not.

I.  Because carnal intercourse between spouses separates them from God.
-  This is why in Exodus 19 the Jews who were about to see the Majesty of the Lord on Mount Sinai, where he was about to descend amid fire, were told not to consort with their wives.
-  Also, in 1 Kings 21, before Ahimelech gave the Bread of the Presence to David and his servants, he asked them whether they were undefiled by women, meaning whether they had abstained from contact with their wives.
-  Also, it is laid down that those who are going to receive Holy Communion must abstain from conjugal intercourse for several days; the same is the case on solemn feast days and days of fasting.
-  Also, in the Eastern Church it is the custom among the Greeks that married people abstain from conjugal intercourse for the whole of Lent, or else they are forbidden from taking Holy Communion at Easter.

II.  Because St Jerome said: "There is no sin indeed in legitimate marriage, and the presence of the Holy Spirit is granted, excepting, however, those times when conjugal intercourse is carried on".  So marital intercourse is not a good deed.

III.  St John Chrysostom also says: "Those who have marital intercourse do not incur a penalty, but they do not however receive any reward".

IV.  St Gregory also writes: "A man who sleeps with his own wife should not enter a church unless he has been washed with water."  It is not, therefore, a good deed.

In spite of the foregoing, it must be said that marital intercourse is a good deed in itself.  There have indeed been many heretics since the beginning of the Church who have denied this, including Saturninus in 120 AD, who alleged that the marital bond was an invention of the Devil, and that random coupling was enough to propagate the species.  Marcion later taught the same in 146 AD, saying that married people could not be saved.  So did the Manichaeans, the Hieracitae, the Cathars and others.

Yet the truth is to the contrary.  Marital intercourse was indeed ordained by God, as it says in Gen. 2, "A man shall hold fast to his wife, and the two will be one flesh", meaning through marital sex, as Pope Benedict I explains.  St Paul said: "The husband must pay the debt to his wife, and the wife to her husband".  The confirmation of this is that God's will in operation cannot be evil, and the production of children is God's objective as the result of marital sex.  Moreover, an act of justice is intrinsically good, and carnal intercourse between spouses is an act of justice and charity.  This is because the spouses, through the marriage contract, direct their bodies to the act of intercourse, both to propagate children and to avoid fornication.  Therefore, whenever they engage in the act, they carry out an act of justice and charity.  It is therefore a good deed.

The contrary arguments may be replied to as follows.  Firstly, it may be replied to the first objection that the abstinence from marital relations referred to was commended with a view to encouraging greater reverence in receiving Holy Communion and in reflecting spiritually on God as people do in times of prayer.  The examples for this were the Vision of the Majesty of God shown to the Jews amidst fire on Mount Sinai and the Bread of the Presence given by Ahimelech the priest to David.  It seems that the pleasure and enjoyment which marital sex is associated with, and without which no-one would be induced to engage in it, somehow obstruct this reverence.  However, this pleasure is not bad in itself unless it is carried to excess or taken as the main purpose of the act.

To the second objection it may be replied that St Jerome meant by what he said that there is no requirement for the special grace of the Holy Spirit in the act because common grace is sufficient to carry out any good deed.  He adds that, if the spouses orient their intention in having intercourse to its supernatural purpose and to the glory given to God by producing children, they will obtain the special assistance of God's grace.  We must believe that this is what happened to St Joachim, St Zachary the father of John the Baptist, St Ludwig the King of the Franks, and the other holy men in the Old and the New Testaments who lived married lives in the holiest manner.

To the third objection it may be replied that St John Chrysostom was talking about the substantial rather than the accidental reward of glory.  Married people can be deserving of the latter when they engage in intercourse for the correct reason.

It may be said in response to the fourth objection that because married people often commit excesses when having intercourse, the early Christians adopted the practice of washing themselves in holy water.  Holy water was then placed at the doors of churches so that the people, in making the sign of the cross with it, might be washed from the stain of venial sins.  I argued this at greater length in my Decisions on Baptism, where I posited four principal effects of holy water, namely (1) to remit venial sins, (2) to put demons to flight, (3) to heal the sick, and (4) to ward off adversity.  The reader who wants to know more on this subject can read what I say there.

From what I have said above experts draw the inference that marital intercourse is not an evil act if it is carried out purely for the purpose of avoiding fornication.  Even though this is not the primary purpose of marriage, it is nonetheless the secondary purpose.  This is shown by these words of the Apostle in 1 Cor. 7, "Let him who cannot be self-controlled get married in the Lord", and also by these words, "Because of fornication (that is, in order to avoid it) each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband".  So a spouse who has sex for this purpose does not commit even a venial sin.  Nonetheless, if marital intercourse is carried on only for reason of pleasure and enjoyment, as is very often the case, it involves venial sin.  This is not because moderate pleasure is itself a sin, since it is inherent in the nature of the act, just as enjoyment is inherent in eating and drinking, and, as I said above, if there was no pleasure in sex no-one would engage in it.  It is rather because someone who uses marriage for this purpose alone experiences excessive pleasure and enjoyment.

The second question is whether marital sex constitutes an obligation

All the experts reply to this question in the affirmative.  A spouse is bound to have sex consensually when the other spouse reasonably requests it.  This is in accordance with the precept of the Apostle in 1 Cor. 7: "The husband must pay the debt to his wife, and the wife to her husband".  If they refuse without a legitimate reason, they commit a serious sin.  This obligation is binding not only when a spouse expressly asks for sex but even when it is done tacitly, by some sign or indication, as is often the case with wives, who through embarassment or modesty do not venture to ask their husbands openly to pay the marital debt.

The reason why this obligation exists under pain of sin is that spouses, by virtue of the marriage contract, are bound to pay the marital debt to each other in this way because by virtue of the contract each spouse gives power over their body to the other for the purposes of marital intercourse, and so out of justice they each have reciprocal obligations to discharge the debt.  Just as in the case of other contracts a person who refuses to hand over an item which he is required by justice to hand over sins gravely, the situation is the same with a spouse who denies the marital debt to the other spouse when they ask for it.  It follows from this that spouses who render themselves incapable of paying the debt by too much abstinence, fasting and austerity of life are gravely culpable.  It is even a sin for women to make themselves ugly through excessive penances and to lose their good looks.  This creates a danger that their husbands will fall into adultery with other women.  But I think that this situation is rarely encountered in practice by confessors.

There are a number of cases in which spouses can refuse to pay the marital debt without sinning:

I.  If their life is in imminent danger or they are seriously ill.  The order of nature requires that attention be given to the safety of one's own person in priority to the production of offspring.  It is different in the case of minor illness, such as a toothache, a headache or a mild fever.

II.  The wife is not bound to pay the debt if her husband has leprosy, has a serious case of syphilis, or suffers from another contagious disease.

III.  If the couple are struggling with poverty and have several children whom they find it difficult to provide for, one of the spouses can abstain from sex.

IV.  If the woman has a history of still births because of some physical defect, although in this case many scholars teach the contrary.

V.  If the spouse unjustly or wrongfully asks for sex.  This may be because the husband has committed adultery with another woman, or because he has had sex with a relative of his wife in the first or second degree, or because he is bound by a vow of chastity, or he asks for it within half a month of the day on which the marriage is contracted, or if a spouse has entered into a spiritual kinship with the other spouse by lifting him from the baptismal font.

VI.  If the wife is pregnant and she fears that the foetus will be killed in the womb or will miscarry if she has sex, she can then refuse to pay the marital debt.

VII.  If a mother has not yet weaned a child whom she has recently given birth to, she can refuse to pay the marital debt.  Pope St Gregory says: "A husband should not sleep with her (i.e. a new mother) until she has weaned the child whom she has given birth to".

VIII.  If the wife is found to be menstruating.  It is only a venial sin for a man to have carnal knowledge of his wife while she is menstruating.

IX.  If the spouse is doubtful and thinks that the marriage is probably invalid.

For Part 2, see here.

The Triumph of the Moon, Ronald Hutton - Part 2

Cross-posted at Reggie's Reviews

Gerald Gardner spent most of his life in the Far East, working in business and the colonial civil service.  He retired in 1936, and in 1938 he ended up in Highcliffe, a village near Christchurch in Hampshire.  He later reported that, while living there, he had encountered a coven of pagan witches via a local society that was interested in amateur dramatics and the esoteric tradition known as Rosicrucianism.  These witches were followers of the old pagan religion of the British Isles, and Gardener was initiated into the coven in 1939 at the house of a local worthy called Dorothy Clutterbuck.

Some elements of this story must be true.  Gardner really did live in Highcliffe, and the existence of the Rosicrucian group can be independently verified.  There really was a local worthy called Dorothy Clutterbuck, and the Wiccan writer Philip Heselton has published interesting evidence linking a number of other inhabitants of the area with esoteric activities in general and witchcraft in particular.

There are problems with Gardner's version of events, however.  It is inconceivable that he discovered a surviving coven of pagan witches.  It is much more likely that the group had been formed in the fairly recent past by middle-class occultists under the influence of the ideas of Margaret Murray.  Hutton casts doubt on the very existence of the coven, though this seems unwarranted in the light of Heselton's researches and the confirmed existence of the Rosicrucian group.  The chronology is odd.  Gardner dabbled in a number of esoteric interests in the 1940s, and he only seems to have started to take a serious interest in witchcraft from around 1947, despite having allegedly been initiated 8 years earlier.  As for Clutterbuck, Hutton believes that the evidence shows that she was a devout and conventional Anglican.  The first attested female witch in Gardner's circle was an entirely different individual, a teacher called Edith Woodford-Grimes, and Gardner may have been using Clutterbuck's name in order to protect her.

By the early 1950s, Gardner was publicising the witch religion that he had discovered and/or created.  Until his death in 1964, he followed a policy of initiating as many newcomers as possible into the movement.  His best known initiate was a young woman called Doreen Valiente, who went on to write a string of books on pagan witchcraft before her death in 1999.  He seems to have preferred to compile his own witchy rituals rather than adopting them from any existing group.

There was some bother, of course.  Gardner came out of the broom closet at a time when dark rumours were circulating in British society about black magic and devil worship, under the influence of Denis Wheatley novels and the like.  Nonetheless, Gardner succeeded in obtaining some favourable press coverage, and hostility towards the movement peaked not in the straight-laced 50s but in the psychadelic 70s, by which time the old boy had been dead for some years.  Attitudes towards pagan witches eased in the following years, with the result that members of the movement largely avoided being caught up in the panic over "satanic ritual abuse" in the 1990s.

The modern centre of the Craft (as it continues to be known) is the United States, where pagan witchcraft had been transplanted by the 1970s.  On the other side of the Atlantic, it became intimately entwined with radical feminist politics, a development that reached its high point with the publication of Starhawk's The Spiral Dance in 1979.  The heavily counter-cultural version of Wicca and Goddess spirituality that flourished in Reagan's America represented a new and important development in neopagan history, and one that forms a striking contrast with the romantic English Toryism of Gardner and his friends.

Hutton explicitly attacks one part of the narrative of victimhood that is especially prominent in some politically radical forms of Wicca and witchcraft.  This is the myth of the 'Burning Times' - the period in mediaeval and early modern European history when pagan witches had allegedly been persecuted and burned in (literally) their millions by the Church and the State.  Hutton notes that persecutions of witches in this period were neither long lasting nor wide ranging, and that they tended to be sparked off by popular prejudice rather than by the political or ecclesiastical élite.  Only a tiny number of people accused of witchcraft actually ended up being tried and condemned for it, and those who did tended to be unfortunate social misfits rather than priests and priestesses of a surviving pagan religion.  Few of them were involved even in bog-standard folk magic.

Hutton ends with an assessment of the present-day state of pagan witchcraft in Britain.  It is not even clear whether the W-word is still entirely appropriate as a description of the tradition: Hutton notes that the image of the priest or priestess has increased in importance for practitioners of the Craft at the expense of that of the witch.  Hutton notes that modern British practitioners tend to come from the lower middle and upper working classes, that they are mostly female, and that a solid core of committed initiates is surrounded by a larger penumbra of followers.  He estimates that there are 17,000 to 20,000 "core" pagans (not just witches or Wiccans) and a total of 90,000 to 120,000 British pagans in total - figures which were echoed independently in the work of other researchers.  He later revised his figures upwards to 250,000, which would roughly mirror the size of Britain's Jewish population.  The 2001 census revealed the existence of 31,000 people who identified as pagans and a further 7,000 who identified as Wiccans, though these numbers appear not to include returns from Scotland or Northern Ireland.  It is a fair bet that at least as many will show up this year.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Triumph of the Moon, Ronald Hutton - Part 1

Cross-posted at Reggie's Reviews

This is a history of neopagan witchcraft, with particular emphasis on the religious tradition known as Wicca.  Its author is Ronald Hutton, Professor of History at the University of Bristol.  Hutton has taken some stick for writing this book, both from academic colleagues and from some sections of the neopagan community.  Nonetheless, it is a fascinating and exemplary account of the history of "the only religion England has ever given the world".

Hutton begins with an examination of responses to paganism in nineteenth and early twentieth century British culture.  He discerns four broad sets of attitudes.  First, there was the belief that pagans - both the long-dead pagans of European prehistory and the contemporary tribal peoples whom European colonists were encountering - were primitive savages, whose beliefs and practices were barbaric, bloody and depraved.  Second, there was the view, derived from the classical paganism of ancient Greece and Rome, that pagans were noble and admirable people who fell just a little short of Christians.  These two discourses were culturally dominant and characteristic of respectable mainstream opinion.

The other two sets of attitudes were less conventional in nature.  Some writers and thinkers believed that paganism was not essentially different from Christianity - they were both descended from the same pure, primaeval religion of humankind.  Others saw paganism as a joyous, life-affirming faith that reconnected human beings to themselves and to the natural world.  It is from this fourth discourse, which grew out of German Romanticism, that contemporary neopaganism is descended.  The first Brits to embrace something like a revived paganism - Shelley, Leigh Hunt, Thomas Love Peacock, the Baron de Tabley - tended to be writers and poets with connections with the Romantic movement.  It would be a mistake, however, to see neopaganism as a socially or politically subversive movement.  Several of its founding figures were deeply conservative (and Conservative), and their quarrel was not so much with social hierarchies or economic inequality as with the unnaturalness, ugliness and destruction of traditional patterns of life associated with industrial modernity.

The goddess that many modern pagans worship grew out of the figure of the great mother goddess, who was seen as a synthesis of the individual pagan goddesses and was connected with the earth and the moon.  This represented not so much a revival of ancient pagan ways of thinking about divinity as a development and expansion of it.  Writers and poets explored the idea of the Goddess in the nineteenth century, and scholars like Sir Arthur Evans and Jane Ellen Harrison brought her into the scholarly community in the twentieth.  The male counterpart of the Goddess was the Horned God, who was frequently associated with the Greek god Pan.  Pan assumed considerable importance as a literary figure in the period that Hutton examines, and he may well have been the inspiration for the Christian conception of the devil as a horned, goat-like, cloven-hooved being.

As to the ritual and practice of modern pagan witches, Hutton traces their origins back to mediaeval and ancient magic via the Victorian era occult revival and organisations like the Golden Dawn.  Alongside this intellectual tradition, which was closely associated with the educated élite, there was also a popular English tradition of folk magic and "cunning craft" - village healers, fortune tellers and so on - which continues to the present day.  The initiatory coven structure which is found in some branches of Wicca (and which some practitioners regard as the only truly legitimate form of the religion) is traced to Freemasonry and its offshoots.

Why did so many neopagans end up identifying as witches, rather than as Golden Dawn-style ritual magicians or fraternal Masonic types?  The answer lies in the idea, prevalent in nineteenth and twentieth century intellectual life, that scraps of pagan beliefs and practices had survived for centuries - even to the present day - in rural folk customs.  This in turn gave birth to the theory, put forward by the Egyptologist Margaret Murray, that the "witches" who had been persecuted in the mediaeval and early modern periods were the surviving adherents of a prehistoric pagan religion.  This turned out to be nonsense in historical terms, but the idea was a powerful one and captured the imagination of a number of neopagans, including a former colonial bureaucrat from Blundellsands in Lancashire called Gerald Brousseau Gardner.  Had the old "witch-cult" had survived into modern times?  Could it be recreated?

While all this was going on, a number of writers and mystics were preparing the ground for the revival of pagan witchcraft that Gardner and others would lead.  Aleister Crowley, a man who remains famous largely for taking drugs, having sex and pretending to be a satanist, was one such godparent (or goddessparent) of the new movement.  Alongside him were such figures as the mystical Christo-pagan Dion Fortune, the aristocratic Irish poet W.B.Yeats, and poor mad Robert Graves.  By around 1950, all the elements were in place for the witchy revival.

For Part 2, see here.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

The Messiah and the Son of Man

The Messiah (Heb. māšîăḥ) and the Son of Man were two figures who appear in Jewish prophetic and apocalyptic writings.  They later assumed great importance in Christian theology and biblical interpretation.

1.  The Messiah

A number of passages scattered throughout the prophetic books of the Hebrew Bible bear witness to a hope that, at some time in the future, God would send a perfect king to rule over his people in prosperity and justice (see Is. 9.1-6, 11.1-9; Mic. 5.1-3; Jer. 23.5f, 30.9; Ez. 17.22-24, 34, 37.24f; Zech. 9.9f; and perhaps the Book of Haggai).

This king would be descended from David, Israel’s greatest past monarch, and would be a kind of David reborn.  He would be a man rather than an angel or a god, though he would possess superhuman virtues and talents.

In the Old Testament, the term 'messiah' ('anointed one') means neither more nor less than 'king': it has no special connotations of the sort that it later acquired.  The word is first used as a technical term for the future perfect ruler in texts outside the Bible which date to the first century BC (namely texts from the Psalms of Solomon and the Parables of Enoch).

The first century BC was the period in which messianic expectation really began to take hold in Jewish thought, though it is probably true to say that messianism was never an absolutely central tenet of Judaism.  It is also true to say that ideas differed to some extent about the nature of the Messiah.  Some people apparently even thought that there would be two Messiahs (we owe this insight to the Dead Sea Scrolls).  On the other hand, most Jews would have had some kind of belief in the future coming of the Messiah, and most of those would have seen him as a kingly, David-like figure.

For references to the kingly Messiah in Jewish literature postdating the Old Testament, see Pss. Solomon 17.23ff, 18; Jubilees 31.18; Test. of the Twelve Patriarchs; Philo, Praem. 95; and Sibyl. Orac. 3.652-795, 5.

2.  The Son of Man

In the Hebrew Bible (and in the ordinary Aramaic of Jesus’ day), ‘son of man’ meant simply ‘human being’.  The term eventually came to refer to a mysterious heavenly figure who would appear at the end of time and who became conflated with the Messiah.

The transitional point can be located in chapter 7 of the Book of Daniel, which describes ‘one like a son of man’ appearing in the skies in the end times.  He is a royal, triumphant figure, and seems to symbolise the righteous people of Israel.  He is a transcendent being rather than a mortal human - as the text says, he is only like a son of man.

A text composed in the late first century BC and found in a document known as 1 Enoch speaks of an eschatological figure called variously ‘the Messiah’, ‘the Chosen One’, ‘the Righteous One’ and ‘the Son of Man’.  He champions the cause of the righteous and passes judgement upon their enemies.  He seems to be a combination of the kingly Messiah, Daniel’s Son of Man and a character known as the ‘Suffering Servant’ who is depicted in the Book of Isaiah.  Like Daniel’s Son of Man, he is a transcendent being - not really human at all.

Some years later, towards the end of the first century AD, the author of 4 Ezra 11-13 drew on Daniel 7 to describe the appearance of a supernatural being ‘like the figure of a man’.  Again, this being delivers the righteous and executes judgement on the sinful; and again, he is identified with the kingly Messiah.

At around the same time, the author of 2 Baruch wrote of how ‘the Messiah’ would appear or be revealed in glory and judge the Roman Empire.  The writer seems, once again, to be describing a transcendent figure, and was clearly influenced by Daniel 7.

Finally, in a text composed after 70 AD known as the Apocalypse of Abraham, we read about a transcendent ‘Chosen One’ who is sent by God to rescue the righteous while their enemies are punished.  He bears a strong resemblance to the supernatural Son of Man.

The idea of the Son of Man has really passed out of Jewish thought, but it is extremely important in Christian theology, since it was taken up by the early Church as a means of defining the identity and role of Jesus Christ.  Jesus almost certainly used the phrase ‘the son of man’ to refer to himself, but he seems to have employed it in its original and ordinary sense of ‘human being’.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Casus Conscientiae - A forgotten genre

See also now here

The subject of this post is the largely forgotten science of casuistry and the specialist textbooks that it spawned.

The origins of casuistry can be traced back to Aristotle, but it is most closely associated with the Catholic Church, and with the Jesuit order in particular.  It is defined by the 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia as "[t]he application of general principles of morality to definite and concrete cases of human activity, for the purpose, primarily, of determining what one ought to do, or ought not to do".  In essence, it deals with hypothetical cases of wrongdoing or apparent wrongdoing, and analyses whether the protagonist has acted wrongly and what s/he ought to do.

In this post, I want to disinter some of the dilemmas posed in the classical textbooks of casuistry, the Casus Conscientiae or Cases of Conscience.  Like modern exam questions, these cases often mix plausible situations and behaviour with deliberately contrived elements that point up the ethical issues at stake.  I find it interesting to read them, and I hope that you will too.  I haven't quoted the answers to the cases, since those tend to be of interest only to people with a penchant for the obscure byways of Catholic moral theology.

(Needless to say, the classical Casus Conscientiae were written in Latin.  What follows are my free, and occasionally edited, translations.)

Benjamin Elbel (Augsburg, 1744)

Titius got Gaia pregnant.  In order to escape the stigma that threatened him as a result, and to avoid financial loss, he spread the rumour around that she had been made pregnant by another man, a certain Sempronius.  He knew that he was seriously slandering not only Gaia but Sempronius too, and that he had not fulfilled his obligations in relation to the maintenance of the child.

Augustin Lehmkuhl (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1902)

Luke, a teenager, often attends public shows with his parents.  He also attends musical performances with them, and frequents their neighbours' house, where a lot of families are accustomed to gather.  On all these occasions, however, he has often fallen into sinful desires, when he hears and sees things and styles of dress that are scarcely modest.  His parents, not realising the danger, want their son to gain some knowledge of the
world so that in time he can choose his state of life more easily.

On the day before he is to be ordained as a subdeacon [i.e. two steps away from the priesthood], Evaristus is tormented by a severe inner struggle.  He was induced to enter holy orders only because his parents pleaded with him insistently to do so.  He cannot believe that he is psychologically capable of remaining celibate.  If he withdraws now, however, he will provoke a terrible argument with his parents, and he dares not incur their enmity.  So he goes along with the others and receives ordination as a subdeacon.  Subsequently, he is ordained as a deacon and as a priest.  After a few years, he tells his confessor that he is unhappy with his state of life, that he is struggling with a depraved habit, and that he is continually committing sacrileges [by celebrating the sacraments while in a state of sin].

Amelia, a maidservant, has frequently been seduced by her master.  She is instructed by her confessor to leave her post.  When he learns of this, her master begs her not to go through with this: if she does, his wife will inevitably learn what he has been doing and their marital harmony will be gone for ever.  When Amelia persists, he goes to the same confessor himself and asks him to allow the servant girl to remain in her post.  He promises that in the future he will not commit or attempt to commit any sin with Amelia.

Lambert often goes to the pub.  He gradually finds that he is habitually getting drunk there.  He gets involved in foolery, and he both causes harm to his family life and frequently blurts out blasphemies.  His confessor tells him that he must stop going to that pub completely.  He replies that this is not possible, and that he has to do business there in order to provide food for himself and his family.

Getulis is passionately in love with Anna and wants to marry her, but his parents are opposed to the marriage.  Nonetheless, he hopes that their opposition will fall away with time, and he continues to court Anna.  He often visits her in order to ensure that she remains faithful to him, but does not do so openly for fear of offending his parents.  He confesses that he has sometimes tried to take their relationship to a more intimate level, but the girl has consistently refused.  He says that he has only done this because he plans to force his parents to agree to the marriage, as it will turn out to be necessary for them to get married and his parents will realise that.

Johann Reuter (Cologne, 1753)

James and Anna are married and have three daughters.  Their daughters have been brought up rather indulgently, and are attached to the vain things of the world rather than to the worship of God.  Their parents see that they have reached the age of marriage, and they allow them to mix with young men and to go to dances, games and nighttime gatherings of young people of both sexes.  In the course of this, the eldest daughter, Agatha, is overcome by the flattering attentions of a man who has a low-ranking job in the army, a man of socially inferior status.  Lovestruck, she promises to marry him, but her family, being of noble blood, oppose the marriage.  Both her mother and her father object, but in vain.  The man succeeds in sleeping with the daughter and gets her pregnant.  She marries the man before a military chaplain.  Her family are indignant at this, and refuse to let Agatha visit or see them.  After a year, however, they relent, and treat her like a member of the family again.  Her mother, however, does not allow herself to be moved by Agatha's entreaties, tears or humble pleas to forgive her wrongdoing.  She resolves that she will never let Agatha see her again.

Damasus attended a dinner with Damian, whom he thought was a good Catholic.  He steered the conversation onto the subject of religion and discovered that he was a heretic.  Damian said that it was enough for a man to be saved that he believed in God and Christ, and that very many Protestants had good morals.

Fr. Alban has been sitting all day in the confessional and listening to a series of penitents.  He found one of them to be quite rough and ready: he did not know how to make his act of contrition [a prayer said in confession], and he had also sinned through ignorance in matters of chastity and certain other things.  Another penitent made reference to various sins that he had committed in the course of his past life, and confessed, amongst other things, that he had committed sins of the flesh with his wife's sister before his marriage.  Fr. Alban realised that this had raised a canonical impediment to the marriage, but said nothing.  A third peintent similarly confessed to committing sins of the flesh with his wife's mother before his marriage.  From the circumstances, Fr. Alban was doubtful whether it had been a fully-fledged act of fornication, capable of conceiving offspring, so he said nothing about this either.

Fr. Menolphus is a priest who leads a very sinful life.  He has been sleeping with his maidservant for many years in the manner of a live-in girlfriend, albeit persuading her that this is not a sin.  He is seized by an illness - not a dangerous one, to be sure, but a lengthy one.  While he is sick, the thought enters his mind of the eternal punishment that awaits the ungodly in hell, so he calls a fellow priest and makes his confession to him.  The priest is worried and hesitates to give Fr. Menolphus absolution unless he dismisses the maidservant.  Fr. Menolphus assures him by swearing an oath that he will dismiss her on the next possible occasion.  The confessor is persuaded by this promise, and, having questioned him in detail about his sins, grants him absolution.  A month later, Fr. Menolphus is on the brink of death.  The same confessor is summoned again and finds that the maidservant has not yet been dismissed from service.

Fr. German is a priest who leads an admirable life.  He prefers to hear the confessions of peasants and other lower-class people rather than those of gentlemen.  This is because he can deal with them without using circumlocutions and ambiguities, and he can question them, reprimand them and prescribe remedial measures for them.  Gentlemen are not infrequently offended by such an approach.  They gossip about it afterwards with others and denigrate the confessor.

Jean-Pierre Gury (Regensburg, 1865)

Dafrosa was married at a young age, and she was soon given a lesson in the fragility of human affairs.  Her husband suddenly fell ill, and she realised that he was rapidly approaching death.  She wept and howled and filled the air with groans and cries.  "My life is wretched!" she said, "What am I going to do?  I wish that I could be taken away together with my beloved husband."  Getulius, a friend of the family, heard her saying this.  He had once been intimately involved with Dafrosa.  He said to her, in a friendly manner: "What's the matter?  If you lose one husband, surely you'll quickly find another one?  Do you want to marry me if your husband dies?"  She smiled slightly and willingly agreed.  When the husband died, however, another suitor immediately appeared, a man called Fidelinus.  He claimed that Dafrosa ought to marry him and not the other man because she had promised to marry him before she had married her deceased husband.

Ernest is a servant.  He is often surly when he speaks to his master.  He mocks him, he offends him by criticising him, and he neglects his instructions.  When his master is away, he has very often neglected his work.  Now, after his master has docked some of his pay because he was off sick for an unusual length of time, he has secretly taken the money for himself.

Titius is a man who does not care about his own salvation and has no concern for the morals of his servants.  He does not keep an eye on them at all.  Members of his household of both sexes have inappropriately close relations with each other and with people from outside.  They miss going to church and hearing Mass on Sunday.  They never go to confession or receive communion at Eastertide.  Titius sees all this and says nothing.

Éduard Génicot and Joseph Salsmans (Brussels, 1947)

Demetrius, a doctor, discovers a lotion which is very effective in preventing and curing sexually transmitted diseases.  However, he asks his confessor's advice as to whether he can publicise this medicine, since he is afraid that lustful men might be tempted to commit sins with a greater sense of security.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Notes on the Hebrew prophets

The Hebrew prophets can be divided into four groups:
•  the prophets of the eighth century "prophetic reformation" (Amos, Hosea, Micah and First Isaiah);
•  the pre-exilic prophets (Zephaniah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Jeremiah);
•  the prophets of the sixth century exile (Ezekiel, Obadiah, Second Isaiah);
•  the post-exilic prophets (Joel, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Third Isaiah).

The book of Daniel has traditionally been classed by Christians (though not Jews) as a book of prophecy, but it is perhaps better considered separately from the other prophetic books.  Something similar can be said about the book of Jonah.

The prophets typically told their fellow Israelites that their sinfulness was offensive to God, and threatened severe punishments if they failed to repent.  The Israelites’ most reprehensible crimes were worship of other gods and unfaithfulness to Yahweh, though some emphasis is also put on social injustice.  On the other hand, there were elements of optimism and hope in their message as they looked forward to a utopian era which God would bring about at the close of human history.  Some prophets (Nahum, Obadiah) were more narrowly nationalistic: they concentrated on condemning Israel’s neighbours and stressed more strongly the glorious future that awaited the people of Yahweh.

The reforming prophets

The reforming prophets were men of the eighth century.  Their two principal concerns were, on the one hand, the failure of the Israelites to worship Yahweh with full and undivided devotion, and, on the other hand, the prevalence of economic injustice in contemporary society.  They also make frequent reference to the stories of the Egyptian captivity and the exodus, criticise ritual worship and the official cult, and look forward to Yahweh bringing about a utopian era of peace and justice.  Of the later prophets, Jeremiah is most similar to the reformers - at times, uncannily so.


Amos was a shepherd and orchard-keeper who came from Tekoa in Judah, a village lying a few miles to the south of Jerusalem.  He was an outsider to the religious establishment, and he seems not to have emerged from any of the established or ‘official’ guilds of prophets - indeed, he denies at 7.14 that he is a prophet.  On the other hand, the fact that his prophecies were written down and preserved strongly suggests that he managed to persuade at least some members of the religious establishment to take him seriously.

According to the opening lines of his book, Amos’ calling came during the reigns of Jeroboam II of Israel and Uzziah of Judah - i.e. somewhere in the period 790-750 BC.  These lines were probably added to Amos’ text long after he was dead, but the dating is plausible and backed up by other evidence.  His failure to mention the fall of Israel in 722, for example, makes it almost certain that he died before then.  In fact, he does not even seem to perceive Assyria as a threat, and the addresses to the six nations around Israel at 1.2-2.3, which presume that those nations were all still independent, fit better with the earlier than with the later part of the eighth century.

Amos is best known as a prophet of social justice.  He hated the greed and exploitation which he encountered in contemporary Israelite society, as well as the hypocrisy of wealthy Israelites who mistreated their fellow countrymen and yet engaged in lavish ritual worship at the major shrines.  He declared that a refusal on the part of the ruling classes to change their ways would call down God’s judgement upon them in the form of a foreign invasion.

Yahweh appears in Amos’ oracles as an angry, vengeful deity: he hated sinfulness, and an unrepentant Israel could expect the severest punishment from him.  Amos' depictions of Yahweh’s awful destructive power are striking.  The violence of his language is exceptional in this respect as compared with the writings of the other reforming prophets.

A recurring theme in Amos’ work is the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt by Yahweh.  He also makes reference to contemporary worship of other deities, and along with economic exploitation he condemns other ‘social’ sins such as war crimes and fratricide.

Various parts of Amos’ text have been claimed to be later interpolations.  The passages most often doubted are the following: 1.2, 9-12, 2.4-5, 10. 3.7, 14, 4.13, 5.8-9, 13-15, 26-27, 6.2, 8.6, 8.8, 8.11-13, 9.5-6, 8-15.  On the other hand, these passages are not necessarily to be labelled as later additions.  For example, the utopian vision with which the book closes has been claimed to be anachronistic, expressing ideas which were not yet current in the eighth century, but similar passages appear in the works of the other early prophets (though some of them, too, may well be interpolations - no-one ever said that Old Testament criticism was easy…).


Little is known of the life and career of Hosea (Hoshea son of Beeri).

Hosea’s prophecies are dated at 1.1 to the times of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel (790-750 BC).  This dating notice certainly post-dates Hosea’s time, but it is probably only slightly inaccurate.  He must have predated the fall of Israel in 722 BC, since he makes no mention of it, but the shadow of Assyria falls over his prophecies, and the terminology that he uses may indicate that some Israelite territory had already fallen into Assyrian hands.  All in all, the evidence points to the general period 750-720, and there is some reason to believe that the relative independence of Israel points to the 740s or early 730s.

Hosea was enraged by the behaviour of the Israelites, whom he saw as reneging on the covenant which Yahweh had made with them and giving their allegiance to other gods.  Chastisement, he warned, must be at hand, and Hosea’s warnings about the anger of Yahweh are scarcely less fearsome than those of Amos.  The deity’s anger, however, was tempered by a continuing concern for his people which would mitigate their punishment and ultimately bring about a utopia.

Like Amos, Hosea refers several times to the story of the exodus and attacks contemporary ritual worship.


Micah came from the small village of Moresheth-Gath in Judah; like Amos, he consciously distanced himself from ‘official’ prophetic circles.  The opening lines of his text date his prophecies to the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah of Judah (c.750-690).  There is no reason to question the general accuracy of this dating, which may be corroborated by Jer. 26.18.  Like Amos and Hosea, Micah shows no awareness of the fall of Israel, and he may therefore plausibly be dated to the period 750-720 - though there is good reason to believe that many of the prophecies contained in his book are much later compositions.  This may account for his many sudden changes of gear and direction.

Micah echoes both Amos and Hosea in his denunciations of polytheistic worship and social injustice.  Again, like his prophetic predecessors, he refers to the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt and speaks against the official cult.  He differs from his predecessors principally in his much more optimistic portrayal of Israel’s god: while the violent, frightening aspect of Yahweh is by no means absent from his prophecies, Micah is much readier to give voice to his confidence that the deity will bring about a happy and prosperous future for his people.


Isaiah (Yeshayah son of Amoz) was an important political figure in the kingdom of Judah who served as an advisor to King Ahab.

Because of his political activities, Isaiah is somewhat easier to date than the other eighth-century prophets: three particular historical episodes in which he played a role can be dated respectively to 734-732, 713-711 and 705-701.

Isaiah echoes the other reforming prophets in a number of ways, notably in his attacks on polytheism and social injustice and his critical attitude towards ritual observances.  As a matter of interest, he mentions the Egyptian captivity and the exodus somewhat less often than the others.  Isaiah’s denunciations are as severe as those of his contemporaries, and his depiction of Yahweh is comparably fearsome.  On the other hand, his prophecies of the future era of utopian peace and happiness which the righteous remnant would enjoy are memorable.

Chapters 40-66 of the book of Isaiah are generally acknowledged to be the work of later prophets, often referred to as Second Isaiah and Third Isaiah.

The pre-exilic prophets


Zeph. 1.1 dates Zephaniah to the reign of King Josiah (640-609) and intimates that he was of royal blood. There is no reason to query either of these claims.  The prophet’s failure to refer to Josiah’s important religious reform programme, which began in 621, may indicate that his ministry is to be dated to the earlier part of the king’s reign.

The book of Zephaniah is a pessimistic text, predicting suffering and death for the unrighteous and violent vengeance for the foreign nations which have harassed Israel.  The prophet does, however, foretell that a faithful remnant of Israelites will survive and prosper in the future, along with a remnant from the foreign nations.

Zephaniah’s condemnation of Israel’s wrongdoings is less explicit and detailed than those found in some of the earlier prophetic texts, but his predecessors’ denunciations of polytheism, irreligion, luxury and corruption find clear echoes in his own polemic.

Some of Zephaniah’s text as we have it consists of later interpolations; 3.14-20 has been the object of particular suspicion. Some would excise all the references to the future utopia.


Nahum of Elkosh (which is otherwise unknown) wrote a triumphant poem shortly after the final defeat of Israel’s old enemy, the Assyrian Empire, in 612 BC.  Like his predecessors, Nahum speaks eloquently of the wrath and power of Yahweh - but this time they are directed against a foreign enemy rather than against the sinful Israelites.  Nahum has words of comfort and reassurance for his own people.  His book is quite different from most of the other prophetic texts in the Old Testament.


Habakkuk’s references to Babylonian operations in Palestine date his text to 609-598.  The shadow of the Babylonians falls heavily over his work; and, though he condemns the sinfulness of his own people in clear terms and asserts that Yahweh is using the Babylonians to punish them, most of his work is dedicated to explaining that Yahweh will eventually see to it that the Babylonians receive their just deserts.  The necessity of complete faith in Yahweh is the most important message of the book - see, for example, its closing verses.  Interestingly, towards the end, it contains a very old poem about Yahweh written in archaic Hebrew.


I am classing Jeremiah as a pre-exilic prophet because his ministry began (according to 1.1) in 627. In fact, he lived on and continued prophesying into the time of the exile.

Of all the prophetic books, that of Jeremiah is perhaps the most difficult to read, since it is both long and relentlessly grim.  The prophet pulls no punches either in condemning the worship of gods other than Yahweh or in describing to his compatriots the severity of the punishment which Yahweh has in store for them.  On the other hand, he does sometimes prophesy in a more optimistic mode, speaking of the utopian future which lies in store for the true and faithful people of Yahweh.

Jeremiah strongly resembles the reforming prophets both in his fiery rhetoric and in his theological agenda.  Interestingly, like them, he makes a point of referring from time to time to Yahweh’s delivery of the Israelites from Egypt.  He also occasionally refers to contemporary corruption, violence and social injustice.

The prophets of the exile


Obadiah wrote his oracle quite early in the exile.  Its subject is the nation of Edom, which had historically had a difficult relationship with Israel (in spite of the fact that the Israelites may well originally have lived in Edom and were perhaps even descended from the Edomites).  Obadiah promises that Edom will suffer grievously at the hand of Yahweh for raiding the territory of Judah at the time of the Israelites’ conquest by the Babylonians.  His short text concludes with a prediction of a happy future for the Israelites.

The post-exilic prophets


Haggai’s message, which dates from 520, is short and simple: Israel is being punished for not rebuilding the Jerusalem Temple, which had been destroyed at the time of the exile.  The Israelites were to see to it that the Temple was rebuilt.  The book closes with a quasi-messianic postlude.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Pentateuch and the documentary hypothesis

The first five books of the Bible - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy - are variously known as the Pentateuch (the Five Books), the Torah (the Law or the Way) and the Books of Moses.

Traditionally, the Pentateuch was believed to have been written in its entirety by Moses himself - the great hero and early leader of the Israelite people.  Critical scholarship has long challenged this attribution, and the classic modern theory holds that the Pentateuch is composed of material taken from four main sources, each of which drew in turn on previous sources and traditions.  The four sources are conventionally referred to as J, E, D and P.  This four-source theory is generally associated with two 19th century German scholars, Karl Heinrich Graf and Julius Wellhausen, though it can be traced back to H.B.Witter and Jean Astruc in the 18th century.

This "documentary hypothesis" of the origins of the Pentateuch has been challenged for some years now by various scholars, but, while other theories have been put forward, none has yet succeeded in achieving an alternative consensus.

How do we know that there are several different sources in the Pentateuch?  One clue that has traditionally been thought to be very important is that different passages use different names or words for God.  More generally, the style of different passages can vary quite considerably.  Also, in several places, different versions of the same story seem to have been artificially joined together, or even repeated after each other.  The classic examples of this are the story of Noah’s ark in Gen. 7-8 - how many animals of each kind did Noah take into the ark? - and the episodes in Genesis in which patriarchs pretend that their wives are their sisters - see 12.10-20, 20.1-18 and 26.6-11.

The sources of the first 4 books of the Pentateuch, according to Richard E. Friedman

The J source

The J source is characterised by an anthropomorphic view of God, and typically uses the personal name ‘Yahweh’ (‘Jahwe’ in German - hence the abbreviation J) to refer to him.  It has a particular interest in southern Palestine, which probably means that that was where it was composed (perhaps in Jerusalem).  It has been associated with monarchical circles.

For a long time, J was dated to the early years of the first millennium BC.  It makes no reference to foreign nations such as the Aramaeans and the Assyrians who caused trouble for the Israelites in later times, and the cursing of Canaan at Gen. 9.26 was thought to reflect the political situation under the early Israelite kings David and Solomon.  Its narrative, in fact, stops before the time of the kings and does not attempt to take the story down into the period of the monarchy (c.1025 onwards).

It is now recognised that these arguments are weak: there would, for example, have been no reason for a later writer to introduce the Aramaeans or the Assyrians into stories referring to the distant past, nor any necessity to bring the story down to his own time.  More persuasive are the arguments which seek to locate the composition of J much later in Israelite history.

A number of scholars have dated J as late as the post-exilic period (i.e. the period after 538 BC).  One piece of evidence that would point in this direction is the presence in J of the story of Joseph and his brothers, which is probably amongst the latest of the J material.  The only other reference to the Joseph story in the OT comes in Psalm 105, which was composed long after the exile.  There is no hint of it in E, P or D.

There are significant discontinuities in J which lead one to believe that it drew upon several pre-existing sources.  One suggestion is that J drew upon three principal earlier narratives: one relating to the early history of the human race (Gen. 1-11), one recounting the history of the patriarchs, or early ancestors of the Israelites (Gen. 12-50), and one telling of the birth of Israel as a nation (Ex.).

The E source

While J refers to God as ‘Yahweh’ and has a particular interest in the south of Palestine, E refers to God as ‘Elohim’ and has a particular interest in the north.  The source’s language and theology also resemble those found in other northern texts.  It stands midway between P with its exalted view of God and J with its more anthropomorphic theology.  It has been associated with prophetic circles.

Theologically speaking, E is particularly concerned with questions of morality, the fear of God, the covenant between God and Israel, and the power of God over human history.

As with J, a number of different datings for E have been suggested, from the tenth century to the exile.  It is difficult to choose between the competing theories, though if E did take shape in the north it is tempting to date it before the fall of the northern kingdom in 722 (of course, it may have been re-edited after that date).  A number of scholars believe that J and E should be considered together as one source: that E is simply a series of additions made to J by an editor which never existed as an independent text.  Such ideas have been contested quite recently by Joel S. Baden in J, E, and the Redaction of the Pentateuch, in which Baden argues that J and E remained separate texts until the Pentateuch as a whole was compiled.

The D source and the Deuteronomists

The book of Deuteronomy, along with the other OT books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel and 1-2 Kings, was composed by a group of priests and writers known as the Deuteronomic School or the Deuteronomists.

The book of Deuteronomy is the earliest document of the Deuteronomic School. Its ‘first edition’, which perhaps comprised chapters 12-26 of the final text, was reportedly discovered in the Jerusalem Temple in 622 BC.  The ‘discovery’ of the book may very well have been a trick on the part of its writers, who pretended to have found a venerable old document rather than admit that they had written it themselves.  It is possible, however, that the book really had been hidden by an earlier group of writers, particularly if it had been composed during the long reign of King Manasseh (697-642).  The literary activity of the Deuteronomists would continue well into the sixth century, with the ‘first editions’ of the Deuteronomic historical books probably being completed shortly before the exile (587 BC).

The distinctive concerns of the Deuteronomists included both right moral behaviour and right worship, which to them meant both a complete avoidance of the worship of other deities and a centralisation of the worship of Yahweh in the Jerusalem Temple, as well as the regular celebration of Passover.  The Deuteronomists’ ethical teachings encouraged inward sincerity in worship and care for the poor.

The contents of Deuteronomy appear to have been influenced by J and (especially) E.  The book underwent successive additions.  Chapters 12-26 were expanded by the material between 4.44 and 30.20 (if that material was not already present in the first edition), and in due course the book reached the form in which it appears in modern Bibles.

The historical books produced by the Deuteronomists were also re-edited during and after the exile.  Let’s take a closer look at some of them:

Joshua:  We can date the final edition of Joshua to c.560 on the basis that the writer seems not to have been aware of any historical happening after that date.  There are definite signs that the book went through earlier editions, however: see, for example, the two separate conclusions in chapters 23 and 24.  What sources did the composers of the book make use of?  Chapters 1-12 draw heavily on material relating to the region occupied by the tribe of Benjamin, and the area around Gilgal in particular.  Chapters 13-21 are quite different, and appear to be making use of official archival lists of the administrative districts of Judah (dating from when - the seventh century?).  Embedded in various parts of the book are very early traditions, such as the tradition concerning the renewal of the covenant at 8.30-35 and the list of cities of refuge and Levitical cities in chapter 24.

1 and 2 Samuel (originally one book):  We can tell that the authors used a variety of different sources, including the lost Book of Jashar (2 Sam. 1.18); various psalms and poems; genealogies and lists of officials (e.g. 1 Sam. 14.49-51, 2 Sam. 3.2-5, 5.13-16, 8.15-18, 20.23-26); and an account of King David’s reign which may possibly go back to within striking distance of David’s lifetime (2 Sam. 9-20, continuing in 1 Kgs. 1-2).

1 and 2 Kings (originally one book):  1 and 2 Kings may date in their earliest form to the seventh century: the incorrect prediction 2 Kgs. 22.20 suggests that the author was writing before 609.  On the other hand, the point at which 2 Kings ends suggests that it was re-edited after 566 - and verses 25.27-30 were inserted even later.  Sources named in the text include The Book of the Acts of Solomon (1 Kgs. 11.41), The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel (1 Kgs. 14.19) and The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah (1 Kgs. 14.29).

The P source

P is the Priestly source.  As its name implies, it was written by priests and is deeply concerned with matters of cult and ritual.  Its view of God is sober, respectful and exalted - the opposite in many ways to that of J.  It takes a close interest in genealogies.  It probably emerged from the traditions and practices of the Temple at Jerusalem and the important shrine at Shiloh.

It used to be thought that P was composed during or after the exile, but that dating can no longer be maintained.  When we compare P’s language to that of Ezekiel, a writer interested in priestly matters who definitely was active during the exile, and to that found in post-exilic writings, we find major discrepancies of vocabulary.  The institutions described in P also do not fit with what we know of Israelite religion in the post-exilic period.

One interesting feature of the text of P is that it consists of two distinct layers: ‘real’ P and a series of texts added at a later date.  We may call these layers P1 and P2 respectively, though the latter is sometimes referred to by scholars as H (because it is centred on a document known as the Holiness Code).  We know that P2 rather than P1 is the later layer because its contents presume the existence of P1 (Lev. 20.25 assumes Lev. 11, Lev. 22.4 assumes Lev. 13-15, Lev. 19.7f is an edited version of Lev. 7.18, and so on).  It also tends to spell out what is implicit or latent in P1 - and, unlike P1, it sees the Jerusalem Temple as the only legitimate location for the worship of Yahweh.

P2 itself probably consists of different layers, and seems to have been composed over a period of time.  Some of its concerns - its opposition to the worship of Molech and the spirits of the dead, for example - seem to correspond with what we know of conditions in Israel in the latter part of the eighth century.  Its emphasis on the Jerusalem Temple recalls the agenda of the Deuteronomists.  Differently again, Lev. 23, a chapter dealing with the religious calendar, contains some curious features which strongly suggest that it was composed in Babylon during the exile.

Review of "The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara" by David Kertzer

For another book by David Kertzer on Catholic-Jewish relations, see my review of The Popes against the Jews here.

"Signor Mortara, I am sorry to inform you that you are the victim of a betrayal."  The officer felt uneasy, but he had his orders.  "Your son Edgardo has been baptised, and I have been ordered to take him with me."

The date was Thursday 24 June 1858, and the place was Bologna.  The Pope's military police had come to take 6-year-old Edgardo Mortara from his Jewish parents, Momolo and Marianna, and deliver him to the Church authorities in Rome.

A terrible scene resulted.  The police insisted that they were only following the orders of the local Inquisitor, Fr. Feletti.  The Inquisitor himself insisted that he was acting under orders from the Vatican.  In the face of the pleas of Edgardo's family, Fr. Feletti agreed to a 24 hour stay of execution, albeit with reluctance.  It turned out that he was worried that the Jewish family would murder their child to prevent him from becoming a Christian.

When the 24 hours were up, Edgardo was taken by carriage to Rome and consigned to the House of Catechumens, an institution for the conversion of Jews and Muslims to Catholicism.  During the journey, it was said that Edgardo showed a definite interest in the doctrines of the Catholic faith and an eagerness to go to church, though his police guard later suggested that this was the result of childish curiosity and the attention bestowed on him by Catholic fellow passengers.

This cruel situation had come about because the Mortaras were a Jewish family and Edgardo had been secretly baptised.  Shorn of its ritual accoutrements, baptism is not a very difficult sacrament to administer: it consists simply of sprinkling the subject with water and saying "I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".  The only intention that the baptiser needs to have is a general willingness to do what the Church intends to do in conferring baptism.  Then as now, Church law provided that a baby could be baptised only with its parents' permission and by a clergyman using the approved rites of the Church, but these requirements could be relaxed if the child was in imminent danger of death.  In any event, whether it was conferred lawfully or unlawfully, a baptism that fulfilled the minimal sacramental requirements was valid and irreversible.  A Jewish child who had been baptised was regarded by the Church as a Christian, and she could not be raised by infidel parents who would try to turn her away from her new faith.

Edgardo's case was not unique.  Kertzer refers to several other cases of Jewish children being abducted to be raised as Christians, in most cases because a Catholic servant had performed an illicit baptism.  In another case, a family had fled abroad in order to escape the same fate.  Some Jewish families had adopted the practice of requiring servants to make a notarised statement on leaving service declaring that they had not baptised any of the family's children.

These inhuman incidents were able to happen because they took place within the Papal States, the lands in central Italy which lay under the direct control of the Pope and the Catholic Church.  The Pontifical State had existed for centuries, but by the mid-1800s it had become a state of denial.  Since the time of the French Revolution, the Italian peninsula had been swept by waves of revolts and invasions inspired by the new ideas of liberalism, nationalism and constitutional government.  The tide of history was running against the notion that the Pope had the right to rule over an earthly kingdom through the medium of canon law enforced by civil police.  The pontifical government was living on borrowed time, propped up by French and Austrian troops and funded by loans from (oh, the irony) the Rothschild banking dynasty.  Yet the Catholic hierarchy continued to behave as if it was still the Counter-Reformation.

There was nothing inevitable about this ultra-conservative stance: it was a policy choice made by successive pontiffs with varying degrees of gusto.  There were reformers in the Church.  Cardinal Ercole Consalvi had held office as the papal Secretary of State a few decades earlier, and the reigning pope himself, Blessed Pius IX, had initially been regarded as something of a liberal.  But Pius had had his fingers badly burned by the revolutions of 1848, and the day of the modernisers was not yet at hand.  Not until Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) would the Church have a leader who was even half willing to make his peace with the nineteenth century.

Embedded in the reactionary Catholicism of the times was an unpleasant vein of antisemitism.  Jews had lived in Italy since before the time of Christ, but in the Papal States they had long been subject both to popular hostility and to legal restrictions imposed by the Church authorities.  In earlier times, the popes had shown a degree of benevolence towards the Jewish community, but since the Reformation their stance had hardened.  Jews were locked in ghettoes, forced to wear badges identifying their status and required to listen to compulsory sermons aimed at converting them.  It was still seriously believed that Jews kidnapped Christian children and consumed their blood (the notorious "blood libel").  In more recent times, the harshness of the anti-Jewish laws had been relaxed somewhat (Pius IX prided himself on his benignity in this regard), but Jews were still second-class citizens at best.

Nonetheless, the Mortaras and their supporters in the Jewish community did not take Edgardo's abduction lying down.  They fired off letters - respectfully worded, of course - to Fr. Feletti, the pontifical Secretary of State and Pope Pius IX himself, culimating in a full-scale submission in September 1858 claiming that Catholic theology and canon law were on their side (the Pope did not appreciate being lectured by Jews on his own doctrines).  The international press became interested, with editors using the plight of the boy from Bologna to fortify their readers' pro- or anti-Catholic political sentiments.  The French ambassador got involved, as did the Rothschilds and the Anglo-Jewish legend Sir Moses Montefiore.  The Jewish community of Rome, whose officials were at the forefront of the Mortaras' efforts, viewed these interventions with some concern, believing from their own long experience that the Jews of the Papal States could only lose from any attempt to strongarm the Pope.

Accounts of how Edgardo behaved in the House of Catechumens and how he conducted himself during meetings with his parents differed dramatically, and along predictable lines.  The official version, in which he gloried in his new Christian life, has the clear appearance of propaganda.  The natural assumption is that a 6-year-old boy forcibly separated from his parents must have been devastated by the experience, and that his parents' testimony to this effect must have been true and correct.  On the other hand, Edgardo does seem to have adapted himself to his new situation, and doubts developed among some of the Mortaras' allies, including a Jewish official who saw the boy himself, about where his loyalties lay.  After leaving the Catechumens, Edgardo seems to have settled quite well into his new life with the other boys at a church school in Rome, and in due course he was ordained as a Catholic priest.

Who had baptised Edgardo?  Suspicion soon fell on Anna Morisi, a former servant of the Mortaras, and it duly turned out that she was the guilty party.  Her story was that she had administered the baptism during a life-threatening illness that Edgardo had suffered in infancy.  A local grocer called Lepori had suggested that she baptise Edgardo to ensure that he went to heaven when he died, and she had decided to take his advice.  Several years later, she had told another servant in the neighbourhood, an enigmatic character called Regina Bussolari, what she had done.  It was allegedly after Morisi spoke with Bussolari that the Inquisitor got involved.  A woman called Elena Pignatti, who knew Morisi and had employed her after she left the Mortaras, recalled independently that Morisi had spoken to her about baptising Jewish babies several years before, at a time when one of the Mortara children was seriously ill.

This version of events did not go uncontested.  Both Lepori and Bussolari denied speaking to Morisi.  Most witnesses reported that Edgardo's illness had not been life-threatening, so a secret baptism should not have been necessary - and, in any case, Morisi herself had been sick in bed at the relevant time.  More intriguingly, it appears that Morisi may have had a financial interest in suddenly coming out with her story several years after the event.  In 1857, according to Elena Pignatti, just months before Edgardo's abduction, Morisi had been mysteriously summoned several times by the local priests, and she had explained to Pignatti that the Inquisitor had promised her a dowry.  Morisi herself acknowledged that she had been after a dowry, but she insisted that she had brought the subject up with the Inquisitor only after he had questioned her about the baptism.

The Mortaras went to some lengths to prove that Morisi was no simple, God-fearing peasant girl.  Marianna said that she had been a liar, and other witnesses claimed that she had been involved in several instances of theft.  Predictably, given the climate of the times, her sex life was held up as evidence of bad character.  Bologna was garrisoned by Austrian troops, and Morisi appears to have had a liking for handsome young men in uniform - not an unusual preference for a heterosexual female, but one which was politically incorrect in the 1850s.

The Church never provided a full account of its investigations, but its own version of events seems to suggest that the initial report came from a woman called Marianna Bajesi, who claimed to have heard rumours about the baptism originating from Regina Bussolari.  On balance, it is probable that Morisi did baptise Edgardo, no doubt oblivious to the trouble that her act would cause in the future.

The Mortara affair was one of the rude shocks that awoke the upper echelons of the Catholic Church to the realities of the modern world.  They may have been able to get away with this sort of thing in the middle ages, but the game had changed.  The affair may even have changed the course of European history, since it may have influenced Napoleon III of France to allow Prime Minister Cavour of Piedmont to annexe most of the Papal States in 1859-60, an important step in the creation of the modern Italian state.  When Bologna was freed from papal control as a result of this truncation of the Pope's realms, Fr. Feletti was arrested and tried by the new government.  Even within the framework of the old laws, it was argued, he was guilty and deserving of punishment: he provided no proof that he had followed proper procedures in ordering the boy's seizure, and he appeared not to have ascertained properly that the baptism had been validly performed.  The court, however, disagreed and acquitted him.

Fr. Feletti was small fry, though.  At the centre of the controversy were Pope Pius IX and his de facto prime minister, Cardinal Giacomo Antonelli.  There is a longstanding tendency to see Pius as a kindly old buffoon who was manipulated by Antonelli.  Antonelli was a devious politician who become a cardinal without ever being ordained a priest, and he was said to be more interested in money and women than in religion.  There may be an element of truth in these caricatures, but Pius was no innocent dupe.  He took a close personal interest in Edgardo's upbringing, and he strenuously resisted attempts to induce him to release the boy.  He may have been an affable and pious man, but he was also wilful and intransigent.  He cared not what governments, ambassadors or journalists ("the truly powerful people of our times") had to say on the matter.  He had not the slightest qualm of conscience in keeping Edgardo separated from his parents, because he knew with unshakeable certainty that God was on his side.  As his namesake Pius X would later prove, the worst popes are sometimes the holy ones.

Not that Pius was lacking in defenders.  Catholic writers and newspapers praised his stoutheartedness and commended his actions.  The Pope, they said, had acted in accordance with his religious duties, and besides, the boy was clearly loving it.  His parents might be upset to have lost him, but they had lots of other children, and in any case they should have thought of that before they broke the law by employing a Catholic maidservant.  What was more, they could immediately be reunited with Edgardo by becoming Catholics themselves, in which case they would also be granted eternal salvation.  These lines of argument are oddly echoed by no less a person than the professional atheist Richard Dawkins.  In The God Delusion, Dawkins uses the Mortara case as part of his foolish argument that ascribing parents' religion to their children amounts to child abuse.  He seems to think that the Mortaras themselves were culpable because they had employed a Catholic servant due to silly Jewish scruples about the Sabbath and because they refused to make a fake conversion to Catholicism to get their son back.

In the meantime, events were moving on.  Edgardo wrote to his parents on a number of occasions but couldn't resist trying to convert them to Catholicism, leading to a breakdown in communications.  In 1864, a similar case to Edgardo's, involving a Roman Jewish boy named Giuseppe Coen, was reportedly instrumental in inducing Napoleon III to withdraw his troops temporarily from what remained of the Pope's territories.  In 1870, the French troops left for the last time to fight the Franco-Prussian War, and the Italian army entered the Eternal City.  The Pope's temporal power was extinguished, and the papacy enjoyed an extended toys-out-of-pram moment until finally the small area of western Rome known as Vatican City was handed back to Pope Pius XI in 1929.  When Rome fell to the Italians, Edgardo was visited by his brother Riccardo, an officer in the invading army.  Edgardo, now a young man of 19, insisted that Riccardo remove his "murderer's uniform" before he would speak to him.  He then slipped out of Rome and fled to Austria before his parents could catch up with him.  Coen's parents were similarly disappointed when they were reunited with a petulant teenager who wanted nothing more to do with them.

It seems that Momolo never recovered from his son's abduction.  In 1871, his maidservant died under mysterious circumstances, and he was initially convicted of her murder amid allegations that he was an angry and violent man.  The verdict was subsequently reversed by a higher court, and he died shortly afterwards.  Marianna, who was suspected of playing a role in covering up the alleged killing, made her peace with Edgardo and died in 1890.  As noted earlier, Edgardo himself became a priest.  A clever man, he learnt several languages and became a missionary preacher.  He eventually wound up in Belgium, where he died on 11 March 1940, just before the Nazi invasion.  It was a mercifully timed demise.  The baptism that took him from his parents and made him an international celebrity would, one imagines, have cut no ice with the SS.