The Scholastics and the Jews

Coexistence, Conversion, and the Medieval Origins of Tolerance

Edmund J. Mazza

It has become commonplace in Medieval Studies to speak of the “formation of a persecuting society” in Catholic Europe of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The efforts of St. Raymond of Peñafort and the Order of Preachers to convert Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians is a conspicuous example. Edmund J. Mazza’s The Scholastics and the Jews, however, marks a major historiographical revision. While in no way diminishing the reality of Jewish suffering across the centuries, Mazza identifies the origins of missionary overtures to non-believers not so much with the drive for homogeneity as for holiness.

The Scholastics and the Jews, above all, is devoted to re-discovering a tradition, the development and implementation of a medieval world-view—or sacramentality—that saw the institutions and inhabitants of this world not primarily as means to the pursuit and maintenance of power but as sanctified symbols reflecting God’s own infinite majesty, and at the same time as flesh-and-blood sinners in need of redemption. How this Scholastic “hermeneutic” simultaneously hindered—and helped—the cause of tolerance is a tale largely yet untold.

Praise for The Scholastics and the Jews

“Recent scholarship has demolished the comfortable modern certitude that the medieval West was an era of monolithic religious and cultural conformity—a ‘persecuting society’ incompatible with the very idea of toleration toward those who did not submit to the dictates of orthodox Christianity. Edmund Mazza’s The Scholastics and the Jews constitutes a significant step forward in the literature on toleration during the Latin Middle Ages. Mazza locates in many elements of the Christian theology of the period the foundations of a coherent theory of tolerance toward Jews and other non-believers, based on principles of human reason and dignity. The Scholastics and the Jews reflects seminal scholarship on a topic that resonates as much today as it did seven hundred years or more in the past.”

— CARY J. NEDERMAN, Texas A&M University, author of Worlds of Difference: European Discourses of Toleration, c.1100–c.1550

“The long history of the relations between Christians and Jews contains many points of conflict—and some surprising moments of fruitful convergence as well. Any conscientious attempt to treat even small parts of such a vast subject must run many risks, and face many uncertainties as well. In this study, Professor Mazza has taken on the particularly thorny subject of the interaction of Jews and Scholastics. His treatment displays uncommon fairness, scholarship, insight, wisdom, and grace. Anyone who would better understand the relations between God’s chosen peoples will benefit from a careful reading of this exceptional study.”

— ROBERT ROYAL, president of the Faith & Reason Institute

“Focusing on the ‘golden age’ of Scholasticism, this erudite and deeply thoughtful book provides a welcome corrective to common historical stereotypes, offers an important rebuttal to theories about the origins of modern anti-Semitism, and presents a rich theological reflection on Patristic and Scholastic understandings of sin, sacramentalism, conversion, and religious tolerance. A rewarding and often surprising work of Catholic scholarship.”

— CARL E. OLSON, editor of Catholic World Report

“Too often the modern person not only reads history anachronistically, but does so with a set of assumptions about the past that are not the result of critical reflection or careful inquiry. ‘Everyone,’ we are told, ‘knows’ that the Middle Ages were the ‘Dark Ages,’ and that the ‘Enlightenment’ rescued us from centuries of unreason, superstition, and prejudice. This of course is our own epoch’s version of pious nonsense, and virtually all competent and serious scholars know this. Edmund Mazza is one of those scholars. In this important book, Professor Mazza carefully, and with great rigor, addresses some of the most salient questions about the relationship between Catholic Scholastic thought and Judaism.”

— FRANCIS J. BECKWITH, Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies, Baylor University

“Professor Mazza has written an astounding, beautiful work detailing how the Scholastics approached the evangelization and conversion of the Jews over the centuries. The author does not take the role of an apologist, nor of a polemicist condemning Catholic ‘intolerance,’ but of a conscientious scholar chronicling the development of the Catholic approach in light of the key figures’ moral and penitential theology and pastoral concerns, which led to their statements and actions. This work is indispensable for looking beyond the polemics of this controversial issue to the underlying motivations and characters of the key participants.”

— ROY SCHOEMAN, author of Salvation is from the Jews and Honey from the Rock

“In The Scholastics and the Jews Edmund Mazza has successfully challenged long-established historiography that sees the medieval approach to non-Christian religions solely through the lens of power and persecution. He alerts us to the ideals of the medievals that allowed the birth of genuine tolerance that would be bequeathed to the modern world, and successfully recenters the debates from hegemony to the sacramental realities at the center of the medieval Catholic worldview. Letting the sources speak for themselves, Mazza weaves an intricate narrative tracing the developments in Christian theology that led to concepts of liberty and inclusion which were seen as necessary for the higher end of the salvation of souls. His rehabilitation of such characters as St. Raymond of Peñafort and St. Thomas Aquinas does not obscure his just criticism of others who went too far in their attempts to convert religious minorities. It is a most welcome answer to the imbalances found in recent scholarship.”

— DONALD S. PRUDLO, Associate Professor of Ancient and Medieval History, Jacksonville State University

About the Author

Edmund J. Mazza

Edmund J. Mazza is Professor of History at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles, where he teaches Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance and Reformation History. Dr. Mazza has contributed chapters on these subjects for Cognella Press’s forthcoming A History of the Premodern World. Mazza’s research centers on the Medieval Mediterranean, especially the juxtaposition of sectarian communities: the controversies of Catholics, Cathars, and Waldensians; coexistence and conversion among Christians, Jews, and Muslims in Barcelona under James I; the inauguration of novel Dominican language schools in Hebrew and Arabic in Spain and North Africa under St. Raymond of Peñafort, OP, as well as the idiosyncratic and prolific apologetics of Blessed Ramon Llull. Dr. Mazza has produced teaching videos shot on location in Athens, Ephesus, Istanbul, Palermo, Naples, Venice, and Rome. Mazza was an invited scholar at Liberty Fund’s 2015 San Diego seminar “Convivencia and Reconquista: Freedom and Responsibility in Medieval Spain.” That same year he organized at New York University the conference “Conversing Conversion,” celebrating the 750th anniversary of the birth of Dante. Dr. Mazza was also the organizer of “Christ Among the Medieval Mendicants,” a 2013 conference commemorating the 750th anniversary of the Barcelona Debate and the institution of the Feast of Corpus Christi, co-sponsored by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York and the Morgan Library and Museum.