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      IN 1450, when friar Alonso was still collecting material for his "Fortress of the Faith," a Spanish cardinal at the papal court of Nicholas V published in Rome a vigorous denunciation of his countrymen's treatment of the New Christians.1 The year before, mobs in Toledo had protested a new tax levy by running amuck and killing Conversos in sufficient quantity to compensate for the indignity to their pocketbooks. Such actions, wrote the cardinal, recalled the atrocities perpetrated against Israel by the ancient Midianites and Ishmaelites. Those

1. Tractatus contra Madianitas et Ismaelitas.

responsible were "ministers of the Devil and enemies of God." Their behavior was irrational, unjust, malicious; it was inspired by hate, vengeance and greed; they were impious, sacrilegious, blasphemous and diabolical.

      The cardinal also took note of the growing popular view that the Converso's Jewish blood guaranteed his wickedness and hatred of the True Faith. This was an impious contradiction of Scripture itself: the Savior Himself, the Blessed Virgin, all the early saints, and in fact all the ancient pillars of the True Faith carried the blood of Abraham and Moses in their veins. Christianity knows no distinctions of race; it does not persecute a man for his ancestry. The Converso, baptised into the True Faith, accepting its teachings and acknowledging its unique truth, is a legitimate member of the Holy, Apostolic and Universal Church and should be accepted as such by anyone who pretends to the name of Christian.

      The most surprising thing about this book is that it was written by Juan de Torquemada, uncle of the future Inquisitor General. The least surprising thing is that the author's sentiments were completely out of tune with those of his countrymen back home. Alonso de Espina's ravings about the Antichrist in Converso disguise represented the considered judgment of both ignoramus and intellectual that the New Christian class of Spain was the breeding ground for the Devil's final campaign against Christianity. This opinion was shared outside Spain as well. We have already seen, for example, how Europeans generally traced the Black Death to the machinations of Mosaic wizards in the Spanish ghettos. A century later, while Cardinal Torquemada was vainly hurling his


admonitions against the winds of popular hatred, a French chronicler identified the Antichrist as a Spanish Converso.

In the present year of 1445 (wrote Mathieu d'Escouchy) there came to France a learned young man of twenty five. who claimed to be a native of Spain. He was of medium height. good appearance, very pleasant with all those with whom he came in contact. and he had the most profound knowledge ever seen anywhere in all the sciences. and especially in ecclesiastical matters. He was also a skilful knight-at-arms and a Doctor in theology, medicine. and the laws. He knew more about music than anybody else. playing all instruments superbly and explaining the rules and procedures for each one. He was also a swordsman without parallel. After traveling through many parts of this kingdom he came to Paris, where in the presence of forty or fifty of the most eminent men of the University, he was examined and questioned in various branches of learning, and he replied with such learning and sound reasoning that nobody could find anything which needed correcting. He also appeared before the Parlement of Paris and in other assemblages, without finding anyone who could successfully oppose him. He remained some time in Paris and then went to Ghent with the intention of visiting the court of the Duke of Burgundy. There also he was examined by the most learned men, who judged him to be without equal.

      After the departure of this young prodigy, the leading savants of the University of Paris met to ponder on his


wonders. In solemn discussion they came to the inescapable conclusion that no human being, even if he lived to be a hundred, could possibly possess the knowledge exhibited by the young wizard from Spain. Obviously then, he was not a human being, and the learned doctors of Paris delivered themselves of the following considered judgment.

      Their recent visitor was either the Antichrist himself or one of his lieutenants, and acquired his fabulous knowledge by black magic. This conclusion was further substantiated by the scholarly findings of those who specialized in Antichrist research. The Antichrist would be born in time of war.1 He would be the offspring of an adulterous arrangement between a Christian man and a Converso woman. He would be possessed by the Devil, whose vast knowledge he would acquire. Posing as a Christian during his youth he would visit the nations of Europe to confound them with his learning. At the age of twenty-eight he would go to Jerusalem where the Jews would receive him as their God. There he would reign until the age of thirty-two, practicing such great cruelty and persecutions that God our Creator would destroy him with a firebolt from Heaven and this would signal the end of the world.

      Apocalyptic tales about Antichrists and Judgment Day have always had a tingling fascination for the popular mind. Usually, however, except for a few enthusiasts who take to building arks or to twenty-four hour prayer sessions in isolated huts on the prairie, most people

1. The Hundred Years' War between France and England was in its final stages.


refuse to allow tomorrow's doom to intrude on today's practical problems of existence. The Spaniard undoubtedly believed these popular tales about the Antichrist and his murdering legions, and all the talk about thunderbolts, cosmic trumpet blasts and the world rolling up like a scroll must have sent a delicious chill of fear through his veins. It also added a transcendental flavor to his everyday earthbound hatred of the Jews, and it was this latter sentiment which ultimately accounts for everything else.

      In 1391 and the years immediately following, Christian hatred of the Jew focussed on the latter's rejection of the True Faith. Once the Jews accepted baptism, so it was believed, the Jewish "problem" would disappear. But the "problem" did not disappear; in fact-disregarding for the moment those who remained steadfast in the faith of Moses-the "problem" became steadily more intense. The usual explanation is that many Conversos were waxing fat on their new Christian freedoms while secretly adhering to their old faith and even raising their children in it. They were therefore hypocrites and deceivers, publicly pretending to be Christians but too cowardly to face the consequences of their religious beliefs.

      It is perfectly true that many Conversos practiced just such deceptions, and both Christian and Jewish historians have criticized them for it. But what were their alternatives? They chose baptism as a lesser evil than death. They still believed in the truth of their ancient religion. To return to that religion meant death at the stake. A few, as we have seen, took that risk. Others, whose religious sentiments were adaptable to changing circum-


stances, made the most of their new found opportunities.

      The great majority, however, tried to make the best of an intolerable situation. Their crime" lay in their inability to accept a belief thrust upon them by their persecutors and in their reluctance to die a martyr's death. The former is a crime only for those who look . upon convictions as exchangeable merchandise; the latter can only offend those who demand martyrdom in others as the price of their approval.

      Modern anti-Semitism has nothing to do with the Jewish religion. In fact it has nothing really to do with. the Jew at all. He can be poor, rich, Christian, Jew, atheist, conservative, radical, garbage man or international banker. He is still a Jew because the anti-Semite would be desolate without him. At what point "Jewishness" became a necessary reality for the sustenance of the sick is probably impossible to say. Perhaps it was such a reality from Old Testament times, serving the apparently universal need of man for someone he can kick with impunity.

      In any case, the first external signs that anti-Semitism in Spain was taking on a "racial" rather than an exclusively "religious" cast, appear in these years of the middle fifteenth century. An Old Christian contemporary of Alonso de Espina summed up the new thesis that any Converso was no more than a filthy Jew in Christian disguise:

. . . the despised, damned and detested generation of baptized Jews and all those descended from their accursed lineage of adulterers sunk in disbelief and infidelity, fathers of all greed, sowers of


all discord and division, abounding in malice and perverseness. eternal ingrates against God, violators of His commandments. deviators from His ways.

      Another writer used the "comedy" touch to make the same point and also to add a few Jewish personality traits which will be familiar to the modern reader. The author employs the elaborate literary device of an imaginary grant by the king to an Old Christian nobleman, conferring on him the title of Converso. The reason, as our unknown author explains with elephantine levity, is to allow the Old Christian nobleman to enjoy all the rights and privileges of the pushy Conversos, "recently hatched among us because of our sins. I The honest Old Christian is hereby empowered to use all the "subtleties, arts, double-dealings and deceptions" of the Conversos. He may deceive and trick pure Christians with flattery and hypocrisy; he may buy his way into the priesthood to learn their sins in the confessional and report them to the authorities. He may also buy a public office and fasten his hooks into honest people. He may become a physician so he can kill good Christians, take over their widows and property and foul the purity of their blood. And so on, and on, and on.

      The distinction between Jew and Converso was legally a very important one, but in the public mind all other distinctions were rapidly disappearing. In his "History of the Catholic Kings" (Ferdinand and Isabella), the popular historian Andres Bernaldez describes the "circumstances" which led to the establishment of the Spanish


Inquisition. His analysis of causes is open to debate but his sentiments clearly reflect the new image of the Converso as a Jew in disguise and, incidentally, of the evolving concept of the Jew as a racial "problem."

      Bernaldez traces the Mosaic heresy parading under the name of Christianity back to the Massacres of 1391. It began then and continued to grow secretly ever since until it had spread into all the corners of the realm: "Oh wild and damnable bestiality, evil nourished by treason." As for the Jews who kept their faith, they are gluttons feeding on garbage fried in oil. Their houses "stink vilely" from their cooking. Their bodies also stink because they eat onions and garlic, and also because they have not been baptized.

      The Conversos, although they have been baptized, stink just like the .Jews because they still believe in the Jewish faith. They pretend to be Christians, of course, because it is profitable for them to do so. But they still do not like pork and they are never reluctant to eat meat during Lent. They keep the Passover and the Jewish Sabbath; they secretly invite rabbis to their homes to preach to them and slaughter their meat and poultry in the Jewish

1. Bernaldez. the "priest of Los Palacios: was born about 1450 and died about 1514. His History is an excellent source for both the events and the popular sentiments of this period. He took a great interest in the religious problem and was an eyewitness to many of the Jewish misfortunes of the later fifteenth century. Unlike most historians, who write for a reasonably learned posterity, Bernaldez prided himself on being a spokesman of the masses and a reflector of the views of the common man, even to the point of writing in his language. For both these reasons we shall have occasion to hear from him more often as we move closer to Torquemada who. unfortunately, kept most of his thoughts to himself.


fashion. They seek whenever possible to avoid the sacraments of the Holy Church. They never confess their sins; they do not fear excommunication; they blaspheme against the Savior and the Apostles. Not without reason did our Lord call them a wicked and adulterous generation. .For they disdain virginity and chastity, seeking only to multiply. They buy their way into monasteries. They ravish nuns, swindle honest people, and steal and lie without conscience. They disdain to work with their hands, to dig the or work the fields, to plough till or raise cattle. Instead, they work only at easiest jobs where they can make the most money with as little labor as possible.

      The anti-Semitism of Bernaldez is an extension of a "racial" philosophy which began to take the Massacres of 1391 the subsequent the New Christian class. In the sixteenth. purity of a of public office in the seventeenth century the "racial" theory was firmly established on the principle that a twentieth part-indeed the merest trace-of Jewish blood was evidence of one's natural inferiority to his neighbors.

      However, the had not reached anthropological still to solve its Jewish "problem" by purification. The Jewish community was whittled down by a policy of legal and extra-legal attrition so that it should fail, perhaps sterner measures could be found! But a Converso was a Christian however suspect his enthusiasm for True Faith, there was no effective way to deal with him on a legal basis. Yet, as the


anonymous author of the "Chronicle of Don Alvaro de Luna" wrote in 1455, "against these heretics and bad Christians we must wage even more merciless war than against the most notorious of infidels." Unfortunately, the battalions of orthodoxy were pitifully inadequate. In Aragon the old Homan Inquisition exerted only a desultory authority; in Castile, where the local bishops had jurisdiction over heresy, there were occasional burnings of Judaizing Conversos, Sporadic outbursts of mob violence against New Christians also helped the cause. But the Enemy was powerful and alert, and he used his influence in high places to thwart these scattered efforts to destroy him.

      Friar Alonso de Espina, as might be expected, initiated the first serious efforts to establish a local Inquisition to pursue the Judaizing Converso on a systematic basis. In a letter to the General of the Geronomite order, Espina and his Franciscan colleagues called for a joint effort to persuade Henry IV of Castile to establish an Inquisition in that kingdom. The growing influence of the Conversos demanded quick action by the clergy before it was too late:

And now we-who occupy the places of the saints here on earth and who should be an example of light to the world-see the unbelievers growing and heretics destroying and subverting the Faith of Jesus Christ while we sit silently by.

      An Inquisition, friar Alonso maintained, would separate the good Conversos (like himself) from the bad; it would


protect the Holy Faith from corruption and restore peace and honor to the realm.

      Contemporary accounts tell us that this proposal produced "an extraordinary effect" on the Geronomites. They addressed numerous prayers to God beseeching His assistance; they shed copious tears over the corrosion of Converso souls and they convoked a general council to consider the problem. Meanwhile, the impatient Franciscans addressed an appeal directly to King Henry. Unfortunately, the king allowed himself to be sidetracked by the claim of one of the friars that he had a collection of Converso foreskins to prove that the New Christians were still practicing Judaism. When the king demanded to see them the friar stammered something to the effect that it was somebody else who was collecting foreskins but he didn't know who it was. As for the Geronomites, they apparently dried their tears and concluded that Alonso de Espina and his friends had gone too far. The only satisfaction the Franciscans got was a half-hearted declaration by King Henry in 1464 deploring the spread of Judaism among the Conversos of Castile and directing the local bishops to root it out. A few burnings followed this announcement, but nobody in authority seemed to be very enthusiastic about it and matters were soon back to normaL The frustrated crusaders would have to wait until Henry's death and the subsequent unification of the Spanish kingdoms under Ferdinand and Isabella before the work of purification could get under way in earnest. If they could have seen into the future they would have been content to wait, for the happy day was not far off.


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