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Papal Bulls

Papal Bulls are generally official statements by the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Although the term “Bull” (from the Latin bullum, “seal”) was sometimes applied to imperial documents as well, its use has been limited, as defined above. Bulls bearing the seal of the reigning pope and dealing with matters of Jewish interest were fairly numerous in the Middle Ages, though they constituted a small fraction of the vast papal correspondence; in recent centuries, their number has decreased. Earlier, they took the form of letters addressed to prelates, secular rulers, the Christian faithful in general, and, in rare instances, directly to Jews. Later, they increasingly took the form of memoranda (briefs outlining policy), headed by the phrase Ad futuram rei memoriam (“A reminder for the future”). Either type of document usually began with a statement of general attitude, proceeded to a discussion of the specific problem involved, continued with the pope’s decision on the resolution of the problem, and concluded with a statement of the penalties for disobedience. The statement of attitude frequently cited scriptural verses or referred back to the authority of the incumbent’s predecessors. The following are examples of some of the more significant papal bulls concerning the Jews, illustrative of Church policy. They are identified, as usual, by their initial words.

Sicut Judaeis. First issued by Calixtus II around 1120, it was a general Bull of Protection for the Jews, who had suffered at the hands of participants in the First Crusade (1095–96) and were being maltreated by their Christian neighbors. It forbade killing them, using force to convert them, and otherwise molesting them, their synagogues, and cemeteries. The bull was modeled on a letter, which began with the same phrase, sent to the bishop of Palermo by Pope Gregory I in 598, objecting to the use of force as a conversionary method. Calixtus’ formulation was repeated by most of the popes from the 12th to the 15th centuries. They often added references to problems current in their day. Several of them condemned the accusation of ritual murder.

Post Miserabile by Innocent III in 1198, was addressed to the prelates of Europe and dealt at length with the need for another crusading effort in the Holy Land. Among the privileges granted to those who took the cross was the protection of their property while they were away, including the suspension of payment of principal and interest on their debts to Jews. The formula in which this suspension was expressed became standard in calls to Crusades which followed in the next few centuries.

Etsi non displiceat by Innocent III in 1205, addressed to the king of France, is a list of accusations against the Jews: usury, blasphemy, arrogance, employing Christian slaves, and even murder. The king is urged to put a stop to the evils. Yet the same “evils” continued to be mentioned by various popes for centuries while being disregarded by others.

In generali concilio by Honorius III in 1218, addressed to the archbishop of Toledo, demanded the enforcement of the decision of the Fourth Lateran Council that Jews wear clothing to distinguish them from Christians; also that Jews be made to pay the tithe to local churches. Later popes frequently repeated both items.

Etsi Judaeorum by Gregory IX in 1233, addressed to the prelates of France, urged the prevention of attacks on the Jews, usually motivated by greed. The sentiment, if not the exact words, was repeated by a number of popes in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Si vera sunt also by Gregory IX, in 1239, addressed to the kings and prelates of France and Spain, ordered the seizure and examination of the Talmud and all other Jewish books suspected of blasphemies against Jesus and Christianity. The burning of such Jewish books was ordered several times from the 13th to the 16th centuries.

Impia Gens issued by Pope Innocent IV on March 4, 1244, in a letter to the King Louis IX of France, ordered the Talmud to be burned. Two months later( May 9), he also issued papal bull Impia judeorum perfidia (The Disrespectful, Deceitful Jews) callint the Jews a perfidious race and reaffirming the restrictions on Jews implemented by Pope Gregory IX. The Talmud was banned and Jews were prohibited from hiring Catholics for manual labor to avoid their faith becoming confused.

Lachrymabilem Judaeorum by Innocent IV in 1247, addressed to the prelates of Germany in response to Jewish complaints, urged an end to murder and persecution on the baseless blood libel. Several other popes made the same plea, but neither consistentlyi nor forcefully.

Turbato corde by Clement IV in 1267, addressed to the inquisitors of heresy, expressed dismay over the rumor that Jews were trying to induce Christians (possibly converts from Judaism) to turn to their religion. Charges of such Judaizing activity were raised frequently by later popes.

Vineam soreth by Nicholas III in 1278, addressed to Franciscans in Austria and Lombardy, ordered the selection of trained men to preach Christianity to the Jews. Secular rulers were requested not to interfere with the preachers. Henceforward, frequent reference is made to this method of missionizing among Jews.

Quamvis perfidiam by Clement VI in 1348, addressed to various prelates, urged the protection of Jews against the accusation that they had brought on the Black Death by poisoning the wells. It was an instance of the specific application of protection in the face of a threat to Jewish life.

Etsi doctoribus gentium by antipope Benedict XIII (Peter of Luna) in 1415, a brief for the guidance of Church policy, was one of the most complete collections of anti-Jewish laws. Though not by a recognized pope, it served as a precedent for several later popes.

Cupientes Judaeos by Pope Paul III on March 21, 1452, outlined privileges for Jews who converted to Christianity (Neophytes). To qualify, they had to break all ties with other Jews, including family members, and could only marry a born Christian. The Bull protected their property, provided tax incentives, and gave them full citizenship. Until then, Jews who converted had to give over their wealth to the church.

Numquam dubitavimus by Sixtus IV in 1482, empowered Ferdinand of Aragon to appoint inquisitors to extirpate heresy and to prevent Jewish practices among those who had been converted to Christianity.

Cum nimis absurdum by Paul IV in 1555, was a brief in the spirit of antipope Benedict XIII. It established the ghetto in Rome, limited Jewish economic activities, prohibited more than one synagogue in a town, and forbade contact between Jews and Christians.

Hebraeorum gens by Pius V issued on February 26, 1569, a brief, accused the Jews of many evils, including the practice of magic. It ordered the expulsion of the Jews from all papal territory, except Rome and Ancona.

Multos adhuc ex Christianis by Gregory XIII in 1581 forbade Jews from working as doctors, holding prestigious or public positions, or collecting taxes. This did not prevent many popes from using Jews as their personal physicians.

Sancta mater ecclesia also by Gregory XIII in 1584, confirming his Vices eius nos of 1577, ordered the Jews of Rome to send 100 men and 50 women every Saturday afternoon to listen to missionary sermons, which were delivered in a church near the ghetto.

Christiana pietas by Sixtus V in 1586, relieved the Jews of many oppressive social and economic restrictions which had been imposed upon them by Paul IV and Pius V. They enjoyed this relief for only a few years, for in 1593, Clement VIII issued a number of edicts restoring the previous situation which remained in force till the 19th century.

Propagandae Per Unicersum by Pope Clement XI on March 11, 1704, confirmed all the benefits given to converts under Paul III and expanded them to include giving them the rights over properties owned by nonconverted members of their families.


Dictionnaire de droit canonique, 2 (1937), S.V. Bulle; M. Stern, Urkundliche Beitraege ueber die Stellung der Paepste zu den Juden (1893–95), passim. SICUT JUDAEIS. S. Grayzel, in: HJ, 2 (1940), 1–12; idem, in: Studies and Essays… A.A. Neuman (1962), 243ff.; cf. Baron, Social2, 4 (1957), 7ff., and 235 nn. 3, 4. POST MISERA-BILE: S. Grayzel, The Church and the Jews in the XIIIth Century (1933), 86–87. ETSI NON DISPLICEAT and IN GENERALI CONCILLO: ibid., 144–7. ETSI JUDAEORUM: ibid., 200–3. SI VERA SUNT: ibid., 240–3. LACHRYMABILEM JUDAEORUM: ibid., 286–7. TURBATO CORDE: P. Browe, Die Judenmission im Mittelatter (1942), 258, n.216. VINEAM SORETH: ibid., 30, n.57. QUAMVIS PERFIDIAM: A. Lang, Acta salzburgo-aquilejensia, 1 (1906), 302; cf. Baer, Spain, 2 (1966), 27f. ETSI DOCTORIBUS GENTIUM: J. Amador de los Ríos, Historia social, política y religiosa de los Judíos, 2 (1875–76), 626–53. NUMQUAM DUBITAVIMUS: F. Fita y Colomer, La España hebrea, 1 (1889–98), 83ff. CUM NIMIS ABSURDUM: Vogelstein-Rieger, 2 (1895), 152; E. Rodoconachi, Le-Saint-Siège et les Juifs (1891), 173. HEBRAEORUM GENS: Vogelstein-Rieger, 2 (1895), 167ff. SANCTA MATER ECCLESIA: ibid., 173; A. Milano, II ghetto di Roma (1964), 269–81. CHRISTIANA PIETAS: ibid., 269–81; Vogelstein-Rieger, 2 (1895), 173, 183–6.

[Solomon Grayzel]

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Beyond Time and Place.
François Soyer, “How the Jews came to be disdained and humbled,” in Popularizing Anti-Semitism in Early Modern Spain and its Empire, (Brill, 2014).

Papal Coat of Arms, Public Domain.