Sunday, May 6, 2018

Towards Tolerance: Christian Appeals to Jews in the Middle Ages

The notion of a “persecuting society” has achieved an unwarranted acceptance among many medievalists, who now merely assume that raw hatred, hunger for power and the creation of a homogenous society was at the core of the Church’s treatment of nonbelievers — pagans, Muslims and, most problematically, Jews — rather than any sincere concern for the salvation of souls.

Edmund Mazza, a professor of history at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles, attempts to refocus current scholarly assumptions about the Jewish-Christian dynamic in The Scholastics and the Jews: Coexistence, Conversion and the Medieval Origins of Tolerance.

Mazza’s book is a fine work of scholarship examining key figures and texts on the road toward religious tolerance in the Middle Ages. It’s a valuable step toward reorienting this dialogue away from crude, ahistorical anti-Catholic polemic and toward something more fact-based, which is why it’s so jarring to find a political preface almost scuttling the project on the first page. 

Mazza’s goal is not a whitewashing of Christian misdeeds against the Jews, but an unfolding of the more complex interactions — social, political, pastoral and theological — of the Christians and unbelievers in the Middle Ages.

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