Tom Hess, an international prayer leader and a modern-day fisherman of God, remembers seeing an inscription on the wall in the Nazi death cap at Auschwitz quoting the philosopher Santayana: "He who does not learn from the lessons of history is doomed to repeat them." This statement could qualify as a prophecy for the Church.
Virtually everyone has heard about the Holocaust of World War II in which Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich murdered six million Jewish people in cold blood. Few people know that professed Christians, as has happened many times throughout history, helped birth and carry out that organized murder! In fact, Hitler modeled some of his most heinous anti-Semitic schemes on official policies drafted centuries earlier by Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders.
Even though most Christians in Europe did not pull a trigger, release poison gas or burn the crime evidence, nearly all of them looked the other way. A few believers aided the Jewish people, and some shared concentration camp cells and died alongside their Jewish brethren—but most did not.
In his book Our Hands Are Stained With Blood, Dr. Michael Brown, a theologian and Jewish disciple of the Messiah, quotes Eliezer Berkovitz, a respected Jewish thinker, about the "moral and spiritual bankruptcy" of Christian religion and civilization:
"After nineteen centuries of Christianity, The extermination of six million Jews, among them one-and-a-half million children, carried out in cold blood in the very heart of Christian Europe, encouraged by the criminal silence of virtually all Christendom, including that of an infallible Holy Father in Rome, was the natural culmination of this bankruptcy. A straight line leads from the first act of oppression against the Jews and Judaism in the fourth century to the Holocaust in the twentieth."
At the time of this writing, the beginning of the 21st century, survivors of the Holocaust still live among us. They give vivid testimony to the horrors of modern anti-Semitism gone mad in many of the world's most "enlightened" European nations.
To our shame, some of the greatest Church leaders helped pave the way to death camps in places such as Auschwitz and Bergen. They did it through anti-Semitic writing and teaching. They underscored it by the sheer force of their influence from the pulpit. Everyone must join Jewish people today in remembering the Holocaust with the words "Never again!"
Church Edict Against the Jewish People
When Berkovitz mentioned the "first act of oppression" against the Jewish people by Christians in the fourth century, he was referring to an edict issued by the Roman Catholic Church in response to the doctrines of Saint John Chrysostom (347-407). This early Church father was the patriarch of Constantinople, yet he described the Jewish synagogue as "a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ, a den of thieves; a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and abyss of perdition."
Many scholars consider Chrysostom to be one of the greatest and most compassionate Church fathers. Yet the writings of this renowned saint reveal at least one dangerous flaw. He said, "As for me, I hate the synagogue...I hate the Jews." Ironically, Chrysostom's name literally means "golden-mouthed." He used his gifts of persuasion to birth the Christian doctrine (popular even in this century) that anyone who persecuted the Jews was acting as an “instrument of Divine wrath.”
Anti-Semitic Rhetoric Spreads
A who's who of Church leaders and thinkers echoed Chrysostom's sentiments in an avalanche of anti-Semitic rhetoric. These leaders included Eusebius of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine and Jerome. During the dark years that followed, many Jewish people living under the shadow of the Christian Church of that day were forced to be baptized as Christians or face one of three dim choices: expulsion, torture or death.
In A.D. 327, the Church Council of Nicea declared that for the benefit of Christianity, Jewish people could exist only "in seclusion and humiliation." Fourteen years later Constantine II prohibited marriage between Christians and Jewish people.
In 1095, Pope Urban II decided to help Emperor Alexius I of Byzantine recruit knights from the West to battle the Turkish Empire. While presiding over a church council at the Cathedral of Clermont in France (the nation of his birth) in 1095, Pope Urban preached a fiery sermon to crowds outside of the cathedral and, on November 27, launched the First Crusade. He urged his listeners to liberate the holy city of Jerusalem and offered them a spiritual reward: ''Whoever for devotion alone, not to gain honour or money, goes to Jerusalem to liberate the Church of God, can substitute this journey for all penance."
Historian Bernard Hamilton said that when the pope finally finished his sermon, "the crowd shouted, 'God wills it, God wills it!' and surged forward to take the cross." The pope appointed a former knight who had become a priest to lead the Crusade, but events quickly spiraled out of control. Armed with the pope's promise of forgiveness of past sins and "sins recently committed," nobles, knights, soldiers, farmers and housewives rallied to march to Jerusalem.
The Crusades Begin
The first assault was called the Peasant's Crusade because it was made by an unauthorized and poorly equipped army of mostly untrained peasants, including women. They were quickly defeated, and most of its members were killed or enslaved.
The pope's promise, however, was a strong incentive. Even soldiers who had been excommunicated from the Church were welcomed back to the fold with open arms if they made a vow to purge Jerusalem and the Middle East of all infidels. They were also released from any debt they owed to Jewish people and had blanket permission from the pontiff to rob Jewish people on the journey to and from Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, many of these crusaders decided to purge Europe of its own infidels by attacking any Jewish person they encountered on their journey to the Promised Land. Pastor John Hagee of Texas, who teaches extensively about the Church and Israel, writes: "On the First Crusade [there were a total of fifteen of them over a period of about five hundred years] to the Holy Land, the crusading armies left a trail of Jewish blood across Europe. Within a three-month period, twelve thousand Jews were slaughtered in Germany as the crusaders screamed, "The Jews have killed our Savior. They must convert or be killed."
According to Michael Brown, the leading slogan of the day throughout Europe was, "Kill a Jew and save your soul!"
Pope Innocent III is considered one of the "saviors" of the Jewish people, and he did try to stop some of the killing in later years. Yet his writings clearly indicate that he also felt the Jewish people deserved to "wander over the face of the earth, without right, except by gracious concession, without a home...as if they were beings of an inferior species."
The First Crusade successfully captured Jerusalem in the summer of 1099, but the crusaders spent their first week in the holy city in an unholy slaughter of Jewish and Muslim citizens of Jerusalem. One historian says the men who carried the cross into Jerusalem took Holy Communion and "heartily devoted the day to exterminating Jewish men, women and children—killing more than ten thousand." Is it any wonder, therefore, that spiritual darkness blanketed the Church in the medieval period and beyond when it presumed to murder anyone who was identified as a Jew in the name of Christ?
In 1182, France expelled Jewish people from its borders, and Austria did the same in 1421. After that they were expelled from the cities of Cologne (1424), Augsburg (1439) and Mainz (1473). Warsaw, Poland, expelled its Jewish population in 1439, followed by Sicily (1492-93). Lithuania expelled all Jewish people from its borders (1495), as did Portugal (1496-97) and Nuremburg (1499).
These dates are important because they indicate that most of Europe was dosed to Jewish people by the time the infamous Spanish Inquisition began in 1480. That means that Spain's Jewish refugees simply had no place to go.
Spain Targets Its Jewish Citizens
Until the savagery of the Third Reich in the twentieth century, the Spanish Inquisition was the unrivaled pinnacle of Christian anti-Semitism in human history. Spain's large population of Jewish people was the target of this unholy inquisition.
Haman, the enemy of the Jewish population described in the book of Esther, seemed to take human form again in the person of Friar Tomas de Torquemada, the pope's personally appointed grand inquisitor. Torquemada was also the confessor to Queen Isabella, and he used the full powers of the Church and the Spanish crown to hunt down and persecute any and all Jewish people. Ultimately, he wielded so much power in Spain that even the king and queen feared his disapproval.
History of the Jews in Spain
The first Jewish people to visit Spain (called Tarshish in most instances) were presumably Israelite traders who negotiated the purchase and shipment of gold and silver for the construction of Solomon's Temple. The region later became a safe haven for Jewish exiles following the invasion of Babylon and the destruction of Solomon's Temple Obadiah the prophet referred to these exiles and mentioned another name for Spain when he prophesied:
And the exiles of this host of the sons of Israel who are among the Canaanites as far as Zarephath and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will possess the cities of the Negev.
—Obadiah 1:20, emphasis added
The Doubleday Dictionary identifies Sepharad with Spain and describes the Sephardim as "the Spanish and Portuguese Jews or their descendants." Some historians believe these Sephardic Jews helped found the nation of Spain sometime before the birth of Christ. In any case, even more Jewish people fled to Sepharad after the destruction of Herod's Temple in A.D. 70.
Jewish people throughout the Roman Empire suffered even more persecution than usual after Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and named it the state religion. Persecution against Jewish people intensified when the increasingly influential Church fathers began to preach anti-Semitic themes in their sermons, teachings and letters.
Then, in A.D. 586, a king named Reccared converted from Arianism to Roman Catholicism, which was again declared the state religion. Given the clearly anti-Semitic stance of the Church in that era, it was predictable that laws and decrees directed against the Jewish people would increase dramatically.
During a series of Church councils, convened in Spain over the next 125 years, the Jewish religion was virtually outlawed. The Church required Jews to be baptized as Christians or be reduced to the status of slaves, suffer the confiscation of their property and see all of their children above the age of seven be placed in Christian homes.
Golden Age for Jewish People of Spain
In A.D. 711, African Moors gained power in Spain's southern region and spread the influence of Islam. During this time, ironically, the community of Spanish or Sephardic Jews enjoyed a golden age of economic, artistic and scientific achievement. Jewish people rose to the highest ranks of government and were honored for achievements in business, literature, the arts, the sciences and philosophy. In fact, many Jewish people from other Arab nations moved to Spain.
Christians, who had maintained power in the North, drove the Moors out of Toledo in 1085. While the Moors (with Berber reinforcements) and Christians sparred in Spain for nearly a century, the Jewish people never regained their position of power.
Some of these Jewish people trickled across the border to France. But they found opposition there, too. In 1235, the Council of Aries required Jews to wear a yellow circular patch (does this sound familiar?), and the Jewish people began to stand out from the French population in an unavoidable and dangerously conspicuous way.
The Spanish Inquisition
Problems for Jews in Spain accelerated after Pope Clement IV authorized the Spanish Inquisition to investigate the lives of Jews and Jewish people who had chosen to join the church. Late in the fourteenth century, Spanish church leaders preached an increasing number of anti-Semitic messages, triggering such an epidemic of violence that in 1391, over a three month period, fifty thousand Spanish Jews were killed in a total of seventy communities.
When Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon united their kingdoms through marriage in 1479, they were concerned about the unyielding "Jewishness" of Jews who converted to Christianity to avoid death or persecution during previous persecutions from the Church. These Jews were called converses or Marranos, which means "pigs" in Spanish. They were equally hated by unconverted Jews and by the Church. At the request of Ferdinand and Isabella, Pope Sixtus IV in 1480 established the office of inquisitor general and appointed Friar Tomas de Torque-mada to the post.
Spain's surviving Jews were given just four months to decide whether they wanted to leave the country or remain and join the Roman Catholic Church. As many as four hundred thousand abandoned their homes and businesses to flee Spain, after paying exorbitant exit taxes to officials. For some reason, fifty thousand Jewish people decided to remain in Spain. Many of them did not live very long.
Michael Brown reports in Our Hands Are Stained With Blood, "It is estimated that thirty thousand Marranos were burned at the stake in Spanish Inquisitions from the fifteenth century until 1808. In addition to this, in 1492, all non-baptized Jews were expelled from the country."
Jews Offer to Underwrite Columbus
According to Dr. Dell Sanchez, the pastor of a bilingual, multicultural church in San Antonio, Texas, and author of The Last Exodus, there is historical evidence that on the night before Christopher Columbus set sail for his first voyage to the New World in 1492, Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella met privately with Minister of Finance Isaac Abranbanel and two wealthy nobles, Gabriel Rodriguez Sanchez and Santangel. These three influential men were Sephardic Jews, and they offered to underwrite the voyage of Columbus. They knew the royal coffers did not contain enough money to pay for Columbus's venture, even though for many years the Jewish population had been taxed and their property largely confiscated by the Church and the crown. In return for their investment, the three men begged the monarchs not to expel the Jewish people from Spain.
Just as the royal couple accepted the offer, the door burst open and the pope's grand inquisitor, friar Tomas de Torquemada, ran into the room waving a crucifix and screaming that "the blood of all Jews" would now be on the hands of the king and queen. Ferdinand and Isabella took the money, but reneged on their agreement. Instead of protecting the remaining Jewish people, they issued a decree ordering the expulsion of all unconverted Jews from Spain. This amounted to a death sentence, since virtually all of Europe had already expelled the Jews from their borders. They were welcome nowhere.
To make matters worse, the Spanish monarchs successfully exported their Inquisition and persecution of the Jewish people to Portugal, spelling the doom of thousands who had fled there. This anti-Semitic spirit was even exported to the New World where it would surface with deadly wickedness in Spanish territory that is now Mexico, Texas and California.
Nothing matched the brutality and evil of the Spanish Inquisition—until Hitler and his Nazi henchmen. The Third Reich adopted and perfected the techniques and policies forged by Torquemada and the Church clerics of the medieval era.
In his book, The Jews: People of the Future, Ulf Ekman quotes a question posed by a famous survivor of the Nazi death camps that expresses the way the victims of the Spanish Inquisition must have felt: "The [late] renowned Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, has described how he was rescued from the bullets of a firing squad. While he stood there in a line awaiting execution, and Jews died beside him, the soldiers suddenly stopped shooting. They had heard church bells, and took a break from the killing while they went to vespers. How can a Jew who has gone through these things ever believe in a Christian again? Especially since the Christian church, Christian theologians and Christian countries have led the field in anti-Semitism/'
The Answer Lies in God's Word
The answer to this question cannot be found in a book of philosophy or in official public statements issued by churches or Christian groups. It is found in God's Word and in our active obedience to His commands concerning Jerusalem, Israel and the Jewish people. We begin with repentance, proceed with prayer and follow through with active deeds of intercession and love, following the example of our Savior.
It seems logical to assume that if Jesus wanted to convert mankind by force, He would not have gone through the agony of death on a cross. He could have simply commanded legions of angels to force every man, woman and child to bend their knees before Him. But our Savior does not resort to force. Instead He allows us to choose to follow Him.
The Church has not done well in following Jesus' example. History is strewn with examples of times when Christians condoned violence to either convert or eliminate those who did not believe. One of the Church's primary targets through the years has been Jewish people, and Jewish people have noticed.
Dr. Michael Brown translated the words of an Israeli writer who expressed the Jewish view of the way the Christian Church has portrayed the Gospel of Christ to the Jew: "Instead of bringing redemption to the Jews, the false Christian messiah has brought down on us base libels and expulsions, oppressive restrictions and burning of [our] holy books, devastations and destructions. Christianity, which professes to infuse the sick world with love and compassion, has fixed a course directly opposed to this lofty rhetoric. The voice of the blood of millions of our brothers cries out for us from the ground: 'No! Christianity is not a religion of love but a religion of unfathomable hate! All history, from ancient times to our own day, is one continuous proof of the total bankruptcy of this religion in all its segments."
This is not the model Jesus demonstrated to His followers. Jesus does not save the lost through force, coercion or military action. The Prince of Peace builds His Kingdom with the weapons of love, grace and mercy. Religion at its worst forces its way through hatred, harshness and cruelty. Church leaders in nearly every century seem to miss this important point.
In the face of such diabolic evil, God's Word stands unchanged and eternally true. It does not matter how many current events and impending crises become human history. We should never forget God's ominous warning to every human being, every human institution and every nation among men that he who touches Zion touches the apple of His eye (see Zechariah 2:8).
This article is excerpted from The Coming Israel Awakening: Gazing into the Future of the Jewish People and the Church, by James W. Goll, ® Chosen, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2009.