“Those from the circumcision
subverted the entire house of the Society.
sons of this world who are shrewd in dealing with their own, and avid of new things,
they easily excite disorders and destroy the unity of souls and their bond with
Lorenzo Maggio, Jesuit Curia in Rome, 1586.
One of the more interesting aspects of Jewish group behavior is the presence
of subversive strategies employing crypsis, often facilitated by a
combination of deception and self-deception.
To date, the most forthright
and convincing theoretical framework for understanding
cryptic forms of Judaism is found in
Kevin MacDonald’s groundbreaking
Separation and Its Discontents: Toward an Evolutionary
Theory of Anti-Semitism.
Convert, or be expelled from Spain
A substantial portion of the fourth chapter of the text (1998/2004: 121–132) is devoted
to ‘Reactive Racism in
the Period of the Iberian Inquisitions.’ Here MacDonald puts forth
the view (147) that
the blood purity struggles of the Spanish Inquisition during the 15th
and 16th centuries should
be seen as “an authoritarian, collectivist, and exclusionary
movement that resulted from
resource and reproductive competition with Jews, and
particularly crypto-Jews posing as Christians.”
The historical context lies predominantly in the forced conversion of Jews in Spain in 1391,
after which these ‘New Christians’ or conversos assumed (or indeed retained) dominance
in the areas of law, finance, diplomacy, public administration, and a wide range of economic activities.
MacDonald argues (148) that despite superficial religious conversions, the New Christians
“must be considered a historical Jewish group” that acted in such a way as to continue
the advance of its ethnic interests. An integral aspect of this was that Wealthy New Christians
purchased and endowed ecclesiastical benefices for their children, with the result that many
were of Jewish descent.
Indirectly, and almost certainly unintentionally, MacDonald’s
arguments find much in the
way of corroboration in The Jesuit Order as a Synagogue of
Jews (2010) by Boston College’s
Robert Aleksander Maryks. Examining the same
geographical area during the same period,
Maryks presents an account of the early years of
the Society of Jesus, during which a fierce
struggle took place for the soul, fate, and control
of the Order; a struggle involving a
highly influential crypto-Jewish bloc and a competing
network of European Christians.
In this unpolished
but interesting book, Maryks illuminates this struggle with reference
to previously undiscovered
material, in the process shedding light on some of the most
important recurring themes of reactive
anti-Semitism: Jewish ethnocentrism, nepotism,
the tendency to monopoly, and the strategic use
of alliances with European elites.
Perhaps most fascinating of all, Maryks makes
significant reference to Jewish responses
to European efforts to stifle their influence, some
of which are remarkable in the close
manner in which they parallel modern examples of Jewish
As such, The Jesuit Order as a Synagogue of Jews is
highly recommended for anyone
seeking to understand, via an easily-digested historical case
the dynamics of the ethnic conflict between Jews and Europeans.
Maryks divides his text into four well-paced chapters. The first provides readers with
‘The Historical Context of Purity-of-Blood Discrimination (1391–1547),’ a detailed stand
alone introduction to the nature of the ‘New Christian’ problem in Iberia but which should
be read in conjunction with MacDonald’s work on the same theme. The second chapter
concerns ‘Early Jesuit Pro-Converso Policy (1540–72),’ which demonstrates the intensive
manner in which crypto-Jews infiltrated key positions in the Society of Jesus, adapting
its ideological positions in accordance with their interests, and eventually
monopoly on top positions that extended to the Vatican.
The third chapter, ‘Discrimination
Against Jesuits of Jewish Lineage (1573–93),’
concerns the establishment of a movement
acting against the
crypto-Jewish strategy, with an analysis of the key figures and their rationale.
The fourth chapter, ‘Jesuit Opposition to the Purity-of-Blood Discrimination
examines the efforts of
crypto-Jewish Jesuits to fight back against the European
often involving the employment of tactics and stances
are now familiar to us as the hallmarks of a Jewish intellectual movement.
This sequence parallels the processes that led to the Inquisition—New Christians establishing
themselves in top positions in Spanish politics, business, and culture, provoking a reaction
by the Old Christians aimed at regaining power, followed by Jewish counter efforts against
the Inquisition and the against the Spanish government generally, the latter typically played
out on the international scene.
One of the key strengths of this fascinating book
is that Maryks can rely on relatively
recent genealogical discoveries to prove beyond doubt
that many of the individuals
once merely “accused” of being crypto-Jews were undeniable
of Jewish lineage.
Maryks can thus cut through a clouded period in which ancestry was vital
fogged with accusations, denials, and counter-accusations, with tremendous clarity.
In the author’s words (xxix), “racial tensions played a pivotal role in early Jesuit history.”
Opening his book, Maryks recalls delivering a paper on converso influence in the Jesuits,
and afterward receiving an email from a man with origins in the Iberian peninsula.
email concerned the remarkably long survival of crypto-Jewish behaviors in the
From Friday evening through Saturday evening,
his grandfather would hide the
image of baby Jesus from a large framed
picture of St. Anthony that he kept in his
home. It was, in fact,
a wind-up music box. On Fridays, he would wind up the mechanism
push a button, so that Jesus would disappear out of St. Anthony’s arms, hidden
in the upper frame of the picture. On Saturdays, he would push the button, so that
Jesus would come back out from hiding into St. Anthony’s arms. As the eldest son in
his family, my correspondent was told this story by his father, who also asked
him to eat
only kosher food. (xv)
The survival of such eccentric, and in this case apparently trivial, forms of crypto-Judaism
into what one assumes to be the early twentieth century, might appear to be little more
than a socio-historical curio. In actual fact, however, it is a small but memorable vestige
of what was once a very powerful means of continuing the Jewish group evolutionary
in the Iberian peninsula after 1391 — an overwhelmingly hostile environment.
In a political,
religious, and social context devoid of the synagogue and many of the
most visible aspects of
Judaism, small reminders of group difference, even otherwise
trivial ones like hiding images
of Jesus or adhering to discreet dietary rules, became
vital methods for retaining group cohesion.
For some time, these methods were largely successful in facilitating the
continuance of Jewish life ‘under the noses’ of the Christian
During this successful period, conversos were
able to expand nepotistic
monopolies of influence
in a wide range of civic and even (Christian)
spheres. When it failed, however, the consequences could be catastrophic.
Maryks points out (xxii) that from its founding in 1540 to 1593, the Society of Jesus
had no discriminatory legislation against individuals of Jewish heritage, and that
period converso Jesuits “held the highest administrative
defined the Society’s institutional development and spirituality.”
significant resistance to this crypto-Jewish monopoly had developed by the
latter date, and
from 1593 to 1608 a power struggle resulted in the defeat of the
crypto-Jewish element and the
introduction of laws prohibiting the admittance of
members of ‘impure blood.’ From
1608 until 1946 this involved a review of the
ancestry of any potential member of the Society
of Jesus, up to the fifth generation.
The Jewish Origins of the Jesuits
Ignatius of Loyola
On 15 August 1534, Ignatius of Loyola (born Íñigo López de Loyola), a Spaniard from
the Basque city of Loyola, and six others, all students at the University of Paris, met in
Montmartre outside Paris, in a crypt beneath the church of Saint-Denis,
to pronounce the religious vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
Ignatius’ six companions were: Francis Xavier from Navarre (modern Spain), Alfonso Salmeron,
Diego Laínez, Nicolás Bobadilla from Castile (modern Spain),
Favre from Savoy, and Simão Rodrigues from Portugal.
At this point, they
called themselves the Compañía de Jesús and also Amigos en El Señor
or “Friends in the Lord.” The Spanish “company” would be translated into Latin as societas,
deriving from socius, a partner or comrade. This soon evolved into the “Society of Jesus”
(SJ), by which they would later be more widely known. In 1537, the seven traveled to
Italy to seek papal approval for their order. Pope Paul III gave them a commendation
and permitted them to be ordained priests. The official founding of the Society of
The presence and influence of conversos in the Society of
Jesus were strong from the
beginning. Of the seven founding members, Maryks provides categorical
four were of Jewish ancestry — Salmeron, Laínez, Bobadilla, and Rodrigues.
Loyola himself has long been noted for his strong philo-Semitism, and one recent
thesis has even advanced a convincing argument that Loyola’s maternal grandparents,
grandfather, Dr. Martín García de Licona, was a merchant and financial advisor at court),
were full-blooded conversos — thus rendering the ‘Basque nobleman’ halachically
Jewish scholar of the Inquisition, Henry Kamen, who had earlier argued that
was “a weapon of social welfare” used mainly to obliterate the conversos as
class capable of offering social and economic competition to ‘Old Christians,’
voiced his own personal view that Loyola was “a deep and sincere spiritual Semite.”
Straightforward assessments of the reasons for Loyola’s philo-Semitism are,
admirably elucidates, complicated by the ubiquitous presence of converso propaganda.
More specifically, Loyola’s reputation as an ardent admirer of the Jews rests predominantly
on a series of anecdotes and remarks attributed to him — and many of these derive
from biographies penned shortly after his death by converso Jesuits aiming to
promote and defend their interests.
For example, the only source for the
argument that Loyola had an overwhelming desire
to be of Jewish origin so that he could “become
a relative of Christ and his Mother”
is the first official biography of Loyola —
penned by the converso Pedro de Ribadeneyra.
Ribadeneyra is described by Maryks
as “a closet-converso” who distorted many
now-established facts about Loyola’s
life, including concealment of the fact
that “the Inquisition in Alcalá had accused
Loyola of being a crypto-Jew.” (43)
An important aspect of Ribadeneyra’s
biography was thus the promotion of the idea that
being Jewish was desirable and admirable
— Loyola’s philo-Semitism (real or imagined)
was intended to be emulated. Meanwhile,
the sinister aspects of crypto-Judaism,
and their suppression by the Inquisition, were excised
from the story altogether.
Whether Loyola was, in fact, a crypto-Jew, or whether
he indeed was a European but
possessed a strong desire to be a Jew, remains unconfirmed at
the time of this writing.
However, it is certain that Loyola surrounded himself with many conversocolleagues
that he opposed any discrimination against converso candidates within the
Society of Jesus.
Maryks argues that issues of crypsis and philo-Semitism aside, Loyola was
“motivated by the financial support that he had sought from their [converso]
network in Spain.”(xx)
this reading then, Loyola was fully aware of the elite position of the conversos
within Spanish society and was prepared to accept their money to establish
his organization in exchange for adopting a non-racial stance in its
The question, of course, remains
as to why the crypto-Jewish elite in Spain would back,
both financially and in terms of manpower,
a Christian religious order. The important
thing to keep in mind is that religion and politics
in Early Modern Europe were intimately
entwined, and that, through spiritual confraternities
and their relationships with local elites,
even poverty-espousing religious orders like the
Franciscans could exert a strong
form of socio-political influence.
This was often made even more sharply evident when religious orders engaged in
work in foreign lands, often taking pioneering roles in colonial regimes,
and even assisting
with their economic enterprises. William Caferro notes that in
Renaissance Italy “the
Florentine political elite was closely tied to the church.
Government officials often held high
church office and benefice, which aided their
local political power.”Involvement in religious orders was thus a
necessary aspect and extension of political, social,
and cultural influence.
Unsurprisingly then, it can be demonstrated that crypto-Jews
straddled the interconnected
networks of royal administration, the civic bureaucracy, and the
Church. Citing just some
examples, Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh note in their history of
In 1390 the rabbi of Burgos
converted to Catholicism. He ended his life as
of Burgos, Papal legate, and tutor to a prince of the blood. [Burgos’s
son would later become an important pro-converso activist and will be discussed
below]. He was not alone. In some of the major cities, the administration
was dominated by prominent converso families. At the very time the Spanish
Inquisition was formed, King Ferdinand’s treasurer was converso
in his background.
In Aragón, the five highest
administrative posts in the kingdom were occupied
by conversos. In Castile, there were at least four converso bishops. Three of
Queen Isabella’s secretaries were conversos, as was the official court chronicler.
For the crypto-Jewish elite of early modern
Spain, the founding of an influential religious
order headed by a Philo-Semite (if not a fellow
crypto-Jew), staffed predominantly by a
conversoleadership, and constitutionally tolerant
would undoubtedly have been an attractive prospect.
That a bargain of some form existed between Loyola and his crypto-Jewish sponsors
is suggested, as noted above, by the nature of the early Jesuit constitution and by early
concerning the admission of candidates of Jewish ancestry. The founding
of the Jesuit order
had coincided with the rise of a more general Spanish anti-converso
atmosphere that reached
its peak in 1547, “when the most authoritative expression of
the purity-of- blood legislation, El
Estatuto de limpieza [de sangre], was
issued by the Inquisitor General of
Spain and Archbishop of Toledo, Silíceo (xx).”
King Philip II
Pope Paul IV and Silíceo’s former pupil, King Philip II, ratified the archbishop’s statutes
1555 and 1556, respectively, but Ignatius of Loyola and his converso successor, Diego Laínez
(1512–65) vigorously opposed the Inquisitor’s attempts to preclude conversos from
joining the Jesuits. In fact, in a letter addressed to the Jesuit Francisco de Villanueva
Loyola wrote that “in no way would the Jesuit Constitutions accept the policy
of the archbishop
Seeking to quell rising tensions over the issue, in February 1554
Loyola sent his plenipotentiary
emissary, Jerónimo Nadal (1507–80), to visit the
Inquisitor. Nadal insisted that the
Jesuit Constitutions did not discriminate between candidates
of the Society on the basis
of lineage, and even personally admitted a number of converso candidates
during his visit to Iberia.
In a heated debate
with the Inquisitor over the admission of one of them,
replied: “We [Jesuits] take pleasure in admitting those of Jewish ancestry.”
In what would become a striking pattern, most of the pro-converso arguments
were made by crypto-Jews claiming to be native Spaniards. Maryks notes
his historical investigations suggest that
Nadal was “most probably a
descendant of Majorcan
Pope Paul IV, born Gian Pietro Carafa, was head of
the Catholic Church
and ruler of the Papal States from 23 May 1555 until
his death on 18 August 1559
attempts to alter Christian thinking about Jews from within Christianity were
by the date of Nadal’s intercession with the Inquisitor.
An excellent example is a classic
work of Alonso de Santa María de Cartagena (1384–1456)
unitatis christianae [In Defense of Christian Unity] (1449–50).
de Cartagena had been baptized (at the age of five or six) by his father Shlomo
renamed Pablo de Santa María (c. 1351–1435), who— as chief rabbi of Burgos
to Christianity just before the anti-Jewish riots of 1391 and later was elected
bishop of Cartagena
(1402) and Burgos (1415). The fact that the wife of this Bishop of Burgos
remained an unconverted
Jewess does not appear to have impeded the latter’s career in
the Church is interesting,
to say the least.
Meanwhile, his son, Cartagena, like many other conversos, studied
civil and ecclesiastical
law at Salamanca and went on to a highly influential career straddling
and religious spheres. He served as apostolic nuncio and canon in Burgos. King
appointed Cartagena as his official envoy to the Council of Basel (1434–9), where
contributed to the formulation of a decree on “the regenerative character of baptism
without regard for lineage (4).”
Like other examples of pro-converso
propaganda, however, Cartagena’s arguments always
went beyond mere appeals for ‘tolerance.’
According to Cartagena, “the faith appears to
be more splendid in the Israelite flesh,”
Jews naturally possess a “civic nobility,” and it
was the duty of rough and uncouth
native Spaniards to unite with the “tenderness of the
Israelite meekness.” (14,
Conversos thus emerge in the works of the
earliest crypto-Jewish activists as
than ordinary Christians, as naturally deserving of elite status,
and, far from being the worthy objects of hostility, were in fact uniquely blameless,
‘tender,’ and ‘meek.’ One is struck by the regular
use of similar arguments in
our contemporary environment,
a similarity that only increases when one
Cartagena’s attribution of anti-Jewish hostility solely to “the malice of
the envious.” (20)
Against this backdrop of crypto-Jewish apologetics, Maryks demonstrates, whether
intends to or not, that the early Jesuits were largely a vehicle for converso power
(both political and ideological). Loyola continued to be “surrounded” by
throughout his leadership (55). Enrique Enríques, the son of Portuguese Jews,
the first Jesuit manual of moral theology, Theologiae moralis summa, in 1591. (65)
Crypto-Jewish grave marker in Southwestern USA
Maryks describes Loyola as having an unlimited
“trust” in candidates of Jewish heritage,
citing his decision to “admit in
1551 Giovanni Battista Eliano (Romano), the grandson of
the famous grammarian and poet Rabbi
Elijah Levita (1468–1549). He entered
the Society at the age of twenty-one, just three
months after his baptism (66).”
In explaining Loyola’s lax requirements
for converso applicants, and resultant acquiescence
in flooding the Society with crypto-Jews,
it is strange that Maryks should abandon his
own prior suggestion that the founding of the
Jesuits may have rested on a quid pro
quo with the converso elite in favor of a less convincing
theory based on a putative and
ill-explained “trust” that Loyola possessed for Jews.
Unfortunately, this is a common
theme throughout Jewish historiography, where the facts and
presented in the same text are often on entirely different trajectories.
In a similar vein, Maryks’s skeletal explanation that crypto-Jews flooded the Jesuits
simply because Loyola had “numerous contacts with the converso spiritual and merchant
network” before he founded the Society of Jesus, seems woefully inadequate and
Despite the best-laid plans of Loyola
and his colleagues and just 32 years
after its founding,
the Society of Jesus would undergo a
below against a rapidly expanding crypto-Jewish elite.
The features of this revolt represent a fascinating case study in the reactive nature of
anti-Semitism. Maryks narrative of how two competing ethnic groups struggled for the
of the Jesuit Order, outlined in his second and third chapters, is certainly the
of the text. It is to this European counter-strategy that we now turn our attention.
Read Part 2: Review: The Jesuit Order as a Synagogue of Jews >>>
 See Kevin Ingram, Secret lives, public lies: The conversos and socio-religious non-conformism in the Spanish
Golden Age. Ph.D. Thesis (San Diego: University of California, 2006), pp. 87–8.
 Quoted in Maryks, The Jesuit Order as a Synagogue of Jews, p.xx.
 W. Caferro, Contesting the Renaissance (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), p.158.
 M. Baigent & R. Leigh, The Inquisition (London: Viking Press, 1999), pp.75-6.
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