In discussing Julian of Norwich, who was a feminist theologian 700 years before feminism, we have necessarily come up against the topic of patriarchy and bullying. Yesterday we treated anti-Semitism as bullying.
Clearly, the Inquisition is an institutional form of bullying. While it is rare for an Inquisitor to become pope, Gian Pietro Caraffa, who became Pope Paul IV (1555-1559), was such a figure. Among his bullying acts as pope was to ratify the Statute of Toledo which forbade persons with Jewish blood to hold office. He forbade Jews to possess any religious book except the Bible and abolished Hebrew printing in Rome, which had become the capital of Hebrew printing in the Renaissance. He forbade Jews to own any real estate or attend any Christian University or to hire any Christian servants. He increased Jewish taxes and insisted Jews wear distinctive badges and address Christians as “sir.” He put the Talmud on the Index of Forbidden Books.
Above all, he created the original Jewish ghetto in Rome one mile from the Vatican. In one month, all Jews were rounded up and relocated to an area one mile square with only one entrance. Jews had to pay for constructing the enclosure. As many as 10,000 persons lived there at one time. Says Cardinal Edward Cassidy, “The ghetto, which came into being in 1555 with a papal bull, became in Nazis Germany the antechamber of the extermination.”
The Inquisition reached a high point of wantonness in the Spanish Inquisition under Torquemada. Rome was envious of the power he wielded in Spain, being close to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella as he was, but Rome could do nothing about it. Torquemada had to stay at arm’s length from the Vatican itself, however. Interestingly, Ratzinger and John Paul II actually tried to canonize Queen Isabella, the patron of Torquemada, a saint! Torquemada and Isabella, among other things, expelled at least 80,000 Jews from Spain and confiscated their property and belongings–and killed more than 2,000 people at the stake.
Over the course of 34 years as popes, JP II and Benedict XVI proceeded to dismantle the thinking and creativity that had been unleashed by Pope John XXIII in the Vatican Council—thinking that included liberation theology and base communities in Latin America and beyond, lively liturgies, rich theological exploration and courageous stands against injustice. In the dying days of the Cold War, liberation theology was a convenient political target. Experimental liturgies in Holland and Brazil and creation spirituality movements in North America and beyond were also expunged. Bullying ensued. In all, 108 theologians around the world were silenced and/or dismissed (I list them in my book by name and country). I was in that list.
A theologian’s job is to think—to think through the inherited legacy of the church, and apply it to an evolving culture. A church without theologians is a bit like General Motors without engineers.
Julian thought for herself—and beyond patriarchy and bullying to God as Mother.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Pope’s War: How Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved, pp. xxx–xxxvi, 33-105, 238-241.
See Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 45-87, 109-124.
Banner Image: The Roman Ghetto, c. 1880. From a painting by Ettore Roesler Franz. On Wikimedia Commons.
Meditate on what Pope Paul IV did to the Jewish people in the sixteenth century. How does it echo twentieth-century acts of anti-Semitic terrorism? How does one prevent this from happening in the name of religion or nationhood ever again?
The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved
The Pope’s War offers a provocative look at three decades of corruption in the Catholic Church, focusing on Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. The final section in the book focuses on birthing a truly catholic Christianity.
“This book should be read by everybody, not only for its ferocious courage, but also for its vision for what needs to be saved from the destructive forces that threaten authentic Christianity.” ~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope.
“In the gripping The Pope’s War, Matthew Fox takes an unwavering look at the layers of corruption in the Catholic Church, holding moral truth against power.” — Jason Berry, author of Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II
Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond
Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.” –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.