More of Those Days

Thanks to Aaron Denlinger:

[John] Craig’s teaching role in the Dominican monastery granted him access to the library of the Roman Inquisition, and at some point in the 1550s, while taking advantage of that privilege, he stumbled across an early edition of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Craig read Calvin’s work and embraced the doctrine he found therein, which, needless to say, put him in an awkward spot. Sometime shortly after this he apparently confessed his evangelical convictions to an elderly monk in his order. The aged monk responded that he shared Craig’s sympathy towards reforming ideas, but encouraged Craig to keep his mouth shut for his own safety.

But Craig, rightfully overjoyed at his new-found understanding of the gospel, couldn’t quite manage that task. His desire to tell others what he had discovered eventually led to his arrest and trial at the hands of that very institution — the Roman Inquisition — that had unwittingly provided him access to the reforming views of Calvin. Craig was found guilty of heresy and imprisoned in a cell in the basement of the Roman Palazzo dell’ Inquisizone. The Palazzo apparently bordered the Tiber, which at that time lacked the stone embankments which today keep the river in check, and Craig’s cell, according to one source, regularly filled with waist-high water, adding considerably (one imagines) to the unpleasantness of imprisonment and impending death.

Following nine months of imprisonment, Craig’s execution date was set for August 19th. The evening before he was scheduled to die, however, Pope Paul IV, who had been instrumental in the establishment of the Roman Inquisition in the 1540s and had, as Pope, considerably inflated its authority and activities, died. Paul IV was a decidedly unpopular person in Rome, not least because of the far-reaching powers he had given the Inquisition. As news of his death circulated, the Roman people naturally convened outdoors to celebrate. They subjected Paul IV’s recently erected statue in the Piazza del Campidoglio to a mock trial and, having found the same guilty of one thing or another, decapitated the marble Pope, dragged his body through the streets, and finally cast him into the river. Their taste for rioting and revenge having merely been whetted, they then sacked (and eventually burned) the Palazzo dell’ Inquisizone, murdered the resident Inquisitor and beat up his underlings, and freed seventy-plus persons who were currently imprisoned in the Palazzo’s cells, including Craig.

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Roman Inquisition's Success

David Kertzer concludes by observing that Edgardo Mortara’s story has fallen through the cracks of history thanks to its embarrassing features for both Roman Catholics and Jews. The difficulty Mortara presents to Rome is relatively easy to see, but one website captures the change in Vatican policy well:

One of the reasons the Church ordinarily restricts the administration of baptism to priests and deacons (while allowing for laity and others to do so when someone is at the point of death and a priest or deacon is unavailable) is to prevent precisely the kind of confusion your mother-in-law has created by taking it upon herself to baptize her granddaughter without the parents’ permission.

1. There is such a thing as conditional baptism, but it is a baptism given when the validity of the original baptism is in question or when there is doubt as to whether a baptism occurred. In this case, the baptism your mother-in-law performed — assuming she did it correctly — would be the original baptism. Should her granddaughter’s parents choose to return to their Catholic faith and raise their daughter as a Catholic, a priest or deacon would perform a conditional baptism both to make sure it is done correctly and to start a sacramental record.

2. Since her granddaughter presumably was not at the point of death when your mother-in-law baptized her, the baptism she performed is presumably valid but illicit. That means that your mother-in-law should go to confession to confess having performed an illicit baptism.

3. I can only recommend that your mother-in-law admit to the child’s parents what she has done. They need to know so that they will know that the child needs conditional baptism, not unconditional baptism, should they decide to raise her Catholic or should the child eventually decide to become Catholic herself. Even were the child baptized when she was in extremis, the parents would still need to know about the baptism once it was clear she would survive. The only difference is that your mother-in-law should apologize for an illicit baptism. If the child was baptized while in extremis, an apology is not necessary. If such an admission is not made, and the parents or the child decide eventually for baptism, then the child may receive an unconditional baptism — which would be objective sacrilege since baptism cannot be unconditionally repeated.

4. No, the child does not now need to be raised Catholic either by her parents or her grandmother, particularly if her parents continue to remain opposed to it. The Church now recognizes that it is not necessary to impose a Catholic education on a baptized child who was baptized without the permission of the parents and whose parents are opposed to their child being a Catholic. The Church learned the hard way from the case of Edgardo Mortara that such attempts to do so only cause bitter resentment by the families and by future generations and thereby deepen estrangement from the Church.

The embarrassment to Jews is less obvious until we remember how Edgardo turned out. He became a faithful Roman Catholic, entered the priesthood, and ministered out of a monastery in Belgium for much of his life. As a boy, Edgardo adopted Pius IX as his second father as much as the Pope adopted him as spiritual (and temporal?) son:

At Christmastime each year, Edgardo was called to the Vatican for a visit with the Pope. On these occasions, as Edgardo himself later fondly recalled them, Pius IX “always lavished the most paternal demonstrations of affection on me, gave me wise and useful training and, tenderly blessing me, often repeated that I had cost him much pain and many tears.” When he was still little, he recalled the Pontiff, “like a good father, had fun with me, hiding me under hi grand red cloak, asking jokingly, “Where’s the boy?’ and then, opening the cloak, showing me to the onlookers. . . . The Pope beamed with pride, as, at his prompting, the little convert translated Latin passages for him, to the delight of his visitors. (David I. Kertzer, Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara, 255)

Edgardo did have meetings with family members later in life. One came when his brother, Riccardo, was part of Italian freedom-fighter forces to liberate Rome from the Vatican’s rule:

When, however, Riccardo appeared in the doorway of Edgardo’s convent room, wearing the uniform of the Italian light infantry, he was in for a rude welcome. His 19-year-old brother, dressed in an initiate’s robes, placed one hand over his eyes to shield them from the sacrilegious sight and raised the other in front of him, signaling Riccardo to stop where he was. “Get back, Satan!” Edgardo shouted. But, the crestfallen Riccardo replied, “I am your brother.” To this Edgardo responded, “Before you get any closer to me, take off that assassin’s uniform.” (263)

Edgardo also met his mother once he had been ordained:

In 1878, Mariana Mortara, now widowed and with all of her nine children grown, heard that Edgardo was preachign in Perpignan, in southwestern France. Accompanied by a family friend, she went to see him. It had been twenty years since she had last laid eyes on her son. It was a poignant reunion, for Edgardo felt great affection for his mother. But try as he might to turn her onto the path of eternal blessing and happiness, he could not gt her to agree to enter the Catechumens and convert.

From that moment Edgardo, remained in touch with his family and, as he aged, sought out family members when he found himself in Italy. But while his mother made peace with him, not all of his siblings were so kindly disposed. (298)

That is why Edgardo Mortara never became a cause celebre for Jews:

For Italy’s Jews, it is not the pain of the Mortara memories that has made its discussion uncomfortable, but the embarrassment. The battle between the Jews and the Church was played out in a struggle over a 6-year-old boy. For the Jews, the Church’s claim that Edgardo could not remain with his Jewish parents because he had been supernaturally transformed by baptism was doubly insulting. Not only did it demonstrate their vulnerability to the Church’s political power, but it also asserted a Catholic claim to possession of the true religion, to a privilege relationship with the Almighty, and to the dismissal of Judaism as error, if not worse. When the Church began to publicize reports that Edgardo was showing signs of his supernatural transformation, the discovery of what, in fact, the little boy actually believed, and whether he truly preferred to stay in the Church rather than to return home to the Judaism of his ancestors, became a kind of public test of the relative merits of the two religions. It was a test the Jews lost.

Of course, Italian Jews were well aware of the psychological pressures exerted on the small boy and had no trouble coming up with a secular explanation of his ultimate decision to abandon his family and Judaism and embrace the Church, but this did not make his transformation any more palatable. That he followed the long – and, for the Jews, vile – tradition of such converts and dedicated himself to trying to convert his own family, and indeed Jews everywhere, meant that Edgardo came to be viewed with horror: he was a changeling. The child who had once been portrayed in the most glowing terms, the object of Jewish compassion, became a man who was disdained, whose character had to be discredited. He could not be happy he could not even be fully saine, for were he happy and sane, it wold reflect poorly on the religion of the Jews. It was best not to talk of him at all. (302)

All the more reason we need Javier Bardem to play Edgardo’s father, maybe Franka Potenta as his mother.