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William of Auvergne and the Jews

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2016

Lesley Smith
Linacre College, Oxford


[He] is in the line of the great souls of the Middle Ages who spanned the whole compass of current knowledge. Bishop and doctor, William of Auvergne is one of the noble figures of the thirteenth century (F. Vernet).

William was chaplain to Queen Blanche, King Louis’ mother, and in an age of great bigotry he excelled in excessive bigotry (Ch. Merchavia).

In 1240 William of Auvergne, Bishop of Paris, was present at a form of hearing, trial, disputation, or inquisition between Christians and Jews to determine whether or not the Parisian Jews should have their copies of the Talmud destroyed. The Talmud was condemned. Some two years later the large quantity—probably twenty-four cartloads—of Jewish books which had been confiscated in 1240, and locked since then in the Dominican convent, was publicly burned. The consigning of the books to the flames is reminiscent of the burning of heretics and is one of the circumstances of the whole event which has led some commentators to see the trial as a form of Inquisition.

Research Article
Copyright © Ecclesiastical History Society 1992

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1 F. Vernet, ‘Guillaume d’Auvergne’, in A. Vacant and E. Mangenot, eds, Dictionnaire de Théo logie Catholique (Paris, 1913), 6, p. 1974.

2 Ch. Merchavia, The Church versus Talmudic and Midrashic Literature [500-1248] [Hebrew] (Jerusalem,, 1970), p. 351. 1 am indebted to joseph Ziegler for help with Hebrew, and for general discussion.Google Scholar

3 Letter of Odo of Châteauroux to Innocent IV, ‘… incendio fuerunt tunc cremati’: see Grayzel, S., The Church and the Jews in the XIIIlh Century (Philadelphia, 1933), p. 276 (the letter begins on p. 275, n. 3)or J. Markus, Thejew in the Medieval World: a Source Book. 313-1791 (Cin cinnati, 1938), pp. 146–8; and see Ch. Maccoby,_/wt¿íi¿sm on Triahjeufish-Christian Disputations in the Middle Ages (London, 1982), p. 23. We should not forget that heretical Christian books had been burned at Paris before this time, e.g. the works of David Dinant in 1210.Google Scholar

4 See Maccoby, Judaism on Trial, p. 22, ‘The Jewish sources, which avoid mention of Louis (1214–27; canonized 1297), refer to [Blanche] with some warmth, as one who was fair and humane in her dealings with Jews.’ A. Temko, The burning of the Talmud in Paris’, Commentary, 17, no. 5 (1954), says that Walter was the only impartial judge at the trial. He also considers Walter responsible for the two-year gap between the condemnation of the Talmud and the actual burning (pp. 453–5).

5 See the opinions of J. Guttman, ‘Guillaume d’Auvergne et la littératurejuive’, REJ, 18 (1889), pp. 243-55, Grayzel, The Church and the Jews, and Maccoby, Judaisum on Trial.

6 See, e.g., Beryl Smalley, ‘William of Auvergne, John of La Rochelle and St. Thomas Aquinas on the Old Law’, in St. Thomas Aquinas, 1274-1974. Commemorative Studies (Toronto, 1974), 2, pp. 11–71; I. Kramp, ‘Des Wilhelm v. Auvergne “Magisterium divinale”’, Gregorianum, 1 (1920), pp. 538–616.

7 I hope to deal with the events of 1240-8 more fully in a subsequent paper. In the meantime, however, I would point out that Odo’s restatement comes less than a year before William’s death, and was signed by many other prominent members of the university world. It seems to have been of importance only to Odo himself; for the others, signing was only consistent with the previous statements, and avoided charges of confusion and capriciousness on the Christian side.

8 Bartholomew was first to be succeeded by Nicholas the Chanter then, when that choice proved unsatisfactory, by one Philip. See N. Valois, Guillaume d’Auvergne (Paris, 1880), pp. 8-13.

9 Quoted from Valois, Guillaume d’Auvergne, p. 11; Gregory’s letter of 10 April 1228 reads, ‘virum eminenris scientie, vite ac conversationis honeste ac opinionis preclare’: Les Registres de Grégoire IX, ed. L. Auvray (Paris, 1896), i, no. 191, cols 109-11.

10 Roland of Cremona, O.P., was granted his chair in 1229, during the strike; Alexander of Hales was allowed to retain his chair when he entered the Franciscan Order in 1225.

11 Although incomplete, the most easily accessible printed version of his opera is a 1963, Minerva, Frankfurt reprint of the 1674 Paris edition of Opera omnia. I shall refer to works in this edition.

12 William of Auvergne, De fide et legibus, Opera omnia, I, c. 21, pp. 57a fi seq.

13 For a list of his sources so far discovered, see Valois, Guillaume d’Auvergne, pp. 198-206.

14 De fide et legibus, c. 18, p. 4.9DC.

15 Smalley, ‘William of Auvergne’, p. 37.

16 De fide etlegibus, c. 3, p. 186E.

17 Valois, Guillaume d’Auvergne, p. 204; Kramp, ‘Des Wilhelm v. Auvergne’, pp. 580–1; K. Werner, Wilhelms von Auvergne Verhâltniss zu Platonikem des XII;. Jahrhunderts (Vienna, 1873), p.2

18 Guttman, ‘Guillaume d’Auvergne’, analyses William’s use of Maimonides most closely, and is followed by other writers, especially Merchavia, The Church versus Talmuâh and Midrashxc Literature.

19 De anima, Opera omnia, 2, suppl., p. 82b.

20 This is Switalski’s phrase to describe his use of Aristotle: B. Switalski, William of Auvergne. De Trinitate (Toronto, 1976), introduction, p. 4.

21 Letter of Gregory IX to William of Auvergne, dated 9 June 1239; not registered but quoted in the letter of Odo to Innocent IV: see Grayzel, The Church and the jews, pp. 238-40, no. 96; and H. Denifleand C. Châtelain, eds, Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis, 1 (Paris, 1889) no. 173, pp. 202-5. It’s difficult to ascertain where exactly the letters are registered and where they have simply been inserted into the relevant partsof printed registers from the copies in Odo’s letters. For the ‘sample letters’ to be sent to the kings, archbishops, and friars see Grayzel, The Church and thejews, pp. 24.0–3, nos 96-8.

22 Temko, ‘The burning of the Talmud’, p. 450.

23 , H. Graetz, Ceschichte denjuden (Leipzig, 1910), p. 95: ‘sonst aber, wenn sie nicht besonders bigott waren, gingen sie auch im Mittelalter über papstliche Dekrete mit Stillschweigen hinweg. In Spanien und England wurden die Befehle Gregors, den Talmud zu knofiszieren, gar nicht beachtet, wenigstens verlautet gar nichts von einem feindseligen Akt gegen denselben in diesen Landern.’Google Scholar

24 Calendar of Close Rolls of the Reign of Henry III (London, 1911): 1240, De Judeis Noru/ici, p. 168.

25 Edict of James I of Aragon, 1242, referred to in a papal letter of 1245: see Robert Chazan, Daggers of Faith: Thirteenth Century Christian Missionizing and Jewish Response (Berkeley, 1989), p. 38.

26 Merchavia, , The Church versus Talmudic and Midrashic Literature, pp.23940, n. 43.Google Scholar

27 J. Amador de Los Rios, Historia social, politica y religiosa de los Judios de España y Portugal (Madrid,‘875), 1, p. 363, n. 1. The document is given as Arch, de la Catedral de Toledo, Caj. A, leg.4, num. 11.

28 Merchavia, The Church versus Talmudic and Midrashic Literature, pp. 239–40, n. 43.

29 As Switalski, William of Auvergne. De Trimtate, introduction, p. i describes it; see Gregory’s letter 23 Nov. 1229: ‘… non tarn negligenriam quam malitiam in te … curabimus’; and his letter of 24 April 1231, ‘in the same vein.

30 Amador de Los Rios, Historia, p. 363, n. 1, notes that the letter was at odds with Gregory’s protection of the Jews from the Crusaders in France in 1236.

31 Odo was the re-instigator of the ban on the Talmud in 1248. See Grayzel, The Church and the Jews, pp. 275–81; Denifle and Châtelain, Chartularium, no. 178, pp. 209-10.

32 See Langmuir, G., History, Religion, and Antisemitism (Berkeley, 1990), pp.25960.Google Scholar

33 William notes the physical expansion of Muslim territories in De fide et legibus, c. 18, p. 49DC.

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