In 1215, Pope Innocent II (r. 1198-1216) called into session the Fourth Lateran Council. The council was made up of around 400 bishops, 800 other priests of high rank, and a large contingent of representatives on behalf of the monarchs of Christendom. The Fourth Lateran is lauded as one of the greatest church councils preceding the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The members of Pope Innocent II’s council debated reforming church theology, tithes and church lands. They also confirmed the idea of transubstantiation in the Eucharist, the Christian religious meal—transubstantiation argues that the bread and wine taken in the Eucharist transforms into the essence of Jesus’ blood and body. While the Fourth Lateran Council clarified and reformed the Catholic Church in many positive ways, it was in no way perfect. The council’s decisions concerning the treatment of Jews were especially awkward.
Canons 67 through 70 of the Fourth Lateran Council stated the church council’s decisions concerning what to do with the Jewish populations living in Christian lands. Canon 67 decreed that Jews could no longer loan money in return for an interest rate (usury), and the council argued that some Christians should be pressured by the church to end their commerce with Jews. Banning usury was not an uncommon occurrence, as the church thought usury was sinful (even for Christians) for much of history. Yet, Canon 67 specifically singled out Jews. The Council also proposed that if a Jew bought a home or building belonging to a Christian, the Jew would be required to continue paying the tithes of the Christian from which they were buying property—therefore the church would not loose any tithe money if Christians left their local parish.
In Canon 68, Jews and Muslims were ordered to wear clothing that distinguished their religion. The canon stated that this was to end intermarriage between Christians, Jews and Muslims. A copy of the Fourth Lateran Council found on The Global Catholic Network (EWTN) states,
“Whence it sometimes happens that by mistake Christians join with Jewish or Saracen women, and Jews or Saracens with Christian women. In order that the offense of such a damnable mixing may not spread further, under the excuse of a mistake of this kind, we decree that such persons of either sex, in every Christian province and at all times, are to be distinguished in public by the character of their dress” (Fourth Lateran Council, Canon 68).
Canon 69 forbade Jews from holding public office, arguing that Jews should not be given positions of power over Christians. At the end of the canon, the council decreed that pagans could not hold public office, either. Muslims were not mentioned in the canon, but were likely excluded from public office, as well, or at least faced discrimination. Canon 70 called for priests to be on the lookout for new Jewish converts to Christianity and to closely observe them for any sign of backsliding into their old religious habits. If a faltering convert was found, the priest was given permission to use “salutary or necessary coercion” (Fourth Lateran Council, 70). After Canon 70, the council diverged from the topic of Judaism and moved on to planning another Crusade.
- The European Reformations (Second Edition) by Carter Lindberg. Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.