Judaizing Machiavelli: anti-Judaism in the Spanish anti-Machiavellian tradition of the 16th and 17th centuries

Diez lamentaciones del miserable estado de los ateístas de nuestro tiempo by Gracián de la Madre de Dios

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Diez lamentaciones del miserable estado de los ateístas de nuestro tiempo by Gracián de la Madre de Dios

The first anti-Machiavellian work to appear after Ribadeneyra’s Tratado was entitled Diez lamentaciones del miserable estado de los ateístas de nuestro tiempo (Ten Lamentations of the Miserable State of the Atheists in Our Time),66 was written by Jerónimo Gracián de la Madre de Dios in 1607. The author, a friend and confessor of Teresa of Ávila, moved to Brussels at the behest of the Spanish ambassador to Flanders.67 It is there that he wrote his Ten Lamentations, a polemical work in which Gracián argues against the “seven kinds of atheists.” The Ten Lamentations, like Ribadeneyra’s Tratado, relies heavily on the “Old Testament” for both positive and negative examples. However, any mention of Jews after the coming of Christ is invariably negative.68 These post-Incarnation Jews provide the Ten Treatises with abundant and powerful examples of atheism throughout history, from the Sadducees of the Second Temple period to the “Jews who live in Amsterdam.”69 Nevertheless, given our purposes, we will confine our analysis of anti-Judaism to the Seventh Lamentation, “on political atheists,” described as “disciples of Machiavelli, who place their reason of state before divine law, and sanction as best whatever faith promises to be the most profitable to its increase and conservation.” Such political atheists treat “republics as the ultimate end,” while God and everything divine as demoted to mere means. Throughout history, all of these political atheists have followed “reason of state.”70

In order to make his point, Gracián discusses a long list of examples consisting of both good and bad rulers. The good list consists of Old Testament figures (Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, etc.) as well as Peter, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, and the Apostles of Christ. The bad list also consists of pre-Incarnation Jews (the princes of Sodom, Esau, Rehoboam etc.) as well as the Anti-Christ, Pilate, Herod and, lastly, “the princes of the Jews, Scribes and Pharisees.” The chapter consists of twelve subchapters in which a pair of contemporaneous figures – one good and one bad – are discussed and compared in light of a specific subject, e.g. Abraham and the princes of Sodom in relation to their faith. The twelfth and last of these subchapters is
On Peace, and the Apostles of Christ, and the Princes of the Jews. The peace and tranquility of a king and a kingdom is the principle for its preservation, and dissent the cause of its perdition. And for that reason, Jesus Christ, whenever He went to speak to His disciples, would greet them with peace. And He sent them to preach peace throughout the world, and bring the Gospel of peace, commanding them that if someone should not receive it, they ought to depart from his house and shake off the dust of their feet.

The friend of revolts, dissentions and factions, and the prince who consents or permits in his land duels and challenges, is no disciple of Christ, but of Satan, and even worse: because if there is peace in hell (as the Lord said), then hell would be destroyed. Machiavelli says that the king should sow dissent and revolts among his vassals, in order to better subject them and so that they may turn to him as their head, rather than depend on each other. And likewise, in order to acquire foreign kingdoms, he should sow dissent, because this saps their strength, thus rendering them easier to subdue and control.

God is good and guides with reason, His faith is true: He is a friend of the good advice: He wants His Law to be kept: He values Christians: and wants honors bestowed on Him and on sacred matters: He admits penitence: is a friend of justice of truth, of obedience, zeal and peace. These damn politicians recommend dissent, cruelty, disobedience, lies, tyrannies, obstinacy, sacrilege, presumption, law-breaking, self-love, heresies and all sorts of evil under reason of state, by which reason, rightly, we decry them as true atheists.71
Once again, political Jews are portrayed as enemies of God and the antithesis of divine teaching. Specifically, in this instance, “the princes of the Jews” are presented as endorsing the complete opposite of Christ’s political message of peace and tranquility and the basis for the preservation of kings and kingdoms. These “disciples of Satan” are “damn politicians,” “friends of revolts” and “true atheists” who sow dissent, cruelty, disobedience, lies, tyrannies, obstinacy, presumption, self-love and other evils – all in the name of reason of state. Yet, for Gracián, the pedagogical importance of these Jewish leaders lies mainly in that they foreshadow Machiavelli, helping to characterize his doctrines not as a mere temporal products of a specific time and place, but as eternal and recurring enemies of God.

  1. Tesoro de la lengua castellana o Española by Sebastián de Cobarrubias

The Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española (Treasury of Castilian or Spanish Language), was written in 1611 by Sebastián de Covarrubias, chaplain of Philip III and consultant for the Holy Inquisition. This massive and influential work was the first monolingual vernacular dictionary in Europe and is considered an exemplary specimen of Peninsular Spanish in the 16th and early 17th centuries. As such, the Tesoro provides us with a rare glimpse into the generally accepted meaning and perceived origin of words at the time of its writing. Yet at the same time, the Tesoro – possibly more than any other text we will be dealing with – attests to the prevalent system of values and ideological preoccupations of its age. The entry “Jew” is relatively short (half a folio) but it makes for dense reading. This entry was subsequently extended to three folios in the posthumously published Suplemento (Supplement) to the Tesoro, written between 1611 and Covarrubias’ death in 1613.72 Both texts are saturated with anti-Judaic (as well as anti-Semitic) statements, but, given our purposes, we will once again confine ourselves to those pertaining to politics.

The most important political anti-Judaic theme contained in these entries is that of the Jews as dangerous subjects who tempt their sovereigns with earthly goods. Several historical examples of this accusation are mentioned, all of which are variations of the same basic narrative: Jews are rightfully punished by a Christian ruler for their transgressions; in order to avoid or mitigate said punishment, the Jews offer to bribe the ruler; this temptation serves as a piety test of sort for the ruler.
Jews had inhabited Spain for many centuries until the time of our grandparents the Catholic Kings, when, without regard of what they were foregoing from their rents, they were driven out of Spain. (Tesoro).73
The king Recardeo [Reccared I] instituted a certain law concerning the suppression of the insolences and lies of the Jews, and they offered a large sum of money in order that he repeal or moderate it; and neither greed nor necessity could blind him to accept their offer. (Tesoro).74
[In 1180, during the reign of Philip of France, it was discovered that each Good Friday the Jews ritually tortured and murder a Christian boy in imitation of Christ’s crucifixion.] And having punished the criminals, all Jews were driven out of France; but knowing that the king was in much need, [the Jews] took advantage of the occasion and they offered him a large sum of money so that he may allow them to return to the kingdom. But the Jews carried on with their evil intentions towards the Christians, and so they poisoned the water wells and the fountains, and so a very great pestilence ensured not only in that kingdom but throughout Europe. (Suplemento).75
By partially blaming Philip of France (i.e. Phillip II Augustus, 1165 – 1223) for a devastating pan-European plague, Cobarrubias retells the old medieval accusations of well poisoning and plague spreading through an anti-Machiavellian “reason of state” discourse. Phillip Augustus’ terrible political miscalculation is juxtaposed with Reccared’s refusal to be blinded by Jewish money and with the Catholic Kings’ pious disregard for temporal things – a disregard that, as Cobarrubias’ readers knew all too well, would be lavishly rewarded by God.76

A different anti-Judaic motif found in the Tesoro and the Suplemento is that of post-Crucifixion Jews as a dejected people fundamentally unfit to take part in political matters:

“Having the Jew in the body,” [means] being afraid; because, by permission of Our Lord, the Jews became a very spiritless and dejected people, after the death of Our Redeemer. (Tesoro).77
Then, in the days of Emperor Vespasian, Jerusalem being destroyed by his son and the Jews being scattered all over the world, many of them came to Spain, as Josephus writes… And nowhere did they establish a republic; rather, they were like captives, although they had their quarters, separated from the rest, and their synagogues...

And although subject and dejected, [the Jews] sometimes showed themselves proud and insolent, as were the Jews of Barcelona against King Don James II of Aragon… (Suplemento).78

Whenever Jews did not fulfill the theological role allotted to them by Christian (and specifically Augustinian) theology – that is, when they become active political players – disaster invariably followed. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Muslim conquest of Spain, when the Jews, who “have always been traitors of the Christian people… favored and helped the Moors, as did those of Toledo, Cordoba, Granada, Seville and other places.” Indeed, even before the Muslim conquest, the Suplemento tells of the “settlements that the Jews of Spain [wanted] to deliver into the hands of the Moors.”
The importance of defining the term “Jew” went well beyond the strict scholarly and lexicographical considerations. Whatever their semantic and etymological value, it is obvious that for Sebastián de Covarrubias – chaplain of Philip III and consultant for the Holy Inquisition – these definitions were also intended to reflect the proper role of a Christian sovereign. [Expand…]

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