Sunday, January 25, 2015

When Theodore Herzl Met Pope Pius X

St. Pius X

On January 26, 1904 (just a few months before his death) the father of modern Zionism Theodore Herzl met with Pope Pius X to ask for his support in setting up a Jewish state in Palestine. He didn't get it.

Like virtually all Traditionalist Catholics I have a huge amount of respect for that sainted pope. In my view, Pius X was the greatest pope of the last century. On the other hand, like many contemporary Christians I am a strong supporter of Israel. So the interview below is fascinating to me, independent of whether I "agree" or "disagree" with the opinions expressed by either man at the time. (Remember also, that the Holocaust was still forty years away.)

Since the issues involved were and are still so important, whatever "side" one is on, and since so much blood has been spilled and so many innocents murdered related to the overall issue, I hope I may be forgiven in finding a bit of humor in the following exchange. Here are two strong and forceful but still very human personalities coming into brief contact. I cannot help but find both of them attractive and appealing. The Pope makes as strong a case as any Christian could make for his position. Though Herzl is disappointed, even bitter, there's still (to me) the implication that he likes this rustic pope. And then there's the almost slapstick ring kissing thing and Herzl's almost uttered quip: "That's what happens in every family. No one believes in his own relatives."

The exchange appeared in print in the Journal La Terre Retrovée, 1 July, 1956, as well as The Complete Diaries of Theodor Herzl, Harry Zohn, trans. (New York/London: Herzl Press, Thomas Yoseloff, 1960), pp. 1601-1605. It has also been reprinted on a number of blogs and websites, among them (the first three on a Google search), St. Joseph University's Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, The Eponymous Flower and Bunyan Ministries.

"Lippey" is Count Berthold Dominik Lippay, an Austrian papal portraitist, and mutual friend of the two men, who had arranged the meeting between them. 

Any additional information on the meeting from readers of this blog would be welcome.

Here is Herzl's account:

Yesterday I was with the Pope. The route was already familiar since I had traversed it with Lippay several times. 
Past the Swiss lackeys, who looked like clerics, and clerics who looked like lackeys, the Papal officers and chamberlains. 
I arrived 10 minutes ahead of time and didn't even have to wait. 
I was conducted through numerous small reception rooms to the Pope. 
He received me standing and held out his hand, which I did not kiss. 
Lippay had told me I had to do it, but I didn't. 
I believe that I incurred his displeasure by this, for everyone who visits him kneels down and at least kisses his hand. 
This hand kiss had caused me a lot of worry. I was quite glad when it was finally out of the way. 
He seated himself in an armchair, a throne for minor occasions. Then he invited me to sit down right next to him and smiled in friendly anticipation. 
I began: 
"Ringrazio Vostra Santità per il favore di m'aver accordato quest'udienza" (I thank Your Holiness for the favor of according me this audience)." 
"È un piacere (It is a pleasure)," he said with kindly deprecation. 
I apologized for my miserable Italian, but he said: 
"No, parla molto bene, signor Commendatore (No, Commander, you speak very well)." 
For I had put on for the first time—on Lippay's advice—my Mejidiye ribbon. Consequently the Pope always addressed me as Commendatore. 
He is a good, coarse-grained village priest, to whom Christianity has remained a living thing even in the Vatican. 
I briefly placed my request before him. He, however, possibly annoyed by my refusal to kiss his hand, answered sternly and resolutely: 
"Noi non possiamo favorire questo movimento. Non potremo impedire gli Ebrei di andare a Gerusalemme—ma favorire non possiamo mai. La terra di Gerusalemme se non era sempre santa, è santificata per la vita di Jesu Christo (he did not pronounce it Gesu, but Yesu, in the Venetian fashion). Io come capo della chiesa non posso dirle altra cosa. Gli Ebrei non hanno riconosciuto nostro Signore, perciò non possiamo riconoscere il popolo ebreo (We cannot give approval to this movement. We cannot prevent the Jews from going to Jerusalem—but we could never sanction it. The soil of Jerusalem, if it was not always sacred, has been sanctified by the life of Jesus Christ. As the head of the Church I cannot tell you anything different. The Jews have not recognized our Lord, therefore we cannot recognize the Jewish people)." 
Hence the conflict between Rome, represented by him, and Jerusalem, represented by me, was once again opened up. 
At the outset, to be sure, I tried to be conciliatory. I recited my little piece about extraterritorialization, res sacrae extra commercium (holy places removed from business). It didn't make much of an impression. Gerusalemme, he said, must not get into the hands of the Jews. 
"And its present status, Holy Father?" 
"I know, it is not pleasant to see the Turks in possession of our Holy Places. We simply have to put up with that. But to support the Jews in the acquisition of the Holy Places, that we cannot do." 
I said that our point of departure had been solely the distress of the Jews and that we desired to avoid the religious issues. 
"Yes, but we, and I as the head of the Church, cannot do this. There are two possibilities. Either the Jews will cling to their faith and continue to await the Messiah who, for us, has already appeared. In that case they will be denying the divinity of Jesus and we cannot help them. Or else they will go there without any religion, and then we can be even less favorable to them. 
"The Jewish religion was the foundation of our own; but it was superseded by the teachings of Christ, and we cannot concede it any further validity. The Jews, who ought to have been the first to acknowledge Jesus Christ, have not done so to this day." 
It was on the tip of my tongue to say, "That's what happens in every family. No one believes in his own relatives." But I said instead: "Terror and persecution may not have been the right means for enlightening the Jews." 
But he rejoined, and this time he was magnificent in his simplicity: 
"Our Lord came without power. Era povero (He was poor). He came in pace (in peace). He persecuted no one. He was persecuted. 
He was abbandonato (forsaken) even by his apostles. Only later did he grow in stature. It took three centuries for the Church to evolve. The Jews therefore had time to acknowledge his divinity without any pressure. But they haven't done so to this day." 
"But, Holy Father, the Jews are in terrible straits. I don't know if Your Holiness is acquainted with the full extent of this sad situation. We need a land for these persecuted people." 
"Does it have to be Gerusalemme?" 
"We are not asking for Jerusalem, but for Palestine—only the secular land." 
"We cannot be in favor of it." 
"Does Your Holiness know the situation of the Jews?" 
"Yes, from my Mantua days. Jews live there. And I have always been on good terms with Jews. Only the other evening two Jews were here to see me. After all, there are other bonds than those of religion: courtesy and philanthropy. These we do not deny to the Jews. Indeed, we also pray for them: that their minds be enlightened. This very day the Church is celebrating the feast of an unbeliever who, on the road to Damascus, became miraculously converted to the true faith. And so, if you come to Palestine and settle your people there, we shall have churches and priests ready to baptize all of you." 
Count Lippay had had himself announced. The Pope permitted him to enter. The Count kneeled, kissed his hand, then joined in the conversation by telling of our "miraculous" meeting in Bauer's Beer Hall in Venice. The miracle was that he had originally planned to spend the night in Padua. As it happened, I had expressed the wish to be allowed to kiss the Holy Father's foot. 
At this the Pope made une tête (a long face), for I hadn't even kissed his hand. Lippay went on to say that I had expressed myself appreciatively on Jesus Christ's noble qualities. The Pope listened, now and then took a pinch of snuff, and sneezed into a big red cotton handkerchief. Actually, these peasant touches are what I like best about him and what compels my respect. 
In this way Lippay wanted to account for his introducing me, perhaps to excuse it. But the Pope said: "On the contrary, I am glad you brought me the Signor Commendatore." 
As to the real business, he repeated what he had told me: Non possumus (We can't!) 
Until he dismissed us Lippay spent some time kneeling before him and couldn't seem to get his fill of kissing his hand. Then I realized that the Pope liked this sort of thing. But on parting, too, all I did was to give him a warm hand-squeeze and a low bow. 
Duration of the audience: about 25 minutes. 
In the Raphael stanze (rooms), where I spent the next hour, I saw a picture of an Emperor kneeling to let a seated Pope put the crown on his head. 
That's the way Rome wants it.


  1. I don't understand why some Catholics are strong supporters of Israel, could you point me to any articles which could explain your viewpoint? I don't mean to be combative in any way, I just don't understand.

    1. I guess I would flip it and ask, why shouldn't they be? :) But I admit the issue is controversial and complicated. Many Muslims call Israel the "Crusader state," which I think gets it partly right. And theological questions aside, Israel is now the greatest and first defense of Judeo-Christian civilization against the Muslim threat, as well as being the only liberal democracy in the middle-east. But let me also ask a theological question (and I'm asking not telling), did the New Covenant mean that the Old Covenant was completely revoked in every way? In other words, even if one believes that individual Jews are wrong to reject Christ, does that mean the Jewish people have forfeited their right to the land of Israel? Some Christians have thought so, certainly (including, I guess, Pius X), but I'm not sure that's a settled question. I might be wrong. There was a great article in the Remnant about this a few years ago, but I cannot remember the date or author.

      Some Christians (perhaps most historical Christians) see Jews as especially blameworthy (versus other non-Christians) because they, so to speak, had direct exposure to the Word and rejected it. I prefer to look at it this way: they are our elder brothers and sisters and deserve the respect normally owed to the same. As odd as it may sound I think practicing Jews are in a sense as close to Catholics as non-Catholics could be. Traditional Catholic Liturgy and worship practice is infused and inseparable from ancient Jewish worship tradition.

      I'm only being half-flippant when I refer you to the song "Tradition" in Fiddler on the Roof. When my wife and I saw that film again after many years, we both exclaimed, "that's us!" :)

    2. This was a marvellous article... a welcome relief from the daily papal bombshells we keep getting dropped on our wee heads! Fiddler on the Roof has to be one of the best films, ever, almost rivalling How Green Was My Valley, but not quite...being 'stiff-necked' has saved the Jews from going under for many centuries but ironically has kept them from submitting to the kingship of Jesus Christ, as well. Also, there are the secular Jews who are really dangerous people to all cultures..represented by the Marxist in Fiddler...the Emma Goldbergs, Karl Marxes, Rahm Emmanuels, et al who rule Israel as well as this country, especially Hollywood and the press, to be honest. God save us from bad Catholics and Jews who've lost their exemplified by Saruman, but I digress. heh

  2. Ah, thank you for the explanation! I guess my problem is that I don't see separate covenants, and it is the 'Old Covenant' which practitioners of Judaism deny equally with the 'New Covenant' when denying Christ. I also can't concede that modern Judaism is any closer to Catholicism than, say, Islam. Mary is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran and the virgin birth is affirmed, by way of contrast the Talmud says that Mary gave birth to Jesus out of wedlock and that Jesus was later hung instead of crucified. So to modern practicing Jews, Jesus was a bastard born of a whore who was strangled. (I'm definitely not apologizing for Islam, this is just one of the very few instances where it has something correct).

    That being said, I understand the nostalgic feelings Judaism can conjure, after all the last supper was almost definitely a Passover meal, but to see the Jewish People as having special privilege to a specific piece of Earth is a denial of the Jerusalem which Christ has prepared for His own (regardless of whatever earthly people they belong to) and I don't think there's any way Israel can be defending Christendom, given the root from which it has sprung. At any rate, they're certainly not due any more respect than any other heretic (which is quite a bit, especially this year apparently).

    I guess if you see two covenants things are different, but that seems like saying that there are multiple paths to salvation. (Fiddler on the Roof is awesome :-) )

  3. Secular Israel, unlike Islam, protects Christians and Christian sites. If Islam was let loose on the whole, there would be no Christians in Jerusalem. Also, Israeli Jews are capable of good Samaritanism, which the Palestinians despise because the infidel is to be brought to heel (dimmitude) or killed - very simple - their unholy anti-Abrahamic book, demands it. Plus, it is clear that the geographical City of Jerusalem and Israel as a whole, figure in their geographical reality prophetically. That said, Zionism exploits Evangelicals like there is no tomorrow.