Philo-Semitism. Convinced that Armageddon was at hand, the God-fearing Christians of the seventeenth-century turned to embrace the persecuted Jews- until the dream of the millennium had faded….
Protestant philo-Semitism was a by-product of Protestant millenarism , and Protestant millenarism received its great impulse from the Thirty Years War. Continental refugees brought that impulse to England. In 1627 the two most important books on the subject were published: one on the continent by J.H. Alstedt, the other in England by a Cambridge clergyman, Joseph Mede. Both were in Latin, but both penetrated deeply into society.
Alstedt incidentally, prophesied that the year 1642 would be a turning point in the convulsion of Europe, heralding the millennium and the conversion of the Jews. When the year 1642 came and civil war broke out in England, this prophecy was rememberedm and both Alstedt and Mede were translated into English. By this time it was not only scholars and clergy who held such views. It was carried to America, and the puritans of New England, by John Winthrop and Hugh Peter. And there was Oliver Cromwell waiting “for the day to see union and right understanding between the godly people, Scots, English, Jews, Gentiles…” in other words, Protestants and Jews.
Meanwhile, on the Continent, the movement gained in volume. “The true light,” declared the Silesian mystic Abraham von Frankenberg, then in Danzig, “will come from the Jews. Their time is now near. From day to day, from different lands, we shall hear of the miracles worked for them, and all the aisles shall rejoice with them.” Frankenberg, whose work was translated into English and dedicated to Cromwell’s kinsman, Oliver St. John. expected the millennium in 1655.
Another and madder prophet was the Bohemian refugee Paul Felgenhauer. In his book, “The Glad Tidings of Israel” he described himself as a Christian who, with the Jews, was awaiting the Messiah, and he told the Jews that the universal wars of Europe- the Thirty Years War, the English revolution- as well as the succession of comets which illustrated them, made everything clear. He, Felgenhauer, was the precursor; the Last Days had begun; the end would come very soon with the Jews crossing the Euphrates for the conquest of their ancient home in the Holy Land.
While disaster had quickened the Protestants into messianism, the Catholic position as well, despite in general being at the winning end, had also suffered, particularly in Portugal. In 1580, Portugal had lost its dynasty and its freedom. It had become a Spanish kingdom and, as such, had taken the brunt of Spanish wars. In the Est Indies and in Brazil the enemies of Spain, the Dutch “heretics” had destroyed the source of Portuguese wealth. Under the pressure of thse disasters, the Cathlics of Portugal, like the Protestants of Germany, had turned to mystical hopes. They too expected an earthly Messiah: their last native king would rise from the dead and bring in the millenium.
The most famous prophet of the movement was a Jesuit missionary, Antonio Viera, one of the great writers of Portugal, whose faith had been exalted in the forests of Brazil. Viera, like the Protestant millennarists, was steeped in the Old Testament prophecies. He believed that the Jews who had been expelled from Portugal, should be recalled because he believed that they could re-create the wealth and greatness of Portugal. But his motives were not merely practical, for he also believed that the Jews could be converted, that the Ten Tribes would be found in the Americas, and that, once converted, the chosen race would be the best of all Christians.
In the end, inevitably, Christian and Jewish messianism failed to merge.When one had at last warmed up, the other was becoming cold. At the famous Whitehall conference of December 1655, Cromwell listened to the case for an
ainst the return of the Jews to England. Since the high tide of mysticism had receded, the solid rocks of Jewish inconvertibility were now painfully exposed, but Cromwell’s majestic tolerance somehow rose above the difficulty. The philo-Semites, in their retreat from messianism, had closed the front door; but the residue of their inspiration was still strong enough to open the back door, and leave it permanently ajar.
By 1660 mystical Protestant philo-Semitism was dead, dead with the generation out of whose now remote experience it had been born. But Jewish messianism still had a few years to run. The great year of 1666 was still to come. In 1666, said the English Fifth Monarchist, John Rogers, the Saints, having already captured Rome, would conquer the whole world. In that year, said the Portuguese Jesuit Vieira, King John of Portugal would rise from the dead and found, in Lisbon, the Fifth World Monarchy. In that year, said the Jewish cabalists, their messiah would set up their new monarchy in the Holy Land.
When that year came however, the Fifth Monarchists, were scattered and disillusioned, and Vieira was in the hands of the Inquisition, threatened with the stake for his partiality to the Jews. Only the Jews were left with their illusions. When the messianic year came, they had to go it alone. ….From that time onward, the basis of Jewish, as of Christian , messianism had crumbled, With it crumbled also the last element in that brief and strange episode, the unique experience of one generation, the mystical Christian philo-Semitism.