July 6: Clement VI and the Black Plague
Pope Clement VI issued a Papal Bull from Avignon, France, on this date in 1348 defending the Jews against accusations that they were responsible for the Black Plague that was sweeping across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. By 1350, the disease would take the lives of well over a third of Christendom’s population. Popular opinion held that Jews had poisoned wells to cause the disease, and Jews were being slaughtered in pogroms and expelled from countries across Europe. Clement VI described the anti-Semitic violence as “seduc[tion] by that liar, the Devil,” and protected the Jews of Avignon, where two thirds of the population died of the disease. A second Bull would follow on September 26, but the pope’s commands were little obeyed, especially in Germany. In 1349, for example, the magistrates of Nuremberg actually sought and obtained approval from the newly anointed Emperor Charles IV before organizing a pogrom under the auspices of the city government. The Emperor declared Jewish property forfeit, which greatly incentivized anti-Jewish marauders throughout his lands. For an overview of how the plague spread, and how anti-Semitic persecutions followed it, click here.
“It cannot be true that the Jews, by such a heinous crime, are the cause or occasion of the plague, because through many parts of the world the same plague, by the hidden judgment of God, has afflicted and afflicts the Jews themselves and many other races who have never lived alongside them.” —Pope Clement VI.