Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Juan De Torquemada's Defense of the Conversos

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Juan De Torquemada's Defense of the Conversos

Article excerpt

In January of 1449 the city of Toledo rose up against an attempt by Alvaro de Luna, the favorite of the reigning king of Castile,Juan II, to impose a heavy tax on the city. This levy was intended to help Don Alvaro to defend his position against the hostility of certain noble families, including the king's cousins. The insurrection led to the burning of the house of the appointed tax collector, Alonso Cota, a "New Christian," one of those descendants from converts to Judaism who had made a career for himself as a royal official. There followed a wider attack on the conversos, a sign that baptism, even voluntarily received,would not win for Jewish converts or their Christianized descendants full acceptance in some "Old Christian" circles.1 Men who themselves had abandoned Judaism or whose families had received baptism, often during upheavals at the end of the fourteenth century and the beginning of the fifteenth, were deprived of official posts in the city. An ecclesiastical trial of converts accused of "judaizing" also was held, leading to some executions, and much property was confiscated. Led by a disgruntled royal official, Pedro Sarmiento, the Old Christians of Toledo issued the Sentencia-estatuto, which forbade New Christians to hold offices and benefices in the city and its surrounding territories. The same document declared conversos infamous and unable to testify in legal proceedings.2 Polemics, the most important written by the lawyer Marcos Garcia de Mora, called Marquillos, denied that Jews could become true Christians and accused them of a propensity for evil. Old Christians, treated as the only true adherents to the faith, were described as threatened by Jewish machinations.3 (Part of his case against the converts was grounded on local laws, including a statute of Alfonso VII issued during the twelfth century, which forbade converts from Judaism to hold office in the city.)

At first Alvaro de Luna made feeble efforts to help the conversos of Toledo, and then he abandoned them. King Juan made efforts to coerce the rebels, but he abandoned them when his son and heir, Don Enrique, took Toledo under his wing. Thereafter, he was more interested in conciliating than punishing his rebellious subjects.5 The New Christians in the city were not without friends. Fernan Diaz de Toledo, the king's relator and a prominent convert, worked to enlist Lope de Barrientos, the Dominican bishop of Cuenca and a leading member of the royal entourage, among the opponents of the rebels. Alonso de Cartagena, bishop of Burgos, also a New Christian, wrote a detailed critique of this "sentence: He also described the Jews as a nation ennobled by God, not lost in infamy.6

Participation in this debate quickly spread outside Castile, as both sides attempted to gain a favorable hearing from Pope Nicholas V (1447-1455). Sarmiento and his allies sent representatives to Rome to plead their case, but they were turned away on the urging of the leading Dominican theologian present in the Curia, Cardinal Juan de Torquemada.7 In September of 1449, probably following the cardinal's advice, Pope Nicholas issued a bull condemning any effort to segregate or penalize converts from Judaism. The pope also excommunicated Sarmiento and his followers, and he deposed the ecclesiastical judge Pedro Lopez de Galvez for his role in the heresy proceedings against the conversos. Nicholas, after his fashion, wavered later in his opposition to the sentence under pressure from lay powers, suspending and then canceling the censures imposed on the inhabitants of Toledo. (The pope later renewed certain measures favoring Juan II, but he ignored the victims of the Toledan uprising.8)

Torquemada, however, was not deterred by the pontiff's wavering. In 1450 he published a tract denouncing the proceedings held against the conversos. (This may have been an amplification of one or more memoranda written for the pope when news of the rising in Toledo first came to Rome. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.