Were the Popes against the Jews? Tracking the Myths, Confronting the Ideologues

By Justus George Lawler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Ideals, Institutions, and Reform
— Toward a Conclusion

All of the material in the preceding chapters would be of relatively little importance if it were harnessed only in the cause of putting on display the ways in which the scholarship of a few writers can be used to reach an objective other than the writing of history “as it really was.” That last reference is to the oft-cited goal of another student of the papacy, Leopold von Ranke, who also failed to attain his ideal. But von Ranke’s work did have the unanticipated benefit of prompting Leo XIII to open the Vatican archives to Ludwig von Pastor and future historians, and thus of achieving results not unlike those which Martin Gilbert in the previous chapter had predicted for the opening of more recent archival deposits.1 Similarly, there is a significantly beneficial consequence to the preceding examination of the work of David I. Kertzer and others, inasmuch as it can lead to a deeper understanding of the nature of religious institutions as such. In fact, without some kind of practical reformative consequences, much of the previous analysis could be dismissed as merely a purging of mistakes and distortions that happened to mar particular historical narratives, however influential such narratives might have been in some circles.

That the present book is not just intended to set the historical record straight was mentioned in the introduction, was emphasized explicitly in

1. It was with regard to the opening of the archives that Leo XIII wrote Saepenumero considerantes, the document from which the epigraph at the beginning of this book was excerpted. Now, at the end of this book, it is appropriate to cite his words again: “Rather than an unsubstantiated account there should be comprehensive and complete study; rather than exaggerated declarations there should be thoughtful assertions; rather than wild opinions, there should be factual observations. The first law of history is never dare to lie. The second is never fear to tell the truth.”

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