BERTHOLD OF REGENSBURG:
By: Richard Gottheil
Monk and itinerant preacher; born about 1220; died in Regensburg (Ratisbon) Dec. 14, 1272. This most celebrated popular preacher of the Middle Ages, known to the people as "Rusticanus," traveled through Bavaria, the Rhine Provinces, Alsatia, Austria, Moravia, Hungary, Silesia, and Bohemia, and exercised an enormous influence upon the populace by his fiery speech and his lofty moral ideals. The last part of his life-work was spent in the interest of the Crusades.
It is supposed that in his many journeys he came in contact with the Jews, though there are no direct data on this point. In his numerous sermons, however, occasional references to the Jews show that he belonged to those ecclesiastics who, though good churchmen and brought up in the traditions of their church respecting the Jews, were liberal-minded enough to treat them as human beings to whom the state owed a certain amount of protection. Some qualities, which Berthold must have observed among the Jews who came under his notice, appealed strongly to him; and on one occasion he warned his hearers to be constant in their morning and evening prayers, adding, "In this the Jews put you to shame." On another occasion he used the same expression in regard to the holiness of family life. It is more surprising, however, to see how forcibly he speaks against what in his time was becoming the fashion of the day—the attempt to compel the Jews to become Christians. He declares it to be foolish to forcibly push the Jews into the water. He is also very decided in his distaste for another method then growing common; namely, that of forcing the Jews to see the error of their ways. The many disputations, which from that time on were held, were regarded by Berthold as quite useless; for he says: "You all desire to have a dispute with the Jews. You are ignorant; they are learned in Holy Writ. They know well how to out-talk you; and because of this you always emerge the weaker." In regard to the position of the Jews before the law he has this to say: "Kings ought to guard the Jews as they guard the Christians in respect of their persons and their chattels, if taken in during time of peace; and he who kills a Jew must stand for it as must a Christian, when the emperor has received them in time of peace." He then quotes the usual reasons given by the Church for permitting Jews to live among Christians: "First, because they are witnesses that our Lord was by them crucified . . . ; secondly, because those of them who shall be living at the time of Anti-christ will all have become Christians before the last day.
There are, however, many indications that, despite these liberal expressions, Berthold was still the child of his day, and his ecclesiastical dislike of the Jews was increased by the great horror which he had of usury in any form; but it must be remembered that, like Bernhard of Clairvaux (1146) and the minne-singer Rumelant (thirteenth century), he is as vigorous against Christian usury as against Jewish. This popular prejudice is seen in his speaking of "des stinkenden Juden falschen Geschwätz," and mentioning them in connection with thieves, robbers, heathens, heretics, and perjurers. On one occasion he did not scruple to say: "Mr. Jew, the devil hadlong ago broken thy neck, had it not been for the angel that watches over thee."
Berthold is also of interest in the history of mysticism; for in him is seen the close connection between Christian and Jewish mysticism of the thirteenth century. He believed in a most elaborate angelology; and even the mystic value of the letters of the alphabet was not unknown to him.
- The passages dealing with the Jews are quoted in Güdemann's Geschichte des Erziehungswesens und der Cultur der Juden in Frankreich und Deutschland, Index, s.v. Berthold, Vienna, 1880.
- The literature on Berthold will be found in Hauck's Realencyklopädie für Protestantische Theologie und Kirche, ii. 649, Leipsic, 1897.