By: Alfred Lévy
Archbishop of Lyons; born 779. died June 6, 840; one of the principal opponents of Judaism in the ninth century. In his time the Jews of Lyons inhabited a special quarter, situated at the foot of the hill of Fourvière. They obtained from King Louis the Debonair, of France—the son and successor of Charlemagne—a special magistrate (magister Judœorum) named Eberard—a prominent man of the court—to defend them against the intolerance of the clergy. This aroused the indignation of Agobard, which he expressed in four epistles—one to Louis, one to the priests of the palace, one to Bishop Hilduin, and one to Nibridius, bishop of Narbonne.
In the first letter, which he entitles "Concerning the Insolence of the Jews" (De Insolentia Judœorum), he complains bitterly of the agitations of Eberard and the royal commissioners, Gerric and Frederick, against his clergy and himself. "What have I done," he asks, "to incur the anger of the king? I have confined myself to giving to the faithful the following recommendations: not to sell Christian slaves to the Jews; not to permit the Jews to sell them in Spain, or to have Christians in their pay and employ; to prevent Christian women from observing the Sabbath with Jews, from working with them on Sundays, and from partaking of their meals during Lent; to forbid their servants eating meat during that period; not to buy meat that had been bled and rejected by them as being unclean and therefore called Christian meat, nor to sell it to other Christians; not to drink such wine as is sold only to Christians," etc.Accusations against Jews.
Agobard tried to justify these recommendations by enumerating his grievances against the Jews. "They boast," he says, "of being dear to the king and of being received by him with favor, because of their descent from the Patriarchs; they exhibit costly garments which, they say, have been presented to them by the relatives of the king, and gowns which their wives have received from the ladies of the palace; contrary to the law, they take the liberty of building new synagogues; ignorant Christians claim that the Jews preach better than the Christian priests; and the commissioners of the king have ordered a change of the market day, in order that the Jews might be able to observe their day of rest." He ends by accusing the Jews of stealing Christian children to sell them as slaves.
This first epistle is followed by a memorandum, countersigned by the bishops of Vienne and Châlons and entitled, "Concerning the Superstitions of the Jews." In it are recounted the judgments that the Fathers of the Church have passed upon the Jews, the restrictive measures taken against them by different councils, their false superstitions, and their refusal to believe in the divinity of Jesus. By citing numerous Biblical texts, endeavors are made to demonstrate that the society of Jews should be avoided still more than that of pagans, as Jews are the opponents of Christianity.
These writings did not produce on the king the effect expected by Agobard, who, by baptizing a female slave belonging to a Jew (despite the opposition of her master), alienated whatever regard the monarch had entertained for him. Of this he had evidence in the coldness of his reception by Louis at an interview in which Agobard attempted to justify himself.
In a second epistle, addressed by Agobard to the priests at the court, he consults the prelates Adalard, Uvala, and Helisachar upon the course to be pursued toward the pagan slaves, belonging to Jews, who desire to enter into the pale of the Church. Agobard was inclined to admit them.
The third epistle, addressed to Hilduin, prelate of St. Palais, and to the abbot Wala, reveals still more clearly Agobard's zeal for proselytism. He entreats them to induce the king to revoke the edict in favor of the Jews, forbidding the baptism of their slaves. He points out that it is a sacred duty for every priest to work for the salvation of those who are plunged in error; hence they must make use of their influence, "that the souls that could augment the flock of the faithful, and for whose salvation public prayers are offered to God by the Universal Church on Passion Day, should not remain, through the obstinacy of the unbelievers, through the wickedness of the enemies of heaven, as well as the pretended edict of the king, in the snares of Satan."
Not all prelates of that time shared Agobard's sentiments. Nibridius, bishop of Narbonne, did not hesitate to maintain cordial relations with the Jews, and even invited them to his table. Therefore Agobard considered it his duty to induce him to break off all intercourse with them. "It seems to me to be unworthy of our faith," he writes to him, "that the sons of light should associate with the children of darkness, and that the Church of Christ, which ought to present herself for the kisses of her celestial spouse without blemish and without wrinkle, be disgraced by contact with the defiled and repudiated Synagogue." And after having recalled to him all his efforts to prevent every intercourse between Jews and Christians, notwithstanding the opposition of Eberard and the royal commissioners, he adds: "You know that one should not only not make use of those who do not want to accept the apostolic preaching, but should shake off the dust of their dwellings; in the Day of Judgment, Sodom and Gomorrah will be pardoned sooner than they." And he concludes by requesting Nibridius not to allow any of the faithful to communicate with such accursed ones, and to exhort all the neighboring bishops to concur in that work. Besides their polemic interest, Agobard's writings about the Jews, especially his letter on their superstitions, throw light on their social history and give evidence of the existence of works like the "Otiot de R. Akiba," the "Shi'ur Ḳomah," and the "Hekalot," in the ninth century.
It is well known that Agobard openly sided in the revolt of the sons of Louis I. against their father. His wrath at having failed in his undertaking against the Jews was one of the causes that led him to this attitude. In 834 he was compelled to abandon his archbishopric and to seek safety in Italy with Lothair, the son of the king; but three years later he was reconciled with Louis and resumed his episcopal duties.
- Agobardi Opera, Paris, 1666;
- Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, v. 250-260;
- Hundeshagen, Dissertatio de Agobardi Vita et Scriptis, Giessen, 1831;
- Macé, Vie d' Agobard, 1846;
- Samosz, Des Heiligen Agobard Abhandlungen wider die Juden, Leipsic, 1852.