Skip to main content

Bulls, Papal


BULLS, PAPAL , generally official statements by the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Although the term "Bull" (from the Latin bullum, "seal") was sometimes applied to imperial documents as well, its use has been limited as defined above. Bulls bearing the seal of the reigning pope and dealing with matters of Jewish interest were fairly numerous in the Middle Ages, though they constituted a small fraction of the vast papal correspondence; in recent centuries their number has decreased. Earlier they took the form of letters addressed to prelates, to secular rulers, to the Christian faithful in general, and in rare instances directly to Jews. Later, they increasingly took the form of memoranda (briefs outlining policy), headed by the phrase Ad futuram rei memoriam ("A reminder for the future"). Either type of document usually began with a statement of general attitude, proceeded to a discussion of the specific problem involved, continued with the pope's decision on the resolution of the problem, and concluded with a statement of the penalties for disobedience. The statement of attitude frequently cited scriptural verses or referred back to the authority of the incumbent's predecessors. The following are examples of some of the more significant papal bulls concerning the Jews, illustrative of Church policy. They are identified, as usual, by their initial words.

Sicut Judaeis. First issued by *Calixtusii around 1120, it was a general Bull of Protection for the Jews, who had suffered at the hands of participants in the First Crusade (1095–96) and were being maltreated by their Christian neighbors. It forbade killing them, using force to convert them, and otherwise molesting them, their synagogues, and cemeteries. The bull was modeled on a letter, which began with the same phrase, sent to the bishop of Palermo by Pope *Gregoryi in 598, objecting to the use of force as a conversionary method. Calixtus' formulation was repeated by most of the popes from the 12th to the 15th centuries. They often added references to problems current in their day. Several of them condemned the accusation of ritual murder (see *blood libel).

Post Miserabile by *Innocentiii in 1198, was addressed to the prelates of Europe and dealt at length with the need for another crusading effort in the Holy Land. Among the privileges granted to those who took the cross was the protection of their property while they were away, including the suspension of payment of principal and interest on their debts to Jews. The formula in which this suspension was expressed became standard in calls to Crusades which followed in the next few centuries.

Etsi non displiceat by Innocent iii in 1205, addressed to the king of France, is a list of accusations against the Jews: usury, blasphemy, arrogance, employing Christian slaves, and even murder. The king is urged to put a stop to the evils. Yet the same "evils" continue to be mentioned by various popes for centuries and to be completely disregarded by others.

In generali concilio by Honorius iii in 1218, addressed to the archbishop of Toledo, demanded the enforcement of the decision of the Fourth *Lateran Council that Jews wear clothing to distinguish them from Christians; also that Jews be made to pay the tithe to local churches. Both items were frequently repeated by later popes.

Etsi Judaeorum by *Gregoryix in 1233, addressed to the prelates of France, urged the prevention of attacks on the Jews, usually motivated by greed. The sentiment, if not the exact words, was repeated by a number of popes in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Si vera sunt also by Gregory ix, in 1239, addressed to the kings and prelates of France and Spain, ordered the seizure and examination of the Talmud and all other Jewish books suspected of blasphemies against Jesus and Christianity. The burning of such Jewish books was ordered several times from the 13th to the 16th centuries.

Lachrymabilem Judaeorum by *Innocentiv in 1247, addressed to the prelates of Germany in response to Jewish complaints, urged an end to murder and persecution on the baseless blood libel. Several other popes made the same plea, but neither consistently nor forcefully.

Turbato corde by *Clementiv in 1267, addressed to the inquisitors of heresy, expressed dismay over the rumor that Jews were trying to induce Christians (possibly converts from Judaism) to turn to their religion. Charges of such Judaizing activity were raised frequently by later popes.

Vineam soreth by *Nicholasiii in 1278, addressed to Franciscans in Austria and Lombardy, ordered the selection of trained men to preach Christianity to the Jews. Secular rulers were requested not to interfere with the preachers. Henceforward, frequent reference is made to this method of missionizing among Jews.

Quamvis perfidiam by *Clementvi in 1348, addressed to various prelates, urged the protection of Jews against the accusation that they had brought on the *Black Death by poisoning the wells. It was an instance of specific application of protection in the face of a threat to Jewish life.

Etsi doctoribus gentium by antipope *Benedictxiii (Peter of Luna) in 1415, a brief for the guidance of Church policy, was one of the most complete collections of anti-Jewish laws. Though not by a recognized pope, it served as a precedent for several later popes.

Numquam dubitavimus by *Sixtus iv in 1482, empowered Ferdinand of Aragon to appoint inquisitors to extirpate heresy and to prevent Jewish practices among those who had been converted to Christianity.

Cum nimis absurdum by *Pauliv in 1555, was a brief in the spirit of antipope Benedict xiii. It established the ghetto in Rome, limited Jewish economic activities, prohibited more than one synagogue in a town, and forbade contact between Jews and Christians.

Hebraeorum gens by Pius v in 1569, a brief, accused the Jews of many evils, including the practice of magic. It ordered the expulsion of the Jews from all papal territory, excepting Rome and Ancona.

Sancta mater ecclesia by *Gregoryxiii in 1584, confirming his Vices eius nos of 1577, ordered the Jews of Rome to send 100 men and 50 women every Saturday afternoon to listen to conversionist sermons which were delivered in a church near the ghetto.

Christiana pietas by *Sixtusv in 1586, relieved the Jews of many oppressive social and economic restrictions which had been imposed upon them by Paul iv and Pius v. They enjoyed this relief for only a few years, for in 1593 *Clementviii issued a number of edicts restoring the previous situation which remained in force till the 19th century.


Dictionnaire de droit canonique, 2 (1937), s.v.Bulle; M. Stern, Urkundliche Beitraege ueber die Stellung der Paepste zu den Juden (1893–95), passim. sicut judaeis. S. Grayzel, in: hj, 2 (1940), 1–12; idem, in: Studies and Essays… A.A. Neuman (1962), 243ff.; cf. Baron, Social2, 4 (1957), 7ff., and 235 nn. 3, 4. post misera-bile: S. Grayzel, The Church and the Jews in the xiiith Century (1933), 86–87. etsi non displiceat and in generali concillo:ibid., 144–7. etsi judaeorum:ibid., 200–3. si vera sunt:ibid., 240–3. lachrymabilem judaeorum:ibid., 286–7. turbato corde: P. Browe, Die Judenmission im Mittelatter (1942), 258, n.216. vineam soreth:ibid., 30, n.57. quamvis perfidiam: A. Lang, Acta salzburgo-aquilejensia, 1 (1906), 302; cf. Baer, Spain, 2 (1966), 27f. etsi doctoribus gentium: J. Amador de los Ríos, Historia social, política y religiosa de los Judíos, 2 (1875–76), 626–53. numquam dubitavimus: F. Fita y Colomer, La España hebrea, 1 (1889–98), 83ff. cum nimis absurdum: Vogelstein-Rieger, 2 (1895), 152; E. Rodoconachi, Le-Saint-Siège et les Juifs (1891), 173. hebraeorum gens: Vogelstein-Rieger, 2 (1895), 167ff. sancta mater ecclesia:ibid., 173; A. Milano, ii ghetto di Roma (1964), 269–81. christiana pietas:ibid., 269–81; Vogelstein-Rieger, 2 (1895), 173, 183–6.

[Solomon Grayzel]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Bulls, Papal." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . 18 Feb. 2019 <>.

"Bulls, Papal." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . (February 18, 2019).

"Bulls, Papal." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved February 18, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.