Bull Cum Nimis Absurdum

 July 14, 1555

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Cum nimis absurdum was a Papal bull of the Roman Catholic Church issued by Pope Paul IV on July 14, 1555. As usual in Papal decrees, the title of the Bull is taken from its initial three words, the incipit, meaning in translation, "As it is completely absurd"

The initial wording bears unequivocal witness regarding the putative tolerance of the Catholic Church and its historical attitude toward the Jews:

"As it is completely absurd and improper in the utmost that the Jews, who through their own fault were condemned by God to eternal servitude..."

It therefore placed religious and economic restrictions on Jews in the Papal States. The bull renewed anti-Jewish decrees. It forced Jews to wear special clothing, to live in a ghetto in Rome and forbade them to own real estate or practice medicine among Christians. Jews were forbidden to practice any trade except ragpicking, and were restricted to one synagogue per city. Since all property had to be sold, and was inevitably sold at below market value, the Bull, like most such ordinances was theft as well.

The Bull Cum Nimis Absurdum should be understood in the context of the counter-reformation, the inquisition and the attendant resurgence of fanaticism in the Catholic church. The bull and similar legislation was not necessarily a product of the Middle Ages. It must be understood as signifying that Anti-Semitism was not limited to the Middle Ages but rather continued and was accentuated during the renaissance. The 16th century was not, in other matters, a century of general reaction for the Catholic Church. The Bull Sublimus Dei forbade slavery, for example.  At the same time, Cum Nimis Absurdum represented not an isolated or totally new phenomenon, but actually continued in a tradition of Papal persecution of the Jews that had flickered on and off during the entire Middle Ages. It was followed by several others during the reigns of counter-reformationist popes in the 16th century. 

The Bull reiterates the doctrine, accepted by Christians and obnoxious to Jews, that was the theological basis of anti-Semitism prior to modern times, that the Jews were to be punished for their guilt in killing Jesus, and/or for denying the savior.

Some of the additional Bulls relating to the attitude of the Catholic church to the Jews in that period include:

Hebraeorum gens sola, Bull of the Pope Saint Pius V, issued on Feb. 26, 1569, restricted Jews in the Papal States to Rome and Ancona, temporarily reversed subsequently).

Caeca et Obdurata Hebraeorum perfidia - (Blind and obdurate is the perfidy of the Hebrews) of February 25, 1593, expelling the Jews from all Papal states and territories other than Rome, Ancona and Avignon, and in particular from Bologna and several other cities. 

Cum Hebraeorum malitia (or Quum Habraeorum malitia) of 1592 or 1593, a Bull of Pope Clement VIII, decreeing that all copies of the Talmud and Kabbalah were to be turned over to the inquisition  for burning. It was evidently soon rescinded or superseded however.

Measures such as these, enacted by Protestant regimes as well as by Catholics, did not serve to create trust between the Jewish people and their Christian neighbors.

The Bull Beatus Andreas of Pope Gregory XIV of 1755 belongs to a still later period. The Bull examines the issue of ritual murder of Christians by Jews, the basis of the infamous blood libel. Well past the end of the Middle Ages, at the dawn the enlightenment, this Bullt upholds the veracity of a long series of cases in which Jews were falsely accused of murdering innocent Christian children.  

It would be comforting to believe that such measures and attitudes belong to the distant past and have no counterpart in modern society, but the position is not so clear. Both the Catholic and Protestant faiths embrace a variety of opinions. An article at a Catholic Website claimed that the inquisition was a myth. The modern Catholic Church has taken an equivocal view of its history of fanatical persecution. An article in a Catholic encyclopedia claims that such decrees were rare exceptions amidst the tolerant attitude of the Church and the protection it afforded the Jews. On the other hand, the same document notes:

.. owing to the fact that the canon law deals very largely with the enunciation of principles of right and wrong which are of their own nature irreformable, the direct repeal of its provisions has never or very rarely been resorted to.

...Every lawfully-constituted society must put down on principle the propagation of such sedition as threatens its own existence, and this is not persecution so long as reason and humanity are respected in the means of suppression employed.

,,,Regarded as a centre of spiritual authority the Holy See did not claim the unbaptized as subjects, but still the popes as sovereigns of a temporal state had to adopt a definite attitude towards the Jews who lived in their dominions.

The attitude of the Church itself was certainly the affair of the church, but it led to acts of confiscation, burning at the stake, torture on the rack and enslavement. What follows immediately below is an unofficial translation of the Bull, the original Latin text being appended below that.

Additional Bulls and background are listed here: List of Papal Bulls concerning Jews

Ami Isseroff

March, 2009

Above introduction is Copyright 2009 by the author, all rights reserved.

Bull Cum Nimis Absurdum

Laws and ordinances to be followed by Jews living in the Holy See decreed by the Bishop  Paul, servant of the servants of God, for future recollection.

As it is completely absurd and improper in the utmost that the Jews, who through their own fault were condemned by God to eternal servitude, can under the pretext that pious Christians must accept them and sustain their habitation, are so ungrateful to Christians, as, instead of thanks for gracious treatment, they return contumely, and among themselves, instead of the slavery, which they deserve, they manage to claim superiority: we, who newly learned that these very Jews have insolently invaded our City Rome and  a number of the Papal States, territories and domains their impudence increased so much that they dare not only to live amongst the Christian people, but also in the vicinity of the churches without any difference of dressing, and even that they rent houses in the main streets and squares, buy and hold immovable property, engage maids, nurses and other Christian servants, and commit other and numerous misdeeds with shame and contempt of the Christian name. Considering that the Church of Rome tolerates these very Jews evidence of the true Christian faith and to this end [we declare]: that they, won over by the piety and kindness of the See, should at long last recognize their erroneous ways, and should lose no time in seeing the true light of the catholic faith, and thus to agree that while they persist in their errors, realizing that they are slaves because of their deeds, whereas Christians have been freed through our Lord God Jesus Christ, and that it is iniquitous for it to appear that the sons of free women serve the sons of maids.

§ 1. Desiring firstly, as much as we can with God, to beneficially provide, by this. that will forever be in force, we ordain that for the rest of time, in the City as well as in other states, territories and domains of the Church of Rome itself, all Jews are to live in one and if there is not that capacity in two or three or however many quarters may be enough; they should reside entirely side by side in designated streets and be thoroughly separate from the residences of Christians, by our authority in the City and by that of our representatives in other states, lands and domains noted above, and that there must be only one entrance and exit from this quarter.

§ 2. Furthermore, in each and every state, territory and domain in which they are living, they will have only one synagogue, in its customary location, and they will construct no other new ones, nor can they own buildings. Furthermore, all of their synagogues, besides the one allowed, are to be destroyed and demolished. And the properties, which they currently own, they must sell to Christians within a period of time to be determined by the magistrates themselves.

§ 3. Moreover, so that Jews should be distinguishable everywhere: men must wear a hat, women, indeed, some other evident sign, yellow in color, that must not be concealed or covered by any means, and must be tightly affixed; and furthermore, they can not be absolved or excused from the obligation to wear the hat or other emblem of this type to any extent whatever and under any pretext whatsoever of their rank or prominence or of their ability to tolerate this adversity, either by a chamberlain of the Church, clerics of an Apostolic court, or their superiors, or by legates of the Holy See or their immediate subordinates.

§ 4. Also, they may not have nurses or maids or any other Christian domestic or service by Christian women in wet-nursing or feeding their children.

§ 5. They may not work or have work done on Sundays or on other public feast days declared by the Church.

§ 6. Nor may they incriminate Christians in any way, or promulgate false or forged agreements.

§ 7. And they may not presume in any way to play, eat or fraternize with Christians.

§ 8. And they cannot use other than Latin or Italian words in short-term account books that they hold with Christians, and, if they should use them, such records would not be binding on Christians.

§ 9. Moreover, these Jews are to be limited to the trade of rag-picking, or “cencinariae” (as it is said in the vernacular), and they cannot trade in grain, barley or any other commodity essential to human welfare.

§ 10. And those among them who are physicians, even if summoned and inquired after, cannot attend or take part in the care of Christians.

§ 11. And they are not to be addressed as superiors [even] by poor Christians.

§ 12. And they are to close their [loan] accounts entirely every thirty days; should fewer than thirty days elapse, they shall not be counted as an entire month, but only as the actual number of days, and furthermore, they will terminate the reckoning as of this number of days and not for the term of an entire month. In addition, they are prohibited from selling [goods put up as] collateral, put up as temporary security for their money, unless [such goods were] put up a full eighteen months prior to the day on which such [collateral] would be forfeit; at the expiration of the aforementioned number of months, if Jews have sold a security deposit of this sort, they must sign over all money in excess of the principal of the loan to the owner of the collateral.

§ 13. And the statutes of states, territories and domains wherever they presently live, concerning primacy of Christians, are to be adhered to and followed without exception.

§ 14. And, should they, in any manner whatsoever, be deficient in the foregoing, it would be treated as a crime: in Rome, by us or by our clergy, or by others authorized by us, and in the aforementioned states, territories and domains by their respective magistrates, just as if they were rebels and criminals by the jurisdiction in which the offense takes place, they would be accused by all Christian people, by us and by our clergy, and could be punished at the discretion of the proper authorities and judges.

§ 15.Not to be confuted by conflicting decrees and apostolic rules, and regardless of any tolerance whatever or special rights and dispensation for these Jews of any Roman Pontiff prior to us and of the aforementioned See or of their legates, or by the courts of the Church of Rome and the clergy of the Apostolic courts, or by other of their officials, no matter their import and form, and with whatever, even with repeated derogations, and with other legally valid sub-clauses, and erasures and other decrees, even those that are “motu proprio” and from “certain knowledge” and have been repeatedly approved and renewed. By this document, even if, instead of their sufficient derogation, concerning them and their entire import, special, specific, expressed and individual, even word for word, moreover, not by means of general, even important passages, mention, or whatever other expression was favored, or whatever exquisite form had to be retained, matters of such import, and, if word for word, with nothing deleted, would be inserted into them in original form in the present document holding that rather than being sufficiently expressed, those things that would stay in effect in full force by this change alone, we specially and expressly derogate, as well as any others contrary to them.

Declared at St. Mark’s, Rome, in the one thousand five hundred fifty fifth year of the incarnation of our lord, one day before the ides of July, in the first year of our Papacy. 


Leges et ordinationes a iudaeis in Statu Ecclesiastico degentibus observandae
Paulus episcopus servus servorum Dei, ad futuram rei memoriam.

Cum nimis absurdum et inconveniens existat ut iudaei, quos propria culpa perpetuae servituti submisit, sub praetextu quod pietas christiana illos receptet et eorum cohabitationem sustineat, christianis adeo sint ingrati, ut, eis pro gratia, contumelian reddant, et in eos, pro servitute, quam illis debent, dominatum vendicare procurent: nos, ad quorum notitiam nuper devenit eosdem iudaeos in alma Urbe nostra e nonnullis S.R.E. civitatibus, terris et locis, in id insolentiae prorupisse, ut non solum mixtim cum christianis et prope eorum ecclesias, nulla intercedente habitus distincione, cohabitare, verum etiam domos in nobilioribus civitatum, terrarum et locorum, in quibus degunt, vicis et plateis conducere, et bona stabilia comparare et possidere, ac nutrices et ancillas aliosque servientes christianos mercenarios habere, et diversa alia in ignominiam et contemptum christiani nominis perpetrare praesumant, considerantes Ecclesiam Romanam eosdem iudaeos tolerare in testimonium verae fidei christianae et ad hoc, ut ipsi, sedis Apostolicae pietate et benignate allecti, errores suos tandem recognoscant, et ad verum catholicae fidei lumen pervenire satagant, et propterea convenire ut quamdiu in eorum erroribus persistunt, effectu operis recognoscanti se servos, christianos vero liberos per Iesum Christum Deum et Dominum nostrum effectos fuisse, iniquumque existere ut filii liberae filiis famulentur ancillae.

§ 1. Volentes in priemissis, quantum cum Deo possumus, salubriter providere, hac nostra perpetuo valitura constitutione sancimus quod de cetero perpetuis futuris temporibus, tam in Urbe quam in quibusvis aliis ipsius Romanae Ecclesia civitatibus, terris et locis, iudaei omnes in uno et eodem, ac si ille capax non fuerit, in duobus aut tribus vel tot quot satis sint, contiguis et ab habitationibus christianorum penitus seiunctis, per nos in Urbe et per magistratus nostros in aliis civitatibus, terris et locis praedictis designandis vicis, ad quos unicus tantum ingressus pateat, et quibus solum unicus exitus detur, omnino habitent.

§ 2. Et in singulis civitatibus, terris et locis in quibus habitaverint, unicam tantum synagogam in loco solito habeant, nec aliam de novo construere, aut bona immobilia possidere possint. Quinimmo omnes eorum synagogas, praeter unam tantum, demoliri et devastare. Ac bona immobilia, qua ad praesens possident, infra tempus eis per ipsos magistratus praesignandum, christianis vendere.

§ 3. Et ad hoc ut pro iudaeis ubique dignoscantur, masculi biretum, foeminae vero aliud signum patens, ita ut nullo modo celari aut abscondi possint, glauci coloris, palam deferre teneantur et adstricti sint; nec super non delatione bireti aut alterius signi huiusmodi, praetextu cuiusvis eorum gradus vel priaeminentiae seu toierantiae excusari, aut per eiusdem Ecclesiae camerarium vel Camerae Apostolicae clericos, seu alias illi praesidentes personas, aut Sedis Apostolicae legatos vel eorum vicelegatos quovis modo dispensari aut absolvi possint.

§ 4. Nutrices quoque seu ancillas aut alias utriusque sexus servientes christianos habere, vel eorum infantes per mulieres christianas lactari aut nutriri facere.

§ 5. Seu dominicis vel aliis de praecepto Ecclesiae festis diebus in publico laborare aut laborari facere. § 6. Seu christianos quoquo modo gravare, aut contractus fictos vel simulatos celebrare.

§ 7. Seu cum ipsis christianis ludere aut comedere vel familiaritatem seu conversationem habere nullatenus praesumant.

§ 8. Nec in libris rationum et computorum, quae cum christianis pro tempore habebunt, aliis, quam latinis literis et alio quam vulgari italico sermone, uti possint, et si utantur, libri huiusmodi contra christianos nullam fidem faciant.

§ 9. Iudaei quoque praefati sola arte strazzariae, seu cenciariae (ut vulgo dicitur) contenti, aliquam mercaturam frumenti vel hordei, aut aliarum rerum usui humano necessariarum facere.

§ 10. Et qui ex eis medici fuerint, etiam vocati et rogati, ad curam christianorum accedere aut illi interesse nequeant.

§ 11. Nec se a pauperibus christianis dominos vocari patiantur.

§ 12. Et menses in eorum rationibus et computis ex triginta diebus completis omnino conficiant, et dies, qui ad numerum triginta non ascenderint, non pro mensibus integris, sed solum pro tot diebus quot in effectu fuerint, computentur, et iuxta ipsorum dierum numerum et non ad rationem integri mensis eorum credita exigant. Ac pignora, eis pro cautione pecuniarum suarum pro tempore consignata, nisi transactis prius a die, quo illa eis data fuerint, decem et octo integris mensibus, vendere nequeant, et postquam menses praedicti effluxerint, si ipsi iudaei pignora huiusmodi vendiderint, omnem pecuniam, quae eorum credito superfuerit, domino pignorum consignare.

§ 13. Et statua civitatum, terrarum et locorum, in quibus pro tempore habitaverint, favorem christianorum concernentia, inviolabiliter observata etiam teneantur.

§ 14. Et si circa praemissa in aliquo quomodolibet defecerint, iuxta qualitatem deiicti, in Urbe per nos seu vicarium nostrum, aut alios a nobis deputandos, ac in civitatibus, terris et iocis praedictis per eosdem magistratus, etiam tamquam rebelles et criminis lesae maiestatis rei, ac toto populo christiano diffidati,. nostro et ipsorum vicarii, ac deputandorum et magistratuum arbitrio puniri possint.

§ 15. Non obstantibus constitutionibus et ordinationibus apostolicis, ac quibusvis tolerantiis seu privilegiis et indultis apostolicis eisdem iudaeis per quoscumque Romanos Pontifices praedecessores nostros ac Sedem praedictam aut illius legatos, vel ipsius Romanae Ecclesiae camerarios et Camerae Apostolicae clericos, seu alios illius praesidentes, sub quibuscumque tenoribus et formis, ac cum quibusvis, etiam deregatoriarum derogatoriis, aliisque efficacioribus et insolitis clausulis, nec non irritantibus et alììs decretis, etiam motu proprio et ex certa scientia ac de apostolicae potestatis plenitudine concessis, ac etiam iteratis vicibus approbatis et innovatis, quibus omnibus, etiamsi, pro illorum sufficienti derogatione, de eis eorumque totis tenoribus specialis, specifica, expressa et individua ac de verbo ad verbum, non autem per ciausulas generales idem importantes, mentio, seu quaevis alia expressio habenda, aut aliqua exquisita forma servanda esset, tenores huiusmodi, ac si de verbo ad verbum, nihil penitus omisso, et forma in illis tradita observata inserti forent, praesentibus pro sufficienter expressis habentes, illis alias in suo robore permansuris, hac vice dumtaxat specialiter et expresse derogamus, ceterisque contrariis quibuscumque.

Datum romae apud S.Marcum anno Incarnationis Domicae, millesimo quingentesimo quingentesimo quinto, Pridie idus Julii, Pont. nostri, anno I.

14 luglio 1555


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