The first bull was issued in about 1120 by Calixtus II and was intended to protect Jews. It was prompted by the First Crusade, during which over five thousand Jews were slaughtered in Europe. The words sicut Judaeis ("and thus to the Jews") were first used by Pope Gregory I (590-604) in a letter addressed to the Bishop of Naples. Even then the Pope emphasized that Jews were entitled to "enjoy their lawful liberty."
The bull was reaffirmed by many popes including Alexander III, Celestine III (1191-1198), Innocent III (1199), Honorius III (1216), Gregory IX (1235), Innocent IV (1246), Alexander IV (1255), Urban IV (1262), Gregory X (1272 & 1274), Nicholas III, Martin IV (1281), Honorius IV (1285-1287), Nicholas IV (1288-92), Clement VI (1348), Urban V (1365), Boniface IX (1389), Martin V (1422), and Nicholas V (1447).
The bull forbade Christians, on pain of excommunication, from forcing Jews to convert, from harming them, from taking their property, from disturbing the celebration of their festivals, and from interfering with their cemeteries.
The bull of 1120 was not the first papal expression against the mistreatment of Jews. In 1065, for example, Pope Alexander II wrote to Béranger, Viscount of Narbonne, and to Guifred, bishop of the city, praising them for having prevented the massacre of the Jews in their district, and reminding them that God does not approve of the shedding of blood. In 1065 also, Alexander admonished Landulf VI of Benevento "that the conversion of Jews is not to be obtained by force."
Extracts from the bull
Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) is the author of the oldest extant version of the bull. Excerpts from a translation of the bull follow:
- "[The Jews] ought to suffer no prejudice. We, out of the meekness of Christian piety, and in keeping in the footprints or Our predecessors of happy memory, the Roman Pontiffs Calixtus, Eugene, Alexander, Clement, admit their petition, and We grant them the buckler of Our protection.
- For We make the law that no Christian compel them, unwilling or refusing, by violence to come to baptism. But, if any one of them should spontaneously, and for the sake of the faith, fly to the Christians, once his choice has become evident, let him be made a Christian without any calumny. Indeed, he is not considered to possess the true faith of Christianity who is not recognized to have come to Christian baptism, not spontaneously, but unwillingly.
- Too, no Christian ought to presume...to injure their persons, or with violence to take their property, or to change the good customs which they have had until now in whatever region they inhabit.
- Besides, in the celebration of their own festivities, no one ought disturb them in any way, with clubs or stones, nor ought any one try to require from them or to extort from them services they do not owe, except for those they have been accustomed from times past to perform.
- ...We decree... that no one ought to dare mutilate or diminish a Jewish cemetery, nor, in order to get money, to exhume bodies once they have been buried.
- If anyone, however, shall attempt, the tenor of this decree once known, to go against it...let him be punished by the vengeance of excommunication, unless he correct his presumption by making equivalent satisfaction."
- Thurston, Herbert (1912). "History of Toleration" in The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Accessed 12 July 2013.
- Deutsch, Gotthard; Jacobs, Joseph (1906). "The Popes" in The Jewish Encyclopedia, KTAV Publishing, New York. Accessed 12 July 2013.
- Simonsohn, Shlomo (1988). The Apostolic See and the Jews, Documents: 492-1404. Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, pp. 68, 143, 211, 242, 245-246, 249, 254, 260, 265, 396, 430, 507.
- Simonsohn, pp 35–37.
- Synan, Edward. (2008 reprint). The Popes and the Jews in the Middle Ages. Lightning Source Inc., pp. 231–232.