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An "Epistle" of Joshua Ibn Vives of Allorqui
by [?]


I handle burning questions, good my lord,
Such as may kindle fagots, well I wis.
Your Gospel not denies our older Word,
But in a way completes and betters this.
The Law of Love shall supersede the sword,
So runs the promise, but the facts I miss.
Already needs this wretched generation,
A voice divine–a new, third revelation.


Two Popes and their adherents fulminate
Ban against ban, and to the nether hell
Condemn each other, while the nations wait
Their Christ to thunder forth from Heaven, and tell
Who is his rightful Vicar, reinstate
His throne, the hideous discord to dispel.
Where shall I seek, master, while such things be,
Celestial truth, revealed certainty!


Not miracles I doubt, for how dare man,
Chief miracle of life’s mystery, say HE KNOWS?
How may he closely secret causes scan,
Who learns not whence he comes nor where he goes?
Like one who walks in sleep a doubtful span
He gropes through all his days, till Death unclose
His cheated eyes and in one blinding gleam,
Wakes, to discern the substance from the dream.


I say not therefore I deny the birth,
The Virgin’s motherhood, the resurrection,
Who know not how mine own soul came to earth,
Nor what shall follow death. Man’s imperfection
May bound not even in thought the height and girth
Of God’s omnipotence; neath his direction
We may approach his essence, but that He
Should dwarf Himself to us–it cannot be!


The God who balances the clouds, who spread
The sky above us like a molten glass,
The God who shut the sea with doors, who laid
The corner-stone of earth, who caused the grass
Spring forth upon the wilderness, and made
The darkness scatter and the night to pass–
That He should clothe Himself with flesh, and move
Midst worms a worm–this, sun, moon, stars disprove.


Help me, O thou who wast my boyhood’s guide,
I bend my exile-weary feet to thee,
Teach me the indivisible to divide,
Show me how three are one and One is three!
How Christ to save all men was crucified,
Yet I and mine are damned eternally.
Instruct me, Sage, why Virtue starves alone,
While falsehood step by step ascends the throne.

Notes to “epistle” of Joshua Ibn Vives of Allorqui:

The life and character of Paulus de Santa Maria are thus described by Dr. Graetz:–

“Among the Jews baptized in 1391, no other wrought so much harm to his race as the Rabbi Solomon Levi of Burgos, known to Christians as Paulus Burgensis, or de Santa Maria (born about 1351-52, died 1435) who rose to very high ecclesiastical and political rank…. He had no philosophical culture; on the contrary, as a Jew, he had been extremely devout, observing scrupulously all the rites, and regarded as a pillar of Judaism in his own circle…. Possessed by ambition and vanity, the synagogue where he had passed a short time in giving and receiving instruction, appeared to him too narrow and restricted a sphere. He longed for a bustling activity, aimed at a position at court, in whatever capacity, began to live on a grand scale, maintained a sumptuous equipage, a spirited team, and a numerous retinue of servants. As his affairs brought him into daily contact with Christians and entangled him in religious discussions, he studied ecclesiastical literature in order to display his erudition. The bloody massacre of 1391 robbed him of all hope of reaching eminence as a Jew, in his fortieth year, and he abruptly resolved to be baptized. The lofty degree of dignity which he afterwards attained in Church and State, may even then have floated alluringly before his mind. In order to profit by his apostasy, the convert Paulus de Santa Maria gave out that he had voluntarily embraced Christianity, the theological writings of the Scholiast Thomas of Aquinas having taken hold of his inmost convictions. The Jews, however, mistrusted his credulity, and knowing him well, they ascribed this step to his ambition and his thirst for fame. His family, consisting of a wife and son, renounced him when he changed his faith…. He studied theology in the University of Paris, and then visited the papal court of Avignon, where Cardinal Pedro de Juna had been elected papal antagonist to Benedict XIII. of Rome. The church feud and the schism between the two Popes offered the most favorable opportunity for intrigues and claims. Paulus, by his cleverness, his zeal, and his eloquence, won the favor of the Pope, who discerned in him a useful tool. Thus he became successively Archdeacon of Trevinjo, Canon of Seville, Bishop of Cartagena, Chancellor of Castile, and Privy Councillor to King Henry III. of Spain. With tongue and pen he attacked Judaism, and Jewish literature provided him with the necessary weapons. Intelligent Jews rightly divined in this convert to Christianity their bitterest enemy, and entered into a contest with him….