20 July 1263 Disputation in Barcelona between Nahmanides and Paulo Cristiani #otdimjh
Less than twenty- five years elapsed from the date of Donin’ s dispute with R. Jehiel before a second Disputation took place, this time between the convert Pablo Christiani and the famous R. Nahmanides in the presence of James I of Aragon and his court. [Hugh Schonfield: History of Jewish Christianity]
Christiani hailed from Montpellier in France, and after his conversion became a monk of the Dominican order. He was in great favor with his general, Raymond de Penyaforte, and after an abortive missionary campaign among the Jews of Province, he desired to make a further effort in Aragon. He felt that if the presence of the Jewish religious heads was assured, he would have a better chance of success. Raymond de Penyaforte, therefore, obtained the consent of the king, and Nahmanides and some others were summoned to a public disputation at Barcelona, held in the palace from July 20 to 24, 1263. The terms of the debate were threefold:
 Whether the Messiah has appeared.
 Whether the Messiah announced by the Prophets was to be considered as a god, or as a man born of human parents.
 Whether the Jews or Christians are in possession of the true faith.
Christiani’ s method was to carry the war into the enemy’s camp, and to attempt to prove from the Talmud itself that Christianity was true. But he was no match for the skilled talmudist who opposed him, and Nahmanides completely disarmed the attack by expressing his own disbelief in the Haggadic (homiletic) passages in the Talmud on which Christiani relied. The rabbi was cautioned by the Jews about following up the attack as likely to lead to trouble, but intrepidly, with the king’s permission, he carried on, and certainly had the better of the discussion, as a typical passage on the Trinity shows:
Fra Pablo asked me — wrote Nahmanides ~ whether I beheved in the Trinity. I said to him, “What is the Trinity? Do three great human bodies constitute the Divinity?”
“No.” “Or are there three ethereal bodies, such as the souls, or are there three angels?” “No.” “Or is an object composed of the four elements?” “No.” “What then in the Trinity?” He said: “Wisdom, will and power.” Then I said: “I also acknowledge that God is wise and not foolish, that He has a will unchangeable, and that He is mighty and not weak. But the term Trinity is decidedly erroneous; for wisdom is not accidental in the Creator, since He and His wisdom are one. He and His will are one.
He and His power are one, so that wisdom, will and power are one. Moreover, even were these things accidental in Him, that which is called God would not be three beings, but one Being with these three accidental attributes.” Our lord the king here quoted an analogy which the erring ones had taught him, saying, that there are also three things in wine, namely, color, taste and bouquet, yet it is still one thing.
This is a decided error; for the redness, the taste and the bouquet of the wine are distinct essences, each of them potentially self-existent; for there are red, white, and other colors, and the same statement holds good with regard to taste and bouquet.
The redness, the taste and the bouquet, moreover, are not the wine itself, but the thing which fills the vessel, and which is, therefore, a body with the three accidents.
Following this course of argument, there would be four, since the enumeration should include God, His wisdom. His will, and His power, and these are four. You would even have to speak of five things; for He lives, and His life is apart of Him just as much as His wisdom. Thus the definition would be — God, living, wise, endowed with will, and mighty; the Divinity would therefore be five-fold in nature. All this, however, is an evident error.
Then Fra Pablo arose and said that he believed in the Unity, which, none the less, included the Trinity, although this was an exceedingly deep mystery, which event the angels and the princes of heaven could not comprehend. I arose and said: “It is evident that a person does not believe what he does not know: therefore, the angels do not believe in the Trinity.” His colleagues then bade him be silent.’**
In spite of Nahmanides’ able reasoning, the Dominicans claimed the victory, and Nahmanides was forced in his own defence to publish the proceedings. The matter did not rest there, however, for Christiani, securing a copy of the work, marked certain passages as blasphemous. A formal complaint was made to the king which resulted in die burning of the pamphlet and a two-years exile of its author.
Pablo Christiani further obtained a bull from Pope Clement IV (1264) for a censorship of the Talmud, and himself sat on the commission appointed to expunge offending passages. On the same commission sat Raymund Martini, author of that well-known polemical work against the Jews the Pugio Fidei (Poignard of Faith). Christiani also obtained from Louis IX of France an edict requiring Jews to wear distinguishing badges, which took the form of a small cloth circlet.
Even if his misguided efforts resulted in some annoyance and distress to his own people, they laid the foundations of a better Christian appreciation of Jewish thought and belief .
Reflection: No student of apologetics, or of Jewish-Christian relations, can fail to study deeply the context, content and consequences of the Barcelona Disputation, and there is a wealth of modern literature and study materials on the topic. Yet history repeats itself, and we seem to learn very little from the mistakes of others, and keep having to make our own. Have mercy, O Lord, have mercy!
Hyam Maccoby, Judaism on Trial, London, 1982
Nahmanides’ major writings
Nahmanides, Commentary on the Torah (trans. C.B. Chavel), New York, 1971–76
5 6 7 1983 8 9 Further reading 20111 1 2 H. Chone, Nachmanides, Nuremburg, 1930
Nahmanides, Writings and Discourses (trans. C.B. Chavel), New York, 1978 Nahmanides,The Disputation at Barcelona (trans. C.B. Chavel), New York,
Robert Chazan, Barcelona and Beyond: The Disputation of 1263 and Its Aftermath, Berkeley, CA, 1992
Chayim Henock, Ramban, Northvale, NJ, 1998 D. Novak, The Theology of Nahmanides Systematically Presented, Atlanta, GA,
1992 I. Twersky (ed.), Rabbi Moses Nahmanides (Ramban): Explorations in His Religion
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