Disturbing Saints" post today when the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of John of Capistrano (1386-1456).
John of Capistrano became popular for his role in the Crusades. At age 70, he led a a group of peasants defending the Belgrade Fortress at the Seige of Belgrade. Despite directions from his commander, John Hunyadi, to rest for the evening and refrain from looting Ottaman camps, Capistrano's peasant army took the Ottomans by surprise during the night. Capistrano called out, "The Lord who made the beginning will take care of the finish!," and the surprise attack was a turning point in battle. I must admit that this a compelling story for those of us who admire military bravery, never mind the idea that he's saying the Lord will kill his enemies. Saints are supposed to be people whose lives reflect good work and holiness, so it's important to remember the less-heroic details of John's life.
John of Capistrano was proudly antisemitic. While the canonization of Simon of Trent demonstrated the church's tendency towards antisemitism, one can at least appreciate that little Simon had no input regarding how he would be remembered. John of Capistrano, on the other hand, was fiercely, proudly, and apologetically against the Jews throughout his life. He earned the nickname "The Scourge of the Jews," and he offered the Pope a small fleet of ships to send the empire's Jews to a distant land. He preached against the Jewish race throughout the empire, and in Germany his sermons inspired town-leaders to expel their Jewish members or burn them at the stake.
Of course, Jews were not the only problem for the Holy Roman Church, and John of Capistrano worked diligently as an inquisitor. In 1428, with the aid of James of the March, he burned 36 Fraticelli establishments, including members of the order, who, like the German Jews, were burned at the stake. He carried out similar inquisitions against the Crypto-Jews of Sicily, Moldova, and Poland, cracking down on anyone expected of practicing Jewish rituals, and the Jesuiti of Venice, for making unapproved liquor. Capistrano was especially noted for his work in crushing out the Hussite heresy in Bohemia, which he did by giving members an ultimatum--either leave Christian lands or practice your beliefs in secret.
For his work in diplomacy, the Catholic Church made John of Capistrano the patron saint of jurists. This irony, along with John's undeniable blood-lust, earn him the Ex-Convert title: "Disturbing Saint."