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Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History Hardcover – January 10, 2001
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Constantine's Sword is a sprawling work of history, theology, and personal confession by James Carroll (the author of An American Requiem, among many others). Carroll begins his landmark project by describing contemporary Catholic remembrances of the Holocaust and the Church's intolerable legacy of hostility towards Jews. He then surveys Catholic anti-Judaism beginning with the New Testament and proceeding through the early Church, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Enlightenment, and World War II, before concluding with "A Call for Vatican III," a Church council that would make meaningful repentance for an entrenched tradition of hatred. Carroll's prescriptions for repentance, continued in a powerful epilogue, are bracingly concrete: "there is no apology for Holy Week preaching that prompted pogroms until Holy Week liturgies, sermons, and readings have been purged of the anti-Jewish slanders that sent the mobs rushing out of church.... Forgiveness for the sin of anti-Semitism presumes a promise to dismantle all that makes it possible." Carroll's personal reflections as an American Catholic infuse his historical narrative, and although his reflections are sometimes unnecessarily detailed, they are admirable for the principle they express: "I find myself unable to accuse my Church of any sin that I cannot equally accuse myself of," he writes. Carroll's judgments on the Church are rightly harsh, even agonizing. And yet his vision for a future rapprochement between Christians and Jews is hopeful, in part because he personally has come to understand the deep connections between Israel and the Church: "Jesus offers me, a non-Jew, access to the biblical hope that was his birthright as a son of Israel." --Michael Joseph Gross
From Publishers Weekly
Part history, part memoir, this hefty tome by novelist Carroll (Mortal Friends, etc.) traces the record of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism in the Catholic Church, suggesting that centuries of animus culminated in the Holocaust. Carroll also traces the development of his own thinking about Judaism: as a Catholic seminarian, he knew no Jews and little about Judaism, except what he learned in classrooms, i.e., that Judaism had been superceded by Christ's new covenant. As a young priest at Boston U (which his colleagues disparagingly referred to as B-Jew, since so many Jews were enrolled), Carroll began to spend time with rabbis and Jewish students whose political and social commitments he found congenial. Eventually he left the priesthood; his increased discomfort with the Church's attitudes toward Judaism played no small part in that decision. But this book is more than guilty Catholic breast-beating. It also offers a sweeping look at instances of anti-Jewish sentiment throughout European history, from the blood libel to the Dreyfus affair, from the Inquisition to Auschwitz. Carroll offers fresh, provocative analysis, as in his discussion of the idea that the God of the Jews is a judgmental God concerned with law, whereas Jesus is about loveDa foundation of much anti-Semitism. Carroll argues that Jesus' emphasis on love was his most Jewish attribute. Carroll makes these incisive arguments in his characteristically vigorous prose; fans of An American Requiem, his National Book Award-winning memoir, won't be disappointed. This magisterial work will satisfy Jewish and Christians readers alike, challenging both to a renewed conversation with one another. (Jan.) Forecast: A Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection, this book has a built-in market among Jewish and Catholic readers. Carroll is a columnist for the Boston Globe, so he has a dedicated readership there that will be boosted further by publicity appearances in that city and around the country. Two major events in the Boston area will kick off the book's publicity: a symposium at Brandeis and one at Harvard Divinity School, both featuring a discussion of the book by leading religious scholars.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Mr. Carroll urges the Church to convene a new Vatican III council to look at Catholic/Jewish relations from a modern viewpoint. He condemns the Church for its despotic attitude in refusing to admit that the pope could ever be in error, and in insisting that only believers in Jesus will be saved. He also includes Protestants , starting with Luther, in promoting rejection of Jews and encouraging their persecution.
This book, along with others of Mr. Carroll's writings , has been harshly criticized by many faithful Catholics , both clergy and laymen, but these points need to be raised and discussed if Christianity is to survive and thrive in the future. It is long past the time when religious fundamentalists can continue to insist that they alone have all the answers to humanity's relation to God.
Constantine claimed he saw a vision of a stylized cross that held meaning for both these enlarging populations in southern Europe that he needed to tame. He called the Council of Nicea to meld all Jewish-Christian sects into one. Some invitees never showed up, resisting him. It took 4 no-doubt raucous meetings for the majority to separate themselves further from Judaism, which had given the Roman Empire more trouble than any other people or ideology (cf Hadrian's Holocaust). Nicea 4 retained most of the Hebrew Bible, against the wishes of the Marcionites. They separated Easter from Passover, proclaimed Sunday the Sabbath rather than Saturday (named after the sun, which Constantine worshipped), proscribed Jews as secondary citizens to Christians, may have declared Jewish-Christian synagogues churches, or the change had begun earlier and he solidified it. Constantine himself never became a practicing Christian, although his mother was a Jewish-Christian of possible semi-Pauline leaning that the Ebionites, among others, contested.
James Carroll, an ex-priest, explores these landmark anti-Semitic events that increased over the ages as de-Judaizing indoctrination. He omits the bitter effect the Roman-Jewish wars had on Rome, Roman cultural cruelty and Hadrian's Holocaust. He focuses on Constantinian deJudaizing and how it insidiously grew into indoctrinated hate thy neighbor, then ghettoes and then Hitlerian rant and mass murder. This book is the most informative and panoramic of a progressive movement among Christian clergy to exercise free inquiry and opinion about the Church and its relations with the Jews (which have improved enormously from just such criticism). For that, and its patient and civil presentation, this book deserves 5 stars. It is a book of conscience. --As for Eusebius, cited by one reviewer, he was Constantine's Goebbels, a propagandist more than a real historian. The known facts of Nicea and its aftermath speak for themselves.