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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seminarian, he knew no Jews and little about Judaism, except what he learned in classrooms, i.e., that Judaism had been superceded by Christ's new covenant.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.
The book is long and it is both an historical account and a personal quest for truth and meaning. As a child, the author was raised by a very devout Irish Catholic mother, who imbued him with a deep love of the Church and its teachings. Ultimately he became a Catholic priest. However, as he learned more history and, in particular, as he studied the events that led up to the slaughter of almost 6,000,000 European Jews under the leadership of Nazi Germany, with barely a word of opposition by the Catholic Church, he came to question many of his fundamental understandings about the Church. How could it happen? What can the past tell us? What should we do for the future?
In this great work, Mr. Carroll takes us from the life and death of Christ through the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the development of ghettos throughout Europe, the Nazi destruction, the healing efforts of Pope John XXIII, and down to his hope for a Vatican III conference that will, perhaps, take positive steps to eliminate some of the root causes of Christian-Jewish strife.
The book is not an easy read. It starts as an essay on the Carmelite Cross at Auschwitz and then goes into his personal story. Then it turns into an interesting, though scholarly, footnoted historical study. He includes his personal observations and opinions on many historical points, which help to give meaning and context to the events described. However, it is necessary for the reader to be analytical and evaluative, separating fact from opinion, and history from personal quest. I had no trouble doing this, and in fact I gained a sense of Carroll's anguish over his efforts to reconcile his early faith with his more mature knowledge of the real world. On the other hand, if he wishes to gain greater readership, and perhaps have his book used as a college text, I would recommend that Mr. Carroll give us an edited and abridged version, perhaps with less emphasis on his personal quest. Still, for a person who is interested in the subject, the book is definitely worth reading.
As I write this, I note that there are almost 300 reviews of this book. Of these, about 200 are extremely positive and almost 100 are extremely negative. I think this is a reflection of the passion that this subject arouses in many people. The most negative criticism is that the author has selectively included or excluded data to make his points. I urge you not to be put off by these negative comments. Any person who attempts to write a scholarly history must sift through a huge amount of data and decide what to include and what to emphasize. For his part, Carroll attempts to note and explain conflicting statements in some of the key Church pronouncements regarding the Jews. Other people, with other views, may choose different things to include and different points of emphasis. One must always read history (including, perhaps, the Bible) with a critical eye.
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from a religious perspective of the Christian Church.Read more
Challenging reading to the average person.
Applicable to seminary students and readers who are interested in church history..