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Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, A History Paperback – April 1, 2002

3.6 out of 5 stars 379 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 756 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (April 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618219080
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618219087
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (379 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I actually hadn't planned to review this book, but when I read some of the writings of those who had I thought I should.
First, let me say what I think the book isn't. It is not an anti-Catholic scree as some might have you believe. The fact that some have interpreted it thus tells you a whole lot more about them than it does about the book. So what is the book about? Briefly, its thesis is that Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular have adopted the theological position that faith in Jesus Christ represents the one and the only route to salvation. This thesis should not be controversial to anyone familiar with Christian doctrine. The implication of this thesis is that all other proposed routes, and especially the one proposed by the Jews, who should "know better" are false. The tradition of Judaism, as well as all other religious traditions, thus become not only mistaken, but wrong and even dangerous.
The book documents how this tension between Christianity/Catholicism and its self-defined rivals has played out in history, and how it created the moral and intellectual environment in which the Jews would be at best marginalized and despised. And how at worst, they would become victims of violence and murder.
It's worth the read. And I would say to its hostile reviewers that it's worth a re-read. The history of the holocaust has to be understood as a product of Western civilization, within which it happened. In this context, it is necessary to examine how the major institutions of the west, including the Church, created the environment in which the holocaust could occur.
No one should blame the messenger if the message is unwelcome.
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Given the very different directions we come from - James Carroll is an Irish-American baby boomer, a former priest and practicing Catholic; I'm a Jewish atheist from Israel, born after Carroll's departure from the clergy - it is hardly surprising that I disagree with him somewhat. More interesting is the nature of my disagreements with the arguments of "Constantine's Sword", Carroll's brilliant, personal, wide-scoped travelogue through 2 thousand years of Jewish-Christian relations: I find myself considerably less critical of the Catholic Church than Carroll is.

I think the difference is that Carroll, the Christian, sees the Church as the "mystical body of Christ", a religion whose purpose is to be true to the teaching of Love that he believes Jesus had preached. When the Church fails to reach Carroll's high standards, he condemns it. On the other hand, as a secularist, I see the Catholic Church as a thoroughly human institution, to be judged not against the absolute standard of the Prince of Peace, but against comparable, contemporary institutions. In perspective, throughout history, the Catholic Church had been a protector of Judaism and of Jewish people; its treatment of the Jews had been -relatively- benign. Only with the rise of the Enlightment, and with the widespread acceptance of the Rights of Man, can we see in the Church an oppressor of the Jews. Its failure to the Jews - so spectacularly presented in the Silence of Pius XII during the Holocaust - was caused not so much by anti-Semitism as by anti-Modernism. Until recently, the Church had been "on the wrong side of history" - together with the reactionary forces and against the Enlightment-era liberal ideas and groups it had denounced as "Americanism".
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Format: Hardcover
Overall, this is a highly readable and well-researched book, containing elements of history, journalism, and autobiography. The reviews posted so far to this site are clearly and evenly divided into two camps: those who found it enlightening and moving and those who regard it as anti-Catholic diatribe. While the book has some minor flaws, I direct most of my comments to statements made by the latter group.
First of all, Mr. Carroll, is still a devout Catholic: he was not "defrocked" (he left the priesthood on his own accord), and he was never "excommunicated" (this statement, repeated by many customers, is malicious--and sinful--slander). Second, many of the reviewers refer to "fabricated quotes" without ever citing any examples. In fact, the Church Fathers--John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose of Milan, and others--and later Catholic leaders all said the horribly anti-Semitic things Carroll attributed to them and, furthermore, most of the Church Fathers did advocate the forcible conversion and/or slaughter of the Jews. (All of Carroll's quotes--most of them from primary sources--can be found in the standard Catholic reference works that he cites in the bibliography.) Third, like most historians, Carroll relies on a mixture of primary and secondary sources that shows a strong command not only of the history but also of the historiography of his subject. The statements by several commentators that Carroll does not use primary sources simply shows those readers did not bother to look at the notes. (His notes often present beliefs and arguments that run counter to his own.
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