Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews by James Carroll Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001 576 pages, hardcover Review by Jim Walker
James Carroll finishes where Daniel Goldhagen and John Cornwell left off by looking at historical Christian anti-Judaism that lead to the Jewish holocaust. He begins by contemplating the controversial Cross at Auschwitz and then examines Catholic Jewish hatred beginning with the New Testament and proceeding through the early Church, Constantine's Holy Roman empire, the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Reformation, and finally to Hitler. These threads of "justified" Christian hatred form a rope, a connecting arch through history that produced the foundation for Nazism to exist.
For those not familiar with Carroll, one might describe him as the John Shelby Spong of Catholicism. An interesting part of all this comes not necessarily from the information he presents (which many have examined before [click here]), but that he presents the point of view as a devout Christian, indeed, an ex-Catholic priest. His personal knowledge of the workings of the Church reveals the problems and the attempts of many insiders to revise the dogmatic assumptions of papal authority. Carroll shows an in-depth knowledge of the controversies of the Bible and comes to grips with his belief. He realizes that the gospels developed as after-the-event stories made by biased Christians, but he still holds faith of an original Jesus. Although his theology never convinces (in the end he freely admits that his knowledge of Jesus, "is indirect, incomplete, a matter more of inference than experience... this is not knowledge of Jesus, but faith in him." ), his aim goes toward a more noble cause-- a plea for tolerance within the Church and implores Catholics to reimagine the cross and deemphasize it as a Christian symbol.
At the end of the book, Carroll calls for a new Christology and a new Vatican III to rid itself of supersessionism, de-myth the bible as a human constructed text, to democratize the political structure of the Church, and calls for the Catholic hierarchy to repent for the Catholic crimes in the past.
This controversial book addresses mainly Catholics but it can inform anyone not familiar with the subterfuge of Catholicism. No doubt many Catholics will attack Carroll and will try to slander him. An intelligent reader will know otherwise. I applaud Carroll, not for his faith but for his common sense and, above all, his humanitarianism. I doubt that Carroll's pleas for revisionism will take, but just as the threads of Christian hate took years to develop, perhaps James Carroll will have contributed at least one thread toward a more tolerant Church.
A few quotes from the book:
German Christians remained attached to their religion during the Nazi years and that Nazi ideology borrowed heavily from Christian eschatology-- the subordination of the present to the expectation of a glorious End Time.
In Scripture class we were taught to distinguish between antisemitism and anti-Judaism, with the clear meaning that the latter was an appropriate part of the defense of the faith. Love the sinner but hate the sin.
Support of Hitler was not only allowed to Catholics, but was required of them.
It was at Nicaea... at the council enshrining the Christian victory, that Constantine, forbidding the observance of Easter at Passover time, declared, "It is unbecoming that on the holiest of festivals we should follow the customs of the Jews; henceforth let us have nothing in common with this odious people."
The philosopher Johann Fichte (1762-1814)... had posited a Jesus who was not Jewish at all, and throughout the century theologians followed suit. This would be one of the ways that German Protestant scholars tilled the soil for Nazi antisemitism, promulgating an idolatry of Aryan racial identity by defining Jesus over against Jewishness, not only religiously but racially. Eventually German Protestant hymnals would be "de-Judaized" by the removal of words like "amen," "hallelujah", and "hosanna."
Saint Ambrose, the greatest theologian of the age, would use the True Cross explicitly against the Jews, finally urging violence as the proper response to their denial of Christian claims.
It is important to emphasize that Luther's position on the Jews, however hateful it became, was grounded in the theological heart of Christian proclamation. "The basis of Luther's anti-Judaism," as the historian Heiko Oberman sums it up, "was the conviction that ever since Christ's appearance on earth, the Jews have had no more future as Jews."
Blood purity regulations, Ruether asserts, "remained on the books in Catholic religious orders, such as the Jesuits, until the twentieth century. They are the ancestor of the Nazi Nuremberg Laws."
Reality perceived as uncaused instances is reality of which no moral account can be made.
No Catholic-born Nazi-- not Goebbels, Himmler, or Bormann; not even Adolf Hitler, who died with his name still on the rolls of the Catholic Church, and for whom the Catholic primate of Germany ordered the Requiem sung after his suicide-- was ever excommunicated for being a Nazi. But, as Hans Kung observed, Pius XII "did not show the slightest inhibitions after the war, in 1949, about excommunicating all Communist members throughout the world at a stroke."
When Nazism defined Jews as the negative other, in opposition to which it defined itself, it was building on a structure of the European mind that was firmly in place before Hitler.
Antisemitism was a consistently exploited organizing principle, a pillar of Protestant and Catholic identity.
Pius XII's praise of German Catholic resistance [after the war] ignored the fact that such resistance was, as Lewy puts it, "not only discouraged by the Church, but condemned. Catholics who actively fought against the Hitler regime were rebels not only against the State, but against their ecclesiastical authorities as well."
The Church reveals an institution that has yet to come to terms with basic ideas like freedom of conscience and the dialectical nature of rational inquiry.
- The Cross at Auschwitz
- 1. Sign of Folly
- 2. Stumbling Block to Jews
- 3. The Journey
- 4. My Mother's Clock
- 5. Passion Play
- 6. My Rabbi
- 7. Between Past and Future
- PART TWO
- New Testament Origins of Jew Hatred
- 8. My Great-Uncle
- 9. Jesus, a Jew?
- 10. The Threshold Stone
- 11. Destroy This Temple
- 12. The Healing Circle
- 13. Paul, the Martyr of Shalom
- 14. Parting of the Ways
- 15. The Lachrymose Tradition: A Cautionary Note
- PART THREE
- 16. The Heart of This Story Is a Place
- 17. The Story of Constantine
- 18. The Cross and the Religious Imagination
- 19. The Vision of Constantine
- 20. The True Cross
- 21. Augustine Trembling
- 22. The Seamless Robe
- 23. The Danger of Ambivalence
- PART FOUR
- From Crusades to Conversionism
- 24. The War of the Cross
- 25. The Incident in Trier
- 26. Mainz Anonymous
- 27. The Blood Libel
- 28. Anselm: Why God Became Man
- 29. Abelard and Heloise
- 30. Thomas Aquinas: Reason Against the Jews
- PART FIVE
- The Inquisition: Enter Racism
- 31. One Road
- 32. My Inquisition
- 33. Convivencia to Reconquista
- 34. Convert-Making: The Failure of Success
- 35. Expulsion in 1492
- 36. The Roman Ghetto
- 37. The Religious Response of the Jews
- 38. Shema Yisrael!
- PART SIX
- Emancipation, Revolution, and the New Fear of Jews
- 39. Karl Marx, Second Son of Trier
- 40. Spinoza: From Rabbis to Revolution
- 41. Voltaire and the False Promise of Emancipation
- 42. Jew as Revolutionary, Jew as Financier
- 43. Revolution in Rome: The Pope's Jews
- 44. Alfred Dreyfus and La Croix
- 45. The Uses of Antisemitism
- 46. Lucie and Madeleine
- PART SEVEN
- The Church and Hitler
- 47. From Christian Anti-Judaism to Eliminationist Antisemitism
- 48. Setting a Standard: The Church Against Bismarck
- 49. Eugenio Pacelli and the Surrender of German Catholicism
- 50. The Seamless Robe
- 51. Maria Laach and Reichstheologie
- 52. Pius XII: Last Days of the Roman Ghetto
- 53. Edith Stein and Catholic Memory
- PART EIGHT
- 54. The Broad Relevance of Catholic Reform
- 55. Agenda for a New Reformation
- 56. Agenda Item 1: Anti-Judaism in the New Testament
- 57. Agenda Item 2: The Church and Power
- 58: Agenda Item 3: A New Christology
- 59. Agenda Item 4: The Holiness of Democracy
- 60: Agenda Item 5: Repentance
- Epilogue: The Faith of a Catholic
To obtain this book, click below:
Constantine's Sword : The Church and the Jews: A History (Hardback)
Other books by James Carroll:
An American Requiem : God, My Father, and the War That Came Between Us (Paperback)