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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
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
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
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
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!
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
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
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)