Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History

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9780395779279: Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History

In a bold and moving book that is sure to spark heated debate, the novelist and cultural critic James Carroll maps the profoundly troubling two-thousand-year course of the Church’s battle against Judaism and faces the crisis of faith it has provoked in his own life as a Catholic. More than a chronicle of religion, this dark history is the central tragedy of Western civilization, its fault lines reaching deep into our culture.
The Church’s failure to protest the Holocaust the infamous silence” of Pius XII is only part of the story: the death camps, Carroll shows, are the culmination of a long, entrenched tradition of anti-Judaism. From Gospel accounts of the death of Jesus on the cross, to Constantine’s transformation of the cross into a sword, to the rise of blood libels, scapegoating, and modern anti-Semitism, Carroll reconstructs the dramatic story of the Church’s conflict not only with Jews but with itself. Yet in tracing the arc of this narrative, he implicitly affirms that it did not necessarily have to be so. There were roads not taken, heroes forgotten; new roads can be taken yet. Demanding that the Church finally face this past in full, Carroll calls for a fundamental rethinking of the deepest questions of Christian faith. Only then can Christians, Jews, and all who carry the burden of this history begin to forge a new future.
Drawing on his well-known talents as a storyteller and memoirist, and weaving historical research through an intensely personal examination of conscience, Carroll has created a work of singular power and urgency. CONSTANTINE'S SWORD is a brave and affecting reckoning with difficult truths that will touch every reader.

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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

About the Author:

James Carroll was raised in Washington, D.C., and ordained to the Catholic priesthood in 1969. He served as a chaplain at Boston University from 1969 to 1974, then left the priesthood to become a writer. A distinguished scholar-
in-residence at Suffolk University, he is a columnist for the Boston Globe and a
regular contributor to the Daily Beast.

His critically admired books include Practicing Catholic, the National Book Award–winning An American Requiem, House of War, which won the first PEN/Galbraith Award, and the New York Times bestseller Constantine’s Sword, now an acclaimed documentary.

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