Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews

Article excerpt

by James Carroll. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. 756. $28.00.

Unlike pedantic church historians who write without creativity, novelist and essayist James Carroll writes imaginatively of two thousand years' dealings of the Roman Catholic Church and the Jews. Drawing primarily from English language sources and informed by radical biblical critics, he explores the Church's failure to reconcile the essential Jewishness of Jesus and the triumphant Gentile Church. In his view, the seamless garment of Jesus, wrapped in the spirituality of the Torah and driven by the Love Commandment (see Deut 6:4-5; Lev. 19:18, 34 and New Testament parallels Matt. 22:37-39; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:27) was shredded by Christian preaching and teaching over the millennia. He argues that Jesus and his immediate circle were practitioners of the Mosaic faith and loyalists to the Jewish national concern and not the innovators of a new philosophy that branded "the Jews" with satanic strokes (John 8 and elsewhere).

In other words, Carroll's search for the historical Jesus finds that what is "New" is not necessary true. He opines that Jesus did not teach what was to become the Church's understanding of him and his mission (i.e., anti-Judaism cure antisemitism); that the traditional negative teachings about the Jews have been used to justify the great acts of evil against them; and that it is Jesus our Lord who points the way to God, not the State-Church ("Christendom"), in whose power Jews were at different times forcibly converted, placed in ghettos, expelled from the land, and murdered. Central to this radical Christ-and-Caesar symbiosis is the "teaching of contempt" and replacement theology born at Calvary, nursed by the Church Fathers (post-Apostolic and medieval), advanced in the era of Crusades, Inquisition, and Reformation, and propounded by well-known and not so well-known papal edicts and councils, which sustained circuitously the advocates of the Endläsung.

Carroll's work is parsed into eight parts. Parts One and Two talk about the controversy around the Papal Cross (1979) and the Carmelite Convent (1984) erected at Auschwitz, "the Golgotha of the modern world," and the beginning of Christian intolerance towards the Jews traced to Christian Scriptures. Parts Three, Four, and Five examine texts and themes of pivotal moments associated with the hatred of the Jews in the Roman Catholic Church (primarily). It imparts clear thinking on the Jews as a powerless minority in the Late Roman Empire (fourth Christian century), the limpieza laws during the Iberian inquisitions, and the imposed policies of conversion, ghettoization, and expulsion. Parts Six and Seven speak of a new Judenhetzen emanating from emancipation, enlightenment, and modernism and the "eliminationist anti-Semitism" of the Nazi era engendered by age-old Christian anti-Judaism and conformed to by the complacent capitulation of German Catholicism. Finally, in the last part, the author returns to his introductory theme and maintains straight-out that Church historiography postulates that the "Church as is" is flawed and in need of through-and-through self-criticism leading to truth, the first step of genuine repentance. Hence his call for convening "Vatican III" to rectify fully the sins of commission and omission not addressed during Second Vatican Council and subsequent documents on Catholic-Jewish relations.

Is there a direct link between nearly two thousand years of Christian "teaching of contempt" and the Shoah? …