Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews


Author: James Carroll
Publisher: Haughton Mifflin Co
Reviewer: Calev Ben-David

As the child of a devout American-Catholic family who studied under the Jesuits at Georgetown University and spent six years as a priest before hanging up his robes to become a novelist, James Carroll is uniquely positioned to deliver a work on this subject that is both academically sound and easily accessible to the average reader.

Carroll starts his historical survey by examining the New Testament which, like many modern liberal Christian scholars, he sees as reaffirming the essential Jewishness of Jesus that both Christians and Jews have so strongly sought to deny. He points out that the theological conflicts between the early Christians and their Jewish brethren were in fact no worse than those between Jews themselves.

He comes to the defence of St. Paul who is, he argues, “”so often identified as a culprit in the Jewish-Christian conflict, [but] was in fact a victim of it. So many of the later phases of the Christian assault on the Jews would be carried out in his name, yet in this first phase he saw that dynamic taking shape and tried to stop it””.

In the latter half of Constantine's Sword Carroll focuses on the growing struggle between the tradition-bound Church and the forces of modernism that have swept through Europe in the past few centuries ? rationalism, socialism, Marxism and even modern capitalism.

Again without understanding these chapters of Church history, it is impossible to make sense of the paradox of the Vatican's current leader, the remarkable John Paul II.

On the one hand, Carroll rightly hails him as the Pope who has done more than any of his predecessors to heal the breach between Catholics and Jews. On the other, as a staunch defender of Church dogma, John Paul II has pushed for the canonisation of such staunch Vatican conservatives as Pius IX and Pius XII, the former a 19th Century reactionary, the latter who was criticised for his deafening silence during the Holocaust.