“Constantine’s Sword,” based on a book by former Catholic priest James Carroll, is a documentary film that depicts the vile history of Catholic anti-semitism. During the 1960’s, influenced by the anti-war movement, Carroll became painfully aware that if the U.S. had been dropping contraceptive pills on the people of Vietnam, the Church would have been the first to condemn the war, but because it was dropping napalm, it supported it. He soon left the priesthood and became a writer.
Carroll decided to investigate the origins of Catholic anti-semitism. He went back to Emperor Constantine, who adopted Christianity as a way of uniting the Roman Empire around a strong ideology that placed him as God’s representative on earth. Other belief systems, including paganism and Judaism, were competitors that were violently suppressed. Jews were blamed for the death of Christ, a false charge that was repeated over the centuries in the Passion Plays that depicted the crucifixion and death of Jesus. In Europe the Passion Plays were often followed by pogroms, violent attacks on Jewish communities.
Later, the Crusades, which began in the late 11th century, lasted almost two centuries, and were aimed at seizing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. Blessed by the Pope, fueled by Christian fanaticism, and led by the cross, the crusading armies marched toward the Holy Land, stopping along the way to murder thousands of Jews in German towns. Later, during the state-sponsored Spanish Inquisition, tens of thousands of Spain’s Jews were forced to convert, to become “conversos.” However, that wasn’t sufficient, because converted Jews were suspected of secretly practicing Judaism and were called “marranos,” or swine. 2,000 of them were burned at the stake. In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain. Later, the Arabs (called Moors) were also expelled.
Carroll correctly points out that the 20th century persecution and mass murder of Eastern European Jews could not have occurred were it not for the centuries of Christian anti-semitism that prepared Germans, Poles and others to see Jews as Christ-killers and a threat to Christians. The film shows how the Vatican refused to speak out against fascist attacks and killings of Jews, either in Italy itself or in the rest of Europe. It signed a Concordat (treaty) with the Nazis in order to preserve the property and functioning of the Catholic Church, and shared much of the conservative vision of fascism, especially its anti-communism.
Though Carroll remains a Catholic, he warns about the growing theocratic danger of religion and government merging to become one. He shows how the Air Force Academy in Colorado has allowed cadets to proselytize evangelical Christianity on campus, and where non-Christians have been harassed. Yet Carroll fails to examine the dilemma for the ruling class when it comes to religion. On the one hand, evangelical fervor can motivate believers to join the military and risk their lives in the supposedly holy cause of fighting radical Islam. On the other hand, this resurrection of the “Crusades” creates considerable anger and resentment among Arabs and Muslims throughout the world.
Carroll’s critique of Catholic anti-semitism is limited, never seriously examining the overlap between the conservatism of Catholic and fascist ideology. The film neglects to mention the role of Vatican officials in helping high-ranking Nazis to escape to Latin America after the war. It says nothing about the role Catholicism has played in indoctrinating the oppressed to accept their unfortunate lot in life and wait for the kingdom of heaven, or the alliances that the Catholic hierarchy has made with wealthy elites and fascist regimes throughout the world.
Christianity became the official religion of Rome because it guaranteed the rule of the Emperor. It became one of the central institutions of feudalism, based on the exploitation of peasants. Today, the Vatican — worth billions of dollars –– hypocritically criticizes capitalism for its fixation on material wealth (profits), but even more avidly condemns Marxism for wanting to bring an end to capitalist exploitation and religious superstition. Based on medieval prejudices, Catholicism, like ALL religions, fights to keep working people subordinate to the rulers.