‘Constantine’s Sword’ pierces controversial issues

Friday, July 11, 2008 at 3:14am
'Constantine's Sword' examines religion through the lens of James Carroll, an ousted priest who calls himself a "disillusioned" Catholic.

Oren Jacoby’s Constantine’s Sword, which opens today at the Belcourt, takes a careful and extensive look at a subject that almost always invokes strong reactions whenever discussed: religion.

It is based on the book Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews: A History, which was written in 2001 by acclaimed and award-winning author, journalist and former Catholic James Carroll. Carroll’s also the focal point of the documentary.

His primary focus involved examining the roots of Anti-Semitism within the Catholic Church, though he extends his study into many other areas. The film contains lengthy portions devoted to the Crusades and Inquisition, and explores links between religion and intolerance, violence and war.

Though clearly unhappy and dissatisfied in many ways with the faith that was once the centerpiece of his life, Carroll is quick to disavow any notion he doesn’t consider religion important, nor understand the value and impact it still enjoys in many people’s lives.

Carroll also ponders why so many ugly and negative things have been done in the name of religion. He focuses on such key figures as Pope Pius XII and Pope Benedict XVI, discussing what he sees as gross failures to address issues ranging from the Holocaust to more recent sex scandals.

There’s also a conversation with Ted Haggard, who when he spoke with Carroll was the pastor of the New Life Megachurch. Haggard later had to step down after a scandal involving a male prostitute, something that makes some of his comments rather suspect.

But Carroll never comes across as combative or angry. Instead, he’s inquisitive and truly interested in seeking answers to complex difficult questions.

Raised in a devout (and military) home, Carroll had to decide whether to follow the father he idolized and join the Air Force (his father was a general) or pursue the priesthood, which he ultimately selected. But his ardent anti-war views led to clashes with papal authority plus an estrangement from his father.

Carroll was eventually ousted from his position as priest in the early ‘70s, though he’s since participated in many interfaith gatherings over the years between Catholics, Jews and Muslims. He maintains friendships and relationships with his former church, and considers himself a disillusioned rather than lapsed Catholic.

Constantine’s Sword is outstanding investigative reporting. Whether the setting is Germany, Rome, or in Carroll’s former home in Colorado, there are consistently insightful discussions and exchanges.

No matter your views on religion and its place in society, Oren Jacoby’s film offers plenty of information and opinion to carefully consider, debate and analyze.

Constantine’s Sword

Directed by: Oren Jacoby

Starring: James Carroll

Rating: No rating

Time: 93 minutes

Our view: Magnificent and thorough, examining a vital subject with clarity and in a fair, if at times controversial, fashion.

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By: LifeIsGood on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Sounds like agenda-driven nonsense. My understanding is that it is a very unbalanced film, since the maker and his targeted audience have already agreed on the premise - "Christianity is bad." For example, he claims the cross was not a symbol used until Constantine. This is patently false. I hope other viewers are more skeptical of the agenda than the breathless Mr. Wynn.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

The cross wasn't a symbol before Constantine. Show me where it was.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

"The use of the cross as a symbol was condemned by at least one church father of the 3rd century CE because of its Pagan origins. The first appearance of a cross in Christian art is on a Vatican sarcophagus from the mid-5th Century...The shape of the original crucifixion device is a matter for speculation. Sometimes, the Romans executed people on a Tau cross, sometimes on a Roman cross and sometimes on a simple stake. The gospels, which were originally written in Greek, use the word "stauros" to refer to the execution structure. (see Mark 15:21, Mark 15:32, Matthew 27:32, Luke 23:26, John 19:17). This appears as the word "cross" in all but one of the English versions that we have examined. But in reality, the Greek word usually means a vertical pole without a crossbar."http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_symb.htm

By: Blanketnazi2 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

The pre-Christian history of the cross symbol"From its simplicity of form, the cross has been used both as a religious symbol and as an ornament, from the dawn of man's civilization. Various objects, dating from periods long anterior to the Christian era, have been found, marked with crosses of different designs, in almost every part of the old world." 9 The cross symbol was found in: 10 Scandinavia: The Tau cross symbolized the hammer of the God Thor. Babylon: the cross with a crescent moon was the symbol of their moon deity. Assyria: the corners of the cross represented the four directions in which the sun shines. India: In Hinduism, the vertical shaft represents the higher, celestial states of being; the horizontal bar represents the lower, earthly states. Egypt: The ankh cross (a Tau cross topped by an inverted tear shape) is associated with Maat, their Goddess of Truth. It also represents the sexual union of Isis and Osiris. Europe: The use of a human effigy on a cross in the form of a scarecrow has been used from ancient times. In prehistoric times, a human would be sacrificed and hung on a cross. The sacrifice would later be chopped to pieces; his blood and pieces of flesh were widely distributed and buried to encourage the crop fertility.

By: bnakat on 12/31/69 at 7:00

A few observations:O It is interesting to see that some of the most anti-Christian, and irreligious--based solely on a compilation of relevant posts--engage in somewhat impressive research to act as an iconoclast.O Blanketnazi2, who frequently is content to provide terse one-liners, considers LifeIsGood's comment worthy of a mini-essay. Did the comment about the "Christian" use of the cross strike a nerve, or did Blanketnazi2 want to exhibit knowledge of pagan historical use of the symbol? Just a question, not intended to be confrontational. We each have our own set of "buttons" that provoke a reaction.O It is quite telling to see the use of CE (Common Era), in lieu of A.D. (anno Domini), i.e. "in the year of the Lord."O The link provided must have a brilliant scholar, or group. Any decent Greek Lexicon will show that stauros can mean either a cross, or stake. One religious group of which we are aware believes that our Lord was impaled, rather than nailed to a cross. Perhaps they wrote the one English translation, or version referenced.Any given version was the work of either conservative or liberal scholars. When virtually all translate "cross," that should settle the matter for an objective student with no ax to grind. (There are also internal evidences in the New Testament to support cross.)O By late in the 1st century A.D., the simplicity of Christianity, with few rituals, and no initial "symbols," began a departure that centuries later would culminate in the Roman Catholic Church. Along the way, many symbols, and rituals were "borrowed" from Judaism, and paganism. It is easier to persuade "converts" if they are allowed to bring along their baggage. In addition to rituals, and symbols, one can add "holy days" (holidays). Christmas and Easter are two of the most familiar that have their roots in paganism.As stated at the beginning, these are merely observations. The breadth and depth of knowledge on so many diverse subjects, as evidenced on this board over an extended period of time is impressive (no sarcasm intended). It is axiomatic that the two most explosive topics to discuss are politics and religion. And we have the temerity to tackle both, sometimes in the same post.Special note to revo-lou: You may well think that in this post, I was too pedantic. That was not my intent. When one has studied a given field, or discipline for decades, some degree of knowledge should have been acquired.

By: revo-lou on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Naw, you post to make a point. Most of us know that. Not everyone has time for frivolous posts that just egg others on, like SOME people we know!