Sunday, March 29, 2009

Film: Constantine's Sword

My wife seeks out the quaint and interesting as she paws through the NetFlix contents. Yesterday the postman delivered, Constantine's Sword, a film and book by journalist and former priest, James Carroll. The documentary follows the long shadow cast by the cross, the symbol seized by Roman Emperor Constantine in his military conquest for the Empire.

Carroll's voice, as narrator the film, is flatly inquisitive in tone, which I found mesmerizing and enchanting. He left the priest hood in the early 1970's frustrated by the church's response [or lack thereof] to the Vietnam War. Not only that war, but the author details the insidious close link between the church and many wars throughout history, none the least of which were the Crusades.

The close relationship between the Nazis and Pope Pius XII was exposed as was the ugly persecution of the Jews of Rome in the 1500's by Pope Paul IV. Paul IV was head of the Italian Inquisition before he was raised to the papacy.

Carroll painfully moves through his documentary to examine just how and when Christ's message of peace became perverted into an instrument of war and persecution of those not of the faith. He especially explores why and how the Jews became the scapegoat for the Roman crucifixion of Jesus. On April 9, Good Friday, Catholics throughout the world will, once again, as from the time of Constantine, blame the Jews as they read the politicized words of the Gospel.

Here in America, Carroll's outrage at the church-war coalition, is met as he explores the infiltration of evangelical Christianity into the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., where officers have pressured cadets to convert and marginalized those who resisted. The best irony of it all occurs when the holier-than-thou Ted Haggart is interviewed about his role in this military-religious co-op. As we watch him now, knowing of his homosexual encounters, his righteousness drips with hypocrisy.

The cross and shadow it casts in the opening scene of the film is revealed at the end of the film.  It was erected at, of all places, Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp and burial site of thousands of Jews. He stands under it and asks of a German Jew who stands with him, "Why is this cross here among the graves of the Jews?"  The answer is astounding and perhaps best characterizes the conundrum that Carroll is attempting to unravel. 

That  20 feet high wooden cross near Barracks 13, the starvation bunker, was placed there  in 1984 by a group of Carmelite nuns because Pope John Paul II hoped for a place of prayer that could honor the quarter to half a million Catholics who died at Auschwitz.

The cross.  Apparently, no matter what history has shown us, we are to recall, lest we be misled, however, that 'the Jews killed Jesus.'

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