Idol Chatter

Constantine’s Sword,” the heavyweight indictment of the Catholic tradition’s fraught relationship and history with Judaism by National Book Award winner, Boston Globe journalist and novelist James Carroll (published in 2001 just before 9/11), releases in documentary form tonight in select cities nationwide.
I had the fortune of seeing the documentary version at a pre-screening held at Boston University (an event co-sponsored by both Jewish and Catholic organizations) well over a month ago. The timing of this screening was rather uncanny–I was teaching “Constantine’s Sword” (yes, all 700 some odd pages of it) in my Catholicism class at BU this semester–so my students and I went off to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity.

Given that “Constantine’s Sword” is a difficult read–it is an impressive work of history and quite an accomplishment if you can make it through–it was helpful to see this book brought to life (more or less) as a film. Aside from the awkward and rather forced framing of the documentary, with Carroll making pilgrimages to the important sites discussed in the book (there are a lot of shots of Carroll driving rented cars and looking reflectively off into the distance), it is a rather well-done adaptation. It is amazing to see the “cross at Auschwitz”–a central focus for Carroll, and the controversial iconic image that sparked this act of Catholic atonement on Carroll’s part–as well as other significant historical sites that Carroll speaks about in the book. If audiences are willing to forgive the blanket biases about evangelicals which come off as rather ironic in a film about interreligious dialogue and the need for respect between traditions (cue the Ted Haggard interviews–yes they got them, pre-scandal!), the documentary is worth a night out at the movies and perhaps might even spark you to embark on the journey that is ” Constantine’s Sword ” the book.
See New York Times movie critic Stephen Holden’s full review of the film by clicking here.

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