A 13th-century fresco in Rome's Santi Quattro Coronati depicts Constantine, the Roman general who conquered pagan Rome under the sign of the cross and later converted to Christianity, sharing his crown with Pope Sylvester I. "This is the moment when the cross and the sword become one," explains award-winning author, journalist, former Catholic priest James Carroll in Oren Jacoby's elucidating documentary.
It's the moment when "Christianity turns violent" and the lamb, the fish or the shepherd no longer symbolize Christ and his teachings. Instead, the cross -- the symbol of torture and execution under which Constantine led his men across the Tiber -- became the universal signifier of a religion wedded to military and temporal power. And in the shadow of this cross, holy wars, religious persecution and anti-Semitic violence were committed for centuries to come. Jacoby's haunting documentary joins cowriter and producer Carroll, the author of Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews -- A History, for a fascinating dual journey. One is a trip back across the centuries for a grim recounting of the anti-Semitic pogroms committed in the Church's name: the destruction of Rhineland Jewry during the First Crusade and the slaughter at Cologne's Mainz Cathedral of all who refused to convert; the torture, murder, forced baptisms and deportation of Spanish Jews during the Inquisition; the 300 years of anti-Jewish restrictions in Rome and Pope Pius XII's silence during the Holocaust, which continued even as Rome's Jews were taken by the Nazis. Jacoby intercuts this timeline with Carroll's more personal journey into his own past: His fervent childhood belief; his youthful desire to join the Air Force; his years as a fiery liberal priest during the turbulent '60s; his falling-out with his father, a high-ranking Army general, after Carroll dared to interject the word "napalm" into his inaugural sermon; and the deepening disenchantment with the church over its inaction during the Vietnam War, which led Carroll to leave the priesthood in 1973.
These journeys converge at the Air Force Academy Carroll once dreamt of attending, now ground zero for recruiting by the region's fast-growing conservative Christian Evangelical movement. Complaints have been filed by non-Christian -- particularly Jewish -- cadets who have begun to feel pressure to convert from fellow cadets, officers and chaplains: USAF has sponsored screenings of Mel Gibson's frankly anti-Semitic THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, and intimidation and threats of violence are commonplace. Carroll the historian understands the danger of wedding religious fervor to military might, particularly at a time when a U.S. president can speak openly of "crusades," "good vs. evil" and God-given rights. Carroll the devout humanist delivers a dire warning that couldn't have come at a better time.
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- Released: 2008
- Rating: NR
- Review: A 13th-century fresco in Rome's Santi Quattro Coronati depicts Constantine, the Roman general who conquered pagan Rome under the sign of the cross and later converted to Christianity, sharing his crown with Pope Sylvester I. "This is the moment when the cr… (more)