On Faith and Fratricide by Ruether

This is a classic book by Rosemary Radford Ruether, written in 1974. Its subtitle, The Theological Roots of Anti-Semitism, does a decent job of describing it. While it is largely about theology, Chapter 4 - “The Social Incorporation of the Negative Myth of the Jews in Christendom” - is a nice overview of the Church’s anti-Semitic conduct, from Constantine to Hitler.

First, let me note that Ms. Ruether is a devout Catholic. This is an insider’s critique. It tends to accept fundamental premises of Christianity that outsiders would question, including those relevant to anti-Semitism. Its critique is basically conservative, and if anything, it underestimates the problem. Even so, these issues are widely ignored. I am confident you haven’t heard most of them in Sunday school classes or anywhere else.

This also applies to her chapter on the Church’s anti-Semitic conduct. For example, she neglects to mention that one of the first things Constantine did was to make bishops above the law, declaring that they could only be tried by their peers, rather than any civil court or magistrate. This greatly facilitated a wide variety of misconduct, from destroying or stealing synagogues, to destroying sacred texts.

Constantine basically appointed aristocrats/politicians to the position of bishop. Many knew almost nothing about Christianity. They were baptized and anointed as bishops on the same day. The oldest surviving manuscripts generally date from this period. Texts from “lost Christianities” tend to disappear at this time, especially Jewish-Christian texts. In those days, publishing consisted of making a few copies by hand. The bishops had power to destroy ‘heretical’ documents, and used it to eliminate heterodox texts, including those like the Gospel of the Hebrews, which was probably the oldest and most historically accurate of the gospels.

It’s dry reading, but recommended, especially Chapter 4. Church misconduct is effectively suppressed by both the secular and religious press. It’s worth knowing. When the pope pontificates, he is almost always ignoring Church history, condemning practices that were widespread in the Church for hundreds of years.

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