Wednesday, September 24, 2014

James Carroll's Warburg in Rome: Jews & Catholics

Reading "Warburg in Rome" a recent novel by  James Carroll. James Carroll is author of, among other things, "Constantine's Sword," an account of the historic swerve toward anti-Semitism by the Roman Empire, under Constantine, in league with the Papacy. Carroll remains a Catholic. I don't know he manages that, nor do I know how anyone remains any sort of professing true believer, though I know many who aspire or pretend to.

Carroll's Catholicism is exquisitely self-aware, self-conscious, and self-critical. 

The novel is set in the precincts of Rome, near the end of World War II. Some priests and nuns have hidden away and helped save Jews. But the war isn't over.  Italy has been liberated by American troops. But Jew-murder goes on high-speed up north. And the main characters know it.

Carroll writes so well and so knowingly about this terrain and this situation, that I am absorbed. This is a suspenseful book, a page-turner.

I do have a question, though: it seems the saving of Jews is, in this novel, the test-case of being Catholic. You save a Jew, your faith is therefore justified.

Speaking as Jew, I find that formulation troubling.

Are Jews no more than the tokens of Catholic worth?

Save a Jew don't go to hell?

As I say, it's a suspenseful book.  Maybe i'm jumping the gun. I'll keep reading.


  1. I have a friend from college days. He became a priest and worked many years in the Vatican Library among the medieval documents. I have imagined him being on the inside of many things that make me curious. But I have never bothered to ask him, figuring that he would never tell.

  2. fred, you might like this. i'll report further on it.