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April 09, 2004

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday. There are some among my visitors who are religious, even religious intellectuals. i found a dense article by Romanus Cessario, O.P., which reviews Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in light of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica.

i must admit, i have not read Summa Theologica and i had difficulty following a lot of the discussion. However, there is a passage in the review that addresses one problem i had with The Passion, which i described in my own review when i wrote:

The scourging scene goes on for an unnecessarily long time. Historically, people died from scourging. It didn’t take a lot of strokes to kill someone, and Jesus was whipped savagely in the movie. Though i’m not an expert on this, i really do think any person would have died from that amount of flogging. There was so much blood on the floor after the scourging scene, it is impossible to believe that Jesus wouldn't have at least passed out, let alone believe that he could carry a heavy cross afterwards. We know that Jesus did not die until he was on the cross for three hours, so i think Gibson overdid the scourging scene.
Fr. Cessario's review addresses my problem thusly:
If one allows that the scenes of punishment exceed the modesty of the Scriptures themselves, or if we follow those who opine that after such beatings and harsh treatment, no man would be able to shoulder the cross or even walk, there is still the explanation that the artist chose this excess for a theological reason.

A long theological tradition supports this sort of iconographical modification: The Church asks us to ponder the price that the Savior of the world paid. Without this meditation, one cannot embrace the full dimensions of Catholic piety; instead, we would find ourselves moving rapidly toward those various forms of de-sacramentalized Christianity that focus exclusively on interior psychological states.

i think that's roughly what i meant when i said:
Thematically, it’s clear Gibson wanted to shock the audience with the amount of torture in the scourging. His torture represents the sins of mankind. It looks horrible because Gibson wants to impress us with the magnitude of God’s gift to us. That was the director's choice. If Gibson had toned it down to a less shocking level, maybe we wouldn’t get the message.

. . .

Nowadays, people seem to think that Jesus came simply to tell us to be nice to each other. It’s a pleasant message, and it fits into our overly secular world without ruffling too many feathers. But, it’s not why Jesus came here. Remember, we didn’t need Jesus to tell us to 'love our neighbor.' That commandment was already in Leviticus. But in our secular world, people have forgotten the real reason Jesus came to earth, which was to suffer, to die, and to rise again.

Fr. Cessario also points out that Gibson's intent was to show the divine aspect of Jesus, which previous directors chose to downplay in favor of His human aspect, perhaps because our secular world accepts His humanness more readily, and perhaps because it is impossible to represent divinity accurately on film.
Mel Gibson directs Jim Caviezel in a way that, in my view, approaches accomplishing the impossible. There are the Christs of Pasolini, of Zeffirelli, and of Rossellini, but the Christ of Gibson captures what these others were content to accomplish by representing a high expression of human values.

Although I am not an art critic, it seems to me that the very excesses, even the distortions, which some commentators have questioned, in fact aim to show us that this man is more than human. That we have to look elsewhere for the source of his human endurance.

i might disagree somewhat with the last sentence of that quote, because, as i said:
The whole point of Jesus’ torture and death was for Him to submit to it as a man. Using His power as God to withstand any torture would have been accepting the Devil’s temptation.
But Fr. Cessario's article also got me thinking: maybe Jesus' endurance seemed impossible in the film because it was supposed to be the extreme limit of human endurance. Perhaps Gibson intended to show that Jesus, while rejecting the temptation to supernatural intervention available to Him, endured the limit of human suffering because He knew the purpose of His mission, where another might have succumbed out of weakness or incomplete knowledge. Just a thought.

Posted by annika, Apr. 9, 2004 |
Rubric: Faith


Nice entry, one of the ones i'll print out to contemplate in a more serious manner after work.

Posted by: Scof on Apr. 9, 2004

okay, almost done with my lunchtime lurking on your site...wanted to add this little gem I found:


"I remember being at a retreat once where the leader asked us to think of someone who represented Christ in our lives. When it came time to share our answers, one woman stood up and said, "I had to think hard about that one. I kept thinking, Who is it who told me the truth about myself so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?"

Posted by: Scof on Apr. 9, 2004

Great link, great article, great thoughts, Annie -- I like your concluding words in particular.

Posted by: Hugo on Apr. 9, 2004

Excellent post Annika.

I do have one thought though. If Christ's only goal was to endure the pain and torture of the cross, God could have chosen any strong and virtuous man to do this task without sending his only Son. But Christ's mission was to carry the sins of the world, a task only the Son of God, or God himself, could handle. During his ministry, Jesus often performed miracles using his divinity, so I think to try and separate the man and the diety during the most important work in his life would be foolish. His mission was not for just an ordinary man, so why would the process of his death be?

I didn't count, but is did seem that there were a lot more stripes than "forty save one". But I think that Mr. Gibson did get his point across.

Posted by: javaslinger on Apr. 9, 2004

"Just a thought." And a good one at that.

I don't think perfect realism would have been as effective in conveying the message. It is about the eucharist--his shed blood and broken body. If there was a bit much of both, it only serves to emphasize the point.

Posted by: Desert Cat on Apr. 10, 2004


I posted a reply here.

Posted by: Matt Rustler on Apr. 10, 2004

I do not agree with you about Gibson over doing the scourging, because in Isaiah 52:14 (KJV) As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men. I believe that it was a lot worse than in The Passion. It says that the scourging cuts through the flesh than as it is repeated it goes through tissue and cuts the flesh like ribbons. I think Gibson did justice for us in not making it as bad as it really was, because for me, it was hard to watch as it was.

I do agree with you about the raven on the criminals cross and "Satan" in the movie. The Bible does not say anything about any of that.

Posted by: Carol on Apr. 26, 2004

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