On ‘Passion’

On ‘Passion’
: Father Andrew Greeley, Catholic priest and author, takes on Mel Gibson’s Passion in an eloquent column:

‘The Passion of the Christ” is a celebration of the bloody suffering of Jesus, a fundamentalist interpretation by a man who rejects the Vatican Council. It is not, contrary to claims, a literal interpretation of St. John’s Gospel but is based on the ”revelations” of a 19th century mystic. It is a film about torture, legitimated because it is the torture of Jesus. ”Passion” is a glorification of sado-masochism….

Gibson showed his hand in his interview with Diane Sawyer when he said that because the gates of heaven were closed by the sin of our first parents, Jesus had to suffer to open them again. This metaphor, which my generation heard often in grammar school, is a poor adaptation of the teaching of St. Anselm, who proposed that the suffering of Jesus paid the blood price to satisfy God and free us from our sins. Anselm’s theology is not Catholic faith. It has caused a lot of misunderstanding among Catholics who absorbed it in their youth.

One may wonder what kind of God it would be who would demand such a price from his beloved son. Is this the same kind of implacably forgiving God whom Jesus preached about in his life?

We all must suffer; we all must die. Death, no matter how brief or how protracted, is horrible. Do those who die after a prolonged battle with cancer die any less horribly than Jesus? What does his death say to all of us who must die? One will watch ”The Passion of the Christ” in vain for any hint of an answer to that question.

The lesson of Good Friday, properly understood, is that God suffers with us. Like every good parent, he suffers when his children suffer. When Jesus hung on the cross, God (the person was the Second Person of the Trinity) made common cause with the Iraqi peasant shot in the back and tossed into the pit to be consumed by fire. God cannot prevent our sufferings, but he suffers with us.

: I also happened upon an eloquent blog post on Passion by Debra Gallant, the NY Times NJ columnist (and blogger):

One day, when I was a kid, I was walking in my neighborhood in Northern Virginia, and some kid, who I didn

  • ken

    This topis is, like, SOOO last week. Thanks for the Greeley post. Enlightening yes, but as someone raised Catholic, I’d have to say the Church should shoulder the blame for this sort of misinterpretation, Vatican II or no.
    I do take exception to this line, though, Jeff: “If it was evil he was trying to portray, then one has to fear that it was to whip up hatred …”
    Do films including scenes of the Holocaust try to whip up hatred for Germans? I don’t think so.

  • CA Bell

    Hmmm, my thoughts mirror what was said in your Stern bulletin: If you don’t like it, don’t go. There are certainly PLENTY of legitimate complaints about the movie. Fine. But for a lot of Christians,this movie brought home important lessons in the bible. And for not one that I talked to, did those lessons include evil against the Jews. As a matter of fact…has that you know or have heard of that has seen this movie expressed any kind of anti-Jewish sentiment as a result? I understand the concern, especially with all of the anti-Semitism in the world, but my guess is that it’s overblown.

  • James Stephenson

    My wife and I went to see it last weekend.
    The only parts that I thought were over board were the lashes. He took the lashes, and none of know exactly how the Romans did lashes in those times.
    Him taking the Cross to the Summit, of course it was tough. It was not like they were going to crucify people right there in the middle of Town. And he did carry that cross.
    Who knows how they crucified people, for all we know, it could have been worse than was depicted, although I do not see how it could be, when he is turned over to bend the spikes, I could almost imagine the pain felt.
    To me the best parts of the movies were the Flashbacks. The one telling the disciple, you will deny me three times before the cock crows. Him being a simple carpenter. Just doing his job. Him giving a hand to Magdeline.
    I do not blame the Jews. Truly the Jewish leaders felt threatened, as well they should. Jesus was a threat and they dealt with him, in the manner who knew they would. He only mentioned several times he would die. He did die for our sins.
    But this movie? Give me Ben Hur a biblical movie that does not seem like it.

  • It might not be good enough for Weisel, but the HBO movie, Conspiracy, with Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci, about the “strategic planning session” for dealing with “the Jewish problem,” portrays, without showing a single withered concentration camp victim or drop of blood, about the most chilling, cold-hearted evil I’ve ever seen in theatre or in life.

  • Doctor Slack

    Do films including scenes of the Holocaust try to whip up hatred for Germans?
    Are you putting Gibson’s mythical dramatization on the same factual footing as the Holocaust?
    In any case, passion plays of precisely the type Gibson filmed have historically been used to whip up hatred for Jews. Why do you think that is?
    I don’t think anyone’s going to leave Gibson’s movie looking to hang the nearest Jew from a lamppost — but the concern about anti-Semitic imagery shouldn’t be that one exposure to it will automatically transform an audience into a raving gang of brownshirts. The problem is that this imagery, these old anti-Semitic narratives, are insidious. The more normalized they become in a society, the more socially acceptable and potentially violent anti-Semitism becomes. Jews are absolutely right to object to them.
    As to the violence — I think what Gibson has failed to understand is that the buckets of gore undermine the drama of his message. After a while, you stop thinking “man, this guy is suffering” and start wondering how many gallons of fake blood they went through. It just gets cartoonish.

  • naz

    and i really liked the compassionate jewish characters in the movie, as well as St. Mary. Very touching and humane. Clearly, it wasn’t the Jews that wanted Jesus dead, but a bunch of Pharisean clergy who felt threatened by Jesus’s revolutionary teachings.
    hearing all the characters speak Aramaic made the movie truly stand out from all the other Biblical epics, no matter how good those were. I overjoyed that my elementary Latin turned out to be quite useful. This Sunday I’m going to a Latin Mass (for the first time in my life). That should be quite an experience.

  • Richard Aubrey

    If we don’t have a bunch of Christians beating up and killing Jews while carrying ticket stubs from The Passion, some people are going to be VERY disappointed.

  • pianoman

    I find it interesting that the people talking the most about anti-Semitism aren’t Christians.
    Best comment I’ve heard about this film is: “You get out of it what you bring with you into the theater.”
    It’s the tree trunk Luke entered in Empire Strikes Back.

  • Doctor Slack

    Best comment I’ve heard about this film is: “You get out of it what you bring with you into the theater.”
    Yeah, that’s convenient, isn’t it? The “I am rubber, you are glue” argument. But it’s not very convincing.
    Christian passion plays had a long-standing and very specific narrative vocabulary aimed at blaming the Jews for the death of Christ. Gibson’s film uses that vocabulary. There is simply no way around that rather icky fact.
    The faithful do themselves no credit by denying that Christian anti-Semitism is possible, or could possibly be part of what’s happening in Gibson’s film. And you can’t effectively repudiate anti-Semitism while you’re in denial. I saw one reviewer claim that “Christianity is incompatible with anti-Semitism.” Ummm, yeah. Right.

  • fred

    Your references to films about the Holocaust and Gibson’s Passion needs a slight correction: you ought to see non-Hollywood films about the Holocaust, films inm which there are no clowns, piano players, survirors who laud Schindlere. You could for example try to get hold of a holoucast film that will wretch your heart and IS based on Christ story: called ThePassion of St Matthew (or something like that) or see Night and Fog or any other non-Hollywood film, if in fact you want a film with little or no plot but a documentary portrayal of the camps etc.

  • John

    I have not seen Gibson’s Passion, nor do I intend to. I can’t handle cinematic ultra-violence, oh my droogs, having been programmed by exposure to others’ real pain. But, a few comments:
    As I understand it from several reviews, some images from the movie are not being widely discussed in the matter of Passion’s reputed anti-Semitism; the androgynous Satan appears as an influence on the crowd of Jews demanding Christ’s death, flitting and melting among them, and Jewish children morphing into demons.
    If that’s not anti-Semitic to you, then try the above clause slightly re-worded: the androgynous Satan appears as an influence on the crowd of Americans demanding Mohammed’s death, flitting and melting among them, and American children morphing into demons.
    Would the actions described be considered anti-American? You tell me.
    I saw the end of an interview with Fr. Greeley on MSNBC’s Hardball. he stated that the movie does not show Christ saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That statement is key to Christ’s mission on this Earth, to bring forgiveness and redemption to all, not just an elite nor a favored few. It explains so much.
    I will expect Mr. Gibson, in his remake of Citizen Kane, to omit the word and concept of “Rosebud”.

  • I don’t care that Greeley is a priest, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I recently posted my review of the Passion on my blog; perhaps Greeley and the young lady should read it.. In the review, I address the guilt factor that so many people are having their knickers in a knot about.

  • No

    Quelle surprise! Nobody appointed AG the arbiter of Catholic doctrine…even the Church agrees with this point, given their test response over the years to Andy’s bizarre writing and beliefs. Greeley has his version, Mel had his. We can buy Andy’s if we like, or Mel’s. People are voting…Mel. Andrew’s not much of a Catholic to us faithful anyway….particularly because his apostacy is so painful to read. Have you ever tried reading his novels? Now that’s hell! I know the suffering of the good Lord after having nothing else to read on a 16 hour flight than a Greeley novel discarded on the seat next to me!
    What ever happened to the predicted pogroms that would be visited on American Jewry due to Mel? Fugedaboutit. Media has certainly changed the direction of the argument, no?

  • Greeley is wrong. The prayer of forgiveness is there.
    Also, why do those who accuse the movie of painting the Jews as evil leave out Simon who carries the cross?