Sunday, February 29, 2004

Thoughts on The Passion

Here are some initial thoughts on The Passion which I saw last Wednesday. It's an amazing movie, and seeing it was unlike any other movie-going experience I've ever had. The audience was hushed, anxious, eager for the film to begin. Several people had brought in buckets of popcorn and fountain drinks -- I watched them, and looked when the film was over. The popcorn was uneaten and the drinks untouched. The atmosphere wasn't really movielike. It was more like attending a public rosary or a litany. It's the only movie I've been to in years where no one talked. No one. Trust me -- talking during movies is something I truly abominate, and I can hear whispering from ten rows away.

The film is redolent with tiny moments and glimpses of symbolism. The upright and cross-beam of Jesus' Cross are fastened with three bolts, arranged in a triangle. O most holy Trinity, undivided unity, holy God, mighty God, God immortal be adored! During the flagellation, one of Jesus' ribs is exposed. He is the new Adam. These are all done so well that they do not distract. They're only there if you have time, or inclination, to see them. There are, I suspect, many more such touches. I recall the dramatic setting of the Crucifixion itself. Jesus' cross is set high atop an outcropping of rock, and the ground behind him quickly drops into a chasm studded with what looked like the entrances to tombs. It suggested to me that all mankind is hurtling toward that chasm, and only Jesus, His arms outstretched, can stop us.

Much has been made of the film's dialogue being solely in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Latin. The film's critics claim that Gibson used those languages solely to alienate the audience from the Jews, to make the Jews seem horrible, brutal and foreign. We first see and hear Jesus praying in the Garden -- in Hebrew. The use of foreign languages continues, and ends up giving events a distinctive liturgical quality. Pilate, for example, speaks Latin. But if my college education was worth the money, he uses the pronunciations of ecclesiastical Latin, the Latin of the old Mass. "Dicere me", he says to Jesus. "Speak to me." But he pronounces it "dee-cheray" whereas the classical Latin pronunciation is "Dee-kereh." I hope that holds out, because it's a wonderful layer to the story of the Eucharistic sacrifice which is all the more wonderful for being unobtrusive.

Likewise with Pilate offering Jesus a cup at their first meeting. Again, the critics find anti-Semitism here -- Pilate sympathizes with Jesus, but Caiaphas doesn't offer Him a drink. Is that why Gibson included it in the film? So we can understand that the Jews are evil people, whereas the gentiles are good people since they always offer innocent men refreshments before beating and killing them? So say the critics. From what I saw, Pilate offers a cup of wine. "And he said unto them, With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come." Luke 22:15-18 (KJV). Is the episode anti-Semitic, or eucharistic? As I explained in my earlier essay, to some critics they're the same thing, and so it's not surprising that the alternative meaning is so easily counted for nothing.

In the film's portrayal of Caiaphas I saw an angry man, furious at Jesus' claims to be the Messiah. I didn't see him as a "Christ-killing Jew," nor was I inspired with a need to kill Jews as a writer for Jewsweek magazine says he was. One thing critics haven't bothered telling anyone, by the way, is that the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin features several Jewish priests who protest the proceedings and are quickly hustled off by other priests and temple guards. Not only this, but the priests who protest aren't Jesus' follwers and can therefore qualify as "Jews" in the critics' lexicon. It's hard to see how the depiction of a Christ-killing Sanhedrin full of Satanic pawns can be made by showing Jewish protests against Jesus' treatment which aren't motivated by a belief that He is God.

Toward the end of the film, Caiaphas advances to the foot of Jesus' cross and rebukes Him, saying that He cannot be the Messiah for if he were, he would save Himself from death. This, the critics tell us, is more proof of anti-Semitism. But as Caiaphas turns and walks away, he passes St. Dismas' cross. Jesus lifts His face to Heaven and cries "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." St. Dismas shouts to Caiaphas, "He's praying for you." Later, during the earthquake which rocks Jerusalem, Caiaphas weeps when he sees the Temple veil torn asunder. To me, it was a poignant depiction of men in a fallen world -- However much Caiaphas may have detested Jesus' "blasphemy", he could not see the Holy of Holies exposed to public view without grief. Is it grief over Jesus' death? Does Ciaphas suddenly realize there is a new Temple? Or is it grief over a calamity whose real dimensions Caiaphas doesn't appreciate? "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." This isn't the cinematic language of Nazism.

Before the film begins, we see scripture telling us that Jesus died because of all our sins. After the film begins, we see that even Satan knows the passion will require Jesus to carry all our sins. We see a glimpse of the daughters of Jerusalem distraught at His suffering. (Yes, I wish Jesus' speech to them had been included). We see Veronica -- who is not a Nordic blonde -- wipe Jesus' face after He nods permission. We see Simon of Cyrene shout at the Roman soldiers to stop hurting Jesus, saying he will not continue to help Jesus with the Cross unless they stop hurting Him. Simon offers Jesus the gentlest words possible under the circumstances ("Not much farther. It will be over soon.") We see priests of Israel turning their faces from cruelty and bloodshed inflicted by Romans. Mel Gibson makes a cameo appearance in the film -- it's his hand that puts the first nail in Jesus' hand. Yet, we're still told, over and over again, that the film clearly says that "the Jews" are all evil and that they -- and no one else -- killed Jesus.

The violence inflicted on Jesus is horrendous, and I found it numbing. Why is that? Is it because the critics are right, and my conscience is reacting to the prurient sadism behind what Jim Cork's critic of choice, Michael Coren, calls a "pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic blood cult"? I thought Coren's line was silly on several levels, the most obvious one being that none of the documents of Vatican II preach that Jesus' crucifixion was a decorous, bloodless affair that could only be viewed from a distance and was all over in five minutes. I also had to shake my head because cult means "the service expressly offered to God through sacred signs and inward dispositions of adoration, praise, thanksgiving, and petition for forgiveness, salvation, and earthly well-being which acknowledge God's supreme power." K. Rahner and H. Vorgrimler, Theological Dictionary p. 112 (New York: Herder & Herder, 1965).
Blood of Christ, only-begotten Son of the Eternal Father, save us.
Blood of Christ, Incarnate Word of God, save us.
Blood of Christ, of the New and Eternal Testament, save us.
Blood of Christ, falling upon the earth in the Agony, save us.
Blood of Christ, shed profusely in the Scourging, save us.
Blood of Christ, flowing forth in the Crowning with Thorns, save us.
Blood of Christ, poured out on the Cross, save us.
Blood of Christ, price of our salvation, save us.
Blood of Christ, without which there is no forgiveness, save us.
Blood of Christ, Eucharistic drink and refreshment of souls, save us.
Blood of Christ, stream of mercy, save us.
Blood of Christ, victor over demons, save us.
Blood of Christ, courage of Martyrs, save us.
Blood of Christ, strength of Confessors, save us.
Blood of Christ, bringing forth Virgins, save us.
Blood of Christ, help of those in peril, save us.
Blood of Christ, relief of the burdened, save us.
Blood of Christ, solace in sorrow, save us.
Blood of Christ, hope of the penitent, save us.
Blood of Christ, consolation of the dying, save us.
Blood of Christ, peace and tenderness of hearts, save us.
Blood of Christ, pledge of eternal life, save us.
Blood of Christ, freeing souls from purgatory, save us.
Blood of Christ, most worthy of all glory and honor, save us.
So yeah, you could say we're a blood cult. I for one am proud of it. I'm sorry it scandalizes weak sisters like Michael Coren. I'm sorry it's too much for a lot of people. But we're a blood cult. We worship Holy Blood. We drink Holy Blood. We adore Holy Blood which is glorious, not only for its other mystical and magnificent divinity, but for the fact that it was shed in torture for our sins and our redemption. As far as I'm concerned anyone who -- like the Romans who crucified Jesus -- is shocked at the gruesome cannibalistic atmosphere they find in all that can go soak themselves in oh-so-spiritual readings of John Chapter 6 and imaginary depictions of Jesus as a cartoon character whose feet never touched the earth. Let them squirm at the idea of God's chest hair matted with sweat, dirt under His nails, rubbing gritty sleep from his eyes. Let them stop their ears at the thought of Him screaming in pain and gasping for breath. We love the God-Man entire. His divinity, His humanity, and everything they did and underwent. We even love His blood, especially His blood. That's why we're a blood cult.

Anyhow, I'm not too sure about numbness and squeamishness at the violence in The Passion being the infallible sign of an ennobled conscience. At least not in my case. Perhaps the thought of such suffering happening just because of my tiny little inconsequential mortal sins -- which are, after all, the kind of things everybody does all the time -- is just too much to take in. Perhaps I'm more comfortable limiting my mind to the stylized and streamlined pictographs on my parish's stations of the Cross. Perhaps my pride won't let me see what I deserve to pay for my sins, or the fact that I'm so useless I couldn't begin to pay for them. The violence in this movie is revolting. It's in-your-face ugly, because you caused it. Think of someone's hand on the back of your neck, rubbing your nose -- not in your own mess, but in what you inflicted on someone else. And people are having problems with this idea? With the number of "confession by appointment" parishes in our country I'm not surprised, not surprised at all. Maybe a blood cult could do us all a little good.

I'm still surprised at how critics of the film seem not to have a particularly clear memory of what they saw on the screen. Jim Cork laments the fate of Gesmas: "Oh, and the whole scene with the crow eating the thief's eyeball at the end was just lame. Nice way to end a movie." Actually, the movie doesn't end with that scene. It ends with the Deposition, and is tailed by a brief reference to the Resurrection.

Jewsweek gives this depiction of the film's storyline: "At the moment when Jesus finally dies, an earthquake sends shockwaves throughout Rome. (Ok, Mel, we get the metaphor.) Then, the Jewish High Priest who just sentenced Jesus to death cries in a syrupy ‘What-have-I-done?' style." But the Jewish High Priest hasn't "just sentenced Jesus to death." That's because at no point in the film does the Jewish High Priest sentence Jesus to death. Pilate does that, while washing his hands of responsibility at the same time. Pilate's order to the soldiers, "Do as they wish," represents a terrible confluence of gentile and Jewish sinfulness. It is Pilate's order that sends Jesus to the Cross -- he can try to depict himself as being aloof, but the brutality inflicted on Jesus by the Roman soldiers belies that image. Jesus appears to Pilate after being beaten. Pilate winces at His condition (just as Jewish priests watching the beating turned away at the sight), but Pilate does nothing and shows no remorse. If that reminded me of anything, it was Himmler's delicate sense of propriety that caused him to be sick after watching a mass execution during the Holocaust -- and his murderous indifference to humanity when he ordered more efficient means of killing to be developed. Anyhow, I'm not sure how all this makes Pilate's "sympathetic" offering of a drink appear as exonerating and heart-warming as the critics say it does. It makes Pilate look like an amoral and brutal nabob. Caiaphas, in my view, actually comes out better -- he, at least, is fighting for something. It's not pretty, and it's not right, but at least Caiaphas isn't killing someone because the alternative might include doing a lot of imperial paperwork.

For that matter, if Jewsweek ever paid a reviewer to actually watch the film, readers would learn that there is no earthquake in Rome. There is an earthquake in Jerusalem. It sends shockwaves through Pilate's residence. Pilate is in the scene. Pilate was not in Rome, but Jerusalem -- even most of the film's critics tend to agree that Pilate was in Jerusalem during the Crucifixion. No part of the film takes place in Rome. What would we think of a critic who went in to see Titanic and came out complaining that there are no icebergs in the Indian Ocean? We'd think he didn't watch the film, or that he didn't know anything about the film's subject, and that he couldn't care less either way.

As to double-standards, suppose Gibson had refused to give us the supposedly anti-Semitic picture of Caiaphas' "syrupy" crying and chosen to depict the High Priest as unmoved. Why, Jewsweek would be right there to tell us that this proves Gibson's an anti-Semite, because he's depicted Caiaphas as a man without human feelings. See, in the critics' main view, it's the Christian vision which motivates the film that is the source of anti-Semitism. So anything in it would be -- and has been -- called anti-Semitic without rhyme, reason, or consistency. The ADL says the film is anti-Semitic because it portrays the Jews acting under satanic influences; Bill Cork says it's anti-Semitic because it doesn't depict the Jews as acting under satanic influences. I'm beginning to think that if Mel Gibson had made the whole film without a single Jewish character, we'd be hearing indictments of The Passion's anti-Semitic theme that the Jews don't have an historical connection to the land of Israel.

Back to Jim Cork's alleged "ending" for the movie. When St. Dismas insists that his punishment is just, and begs Jesus to remember him when He comes into His kingdom, Gesmas continues to scoff and rage. A crow plucks out his eyes. He's become physically blind to match his spiritual blindness. Sophocles put a similar piece of symbolism in Oedipus Rex, but that might not qualify as "lame" because it doesn't suggest that God can and will inflict pain and deformity on us because of our sins, because He owns us to begin with, and because even such hard lessons, once accepted, can lead us to eternal bliss. If that's "lame" then so is the Book of Job.

Bill Cork watched the flagellation scene and decried it as anti-Semitic: "The Romans are egged on by Satan, wandering through the crowd (the Jews needed no Satanic encouragement)." Satan is in the group watching the beating, but from what I saw his eyes were directed entirely and intensely at Jesus. Satan is holding a malformed child, and occasionally looks affectionately at it/him while the beating is going on. Bill Cork and Michael Coren find the scene unbiblical -- Michael Coren even finds it "anti-humanity." I wonder:
Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you this? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.
2 Thess. 2:3-6 (RSV). Who is Satan holding in his arms? Why is Satan slightly smiling, when he's not staring malevolently at Jesus? The film's beginning shows Satan trying to dissuade Jesus from undergoing the passion, because it's impossible, it can't be done. Isn't he here tempting Jesus again? As if to say, "It won't work, Son of Man. Even if you complete the task, my day will still come." It astounds me that so many indictments of anti-Semitism and "anti-humanity-ism" are being launched with such complete confidence and without even the slightest effort to consider an alternative interpretation that doesn't make the film evil.

Michael Coren's indictment of the film also rests on it's having supposedly missed the whole point of the Gospel story because it shows us that evil is ugly:
Herod is some cross-dressing lunatic, the Pharisee leaders, some of the brightest men of the age, are all obscene brutes and the Roman soldiers and the mob resemble crazed gargoyles. No, no, no! The point has been completely missed. Hate me if you like, but please listen. The point is this: We would have crucified Him. We would crucify Him. You, me, us. We'd smile, be tolerant and loving, do the right thing as we see it, and crucify Him. Then go home to hug our children and talk about how bad the world had become. Evil seduces and beguiles. It is frequently attractive. If it was as ugly as director Gibson has portrayed, Jesus would not have had to die in agony. And agony is what it was.
I'll pause here to note how blithely so many of the film's critics ignore their own "tests" for a decent passion play. So does Mr. Coren, having just excoriated us for reveling in a pre-Vatican II "blood cult" which celebrates Jesus' suffering, demand that we reflect on Jesus excruciating agony. Why isn't Mr. Coren making his own little fetish of Jesus' agony, his own pre-Vatican II agony cult? He doesn't have to say -- he dislikes The Passion and that, apparently, is sufficient. How how on earth is Mel Gibson's vision of man's ugly sinfulness "anti-Humanity" according to Mr. Coren, whereas Mr. Coren's own baleful description of every man, woman and child on earth isn't? The ease with which criticism of The Passion gleefully works both sides of every argument never fails to astound me. I would call it a rank disdain for principles, or an opposition to the Gospel which justifies every means, did I not strongly believe that we're all sometimes as stupid as Mr. Coren was when he wrote his review.

I understand a point to which Mr. Coren is alluding, but not the point he actually ends up making. People need to have their consciences shocked, and realize that the comfortable conventionality of their lives may be riddled with sin -- as Jesus Himself said, woe unto you should all men like you. Propriety is not the test of goodness. (An interesting point for critics of the film's violence to consider). It would be very useful if someone could make a movie showing how tempting and attractive evil can be. But sooner or later, if the film is going to say anything useful, it will have to show the ugliness and insanity of evil. When that ugliness isn't brought home, when Christians resort to namby-pamby catechesis that doesn't get all "judgmental" about abortion, contraception, adultery, homosexual behavior, or any of the other scourges of bourgeios life, we just end up convincing everyone that sainthood means making oneself miserable by foregoing the tangible and apparent goods of this life in the hope of other intangible and unknown goods of the next. Mr. Coren writes:
Barabas. He was a Zealot leader, possibly a local aristocrat. We read our Hebrew and Greek, know about Essenes, Sadducees and Jewish life and culture. We understand. Yet here he is portrayed as a dribbling psychotic.
I had always thought that one of the reasons evil should be disliked is that it takes things which could be good and wonderful -- like aristocracy, culture, leadership, and patriotism -- and makes them into dribbling psychoses. Yet Mr. Coren is telling us that showing the reality and end of the process misses "the point." I might agree with him if I thought Christianity was mere nominalism, the obeying of rules on the grounds that one must obey the rules. In that frame of reference there's no point to depicting men as being corrupted by evil - that they broke a rule ought to be enough to show their corruption. I might agree with him if I were a Protestant, and believed that men remain intrinsically as depraved as Gibson's portrait of Barabbas despite their salvation in Christ. In that frame The Passion's depiction of Barabbas' is redundant.

But I don't hold either of those opinions, and so I think Mr. Coren is confusing the appearance of evil with its nature. Jesus had to die in agony precisely because evil is as filthy, ugly, hurtful, and perverse as The Passion tries to indicate. That's why it took so much suffering to extirpate it from the human soul and inspire men to overcome their baser inclinations. Mr. Coren is free to tell us that he would have preferred Mr. Gibson to make another film, something along the lines of Ang Lee's Ice Storm with a clearer moral, but Mr. Coren departs from Christianity when he suggests that portraying evil and evil people as being demented and ugly "completely misses the point" of the Gospel.

Other things I noticed: The lighting in the film seemed off, lending a sickly gangrenous cast to the film's view of the world. One has the impression that the whole action occurs within a rotting body, among a dead people. Toward the end of the film, we're cut to a view of Jesus' face which seems surrealistic, made up of swirls of blood and flesh. For some reason that had me thinking about icons. The film's focus is so tight in time and the action so direct, brutal, and sparsely done that I wish the Hollywood-orchestra soundtrack had been omitted. I think, perhaps, that the film originally was meant to end with the beautiful, terrible "Pieta'," and that the Resurrection scene was tagged on at the end in response to criticisms which I find a bit wrongheaded.

Basically, they claim that the film is false to the Christian vision because it doesn't include the Resurrection. Or the Beatitudes. Or a panoramic depiction of the diversity of first-century Jewish life. Or the complete brutality of the Roman occupation of Israel. Or anything else that "ought" to go into a really good movie about Christianity. I think some of this criticism is just conditioning created by the fact that almost all the "Jesus movies" to date (King of Kings, Jesus of Nazareth) have been biographical, start-to-finish treatments of Jesus' life. I don't see why that has to be the standard frame for any film about Him. Why not a film that spends two hours on the Crucifixion, or Jesus' preaching the Eucharist, or His meeting with Nicodemus? Why not a series of films like Dekalog, each one a separate episode in His life?

Probably because it would be hard to fill that amount of time by using a cautious "ecumenical-interfaith-scholars'-approved-Bible-only" view of Christ, which is the standard test a studio would want to use in order to ensure a large market for the film. But we don't say that watching Gettysburg is disrespectful to American History because the film has action, conversations and incidents which can't be found in primary source material. Could this insistence with respect to films about Jesus also be a result of Protestant cultural conditioning that insists on limiting the Christian experience of Christ to a broadly-derived, publicly-shared rendering of Scripture alone? I'm reminded of the various criticism lodged by Presbyterians to the effect that the film is idolatrous because it depicts Mel Gibson's artistic visions and Anne Catherine Emmerich's pious visions -- neither of which is broadly-derived, publicly-rendered, and expository of Scripture alone.

Like everyone else, I was moved by the scene parallelling the Blessed Virgin rushing toward Jesus, who has fallen with the Cross, with an episode from His childhood when she ran to him after he fell down. When our Lady reaches Him, he says "Behold, I make all things new" and stands up, as though with new strength, to resume His journey. Truly, in this (and when we see our Lady praying during His scourging that He might choose to deliver himself soon) we see that He was the master of events, not the Romans, the Jews, or the Devil. I also liked the fact that He says what appears in Revelation 21, even though the book had not yet been written:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.
I hadn't really thought about these verses in connection with the Crucifixion. "It is done." Jesus said that on the Cross. "I will give unto him that is athirst." Jesus said "I thirst." I remember preaching that we must all thirst for God, His love, and one another's conversion, panting like deer in the desert. There must be full reward in Heaven -- God has suffered as any of us has suffered, done nothing that He does not expect us to do -- surely He knows how to right all wrongs, heal all scars, remove all grief.

That's it for now. I'll see the film one or two times during Lent. It's not the kind of movie you see the next night, so that may take awhile.
Pot. Kettle. Cork.

Barbara Nicolosi of Church of the Masses recently explained why The Passion had such an impact on her family:
My family are of the stock for whom this movie is most meaningful. We are people who have spent thousands of hours brooding over the Sorrowful Mysteries. We are rosary people. We are people who really really DO Lent, and for whom Passion week is the center of the year. We think of the mass as being an unbloody Sacrifice that only has power because it recreates the bloody one of Calvary. We make the stations and holy hours and read the Scriptures and go on retreats and honor the Sacred Heart and offer things up and go to confession pretty much monthly.
Bill Cork links to this post and says "this is dangerous, and shows why the film is dangerous -- and why we do indeed need to be afraid of how it will play out." I've said before that Bill's voice is one which ought to be heard whenever Christians make a passion play -- but not everything he uses that voice on is edifying. In fact, I'm fed to the teeth with the twisty, snide, and irresponsible polemics against The Passion and people who find it spiritually uplifting which so frequently scar and pockmark Bill's thoughts on the film.

Does Bill really think we need to be afraid of becoming "rosary people" who make the stations and holy hours? That's the post he linked to when he described what we need to be afraid of, you know -- not the post which claims that criticism of the film is demonic. Why the reckless, one-bomb-fits-all approach? What did he say about Mel Gibson?
I don't think Mel was intentionally making a movie to blame the Jews for Deicide. Rather, I think we can accept his explanation that he wanted to make a movie focusing on the meaning of the Passion for us. But in doing so, he used the writings of an 18th century German nun, Anne Catherine Emmerich, as the basis, and this resulted in the inclusion of some problematic elements. Her Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the product of a pious but overworked imagination, and reflects both misunderstanding and ignorance of Scripture and unquestioning acceptance of antisemitic assumptions that prevailed among Catholics of the era. Her "visions" are so much a part of this movie that it would be fair to say it is a movie of her book, not of the Gospels.
Well, double dittos for Bill. I don't think Bill is intentionally setting out to excoriate anything that's authentically and devotionally Catholic. Rather, I think we can accept Bill's explanation that he wants to blog about the meaning of Catholicism for us. But in doing so, Bill's tactics and orientations result in the inclusion of some problematic elements, such as telling us to be afraid lest we end up going to confession and daily mass. I think Bill's perspective on the film and its admirers might be the product of a pious but overworked imagination, which reflects both his misunderstandings about the nature of Catholic devotionalism and his unquestioning acceptance of some shallow anti-traditionalist notions that prevail among Catholics of our era. His visions about that are so integral to his criticism that sometimes it's fair to say his critiques are vindications of his own preferred way to live Catholicism and not actually criticisms of Mel Gibson's movie.

I think that's why Bill hasn't stopped to consider how someone might get a tad agitated when they're told that faithful Catholics -- the ones who follow the magisterium and so dislike Gibson's film -- need to be afraid of their rosaries and of experiencing "profound sadness" (NB: Not "intense desire to kill Jews") after watching The Passion. Bill's overheated imagination, which doesn't acknowledge any other frame of reference for the film, has been recklessly slathering The Passion and its admirers with a mile-wide brush of tar since Day One, suggesting over and over again that anyone who approves of The Passion is likely an anti-Semite or at least comfortable with anti-Semitism; won't mind infidelity to the Gospels; and aren't being faithful to the magisterium. Bill's had a number of visions identifying positive reactions to The Passion with people who believe in world zionist conspiracies and UFOs, the SSPX, Robert Sungenis, and Aztek revanchists. More recently, Bill's revealed that people who find The Passion wonderful do so because they enjoy pornographic depictions of violence.

Bill's vision is so powerful that he can't recognize the effect such criticism has on Catholics who don't experience the same problems with the film as he does. Over and over again, by Bill and a host of other critics, Catholics are being told that to approve of, or be moved by, The Passion is to enjoy anti-Semitism, infidelity to the Gospels, and disobedience to the Church. It's not the work of Satan, but only of human nature, that such a relentless inquisitorial barrage tempts people to see something demonic in a litmus test for Catholicity that requires both disgust at Gibson's "pornographic" movie and an apparently-equal disdain for masses, lenten penitence, retreats, and devotion to the Sacred Heart. Ms. Nicolosi got tempted, and said so in another post.

And of course Bill, running true to form, tells us it's just more proof that The Passion's admirers are a dangerous and frightening bunch of UFO-believing, Aztek-feather-wearing, SSPX-Jew-hating morons. Who's been guilty of demonizing, Bill? Is it just the Feeneyite, Faheyite, Kristallnacht pornography-junkies who think The Passion is one of the best Christian films ever made?

In case the answer isn't clear, let's try Bill's modus operandi on him and see how easily a pious and overactive imagination can make it work. We can start by linking to a website critical of The Passion like this one, and quote it, just like Bill quoted the anti-Semitic screed on the UFO-believer's website:
As you can see Jim Caviezel is very Roman Catholic. This man is totally devoted to the worship of Mary. He loves the abomination of the Eucharist where Jesus is supposedly turned into bread and then eaten by Catholics. He went with Mel to the sacrifice of the Mass every day. This is where Jesus is re-sacrificed again for the sins of the people. This sacrifice is done in a bloodless manner on the alters of Roman Catholicism. The reason it is done is Romanism does not believe the sacrifice on the cross was sufficient payment for all sins. Instead, the Lord Jesus is sacrificed again in each and every Catholic mass for the sins of the people. Jim also mentioned in the above interview that he kept a charm or a relic on his body for supposed blessings. Witches and occultists use charms and tailsmen but Catholic's uses relics (i.e. so called pieces of the cross etc). Finally, Jim carried his rosary daily.
That's step one. Step two is rhetorically winking at the audience: "Like a certain blogger (NAMED BILL CORK) this critic also doesn't like the passion. Funny how anti-Catholicism and resistance to the film seem to go hand and hand -- at least in some places." We could go on and quote other fruitcakes who don't like the film such as this one:
"What are your thoughts and feelings on this upcoming Catholic movie? Isn't it just another step towards one world religion? The signs and wonders that have been happening on the set and many people turning to Catholicism. Why would a discerning Christian want to see this movie and why are so many churches and prominent Christian leaders promoting this catholic movie? How confused could a lost person be after viewing this and then be susceptible to apostate teaching?"
Why, if we agreed with Bill Cork we'd soon believe that Catholicisim is the Antichrist religion of the End Time!!! If Bill can choose anti-Semites and UFO-fantasists who like The Passion to represent all the reasons why anyone would really like it, surely we can say that anti-Catholic nut-cases who dislike The Passion represent anyone who think it's a spiritually-dangerous film. We can generalize just like Bill does and say that everyone who criticizes this film hates Catholicism. Haven't we just proved it by quoting people who, like Bill Cork, don't like The Passion and hate Catholicism? All we need now is for Bill to blog a few approving words about Dignitatis Humanae and Taize-style ecumenism, and we can let our overheated imaginations get us to crap all over that at the same time.

Bill's crusade against The Passion, like most of the criticism he cites, takes the unfortunate tack of proposing that a faithful Catholic can only see the film as bad and unwholesome. He was among the first at St. Blogs' to claim he knew whose side the devils of hatred, schism, and heterodoxy were on. He ought to be among the last people at St. Blogs' to complain when someone else says they know better.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Courtesy of Dappled Things . . .


You're not the fool everyone takes you for. You put on a show to stay under the radar. Underneath your bumbling exterior, you are a shrewd and calculating person. You don't enjoy being in the spotlight, but you can take charge if absolutely neccessary. But trust no one, not even your best friend, because you never know who might betray you.

You were portrayed by Derek Jacobi.
Which I, Claudius Character are You? created by
Shiny Objects
Now this is a Good Thing

Kenny Ignatius Augustine visited my blog the other day and left a link to his own blog. I met Kenny back on Steve Ray's Catholic Converts Message Board before -- as Shawn McElhinney deftly terms it -- the Novus Boardo revision that put it in EZ-Board format. We used to call him "KIA" -- which is his initials, but it's also short for "Killed in Action" and a car company of the same name. Kenny is from Singapore. One of the reasons he's interesting to know is that he converted from a non-Christian culture, whereas most of us are familiar only with Catholics who converted from other Christian traditions. So Kenny and I are a lot alike, since we both converted from "paganism" -- except his paganism was ancient and civilized, whereas mine was on television. You can read his conversion story here. I'd recommend making Kenny's blog a frequent stop -- he's writing about theology as a science, the war in Iraq, Christian doings in Singapore, and all sorts of other interesting topics. I'm going to add a link here on the Dossier.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

My Second-Favorite Professor Inspires A Multiple-Choice Test:

It's making the rounds, so I'll put it here. David Kubiak comments on Mel Gibson's interview at Open Book:
I have always believed: that there is a certain kind of Catholic (mostly male and mostly heterosexual), acutely aware of his own sinfulness, for whom AmChurch will just never get the job done. If there had been no old rite to come back to I think Gibson would have jumped out that window he talked about. There should be much to ponder in this phenomenon for the leaders of our Church. The kind of Catholicism that brought a Hollywood superstar to his knees does not include Fr. Bob and his Eucharistic harem.
David's pithy reference to the Permanent-But-Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist aside, he's right. What happens when a man in this condition sees Fr. Mulcahy flanked by two altar girls and five members of the Ladies' Priesthood Auxiliary Society, after having delivered a seven-minute homily which attempts to immanentize the velveteen rabbit's eschaton amidst a fountain of gush about God's soft, complete and nonjudgmental niceness? The man will do one of three things:

A). Conclude there's no way this religion could redeem someone like him.

B). Conclude that redemption is, however unlikely, not something worth bothering about.

C). Look at his watch.

D). All of the above.
Do you know what men need? They need to do what Robert DeNiro's character in The Mission did -- something strenuous, and cathartic, penitential, and utterly challenging. They need to have the faith Jeremy Irons' character in The Mission had -- so totally and utterly Catholic that they'd march straight into bullets for it. There's gonna be a lot of unhappy men who, having watched The Passion, find themselves back among the altar girls listening to gender-inclusive Scripture readings and invitations to "reflect, this Lent, on how we might be more open to God's calling." If you want a preview of what's going to happen go start your car, leave it in park, and redline the engine.
Oh, What I Wouldn't Give for a Candidate with Only One Face.

Reporting on John Kerry's anti-war book, CNS News shows us how John Kerry can eat his conscientious-objector cake and still have it pinned to his chest:
In the book's epilogue, which begins on page 158, Kerry sums up his views on the war by writing, "We were sent to Vietnam to kill Communism. But we found instead that we were killing women and children." Kerry served in Vietnam, receiving three Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star."
So I guess John Kerry must have killed a lot of women and children, right? I mean, most of the men who served in Vietnam -- by, according to Kerry's book, "creat[ing] a nation of refugees, bomb craters, amputees, orphans, widows, and prostitutes" -- didn't get medals for their atrocities. Kerry must have been way ahead of the pack when it came to collecting ears and running tabs at Vietnamese brothels. Makes you wonder how Caly screwed up -- he killed lots of Vietnamese women and children, and they court-martialed him. He must have been lax when it came to bomb-cratering, is my guess.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

It's been a good time!

Today was a pretty cool day for the Dossier. Since I started keeping it at the end of 9/03, we've had lots of visits -- broke 30,000 page views today, and have had 22,146 visits as well. Thanks to Dale Price, Mark Shea, Rerum Novarum, and all the other blogs who've linked here!

The percentage of readers from educational institutions has never broken 7%, which is (given the state of educational institutions) a good sign. There's some folks in England (or France, Spain, Mali, Algeria, Niger, Ghana, or Burkina Faso -- it depends on where they really are on the time-zone line) who visit regularly, as well as people in New Zealand and Australia. I say "Hello!" to them and am glad they're here.

42 people have subscribed using the little form on the left of the screen. I haven't sent any of them spam for discount prescriptions or emails about how I have $60 BILLION USDOLLARS from Mr. the late Wagambe Osotho's estate which is now in bonded diplomatic pouch courrier office and which I can send them for Christian charitable mission purposes. That's good too.

I'm also proud and abashed that the Dossier's been voted "Most Insightful Blog" over at the first (?) annual St. Blog's Awards. I can't wait to get one of those really cool Fr. Sibley statuettes. Congratulations to all the winners and nominees, and thanks to everyone who voted for the Dossier!

So this is a good day to realize that Lent is coming. I like Lent as a time of holy and penitential stillness, and my blogging is not conducive to that. So as much as I enjoy the stressful joy of writing blogs, I'm looking forward to a little penitential normalcy -- especially since, as my blog on The Passion and related issues proves, my writing for blogging is getting a bit out of hand . . . .

I won't say that I'm going to stop blogging during lent. I tried that once, and ended up as SecretAgentMan. But that's my goal, and anyhow I'm going to blog a lot less than I have been until Easter.

Oh, we've had some more interesting visitors via Google and similar services. Here's what they asked, and what I said to ‘em when they got here:
"the secret agenda of the council of Trent" Well, it was obvious in hindsight: Sedevacantists and SSPX-sympathizers worked behind the scenes to undermine the papacy!

"kjv agenda British secret" I don't see how.

flake v/s bruce lee Uh . . . . I'm stumped.

conqueror and john-wayne and torture This review is as terse as it is excellent.

"amish forsaken electricity" Yes, but as I pointed out, they use their inbred powers of telekinesis.

"pleasure seeking pain avoiding" I wonder how long he stayed?

"the professor's commentary on pipe tobacco" Great website.

"secrent agent stuff" Sorny, wen don'nt hanve anny.

Finally, two hits that will be of interest to my second-favorite Traditionalist Blogger!!!!

"Rafiq Hariri masonic"
"masonic difference kofc"

God bless everyone! Have a holy Lent!
The Passion, the Jews, and the Teaching of Contempt

News of Mel Gibson's film, The Passion, immediately sparked concern among Jews and Christians about a revival of anti-Semitism. Gibson's odd religious position, obscure opinions, and powerful position in Hollywood's media elite (some $25 million of his own money was used in the production of the film) fueled concern about the character and content of passion play. But anyone with a cursory knowledge of Catholic history realizes that such concerns are justified no matter who is producing a film about our Lord's death.

A few weeks ago, Bill Cork's blog, Ut Unum Sint, linked to a story about the alleged martyrdom of Simon of Trent. It is worth reading:
The Jews of this town wanted to celebrate the Passover in their own way . . . During the Holy week on the day before Passover, about three hours after supper, the little boy, like children do, was sitting in front of his parents' house. Neither his father nor mother were home at the time. It was at this time that the Jew Tobias approached the child, who was not quite 30 months old, and while speaking kindly, picked him up and carried him at once to the house of the Jew Samuel.

When night fell, the twin brothers Saligman and Samuel, with Tobias, Vitalis (Veitel), Moses, Israel and Mayr, undressed the little boy and unmercifully butchered him. While Moses strangled him with a handkerchief as he lay across Samuel's knee, pieces of flesh from his neck were cut with a knife and the blood collected in a bowl. At the same time, they punctured the naked offering with needles and murmured Hebrew curses. They then cut pieces of flesh from the boy's arm and legs and collected the blood in pots. Finally the torturers imitated the crucifixion by holding the twitching body upside down and the arms outstretched and during this horrible act they spoke the following: "Take this, crucified Jesus. Just as our forefathers did once, so may all Christians by land and sea perish." They then rushed to their meal. When the child had died they threw his body in the river which flowed by their house. After this, they joyously celebrated Passover.
Today, stories such as this one are found mostly on schismatic or sedevacantist websites.[1] In former times, however, they formed a staple of Catholic belief about Jews and Judaism.

That older belief, as the ever-helpful Society of St. Pius X tells us, is that because "the Jews" rejected and killed Jesus they are "a people unfaithful to God and therefore abandoned (cursed) by Him." The Society's website quotes the great Doctor of the Church, St. Alphonsus Ligouri: "Poor Jews! You invoked a dreadful curse upon your own heads; and that curse[,] miserable race, you carry upon you to this day, and to the End of Time you shall endure the chastisement of that innocent blood!" [2]

Like all beliefs, this hateful theology underwent many permutations. It generated its own weird logic that supported belief in martyrdom stories like Simon's. As the representation of Jesus' Passover sacrifice was central to Christianity, it was assumed to be equally central to Judaism. So the Triduum found an unholy counterpart in Passover rituals during which Jews, in obedience to their laws, crucified and consumed a Christian child in persona Christi. It was popularly believed that the child's blood was used to make matzoh, unleavened bread eaten at Passover, thus adding a blasphemous counterpart to the Mass. But the belief's permutations can't be appreciated by consigning them to the realm of ignorant folklore.

The Jews named in the account of Simon's martyrdom were real people. Seventeen of them "confessed" to his murder under torture or the threat of torture. Fifteen were burned to death. So the libel of one death created a tragedy of ruined families, orphaned children, and scorched bodies. But it was not the libel of one death. It was the libel of a people. As long as the people endured, the libel would endure with them, a widening circle of disregard, mistrust, and hatred that would come to embrace every Jew in the world as it had embraced Simon's alleged murderers.

"And to the End of Time you shall endure the chastisement of that innocent blood!" The more frequently Christians thought of Jews as "a people unfaithful to God" and "abandoned (cursed) by Him," it became easy for them to regard the Jews as outlaws who has despised the Gospel of true human society from their own devious and evil motives. In medieval times it was sometimes held that one could not do injustice to an outlaw, for his own conduct had exempted him from the law which would have given him a claim to justice. The idea that "the Jews" were not part of a common human society, that they were abandoned and cursed by God, metastasized into a blight that occluded Christendom's conscience and paralyzed its attempts to fight evil. Fr. Martin Rohnheimer writes about the terrible fruit of this false theology in his essay "The Holocaust: What Was Not Said":
Even though the racist anti-Semitism of the Nazis and Christian anti-Judaism or Christian anti-Semitism differ fundamentally and are even mutually incompatible, the precondition that made the Nazis' racial anti-Semitism (which led in turn to Auschwitz) even conceivable was the heritage of traditional anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Together they created what Steven Theodore Katz, Director of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Boston, has called the "terrifying otherness" of the Jews, thus stigmatizing and demonizing them. Traditional Christian anti-Judaism was the breeding ground for what Jules Isaac has called "the teaching of contempt." Without this contempt modern racism would never have been able to forge its alliance with enmity toward Jews and anti-Semitism.[3]
Passion plays were integral parts of this culture. In the older Oberammergau Passion, priests and Jewish leaders were costumed in "outlandish robes and hats with horns, signifying alliance with the Devil," while "Jesus and his disciples were dressed normally, their Jewish heritage obscured." [4]

So it's entirely understandable, even welcome, for a high-profile retelling of the passion to be examined by all quarters so that these evil myths and false theologies, which has for so long afflicted Christendom, not be fanned into the searing flame which had burned in times past, consuming the fifteen Jews of Trent, or the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The dialogue, however, is a painful blessing by which we can become better acquainted with the precarious nature of Christian - Jewish relations. Below are some thoughts about that mixed blessing.

Lenses and the Passion

The essential charge of anti-Semitism is summed up by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which complains that at "every single opportunity, Mr. Gibson's film reinforces the notion that the Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob are the ones ultimately responsible for the Crucifixion."[5] Similarly, Bill Cork's list of The Passion's anti-Semitic elements is a comparison of the film's events with a supposedly-realistic account of Jesus' death in which the Jews play a less imperative role.[6] Mr. Foxman's and Mr. Cork's voices are hardly unique. Critics of The Passion dwell repeatedly, almost exclusively, on demonstrating the film's anti-Semitism with examples of how Gibson's story line shows Jesus being crucified and Jews playing an indispensable role in His crucifixion.

But to an exclusively Christian perspective, this limited focus is very unhelpful and wrong-headed. Christianity doesn't limit the question of "ultimate responsibility" for Jesus' death to the movement from Gethsemene to Calvary. But the film's critics often seem to expect Christians to judge The Passion anti-Semitic simply because it follows episodes taken straight from the Gospels. Bill Cork's claim to have found anti-Semitic elements in the film can serve to illustrate the difference in perspectives. Below is Mr. Cork's description of some of the film's anti-Semitic content together with its Gospel counterparts:
Various witnesses make various accusations.
"And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none. For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together." Mark 14:55-56.
"Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee?" Matthew 26:59-62.
But they get from Jesus the confession that he is the Son of God, and Caiaphas rips his robes and declares it blasphemy.
"But Jesus held his peace. And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy." Matthew 26:63-65.
The priests take turns hitting and spitting on Jesus.
"Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death. Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands, Saying, Prophesy unto us, thou Christ, Who is he that smote thee?" Matthew 26:65-68
"Pilate decides to have Jesus beaten, thinking this will satisfy the Jews. . . . . In the courtyard of the Praetorium, the temple guards push forward—and are beaten back by the Romans. The Jews demand his crucifixion.
"Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified." Mark 15:15

"Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, Let him be crucified. And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it. . . . Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified." Matthew 27:22-26.[7]
From these criticisms it's difficult to avoid concluding that when a dramatist follows the Gospels in depicting Jesus' death, he so taints his work with anti-Semitism that anything else must be seen in that light, no matter how unreasonable that light may be.

For example, Bill Cork finds anti-Semitism in the film because it takes artistic license so that the "beating of Jesus begins immediately upon his arrest, contrary to the Gospels. He is wrapped in chains, and at one point thrown off a bridge."[8] This isn't a well-founded criticism: Only by the most radical application of sola scriptura can one suggest it's contrary to the Gospels to depict Jesus being wrapped in chains: "Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him" John 18:12. Neither Gibson, nor most Christians, subscribe to a radical view of 1 Cor. 4:6 that finds sin whenever men's imaginations add details which are not explicitly proven by the text of Scripture.[9]

As to the other elements in this episode, the Gospel of Matthew says the High Priest's soldiers "laid hold on Jesus"[10] and so does the Gospel of Mark.[11] Luke suggests that these same guards later beat Jesus in the High Priest's house.[12] Jesus Himself described the band which came to arrest Him as men who anticipated a confrontation with a dangerous felon: "And Jesus answered and said unto them, Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and with staves to take me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not: but the scriptures must be fulfilled."[13] Anyone who has in the past decade watched surreptitiously-taken video recordings of police arrests, or learned of the brutality directed at Abner Louima,[14] has been shocked by the violence and ruthlessness which police officers can direct at (real or perceived) malefactors. Is it anti-Semitic to portray Jews as capable of the same rough violence?

Moreover, there are distinctly-Christian artistic concerns which can support the reasonable amount of license taken in this part of Gibson's film. It doesn't require a lot of experience with literary conventions to see in Jesus' bondage an allegory to the slavery of man to sin and death. One can make a more daring symbolic foray by recalling that Pontifex is Latin for "Bridge Builder." It thus came to mean "priest" in Latin, and the word appears today in one of the Pope's titles ("Pontifex Maximus"). The reasoning behind this usage is simple -- the priest builds a bridge between worlds, establishing a path by which men and God may commune. Is Jesus' chain-wrapped descent from the bridge a crude exercise in Jew-hating, or an allegory to Fall which simultaneously refers to His priestly task of restoring the path on which men and God can again walk in friendship?

As we can see, the lens through which these events are viewed will alter how we address the propriety of any aspect of The Passion. We can hardly wonder that criticism of the film dwells solely on its depiction of the movement from Gethsemene to Calvary. That is the movement Mr. Gibson has chosen for the bulk of his film. Criticism of The Passion can only respond to his choice. But we should realize that the film's events aren't being discussed in a vacuum. Like Mr. Foxman's question of "ultimate responsibility," charges of anti-Semitism must take us far beyond the screen on which The Passion appears.

The critics admit this by frequently going past the film itself in framing their judgments. For example, they expect us to measure Gibson's film against a whole history of passion-plays that dates back some seven hundred years, and a history of Christian anti-Semitism which dates back to Constantine if not before. History and modern culture is also frequently used to condemn the film. Many, for example, of The Passion's critics are eager to demand our hostility because of the ugly views Mel Gibson's father has about the Holocaust and terrorist attacks on New York City. Likewise, the ADL believes its claim that The Passion "will fuel hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism" is proved by publishing anti-Semitic, pro-Passion hate mail -- even though none of the authors claim to have seen the film and despite the fact that the anti-Semitism they express existed long before Mel Gibson was born.[15] It's not unfair of The Passion's critics to set the film's narrative within broader cultural, theological, and historical context from which anti-Semitic significance is derived. Art is a meeting of minds; the significance of a film depends as much on what the audience brings with it as it does on the intention of the film's producers. But when opponents of the film rely, as they do, on a single context and suggest this context is the only ones available to a Christian audience, they produce an invitation to Christian-Jewish dialogue which is ill-advised, grossly unfair, and ultimately counterproductive.

All Roads Lead to Rome.

As noted, the largest amount of hostility directed at The Passion is provoked by its depiction of the arrest, accusation, and trial of Jesus. The main theme is that Pontius Pilate, and not the Jews of Jesus' day, should be given the lion's share of responsibility for the crucifixion. According to an article in the Resource Manual produced in response to the film by the American Jewish Committee:
The role of Pontius Pilate is often a test of a Passion Play's treatment of Jews and Judaism. If the Roman Governor of Judea is portrayed as a weak, indecisive leader who is controlled by the High Priest, it always follows that "the Jews" accused will be depicted as the conniving villains of the play. Instead, Pilate (the only person specifically mentioned regarding the death of Jesus in the Christian Nicene Creed) should be accurately shown to be the ruthless bloody ruler he was. He was neither a weakling nor a pawn of the High Priest. He represented the brutal Roman occupation in a harsh way.[16]
As with the ADL's phrase "ultimate responsibility," this paragraph contains some problematic appreciations of Christian thinking. It is quite correct for the AJC to condemn passion plays in which the Gentiles are symbolically exonerated of Jesus' death in the person of Pontius Pilate, who is portrayed variously as a good man or a moral cypher who is overwhelmed by the unstoppable power of a sinister Jewish conspiracy. Emphasizing Pilate's idolatrous cruelty in service to the pagan state is a crucial element of the passion. But does the specter of anti-Semitism require a play to depict Jesus as the victim of nothing other than the Roman Empire?

The materials incorporated into the AJC's Resource Manual support that conclusion. Above, the materials suggest fidelity to the Nicene Creed requires Christians to view the passion as the work of Pontius Pilate. The document from the U.S. Bishop's Committee appended to the Manual agrees that the Nicene Creed -- and the Council of Trent -- require that accounts of the passion avoid the question of anyone's responsibility except Pontius Pilate's:
In this guilt are involved all those who fall frequently into sin; for, as our sins consigned Christ the Lord to the death of the cross, most certainly those who wallow in sin and iniquity crucify to themselves again the Son of God. . . . This guilt seems more enormous in us than in the Jews since, if they had known it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory; while we, on the contrary, professing to know him, yet denying him by our actions, seem in some sort to lay violent hands on him (Catechism of the Council of Trent).

The central creeds of the Church focus precisely on this theological message, without reference to the extremely complex historical question of reconstructing what various individuals might have done or not done. Only Pilate is mentioned, as the person with sole legal responsibility for the case: "He was also crucified for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate and was buried" (Nicene Creed). This fact gives a certain hermeneutic guidance for the use of various materials from the Gospel passion narratives in a dramatic context.[17]
While the Catechism's observations are a magnificent statement of mankind's guilt for the death of Jesus, one with much potential for depictions of the passion and for Jewish-Christian relations, they cannot provide "hermeneutic guidance" by which we can conclude that "only" Pilate should be held accountable (or even primarily accountable) for Jesus' death without creating a great deal of irreconcilable tension between our beliefs, the Gospel, and the teachings of the Church. We are guilty of crucifying our Lord in our sins because, among other things, we have Moses and the Prophets which testify to Him. So did the Jews of His day; He even said that Moses would accuse those who rejected Him [18] and therefore those who handed Him into Pilate's grasp had the "greater sin." [19].

Mindful of these facts, the Catechism of Trent did not erect a "guiding hermeneutic" that points only to Pontius Pilate as the author of Jesus' death. Its sweeping statement is prefaced by a more particular judgment:
"[T]o increase the dignity of this mystery, Christ not only suffered for sinners, but even for those who were the very authors and ministers of all the torments He endured. Of this the Apostle reminds us in these words addressed to the Hebrews: Think diligently upon him that endured such opposition from sinners against himself; that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds."[20]
One has a hard time following the U.S. Bishops' "guiding hermeneutic" to the conclusion that the "authors and ministers" of His suffering are only Pontius Pilate, his advisors, and his soldiers.

Nevertheless, the AJC's Resource Manual follows the "guiding hermeneutic" to just this conclusion, (and just this same conflict) by providing even more materials which require Pontius Pilate to play the sole villain:
Anyone who composes a script for a dramatic presentation of the death of Jesus must draw upon four distinct passion narratives in the four Gospels in the New Testament. One cannot assume that by simply conforming to the New Testament that anti-Semitism will not be promoted. After all, for centuries sermons and passion plays based on the New Testament have incited Christian animosity and violence toward Jews. This history prompted Pope John Paul II to pray publicly for God's forgiveness for such Christian wrongdoing.

Since Catholic teaching makes clear that the Gospels are not simply historical transcripts, these kinds of questions must be considered when devising a dramatic script:
How will the proposed script select from the major differences among the four passion narratives? Will it take unique elements that in each Gospel minimize Roman responsibility and combine them into one cumulative denunciation of Jewish characters?

Example: Will the proposed script take Pilate washing his hands of the Jesus question (found only in Matthew) and combine it with Pilate having Jesus whipped to try to release him (found only in John) and combine that with Herod Antipas being unwilling to condemn Jesus (found only in Luke)?[21]
The "Roman Catholic professors" who produced this guide are right that the Gospels are not "simply transcripts." They do not record every breath, every word, every movement. But to the Christian mind they are nonetheless "historical." Pilate did attempt to wash his hands of guilt for Jesus' death. Pilate did have Jesus beaten as part of a indifferent, half-hearted attempt to avoid killing Him. One wonders why including these events automatically turns Pilate into a tool of Caiaphas; they seem to bolster the AJC's own preference that Pilate be depicted as "the ruthless bloody ruler he was."

Moreover, Herod Antipas was a Jew, albeit a bad one. Why should a depiction of his refusal to kill Jesus be regarded as anti-Semitic? No doubt because Herod's authority was political, and not religious. The episode would therefore conflict with the U.S. Bishops' "guiding hermeneutic," namely that the passion of Jesus resulted from only two causes -- a universal and indistinguishable human moral guilt, and the secular evil of the Roman Empire. The Resource Manual continues:
Will the proposed script be informed by the best historic knowledge currently available?

Example: Will the undisputed historic fact that Caiaphas the high priest relied on Pilate's good will to retain his position as leader of the Temple be made clear in the proposed script? Or will the high priest be depicted as intimidating or bullying a weak and spineless Pilate, contrary to historical evidence that Pilate was not slow to use violence to maintain Roman order? Will the script make clear that Imperial Rome ruled Jewish lands, and that Rome brutally crucified many persons during its rule?[22]
It's truly objectionable to portray Pilate as a "weak and spineless" puppet manipulated by an intimidating and bullying Caiaphas. But even "the best historic knowledge currently available," something often (and oddly) confused with the most recent and trendy theses, will not change the fact that Rome's relationship with conquered peoples was characterized by a delicate balance between the appearance of Roman power and the reality of local animosity.[23] Can the erroneous depiction of a "Gentile-absolving Pilate" only be remedied by depicting Caiaphas as the weak and spineless agent of an intimidating and bullying Roman governor? By suggesting that Pilate has such total power that he is oblivious to local pressures and tensions and so does not have Jesus beaten to placate angry Jews nor attempt to wash his hands of Jesus' death?

That picture will intensify if the U.S. Bishop's depiction of Catholic teaching is followed with respect to portrayals of Jews' involvement in the crucifixion:
Will the proposed script enlarge upon Gospel episodes in order to intensify the drama?

Example: Will those Jewish individuals who demand Jesus' crucifixion, whose numbers none of the Gospels specify, be portrayed as a few dozen people led by the Temple leaders, or as a Cecile [sic] B. DeMille-like cast of thousands? Will incidents in the Gospels describing Jesus as struck by Jewish individuals be turned into Jesus being beaten nearly to death by them?[24]
This quotation provides a good example of the whiplash criticism to which The Passion has been subjected. If, as has been suggested by Bill Cork and others, Mel Gibson abuses the Gospel by depicting Jesus being bound in chains or thrown from a bridge when the Gospel includes no such information, how can we judge Gibson's film according to how accurately it depicts a crowd whose numbers are unknown? Scripture says that a "multitude" urged His death.[25] Apparently that number is very small, because when The Passion depicts the crowd at Caiaphas' house, which Luke refers to as "the whole multitude,"[26] Bill Cork finds proof of the film's anti-Semitism in the fact that "maybe 100 people" are gathered there.[27]

What is a "multitude" of people? Luke thought that the crowd fed by the miracle of the loaves and fishes was a "multitude," and they numbered about 5,000 men.[28] Mark said that number constituted "much people."[29] Matthew says they were a "multitude,"[30] and John says they were "a great multitude."[31] The U.S. Bishops are right, Scripture contains no set number for the multitude which urged Pilate to put Jesus to death. But 100 is certainly too small a number, and how many thousands would transgress the "Cecil B. DeMille limit" supposedly imposed on the Catholic conscience by the Magisterium and Nostra Aetate? The Bishops do not say that, either. What they do say is that the number must be small, and that too many people would both oppose Scripture and the teaching of the Church.

This "test" also displays a blithe disregard for the fact that most of the people who watch a passion play are likely to be Christians and that many of them are likely to believe in Christianity. Christianity says that Jesus is perfect God and perfect man. As such, any violence directed at Him is objectively an injustice and sacrilege. Is the anti-Semitism which supposedly throbs beneath the polite surface of Christianity going to be allayed by showing Jewish individuals mishandling God "just a little bit"? As counsel which attempts to allay anti-Semitism by moderation, this "test" is silly. It makes much more sense as counsel which tries to allay anti-Semitism by a revision of the Gospel story that focuses everyone's attention on a Roman governor and his soldiers.

Popular vilifications of Gibson's film have distilled the U.S. Bishops' "guiding hermeneutic" quite well. In letters to The Weekly Standard and Slate Rabbi Eugene Korn, the ADL's Director of Interfaith Affairs, gives us some ground rules for presenting a proper passion play during his castigation of Gibson's movie:
[Journalist Steven] Waldman claims that the "Jews did kill Jesus." No scholar, historian or informed reader of Christian scriptures makes such an absurd statement. Jews never crucified anyone, since crucifixion was a Roman punishment for the political crime of sedition against the Roman Empire.[32] . . . .

A central motif that is graphically repeated throughout the film is that the Jewish religious authorities and the Jewish mob . . . force the decision of crucifixion on an unwilling Pilate. . . . New Testament experts know this message of the film to be both historical fantasy and bad theology.[33]
Likewise, Professor Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University Divinity School presents criticisms which suggest the outline of a correct passion play. She says such a play will explain that "Jesus died on a Roman cross on the Roman charge of sedition -- Jesus was not killed by ‘the Jews' but by ‘the state'" because other portrayal results in the anti-Semitism which made Pontius Pilate "a saint in some Christian traditions while Jews have been vilified, ghettoized, and murdered."[34]

The result of these "tests" advice is not a balance, or even an accurate adjustment, of the roles played by Jews and Romans in the Crucifixion. Instead, the result is a warped picture of Jesus being condemned to death amidst a few dozens of lukewarm Jewish onlookers by a Roman governor who, for mysterious reasons known only to himself, is hotly and boldly determined to kill Jesus on his own authority. What possible reason could critics of The Passion have for imposing this reinterpreted Gospel story on the Christian conscience?


In a letter to The Palm Beach Post, Mr. Foxman of the ADL stressed the eschatological dimension of the passion story as a root cause of anti-Semitism among Christians:
Historically, Passion Plays often were used as ways to teach the tenets of Christian faith. In doing so, they often have pitted Jesus against the forces of evil and the Jewish community that rejected him. Passion plays historically unleashed the torrents of hatred aimed at the Jews, who always were depicted as being in partnership with the devil and the reason for Jesus' death. (emphasis supplied) [35]
Again, one must pause to note the "whiplash" criticism being directed at Gibson's film. Mr. Foxman criticizes The Passion as part of a tradition that incites anti-Semitism by depicting the Jews involved in Jesus' crucifixion as partners of Satan.[36] But Bill Cork tells us that Gibson's film is anti-Semitic because it doesn't suggest a satanic alliance: "The Romans are egged on by Satan, wandering through the crowd -- the Jews need no such encouragement."[37] How can any passion story avoid the charge of anti-Semitism when it's evaluated by such criticism? The answer is simple. A passion play can avoid anti-Semitism by not suggesting that Jesus' life and death involved a confrontation with the forces of evil. Such a play, however, would not be Christian at all.

In the Book of Genesis God says to Satan: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel."[38] To the Christian this can only be a prophecy of Jesus who, by restoring man to grace, has reintroduced the enmity between man and Hell originally forfeited by Adam's capitulation to the Devil in Eden. The Book of Revelation tells us Satan desired to kill Jesus, forcing His mother to flee into the wilderness and God's protection. In this we see a direct revelation about the Holy Family's flight into Egypt, where they escaped the slaughter of the innocents which Herod ordered in the hope that a rival to his kingdom would be eliminated.[39] Unlike the inexplicable, isolated enmity of Pilate urged for the passion story by the U.S. Bishop's, Christianity regards the alliance between Herod's fears and Satan's aims as inevitable because Herod, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, and the rest suffered under a prideful, satanic separation of God and man which cannot tolerate the idea of Jesus Christ as King.

Herod feared His kingship. Pilate feared it, because his world had no king but Caesar. Caiaphas and the Jewish leadership feared it, because they believed the tumult caused by Jesus' career would cause the Romans to destroy the nation and the priesthood. Whether they knew Him as God did not matter, for He is God, and His presence upset all calculations, overturned all interests, and struck an inevitable fear them because, like all men, the hardness of a fallen world had become a way of life and its own reason for living. This is why Luke tells us the day Pilate sent Jesus to the Cross was "the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together,"[40] because their mutual servitude to the Fall made their political and national differences less significant. Jesus was pitted against the forces of evil. This is the Gospel, and suggesting that this idea contains an anti-Semitic message does no good service.

Yet the suggestion is clearly made in the critics' theologically-clumsy denunciations of the The Passion's incitement to regard the Jews of Jesus' day as involved in deicide, the "killing of God." Mr. Foxman writes:
"If Mr. Gibson's Passion reaches theaters . . . with its clear placing of blame for deicide on Jews, the ramifications . . . of this film will reach far beyond Hollywood, with the potential to adversely affect years of progress in Catholic-Jewish relations and the possibility that it will fuel new anti-Semitism."[41]
Frank Rich, writing in the International Herald-Tribune, repeats the suggestion, summarizing numerous critical opinions that The Passion levels "the deicide charge against Jews . . . because the film clearly presents the Jews as the primary instigators of the crucifixion." [42] Given what one has already encountered in "tests" for anti-Semitism that can only be passed by showing Pontius Pilate as the sole guilty party in Jesus' death, it is again difficult to avoid the conclusion that Gospel narrative is an anti-Semitic story. But we go beyond this when critics introduce the victim's theological identity as another aspect of The Passion's supposed ability to incite anti-Semitism.

Deicide is a Latin phrase akin to "homicide." It means the murder of God. It is the "third rail" of the debate about The Passion, a living presence of such power that it is constantly threatening to erupt in ardent and mutual denunciations. Even if the Gospels' are anti-Semitic, their significance would instantly vanish without their claim that the victim whose death they record is God Himself. Without that claim, what any Jew did or did not do on that fateful Friday could at most be just one more injustice in the long history of human failure, and perhaps not even that. That was a hard and different age when the presence of a prominent rebel, a lunatic or a malevolent blasphemer could not be tolerated or met with a different, non-violent, response. If Jews caused the execution only of such a man, they could have done no more than the Athenians did to Socrates. But no one execrates "the Greeks" for killing Socrates. If the Jews of Jesus' day had only participated in a similar episode, Christendom (if it ever came into existence) could not have tolerated and encouraged the belief that "the Jews" are an evil race, cursed through time because they are at war with God, eschatological "out-laws" to whom no wrong could be done by those within the law. Seen in that context, it is understandable why a film which portrays any Jew participating in the killing of a divine Jesus is offensive, even menacing.

It is understandable, but only if one looks at the matter from outside Christianity, from a universe in which there is only the God of Sinai who thunders at Job from the whirlwind, a God who cannot become a man and cannot suffer death. Seen from that universe, it is bad enough that men may believe Jesus was God. Given a history dominated by Christian hatred, persecution, and murder, one would easily think it even worse that men should believe a divine Jesus was killed by Jews. In 2002 Elie Weisel spoke to the ADL's Conference on Global Anti-Semitism. Addressing himself to the definition of anti-Semitism and its place in Jewish history, Weisel spoke about anti-Semitism among French literary figures of the 1930s:
Of course, the language had to do with it. Every Sunday they would hear in church certain words that were deicide, little did it matter that deicide means one thing, even if what they wanted to say meant another.

Deicide means that the Jews killed God. As if God can be killed. So they said we killed Jesus. But Jesus wasn't God, but in fact Jesus was a Jew. But in their minds, these and many other the words have survived so many centuries. And how many Jews were killed because of that word, deicide.[43]
Elie Weisel is not alone in imbuing the idea of "deicide" with a Christological character that legitimates anti-Semitism. In a recent article for The Jewish Agency for Israel, Dr. Ron Schliefer writes:
The most infamous of the anti-Jewish libels is that of god-slaying: it can be found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In Matthew 27:25, 'We have killed (Christ)," the Jews supposedly admit to this act. The outcome was naturally a Christian belief that Jews should suffer and be punished; in fact, it became the theological justification for persecution. Jews were to be treated as inferior; denied their basic rights, because they denied the "true religion". [44]
Dr. Schliefer is apparently using a version of Matthew's Gospel which is quite different than the one read by Christians, in which the phrase "We have killed (Christ)" simply isn't there. While one shouldn't lose sight of the main (and correct) fact to which Dr. Schliefer has barely alluded -- that Matthew 27:25 has been abused to execrate all Jews for the misdeeds of Caiaphas' circle -- one must note that Dr. Schliefer's fanciful rendering the Gospel suggests that the root of Christian anti-Semitism does not begin in the Gospel accounts of what Caiaphas or the crowd before Pilate did. He has suggested that the root of Christian anti-Semitism lies in the belief that Jesus is God, as the perspectives of Mr. Foxman, Mr. Rich, and Mr. Weisel also suggest. None of them find anti-Semitism among people who say that Jews were the instigators and indispensable participants in Jesus' death: They find it among people who say it while believing in Jesus' divinity. Seen from that viewpoint, it is infinitely preferable that a new reading of the Gospel story explain how Pontius Pilate bears full and total responsibility for everything which happened to that man; for Jesus to have "died on a Roman cross on the Roman charge of sedition," killed not "by ‘the Jews' but by ‘the state'" -- because the alternative is the history in which the Jews "have been vilified, ghettoized, and murdered."[45]

The dilemma that pits "conservative" and "reinterpretive" Christians against one another over Mr. Gibson's film remains. If the Gospel narrative, understood rightly, is congruous with the portrayal of events in The Passion then the Gospels conflict with the reinterpretation preferred by the U.S. Bishops and the film's critics. In that event, one is forced to conclude some very ugly things about Christianity. If men "naturally" become anti-Semites by believing the received understanding of the Gospel narrative of Jesus, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, and the crowd which assembled before Pilate, critics like Professor Levine or Mr. Foxman are setting their sights too low. Rather than lamenting the popularity of Mr. Gibson's film, they ought to lament the popularity of the Christian faith. And they would be right to lament it, if Christianity "naturally" resulted in hating, persecuting, and murdering Jews in perpetual retribution for their ancestors' role in the death of its divine founder. That Christians have given, and do still give, just cause for that perception of Christianity is something we cannot question without closing our eyes to Christian history. But the question inadvertently raised by Mr. Foxman and Dr. Schleifer isn't directed at Christianity's history. The question is directed at Christianity's integrity. Christianity cannot thrive unless it accepts the truth of the Gospel narrative, and the truth of the Gospel narrative is that the actions of Jesus' people were the primary cause of His death. If that truth "naturally" produces anti-Semitism then Christianity is a filthy religion, an unconscionable episode in the history of human evil that no decent person can embrace once he realizes that a Christian must nurture the seeds of evil whenever he honestly considers the central event in his theology and his very reason for being a Christian.

This is not a perspective anyone involved in the debate over The Passion has or wishes to have on Christianity. Its presence, however, accounts for many aspects of that debate -- the insistence of the "reintepretivists" on the supposed demands of Nostra Aetate (discussed below) for a modified Gospel narrative; the resentment and ill feeling of those who hew to the received understanding of the Gospel story; and the fervent preference many Jewish commentators have for the "reinterpretivist" viewpoint. With respect to that preference, a lamentable and well-attested habit ingrained in Christian discussion about Jews and Judaism requires me to explain that this is not in any way manipulative or ill-intended. Ideas have consequences, lives of their own, and the development of the modified narrative is a confluence of hundreds of movements and schools of thought from almost all theological camps and scholarly disciplines. Neither Dr. Schliefer, Mr. Foxman, Dr. Levine, or Elie Weisel hold themselves out as superintendents of Christian theology, nor do they demand custody of the Christian conscience. One supposes that, if pressed, they would tell us that we are free to go to Hell in our own way and if that way includes anti-Semitism then God will judge us and the Jews, as all natural men would do, shall resist in any area where common ground makes "victimless" hatred impossible. Given the history of Christian anti-Semitism, such a response would be more than charitable.

But, as I've indicated, that isn't the response to Christianity which Jews wish to give. When Mr. Foxman, whose rescue from the Holocaust was achieved in large measure by the heroism of a Catholic, speaks of his great respect for the Christian tradition, only a churl or a fiend could doubt him.[46] The relationship which he, and other Jews, want to have with Christianity is, I believe, summed up by Dabru Emet, a document prepared by a number of Jewish scholars and theologians and which is also included in the AJC's Resource Manual:
Christians know and serve God through Jesus Christ and the Christian tradition. Jews know and serve God through Torah and the Jewish tradition. That difference will not be settled by one community insisting that it has interpreted Scripture more accurately than the other; nor by exercising political power over the other. Jews can respect Christians' faithfulness to their revelation just as we expect Christians to respect our faithfulness to our revelation. Neither Jew nor Christian should be pressed into affirming the teaching of the other community.[47]
This is not a call to relativism or indifferentism; the differences between Jews and Christians will not be settled by "insisting" -- culturally, socially, or politically -- on a common recognition that one faith is superior to the other. It may be settled by patient dialogue, or not at all. We do not know when God plans the reunification of man by the coming of the Messiah for which Christians and Jews, according to our own beliefs, both hope. But we do know how God plans for us to treat one another. He tells us to treat one another largely as the proponents of the modified narrative urge us to do. The other narrative, experienced from a Jewish standpoint, has not demonstrated a very helpful effect on Christian-Jewish relations. So if Christians tell Jews that a reinterpretation of the Gospel along the lines suggested by critics of The Passion is not only a possible Christian message, but is also the only authentic Christian message, we have no cause for complaint if Jews who are prudently eager to live the Biblical commandment of peace embrace that reinterpretation with open arms.

Reinterpretivism and Nostra Aetate

For reasons already explained, critics of The Passion insist that their dislike of the film is justified by its contradiction of a new Christian consciousness that has supposedly-abandoned the Gospel's central anti-Semitic narrative. In an editorial published by the New York Sun, Mr. Foxman outlines the essentials of this perspective:
Why have we been raising questions as to whether Mr. Gibson's movie may be returning to outmoded, dangerous views of the Jewish role in the death of Jesus?

First, because there has been a long history of the passion story i.e., the trials, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, being interpreted as holding the Jewish people responsible for killing Jesus.

According to this interpretation, both the Jews at the time of Jesus and the Jewish people for all time bear a divine curse for the sin of deicide. Throughout nearly 1,900 years of Christian- Jewish history, the charge of deicide has led to hatred and violence against Jews of Europe and America, and various forms of anti-Semitic expression. Historically, Holy Week (the week leading up to Easter Sunday) was a period when Jews were most vulnerable and when Christians perpetrated some of the worst violence against their Jewish neighbors.

In 1965, at the Second Vatican Council in Rome, the Roman Catholic Church took formal steps to correct this interpretation of the passion. In its document, Nostra Aetate, the Church officially repudiated both the deicide charge and all forms of anti-Semitism.[48]
The last sentence is repeated almost endlessly and verbatim in critical statements about The Passion by the ADL and others.[49] Unfortunately, the statement is untenable when it's compared with Nostra Aetate within a Christian framework that accepts the idea of Jesus divinity (and therefore, the possibility of "deicide").

Nostra Aetate, issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, is a declaration of the Church's intentions for, and perspectives on, relations with all non-Christian religions -- including Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism. Special care, however, was given to the Church's relationship with Judaism. Here is the text relevant for our purposes:
As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading. Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is the witness of the Apostle. In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and "serve him shoulder to shoulder." . . .

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.

Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.

Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.[50]
Nostra Aetate cannot be read to support, in any practical and meaningful way, critics' repeated statements that the Church has somehow issued a complete, entire, "blanket" repudiation of any connection between Jesus' death and the idea of deicide. The document, like all the documents of the Council, is clear that Jesus is God, God in the beginning, God now, and God when He was Crucified. Jesus did not take His own life. He was killed by others. That is deicide.

Similarly, Nostra Aetate contradicts virtually every signal argument employed by The Passion's critics in their case for the film's anti-Semitic message. The critics complain that Gibson's film portrays the majority of Jews as hostile to Jesus or indifferent to His suffering. But Nostra Aetate confirms the depiction: "As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation." The critics argue that Gibson's film is anti-Semitic because it shows Jews in large number rejecting Jesus' messianic and divine claims. As Bill Cork puts it, "[t]he basis for Christian antisemitism is the alleged rejection of Christ by the rest of the Jews."[51] But Nostra Aetate declares that this supposed "basis of Christian antisemitism" is the truth, both in the statement just quoted and in the Council's decree that "the Jews in large number" did not "accept the Gospel" and "indeed not a few opposed its spreading." Critics of The Passion charge the film with anti-Semitism because it depicts Jewish authorities and those who followed them as desiring and working to achieve Jesus' death. Yet this too is supported by the Gospels and recognized by Nostra Aetate: "[T]he Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ." Chillingly, at least to the perspective of the "reinterpretivists," Nostra Aetate says that the Jewish leadership and its followers (who were "not a few") pressed for the death of "Christ," and does not use the more neutral name, "Jesus." If the critics are right to castigate the traditionally received narrative of the passion on the basis of a reinterpreted Gospel narrative, then it is clear that the Catholic Church has deviated from this modified narrative just as much as Mel Gibson is claimed to have done.

Is Christianity Doomed?

The reinterpretation of the Gospel narrative upon which critics of The Passion have fixed not only their arguments about the film, but also their main hope for charitable dialogue and co-existence between Jews and Christians, is untenable. It requires a selective rejection of the Gospel's historicity and an unseemly anxiety about triumphing in Jesus' divinity which would is fatal to Christianity. It is even contradicted by Nostra Aetate, the magisterial document in which it claims to be grounded. So, for the reasons discussed in "Deicide," it must in all seriousness be asked whether Christianity is doomed to live out its life as a filthy religion which sews the seeds of an unholy hatred whenever it worships, prays, or celebrates the saving sacrifice of its God.

The answer is a resounding, "No." Christianity is not doomed. It has instead been called to participate in a great work, a healing justice between brothers. The foundation of this work lies in Nostra Aetate itself. It is wrong to say that Nostra Aetate repudiates all the ideas which critics of The Passion find enabling to anti-Semitism. Nostra Aetate repudiates two lies which have, in fact, been responsible for Christian anti-Semitism.

First, it repudiates the lie that all the Jews alive in Jesus' day and who remained Jews until their deaths are guilty of deicide "without distinction." In this the Council did no more than apply the Gospel through Church's moral teaching. There is no sin without the conscientious assimilation of knowledge, nor will the same act always produce in all men an equal sin. A basic example will suffice. Suppose a man coolly and sincerely tells his wife, "I hate you! I wish you were dead!" He has sinned grievously against the fifth commandment, his marriage vows, and God's law of charity. Now suppose the man's ten-year old son, who has learned to admire his father, says the same thing during a tantrum. No one familiar with Catholic theology will hold the boy blameless, but no one will hold that the man and his son have sinned equally, with the same culpability, in the same areas of God's teaching.

What did "the Jews" crying for Jesus' death about Him on Good Friday? Some, I think, knew who He truly was, and were so blinded by hatred and hardened by sin that they indeed formed the same alliance with Satan as any blasphemer must form. But others, most I think, knew only that He was a common man who had blasphemed God. Perhaps others were merely the kind of people who gather around anyone in misfortune in the hope of slaking their spite on his woe. Some may have not cared at all about His guilt or innocence, but saw the cynical necessity of His death to preserve a cherished status quo. Still others may have been concerned with nothing more than doing their duties as they had been taught. The range of emotion, knowledge, and choice within that multitude was as vast as exists in any multitude. There may be many kinds of sin in those other actions, but none of them constitutes the knowing, intentional, deliberate murder of God. This too is traditional Catholic moral teaching. An act may be done objectively which is not attributable to all alike subjectively, and to the extent it is not attributable to all alike subjectively, not all alike can be said to have sinned equally, although they have all participated in the same objective act.

Second, Nostra Aetate repudiates the false idea that the Jews in Jesus' day called down on their progeny an interminable curse of outlawry and divine vengeance. The only reviews I've read which arguably put such a theme in Gibson's film are those which dwell on its quoting of Matthew 25:27. Again, however, what that phrase means requires a theological context that goes beyond the movie screen. We've already seen the context offered by the film's critics. But there is another context, one which is compatible with Nostra Aetate and the received understanding of the Gospel narrative. In no translation of the Bible I've ever read does the crowd before Pilate simultaneously confess Jesus as God and demand His death; since events which could form the basis for that interpretation do not appear in the Gospel narrative and since that interpretation has itself been repudiated by Nostra Aetate, we have no reasonable way to present Matthew 25:27 as instituting a divinely-ordained and generational "curse." It seems quite reasonable to conclude instead that true statement, rendered by the Douay-Rheims Bible as "And the whole people answering, said: His blood be upon us and upon our children," is spoken with a representative quality; that by the sins of all men Jesus' death as perfect victim became necessary, just as those sins had so hardened the world that His death in that world became inevitable. God had chosen the Jewish people as the perfect historical instrument for His deliverance. It is, perhaps, very fitting that the Jewish people should here serve so perfectly as a lens into our own hearts, into the universal corruption which made deliverance necessary. It may be fitting, but it cannot be anti-Semitism.

None of this is new to Christianity. The Christian audience that so worries Mr. Foxman believes, if it believes rightly, that Gethsemane, Caiaphas' house, Pilate's courtyard, and Calvary are all way-stations on a much longer road that stretches back to Eden and forward to the Parousia. Like the guards in The Passion who bind Jesus in chains and throw Him off the bridge, all men have played a guilty part on that road. Rembrandt knew that when he painted himself into The Raising of the Cross as a soldier hoisting the deadly Cross into the air. Johann Heerman knew it in 1630, when he wrote Ah, Holy Jesus:
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted.

Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.
Heerman's guilt, like our own, is part of that dire road which runs throughout history; it connects us all, and so Heerman even holds his own sins responsible for Jews' rejection of Jesus. ("[B]y thine own rejected . . . . Who brought this upon thee? . . . . ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I . . . .") Even Mel Gibson understands this truth: "[W]hen you look at the reasons why Christ came, why he was crucified -- He died for all mankind and He suffered for all mankind. So that, really, anyone who transgresses has to look at their own part or look at their own culpability."[52]

The ability to appreciate this larger story empowers men who believe the traditional, received Gospel narrative to transcend an anti-Semitic view of the passion. But it is an uncomfortable view to the modern mind, which prefers to find real evil only in comfortably-faceless structures, reassuringly-amorphous systems, and happily-guiltless neuroses. When Adam and Eve had thrown off an onerous revelation, they tried to shed the blame onto others; Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the Serpent, none of them ever blamed themselves. There are echoes today, and throughout history, when Christians have found the revelation of Jesus' death onerous and uncomfortable and have tried to invent new tellings of the Gospel in which Pontius Pilate and the conveniently-defunct Roman Empire were to blame, or in which "the Jews" and not ourselves were the cause of His suffering. The truth is otherwise. The truth is that the larger Christian narrative sets the Jewish community's rejection of Jesus as a story-within-a-story that involves all our sins and all God's love. It tells us that we have all -- Jew and Gentile -- been caught in adultery, and that none of us can lay off our guilt onto others:
And the scribes and Pharisees bring unto him a woman taken in adultery: and they set her in the midst, And said to him: Master, this woman was even now taken in adultery.
Now Moses in the law commanded us to stone such a one. But what sayest thou?
And this they said tempting him, that they might accuse him. But Jesus bowing himself down, wrote with his finger on the ground.
When therefore they continued asking him, he lifted up himself and said to them: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
And again stooping down, he wrote on the ground.
But they hearing this, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest. And Jesus alone remained, and the woman standing in the midst.
Then Jesus lifting up himself, said to her: Woman, where are they that accused thee? Hath no man condemned thee?
Who said: No man, Lord. And Jesus said: Neither will I condemn thee. Go, and now sin no more.
Again therefore, Jesus spoke to: them, saying: I am the light of the world. He that followeth me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.[53]
This knowledge exists in anyone who understands that the passion was suffered for him, for his adulteries then, now, and in the future. It was alive even in the old Church which prayed on Good Friday for the "perfidious Jews" -- the same liturgy had the Christian worshipers playing the crowd which called for His death. It lies at the heart of the Christian faith. Critics of The Passion ask too much, and expect too little, when they claim that Christians can never tell this story-within-a-story without turning our backs on the Son of God.

Divine Irony, Divine Blessing

Why do so many Jews not understand this about us? Why do they persist in viewing traditional thinking about Christianity's central narrative as a toxic, anti-Semitic relic which must be jettisoned? Because we have taught them that's what it is. Ghettoes in every city have taught it to them. Burned and ruined synagogues have taught it to them. Desecrated Torah scrolls have taught it to them. A hundred million slights, a hundred million acts of hatred, have taught it to them. Six million dead have taught it to them. Did we really expect them to learn nothing from our witness? From our "evangelization"? I cannot speak for them, I don't pretend to. But I know my own heart, and if this were my history it would take a miracle to dissuade me from believing that the traditional Christian account of Jesus' passion, like the traditional Christian account of Jesus himself, is malignant to the extent that it is believed.

As a Catholic, I share a historical communion with Pius XII, who fought as best he could the evil to which Christendom had, in large measure, contributed. I share it with Dutch Bishops who resisted the deportation of the Jews. I share it with Bronislawa Kurpi, the Catholic nanny who took in Mr. Foxman and protected him from the Nazis. But I also share it with Bishops who raised their arms in heathen salutes to Adolf Hitler, Catholics who saw and heard the night trains but did nothing, and the faithful who venerated Simon of Trent. I also share it with Bronislawa Kurpi who, after the war, tried to keep a young Mr. Foxman from returning to his Jewish parents. If such a dire judgment were pronounced on my faith, as I believe it has been, I should not receive it with anger and denial. I should receive it with burning sorrow and a spirit of mortification. For there is, perhaps, a certain amount of justice in that judgment, albeit not the one which most people are likely to have in mind.

I began this essay by noting that Christendom's chief contribution to the Holocaust was its "teaching of contempt" that depicted all Jews as morally corrupt unbelievers, a people forever cursed and outlawed for having murdered God. Reduced to its barest conclusion, the teaching's central idea is that Jews, so long as they are Jews, are intrinsically opposed to decency, goodness, and human happiness. On the crude foundation of this false but clear idea the Nazis built their concentration camps with bricks wildly snatched from the intellectual rubble of biological determinism and pagan mysticism. But the foundation was not built by the Nazis. It was built by Christians. So it is at least ironic to see a very similar idea haunting Christianity through criticisms of The Passion which effectively maintain that Christians who continue to follow the original narrative of their God's life are implicitly hostile to a vision of decency, goodness, and human happiness that includes Jews. A Catholic Christian, who believes that God sometimes offers the innocent an opportunity to suffer for others' sins, might find as much divinity as irony in the fact that he is now thought of in the way his forbears often thought of the Jews.

If this is true, then it is a blessing. There has been a vast wrong. It covers so many people, so many centuries, so many places that its dimensions are truly satanic. It cannot be allowed to stand unanswered by the Church of Christ. The Church has done so many wonderful things in this regard, such as Nostra Aetate, and John Paul II's beginning the attempt to find a language that can allow Catholics to seek forgiveness and healing without denying or compromising the truths of our faith. But a healing, if there is to be one, cannot come from only one side telling the other what to think about the problem, or how to frame the issues which must be frankly addressed. Again, I quote Dabru Emet: "That difference will not be settled by one community insisting that it has interpreted Scripture more accurately than the other; nor by exercising political power over the other . . . Neither Jew nor Christian should be pressed into affirming the teaching of the other community."[54] We have heard the Church speak the first tentative, hesitant words of reconciliation. We should not recoil in shock at sharp or painful things said in a reply which has, in any event, featured authentic charity and true respect. Nor should we anticipate, as I fear I may have suggested, that the replies will either affirm the essential goodness of Christianity or voice concerns and grievances which are ultimately unfounded. No, that will not happen. It cannot. This side of Heaven, the truth cannot be lived without suffering. Jesus Christ taught us that.

I plan to see The Passion with my parish on Ash Wednesday. The whole parish is going, and there's going to be confession and Eucharistic adoration afterwards. I think it might be wise if I used The Passion as an occasion to remind myself what men must always do without Jesus, and of what Christendom has done when it departed from His intentions for His people. I think I can do that without offense: "[W]e rejoice that, through Christianity, hundreds of millions of people have entered into relationship with the God of Israel. . . . . Christians know and serve God through Jesus Christ and the Christian tradition."[55]

[1] As the one quoted was found on a website dedicated to Fr. Feeney. You can read it here. You can find it on other supposed "traditionalist" websites, such as "Holy War." "Holy War" informs us that veneration of St. Simon of Trent was forbidden in 1965 by the "Racist Zionist Mafia in collaboration with they Marranos friends in the VATICAN." Half the statement, of course, is true.

[2] Society of St. Pius X, "The Semi-Catholic Catechism of the Catholic Church," quoting St. Alphonsus Ligouri, The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ. The Angelus, April 2000, Volume XXIII, No.4. The full text can be found here.

[3] Published by First Things. The full text can be read here. Fr. Rhohnheimer's essay is worthwhile reading. For two different perspectives on it, see Bill Cork's here at Ut Unum Sint and my own note in the Dossier

[4] Franklin Sherman, "Is the Passion Play Anti-Semitic?" In The Lutheran. The full text can be read here.

[5] ADL and Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ": Frequently Asked Questions The full text can be read here.

[6] Bill Cork's blog is called Ut Unum Sint. The full text of this list can be found here

[7] Id/

[8] Id/

[9] "I have applied all this to myself and Apol'los for your benefit, brethren, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written . . . ."

[10] Matthew 26:27 (KJV).

[11] Mark 14:46: "And they laid their hands on him . . ." (KJV).

[12] Luke 22:63.

[13] Mark 14:48-49 (KJV).

[14] Abner Louima was arrested by the New York City Police Department in 1997 on charges stemming from a nightclub disturbance. According to the CNN report, one of the arresting officers, Justin Volpe, later pleaded guilty to "sodomizing Louima with a wooden stick in a police station house bathroom in a vicious assault." That story can be found here. Another officer, Charles Schwarz, was later convicted of holding Louima down while he was being sodomized. That story can be found here.

[15] "ADL Criticism of Mel Gibson's "The Passion" Elicits Anti-Semitic Responses," August 13, 2003. The full text can be found here.

[16] "The Passion -- A Resource Manual." The full text -- in PDF format -- can be found here.

[17] Id.

[18] John 5:45.

[19] John 19:11

[20] Catechism of the Council of Trent ("Roman Catechism"). The full text can be found here.

[21] "The Passion -- A Resource Manual." The full text -- in PDF format -- can be found here.

[22] Id.

[23] See, e.g., Edward N. Luttwak's classic, Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire: From the First Century A.D. to the Third (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979).

[24] "The Passion -- A Resource Manual." The full text -- in PDF format -- can be found here.

[25] Matthew 27:22-26 (KJV).

[26] Luke 23:1 (KJV).

[27] Bill Cork's blog on The Passion, which can be found here.

[28] Luke 9:14-16 (KJV).

[29] Mark 6:34-44 (KJV).

[30] Matthew 14:15 (KJV)

[31] John 6:2 (KJV).

[32] Rabbi Eugene Korn, "Letter to Slate.Com" September 19, 2003. The full text can be found here.

[33] Rabbi Eugene Korn, Letter to the Weekly Standard, September 3, 2003. The full text can be found here.

[34] Amy Jill Levine, "The Real Problem with Passion." The full text can be found here.

[35] Abraham H. Foxman and Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, "'Passion' relies on theme of anti-Semitism," The Palm Beach Post, January 25, 2004. The full text can be found here.

[36] To be fair to Mr. Foxman, it should be noted that the tradition he describes does exist and is proven, for example, by the characters' costumes in the older Oberammergau Passion.

[37] Bill Cork's online review of The Passion. The full text can be found here.

[38] Genesis 3:15 (KJV).

[39] Compare Revelation 12:4-6 with the second chapter of Matthew's Gospel.

[40] Luke 23:12 (KJV)

[41] Abraham H. Foxman and Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, "'Passion' relies on theme of anti-Semitism," The Palm Beach Post, January 25, 2004. The full text can be found here.

[42] Frank Rich, "Mel Gibson's ‘Passion': Publicity Juggernaut." International Herald-Tribune, September 19, 2003. The full text can be found here

[43] Elie Wiesel, "Speech to the Diplomatic Breakfast Session of the 2002 ADL Global Conference on Anti-Semitism." The full text can be found -- in PDF format -- here.

[44] Dr. Ron Schleifer, "Christianity and Anti-Semitism." Jewish Agency for Israel, February 8, 2004. The full text can be found here.

[45] Amy Jill Levine, "The Real Problem with Passion." The full text can be found here.

[46] Abraham H. Foxman, "Abraham H. Foxman's Story: A Life Saved, A Life of Service". The full text can be found here

[47] "The Passion -- A Resource Manual." The full text -- in PDF format -- can be found here.

[48] Abraham H. Foxman, "Gibson's Passion." ADL publication, August 4, 2003. The full text can be found here.

[49] See, e.g.:
Passion Plays in History, published by the ADL on 6/24/02 ("In 1965 at the Second Vatican Council in Rome, the Roman Catholic Church took formal steps to correct this interpretation of the passion. In its document, Nostra Aetate, the Church officially repudiated both the deicide charge and all forms of anti-Semitism.") The full text can be found here.

ADL and Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ": Frequently Asked Questions, (". . . the Second Vatican Council, which in 1965 repudiated both the deicide charge and all forms of anti-Semitism in its document, Nostra Aetate). The full text can be found here.

Susan Paley and Adrian Gibbons Koesters, A Viewer's Guide to Contemporary Passion Plays ("In the historic document Nostra Aetate . . . the Roman Catholic Church officially repudiated the charge of deicide against the Jews, as well as all forms of anti-Semitism.") The full text can be found here.

Eric J. Greenberg, Foxman: Gibson Spewing Anti-Semitism, Jewish Week, 9/19/03 ([Critics are worried that anti-Semitism fueld by Gibson's film] would come. . . from people who were never taught that the Vatican officially repudiated the deicide charge against Jews nearly 40 years ago at the Vatican II conference called Nostra Aetate.) The full text can be found here.

Marc Morano, "Jewish Leader Says Mel Gibson ‘Infected' with Anti-Semitism", CNSNews.Com. (Foxman noted that the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which Gibson reportedly opposes, responded to centuries of anti-Semitic interpretations of Christ's crucifixion by issuing a document in 1965 called Nostra Aetate. That document officially repudiated anti-Semitism and the deicide charge.") The full text can be found here.
[50] Nostra Aetate, ¶ 4 (1965).

[51] Bill Cork, Ut Unum Sint. The full text can be found here.

[52] L. Brent Bozell, "Mel Gibson, Wronged for His ‘Passion,'" Parents' Television Council, August 14, 2003. The full text can be found here.

[53] John 8:3-12 (DRV).

[54] "The Passion -- A Resource Manual." The full text -- in PDF format -- can be found here.

[55] Id.