‘PASSION’ REACHES BEYOND BIBLE

Commentary

‘PASSION’ REACHES BEYOND BIBLE

By Father Eric Forbes

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Mar. 10) - Warning. If you want to be totally surprised by "The Passion of the Christ," do not read this.

Well, since you're still reading on, here's my two cents. What surprises me most about the whole "Passion" phenomenon sweeping the nation is the way Christian evangelicals have showered adulation on the film.

These evangelicals are the heirs of a school of Christianity that protested against the use in church of the visual in depicting the physical agony and death of Jesus. As a matter of fact, one of the first things the reformers did in Geneva and Zurich was take out of the churches all religious art and representation, and, if they allowed a cross at all, it was a bare one with no "corpus," or body of Christ.

Interestingly, the film fulfills the same role a Catholic statue of the scourged Christ has, and I venture to say that the film depicts the sufferings of Christ in more graphic ways than any statue I have ever seen. Are people finally getting it?

I am even more surprised by the warm reception given the film by evangelicals when one considers the strong Marian sub-theme running throughout the movie. She clearly takes second billing, and hearts were crying in the auditorium not only in sympathy for the sufferings of the Son, but also for the heart-breaks of the Mother seeing the Son.

But what prods my curiosity even more about this fond embrace of the film by evangelicals is the absence of protests against the extra-biblical scenes in the movie. These scenes, such as the towels Pilate's wife gives Mary, are nowhere in Scripture, but are taken instead from the ecstatic visions of a German Catholic nun who died in 1824, Anne Catherine Emmerich. From her sick bed, on which she also suffered the stigmata, or wounds of Christ, Emmerich was mystically transported across time and space to eye-witness the biblical account, adding many details to the story not found in the four Gospels.

Even the way Mel Gibson came across Emmerich's writings has assumed a mystical aura. As the story goes, Gibson was reaching for another, totally unrelated book on a shelf when Emmerich's book fell out of the stack instead, catching Gibson's attention. The rest, as they say, is history. Divine intervention?

The Church has never canonized Emmerich (despite what the ministers of disinformation say on the Internet) and regards all approved visions received by people outside the original Apostles as "private revelation," binding on no one except the person who received it. "Public revelation," the truths we need for our salvation and which are binding on all believers, was closed at the death of the last of the Apostles.

But, as Scripture teaches, the Holy Spirit continues to work in the Church, partly through the gift of prophecy. Such prophecy (as private revelation) cannot contradict public revelation; it can only assist particular people in particular times to better appreciate public revelation.

Many people go to one of two extremes regarding visions and such. One is to reject them immediately, and the other is to swallow anybody's supposed experiences in one gulp. St. Paul advises against both extremes: "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything, retain what is good" (I Thess. 5:19-21).

I suspect most people, on watching "The Passion of the Christ," will leave the theater utterly impressed by the extent of Christ's sufferings for sinful mankind, and will hopefully be inspired to seek the peace and mercy that Jesus alone can give them. But for those who want to really get into it, dissecting the film with scalpel and razor, buy the DVD, take out your Bibles and get a copy of Emmerich's "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ." Yes, you can find it on Amazon.

March 10, 2004

 

Fr. Eric Forbes is a Capuchin priest by vocation and a student of Chamorro culture and language by avocation.

 

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

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