The Passion of the Christ: Introduction
Two years ago I wrote this paper analyzing The Passion of the Christ for a course on the differing ways that we have represented Jesus throughout history. If you’d like to read the whole thing essentially as it was written at the time, you can view it from my portfolio site. I’ll also be releasing it one section at a time here on the blog, though, with some minor adjustments to make it more appropriate for the blog format.
The Passion of the Christ as Reactionary Catholic Work
Only 7 years ago (2004), The Passion of the Christ was released, going through the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus from the Garden of Gethsemane to his death and a brief scene of his resurrection. While at the time of release, Director and Writer Mel Gibson was often quoted as saying it was simply a historical tale, there is an obvious specific Christian framework evident, as is bound to be the case with a film about as controversial of a figure as Jesus was. This framework, in line with Gibson’s beliefs, was clearly one of a traditional Catholic framework. Phyllis Tickle in her work The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why identifies four quadrants of Christian belief, one being Liturgicals. She then goes on, as she discusses the emerging church growing out of the conversation at the centre of all four quadrants, to identify approximately 10% of each quadrant as reactionaries to this growing centre who oppose change and re-affirm traditional understandings. Using this classification, I believe that The Passion of the Christ is mostly, albeit not entirely because of one major point, within the reactionary Catholic category.
Gibson’s beliefs as represented in the film for the most part line up with traditional/reactionary Catholic belief in general, albeit in a time when many views were and are in tension, so it generally represents its time effectively. Some of these Catholic themes made very clear in the film are: a penal substitution understanding of the atonement, although with a surprising amount of Christus Victor imagery and speech as well, the importance of Mary, and the importance of church tradition. The aspect which is clearly in Gibson’s work that was not in the Catholic Church in general at this time was the anti-Semitism, although as I watched the movie I sometimes wondered whether Gibson was really anti-Jewish so much as he was pro-Roman. All of these elements will be examined further throughout this blog series.
 Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing), Chapter 6: The Gathering Center: And the Many Faces of the Church Emerging