Gibson’s Dilemma in ‘The Passion of the Christ’

When he heard that Mel was making a movie on the Passion of Christ, the late Catholic forensic pathologist Frederick Zugibe, an expert on Jesus’ crucifixion as well as the Shroud of Turin, offered his services as a consultant. Curiously, Gibson declined. One would think that if you’re producing a film on the crucifixion of Jesus you might want to take advantage of the expertise of a world’s authority on the subject.

The Shroud. Marks of the scourging

In The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Forensic Inquiry, the Doctor responds with a less than glowing review of Gibson’s film, finding numerous inaccuracies. A glance at a couple of them uncovers what Gibson might have been grappling with while producing the film.

With respect to the scourging, in the film Jesus’ back and front were completely covered with lacerations from the razor-like pieces of metal attached to the ends of the flagrum. The doctor, however, insists that the scourging as presented in the movie would have quickly resulted in Jesus’ death, and was not supported by the Shroud. It shows that the lacerations were “dumbbell-shaped”; it was common for the Romans to attach lead balls to the ends of the leather whips.

Jesus’ reaction to the flogging, according to Zugibe, would have been far more violent than presented in the film:

“Bouts of vomiting, tremors, seizures, and fainting fits would occur at varying intervals… There would be agonizing shrieks by the victim at the conclusion of each lash.”

Another issue was the nailing of Jesus’ hands and feet to the cross. Painful as it was to watch in Gibson’s film, the medical examiner said it would actually have resulted in ‘major causalgia’, trauma of the median nerves in the wrist and plantar nerves in the feet, which the professor calls “one of the worst pains known to man”:

“The agonizing pain has been likened to lighting bolts traversing the arms and legs. …A victim inflicted with causalgia involving only one hand, let alone involving both hands and feet, would scream out in agony with loud shrieks of pain, And yet, Jesus does not scream at all in Gibson’s version of the crucifixion” (p. 63).

It seems obvious that Mel was likely familiar with Zugibe’s work and didn’t want his help because he knew that the end result would have been a horror film, and unwatchable. As it turned out, the main complaint about the film anyway was that it was too violent and not appropriate for the family. The Romans had perfected the worst form of torture and execution; it does not lend itself to a Hollywood film project.

“I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who tore out my beard; my face I did not hide from insults and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).

Since Mel had gone to the effort to resurrect the language of Aramaic as it was spoken in the 1st-century, a moviegoer might assume that what they were seeing was a realistic recreation of Jesus’ passion and death. This is a misconception; Greek was the language of the Empire and it is not even heard in the movie. Even in the sign nailed over the cross, “Jesus the Nazorean, King of the Jews”, Gibson omitted the Greek which he knew should be there, perhaps a message from Mel not to regard his film as one would a documentary, but as an artist’s depiction of the Passion.

I can only recommend Dr. Zugibe’s book with serious caution. There are scary photos: experiments on human cadavers and pictures of people who have been tortured.


Postscript: Incidentally, while Pope Francis was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he initiated an investigation into a container of blood and what appeared to be some type of organ tissue. It had originally been a consecrated host that had been desecrated but recovered and brought to a priest who placed it in water according to Church protocol. Archbishop Bergoglio sent a sample of the tissue to Dr. Zugibe for analysis, but did not tell him about it’s origin:

The chest area of the Shroud.

“Tissue samples were then sent to Dr. Frederick Zugibe, of Columbia University in New York, a renowned cardiologist and forensic pathologist. His results on March 26, 2005, identified the sample as human flesh and blood. Zugibe testified that it was ‘a fragment of the heart muscle found in the wall of the left ventricle close to the valves.’ Because white blood cells had penetrated the tissue, he stated that ‘the heart had been under severe stress, as if the owner had been beaten severely about the chest.'” (LINK)

Pope Benedict’s ‘Year of the Priest’ Warning to the Curia

Many have commented that the depth of frustration and anger over the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report as well as Archbishop Vignano’s testimony is because they prove that the response by Church authorities to the first clergy abuse crisis in 2002 was inadequate and insincere.

The current crisis, however, is not the second but the third major series of revelations of abuse and cover-up in the Catholic Church. In Pope Benedict’s 2010 (‘Year of the Priest’) Christmas address to the Curia, he laments the new round of abuse reports, primarily from western Europe, and recalls a vision given to St. Hildegard:

“…[I]n this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime. …In this context, a vision of Saint Hildegard of Bingen came to my mind, a vision which describes in a shocking way what we have lived through this past year.

“In the year of our Lord’s incarnation 1170, I had been lying on my sick-bed for a long time when, fully conscious in body and in mind, I had a vision of a woman of such beauty that the human mind is unable to comprehend. She stretched in height from earth to heaven. Her face shone with exceeding brightness and her gaze was fixed on heaven. …But her face was stained with dust, her robe was ripped down the right side, her cloak had lost its sheen of beauty and her shoes had been blackened. And she herself, in a voice loud with sorrow, was calling to the heights of heaven, saying, ‘Hear, heaven, how my face is sullied; mourn, earth, that my robe is torn; tremble, abyss, because my shoes are blackened!’

“…And I heard a voice from heaven which said: ‘This image represents the Church. For this reason, O you who see all this and who listen to the word of lament, proclaim it to the priests who are destined to offer guidance and instruction to God’s people and to whom, as to the apostles, it was said: go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation’ (Mk 16:15)” (Letter to Werner von Kirchheim and his Priestly Community: PL 197, 269ff.).

Benedict continues,

“The way she saw and expressed it is the way we have experienced it this year. We must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen. We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good.”

At least he tried. Will God now have to step in and cleanse the Church?


2000, ‘zero tolerance‘ — strike 1

2010, ‘zero tolerance‘ — strike 2

2018, ‘zero tolerance‘ — strike 3


Feckless Church authorities may now have to reap what they have sown.

Hosea 8:7:

“When they sow the wind, they will reap the whirlwind; The stalk of grain that forms no head can yield no flour; Even if it could, strangers would swallow it”.

If Archbishop Vigano’s testimony is truthful, Cardinal McCarrick was made “kingmaker” by a pope who was fully aware of his predatory behaviors and canonical crimes. Instead of banishing him he was appointed a close advisor, particularly with respect to episcopal appointments. Again, the prophet Hosea:

“They made kings, but not by my authority; they established princes, but without my knowledge” (8:4).

God then chose Israel’s enemy, the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III, to chastise his Chosen People.

Which among the Church’s enemies today will be the ones who are given the responsibility for cleaning house, civil authorities? Jihadis? both?


Has Pope Leo XIII’s 100-Year Vision Reached its Terminus?

Pope Leo XIII

This highly credible prophecy from around 1884 was a revelation to Pope Leo that God would be agreeing to a frightening request from Satan:

“Grant me one century and more power of those who will serve me, and I will destroy it [the Church].”

One can try to ascertain when the 100-year period began by looking for possible watershed events that tipped the Church into the trend of decline that persisted throughout most of the 20th-century. Conversely, one can look for the opposite as well, events suggesting that the deterioration in the Catholic Church that’s been evident for generations might have been reversed. Archbishop Vigano’s recent exposure of the corruption in the Church and the naming of authorities at the top of the Church hierarchy may have represented the latter.

Over at the Remnant, Christopher Ferrara draws a conclusion that is shared by many:

“I believe that Archbishop Viganò’s precious testimony is a sign that Heaven itself is now responding to the “need for justice” in the Church.  Whether or not justice involves the resignation of the most wayward Pope in Church history, the inevitable season of justice will culminate in the triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the Church’s restoration. This will be a final victory over the enemies within and their apologists.”

Continue reading “Has Pope Leo XIII’s 100-Year Vision Reached its Terminus?”

An Early Narrative of the Assumption of Mary

Protestants complain when the Catholic Church declares events like the Assumption of Mary, of which there is no hard evidence, a dogma of the Christian faith. At the same time, Catholics can’t understand why Protestants cling so much to the Bible, when its canon was compiled by the Catholic Church and its divine inspiration was declared a dogma of the Christian faith by the same authority and in the same manner as was the Assumption.

The celebration of Mary’s assumption into heaven has a rich history going back to the early centuries of the Christian era. Together with the intellectual contributions by Doctors of the Church, it was declared a historical fact. As such, there is no reason not to explore the early apocryphal works pertaining to the Assumption since we know it to be a factuality. While the Church regards many apocryphal writings as legendary, others were held in high regard by the early Church. Of the latter includes The Account of St. John the Theologian of the Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God, and was attributed to the Apostle himself (though dated around 400 AD).

It begins with the summoning of the Apostles to Mary’s bedside in Bethlehem. Since they were spread throughout the Empire, and time was short, they would be transported by the Spirit. John describes his own experience: Continue reading “An Early Narrative of the Assumption of Mary”

A Heavenly Procession

The Ascension of Christ, Rembrandt

While the glorious ascension of Christ to Heaven may have taken the disciples by surprise, the assurances that he would return and would soon send them “the promise of the Father”, left them with “great joy”. There was great joy in heaven too at the victorious homecoming of the Second Person of the Trinity. To picture this scene we can only challenge our imaginations. But the Early Church Fathers, who interpreted events in the life of Christ in light of of the Old Testament, found a glimpse into the heavenly procession from the Psalms.

St. Justin Martyr (AD 100-165) quotes Psalm 24:7 as a prophecy of the Ascension:

“You see that he was to mount to heaven according to the prophecies. It was said: ‘Lift up the gates of heaven, let them open and the King of Glory shall enter in.'”†

The liturgical passage in Psalm 24 reads,

“Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may enter. Who is this king of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in war. Lift up your heads, O gates; rise up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may enter. Who is this king of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the king of glory” (24:7-10).

Continue reading “A Heavenly Procession”

The Joy of the Resurrection

As the risen Christ unexpectedly leaves the disciples and ascends to heaven from the Mount of Olives, one might have expected them to feel some measure of sadness at the parting of their beloved Lord. St. Luke, however, describes it differently:

“They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple praising God” (Luke 24:52).

What a change from just weeks earlier when they were in despair, confused, and fearing for their own lives as Jesus was being led to the cross.

While the disciples were generally loyal, devoted, and trusting, they did not always understanding Jesus’ teachings and use of allegory, particularly with respect to his mission to suffer, die, and rise again; their expectations of the Jewish Messiah were quite the opposite (see Mark 8:31-33). Continue reading “The Joy of the Resurrection”

William F. Buckley Jr. on Humanae Vitae

The Five Beasts

buckley1Twenty years ago Buckley wrote Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith, sharing his personal thoughts and experiences as a life-long Catholic. Writing in his typical high-brow conversational manner, you might feel as though you were sitting next to him on the panel of Firing Line. And indeed there is a panel; he structured his essays around answers to questions he had posed to his unique “Forum”, a group of intellectuals that had come to the Catholic faith as adults. His insights and outlooks remain relevant and valuable today.

On the subject of contraception (chapter 12), the opinions of his Forum were divided. But Buckley doesn’t bother to engage them; the publication of Humanae Vitae rendered the question pointless. “…[T]he answer, for a Catholic, has got to be: the position of the Pope, as spokesman for the magisterium.” He shifts the conversation to a question he finds more challenging:

“It is that the law against contraception is quite simply ignored. No, not by everyone; but the…

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How the Fathers Interpreted Pentecost

Just before His Ascension, Jesus told His disciples to wait an undisclosed period of time in Jerusalem until they received power from the Holy Spirit:

“And [behold] I am sending the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

This would occur ten days later on the last day of Pentecost, the Jewish festival also known as the Feast of Weeks which lasted for fifty days, ending one day after a period of seven weeks (7×7-days). To the question of why they had to wait is generally attributed to the fact that on Pentecost Jerusalem would be crowded, setting the stage for the spectacular scene in which the disciples, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached the gospel to a large crowd each of whom were able to hear it in his native language. It has been estimated that the population of Jerusalem, around 40-50,000, would swell to over 200,000 on certain holidays including Pentecost. Continue reading “How the Fathers Interpreted Pentecost”

The Descent of the Dove

Jordan river, possible site of Jesus’ baptism.

We wonder, as John did, that since baptism reflected a commitment to repentance, why Jesus, who had nothing to repent, nevertheless insisted on being baptized himself:

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?’” (Matthew 3:14).

Jesus understands John’s reluctance and explains, “…it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” The Greek word translated “it is fitting” does not imply obligation or necessity. The act of baptism was a righteous deed as it reflected a personal resolution to cease disobeying the commandments of God, but as a religious rite it ended there. Jesus is saying that it is important to fulfill, or “make complete” this particular act of righteousness. Continue reading “The Descent of the Dove”

Four Key Features of the Transfiguration

Church of the Transfiguration, Mt. Tabor

Christ’s revelation of his glory to Peter, James, and John through his transfiguration confirmed Peter’s earlier confession of Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:27-30). But there was a much broader purpose of the vision as well:

“After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.’ Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them” (Mark 9:2-8).

1. The Presence of Moses and Elijah

Continue reading “Four Key Features of the Transfiguration”