What's Catholic About 'The Passion'? A Lot

The Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, and Catholic mystics' visions shape Mel Gibson's work.

BY: Jennifer Waters


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Thigpen concludes there are many scenes in the film that are obviously based on Emmerich's and Agreda's visions. The scene in the Garden of Gethsemane, when the devil taunts Jesus, comes from Emmerich's revelations. Scripture does not record such a temptation scene.

In general, both Agreda and Emmerich speak of seeing demons surrounding the events of the Passion, although the Gospels never mention satanic interference. Further, at one point, while carrying his cross, Christ appears to be caressing it lovingly. Both women also suggest this idea.

When the persecution of Jesus by the Romans begins, Mary says, "It has begun, Lord. So be it." This statement is a summary of a long monologue that appears in Agreda's writings.

Having witnesses address Jesus during the trial scene as "The Bread of Life" does not occur in the Gospels, but does in Emmerich's account. Her revelations are also the basis for Nicodemus' objection to the Sanhedrin's proceedings and images of Christ chained in a subterranean prison with Mary nearby.

In addition, Pontius Pilate's wife is only briefly mentioned (and not by name) in the Gospels in Matthew 27:19, which says, "While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: 'Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.'" Her role in the film, however, is expanded in a manner consistent with Emmerich's visions. For instance, after Jesus is scourged, his wife, Claudia, sends linen cloths to Mary, Jesus' mother. Mary and Mary Magdalene use them to wipe Jesus' blood from the pavement. This entire scene comes from Emmerich's writings and does not appear in the Gospels.

In the movie, after Peter denies Jesus, he falls at Mary's feet and cries out, "I have denied him, mother!" Although the scripture records that Peter disassociated himself from Christ three times, this conversation with Mary is not in the Gospels but is found in Emmerich.

"I wasn't surprised to learn that Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ' drew from Emmerich's and Agreda's writings, which provides vivid depictions of Christ's suffering," Thigpen says. "The Gospel story leaves out many details, which must be supplied to tell the story in film. These details had to come from someone's imagination. Gibson found their visions compelling."

While Protestants and other non-Catholics may find the extra-biblical sources unfamiliar, there has not been an outcry that it is "too Catholic." The Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries, and the writings of Catholic mystics provide extra material with which Gibson created his artistic statement of faith. In effect, the film offers an insider's view of Catholic traditions to which the faithful have turned for centuries in an effort to understand Christ's sufferings.

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