The Passionists - Compassion

Christian Mystics and the Passion of Jesus, page three

Finding Jesus with the mystics

SpaceDiscounting the mystics altogether, however, deprives us of their considerable gifts. They represent the praying church. They model the full attention, mind and heart, that believers should bring to what Jesus said and did. They are ardent, restless believers, searching into the mystery of God. And so we can learn from them.

SpaceFrom them, too, we can learn to keep the Passion of Jesus in mind. Christian mystics of the past saw the Passion of Jesus as their great book, a fount of wisdom, and they kept it constantly in their minds and hearts. True, they did not have the scholarly tools to understand it that we have today. Their search into this mystery was incomplete–as ours will be, too. But they call the church to keep remembering and learning from it.
There are not enough books or movies in this world to contain it.


Saint Bridget of Sweden

SpaceEarly 15th century Pieta, Sweden: Mystics like St. Bridget of Sweden, who recalls Mary's response to her son's death, often inspired renderings of Jesus' passion like the above.

Space"His side was opened and when the lance was taken out, dark blood was seen on the point, and I knew it pierced his heart. It was as if my own heart had been pierced, and still, like his, it did not break. Others left but I could not leave, and I found comfort that his body was lowered from the cross and I could touch it and lay it on my lap and find the wounds and dry the blood. Then, with my fingers I closed his mouth and then his eyes. But I could not bend his rigid arms. They could not be crossed over his breast but over his stomach. I could not straighten his knees either, and they were bent as they had stiffened on the cross."

Book 4, Revelation

Catherine Anne Emmerick

Catherine Anne EmmerickSpaceCatherine Anne Emmerick, rumored to be one of Gibson's sources for his screenplay, had extensive visions of the Passion of Jesus. Poor and unhealthy from childhood, she entered an Augustinian convent in Westphalia, Germany in 1802, but left in 1811 when the convent was closed by the government. About a year later she showed signs of the stigmata on her body, which drew the curious to her. Among them was the German Romantic poet, Clemens Brentano, who had recently been reconciled to the church after a period of unbelief.

SpaceImpressed by Catherine, Brentano wrote down the experiences she communicated to him in two books, one of which was entitled "The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." The book became popular among religious readers, but it presents certain difficulties. Some scholars say that it is not easy to separate what material comes from Catherine and what from him. The poet reports that he listened to Catherine and then went home and wrote down later what he remembered.

SpaceAnother of the book's weaknesses is its lack of a solid scriptural basis. Her biographer says that Catherine "never considered her visions to have any reference to her exterior Christian life, nor did she regard them as being of any historical value. Exteriorly she knew and believed nothing but the catechism, the common history of the Bible, the gospels for Sundays and festivals, and the Christian almanac… She had never read the Old or the New Testaments, and when she was tired of relating her visions, she would sometimes say: 'Read that in the Bible,' and then be astonished to learn that it was not there..."

SpaceWhy, then, were Catherine's visions so popular? Perhaps because she lived during the Age of Reason, when human reason questioned everything, especially religion. Enlightenment scholars like David Frederich Strauss and Hermann Reimarus, were creating a climate of doubt about the fundamental beliefs of Christianity as they embarked on their quest of the "historical Jesus." In an age whose patron saint was "Doubting Thomas," Catherine's visions of Jesus, so concrete, immediate and definite, provided large numbers of believers with the assurance they sought.

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also in this issue:
Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ" | "Seeing" the Passion of Jesus
Christian Mystics and the Passion | Dramatizing the Passion
Act with Compassion


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