Victor Hoagland, C.P.
of Christians have been inspired by the holiness and vivid revelations
of mystics like St. Bridget of Sweden (+1373), St. Catherine of Siena
(+1380) and Catherine Anne Emmerich. (+1824). Their writings still attract
believers. Evidently, the actor Mel Gibson, producer of "The Passion,"
feels that attraction, too.
Who are the mystics?
The word itself,
"mystic," comes from the Greek verb that means to close oneself
off, to shut one's eyes. The mystics appear so concentrated on God that
they seem to see hardly anything else. Some leave spiritual writings
and reports of visions, but many leave no writings, no reports of visions
at all. That's because mysticism is not about producing visions but
can be reclusive, some live embattled lives. Bridget of Sweden, for
example, who was a powerful instrument for 14th century church reform,
charged popes, bishops, priests and secular rulers with causing suffering
to Jesus and his church by their abuse of authority. The Swedish noblewoman's
stern warnings are often found in the midst of her meditations on Jesus'
passion, which she paints in violent brush strokes meant to jolt her
lax hearers. right: Bridget of Sweden
centuries, detailed descriptions of gospel stories by mystics have furnished
artists, writers and dramatists with plentiful material for presenting
the Christian mysteries. Artists and writers of the middle ages especially
turned to them for depictions of the life of Jesus, particularly his
passion and death. Mystics have helped shape the Christian imagination
as well as many Christian devotional practices.
Their love of the Passion of Jesus
subject for Christian mystics is the passion of Jesus, which they see
as a powerful sign of God's love. It also provides them with a way to
look at their own society and to understand the experience they have
in their personal search for God. For them Calvary is a place from which
one sees everything.
through them, some incidents that are not contained in the gospels of
the passion have become etched into the popular imagination. One thinks
of the poignant scene of Mary, holding in her arms the dead body of
Jesus her son after his crucifixion-- the Pieta. The gospels say nothing
about it. Yet the mystics generally took for granted that Mary not only
had a part in his removal from the cross but in so many other events
of his passion as well. They saw her hurrying to be with him after his
arrest. She was there when he was judged, when he was pushed on his
way to Calvary. She stood beneath his cross and remained with him as
long as she could. The mother's presence at the death of her son added
a powerful human dimension to the gospel story.
pilgrims also influenced the creation of devotions like the Stations
of the Cross, a prominent devotion of the western church. It presents
Jesus falling three times on his way to Calvary, falls not mentioned
in the gospels yet surely plausible, considering the weakness he suffered
from his scourging. right: Giotti's Pieta
of the Cross as western Christians usually follow it offers an interesting
parallel to the gospels. It begins with the condemnation of Jesus by
Pilate, and so concentrates on the crucial role of the Roman Procurator
--- as the creedal formula does: "he suffered under Pontius Pilate."
Roman soldiers take him away and crucify him. A Jewish trial does not
highlights sympathetic Jewish participants. Besides Mary his mother,
there is Veronica, who wipes the face of Jesus. Her story is not found
in the gospel. Then there is Simon of Cyrene who helps Jesus carry his
cross, the Jewish women who mourn him as he passes, the Pharisee Nicodemus
who takes him down from the cross and buries him -- figures appearing
also in the scriptures.
What authority do the mystics
also in this issue:
Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ"
| "Seeing" the Passion of Jesus
Christian Mystics and the Passion
| Dramatizing the Passion
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