March 2004

Joe Sobran defends Mel Gibson...

While I believe The Passion of the Christ is a violation of the Second Commandment, I'm quite sympathetic to Mel Gibson's desire to honor the Lord through this work. Further, I consider the accusations of "anti-Semitism" Gibson and his movie have suffered an almost perfect illustration of the truth our Lord spoke concerning His habit of teaching in parables:

Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. (Matthew 13:13)

Like Gibson, Joe Sobran is a Roman Catholic with sympathies leaning more to the Council of Trent than Vatican II. For over twenty years I've subscribed to the Roman Catholic publication, The Wanderer. And I've maintained my subscription in large part because each issue contains a half-page column of Sobran titled, "Washington Watch."

Recently, Sobran took up his pen in defense of Gibson's work. Check out his piece, "The Witness of the Howling Mob," the first few paragraphs of which I post here to whet your appetite:

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST has finally reached the theaters, and the reviews are pouring out: "the most virulently anti-Semitic movie since World War II" (New York's DAILY NEWS), "sadistic" (NEWSWEEK), "the product of a distinctly perverted sensibility ... pornographic" (the NEW YORK POST), et cetera.

All this indignation and sheer bile over a mere movie? A filmed version of a story the reviewers profess not to believe in? Obviously there is more here than meets the eye. These reviewers aren't people who usually object to sadism and pornography on the screen, which they habitually praise for "candor." How has this film struck the limits of their otherwise boundless tolerance? Why can't they bear "candor" about the crucifixion....

Cardinal Castrillon exchanging homilies...

In thinking through the historical controversy between Protestants and Roman Catholics over the Second Commandment and its application to pictures of Jesus, I've tried to bring the principal contributions of that controversy to bear on Mel Gibson's, The Passion of the Christ, cautioning my own congregation and readers carefully to consider that the method and purpose of this movie is not primarily to teach, but rather to lead the viewers to worship our Lord in the midst of His Passion. Thus, I argue, this is the very thing our Reformation fathers denounced as a violation of the Second Commandment: We are not to use images of any Member of the Trinity as helps in worship.

It's interesting that most Protestants have, in the present, argued in defense of Gibson's movie with almost exactly the same arguments as Roman Catholics used against Protestants at the time of the Reformation.

So what ought we to conclude from this?

Yes, the Reformers might have been wrong and it may be new light has come to Protestants today that allows us to see the errors of the Reformers' position. If so, then the following excerpt from a Roman Catholic priest, himself citing Pope John Paul II, will not be cause for alarm, but rather hope.

Here follows a summary of the historic Roman Catholic position on this matter. And if you can't read it all, at least read the second-to-last paragraph in which Cardinal Castrillon says he'd be willing to exchange a few of his sermons for scenes from The Passion of the Christ--it's a telling quote to end on, isn't it? And for the record, I remain convinced the reformers--not Roman Catholics or Orthodox--are rightly dividing the Word of God in this matter.

(Note: Although early on in the Reformation Luther was critical of the images of the Roman Catholic church, later he came to tolerate, and even embrace, those images. So although most Protestants have rejected images in worship, Lutheran practice is closer to that of Rome herself.)

Blessed Virgin Mary: Reforming Rome...

For years, those of us who are Bible-believing, reformed Protestants have been grateful for the work of Roman Catholics fighting for the political and moral life of our nation. Whether the battle is abortion, euthanasia, the ordination of women, sodomy, or something as seemingly obscure and exotic as the principle of subsidiarity, we have found ourselves taught and led in ethics, moral theology, political philosophy, and particularly culture, by Rome.

Even locally, when we picket abortion clinics and testify before our town fathers against the Civil Rights Commission's recommendation that sodomites be given access to our children within our public schools, we find ourselves surrounded by pious Roman Catholics who have been mounting the barricades against such decadence for decades. We acknowledge the central and courageous voice of Pope John Paul II in the crumbling of the Iron Curtain; we are instructed by Richard John Neuhaus; we love Pat Buchanan and Joe Sobran for their salty wisdom and courage; we give major portions of our lives over to Tolkien, memorizing more in his books and movies than we've memorized of Scripture in the past ten years; and when it comes to movies, we give it up for Mel Gibson.

But all is not well in Rome, and here's another reminder (pulled from the Roman Catholic Vatican news service, Zenit) that we must not give up our reformed-and-reforming Protestantism:

Solzhenitsyn: A prophet is not without honor...

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a towering prophet of the twentieth century and, whether recognized or not, the world today owes him a great debt of gratitude for his (at times) almost-singlehanded work documenting and exposing the murderous tyranny of communism in the Soviet Union. Without his voice and pen, it's hard to imagine President Reagan giving the June 8, 1982 "Evil Empire" speech to the House of Commons.

From the time Solzhenitsyn set foot on American soil, the reception our nation granted him was somewhere between diffidence and hostility.

On June 8, 1978 Solzhenitsyn gave the commencement address at Harvard University. Titled, A World Split Apart, Solzhenitsyn had the chutzpah to bite the hand that fed him.

Pardon us, Ms. Nature...

Apparently the Academy is not as impervious to the weather as I thought. Take a look at this editorial from today's edition of the Indiana Daily Student, passed on by Lucas Weeks.

Scientists freed from religion...

Ministering in a university community, the culture of the academy permeates life. Before moving to Bloomington, Indiana (where Indiana University's 35,000 students comprise half the population of 70,000), we lived in a rural Wisconsin dairy farming community.

By way of contrast with rural Wisconsin, Bloomington's most noticeable trait is pride. Thinking about this, many explanations come to mind but one of my favorites is the imperviousness of the academic world to the weather.


Protestant quotes on images of Christ...

Several friends have passed on excerpts from fathers in the faith concerning the nature and meaning of the Second Commandment. I'm putting them up here, hoping others will be instructed by them as I have been myself. Thank you to Bob Patterson, Jim Goodloe, Richard Burnett, John McKenzie (and numerous web sites) for calling our attention to these texts. And of course, everyone would do well to start by reading the fourth chapter of J. I. Packer's modern classic, Knowing God.(To save entering lots of html code, none of these excerpts will be indented. Also, other quotes of Martin Luther would support the use of images in worship, but I've chosen to include this earlier quote only since it, at least, agrees with the thrust of the Protestant reformers here presented.)

Mel Gibson's Icon Productions...

In an earlier post, I wrote:

When Mr. Gibson makes a celluloid icon and calls Christians to express their devotion to the Lord Jesus by venerating that icon, Mr. Gibson is doing precisely what we reformed folks have accused his communion of doing for almost five hundred years, now--he is being an orthodox Roman Catholic encouraging the veneration of images of God.

To which another World blogger, Dean Abbott, responded:

When and where, exactly, did Mr. Gibson call Christians to express their devotion to the Lord Jesus by venerating that icon?

There is no citation because I'm not quoting Gibson on this, but only summarizing what is self-evident concerning his motivation in making The Passion of the Christ: this movie is an act of religious devotion to Jesus and the Virgin Mary and through this, his celluloid medium, Gibson is calling his viewers to the same devotion.

The highest quality images of Jesus available...

As I finished up the blog entry immediately below, I checked my email and found a piece of spam with this subject line:

Do you need Jesus footage for your worship service or Easter program?

Softened up by Gibson's movie (which I have not seen), I allowed myself a peek and here's the actual text I found:

If, as an actor, one penetrates the character...

Jim Caviezel, the man who plays Jesus in Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, recently had a personal audience with the Pope. But first, a little background information on Caviezel:

Having been offered once...

I subscribe to an email news service, ZENIT, published from the Vatican. Recently, they included an interview that's interesting because of its statement of the need to explain to Protestants the devotion to the Virgin Mary and to the (eucharistic) theology of the Roman Catholic Mass at the center of Mel Gibson's "Passion."

Although this would not, in itself, keep me from attending the movie, it should be cautionary to those who do attend. As we are not adept at recognizing idolatry, we also are limited in our ability to recognize and take protective measures against false doctrine. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

Amusing ourselves to life...

With all due respect to Orthodox (with their icons) and Roman Catholics (with their images)...

When Mr. Gibson makes a celluloid icon and calls Christians to express their devotion to the Lord Jesus by venerating that icon, Mr. Gibson is doing precisely what we reformed folks have accused his communion of doing for almost five hundred years, now--he is being an orthodox Roman Catholic encouraging the veneration of images of God.