Violence and the Cross an Essay

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Gustavo Gutierrez did just that in Latin America, employing Marxist analysis to interpret the Jesus' teachings in the Gospel. Gutierrez founded Liberation Theology, which is, essentially, the twentieth century take on Violence and the Cross. Christ is viewed less as Redeemer and more as Liberator.

Evans discusses this same interpretation in black theology, which is, essentially, a continuation of Liberation Theology: "In spite of the ravages of their kidnapping and the disorientation that they endured, African slaves retained an outlook on their experience that continually reaffirmed their worth as individuals and as a people…The Jesus whom they encountered as they were exposed to the Bible was a caring and liberating friend who shared their sorrows and burdens" (12). Yet, in black theology, Jesus does not bring grace through suffering that can perfect one's nature and lead one's soul to Heaven (as classical theology insists); in black theology, Jesus is the agent of social and economic change -- He is viewed as the hero of the downtrodden -- a figure of inspiration: something like Gandhi, a peaceful, non-violent revolutionary, exercising non-violent protest in the very teeth of violence. The spiritual side of the ancient ecclesiology is absent, as the Vatican stated in the 1980s with regard to Liberation Theology (before, of course, backtracking and acknowledging the fundamental good intentions at the heart of the movement).

Migliore, too, discusses the changes in theology. Violence and the Cross, of course, lead to the Resurrection -- but modern theologians cannot agree on just what the Resurrection should mean. According to Migliore, some take the viewpoint that the Resurrection is not something that happened to Jesus but something that happened "in the disciples." The traditional narrative, however, states that Jesus resurrected and ascended into heaven, while the disciples were visited by the Paraclete at Pentecost. States Migliore, "According to Rudolf Bultmann…the resurrection is a symbol of the rise of faith in the saving significance of the cross as proclaimed in the early Christian message: 'The faith of Easter is just this -- faith in the word of preaching'" (192). What then is the word of preaching? What is it that needs be preached? According to Evans it is liberation: "The history of revelation and the history of liberation are the same history" (12-13).

Evans also illustrates the new theology that revelation is changing -- that the deposit of faith (as defined by the Church) is "contingent, partial, and incomplete in the sense that human history is yet unfolding" (13). Such is the novel idea of evolutionism, of Teilhard de Chardin, Gustavo Gutierrez, the Second Vatican Council, and much of modern theology. The focus of such theology is the liberation of an oppressed social class from the tyranny of capitalists -- and in a way it is an anachronistic theology even as it continues today. In this sense, the dynamic behind Liberation Theology has expressed itself anew in black theology, feminist theology, and numerous other variants. Liberty from social, economic, and political slavery takes primacy over liberation from sin. Violence is decried as the ultimate evil -- yet willingness to suffer in reparation is neither praised nor preached by such theologians. On the contrary, the mantra of the French Revolution is touted: liberty, fraternity, equality.

Manifestations of Violence and the Cross in Literature and Film

The best representative of violence and the cross in modern literature is found in the works of the American southern gothic writer Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964). An anomaly herself, O'Connor was a practicing Catholic in the Protestant Bible Belt, whose stories were a woven tapestry of Protestant hypocrisy and violent rejection of Christ. The rejection of Christ that O'Connor pursues, however, is two-fold: it is not merely His doctrine that is rejected -- it is His very person and His willingness to offer for us the example of suffering for sins needed for the attainment of salvation. O'Connor's masterwork, Wise Blood, is a novel of a young man named Hazel Motes who is Christ haunted. Motes, having rejected the salvific and redemptory nature of Christ's death on the Cross, denies Original Sin, and goes on to deny God Himself. Motes, in effect, becomes a preacher of atheism, demanding of the people of the small southern town in which he dwells that they throw off the shackles of superstition, which keeps them from rising up and attaining their rightful inheritance here on earth. In brief, Motes becomes a preacher of Liberation Theology without Christ.

Of course, O'Connor recognizes that the religion of the modern world is characterized by the odd conundrum with which it situates itself, so she creates a parallel preacher in Wise Blood who dresses like Motes, acts like Motes, talks like Motes, and preaches like Motes -- but preaches a Protestant variety of his doctrine: the Church of Christ Without Christ. Whereas Motes preaches anti-Christ and receives no followers, his double preaches Protestantism and not only gets people to follow him but he also gets them to pay to do so. Motes preaches to the people exactly what they believe and what their actions signify -- his double preaches what they want to hear: not suffering for the sins, but forgiveness without reparation: in other words, Christ without Christ.

All of O'Connor's short stories (and two novels) are devoted to the theme of Violence and the Cross. Each narrative is an expression of human nature's violent reaction -- not only to Christ, but also to what His suffering and death on the Cross signify. The Violent Bear It Away is a perfect example of what Migliore attempts to illustrate in his theological analysis: it is the story of a young boy commanded by his evangelical grandfather to baptize his young cousin; the boy is driven to obey despite himself and his rejection of his grandfather's faith: he drowns his cousin (but at the same time says the words of baptism -- again despite himself). O'Connor, quite singularly, saw the intimate relation between blood and the Cross, Christ and suffering. However, O'Connor does see a kind of significance in the passionate rejection of Christ that has much more meaning than the indifferentist reception. The violence with which Motes attacks his double is a prelude to the passion with which he will later throw himself into conversion and repentance.

In film, the two most popular depictions of Christ, violence and the cross come in Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. The latter was derided for its gruesome depiction of Christ's suffering at the hands of Pilate. The former was derided for its unorthodox, blasphemous depiction of Christ struggling with His two natures. In Gibson's Passion, all the major artists since the Renaissance are mimicked in shot after shot, from Rembrandt to Holbein. Scorsese's Temptation, however, is based on the novel of a lapsed-Catholic (Nikos Kazantzakis), directed by a lapsed-Catholic (Scorsese), and depicting a Christ who is as conflicted and troubled as the writer and director. The film attempts to de-vilify the role of Judas by showing his betrayal as a necessary and therefore laudatory role in the Redemption. Neither film tackles the theme of Violence and the Cross from Migliore's exact perspective (Gibson's is more an act of faith, Scorsese's an act of re-interpretation).

If anything, both films may be said, in a way, to express Migliore's statement that "it is in a world captive to the way of violence that Jesus lived and died for us all" (190). Where Migliore differs from the medieval age of faith is in the meaning and impact of Christ's crucifixion. For Migliore, Christ represents a new non-violent humanity. Of course, such a statement ignores the event recorded in Scripture where Christ chases the money-changers from the temple with a whip. The new non-violent representation has more to do with modern ideology than with history; nonetheless, Migliore is certain that "God raised the crucified Jesus and made him the chief cornerstone of a new humanity that no longer espouses the way of violence, that no longer needs scapegoats, that no longer wills to live at the expense of victims, that no longer imagines or worships a bloodthirsty God, that is no longer interested in legitimations of violence, but that follows Jesus in the power of a new Spirit" (190). The new Spirit can be supposed as a kind of conscientious-objector type of the pacifistic Catholic Worker mold. Like black theology, it is a new interpretation given to fill the hole left by the medieval ecclesiology, with liberty, fraternity and equality as the new parameters in place of the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.


In conclusion, Daniel Migliore details his theology of Christ and the new humanity in which violence is absorbed and overcome by Christ's death on the cross. It is a modern interpretation of the Scriptural account of Christ's passion, and although it details how Christ suffered for "our sake," it departs from the traditional narrative of suffering for penitential…[continue]

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