Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ – A Misunderstood Film

Many critics have unjustifiably criticized Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ which actually presents Jesus Christ’s supernatural love in the face of injustice and hatred.  

Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ has stirred up emotions, controversy and extreme reactions. It was released in 2004. Since then critics have accused the film of encouraging anti-semitism and containing excessive violence and sadism. But their accusations turn out to be completely wrong.

Basically, the biblical drama – as its title explicitly indicates – covers the last hours of Jesus Christ’s life. Although there is no denying the fact that The Passion of the Christ presents violent and bloody scenes, many critics have not really focused on the film’s artistic content and its theological meaning. Judging from their criticisms, we can regard it as a – perhaps willingly – misunderstood film.

Prof. Dr. Martin Rhonheimer, a Catholic priest, brilliantly refutes the main charges against Gibson’s film in an article, reminding us of its central message: “The film’s central message is not the brutality of scourging and crucifixion but the transformation of these horrible sufferings into an offering of love to Jesus’ heavenly Father.” Rhonheimer’s article serves as the main source for the following section about the theological meaning of blood and the filmic representation of Christ.    

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins – The Significance of Blood and Christ’s Supernatural Love vs Satan’s Superhuman Hatred

Several scenes point to the significance of blood. As far as the Bible is concerned, blood is one of the symbols of life.

When The Passion of the Christ shows the crucifixion, flashback scenes of the Last Supper are presented in between to make the audience aware that Christ’s blood is poured out for salvation. This corresponds to the lines in Matthew 26:28, which Jesus says in one scene: “For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (King James Version; note: Jesus does not use the words of this version in the film.).

Notably, towards the end of the film Jesus does not bleed to death, while hanging on the cross. Instead, he dies consciously and freely after stating the following words: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Accordingly, the God-man, Jesus, accepts his heavenly Father’s will. Moreover, he gives the impression of having the sovereignty    over what happens to him. 

Throughout The Passion of the Christ Jesus reacts to human injustice and hatred with supernatural love. In contrast to Christ, who endures this injustice without complaint, various humans mock and torture him without mercy. However, as can be inferred from some scenes, Satan, for instance, brings the bloodthirsty Roman torturers under his control. Thus, Jesus actually fights against Satan’s superhuman hatred of God.

That means, neither the Romans nor the Jews are demonized because the Devil is portrayed as the epitome of absolute evil. At the end of Gibson’s film, by accepting his Father’s will, Jesus defeats Satan and achieves victory.    


Rhonheimer, Martin. “Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”: A Plea for Fairness.” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture 8.1 (2005): 13-27. 

The Passion of the Christ. Dir. Mel Gibson. Perf. Jim Caviezel, Maia Morgenstern, and Monica Bellucci. 2004. DVD. Capelight pictures, 2014.  

A $5 Standing Bet regarding the Alleged Debate about How many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin

Historians nowadays doubt that medieval Scholastic scholars debated about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. For years academics have found no evidence either for such a debate or a question that dealt with this issue.

In this connection, a funny fact should be added. According to the historian Robert Bartlett, “[t]here is a $5 standing bet for anyone finding any evidence of the question being asked in the Middle Ages” (73n4).


Bartlett, Robert. The Natural and the Supernatural in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. 

Bare ruin’d quiers, where late the sweet birds sang – A Short (Visual) Reflection on a Line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73

England’s monastic past is evoked through a line in William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73. It  also reminds us of what happened to many monasteries and abbeys in Britain during and after the Reformation in England and Scotland.  

Poetry generally possesses a unique character. However, because of the metaphorical language and the elusive allusions, we frequently have difficulty in deciphering the stories poems tell or the messages they convey. The same applies to William Shakespeare’s sonnets.

Although Sonnet 73 is no exception in this regard, a single line is particularly striking. We find it at the end of the first quatrain:

“That time of yeare thou maist in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few doe hange

Upon those boughes which shake against the could,

Bare ruin’d quiers, where late the sweet birds sang.”

(This quatrain is taken from Duffy, Eamon. Saints, Sacrilege & Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformation. London: Bloomsbury, 2012. P. 234.)

Here Shakespeare evokes England’s monastic past but also alludes to the monastic ruins in the post-Reformation period. In general, the one-line evocation gives a feeling of nostalgia. It permits the interpretation that Shakespeare arguably assumed a critical attitude towards the English Reformation, while he appeared to be in favour of late medieval monasticism and Catholicism.

During as well as after the Reformation in England and Scotland the overthrow of late medieval monasticism resulted in the dissolution, destruction and pillage of many monasteries, abbeys and other religious buildings. A large amount of church land was also transferred.

The ruins of Battle Abbey (2012)
Inside Battle Abbey (2012)

Today, we can still visit the romantic ruins. They are a reminder of a distant past. Examples are Battle Abbey, the partially ruined building on the alleged site of the famous Battle of Hastings, and the ruins of Holyrood Abbey beside the Palace of Holyroodhouse in the Scottish capital Edinburgh, even though in the 17th century the demolished Augustinian monastery was rebuilt and fell into disrepair in the 18th century.

The ruins of Holyrood Abbey (2018)

Note: All photos were taken by me (Nils Zumbansen) in 2012 and 2018. 


Duffy, Eamon. Saints, Sacrilege & Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformation. London: Bloomsbury, 2012. 

Santa Croce in Florence – A Magnificent Basilica and Resting Place

This short post is about Santa Croce in Florence and the resting place inside the basilica. 

If you visit Florence as a tourist, you need to see the magnificent Basilica di Santa Croce (eng. Basilica of the Holy Cross), the largest Franciscan church in the world. It is located  in the eastern centre of this Renaissance city.

According to legend, Santa Croce was founded by the famous Saint Francis of Assisi  (1181/82-1226) himself. At any rate, the construction of the current building had begun in 1294 or 1295, before it was completed at the end of the 14th century. Eventually, Pope Eugene IV consecrated the church in the 15th century.

Inside the basilica Santa Croce

You may want to take part in a service. Besides impressive frescoes by Giotto and great art, you will find remarkable tombs because the church is a resting place of notable Italians. There are funerary monuments to the men such as the diplomat, historian and political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), the artist Michelangelo (1475-1564) as well as the natural philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).

The tomb of Machiavelli
The tomb of Michelangelo
The tomb of Galileo

Note: All photos were taken by me (Nils Zumbansen) in 2018. 

A Brief Look at the Böckenförde Dilemma

The former German constitutional judge Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde posed a dilemma by asking the question of whether the liberal, secularized state lives by normative presuppositions which it cannot guarantee itself. Here the concept of social capital also comes to the fore. 

On 24 February 2019 the former German constitutional judge Ernst-Wolfgang Böckenförde died at the age of 88. During his lifetime he became famous for a dilemma he posed in the 1960s by stating that the free, liberal and secularized state exists because of prerequisites that it cannot guarantee itself. It is commonly known as the Böckenförde Dilemma. Basically, this dilemma refers to the difficulty of a secular state to create social capital.

A Definition of Social Capital

We can conceive of social capital as follows: there are interpersonal relationships, strong ties and / or networks of individuals that share values, norms and a sense of identity. From these tight-knit networks arise understanding, sympathy, goodwill, willingness for cooperation and norms of trustworthiness and reciprocity. Accordingly, social capital ensures the effective functioning of a group.

Undoubtedly, the extent of social capital depends on whether the members of a particular group have a similar cultural background. However, at this point, we should not neglect the ethnic dimension. That means, when focusing on social capital, we need to consider a group’s ethnic composition.

Broadly speaking, social capital constitutes a significant factor in society. If everything is equal, a community with a higher degree of social capital will surely outcompete an opposing group with less social capital because the latter lacks cohesion and internal trust. Let’s now return to the Böckenförde Dilemma and briefly look at the question of its relevance nowadays.

The Relevance of the Böckenförde Dilemma

So, does the liberal, secularized state live by normative presuppositions which it cannot guarantee itself? Many will probably agree that the obvious answer is: yes, it does. Today,  the free, secular state really exists on the basis of certain presuppositions or foundations. These are, in turn, laid by components we associate with the concept of social capital including shared values, customs, norms as well as a sense of cultural identity.

More precisely, the liberal, secularized state relies on indigenous, ideological, ethical, philosophical and / or religious traditions, which are collectively binding. Eventually, such traditions not only lead to cooperation, cohesion and trust but also to the working of society. Thus, the Böckenförde Dilemma is still relevant. In this connection, questions regarding the role of Christianity, churches, religions or other traditional institutions take centre stage.


Angenendt, Arnold. Toleranz und Gewalt: Das Christentum zwischen Bibel und Schwert. 2nd ed. Münster: Aschendorff Verlag, 2009.

Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. London, New York: Penguin Books, 2012.

Murray, Douglas. The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. London, New York: Bloomsbury, 2017.