The Passion of the Christ — a Film by Mel Gibson*

Gibson belongs to a Traditionalist Catholic group that performs the mass in Latin, abstains from meat on Fridays, eschews ecumenism, and other such things that were changed at the Vatican II Council in the 1960s. Gibson built his own Catholic chapel, called Holy Family, near his California home. During the filming, Gibson attended a Catholic mass every morning with the misguided desire “to be squeaky clean.” The script was translated into Aramaic and Latin by Jesuit priest William Fulco. Originally, Gibson did not plan to include even subtitles in English, but he was convinced of the necessity of this by “evangelicals” who reviewed the film.

What gospel is Mel Gibson trying to preach through this movie? It is the Catholic gospel of sacramentalism. When asked by a Protestant interviewer if someone can be saved apart from the Roman Catholic Church, Gibson replied, “There is no salvation for those outside the Church” (The New Yorker, 9/15/03). This was the official teaching of Rome prior to Vatican II. Also in accordance with Catholic theology, Gibson identifies the Mass with Christ’s sacrifice. He told Eternal Word Television Network that the “sacrifice of the cross” and “the sacrifice of the altar” are “the same thing” (EWTNews Feature, 1/13/04).

According to Romanism, Jesus Christ died on the cross and purchased redemption and then delivered this redemption to the Catholic Church to be distributed to men piecemeal via the seven sacraments. Man cannot receive eternal salvation directly from Christ through faith; he must approach Christ through the Catholic Church, via baptism, confirmation, mass, confession to a Catholic priest, etc. The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was not once for all and sufficient, but must be perpetuated in the mass, which is called a non-bloody sacrifice. Consider this statement from the Vatican II Council: “Hence the Mass, the Lord’s Supper, is at the same time and inseparably: a sacrifice in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated … For in it Christ perpetuates in an unbloody manner the sacrifice offered on the cross, offering himself to the Father for the world’s salvation through the ministry of priests” (Vatican II Documents, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic Mystery, Introduction, C 1,2, p. 108). The New Catholic Catechism of 1992 said, “The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice ... In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner.” The creed of Pope Pius IV, which authoritatively summarized the teaching of the Council of Trent, stated: “I profess likewise, that in the Mass is offered to God a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; and that, in the most holy sacrifice of the Eucharist, there is truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The movie is not based solely on the Bible, but also on the visions of Roman Catholic nun-mystics St. Anne Catherine Emmerich and Mary of Agreda: 

(1) Of the visions of Emmerich, Gibson said, “She supplied me with stuff I never would have thought of” (The New Yorker, 9/15/03). Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824) was a German nun who allegedly had the stigmata or wounds of Christ in her body. Emmerich supposedly “had the use of reason from her birth and could understand liturgical Latin from her first time at Mass.” During the last 12 years of her life, she allegedly ate no food except the wafer of the Catholic mass. Her visions on the life of Christ were published in 1824 under the title The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They are still in print and were consulted by Gibson. An advertisement for Emmerich’s Life of the Virgin Mary says, “This book is filled with unusual, saintly descriptions that are not recorded in the Gospel story—descriptions that supplement and illustrate the Biblical narrative in a way that makes the actual Scripture passages truly come alive.” Thus, these alleged visions go beyond the Bible. According to Emmerich’s visions, Protestants also go to purgatory, but they suffer more than Catholics because no one prays for them or offers masses for them. She taught that it is more holy to pray for souls in purgatory than for sinners who are still alive. Her deceptive visions on the suffering of Christ describe His scourging and crucifixion in great detail, giving many “facts” which do not appear in Scripture. For example, she claimed that Christ “quivered and writhed like a poor worm” and that He “cried in a suppressed voice, and a clear, sweet-sounding wailing” as He was being beaten. She even claimed that Christ “glanced at His torturers, and sued for mercy.” She also claimed that Jesus suffered from a wound on his shoulder more than any other.

(2) Mary of Agreda (1602-1665) was also a Catholic nun and visionary mystic. Her entire family entered monasteries and convents in 1618, which means that her mother and father disobeyed 1 Corinthians 7 and separated for the sake of the Catholic church. She was given to trances and even claimed that she could leave her body and teach people in foreign lands. Her book The Mystical City of God is about Mary. Like the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich, those of Mary of Agreda go far beyond the Bible. For example, she claimed that though Joseph ate meat, Jesus and Mary seldom did.

Not surprisingly, therefore, Gibson’s film contains errors when judged by the Biblical account. It is, indeed, a Catholic movie. For example, in the Garden of Gethsemane, the devil is depicted with Christ, whereas the Bible says nothing about this. After Christ’s arrest and as He is being escorted to the high priest’s residence, He is beaten, knocked down, and thrown off a bridge. After Christ is whipped, Mary gets down on her knees and wipes up the blood. Mary is depicted as accompanying Christ all of the way to the cross and basically enduring the suffering with Him. On the way to the cross, Jesus tells Mary, “Behold I make all things new.” As Jesus falls on the way to the cross, there is a flashback to His childhood, when He supposedly fell and Mary ran to pick Him up. Mary is depicted as holding Jesus in her arms when He is taken down from the cross. The apostles address Mary as “Mother” throughout the movie. Mary is even depicted with supernatural powers. One man who saw the movie described the following scene: “Mary was walking across a stone courtyard and then stopped and went prostrate on the ground, placing her ear to the stones. The camera went down, as if through the earth, and showed Jesus hanging in chains from the stone ceiling of a jail cell. Jesus felt Mary’s presence, and looked up at her, as if to see her through the stones.” In another scene, “Mary is watching Jesus being flogged and Jesus in turn looks to Satan who is standing amongst the Roman soldiers holding what looks like (for lack of a better description) a pale oversized retarded or demonic baby that mocks and laughs at Jesus.” (See the 3/8/04 FBIS titled, “Errors in Mel Gibson's Movie: Do We Have Artistic License?, for a complete listing of Gibson’s errors and heresies in this movie.)

Then there is the relentless torture itself, which goes far beyond what the Bible depicts. One movie reviewer rightly observed that if Jesus had actually been treated as described in Mel Gibson’s movie, He would have been dead long before He reached the cross! The film is rated “R” precisely because of its violence. The scourging and crucifixion are shown in great detail. In fact, it goes far, far beyond the Biblical account. In his review of the film, Roger Friedman observed:

“But the real problem with ‘The Passion’ is that it is graphic beyond belief, and unrelenting. How anyone will be able to sit through this thing is the real mystery. There is blood, blood, everywhere. The violence toward Jesus is sadistic and grotesque. Basically, the entire second half of the film is spent watching Jesus endure physical torture never before seen in a movie. By the time it’s done, actor James Caviezel’s body is a map of bloody rivers and lakes with craters of flesh excised from his torso. Is this disgusting? You bet. It’s also puzzling, because what Gibson hasn’t done in ‘The Passion’ is explain his love of Christ or his own passion or devotion. We have no idea why Christ is so reviled by the Jews, what he’s done to earn their anger, or what he’s done to earn Gibson’s respect. >From the moment the film begins, Jesus is simply a target for unbridled, unrestrained bloodlust. Yes, we get to see the nails driven through him, blood spurting in every direction, skin being torn in the process. Is there anything that’s learned by witnessing this enactment? I wish I could say there was, but there isn’t. IT’S SIMPLE BRUTALITY, WITH A HARD ROCK MUSIC TRACK PLAYING IN THE BACKGROUND” (Fox News, 2/25/04).

Contrary to Gibson’s Catholic movie, the Bible does not focus on the violence of the crucifixion. Following is how the Bible describes the crucifixion:

“... and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall, and gathered unto him the whole band of soldiers. And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! And they spit upon him, and took the reed, and smote him on the head. And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him. And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull, they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. And they crucified him ...” (Matt. 27:26-35).

Thus we see that the Bible does not linger on the details of Christ’s suffering. The Bible’s description is not R-rated. While it is true that “by his stripes we are healed” (Is. 53:5), this does not mean that salvation came through Christ’s beating. The focus of the Scriptures is not upon Christ’s suffering, but upon Him being made sin in the sinner’s place. It was not Christ’s suffering in itself that made the atonement; it was our sin being laid upon Christ during His suffering. That is why Christ cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” God laid the sins of the world upon Christ. That is what has made our salvation possible. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Further, it was not Christ’s suffering in general that made the atonement; it was precisely His blood and death. “Much more then, being now justified BY HIS BLOOD, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God BY THE DEATH of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:9, 10).

Jim Caviezel, who plays Jesus in the Gibson film, is also a staunch Roman Catholic. He prayed to St. Genesius of Arles and St. Anthony of Padua for help in his acting career. He has visited Medjugorje to witness the site where Mary allegedly appeared to six young people. One of the things that Mary allegedly told them is that the pope “should consider himself as the father of all people and not only the Christians.” Caviezel said, “This film is something that I believe was made by Mary for her Son” (Interview with Jim and Kerri Caviezel by Catholic priest Mario Knezovic, Radio “Mir” Medjugorje, December 2003). Caviezel also said that his goal with the movie is to “bring mankind back together.” Caviezel said that he was given “a piece of the true cross, which he kept with him all of the time during the filming of the movie. He also had relics of “Padre Pio, St. Anthony of Padoua, Ste Maria Goretti, and saint Denisius, the Patron saint of Actors.” He prayed the Rosary to Mary every day. 

Moreover, The Passion of the Christ is intimately associated with the moral vileness of those involved in its production. Monica Bellucci, the actress who plays Mary Magdalene in Gibson’s movie, is a famous pornography star in Italy (“The Passion of the Christ: An International Hoax”), and she has also played in R-rated movies in the States. She posed for the 2001 GQ Italia Totally Nude calendar, and she has appeared in the nude or nearly nude in many movies, including Irreversible, Melena, Brotherhood of the Wolf (a Dracula movie), and Under Suspicion. Describing the film Irreversible, a professional movie reviewer says it “makes pure pornography look pretty appealing in comparison.” The reviewer, Steve Rhodes, said it should be rated X, and based on his reviews of other films, it is obvious that he is no “prude.” The movie has a ten minute anal rape scene featuring Bellucci, which is “complete with penetration shots and depictions of sodomy.” The Society for the Promotion of Community Standards gave this warning about Bellucci’s Irreversible: “Premiered at last years Cannes Film Festival, Irreversible proved so shocking that 250 people walked out, some needing medical attention,” and described the movie as “hard-core pornography.” 

Two of the other actresses in Gibson’s Jesus movie have pornographic photos plastered all over the Internet: Rosita Celentano, who plays Satan; and Claudia Gerini, who plays Pilate’s wife. Maia Morgenstern, who plays Jesus’ mother Mary in the film, also starred in a vile, sexually provocative 1997 Hungarian movie entitled The Witman BoysFinally, John Debney  wrote the rock ‘n’ roll music score to the film, the same man who wrote the rock score for the blasphemous movie Bruce Almighty.

Much more could be said along these lines about other actors in The Passion of the Christ, but instead we need look no further than the producer himself. Mel Gibson has made millions, some of it used to finance this movie, through his roles in R-rated films that have contributed significantly to the moral debasement of society, such as Mad Max, Braveheart, Payback, and the extremely violent Lethal Weapon series. In the latter, Gibson played a rogue policeman who excels in violence. Most of his movies are filled with foul language and profanity, including those he has made during the past 12 years since, according to his own testimony, he has been dreaming about making The Passion of the Christ. The Payback movie, for example, contained, according to one reviewer, at least 94 instances of cursing (including the most vile words) and filthy language, and used the name of the Lord in vain. Gibson also starred in the sexually debauched 2000 film What Women Want. In this movie, Gibson played “a character named Nick, whose goal in life was to bed all the women his lustful heart desired.” One Christian reviewer summarized Gibson’s movies as follows: “The legacy of Mel Gibson has been sexual immorality, profanity, coarse jesting, extreme violence and vigilantism” (Joseph Herrin, “The Passion of Mel Gibson”).

Gibson says that a major message of his film is tolerance. In an interview with Rachel Abramowitz of the Los Angeles Times (“He’s Bruised, Defiant over Persecution,” 1/15/04), Gibson said, “Now the message he [Christ] brought was one of peace and love and tolerance—all the messages of tolerance that I put in there, particularly toward the end.” The message of peace, love, and tolerance is NOT exactly the message that Jesus Christ preached. He did exemplify the greatest love known to mankind, but He also proclaimed Himself as the only Lord and Saviour, that no man can come unto God except through Him (Jn. 10:7, 8; 14:6). He preached frequently on eternal hellfire, warning that all men will go there unless they are born again through faith in Him (Jn. 3; Mat. 25:46). He warned that men will be judged in every area of their lives, even every idle word (Mat. 12:36). He warned that He did not come to bring peace to the earth but division and a sword (Mat. 10:34; Lk. 12:51). — No message of tolerance here.   

Besides all the other problems with the movie, our main concern is the idolatry involved. We believe that it is idolatrous to depict the Lord Jesus Christ in pictures and films. (See the next review.) The law of God forbids man to make any likeness of God. The Jesus in Mel Gibson’s movie is depicted in the typical fashion with long hair, whereas the Bible is clear that Jesus would not have worn long hair (1 Cor. 11:14). Gibson got his inspiration for the long-haired Jesus from the Shroud of Turin. He attempted to re-create the face depicted on the Shroud. 

Man has no divine authority to do this type of thing. It is presumptuous in the extreme for a fallen man to attempt to portray the holy, sinless, eternal Son of God. As for Christ’s deity, that would be impossible to depict, and even His humanity is not depicted properly in this film. The only thing the Bible tells us about Christ’s earthly appearance is the following statement from Isaiah: “he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). Further, we know that Jesus Christ was a Jewish man. Thus, whatever Jesus looked like, he certainly DID NOT look like the tall, blond, and handsome Caucasian Hollywood movie star that plays the part in Gibson’s film!

Note the following warning about depictions of Christ from former Catholic priest Richard Bennett: 

“Creating a visual representation of the Lord Jesus, by definition, is to portray ‘another Jesus.’ The Lord Jesus in His Person, character, and work is divine and perfect. No Savior other than the One proclaimed in Scripture is permissible. Those who claim they are only depicting the humanity of Jesus Christ fall into the grievous heresy of Nestorius, as they wrongly attempt to divide the humanity from the deity of Christ, ending up with idols produced by the imaginations of their own hearts. The Lord God gave believers a Wordbook, not a picture book. ... The visual works of a man’s devising, for all their emotional power, are too dull a tool to bring to the individual conviction of sin and the explicit Gospel of grace that the Written Word and the truth preached bring.”

“But this fact notwithstanding, a three-dimensional image of Christ is not only allowed by official Catholic teaching, but it is also to be venerated. The Vatican states, ‘Basing itself on the mystery of the incarnate Word, the seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea (787) justified … the veneration of icons — of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints.’ The temptation to replace the biblical Lord with a visible Christ dominates Catholic nations across of the world. Men calling themselves Christian are now beginning to accept it. A figure one can touch, see, wear on jewelry, and is visible in statues and on a crucifix, is identified as an object through which one can approach God and learn of Him. Yet the Scripture clearly states that ‘there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ The Lord God is approachable only through the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. But as the bleeding Savior of Gibson’s passion is presented to the world, this fact seems thrown aside. We ask, then, what worse blasphemy could there be than depicting with an image the Lord God who condemns images? Evangelical leaders, by endorsing this Catholic film, further solidify the image of the counterfeit Christ upon the minds of many” (Richard Bennett and J. Virgil Dunbar, “The Passion of Christ: Mel Gibson’s Vivid Deception”).

Those supporting this movie are supporting a Roman Catholic producer who preaches a false gospel, and a movie that is based not only on the Bible, but also on the Mary-centered visions of deluded Catholic mystics. Faith does not come by seeing; faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Rom. 10:17).

We close with this warning from Buddy Smith, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Malanda, Queensland: 

“What might be the results from this movie The Passion of the Christ? (1) There may be a handful of  people genuinely converted to Christ [but] God does turn the follies of men to His own ends. (2) There will be many who will be influenced toward Roman Catholicism, especially Mel Gibson’s form of traditional (Latin mass) brand. (3) The ecumenical movement will receive a great boost as undiscerning Christians miss the subtle Catholic innuendos of the film, and are motivated to participate in more and more ecumenical meetings. (4) We will see and hear more and more of the New Evangelical spokesmen (Focus on the Family, Campus Crusade, Billy Graham, and friends) encouraging interfaith dialogue with Rome. (5) And last, I believe that those who are ‘converted’ through the film will suffer the ‘birth defects’ of compromise with Rome and Hollywood through their exposure to both in the ‘film evangelism’ used by the churches to win them.”

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