Question: I heard you recently express concern that an actor played the part of Jesus in the Mel Gibson movie, The Passion of the Christ. There have been many movies that portrayed Christ, yet I don’t recall hearing you complain about them. What about the Jesus film that has been the means of millions coming to Christ around the world? Why are you just now becoming concerned?
Answer: I have consistently opposed attempts to portray Christ in film and other visual media. My reasons are rather simple. If you carried in your wallet a picture that you took out several times a day to look at in order to remember and honor your wife or husband—but it wasn’t a picture of that person at all, but of someone else—wouldn’t your spouse be justifiably be upset?
Literally hundreds of pictures of “Jesus” exist by different artists, famous and otherwise: “Christ Crowned with Thorns,” by Dutch painter Jan Mostaert, c. 1510, in the London National Gallery; “Crown of Thorns,” done about the same time by Italian painter Correggio; “Christ Carrying His Cross,” by Italian and Spanish painter El Greco, 1580, in New York’s Metropoli-tan Museum of Art; “Head of Christ,” by Rembrandt, 1655, held in the Picture Gallery, Berlin; “White Crucifixion,” by Russian painter Marc Chagall, 1938, Art Institute of Chicago; “Head of Christ,” by Warner Sallman, 1940, copyrighted by Warner Press, Inc.; the pitiful, any-person androgynous “Jesus of the People” that won the National Catholic Reporter contest against about 1,700 other entrants in 1999, etc., etc.
These alleged “portraits” are all different. Which one is the true Christ? Not one! Then what is the point for an artist to paint or for you to honor an image of “Christ” that is not what He really looked like—and certainly is not as He appears now in glory?! To whatever extent any depiction (portrait or by actor on stage or film) isn’t accurate but influences your thinking, you have been led astray.
What must Jesus think of these misrepresentations! If your wife or husband would not be pleased with your carrying the picture of another to remind you of him or her, is Christ pleased by those who claim to love Him honoring so many phony representations?!
Moreover, is not Jesus God himself? Tell me why pictures pretending to represent Jesus are not a violation of the commandment not to make an image of God, even in our minds. Is this any better than the Israelites embracing idols as representations of Yahweh? You say you don’t bow before pictures of Jesus. But you do look upon them as representing Jesus, do you not? If not, why have them?
The error is even worse when someone dares to portray Christ on the screen. Of himself, Jesus said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (Jn:14:9)! What actor playing “Jesus” would dare to say that? Yet they are attempting to portray in their flesh what Paul described as “without controversy, great is the mystery...God was manifest in the flesh...” (1 Tm 3:16). What audacity! And what of those who watch with approval and are influenced by such portrayals?
Jim Caviezel felt that in order to accurately portray Christ in The Passion he had to ingest the wafer turned into “Christ” in the Mass each day. Would that help?
After viewing movies, many sincere people see in their minds the actor who played “Christ” every time they think of Jesus. Does that please our Lord? I will leave that to your conscience.