Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dr. Thursday's Thursday Post

Is there any need to repeat and spin out the story of how the tragedy trailed up the Via Dolorosa and how they threw him in haphazard with two thieves in one of the ordinary batches of execution...?
[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:341]
Today's subject is the Fourth Sorrowful Mystery, Jesus Carries the Cross. This mystery summarizes the events covered in another popular devotion, the Stations of the Cross - specifically from the Second to the Ninth inclusive. If you have the third volume of Chesterton's Collected Works, you have GKC's own consideration of that devotion, actually his comments about the artwork for the Stations done by William Frank Brangwyn.

But first, I ought to mention something which may come as a bit of a surprise. Read more.Most of the scenes pictured so vividly in these Stations are simply traditional, and are not a literal part of the Gospels. You may want to get out your Bible and check, but here's a handy chart just for reference:

Station 1. Pilate condemns Jesus to death. Mt 27:26, Mk 15:15, Lk 23:24-25, Jn 19:16
Station 2. Jesus takes up His cross. Mt 27:31, Jn 19:17
Station 3. Jesus falls the first time.
Station 4. Jesus meets His sorrowful Mother.
Station 5. Simon of Cyrene helps carry the cross Mt 27:32, Mk 15:21, Lk 23:26
Station 6. Jesus falls the second time.
Station 7. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.
Station 8. The women of Jerusalem weep over Jesus. Lk 23:27-31
Station 9. Jesus falls the third time.
Station 10. Jesus is stripped. Mk 15:24
Station 11. Jesus is crucified (nailed to the cross). Mt 27:35, Mk 15:27, Lk 23:33, Jn 19:18

That's right. There is no record of Stations 3, 4, 6, 7, 9 in the gospels.
An aside: Yes, I am aware that there have been both "contracted" and "extended" versions of the Stations in the past. But that's going too far afield for my purpose today.
And yet that does not mean these things did not happen! After all, we are meditating, which in OUR tradition means a conscious, full and complete engagement of our mental faculties. Our imagination must play its part, not in "fantasizing" or concocting fiction, but in making present to us an image of a long-past reality. (That's why it is called IMAGE-ination!)

I have said this in some detail, because there is one item in particular which is NOT in the Gospels, but IS in the Stations (and hence in the 4th Sorrowful Mystery) - an item which our Uncle Gilbert calls attention to. You may find it a bit disturbing to read, no, not because of its - uh - medical detail, but because of its dramatic human insight. I have heard it said that Dr. Barbet, the "Surgeon at Calvary," wept bitterly when he would see a crucifix, pondering its medical facts of which he could see so much. The quote I will offer is not like that. It is the deep mystical thought of an incredibly powerful writer and literary critic, who, as usual, can read plainly what so many others miss. I shall only be sorry if it does NOT move you. Rather, like his powerful words in The Everlasting Man, it should make you want to read the original story with a newly opened heart:
If the Gospel description of the Passion of Jesus Christ is not the record of something real, then there was concealed somewhere in the provinces ruled by Tiberius a supremely powerful novelist who was also, among other things, a highly modern realist. I think this improbable. I think that if there had been such a uniquely realistic romancer, he would have written another romance, with the legitimate aim of money; instead of merely telling a lie, with no apparent aim but martyrdom. We hear much in modern times of a realism which is apparently flattered by being called ruthless. I cannot say, as a matter of individual taste, that I am much more attracted to ruthlessness as a virtue of German novelists than of American millionaires. But if ever realism could be called ruthless, and ruthlessness could be called right, it is in the rending story of insult and injustice that has been imbodied in the Stations of the Cross. Christians are enjoined to think about it; but I must confess that I simply have not the courage to write about it. It is rather too real, or realistic, for one commonly in contact with the milder modern realism. Anything so grim in every detail as that would be recognised as beating all the moderns at their own game, if only it had been on what is called the modern side. Details like the repeated failure to carry the Cross have an inhuman horror of humiliation, that would make the fortune of a modern novelist writing on concentration camps to prove there is no God, instead of writing to prove that a God so loved the world.
[GKC, The Way Of The Cross (comments on the art of William Frank Brangwyn) in CW3:541-2]

An afterword - or two. I ought not add anything, except please go read these GKC works, and also the Gospels themselves. But I do want to mention two things about two other stations.

1. It is said that "Veronica" is a pun, possibly referring to the Shroud - or possibly to a real image made by a real woman. But the pun is that the name means the True Image, not the woman! (Remember, we're using our IMAGination, part of our divinely given powers of mind, to SEE more of this mystery.)

2. For some years my local parish has been serving a Vietnamese population in our town. I have delighted in the opportunity to have even a slight contact with an oriental tongue which has virtually nothing in common with any European language! Fascinating. One of the most inspiring details I learned was their title for the Fourth Station, roughly:
Her Majesty the Mother Mary meets His Majesty the Lord Jesus carrying the Holy Cross.
One more thing. An untranslatable pun occurs here: the word for "Cross" also means "price"...

Lay Chua! Xin Chua! Thuong xot chung con!
Oh Lord! We beg You Lord! Have mercy on Your many children!


  1. What a beautiful meditation, Dr. Thursday, thank you.

    I think I'll go find a Bible now...

  2. I think one of the proofs of the Faith is that if the Gospels are fictitious, it is the most remarkable of fiction. Out of a rather brutal and coarse culture comes a story so sensitive, with such an insight into human nature, with so many allusions and interwoven symbols, with such drama and such lucid dialogue and surprising character development that there's no explanation for it.

    Even as fiction the Gospels are miraculous.

    We don't have fiction this complex and developed before the Gospels, and we don't get anything close to them until Shakespeare, 1600 years later - and the atmosphere of his writing is directly inspired by these same Gospels. The Gospels make even the Old Testament look amateurish by comparison, as well as by comparison the modern "realistic" novels and problem plays seem hollow and fake.

    So there is an argument for the truth of the Faith that is purely one of literary criticism, and it is a very strong argument.


Join our FaceBook fan page today!