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December 01, 2006

Comments

JohnD

After reading your review of the movie, I'm less likely to go see it. Butchering and omitting key gospel lines is hard to overlook. It's not like there was too much text to deal with.

SDG

After reading your review of the movie, I'm less likely to go see it.

That would be a shame, IMO. Nothing is "butchered," and while I regret the omissions, what the movie does do is more than valuable enough in itself to be worthwhile in spite of what it doesn't do (though it could have been even more valuable had it done more).

Alyssa

Thanks Steve! I'm looking forward to seeing the movie with the kids. Hope to see you & Suz between Christmas & NYs!

caine thomas

SDG,
Thanks for the inspiring post.
2 questions:

Would the Nativity movie bring problematic questions from children who don't know the birds and the bees? I have a 6 year old I was considering taking to see it if it wasn't too intense.

I've heard you express appreciation for Joss Whedon's creativity in the past. Do you think there'll ever be a sequel to Serenity?

Dan Hunter

I heard that the actress playing The Blessed Mother is pregnant in the film,and as much as this adds to the real-life effect of it,shouldn't an actress who is portraying the jewel of mankind be chaste herself.
The actress is unmarried.
How about a Divine Liturgy or Holy Mass to occupy our time at Advent.
Or we can read st.Bonaventures life of St Francis and discuss the original creche scene
In a more secular vein,Dickens Christmas stories can be read aloud around the fireplace.And Enid Blyton has a delightful book called,"The Christmas Book"written in 1943 England.A heart warming family tale replete with a heartwarming rendition of The Nativity Story
God Bless us,everyone.

Esau

I heard that the actress playing The Blessed Mother is pregnant in the film,and as much as this adds to the real-life effect of it,shouldn't an actress who is portraying the jewel of mankind be chaste herself.

I actually heard from a radio station (though, mind you, this is *hearsay*), that because the girl playing Mary is 16 years old, pregnant with an illegitimate child, the Pope did not go to see the movie.

Rosemarie

+J.M.J+

Was she pregnant during the filming or did she get pregnant afterward? I was under the impression that the latter is the case, though I could be wrong.

In Jesu et Maria,

caine thomas

I actually heard from a radio station (though, mind you, this is *hearsay*), that because the girl playing Mary is 16 years old, pregnant with an illegitimate child, the Pope did not go to see the movie.

Hearsay, I'll say! Is it possible B16 had something else going on? Like getting ready to cross the Koran Curtain? And I'm sure the Vatican people wanted to avoid another "It is as it was" situation.

I say leave the girl alone! She's an actress. It's a movie. Let's worry about ourselves.

Dan Hunter

Does it matter when she became pregnant,out of wedlock?

Annalucia

I went over to imdb.com to check out Keisha Castle-Hughes. Turns out her parents (who were together 9 years and have 3 children) were never married either. So it's not like Keisha's had the best of examples to grow up with.

Good luck to Keisha and her baby, and I hope the dad-to-be is the responsible type who will stick around.

Margaret

Historically there have been many artists, actors, and composers who have led decidedly immoral lives, yet have created enduring works of art that can help to elevate the mind and soul to God. Choosing to boycott The Nativity because the actress was, or became pregnant, out of wedlock should logically lead one to never admire any art created by anyone not "clean enough" to pass muster. Which would be a shame, because a bracing performance of Mozart's Dies Irae is like a strong gale of wind blowing one straight to the confessional...

Margaret

...And on a happier note. Advent in our house is marked by the Advent wreath lit at dinner each night. We also set up the creche right away, sans Baby Jesus. Beside the creche is a package of straw. The children are encouraged to go out of their way to do small, kind deeds, and whenever they do so, they can take a piece of straw and lay it in the manger to help prepare a soft bed for Baby Jesus. We cap it off on Christmas morning by singing Happy Birthday to the Infant and eating cupcakes... (Which sounds horribly cloying, but with so many small children, it's a very clear way to cut through all the toys and Santa stuff and communicate the real point of the day.)

Dan Hunter

Margaret,
Your family tradition sound's wonderful.
God bless you and your family.
PS.what kind of cupcakes?

SDG

The actress was not pregnant during filming. Her pregnancy occurred after filming wrapped. The pregnancy in the film was simulated in typical movie fashion.

It is not true that the Pope opposed the film. The film premiered at the Vatican, in Pope Paul VI Hall, this past Sunday, and was very well received.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, gave it a positive review.

And so did I.

The Vatican film list includes some films made by immoral filmmakers, such as The Gospel According to Matthew, whose director, Pasolini, lived a debauched life.

Nor is the issue confined to film. The Boroque painter Caravaggio, known for such religious masterpieces as The Calling of St. Matthew and The Conversion of St. Paul, was frequently in trouble with the law for violent behavior and once killed a man over the outcome of a game of tennis.

English Catholic and novelist Graham Greene was a notorious philanderer, yet his novels The Power and the Glory and The End of the Affair reflect profoundly on faith and the sinful human condition.

caine thomas

Jake and Elwood weren't exactly livin the clean life, but they gave the world something truly beautiful.

Dan Hunter

The Same with Robert Powell who gave us a stunning portrayal of Christ In Zefferelli's,"Jesus of Nazareth".
A few years later Powell was a womanizing spelunker,in,"What lies Below".

Esau

Speaking of Zefferelli's,"Jesus of Nazareth", look at who played Mary there: Olivia Hussey.

She also plays Mother Teresa in the "Mother Teresa" Movie.

Margaret

I know nothing of Olivia Hussey except her playing Mary. Please don't tell me she lives up to her name??

bill912

Olivia Hussey played half the lead in the late 60s' version of "Romeo and Juliet". She also had a lead role in the movie "The Jeweler's Shop", which is based on a play written by some guy named Karol Wojtyla.

Tim J.

Hey, Steven -

I actually read your review of TNS a few days ago (before this post).

Thank you! I have read other reviews as well, but I always appreciate getting your perspective before I shell out the $$$ to see a "flicker show".

rsps

I watched the coming attractions and other video clips and it looks rather....sub par.

SDG

Thanks, Tim J!

rsps, coming attractions can be misleading. I gave it 3 stars out of 4, so not a rave, but it's definitely better than "sub-par."

FWIW, although a majority of critics have not been kind, some very insightful critics have weighed in positively on the film (again, not raving, but positive), including A. O. Scott of The New York Times, Stephanie Zacharek of Salon.com, Carrie Rickey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter. Oh, and my friend and peer Peter Chattaway of ChristianityToday.com, a convert from Protestantism to Orthodoxy.

Cajun Nick

I just got back home from seeing The Nativity Story with my wife, daughter, and her two friends (10- and 9-year-olds).

We all LOVED it. The movie definitely respected the material. I got the sense that the people who made the movie wanted people of faith to find comfort in it.

Before coming here to Jimmy's blog, I went straight to SDG's decentfilms.com to read his review (I peeked at his Grade and Star rating before deciding whether or not to wait for the DVD.)

As usual, SDG was right on the money with his review. My wife was a little put-off with the Magi in the manger, but it was only a minor criticism compared to the overall production.

Steven, thanks again for sparkling reviews that we can count on.

Cajun Nick

The movie tonight made me wonder: what happened to the gifts offered by the Magi?

At first I thought that maybe, in the haste to fly to Egypt, the gifts were left behind. But, that seems like an imprudent thing to do.

Are there any extra-biblical sources that discuss this?

Steve

Here's another take on the movie:

http://www.airmaria.com/vlog/stnd/stnd0001Revw.asp

http://www.airmaria.com/?p=13

Steve

Sorry. Here's the review in a link...

Air Maria Review

Shane

I agree with the Air Maria review. While I greatly enjoy SDG's site and his reviews, I must disagree with his assesment of the treatment of Mary here. When dealing with something as deeply connected to Marian truths as this, any ommission is of great weight. That being said, they could be forgiven were it not for the other problems that the Air Maria review talked about. To depict Mary having an attitude seems to me incredibly problematic, if not directly contradictory to, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The real problem, however, is I think deeper. The fact is that the story of Christ's birth is inseperable from the story of Mary giving birth. The story of Christ and the story of Mary are so closely tied, so strongly knit together in the very fabric of existence, that to tell the story of Christ's Nativity without telling the story of Mary's giving birth is impossible. Without the proper focus on Mary in the story, the story of Christ that is told is simply not the story of Christ, but an entirely different story - a, for lack of a better term, false story.

On top of all of this, I look at this film with incredible dissapointment, because it had such potential. The Nativity is a fantastic, beautiful story that would be a joy to watch - possibly better than the Passion. When one thinks of the portrayal of Mary in the Passion, how can one possibly enjoy this film thinking of what it could have been?

SDG

Just curious, Shane, have you seen the movie yet?

FWIW, I think that Fr. Angelo's analysis of the film is thoughtful and worthwhile, and to a significant degree he and I are actually in agreement -- perhaps even more in agreement than not. Even where we don't necessarily agree, I think that he has some points well worth considering, though on other points I would take issue with his case.

We agree, first of all, that the film is "a pious and reverential presentation of the Christmas mystery," one that is "sincere, untainted by cynicism, and a worthy effort by Hollywood to end the prejudice against Christianity in the public square," without any tendency toward demythologizing or skepticism.

I'm also happy to agree with his positive assessment of the depiction of St. Joseph as "refreshingly masculine and virile" and "well-developed as a just man." In fact, the depiction of St. Joseph is my favorite thing about the film. We agree, too, that the Visitation is a "cinematic and spiritual triumph," a "poignant" meeting of Mary and Elizabeth that (not incidentally) "illustrates the dignity of the unborn child."

At the same time, I absolutely agree with him that The Nativity Story is not on the same level as The Passion of the Christ, which is both profoundly Catholic and great art (though it is also problematic in ways). I further agree, and said so in my review, that The Nativity Story reflects a Protestant point of view, or, as Fr. Angelo also put it, that it is "a much more 'ecumenical' Nativity."

Where we may differ is that I find the ecumenical common-ground on the Nativity more than enough to celebrate, whereas he seems to feel it is "muddled." To put it another way, I find that what the film does do is worthwhile in itself, irrespective of what it doesn't do, whereas Fr. Angelo finds more grounds for objecting to the film's faults of omission and commission.

I sympathize with his feeling that the movie's Mary "lacks depth and stature." My own feeling is that Castle-Hughes' performance lacks impact more than anything else, though I want to see the film a couple more times before I'm convinced of that.

I take issue, though, with the argument that by "ignoring" such doctrinal truths as the Immaculate Conception and perpetual virginity of Mary, the film amounts to "a virtual coup against Catholic Mariology."

To begin with, there's nothing about the Immaculate Conception or perpetual virginity of Mary in, say, St. Matthew's infancy narrative; obviously that hardly makes Matthew 1-2 a "virtual coup against Catholic Mariology." Silence, as such, does not equal denial or even undermining. (The same applies to Shane's suggestion that "without the proper focus on Mary in the story, the story of Christ that is told is simply not the story of Christ, but an entirely different story - a, for lack of a better term, false story." By that assessment, we might as well chuck St. Matthew's infancy narrative out the window, since the First Gospel -- like The Nativity Story -- focuses on Joseph, not Mary.)

While the film doesn't affirm the Immaculate Conception, in my view the characterization of Mary is at least compatible with Mary's sinlessness. I disagree, therefore, with the claim that "The Mary of the The Nativity Story is definitely and decidedly fallen." Catholic dogmatic theology will not support the claim that the interpretation of Mary seen in this film falls outside the bounds of allowable Catholic opinion.

FWIW, Fr. Angelo's objection is one I made myself, and in fact argued at length, concerning the Jesus of The Last Temptation of Christ. In order to make this objection stick, though, we need to begin by recognizing that what a sinless human being looks like (not to say a sinless human being who is also God) is something into which we have limited insight. Certainly we can say some things about what it is not like, as well as some things about what it is, but within those parameters there is room for speculation and imagination to explore what a sinless, finite human being would be like.

Needless to say, in the case of the Last Temptation Jesus, those parameters are grotesquely flouted at every turn. The Jesus of the film is fallible and fallen, as well as finite; he commits sins, he is tortured by self-doubt, he actively opposes his will to God. This is thoroughly beyond the bounds of allowable Catholic opinion, as well as deeply offensive to Catholic sensibilities.

By contrast, The Nativity Story's Mary is never depicted sinning or resisting God in any way. This Mary is definitely finite (which, unlike her Son, she is meant to be), as well as human (which Jesus was also). But that is not the same thing as fallen. Even if your own take on what Mary would have been like is different from the film's, the film's take is within the scope of allowable Catholic opinion, and I can't see scrupling at it.

For example, I can't see scrupling about Mary's initial resistance to the marriage with Joseph, which Fr. Angelo seems to regard as an affront to Mary's "perfect and effective cooperation in God's plan." Granted that Mary was always perfectly submissive to God's will, she was not omniscient, and it seems perfectly plausible that in some situations she would have had to go through a period of discernment before the specific path God wished her to take was clear to her.

During that time, I see no reason doctrinally why we should imagine her either having no feelings or preferences one way or the other, as being a complete blank slate until God's will was made clear to her, or else only having feelings and preferences in the same direction that, eventually, it would turn out is the way God wants her to go. It thus seems to me perfectly compatible with the Immaculate Conception that Mary should not want to marry Joseph at first, but later comes to realize that it is God's will for her.

OTOH, I think Fr. Angelo is on firmer ground when he objects to what he feels is the "anachronistic" portrayal of Mary's resistance, her "attitude," "meaningful silences" and so forth. I wasn't bothered by this myself, but the issue is fair game for such objections.

On a deeper level, though, I wonder whether the very prospect of trying to approach Mary imaginatively as a character in a story might not in itself be part of Fr. Angelo's difficulty with the film. For example, he contrasts "whatever attempt was made by the Catholic mystics to represent the psychology of the Incarnate Son of God or the Immaculate Conception was done from a decidedly doctrinal point of view, characterized by humility and reverence" with what he calls "the more Protestant and humanistic approach" that "relies almost entirely upon complete character identification." He even speaks about "the temptation to novelize" Mary, though I'm not entirely sure what he means by this. I'm also unsure whether Fr. Angelo means to link Protestantism and humanism in anything more than an incidental way.

FWIW, I believe that a fully Catholic approach to art can embrace both the iconic, mystical approach of a film like The Passion of the Christ and the more humanistic approach of a film like The Nativity Story. While I agree that The Nativity Story is by far the lesser film, this is an issue of execution rather than method.

In conclusion, therefore, I heartily concur with the substance of Fr. Angelo's closing hope that someday a Catholic artist (not a Gibson, please!) might offer a rich, profound and satisfying cinematic Nativity story with none of the limitations of this film. For that matter, I don't care if the artist is Catholic -- look at the likes of A Man for All Seasons or The Flowers of St. Francis -- as long as the film delivers.

While we wait for that day, I'm grateful for this film. Shane asks "how can one possibly enjoy this film thinking of what it could have been?" The answer is simple: By remembering what hasn't been for all these years. The Nativity Story is a Good Thing. Awareness of its limitations, and hope for something even better, need not prevent us from appreciating it for what it is.

Dan Hunter

SDG,
What is your problem with Mel Gibson?
He has given us THE BEST film on Christ that has ever been made.
It has brought myself and myriad others closer to The Holy Trinity,in our Catholic faith.
The film has become a most reverant meditation on the Sorrowful mysteries of the Holy Rosary.
In Hoc Signo.

caine thomas

Any movie that spends so much time on Mary as a character (even if it's not a completely perfect Catholic presentation) is going to be breaking ground with Protestants. Since the Calvin days, Mary has been left at the manger by so many Christians, and it was plain to see after The Passion... that more than a few of them started to wonder "why?" All the lies and myths created to keep her from touching their hearts start to crumble when they awaken to her real human existence, and necessarily unique intimate connection to Jesus. This is genuine ecumenism taking place from the bottom up and in the arena of popular culture. That's a good thing!

My wife is a slavophile and was telling me recently how, in the Orthodox tradition, iconic depictions of the Holy Family are not allowed to include Joseph. The theological relationship between Theotokos and Christ is treated in such a refined mystical dimension that Joseph's lower humanity is not deemed worthy of depiction with them in images of veneration. It's in the Catholic Tradition that Joseph finds his true home, and any movie that presents him as a strong earthly head of the Holy Family sounds like a great attempt at understanding his sacrifice and contribution to building up Christ's Body on earth. I can't wait to see it!

Steve

Here is a catechetical follow up   by Father Angelo on the virgin birth in response to the movie.

SDG

Who said I had a problem with Gibson?

I just don't think he's the right filmmaker to do the Nativity story. It doesn't play to his strengths as a filmmaker. At all.

Mind, I didn't say I don't have a problem with Gibson either. Not only is Gibson is a deeply flawed human being -- as, to his credit, he would be the first to admit -- he does not give to the Magisterium of the Church and the Chair of Peter the filial devotion and docility he owes as a Catholic.

And while I give him a lot of credit for his apologies, his recent drunk-driving incident and anti-Semitic comments indicate that he has some deep-seated issues, probably rooted in his upbringing.

However, none of that is the reason, or at least the main reason, I wouldn't want Gibson doing the Nativity story (or, say, the story of St. Francis of Assisi, which someone brought up in the wake of The Passion).

The Passion of the Christ is a great Catholic film, but it's also a flawed film, and some of those flaws are rooted in Gibson's personal issues.

Go see Apocalypto next week when it opens, if you can stomach it. Re-watch Braveheart. Re-watch The Patriot. Look at the extreme violence, the bloodletting, the slit throats and smashed faces, the hero battered and mutilated almost beyond recognition, forced to press on and on and on.

This is what Gibson does. It worked in The Passion of the Christ. It would not work in the Nativity story.

Cajun Nick

After having watched Fr. Angelo's catechetical video clip (linked above by Steve), I must say that he does a marvelous job in discussing the virgin birth.

However, after having watched The Nativity Story last night, I don't see how his catechesis applies to the film. Maybe I'm not as sophisticated as other discerning viewers, but it was not obvious to me that Mary lost her physical virginity during the birth.

It is true that Mary is depicted as putting forth effort (which might be called pain) during her labors, but there is nothing in it which would indicate that she suffered any loss to her physical integrity.

I know that Mary is not supposed to have suffered any pain during child birth; nevertheless, there would still have been some effort exerted during delivery.

In my opinion, the birth scene did nothing to undermine the truth of perpetual virginity. Likewise, it did nothing to assert it.

Where this may be a drawback, we must also look at the fact that the filmmakers (as far as I know) were not Catholic. I don't even know whether or not they are practicing Christians.

I, for one, am delighted that a movie - aimed for the popular culture - treats the story of our Lord's birth so respectfully, maybe even reverently.

I, as a Catholic, will gladly accept this fine version of the Nativity until a Catholic filmmaker puts forth a similarily fine effort aimed at Catholic sensibilities.

Mary

During that time, I see no reason doctrinally why we should imagine her either having no feelings or preferences one way or the other, as being a complete blank slate until God's will was made clear to her, or else only having feelings and preferences in the same direction that, eventually, it would turn out is the way God wants her to go

It is doctrinally quite clear that a human, without sin, can have quite earnest feelings and preferences after he knows God's will and knows what he wants is against it.

Jesus, you see, sweated blood on the Mount of Olives at the prospect of doing God's Will.

Cajun Nick

Let us not forget that when we watch (or hear or read) the Nativity Story, we do so with foreknowledge of the outcome - that Mary submits to God's will perfectly.

As a result, we look for those signs of perfection all through her life (which undoubtedly existed). Because we know that she and Joseph will be the perfect parents, we expect to see them perfectly committed to each other from all time.

However, when Mary was bethrothed to Joseph, she at that time did not know God's will for her. There is no reason to believe that she would have been overjoyed at the prospect of marrying Joseph. It is possible that she was, initially, uneasy with her parents' decision for her. We are allowed that latitude of thought.

I think that the movie does a good job of showing Mary's perfect obedience to her parents in accepting the bethrothal.

She may or may not have been ready for the decision; however, the filmmakers did not have her portrayed as the petulant teenager we are accustomed to seeing in movies today. She could have been shown storming out of the house to go for a good cry and consolation from the understanding adult in the village.

Instead, we saw a daughter - although hesitatingly - accept her marriage. She was perfect in her obedience. Obedience is shown through action.

Once God's will is revealed to Mary, she perfectly accepts her arrangement in marriage with Joseph. In the film, we see Mary's obedient resignation to her parents' will for marriage grow into a whole-hearted acceptance of the marriage as part of God's plan.

This transformation takes some time; but it is shown in her docility with her parents and Joseph after returning from Elibeth's home, which turns into an vocal avowal of her relationship with Joseph: "I will go with my husband" to Bethlehem, she says with decision and pride.

We may criticize that the movie does not perfectly portray the Mother of our Lord that we venerate. However, let us not lose sight of the gift that the film does give us - a vision of the Nativity story that does not clash with Catholic teaching.

Where the film is silent about Catholic teaching, we as parents (and friends) have the perfect teaching moment. We can use the film as a jumping-board to move our discussions to the beauty of the Marian doctrines without having to overcome any residual conflict that the film could have created.

SDG

Thanks for your comments, Nick and Mary.

It is true that Mary is depicted as putting forth effort (which might be called pain) during her labors, but there is nothing in it which would indicate that she suffered any loss to her physical integrity.

I know that Mary is not supposed to have suffered any pain during child birth; nevertheless, there would still have been some effort exerted during delivery.

FWIW, Church dogma regarding Mary's perpetual virginity does not specify whether "virgin in partu" has any actual bearing on "physical integrity." There is a well-established tradition to this effect, but Church teaching also allows the contrary possibility (and as you indicate, Mary, the film is certainly non-explicit enough not to insist on any particulars in this regard).

Ditto Mary's pain in childbirth: well-established tradition, but not a dogmatic fact. FWIW, I've heard it argued that since the temporal consequences of original sin spoken of in Gen 3 stipulate "greatly multiplying" the woman's pain in childbirth, even apart from the Fall childbirth would not have been without pain of some sort. Again, the Marian interpretation of Rev 12 could be taken to attribute pains in childbirth to Mary's delivery. Certainly other interpretations are also possible, but the point is that the film's portrayal falls within the bounds of permitted Catholic opinion -- it does not violate Catholic dogma.

Cajun Nick

Upon some reflection, I am thankful for the spirited discussion of the merits of the film, and how faithfully it reflects Catholic teaching and pious tradition.

The Truths of the Faith are settled. What is open to discussion in this and similar forums is: should Catholics accept and support films, like The Nativity Story, that, while not engaging the fullness of the Truth, do not contradict it, either?

In the exchange in this forum, and on others, many people with only a cursory interest are being exposed to the beauty of the Catholic faith. Whether or not we arrive at a decision on supporting the film, many people will be led to a greater understanding and brought closer to the Lord.

I want more - and better - films like this; but, we need to demonstrate that the commercial interests of the producers will be met, if we expect them to attend to our spiritual interests.

The film is a commercial work, and, as consumers, we need to make sure that the producers know what we want. These discussions will certainly help us to articulate what Catholics could expect to see in future films.

In this particular instance, I am on the side of not only accepting The Nativity Story for its merits, but also of supporting it.

Father Angelo

I appreciate SDG's generous and thoughtful review of my review. However, in the light of his remarks I would reiterate that the ecumenism of The Nativity Story is of the lowest common denominator in regard to Mary. In the movie, the exalted view of Our Lady, which is overwhelmingly the manifest Catholic tradition, is blurred or set aside in favor of a Protestant version.

I do not base that judgment merely upon a survey of St. Matthew's Gospel alone, but upon the whole of Catholic tradition. Even so, I would point out that St. Matthew's Gospel, as interpreted by the Church, most certainly teaches the Perpetual Virginity of Our Lady, where it quotes Isaiah 7:14, "Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us" (1:23). The Catholic interpretation of this passage as referring to the Virginal Conception and Birth of Jesus is indisputable.

In regard to the Immaculate Conception, it is true that the magisterium does not reference St. Matthew's Gospel, but it does reference St. Luke's infancy narrative. The angel Gabriel's address to Our Lady as "Full of Grace" in 1:28 is one of the principle pieces of scriptural support for the dogma as defined by Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus.

Aside from this, though I am not even sure what SDG means when he says: "there's nothing about the Immaculate Conception or perpetual virginity of Mary in, say, St. Matthew's infancy narrative." Is he suggesting that the teachings are not scriptural, or that it is Catholic practice to consider scripture apart from tradition? I am sure he is not, so I am confused.

The point of my "coup against Catholic Mariology" comment was not to suggest that the movie is a treatise on scripture or tradition, but simply to note that the character of Mary in the film was a Protestant version. Taken as a whole, tradition indicates a most exalted view of Our Lady, who was preserved from both Original sin and its effects, including even the slightest inclination to sin. Off hand, I can not think of a single saintly spiritual writer who would suggest that the Immaculate Conception went through a rebellious period during Her teen years. However, this is precisely the way in which filmmakers portrayed Our Lady.

As I point out in my review, Hardwicke, a Presbyterian, was interested in writing a growing up story, i.e., one about transformation through the rebellious teen years. She was chosen for the job precisely because, when it comes to portraying the crises that teens experience when growing up, especially girls, She is an expert filmmaker (see my review). One may argue about what an artistic representation conveys in regard to the psychological experience or moral responsibility of a character, but the Mary of The Nativity Story compares very poorly with the tradition. Find me a saint that meditated on Our Lady after the manner of Hardwicke. There aren't any. The result of viewing this movie will not be a clarifying one for Catholics in regard to the Church's praise and veneration of the Mother of God.

In fact, I do believe that penetrating the psychology of the Word of God or the Immaculate Conception presents a formidable challenge to the imagination of anyone, artist or viewer. However, I also believe that Gibson, whatever his personal faults, did a magnificent job. I wrote a booklet on the subject when The Passion of the Christ was released (The Passion of the Mother in the Passion of the Christ).

http://marymediatrix.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=AIB&Category_Code=MB

Protestants are more humanistic in their approach to this problem, precisely because they have a disregard for pre-Reformation scriptural interpretation and Catholic doctrine in general. The fathers, doctors and mystics never presumed to comprehend the King and Queen. They made sure their meditations were clearly supportive of Catholic doctrine and passed over many other things in reverent silence. Gibson succeeded in doing this. Hardwicke did not even try.

Father Angelo

In regard to the Church's definition of the Virginity Mary in partu, what might not be explicit in the definition is not, therefore, necessarily doubtful. The point of dogma is not primarily to set limits within which we might speculate.

The definition of the dogma of Our Lady's Perpetual Virginity and the whole tradition insists on the Virgin Birth. The fathers of the Church are virtually monotonous, and there is not a single doctor of the Church who suggests that the Virginity in partu is anything but physical.

What does the Virgin Birth refer to if not physical virginity? Spiritual Virginity? Childbirth is never an occasion for impurity. What is the point of the Virginity in partu, if it is not physical virginity?

People are being unecessarily confused about doctrine. I think it is better to imitate the saints on this point (See my video on airmaria.com).

Cajun Nick

"The result of viewing this movie will not be a clarifying one for Catholics in regard to the Church's praise and veneration of the Mother of God."

Father, I agree with you on this point.

However, I do not see how the movie detracts from it, either. Would a movie done with a wholly Catholic perspective have been better? Yes. But we don't have one...yet.

"Off hand, I can not think of a single saintly spiritual writer who would suggest that the Immaculate Conception went through a rebellious period during Her teen years. However, this is precisely the way in which filmmakers portrayed Our Lady." ...

Hardwicke was chosen as director because she is expert at "portraying the crises that teens experience when growing up...

Father Angelo, I must say that I don't quite see at all such a rebellion or crisis in the portrayal of Mary in the film. I teach high school; I know rebellious teenagers.

In the film, I saw a teenage Mary who was not joyous (or happy) with the espousal. This is a love story, but it is not a romance. Nevertheless, she was obedient to the will of her parents.

She did not storm off; she did not break down and cry; nor demand that she be given some choice in the matter; nor even pout. There is no doubt that Mary was portrayed as though she would not have preferred the espousal.

However, let us remember, this betrothal was prior to the annunciation of Gabriel. As of yet, Mary did not know that this was all part of God's plan.

In the film, I submit that we see a glad acceptance of the espousal once Mary learns of her role. In fact, when Mary tells her family, "I will go with my husband" to Bethlehem, she seems glad to call Joseph her husband. Later we see that she has fallen truly in love with him (though not "romantic" love).

So, I agree that the movie does not provide a "clarifying" dimension to Catholics and non-Catholics alike on our veneration of the Blessed Mother. It would have been better had the filmmakers done so.

But it does not do anything to undermine the Catholic faith. And, that is a good thing.

Cajun Nick

Italics, off!

Father Angelo

Nick,

In the film, Mary does storm off at the espousal.

The catholic Mariological principle, accepted by Benedict XVI (Cardinal Ratzinger at the time) is de Maria numquam Satis, "Concerning Mary there is never enough." It is possible to err by silence.

My review, I think, was fair and generous toward the filmmakers. I believe The Nativity Story is a good Protestant movie. There is little support in the film for the Catholic Marian doctrines for which the Christmas mystery should be a showcase. The Virginal Conception is present, as well as the words of Elizabeth, Blessed are you among women. . . However, the Immaculate Conception would be completely absent if not for the very words of scripture, Full of grace. The Virgin birth is not even implied, if not outright denied.

I understand the way art works. I am not looking for a theological treatise; however, there is nothing in the movie suggesting that Our Lady is any more than an ordinary girl, apart from some of the dialogue from scripture itself, and the Conception of Jesus.

It is a nice Protestant film, suitably purged of Catholic Marian truth.

D

I went to see this movie last night, opening night. As a recently baptized Christian, I will tell you that this was a most welcomed, meaningful and revolutionary movie for me. It centers around the mother of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

A superbly crafted and thoughtfully directed movie, it deserves a high rating. It is an unprecedented tribute to a woman who has been relegated to backdrop scenes. Finally, Mary gets to have a movie about her spiritual journey. In my own life, Mary was in the far distant background, giving her fleeting thought if I came across a Nativity scene at Christmas or if I heard the Beatles song, "Let It Be":

"When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be. And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be."

It was made for a certain niche -- the ~200 million or so Americans who consider themselves Christians. Two years ago, I was not in this niche, being "spiritual, but not religious." Long story, short, it was Mary who pointed me to her Son, lead me on my own spiritual journey and caused a revolution in my heart, mind and soul.

Those who take the time to learn about her and her role do not, as I was mislead to believe, worship her. They simply respect and venerate her. Leading folks to her Son, as I learned, is her job. In this movie, her character is doing exactly that again for me and viewers who are called to see it.

Ever since she lead me home, Christmas has taken on such meaning as I never imagined. This year, I've started the season -- called the Advent season -- with a faith-based movie that allowed me to slide right into it in a beautiful, gentle and do I dare say, beatific way.

This movie experience is an exquisite gift for the heart and soul. Moreover, it is a feast for the eyes. I went past the inanimate objects of Nativity displays to a visually rich and "fleshed" out Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, shepherds, Magi and stable animals. The director of the movie, Catherine Hardwick, referred to a line in the script: "...the greatest of kings born in the most humble of places."

"Power," she says, "is not a physical power. It's not riches, it's not money, it's not control of governments and nations. It's a deeper power, spirituality."

At the end of the movie, the audience burst out in spontaneous applause. For each of us, Christmas is not at all about holiday parties, frenzied shopping and the trappings and physical accouterments. Now, THAT'S revolutionary.

When this comes out in DVD, it will be a part of our yearly Christmas tradition, reminding us what it is all about.

"Merry Christ-mas!" I hope you will make it meaningfully merrier by giving yourself this movie experience of the life of Mary.

Cajun Nick

Father Angelo, please allow me to reprint two paragraphs from your review (hopefully closing the italics this time):

"The Nativity Story in no way compares to the masterpiece which is The Passion of the Christ, but it is at least sincere, untainted by cynicism, and a worthy effort by Hollywood to end the prejudice against Christianity in the public square. Whether considered in light of its virtues or its flaws, the movie provides an opportunity to catechize people about the true meaning of Christmas, about the real gift that is Jesus, and about His Holy, Ever Virgin Mother, Mary.

The subject matter of The Nativity Story lends itself so well to the promotion of true devotion to Mary. Unfortunately, the way in which it was treated will only confuse the ignorant and confirm them in Marian minimalism. Perhaps there is some hope that the likes of a Gibson will one day match the sublime Marian art of The Passion of the Christ with a Nativity story truly worthy of Our Lady."

These are two very well written, thoughtful paragraphs. In them, I think that you have captured exactly what I tried to say, but which took me several posts -- and still didn't manage to get my point across.

In essence, I agree with you. It seems that we both want two things: good family entertainment that promotes doctrinally correct values.

However, having a young daughter, I am often distressed about the lack of good entertainment for my family to watch. Therefore, my focus is on having a good Christian family film that I can enjoy with my wife and daughter in the local cinema.

If I am going to pay the high prices to see a good movie, I'd prefer that it be good (meaning wholesome).

It seems that your review focuses more on the doctrinal issues. Maybe I am wrong in laying focus on the other area.

We each want both. I'll content myself with what was given and fill in the "holes" for my daughter.

And, to that end, I am certainly thankful that your review was mentioned in these comboxes. Your catechetical video (linked by Steve earlier) was very well done. It certainly has increased my knowledge of the truths of the Marian doctrines, and it will help my in my role as a Catholic Christian father and husband.

Tim J.

I grew up Protestant.

Protestantism has spent centuries tossing out doctrines and practices that it deems "extraneous". Particularly, anything that smells distinctively Catholic ends up on the ash heap.

What they find, though, is that there is simply no end to these doctrines that turn out to be somehow tainted by Catholicism! They can't throw them out fast enough. Their remaining fundamentals are a bare ghost of the faith.

Minimalism is the curse of the Protestant mindset.

LexOrendi_LexCredendi

My wife and I saw this movie tonight, actually the first twenty minutes before we left and got our money back. This movie was an outrage.

Depicting our Blessed Mother as a bratty young girl, flirting with boys and storming off away from her parents at the announcement of her betrothal to St. Joseph was horrid. She was the Immaculate Conception, perfect in every way and sinless throughout her life. The movie implies through the actions of the character depicting out Blessed Mother, that she did not live the virtuous life actually led by the Blessed Virgin. Protestant indeed was the depiction I witnessed and we were outraged, hurt and offended. Judging from all the reviews, I am glad we left before the real outrages started.

In Jesu et Maria,

Lex

Esau

MEL GIBSON?

Mind, I didn't say I don't have a problem with Gibson either. Not only is Gibson is a deeply flawed human being -- as, to his credit, he would be the first to admit -- he does not give to the Magisterium of the Church and the Chair of Peter the filial devotion and docility he owes as a Catholic.

And while I give him a lot of credit for his apologies, his recent drunk-driving incident and anti-Semitic comments indicate that he has some deep-seated issues, probably rooted in his upbringing.

However, none of that is the reason, or at least the main reason, I wouldn't want Gibson doing the Nativity story (or, say, the story of St. Francis of Assisi, which someone brought up in the wake of The Passion).

The Passion of the Christ is a great Catholic film, but it's also a flawed film, and some of those flaws are rooted in Gibson's personal issues.

Go see Apocalypto next week when it opens, if you can stomach it. Re-watch Braveheart. Re-watch The Patriot. Look at the extreme violence, the bloodletting, the slit throats and smashed faces, the hero battered and mutilated almost beyond recognition, forced to press on and on and on.

This is what Gibson does. It worked in The Passion of the Christ. It would not work in the Nativity story.


SDG:

Regarding your comments directly above, I thought you were attempting to point out in an earlier post that one should actually separate the Art from the Artist, which the following comments from an earlier post of yours seem to suggest:

The Vatican film list includes some films made by immoral filmmakers, such as The Gospel According to Matthew, whose director, Pasolini, lived a debauched life.

Nor is the issue confined to film. The Boroque painter Caravaggio, known for such religious masterpieces as The Calling of St. Matthew and The Conversion of St. Paul, was frequently in trouble with the law for violent behavior and once killed a man over the outcome of a game of tennis.

English Catholic and novelist Graham Greene was a notorious philanderer, yet his novels The Power and the Glory and The End of the Affair reflect profoundly on faith and the sinful human condition.

Posted by: SDG | Dec 1, 2006 2:41:34 PM


You pointed out in the above the many personal flaws of certain "artists" in the past ranging from those who actually lived a debauched life to those who actually committed murder.

Wouldn't Mel Gibson be such an "artist" as well?

I deeply detest Mel Gibson's seemingly anti-semitic character as well as what appears to some as his sedevacantist notions, but his Passion of the Christ is a religious masterpiece.

Was the violence depicted in it absolutely necessary?

Well, certainly, it's not a film for kids, but it really brings about an actual realization of just how much Jesus suffered on our behalf in order to win us our salvation.

Many films in the past really did not emphasize or actually do justice in depicting Christ's suffering, Crucifixion and death. Because of this, some folks end up actually not fully appreciating what Christ had done for us on the cross because of their minimalist approach.

Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ makes you appreciate the very extent of just how much Christ loved us that He, who was in fact God, went as far as to accept this kind of death in order to save us.

The horrors of Christ's suffering depicted in Passion of the Christ helps us to grasp more fully just how much Christ suffered for our sake.

Also, you implied that since Mel Gibson's popular films all dealt with extreme violence, he wouldn't be capable of making great films that didn't feature this notorious aspect of his most popular movies.

However, if you watched Mel Gibson's 1993 movie "The Man Without a Face", it was devoid of the very violence prevalent in the films you mentioned from Mel like Braveheart and The Patriot.

I would also bring up Forever Young and What Women Want, but that's a whole other story altogether.

SDG

Fr Angelo:

Thanks for your kind remarks. FWIW, I have no idea how much you write or speak specifically about film, but speaking as a film critic I was quite impressed with your incisive and thorough analysis of the film's strengths and weaknesses.

FWIW, it seems to me that the difference between our takes is largely one of emphasis and approach. What you describe (more negatively) as the "lowest common denominator in regard to Mary" and what I describe (more positively) as "within the scope of allowable Catholic opinion" are substantially overlapping categories.

Where you speak of the film being "purged of Catholic Marian truth," I would emphasize that ALL Marian truth, and indeed all Christian truth, is Catholic truth -- that Catholic truth comprises not just those parts of the faith which Protestants traditionally happen to lack, but also those parts which they traditionally happen to accept. The Annunciation, Mary's virginal conception, Gabriel's appearance to Joseph, the visitation to Elizabeth, the journey to Bethlehem, and the Nativity of our Lord are all Catholic Marian truth. There is no Christian truth that is not Catholic truth.

It's true, of course, is that the film does not attest distinctively Catholic truth -- but what is or isn't distinctively Catholic is merely an accident of history, predicated on the whims of our separated brethren. It would be a mistake to allow ourselves or the essence of our faith to be overly defined or characterized by whatever beliefs other Christians happen not to share.

This is particularly the case because those beliefs that are traditionally shared with other Christians tend to be among the most central in the hierarchy of truth: the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery (in its accomplishment, not its sacramental celebration), etc.

What this film celebrates is Catholic truth, and in fact core Catholic truth -- not the whole of core Catholic truth, to be sure, but this doesn't undermine the overwhelming value of the truth that the film does celebrate.

My point regarding St. Matthew's infancy narrative (and thanks for the vote of confidence on that, BTW) was simply that, as I said, "silence, as such, does not equal denial or even undermining." Of we read scripture in the light of the whole of divine revelation, including sacred tradition; for that matter, we approach sacred art the same way. What we don't do is insist that every scriptural pericope, every patristic text, or every artistic representation expressly attest every aspect of Catholic teaching or else stand accused of effectively denying it.

Matthew 1 does not expressly affirm that Mary remained a virgin her whole life, but what is says is consistent with that teaching and is understood in that larger whole. Of course The Nativity Story, like all human art, is fallible and non-inspired, but at the same time nothing prevents us from watching the film with the assumption that Catholic dogma is true in the world of the film.

Of course it is true that the fathers, doctors and mystics have not approached Mary the way that this film does. Devotional and theological writing are one thing; drama and art are something else. The fathers, doctors and mystics were not making plays, novels or movies; they were not interested in approaching Mary as a character in a story. This film is a dramatic imagining of the Nativity story -- one almost without precedent. It is doing something different from what the fathers, doctors and mystics have done, and while it does it imperfectly, the thing itself is valid, and IMO the film does it well enough to be well worthwhile.

I can't agree with your characterization of the film depicting Mary "going through a rebellious period," or "storming off" at the espousal. FWIW, on the latter point, it happens that a friend and peer of mine, an Orthodox film critic, after first screening the film, described Mary in personal discussion as "storming off", but after seeing the film a second time he realized that this misrepresents the scene, and confirmed this after screening the film a third time. The first time I saw the film, I had his description in mind, and immediately saw that she doesn't "storm off," and confirmed this on my own second viewing last night. Yes, she walks away abruptly, and clearly in an inwardly troubled state, but she does not remotely "storm."

(Incidentally, LexO LexC, you misidentified one of the other Nazareth girls as Mary in that early scene! Mary is NOT the girl who is flirting -- Mary is the one telling the flirting girl NOT to look at the boy!)

Nor is there anything (typo correction!) "rebellious" about Mary's attitude in the film. She isn't happy, and doesn't understand her parents' decision, but in no way does she defy, flout, or snub their authority.

Regarding Hardwicke's comments, speaking as one who interviews filmmakers on a regular basis, I can tell you from years of experience that a critic can't be too careful about about how much or what sort of weight he attaches to how filmmakers speak about their work. Realistically, comparisons of this film to thirteen, or any suggestion of continuity between the two films, are substantially a glib conceit, a cynical person might say a PR smokescreen, to put an edgy spin on the film and its publicity, and to gloss over the fact that at heart this is a very reverent treatment solidly aimed at the faith-and-family audience.

Moreover, the auteur of the message of The Nativity Story is not Hardwicke, but screenwriter Mike Rich. That's why so many critics have compared the film's sensibilities to the milieu of 1950s mainstream Hollywood rather than Hardwicke's edgy 21st-century indie milieu -- because Rich writes 1950s-style mainstream Hollywood films (compare The Rookie), and that's what this film is at heart.

Regarding virginity in partu: Ludwig Ott's treatment of this is fairly standard, and helpful. At the same time, this is a bit of a tangent, since the film's treatment doesn't compel a particular interpretation on this point.

I understand that not every Catholic will find the film edifying. But others will -- me among them. Last night I took my whole family to see the film, as well as my three nephews. Afterwards, we did some critiquing of the film, but on the whole we found the film an enjoyable, edifying experience.

My 11-year-old daughter can only be described as extremely pious and extremely devoted to our Lady and to the saints (whose lives she reads incessantly). She is theologically astute, very sensitive, prone to be troubled by things that might not bother other people, and in particular is sorely grieved by the errors of Protestantism that affect many of her relatives. She is also without a rebellious or defiant bone in her body. And, of course, like all my children, she is a perceptive film viewer. :-) She enjoyed the film.

This combox attests that the film can be enjoyed by Catholics without at all confusing them about their faith. Others, apparently, may take such offense as to be unable to appreciate even the things that you, Fr. Angelo, praised in the film.

De gustibus non est disputandum. Theology is a science; film reception and film criticism, like filmmaking, is an art. The Nativity Story celebrates Catholic/Christian truth in a way that many Catholic and non-Catholic Christians will find edifying for years to come, and I find it well worth recommending to and for them. After nearly seven years in my film-criticism apostolate, I'm well aware that that doesn't include everyone.

SDG

Esau:

The answer is that "separating the art from the artist" is something that applies sometimes but not always. You have to actually look at the art, and the artist.

The morality of The Power and the Glory stands above the moral compromises of Greene's own life, and in The End of the Affair Greene arguably condemns his own moral failings. However, in The Quiet American I sense a growing complacancy and acceptance of decadence, and I suspect if I knew Greene's later novels better I would find more of the same.

The same could be said of the contrast between Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors, which can be seen as a tortured self-examination of conscience and religious angst, and Allen's later Match Point, which revisits the same themes, but can be seen to replace the moral and religious angst with complacency and even smugness against God.

Any actress who plays Mary will of necessity be a sinner. What sins any particular actress may be guilty of does not necessarily go to the question of her ability to play the role. That is why I emphasized separating the art from the artist in that respect.

Likewise, with The Passion of the Christ, Gibson's theological dissent, and many of his personal failings, are irrelevant to a movie that I love and admire.

But not all. Though I argued and still maintain that the film is not anti-Semitic, I also argued at the time and still maintain that Gibson made unfortunate choices in the way he depicted the Jews. (Shameless name-dropping: Roger Ebert, in his four-star review of the film, quoted me by name on this point.)

As Jimmy pointed out back in August, Gibson's DUI anti-Semitic slurs make it impossible not to suspect that these unfortunate decisions are in some way connected with the issues he struggles with on this point. In other words, on this point it's not entirely possible to separate the art from the artist.

Also, while I have strongly defended the violence in The Passion on theological grounds, having just seen Apocalypto and revisited the issue of violence in Braveheart and The Patriot, I acknowledge that critics who argue that Gibson fetishizes violence and mutilation in an unhealthy way at least have a case.

In TPOTC I find that whatever affinity he may have for the subject matter is fully redeemed; however, I respect the views of those who consider the film objectionably violent and cannot watch it. By the same token, I respect Fr. Angelo's more negative reaction to The Nativity Story. Fr. Angelo has the right to his response to the film, and so do sincere Catholics who find TPOTC unacceptably violent.

That said, whatever anyone's opinion of the violence in TPOTC, I'm not sure one can entirely separate the art from the artist on this point.

P.S. Not having seen The Man Without a Face, I provisionally stand by my skepticism about Gibson being the right filmmaker for nonviolent subject matter. If The Man Without a Face is a great film, then I may be wrong. Since I think I am right, I suspect, though of course I can't say one way or the other, that The Man Without a Face may not be a great film.

Cajun Nick

Thank you, Jimmy Akin, for providing this blog and the varied forums that people are using to discuss such topics as varied as torture and film criticism.

Thank you to your contributors (like Steven D. Greydanus, Tim Jones, (in this case) Fr. Angelo, and the many, many others).

I am learning so very much about my faith - for my own personal edification; so that I may teach my family; so that I may be a good example and source of information to the high school students I teach; and so that I may defend it.

May God bless all of us this Advent, and create in all of our hearts a welcome for Jesus this Christmas.

Dan Hunter

The Man without a face is a great film and Mel Gibson is a great man,to evangalize in the way he has with the film,"The Passion".
Christ's torture and death was infinitely more violent and brutal than Gibson depicted it.As great as the film was,he certainly toned it down.Christ went through a meat shredder of bones and teeth,the actual blood letting of our Sacred Lord was far beyond what we saw in the film.It would have had to be.

Esau

DAN:

The Man without a face is a great film...

As I remember it, there were many that found it brilliant and, at a time where Mel was merely seen as being famous for such films like Mad Max and Lethal Weapon, it was a film completely unexpected from Mel Gibson, who had actually directed as well as starred in the film.

...and Mel Gibson is a great man,to evangalize in the way he has with the film,"The Passion".

Christ's torture and death was infinitely more violent and brutal than Gibson depicted it.
As great as the film was, he certainly toned it down. Christ went through a meat shredder of bones and teeth,the actual blood letting of our Sacred Lord was far beyond what we saw in the film. It would have had to be.

I think so also. Knowing how the Romans were from various source materials, their taste for violence for the so-called glory of the Roman Empire, among other things, as well as those of the Empire who perhaps harbored certain sadistic tendencies, the very fact that crucifixion was the norm for the Roman Empire, they would have perfected Crucifixion and the coinciding torture in it to an artform (unfortunately).

Not to mention, the very fact Christ had claimed to be the Son of God as well as a "King", must have provoked the Romans to inflict greater torture on him. Caesar, to them, was the only King; he was Emperor as well as, in the eyes of the Roman Empire, "divine".

Esau

SDG, you said:
Not having seen The Man Without a Face, I provisionally stand by my skepticism about Gibson being the right filmmaker for nonviolent subject matter. If The Man Without a Face is a great film, then I may be wrong. Since I think I am right, I suspect, though of course I can't say one way or the other, that The Man Without a Face may not be a great film.


SDG, since you are a film critic, you more than anyone else here should know the very value of actually first viewing the actual content of a film in order to make an actual judgment on it.

Because of the fact that you haven't seen Mel Gibson's "The Man Without a Face", you can't actually make such a pre-mature judgment like you have unless you've already decided for yourself ahead of actually seeing the film that you won't like it because of the fact that it's by Mel Gibson. That would suggest you already have a bias against it and had made up your mind ahead of time before actually seeing the film that you won't like it.

This is what's suggested in your remark in that you *suspect* Mel's "The Man Without a Face" is actually not a great film. I believe it would be best to first suspend *any* judgment whatever until you had actually seen the film prior to drawing any pre-formed conclusions.

Esau

CORRIGENDUM:

This is what's suggested in your remark in that you *suspect* Mel's "The Man Without a Face" is actually not a great film. I believe it would be best to first suspend *any* judgment whatever until you had actually seen the film prior to drawing any conclusions whatsoever.

Esau

Grrrr... That's what I get for watching the WSJ Report and, at the same time, writing my comments.

SDG:
You know what I mean, anyway.
God Bless You, Brutha!

SDG

Christ's torture and death was infinitely more violent and brutal than Gibson depicted it. As great as the film was, he certainly toned it down. Christ went through a meat shredder of bones and teeth,the actual blood letting of our Sacred Lord was far beyond what we saw in the film. It would have had to be.

I'm sorry, but I have to disagree. I'm sure Our Lord's sufferings infinitely exceeded what any film could depict, but from a realistic historical and physiological perspective I believe the actual physical violence in the film is substantially exaggerated.

FWIW, I've discussed the realism of The Passion with a number of experts, among them Dr. Fred Zugibe, a professional forensic medical examiner and devout Catholic who has spent decades studying the Shroud of Turin and the Passion of Jesus.

According to Dr. Zugibe, the amount of physical punishment inflicted in the Passion is many times what would be necessary to kill a man -- any man -- outright. Humanly speaking, Jesus would have been killed long before arriving at Golgotha. Of course one could always choose to posit a miraculous survival, but I'm not aware of any basis for such speculation in sacred tradition. Our tradition teaches that Jesus suffered as a man subject to human frailty.

Beyond that, as cruel as the Romans may have been, they also knew their business. The Gospels offer no indication that Jesus' sufferings on a purely physical level were greatly beyond the norm of the day, and even if Jesus could have miraculously survived the beating to carry his cross, the Romans wouldn't have known that they were dealing with a God-Man who could so defy treatment that would kill an ordinary man many times over. If ordered to beat a man and release him, as per the scourging at the pillar, I doubt they would have gone so utterly beyond treatment from which an ordinary man might ever walk away.

Consider the scene during the scourging in which Jesus, beaten to the ground, deliberately rises in order to incur even more horrific savaging -- much to the astonishment of the centurions. Allegorically, I can see this as a poetic reflection of Jesus' complete willingness to endure the full measure of what the Father had ordained that he should suffer, but historically and theologically I don't see any basis for imagining Jesus deliberately provoking additional and more brutal punishment in this way. On a literal level, seems more reflective of Gibson's aesthetic of manly endurance of torture and mutilation.

But, again, in this film I think Gibson's aesthetic finds a redemptive context yielding great sacred art that both illuminates the Paschal Mystery in a new way, and also, perhaps, illuminates Gibson's creative soul in a way that no previous film, and perhaps no future film, has or will.

This is what's suggested in your remark in that you *suspect* Mel's "The Man Without a Face" is actually not a great film. I believe it would be best to first suspend *any* judgment whatever until you had actually seen the film prior to drawing any conclusions whatsoever.

How could I possibly do that? If I did, I could have no reason whatsoever for choosing to watch one unseen and unknown movie over another, for thinking one unseen movie likely to be more or less promising, more or less problematic, more or less of interest (one way or the other) to my readers, than any other unseen movie.

We make educated guesses all the time where we don't have certain knowledge. The trick is recognizing them as such, not mistaking them for real knowledge.

You know what I mean, anyway.
God Bless You, Brutha!

Yes, I do! And thanks for challenging me, Brutha! Iron sharpens iron. :-)

God bless you too.

Esau

Yes, I do! And thanks for challenging me, Brutha! Iron sharpens iron. :-)

No prob, SDG!
I actually have great respect and admiration for what you do. It takes great objectivity.

About "The Man Without a Face", I think I need to clarify that I, myself, didn't actually find it as brilliant as some had judged it to be, but that it was a great film nonetheless (considering, aside from the actual dramatic elements in the film itself, that it was, of all people, Mel Gibson who made it -- the very person who, as I had mentioned, folks at the time dismissed as being the guy only famous for his Mad Max and Lethal Weapon films), and also to demonstrate to you that, contrary to what had been said previously, that Mel was actually capable of making a good movie that was devoid of the violent themes found prevalent in such films like Braveheart and The Patriot.


In terms of your statement:

...even if Jesus could have miraculously survived the beating to carry his cross, the Romans wouldn't have known that they were dealing with a God-Man who could so defy treatment that would kill an ordinary man many times over.

Actually, I wasn't suggesting that the Roman soldiers went all out torturing Jesus because they knew they were dealing with a God-man and, thus, could defy this incredibly tortuous treatment inflicted by them.

What I actually meant was that, to them, since Jesus *claimed* he was the Son of God ("divine") and also that He was a "King", they would have frowned on such outrageous claims as being the ultimate insult against their Emperor, who, at the time, was seen by those in the Empire as "divine" as well as the Only King in their eyes.


As Messala in the film Ben-Hur said:
"He [the Emperor] is power, real power on earth!"

To Messala, the Emperor "is God, the only God, he is power, real power on Earth."

Though, Ben Hur was fictional, this statement is probably not far off from the way some Romans thought of their emperor.

(Curious enough, though, Ben Hur, a film that had such profound religious undertones, not to mention, more importantly, a Christian theme, was actually inspired by an Atheist of all people! That film, to me, is still one of the great relgious classics of the day!)

God Bless!

Esau

CORRIGENDUM:

What I actually meant was that, to them, since Jesus *claimed* he was the Son of God ("divine") and also that He was a "King", they would have frowned on such outrageous claims as being the ultimate insult against their Emperor, who, at the time, was seen by those in the Empire as "divine" as well as the Only King in their eyes.

Because of this, the Roman solders would have inflicted a punishment equally as (and maybe even more so) severe given the seriousness of this grave insult against their emperor where they would have inflicted perhaps torture considerably greater than the usual on Jesus' body.

As being experts on torture (what a coincidence given the popular topic of the past week!), these Roman soldiers would have done this in measured intervals, and would have perhaps waited for some recovery between these incredibly harsh treatments.

Also, as far as carrying the cross, it's a popular notion that Jesus may have very well only carried the cross-beam and not the entire cross itself. That would have been too heavy for him especially after the punishmet he endured just prior.

Esau

Since torture was something the Romans built into somewhat a routine around the empire, they would have developed considerable competence in it and would have been acquainted with the level of tolerance that the human body had as far as torture went and, thus, would have known when to stop the torture at a given point in a session and when to resume.


Uggghhh... all this talk of torture...
Torture, torture, torture -- that's just about what everyone is talking about these days!

Advent, anyone? ? ?

Father Angelo

I thank everyone for their kindness, especially Steven. I have great interest in culture and its relationship to the faith, in the philosophy of aesthetics, and fancy myself an amateur critic of sorts, by what justification, I do not know.

Rather than bore anyone who has had enough, I will just summarize my whole argument here at the beginning very simply. Others can forge ahead.

The Catholic Church teaches that the Blessed Mother is without sin, original and actual, and free from even the slightest inclination to sin. She is also ineffably united to the Blessed Trinity in the "fulness of grace," and a perpetual Virgin. Protestants deny all of this.

But The Nativity Story reflects the Protestant denial rather than the Catholic affirmation.

Therefore, The Nativity Story's presentation of the Blessed Mother is a Protestant one, not a Catholic one.

This is basically all I am saying. On we go.

Steven, I agree with the essence your observations on Catholic truth, and did not intend to imply otherwise. My point, to which I adhere, is that the Mary of The Nativity Story is presented from a thoroughly Protestant point of view and does not compare favorably with Catholic tradition.

Of course, whatever truth Protestants have is Catholic truth, and the teachings of Our Lady are only part of the whole Catholic truth. One of the glaring lacunae in the "Protestant deposit of Catholic truth" is the truth about Our Lady. However, it is not merely a lacuna. The Protestant version is erroneous. I am sure we all agree on this.

You write: "It would be a mistake to allow ourselves or the essence of our faith to be overly defined or characterized by whatever beliefs other Christians happen not to share." You then go on to speak about the hierarchy of truth. However, the essence of our faith is not the highest levels in the hierarchy of truth, but our assent to the One who reveals. We accept everything God reveals. To do otherwise, would be a sin against faith. I know there is a method to apologetics and a legitimate incrementalism in regard to the exposition of the faith to non-Catholics. But to believing Catholics, this should be largely irrelevant, relative to what we must consider as belonging to the essence of the deposit of faith. The whole deposit of faith is essential.

The dogmas concerning Our Lady, such as the Immaculate Conception and the Perpetual Virginity are part of the deposit of faith. I can't see the wisdom of sectioning off the hierarchy of truths, when it concerns the deposit of faith itself, into essential and nonessential truths. There is what we call the "analogy of faith." The whole body of revealed truth hangs together or falls. Again, I am sure you would agree.

Protestants are just wrong about Our Lady, and to say they are generally unsympathetic to Catholic Marian dogma is being extremely generous. In Catholic apologetics some speak of the "Mary bomb." I believe that Scott Hahn has said that the three obstacles to his conversion most difficult to overcome were "Mary, Mary and Mary."

The makers of The Nativity Story, did not even begin to present a doctrinally coherent picture of Our Lady. Mel Gibson did, and he finished the job. I mentioned Hardwicke's critical role in the story telling because producer Wyck Godfrey said she was chosen to direct because "[s]he has had great success at really capturing the lives of young people in particular, and the conflict, crisis, and pain of growing up."

Please indulge my use a quote from Hardwicke included in my review. She makes my point herself:


We wanted her [Mary] to feel accessible to a young teenager, so she wouldn't seem so far away from their life that it had no meaning for them. I wanted them to see Mary as a girl, as a teenager at first, not perfectly pious from the very first moment. So you see Mary going through stuff with her parents where they say, "You're going to marry this guy, and these are the rules you have to follow." Her father is telling her that she's not to have sex with Joseph for a year—and Joseph is standing right there. That's very personal and startling, and you can imagine how that would make a person feel.

So, Some have taken exception to my assertion that the Mary of The Nativity Story is rebellious. We can all review the scene of Mary pushing her mother's arm away, and walking out of the house a hundred times and still argue about whether this was "storming off" or "walking away abruptly." At the very minimum it wasn't "perfectly pious," as Hardwicke tells us herself. However to say that Mary was not perfectly pious is just plain Protestantism, and contrary to the faith according to Trent (Dz 833).

Remember that the whole argument among Catholic theologians concerning the Immaculate Conception prior to the definition in 1854 had nothing to do with a lack of virtue on the part of Our Lady. The sole question was whether or not she had at any moment been infected with original sin. The most common opinion in opposition to the doctrine was that She was only so infected momentarily. According to this opinion, She was immediately sanctified after Her conception. This opinion in the light of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is heresy, plain and simple. My point is, that in regard to Our Lady, anything less than the most sublime holiness is contrary to Catholic doctrine.
My point about the importance of the fathers, doctors and mystics in regard to a consideration of films about the gospel, is that some reference point will necessarily be used in guiding the imagination. Gibson used Catholic reference points, and His rendering of Mary is perfectly compatible with Catholic doctrine. The fimmakers of The Nativity Story, used Protestant and, as I indicate above, secular reference points. The result is a Protestant version of Our Lady. I agree, art is art and not theology. We can argue until the end of the world about how a piece of art ought to be interpreted. I still see no reason to applaud The Nativity Story's portrayal of Our Lady.

Finally, In regard to the Virgin Birth, Ludwig Ott is by no means the end of the argument. His book happens to have been disseminated everywhere by TAN books, admittedly not without some merit. However, the argument that the modern scientific definition of physical virginity has something to do with the Church's definition of the Virgin Birth, or that the teaching of the fathers, because they lacked precise physiological knowledge of procreation, weren't sure of what they were talking about, seems to be an extremely convoluted way of interpreting the obvious sense of the tradition. However, while Ott obfuscates the meaning of the physical virginity, even he admits that fact of physical virginity is what the Virgin Birth concerns.

The uninterrupted tradition of the Church includes the Virgin Birth as an essential part of the dogmatic definition of the Perpetual Virginity. If all that the Virgin Birth means is that it is a birth resulting from a virginal conception, then there is no reason to talk about it. In that case the birth would not be a separate event worthy of note. Or, if all it means is that Our Lady maintained the virtue of virginity during the birth of Jesus, there is also no reason to talk about it. Childbirth is never an occasion for a woman to loose the virtue of purity. Avoiding the obvious sense of the definition just does it violence.

At my vlog entry, I provide a link to an article quoting a Marian study conference given by Pope John Paul II to theologians on June 10, 1992. The subject of the conference was the Perpetual Virginity, and his remarks to the theologians were cautionary. There he summarized the factual truths of the Perpetual Virginity (before, during and after) and included the statement that Our Lady "remained a virgin after His birth in everything that concerns the integrity of the flesh."

In 1960 the Holy Office issued a monitum against an idea, being popularized at that time, which stated that virginity of Mary in partu only meant that since She was a virgin in Her conception and ever after, She was, therefore, a virgin in birth as well. It also warned theologians not to discuss the physiology of childbirth in regard to Our Lady. The caution and reverence of the fathers in regard to this matter, as I point out in the video, has been continued by virtually every orthodox authority of weight throughout the history of the Church. I am sure this will not dissuade some from parsing what "everything that concerns the integrity of the flesh" actually means. However, I am also sure the fathers and holy doctors would not advise it.

Some might wonder why I make so much of the point. In order not to belabor the argument any further, I would direct anyone interested to the video.

Father Angelo

Sorry about the small type.

Cajun Nick

This afternoon, while doing other chores around the house, I reflected upon the different emphases of the film that Father Angelo and I have taken.

I was reminded of an analogy. (This is a very imperfect analogy, and not meant to be an equation. I wish I could do better. I am learning through these comboxes how to better express myself; I just need more work.)

The analogy is with the passage in Luke where Jesus is visiting Martha and Mary. Martha, we might remember, is busy with the "worldly" part of the visit - preparing dishes, serving, etc.

Mary, on the other hand, is occupied with the "spiritual" aspect of the visit, sitting at Jesus' feet and attending to the Truth.

Jesus, of course, tell Martha that Mary has "chosen the best part."

I see the analogy work this way: I am concerned with the "worldy" aspect of the film - we finally have a movie that is sincere in its treatment of the birth of our Lord, and I am glad for it. I want more entertainment similar to it.

Father Angelo, meanwhile, is attending to the "spiritual" Truth of the movie. He is serving as our Catholic conscience that tells us, "Demand more and better. The Truth of Our Lady is not here. Pay more attention to the Truth."

Wanting good, wholesome family entertainment that helps me to build my family in faith is a good thing.

Wanting that entertainment to reflect the fullness of the Truth is the better part.

I appreciate the service that Father Angelo does for us, and I thank Father for his own "Yes" to God through his service to the Church.

May I be able to focus more on the better part.

SDG

Thanks again, Father. From what I can see, your self-evaluation as an amateur critic is well merited. :)

Just a few very brief responses.

Of course, whatever truth Protestants have is Catholic truth, and the teachings of Our Lady are only part of the whole Catholic truth. One of the glaring lacunae in the "Protestant deposit of Catholic truth" is the truth about Our Lady. However, it is not merely a lacuna. The Protestant version is erroneous. I am sure we all agree on this.

Absolutely. To say that, e.g., Mary was in any way compromised by sin is an error, not merely an omission, and the common Protestant understanding on this point is error, straight up.

But The Nativity Story reflects the Protestant denial rather than the Catholic affirmation.

This is where we disagree. I maintain that when it comes to distinctively Catholic Marian truths, the film neither affirms nor denies, but is silent, or neutral. What it does affirm is at least compatible with Catholic truth, and in significant measure the film not only affirms but celebrates crucial (albeit not distinctively) Catholic truth.

If the film denied the Immaculate Conception by depicting Mary as sinful or as affected by sin, I would categorically reject that portrayal. I don't see that it does. Since you've quoted Hardwicke, let me counter with another quote: When I specifically asked Hardwicke about Mary's sinlessness, her response was, "She doesn't sin in our film."

Having said that, I reiterate my caution that film commentators can't be too careful about the kind of weight they give to filmmakers' statements about their films. (I started to write point-by-point comments on your quotes from Hardwicke and Godfrey, but I decided against cluttering up my reply with secondary issues.) The real issue is what the film actually depicts.

In my view, the film leaves room for Catholic viewers to interpret this Mary as an artistic portrayal of the Immaculate Conception, in a way that there is not room, for instance, in Last Temptation to interpret that film's Jesus as an artistic portrayal of the God-Man.

I respect your negative response to Mary's walk-out in the betrothal scene. In my view, the suggestion that Mary may at some point in her life have had emotionally charged differences with her parents does not seem to be fundamentally contrary to the truth of the Immaculate Conception.

However, the essence of our faith is not the highest levels in the hierarchy of truth, but our assent to the One who reveals. We accept everything God reveals. To do otherwise, would be a sin against faith. I know there is a method to apologetics and a legitimate incrementalism in regard to the exposition of the faith to non-Catholics. But to believing Catholics, this should be largely irrelevant, relative to what we must consider as belonging to the essence of the deposit of faith. The whole deposit of faith is essential.

There is a lot of truth here. Certainly as regards the assent of the faithful, to believe in, say, Mary's Immaculate Conception is as much an obligation of faith as to believe in the Trinity.

At the same time, we are not dealing with the assent of the faithful, but with flawed human works of art. In this area, the relative importance of different truths does matter greatly. I can forgive It's a Wonderful Life its confusion between angels and saints far more easily than, say, if it had suggested that there are no angels, or that human beings don't go to heaven when they die, or that there is no God. I'm sure you see my point.

Finally, In regard to the Virgin Birth, Ludwig Ott is by no means the end of the argument.

I will leave further pursuit of this subject aside. Perhaps Jimmy will write a post addressing it.

I still see no reason to applaud The Nativity Story's portrayal of Our Lady.

Well, all right, I can respect that. At the same time, I see no reason to scruple at the portrayal of Mary -- and I do definitely see reason to applaud other aspects of the film. Thus, I applaud what is applause-worthy in the film, and don't scruple at what isn't necessarily applause-worthy or scruple-worthy.

Father Angelo

Nick,

Your comments are kind and appreciated. I liked the Mary / Martha analogy.

I see the analogy work this way: I am concerned with the "worldy" aspect of the film - we finally have a movie that is sincere in its treatment of the birth of our Lord, and I am glad for it. I want more entertainment similar to it.

Father Angelo, meanwhile, is attending to the "spiritual" Truth of the movie. He is serving as our Catholic conscience that tells us, "Demand more and better. The Truth of Our Lady is not here. Pay more attention to the Truth."

Your rhetorical quote captures my point exactly. Thank you.

Steven,

Thank you again. It has been a pleasant exchange. I will also be brief.

Well, all right, I can respect that. At the same time, I see no reason to scruple at the portrayal of Mary -- and I do definitely see reason to applaud other aspects of the film. Thus, I applaud what is applause-worthy in the film, and don't scruple at what isn't necessarily applause-worthy or scruple-worthy.

I agree that other aspects of the film were worthy of praise, and I don't scruple that viewing the film constitutes some kind of tacit dissent. Art can mean all kinds of different things to different people, and one can choose to see the best in any work, whatever its flaws. However, I am sorry, in regard to the Mary of The Nativity Story, I cannot "suspend disbelief."

My point is not really so much an academic consideration of the film, but one that regards the most perfect human person who ever lived for who She is. She is the Immaculate Conception, the Mother of God, Perpetual Virgin, and also our Mother and Queen.

Great artists like Fra Angelico, Dante, Hopkins, Palestrina, and yes, whatever his faults Mel Gibson, hit the mark. Even Protestants have gotten it right when they want to. William Wordsworth for example:

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied;
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast;
Thy Image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween,
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,
As to a visible Power, in which did blend
All that was mixed and reconciled in Thee
Of mother's love with maiden purity,
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!

Ah! That's the real specimen. The Nativity Story is not.

caine thomas

I have to take exception with the Wordsworth. I like him as a poet (Tintern Abbey is a fave) and the sentiments are great, but the elevated concept that Mary was always the Queen of the Universe is an obstacle to a true appreciation of her as "Mother of all the living". Unlike Christ, Mary did not have supra-temporal existence. She did not have original sin, but she was, and is, still a created being, and thus her ascendancy to Queenship was the fruit of the fullness of time. It was God's plan that this be so, but would we say she WAS Queen even prior to the Annunciation at 13, 14 years old??? That, to me, takes some of the honor that is do her linear, temporal choice for God. Her un-ceasing obedience in each moment was an unflowering of her beauty which culminates/culminated in Chist the King NAMING her our mother on the Cross, and subsequently our Queen in heaven. Her perfect beauty was formed to it's highest degree IN TIME by the Holy Spirit.

Is this a horrid, heretical way to see things? Stop me if it is.

I saw the movie, and there was never the slightest hint that Mary sinned or had sinned. Goofing around with kids her age? That's sinful? Being called back to work by your mother is sinful? Not wanting to marry someone is sinful? Didn't Jesus Christ our Lord ask the Father to take the cup away if it was His will? Sin doesn't lie in not wanting to suffer, it lies in disobedience to God. There was certainly none of that in this film!

If it supports your faith to think of the Blessed Virgin Mary as floating amongst mortals in a blue mantle from toddlerhood on, then that's fine. But that's not a human condition. It's my understanding that a human being without sin would likely be the MOST humble, and the MOST pleasant, and the MOST full of joy. I think this movie did a good job at implying her status in the community as just that type of girl. It also showed what we rarely consider, but would have been entirely possible - the ostracization she may have experienced as a result of her obedience to God.

This was not a perfect movie, but it was very good in that it actually treated the likelihood of real physical and social struggle for the Holy Family. I enjoyed the expressions on Anne and Joachim's faces as they repeated Mary's declaration that the child was from the Holy Spirit and was the Son of God! That was a very real human moment! And it was made meaningful because we know they accepted this to be true in their hearts as well.

There's also the scene where a resilient Joseph asks God for a sign (even after the angel visited him in his dream!). Fast forward to the look on his face when the Magi trot up to the stable. Talk about confirmation! The absurdity of these hoidy toidy men coming to that lowly setting is certainly symbolic of the greater descent God made in becoming human flesh.

Faith is not really faith until we make the personal ascent to God's revalation in our hearts despite all of our doubts and anxieties. Faith does not mean we don't have them, but that we've surrenderd them to Jesus. I saw a lot of that in this movie.

Father Angelo

Caine,

I knew Wordsworth was risky business. I am not suggesting that Wordsworth's poem be translated into film. But I am suggesting that the fact that Our Lady is indeed "our tainted nature's solitary boast" is a far more compelling subject for art, one based in a fact of revelation, than some supposed emotional crises for which there is not a shred of evidence in the tradition. I have been told that Our Lady's Immaculate Conception is no where denied in the movie. Perhaps; however, it is not even hinted at either.

Pius XII speaks of Our Lady's Queenship by grace, comparable to the Kingship of Christ by right. Our Lady is Queen of creation by grace, because She is God's masterpiece from the moment of conception. Is it unreasonable to think that Our Lady behaved morally and psychologically in a queenly fashion even as a teenager?

If one examines the theme of Our Lady's "pilgrimage of faith" as presented over and over again in JPII's pontificate, especially in Redemptoris Mater, then Our Lady's Queenship on earth might make more sense.

SDG

Is it unreasonable to think that Our Lady behaved morally and psychologically in a queenly fashion even as a teenager?

If anyone finds this supposition helpful and edifying, I certainly wouldn't want to declare it unreasonable for him to do so. Speaking solely for myself, OTOH, I'm not sure I would find it a particularly helpful way of thinking.

I suspect that if we were to look even at Jesus himself in his earthly life, expecting him to act in a kingly fashion, we might often (not always) be disappointed. I think it's helpful, and ultimately even edifying, to bear in mind that either Jesus or Mary, were we to meet them in their earthly lives, might strike us not at all like our pious imaginings.

In many ways, doubtless, we would find the reality far more edifying than anything we could imagine on our own. In other ways, OTOH, we might find it puzzling, possibly even challenging to our faith.

Going further, what if we were to meet Jesus in his earthly life, not knowing who he was? What would our impression be? Would we be struck by his remarkable authority? Alarmed by his unpredictable sayings? Is it possible that during his life as a tradesman we might do business with him for an afternoon and never have a clue that he was anything out of the ordinary?

What if we met Mary in her earthly life, not knowing who she was? Would she strike us as a queen? As the humblest of women? As a perfectly ordinary, nice girl? Might we perhaps not notice her at all?

Dan Hunter

Consider the fact that although our Savior was,and is,human,He was a perfect human.Therefore physiologically was in a state of perfect strength and health.It is true that he could absorb a much greater amount of punishment than say the toughest Navy Seal.
Having spent 8 years as an instructor at BUDS I realize this first hand.
Jesus is God and human,but divine first.
God bless you.

caine thomas

I don't know why, but I keep putting off a start to finish read of Redemptoris Mater! Thanks for the reminder.

One thing that I think holds the keystone to understanding Mary's queenship on earth, as well as Christ's life on earth are the Gospel verses that focus on humility (ie. Matthew chapters 6 and 20).

I'll take Steven one step further on the "would we recognize Jesus" question. Would we recognize Jesus if we saw an ultrasound from 6 weeks in the womb? What about Jesus right after the moment of conception? Are those images any less the Son of God than would be pictures from the sermon on the mount? Or on the Cross? Or on the road to Emmaus? Is not the Eucharist the same Jesus Christ who appeared to the Apostles in the upper room? Of course the answer to all those questions is yes, but that answer is accepted with the gift of faith, not empirical observation. It is a gift from the Father to be able to recognize Jesus as the Son of God both then and now. Jesus made that clear to Peter!

I guess my point is that it is our human inclination (especially through art) to create things as we think they should be. That comes from original sin and is present in even the most pious of yearnings. Understanding that the battle to recieve, rather than reshape our Savior is a constant until we die should fuel our desire to be as humble as possible. I think the biggest part of that humility consists in accepting God in his lowest and most un-recognizeable forms - whether that be in Mary's womb, working as a carpenter, presented in "Ecce Homo" disfguration, or in the form of simple, dry bread on the altar.

One message that came effortlessly from The Nativity Story was just that. Everyone was waiting for the Messiah (and creating what the Messiah should be), but very few could have dared imagine that the Christ was among them, and HOW he was among them.

I especially like that Joseph and Mary walk right by Herod in the Temple. Sort of like Sam and Frodo passing underneath the Eye of Sauron.

Susan

By way of responding to SDG’s request for examples of how other families celebrate Advent . . .

Although our family doesn’t “do” Santa, the Feast of St. Nicholas (December 6th) is one of the highlights of our Advent season. Our stockings are hung on the evening of December the 5th and we talk about the stories and legends that have grown up around St. Nicholas. On the morning of his feast day, our stockings have been filled with a sack of gold-foiled chocolate coins & a few gold Sacagawea dollars (in remembrance of the gold coins that he anonymously gave to the poverty-stricken father of three dowry-less daughters), usually a CD or DVD, miscellaneous small stocking stuffers, and (this year) tickets to “The Natvity Story,” which we will probably go see on Friday (which is also the Feast of the Immaculate Conception).

For Christmas, we celebrate the full Twelve Days, with the children each receiving a “large” (this usually means price-wise, not necessarily size-wise) gift on Christmas Day and again on Epiphany, and one “smallish” gift each day in-between. We try to have some sort of “theme” to go along with feast day. For example, December 26th is St. Stephen’s Day – which we hear about in the hymn “Good King Wenceslas.” It’s a beautiful story (which I won’t go into here), that deals with the feeding the hungry. So, on this day, besides the children receiving their present for the day, we also pack up items to be donated to the local food bank (whose supplies have usually been depleted the day before). December 27th is St. John the Evangelist. Because St. John was the only disciple who did not abandon Our Lord at the cross (not to mention his taking the BVM as his own mother), he is our model of true friendship, and we invite friends over that day (usually to play with all the new toys). On Holy Innocents Day (December 28th), we go through all our old toys and donate those that are no longer played with.

Well, I’m sure you get the idea here. I’ve thought about putting these all together into some sort of collection for publication, but have always secretly feared that my ideas aren’t really as original as I think!

SDG

Thanks, Susan! The Advent question kind of got lost, didn't it? I've been thinking about starting a new post devoted just to that subject, to hopefully restart discussion.

Father Angelo

Caine,

I appreciate your point about humility and the success achieved by The Nativity Story in getting across the gift and mystery of the Incarnation. We are, indeed, left to our imagination, hopefully in a spirit of humility, to fill in the gaps. One of the reasons the scriptures do not indulge us with so many of the details is precisely that our understanding of the mysteries might depend on what is most important. Doctrine is enshrined in the story, and the story illustrates the doctrine.

Steven,

I suspect that if we were to look even at Jesus himself in his earthly life, expecting him to act in a kingly fashion, we might often (not always) be disappointed. I think it's helpful, and ultimately even edifying, to bear in mind that either Jesus or Mary, were we to meet them in their earthly lives, might strike us not at all like our pious imaginings.

This was precisely why, as you suspected, I consider it quite a task to capture the psychology moral consciousness of the Word made flesh and the Immaculate Conception in literature and drama. I think such a representation can be considered as a kind of artifact of meditating on the mystery. Gibson's meditation is truly enlightening in regard to doctrine and spirituality, and consistent with the greatest meditations that we can find among the great spiritual writers of the Church. In my opinion, The Nativity Story falls flat in this regard, relative to Mary.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am not saying that drama or meditating are identical, or that the scriptwriter's primary purpose need be to support a prayer life, only that good sacred drama will have some orientation in that direction. Otherwise it is not really sacred. Many people enjoy the Bible for its literature. For them, this discussion would have little interest.

That Jesus was self-effacing and perhaps unnoticeable at times, while all the time possessing the attributes of the Son of God, I do not doubt. That Mary was humble and most often hidden, I readily admit.

My comments on Our Lady's Queenship need to be taken in the context of my review and of my other statements in this string. Of all the people who ever lived, only two were completely without sin. Only two were completely heroic. Were they without suffering? No. Without the contradictions of having to live with people? No. Did Our Lady not have to consent, over and over to the redemptive mystery during Her pilgrimage of faith? Of course She did, at the Annunciation, Presentation, Visitation, Nativity, Wedding Feast of Cana, and most of all at the Cross. The mysteries of Rosary are high drama. There is plenty for an artist to work with here. Why the compelling need to enshrine Jesus and Mary in art as though they were like everyone else? What might go unnoticed by the other characters in a story is never unnoticed by the audience. If it does there is no story! Why let all the air out of the tires and then try to push the car?

This is my problem with the Mary of The Nativity Story: the character is a flat tire.

Hardwicke expressly states that Mary's character was crafted in such that teenagers would indentify with her. However, as I have already said, "character identification" with Christ and Our Lady in Catholic meditation is ascending not descending. Find me a tradition in the Church, that has been accepted as a tradition, to the contrary. Why should we not want sacred art to follow the pattern of Catholic tradition?

Please mind what I have repeatedly said: I don't pretend for one second, that this kind of scriptwriting is an easy task, or that I can tell you how Jesus and Mary felt, or what their reactions would have been to any given situation, but neither one of them just an ordinary kid. It seems to me that to suggest that Mary was ordinary is to miss the whole point of the story. This is precisely what Protestantism does in regard to Her exalted person. I will admit, that the outright hostility often found in Protestant tradition toward Our Lady is absent. However, the film offers a Marian minimalism that I see no reason praise as a worthy presentation of the Blessed Mother.

This is why I have summarized my point as I have so often above: The Nativity Story a nice Protestant film, but it does not compare favorably with Catholic tradition. In regard to Mary it errs by being silent about the things that really matter.

Esau

Why the compelling need to enshrine Jesus and Mary in art as though they were like everyone else?

As the Last Temptation of Christ and The Da Vinci Code teaches us, Christ, himself, was really nothing more but human and had not only the same carnal desires, but acted on them!

The Merovingian Bloodline, anyone?

The progeny of Jesus and Mary Magdalene?

What filth!

caine thomas

Father Angelo,

I will concede that the Mary character was flat. I will also concede that the movie was missing a full and true attempt at understanding Mary. I guess that I was so thrilled not to find anything BLATANTLY offensive in a Hollywood interp of Christmas that I overlooked the flaws. The fact that the movie does not openly contest the Virgin Birth, or that Jesus was the Son of God seems to me to be quite a cultural coup!

But I'm someone who will heap praise on a priest if he goes a whole homily without challenging basic doctorine. I'm easy to please.

Pseudomodo

I haven't seen the movie yet but I will comment anyways...

There was another apparent 'historical' variance in this film that I noticed because I was interested in the emphasis on the character of Joseph in this film.

I come from a tradition that believes that St. Joseph was an older man (perhaps in his 40's or 50's) which is contrary to the popular belief that he was not much older than Mary herself.

There is some indirect evidence in scripture:

Joseph was considered a wise and upright man - something that a devout jew would not be described as until age 30.

Joseph already had a business as a craftsman indicating an older man.

Joseph vanishes from the scriptures long before Christ enters his public ministry - also indicating a possible death of an older man.

The eastern church has a tradition that Joseph was considerably older than Mary.

Marie

What makes Da Vinci even more of a sin is the fact that the book is HORRIBLY written and relies on blasphemy for getting attention it would not, naturally get.

I read it out of curiosity but it was a dull, lifeless, and unbelievably stupid book.

I refuse to get upset about it because the author needs pitty...not my ranting. The guy can't write and has to insult dearly held beliefs and insulting historical figures (as well as Biblical) to earn a living. What a depressing line of work?!

I think these people know they are hacks deep down. Same thing with the "artists" that every once in a while destroy a religious icon or burn or mutilate our flag. They KNOW they can't get the attention otherwise. They understand on a fundemental level that they are HACKS of the first order. I think it's time we accept that and ignore them...as one would an obnoxious child trying to get a rise out of their parent by making rude noises.

SDG

Thanks for your comments, Father. I appreciate your pointing back to the tenor of your whole review; that larger perspective is easy to lose track of when discussion zeroes in on a few individual points of different approaches or opinions. The differences tend to loom larger than they ought. Kind of like how Marian doctrines that are disputed by Protestants can tend to overshadow those that are not. :-D

Unfortunately, I think that this is precisely what happens with respect to rhetoric like "In regard to Mary it errs by being silent about the things that really matter."

By this brisk assessment, "the things that really matter" concerning Mary must not include little things like the Annunciation, the virginal conception, the divine sojourn in Mary's womb, the Visitation, the Nativity, Mary's betrothal to Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem, etc.

For that matter, the Nicene Creed doesn't mention the Immaculate Conception. Can we say, then, that the Nicene Creed is "silent" about "the things that really matter"? If so, shall we say that it "errs" in so doing?

Certainly some things about which the Nicene Creed is silent do matter. But this silence doesn't constitute error. The Nativity Story affirms everything about Mary that the Nicene Creed does, and more. How, then, can we say that it errs by silence?

This is not at all to deny the film's limitations and shortcomings. I acknowledge that the portrayal of Mary leaves something to be desired.

I do think it's better than you're giving it credit for. On my second viewing, I found Castle-Hughes's performance to be subtler, more nuanced, more satisfying than I noticed on my first viewing. Others also have found her performance growing on them with repeated viewings.

But this is a matter of individual experience. I think it's overly harsh to call the characterization "a flat tire," but you're certainly entitled to your opinion.

You ask, "Why the compelling need to enshrine Jesus and Mary in art as though they were like everyone else?"

To this I reply: I might equally ask, after reading the Wordsworth poem you cited (or a similar poem about Jesus), "Why the compelling need to enshrine Mary and Jesus in art as though they were nothing like anyone else?"

The answer to both objections is that both the ordinariness and the extraordinariness of Jesus and Mary are legitimate subjects of art -- and artists have freedom to choose their subject.

Sacred art must not contradict either the ordinariness or the extraordinariness of Jesus or Mary, but it is free to explore one while passing over the other in silence, without automatically denying whatever it is silent about.

A poet may rhapsodize about Jesus' infinite glory, beatitude and omnipotence, never alluding to his human frailty and humility and so forth, yet not thereby endorse Docetism.

Equally, a painter might envision Jesus' humanity in all its ordinariness, not so much as hinting at his divinity, without thereby tacitly condoning Arianism.

By the same token, Wordsworth represents one way of approaching Mary in terms of her extraordinariness, while The Nativity Story represents another way (a flawed attempt at that way, I grant, but the thing itself is valid) of approaching her in terms of her ordinariness -- though in fact it does affirm at least some of her extraordinariness as Theotokos and virgin mother.

Incidentally, a significant bit of your complaint with the film lies with what you consider its portrayal of Mary's delivery of Jesus as a purely "natural" event biologically. FWIW, my Orthodox friend and peer, critic Peter Chattaway, has argued that the film contains at least two elements that converge with the Catholic/Orthodox traditions regarding the Nativity:

First, just as Jesus is being born, the screen fades to white, as if light from the star(s) is flooding the stable. A moment later the light fades, and Joseph holds up the baby Jesus and give him to Mary to nurse.

This strikingly echoes the account in the Protevangelion: "A great light appeared in the cave so that our eyes could not endure it. And by little and little that light withdrew itself until the young child appeared: and it went and took the breast of its mother Mary."

Secondly, when Joseph holds up the baby Jesus -- no umbilical cord! That doesn't exactly accord with a naturalistic depiction of an ordinary childbirth. :-)

Incidentally, I expect you're aware of the LifeSiteNews piece reporting on your review. What do you think of the piece?

Venerable Aussie

I was very disappointed by the LifeSiteNews piece. It gave the impression that the film denies Catholic Truth.

In reading everything written in the comm boxes here - and having seen the film on the opening night with my wife and kids - it is clear that Catholics of orthodox belief can differ as to such a conclusion.

On the doctrinal issues, I come down fully on the side of SDG. The film does NOT deny that Mary remained a virgin throughout the birth, and it does NOT show a sinful Mary.

I agree with SDG's analogy with respect to the Creed and the Gospel of Matthew. Just because these do not present complete pictures of Mary during this time should not be taken as an implication that what IS presented is somehow untrue.

I leave the final comment to the Protestant family I spoke with on the way out of the theatre. I mentioned to them that I thought the film really brought out Mary's supreme role, and highlighted how much Joseph was a man of honour.

"Yeah, we really don't think about those aspects much do we, and how it really would have been for them."

I think this highlights Caine Thomas's point above ( Posted by: caine thomas | Dec 2, 2006 7:23:11 AM )

And it also points to how much damage a lop-sided review from LifeSiteNews can do.

Cajun Nick

I want to affirm Father Angelo's intentions in stressing that the beauty of Marian doctrines be fully presented. We always need someone to call the attention of those of us who were maybe not well-catechized to delve deeper into our faith. I thank him for it. It has certainly caused me to do some reflection on how I treat Our Lady in my meditations about her.

Simultaneously, I want to affirm what SDG (and I) wrote earlier in these comboxes. In his most recent post, SDG has (as usual, I find) competently addressed and answered the issues that Father Angelo raises.

This is another of those and/both situations that Catholics can use to help our separated brothers come back into the fold.

Father Angelo

Steven,

Thanks again for the lively exchange.

I have commented on LifeSite's report on AirMaria.

My comment about context needs to be taken in context. :-D

I appreciate your pointing back to the tenor of your whole review; that larger perspective is easy to lose track of when discussion zeroes in on a few individual points of different approaches or opinions. The differences tend to loom larger than they ought. Kind of like how Marian doctrines that are disputed by Protestants can tend to overshadow those that are not. :-D

Unfortunately, I think that this is precisely what happens with respect to rhetoric like "In regard to Mary it errs by being silent about the things that really matter."

1) My "brisk assessment" I do not believe to be rhetoric, but fact. The Nicene Creed does not err by silence, because the twelve articles of the Creed are a framework around which the catechism is constructed. The twelve articles imply the whole deposit of faith. This is something akin to what I have heard some scholars suggest in reference to the words of Our Lord on the cross: My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me. Our Lord quotes the first verse of psalm 22, but we are to understand the meaning of the whole psalm. The film does not

affirm everything about Mary that the Nicene Creed does

because the Creed is the symbol of our whole faith. In fact, I argue that the film affirms nothing of the essential Catholic truth about Mary.

Marian doctrines that are rejected by Protestants "loom larger" than those accepted, because the vast majority of Protestants assent to none of the Marian dogmas (Divine Maternity, Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception, Assumption). The Perpetual Virginity is one dogma, not three, but it includes three aspects (before, during and after the birth). Protestants accept the Virginal Conception, because they accept the divinity of Christ. However, the vast majority do not accept the implication of the Virginal Conception relative to Mary, namely, that by Her free and active cooperation in God's plan, She became the New Eve, the true mother of all the living.

As to the Virgin Birth specifically, the Church teaches clearly and definitively that the birth is miraculous and includes physical integrity--no lesion and no pain. Whatever ambiguity might be achieved in the film by showing Our Lady in pain in one instance, and then Our Lord without an umbilical cord in the next, is no way out of denying the doctrine.

Furthemore, the film starts with its portrayal of Mary from an errant point of view. Regardless of what a synthesis of the filmmakers statements about their work might render, they chose to include in their promotional material an interpretation of the character which is entirely consistent with my own. They chose to portray a Mary "not perfectly pious from the very first moment." This is, in fact, contrary to Catholic doctrine. According to Church teaching Our Lady was not only conceived immaculate, but was entirely without actual sin and had no inclination to sin. We can argue about whether She is portrayed as "just a normal teen," or whether the portrayal manifests an inclination to sin. I think Hardwicke's interpretation is just fine, and at the very least the portrayal has, and will continue to create confusion in the mind of Catholics.

Incidentally, a local secular paper just published a review and says the following: "The talented young actress plays Mary as a stubborn teenager who is reluctant to accept a marriage to the carpenter, Joseph. . ." All things considered, I think Hardwicke has been fairly successful.

2) Some further clarification regarding context is necessary relative to the portrayal of Jesus and Mary in art.

You ask, "Why the compelling need to enshrine Jesus and Mary in art as though they were like everyone else?"

To this I reply: I might equally ask, after reading the Wordsworth poem you cited (or a similar poem about Jesus), "Why the compelling need to enshrine Mary and Jesus in art as though they were nothing like anyone else?"

In my previous post, I brought up the issue of context, precisely because of the way my use of Wordsworth poem was being interpreted. I quoted the poem for two reasons: 1) because Wordsworth was a Protestant who had "gotten it right"; 2) because the essential truth, the real point of any decent story about Our Lady, is that She is "[o]ur tainted nature's solitary boast."

By the nature of this dispute, I have been forced to emphasize one side of the Christmas mystery. Let us call it the "divine" side, as opposed to the "human" side. I have been defending an accurate interpretation of the Virgin Birth as a separate miraculous event, and a great sign intended by God. I have also been defending the highest honor of Our Lady, as one who is stainless. In this context, I can't imagine how you would suggest that I am implying that Jesus and Mary should be portrayed in art as "as though they were nothing like anyone else." Wordsworth says that Our Lady is "[o]ur tainted nature's solitary boast." Our Lady is one of us, of course She is, but She is stainless.

However, and more to the point, a better example of what I have been saying throughout this discussion is the contrast between The Passion of the Christ and The Nativity Story. I have praised The Passion of the Christ to the high heavens, and affirmed, that as an artistic rendition, it is faithful to the gospel account of the earthly life of Jesus and Mary. My comments about Our Lady's Queenship are best understood in this context. She is Queen in The Passion. However, on the road to Calvary the crowds don't part and bow. Mary offers no queenly wave. But John knows. The Magdelan knows. And the Old Boy knows. The Woman and the Serpent stare each other down. But most of all, we know. The audience knows.

Everyone agrees, there is no contradiction between the "divine" and "human," between "glorious" and "ordinary" in the mystery of the Incarnation. In sacred art the trick is to get the balance. The enchantment of the ordinary is that in end it is not ordinary. It is awsome. Where things are completely ordinary there is no story.

The a story about Our Lady should lead us to honor Her more. In fact, She is a Queen and deserves to be honored as such.

We argue about The Nativity Story because it is ambiguous at best: Who knows? At best, it errs by silence. However, I think it is worse than that. The filmmakers never set out to portray a Catholic Mary and it shows. Marian dogma is not just absent, it is denied. True, The Navity Story is not a theological treatise. It is art. However, it is identifiably not Catholic art.

SDG

In fact, I argue that the film affirms nothing of the essential Catholic truth about Mary.

This strikes me as patently indefensible. You can formulate Catholic dogma in such a way as to maintain that the film doesn't affirm "the one dogma of the Perpetual Virginity," but you just can't say that affirming the virginal conception is "affirming nothing of the essential Catholic truth about Mary."

Syllogism:

P1. The Nativity Story affirms the virginal conception.
P2. The virginal conception is part of the essential Catholic truth about Mary.
C. Therefore, The Nativity Story affirms part of the essential Catholic truth about Mary.

Tautology: Whatever affirms "part of the essential Catholic truth about Mary" does not (at the same time and in the same respect) affirm "nothing of the essential Catholic truth about Mary."

QED. Repeat as necessary for the Annunciation, the divine sojourn in Mary's womb, the Visitation, the Nativity, Mary's betrothal to Joseph, the journey to Bethlehem, etc.

Furthermore, how do you conclude that the film doesn't affirm the dogma of the Divine Maternity? Doesn't Elizabeth call Mary "the mother of my Lord"? Doesn't one of the Magi affirm the Child in Mary's arms as "God made into man"?

(Incidentally, what evidence do you have that "the vast majority of Protestants" reject the Divine Maternity? Certainly I learned as a Protestant that Mary was traditionally acknowledged as Theotokos, the mother of God, over against the Nestorian heresy. Maybe a lot of (not all) Evangelicals and Fundamentalists have a problem with it, but they aren't "the vast majority of Protestants.")

Whatever ambiguity might be achieved in the film by showing Our Lady in pain in one instance, and then Our Lord without an umbilical cord in the next, is no way out of denying the doctrine.

Don't forget the flash of light! As for the pain, even that may be in the eye of the beholder. Certainly Mary doesn't suffer in childbirth like Elizabeth does. From the births of my five children, I can tell you that maternal effort as well as pain is involved. Perhaps Mary labors with great effort rather than pain.

Regardless of what a synthesis of the filmmakers statements about their work might render, they chose to include in their promotional material an interpretation of the character which is entirely consistent with my own. They chose to portray a Mary "not perfectly pious from the very first moment." This is, in fact, contrary to Catholic doctrine.

This is, of course, a statement about promotional materials, not the film itself. Although I didn't want to get bogged down in secondary questions, let me just point out that the word "pious" in the mouth of, e.g., Catherine Hardwicke is far from a univocal term. You would have to ascertain what she meant by "pious" to be confident that her statement is "contrary to Catholic doctrine."

I think Hardwicke's interpretation is just fine, and at the very least the portrayal has, and will continue to create confusion in the mind of Catholics.

Is that just speculation, or are you aware of Catholics who were "confused" by the film?

In general, it seems to me that Catholics who believe in and understand the Immaculate Conception will either find the film's portrayal basically compatible in principle with the dogma (as I do), or not (as you at least lean in the direction of doing).

If they find it compatible, they will at most be no more confused than they were to start with. :-) If they don't, I can't see that this will create much "confusion" -- they just won't like the film. Even Catholics who don't believe or understand the Immaculate Conception are, I think, unlikely to find their beliefs modified by the film (and thus further confused).

By the nature of this dispute, I have been forced to emphasize one side of the Christmas mystery.

Quite right. I absolutely understand how this works.

I can't imagine how you would suggest that I am implying that Jesus and Mary should be portrayed in art as "as though they were nothing like anyone else."

I never said you were. My point is, looking at Wordsworth, I see nothing whatsoever of hiddenness, humility, ordinariness. Though superior as art to The Nativity Story, Wordsworth's poem is simply the mirror image of the film's depiction of Mary's ordinariness. ("Our tainted nature's solitary boast" does not get you within a million miles of "He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.")

I understand that you cited the poem because it highlights the part of the mystery that you wished to highlight. But apart from that, do you in fact fault the poem for its "silence" regarding the other part of the mystery, as you fault The Nativity Story for its "silence" regarding what Wordsworth expresses so eloquently?

Must Marian art higlight both our Lady's ordinariness and her extraordinariness? Or is the artist free to choose his subject?

Everyone agrees, there is no contradiction between the "divine" and "human," between "glorious" and "ordinary" in the mystery of the Incarnation. In sacred art the trick is to get the balance.

In that case, Wordsworth's poem is a failure. There is no "balance," only glory bereft of ordinariness. And there's lots of Catholic art that's open to similar charges.

The enchantment of the ordinary is that in end it is not ordinary. It is awsome. Where things are completely ordinary there is no story.

But "things" are not "completely ordinary" in The Nativity Story. Mary as a character is, I grant, quite ordinary. But her conception is not ordinary. Elizabeth's conception is not ordinary. The Nativity itself, bathed in the beatific light of the star and heralded by an angel (admittedly bereft of the heavenly host!), is not ordinary, even if it's not as extraordinary as we might wish.

Things are not completely ordinary. Thus, you have a story.

However, and more to the point, a better example of what I have been saying throughout this discussion is the contrast between The Passion of the Christ and The Nativity Story. I have praised The Passion of the Christ to the high heavens, and affirmed, that as an artistic rendition, it is faithful to the gospel account of the earthly life of Jesus and Mary. My comments about Our Lady's Queenship are best understood in this context. She is Queen in The Passion. However, on the road to Calvary the crowds don't part and bow. Mary offers no queenly wave. But John knows. The Magdelan knows. And the Old Boy knows. The Woman and the Serpent stare each other down. But most of all, we know. The audience knows.

Eloquently and well stated. Like you, I'm deeply appreciative of Gibson's iconic, mystical depiction of the Virgin Mary, a treatment eminently in keeping with his film's visionary, poetic character.

Of course, Gibson's film isn't interested in, and doesn't attempt, anything like ordinary narrative psychological character development -- for any of its subjects (with one notable exception). Jesus, Mary, Judas, Caiaphas, Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, Longinus -- all are figures of sacred art, no more characters in a drama than the subjects of a Gruenwald or Bruegel. Only Pilate receives attention as a developed character.

As you say, the difficulty of imagining Mary or Jesus as a fully realized character in a dramatic presentation is formidable, and I appreciate your comments about drama and meditation, etc. And, again, I acknowledge the film's limitations in this regard. But I would not want every Mary on film to be Gibson's Mary.

True, The Navity Story is not a theological treatise. It is art. However, it is identifiably not Catholic art.

Fair enough. D'accord.

But it is identifiably Christian art -- astoundly so, even; the declaration "God made into man" is unprecedented in any Hollywood studio film going back at least until the biblical epics of the 1950s.

To me, that's enough to make it a Good Thing. Not as good as I might wish, but in the cultural milieu in which we find ourselves, a very good thing. That is, I think, why the Vatican wished to host its premiere -- whatever celebrates and recalls our culture's historically Christian identity is to that extent a good thing.

In this year of the "return of Christmas," it is perhaps a doubly good thing. Had the film achieved anything like the success of The Passion at the box office, it would have been a resounding symbol to the culture of how many of us there are out here for whom this story matters. I don't believe in the language of "supporting" or "not supporting" movies to "send a message," but it must be acknowledged that the messages are there.

Alas, that didn't happen this past weekend. That is unfortunate. To Hollywood, the unavoidable message will be, "The Passion was a one-time thing. Let's move on, business as usual." In the "Christmas wars," a potential advantage may have passed. These are secondary issues, to be sure, but worth noting, I think.

Art is never perfect. The Passion is not perfect. Mel Gibson made some unfortunate choices. Rich and Hardwicke made some unfortunate choices. Granted, Gibson delivered brilliance along with his unfortunate choices, while Rich and Hardwicke delivered only competence.

But still, with art, as with food, friends, church life, or many other areas of life, the standard can never be perfection versus imperfection. Rather, it is what is basically wholesome versus what is not.

We all want good food, good friends, a good parish with good homiletics. Some food, friends, and chuches will do you more harm than good. But a man who insists on perfect food, perfect friends and a perfect church will die friendless, unchurched and quickly. (Cf. an earlier poster's comments about being satisfied if a priest goes a whole homily without challenging basic doctrine!)

The Nativity Story, in my judgment, is basically wholesome. Not perfect, but enough good to warrant recommending the whole package.

To use a food analogy, The Passion of the Christ is a gourmet meal, though with unfortunate bits of fat and gristle and such that should be left on the plate. The Nativity Story is a humbler dish, a bit lacking perhaps, but tasty enough for what it is -- and it's the only dish of its kind in town.

Esau

Alas, that didn't happen this past weekend. That is unfortunate. To Hollywood, the unavoidable message will be, "The Passion was a one-time thing. Let's move on, business as usual." In the "Christmas wars," a potential advantage may have passed. These are secondary issues, to be sure, but worth noting, I think.


SDG:

Actually, I remember when I used to be involved in certain functions involving my Protestant friends.

I remembered how many of them found it appalling that, in their opinion, Hollywood was making films like The 10 Commandments back then just to make huge profits; however, they usually missed the point that, at the very least, they were making these great films that were of such a religious nature they, even in spite of the ulterior motives of those in Hollywood, could actually inspire people of Faith out there.

I even asked: "Would you rather they make films based on violence and sex instead?"

At that, they turned silent.

David B.

I found that "the Nativity Story" actually affirms Mary's Perpetual Virginity. For instance, when a women told Joseph that the child would look like him, he seemed to have an expression of sorrow which showed thar he knew Mary could never bring forth children for him.

I could be wrong, but that's how the scene struck me.

Father Angelo

Steven,

"True, The Navity Story is not a theological treatise. It is art. However, it is identifiably not Catholic art." Fair enough.

D'accord.

Well, at least we finally agree that The Nativity Story is not a Catholic film, which, if you will notice, has been my point all along.

If I had an opportunity to rewrite my last post I would have said: "In fact, I argue that the film affirms nothing of the essential Catholic truth about Mary with any clarity."

The essential Catholic truth about Mary are the four dogmas (Divine Maternity, Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception, Assumption) and those truths connected with them (such as Our Lady's freedom from actual sin and every inclination to sin). There is, as I have mentioned above, the analogy of faith. The truth about Mary is coherent. The Mary of The Nativity Story is not.

Certainly Mary doesn't suffer in childbirth like Elizabeth does. From the births of my five children, I can tell you that maternal effort as well as pain is involved. Perhaps Mary labors with great effort rather than pain.

As defined by the Church, the Perpetual Virginity is denied by the movie at least on the ground of pain in childbirth. The Virgin Birth is defined as a miraculous birth. That it why it is painless and without lesion. My advice is not to get bogged down in the question of pain. Understand why the Virgin Birth is painless. Reason: the birth is a miracle. Without belaboring this any further, I will just direct those interested to AirMaria.

(Incidentally, what evidence do you have that "the vast majority of Protestants" reject the Divine Maternity? Certainly I learned as a Protestant that Mary was traditionally acknowledged as Theotokos, the mother of God, over against the Nestorian heresy. Maybe a lot of (not all) Evangelicals and Fundamentalists have a problem with it, but they aren't "the vast majority of Protestants.")

I will defer to you as to whether most, many or some Protestants reject the Divine Maternity.

In general, it seems to me that Catholics who believe in and understand the Immaculate Conception will either find the film's portrayal basically compatible in principle with the dogma (as I do), or not (as you at least lean in the direction of doing).

The Immaculate Conception is not merely a what. She is a who. I quote from the bull of Pius IX defining the dogma:

Above all creatures did God so loved her that truly in her was the Father well pleased with singular delight. Therefore, far above all the angels and all the saints so wondrously did God endow her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of his divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity than which, under God, one cannot even imagine anything greater, and which, outside of God, no mind can succeed in comprehending fully.

Blessed Pius IX says we cannot even imagine anything greater than Our Lady's sanctity or comprehend it fully. I guess art is forced to try. The Nativity Story does not even begin to begin.

"I think Hardwicke's interpretation is just fine, and at the very least the portrayal has, and will continue to create confusion in the mind of Catholics."

Is that just speculation, or are you aware of Catholics who were "confused" by the film?

That this much time has been spent discussing the merits of the portrayal of Our Lady in The Nativity Story leads me to believe that, yes, some confusion exists. You will not find support among the saints for anything remotely resembling the Mary of The Nativity Story. Do a search. Try to find a "not perfectly pious Mary," however you want to do define it.

("Our tainted nature's solitary boast" does not get you within a million miles of "He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.")

"Hail, full of Grace" and "I am the handmaid of the Lord" are only a few verses apart, and conceptually they are even closer.

I do not know what else to say about the balance between divine and human, except that I don't consider it to be numerical. I indicated that often the extraordinary is found in the ordinary. Poetry always uses what is familiar to say something exalted.

As you say, the difficulty of imagining Mary or Jesus as a fully realized character in a dramatic presentation is formidable, and I appreciate your comments about drama and meditation, etc. And, again, I acknowledge the film's limitations in this regard. But I would not want every Mary on film to be Gibson's Mary.

And I am grateful for your appreciation. However, at least Gibson's Mary is consistent with the tradition. Perhaps this is so precisely because, as you say very well, The Passion's "depiction of the Virgin Mary" is "iconic" and "mystical," while the film's character is "visionary" and "poetic." Conversely, perhaps The Nativity Story fails relative to Mary precisely because it attempts "ordinary narrative psychological character development" of the Immaculate Conception.

Thank you again, Steven, for this amiable and most interesting discussion. This vigil of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a wonderful opportunity for us to conclude our considerations at the feet of our Mother, who, in the end, cannot be captured adequately on celluloid. May she bring the presence of Her Son to you and your family, and to all the wonderful bloggers at JimmyAkin.org. Happy feast of the Immaculate Conception and a very Merry Christmas to all.

The Immaculate appears in this world, without the least stain of sin, the masterpiece of God's hands, full of grace. God, the Most Holy Trinity, beholds the lowliness (i.e., the humility, the root of all Her other virtues) of his handmaid, and "does great things for Her, He the Almighty." God the Father gives Her His only Son to be Her Son; God the Son descends into Her womb; and God the Holy Spirit forms the body of Christ in the womb of this pure Virgin. "And the Word was made flesh." The Immaculate becomes the Mother of God. The fruit of the love of God in His trinitarian life and of Mary the Immaculate, is Christ the God-Man.
St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe

SDG

Well, at least we finally agree that The Nativity Story is not a Catholic film, which, if you will notice, has been my point all along.

"Finally"? Father, if you will notice, we've been in agreement on that point since the beginning of the discussion. In my first very comment on your review I wrote, "I further agree, and said so in my review, that The Nativity Story reflects a Protestant point of view, or, as Fr. Angelo also put it, that it is "a much more 'ecumenical' Nativity."

At the same time, that the film is Protestant, i.e., not Catholic, doesn't change the fact that it attests Christian truth, i.e., Catholic truth.

If I had an opportunity to rewrite my last post I would have said: "In fact, I argue that the film affirms nothing of the essential Catholic truth about Mary with any clarity."

But The Nativity Story does clearly attest the virginal conception (and the Annunciation, and the divine sojourn in Mary's womb, etc.). And the virginal conception (and the Annunciation, and the divine sojourn in Mary's womb, etc.) are part of essential Catholic truth. And whatever affirms part of essential Catholic truth with any clarity does not affirm nothing of essential Catholic truth with any clarity. The syllogism still holds.

The essential Catholic truth about Mary are the four dogmas (Divine Maternity, Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception, Assumption) and those truths connected with them (such as Our Lady's freedom from actual sin and every inclination to sin).

Dogmas are an infallible definitions or formulations of essential Catholic truth. Dogmas set forth and define truth. By no definition of terms can it be argued that the virginal conception and the divine sojourn in Mary's womb are not part of the essential Catholic truth about Mary, or that a film that clearly affirms the virginal conception and the divine sojourn in Mary's womb nevertheless "affirms nothing of the essential Catholic truth about Mary with any clarity."

Thanks as always, Father, for your cordial and heartfelt thoughts.

caine thomas

Wow! You guys really went to town on this film. That was a fascinating discussion, and it showed a fervent passion for the truths surrounding the Incarnation which it's obvious the film-makers didn't really have. They just wanted to make a simple, sweet movie about the Nativity - and I think they succeeded.

I think St. Jerome could've learned a thing or two about polite disagreement from Father Angelo and Steven.

Fr. Angelo said the following and I'm wondering if I can get some clarification.

Marian doctrines that are rejected by Protestants "loom larger" than those accepted, because the vast majority of Protestants assent to none of the Marian dogmas (Divine Maternity, Perpetual Virginity, Immaculate Conception, Assumption).

Can someone give me an example of a mainline denomination or Evangelical personality who denies Mary is Theotokos? (I'm not arguing, I just want to know)

Thanks!

SDG

Can someone give me an example of a mainline denomination or Evangelical personality who denies Mary is Theotokos? (I'm not arguing, I just want to know)

The first name that comes to mind is Harold Camping, not because he's the best or most representative example, but only because I once argued with him about it on the radio. (That was before he went off the deep end predicting the timing of the Second Coming.)

Loraine Boettner gives a fairly typical formulation of the sort of objections one sometimes gets from Protestants when he says that "Mary was the mother of Jesus' huamn nature, not of his divine nature" (paraphrasing from memory). In reality, of course, there is no such thing as being a mother of a "nature," only being a mother of a person (or Person).

Esau

Can someone give me an example of a mainline denomination or Evangelical personality who denies Mary is Theotokos? (I'm not arguing, I just want to know)


Tim Staples used to:

I was raised as a Southern Baptist and I was always taught that Mary was not the Mother of God, but the Mother of the man, Jesus Christ.

But, thanks be to God, he ended up becoming one of our best apologists!

Father Angelo

Steven,

Are you out there? Did you see the Hannity interview with Gibson and his comments about The Life of Christ? It seems to me that he has the right idea.

SDG

Of course I'm out here. :-)

Nope, I didn't see the interview.

Father Angelo

Steven,

Here is the pertinent part.


HANNITY: I can tell you what people I know that I've spoke to want you to do.

GIBSON: What? "The Life of Christ," right?

HANNITY: How many times do you hear that?

GIBSON: A lot. That would be a huge project, and it would be — I'd have to find an access to that. I'd have to think about that. It would have to be absolutely no cheesiness to it. You'd have to absolutely understand it.

HANNITY: Explain that. Go on…

GIBSON: Well, you're trying to explain things of another realm in this realm and things beyond comprehension. And you would have to find a way to present that, that would enter people, and that they could make some sense of that would hit them emotionally and logically. Very difficult. I mean, it's the inexplicable sometimes, you know? It's a very tough, big task.

SDG

Italics off?

I think Gibson's reticence is wise. I don't think he's the right guy for the job.

OTOH, what Gibson describes is not, I think, the only way that art can honor God. It may be the only approach that works for Gibson as an artist, but it's not the only way it can be done.

You can see Gibson "trying to explain things of another realm in this realm" in the opening scene of TPOTC, in which he depicts the agony in the garden as a visionary showdown with the Adversary. Another artist might ask, "What might the agony in the garden have actually looked like if you were there? What would Peter, James and John have seen?" Both approaches are valid, I think.

Incidentally, Father, did you ever notice that while there's lots of demonic imagery in TPOTC, there are no angels anywhere -- not even ministering to Jesus in the Garden, as per St. Luke's Gospel?

Father Angelo

Steven,

Gibson's reticence has nothing to do with what you perceive as his lack of qualification for the job. On the contrary, if anything, his reticence is one qualification without which anyone who attempts the project is bound to fail.

I am not suggesting that a visionary approach is necessary to all art, but I think special consideration needs to be given to sacred art. On the other hand, if an artist's interest in the gospel is entirely literary or dramatic, then only artistic considerations are pertinent. Those who believe will still care about the way that the gospel is treated, but one would not expect an artist with merely secular motivations to adopt a specialized approach.

That being said, I don't think the visionary approach is to be strictly opposed to one that renders an attempt at historical realism. In fact, Gibson does both. No artist worth his salt would pretend that his interpretation is the picture perfect rendering or that there isn't another way to skin the cat, nor am I. However, I do believe that an attempt at "ordinary narrative psychological character development" relative to Jesus and Mary is bound to be reductive to the mystery in a way that will in fact appear "cheesy" or compromised.

SDG

Gibson's reticence has nothing to do with what you perceive as his lack of qualification for the job. On the contrary, if anything, his reticence is one qualification without which anyone who attempts the project is bound to fail.

Both of these statements are true, but my observation remains. :-)

On the other hand, if an artist's interest in the gospel is entirely literary or dramatic, then only artistic considerations are pertinent. Those who believe will still care about the way that the gospel is treated, but one would not expect an artist with merely secular motivations to adopt a specialized approach.

I'm not sure I would look at it that way, or that any artist worth his salt ought to.

I don't think it's any accident, indeed, that some of the best religiously themed storytelling comes from non-believers: Robert Bolt, playwright and screenwriter of A Man for All Seasons; Franz Werfel, author of the original novel The Song of Bernadette; , Pasolini, director of The Gospel According to St. Matthew; Rosellini, director of The Flowers of St. Francis; etc.

I prefer the way that Dorothy Sayers outlined in her introduction to The Man Born to be King: The artist, she said,

must begin by ridding himself of all edificatory and theological intentions. He must set out, not to instruct but to show forth, not to point to a moral but to tell a story; not to produce a Divinity Lesson with illustrations in dialogue but to write a good piece of theater... the theology -- the dogma -- must be taken by the writer as part of the amterial with which he works, and not as the exterior end to which his work is directed... it is the business of the dramatist not to subordinate the drama to the theology, but to approach the job of truth-telling from his own end, and trust the theology to emerge undistorted from the dramatic presentation of the story.

FWIW, This is, I think, exactly what makes The Passion so successful as sacred art, that Gibson precisely trusted his artistic vision rather than trying to put across theology. (I think of Gibson's reply to the Baptist pastor who pressed him on the origins of the shocking image of the Adversary with the satanic infant: "I guess I just pulled it out of my a--." A crude but effective way of indicating that the image was rooted in creative inspiration rather than theological intent.)

And, FWIW, I think that the limitations of The Nativity Story are first of all limitations of creative vision more than theology.

So, I think that any artist who approaches religious subject matter, whether believer or no, must begin by approaching his subject first of all as an artist rather than as a believer, but also that he must regard the religious content of his subject as part of the subject matter itself.

For some reason, nonbelieving artists frequently have less trouble understanding this than believing artists. I think of director Marc Rothemund, who directed Sophie Scholl, one of the best and most inspiring portrayals of faith in recent cinematic history. Although he is an agnostic, Rothemund told me, "I believed in God the whole time I was making this movie." What he meant was that he put himself at the service of Sophie and her story, and he recognized that her faith as an integral part of that story.

David B.

Good stuff, Steven *and* Fr. Angelo.

Father Angelo

Steven,

I don't think it's any accident, indeed, that some of the best religiously themed storytelling comes from non-believers: Robert Bolt, playwright and screenwriter of A Man for All Seasons; Franz Werfel, author of the original novel The Song of Bernadette; , Pasolini, director of The Gospel According to St. Matthew; Rosellini, director of The Flowers of St. Francis; etc.

The examples you give do not contradict my position. It would be wrong to assume that the interests of the artists you refer to were "entirely literary or dramatic," even if they were not "believers." My point was only that the gospel does have purely literary and dramatic interest, but that interest alone will lead to a reductive piece of art. For each of the artists you mention, the subject matter is important for reasons beyond mere art, even if their "faith" is not Catholic. Hence, we read of Werfel's "faith" in the preface of The Song of Bernadette:

I have dared to sing the song of Bernadette, although I am not a Catholic but a Jew; and I drew courage for this undertaking from a far older and far more unconscious vow of mine. Even in the days when I wrote my first verses I vowed that I would evermore and everywhere in all I wrote magnify the divine mystery and the holiness of man--careless of a period which has turned away with scorn and rage and indifference from these ultimate values of our mortal lot.

The Song of Bernadette is a great story, but it is also limited by Werfel's "limited faith." I agree that non-believers are less likely to use art for propaganda if they still have respect for the religious subject matter they treat, but I do not believe that their lack of faith better equips them to tell religious stories. We both agree on this, and, I think, on the fact that Gibson avoided the pitfalls.

I also agree with Sayers in so far as her remarks apply to drama in general, and even to sacred art in particular. Our disagreement does not concern whether the conscious intentions of an artist should be to edify or theologize or not, but as to whether or not an artist will stay true to the gospel (even in an artistic sense) while attempting "ordinary narrative psychological character development" of Christ or Our Lady. It seems to me, that the visionary approach, which still offers wide latitude, will have to be used in some measure in order to avoid a reduction of the mystery. The personalities of Our Lord and Our Lady are, in fact, inexplicable.

By "special treatment" in regard to the characters of Jesus and Mary, I do not mean an evangelistic intention, but a regard for the truth of revelation. So we all agree that theology is not a good purpose for art, but art needs to taken account of it. This is the specific difficulty: if the artist's job is to tell the story, and that story is the gospel, then the story itself requires him to take acount of things that only faith can grasp. Relative to Mary Gibson succeeded, whereas Hardwicke, et al. failed.

Great line from Sayers:

. . . it is the business of the dramatist not to subordinate the drama to the theology, but to approach the job of truth-telling from his own end, and trust the theology to emerge undistorted from the dramatic presentation of the story.

It totally agree with it.

And, FWIW, I think that the limitations of The Nativity Story are first of all limitations of creative vision more than theology.

So, I think that any artist who approaches religious subject matter, whether believer or no, must begin by approaching his subject first of all as an artist rather than as a believer, but also that he must regard the religious content of his subject as part of the subject matter itself. For some reason, nonbelieving artists frequently have less trouble understanding this than believing artists.

I think The Nativity Story is limited significantly on both scores. To attempt at psychological sketch of a Mary, as though She was first and foremost a teenager that every teen can identify with, was a creative choice. However, that choice revealed an underlying theological assumption that was sorely mistaken. In my opinion, the artwork verifies this.

SDG

The examples you give do not contradict my position.

I didn't mean to them to. :-) I was just establishing a parameter in the discussion.

It would be wrong to assume that the interests of the artists you refer to were "entirely literary or dramatic," even if they were not "believers."

Fair enough.

My point was only that the gospel does have purely literary and dramatic interest, but that interest alone will lead to a reductive piece of art.

Well, that may be, though perhaps the same might be true of any other sort of subject matter: If you write about the Civil War for literary and dramatic reasons, but you can't muster any actual interest in the Civil War itself, you'll probably produce a reductive piece of art.

There is, though, a larger sense in which a man, merely as a man, is inherently religious and ordered toward religion -- whereas he is not inherently a Civil War enthusiast -- and so a man who writes about a religious theme with no religious interest is in a fundamentally untenable position.

Still, for the artist as an artist (and I think we agree on this), the goal should be to serve the subject matter as an artist, through art, whatever that subject may be, whether the Civil War or the Nativity of the Lord.

To interpose another example: Marc Ruthemund, director of Sophie Scholl -- one of the most inspiring cinematic portraits of faith in recent years -- is an agnostic. Yet he said to me, "I believed in God the whole time I was making this movie."

I love that quote. To me it says that Ruthemund saw himself at the service of Sophie's story, and he saw her faith as an integral part of her story. He wasn't trying to put forward a belief, he was trying to tell a story. That's what I think good sacred drama should do, and it seems to me that we agree on this.

The Song of Bernadette is a great story, but it is also limited by Werfel's "limited faith.".

I would agree with that. To that extent, Werfel may not have completely succeeded in putting himself at the service of Bernadette's story, though he certainly succeeded to a remarkable degree.

I agree that non-believers are less likely to use art for propaganda if they still have respect for the religious subject matter they treat, but I do not believe that their lack of faith better equips them to tell religious stories.

That is, I think, judiciously said.

We both agree on this, and, I think, on the fact that Gibson avoided the pitfalls.

In many respects. There are pitfalls I think Gibson did fall into, though as I say he delivered brilliance along with what is problematic in his film, whereas The Nativity Story delivers at best well, but not brilliantly.

I also agree with Sayers in so far as her remarks apply to drama in general, and even to sacred art in particular. Our disagreement does not concern whether the conscious intentions of an artist should be to edify or theologize or not, but as to whether or not an artist will stay true to the gospel (even in an artistic sense) while attempting "ordinary narrative psychological character development" of Christ or Our Lady. It seems to me, that the visionary approach, which still offers wide latitude, will have to be used in some measure in order to avoid a reduction of the mystery. The personalities of Our Lord and Our Lady are, in fact, inexplicable.

Whereas I would say that there is an inexplicable side to the personalities of our Lord and our Lady -- but also an explicable side, and that art can choose to treat both, or one, or the other, as long as it doesn't contradict either.

So we all agree that theology is not a good purpose for art, but art needs to taken account of it. This is the specific difficulty: if the artist's job is to tell the story, and that story is the gospel, then the story itself requires him to take acount of things that only faith can grasp. Relative to Mary Gibson succeeded, whereas Hardwicke, et al. failed.

I would at any rate agree that relative to Mary Gibson succeeds to a degree that Hardwicke's film doesn't touch -- though we may disagree on why this is so (see below).

Great line from Sayers:

Yes, it is! :-)

I think The Nativity Story is limited significantly on both scores. To attempt at psychological sketch of a Mary, as though She was first and foremost a teenager that every teen can identify with, was a creative choice. However, that choice revealed an underlying theological assumption that was sorely mistaken. In my opinion, the artwork verifies this.

Here, I think, is the heart of our disagreement -- and here is my take, as best as I can put it.

For me, the problem is not that the film approaches Mary as a teenager that every teen can relate to, without making any effort to evoke what is inexplicable in Mary. Rather, for me the problem is that, having set out to approach Mary as a relatable teenaged girl, its portrayal of Mary as a teenaged girl isn't more interesting or insightful. For the most part, it plays like what it is, an almost 50-year-old American male screenwriter's characterization of a teenaged girl.

Some of the relatable-teenager incidents that apparently bother you, such as Mary's abrupt walking out of the house or her being scolded by her mother for perceived misbehavior, have nothing to do with what leaves me dissatisfied with the characterization. Rather, I would point to the lack of any particular point of view on Mary's psychology as a teenager -- the lack of relatable significance -- at such moments as the Annunciation or after the Nativity (which I gather is a point of agreement between us).

Had the film showed some psychological depth and insight in how a teenaged girl who loves God and accepts his will might feel and act and respond accepting the word of an angel that she was to bear the Son of God, or how she might feel after having actually done so -- had it given us anything to relate to in Mary at those moments -- I would go to the mat for that characterization, and it wouldn't bother me a bit that the film didn't approach the inexplicable side of Our Lady's personality, or that Mary walks out abruptly after the betrothal, etc.

So, the problem for me is not that what you wanted to see (i.e., the inexplicable side of Mary's personality) wasn't there, but that what the movie wanted to show us (Mary as a relatable teenager) wasn't done as well as it should have been.

That's a flaw, but not, for me, a fatal one, since I reckon that what it does do is still well worth celebrating.

Thanks for pushing me as hard as you have to define my position -- if you hadn't, I might never have become so clear and explicit about what it is! :-)

David B.

Hey SDG,


Do you get the FX channel on cable? 'cause if ya do and ya don't already know about this, they are showing an extended edition of Spider-Man 2 on Jan 2nd. Thought I'd let you know, since you *are* a movie reviewer.

SDG

One last follow-up:

I had a chance recently to discuss the question of Mary's virginity in partu, and specifically the question of pains in childbirth, with no less a theologian than Avery Cardinal Dulles.

According to Cardinal Dulles, the Church "has not committed itself to any particular physical theory" of virginity in partu, and therefore the possibility that Mary "could have suffered some pains in birth" may be "compatible with Catholic doctrine."

Following up on this discussion and others, I've gathered together my thoughts on the controversy around the film in this article.

berard

I like the The Nativity Story From The Life of Mary As Seen By The Mystics

"Then, in the twinkling of an eye, the infant God was born, glorious and transfigured as on Mount Thabor."

http://www.thenativitystory.excerptsofinri.com/

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