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Theologian Bruno Forte on 'The Passion'

If It Were Anti-Semitic, It Would Also Be Anti-Petrine, He Says

ROME, APRIL 12, 2004 (Zenit) - The theologian who directed this year's Lenten retreat for the Pope says the accusation of anti-Semitism against "The Passion of the Christ" is unfounded.

"One must not exaggerate in trying to make this film a testimony of faith, although undoubtedly it makes one appreciate the depth of the Gospels, and confirms that Christ loved us to the point of death," said Monsignor Bruno Forte in statements on Vatican Radio last week.

Monsignor Forte is a member of the International Theological Commission and a professor at the School of Theology of Southern Italy.

The theologian noted the criticism of excessive violence that some have made against Mel Gibson's movie. But he insisted that the film's focus on the suffering of Christ in his passion "is not historically unfounded."

"If we think of the 'flagellatio' (flagellation), we must remember that it was an atrocious punishment, as the flesh was torn from the condemned person," Monsignor Forte said. "I think that behind this there is the option to explain what Angela of Foligno said: 'Christ was not joking in his love for us.'"

"It is an aspect that is sometimes missed in certain, more-sweetened representations of the Gospels," he added.

"And this love for the flesh of the Son of God, which, as Tertullian said, 'is the foundation of our salvation,' can be the positive inspiration of Gibson's decision, although the result at the level of image might be considered by some as excessive, as too much blood is seen," the theologian said.

Monsignor Forte disagreed with criticism that said the film could foment anti-Semitism. "This is something that is absolutely unfounded," he said.

"In fact, the film emphasizes the responsibility of the Jewish leaders of the time in this politico-judicial conspiracy," he observed.

"But at the same time, it shows Pilate's ambiguity, the responsibilities of the Romans, one might even say the 'misery' of Peter," the theologian added. "Therefore, if it were anti-Semitic, one would also have to say that it is anti-Roman and, paradoxically, that it is 'anti-Petrine,'" or against the papacy, since Peter was the first Pope.

The theologian noted that the movie is certainly the product of "a director who says openly that he wishes to give witness to his faith, and this is certainly a considerable fact. But we must be cautious before saying that the film is just a simple testimony of faith."

"Having said this, we are faced with a product that has led many people in the world to think again about the passion of Christ," Monsignor Forte said. "I would see in this an analogy with the medieval sacred plays."

"I think that in this connection, the passion of Christ can also make us feel, especially with the testimony of forgiveness that Jesus offers his persecutors and of his love until the end, an extraordinary force of redemption and hope," he said.

Monsignor Forte added that the film "has led me to appreciate even more the narrative sobriety and depth of the Gospels. Above all, it makes one feel that Christ is the one who has really loved us to the end; that in this love of his to the end he has revealed himself as the Son of God who came to save us."

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