The Disquieting Crucifix
Look at the crucifix above. It is Lello Scorzelli’s crucifix in the papal ferula used by John Paul II and now also adopted by Pope Francis.
I find this crucifix disquieting for more than one reason. Apart from the obvious ugliness of the Christ (an anatomical ugliness that can’t be ignored: a Christ clearly undernourished almost to the point of starvation, and with arms that seem to me out of proportion to his legs), and of the theological implications some have remarked (with the arms of the Christ upwards as in the Calvinist and Jansenist tradition, rather than horizontal in an obvious gesture of openness and embrace of humanity) and which go beyond my pay grade, what I noticed first is the absence of dignity the image conveys.
Even when I was a child and looked at a crucifix in all his crudeness, the magnificence of this suffering never failed to impress me. Even as a child, you know He is on the Cross, but you also know He is God. This goes as a common element through all the crucifixes you can find pretty much everywhere in Italy (and they are everywhere: school rooms, hospitals, even court rooms). A well-made crucifix conveys an idea of majestic suffering, of virile power. Even when Jesus is represented as thin, he is never starving. This is, if you allow the expression, an Auschwitz Jesus, and a Jesus utterly crushed. Not good.
Think again of the movie “The Passion Of The Christ”, that you have probably seen again just a few weeks, or days, ago. In the movie, the very crude representation of Jesus’ suffering (a crudeness sparing the viewer absolutely nothing) is never separated from the sheer power and manliness exuding from the figure of Christ. Even beaten almost to death, barely able to look at Pilatus, or suffering atrociously on the Cross, you know our Lord is, at all times, firmly in control.
This must also have been the impression he made on those who witnessed His Passion. It is clear from the Gospel Pontius Pilate was extremely impressed from his encounter with this astonishing figure, towering over him with words of immense majesty whilst beaten to death and covered in blood. The conversion of the Roman Centurion (centurions were very smart people; here the contrast with the violent, stupid and greedy soldiers is extreme) must also have not come in a moment, but rather have been the result of a long observation of the man, and the clear perception something absolutely out of the ordinary was happening in front of his eyes. I can picture this Centurion (Longinus, many say) observing the proceedings among the profanities and the coarse sadistic laughs of the soldiers, and seeing with his prompt mind what they were unable to see. There must have been a magnificence in this suffering, a dignity in this humiliation, able to move an inquiring mind to stop and reflect before the famous words Longinus pronounced.
I see nothing of this in Scorzelli’s crucifix. I see ugliness without dignity, and humiliation without greatness. There is a reason, methinks, why the traditional representation of Christ on the cross is different than this one.
Still, this is the Christ people will get to see every time the Pope uses the ferula.
I try to picture Pope Pius XII with a ferula like this, or St. Padre Pio praying in front of a crucifix like this; and something doesn’t square.