I have been trying to read a chapter of the Gospels daily during Lent. My copy is the Navarre Bible, published by Four Courts Press. Recently I was struck by the commentary concerning Mark 15:39, concerning the conversion of the Roman centurion who witnessed Christ’s death on Calvary. The commentary says, “Regarding this passage St Bede says that this miracle of the conversion of the Roman officer is due to the fact that, on seeing the Lord die in this way, he could not but recognise his divinity; for no one has the power to surrender his spirit but he who is the Creator of souls…Christ, being God, had the power to surrender his spirit; whereas in the case of other people their spirit is taken from them at the moment of death.”
This comment has been in my mind during a reading of Via Dolorosa: Meditations on the Via Crucis, by Mgr Florian Kolfhaus (Gracewing £5.99). Instead of meditations seen from the point of view of the author and referring to Christ in the third person, Mgr Kolfhaus has tried to imagine how Christ himself would have thought and acted on the way of the Cross. It is a daring and affecting narrative, but the dangers are there too: how can the human imagination understand what it means to be fully human yet also divine? We can’t – and this is where I sometimes resist Kolfhaus’s meditations.
At the 12th Station, where Jesus dies on the Cross, his humanity is too much in evidence in Kolfhaus’s reimagining of Jesus’ thoughts, which is why I quoted the note above on the relevant passage in St Mark. In his hectic monologue Kolfhaus does not convey the sorrowful majesty of the death of God, his dignity and nobility even at the point of his greatest anguish. Jesus, who saved the soul of the Good Thief in an act of ultimate charity, who entrusted Our Lady to his beloved apostle and who said “It is consummated” at the instant of death, is simply not there.