Just another warning to my dear readers, I’m going to talk about sexual abuse and Roman crucifixions again. I’m not going to mince words.
I’m always surprised about which posts of mine go semi-viral. At least it wasn’t a political post this time.
The other day I wrote a meditation on the sufferings of Christ, discussing the likelihood that He was a victim of sexual violence during His passion. I didn’t see anything wrong or controversial about saying this, even though rape is not specifically mentioned in the Gospels. The Gospels are lean on detail; they only say “they crucified Him.”
Christ was a man like us in all things but sin. The Gospels don’t say that He breastfed, grew baby teeth, learned to walk, lost His baby teeth, had bowel movements, sneezed or had nocturnal emissions, but He did all these things. He didn’t individually experience every single thing that every single person on earth will ever experience during His life, but was spared nothing that would have happened to another human under the same circumstances. And we know that He offered no resistance during His passion, but meekly accepted everything His torturers did to Him. Therefore, based upon what I know of the brutality of the Romans and how often they employed anal rape as a punishment, I surmise that that happened to Him at some point. And so I wrote a meditation based on this.
That’s what people are always doing when they meditate on the Passion– thinking how it must have looked, based on what they know of Christ and of history and of suffering. The information in the Gospels is actually very lean, and most of what we think we know is conjecture based on knowledge of history. We don’t know whether there was one nail or two in His feet; we don’t know which way His arms were suspended in the crucifixion– there were several different styles. We don’t know the height of the cross– those towering things from the movies are a bit of an exaggeration, I’m told, and the actual Roman crosses were much shorter. We don’t know the exact cause of death– usually it was suffocation and exhaustion, which can be so eloquently described with the words “He gave up the Ghost,” but some crucifixion victims died of blood loss, dehydration, sepsis or being predated by buzzards. There’s no mention in the Gospel of the Three Falls, Veronica, the Vinegar Boy, the robins landing on His chest to comfort Him and staining their breasts red, the Cross being cut from a tree grown in Adam’s mouth, or any of the other beautiful pious legends that have been told. The Gospel writers wrote for an audience so close to crucifixions that they presumed they could call to mind all the things that entailed. So I call to mind history, and I make my conjecture. It was not the most painful conjecture I could have made. It was also common practice to castrate crucifixion victims, or crucify them with a stake stuck up their anus or through the genitals. I barely said anything about that.
It does not surprise me that people disagree with me and make their own conjecture. People disagree on the exact details of the Passion all the time. Even the Gospels disagree on some details. As far as I’m concerned, you are free to believe what you like.
It surprises me a bit how angry people got. Not everybody was, but many people were.
They were insulted that I would bring such a thing up.
One man was angry that I would call stripping someone’s clothes off to humiliate them in public a form of sexual abuse. I asked him how he’d feel under the same circumstances, but he doubled down. He took quite a bit of time out of his evening to pooh-pooh me as if I were hysterical for calling that sexual abuse, and he was very patronizing. This man apparently runs an outfit called St. Irenaeus Ministries, which offers spiritual direction services. I’d strongly caution my readers against receiving spiritual direction from somebody that smug and dismissive of sexual abuse. The Church needs “spiritual directors” and anyone else who claims any kind of authority to take abuse seriously right now more than ever.
Another commentator simply accused me of blasphemy: “Horrific, scurrilous, monstrous blasphemy.” But she refused to say exactly how I had blasphemed. I actually had to look the word “scurrilous” up. It sounds like it means “squirrely,” but it actually means “Spreading scandalous claims with the intention of hurting a reputation.”
Whose reputation did she think I was hurting?
All I did was speculate about the ways in which Christ likely suffered, as thousands or millions of Christians do every year during the season of Lent.
A friend who is herself a survivor of abuse had the best explanation I’ve ever heard for why I made people so angry. “It really shows you the contempt they have for victims. Even though Christ is literally The Divine Victim, all of the stations of the cross recitations in the world can’t get some Catholics in America to meditate on this fact.”
And I think she’s right.