After three posts exploring the Catholic content of Of Gods and Men, I thought I was finished, but combox responses persuaded me to add two more posts.
One comment expressed concerns about edits being made to eliminate references to Jesus Christ. Another expressed doubts regarding the extent to which the monks’ conversations, including their debates about whether or not to remain in Algeria, made reference to Jesus, God or spiritual considerations. Other readers have written to me with related questions and misgivings, though to be fair I’ve also heard from many deeply appreciative viewers of the film.
To an extent some of these questions are startling to me, partly since I already documented (in part 2) Christian’s magnificent Incarnational discourse in which he talks about “welcoming the Child” at Christmas, adding in part, “The Incarnation, for us, is to allow the filial reality of Jesus to embody itself in our humanity. The mystery of Incarnation remains what we are going to live.”
To this crowning example can be added numerous additional spiritually and theologically fraught lines—including specifically Christological references specifically on the subject mentioned above, whether or not to stay in Algeria.
For example, one of the monks defends his vote to say this way: “The Good Shepherd doesn’t abandon his flock to the wolves.”
Another, citing the words of Jesus, says, “The disciple is not above his master. This is no time for me to stray. Let God set the table here.”
Amédée’s contribution to the debate is notable: “I don’t know yet,” he says; “We need to think, and pray together.” Christian agrees, adding, “Help will come from the Lord”—and the monks automatically add, “Who made heaven and earth.”
Later, Christian concludes, “Wildflowers don’t move to find the sun’s rays. God makes them fecund wherever they are.”
To one of the brothers struggling with doubts and even with the notion of leaving the community, Christian appeals to the imitatio Christi and to the vows that bind them together: “You’ve already given your life. You gave it by following Christ. When you decided to leave everything. Your life, your family, your country. The family you could have raised.”
Then there’s Luc’s testimony in a letter, in the actual words of the monk: “We are in a high-risk situation, but we persist in our faith and our confidence in God. It is through poverty, failure and death that we advance towards Him ... Dear friend, pray for me that my leaving this world will pass in peace and joy of Jesus.”
There’s Christophe’s struggle with the sense of God’s absence, which surely implies that God is the central reference point in his life—and his serene awareness of God’s return: “You. You envelop me, hold me, surround me. You embrace me. And I love you.”
Finally, consider Christian’s spiritual testament, considered in detail in part 3. Even as edited for the film (edits, I submit, made basically for length, even if one might wish for different edits), the film still reports Christian alluding to Jesus’ passion and death in contemplating the possibility of his own murder: “The the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure.” And in referring to God twice as “Father” Christian expresses a filial sensibility toward God that is both Christian and Christological.
In addition to all this are wordless gestures that explicitly attest Christian faith and spirituality, the most touching of which is the image mentioned in my review, far more powerful than words, of Luc pressing his head to the Savior’s side in the mural on the wall. Another is Christian’s prayer for the terrorist leader, both an obviously theological act and one that is uniquely Christian—only Christianity teaches us to love and pray for our enemies.
I don’t know how much more theologically and Christologically fraught the spare dialogue could possibly be—it’s not a very talky film. (By my count, according to the online source I’ve been using, the film has fewer than 5000 words total, quite low for a movie script. If we count only the dialogue, omitting liturgical and other readings (including a reading from a newspaper sports column), the word count drops to under 3700; eliminate dialogue from Muslim characters, and the count drops further still. In fact, in terms of actual substantial dialogue amongst the monks, including their writings, I count fewer than 2000 words total. As a point of comparison, my review of the film is 1400 words!)