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- This article describes the Christian Passion. For other meanings, see passion (disambiguation).
The Passion is the technical term for the suffering and Agony of Jesus that led directly to the Crucifixion, a central Christian event. The "Passion narratives" tell this story in the Gospels. The etymological origins of this meaning of the word lie in the Latin passio that first appears in the 2nd century, precisely to describe the travails and suffering of Jesus in this present context. All the other meanings of "passion" have been derived from this one.
Further details concerning the Passion are revealed in some non-canonical early writings. A more detailed account of what transpired between Christ's death on the Cross and the Resurrection is in the Gospel of Peter, which was declared to be apt to lead readers into Docetism and was not accepted into the canon.
Instruments of the Passion
In Christian symbolism the Instruments of the Passion are the objects associated with the Passion Crucifixion.
Each of the Instruments has its own entry at Wikipedia. This entry describes the Instruments of the Passion as a subject of meditation, from its origins in the medieval Church.
The Instruments of the Passion:
- The Pillar or column where Jesus was whipped, in the episode of the Flagellation.
- The Whips that were used.
- The Crown of Thorns.
- The Cross on which he was crucified. See also the True Cross.
- The Nails
- The Titulus Crucis, attached to the Cross, inscribed "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum"
- The Lance by which a Roman soldier wounded him in the side.
- The Holy Grail, the Chalice that caught his blood.
- The Holy Sponge dipped in vinegar and gall.
The Holy Dice used by the soldiers to cast lots for the Robe are to be found in several locations.
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Stations of the Cross
Musical settings of Gospel narratives
The reading of the Passion during Holy Week dates back to the 4th century. It began to be intoned (rather than just spoken) in the Middle Ages, at least as early at the 8th century. 9th-century manuscripts have "litterae significativae" indicating interpretive chant, and later manuscript begin to specify exact notes to be sung. By the 1200s different singers were used for different characters in the narrative, a practice which became fairly universal by the 15th century, when polyphonic settings of the turba passages began to appear also. (Turba, while literally meaning "crowd," is used in this case to mean any passage in which more than one speaker speaks simultaneously.)
In the later 15th century a number of new styles began to emerge:
- Responsorial Passions set all of Christ's words and the turba parts polyphonically
- Through-composed Passions were entirely polyphonic (also called motet Passions). Jacob Obrecht wrote the earliest extant example of this type.
- Summa Passionis settings were a synopsis of all four Gospels, including the Seven Last Words (a text later set by Haydn and Théodore Dubois). These were discouraged for church use but circulated widely nonetheless.
In the 16th century settings like these, and further developments, were created for the Catholic church by Victoria, William Byrd, Jacobus Gallus, Francisco Guerrero, Orlando di Lasso, and Cypriano de Rore.
Martin Luther wrote, "The Passion of Christ should not be acted out in words and pretense, but in real life." Despite this, sung Passion performances were common in Lutheran churches right from the start, in both Latin and German, beginning as early as Laetare Sunday (three weeks before Easter) and continuing through Holy Week. Luther’s friend and collaborator Johann Walther wrote responsorial Passions which were used as models by Lutheran composers for centuries, and “summa Passionis” versions continued to circulate, despite Luther’s express disapproval. Later 16th-century passions included choral “exordium” (introduction) and “conclusio” sections with additional texts. In the 17th century came the development of “oratorio” passions which led to J.S. Bach’s passions, accompanied by instruments, with interpolated texts (then called “madrigal” movements) such as sinfonias, other Scripture passages, Latin motets, chorale arias, and more. Such settings were created by Bartholomeus Gesius and Heinrich Schütz. Thomas Strutz wrote a passion (1664) with arias for Jesus himself, pointing to the standard oratorio tradition of Schütz, Carissimi, and (later) Handel, although these composers seem to have thought that putting words in Jesus’ mouth was beyond the pale. The practice of using recitative for the Evangelist (rather than plainsong) was a development of court composers in northern Germany and only crept into church compositions at the end of the 17th century.
The best known Protestant musical settings of the Passion are by Johann Sebastian Bach, who wrote two Passions which have survived intact to the present day, one based on the Gospel of John (the St. John Passion), the other on the Gospel of Matthew (the St. Matthew Passion). In more recent times, the 20th century Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki has written a St. Luke Passion, based on the Gospel of Luke.
A relative of the musical Passion is the custom of setting the text of Stabat Mater to music.
Non-musical settings of the Passion story are generally called Passion plays. One famous cycle is performed at intervals at Oberammergau. The Passion figures among the scenes in the English mystery plays in more than one cycle of dramatic vignettes. There have also been a number of films telling the passion story, with a prominent recent example being The Passion of the Christ.
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