Herod, our host, sleeps soundly, and Johannes, wearied by his double service of waiter at the hotel and his rdh in the sacred play, is oblivious of all. The crowded thousands who w r atched for hours yesterday the unfolding of the Passion of Christ Jesus of Galilee have disappeared, and I am alone. But not alone. For as real and as vivid as that same crowd of yesterday seem to me the thronging memories of other days, of the centuries that rise between the time when Jesus really lived on earth and to-day.
Nearly nineteen hundred years have gone since all that we saw represented yesterday was no mere mimic show but deadly tragic fact ; nineteen hundred years during which the shaping power of the world has been that story.
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The old, old story, never before so vividly realised in all its human significance and its Divine import. Its human significance, for, thank God, we have at last seen Jesus as a man among men, a human being with no halo round his brow, no radiance not of this world marking him off apart from the rest of us his fellow-men, but simply Jesus the Galilean, gibbeted on the gallows of his time, side by side with the scum of mankind. And it was this story that transformed the world! Oh, the wonder of it all, the miracle of miracles surely is this! That this story should have transformed the world.
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For after all, what was the Passion 1 Looked at as we looked at it yesterday, not from the standpoint of those who see the sacred story through the vista of centuries that have risen in splendour and set in the glory of the Cross, but from the standpoint which the actors on the stage assumed yesterday, what was the Passion 1 It was merely a passing episode in the unceasing martyrdom of man. And among all that unnamed multitude how few were there but had some distracted mother to mourn for him, some agonised Mary to swoon at the news of his death ] Jews they were ; as was he.
Hero souls, no doubt faithful unto death, and now, let us hope, wearing a crown of life ; patriots who knew how to die in the service of the land which their fathers had received from God, and of the Temple in which was preserved His Holy Law. But their self-sacrifice availed not even to save their names from oblivion.
Their martyrdom was as powerless to avert the doom of the chosen people as the bursting of the foam-flakes on the sand is to arrest the rush of the return- ing tide. Why, then, should the death of one Jew have trans- formed the world, while the death of these uncounted thousands failed even to save the synagogue?
That is the question that the Passion Play forces home a question which never even comes to the mind of those who are accustomed from childhood to regard this Jew as mysteriously Di- vine, not so much man as God, cut off from us and our daily littleness by the immeasurable abyss that yawns hetween the finite and the Infinite. This greatest of all the miracles, the coming of Christendom into being, has become so much a matter of course that we marvel as little at it as we do at the sunrise which, also, in its way, is wonder- worthy enough.
Think, for a moment, of how many myriads of fierce Kunst und Verlags Anstalt, Oberammergau.
Civilisations and empires have gone down into the void ; darkness covers them and oblivion is fast erasing the very inscriptions which History has traced on their tombs. But the kingdom which this man founded knoweth no end. The voice that echoed from the hills of Galilee is echoing to-day from hills the Romans never trod, and the story of that life is rendered in tongues unknown at Pentecost. The more you look at it from the standpoint of the contempo- raries of the Car- penter of Nazareth, the more incredibly marvellous it ap- pears.
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And that is the great gain of the Passion Play. It takes us clear back across the ages to the standpoint of those who saw Jesus the Galilean was but a man among men.
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It compels us to see him without the aureole of Divinity, as he appeared to those who knew him from his boy- hood and who said Are not his breth- ren still with us? It is true that it is still not real enough. The dresses are too beautiful ; every- thing is conven- tional. We have here not the real Christ, the Jew, the outcast, and the vagabond. For him we must wait till Vereschagin or some other realist painter may bring us reality. But even behind all the disguises of conven- tional Christian art, we have at least a sufficiently human figure to elicit sympathy, compassion, and love.
We get near enough to Christ to hear the blows that fall upon his face, to appreciate the superior respectability of the [Carl Stockmann, Photo. It is only after realising the depth of his humilia- tion we can even begin to understand the miracle of the transformation which he has wrought. Nor is that all. It is the greatest thing, but it does not stand alone. For besides enabling us to realise the story which trans- formed the world, it enables us to under- stand the agency by which that story effected its benefi- cent revolution. Yet there is nothing distinc- tively Eoman about the Passion Play.
With the exception of the legend of St. Veronica, with which Gabriel Max's picture has famili- arised every Protes- tant who looks into a photograph-shop, and sees the strange face on the handker- chief, whose eyes reveal themselves beneath your gaze ; there is nothing from first to last to which the Protes- tant Alliance could take exception.
And yet it is all there. There, condensed into eight hours and Kunai und Verlags Aastalt, Oberammergau. She is purely pathetic It was in its effort to impress that story upon the heart of man that there came into being all that is distinctively Roman. To teach truth by symbols, to speak through the eye as much as the ear, to leave no gate of approach un- 8ummoned by the bearer of the glad tidings of great joy, and, above all, in so doing to use every human element of pathos, of tragedy, and of awe that can touch the heart or im- press the imagination that was the mission of the Church ; and as it got further and further afield, and had to deal with rude and ruder barbarians, the tendency grew to print in still larger capitals.
The Catholic Church, in short, did for reli- gion what the new journalism has done for the press. It has sensationalised in order to get a hearing among the masses. Protestantism that confines its gaze solely to the sublime central figure of the Gospel story walks with averted face past the beautiful group of the Holy Women. Because others have ignorantly wor- shipped, therefore we must not even contemplate.
But plant Mr. Kensit or Messrs. Morgan and Scott in the theatre of Ober-Ammergau, let them look with dry eyes if they can upon the leave-taking at Be- thany, and then as the universal sob rises from thousands of gazers, they will realise, perhaps for the first time, how intense is the passion of sympathy which they have sealed up, how powerful the emotion to which they are forbidden to appeal. The most pathetic figure in the Passion Play is not Christ, but His mother.
There is in Him also sublimity. And after Mary the Mother comes Mary the Magdalen. Protestantism will have much leeway to make up before it can find any influence so potent for softening the hearts and inspiring the imagi- nations of men. Even in spite of all the obloquy of centuries of superstition, and of the consequent centuries of angry reaction against thi3 abuse, these two women [Carl Stookmann, Photo.
Yes, this was the story that transformed the world! This and no other. This it was which, to make visible, men carved it in stone and built it in the cathedral, and then, lest even the light of Heaven should come to the eye of man without bearing with it the Story of the Cross, they filled their church windows with stained glass, so that the sun should not shine without throwing into brighter relief the leading features of the wonder-working epic of His life and death. Wherever you go in Christendom you come upon endless reproductions of the scenes which yesterday we saw presented with all the vividness of the drama.
The cross, the nails, the lance have been built into the architecture of the world, often by the descendants of the men who crucified their Eedeemer not knowing what they did. For centuries Art was but an endless repetition in colour or in stone of the scenes we witnessed yesterday, or of incidents in lives which had been transformed by these scenes. The more utterly we strip the story of the Passion of all supernatural significance, the more irresistibly comes back upon the mind the overwhelming significance of the transformation which it has effected in the world.
I keep asking why? If there were no divine and therefore natural law behind all that, why should that trivial incident, the crucifixion of one among the unnumbered host of vagabonds executed every year in the reign of Tiberius and the Csesars that followed him, how comes it that we are here to-day?
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Why are railways built and special trains organized and six thousand people gathered in curiosity or in awe to see the representation of this simple tale? How comes it, if there were no dynamo at the other end of that long coil of centuries, that the light should still be shin- ing at our end to-day 1 Shining, alas!
And still it shines. The dawn of a new day as I write is breaking upon this mountain valley. The cocks are crowing in the village, recalling the Apostle who, in the midst of the threatening soldiery, denied his Lord. And even as Peter went out and wept bitterly, and ever after became the stoutest and bravest disciple of his Master, may it not yet be with those of this generation who also have denied their Redeemer 1 Who knows?
The transformation would be far less startling than that which converted the Colosseum from the shambles of Imperial Eome into the gigantic monument of triumphant martyrdom, far less violent than that which made the German forbears of these good Ammergauers into Christian folk.