Imitatio Christi in the Later Middle Ages and in Contemporary Film: Three Paradigms

Lawrence Besserman


This essay considers three paradigms of imitatio Christi in the later Middle Ages and their parallels in three modern American films. One paradigm is focused on Christ's physical suffering; a second, on Christ's human relationships, including aspects of his male sexuality; and the third, on Christ's teaching. The three paradigms are exemplified in illustrations from medieval manuscripts and other media and from texts such as Johannes de Caulibus's Meditationes vitae Christi (Meditations on the Life of Christ) and Walter Hilton's Scale of Perfection. The medieval paradigms are seen to survive in three modern American film biographies of Christ: Nicholas Ray's King of Kings (1961), Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (1997), and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004).

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