It is difficult to imagine another image that would be encountered in literature so universally as the image of Jesus Christ. Paradoxically, as an icon of the exclusively Christian world, Jesus recognizes (it is recognized, not recognized) in absolutely any other faith: Islam, Buddhism, etc. Speaking of the image of Christ in literature, I do not mean a certain figure with thorns wreath on the head and wedges in the palms, but rather a symbolic personification of his fate (suffering, self-sacrifice, beneficence) in the person of individuals, objects and entire settlements.
At the same time, the role of Christ in artistic prose long ago went beyond the rigid framework of religion and time: Jesus became the prototype for the creators of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, enlightenment. Religious themes were favored for the Spanish writers of the golden age (Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina), later Oscar Wilde addressed it, classics of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries (albeit much less often), but many examples of the image of Christ can also be found in modern literature (we will not go far, but just remember the “Gospel of Jesus” by Jose Saramago and “The Prayer for Owen Mini” by John Irving).
The image of Christ in the literature of the 20th century
In the previous paragraph, I casually mentioned that in the 20th century writers began to resort a little less often to the image of Christ. This statement requires additional explanation. The fact is that in the last century the style and manner of the narrative of the Messiah changed radically. The most significant change is that centuries-old and obsolete religious dogmas no longer function, and therefore writers, roughly speaking, moved away from those evangelical norms that were so strictly observed by their ancestors.
In 1921, Giovanni Papini published a book entitled The History of Christ. In this book, the reader sees an unusual canonical image completely devoid of the right angles of ecclesiastical faceting. Papini creates his Jesus Christ – a living and active person who categorically denies any derivative of power, both political and economic. In his book, Papini argues that Jesus could talk quite calmly about money, see how others dispose of them, but he did not allow himself to touch them. Of course, his surroundings were surprised at this behavior, but his whole being shuddered in horror from the mere thought of touching this dirty symbol of wealth.
But if Papini offered the image of Christ with complete antipathy towards boasting and riches, the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis made an even more radical and explosive assumption in his novel The Last Temptation of Christ (1951). The publication of this book cost the writer dearly: he was met by a barrage of criticism and bans from the Greek Orthodox Church. Did not help him and unsuccessful attempts to explain that his book is a pure fiction, which does not bear even a hint of historical interpretation.
The course of thought of church ministers can be fully understood – artistic fiction, proposed by Kazandzakis, completely negates the whole essence of religious canons. In the book of the crucified Jesus presents a completely different life in which there is no place for the role of the Savior or Messiah. He is an ordinary person who has his own family and simple everyday concerns. It is obvious that such an image of Christ completely reverses the whole course of events. The greatness of Kazantzakis’s work is that Jesus accepts his present position and renounces the temptations of grandeur and canonization, which promise him crucifixion and death. The phrase that the reader sees at the beginning of the work probably most accurately characterizes the whole life of Jesus: “Every moment of the life of Christ is a constant struggle”.
Now I would like to note one very interesting observation: almost any public work, even minimally related to religious themes, almost certainly leads to loud censures and condemnations from the church! One of such works was the novel of the famous Portuguese Jose Saramago – “The Gospel of Jesus”, which was written in 1991. This time the level of criticism falling on the head of the writer reached the size of a whole hurricane. The Church called the book blasphemous and discrediting the very essence of their religion, and the writer even had to leave his native Portugal. Saramago allowed himself to publish criticism of officially recognized church dogmas and published his version of the events described in the Gospel. Jose Saramago draws the image of Christ, who constantly doubts, who does not accept all the moral teachings of the Father blindly, and at the end of his life understands the inevitability of his destiny.
The image of Christ in the literature of Latin America
While in Europe the image of Christ “developed” in one direction, in Latin America, where Christian belief reaches almost pancontinental scales, the situation is quite different. In European representations, the image of Christ formed around the symbol of the martyr and the altar, and in the countries of South America there was a different historical background: the people for centuries fought for their independence from the Spanish governors, and therefore Jesus for them means nothing more than a symbol of self-affirmation of the suffering and needy. So, in the sixties a new Liberation Theology began to form, according to which Jesus was the leader of a rebel (you will agree, this idea does not quite fit organically into our consciousness). It was this rebel who fought for the freedom of his people through a war against slavery, oppression and exploitation.
In such semantic tones in 1970, Demetrio Aguilera Malta wrote her book “Seven Moons, Seven Snakes”. In one of the habitual Latin American settlements, we observe Christ and his burning. But here he comes off the cross and leads the fight against those who oppose the have-nots. Thus, Dametrio Aguilera in his novel describes two points of view on religion: the one that stands for the rights of those who own it and the one that turns out on the opposite shore. Christ, in his confession, chooses the side of the have-nots!