What Did Christ Look Like?

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Go here for the full version of the above video.  This was originally broadcast  on December 24, 1968 on the CBS show Sixty Minutes.  An artifact demonstrating how greatly our culture has changed for the worse in four decades.  I believe that Harry Reasoner who narrates the video was not a Christian, but the power of the image and reality of Christ shines through the video nonetheless.

The Shroud of Turin I believe gives us an actual image of Christ, but it is striking to me how long it was lost to history.  I do not think that Christ wanted us to have an easily accessible image of Himself or the materials necessary to write His biography.  C.S. Lewis set forth a possible reason for this in the Screwtape Letters:

In the last generation we promoted the construction of such a “historical Jesus” on liberal and humanitarian lines; we are now putting forward a new “historical Jesus” on Marxian, catastrophic, and revolutionary lines. The advantages of these constructions, which we intend to change every thirty years or so, are manifold. In the first place they all tend to direct men’s devotion to something which does not exist, for each “historical Jesus” is unhistorical. The documents say what they say and cannot be added to; each new “historical Jesus” therefore has to be got out of them by suppression at one point and exaggeration at another, and by that sort of guessing (brilliantis the adjective we teach humans to apply to it) on which no one would risk ten shillings in ordinary life, but which is enough to produce a crop of new Napoleons, new Shakespeares, and new Swifts, in every publisher’s autumn list. In the second place, all such constructions place the importance of their Historical Jesus in some peculiar theory He is supposed to have promulgated. He has to be a “great man” in the modern sense of the word—one standing at the terminus of some centrifugal and unbalanced line of thought—a crank vending a panacea. We thus distract men’s minds from Who He is, and what He did. We first make Him solely a teacher, and then conceal the very substantial agreement between His teachings and those of all other great moral teachers. For humans must not be allowed to notice that all great moralists are sent by the Enemy not to inform men but to remind them, to restate the primeval moral platitudes against our continual concealment of them. We make the Sophists: He raises up a Socrates to answer them. Our third aim is, by these constructions, to destroy the devotional life. For the real presence of the Enemy, otherwise experienced by men in prayer and sacrament, we substitute a merely probable, remote, shadowy, and uncouth figure, one who spoke a strange language and died a long time ago. Such an object cannot in fact be worshipped. Instead of the Creator adored by its creature, you soon have merely a leader acclaimed by a partisan, and finally a distinguished character approved by a judicious historian. And fourthly, besides being unhistorical in the Jesus it depicts, religion of this kind is false to history in another sense.

No nation, and few individuals, are really brought into the Enemy’s camp by the historical study of the biography of Jesus, simply as biography. Indeed materials for a full biography have been withheld from men. The earliest converts were converted by a single historical fact (the Resurrection) and a single theological doctrine (the Redemption) operating on a sense of sin which they already had—and sin, not against some new fancy-dress law produced as a novelty by a “great man”, but against the old, platitudinous, universal moral law which they had been taught by their nurses and mothers. The “Gospels” come later and were written not to make Christians but to edify Christians already made.

The “Historical Jesus” then, however dangerous he may seem to be to us at some particular point, is always to be encouraged. About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but, failing that, as a means to anything—even to social justice. The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner. Only today I have found a passage in a Christian writer where he recommends his own version of Christianity on the ground that “only such a faith can outlast the death of old cultures and the birth of new civilisations”. You see the little rift? “Believe this, not because it is true, but for some other reason.” That’s the game,

Your affectionate uncle    SCREWTAPE


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  1. I think we might need to rely on a poet here. “There met in Jesus Christ all things that can make man lovely and loveable. In his body he was most beautiful. This is known first by the tradition in the Church that it was so and by holy writers agreeing to suit those words to him – Thou art beautiful in mould above the sons of men – we have even accounts of him written in early times. They tell us that he was moderately tall, well built and tender in frame, his features straight and beautiful, his hair inclining to auburn, parted in the midst, curling and clustering about the ears and neck as the leaves of the filbert, so they speak, upon the nut.”

    [Gerard Manley Hopkins, sermon at Bedford Leigh, 23 November 1879]

  2. I rather like the way it was handled John in the movie Ben Hur (1959) where we do not see the face of Christ but rather the expressions on the faces of the people who react to Him, including this immortal sequence:

  3. Isaiah 53:2:

    For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.


    And yet He is beautiful, and we do desire Him. I always find that fascinating.

  4. I have to make a point to Watch Ben Hur again!… I am going to see the Rembrandt “faces of Jesus”exhibit here in Detroit this week. This a anice reminder for to reflect on prior to that visit… thanks

  5. He was deliberately non descript as Isaiah which Paul quoted says… so that people would not follow him with good looks as an ancillary motive….but would follow Him because of character only and charisms by which He healed and exorcized. Millions of votes went to John F. Kennedy based on his looks and wealth. Christ did not want that contamination of motivation in His followers just as He did not want power as an ancillary motive in His followers. Had He been as good looking as artists pretended (a thousand+ years after He was here), then He also would have had a few groupies among the women. By coming non descript, He avoided all that. Isaiah trumps Jebbies.

  6. I picture Him somewhat the way John Nolan describes, but I picture His eyes. He probably had the most beautiful and expressive eyes.

  7. When they shaved Jeffrey Hunter’s armpits to be crucified in King of Kings, perhaps they were relying on their team of vaunted ‘biblical consultants’ but I doubt it. The emasculation of Jesus Christ in a nutshell.

  8. The Face of Jesus as He appeared to St. Faustina Kowalska in 1931 – “The Divine Mercy Image” with the signature “Jesus I Trust in You” is a replica of Jesus’ Face on the Shroud of Turin. My dear people of goodwill, We Walk by Faith, not by Sight.

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