Arma Christi: Using Art to Meditate on the Suffering of Christ

Yesterday, I talked about the importance of remembering the sufferings of Christ. Today, I’d like to offer a tool to do this. 

During the Middle Ages, there was a specific genre of religious art called “arma christi.” These paintings focus specifically on the sufferings Christ endured in his Passion—the betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. They were used as a tool for spiritual meditation, allowing the viewer to remember each part of the pain and humiliation Christ endured on our behalf. 

I was first exposed to the arma christi during a class on Medieval spirituality. By the end of our time with the painting, a sacred silence reigned over our lecture hall of seminarians, and all we could do was offer up prayers of humble thanksgiving at the love poured out on us. I have used it since then with small groups. Each time, it’s been remarkable to see the impact this exercise has on each of the participants—and on me. 

I would encourage you to take some time as Easter draws near to meditate on the sufferings of Christ—and to try using an arma christi painting as a tool. 

I recommend setting aside some uninterrupted time to do this and remove any distractions. You can do this alone, or with a group. Sit down with the painting in this post, either in full screen or printed out. Look at each symbol on the painting, and remember how it fit into the story of Christ’s Passion as recorded in the Gospels. Thoughtfully and imaginatively read through the account in one of the Gospels if you get stuck. 

If your experience is like mine, this exercise can be emotionally taxing. Resist the urge to lighten or minimize the pain Christ endured. Sit with His pain. Weep over it, if that is your reaction. Feel the anger and sorrow over the abuse of your perfect Savior. But remember this—all that Christ suffered, He entered into knowingly and willingly. He knew what would be required of Him to win our salvation. It was not a surprise to Him. He willingly turned His face to Jerusalem and marched directly into His suffering. And all of this was out of His deep love for us. Thanks be to God.