Question: I saw an artwork of the Crucifixion showing Jesus completely naked on the cross. Having been offended, I talked with my pastor who said Jesus was crucified completely naked. I have never heard this. Was Jesus naked on the cross?
— Name withheld, Brooklyn, New York
Answer: There is no clear consensus among scholars regarding this matter. Early Christian tradition is also divided on the topic. My own conclusion is that Christ was not wholly naked on the cross.
It is significant that the Greek text mentions only the removal of the himatia, the outer garment. This is the case in the synoptic Gospels as well as John. This would seem to imply that Jesus’ inner tunic remained. Jews clothed themselves in an inner tunic, usually short-sleeved and knee-length. The fuller outer garment was long-sleeved and reached to the ankles.
Further, the linguistic ambiguity of the word “naked” is an underrated factor. Naked, in ancient Jewish times, did not necessarily mean “complete nudity” since a Jew might be considered “naked” if he was not wearing his outer tunic. So ancient references to the Romans crucifying people “naked” might not comport with our notions of absolute nudity of the body including private areas.
Though the Jews tolerated crucifixion as a punishment for the worst criminals, even from among fellow Jews, it seems unlikely they would have tolerated this being done in total nudity. Nudity was offensive. Whatever punishment was due the criminal, the nakedness would have offended the onlookers and humiliated them. It would thereby be seen as unjust and would likely have caused riots and other social unrest, which the Romans were keen to avoid.
So the evidence suggests Jesus, though stripped of his outer tunic, was not wholly naked.
Question: In a recent Gospel reading, Jesus told a parable about a dishonest steward who was stealing from his master. At one point, Jesus calls him “prudent” and seems to praise him. Can you explain?
— Marilyn Coates, Phoenix
Answer: St. Thomas Aquinas distinguishes the cardinal virtue of prudence from worldly prudence. Prudence, as a virtue, is the capacity to see and direct ourselves along the best way to our goal (salvation and heaven) given a current situation. As such, one avoids rash or foolish decisions and methodically moves the best way toward the goal. Prudence is not caution per se, but always keeps the goal in mind.
There is, however, a worldly version of prudence that is directed more to worldly goals. And to the degree that these are opposed to the kingdom of God and its values, we more often use words like “cunning,” “crafty” and “devious” to signify it.
Hence the Lord, in using the term “prudent” here, means this sort of worldly prudence. He goes on to lament that the children of this world are far more dedicated to their sort of prudence than are the children of light to ours.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org.