Stripped of clothes

Question: At the Crucifixion, was Jesus stripped naked or did he have some clothing on?

Doris Fernandes, Philadelphia

Answer: The answer to this is not certain. Early Christian tradition is divided on the subject, and the linguistic details of the New Testament texts are unclear. The stronger position points to the conclusion that Christ or the others crucified just outside the wall of Jerusalem were not wholly naked.

This is for three reasons:

First, while the text does speak of Jesus being stripped, there were at least two garments worn by Jewish men at the time. The synoptic Gospels mention only the outer tunic being taken, (in Greek, the himation). John’s Gospel does, however, mention the inner tunic, the chiton, being taken and speaks of it being seamless, and thus, of precious quality. What is unclear is whether the Jews wore a loincloth that covered the area of the genitals. There is a discrete silence in ancient texts regarding this. Since John mentions Jesus’ inner tunic as being so precious that the soldiers were not willing to divide it, it seems likely that some sort of loin cloth must have been worn by Jews to protect this inner garment from being soiled. Otherwise an inner tunic, no matter how precious the material, would be less than desirable. But we are left to speculate.

Secondly, there is a linguistic ambiguity of the Jewish use of the word “naked” or “stripped.” Naked did not necessarily refer to the total lack of clothing. A Jew might be considered “naked” merely if he was not wearing his outer tunic or garment. Thus, being stripped of garments might not comport with our notions of absolute exposure of the body.

Finally, the Jews tolerated crucifixion as a punishment for the worst criminals, even from among them. However, due to Jewish sensibilities, utter nakedness would have offended the onlookers and humiliated them. It may have caused riots and other social unrest, which the Romans sought to avoid. Indeed, Pilate’s whole concession to crucifixion was based on placating the crowds and avoiding a riot. Even if the Romans often crucified their victims wholly naked, it need not follow that they did so in the Jewish areas right outside the Holy City where sensibilities about nakedness were higher.

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Thus, historically, it is not altogether clear if Jesus was crucified naked or partially clothed. As a pastor of souls, I think it is best to remain elliptical about this when preaching. While some preachers insist Jesus was wholly naked as an illustration of the humiliation he experienced, I think it less than prudent to mention this since the matter is unclear and tends to be offensive to pious ears.

Saints in heaven

Question: If only God can know our hearts and we will all be judged by Jesus, how can we know the saints are in heaven?

Paul VanHoudt, Erie, Colorado

Answer: Our knowledge of a saint’s presence in heaven is secure based on the power of the pope, and the bishops in union with him, to bind and loose (Mt 16:19; 18:18). Certainly, the Church follows procedures that seek evidence of a holy life, a holy manner of death and miracles that confirm the presence of a person in heaven. It is generally held among theologians that the solemn canonization of a saint is an infallible and irrevocable decision of the supreme pontiff. Thus, we are rightly confident of their presence in heaven.

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. Send questions to msgrpope@osv.com.