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Of Gods And Men

Of Gods and Men (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)

I am looking forward to seeing the movie Of Gods and Men. It is receiving wonderful reviews (92% at Rottentomatoes).

[Update: I have since watched it. And bought it. I cannot recommend it enough].

This film is a dramatisation of the well-known story of the Cistercian monastery at Tibhirine, Algeria. There nine monks lived in harmony with the largely Muslim population. In 1996 during the Algerian Civil War seven of them were kidnapped and killed.

As part of their preparation, the actors stayed in a monastery and learnt the chant. Henry Quinson helped coach the actors and oversaw the liturgical and monastic authenticity.

The Last Testament of Dom Christian de Chergé, OCSO (the prior):

If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice if this people I love were to be accused indiscriminately of my murder. It would be to pay too dearly for what will, perhaps, be called “the grace of martyrdom,” to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam. I know the scorn with which Algerians as a whole can be regarded. I know also the caricature of Islam which a certain kind of Islamism encourages. It is too easy to give oneself a good conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists. For me, Algeria and Islam are something different; they are a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received in Algeria, in the respect of believing Muslims—finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church.

My death, clearly, will appear to justify those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!” But these people must realize that my most avid curiosity will then be satisfied. This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills—immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with him his children of Islam just as he sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, the fruit of his Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to establish communion and to refashion the likeness, delighting in the differences.

For this life given up, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that joy in everything and in spite of everything. In this “thank you,” which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my brothers and sisters and their families—the hundred-fold granted as was promised!

And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing. Yes, for you also I wish this “thank you”—and this —to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours.

And may we find each other, happy “good thieves,” in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen.

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10 thoughts on “Of Gods And Men”

    1. Thanks for pointing to your review, James. I am purchasing the DVD – this sort of movie will not make it to Christchurch since the earthquakes destroyed all the cinemas that showed anything other than the standard Hollywood blockbuster fare.

  1. Bosco, it is such a good movie; one of my all time favorites. There is much depth and beauty. I see in it the story of Holy Week. I hope you get to see it soon.

    Peace, Mike

  2. Such eloquence, charity and love in the face of death. We can only hope to meet our end with such courage.
    I struggle mightily to explain myself to people who question my integrity as a Christian because of my close relationships with people who don’t share my faith. But Dom Christian cleared it all up for me: because I see in them “that true strand of the Gospel.”
    Thank you for this.

  3. I’m puzzled by Fr Christian’s comment, “For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul”. What did he mean by this?

    Merely that Algeria has been culturally formed by Islam? That would be rather trite, and something to be remedied by missionary work.

    Or, more likely, did he mean that Islam is providentially given to Algeria and that Algerians shouldn’t be converted to Christianity? If so, I have to conclude that his orthodoxy was rather shaky.

    (I can hear the protest – he was a holy monk and a martyr, while I’m an iggorant layman. Sure, but such an ad hominem doesn’t address the problematic nature of his comment.)

    1. Greetings, Felix – I had not thought of either of the only two options you suggest are possible, nor of the protest you hear. I guess if you seek to further your research you would need to start with the original, rather than an English translation, and then see if there are any scholarly works around your question. I just took it at face value not to identify Islam, as is so often done, as being equivalent to “the fundamentalist ideologies of the extremists”. Blessings.

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