Indiana Jones and a Catholic’s Perspective

Indiana Jones Hat and Bullwhip

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Indy movies are about fun. They are not intended to catechize but a good catechist will make use of any pop culture experience to explain the faith. Jesus did this with parables, using archetypes of people from various vocations; vineyard owners and workers, Samaritans and priests, fathers and children, women and men, etc. Saints have done the same; Saint Patrick explained the trinity by the three leaves of a clover that are one bloom, Saint Therese of Avila explained prayer life as a series of mansions.

Pop culture belongs to the world and as such it reflects worldly ideas and opinions. It’s easy to identify ideals that contrast or contradict Catholic teaching in almost any movie and the Indy series is no exception. While it’s good to point this out, a positive approach will be best received. So, rather than focus on the negative let’s see what good we can find in the two arguably most memorable Indy films; Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Raiders of the Lost Ark
● Indy is the embodiment of hope in this story, in that sense he is an archetype of the messiah: the Jewish hope. He is the chosen archeologist just as the Jews are the chosen people – he’s different, set apart, he’s the one that’s going to succeed even though he’s failed before.

● The Ark is set apart, sanctified like Gods people; the character Markus Brody explains to Indy, “it’s unlike anything you’ve gone after before.”

● When arguing with the U.S. government men to have the Ark researched Indy insists, “The ark is a source of unspeakable power…”

● Even the people with evil intentions recognize the greatness of the Ark just as the demons recognize Jesus as the Christ (Matthew 8:29, Mark 1:24, Mark 5:7, Luke 8:28, James 2:19). Belloq explains to Indy, “Do you realize what the Ark is? It’s a transmitter. A radio for talking to God!…” Belloq sought not after God but after power and because of his impure ambition, Belloq’s end came as torment.

● The ark ends up hidden away from the world’s view. In a manner of speaking, it is in the world but does not belong to it, much like the disciples (Romans 12:2 John 17:15-16).

● A parallel is apparent between all heroes and the saints. What a worldly action hero does is like what a spiritual hero believes. That is, the actions of heroes are like the faith of saints inasmuch as they often transcend the realm of the ordinary. Even though Indy is triumphant he receives no glory for himself.

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
● The grail is the Cup of Christ, a true relic of the last supper, not some psychobabble-ic pseudo-myth.

● The Brothers of the Cruciform Sword like the Templar Knights risk their lives to protect the grail. Like a typical character of grail lore, one of these knights poses the apex question to Indy, “Ask yourself, why do you seek the Cup of Christ? Is it for His glory, or for yours?” Indy replies,” I didn’t come for the Cup of Christ. I came to find my father.” In this film Indiana is not seeking an artifact so much as a person and he is in need of reconciliation to his father. Reconciliation to The Father in heaven is the true destiny of Christian pilgrims; The Son (Jesus) redeems us to bring us to His Father. Just as the only way to The Father in heaven is through Christ (John 14:6), so too the only way for Indy to reach his father is through the Cup of Christ.

● Indiana is like the knights of the grail, risking his life not for the grail but to save his father’s life. In this sense can we consider Indiana to be Christ-like? Indiana was never made out to be a priest (Belloq tried) a prophet or a king (Kali anyone?) but in self giving at risk of losing his life, Indiana is just this side of sacrificial. Is Dr. Jones Sr. a sacrifice? Not willingly, but he might have been a martyr had he died, since he was shot while on a mission to protect the grail, knowing it to be a relic of Christ’s[1].

● The grail has true healing powers and offers everlasting life by virtue of Christ. Of course, we Catholics do not attribute such power to the Cup of Christ but rather to Christ Himself; to the Eucharist. For Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” ~ John 6:51

● The three challenges are reminiscent of scripture, Tradition and philosophic commentary:

1. Breath of God – Only the penitent shall pass
Dr. Jones Sr. is dying when he recites this challenge – shouldn’t penance be on the mind of a dying man? In this challenge the breath of God is a wind that blows through the caverns just before rotating blades gruesomely behead those who fail to kneel. According to Genesis, God breathed life into man (Genesis 2:7). It is the penitent man whose prayers are heard (Luke 18:9-14) and the penitent thief to whom Jesus promises heaven (Luke 23:39-43).

2. Word of God – Only in the footsteps of God will he proceed
This may be a reference to Jesus since He is the Word of God (John 1:1) and cannot stumble upon Himself[2] Scripture tells us lean not on your own understanding but on every word of God (Proverbs 3:5), and Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105). This segues nicely into the next challenge.

3. Path of God – Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.

– “prove his worth”; emphasis seems to be on merit or works – man is justified by works and faith ~ James 2:24

– “Lion’s head” – Christ is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah ~ Revelation 5:5

– Leap of faith – neither scripture nor Tradition. This phrase is attributed to philosopher Kierkegaard, who reasoned that since the fall of man is a leap from sinlessness to sinfulness, the return would also be a leap.

The button they put on this movie was disappointing but it does ask us to make up our minds about our own journey. To the question, “what did you get out of this adventure?” Henry Jones Sr. responds, “Enlightenment.” In this case the question is as poignant here at the end of the journey as the one posed to Jones Jr. in the middle “Ask yourself, why do you seek the Cup of Christ?” The former question is the quintessential question we are all to answer for ourselves. As for me, the answer is easier to see in the first movie; it’s something like Belloq’s revelation that the Ark is for speaking to God, only without the prideful ambition. What I get out of the adventure of seeking Christ through His Cup and from each cup at every Catholic Mass, is communion with God.

Matthew 8:29
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
29And behold they cried out, saying: What have we to do with thee, Jesus Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?
Mark 1:24
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
24Saying: What have we to do with thee, Jesus of Nazareth? art thou come to destroy us? I know who thou art, the Holy One of God.
Mark 5:7
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7And crying with a loud voice, he said: What have I to do with thee, Jesus the Son of the most high God? I adjure thee by God that thou torment me not.
Luke 8:28
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28And when he saw Jesus, he fell down before him; and crying out with a loud voice, he said: What have I to do with thee, Jesus, Son of the most high God? I beseech thee, do not torment me.
James 2:19
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
19Thou believest that there is one God. Thou dost well: the devils also believe and tremble.
Romans 12:2
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
2And be not conformed to this world; but be reformed in the newness of your mind, that you may prove what is the good, and the acceptable, and the perfect will of God.
John 17:15-16
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15I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil.
16They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world.
John 14:6
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
6Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.
John 6:51
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51I am the living bread which came down from heaven.
Genesis 2:7
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7And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul.
Luke 18:9-14
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9And to some who trusted in themselves as just, and despised others, he spoke also this parable:
10Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
11The Pharisee standing, prayed thus with himself: O God, I give thee thanks that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, as also is this publican.
12I fast twice in a week: I give tithes of all that I possess.
13And the publican, standing afar off, would not so much as lift up his eyes towards heaven; but struck his breast, saying: O god, be merciful to me a sinner.
14I say to you, this man went down into his house justified rather that the other: because every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled: and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.
Luke 23:39-43
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39And one of those robbers who were hanged, blasphemed him, saying: If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
40But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art condemned under the same condemnation?
41And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil.
42And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou shalt come into thy kingdom.
43And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with me in paradise.
John 1:1
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Luke 20:16-19
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16He will come, and will destroy these husbandmen, and will give the vineyard to others. Which they hearing, said to him: God forbid.
17But he looking on them, said: What is this then that is written, The stone, which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner?
18Whosoever shall fall upon that stone, shall be bruised: and upon whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
19And the chief priests and the scribes sought to lay hands on him the same hour: but they feared the people, for they knew that he spoke this parable to them.
Acts 4:11
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11This is the stone which was rejected by you the builders, which is become the head of the corner.
Luke 4:9-13
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9And he brought him to Jerusalem, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and he said to him: If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself from hence.
10For it is written, that He hath given his angels charge over thee, that they keep thee.
11And that in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest perhaps thou dash thy foot against a stone.
12And Jesus answering, said to him: It is said: Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
13And all the temptation being ended, the devil departed from him for a time.
Matthew 4:8-11
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8Again the devil took him up into a very high mountain, and shewed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them,
9And said to him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me.
10Then Jesus saith to him: Begone, Satan: for it is written, The Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and him only shalt thou serve.
11Then the devil left him; and behold angels came and ministered to him.
Psalm 91:11-12
View in: NAB Vulg Hebrew
11For he hath given his angels charge over thee; to keep thee in all thy ways.
12In their hands they shall bear thee up: lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.
Proverbs 3:5
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5Have confidence in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not upon thy own prudence.
Psalm 119:105
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105NUN. Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my paths.
James 2:24
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24Do you see that by works a man is justified; and not by faith only?
Revelation 5:5
View in: NAB Vulg Greek
5And one of the ancients said to me: Weep not; behold the lion of the tribe of Juda, the root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
  1. Saint Laurence was roasted on a gridiron because he would not surrender the holy relics of the church to the Roman Emperor Valerian. []
  2. that is Jesus is the stone which the builders rejected Luke 20:16-19, Acts 4:11, and to the builders He is a stumbling block 1Cor 1:23 The devil tempted Jesus to throw Himself upon the rocks Luke 4:9-13, Matthew 4:8-11, Psalm 91:11-12 []

One Response to “Indiana Jones and a Catholic’s Perspective”

  1. Steve says:

    The first movie helps prove the dogma of the Assumption. Some Protestants reject the Catholic position that Mary is the Ark of the Covenant using Rev 11:19 and 12:1 to claim when John saw the ark in heaven it was Mary. “Lex orandi, Lex credendi”. As we pray we believe and these verses begin the first reading for the Mass of the Assumption.

    Regardless of the biblical proof anyone who has seen the movies knows the original ark is NOT in heaven because it is boxed up in an Area 51 storage facility.

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