The Emotions and Affections of Jesus: An analysis of the Synoptic Gospels

Vincenzo Anselmo, SJ

 Vincenzo Anselmo, SJ / Church Thought / 4 January 2021

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In Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose, the blind monk Jorge of Burgos, quoting John Chrysostom, argues that “Christ never laughed.” Such a strong statement seems not only to categorically exclude the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth could laugh, but also questions his humanity, a humanity that implies an ability to participate in the totality of experience, including the possibility of experiencing the full range of affections and emotions. On the contrary, as the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (GS) states, “the Son of God […] worked with human hands, thought with a human mind, acted by human choice, and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly become one of us, like us in all things except sin” (GS 22).

In fact, the Gospels present us with a very human portrait of a Jesus who is capable of rejoicing and crying, of being moved and angry, of being indignant and loving, of feeling anguish and marveling. He calls himself “meek and humble of heart” (Matt 11:29), but he is also ardent with zeal when he vigorously drives the merchants out of the temple.

In this article we will try to open a window onto the interiority of Jesus as transmitted to us in the Synoptic Gospels.[1] The most vivid and nuanced description of Jesus’ emotions and affections is found in the Gospel of Mark. Matthew and Luke are more sober but no less significant in portraying the interiority of the Son of God.[2]

In psychology “emotion” may be defined as a rapid process, an intense response to a stimulus or a situation, while “affections” refer to a spectrum of feelings and passions that are more prolonged and constant over time, in some cases taking the form of stable traits that mark someone’s personality in a defined and peculiar way.[3] We will see that in some episodes Jesus’ affectivity emerges as a reaction to a specific situation, while at other times it is characterized as a more constant trait of his humanity.

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