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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Season of the Witch

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

"I serve the church no more!" declares the main character in the baleful and boring medieval adventure "Season of the Witch" (Relativity). And, given the relentlessly negative picture of the era's Catholicism that screenwriter Bragi Schut and director Dominic Sena present throughout their film, it's little wonder he feels that way.

Said personage is a warrior named Behmen played, with much huffing and puffing and stomping about, by Nicolas Cage.

Together with his buddy and comrade Felson (Ron Perlman)—a dim bulb with a good heart—Crusader Behmen has mown down Muslim infidels by the thousands. But an atrocity involving the church-sponsored slaughter of innocent women and children causes a change of heart in both, and the friends go AWOL.

They find the territories through which they pass, as they make their way home, ravaged by the plague. (This is a somewhat surprising turn of events, given that, in the real world, the end of the last crusade preceded the outbreak of the Black Death in Europe by more than 70 years. But we digress.)

Eventually identified as deserters from the sacred cause, Behmen and Felson are brought before the horribly disfigured and dying Cardinal D'Ambroise (Christopher Lee) for judgment. He threatens them with incarceration—and perhaps worse—unless they agree to escort a young unnamed prisoner (Claire Foy) to a distant abbey so she can stand trial as a witch whose black magic has given rise to the fatal pest.

Accompanied by Father Debelzaq (Stephen Campbell Moore), the priest responsible for the accused sorceress' interrogation (we're shown the grim scars that process has produced), and by a motley crew of others, the pals set out on their rather less than epic journey.

Amid these proceedings, Schut and Sena dredge up every hoary cliche about the period from a con man pilloried for selling bogus relics (Stephen Graham) to a procession of flagellants scourging themselves to repel pestilence. Later, Debelzaq proves himself so ignorant of his faith that he begins Christianity's most famous prayer by saying, "Our Lord who art in heaven."

Not surprisingly, then, in the climactic showdown between good and evil, Debelzaq and the others rely not on the Bible or the established rituals of the church but on a fictional version of an occult text called the Key of Solomon. As recited onscreen, this turns out to consist largely of Latin gibberish with some phrases from the extraordinary form of the liturgy thrown in for no very apparent reason.

One need not be blind to the serious shortcomings that characterized the human element of the church during the Middle Ages to recognize as gross caricature its portrayal here as a superstitious, oppressive force against which this forgettable action outing's central figures nobly rebel.

The film contains pervasive anti-Catholic bias, occult themes, brief partial nudity, much -- mostly bloodless -- violence, some gruesome images, at least one use of the S-word and a few crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is O—morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Bernard of Clairvaux: Man of the century! Woman of the century! You see such terms applied to so many today—“golfer of the century,” “composer of the century,” “right tackle of the century”—that the line no longer has any punch. But Western Europe's “man of the twelfth century,” without doubt or controversy, has to be Bernard of Clairvaux. Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher: any one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these—and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days. 
<p>In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles and some 30 young friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years a dying community had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, though more on himself than others. A slight breakdown of health taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light. </p><p>His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. On several of these occasions he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome. Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. But to a letter of warning from Rome, he replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece. If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know. </p><p>Shortly thereafter it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope. </p><p>The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster. </p><p>Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came August 20, 1153.</p> American Catholic Blog One of the things that we need to remember is that we’re preaching Jesus, not the institutional Church. It’s easy to get caught up in the rules and regulations of the institution and forget that we are saved not by the Church but by the person of Jesus or the Church as the body of Christ.

 
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