I was wondering, did the early church focus on the Passion and sufferings of Jesus? Also, when did Christians start focusing on it? Why do we focus on it so much?
One of the earliest pieces of Christian literature to focus on the Passion of Christ is the Christus Patiens, which was written (I think) by Appolinaris the Elder. He was a Catholic literature professor who lived in the 300s A.D., and wrote one of the first scripts for a play based on the death of Christ – that’s what the Christus Patiens is, a script for a play, and the title means “The Passion of Chist.” Appolinaris modeled his play after the classic Greek tragedies written by playwrights from ancient Greece, but he wanted the subject matter to be something Christian, so he chose the Passion.
If you’d be interested in reading a translation, one can be accessed here.
Here are a few sample lines that show how greatly the author focused on Christ’s sufferings: [Jesus speaking:] The sin of our first parents must be cleansed with a shower / Of blood, rain’d from My wounds: My death appease, / And cure the venom of that dire disease. / All you who live, rejoice: all you who die, / You sacred ashes of the just which lie / In peaceful urns, rejoice in this My fall: / I for the living liv’d, but die for all. / My suff’rings are not lost. To earth I owe / These promis’d ills: bonds, whips, and thorns to grow / About Our bleeding brows: the Cross, the scorn / Of a proud people, to destruction borne. That indicates, at least to me, that Christ’s Passion was a focus of popular piety as far back as the fourth century.
In my opinion, there is plenty of evidence of Christian works focusing on Christ’s death even further back. For example, the Gospels are literary works, and they have sometimes been interpreted as centered on Christ’s passion and resurrection, with all the prior material being an attempt to explain why this event was important.
Philippians 2:6-11 appears to preserve part of an early Christian hymn that emphasizes Christ’s humble death on the cross as compared to His glorious exaltation into heaven. That would be an early artistic expression of Christian focus on the Passion.
St. Paul indicated a focus on the Passion when he spoke about how he wanted Christians to glory in nothing but the Cross (Galatians 6:14) and know nothing except Christ Crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Those are some of the first examples that come to my mind. Perhaps others can think of other examples, but I hope that is helpful. If my understanding is correct, a focus on the Passion goes back to the very first century of Christianity, to the Apostles themselves.
Do we? You mean outside of Holy Week?
The Passion is barely mentioned at a typical Mass (as part of the Nicene Creed, “he suffered”). It might be mentioned again during the Consecration (“on the night before he suffered”), depending on which form is used.
There’s supposed to be a Crucifix (just one) present when Mass is celebrated. But I have never seen a priest call attention to it.
Most Parishes have the Stations of the Cross displayed. I have never seen anyone actually praying the Stations outside of Lent.
If anything, I would say that the Passion is neglected. I’m glad your experience is not the same as mine.
Actually, we’re not really sure about the exact date of Christus patiens (or Χριστος πασχον Christos paschon in Greek). Sure, it is sometimes ascribed to either Apollinaris the Elder or even to St. Gregory of Nazianzus (both from the 4th century), but you also have this opinion that it is actually an 11th-12th-century Byzantine work.
Technically, for the early Christians the crucifixion of Jesus was both a liability and a thing to be proud of. Well actually, they reconfigured the crucifixion as something to be proud of because that would have been a liability according to the social norms of the time.
Since crucifixion was shameful (for an honor-shame culture, being ‘shamed’ is a fate worse than death), early Christians tried to counteract this ‘shame’ using a variety of ways: for example, by presenting the crucifixion as God’s will for Jesus (i.e. as something foretold in the Scriptures), a sort of travesty of justice (an innocent person being wrongly condemned to death), an act in which Jesus took the side of marginalized outcasts of society and demonstrated that they were acceptable to God, and/or an example for Christians to follow (“If Jesus wasn’t afraid to be shamed, why should you?”)
(Now a few Christians went so far as to spare Jesus the shame: He wasn’t really crucified, either that was just a mirage to fool the Jews and Romans or someone else was crucified in His place. These are the ‘docetists’.)
If you’re talking about the Western Christian fixation on the Passion of Jesus and all the stuff associated with it (manifesting in stuff like the Stations of the Cross, meditations on and devotions to things like the Holy Face, the Instruments of the Passion, the Shoulder Wound of Jesus or the Holy Nails, Passion plays, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, or even as something mundane as showing a clearly suffering/wounded/dead Jesus on crucifixes), it’s something that really kickstarted in the Middle Ages.