The first time I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, I had a strange feeling that I had seen something like it before. I wondered if maybe I had started watching it once but fell asleep in the middle of the movie.
Then it hit me- I’ve read it in the bible before.
Not the exact story, of course, but there were certain themes in the movie that seemed to be plucked straight from Luke 15 (the parable of the prodigal son). The children’s’ bad habits seemed eerily reminiscent of the seven deadly sins.
Images of Jesus on the cross aren’t the only Christian imagery anymore.
Modern day imaginings of Christian imagery all have roots in early Christian art, however.
Read on for a comprehensive overview which deconstructs the idea of Christian imagery as a whole.
Jesus on the Cross, or Something More?
In early Christian art, images of Jesus on the cross were not all there was to be seen. Early Christians frequently used iconography.
Have you ever been stuck in traffic, and seen the Christian image of a fish on someone’s bumper? That’s not a new symbol.
Early Christians used the icon of the fish as early as the second century. This simple icon can be seen in Roman catacombs (underground burial sites), along with images of Jesus and his disciples.
During the third and fourth century, Christians used pagan imagery to represent Christ. He was shown as the good shepherd.
Jesus on the Cross might become one of the most popular bits of Christian imagery in the world, but in the early centuries of Christian art, the imagery was more focused on iconography and showing Christ’s good nature.
In the era of early Christian art, it’s interesting to note the lack of Crucifixion imagery. This can be explained by Christianity’s status in that time as a “mystery religion.”
The Crucifixion and the Resurrection would become secrets of the “cult” and come to prominence later in the faith.
How Much Later?
Christian imagery today can be as subtle as an inspiration for movie or book themes, or as bold as an entire movie dedicated to Christ’s final hours during Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory isn’t the only movie with subtle Christian imagery. The Lion King, the first trilogy of Star Wars, and Lord of the Rings all have elements of Christian themes and imagery present.
The book series The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis is largely inspired by the Christian faith and describes many Christian images throughout the series.
The Passion of the Christ grossed over $370 million dollars. Christian imagery today has come a long way from a simple fish in a catacomb.
Where Are We Now?
Despite complicated Christian imagery becoming so strong and so prominent today, we still put the image of the simple fish on our cars.
The truth is, Christian imagery as a whole span thousands of years, growing and changing along the way, and yet we are all believers in Christ our savior just as those Christians in the second century.