The heart of the “Passion” lies in its historical (etymological) meaning. “Passion” comes from the Latin root passio “to render.” So when we suffer, we have to submit to causes that deprive us of our freedom or well-being.
When I was at the 1993 Congress of Philosophy in Moscow, I attended a session where the French philosopher,Paul Ricoeur, “one of the most distinguished philosophers of the twentieth century,” (Stanford Encyclopedia) spoke on “suffering.” He spoke in English. After he had used the word “suffering” several times, I noticed that his context nothing to to do with the English meaning of “suffering,” namely, extreme distress or pain. I studied the mesmerised faces of the audience. It seemed to me that even if he had talked backwards, they would’ve accepted it as Gospel. Hopefully the backward flip that I have done with my prospective sermon has faired a little better.
As I had some familiarity with Ricoeur’s philosophy, I was pretty sure that his “suffering” had nothing to do with extreme mental or physical pain but rather with one of his important philosophical themes, namely “passivity in action” (See ENDNOTE). At question time, I asked him what he meant by “suffering.” The problem was, I said, that in French there exists the two words “subir” and “souffrir,” which originate from the same etymological root. “Souffrir” means “suffering”(extreme pain), while “subir” has the meaning, as in the King James Bible Version, of “suffer little children to come unto me,” (Mark 10:13), that is, let, or allow, them to come to me, or don’t take in action that will prevent them coming to me. So, when Ricoeur used the word “suffering,” he was thinking of “subir” (passivity). And what was Ricoeur’s response? He meant “subir” (passivity) not “suffering.” He had committed a common error in French-English, English-French translation called “faux amis”(false friends). (See Passivity and suffering in the passion of the Christ”).
Here is W.J.T. Shedd on Christ’s Passive Obedience (See Shedd’s “Vicarious Atonement“).
“[Passive obedience] denotes Christ’s sufferings of every kind—the sum total of the sorrow and pain which he endured in his estate of humiliation. The term passive is used etymologically. His suffering is denominated “obedience” because it came by reason of his submission to the conditions under which he voluntarily placed himself when he consented to be the sinner’s substitute. He vicariously submitted to the sentence “the soul that sins, it shall die” and was “obedient unto death” (Phil. 2:8). Christ’s passive or suffering obedience is not to be conﬁned to what he experienced in the garden and on the cross. This suffering was the culmination of his piacular [expiatory] sorrow, but not the whole of it. Everything in his human and earthly career that was distressing belongs to his passive obedience. It is a true remark of [Jonathan] Edwards that the blood of Christ’s circumcision was as really a part of his vicarious atonement as the blood that ﬂowed from his pierced side. And not only his suffering proper, but his humiliation, also, was expiatory, because this was a kind of suffering.”
“The satisfaction or propitiation of Christ consists either in his suffering evil or his being subject to abasement. Thus Christ made satisfaction for sin by continuing under the power of death while he lay buried in the grave, though neither his body nor soul properly endured any suffering after he was dead. Whatever Christ was subject to that was the judicial fruit of sin had the nature of satisfaction for sin. But not only proper suffering, but all abasement and depression of the state and circumstances of mankind [human nature] below its primitive honor and dignity, such as his body remaining under death, and body and soul remaining separate, and other things that might be mentioned, are the judicial fruits of sin.”
1“Ricoeur’s account of the way in which narrative represents the human world of acting (and, in its passive mode, suffering).”
Kluge Prize Winner 2004 – Paul Ricoeur Acceptance speech of Paul Ricoeur – December 2004
“I identify myself by my capacities, by what I can do. The individual designates himself as a capable human being—and, we must add, as a suffering human being, to underscore the vulnerability of the human condition.”