Truly, This Man Was the Son Of God, by Randall Smith

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The Confession of the Centurion by James Tissot (1836–1902), [Brooklyn Museum, New York]

By Randall Smith, The Catholic Thing, April 2, 2024

Randall B. Smith is a Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. His latest book is From Here to Eternity: Reflections on Death, Immortality, and the Resurrection of the Body.


One of the strangest lines in the Gospels is uttered by the centurion at the foot of the Cross. In Mark, we are told that when he saw that Jesus had “breathed his last,” he said: “Truly this man was the Son of God.” (15:39)

One would have thought this was the last thing a person would say after seeing a man die.  Everyone knows that the one thing gods don’t do is die.  Thus, it would have made more sense if, the moment the centurion saw Jesus die, he had said: “Well, clearly that guy wasn’t a god.”

Had Jesus shot fifty feet up in the air and shot laser beams out of his eyes, then we might imagine the centurion saying, “Uh oh, that was the son of God.” After which, he might have run for cover, reasoning that the man, now so revealed, would not be entirely pleased with those who treated him so badly — what with the whole spitting, taunting, scourging, crowning with thorns, and nailing him to the Cross business. …

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