‘Today Is Friday’: Ernest Hemingway on the Crucifixion

Journalist and Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway is known for many things — terse, spare writing; vivid characters; wartime experiences; outdoor adventures; and his unfortunate, self-inflicted death.

What’s less-known is that he was an adult convert to Catholicism from Protestantism — an imperfect Catholic, to be sure, but one whose search for God and the Faith wove its way through his work.

Even though he divorced his Catholic second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, and married two more times after that, there was a Catholic presence at his burial in Ketchum, Idaho, in 1961.

From the obituary in The New York Times, cited in an article about Hemingway’s faith at TheBlogAlsoRises.com:

The Rev. Robert J. Waldemann, Roman Catholic pastor of St. Charles Church in Hailey, Idaho, and of Our Lady of the Snows in Ketchum, will conduct the services. Father Waldemann said that there would be no formal Catholic services. He said there would be no mass and probably no rosary, but he said that the matter of accident or suicide had no bearing on the funeral. “We pass no judgement on that and asked no questions,” he said.

There still was no official decision–and there may never be–as to whether the death of the writer early Sunday from the blast of a 12-gauge shotgun had been an accident or suicide. However, the fact that Mr. Hemingway had been divorced would bar him from a Catholic Church funeral. Catholic sources said there was nothing improper in a Catholic  priest saying prayers at graveside.

Friday, July 21, is Hemingway’s birthday (he was born in 1899), and in honor of that, I’m presenting one of his lesser-known works, a little play called “This Is Friday.” It features three Roman soldiers entering some sort of tavern late at night, where a Hebrew wine-seller named George interests them in different vintages.

In contemporary language — with some mild profanity and an ethnic slur against Jews thrown in — the soldiers discuss the day’s work, which included the crucifixion of Christ.

I asked the latest addition to the Family Theater Productions staff, Father Vince Kuna, C.S.C. — priest and filmmaker — to reflect on Hemingway and this play:

“Hemingway captured the reality of human nature like no other modern author. His minimalist style reflects his themes. The prose of his novels, however, will never quite match the near poetry of believing authors such as Flannery O’Connor and (“Silence” author Shusaku) Endo, of a similar era.

“The point I make is evidenced in the attached scene. The scene is a believable interpretation of a few soldiers processing the Crucifixion events. It, like most of Hemingway’s works, doesn’t aspire to go beyond horizontal theology (if that) — they only see a man who peculiarly chose to undergo His Crucifixion willingly. A hypothetical next scene, in Hemingway’s style, would see them returning to soldiering and not writing a theological summation, a la John’s Gospel.”

To learn more about Hemingway’s faith, you can click here and here and here, but I suspect the author would like his work to speak for itself.

So, here’s “Today Is Friday,” in its entirety (linked annotations courtesy of Genius.com):

Three Roman soldiers are in a drinking-place at eleven o’clock at nightThere are barrels around the wall. Behind the wooden counter is a Hebrew wine-seller. The three Roman soldiers are a little cock-eyed.

1st Roman Soldier—You tried the red?

2d Soldier—No, I ain’t tried it.

1st Soldier—You better try it.

2d Soldier—All right, George, we’ll have a round of the red.

Hebrew Wine-seller—Here you are, gentlemen. You’ll like that. [He sets down an earthenware pitcher that he has filled from one of the casks.] That’s a nice little wine.

1st Soldier—Have a drink of it yourself. [He turns to the third Roman soldier who is leaning on a barrel.] What’s the matter with you?

3d Roman Soldier—I got a gut-ache.

2d Soldier—You’ve been drinking water.

1st Soldier—Try some of the red.

3d Soldier—I can’t drink the damn stuff. It makes my gut sour.

1st Soldier—You been out here too long.

3d Soldier—Hell don’t I know it?

1st Soldier—Say, George, can’t you give this gentleman something to fix up his stomach?

Hebrew Wine-seller—I got it right here.

[The third Roman soldier tastes the cup that the wine-seller has mixed for him.]

3d Soldier—Hey, what you put in that, camel chips?

Wine-seller—You drink that right down, Lootenant. That’ll fix you up right.

3d Soldier—Well, I couldn’t feel any worse.

1st Soldier—Take a chance on it. George fixed me up fine the other day.

Wine-seller—You were in bad shape, Lootenant. I know what fixes up a bad stomach.

[The third Roman soldier drinks the cup down.]

3d Roman Soldier—Jesus Christ. [He makes a face.]

2d Soldier—That false alarm!

1st Soldier—Oh, I don’t know. He was pretty good in there today.

2d Soldier—Why didn’t he come down off the cross?

1st Soldier—He didn’t want to come down off the cross. That’s not his play.

2d Soldier—Show me a guy that doesn’t want to come down off the cross.

1st Soldier—Aw, hell, you don’t know anything about it. Ask George there. Did he want to come down off the cross, George?

Wine-seller—I’ll tell you, gentlemen, I wasn’t out there. It’s a thing I haven’t taken any interest in.

2d Soldier—Listen, I seen a lot of them—here and plenty of other places. Any time you show me one that doesn’t want to get down off the cross when the time comes—when the time comes, I mean—I’ll climb right up with him.

1st Soldier—I thought he was pretty good in there today.

3d Soldier—He was all right.

2d Roman Soldier—You guys don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not saying whether he was good or not. What I mean is, when the time comes. When they first start nailing him, there isn’t none of them wouldn’t stop it if they could.

1st Soldier—Didn’t you follow it, George?

Wine-seller—No, I didn’t take any interest in it, Lootenant.

1st Soldier—I was surprised how he acted.

3d Soldier—The part I don’t like is the nailing them on. You know, that must get to you pretty bad.

2d Soldier—It isn’t that that’s so bad, as when they first lift ’em up. [He makes a lifting gesture with his two palms together.] When the weight starts to pull on ’em. That’s when it gets ’em.

3d Roman Soldier—It takes some of them pretty bad.

1st Soldier—Ain’t I seen ’em? I seen plenty of them. I tell you, he was pretty good in there today.

[The second Roman soldier smiles at the Hebrew wine-seller.]

2d Soldier—You’re a regular Christer, big boy.

1st Soldier—Sure, go on and kid him. But listen while I tell you something. He was pretty good in there today.

2d Soldier—What about some more wine?

[The wine-seller looks up expectantly. The third Roman soldier is sitting with his head down. He does not look well.]

3d Soldier—I don’t want any more.

2d Soldier—Just for two, George.

[The wine-seller puts out a pitcher of wine, a size smaller than the last one.

He leans forward on the wooden counter.]

1st Roman Soldier—You see his girl?

2d Soldier—Wasn’t I standing right by her?

1st Soldier—She’s a nice-looker.

2d Soldier—I knew her before he did. [He winks at the wine-seller.]

1st Soldier—I used to see her around the town.

2d Soldier—She used to have a lot of stuff. He never brought her no good luck.

1st Soldier—Oh, he ain’t lucky. But he looked pretty good to me in there today.

2d Soldier—What become of his gang?

1st Soldier—Oh, they faded out. Just the women stuck by him.

2d Roman Soldier—They were a pretty yellow crowd. When they seen him go up there they didn’t want any of it.

1st Soldier—The women stuck all right.

2d Soldier—Sure, they stuck all right.

1st Roman Soldier—You see me slip the old spear into him?

2d Roman Soldier—You’ll get into trouble doing that some day.

1st Soldier—It was the least I could do for him. I’ll tell you he looked pretty good to me in there today.

Hebrew Wine-seller—Gentlemen, you know I got to close.

1st Roman Soldier—We’ll have one more round.

2d Roman Soldier—What’s the use? This stuff don’t get you anywhere. Come on, let’s go.

1st Soldier—Just another round.

3d Roman Soldier—[Getting up from the barrel.] No, come on. Let’s go. I feel like hell tonight.

1st Soldier—Just one more.

2d Soldier—No, come on. We’re going to go. Good-night, George. Put it on the bill.

Wine-seller—Good-night, gentlemen. [He looks a little worried.] You couldn’t let me have a little something on account, Lootenant?

2d Roman Soldier—What the hell, George! Wednesday’s payday.

Wine-seller—It’s all right, Lootenant. Good-night, gentlemen.

[The three Roman soldiers go out the door into the street.]

[Outside in the street.]

2d Roman Soldier—George is a kike just like all the rest of them.

1st Roman Soldier—Oh, George is a nice fella.

2d Soldier—Everybody’s a nice fella to you tonight.

3d Roman Soldier—Come on, let’s go up to the barracks. I feel like hell tonight.

2d Soldier—You been out here too long.

3d Roman Soldier—No, it ain’t just that. I feel like hell.

2d Soldier—You been out here too long. That’s all.

CURTAIN

Images: Wikimedia Commons

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