The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)

The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)

According to the Church, the death of Christ is revealed throughout the whole Bible. As Pope St John Paul II explained: “There were many messianic texts in the Old Testament which foreshadowed the sufferings of the future Anointed One of God. Among all these, particularly touching is the one which is commonly called the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant, in the Book of Isaiah.” (Salvifici Doloris, 17)

The passage tells the story of an unnamed servant of God – “the man of sorrows” – who suffers humiliation and death for the sins of others. During the Last Supper, Jesus said that this text was referring to his death on the cross (Luke 22:37). Both St Luke and St Peter followed him in this interpretation (Acts 8:32-35; 1 Peter 2:21-24).

The pope continued: “The Prophet, who has rightly been called “the Fifth Evangelist”, presents in this Song an image of the sufferings of the Servant with a realism as acute as if he were seeing them with his own eyes: the eyes of the body and of the spirit. In the light of the verses of Isaiah, the Passion of Christ becomes almost more expressive and touching than in the descriptions of the Evangelists themselves.”

He also observed: “The Song of the Suffering Servant contains a description in which it is possible, in a certain sense, to identify the stages of Christ’s Passion in their various details: the arrest, the humiliation, the blows, the spitting, the contempt for the prisoner, the unjust sentence, and then the scourging, the crowning with thorns and the mocking, the carrying of the Cross, the crucifixion and the agony.”

Due to this level of detail, the chapter is often read or quoted during Lent, a period when Catholics traditionally reflect on the suffering and death of Christ. This is especially so as they pray the ‘Stations of the Cross’. This usually involves meditating on special images of Christ’s final hours that are displayed around the church.

This beautiful wooden sculpture of the crucifixion is found within the modern church of St Aloysius, Somers Town. It was commissioned in 1990 by the then parish priest, Fr. James McNicholas. The piece was carved by the celebrated Demetz Art Studio in Ortisei, Northern Italy.

The harrowing expression on Christ’s face, the fine detail of the crown of thorns on his head and the inclusion of bloodstains reflect the long artistic tradition of representing him as the Man of Sorrows. As such, the sculpture is a real focus for prayer and devotion within the parish.

See the full image:

Suffering_ServantDemetz Art Studio / The Crucifixion / Wooden sculpture / 1990

Detail of Christ’s torso:


Where to find this work of art
St Aloysius, Somers Town

Read the relevant passage
Isaiah 52:13-53:12

On a similar theme

  • From the Old Testament: The Song of the Suffering Servant finds a parallel in the story of Job, the servant of God who persevered amid extreme suffering.
  • From the New Testament: The passage refers to the servant being led away to death, which is reflected in the gospel accounts of Christ carrying his cross.

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