By Stephanie Pacheco
Unique among the crop of super heroes, Steve Roger’s (aka Captain America’s) commitment to truth makes him the most Christ-like. His humility and love of the “other” draw this out even more as he converts enemies to his side and never places himself above them. The inevitably remaining struggle in Cap’s life teaches the hard lesson that even the righteous path is never easy and makes him an inspiring model of uncompromising commitment to his principles.
In Christian theology, the term logos, Greek for word [of God], most closely summarizes who Jesus is. There is a critical connection between Jesus as the Word and between truth, or the importance of true speech, a connection which surfaces in the character of Captain America.
Logos is the term the early church fathers used to identify Jesus as the second person of the Holy Trinity, the Son who in-dwells with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, and whose mission it is to incorporate us, humanity, into the mutual in-dwelling of the three divine persons. John’s Gospel names Jesus as the this word or logos, “In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word with God, and the Word was God….The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:1, 14). John describes how the eternal presence of God was incarnated, made human and came to be with us, to draw us into his eternal life through grace. In my own thoughts, “As words make vague experiences of truth comprehensible (or orderly) through naming, The Word brings understanding and access to the transcendent Truth of the Father, the First person of the Trinity.” It is precisely Jesus’s mission to bring the world back to God through true speech, through preaching and through his salvific actions and atonement on the cross.
His speech–his truth– is a critical part of his mission. The truth of Jesus’s preaching is pivotal to who he is; God is truth, and Jesus speaks truth to help bring fallen humanity back into the fold. He is the uniter of divine and human realities; and in doing so, the incarnation expresses the highest truth and reason for our existence.
Truth and Captain America
Truth is also a definitive character trait of Steve Rogers, who becomes Captain America. His pained commitment to truthfulness shines through especially when other characters tend to easily lie to avoid a tough situation. At the climax of Civil War, Tony Stark, aka Iron Man, demands Steve tell him whether or not he knew that Steve’s best friend Bucky was the assassin who killed his parents. Steve does hedge a bit, explaining that “It wasn’t him,” meaning that Bucky wasn’t in his right mind, but ultimately Steve concedes that the perpetrator was Bucky and that Steve had indeed known throughout the film’s timeframe. The price of his truthfulness was an all out battle of Iron Man v. Cap and Bucky, nearly ending in death. In such a high stakes situation, where one lie could seemingly have averted the fight, Steve still answered truthfully.
Words and our communication with one another are more than just elements within a transaction. Lying undermines the foundation of trust within relationships both broad and intimate. Steve’s willingness to tell even the hardest of truths aligns his honesty with the logos, the ordering principle of the world, which is the ordering principle of our relationships as well. Though Steve is a “super hero,” this ability to participate in logos through truthfulness is something we can all do, and the character of Captain America serves an exemplar. Truth unites us with reality and with our identity as children of God.
Captain Rogers also puts truth to work in difficult, though less mortal, situations and so infuses grace into his relationships. He calmly and gently comforts Wanda Maximov, aka Scarlet Witch, when she is distraught after the accidental loss of life during one of their missions. He says, “This job… we can’t save everybody…But if we don’t try, maybe next time, nobody gets saved.” Here, his wisdom distills her experience and orders it into priorities that he is then able to give advice from. During their exchange, Rogers completely understands and empathizes with Maximov, and then responds with wisdom to ease her worry, not fatuous rationalizations. He takes the harder path to tell her the truth, and the result is insight she can actually learn from in addition to feeling better. His wisdom and use of words have power because they tap deeply into all truth, of which the source is always God. By being truthful, Rogers expresses an aspect of grace, of the divine life that Jesus exemplifies and calls all of us into.
Humility and the Love of Others
Cap’s commitment to truthfulness rubs off in other related virtues. He has a pure heart, and it is for this reason that Dr. Erskine chooses him for the experiment that transforms him into Captain America over other stronger men. When Rogers dives on an inert grenade, Erskine knows that he is the right person for the job, “A weak man knows the power of strength, and he has compassion….” Steve is “not a perfect soldier, but a good man.” After the super soldier serum, Rogers retains these virtues and always tells the truth, even when it costs him. He is authentically humble, seeing his true place in relation to others rather than a false superiority. And his genuine love of others brings three characters from from the enemy’s side over to the Avengers, a fitting metaphor for redemption: Scarlet Witch, Quick Silver and the Winter Soldier, aka James “Bucky” Buchanan.
When Red-Skull asks Rogers in The First Avenger what makes him so special that Dr. Erskine would deem him worthy of the super-soldier serum, he simply responds, “Nothing. I’m just a kid from Brooklyn.” He doesn’t see himself as more or less than he is– a person.
More significantly, in Age of Ultron, Cap identifies with the Maximovs while they are still enemies and sees the good in them. After being debriefed by Agent Hill on the experiments that led to the extraordinary abilities of the Maximov twins, he asks ironically:
Cap: “What kind of monster would let a German scientist experiment on them in order to protect their country?” [His tone implies himself.]
Agent Hill: “You were at war.”
Cap: “So are they.”
This identification with the potential good motives even in his enemies reveals Captain America as understanding and humble; he doesn’t set himself above those he fights. He is a hero with them.
His ability to see himself and others as they really are also comes out in authentic, theological love for his enemies which is frequently transformative in their lives, leading the Maximov twins and Bucky over to the side of the Avengers. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, drawing on Saint Thomas Aquinas, asserts that to love is to “will the good of the other” (CCC 1766). Love, in this sense, is more than an emotion or feeling of affection. It is an act of the will to bring about what is good for others regardless of the presence or absence of feelings. This is the type of love that Jesus calls us to when he instructs his apostles to “love your enemies,” and not just those who love you.
In the character of Steve Rogers, it is exactly this type of love–willing the good to another–that brings enemy characters back to the fold, redeeming them. Throughout Age of Ultron, the Avengers, led by Rogers, are kind to the young hostiles–Wanda and Piero Maximov–and by the end of the film, both of them are fighting for the Avengers rather than against them, a notable case of the “bad guys” becoming “good guys.” They learn the truth– that Ultron has nefarious ends–and sense the love that the Avengers treat them with.
Further, the salvation of Bucky, Steve’s childhood friend, back from brainwashing at the hands of Cold War Russia, is the major theme of Captain America Winter Soldier and Civil War. Steve nevers gives up on Bucky even when he has to fight the whole world vis-a-vis the Sokovia Accords, to do so (see pivotal fight with Iron Man, above). Steve follows Bucky and ultimately brings him to safety and helps him break free of the mind-control. Finally, Bucky appears healed and healthy in Infinity War. Their relationship is a testament of the power of agape love and the ever-present possibility of redemption.
Captain America–Steve Rogers–incarnates lofty ideals of truthfulness, humility and love of enemies, indeed, much of Jesus’s message about how he calls us to treat others. The virtue of truthfulness connects him to Jesus as the logos or Word of God and spins off a host of related virtues that make Rogers so compelling. Unlike Superman, however, Captain America’s story is anything but easy or boring when the whole world tests the resolve of his will and loyalty to his ideals in Winter Soldier and Civil War. As Jesus experienced, a virtuous character does not make life a walk in the park. Yet the man out of time is the hero for our times, who lives out a hard-fought path to honesty and convictions and ultimately to supernatural love.
Stephanie Pacheco has an MA in Theological Studies from Christendom College’s Graduate School of Theology (2012); BA in Religious Studies, minor in Government from the University of Virginia (2008). She has written freelance since 2012, tutored 2017 and she’ll be teaching 5th grade at St. Thomas More School in Arlington in August. She’s been published by America Magazine, Sojourners, Crisis Magazine, Ethika Politika, The Truth and Charity Forum of HLI, Soul Gardening Magazine and the Catholic Diocese of Arlington. Her articles have been syndicated by EWTN and Zenit. Check out her blog and her resume on LinkedIn here.