+I believe in Lent 2013 +
Notes on Faith and Art as a way to explore the Apostles’ Creed
Together let’s explore some images from art and photography that may give us ‘keys’ to enter deeper into the Apostles’ Creed – the fundamental symbol of the mysteries of our faith into which we are ‘soaked’ in our baptism.
§ As the former Archbishop of Canterbury wrote: “One effect of Christian believing is always seeing the world in a new way…”
May our exploring the gift of the Apostles’ Creed together surprise us with new insight:
The first ‘strophe’ of the Creed focuses on our ‘belief’ in “God the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”
In the Western world, our context for the word ‘believe’ has changed somewhat in recent years, especially since September 11th 2001: the terrorist attacks caused a rupture of trust. Marketing companies started to use religious language in ‘value associations’ with their products in order to sell their goods to us.
§ Guinness, for several years, had an ad campaign in the 2000’s called: “Believe”. “What has belief and trust got to do with drinking a pint of stout?” we may wisely ask!
§ The creators of the Halo 3 computer game created a mythical hero called John in whom ‘gamers’ were invited to “Believe” [note the ‘quasi-Biblical’ John 117 monument which they are invited to enter and explore.]
§ In 2006, the makers of the Mars bar renamed it the “Believe” bar hoping that supporters of the English soccer team would enter into an urge that their team would achieve greatness during the World Cup. Note “the result”: they sold 50% more of their product than usual.
In our time, Advertising companies are encroaching upon religious language to associate their products with “trustworthiness” at the same time in which the credibility and trustworthiness of Church figures has taken a huge self-inflicted battering.
With marketing companies, we must always remind ourselves that: “Terms and Conditions apply”. In whom do we believe? In whom can we trust unconditionally?
We believe in God the Father, who is utterly trustworthy.
§ Let’s say this part of the Apostles’ Creed together: “I believe in God,
the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”
When we try to ‘conceive’ thoughts of the Father, we are reminded by John’s Gospel that “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known.” (John 1:18)
Hence our 1st main image:
§ The End of God 1963-64, Concetto spaziale (‘spatial concept’). by Lucio Fontana (1899 –1968)
Here the artist presents us with the ‘egg’ of our ideas, our concepts of God. The artist has deliberately punctured the two dimensional canvas upon which artists usually depend to present their form and content. It is as if the artist is saying: “We need to be reminded that our ‘ideas’ of God are always massively limited”. God is immeasurably more than any of our conceptions of the Divine can ever hope to grasp. None of our ideas of God do God justice. We need to always be open to being continually surprised by God and not sit contented by the limitations of the horizon of our thoughts. As one woman commented at our January Liturgy Seminar, the chick, if it is going to break out of it’s shell and enter life, it has to puncture the egg.
In the Middle Ages, God the Father was sometimes ‘suggested’ by the symbol of:
§ The Hand of God, e.g. a fresco from the Church of Sant Climent de Taüll, Catalyuna, Spain, consecrated 1123. The hand reminds us that our God is a personal God, who reaches out his hand to us. He is represented here in a white circle of eternity, but God also breaks out of that eternity to bless us, three of the digits (two fingers and a thumb) draw close together hinting at the Father’s relation within the Blessed Trinity. The fingers of God’s hand break out of eternity and into our space. God is always going outside of Himself to meet us and to bring us blessings. God is the source of all blessing and consolation, the Father is the one “from whom all good things come”.
A modern version of this ‘Hand of God’ comes to us from:
§ The Hand of God, mosaic completed 2012, by the Centro Aletti,
Church of Beato Claudio, Chiampo, Italy. (www.centroaletti.com)
§ The stream of graces of God’s life (Divine life is represented by red) flows from God’s hand. From above the altar of this church directly down.
The Creed reminds us that we believe in God, the creator of Heaven and Earth
St Paul in his letter to the Romans says: “What can be known about God is plain… Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Romans 1:19-20)
Only 45 years ago, human beings on Apollo 8 first saw the earth as a whole, fragile planet in the immense, vast, black nothingness of the massively hostile vacuum of space. Wilderness photographer Galen Rowell called Earthrise “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken.
As the astronaut Frank Borman said: “I think the one overwhelming emotion that we had was when we saw the earth rising in the distance over the lunar landscape… it makes us realize that we all do exist on one small globe. For from 230,000 miles away it really is a small planet.” Amidst a Solar System of lifeless wastelands of fire and ice, storm-wrecked and barren-surfaced, stood this radiant Jewel, in stark contrast to “a vast, lonely, forbidding expanse of nothing.”
§ From the angle of their spacecraft the way the astronauts saw it is from a different angle to the way we have most often seen it
And on Christmas morning 1968 from mankind’s 9th orbit around another world, the astronauts celebrated by taking turns reading four lines each from the Bible during the fourth television transmission.
At lunch time, 1258 AEST on 25 December, Anders said: “We are now approaching lunar sunrise and, for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you. He read first with a sombre voice from the First Chapter of Genesis:
“In the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth…” followed by Lovell with, “…and God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night…,”
and Borman finished the reading with “…and God saw that it was good.” He then added, “And from the crew of Apollo 8 we close with Goodnight, Good Luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
A recording of this reading can be heard at:
[see Mission Day 5, Lunar Revolution 9]
RTE presenter Gay Byrne interviewed the late Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong in the National Concert Hall in Dublin in 2004 in which he asked the famous moonwalker if his experience of space has affected his belief in God. Armstrong replied along the following lines: when we were in orbit around the earth, the men in Houston said that when our space capsule was pointed in a particular precise direction that we were to fire our rocket thrusters for 14 seconds and that 30 odd hours later we would arrive in orbit around the moon. So at the appropriate time, when our capsule was pointing at the right number of degrees, we fired our rocket thrusters for 14 seconds and 30 plus hours later, there we were in orbit around the moon. That doesn’t happen by chance.” This order present and guiding the universe deeply moved him.
§ The Helix nebula, or NGC 7293, sometimes called the “Eye of God”, lies 650 light-years away in the constellation of Aquarius. In other words, when this photo was taken by the Hubble telescope, the light that started to travel towards us from this beautiful reality, and captured by Hubble in 1998 shone out in the universe around the same time as the Black Death Plague was striking terror across Europe.
This is a composite picture was taken from the Hubble telescope (c) NASA. www.nasa.gov
Something of the vastness of our Creator God is hinted at by the fact that the universe, the totality of existence as it is currently observable, is 93 billion light years wide.
+I believe in Lent 2013 +
Notes on Faith and Art as a way to explore the Apostles’ Creed
The second ‘strophe’ of the Apostles’ Creed focuses on the person
of Jesus Christ:
Let’s say this part of the Creed together:[I believe…] “in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day
he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand
of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge
the living and the dead.”
Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
§ The Annunciation, mosaic by the Centro Aletti, Church of Santa Chiara,
Pontificio Collegio Francese, (French College) Rome 2004. In many of the depictions of the Annunciation, in order to try and communicate the singular and overwhelming experience Mary had, artists traditionally present us with the Angel Gabriel greeting Mary and often a small dove overhead, representative of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven on a shaft of golden light. Here the artist, Fr Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ and his team in the Centro Aletti in Rome, have chosen not to show us any angel or dove, but simply Mary embracing a scroll of the Word of God. She makes of herself a place of deep welcome to Jesus the saving Word of God, “and the Word became flesh”. Her body is the point where the stony earth (mosaic) and the gold of heaven meet. Above her, she is ‘overshadowed’ by a red cloud of the Holy Spirit. This red of God’s Divinity can also be seen at the end of the Scroll. As she kneels in prayer, Mary is very still, totally attentive to the Word within her. She is the model for all of us, making of herself a place of deep welcome for the Word of God so as to bring the presence of Christ forth into the world.
§ Virgin of the Sign, 16th Century version of the 11th C Novrogod (Russian) School original. This an icon of Our Lady of the Sign – she is the fulfilment of the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 we hear in Advent, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
An icon is a particular type of image – it is not like a photograph. It is a ‘Visual Word’ which reveals the mysteries of the kind of relationship God wants to share with us. Mary is shown with her hands outstretched in prayer [what is known from very early on in the life of the Church as the ‘orans’ (praying) posture]. In the top left and top right of the picture we see lettering. Just as we use abbreviations when we are sending text messages on mobile phones, these too are abbreviations. (Greek lettering) MR for Mater (Mother) and TON for Theoon (of God). There are also more small abbreviations over Mary’s shoulders revealing the identity of the Son she is bearing within her: IC and XC – Jesus Christ. An Orthodox traditional hymn marvels at Mary: “He whom the entire universe could not contain was contained within your womb, O Theotokos (God-bearer)”.
Mary’s circular halo reminds us of her holiness. Her child has three bands in his halo which shows that He bears the holiness proper only to one of the three Persons of the Trinity. [Some people think that these bands are a kind of cross, but they in fact relate to the holiness of the Trinity.] More abbreviations can be seen in the Divine child’s halo – alluding to the Holy Name of God as revealed to Moses at the Burning Bush; “I AM WHO I AM” Exodus 3: 14. The Burning Bush is a symbol sometimes used for the Virginity of Mary: the Divine Son of God is born of her and yet her virginity is not consumed.
The Christ Child has his hand raised in blessing and his hand gives us further insight into his person – two fingers are raised together (reminding us of the two natures in Christ: true God and true man) and the other two fingers and thumb join together to make three (again to remind us of the Trinity). His other hand holds a scroll: He is the Living Word of God and our Teacher.
And Jesus Christ was ‘born of the Virgin Mary’,
§ Nativity. Centro Aletti, Cathedral of St Sebastian, (Military Ordinariate), Bratislava – Slovakia, 2011.
This version of the Nativity or Birth of the Christ child is in a baptismal side chapel of a church. Instead of being born in a manger, Christ is shown being born into a baptismal font (the ‘tomb and womb’ of the Church, where we are ‘buried’ with Christ in his death so as to rise to new life with Him). On the far left we can see the bright star of Bethlehem. Our Lady cradles her son’s head. St Joseph holds a branch sprouting from the stock of Jesse.
The Christ Child, the Light of the World is born into a dark cave – reminiscent of the tomb in which he will be laid after his death. Even the strips of cloth and swaddling clothes wrapped around him are like the burial garment. His death will conquer Death. As the Lord himself said to Pilate during his Passion: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world,” [John 19:37], to testify to the truth of God’s saving Love that goes to the end.
§ Christ ‘Pantocrator’ icon, (encaustic – wax and pigment on board) from the Monastery of St Catherine, Sinai, Egypt 6th or 7th Century.
This is one of the oldest icons of Christ in existence. The Greek word “Pantocrator” means ‘almighty’ but in the sense of One who is sustainer of all. Christ holds all things together.
Some of the earliest images of Jesus to be found in the catacombs of Rome are of an almost ‘Apollo’ type, a clean-shaven Good Shepherd. But sometime during the 3rd or 4th century, the face of Christ, especially as depicted in the East, took on a very definite form under the influence of an image of Christ said to be made “not by human hands”. As we see here: he is shown as a bearded man with a long ‘mop’ of hair brushed to either side over a strident forehead, his face engaging us full on, the right eyebrow slightly raised. Some say that the two natures of Christ as visible in this face: [in your mind’s eye, draw a dividing line down the middle of this face] the gentle mastery of his ‘humanity’ appears more on the left, the eye is soft and looking at us with compassion. On the right, this eye is much more penetrating, that of our Divine Judge, He can see into the very darkest places within us, He is One from whom nothing can be hidden. The right hand side of his mouth is terser, the curve of the moustache there is more rapidly downward than on the left. In this image are held in balance both our Compassionate Saviour and Divine Judge and Lord.
His throat is quite full – it is shown such as He is filled with the breath of the Holy Spirit. His right hand is raised in blessing as we saw earlier in The ‘Virgin of the Sign’ (three fingers – Trinity – two fingers – the dual nature of Christ, true God true man.)
In his hand he holds the precious (bejewelled) Book of the Gospels, through which we enter into intimacy with him. It appears as though the Gospel is actually part of his own Body – at one with his being. The Evangelist John explains the purpose of the Gospels, to bring us into saving relationship with Christ: “these (things) are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:31.
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
§ ‘The Golgotha of Jasna Gora in the Beginning of the 3rd Millennium’
1st Station – Jesus is condemned to death, Jerzy Duda Gracz (1941 – 2004) The Church of Jazna Gora, The Shrine of Czestachowa, Poland.
It is difficult to find a modern image of Pontius Pilate without tripping over something like Monty Python’s Michael Palin in ‘The Life of Brian’ – I keep returning to this one, from a stunning series of the Stations of the Cross by a former cartoonist Jerzy Duda Gracz.
§ Christ is shown as a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, wearing the crown of thorns and robe of mockery. He has been condemned by Pilate, who is about to have his hands washed by a fawning person somewhat like a Mrs Doyle figure from an episode of ‘Fr Ted’. In this instance, Pilate is a bishop of the Church, blindfolded, with a stick of a blind man, a “blind guide” [cf Matthew 23:16ff] like the Pharisees. All this is taking place in the glare of TV lights and microphones leaned in on booms and pushed in by shadowy characters from every angle looking for the latest condemnatory soundbyte. In the foreground we see weighing scales (the symbol of judgement – is that a box with 30 pieces of silver beside it?) and a Lamb that is tied up, ready for the slaughter. Christ is our Passover Lamb. Closest to Jesus, following him in his sorrow with their simple prayer book and lighted candle, are little people, those who are far from being involved in political machinations and the Machiavellian dynamics of media producers.
§ was crucified…
Batlló Majesty (Catalan: Batlló Majestat) 12th century wooden crucifix,
now in the National Art Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona.
This crucifixion is of Christ in Majesty, reigning as the King of Love on the Cross, wearing kingly and priest-like robes (of Divine red and earthly blue). He is very much alive. In the 1st millennium, the key message the Church proclaimed was that “Christ is truly Risen!” It could be argued that the key message of the Church in the 2nd millennium was that “Christ died for you!” We therefore became more accustomed to seeing images of a dead Christ hanging on the Cross, not a Living Christ reigning from the cross. [Think of the classic crucifixions of Grunewald and Velazquez.] § Perhaps in this 3rd millennium we will start to rediscover again the kerygma that “Christ is truly Risen”. Note again, how Christ’s face features a full beard and these two mops of hair swept to either side, his right hand again raised in blessing. He has made the tree of the Cross our tree of Victory, the source of eternal blessing for us.
§ ….died and was buried;
Milltown Priest (Fr Alec Reid anointing the body of Corporal David Howes, Andersonstown, Belfast) a photo by David Cairns, 19th March 1988.
This very moving photograph from our recent Irish history captures all too well the horror and brutality of a mob death. On 19th March 1988, in West Belfast, two young English soldiers drove into the funeral cortege of one of the IRA members shot dead some days earlier in Gibraltar by the SAS. They were dragged from their car by a mob, stripped, beaten savagely and executed on waste ground in Andersonstown. Running behind them and pleading with the mob to stop was Fr Alec Reid, a Redemptorist priest from Clonard Monastery, who in latter years played a crucial role in dialogues towards the peace process and the decommissioning of IRA weapons. He came across the body of Corporal David Howes, stretched out like Christ taken down from the Cross, anointed it and said prayers over him. “He was some poor mother’s son,” said Fr Reid to a TV reporter soon after. Did an onlooker on Calvary say that of Christ as he was taken down after his execution on the Cross?
§ Bibelgarten, by the artist Fr Sieger Köder (b 1931), Sieger Köder Zentrum, Rosenberg, Germany.
Fr Sieger Köder is well known to many people for his reflective paintings of Gospel scenes. Recently a centre for his artworks has been opened in Rosenberg, where he ministered as a priest for many years. At the heart of it is now a ‘Bible Garden’ in which you can walk. Here we see (in a photo taken last January) his depiction of the city of Jerusalem, on the right the afterglow of the sacrifice on Golgotha, below the tomb with the stone already rolled away, the suggestion of a dawning light on the horizon, and the shape of the Cross in the Centre is what breaks through the walls of the City – the Cross of Jesus is the “gap of graces” through which we have entry to the new and Eternal Jerusalem.
§ Holy Saturday, Fr Sieger Köder.
This is Fr Köder’s image of Holy Saturday, a day in which God appears to be dead, silent, inactive. And Fr Köder reminds us that even on this darkest and seemingly hopeless day, unknown to the devastated disciples locked in the Upper Room, God’s love is still at work. The brightness dawning through the gap at the top of the stone and the radiance shining from the bloodstained dead body of Christ hint that God’s Love will have the final say.
Some have described the current situation of the Church in Ireland as being in a state of “Holy Saturday” – a time when many are numb with grief at the awfulness of what has taken place in our midst, betrayal, denials, innocent suffering, when old Church structures have died, a rupturing of trust. But, even now, God’s love is still at work…
he descended into hell…
§ Descent to the Underworld, by the Centro Aletti, Church of the Ursuline Daughters of Mary Immaculate, Verona, Italy. 2006.
This aspect of Holy Saturday, the Descent of Jesus to the underworld to rescue Adam and Eve and take them by the hand to restore them, has always been very strong in the Churches of the East. In this mosaic it is presented as part of the same movement of the outpouring of Love that took place on the Cross. The ancient Homily that features in the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday morning captures it well:
“ Today there is a great silence over the earth… the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son…
And Christ … says to Adam: … ‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘for you, who left a garden, I was handed over … from a garden and crucified in a garden…. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life.”
§ The whole schema of moscaics in this chapel set forth this context: Christ on the Cross is on the Tree of Life – similar to the Tree of the Fall (left) in the Garden of Eden. Even Adam (left) bears resemblance to Christ the new Adam.
§ Then the love of Christ compels him to go to the lowest point of our human condition, he goes to the darkness to bring Adam and Eve home. Christ goes to find Adam and take him on his shoulders like the lost sheep. Christ comes to restore us. The wounds of the cross, the price of His Love to the end, are still visible on his glorified body.
§ Black Paintings, Mark Rothko, 1903 – 1970, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Circa 1964
Since the new translation of the Roman Missal came out in 2011, the Apostles’ Creed now reads that Christ “descended into hell”. Some people said they did not like the use of the word ‘hell’. Some said: we should never be using the word ‘hell’ in Church. Yet it remains true that many people are living in a daily hell of loneliness and depression, oppression, suffering, isolation and guilt. The 20th century was full of moments where humanity created hell on earth: the bunkers of Auschwitz, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Gulags of Stalin, the genocide in Rwanda, massacres in Kosovo, the famines in the horn of Africa. The Creed is telling us that the love of Christ comes even to these hells to redeem us. As Psalm 23:4 says: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me”
One of the artists of the 20th C who created art that strove to communicate his own grapple with interior darkness was the Expressionist artist, Mark Rothko. He painted what can be described as ‘fields of emotional colour’. Towards the end of his life he did a series of ‘Black paintings’, expressing the darkness of depression. Rothko even used different types of paint in this. Sometimes he used a shiny black where even in despair there is still some light reflected back out from the canvas. At even more bleak times, it seems Rothko chose to use a matt black that reflects back no light at all.
§ Victory over Death 2, Colin McCahon 1970, National Gallery of Australia.
Influenced by Mark Rothko was New Zealand artist, Colin McCahon, who in this painting transcribes two passages from the Gospel of John 11: 9-10 “Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” and 12: 27-30:
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say — ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.”
In this work the very being of Christ, the “I AM” of Jesus is the Light which dispels the darkness and not alone that but is even present (in the left hand side of the painting) as an “AM” present even within the darkness itself. Christ does not run away from our darkness. He enters it, is there with us and lights it up from within.
§ A fall of light illuminating darkness, Colin McCahon 1971, Private Collection.
We see this in another simple work by McCahon, where simply the “I” of Jesus, his being with us in our humanity, illumines the darkness, the hesitations, the fears and the doubts that encroach around us.
he rose again from the dead…
§ The Risen Christ, completed 2012, by the Centro Aletti, Church of Beato Claudio Chiampo, Italy.
§ (close-up) The Risen Christ walks towards us, He comes to meet us, he walks head on into our lives. Again we see Christ with the halo with three bands. His hand points heavenward. As the Risen Christ said to the first witness of the Resurrection, Mary of Magdala, “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”[John 20:17]. One of the fascinating things about the body of the Risen Christ is that he bears his wounds for all eternity. His glorified body is not ‘perfect’, he still bears the signs of the price of Love that he has paid to save us. Sometimes awful things happen to us that we wish we could forget. We want even the very remembrance of them to disappear and go away. But this is not what happens with the wounds of Christ. Instead, they become for us sources of grace. From his side flowed blood and water, John testifies [John 19:34-35], like at the moment of birth, the waters break, the blood flows and new life comes forth. So too, we are born to new life through Baptism and the Eucharist. §
he ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty…
§ Icon of the Ascension, from the Russian Orthodox Monastery of Pskov Pechery, after an original of the Novrogod School
After spending a while looking at this icon of the Ascension, you may begin to notice some strange things: who is at the centre of the disciples who look up as Jesus is taken from their sight? Mary is there. But she is not mentioned in the Gospel account of the Ascension. How many apostles are there? Twelve. But at that time there were only eleven after the death of Judas. The apostle to the right of Mary’s hand is clearly St Paul (we know this from his trademark high bald forehead and beard.) This is therefore not just a narrative of the Ascension but an image of the Church in the time post-Ascension.
§ In the top half, we see Christ receeding into heaven from the apostles above the Mount of Olives in a wheel like mandorla of glory [it strikes us as a very modern looking geometric form of wheel]. He is already enthroned – with his scroll of being Teacher, his hand raised in blessing. God goes up with shouts of joy, the Lord goes up with trumpet blast from the angels.
§ Below, the apostles are all staring up, each of them somewhat caught up in themselves, no one is looking at anyone else except: Mary. She is again shown in the Orans praying posture, she is totally still and looking at us. The bright clothing of the two angels frame her and make her presence all the more striking. The angels are saying: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:-11
As the Preface of the Ascension from the Missal tells us: “Mediator between God and man, judge of the world and Lord of hosts, he ascended, not to distance himself from our lowly state but that we, his members, might be confident of following where he, our Head and Founder, has gone before.”
Mary is the perfect image of the Church who trusts in this and remains rooted in the present in prayer.
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead…
§ Last Judgement, Tympanum over the doorway of the Abbey of La Madeleine, Vézelay, France, completed c. 1130.
This sculpted portal is above the main doorway of the Church. It sits there as a constant reminder to everyone each time they come to Church that we will all have to stand before the judgement seat of Christ. Christ is enthroned, surrounded by arcs of angels, prophets, patriarchs and saints. On his right hand are those “whom my Father has blessed”, on his left, those that are accursed. “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.” Matthew 25: 31-33ff.
§ On Christ’s right hand side: we see souls being entrusted to the care of the angels being brought to the Father’s House . Our Lady is directly under Christ’s hand, the two strange creatures (at Mary’s feet and above Christ’s arm) are symbols of two of the four Evangelists: Each carries a Book of their Gospel. The bull above is representative of Luke, the lion (looks a bit like an oversized pug – obvious that the artist had never seen a real lion!) is representative of Mark.
§ On Christ’s left hand side: the other two Evangelists (bottom and top left) the eagle for John and the Angel for Matthew. The souls are being weighed in the balance and are found wanting and are sent to be consumed by the fiery crocodilian jaws of death! (right hand side).
§ A detail of Descent to the Underworld, by the Centro Aletti, Church of the Ursuline Daughters of Mary Immaculate, Verona, Italy. 2006.
Christ looks at Adam… For me, this is a striking image of Christ’s judgement.
As the retired Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, Dr Dermot O’Mahony, once said of purgatory: it is the place where we pluck up enough courage to tell Christ absolutely everything about ourselves, our whole story… and only in the light shining from the face of the Risen Christ is it redeemed and will it ever make full sense to us. As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams wrote: “Face to face with Jesus, there and only there, do we find who we are…”[Rowan Williams, “The Dwelling of Light: Praying with Icons of Christ” (Canterbury Press, 2003)]
+I believe in Lent 2013 +
Notes on Faith and Art as a way to explore the Apostles’ Creed
Together we continue to explore images from art and photography that may give us ‘keys’ to enter deeper into the Apostles’ Creed – the fundamental symbol of the mysteries of our faith into which we are ‘soaked’ in our baptism.
Let’s say the third ‘strophe’ of the Apostles’ Creed together:
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church…
§ Pentecost, a page from the Hunterian Psalter, Glasgow University, circa 1170.
This image of Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, accurately recalls the description of those gathered in the Upper Room in Acts 1:13-14: the eleven remaining apostles and “All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.” Here too we see men and women, young and old, an image of the people of God calls together in the Church. Some of them are engaged with each other. Others look at us and one of their hands even breaks out into our space whilst their feet sneak out over the edges of the flooring: the outpouring of the Spirit is not reserved to these people alone – it breaks out into our lives.
Like the image of the Church post-Ascension in the icon of the Ascension we examined in part 2, Mary [with her hands outstretched in prayer] is at the heart and centre of those gathered and she faces us full on. She is the only one depicted with a halo and she receives a triple flame of the Spirit. Even her garment is red, suggesting how all the more she is clothed with this power from on high.
The artist has blended together two images of the descent of the Holy Spirit. We see a dove (as mentioned coming to rest on Jesus at his own baptism). But this is a fire breathing dove! The dove is also situated at the top of the underside of a ‘baldacchino,’ a canopy often found directly over the altar in older churches [think of Bernini’s baldacchino over the main altar of St Peter’s basilica].
The curve of the top of the baldacchino is suggestive of the curve of the heavens, the firmament from which power comes from on high. Often these baldacchinos feature a dove in the centre of the underside of the canopy to symbolise how this is the place where we invoke God’s spirit to consecrate the Eucharist for us (at the ‘epiclesis’) , God’s holy gifts for God’s holy people, the Eucharist that makes the Church. In the background we see a city – perhaps the City of God, the kingdom of God, the civilisation of love made by the Eucharist. The Holy Spirit is the agent of the kingdom of God among us.
§ Pentecost Doves, Trinity Episcopal Church, Bloomington, Indiana.
It’s all very well having the means or the good fortune to have a masterwork of art in your church, but what about those who only have very modest means and parish budgets, we may ask?
Here’s a delightful example of how an Episcopalian Church community created a ‘Pentecost installation’ in their church. They invited parishioners and schoolchildren to download a design for an origami dove from the internet, to fold it and bring it to their church.
§ Some 400 people did so, mainly in white and some in red and orange. And they were assembled together in a mobile which was hung in the chancel of their church, where the Holy Spirit is invoked. In the Eucharistic Prayer during Mass, the Holy Spirit is not alone invoked upon the gifts of bread and wine but also on those present. As we pray in the Third Eucharistic Prayer: “grant that we, who are nourished by the Body and Blood of your Son and filled with his Holy Spirit,
may become one body, one spirit in Christ.”
the communion of saints…
§ Starry night, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
This is a painting, familiar and dear to many of us, which always reminds me of two scripture passages: The Prophet Daniel 12: 3 where it speaks of the end times when: “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” And Philippians 2:15 in which Paul urges us to “shine like stars in the world.”
Vincent once wrote about admiring the writings of poet Walt Whitman and how “under the great starlit vault of heaven (there is) a something which after all one can only call God – and eternity in its place above the world.” [Letter #W8]. “Looking at the stars always makes me dream,” he wrote again, “as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map. Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots of the map of France?” [Letter 506].
Vincent gives each of the lights in his night sky a halo-like nimbus and the greater part of what we see here is not terrestrial life below but this celestial hemisphere. As he wrote in that same letter to his brother Theo: “Is the whole of life visible to us, or isn’t it rather that this side of death we only see one hemisphere?” [Letter 506].
The main thing bursting forth into this celestial reality is the funeral cypress tree – the tree of death (cypress trees are often grown beside graveyards because their roots grow straight down and not sideways into the graves).
The only other thing that Vincent shows as breaking the horizon into the radiant night sky is the spire of the local village church. In the pilgrim church on earth, we pray in communion with the saints in heaven.
§ Table of Universal Brotherhood, Jose Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), New School, University, New York. 1931
Sometimes, it is easier to show what something is not rather than what it is! Here, we see a fresco of eleven men gathered around a glowing ‘Table of Universal Brotherhood’ and yet they are the most un-united group of disparate human beings. They are obviously from different ‘tribes and peoples and Languages’ (Rev 7:9) but they have in no way achieved any brotherhood. They do not look at each other, they seem perhaps to be deliberately avoiding eye contact. There is a book open on the table before them. The table is like the four corners of the earth gathering all life to itself (somewhat like an altar). Indeed there is space for us at our side. And what is this book? Is it the Word of God? Is it the solution to finding brotherhood? For me, this image captures the impossibility of “the communion” of the human family by our own means alone – it is something only realised by the power of God.
§ Communion of Saints, Tapestries by John Nava, Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, Los Angeles, finished 2002.
In Los Angeles Cathedral, all along the congregation are these tapestries that feature the communion of saints, showing how (as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it: ) “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses”Heb 12:1
§ The Liturgy constantly reminds us in the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer: with the company of Angels and Saints, we sing the hymn of your praise, as without end we acclaim: Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts …[Preface of Ordinary Time IV].
§ These saints are all turned to face the altar where Christ the High priest leads us in our worship. Above them are names we may recognize: (centre panel: Justin, Margaret of Scotland, Louise de Maurillac…
§ Gregory the Great, Ambrose, Elizabeth of Hungary, Bernadette, Vincent de Paul and then in front of Bridget of Sweden, we have two young lads in contemporary dress (with runners and shorts). The artist got local people to pose for these saints and it makes it feel as though our place among them through the mercy of God is not so unattainable!
§ Christ the Good Shepherd with Saints, Centro Aletti, Irish College Chapel 2010.
This is an image familiar to all those who attended the 50th International Eucharistic Congress liturgies in the RDS, Dublin in June 2012. The IEC2012 Liturgy Committee took huge inspiration from this splendid mosaic in the chapel of the Irish College in Rome completed in 2010 by Fr Marko Ivan Rupnik and his team.
Christ is at the centre as our Good Shepherd (as the Gospel held in his hand proclaims: Ego sum Pastor Bonus – I am the Good Shepherd cf. John 10:11). Again his right hand is raised in blessing (three fingers – the Trinity, two fingers joined – the two natures of Christ: true God and true man) and his halo showing the holiness proper to a person of the Trinity. He is the one who leads us in all our liturgy (hence the presider’s chair beneath Him) . This golden vision of heaven is set in a curved apse end features Our Lady (with Knock basilica above her left hand) to one side of Jesus and John the Baptist on the other. Next to them are famous Irish saints.
§ On the left hand side: We can see Knock Basilica even more clearly. Next to Mary is St Patrick with his shamrock, Bishop’s attire and crozier. Beside him is St Columbanus, a monk and pilgrim for Christ, who holds a scroll of the Word of God which he preached in Europe. On the far left is Blessed Columba Marmion, once a Dublin Diocesan priest (he served in Dundrum parish) before he became a Benedictine monk, abbot of the monastery of Maredsous in Belgium and author of classics of 20th century spiritual literature.
§ On the right hand side of the mosaic we see John the Baptist whose whole being bows and points to Christ. Next to him in Cardinal’s red is St Oliver Plunkett who carries his palm of martyrdom. Beside Oliver is St Brigid (who looks quite like Our Lady in the previous slide as Brigid is known as the “Mary of the Gael”) Brigid was an abbess and wears her robes as a religious and carries her distinctive St Brigid’s cross. To Brigid’s right is someone with a palm of martyrdom but without a halo: this is Fr Ragheed Ganni, an Assyrian Chaldean Catholic priest and martyr. On June 3, 2007, Trinity Sunday, he was killed (aged 35) along with three subdeacons (including his cousin) in front of Mosul’s Holy Spirit Chaldean Church where he was parish priest and had just finished celebrating the Sunday evening Divine Liturgy (Mass). They were stopped by unknown armed men. One of the gunmen shouted at Fr. Ragheed that he had warned him to close the church and demanded to know why he didn’t do it. Fr Ragheed replied asking “How can I close the house of God?” He and his friends were shot down. Ragheed did much of his training in the Irish College and when he was newly ordained he celebrated his Mass of thanksgiving in that very chapel. The communion of saints is added to every day.
the forgiveness of sins,
§ John Paul II meets Memhmet Ali Agca, Vatican Photo, 27th December 1983.
It is difficult to find an image appropriate for the forgiveness of sins. Here Blessed John Paul II goes to prison to meet and forgive the man who two years earlier had tied to assassinate him in St Peter’s Square.
§ There is some interesting body language going on between the two of them.
§ In this picture in particular, it appears as though John Paul is uncomfortable (the way he holds his left hand against his side), even perhaps in a way reconnecting with the pain of what took place. As the brothers of the Taizé community once wrote: “There are wounds we do not forget. In certain tragic situations, the road to healing seems to involve becoming more deeply aware of the wrong done rather than forgetting. For the one who forgives, forgiveness is a struggle with one’s own anger. The passion we feel does not lead to a violent reaction but to an inner wrenching, to sacrificing one’s desire for justice in order to take a step towards the one who sinned.”
§ The power of John Paul’s gesture even lead to worldwide questioning: “Why forgive?” but Blessed John Paul did believe in the forgiveness of sins and in the necessity of the healing of memory. As CS Lewis wrote: “Forgiveness is a beautiful idea, until there is something to forgive…”
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting…
§ The Resurrection – Reunion, 1945, Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museum.
Some people giggle at this painting by Sir Stanley Spencer, who often painted Gospel scenes and events taking place in the setting of his own native village of Cookham, Berkshire, in southern England.
What I love about this version of the Resurrection is that is not alone Christ’s resurrection that the artist has chosen to show but our sharing in the resurrection of Christ, bodily, at the end of time and the artist too has focused on the overwhelming joy of the reunion that will take place. In his own local graveyard, people are rising from the dead as if from a long sleep, stretching and then embracing, dancing for joy, kissing, faces lit up by the joy of recognition on seeing their beloved ones in bodily flesh again.
§ Left hand side panel: In this graveyard, with recognisable iron surrounds, see what God is bringing about: at the bottom a man’s hands are raised gasping in wonder and joy at seeing his beloved rise while their little child stretches out to her mama. Above others are squatting like gymnasts as if to get their muscles used to bending again! Top right – a parent tenderly places her hand on a girl’s face as she too stretches and awkwardly grabs her ankles.
§ Centre panel: Here a group of similarly physically weighty figures are playing a kind of ‘ring-a-ring-a-rosy’ dance as others embrace (the white hankies could be cloths that once covered their faces at burial).
§ Right hand panel: Bottom centre: A couple who were once buried together in a grave marked by a heart-shaped headstone are reunited with a kiss. One gets the feeling that Stanley Spencer has included recognisable gravestones (and their iron supports) from Cookham. Families help each other to rise and (top left) almost hesitatingly reach out to gently touch the flesh of another, perhaps amazed: can this beauty be true? That God, in Christ’s Resurrection is making all things new and is taking death out of the world?
It is as Isaiah prophesied: “It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Is 25:9
§ Amen, We believe.
How to develop your own ?
‘Google’ allows you to search the web for images only. Under their ‘search tools’ you can choose to search for images of at least a medium or large size (better for reproduction on a large screen). Search by the artist’s name or by a phrase or combination of words.