The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross

WE'RE NOT AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS, but sitting in an armchair. We're not listening to the groans of the tortured, but to music. We're not looking at people disfigured by suffering, but at artworks in which the painters unveil their skills. From the outset, it's fitting to ask ourselves about this disjuncture in which such terrible horror transforms itself into the quiet joy called “Christian devotion.” Where are we, then, and what are we doing here? Are we not perhaps in the process of gentrifying the Gospel? Of reducing the cry of the Eternal One to some pious distraction? Kierkegaard, to name but one, never ceased warning of this danger. In an attempt to avert it, he formulated a severe condemnation of “Christian art”: “It's inconceivable to me how an assassin can sit and calmly sharpen the knife with which he will kill another man. But what I really cannot conceive of is how an artist can calmly sit down and wield his brush to paint the Crucified One....” Consequently, such an artist can be called a Judas handing Jesus over to the high priests like a good catch. The artist clearly doesn't seek to create accusers of Christ; he seeks to create “admirers.” But admirers are not imitators. So, Kierkegaard concludes, to admire without imitating is worse than to blaspheme, because that amounts to believing oneself a Christian when one is not. In my revolutionary youth, I found the radicalism of this Danish philosopher exhilarating. Today, beneath its apparent force, I perceive its weakness. On the one hand, Kierkegaard too was sitting in an armchair as he wrote, not hanging from a gibbet. His condemnation, were it valid, would then extend to all thought, to all theology, ending in a faith without works, since every work presupposes free, unnailed hands. On the other hand, this radicalism—these roots—only sink into the darkness of the earth in order to bear fruit in the light of day. 1, 3, 7 LAST WORDS, UNTIL OUR OWN 6