Jesus in Art and Literature
Excerpts from the Bible appearing in the margins are cited from the Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition (RSV–2CE). Citations from the Bible that appear during the course of the Prologue and in the commentaries on the works of art are given in the author’s version, which is often a freer rendering. The other citations, particularly of artists, were collected by the author over a lifetime. Whenever possible a currently verifiable reference is given. All the text blocks entitled In Art History are by Mario Choueiry. Revised Standard Version of the Bible—Second Catholic Edition (Ignatius Edition), copyright © 2006 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address Magnificat, PO Box 834, Yonkers, NY 10702. www.magnificat.com COVER : Christ Cima da Conegliano (ca. 1459–1517/1518) Oil on poplar wood, 13.6 x 10 in Dresden, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I wish to thank in particular: Jean de Saint-Chéron, the talented editor of the original French edition of this book, who patiently brought it to completion; Aude Mantoux, Marie-Amélie Clercant, and Claire Lemoine for kindly rereading and critiquing my texts; Isabelle Mascaras, for the quality of her iconographic research; Marine Bezou for the beautiful graphic design. And also: Maciej Leszczynski, Father Frédéric Curnier-Laroche, Fleur Nabert, and Sophie Mouquin, who kindly shared with me their way of looking at the masterpieces of Christian art; my father-in-law, the painter Gérard Ambroselli (1906–2000), who taught me to appreciate in works of art what makes them appreciable as works of art. Pierre-Marie Dumont The spiritual and theological positions presented in this book are primarily those of the artists who painted the works or the authors of the texts reproduced and not those of the authors of the book or the publisher.
Pierre-Marie Dumont WITH THE COLLABORATION OF MARIO CHOUEIRY PREFACE BY EDWART VIGNOT TRANSLATED BY MICHAEL J. MILLER Jesus in Art and Literature MAGNIFICAT Paris • New York • Oxford • Madrid
“Yes, I say my prayers when everything goes badly. You do, too, as you well know. We plunge into prayer and rediscover the atmosphere of our First Communion. You do this, too.” Henri Matisse to Picasso
Table of Contents 6 PREFACE: Jesus Christ in art 10 PROLOGUE: But who is this man Jesus? 19 Jesus prefigured 20 The origin of the world 24 The hand that speaks 28 Adam and Eve 32 The flood and Noah’s ark 37 The sacrifice of Isaac 40 The beloved son sold as a slave 42 The crossing of the Red Sea 47 The Ten Commandments 51 The prophet and the prostitute 52 The grandparents of God 54 The final prophet 57 A life of Jesus 58 The Annunciation 62 Behold, a virgin shall conceive 65 Visitation at sunset 67 Angels we have heard on high 70 For Christ is born of Mary 74 The three kings 79 Mary, the Mother of Jesus 82 Presentation of Jesus in the Temple 84 The flight into Egypt 88 The massacre of the Innocents 91 The Holy Family 94 Jesus and his father 96 “The fairest of the sons of men” 100 A little boy and his mother 105 Jesus at work with his father 107 The twelve-year-old Jesus, found in the Temple 108 Jesus is baptized 110 Jesus makes a retreat in the desert 115 Jesus calls the apostles 116 Jesus changes water into wine 120 Jesus reveals the secret of happiness 124 Jesus the Good Shepherd 127 Jesus and the Samaritan woman 128 The adulterous woman 132 The storm calmed 137 The lost sheep 138 Jesus and the children 142 Jesus restores sight to the blind men 144 The Good Samaritan 150 The Prodigal Son 154 Jesus transfigured 159 Jesus raises his friend Lazarus 165 Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph 166 Jesus shares his last meal 168 Jesus washes the feet of his companions at table 172 Jesus gives Communion to the disciple whom he loves 177 Jesus enters into his agony 178 Jesus is comforted by an angel 183 Jesus receives the kiss of Judas 188 Jesus is condemned to death 193 Christ at the pillar 195 Jesus is crowned with thorns 196 Here is the man! 200 The Lamb of God 205 Simon of Cyrene is forced to help Jesus 208 The Holy Face 212 Jesus dies, Jesus is dead 216 Jesus left hanging on the cross 221 The Sacred Heart of Jesus 222 Mary Magdalene, who loved dearly 226 Jesus rises from the dead 229 Easter morning at dawn 232 Along the way, Jesus explains the Bible 237 Jesus celebrates the first Mass 238 Doubting Thomas 242 Jesus passes from this world to his Father 247 The end of history 248 Jesus, the Savior of the world 252 Jesus sends the Paraclete 255 Jesus hidden in a mouthful of bread 258 Jesus hidden in his Church 263 Jesus hidden in his Word 264 Jesus hidden at the heart of our lives 268 The face of every human being, a face of God 272 Jesus hidden in every human being 277 Jesus will come again in glory 278 Humanity raised to the highest heavens 282 Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? 286 Art Credits 287 Credits and sources of the citations
6 JÉSUS IN ART AND LITERATURE In 1995, one of my very first jobs, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Strasbourg, was to tell the story of Jesus during the Christmas season to children aged five through seven, through four episodes from his life illustrated by works exhibited in its permanent collection. This visit, which never went over forty-five minutes, the maximum attention span that one could expect from such a young audience, invariably started with The Visitation, a small-size painting by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), followed by an exquisite Adoration of the Shepherds by Carlo Crivelli (ca. 1430/1435–ca. 1493/1500), then an immense Adoration of the Magi painted on canvas by Bartolomeo Biscaino (ca. 1632–ca. 1657), only to conclude with a delicate Flight into Egypt by Claude Gellée, also called Le Lorrain (1600–1682). Besides this simple yet evocative anecdote, what struck me at the time was to see how the figure of Jesus, his physical representation, had little importance, because all that mattered was the story. The Christ Child might have been chubby or skinny, and have had blond, brown, or even red hair, and that would not have affected at all the emotions felt by the viewers. To my great astonishment, this idea was reinforced one day when I asked a small group of children what strategy the painter Biscaino had found to make us recognize immediately the Child Jesus surrounded by his famous relatives and one of them exclaimed, “That’s easy: he has a light-bulb head!” After his initial surprise, by reflecting carefully on it, the very young spectator had immediately understood that that luminous halo symbolized in an incandescent way Christ’s holiness! Thus, from the oral traditions to the Scriptures and then to the literary texts, the image of Jesus was carried and formed by an enormous number of artists whose imaginations nourished each other, in order to design but also to produce these countless portraits and other emblematic scenes from the Savior’s life. After the fourth century a.d. the artistic representation of Christ often reflected idealized typologies; the result was an infinitesimal number of physiognomies, always close to an Oriental type, and historians today agree in describing the physique of these Christs as of a “Syro-Palestinian” type. Not until the Renaissance was the convention of a Caucasian type of Jesus Christ established, which today we would even describe as “European.” Jesus in art EDWART VIGNOT PREFACE Clirist'
7 What a delicate mission it is to give an image of Christ! How ambitious! How can anyone depict God? God made man, yes, but God after all. Our Jewish brethren, and also Muslims, took a path without icons: God cannot be depicted, therefore he must not be. This question is posed in different terms for Christians who adore an incarnate God. By this very incarnation, doesn’t God give us an image of himself? What are we to do, then, about the Second Commandment of the Decalogue, uttered twice in the Old Testament? You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth (Ex 20:4; Dt 5:8). These questions legitimately perturbed the theorists of the first era of Christianity. A painted or sculpted image was in effect an aid to devotion and an essential instructional tool for the early Christian communities even before the establishment of written sources, which for a long time would remain difficult for most believers to access. The image was also a valuable vehicle for spreading this new faith. Before depicting Christ under his human appearance, artists drew his name in the form of a fish, ichthus, a Greek acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Very soon the first Christian iconographic sources were devoted to the figure of Christ, the heart of the Gospel message. Nevertheless, artists represented Christ and not the life of Christ. He is shown as a philosopher, clothed in a toga, without any particular scenery, or as the Good Shepherd. This approach, which focused above all on the human nature of Jesus Christ, did not prevent the emergence of depictions of Christ the Pantocrator, in other words, Christ in glory, in Byzantine mosaics. The emphasis is then on the divine nature of Christ, represented in his glorified body. As the iconography budded spontaneously, the new developments would quickly be called into question and their legitimacy would be debated. The violence of the iconoclastic quarrel that perturbed the Byzantine Empire starting in the year 726 testifies to the crucial matter at stake in this question. The very existence of depictions of God-made-man gave rise to confrontations between Christians within the Eastern Roman Empire. The iconodules, who advocated the depiction of the divinity, were opposed by the iconoclasts, who condemned it. The century was scarred by the repeated destruction of images and by successive and reciprocal persecutions. The question was partly resolved during the Second Council of Nicaea in 787, which reestablished the devotional use of images and officially authorized the veneration of sacred images. Until around the 13th century, artists developed the image of a powerful, triumphant Christ, whose face is calm even on the cross. Then works appeared that let the faithful see the image of a suffering, emaciated Christ on the cross, his body deformed by the ill treatment of the Passion. The humanity of the Son of God takes flesh in human weaknesses, in our fears and sufferings. His face, lowered, sometimes goes so far as to take on the appearance of a death mask. These
8 JÉSUS IN ART AND LITERATURE works echo a medieval theological sensibility, in which questions of death and suffering occupy a central place. The Renaissance that came from Italy transposed ancient settings and physical rules into religious scenes. The development of this profane beauty impassioned artists, perhaps to the point of exceeding the bounds of devotion and losing itself in aesthetic delight. Indeed, in the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation again posed the question about graphic representations of the Divine Persons and about their role in popular piety. The use of images clashed, once more, with accusations of idolatry. This produced great distrust of images, particularly of divine representations which were thought to encourage superstition. The Church made a new pronouncement on this thorny subject during the Council of Trent, which was convened in 1545. The assembled bishops affirmed that one can “draw great benefit” from the “legitimate use of images” that can “instruct and strengthen the people in the articles of faith” and be “useful to uninstructed people.” This didactic role of the image also concerned the depiction of Christ. Consequently, complete freedom was given to artists and to those who commissioned them to produce painted or sculpted images representing Christ, the saints, and the Blessed Virgin, whose cult had just been reaffirmed. This explains the multiplication, from the late 16th century on, of depictions of the Christ Child on his Mother’s knees: Nativity, Adoration of the Magi or of the Shepherds, Holy Family, Virgin with Child, Rest during the Flight into Egypt. From the four canonical Gospel artists took episodes from the life of Christ, sometimes supplemented by accounts from the apocryphal gospels, which have the peculiar feature of emphasizing the childhood of Christ and feed one stream of the Christian imagination. We owe to them, for example, the presence of the ox and the ass that warm the Infant Christ with their breath in Nativity scenes. These iconographic sources are combined of course with the artist’s own inventiveness and the patron’s preference. This turbulent history can be glimpsed through the depictions of Christ that centuries of art history have made available to us. They are legion and are reproduced in all mediums. Mosaics, paintings, sculptures, engravings, and stained-glass windows, from the first eras of Christianity down to the present, though uniformly material, suggest the many subtle tones of the human vision of an incarnate God. These images of Christ, whether he is powerful, suffering, or a child, carry believers and non-believers into the depths of an intimate reflection. They are also the historical testimony of more than twenty centuries of artistic creation relying on the biblical account. The Church, the chief patron of artists and a powerful one, thus assured the vivacity of Christ’s image; its permanence did not keep it from being reimagined perpetually. Our contemporary society has a bulimic relation to images; they can sometimes tire our eyes or blunt our ability to admire them. This in no way detracts, I think, from the power of these images. This book collects an admirable florilegium of them. The Carrying of the Cross El Greco (1541–1614) Ca. 1602 Oil on canvas, 42.5 x 31 in Madrid, Prado Museum
10 JÉSUS IN ART AND LITERATURE But who is this man, Jesus? PIERRE-MARIE DUMONT “In art, only one thing has worth: what cannot be explained.” Georges Braque PROLOGUE 1
11 In our culture, for almost twenty centuries, the principle subject and motif chosen by artists and writers has indisputably been a Jewish prophet named Jesus of Nazareth (referring to his geographical origin). He was the founder of Christianity, and believers prefer to call him Jesus Christ to signify the divine mission of the Savior of the world, which he claimed as his own. The “life” and the message of this Jesus have been handed down to us mainly by four distinct accounts collected under the name of the Gospels. The great geniuses whose masterpieces this book presents for your admiration had a deep, even intimate knowledge of the Gospels. Moreover, most of them faithfully practiced the Christian religion and maintained with this historical personage a relation of veneration and love. In our post-modern era, knowledge about Jesus and his message has generally become superficial, or insignificant. It seems necessary therefore to revisit rapidly his “story,” his deeds, and the essentials of his teaching before getting to the mysteries that the artworks reproduced in this book present for our contemplation. Jesus was born around the year 6 before the Common Era1 in the heart of the Greco-Roman Orient, specifically in the kingdom of Judea, during the reign of Herod I, called the Great. At that time, Herod was nearing the end of a brilliant reign that had started around thirty years earlier. He suffered from an incurable ailment that would soon carry him off. The question about his succession obsessed him, and he strove to frustrate intrigues and plots, real or imagined, hatched by those close to him. His work left its mark on his era: did he not go so far as to restore the Olympic Games that had fallen into disuse, so as to be named their president for life? As a stern, sensible monarch, and often at the expense of sacrificing some subjects of his kingdom, he contributed decisively to the passage of the land of the Jewish nation to Greco-Romanmodernity. Its language and administration had become Greek, and many new or rebuilt towns rivaled the Hellenic cities in splendor: paved roads for communication, porticos and aqueducts, theaters and palaces, hippodromes and circuses, even amphitheaters testified to an accelerated transition to the pagan civilization. The Roman Empire, ruled then by Augustus, appreciated the unfailing “friendship” of Herod the Great. The Jewishmemory of him preserves above all the image of the one who rebuilt the grandiose Temple in Jerusalem, their ancestral capital, which then performed the duties of the royal shrine. According to the Gospel accounts, this was the context in which Mary, the wife of Joseph, brought into the world her first-born son in Bethlehem, in Judea, a few kilometers south of Jerusalem. Following the Jewish tradition, eight days later, on the occasion of his circumcision, his parents gave the newborn the name of Jesus, Yéshûâ inAramaic (the local Semitic language), which means “God saves.” After a short exile imposed by the persecutions of Herod, which the Gospel situates in Egypt, Joseph and Mary returned to live in northern Palestine, in Nazareth of Galilee, their town of origin. The unassuming market town is located six kilometers from the mighty, sumptuous Sepphoris which Herod Antipas, succeeding his father in a.d. 4, had decided to rebuild so as to make it his first capital. Thus the child Jesus would be an eyewitness to how this second-generation Herod pursued his father’s policy of openness to the GrecoRoman culture. We know little about the acts and deeds of the child Jesus. He followed the developments of growing up like all other children. In a land imbued with the Greek, so-called “Hellenistic” culture, he was raised according to the traditions of the popular Jewish milieu to which he belonged, which nourished him with the ancestral sap of his family tree. 1 Our era, also referred to as “A.D.,” anno Domini, “the year of Our Lord,” begins on the presumed date of Jesus’ birth, as it was fixed, with accuracy to within a few years, by a learned monk in the 6th century. Today historians date the birth of Jesus somewhere between the year 9 and the year 3 b.c.
12 JÉSUS IN ART AND LITERATURE 2 “Scripture” or “the Scriptures” designate for the Jews and on the lips of Jesus himself “the Law and the Prophets,” in other words, the set of books of Jewish traditions reputed to have been inspired by God. Composed by human beings, these books reveal that history has a direction and a meaning: this is Revelation. This meaning would be defined by the Covenant between God’s plan and human freedom. When Christians added the books of the New Testament to this corpus, which from then on was called the Old Testament, they constituted the Bible, usually called “Sacred Scripture.” 3 For the Jews, the Torah, the Law, is not only the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) but the entirety of the first five books that would make up the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Thus the Torah collects not only hundreds of laws and commandments, but also historical accounts that make up the inspired history of the Covenant between God and his people, Israel. 4 Name of the “chosen people” made up of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which they kept until around the sixth century b.c. Then others started to call them “the Jewish people.” Most certainly the young Jesus attended the regular assemblies that were held in the family circles and in the synagogues, where the people prayed, chanted the psalms, read, and commented on the Scriptures.2 His future talents as a preacher and his profound knowledge of the Torah,3 the prophetic books, and the wisdom literature may suggest that he received instruction from the reputable scribes and masters, who were well-versed in the subtle debates about Scripture. However, the Gospel accounts, reporting the words of the firsthand witnesses of his childhood, lead us to suppose rather that this was not the case: Where did this man learn all this? Where does his knowledge come from? they exclaimed in astonishment (Mk 13:54). AT THE AGE OF THIRTY, JESUS LEFT HIS CARPENTER’S SHOP Having reached his full maturity, around the age of thirty, Jesus left both Galilee and the carpenter’s shop that he had taken over fromhis father, so as towithdraw to the desert of Judea. Many ascetics had gone there before him, and some were living in communities near the western shores of the Dead Sea. Further to the north, on the bank of the Jordan, Jesus found a renownedpreacher, his cousin John, nicknamed the Baptist, who repeated the warnings of the great prophets of Israel and proclaimed the imminent coming of the kingdom of God, “the kingdom of heaven.” John practiced an unheard-of ritual of individual baptism, administered as a sign of cleansing from sin to anyone who had resolved to make a radical conversion of life by way of repentance. For Jesus, the desert experience did not stop there. In the same spirit as the “crossing of the desert” accomplished by the Hebrews4—his ancestors liberated from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses, whose wanderings lasted for forty years before they entered into the Promised Land—he stayed there for forty days, praying and fasting. He alsowent through a series of trials thatmade himendure the sum total of human temptations in a moving combat against all the forces of evil mobilized against him in the name of Satan, the “devil” or the “tempter.” Foreseeing the end of his power over humanity because one man brushed off all his seductions, the tempter finally retreated so as to prepare the final battle, this one to the death, with authority over the world at stake. At the conclusion of his retreat in the desert, Jesus returned to Galilee. Definitively setting aside his professional tasks, he gathered a few disciples and started to travel through the region, preaching “the Gospel of God” (evaggelion in Greek, in other words, “Good News”). Speaking to audiences that soon grew as his reputation spread, he developed the major theme of the kingdom of heaven; John the Baptist, his precursor, had correctly grasped its pivotal function. Jesus, for his part, no longer spoke of imminence but of actual presence: “The kingdom of heaven is in your midst,” he repeated wherever he went. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they shall conquer the earth. Blessed are the sorrowing, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are those who forgive, for they shall be forgiven. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. With this proclamation (cf. Mt 5:3-12), in which all is paradox yet there is no contradiction, Jesus opened a programmatic discourse addressed to an immense crowd that had flocked to him from all parts to this high place in Galilee. The building up of the kingdom of heaven advocated by Jesus is fundamentally interior. In order to change the world, it must first take place in the heart of man, on the ruins of everything that causes his unhappiness: the desire for riches, power, and pleasure, with their corollaries: theft, deceit, injustice, violence, murder. “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the law of sin that drags
13 PROLOGUE me down into death?” (cf. Rom 7:24), we cry to heaven! “Blessed are you,” Jesus responds. In order to make all humanity share in this promised happiness, he does not only lay down precepts, the fulfillment of whichwould suffice tomake aman righteous. He comes to change hearts, not the Law. Jesus limited his travels at first to a territory marked out by three towns: Nazareth, Nain, and Cana. Then he headed east, reaching the western shores of the Sea of Galilee, or the Lake of Gennesaret, and made Capernaum, at the far north, the base fromwhich he set out unceasingly. The lake, called “of Tiberias” after Herod Antipas made the city of Tiberias his new capital, was attractive. It was easy to cross by boat, giving access to the eastern shores which had been won over to the pagan culture and morals; Jesus did not hesitate to venture even there. Within the limits of this expanded triangle, with its opening toward the lake, Jesus called to follow him the men whom he soon chose as his twelve apostles (apostolos, “envoys” in Greek), whom he would describe also as diakonos, “servants.” These men, of very different ages and social backgrounds, would be his close companions and his accredited collaborators for three years, then the missionaries of the Gospel and “the servants of the servants of God” until the end of their lives. Besides the apostles, an important group of disciples, including both men and women, followed him, in particular providing for his needs. Gradually a genuine brotherhood was organized, which very soon was affiliated with a new movement within the Jewish people, causing enthusiasm and admiration among many, irritation and hostility in others. COMPANION OF DRUNKARDS AND GLUTTONS Surrounded or preceded by his disciples, Jesus soon extended his mission field; for long months, starting from Galilee, he would take the major roads running from east to west and back. These routes ended at the Mediterranean ports, Tyre among others, in the far north, where he stayed. They also led, east of the Jordan, to the Greek cities of Caesarea Philippi, of Syria, and of the Decapolis (a network of ten towns), among other areas. Foreigners themselves, whether Greco-Roman or oriental, took these roads, on which the use of Greek was often required. Jesus traveled therefore in the same way as the merchants, the businessmen, and the idea-mongers did. He went far, as much as nearly two hundred miles, in all directions. In all these places his teaching penetrated like a powerful seed, and his community—for there really was a community—spread. The many “signs”—often described as miraculous— that Jesus performed enhanced his reputation as a wonder-worker with versatile gifts. And so he was welcomed as one of those “divine men,” itinerant magicians or inspired prophets, figures that were not foreign to the eastern Mediterranean populations of that time. Despite all that, as soon as the contemporaries of Jesus were confronted with him, directly as hearers of his words and witnesses of his works, it seems that they lost their bearings. For the Jesus who was revealing himself in surprising ways was unlike the models previously experienced or foretold. Those who expected a mortified ascetic discovered a man who enjoyed the good things in life and was denounced as a companion of drunkards and gluttons (Lk 7:34); those who expected an exemplar of purity discovered a friend of publicans [collectors of the Roman tax and therefore very unpopular] and sinners (Mt 11:19); those who expected a scrupulous interpreter of the Mosaic Law discovered an observant believer who nonetheless could behave as a scandalous transgressor, going so far as to teach that the Law is made for man, and not man for the Law (cf. Mk 2:27); those who expected a spiritual master discovered an inspired guide who nevertheless refused to manipulate his disciples in any way; those who expected a royal Messiah called to reign and to kick the pagan invader out of the land of Israel discovered a meek and humble servant (Mt 11:29) reluctant to take power over others. His adversaries, who were recruited mainly from among the religious authorities and the Jewish leaders, took every opportunity to prove that this man had to be either an imposter or possessed by a demon. But the people continued to follow Jesus in a crowd that increased in number every day. For no man ever spoke like this man (Jn 7:46). The four Gospel accounts agree in presenting a charisma emanating from Jesus that was more than human yet capable of touching hearts.
14 JÉSUS IN ART AND LITERATURE After three years of fruitful preaching, Jesus left Galilee and the surrounding areas to go to Judea. He knew Judea and Jerusalem, its religious capital, with its Temple and its pilgrimages. He had family and friends there, particularly Lazarus, whomhe raised from the dead, as the Gospel relates. FromGalilee, regular incursions ledhimtoward the province that was now governed directly by Rome. Two authorities— administrative and religious—were exercised there in two distinct capitals, Caesarea and Jerusalem respectively. Since the year 26, the Roman governor, called the “procurator” or “prefect,” had been Pontius Pilate. He resided in Caesarea, a new city that Herod the Great had ordered built on the Mediterranean to rival the Athenian port of Piraeus. All the military, administrative, and cultural services were located there, and of course the games. Jerusalem, for its part, with its Temple, was the city of the high priest and the priestly profession, and also of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish authority for official studies of the Scriptures and debates on the Law; in short, it was the institutional center responsible for the smooth running of the wheels of the Jewish social and religious system that Christians would later designate by the name “Judaism.” Jerusalem was also the focal point for Jews who flocked from all Palestine and the diaspora during the major feasts—which sometimes became turbulent. In Judea, there was no lack of conflicts, and most often they were severely repressed. The balance of the two powers was not automatic, but it was firmly maintained. IS JESUS “THE MESSIAH”? These are the complex circumstances in which Jesus appeared in Judea, accompanied by his apostles. He was preceded by a solid reputation of being a highly successful leader. The proclamation of the coming of the kingdom of heavenwas always the point of his teaching. It was not neutral with regard to the two coexisting authorities. Among the Jewish leaders principally—since the Roman authority intervened only in cases of serious disturbances—suspicion would develop into opposition and then into hostility. It must be noted that the moral doctrine advocated by Jesus, as an accomplishment of the prophetic texts of Scripture, drew positive lessons from the fact that the political jurisdiction of the national land was under foreign domination. This situation had value as a parable. The innovative message of Jesus tolerated the distinction of roles between God on the one hand and Caesar on the other, with their respective rights. Jesus’ message was universal, insofar as he addressed every conscience, starting of course with the conscience of each member of the Jewish people, but without making that group exclusive or even privileged. Thus Jesus was, in fact, a serious competitor of the Pharisees, influential promoters of a doctrine elaborated for the Jewish people considered as a holy, sovereign entity. For these Pharisees, the practice of interpreting the Scriptures, traditionally the prerogative of the priests in Jerusalem, must expand everywhere, into the residence of every subject of the Mosaic Law. The necessary act of sanctification becomes possible far from the Temple and without the priests, since every family table purified according to the rules has a function analogous to that of the altar of sacrifices. Inmany of its aspects, the “new and eternal” Law that Jesus proposed coincided with this ideal. But it also surpassed it, being open to all human beings, wherever they are and whatever they are; and it raises it to the highest power by setting as its criterion not external attitudes that are often marked by hypocrisy, but the disposition to love in deed and in truth (1 Jn 3:18). Another factor worked against Jesus: the ever stronger influence that he had on the crowds and, far more importantly, the character of it. They were inclined to acknowledge himas theMessiah, the descendant of King David who would liberate Israel from pagan occupation, as many hoped. According to the Gospel accounts, the titles “Messiah” and “son of David” were proclaimed repeatedly in the presence of Jesus or in reference to him. This fame gave rise to demonstrations of enthusiasm on the occasion of major religious feasts, in Jerusalem and its environs, but also to controversies that were sometimes vehement. Within Jewish society under Roman occupation, the expectation of the Messiah was most often imprecise, hesitant, and timid. Around Jesus it assumed a resolute, full, and dynamic form. The people who had been edified by Jesus found themselves increasingly won over by the idea that he personally combined all the so-called messianic virtues. In Greek, messias, in other words, “one consecrated
15 PROLOGUE by the divine anointing,” is pronounced christos, “Christ,” and the term “messianic,” christianos, would soon mean “Christian.” Wasn’t the multitude of men and women who acclaimed Jesus in this way already, in potency, the “Christian” community? Except in the secrecy of one particular conversation, Jesus nevertheless avoided declaring that he was the Messiah, a term that would signify too restrictively “messiah of Israel.” His attitude as well as his formulations, in his prayers and even more in his unfathomable mystical experiences, started to make it evident that everything was at work for him in the altogether unique character of his filial relation to God. Our Father: so begins the prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples. These two affectionate words addressed to God have transformed humanity. The Jewish people had long since glimpsed the fact that God is Father for all human beings; although often demanding and terrible (Dt 7:21), isn’t God also slow to anger and full of love (Ex 34:6)? But the “sons of Israel” jealously claimed God’s tenderness as theirs exclusively, and they would have been afraid to demean the Almighty by addressing him with the confident familiarity of a child who knows that his father is nothing but love, because he has experienced it. Jesus, for his part, addressed God as “Father,” Abba in Aramaic. Claiming to be so close to God the Father as to be one with him (Jn 10:30), thus declaring himself the only-begotten Son of the Father (cf. Jn 1:18), Jesus invited all men and all women of all times to recognize that they were his brothers and his sisters so that through him, with him, and in him, they might address God in truth by calling him “Our Father.” With this end in view, the three Gospels according to Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, and Saint Luke, as well as a letter by Saint Paul, report that on the eve of his death, Jesus gathered his disciples to have a Last Supper with them in the Cenacle. During this meal he offered them the opportunity to become in some way members of his body. Taking bread, he broke it and distributed it to them saying: “This is my body which will be given up for you” (cf. Lk 22:19). And taking the cup of wine, he shared it with them saying: “This is my blood, which will be poured out for the multitude” (Mt 26:28). Then, according to the fourth Gospel, at the end of the meal, Jesus entrusted to them his testament: My little children, I give to you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.... If you love me, you will keep my commandments.... He who loves me will be loved by my Father, And we will come to him and make our home with him. (Jn 13:33-34; 14:15-23) Christ’s disciples are called to recite and to live the Our Father and to put into practice the new commandment; from this will arise a community of brothers and sisters, the “assembly” (in Greek ekkle-sia, “Church”) of the “children of God,” who are recognized as such not by their human descent, nor by their membership in an ethnic group, but because they are truly born of God through Jesus, with him, and in him. This grace of a new and everlasting divine filiation [sonship] for all human beings is addressed first and naturally to the Jews, the heirs of the primordial promise made to Abraham. Would they agree to make up the original nucleus of this nascent people who from then on would be the authentic people of God? And would they acknowledge in Jesus the prophet of the new times, appointed directly by God as his only Son, having come into history to bring the grace of salvation to the multitude of people, with no distinction as to sex, origin, race, or social status, nor of personal abilities and faculties? LIABLE TO THE DEATH PENALTY Here, now, we see that the call of Jesus would be received by the authorities of the Jewish people as a challenge, and the gratuitous gift—as a provocation. Grace, which is meant to be offered as the most authentic and long-awaited ratification of the divine election claimed by Israel, would be understood as an attempt to dispossess them of a heritage that they had already received. Then, Jesus’ pretention to divinity appeared as the worst of blasphemies, liable to the death penalty. When Jesus was in Jerusalem for the yearly feast of the Passover, some of the religious dignitaries and Jewish leaders seized the occasion to coordinate a campaign against
16 JÉSUS IN ART AND LITERATURE 5 A probable date. Historians situate the death of Jesus between 26 and 36. 6 Passover is the Jewish feast commemorating the divine establishment of the people of the Covenant at the time of their liberation from slavery in Egypt and their passage through the Red Sea toward the Promised Land. For Christians, Passover prefigures the feast of Easter, in which the risen Jesus passed from death to life, opening for all humanity the way to eternal life. him. Exploiting as many grievances against him as they could and cleverly taking advantage of the complexity of the political situation, they would ask the supreme jurisdiction of the Roman occupying force to punish him for being a troublemaker, a potential conspirator against the authority of the Emperor in Rome. Jesus was judged swiftly. The procurator, Pontius Pilate, the only official authorized to make such life-or-death decisions, confirmed the death penalty for the man who was ironically pointed out to him as a pretender to be the king of the Jews. At that time, fugitive slaves, soldiers who had deserted, and criminals who were not Roman citizens were often condemned to be fastened to a cross in view of everyone so as to die there slowly of asphyxiation in the most unspeakable sufferings. This extremely cruel pillory was meant to serve as an object lesson, and it was a familiar spectacle then even for the Jews. More than a century earlier, the high priest of Israel himself, Alexander Jannaeus, had resorted to it to put down the major rebellion of the Pharisees against him for taking the title of King of Judea; he had several hundred Jews, his co-religionists, crucified. Sentenced to death, Jesus was denied and abandoned by his disciples, particularly by the apostles who had shared his life for three years. Terrorized by the prospect of suffering the same fate as their Lord, they were discouraged because of the evident failure of his promise of a kingdom, which they had believed so firmly, however, that they had left everything to follow him. Only his mother, Mary, two of his aunts, Mary of Cleophas and Mary Salome, Mary Magdalene, and the one whom the Gospel according to Saint John calls “the disciple whom Jesus loved” accompanied him to the place of execution, a hill called Golgotha (“place of the skull,” or “Calvary”), located within plain view of the entrance to Jerusalem. There, at around noon, on the eve of the feast of Passover in the year 33,5 Jesus was nailed naked to the wood of the cross. At three o’clock, sated with sufferings and humiliations, he gave up his spirit. That same evening, his mortal remains were placed in a tomb, after being embalmed and covered with a shroud according to the Jewish custom observed at that time. Having managed in time to escape lynching, the disciples of Jesus now had only one thought in mind: to be forgotten while waiting for the affair to settle down. Many had already left to return to Galilee. The only ones still hiding in Jerusalem were the appointed deputies of the Crucified, who were liable to be pursued as his notorious accomplices. According to the Gospel accounts, at dawn on the Sunday following the feast of Passover,6 the tomb of Jesus was found open and empty by three of the women who had accompanied him to his death. “Passover” means “passage”: very quickly the death of Jesus was understood by his disciples as a passage. The tomb was found empty: wasn’t this emptiness a space opening onto a new life, beyond death? The disciple whom Jesus loved, who had remained faithful to the end, was confronted with the empty tomb, where there was nothing to see: He saw and he believed, the Gospel according to Saint John states paradoxically (Jn 20:8). Standingby the tomb alsowasMaryMagdalene. She thought she saw a gardener, but when he spoke, she recognized the voice of Jesus calling her by her first name: “Mary.” She threw herself down at his feet and tried to embrace him: Noli me tangere, “Do not touch me,” Jesus says in response to her lunge toward him: the absence of his cadaver opens onto infinity and expresses his very real bodily presence, but under another form, with another untouchable, ungraspable, inconceivable nature; and yet still his own body, which the heart of Mary Magdalene recognized as the real, personal presence of her beloved Master. DEATH IS ONLY A PASSAGE On that same evening and over the course of the following days, other disciples too said that Jesus, “alive again,” had appeared to them, spoken to them, and even eaten with them. But they also testified that upon meeting him, no one had recognized him at first. And behold, fifty days after the death of Jesus, on the day of the feast of Pentecost, his apostles, having regained their assurance, dared to go out in broad daylight to address the crowd, proclaiming: “You Israelites, listen: You had this Jesus killed by nailing him to a cross, but God raised him up, and we are his witnesses” (Acts 2:22, 32). They were soon arrested and hauled before the same Jewish authorities who had
17 PROLOGUE 7 André Paul, Croire aujourd’hui dans la résurrection (Paris: Salvator: 2016). The present prologue also owes much to the book by the same author, Jésus Christ, la rupture: Essai sur la naissance du christianisme (Paris: Bayard, 2001). 8 This word refers not only to a reality inaccessible to human knowledge, but also to infinite realities that are the essential component of the human being, what he tends toward, what he is ordered to, his reason for being. Every human person is therefore open to the mysteries and is himself or herself a mystery. condemned Jesus to death. But now they feared nothing. When they were released, they would never cease proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, despite the persecutions against them. Between five and thirty years after that, they would all be tortured and die, without ever having wavered in their testimony. Thus the truth—“tobebelieved”—about theResurrection of Jesus appears to be settled fromthe very origin of Christian preaching. Twenty years later (around 55), the apostle Paul—a leading Phariseewho had converted—wrote to the Christians in Corinth, who were already very numerous: “For I delivered to you what I myself received, that Christ died and that he was raised on the third day” (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-4). And he added: “If Christ has not been raised, our faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14). Fundamentally, the teaching of Jesus about the meaning of human life is intelligible only from the perspective of death which is merely a passage to life regained, welling up abundantly in an infinite space. According to Jesus, every human being, together with his body and everything that constitutes the proper identity of his person, is destined, after death, to infinitely augmented conditions of life and existence, under new forms that are inconceivable to us because they are divine. For Jesus, death is the supreme baptism, the passage toward a rebirth. The earthly existence, teaching, and passion of Jesus are facts that the historian can claim tomanage to reconstitute to a great extent, with more or less accuracy, of course. The Resurrection is a historical event that belongs to the truth of the faith, which is a subjective act of adherence. “And the faith would not be faith if someone succeeded in ’proving’ that it speaks accurately rather than that it ’sees’ the truth. For faith has eyes before it has words, and its words emanate from its eyes.”7 The Resurrection of Jesus, and consequently the resurrection of every human being, is the inexhaustible challenge that unceasingly rings out when the question is asked: “But who was that man, then?” THE REASON FOR BEING OF EACH ONE OF US The Gospels are not works by historians, in the modern sense of the term. However, in many respects, they can be likened to the classical vitae, “biographies” according to the current idea that people had of them in Antiquity. There is an essential difference, however: in taking up a pen to write, the authors of the final versions of the Gospels intended to make of them much more than “biographies.” The first intention of the evangelists was to reveal to human beings in all times and in all places the ideal objective of life to which everyone unceasingly aspires, often without knowing it and sometimes without willing it. An objective whose name is “beatitude,” in other words, “a life of happiness for eternity.” For this purpose, their authors structured the Gospels, not primarily to relate the life of a famous man, but to deliver a dramatic instruction about the reason for being of the human race. It was a matter of creating in each reader an intimate dialogue between “existence,” on the one hand, which is subject to all its vicissitudes and which will end in death, and, on the other hand, the “Life” revealed by Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ in all the potential of its eternal prospects. Thus the Gospels claim to offer to every human being the power to open himself to the infinite dimension of his own destiny. “Behold the man!” Pontius Pilate had shouted while showing Jesus to the crowd as a man condemned to death. “Behold theman!” the greatest artistic geniuses of humanity proclaimgraphically in this book. Most of themwere believers, and so they invite us not only to admire their own vision of the exceptional man that Jesus was, but also to follow after them and to enter into contemplation of the mysteries8 of the One who is forever the Risen Lord, the firstborn to eternal life of a multitude of brothers and sisters.
“That which we call ‘a work of art’ is the result of an action whose final goal is to provoke infinite development in someone.” Paul Valéry The Cathedral of Chartres, detail Gaston de La Touche (1854–1913) 1899 Oil on canvas, 24 x 24 in Beauvais, MUDO — Oise Museum (Musée de l’Oise)
20 JÉSUS PREFIGURED Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1817–1900) was a Russian painter of Armenian origin, contemporary with Aleksandr Pushkin and Nikolai Gogol. Admired by Eugène Delacroix and William Turner, he enjoyed considerable fame during his lifetime in his homeland and throughout the world. His exhibitions in Paris and New York were a real triumph. Unlike contemporary painters of seascapes—Johan Barthold Jongkind, Gustave Courbet, or Eugène Boudin—he did not paint on site but from memory, in an essentially emotional recreation of natural reality. His romantic soul, exalted by Mount Ararat, where Noah’s ark is said to have run aground after the Flood, drove him to celebrate the great myths of Armenian culture. His work can be understood as a deep contemplation of water in all its states: source of life illuminated by creative light, waves of death mingling their blades with ink-black skies. When, in 1841, Aivazovsky painted the commotion of the primordial waters at the moment of Creation, Charles Baudelaire, another Romantic contemptuous of secular rationalism, echoed it in writing: Free man, you’ll always love the sea—for this, That it’s a mirror, where you see your soul In its eternal waves that chafe and roll; Nor is your soul less bitter an abyss. (“Man and the Sea”) And the poet articulates what the painter presents to the viewer: The breakers, rolling the reflected skies, Mixed, in a solemn, enigmatic way, The powerful symphonies they seem to play With colours of the sunset in my eyes. (“Former Life”) Chaos, or The Creation Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1817–1900) 1841 Oil on paper, 29 x 42.5 in Venice, Monastery San Lazzaro of the Armenians, Armenian Museum THE BIBLE - GN 1:1-4 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. Where did we come from? What are we? Where are we going? This is the title of a painting by Gauguin (cf. page 284). The Bible claims to answer these three questions by articulating the whole history of the world and the destiny of humanity around a historic figure named Jesus of Nazareth. Christians believe that the authors who set the Bible down in writing, over the course of almost a millennium (from 800 b.c. to a.d. 120), were inspired by divine revelation. Most admit that this inspiration does not always pertain primarily to factual accuracy, but to the meaning to be given to human history. The Bible begins with the book of Genesis, an account of the creation of the world. J.R.R. Tolkien said that truth is expressed in mythical history and in symbolism. The origin of the world
22 JÉSUS PREFIGURED However, here, borrowing their hues from those of the parousia promised at the end of time, the colors are those of the original dawn, the first sunrise of the light on the creation of life. This grandiose and moving work is intended to be contemplated like a divine liturgy which, according to the Orthodox soul of Aivazovsky, is a celebration of the holy mysteries. To those who take the trouble to enter into it, it comes to reveal what will be the manifesto of the symbolist movement in art and literature: the essential dimension of the visible is the invisible, is The Invisible. Artist, “you contemplate your soul,” testifies Baudelaire: in these “bitter chasms,” beyond the foam of the hatred with the dark clouds of evil overhanging them, you discern in yourself the image of the Creator; you reflect his light and you forever speak his benevolent design according to the expressions of the Beautiful, the Good, and the True. n Christ, the Alpha and the Omega ca. 350 Fresco, 24 x 28 in Rome, Catacombs of Commodilla This paleo-Christian fresco is one of the very earliest representations of Jesus, the first “institutional” front view, framed. The message transmitted by the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet— Alpha and Omega—announces Jesus as the beginning and the accomplishment of human history. Saint Paul evokes how Jesus is the Alpha of our history: He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col 1:15-17).