Archives For Christian Art

St Denis 09_15This is from my friend, Janet Laisch:
This Sunday is Pentecost– a feast day as important as Christmas and Easter though less widely celebrated.  It marks the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and the birthday of the Church, which means it also celebrates us and our place in the world as icons of the Trinity. The story of Pentecost became a popular image in Christian art starting in the fourth century– as icons, grand refectory and altarpieces. Of these Pentecost paintings, Jean Restout II, a French Baroque painter, captured most energetically and dramatically the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Mary and the Apostles through use of chiaroscuro or strong contrasts of light and dark.  His Pentecost,an oil on canvas from 1732 now housed in the Louvre in Paris once adorned the refectory or monk’s dining room (see image below)  of the Abbey of Saint-Denis (see image above) just outside Paris. The refectory became one of the most prevalent places to display these images as it duplicated the communal space where the Apostles and Mary received the Holy Spirit on that historical day as told in the book of Acts.
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With its chiaroscuro, exaggerated view from below, grand size, and the extreme perspective of the rows of columns to the left and right, Jean Restout II’s painting is reminiscent of Baroque ceiling paintings.  In this image, columns delineate the space of grand cathedrals and separate holy space from pagan space. Viewing it in person, the medium of oil paint enables actual light to reflect from this painting, so the painted light and cloud representingGod glows as a light source in this painting. The cloud and bright white rays of light descending from the upper third of the painting represent God both through the cloud as mentioned in Exodus and the uncreated light so common in Byzantine icons. Light rays emit the Holy Spirit as flames which hover above the heads of Mary, the Apostles and other believers. Some individuals turn away from the light overwhelmed by it; others kneel and pray while others exit and presumably begin the work of spreading the message of the Church through words and acts. 
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Mary stands majestically following apotheosis iconography paintings of her (see image by Titian below); she appears deified as she lays her hands across her chest in reverence to the one true God. The deification of humanity happens because Jesus came down to us. The Eastern Orthodox belief that “God became man so that man could become god” reigns true in Mary. Mary who stands in the center represents the eventual theosis of humanity. God will restore humanity as icons of the Trinity as originally intended at creation.
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The gestures and actions of the other figures represent our varied places in this story. As stated in Acts, Apostles go out into the world to communicate the message of God– in any foreign language to all the world- —a dramatic overturn of the language barrier that the Tower of Babylon created in the Old Testament.  The Apostles began to speak and preach the Gospel in a multitude of tongues which were the languages of the nations of the earth.
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Unlike earlier static Byzantine icons, Jean Restout’s is kinetic. The painting’s message is the action and emotional reaction of each person to the Holy Spirit’s descent.

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Though the painting has been moved from the refectory at Abbey Saint-Denis to the Louvre, it still imparts a powerful message to each of us: heaven and earth should not be understood as a dichotomy.  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” is not a prayer that we might escape from the earth, but rather that earth and heaven might come together.  This prayer describes how the Ascension and Pentecost are linked: in the Ascension, part of earth “moves” into the “heavenly sphere” since Christ is no longer visible to us, and at Pentecost, part of heaven — the Holy Spirit — invades the earth. We must not forget: the Holy Spirit resides here permanently. Therefore Pentecost is not only an historical event but a changed world and an invitation to all of God’s people. Pentecost occurs during the Jewish Shevout or harvest festival so we might understand that theanointed disciples are about to harvest the world. We are pulled into this story and have a direct role to play in the work of the church and our relationship with others.

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An icon of the Pentecost helps explain this point.  A standardized Byzantine Pentecost icon (above) represents the Apostles sometimes without Mary seated around a table; one seat, the head of the table is intentionally left empty. This empty seat is Christ “invisible” to humankind though eternal; God is represented as the blue and silver circular mandorla or uncreated light and the Holy Spirit is embodied in the rays of light descending from the uncreated light and the flames hovering above each of the Apostles’ heads.  The semi-circular wooden table is intentionally left open so that viewer can join the group. The table is a direct reference to a meal both Eucharistic –this world and a meal for the end of time–eschatological. “King Cosmos” stands below the table holding a scroll surrounded by the darkness the world must overcome. King Cosmos represents the world, which the anointed disciples are about to harvest, and he and several Apostles hold scrolls intended to represent the word of God translated for all to know.

RubilevTrinityAt Pentecost, the Trinity has now been revealed to us; thus our theosis and salvation begins now, here on earth because of this revelation. Abraham was given the privilege of seeing a living image of the Triune God as told in Genesis 18: 1-3.  The Byzantine Old Testament Trinity icon (above) captures part of the mystery of the trinity– the relationship between three persons of the Godhead—Father, Son and Holy Spirit (above). Made by God in the image of the Trinity, we too are intended to be in relationship to each other–created with the ability and need to love beyond ourselves. Rather than a limited love, the Trinity teaches this love is infinite.  Becoming a Trinity icon means we become fully human. 

 

 

 

 

This is my friend, Janet Laisch. I was last week so didn’t get to post it on Holy Thursday. Better late than never…

 

In AD 200, the birth of Christian art represented the new covenant through abstract references to the Last Supper where Christ commanded us, ” to Love one another as I have loved you.”  Christians began making art on the very walls of the catacombs where they buried their dead and among the first brush strokes they painted were grape vines and leaves to express their belief in an afterlife and their belief in Christ’s new commandment. During the second half of the third century, artists began to depict Christ and His disciples reclining at the Last Supper and other agape feasts.  Ancient Christians blurred the lines between eschatological agape feasts and the Last Supper believing that all feasts celebrated agape love as commanded by Christ.

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In the Gospel of John, for theological reasons, John put the Last Supper before the Passover feast from John 13:1; Jesus was killed at the same moment the lambs were sacrificed in the Temple—making Christ the new Passover sacrifice. In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels, the Last Supper is explicitly identified as the Passover meal from Matthew 26:17, Mark 14:12 and Luke 22:7. Early representations corresponded more closely with the Jewish practice of conducting Passover meals round low tables, or no tables at all, with diners semi-reclining on low lounges. The Gospel writers explicitly reference reclining at this meal.  This catacomb fresco (above) shows Christ beardless and young surrounded by disciples and like later Last Supper paintings it represents the moment when Christ says one of you will betray me as the disciples respond to Christ by pointing at themselves and saying is it I? Mark 14.

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At Sant’Apollinaire Nuovo in Ravenna, a sixth century Basilica, mosaics (above) depict men and women processing toward the altar with communal offerings for the Eucharist.  These images reenact communion as it was celebrated at this church and others like it in the sixth century. Just above these processional mosaics are scenes from Christ’s life including an image of the Last Supper where Christ and his disciples recline together in a communal meal with fish and wine on the table.  Christ is the only figure shown with a halo. Just as a typical Roman feast featured diners reclining on couches—propped up on their left elbows—around a central table or a few smaller tables in a dining room or triclinium, early Last Supper representations depict Christ and the disciples reclining as described in the synoptic Gospels: Luke 10:39. Food was generally served in a few communal dishes, in which diners would dip their bread or eat with their hands. Wine flowed freely and was served in bowls.

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 In 1305 Duccio painted this image (above) as part of an altarpiece originally placed in the Siena Cathedral. Beginning in the early Renaissance, artists preferred to represent Christ and the Disciples sitting upright along a communal table with Christ in the center and an elaborate Passover dinner including lamb lay out on the table. Last Supper images continue to reflect traditions of when they were painted rather than Christ and disciples from first century Palestine and Christ and the disciples look more Italian than Middle Eastern.  Judas the betrayer is most likely sitting opposite Christ with his hand reaching toward Christ’s outstretched arm.

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In the Renaissance artists begin to distinguish Judas the betrayer more explicitly from the other disciples as seen in Fra Angelico’s example from 1450 (above).

By the middle Renaissance Last Supper images moved from churches to monasteries as this one by Fra Angelico decorates the Monastery of San Marco in Florence. Fra Angelico’s painting makes clear what Renaissance artists sought to achieve: a clear parallel between the Last Supper and Catholic mass. Disciples sit at the table where only a white table cloth and the Eucharist cup remain. Here, the disciples kneel as Christ distributes the communal wafer and holds a common cup. In the foreground on the left a woman kneels probably the blessed mother, Mary while on the right, Judas is depicted as the only disciple wearing a sinister black halo.

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lstsupMore often Last Supper images like this one by Leonardo da Vinci from 1495 (above) decorated the refractory or monk’s dining room wall throughout the Renaissance.  Artists rendered the figures life size and at eye level so monks could imagine participating in the meal along with Christ.Viewers became so familiar with this drama-charged image and so accustomed to the iconography of Christian art, that they would hardly remember it as a cross-cultural art work. They might even need to be reminded that the Last Supper was an event which involved Jewish people and occurred in Palestine. Judas sits beside Christ and rests his hand on the table as referenced in the Gospel that the one who betrays me rests his hand on the table. Through a carefully delineated under drawing and one point perspective where the vanishing point meets at Christ’s head, Leonardo da Vinci achieved serenity in this scene. This painting marks the calm before the storm of the Reformation, before Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the Wittenburg church door in 1517 (below).

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In newly-Lutheran parts of Germany, Protestant iconoclasts, sometimes in mobs, physically stripped and defaced countless works of church art. By 1522 Martin Luther recognized art as a valuable educative tool and artists once again created art to instruct viewers.

 

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The German Reformation painter, Luis Cranach the Elder painted this Last Supper in 1547, (above) replacing Leonardo’s long bench with a round table. Jesus is not even placed at the center, but appears on the far left, consistent with the Lutheran practice of distributing the bread and the wine from the side of the altar. Cranach depicts Martin Luther at the Last Supper. Luther symbolized everyman and is taking part in the meal as he receives the cup of wine from a servant.

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As the Counter Reformation warred throughout Catholic Europe, Veronese a celebrated Venetian painter was called before the Inquisition to defend his choices for this rendering of the Last Supper in 1573 (above).  Venice long a trade crossroads attracted people of diverse cultures, so unlike earlier paintings, in addition to Last Supper participants, Veronese decorated the foreground with “foreign” people, a young dwarf holding a parrot, a man with a bloody nose and a dog. When questioned Veronese explained that he liked to adorn with figures of his own imagination to fill any left-over space in the picture. After being asked to remove the dog depicted in the center foreground, Veronese decided instead to rename the image Feast in the House of Levi which ended the controversy.  This Inquisitorial hearing inspired a hilarious Monty Python sketch:
 

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The Pope commissioned works of art as part of the Counter Reformation and Poussin found the Pope and a circle of patrons in Rome interested in stoic philosophy commissioned canvases like this one (above).  Similar to catacomb paintings and early Basilica mosaics, Poussin painted the Palestine tradition of Jesus and the disciples reclining during the Last Supper meal as referenced in the Bible. Poussin’s objective as a classical antiquarian was to study and depict ancient traditions. Washing feet before a meal is an ancient tradition and though not explicitly stated in the synoptic gospels is an understood tradition of the Jewish Palestine. In John 13 , he explicitly states that Christ washes the disciples feet as an act of love and purification. A copper bowl and clean bare feet figure prominently in the foreground referencing Christ washing the disciples’ feet as a way of demonstrating His love for the world. At the Last Supper Jesus gave his disciples a new command to love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another. One way Jesus demonstrated His love at the Last Supper was to wash his disciples’ feet and take the role of the servant.

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Hundreds more Last Supper images fill the pages of Art History books, many adhered to Leonardo’s format. In 1955 Dali painted the Last Supper (above) in a unique and poignant way where Judas is not included at the modern low stone table. A single glass cup and broken bread adorn the table as the remaining 11 disciples bow their heads in prayer rather than eating or gesturing as commonly depicted in earlier portrayals. Dali created a hologram rendition of Christ who both sits at the table and floats in the baptismal waters below. Christ gestures as if speaking. He points to His body and to the heavens symbolizing his two natures: completely human and completely divine. A third aspect of Christ hovers above to complete the trinity: the Holy Spirit is present above the communion table. As in the Bible the meal takes place in the second floor of a home though all the furnishings are ultra modern and a glass enclosed space reveals a lake and canoes below referencing also when Christ first called the disciples from their fishing jobs to be fishers of men. The placid nature of the water and the color palette give the scene an other-worldly feel. Dali painted in an ultra realistic classical manner that appears almost like a photograph yet he includes many dreamlike impossible details to create a style called surrealism. Dali paints this image as a way to recall Christ’s memory and as a way to depict his view of heaven so it is both an image of the Last Supper and an image of the agape feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.

As varied as these art images of the Last Supper are and as varied as the descriptions of the Last Supper in the synoptic Gospels and John are, we know that Christ invited us all to the table. As Christ said about the Last Supper, “Do this in remembrance of me…I will never again drink this wine until the day I drink the new wine in the Kingdom of God.” Christ invites us all to partake in the meal as a foretaste of the feast to come.

christ-and-the-samaritan-woman-at-the-well-1796From Janet Laisch-

When I look at Angelica Kauffman’s version of Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well, I imagine what it would be like to speak with Christ face-to-face as the Samaritan woman did about 2000 years ago. In Kauffman’s depiction, she painted herself as the Samaritan woman.  Kauffman’s self portraits resemble the Samaritan woman so much that we may conclude that she identified with her in some significant way. Kauffman was a wealthy upper-middle-class woman who faithfully lived with one husband and began an art career as a child prodigy painting portraits of aristocrats and historical subjects with a moralizing message. She lived in Rome, studied at the Academy and while there learned to revive the harmonizing style of the famous Renaissance painter Raphael in particular. By 1796, she was one of only a few women who sold regularly her historical paintings. For Kauffman, a Neoclassical painter during the Enlightenment period, “reason” overshadowed her faith at times. On the other hand, the Samaritan woman lived in the ancient Roman Empire. After five unsuccessful marriages and while living with a man with whom she was not even married, she met Christ who loved her. Seemingly so opposite, both women were indeed sinners. Both women grappled with their faith. Both women experienced doubt. Christ offered to fill both women with living water so they would never thirst again.

Christ sat and conversed with the Samaritan woman face-to-face and offered her his living water.  The story as told from John 4:5-42 reads
“In Samaria he came to a town named Syhar, which was not far from the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by the trip, sat down by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw some water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink of water.” (His disciples had gone into town to buy food.) The woman answered, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan–so how can you ask me for a drink?” (Jews will not use the same cups and bowls that Samaritans use.) Jesus answered, “If you only knew what God gives and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you life-giving water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you don’t have a bucket, and the well is deep. Where would you get that life-giving water? It was our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well; he and his sons and his flocks all drank from it. You don’t claim to be greater than Jacob, do you?” Jesus answered, “Whoever drinks this water will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring which will provide him with life-giving water and give him eternal life.” “Sir,” the woman said, “give me that water! Then I will never be thirsty again, nor will I have to come here to draw water.” … The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah will come, and when he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus answered, “I am he, I who am talking with you.” …Then the woman left her water jar, went back to the town, and said to the people there, “Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done. Could he be the Messiah?” So they left the town and went to Jesus. …Many of the Samaritans in that town believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I had ever done.”
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This faith altering conversation takes place at a well recognizing that without clean water life is not sustaining. Christ invites the woman to sit with him asking her for a drink of water, seemingly disinterested in her lower status as a Samaritan woman. To convey this scene, the artist shows both figures seated on the side of a stone well. A gleaming metal vessel for collecting clean water sits between Christ and the woman symbolizing the woman’s need for tangible evidence over her faith in Christ. Painted on a large scale 4 x 5 foot canvas, Kauffman chose to fill the foreground with life size, realistic, and proportional figures of Christ and the Samaritan woman. When we step in front of this canvas, their conversation is at our eye level so that as voyeurs we can easily watch and eavesdrop their every word. The perspective showing these figures close up allows us to see their expressions, their sustained eye contact, and their gestures.

 

Kauffman drew graceful lines which impact how we perceive their conversation. From the Bible passage, we learn that Christ already knows everything about her, some facts about which she is not proud. However, Kauffman painted these two people engaged in conversation rather than in an argument. This image appears fluid and graceful in part because of the decisive, fluid lines Kauffman drew under layers of oil paint. If we were to diagram each figure, the lines would be continuous and deliberate without rigidity or agitation so when we look at this painting, we immediately sense calmness about the Samaritan woman’s spiritual awakening. We feel Christ’s love toward this woman and her recognition that he both knows everything about her and loves her. Christ’s confrontation seems meaningful and caring rather than damaging or harmful.  Kauffman like other Enlightenment painters depicted subjects that convey a moralizing message through a story derived from history. Kauffman recognized this Biblical story is based on historical fact and provides a moralizing lesson that should be valued equally to other historical paintings.

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In addition to drawing graceful lines, Kauffman’s limited realistic color palette conveys a sense of harmony between the figures.  Similar to the famous Renaissance painter Raphael, Kauffman used harmonizing hues derived from primary colors: red, blue and gold mixed with black and white to paint the entire canvas; the palette is limited so we immediately accept the canvas as a unified image and it impacts how we understand their shared respect and love.  An example of Raphael’s palette can be seen in the image below. Both Christ and the Samaritan woman wear bold red and deep blue, drawing our focus first to them. Christ and the Samaritan woman’s skin share the same rosy hue, similar curly auburn hair and hazel eyes–details which also help us read them as unified pair. In addition, the color of the stone well is in the same color family as the gold vessel and gold sash in the woman’s hair. Rather than a golden halo around Christ’s head, the beautiful natural environment in the background denotes the divine on a monumental scale. images-1
In the background, the artist used a less saturated blue hue for the sky and landscape than the vibrant blue hue used for Christ’s cloak and the woman’s hair sash so it turns our attention back to the figures as the main focus. Kauffman like Raphael painted a harmonious background, suggesting a sense of receding space through atmospheric perspective–the blue, hazy mountain range may represent the outskirts of Rome that so fascinated her and other Neoclassical painters. The mountainous landscape created by God resides with the man-made citadel and they do not look incongruous. This harmonious juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane mirror the harmonious conversation between the divine Christ and the worldly Samaraitan woman.

 

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To further this sense of reality, Kauffman represented the people by capturing realistic portraits, including a portrait of herself as the Samaritan woman. An example of one of Kauffman’s many self portraits can be seen below. Both Christ and the Samaritan woman wear garb typical to ancient Rome, masterfully draped on the figure to reveal convincing three dimensional bodily forms beneath them. Their gestures convey meaning beyond a superficial conversation and their interlocking facial expressions share a level of understanding between them. True to this Biblical passage, Kauffman painted the woman engrossed in conversation with Christ. Kauffman plans a unified composition; their body language communicates that each actively listens to the other. Christ and the woman sit turned toward each other with their knees almost touching.  They make eye contact as they speak and listen in turn. By the end of the conversation, she sees the world through Christ’s eyes. She is transformed. Her view of life changes.  Christ knows and loves her recognizing that she has great purpose. Her left arm is open; though her left hand may gesture toward Earth and her right arm clutches her worldly possession. Whereas Christ’s left hand points upward and his right hand rests on his heart. She leans toward Christ–presumably open to changing her mind. The woman at the well and Kauffman herself were far from shy or taciturn. Both women acted in society–Kauffman as a portraitist and history painter competing on equal footing with men. The woman at the well–by the end of the story–urgently shared Christ’s message with the entire town which resulted in a huge growth in Christ’s followers. Both women are nonconformists, acting authentically as themselves.
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Kauffman who studied Raphael’s work also borrowed symbolic gestures from his School of Athens for great purpose. A detail is shown below. In this painting, Raphael juxtaposed two philosophers: Plato on the left and Aristotle on the right  whose opposing views can be summarized through hand gesture, much like Christ on the left and the Samaritan woman on the right. Plato points up because in his philosophy the changing world that we see around us is just a shadow of a higher, truer reality that is eternal and includes goodness and beauty. For Plato, this otherworldly reality is the ultimate reality, and the seat of all truth, beauty, justice, and wisdom.  Whereas Aristotle holds his hand down, since in his philosophy, the only reality is the reality that we can see and experience by sight and touch precisely the reality dismissed by Plato. Aristotle’s Ethics–the book that he holds–emphasized the relationships, justice, friendship, and government of the human world and the need to study it.  Kauffman painted Christ pointing up, similar to Plato’s hand, suggesting that Christ references the eternal unchanging world whereas the woman’s hands match more closely to Aristotle’s hands suggesting that she focused on what could be seen.
From John’s Biblical account of this story, we know that Christ’s love transformed her. The woman felt so deeply loved that she needed to speak about what Christ had shared with her. She told everyone in town about the Messiah–the eternal, unchanging Christ she had met at the well. As a result she helped spread Christ’s message so more people could drink his Living water.

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profileThe big news from the Box Office returns this weekend wasn’t that the Muppets turned out to be not very wanted at all.

Instead, the Monday morning news from Hollywood is that ‘God’s Not Dead,’ the little Christian movie that could (thanks to pre-selling tickets to evangelical churches and their youth groups) came in 5th place in total ticket sales.

God’s Not Dead. 

Apparently neither are Dean Cain’s (Superman) or Kevin Sorbo’s (Zeena) careers. They both star in the movie though you might not notice since they’ve aged beyond all recognition.

God’s Not Dead perpetuates the apocryphal yet pervasive myth of a Christian student at a secular (ie, godless) college going toe-to-toe with his atheistically evangelical philosophy professor. As a perfect homage to evangelical paranoia, the film features cameos of Phil Robertson’s (Duck Dynasty) son and daughter-in-law.

While it’s true I’ve not viewed God’s Not Dead nor could anything induce me to view it, in ham-fistedly critiquing a film I’ve not actually see I’m merely participating in a time-honored evangelical tradition.

Reportedly, in God’s Not Dead the protagonist (believing student) sets out to prove to his amoral atheist professor (Kevin Sorbo) that God does in fact exist.

To which the Source and Ground All Being replies, after metaphorically smacking HIS Almighty forehead: ‘Sigh.’

God’s Not Dead.

Dean Cain is not dead.

Kevin Sorbo is not dead.

But evidently for Christians the discipline of philosophy has rigor mortis.

Certainly the sub-discipline formerly known as metaphysics.

Thus far, all the critique of the film on the internet has centered around pushback that God’s Not Dead trucks in a mythic stereotype of the Christian experience on college campuses.

Thus far,

I’ve not seen any Christian critique that the argument of the movie- the argument within the movie- shit, the very assertion in the title of the movie, relies upon a logical fallacy that is

A) not good philosophy

and

B) is certainly not Christian.

The reviews of God’s Not Dead, pro and con, merely confirm that both believers and non are clueless as to the ancient definition of the word ‘God.’

If you can ‘prove’ it

(either in the negative or the positive)

by definition

IT’S NOT GOD.

Christians should know that already.

So…for you beginners out there:

God is not a being within the universe.

God is not a part of the world.

God (big ‘G’ is key) is not a god.

God is the infinite mystery who utterly transcends the world God has made.

As much as it runs counter to Christian pop: the world makes no literal difference to God.

This is what Genesis means it says that God created the world ex nihilo, out of nothing and hence exists apart from everything. God did not have to create the universe, and if God had chosen not to, God’s glory and being would not have been diminished one ticket stub.

Here’s the cold, hard, metaphysical math:

God + the world < God alone.

God + everything that will ever be < God alone.

God + the World = God

God – the World = God.

God + (a) = God

(a) = the World, You and Me

a = 0

The world does not add anything to God; it does not change or affect God. Ultimately it does not make a difference to God. God is God, in infinite glory, majesty, and love.

Because God is not a being within the world but “Being” itself.

Thus, the assertion ‘God’s Not Dead’ is both true, not true, and unremarkable.

It’s true in that, as Existence Itself ‘God’s Not Dead is a necessarily true statement. It’s like saying ‘Existence is Not Non-Existence.’

It’s not true in that, as a Being outside, beyond, transcendent of the created universe, any god whose existence you could (dis)prove, by definition, is not God (see: Bush, Burning).

It’s unremarkable in that as Being Itself God is the most obvious thing of all.

Sadly, what’s proven stone, cold dead by films movies like God’s Not Dead is the Christian intellectual tradition it purports to advocate.

For its box office success, God’s Not Dead relies upon the scandal that colleges oppose Christian belief.

The true ‘scandal’ that bubbles to the surface whenever evangelical students hit sober-thinking college campuses is how little their church-sanctioned God-talk corresponds to ancient ways of Christian speech.

College disciplines such as philosophy and metaphysics and theology expose the extent to which American evangelicals anthropomorphize, even idolize, God.

The campus ‘scandal’ revealed in God’s Not Dead is that the god worshipped, defended and ‘proved’ by the film’s protagonist is merely a god.

Not ‘I Will Be Who I Will Be.’

 

 

 

from Janet Laisch:

Duccio’s Maesta from 1308 depicts stories from Christ’s life for us to contemplate during Lent (see image below). Take a look at your calendar and count the number of days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, and you’ll realize it comprises more than 40 fasting days of Lent. The early Church designated each Sunday during Lent as a feast day. During Lent we punctuate the fasting with a feast which begins with taking Holy Eucharist each Sunday.

The days leading up to Easter recount Christ’s Passion story beginning with the Thursday before Easter as the Last Supper and Christ’s arrest, Good Friday as Jesus’ Crucifixion and Deposition and Saturday as Christ’s Entombment– all of which Duccio depicted on the back of the Maesta (see main panel below).

Each Sunday feast during Lent provides reprieve from fasting and a reminder of Christ’s Resurrection and our own. Feasts as described in the New Testament: the Wedding at Cana and the Parable of the Wedding Feast in Matthew 22 represent the importance of celebrating with Christ as heavenly host.

St. Thomas Aquinas described the eschatological interpretation of the banquet likened to the events at the end of time:

“The banquet where you, with Your Son and holy Spirit, are true and perfect light, total fulfillment, everlasting joy, gladness without end, and perfect happiness to your saints.”

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Using tempra paint on poplar wood, Duccio depicted the Wedding at Cana as part of the Lenten images on the base or predella of the Maesta. Duccio used gold leaf on the architectural features and the background of each image to unify these scenes and to denote the heavenly realm. As baptized believers, we use these images to partake in the life of Christ.

Jesus calls his disciples as shown in Duccio’s image below where Christ calls two brothers Peter (in the boat on the left) and Andrew (in the boat on the right) at the sea of Galilee.

After calling his disciples,
14 DUCCIO CALLING OF PETER AND ANDREW
Jesus performs his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana. The biblical story of the Wedding at Cana as recorded exclusively in John says:
“Two days later there was a wedding in the town of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine had given out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They are out of wine.” “You must not tell me what to do,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” Jesus’ mother then told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” The Jews have rules about ritual washing, and for this purpose six stone water jars were there, each one large enough to hold between twenty and thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill these jars with water.”
They filled them to the brim, and then he told them, “Now draw some water out and take it to the man in charge of the feast.” They took him the water, which now had turned into wine, and he tasted it. He did not know where this wine had come from (but, of course, the servants who had drawn out the water knew): so he called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone else serves the best wine first, and after the guests have drunk a lot, he serves the ordinary wine. But you have kept the best wine until now!”
Jesus performed this first miracle in Cana in Galilee; there he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.”
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Next to the image, Calling of the Disciples, Duccio painted the Wedding at Cana. At first look, our eye may be drawn to the figures wearing red, but a viewer from 1300 would have been drawn to the most expensive materials first–the gold leaf background and deep blue paint that Mary and Christ wear. The deep blue paint was produced from precious stones. From the left side of the table, we see Mary and Jesus each with a sacred gold halo. Several of Jesus’ disciples had also been invited to the wedding and sit beside him.
Next to Christ is either a disciple or another wedding guest. Then, we see Peter, identifiable as he is wearing the same blue vestment from the previous image, and a cropped beard and a halo. Two more men wearing red catch our eye–one of whom has a halo and is probably another disciple. Then, next to him, at the far right end of the table sits Andrew. Notice how this figure resembles Andrew from Duccio’s Calling the Disciples image. The white patterned table cloth also catches our eye as a focal point. The meal indeed is important. Much of the food has already been consumed; though, bones, perhaps from a lamb, pieces of bread, knives, six bowls and glasses of ruby red wine remain on the table.

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Duccio captures multiple moments from the biblical story in this picture. The background tells the first part of the story. Mary and Jesus gesture as if in conversation. Their expressions and gestures seem calm as they exchange playful banter. “When the wine had given out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They are out of wine.” “You must not tell me what to do,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” The disciples and other guests look at Christ, presumably awaiting the miracle that Mary described will soon take place.
According to the story, Jesus performed this miracle after Mary’s request, though we don’t know if it is a direct response to her request. Rather it may suggest instead her shared knowledge of the events before they took place.
Mary and Jesus take on their new roles at this Wedding. Wearing blue and gold with halos at the head of the table Mary and Jesus sit in the position of Bride and Groom. Mary as the bride—the second Eve– communicating with Jesus–the bridegroom–the second Adam about the events that will transpire.
Next to Mary is a wine pitcher symbolizing that Mary seeks the new wine of the kingdom. Jesus performs this miracle and Jesus is this wine poured out for all of us. Mary has full faith that Jesus will perform his first miracle at the Wedding at Cana and so tells the servants to “do whatever he commands.”
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Duccio depicted this pivotal moment–as Jesus turns water into wine in the foreground for us to see clearly with our own eyes.  Notice four amphorae vases and two water barrels together equal six liquid containers as described by John. These six vessels hold water and parallel the Genesis story of creation and the six days used to create the world beginning with separating the waters. Two beardless servants carrying barrels pour out clear liquid–water– to fill the amphora vases. Simultaneously another servant pours from an amphorae vase deep red wine into one of the smaller patterned pitchers.
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In the center of the picture, Duccio captures the next sequence in the story. The moment after the water has turned to wine.  A servant pours out the wine to fill glasses with the miraculous red wine. Duccio paints the drinking vessels so we can see the ruby red wine in each of them. Looking at this image we are reminded that Jesus went to parties, drank wine and as host multiplied it for others so everyone was filled.

By turning six jars of water into wine, Jesus first reveals himself as the Messiah to the disciples, to the servants, to all the wedding guests and to us.
Typically the wine is of lesser quality by the end of the night because in Hellenistic culture, as still today, by the end of the night people have had plenty to drink and their palettes dull so they are less discerning about its quality. However, John states in this passage that the best wine is saved for last. From Duccio’s painting, those drinking the wine and pouring the wine look well pleased with its ruby rich color and presumably its taste. Jesus saves the best wine for last and if we want it we need only ask.

From this we might view this image as a foretaste of the feast to come in heaven.

The wedding feast is likened to the kingdom of Heaven and Jesus is the ultimate host who supplies everything needed at the very best quality for his guests even when his people are not always that discerning.
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A later painting of the Wedding at Cana by Veronese depicts a grand party with people of different races found throughout the expansive space. Party goers even get a little rowdy, climbing columns but nothing appears sinister. The attention to fine clothing differentiates most of the participants from Mary and Christ who wear more simple garb and have halos. As a microcosm this image represents that when Jesus performs his first miracle, he reveals himself as the Messiah to all the world. This feast may represent the eschatological view of heaven. The second Adam–Christ– and the second Eve– Mary– invite everyone to this feast where the best is still to come. Christ himself said in Matthew 22, “The Kingdom of heaven is like this.”

 

This is from Janet LaisCh~
Lent is about reconciling through Christ as seen in the Calling of St. Matthew.

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This Church, San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, proclaims a message– not from its monochrome façade but rather from the art inside. Cardinal Matteo Contarelli saved money for years to pay for the decoration of a chapel inside this church with scenes from the life of Saint Matthew. Once inside, enter the last chapel just before the high altar and see for yourself how Christ called Matthew to follow him. Jesus never said worship me, but rather he said follow me. Christ initiates reconciliation of us and the world here and now on earth.

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Caravaggio planned three paintings of Saint Matthew, starting with the moment Saint Matthew’s life began as God intended–the moment Matthew understood Christ’s calling. These three images moving left to right represent the Calling of Saint Matthew, the Inspiration of Saint Matthew, and the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and together they tell a story about the relationship between Christ and all mankind as found in Matthew chapter 9.
“And when Jesus passed on from thence, he saw a man sitting in the custom house, named Matthew; and he said to him: Follow me. And he arose up and followed him.” As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
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Caravaggio layered oil paints with all the realism and drama true to Baroque art from 1600 AD to involve the viewer and to inspire a spiritual awakening in us. Like a director, Caravaggio constructed meaning through setting, lighting, character, costume, and gesture.  Caravaggio depicted this room and these men as a microcosm for the whole world and us in it–where filth and grime and elaborate outward costumes symbolize sin. Soot and grit cover the walls and even the window appears impenetrable to light of what may be the backroom of a seedy pub.  To some it may seem an unlikely place to meet Christ, but the Bible says that he came for the sick and the broken so any place, any time offers opportunity for Christ’s presence. Light enters the room from the upper right corner, perhaps from an open door, as Christ enters this dark room.  Caravaggio used the technique of tenebrism whereby he painted a stark and sudden contrast between light and dark colors– to communicate Christ’s ultimate power in this room and throughout all the world through reconciliation. Christ’s outstretched arm points gracefully calling Matthew to follow him. Matthew perched as one of five males, like peacocks– suited in lavish velvet, crimillion, leather and feathers– around a wooden table counting their day’s earnings. Armed with swords to defend their greed and vanity, they represent how far man has fallen.
Caravaggio used line to direct our attention to the main idea: Christ is calling Matthew despite his sin. Trace a diagonal line from Christ’s graceful, outstretched hand, to the redhead male pointing to himself.
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Pointing to himself, Matthew (see above) communicates recognition that Christ calls him, and his eyes fill with hope. Despite his sin when Christ arrives, Matthew meets Christ’s gaze, wide eyed, transfixed in a spiritual awakening. Christ sees Matthew for who he is: everything he lacks and everything he will become.

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A golden coin rests on Matthew’s hat (see image above) to betray his mind’s obsession with money as a Roman tax collector for Herod. During the Roman occupation, Matthew accumulated wealth by oppressing his own people, paying handsomely himself and the Roman infedels who conquered the Hebrews at Capernaum.  We know from reading the Bible and from looking at the next image in Caravaggio’s Contarelli chapel cycle that Matthew follows Christ without hesitation.  Christ transforms Matthew so that his outward appearance matches his inner faith: Matthews like Christ wears a robe and tunic and a golden halo gleaming divine inspiration (see above) like Christ rather than a coin over his head during his days as a tax collector.

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Two of the five individuals seated at the table do not notice Christ’s call. They instead greedily count their money. As voyeurs of this scene, we know their spiritual blindness prevents them from seeing Christ who has entered their very space.

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Caravaggio painted the old man (image above) with closed eyelids as he adjusts his glasses to symbolize the depth of his spiritual blindness. His near sightedness will only allow him to focus on finite pursuits rather than the infinite gifts offered through Christ.

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The young man’s near sightedness allows him only to see the coins on the table rather than look up to see Christ entering from across the room. The money or debt they count is their own sin; they cannot forgive others or themselves to recognize that Christ has already forgiven them. Counting money prevents them from realizing that reconciliation occurs now here on earth as God does not count our sins against us.
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Caravaggio portrayed the boys faces (see image above) lit up from the divine light. Their expressions and actions connote open minds and hearts as they turn away from the money on the table and gaze up at Christ instead. These two young men act as foils to the two money counters’ spiritual blindness.The boy on the right looks at Christ with his mouth slightly parted; he swings one leg over the bench and leans his body toward Christ as he begins to stand up. Caravaggio painted these boys again in the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew where still dressed in their finery they use their swords to try to defend Saint Matthew from the Roman soldiers who will eventually crucify him. A self portrait of Caravaggio is also included in this image as the story continues. We might see ourselves in these two boys and with our own free will to make a decision regarding our own next step whether or not to follow Christ.

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Christ and Saint Peter look out of place, like time travelers, with bare feet wearing robes and tunics from ancient Rome whereas the tax collectors wear seventeenth century finery. Christ’s entry into this pub imposes radical change on the whole world. A bulky, stalwart Saint Peter acts as an ambassador to Christ, helping Christ gather disciples. He holds a staff to indicate that following Christ won’t be easy and standing next to Christ, we are reminded that Christ will never leave either.

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Up close, we notice that Caravaggio accentuated Christ’s bone structure and humanness using the same technique of tenebrism–stark white paints next to bold blacks hues. The beautiful angle of his high cheekbone, his nose and lips reinforces that Christ became fully human and lived on earth among us. Though Caravaggio depicted Christ differently than the other figures; his movements epitomize grace and a halo glows above his head.  Unlike us, Christ is also fully divine. Christ’s expression and movements capture his decisive nature that unlike us, he does not waver. He knows exactly his ministry, and he calls his disciples to follow.

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Above Christ’s hand, the windowpane forms a cross, reminding us of Christ’s actions for us. Reconciliation is an accomplished fact through this cross and a continuing process here and now on earth. Christ doesn’t just save Matthew for eternal life but also saves Matthew in this life. Christ wants to do the same for all of us.

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Looking at this Creation painting by Michelangelo from the Sistine Chapel, we see that Caravaggio has borrowed the graceful lines of Christ’s arm and hand from another master for great purpose. Caravaggio communicates through line and pose that Christ is the second Adam who redeems man. The transference of reconciliation takes place from God to Jesus to us. Reconciliation takes place now here on earth. Jesus accomplished reconciliation through the cross and continues this work now here on earth through each of us. If we pray to hear the next step, knowing that if only Christ invades our space like he did with Matthew, we would get up and follow…follow absolutely anywhere… without question. Then we must also stop and listen. Only then can we realize that Christ already does.

 

Fasting with Christ

Jason Micheli —  March 7, 2014 — 2 Comments

By Janet Laisch~

Each Ash Wednesday, I try to prolong the ephemeral cross on my forehead from fading, praying to absorb its meaning before it washes away.

Jesus never said worship me but rather He said follow me.

During Lent, we have 40 days to contemplate his life so that we may incorporate it more wholly into our own being. During Lent in 1308, a grand ceremony processed through the streets carrying Duccio’s Maesta, an altarpiece, to the Siena Cathedral and placed it, all 7 x 13 feet, gleaming in gold and tempera paint, at the crossing square –the very heart of the Cathedral– where the vertical and horizontal axes meet of this cruciform building plan. Entering this Cathedral, and walking to the crossing square, we begin our Lenten journey by looking at images of Christ’s life. 

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Today the Maesta has been dismantled, cut up and sold to the highest bidder. Scenes from Christ’s life that once decorated the back are now housed in museums and private collections, but we can at least view the majority of these scenes at the Siena museum. 
Originally placed in the center of the Cathedral, like sculpture, the believer could walk around it to encounter snapshots from Mary’s life and Christ’s infancy on the front and Christ’s adulthood on the back. Snapshots of the very stories as told in the Gospels.  The Maesta, the Italian word for majesty, shows the Virgin enthroned holding the infant Christ and surrounded by saints. The predella, or stand, on which the altarpiece rests, depicts the Annunciation, Nativity, Adoration of the Magi, and Flight into Egypt, to name a few of the other major events on the front.

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Walking around to view the back of the painting,  it depicts major events of Christ’s adulthood–not a single moment — but instead many acts to observe during Lent.  The Passion is told in thirty-four scenes, beginning on the bottom left with Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Using gold leaf in each scene, Duccio unified these images of Christ’s life so we can consider them together.

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Drop your eyes to the left side of the predella (image below) where a scene depicts the Temptation of Christ, now at the Frick Musuem in NYC. The scenes that follow show Christ calling his followers, the wedding at Cana, the Transfiguration and the raising of Lazurus to name a few.
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In this Temptation of Christ, Duccio paints the moment when Christ commands Satan away. The space surrounding Christ shows how Christ through fasting becomes vulnerable to the temptations of Satan and also more open to God. The angels stand to Christ’s right ready to direct Christ out of the desert to begin his ministry. It is the perfect image to study at the beginning of Lent as told in the Gospel of Matthew.
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”
Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”
10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.
11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. 
 
Duccio used artistic elements to emphasize Christ’s resolve against sin. Satan first tempted Christ, who had been fasting, to turn the stones surrounding him into bread. Duccio represented these stones as the very rock that supports Christ’s feet in the center of the painting. 
Satan next tempted Christ to test God. Rather than give into sin, Christ stands on a rock that looks more like a hill than a mountain. Duccio used scale to emphasize that Christ conquered sin and could easily step down from the mountain without testing God as the devil commanded.
Lastly, Satan promised Jesus the kingdoms of the world if only Christ would worship him. Duccio manipulated scale to emphasize Christ’s power over this temptation as well; in the foreground, the towns should appear larger than Christ as they are closer to our view; however, the kingdoms in the foreground are just as small as those in the background. Scale then communicates power and here clearly Christ is most powerful as he is largest.  
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 Duccio used line to communicate Christ’s power and resolve against sin. If you were to draw a diagram of this painting, you would draw smooth continuous lines, lines without agitation. 
Christ’s right arm gracefully extends from his body sending Satan away to the shadowy background. The devil in response to Christ raises his hand to communicate that he has given up and then turns and steps away. These graceful, continuous lines do not  depict a battle scene or struggle between the two main characters, but rather Christ has drawn a line to separate himself from sin.
Duccio divided the panel into two halves through color; notice the contrast in color between the background and foreground– Duccio painted the background using browns and grays whereas Duccio painted the foreground using pinks and blues. Christ directs Satan back to darkness whereas Christ inhabits the lit space. Also the artist used color to communicate Christ’s superiority to the devil and all temptations. 
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Our eyes first notice Christ who stands slightly off center because Duccio has painted Christ wearing red, the highest saturation of color anywhere in the painting.
If instead Christ were wearing black like Satan, we would view the scene very differently. We would sense Christ’s struggle. If Duccio reversed the colors, painting Satan red and Christ gray, we would interpret Satan as the dominant figure. Through color choice, Duccio communicates that Christ dominates the scene–a metaphor for Christ’s actual resolve to conquer these temptations.
Duccio juxtaposed Satan and Christ; their bare feet next to each other as well. Duccio depicted Satan as a dark monster with webbed feet, large pointed ears, and  wings; whereas Christ has a beautiful face surrounded by a gold halo. Duccio applies decorative punching around Christ’s face and outlines him in greater attention and detail than Satan. The halo reminds us of Christ’s divinity; He is Lord on earth.
As Lord, Christ humbles himself hence the bare feet. Looking closely at this image, it like so many earlier Byznatine icons, has been touched by human hands. Visible scratch marks cover Satan, as an attempt to mulitate him believeing the image had magic power. 
Despite all of our sins, we are made in Christ’s image not in Satan’s image.
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Throughout Art History, artists have portrayed this story. Artists in Northern Europe depicted The Temptation of Christ less frequently than artists in Greece and Italy. Artists in Greece and Italy also depicted this subject most frequently in early Christian history and during the Renaissance. In Greece, it is more often portrayed as an icon (above), and in Italy, it is more often portrayed as part of a larger sculptural program on doors (above) or painted as one of many scenes on altarpieces like Duccio’s.
When it is painted independently it is rare. 
In modern art, Christ is more typically shown contemplating, alone in the desert rather than tempted by Satan (below).  
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Lent begins Christ’s forty-day fast and temptations in the desert.

As Christians we don’t observe the temptations of Christ from a safe distance. We have been baptized into Christ, and so throughout Lent, we participate in the mysteries of Christ knowing that His Resurrection is a reality as well.

The root of temptation is the same–to work apart from God.  Jesus knew the force of temptation better than we do, because He resisted temptation fully whereas we do not. This artwork with its many images of Christ’s life is a perfect place to start our Lenten journey. It is not what we give up for Lent that is most important, it is whether or not we can become vulnerable to absorb more of Christ into us.

 

Advent through Art

Jason Micheli —  December 4, 2013 — 5 Comments
In many ways, the mystery of the incarnation- God taking flesh in Jesus Christ- is best conveyed not through language but through the medium of oils and brushes. 
A good deal of the world’s most significant art is Christian in theme and a sizable chunk therein depicts the scenes of the Nativity stories. 
For this reason, I asked a good friend of mine, Janet Laisch (church member/confirmation teacher by hobby, art historian by training), to reflect on Advent through an art lens. 
Despite her irrational love of the National Cathedral over the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, she knows her stuff: 
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One winter, I spent Advent in Rome researching at the American Academy.

Advent from the Latin word adventus, means “coming” and Christians anticipate Christ’s Second Coming starting the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

The first weekend of Advent, instead of hanging out at my favorite café, where locals were always ready to chat, I boarded a train to Padua to visit Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel. It was the last tour of the day and lucky for me, I was Giotto’s only audience.
Unlike at a museum, these scenes comprise a cycle in the very chapel Giotto painted the art to be enjoyed, seven hundred years ago.

Camouflaged as a plain red brick building of unimposing size and structure, the interior is drenched in color. Pure color from nature: blue lapis lazuli, red, orange and brown ochre, purple snail dye. Too, the gold leaf is beautiful; light bounces between gold leaf stars on the ceiling and gold leaf halos surrounding each holy figure on the walls.

Nearby Venice long considered a trade crossroads between east and west, meant Giotto had access to materials from Jerusalem and beyond to make his paints. It took nearly five years to fresco the chapel walls and ceiling. Giotto laid wet paints on wet plaster surfaces, and as plaster and paint dried, the two bound together.

A lasting technique from ancient cultures produces enduring art.

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The chapel reminded me of a life size Advent calendar–the thick card stock paper with tiny doors, one to
open each day of Advent.

My godparents had given me one as a preschooler and out of sentimentality or habit; I reused it every year, even in Rome.

In this chapel, each door had already been carefully peeled back to reveal a Biblical drama.

I stopped at the threshold and looked up.

Like a voyeur, I peered into the past to experience firsthand:

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the Expulsion of Joachim, the Annunciation of Anna.

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And the Meeting at the Golden Gate, stories as described in the apocryphal St. James. In the foreground, the Virgin’s parents, Joachim and Anna, embrace each other most intensely with their eyes. Eyes wide open communicate shared anticipation for their role in the birth of Jesus.

They share identical news delivered in separate visions:

God’s promise that they would have a daughter–the Virgin Mary– who would one day deliver Christ to save us.

Giotto stages the figures and background to heighten the drama. Brick imitates brick. Deliberate details identify the background as The Golden Gate of Jerusalem still standing today– the very gate Christ the King rode through triumphantly on Palm Sunday.

Joachim and Anna are painted convincingly 3-D. Their figures curve inward and mirror the arch behind them.

The arch, since ancient times, is a stable building element. They are the stable foundation of Christ’s lineage.

The women in the background, with happy expressions, stand in as us, the observers, who celebrate with Joachim and Anna.

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Walking to the east end of the chapel, I admire three rows of art from ceiling to floor. Each row represented a story within the larger narrative of Christ’s life.

The story begins on the upper level to the right of the chancel arch, with events of the lives of the Virgin’s parents on the right hand wall and the Life of the Virgin on the left. The middle level portrays Christ’s infancy on the right and his adult mission on the left.

The lowest row depicts the Passion of Christ on the right followed by the Crucifixion and Resurrection on left, ending with God the Father enthroned on the back wall, above the arch. I find Advent stories: the Annunciation of the Virgin, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, and Flight into Egypt.

Coincidentally, the 40 scenes numbers the same as the 40 days of fasting the Eastern Church practiced during Advent.

Then a guard who lost track of the time as badly as I had informed me the chapel had been closed.

Using a familiar Italian expression, he reminded me to return, “Domani. Non ti preoccupare.”

I replied, “Si. Domani. I am not worried.”

Quite certain that we were not both talking about the same thing.