Western Crucifixes

Capello del Crucifisso, Duomo, Milan

Yesterday morning, I stood at the Capello del Crucifisso — Chapel of the Crucifixion — while Ambrosian Rite Morning Prayer was sung in the Choir at Milan’s Duomo. A smallish (medium?) huddle had gathered at the chapel, and the tables in front were laden with candles representing the prayers of Milan’s Catholic populace.

As I looked at this crucifix, I noticed that there was a crown with it. Not a crown on the Lord Jesus’ head, but sort balancing there between him and the cross itself. The crown looks like the sort a Late Mediaeval or Renaissance king would wear.

Calvin criticises crucifixes, and all images of Our Lord, because they cannot show the glory. They are necessarily impious because all you can see is suffering humanity, not the correlative truth of glorious divinity. I imagine that an image of Christ the King in glory would have the opposite problem for John Calvin.

The Eastern Orthodox criticise our crucifixes because Christ is hanging there as just a dead or dying man, not standing as the king in control that he was. They say that the bare history has won over against the theology in western crucifixes.

That crown points to the barrenness of both positions, I think. Christ is King in every western crucifix, and He is glorious.

Later, in the museums found in the Castello Sforzesco, I found a few more carved Jesuses. My favourite was a bearded but bald wooden Christ from the fourteenth century. He looked like a man, like any man, hanging and dying on the cross.

And that is exactly the point, isn’t it?

God became a man, a particular man, but a man who was like any other man (except for sin, of course). And when he was hung upon the tree, he looked like any other man. And he died like any other man. That he rose himself on the third day is evidence that he is not any other man.

But this is precisely the glory of the Christian Gospel. God became a man. If you were alive in Judaea in the first century, you would have seen Jesus as a particular person, and you would not have seen him refulgent with his glory (unless you were Peter, James, and John on Mt. Tabor).

My favourite -- the Bernini Crucifix in the AGO

The glory of God is that he came ‘down’ from heaven and was incarnate as a baby, lived as a man, and died as a criminal. Throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus points to his upcoming crucifixion as the moment of his glory. This act of supreme weakness on the part of the supremely powerful One is his moment of greatest triumph, of most wondrous glory, for he is not a pagan God of old, but the God who loves his people with a neverending, sacrificial love that would give anything.

Contrary to Calvin and the Orthodox, these crucifixes in Milan are, in fact, images of glory. They are images of the greatest glory God has to show us — His Death in the Person of His Son, Jesus.

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