Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Last night we had our second meeting about John Eldredge, Wild at Heart. We were discussing Chapter 2, which is about the wild heart of God, especially as it is manifested in Jesus. At one point, Eldredge says that all the images of Jesus we have around are limp and passive — at least, all the ones he’s seen in churches are.

And I thought, ‘Well, clearly he’s been to all the wrong churches.’

So I went through my postcard collection to bring a few non-limp Jesuses to show the other guys. These aren’t the exact postcards, but here are the images of Jesus I brought to study last night:

San Marco, Venice

Sacré-Coeur, Paris

A twelfth-century piece of Limoges work of Christ in majesty now in the Musée de Cluny, Paris

The stained glass window of the Last Judgement from St Andrew’s Scottish Episcopal Cathedral, Inverness

Jesus and Apa Mena, a sixth- or seventh-century Coptic icon now in the Louvre

The dome of Machairas Monastery, Cyprus

The Cross as Tree of Life from San Clemente, Rome

The apsidal mosaic of Santa Maria in Trastevere, Rome

The Triumphal Arch and apsidal mosaic of San Paolo fuori le Mura, Rome

The images of Christ we see inevitably influence us and our faith, they affect how we view our Lord and Saviour. This is part of why the Reformed reject them — they can skew just as easily as uphold a right faith in Christ. And it must be admitted that Eldredge is not wrong about so much Protestant religious art.

One of the guys last night said that so much Protestant art is sappy and sentimental because it’s made for children, to illustrate a story or make the Bible accessible. It is not art for adults. He is probably right, which troubles me — my toddler likes Art of the Byzantine Era, Pauline Baynes’ illustrated Nicene Creed, and the occasional bookmark of the Sistine Chapel right alongside his Dr. Suess, Paw Patrol, and Beatrix Potter.

Why do we sell our children short and underestimate them?

What sort of messages about Jesus are we communicating to them and ourselves through this art?

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild,

against which Wild at Heart is reacting.

I think John Eldredge wants,

Mighty Jesus, fierce and wild.

The art above, most of which is medieval (with one each of modern Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican items), presents us mighty Jesus, King of Kings. He sits enthroned, passing judgement. He reigns as he dies, bringing life to the world. He can certainly be your Friend. And he blesses us from his majesty. Loves pours forth from his Sacred Heart.

Christ the King, throned in glory — this is the great theme of so many medieval mosaics and frescoes.

Yet he is the upside-down king, and here is why the Reformed are concerned about these images. Christ in glory — certainly true. But not wholly true.

One image I did not bring but wish I could have was the crucifix from Vercelli:

Christ is standing on the cross, in power. As King. Not hanging in weakness as in the later, Gothic crucifixes. At the moment of his greatest human weakness, at the point of his death, Jesus is at his most powerful. Some Byzantine crucifixion icons have the inscription, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of Glory,’ to emphasise the point.

Whatever our position on any of these images in particular or images of Christ in general, Eldredge has a good point — the carpenter of Nazareth Who refashions the crooked timber of humanity into something beautiful was neither limp nor passive.

Seeing Christ in Aberdeen

Since images of Christ have been the subject of two recent posts (here and here), I feel it appropriate to share here some pictures I took in Aberdeen, since I did a lot more than buy the poems of St John of the Cross whilst there!

Our first evening in Aberdeen, my parents and I took a pre-dinner stroll that included St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, founded in 1859 (I come by my many church visists honestly!). When you enter St Mary’s sanctuary, what confronts you is a large, modern crucifix that feels like it has Romanesque influences on it:

aberdeen st mary's crucifix

 

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In one of the windows, you then see scenes from the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ, reminding us of the narrative element both of Scripture and of great Christian art.

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To the left of the chancel above an altar is this painting of Jesus, complete with the Sacred Heart, yet not as tamed as those I’ve critiqued — indeed, he looks a little Middle Eastern here:

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The Stations of the Cross in this cathedral are all mosaic and modern, yet discernably themselves — nothing weird or strange. They are striking and draw the viewer in powerfully. Here is a close-up of Christ on the cross:

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Striking modern images that use old motifs with contemporary stylings recurred in Aberdeen. The next day, we walked past my Grandpa’s birthplace then up to King’s College Chapel, which has a great crown spire like St Giles’, Edinburgh.

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Inside, there are some traditional Victorian stained glass windows (the oldest stained glass in Scotland is all late Victorian). None of the Victorian windows I photographed has Christ in it, though. I am curious to know what the oldest Presbyterian image of Christ in Scotland is!

I did, however, photograph the windows by Douglas Strachan, the  famous Scottish stained glass artist of the early 20th century whose windows can be found in the Scottish National War Memorial and St Margaret’s Chapel at Edinburgh Castle, St Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh, Glasgow Cathedral, and Dunfermline Abbey (to list only those I’ve seen). In his window in the centre of the East wall there is a crucifixion scene:IMG_3356

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Strachan’s Christ here feels very 1920s, if you ask me (non-art historian that I am!). He stands enthroned as King on the cross, rather than hanging in death. The image of Christ hanging in death is a more Gothic vision, whereas as earlier Romanesque had favoured images where Christ was still somehow in power. The theology of that is that Christ chose the Cross as His throne, as the place where His power was most evident — the place of lowest human weakness.

Up the road from King’s College is St Machar’s Cathedral, now a parish church of the Church of Scotland (so not really a cathedral anymore). Although there are Douglas Strachan windows here as well, none of what I photographed had Christ in it!

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Within, the first Christ I saw was in the central panel of the tri-partite East window:

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This window, reminiscent stylistically of Douglas Strachan, is the newest in St Machar’s, by William Wilson in 1953. In contrast to the Strachan window above, Wilson has depicted Christ hanging on the Cross, showing us the moment of death, the sorrow of what the Saviour endured for us.

On the South (right-hand) wall is found a window from 1877 by Clayton and Bell in honour of a minister of St Machar’s, Robert Smith, and his wife. It is a ‘traditional’ Victorian window, depicting a blond Christ in glory bound to raise a few hackles today:

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The final Christ I photographed was from a window by the mid-twentieth-century stained glass artist Margaret Chilton. On the left we see the brazen serpent in the wilderness, on the right the crucifixion of Christ, recalling the Johannine typology.

IMG_3397These are the images of Christ I saw in Aberdeen. Each of them speaks a different aspect of the multifaceted Truth of his life, death, resurrection, and reign in glory. I trust that they may inspire you in a deep and abiding way to worship the Lord in the spirit of holiness.