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.


Leo the Great, San Clemente, and Cardinals (pt 2)

Lower Basilica of San Clemente (4th c); the ceiling would have been higher

In case you were wondering what Leo the Great has to do with yesterday’s post

The Ballerini edition of Leo’s letters from 1753 (published in Patrologia Latina, vol. 54) includes this reference towards the end of Ep. 28, the ‘Tome’:

fratres nostros Judium [sic PL 54 online] episcopum et Renatum presbyterum tituli sancti Clementis, sed et filium meum Hilarum diaconem vice nostra direximus.

That is to say, ‘we have appointed our brothers Bishop Julian and Renatus, Presbyter of the titulus of St Clement, but also my son, Deacon Hilarus in our place.’ Whether these people were Leo’s official agentes in rebus in Constantinople does not concern us here; Julian is presumably Julian of Cos, who often represents Leo’s interests in the East; Hilarus is the deacon who will represent Leo at Second Ephesus and later become Pope Hilarus, Leo’s successor. Renatus, another of Leo’s usual agents in Constantinople, is listed here as being a presbyter of the titulus, or title, of Saint Clement.

I admit to not being certain of this reading’s veracity, given that it’s not in all the manuscripts and is the sort of thing one would slip in later, either as a gloss or otherwise, if one knew or thought that Renatus was presbyter of St Clement’s.

Be that as it may, this reference to St Clement’s, although I’ve no doubt I’d read it many, many times before, never struck me until this Tuesday, having visited San Clemente. And I realised, ‘Hey, he was priest of San Clemente!’

Renatus, whose name I’ve seen in various of Leo’s letters, was priest in that old, fourth-century basilica that I visited on Sunday. That’s very cool. History comes alive in Rome.

So that was my first excitement. The second is where Cardinals come in.

San Clemente, you see, is one of the titular churches of Rome; according to my little book about San Clemente, there were 25 such ancient churches. It says of these priests:

One of the duties of the priests of these “Titles” was to serve the cemeterial churches, or, later, the major basilicas. Because they were thus incardinated in (or seconded to) a church distinct from that to which they had been ordained, these priests from the Titular Churches were known as “cardinal” priests.

Another possibility, mentioned by a 20-year-old Encyclopaedia Britannica, is that bishops from sees which had fallen to invasion in the 6th century were put into new sees as cardinales — from cardo, pivot or hinge — referring to their method of arrival.

The first etymology is still a bit garbled to me, since cardo means hinge, and cardinalis can mean principal. It srikes me that cardinales presbyteri are such because they are chief and principal presbyters of the church; this option appeals to me more than the other two. In the Early Middle Ages, they referred to the presbyters of the 25 titular churches and the bishops of the seven episcopates nearest Rome.

Regardless of muddle etymologies, the popes have had agentes in rebus and apocrisarii and other allies throughout the centuries, some in Rome, some abroad, all of them to help do their bidding. In the Early Middle Ages, a group of these started to be called cardinals; today, the cardinals are the head honchos of the Curia who elect the Pope, represent him in various countries, and try to keep things from changing.

And back in the 440s, Leo the Great sent a presbyter named Renatus to Constantinople to represent him. We have textual evidence that he was priest of the Titular Church of San Clemente — thus, what would later become a cardinal. And you can visit the remains of San Clemente that existed in Leo and Renatus’ day.

In Rome, history comes to life.

Pope Leo, San Clemente, and Cardinals (pt 1)

On Sunday, I took the opportunity to visit the Basilica di San Clemente, just a few minutes’ walk from the Colosseum. It is a gem, well worth visiting; the upper church, the main basilica, dates to ca. 1100 (after the old one got trashed by some Normans* [typical behaviour on their part]). It is built on the basilica plan I discussed here and has some lovely frescoes as well as a sixth-century schola cantorum down the middle, not dissimilar to the fourth-century one at Santa Sabina, and a few sculptures to be admired.

The star of the show, however, is the mosaic. It is one of those gilt masterpieces of Late Antique and Romanesque art, with the Cross as the Tree of Life at the centre, and persons from all walks of life as well as animals living in the branches of the tree. It is flanked by Evangelists and Prophets, surmounted by (essentially) Christ Pantokrator, and stands above lambs whom I assume represent the Apostles. The little book I bought, written by an Irish Dominican (after we suppressed them in the 1600s, the Irish Dominicans moved to San Clemente), says that, given its Late Antique feel, this apsidal mosaic is possibly either a reproduction of the original, fourth-century mosaic or at least the same sort of iconography.**

After viewing this lovely upper church, I bought some postcards and a ticket to visit what lies beneath. Beneath 12th-c San Clemente lies 4th-c San Clemente. After the Norman troubles of 1084, it was filled with rubble to form the foundation of the new church, and you can clearly see that the low, vaulted ceiling is not original, not least because the frescoes all end partway up. The frescoes depict scenes from the life of Saint Clement (saint of the week here) as well as some other folks and Sts Cyril and Methodius (saints of the week here) who brought St Clement’s (alleged) remains home to Rome. These frescoes are Romanesque, not Late Antique, though (although the architecture is fourth-century), dating to the ninth century. The lower church is wider than the upper church.

Below it you will find a Roman house (possible storage facility, in fact) and a Mithraeum. Sadly, I could only view the Mithraeum through bars. Alas. These were filled with rubble to serve as the foundations for the basilica in the fourth century. San Clemente operates on a pattern.

It was a most exciting event to visit a fourth-century basilica, no matter how low-ceilinged and dimly-lit. The earliest I’d yet visited were fifth-century basilicas such as Santa Sabina and Santa Maria Maggiore. There is an elegance and simplicity to these oldest church buildings in Rome.

A church to Saint Clement is mentioned as early as St Jerome, and it is assumed it is that fourth-century building down below. I highly recommend San Clemente — it even ties (marginally) into my research, as my next post will show!

*In their defence, they were in Rome to support the pope.

**Note that this makes it a Romanesque fresco in Late Antique style, not Byzantine, despite what one of the other tourists was saying while I was there. It is true that art at Rome in the Middle Ages maintains many of the Late Antique features shared with Byzantine art, and that in the Early Middlel Ages Rome was part of Byzantine Italy, but that does not mean we should run around calling these items Byzantine. (End of rant.)