Category: Saint


salvador-dali-christ-of-st-john-of-the-crossSalvador Dali believed that Christ of St John of the Cross was his religious masterpiece. It is influenced by a sketch found in the spiritual diaries of the Spanish Mystic and Carmelite, Juan de Yepes y Álvarez who became known as John of the Cross.  A sketch in his spiritual John_of_the_Cross_crucifixion_sketchdiaries of a vision he had received, made a great impression on Dali – he described the image as being ‘like a Crucifix presented to the lips of a dying man’ .  When Dali came to paint the image he used a Hollywood Stuntman, Russel Saunders as the model for Christ – and actually strapped his body to a gantry to help Dali envisage the pull of gravity on the Human Body.

Historical Context

In 1948 Dali had returned to Spain after the war, he had rediscovered his Catholic Faith and visited Pope Pius XII in Rome where he sought and was given approval for his new religious themes.  He had studied Nuclear Physics and felt that the discovery of the atomic nature of the universe was proof of the existence of God. This mix of science and religion 2would lead to a new Nuclear Mysticism according to Dali and in 1951 he published his Mystical Manifesto stating his ambition to paint a new type of Crucifixion.  Paintings of the crucified Christ had focused on the pain and humiliation of the Crucifixion- however Dali said in his manifesto ‘ I want my next Christ to be the painting containing the most beauty and joy, more than anything that will have been painted up to the present.’  It is worth noting that unusually for paintings of Christ on the Cross – it is devoid of pain, blood and the crown of thorns.  Dali associated the nucleus of the atom with Christ and was influenced by the ideas of the mathematician Luca Pacioli – paying attention to the triangle formed by Christs arms and the cross.

Theology

The background to the Painting is Port Lligat – the area of the Catalonian coast were Dali lived for most of the latter part of his life.  This is a reference to the universal relevance the Crucifixion, its historical significance and supra-historical effects.  When we celebrate the mass we believe that we cut through time and space as we are united with the one eternal sacrifice of Christ on Golgotha, we are not just remembering or ‘re-enacting’ his last supper.  So by placing Christ against the background of his home, Dali is performing what would be called in Jesuit spirituality a Composition of Place.  The crucifixion of Christ is as relevant here and now, in 1950’s Spain or in 21st Century Manchester as it was 2 millenia ago in Palestine.

It is also worth reflecting on the beauty of the male image. In Dali’s own words – The metaphysical Beauty of the Christ-God and make his Christ ‘as beautiful as the God that he is’.   Christian Theology has often been interested in the tension between the  ‘Theology of the Cross’ and the ‘Theology of Glory’ .  Christ on the Cross is one of the most powerful images in human culture, but for Christians it represents the wisdom of God and the self-abandoning love of Christ.  Seen through the eyes of faith the cross presents unique insight into who God is and how he chooses to save.  Seen through the eyes of the world the cross is a brutal, humiliating public form of torture or capital punishment.  Because of this St Paul talks of ‘the scandal of the cross’ – a stumbling block to the wise.  Usually Christian iconography – especially in Spain – focuses on Christs suffering in order to elicit feelings of devotion in the believer.  A danger of an exaggerated Theology of the Cross is to see creation as irrevocably fallen, The Theology of Glory on the other hand would see creation as essentially good and have an eschatological focus on the resurrection and ultimate victory of good.  Perhaps Dalis – new type of Crucifixion is an attempt to marry the two.

Paintings Reception & Impact

dali_and_honeymanWhen a Scottish Art Historian, Dr Honeyman, acquired the painting for the Glasgow Art Gallery – students at the Glasgow School of Art and members of the Church of Scotland vehemently protested its purchase.  For some it was a waste of money and should have been spent on contemporary Scottish painters, for others it was blasphemous and encouraged idol worship.  The public however flocked to it and it was observed how men would instinctively take their hats of viewing it and boisterous school groups fall silent in its presence.  It has recently been voted Scotland’s favourite painting and is now by far the most valuable painting in the collection – a wise investment!

There is a fascinating 28min documentary about in on the Radio  4 Website 

AMDG   

download (4)Today we are moving into the Third Week of the Exercises – where we contemplate Christ in his Passion.  It is a ‘test’ of discipleship and any elections made in the Second Week.  Often a dry and difficult period in prayer – as the mystery of the cross is so difficult to penetrate.  Luckily we have a great saint today – Edith Stein.  I am privileged to be celebrating mass today too, so this is my reflection on this great woman.

On the eve of the third millennium, John Paul II named three women as new patrons of Europe, one of them was St Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein.  She was a saint of the second millennium, who would accompany us into the third millennium, the Pope said.

Why was Edith Stein so close to the Popes heart?  Why did he feel she was such a powerful patron for us as we entered the new millennium?

It may be helpful to think of three stages to Edith’s Life  1) The towering intellect and public genius   2) Conversion and an irresistible call to a hidden contemplative life      3) Her embrace of the cross and Confronting evil in Auschwitz…. And in this incredible journey she synthesised the dramatic history of the twentieth century in her own heart.

The first part of her life was a journey from Judaism to atheism, of outstanding intellectual achievements, as a pupil and then teaching assistant of the famous phenomenologist Husserl who supported her ambition to be the first female professor – she was fascinated with truth and with empathy, the subject of her doctoral dissertation.  She had built a great intellectual tower – but she did not stay on top of it looking down at the rest of us – like so many of the so called ‘new atheists’

World War One intervened – she worked as a nurse  – but the moment when her unbelief collapsed was when one of her colleagues was killed in Flanders.  She visited his widow and encountered a women with deep faith –  This was in her own words:  My first encounter with the cross and the divine power that it imparts to those who bear it .    ….……  This was a generation whose experience of War had penetrated their hearts, and the search for truth was not a merely intellectual exercise

download (5)So the second phase of her life began – resuming lecturing after the War – she read the New testament, and Kierkegaard and interestingly the Spiritual Exercises – all of which made a deep impression on her (notice she only read the Exercises – she didn’t make them)   However the  breakthrough was when visiting a friend she picked up the biography of St Teresa of Avila and read it all night –  at the end she simply said ‘this is the truth’  – she was to be baptised a Catholic and her work became a combination of Scholarship and Faith ….. ten years later she entered the contemplative Carmelite life – and took up the religious name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

Like our own Hopkins – she was to stop writing as she enthusiastically immersed herself into religious life.  This self-imposed silence was to finish as she published a book called ‘The Science of the Cross’ to mark the 400th anniversary of St John of the Cross birth…..  This immersion into the mystery of the Cross was to be prophetic as she was to imitate her beloved Jesus …..

He turned his face to Jerusalem and his passion – she was to be taken to Auschwitz with her sister who had followed her into ‘Carmel’ .  The rounding up of Jewish converts was in retaliation to the Dutch Bishops letter condemning Nazism and its ethnic cleansing.  Her last words to her sister were Come we are going with our people’ as they were rounded up with 987 Jewish Christians and sent today to the gas chambers.

So three steps – from an intellectual tower, to a silent life of adoration and then this profound welcoming of the cross.

One of my fellow Jesuits said yesterday – so many of us want Christianity without the cross – let us pray with Teresa Benedicta that we learn to serve our crucified Lord.

AMDG

loyola2Thanks for all the messages on this feast of St Ignatius…..  I have fond memories of celebrating this feast in Tanzania in recent years with our pupils, and in India with the Dalits, and in Manchester with some of the students.  This year seems special, here at St. Beunos, in North Wales, directing the 30 days – in the silence of the Exercises, at the beginning of the Second Week.  Now our retreatants are praying for a growing interior knowledge of Christ. Having meditated on the Call of the King they are now contemplating, step by step, the life of Jesus.    After the intensity of the First Week it is a rich and vivid journey they are making, using imaginative contemplation. If we are to remember Ignatius for anything – it is not necessarily for the Jesuits, for our works, for the apostolates – Ignatius knew that we are founded to serve the church, to help souls.  Famously Ignatius said if we were to be disbanded it would take 15 mins in the chapel for him to reconcile himself to that.

The heart of St Ignatius is found most clearly in making the Exercises.   That is a legacy of his that we can never lose.  This uniquely transformative tool that has changed so many lives.  And in the privilege of giving the exercises, I feel very close to him.   One of the things we are encouraged to do is review our own notes of the Exercises we made in Tertianship.  I was in Manila – three years ago – and during the second week I read a biography of St Ignatius by the Basque Historian José  Tellechea Idígoras.  It is the best biography I have read.  I have been thinking a lot over the past few days about how Ignatius would ‘give’ the Exercises.  There were no retreat houses in his day, no en-suite facilities!  He would invite someone he had got know, for whom he thought it would be profitable. They would often stay in a spare room in his house and he would meet them after dinner to listen, to help and then set them points for the next day.  Maybe we need to renew that practice ourselves…..   and then there is beautiful description Idigoras leaves us with of Ignatius….  you can imagine him towards the end of his life…. perhaps leaving the house after having met his exercitant….

He wore a simple austere cassock and fought off the cold with a large cloak.  When he left the house he wore a voluminous cape and a broad brimmed hat with attached chords that he tied to his chin. It was impressive to see him walking in the street. He was always going, because of some business, to some specific place or to see some particular person. At this period in his life his fair hair had disappeared, he was bald and wore a short beard from which loomed an aquiline nose and high cheekbones.  His complexion had become darker, weather-beaten, perhaps even yellowish because of his liver ailment? His countenance, serious and peaceful, was the image of circumspection and a life lived interiorly. Some found it particularly luminous and expressive. His eyes which at one time had been sparkling and bright were now blurred by work, old age and copious tears. They had lost their gaiety but not their penetrating force. He seldom looked at people straight on.  When he did, however, people said he took in the person from head to toe. His gaze seemed to have the power of seeing straight through a person right into his heart. 

 

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