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Jesus: A Portrait

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ISBN10: 0232527199

Publisher: DARTON LONGMAN & TODD LTD

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  • There are many books about Jesus, but few attempt to tell us what he was actually like. This new book by the distinguished Catholic biblical scholar and systematic theologian Gerald OCollins concentrates on bringing the personality of Jesus alive. It combines devotion and experience with a lifetime of scholarly investigation.
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  • CHAPTER ONE

    THE BEAUTY OF JESUS

    Without beauty, the good becomes a burden and truth becomes a useless and empty labour. It is in beauty that truth and the good find their supreme revelation.
    Dino Barsotti, The Spirituality of Beauty

    At a special consistory in Rome, held in 2001, Cardinal Godfried Daneels, Archbishop of Malines- Brussels, told his brother cardinals that the way into the culture of our times was through an appeal to beauty. By that door we can bring contemporary people to a sense of the truth and goodness of God. If we approach God and the divine attributes directly, our audience may remain sceptical. Like Pontius Pilate, they can say, What is truth? While attracted by goodness and its ideals, they can feel put off by their own sense of sinful inadequacy. The door to God through beauty, the cardinal suggested, is the way to let the Christian message enjoy a renewed impact.

    How would the cardinals advice look when applied to Jesus? Approaching the story of Jesus through his human and divine beauty will have its powerful impact. We gladly give our hearts to what is beautiful. We fall in love with beautiful men and women. Those people who are beautiful possess an instant appeal. We hope that they are also good and truthful, but it is their beauty that catches and holds our attention. Jesus is the beauty of God in person. When we fall in love with his beauty, we are well on the way to accepting his truth and imitating his goodness.

    St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) knew through his personal experience the power that beauty exercises over our hearts and feelings. In his Confessions he addresses God as the divine Beauty reaching him through his five senses - through the sense of hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch: You called and cried to me and broke open my deafness. You sent forth your beams and shone upon me and chased away my blindness. You breathed fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and now, pant for you. I tasted you, and now hunger and thirst for you. You touched me and I burned for your peace (1). The coming of Christ meant that human beings could now literally hear, see, smell, taste, and touch the very incarnation of the divine Beauty. The infinitely beautiful God had reached out to us and become in person available through our five senses.

    It is not surprising then that Augustine spelt out in terms of beauty (and not of goodness and truth) the major stages of Christs story. In a homily on a royal wedding song that we know as Psalm 45, St Augustine declared: he [Christ] is beautiful in heaven; beautiful on earth; beautiful in the womb; beautiful in his parents arms; beautiful in his miracles; beautiful under the scourge; beautiful when inviting to life ... beautiful when laying down his life; beautiful in taking it up again; beautiful on the cross; beautiful in the sepulchre; beautiful in heaven (2). This eloquent passage from Augustine takes us from heaven to heaven , that is to say, from Christs pre-existent life in heaven before the incarnation to his post-existent life when risen from the dead. At every stage in that story, beauty characterises Christ, even when he is laying down his life on the cross. Others might have said Christ is good/true in heaven, good/true on earth and so forth, but not Augustine. The wonderful framework he provides for summarising Christs entire story comes in terms of beauty, and Augustine does so out of the communicative wealth of the Scriptures.

    Two things stand out in this list from Augustine: the echoes from St Johns Gospel and the sense that it may be difficult to recognise beauty in the passion of Christ. First, laying down his life and taking it up again obviously echo the language of John (10:17-18), a Gospel on which Augustine commented in 124 tractates (3) and which he often quoted or echoed in other writings. Second, since he seems concerned about the difficulty (and the importance) of accepting that Christ was also beautiful in the passion, Augustine repeats this point four times: beautiful under the scourge, beautiful in laying down his life, beautiful on the cross, and beautiful in the sepulchre. The beauty of Christ powerfully revealed in his suffering is integral to his total story. Those who curated the Seeing Salvation exhibition, which drew so many visitors to London in 2000, obviously shared that conviction. From the 79 paintings and other objects displayed, 22 were placed in two sections dealing directly with Christs passion. Further works of art concerned with the passion turned up in other sections, right from the first one, Sign and Symbol. The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), a painting by Francisco de Zurbur?ín (1598-1664) lent by the Prado in Madrid, showed a lovely lamb with its feet tied, lying on a butchers slab and standing out against a dark background. It conveyed a powerful sense of what human sin did to the Lamb of God in his work of redemption, and set the tone for many visitors to the exhibition.

    Many have quoted from The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-81) the dictum beauty will save the world and rightly see in Prince Myshkin, a saintly stranger who returns to Russia, an effective symbol of the innocent and beautiful Christ. But not all have noticed the novels connection with the passion and with Johns Gospel. On his way to Florence, where he wrote this work, Dostoyevsky stopped in Basel to see The Dead Christ by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543). Deeply moved by this tragic painting, he introduced references to it at key points in the novel, which ends in deeper darkness than any of his other novels. A letter from 1867 shows how he held together this sense of tragedy with the beauty of Christ as portrayed by John: There is only one perfectly beautiful person, Christ, so that the appearance of this immeasurably, infinitely beautiful person ... is an infinite miracle. That is the sense of the entire Gospel of John; it finds the whole miracle in the incarnation alone, in the manifestation of the beautiful alone. (4)
    Augustine would have applauded this view of Johns Gospel. It underpins excellently the summary of Christs story we quoted above from Augustine. To that summary we now turn.

    BEAUTIFUL IN HEAVEN, BEAUTIFUL ON EARTH

    The Old Testament frequently highlights something very similar to the divine beauty: namely, the glory of God or the radiant, powerful presence of God. When Jerusalem is restored, the luminous presence of God will appear over the city, which is called to reflect the glory of the Lord and welcome home her children (Isaiah 60:1-5). Talk of the shining glory of God goes together with the biblical scenarios of fire and light. It is in a flame of fire out of a bush that God speaks to Moses (Exodus 3:16). The New Testament goes beyond speaking of God as dwelling in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16) to declare simply: God is light (1 John 1:5).

    Drawing on St Thomas Aquinas (about 1225-74), Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) describes beauty as follows: For beauty three things are required: in the first place integrity or perfection (integritas sive perfectio) ... in the second, proportion or harmony (proportio sive consonantia); in the third, clarity (claritas), for there is splendour in all objects that are called beautiful (5). This third element of beauty comes close to the scriptural language of Gods shining radiance or glory.

    Even if no biblical author ever expressly says that God dwells in unapproachable beauty or that God is beauty, some scriptural texts directly celebrate the peerless beauty of a divine personification, Lady Wisdom. Solomon is pictured as declaring this pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty to be more beautiful than the sun. He became enamoured of her beauty and desired to take her as his bride and teacher (Wisdom 7:25, 29, 8:2, 9). She is understood to be the agent of divine creation and all its beautiful works. From the greatness and beauty of these created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator, who is the very Author of beauty, and hence of Lady Wisdom, who is the radiantly beautiful reflection or spotless mirror image of God the Creator (Wisdom 7:26; 13:3-5). Here the Scriptures come close to joining Augustine in characterising God as the Beauty of all things beautiful (Confessions, 3.6; see 9.4).

    By opening his list with beautiful in heaven, beautiful on earth, Augustine pointed to the glory and beauty that Christ possessed in his pre-existence and then manifested in his incarnation. The prologue of John displays Christ as the very incarnation of the divine glory and beauty. It first calls him six times light or the true light, and so encourages readers to think of Christ pre-existing in divine glory or beauty. It is in these terms, then, that John coherently portrays the incarnation: the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen (contemplated) his glory (beauty) (John 1:14). The Gospel of John proves to be nothing less than a drawn-out contemplation of the divine glory/beauty revealed in the person of Christ (e.g. John 2:11), which reaches its high point when Thomas gazes at the risen One and confesses: My Lord and my God (John 20:28). Along the way Jesus describes himself as the Light of the world (John 9:5), equivalently as the radiant and beautiful presence of God in the world, and also as the good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14). Although it is normally translated good, the Greek adjective used here, kalos, also means beautiful. It is applied in the Book of Wisdom to Lady Wisdom; she is both beautiful and good. Christ is likewise good and beautiful in his pre-existence, in his incarnation, and as the beautiful Shepherd in laying down his life and taking it up again.

    This beauty, is Gods way of appealing to human beings and calling them back into union with the divine life. Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, an anonymous Christian writer of the late fifth or early sixth century, supposed that the Greek word for call, kalein, had given rise to the noun for beauty, kallos, and its connected adjective kalos. He understood the call of divine beauty to occur above all through the incarnation of the Son of God. As divine beauty in person, Christ heals human brokenness, restores meaning, and recreates relationships with God and others (6).

    BEAUTIFUL IN THE WOMB, BEAUTIFUL IN HIS PARENTS ARMS

    While John accounts best for the starting point, when Augustine begins itemising the stages at which the beauty of Christ was manifested, we turn to Luke and Matthew for the next stage: the conception and birth of Jesus. When they open their Gospels with the infancy narratives, they do not directly describe the beauty of Christ either in his mothers womb or after his birth. In Lukes narrative, however, the beauty of the Holy Child in Marys womb is implied by the joy that pervades the meeting between Mary and her pregnant relative Elizabeth. The presence of the beautiful Christ Child, still unborn, binds Mary and Elizabeth together in an ecstasy of joy that shines through what they say and is shared by the unborn child (John the Baptist) in the womb of Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56). Elizabeth praises Mary, and Mary praises God. Each mother has learned from heaven about the child of the other: Mary from the angel Gabriel, and Elizabeth from the Holy Spirit when she is filled with the Spirit and the child in her womb leaps prophetically. By mentioning twice that leaping (Luke 1:41, 44), the evangelist calls attention to the fact that, even in the womb, John joyfully goes before his glorious Lord.

    After his birth the beauty of the Christ Child emerges indirectly and through various heavenly and earthly protagonists in the nativity story: for instance, through the angels, awesomely beautiful heavenly visitors. As the glory/beauty of the Lord illuminates the fields at night with divine radiance, the otherworldly beauty of the angels mirrors that of the Holy Child whose birth they announce (Luke 2:8-14). His beauty is also suggested by the joy of the shepherds. They rush to Bethlehem, and find Mary, Joseph, and the Child lying in the manger. They leave glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen (Luke 2:15-20). Luke also introduces the impact on two old people who meet Jesus when he is brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. Simeon and Anna have waited so long for this moment. They delight in the beautiful Christ Child and can now die in peace (Luke 2:25-38). In Matthews infancy narrative, the Magi rejoice with extremely great joy when they finally arrive at the goal of their journey and can present the new-born Jesus with their gifts (Matthew 2:10-11). A sense of the divine beauty threads its way through many details in the nativity story that Luke and Matthew tell in their own ways and in dependence on different traditions (7).

    Composers, poets, and artists have taken a cue from this biblical language and introduced the theme of beauty into their versions of the nativity. In his Christmas Oratorio Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) acclaimed the birth of the most beautiful of all human beings. St Robert Southwell (about 1561-95) adapted the scriptural language of fire and love in his image of a pretty Babe all burning bright who appears on Christmas Day (The Burning Babe). Christian artists have excelled themselves in depicting the loveliest Child, whose beauty is reflected in the beauty of his Mother as she holds him in her arms or gazes upon him with intense love. One thinks of the paintings of Bartolom?® Esteban Murillo (1617-82), with his delicate colours and ethereal forms, Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520), and other classical Italian painters.

    BEAUTIFUL IN HIS MIRACLES, BEAUTIFUL WHEN INVITING TO LIFE

    Augustine sums up the story of Jesus in his ministry as being beautiful in his miracles and beautiful when inviting to life. Once again the Gospel writers make no attempt to describe directly the exquisite appearance of Jesus. But even though they never tell us what he looked like, they certainly suggest his wonderful beauty through their accounts of his impact on others. People flocked to him. If ever there was a magnetic, attractive personality, he was it. Beauty shone through him.

    Mark has Peter and his companions say to Jesus, everyone is searching for you (Mark 1:37). In Matthews Gospel, Jesus says to his audience: Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). If the poor and overburdened accept his light yoke, they will find enduring peace. As beautiful, divine Wisdom in person (8), Jesus invites his poor and overburdened hearers to accept him and his message; thus they will find enduring peace. He hardly needs to invite his audience to come to him. They know from others, or have already themselves experienced, how tender, welcoming, and comforting he proves to be. They want to stay in his presence and share in the mysterious grace of his person. The sick and the sinful receive from him healing and a joyful wholeness.

    The preaching of Jesus reported by Matthew and Luke provides grounds for concluding that Jesus thought of himself in terms of wisdom and made it possible for his followers to recognise him as divine Wisdom come in person. This was tantamount to acknowledging him as the divine Beauty (9). Echoing the Book of Wisdom, the Letter to the Hebrews would call him the reflection of Gods glory (Hebrews 1:3) (10). As one should expect, the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit transfigured what early Christians believed about Jesus. Nevertheless, their beliefs regularly reached back to the ministry of Jesus and to what they remembered him saying, or at least implying, about himself. These memories helped them to see in him the radiant splendour of the divine beauty.

    During his lifetime one group in their special way sensed that beauty in him. Children were drawn to the joy of Jesus lovely presence. In the rural society of ancient Galilee, children were sent off as soon as possible to take care of sheep and in other ways prove themselves to be producers and not merely consumers. Since they did not know the Torah, they were low on the religious and social scale. Yet Jesus showed himself their special friend; he delighted in their company; he worked miracles in favour of children (Mark 5:35-43; 7:24-30) (11). When his disciples tried to keep them away, Jesus took some children into his arms, blessed them, and declared that the kingdom of heaven belonged to them. Children heard him hold them up as models for adults: Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it (Mark 10:13-16). To illustrate the new attitude towards God that he required, Jesus singled out little children. He did not say, unless you become like priests and prophets, you will never enter the kingdom of God. He expected all people to show a trusting, childlike attitude towards their heavenly Father. For Jesus, the seeming incapacity of children turned out to be their greatest asset. The fact that they had nothing to give or to show in order to enter the kingdom of heaven made them receptive to whatever God offered them. They could accept and appreciate the unique gift that they had not worked to deserve.

    An American-Italian film that was first shown in December 1999, Jesus, ended with a striking tribute to Jesus (played by a very handsome actor Jeremy Sisko) as the beautiful friend of children (12). The film took its viewers through Jesus life, death, and resurrection, and then leapt forward nearly two thousand years to the waterfront of modern Valletta (Malta). His long, chestnut hair now cropped, Jesus stood there in jeans as a crowd of small children ran up to him. The film ended with him taking a tiny child in his arms and walking off with the others crowded around him. The beautiful Jesus exited with the beautiful children.

    Before leaving the beauty of Jesus manifested in his ministry, we should recall three further items: (1) his baptism, (2) his transfiguration, and (3) his self-presentation as the bridegroom.

    Jesus baptism

    Matthew, Mark, and Luke make much of the baptism of Jesus, an event rich in detail and not least in its manifestation of the Trinity. Many painters have caught something of the special grace and beauty of that moment , not least Piero della Francesca (c. 1416-92) in The Baptism of Christ on permanent exhibition in the National Gallery (London). Johns Gospel, however, does not relate the episode of Jesus baptism, but merely alludes to it (John 1:32-34). This may be why Augustine does not as a logical marker at the start of the ministry of Jesus beautiful in his baptism. He is very oriented towards the Gospel of John and ready to follow its lead.

    Jesus transfiguration

    According to the Synoptic Gospels, Peter, James, and John went up a high mountain with Jesus and saw him transfigured, as the divine glory gleamed through him. His face shone like the sun, and two heavenly figures (the prophet Elijah and the law-giver Moses) talked with him (Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:2836). The disciples reacted not only with astonished awe but also with a desire to prolong the vision of the radiantly beautiful Lord that they were experiencing. As he was naming the moments when the divine beauty of Christ shone through, Augustine could well have added, beautiful in the transfiguration. But the Gospel of John did not encourage him to do so. Rather than narrate a specific episode of transfiguration, John let the transfiguration pervade, so to speak, the whole story: from the incarnation through to the death and resurrection. The entire life of Christ disclosed his divine glory to people at large (above all through what John calls the signs); the transfiguration was not limited to a specific event on a mountain that involved only three close disciples of Jesus (13).

    Jesus as the bridegroom

    The Synoptic Gospels report words of Jesus which imply that, in the joyful time of salvation, he had come as the bridegroom for his followers (Mark 2:19-20; Matthew 9:15; Luke 5:34-35). The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids, which presents the coming of the kingdom as the coming of the bridegroom and the need to be prepared for this awesome event (Matthew 25:1-13), left its audience with the question: Who was this mysterious bridegroom if not Christ himself? This language evoked many Old Testament passages, such as the psalm which prompted Augustines reflections on the beauty of Christ. An ode for a royal wedding, Psalm 45 highlights the glory, majesty, and beauty of the king: You are the most handsome of men; grace is poured upon your lips ... Gird your sword on your thigh, 0 mighty one, in your glory and majesty (Psalm 45:2-3).

    Christians were to apply this spousal language to the union between Christ and the Church (e.g. Ephesians 5:25-33). The Bible ends with the Book of Revelation and its promise of marriage between the gloriously beautiful Christ and his Church (Revelation 21-22). The awesome splendour of the exalted Christ has already been evoked in the vision with which that book begins (Revelation 1:9-20). The theme of Christ as the supremely beautiful bridegroom, for whom we are all waiting, was to have a long future, not least in the way that mystics would draw on the Song of Songs to describe their ecstatic union with the divine Spouse.

    BEAUTIFUL UNDER THE SCOURGE

    Augustine can seem audaciously paradoxical when he writes of Christ being beautiful under the scourge and beautiful on the cross. Has Augustine forgotten Isaiah and those words about the servant of God being cruelly disfigured, devoid of attraction, and even repulsive , a passage in which Christian tradition from the start saw the suffering and death of Christ (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)? What Augustine appreciates, however, is how the crucified Jesus in a radically subversive way challenges all the normal indices of beauty. As Tom Casey remarks, the beauty of Christ is visible most of all at what is seemingly the ugliest moment of all: Jesus tortured death on the cross. The beauty that shines in the form of Christ at that moment is the beauty of infinite love. Casey moves on to articulate the call of that crucified beauty: This beauty seeks to touch people and to transform them, to awaken and draw them. The response it elicits is not sensual and momentary but all-encompassing, one that embraces the individuals entire existence. This beauty is a light that pierces the heart. Those who contemplate this crucified beauty are called to re-shape and mould anew an entire life so that it may conform to this new standard of beauty (14).

    In their narrative fashion, the Gospels show Christs crucified beauty at work. Women gather around the cross and attend the death of Jesus. The Roman centurion who has been in charge of the crucifixion blurts out his confession (indeed this man was the Son of God) , a confession in which, according to Matthew, the other soldiers join (Matthew 27:54). An outsider, Joseph of Arimathea, boldly comes on the scene to give Jesus a reverent and honourable burial (Mark 15:42-47). Quite visibly the passion accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke show the prophecy in Johns Gospel coming true: in his death Jesus would gather into one the children of God who had been scattered (John 11:51-52). In his dying and death on the cross, the Beautiful Shepherd already touches, draws, and re-shapes human lives.

    In a laconic, implicit way St Paul concurs with this. It is precisely in his most eloquent passage about the crucifixion (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5) that he calls Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24) (15). But Paul appreciates that we face here a mysterious, hidden wisdom. Otherwise, how could the rulers of this age have crucified the glorious Lord (1 Corinthians 2:8)? The divine wisdom, glory, and beauty revealed and at work in Christs passion were in no way self-evident. Here Christians face perhaps the sharpest challenge to their faith. They are summoned to recognise beauty in the weak and suffering men and women with whom Christ identifies himself (Matthew 25:31-46). His passion continues in them until the end of history. In the words of Blaise Pascal (1623-62), Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world (16). One might adapt Pauls teaching about power being made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4), and say that the power of Christs beauty is manifested perfectly in the weakness and ugliness of the crucifixion.

    Countless Christians and others have seen the Piet?á by Michelangelo (1475-1564) in St Peters Basilica (Rome), or at least a photograph or replica of it. Created when the sculptor was in his early twenties, this dramatically intense work represents the Virgin Mary holding the body of her Son across her lap and heartbroken at his death. Yet the physical beauty of the two bodies takes away something of the grief and suffering from an emotionally charged scene. Later in life Michelangelo carved other versions of the Piet?á. One is kept in the museum of the cathedral in Florence. Michelangelo himself mutilated and abandoned it, only for the work to be restored and completed by a mediocre artist. Another is the Rondanini Piet?á (in the Castello Sforzesco, Milan), on which he was still working a few days before his death when he was almost ninety.

    The work in Florence places Nicodemus above and Mary Magdalene on the left, both helping the Virgin Mary to support the body which has been taken down from the cross. Her face is close to the face of her dead Son, and she is interlaced with him in a painful union that merges the two bodies physically and spiritually. This physical and spiritual union comes through even more powerfully from the unfinished splendour of the Rondanini Piet?á, which folds the body of the Virgin into that of the dead Christ. The work expresses the spiritual, inner, even divine beauty of suffering, rather than the external beauty of a young athlete dying in the prime of his life.

    Few, if any, among Western painters have equalled Rembrandt (1606-69) in his ability to portray the beauty of Christ in his passion and death. The Dutch artists images of Christ standing before Pilate, moving towards Calvary, or nailed to the cross itself let a mysteriously haunting beauty gleam through the pain and weakness of the suffering Jesus. The power of Christs beauty is manifested in the horror of his crucifixion, when he seems abandoned and powerless.

    BEAUTIFUL IN THE RESURRECTION

    Augustine calls Christ beautiful in laying down his life and beautiful in taking it up again - language that echoes what Jesus says about himself in John 10. Through his death and resurrection he is revealed as the beautiful/good Shepherd, who knows his own, calls them by name, and is known by them (John 10:3-4, 14). We find this mutual knowledge spectacularly exemplified a few chapters later in Johns Gospel, when the risen Christ calls Mary Magdalene by name. She recognises his voice and clings with love to her beautiful Master, now gloriously risen from the dead (John 20:16-17).

    Angels are present in the Easter stories of all four Gospels and provide an image of heavenly beauty that accompanies and mirrors the new risen life of Christ. The angelic beauty that reflects the beauty of the risen Christ reaches its high point in Matthews angel of the Lord: His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow (Matthew 28:3). In his majestic beauty this angel functions as a kind of double for the risen Christ. But Jesus himself is not described in any of the Easter narratives of the Gospels. It is left to another book in the New Testament to evoke directly the awesome beauty of the resurrected and exalted Lord, whose face was like the sun shining with full force (Revelation 1:16). No wonder then, that, when the Book of Revelation portrays the heavenly Jerusalem, it reports a vision of the future in terms of the glorious splendour of God and his Son: The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Revelation 21:23).

    St Paul writes of the glory/beauty of God on the face of the risen Christ, connecting our chance of knowing this radiant glory with the primeval act by which God first created light: its is the God who said, "Let light shine out of darkness", who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). What the crucifixion and resurrection bring to all believers - the knowledge of the divine glory - sets them apart from Moses. When Moses prayed to see the divine glory, God warned him: You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live. The Lord went on to say: See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back. But my face shall not be seen (Exodus 33:20-23). The passage contains bold anthropomorphisms - the Lords hand and back. The writer wants to stress that, even for the favoured Moses, God may be vividly present but remains hidden. Paul, however, appreciates how faith and baptism bring a unique illumination, knowledge of Gods glory revealed in the face of his risen Son. As the Revealer par excellence, Christ communicates Gods beauty and loving goodness. Since God is love and beauty, Jesus is that love and beauty in person.

    BEAUTIFUL IN HEAVEN

    Augustine closes his list with the risen and exalted Christ being beautiful in heaven, but this final marker differs from the opening beautiful in heaven. The incarnation and what it involves sets the subsequent story off from the beautiful, eternal pre-existent life of the Son of God. Through his life, death, and resurrection he is now beautiful in a new way - for human beings and their world. He is beautiful for us, we could say. Augustines whole commentary on Psalm 45 (that enfolds his list of moments displaying Christs beauty) is deeply concerned with the impact of Christs glorious beauty on those who require redemption. Augustine would agree with Dostoyevskys dictum beauty will save the world, but might well have added: it is beauty that is already saving the world. We are not what we are meant to be; through the beauty of the exalted Christ we are led to the truth and goodness we so desperately need.

    Other early Christian writers agreed on the present impact of Christ now beautiful in heaven. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150c. 215) wrote: Our Saviour is beautiful, and is loved by those who desire true beauty (Stromata, 2.5). Apropos of Colossians 1:15 (the image of the unseen God), St Basil the Great (c. 330-79) assured his readers: in the blessed sight of the image [the Son] you will see the inexpressible beauty of the archetype [the Father] (De Spiritu Sancto, 9.23). Over the centuries several major anthologies entitled Philocalia (love of what is beautiful) drew on Basil and other Greek Fathers of the Church to encourage the prayer of the heart and other practices of the spiritual life centred on Christ who is now beautiful in heaven. Let me cite one final voice.

    In a famous sermon, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) said: There met in Jesus Christ all that can make man lovely and loveable. No wonder then that he went on to admit: I look forward with eager desire to seeing the matchless beauty of Christs body in the heavenly light. Yet far higher than beauty of the body, Hopkins added, comes the beauty of his character. He ended his sermon by urging the congregation to praise the beautiful Christ over and over again in their hearts (17).

    THE FACE OF CHRIST

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Jesus: A Portrait

 
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