« VorigeDoorgaan »
whole theory of life being out of correspondence with progressive political systems, contention was inevitable ; but, in the midst of all vicissitudes, the ecclesiastical body maintained its intellectual pre-eminence,—Catholic priests were everywhere the historians, schoolmasters and professors, the jurists, philosophers and statesmen of Europe. All public archives were kept by them, and they alone could train men for any position that required more knowledge than was to be acquired in the tilt-yard and the camp. Paramount in every department where the mind could exert itself, the directors of all its emotional expressions, (since those who were not righteous were superstitious,) and this in an age when feeling universally overruled reflection, it has been charged against the Church that her guardianship of society should have produced better results, and asserted that, instead of self-laudation for having done so much, she should rather excuse herself for having done so little!
Such criticisms can have no weight, however, considered as apart from her claim to infallibility and Divine guidance and protection. From the historical standpoint, and regarded as an institution directed by human intelligence, the Catholic Church needs no advocate's plea in defence while the records of eighteen centuries remain to witness what she has done for humanity. Great as are the wrongs in which she has been either the agent or the accomplice; vast as her aggressions against the rights, the liberty and the happiness of mankind have been,—these are the exceptions and not the rule; the faults of an age, not the vices of a particular society; and ignorance alone can urge them to the exclusion of those immeasurable benefits she has conferred on the world. It is most improbable that another organization will ever exercise an equal authority ; but, while the annals of the past contain no record of any institution with which she may be compared, they certainly testify to this,—that, although she shares her faults with every association which has ever held long-continued power, her glories are her own! History preserves the story of her usurpations; it would be well to recall in no sectarian spirit the recollection of her benefactions. They never have been, and perhaps they never can be, adequately described ; yet it is not too much to say that, for many ages, whatever was good was her gift,—whatever amelioration of their lot men experienced, was her work. We possess no fruit of civilization whose seed was not sown by the only power then capable of intervening between the world and overwhelming barbarism, and against whom the tears that rise up in judgment are but as drops in the ocean of those her ministrations have wiped away.
All this is true, but it is not more true than the fact that no department of knowledge made any constant progress until it had been secularized. Of all the power the Church claims to possess in the persons of her saints over nature, and among all the miraculous suspensions and alterations of natural laws she attributes to their intercession, there was one miracle that she could not perform, and this was to produce any impression upon the established order of phenomena that makes each successive generation the organic and mental development of its predecessors. Failing in this, evolution took its appointed course, and, in considering Christian art in relation to the subjects before specified, we must continue to regard it from an exclusively historical point of view. Perhaps there is no more significant series of facts in the history of opinion, than those afforded by the modes in which the Supreme Being was delineated during different centuries. Every antique buildingDidron remarks,-is a pictographic record of the distractions of the Church, and of the changes wrought in her by internal or extrinsic causes. Before the last vestiges of classic civilization became extinct, and Christendom had sunk into such depths of ignorance and superstition as none but those who have travelled in semi-barbarous countries can adequately conceive of, the Almighty was never directly represented. The reasons for this are found in the more abstract view of His nature taken by the early Christians, and the absence of that materialistic tendency—the natural and inevitable outgrowth of mediævalism,-vhich for a long period degraded religion into a system of fetichism. Besides this, there was the evident impossibility of delineating the Father otherwise than in the likeness of Jupiter,—the most godlike conception that the artistic imagination had thus far attained to. Finally, we may add to the causes contributing to prevent the representation of the First Person, the profound impression made by NeoPlatonism and its offspring, the Gnostic system, upon the speculative tenets of the early Church. The primacy attributed to the “ Word" by St. John corresponded with the doctrines of these sects completely.
Notwithstanding the light thrown upon this subject by the invention of the term hypostatic to express the mystical junction of “ three persons in one God,” neither the decrees of the Council of Chalcedon, nor any exercise of human faculty, could overcome the, insuperable difficulties this doctrine presented so soon as its realization was attempted. Certain three-headed monsters were indeed produced by way of illustrating it, but they met with little favor, and artistic delineations of the Godhead were afterwards in accordance with the peculiar functions attributed to its persons separately. This necessity involved, as we shall see hereafter, many remarkable variations in the modes of impersonation, all of which are valuable as indications of intellectual phases.
First in the historic order comes the “ Divine hand,” encircled by the nimbus of God, projecting from the clouds that concealed the rest of His person. This symbolism is less due to a sentiment of reverence than to the obvious impossibility of delineating a beirg whose attributes human intelligence is incompetent to conceive, and whose direct relation to the world must always remain inscrutable. Beyond this, Gnosticism had given its earliest artistic types to Christianity, and it is most probably to the influence it exercised that we must ascribe much of that marked neglect shown by artists to the First Person of the Trinity in the interval between the sixth and twelfth centuries. Partly, then, from a psychological cause, the impossibility of representing to themselves any likeness of the Almighty, and partly from the influence still exerted by heretical literature, whenever it was necessary, either from the character of the action or from the obligation imposed by the text, to portray the Father, the figure of the Son was substituted for Him. “ Dans la première, qui est anterieure au XIV. siècle, la figure du Père se confond avec celle du Fils.... Dans le seconde période, .... Jésus Christ perd sa force d'assimilation iconographique, et se laisse vaincre par son Père." It was not until the fourteenth century (as the same author observes), and principally in the fifteenth and sixteenth, that portraits of God the Father became usual. We see an illustration of the supremacy of emotion in a rude age over the intellectual faculties, in the fact that Christ, whom the people loved, was always represented as a youth, even while exercising the peculiar powers of " the ancient of days.” Gradually, however, His face and figure assumed that type which is now universally regarded as distinctive. The Trinity is doctrinally indivisible, and the Nicene Creed declares that all things were made by the “ Word,” so that representations of Jesus in the character of the Pantocrator, the Alīnighty, naturally became conventional in order that they might be characteristic, and He is depicted (although still young,) with the nimbus of God, the open gospel and the inscription, “o ūv"_“ I am that I am,"—the whole being usually enclosed with an aureole.
Amid all the changes that the portraiture of Christ underwent, it is noticeable that His likeness was never intentionally heathenized ; whereas, the Father frequently appears as the combatting Apollo, and in characters designed from the text of the Old Testament. Thus, in Italian miniatures and illuminations of the twelfth century, He often bears the sword and bow of a "mighty man of war,” and is delineated as the “ God of battles " who commanded Israel against His foes,—“ et missit sagittas suas, et dissipavit eos.” During the Middle Ages, much importance was attached to the position of the figures in a painting or group of statuary, and in this instance, likewise, the Son constantly takes precedence, either as the representative of the First Person of the Trinity, or as exercising the powers of the Holy Spirit. Independently of the motives before referred to for attributing this pre-eminence to Christ, prevailing sentiment found its justification in the identity of the Father and Son so often stated by the Evangelists,“ Ego et Pater unum sumus,"__" Qui videt me, videt eum qui missit me,"—so that, when the text corroborated the teachings of the clergy and harmonized with the strong tendency of public feeling to the same end, this propensity to elevate the Son at the expense of the other persons of the Godhead became irresistible.
How faithful a record of changes in opinion art keeps, may be learned from the innovations in Christian iconography made during the twelfth century. Then the “Divine hand” was first supplemented by the face, and subsequently by the bust and entire figure of the Creator. These altered modes of representation corresponded with the gradually increasing materialism of the times. Didron, in fact, calls it “the period of materialism," and, like all similar reactions, its natural tendency was towards extremes. Having delineated the Almighty as a majestic man, similar, but not same, with Christ, artists proceeded to adorn His figure with
the insignia of the highest temporal authority they knew of; thus, in Germany He appears with the imperial regalia, in France and Spain as a king, and in Italy like a pope. Henceforth, whenever the Father is represented as one of a group, His is the central figure, and in delineations of the Trinity the Son is placed upon His right, and is portrayed as being much the younger of the two. This naturalistic conception, this attempt to follow observed phenomena rather than speculative opinions, does not appear to have excited any apprehension of a revival of Arianism, and the natural relation of filiation between the First and Second Persons was expressed everywhere in Europe without ecclesiastical opposition. In brief, from the evidence furnished by Christian art, we may conclude that the reverence for the Father has progressively increased, not from any augmented religious sentiment in societies, because this has certainly not grown stronger, but altogether on account of an advance in mental development.
From the fifth to the ninth century, when the supremacy of the Church was absolute, He, in common with all other representations of a sacred character, bore the unmistakable impress of the monastic type. During the feudal period, another ideal was evolved, and at once stamped itself upon the portraitures of God. His pictures and statues in this age are all expressive of courage, pride, conscious power, and severity,-in short, of the qualities that inspired the greatest reverence and excited the most sincere admiration among the largest number of people. With the rise of the free cities and the elevation of the burgher class during the thirteenth century, public feeling underwent another change. The figure of the Almighty became less rigid, the face less stern. For the pose of a mailed warrior, and an expression befitting the countenance of the Rex tremendæ magestatis, art, yielding to the “ form and pressure” of the times, substituted plasticity of outline and a benignity of mien which assured men of His accessibility to the humble, and bore witness to a nearer interest in the affairs of everyday life. Certain theological modifications accompanied, or rather preceded, those varieties of delineation. God's relation to the world is usually comprehended in the idea of His providence, and conceptions of this have been strongly contrasted at different periods. That belonging to the first general mode of representing the Almighty was imagined to be chiefly occupied with