Saturday, April 11, 2009

Georges Rouault, French expressionist artist, (1871 - 1958), painted “Crucifixion”

Here our true Paschal Lamb we see,
Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursed tree-
So strong His love to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o'er,
And Satan cannot harm us.

Then let us feast this Easter Day
On Christ, the bread of heaven;
The Word of grace has purged away
The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed;
He is our meat and drink indeed;
Faith lives upon no other!

LSB 458


  1. Hello Michael,

    It is interesting that you chose Rouault’s 1920 ‘The Crucifixion’ to illustrate the Lutheran hymn of 1Cor 5:7-8, because in my ‘Feast’ card I chose Chagall’s 1938 ‘White Crucifixion’.

    Comparing Rouault and Chagall, from their recent exhibitions, Jed Perl [‘The Spiritual in Art’.], comments that “If once upon a time Chagall was seen as too Jewish and Rouault as too Catholic, by now the very allegiances that were said to compromise their modernist credentials have a renewed fascination. What is so remarkable about the work that has been done on Chagall and Rouault recently is that it goes well beyond identity politics, revealing the ardent particularism that these great artists brought to modern art's dreams of universalism”.

    But for me, the imagery of Chagall’s ‘White Crucifixion’ and Paul’s comments on how to celebrate the ‘feast’ are poignant. I am compelled to turn, even now, to Gordon Rupp’s address on ‘Martin Luther and the Jews’, before The Council of Christians and Jews, and to Emil Fackenheim’s ‘To Mend the World: Foundations of Post-Holocaust Jewish Thought’.

    For also Christ our Passover
    was sacrificed for us.
    So let us keep the feast,
    not with old leaven,
    nor with leaven of malice
    and of evil,
    but with unleavened bread
    of sincerity and truth.
    1 Corinthians 5: 7 - 8

    Blessed be the God and Father of Christ our Passover Lamb and pray we will be blessed with this unleavened bread during the ‘Feast’.


  2. Hi Peter - yea that is a coincidence. Whats your feast card? What made you choose Chagall's White Crucifixion - I can't imagine that being a smash hit??

  3. Hello Michael,

    And in the coincidence there is a friendship connection: Rouault with Maritain; and Maritain’s wife, Raissa, an Hasidic Jew converted to Catholicism, with Chagall.

    But as a way into my reply to your questions, let me ask you about your choice of Rouault’s ‘Crucifixion’ for your ‘Easter’ blog. Is it for any sympathy with Roman Catholic art, whether it is Rouault’s Fauvism or Raphael’s Baroque? [Even though I note your sympathies for the kitsch Rhoda Nyberg’s ‘Grace’ and Hebert Draper’s ‘Icarus’ as well as for the genius of Jan van Eyck and Rembrandt van Rijn.] With the friendship between Rouault and Maritain, the crucifixion paintings of Rouault are said to be expressive icons: more realist and medieval and less idealist and classical. I take it, then, that Rouault’s ‘Crucifixion’ was a ‘smash hit’ for your friends who saw and read your ‘Easter’ blog. What makes it a smash hit for them? Is it because Rouault’s iconic crucifixion is actually less realism and more idealism, albeit in a rugged form, and so making it tolerable and acceptable?

    So what’s with my ‘Feast’ card? What do I say to my friends, if they ask? From the text which I gave, on the card and in the posting, Paul calls the event when Christ was a Passover [lamb] a ‘feast’ occasion – the Feast, or Festival, of Passover. I am more comfortable with Passover than with Eostre and Good Freya Day. And as a letter writer to ‘The Times’ [11.4.09. UK] has said, when searching for an ‘Easter’ card, that they “could not find a single one with an image or message of the Passion or Resurrection. Only lambs and spring flowers”. In recent years I put together my own ‘Passover’ card from where I am on my pilgrimage. This year it’s Chagall’s ‘White Crucifixion’.

    For many years, having imbibed contemporary Calvinism in its rationalistic form, I was challenged, over two years ago, about postmodernism when reading Smith’s book. I saw, but not from Smith, that nearly all evangelicals are arguing against postmodernism from an aristotelian rationalistic viewpoint – Enlightenment Evangelicals. Why Enlightenment? Why not Counter-Enlightenment? Or as Prof McDuffee argues, ‘Why Kant? Why not Hamann?’ []. Johann-Georg Hamann is still for me through a glass darkly, but I trust I will come to see the face of his writing. Aspects of Lutheranism have also countered the Enlightenment. For example, there is the Lutheran aspect of ‘Express[ing] a complex truth with two contrasting or paradoxical, statements’ as with the Hamannian ‘Union of Opposites’. This is less aristotelian Athens and more hebraic Jerusalem. And so, the evangelical desire for univocity is of Athens but the biblical desire for ‘multivocity’ is of Jerusalem.

    However, as Rupp says, “[b]y a sad irony, Luther’s dependence on Lyra and Burgos as exegetes led him to their anti-Jewish writings…[Even though s]ome of the bitterest mediaeval anti-semitic polemic came from converted Jews who purported to divulge Judaism from within”. Yet Rupp misses the sweetness, in the midst of this tragic bitterness [like Chagall’s ‘White Crucifixion’], that, as the Jewish Encyclopedia comments, “the French monk Nicolas de Lyre…was largely dependent on the commentaries of Rashi, which he regarded as an official repository of rabbinical tradition, although his explanations occasionally differed from theirs. Nicolas in turn exercised a powerful influence on Martin Luther, whose, exegesis thus owes much, in the last analysis, to the Jewish scholar [Rashi] of Troyes”. Perhaps the saying should be adapted: “If Rashi had not played, Lyra and Luther would not have danced”.

    But Jewish exegetical influence on Luther was not restricted to Bible translation. For although Zimmerman [‘Recovering Theological Hermeneutics’] states that “it has been argued that the term ‘deconstruction’ (Destrucktion), which Derrida found in Heidegger, is derived from Luther’s Heidelberg disputation” [page 75], this does not, I believe, give sufficient insight and credit to some Jewish thought of the era which we might call ‘postmodernism’. In fact, Zimmerman finds Luther’s deconstruction unsettling: “if we admit Luther’s method of Christian deconstruction, are we not, in fact, urging everyone to become a Derrida, a radical deconstructionist for whom nothing is sacred?” [page 113]. Instead, for such insights and credits we need to turn to Handelman’s ‘The Slayers of Moses: The Emergence of Rabbinic Interpretation in Modern Literary Theory’ and Klepper’s ‘The Insight of Unbelievers: Nicholas of Lyra and Christian Reading of Jewish Text in the Later Middle Ages’.

    Also, in the midst of the tragic bitterness, as of Chagall’s ‘White Crucifixion, there is for me the action of sweetness. For I have recently been challenged, by Prof McDuffee, in his comments and recommendation of Emil Fackenheim’s ‘To Mend The World: Foundations of Post-Holocaust Thought’. Here McDuffee refers to the public prayers for the Jews and the example by the Catholic priest Lichtenberg. McDuffee [] says that “Such prayer [What the Lord tells us in the dark we should say in the light, and what He whispers to us we should proclaim on the housetops…prayer as public action.] puts ourselves at risk, making us in the eyes of others to be a criminal, an outlaw, or a traitor; or one who is wrong, untrustworthy, irrelevant or insane. Emil L. Fackenheim in his valuable work (because it should make the reader nervous)…adds the following commentary, ‘For what at great risk and finally the cost of his life was done by Lichtenberg every day for nearly three years - pray for Jews in public and by name - was not done even once by the Vicar of the Christ in the safety of the Vatican. Excuses and explanations have been given. They will continue to be given. Some may have a certain pragmatic validity. None will ever obscure the pragmatic and transpragmatic truth that had masses of Christians, Protestant and Catholic, within and without Nazi-occupied Europe, prayed sincerely, publicly, and by name for the maligned, hounded, martyred Jews of Nazi Europe, their prayers would have moved more than mountains: they would have caused the collapse of the kingdom of the Antichrist, the inner core of which was the Holocaust world (p. 291).’ To respond to this rebuke requires us continually reviewing how we should pray for the Jews while revising with whom these prayers should be included.”

    So I ask my God, let not just the feast be for me without the leaven of malice and evil against the Jews, whether in malicious actions or writings, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth to the Jews. I ask because Christ the Jew, who is my Passover, was sacrificed for me. Let then my prayers be set forth as incense and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Let there be great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart for the Jews, to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises. Amen. And the promises! Glory, O Yahweh, the Israel of Yahweh is one Israel.

    Let us dance to the sweet playing, in the midst of bitterness, both in text and prayer,



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