The Pentecost programmes are on TV today and, once more, I began to muse on the world of the dead and the attachment of Christan teaching to a dark and future existence when the sun shines so brightly and creation is wonderful. In their attachment to death Christians wilfully ignore the world of the living.
|Albrecht Altdorfer 1515-1516|
Christianity is, I am sure, a mystery cult of the dead. We have seen in this blog that the dead came into the Church at the start of the Christian story and if we rewind a little we can see that Christians hid in the catacombs of
and celebrated their rituals amongst the filth of the humid tombs of Rome . One can only imagine the stench down in the tunnels as Romans mouldered away in the heat of an Italian summer. Christianity is a cult of the dead and although it is dressed up in the clothes of ‘ever lasting life’, it seems to satisfy a basic human need for security and reassurance that we are on Earth but will sometime be transported into heaven. Death is, for Christians, a major part of their faith. However, the image of the crucifix has always been difficult to look at and even admire. Rome
I'm no art historian although the crucifix is an entirely miserable and depressing artifact and is not the support to faith that it is supposed to be. Instead, we often find the emaciated and very dead looking Christ hanging there on the cross. I know that there is supposed to be a Resurrection that reanimates the body to new life but that is for another day. My feeling is that Christians had their ideas of death framed by their ideas about Christ and the cross. An image that is so repellent can only have served to twist and torment the minds of medieval humanity as they looked up to the rood cross and saw the image of Christ hanging there and appearing very dead. Not only dead. Instead, Christ has been horribly tortured and forced to endure the indignities of Roman torment. Christ has been abused and stripped of his clothes, his dignity and later his life would be taken. Inhumanity is nothing that we need to be told about. Life is full of death and suffering and the medieval experience would have been witness to starvation and hunger without reference to religion. The starving and emaciated flesh of the living and the stench of the wounds that wouldn’t heal would always be with the medieval mind. So, why would they wish to be assailed by the Crucifixion to remind them even further of the death of another man?
In religious circles the image of Christ has been called an outpouring of “torture porn" where we are assailed again and again by images of the pain and suffering inflicted on Christ. I am sure that Jesus existed and I am sure that he was tortured and I am sure that he died although I am unsure of what is to be gained from dwelling on the bestial treatment of a young Jew from
Galilee. Yes, he was mistreated by the legal system of the time and we would say that his civil rights were abused. Yes, he was tortured and he was murdered by the Authorities all of which can and does happen today. Jesus or Christ as he became died a horrible death and very much he suffered a visible and public death. It is also true that his death is paraded to medieval humanity again and again in a cavalcade of pain and humiliation. Who has not shed a tear at the story of The Passion? Mel Gibson certainly tapped into the idea of The Passion and we can see the traditionalist view where the more blood that is shed and the more skin that is lashed from the body then the better film that is made. The more blood the better and this is in a very medieval context and it is this context that has warped our present perception of faith and religion and faith and burials. Christians have, from the earliest times, been addicted to death. Rather than rejoicing in the light they have surrounded themselves with the bones of the dead and have revelled in death with images of the ‘Momenti Mori’. Death, pain and suffering are natural for the Christian as they use Earth as a mere waiting room for immortality as opposed to a place to live in the joys of the world. I am not purveying an hedonistic life here. Instead, I am suggesting that Christians always got it wrong from their earliest days and that their world was twisted from an inherent link to death and a cult of the dead.
For me, the Orthodox of the world have this image more in balance with the world. When they wish to imagine Jesus they have wonderful images of Christ Pantocrator. The serene and unchangeable image of Christ that looks down from the walls of the Church and sends forth his blessing and wisdom without recourse to the depressing images of the cross and suffering. The Orthodox can witness the crucifixion and they have icons for that although these images are balanced by ideas of Kingship and majesty that do not require the death and gore of the cross. For the orthodox, Christ is always Christ. At this time of Pentecost; I am reminded that Christians are once more dwelling on the death of this young Jew and revelling in the blood and the gore.
This idea of the transience of humanity is fine but it also questions why the Christians remained a cult of the dead instead of moving on and into the light. Will Christians forever remain attached to their catacombs, vaults, crypts and dark places?