Art Notes

Thou Hast Created All Things

Art Notes
by Anna Christman Horvath

 

We start this issue with the quote, “Let not your heart be troubled,” and step over it into a graveyard, the scene of the nighttime burial on the cover. The image is troubling, and depicts English poet Edward Young (1683–1765) burying his daughter-in-law in a Protestant cemetery while traveling in France.

Several of the articles in this Reformation issue push us right up against the reality of our own impending death. They also highlight the fact that we need not fear mortality; rather we should fear being separated from God. As Franck wrote in the Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott libretto, “Come into my heart’s house, Lord Jesus, my desire!…Away, contemptible horror of sin!” The horror of sin can enslave us and bind us to it, when instead we should be bound to the Lord and his mercy. It can fill a hole and leave no room for Christ.

With the Reformation came a change in the way Christians viewed death. During the Middle Ages the fear of death (heightened by war and disease) brought about rituals, such as the ars moriendi, to calm anxiety over what came after earthly life. This manual on the art of dying informed the dying and those attending to them, of what they should expect and how they should pray, act and think in order to have a “good death” and thus salvation. But of course it didn’t work. Luther, lecturing on Genesis, reminded his students that the law of Moses proclaimed that in the midst of life we are surrounded by death. He went on to say that with God death is nothing; the gospel and faith completely turn the law on its head, and it becomes so that in the midst of death we are in life. What great irony that we cling to life only to die, but embrace death in order to have eternal life! We can rest in the death (and resurrection) of our Savior, as one rests in sleep. See the sketch on page 29.

On the back cover we see an enamel chasse. Enamel was a relatively cheap way of decorating a large surface, and reliquaries such as this were exported throughout Europe. The city of Limoges, where it was made, was on the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela (located in Spain and purported home to the remains of St. James). Copper sheets were stamped, enameled, fired, and then attached to a wooden box. Finally a relic (a part of a deceased holy person’s body or belongings kept as an object of reverence) was inserted. After that it all but made intersession.

Medieval Christians would see one of these and “understand” the importance of its contents. However, the Reformation changed that. It rendered the contents useless in the eyes of the believer, and instead focused on the message on the exterior: Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead. That is the truth that has set us free. Despite being surrounded by death, our hearts need not be troubled.

 

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