Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Let this mind be in you ..."

While hardly comparable to Bernini or Raphael or Caravaggio in other respects, the painting that stuck me with unusual power while we were in Rome was a painting of the Last Supper by the Italian painter, Jacopo Bassano. The painter has captured the blinding incomprehension of Jesus’ disciples as they lounge around, eating, squabbling, and chitchatting inanely. Christ is alone in their midst; he alone has a sense of what is happening and what is about to happen. Bassano has revealed, however, that in his solitude Christ remains in communion with his heaven Father.

Stepping into the Borghese Galley after a harrowing taxi ride through Roman traffic and recalling how the crowds of tourists roam seemingly aimlessly around the great churches of Rome, it was easy to recognize our world in this painting. Like Bassano’s disciples we often don’t have a clue as to the real drama of which we are unwittingly a part.

Here Christ seems not to be distressed by the incomprehension of his friends. Rather there is compassion in his face. He seems to know that he is about to enter into the greatest loneliness in the world. In exploring this the further reaches of loneliness, he opens up that terrain for all who will follow, and all will eventually follow. As Raymund Schwager of blessed memory puts it in his posthumously published Banished from Eden: Christ’s fate “makes clear that there is a final, unavoidable loneliness even for that creaturely freedom which the divine love completely permeates. But from this radical loneliness and freedom the new community arose.”

A few pages later, Raymund, who died unexpectedly not long after these words were written, says: “Supreme personal decision in one’s final, dying loneliness, and a total handing over to the other correspond to one another.”

Paul urges us: “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus.” A Christian should try to have Christ’s view of the world, not so as to affect a stoic detachment, but rather so as to love the distracted world the more.

Hans Urs von Balthasar describes the mind of Christ marvelously in this passage from Heart of the World (p.58ff):
Thus began his descent into the world. “Go there and set it in order,” the Father had said. And so he did come, and now he mingled as a stranger in the tumult of the market-place. He walked past the stands where the clever and the witty offered their wares for sale. He saw the vendors’ feverish hands as they rummaged through carpets and trinkets. He listened as skilled charlatans praised their own latest inventions: models for state and society, sure guides to the blessed life, machines to fly to the absolute, trapdoors and escapes into a blissful nothingness. He … peered through the curtain of inns where the absinthe of secret knowledge provides admission into artificial paradises and infernos. … A frightful noise, thick with the confusion of a thousand voices, went up from the throng. Dust and smoke whirled about, and everything gave off the sweetish smell of refuse and decay. No one knew the Father’s name.

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