Friday, April 22, 2005

James Ensor: The Entry of Christ into Brussels (1888)

James Ensor: The Entry of Christ into Brussels (1888) Posted by Hello

From time to time, I intend to post, and occasionally discuss in some detail, some of my favourite works of art, given an interest in art history that goes back many years, kindled by an inspirational teacher in Grade 4 in Beaconsfield, Quebec. My first such post continues the religious theme that has been the focus of my blog since the recent death of Pope John Paul II.

Ensor's "Entry of Christ" is one of the masterworks of late-19th century expressionism. Aesthetically, I will let it speak for itself. However, I find it to be of particular relevance at the present time and in the context of the recent papal election. Cardinal Ratzinger assumed the name Benedict, largely in memory of Saint Benedict (c.480-547), the founder of the Benedictine Order and, as such, very much the force behind Christianity's successful conversion of Europe in the early Middle Ages. Ratzinger may have chosen the name Benedict for any number of reasons and to send any number of implicit messages, but the most obvious (and likely) one is that he intends to focus at least some of his attention on Europe's slide into secularism, a trend that he clearly sees as one of the most significant crises facing the Church. At a recent talk at Subiaco, where Saint Benedict founded his monastery (at Monte Cassino), then-Cardinal Ratzinger said that "Europe constitutes the most radical contradiction, not only of Christianity but also of the religious and moral traditions of all humanity". Then, just hours before the start of the conclave, at a special mass held at St. Peter's, he declared that "[w]e are moving" towards "a dictatorship of relativism... that recognizes nothing definite and leaves only one's own ego and one's own desires as the final measure." As E.J. Dionne put it in The Washington Post: "Those are fighting words." Whether Ratzinger was right or wrong, and to what degree he may have been both right and wrong, is another matter for another time. Suffice it to say here that prior to his election he took some unflinching shots at modernity -- or, perhaps more accurately, at post-Nietzschean late-modernity (now generally known as postmodernism). Although he (as Pope Benedict XVI) has since moderated his speech and reached out as a less combative conciliator, his entrenched opposition to the forces of modernity sweeping through Europe (and well beyond) is well-established. It may even come to define his papacy.

Think of that when you look at Ensor's painting. There's a connection to be made.

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  • Richard Cohen wasn't the only one to say "we" have a new pope - I said the same in my blog shortly after the announcement of Ratzinger/Benedict's election. We live in a global culture and to pretend that non-catholics have no stake in the decisions of the papacy is to pretend ignorance of the greater whole.
    You raise an interesting point in your blog today... The word 'modernity' in the context of the current debate over the place of the Church and its doctrine in the 'modern' world has been used largely as an antonym to old world (and therefore outdated?) social constructs. Of course, the globalized society in which this new pope must now make his way IS one markedly different from the one his namesake knew during the european conversion of the middle ages. But to assume that 'modernity' is necessarily representative of ideas and constructs that are good and open and conscious is wrong. You are right to note that we are dealing with a world and a philosophy that is rooted largely in POST-modernism and a relativism that has, in my opinion, paralysed the thinking in many western social disciplines (specifically social anthropology which, when I last checked, had become so reflexive, relativist and obsessed with Foucaultian rhetoric that it was unable to say anything meaningful with any degree of authority). If Pope Benedict XVI has a remedy to the current 'dictatorship of relativism' then I can only wish him all the best. And, in more relativist terms, I can only hope that a strong voice in opposition to extreme relativism will at least enrich the debate by encouraging discussions such as this wherein the culture chefs (that's us, too - not those in overt positions of power) actually stop a moment to taste the stew boiling in the great global melting pot.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 8:24 AM  

  • Ratzinger says people, "Do not want to bear the yoke of Christ." Ratzinger's words reflect his belief that the Catholic church is not a creation of man, but is a product of God, and as such, is otherworldly and timeless. Church authorities can't simply bend to the wishes of modernity, but must remain steadfast in protecting and promoting the revealed, eternal truth.
    The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), which sought to renew Catholicism, exposed the divide betweem those who believe the Church should open itself to the world, and those who desire a return to tradition and scripture.

    Ratzinger, who served as a theological expert at Vatican II; The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith, is profoundly influenced by St. Augustine, the fourth-century theologian and cleric who preached a kind of Christian Platonism, with his emphasis on "Otherworldliness," on the idea that true reality is not to be found in this world, but in the mind of God. Ratzinger states his own experiences living in the shadow of Nazi Germany, led him to become deeply suspicious of overtures to make the Church more attractive to the world, as he noticed that Catholics were sustained by their faith because it was separate from the world, because it didn't adopt the values of the culture or the state. Augustine believed fallen man was inherently weak, easily subject to temptation and error. Ratzinger stated, in an interview with German journalist Peter Seewald, whether free will has led man, "To become dangerous rather than lovable."

    Ratzinger is unlikely to open up the Church to a world he sees as corrupt. The separation of the church from the world isn't a problem to be solved, but a solution in itself -- an alternative to the corrupt modern culture.

    Catholics who prefer Thomas Aquinas's view of human nature--see God's grace at work in the modern world. They believe that the modern world is not to be feared, that modern life can contribute to a deepened understanding of their faith. This was the position held by Pope John XXIII, who instituted Vatican II. The Thomists had influence over Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope), the official document of Vatican II.

    Ratzinger, who wishes to return the Church to an emphasis on sin and redemption, has described the treaty as "Too optimistic about the human condition."

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:34 PM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:43 AM  

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