Monday, 31 October 2011

Jean -Simon Berthélemy's Sacred Heart of Saint Sulpice

Berthélemy's Sacred Heart: click to enlarge.**
Reflecting on the painting by Jean -Simon Berthélemy  - dated 1784- in the Church of Saint-Sulpice which I encountered on a recent trip to Paris (SEE EARLIER POST) ,  it struck me that we need to focus on  the message of the painting -  which might  have been more apparent at the the time when it was fist displayed in the church prior to the French Revolution than to us now.  And that message?  On the left of the painting we see the world in adoration of the love of God as manifested in the humanity of Christ - as symbolised by His heart.   But then on the right hand side we move from adoration to ACTION.  We see St Michael as a channel for God's love using that energy to act upon the evils and wickedness of this world.  The Sacred Heart is not simply a a devotion, it is the source of an energy which humanity has to harness in order to bring about the Kingdom of God.   Thus, when we reflect on the history of the devotion it is noticeable that the communities that  have a special love of the Sacred Heart - such as  those established by St. Madeleine Sophie and St. Louise de Marillac-  have been active through prayer and charitable works  - in building what Bl. John Paul called a 'civilisation of love'. The Sacred Heart is calling for action and not just devotion: action, through prayer and charitable endeavours - to confront and challenge the existence of poverty of body, mind and spirit in our world ; action to create a just society; action to build a new earth.  And, in the context of the belief that reason alone is all we need to build a better world, the Sacred Heart was thus  the symbol of opposition to the religion  of reason promoted by the Revolution.   We need to see the Sacred Heart once again in these terms - as a symbol which challenges the marginalization of faith in our world.   Reason without faith in God as love - is always dangerous and ultimately destructive.  The Sacred Heart calls us to be active in  harnessing faith and reason and above all what Teilhard called the 'energy of love'.  Love - the ultimate and most powerful form of energy in the universe.   That is what St. Michael is using to protect the good and defeat evil!  The Sacred Heart in this picture is challenging us to join Michael in building a civilisation of love.

So... I have another way of reading the presence of St. Michael in our icon!

** The picture is the best I can do with a virtually black painting!! Sorry.   Although the basic structure and content of the painting is clear, it is impossible to get any more detail.  As to colours, if you look at other paintings by Berthélemy, you can get a sense of the colours underneath years of  dirt!   This picture can only be a very rough approximation.  His colours tended to be quite vivid and rich.  For other paintings by him see here.

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