Tuesday, 10 January 2012

But would Teilhard have liked the icon?

Ian and I met up for lunch recently - at which he apparently had the best sausages he had ever eaten!  It was, as always, great to catch up and discuss the project.    In the course of our discussion Ian asked a question which deserves an answer: 'But would Teilhard have liked the icon?' I answered 'yes', but it should be explored in a little more detail.  As Fr. Philip Endean notes in his book on Rahner (see my post here), he was not someone who 'took works of art as a starting point'.  And yet as Fr. Endean observes, the mosaic in the  Jesuit chapel in Innsbruck can serve to 'illustrate Rahner's approach to Christianity'.    My view is that this also holds for Teilhard: our icon is an image which can indeed serve to illustrate Teilhard's approach Christianity - and his belief in the  centrality of the Sacred Heart to the Christianity of the future.  

Sacred Heart by Félix Villé, 1895
I do not know if Rahner had a favourite image, but we do know that Teilhard did: the image by Pinta that he carried with him and which he gave as a farewell gift to Lucille Swan.    Given the nature of the Sacred Heart  it is simply nonsense to think that any artist could capture its meaning.  Teilhard admired Pinta's picture because it was  'a vague representation of the universal “foyer” of attraction which we are aiming for'.  Above all, and unlike most images of the Sacred Heart it showed what Teilhard called the 'golden glow' of the divine centre of  God's love as an energy which fills all creation at towards which all is being drawn forward like some  cosmic gravitational force.   For this reason I think he would have like the painting by Félix Villé if he had ever seen it: this shows a golden glow and not a heart, just like Pinta's painting.   As I note elsewhere, this picture predates Pinta's image, and would have been well-known to him. But, unlike Pinta's image, Félix Villé's painting does not appear to have been reproduced for  popular devotional use - as was Pinta's painting. 

 I can find no other record of Teilhard making an observation on a work of art - or any evidence that he went looking for other images.    However, in the Divine Milieu Teilhard does explicitly reference and image which captures his approach to Jesus:

Ian's Christ Pantocrator 
Disperse, O Jesus, the clouds with your lightning! Show yourself to us as the Mighty, the Radiant, the Risen! Come to us once again as the Pantocrator who filled the solitude of the cupolas in the ancient basilicas! Nothing less that this Parousia is need to counter-balance and dominate in our hearts the glory of the world that is coming into view. And so that we should triumph over the world with you, come to us clothed in the glory of the world.  (The Divine Milieu, Harper and Row  edition, p 128) 

I am no expert on Teilhard, but his reference to Christ as 'Pantocrator'  (Παντοκράτωρ )  who' filled the ancient basilicas' is strongly suggestive that he would have indeed 'liked' our icon of the Sacred Heart.   In icons of Christ Pantocrator  Jesus is shown holding the Book of Life in his left hand and blessing with his right hand.  In our icon the heart is placed not off centre, but at the very centre of the image. But is is clear that the icon is very much based on the image of Christ as ruler of all creation - that is as Pantocrator.  So in a sense one could say that the icon  is the Pantocrator as the Sacred Heart.  Furthermore, our icon shows 'nothing less' than the Parousia as referenced in St. Paul.  This serves as a  'counter balance'  to the rather kitsch and sentimental images that Teilhard thought did the devotion to the Sacred Heart few favours.   Thus it is significant that when he does express a visual image of Christ as drawing all things to himself he should reference a Greek or Orthodox image, and not a Roman Catholic image.  Teilhard was open to the 'light from the East' in this as in other regards.  Again, we see in the icon Christ as Omega 'dispersing the clouds' with the beams of light and swirling fire and energy surrounding his radiant body making all things new. 

But, of course, if you compare our icon with images of Christ as Pantocrator  it is obvious that there are many differences  - apart from the use of a heart and omega symbol rather than a book. Ian's icon seems to be drawing on a range of sources - especially ( I think?) from  images of Christ in Majesty / or 'in glory'  and Christ as ' Salvator Mundi' - the Saviour of the World.  An interesting contrast is with the images of Christ as law giver (Tradio Legis)  and as Teacher.   The symbol of law and teaching are here replaced by Christ who does not give laws or teach , but Christ as Jesus, a fellow human being, who loves us.  And loves us with a love that is greater than all things.  Christ who desires and wants our love in return for His. 

In this central focus on the power of God's  love as expressed in the Heart of Jesus, I really believe that Teilhard would indeed have liked the icon!

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