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Coronavirus meets religion #5 – the arts and pestilence

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — — what novelist, poet, painter, composer or film maker will create the great works of our present plague? — with two quotes on pestilence ]
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I owe much to the Guardian for Jonathan Jones‘ article Plague visionaries: how Rembrandt, Titian and Caravaggio tackled pestilence, which provided me with the classic western exemplars here — and then there are those two quotes. But read on —

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Pilgrims, penitents, flagellants, corpse-bearers, gargoyles, vultures — the whole ghastly crew populate the first chapter of Carlos Fuentes‘ great novel Terra Nostra. It is a time of plague, and the river Seine is boiling.

Great artists not infrequently tackle subjects of death, decay and destruction, the antechambers of hell, as they do works of beauty, mercy and grace, the antechamber of paradise. Today’s edition of “Coronavirus meets religion” features a small cluster of the greatest works of European art, painted in time of plague — to ward it off, to beg God for his mercy, to instruct the faithful in the path of heaven, to petition God on behalf of oneself or one’s family..

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Titian: Pieta

This detail of a painting by the great color master Titian shows from left to right the virgin Mary holding her son Jesus, who has just been brought down from the cross, dead, his hand held by a an old and weathered figure half-clothed in rad, believed by art historians to be a self-portrait by Titian, and representing St Jerome. and bottom right, an image of himself and his son as they’d be represented in a peasant’s ex voto or prayer plaque.

Jonathan Jones notes:

Titian painted this twilit image when Venice was being ravaged by plague. He portrays himself half-naked, prostrated before the image of Mary cradling the dead Christ. To make his message clear, he includes a picture within this picture: a crudely daubed popular ex-voto panel you might see in a church, depicting him and his son Orazio in prayer. This most sophisticated of artists is offering this great ashen canvas in the same simple spirit as an offering any peasant might make. It didn’t work. Titian and Orazio both died in the 1576 plague.

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Mary Shelley:

Want a shiver down the spine? Mary Shelley gave us Frankenstein – here she is on pestilence, from this month’s Back Matter on Lapham’s:

Have any of you, my readers, observed the ruins of an anthill immediately after its destruction? At first it appears entirely deserted of its former inhabitants; in a little time you see an ant struggling through the upturned mold; they reappear by twos and threes, running hither and thither in search of their lost companions. Such were we upon the earth, wondering aghast at the effects of pestilence. Our empty habitations remained, but the dwellers were gathered to the shades of the tomb.

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Caravaggio: The Seven Works of Mercy

St Matthew‘s gospel gives the standard set of “works of bodily mercy” (Matt. 25: 35-36:

I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me

Various artists have depicted what are now known as the Works of Corporal Mercy, Bruegel the Elder painted them in pen and ink, Bruegel the Younger painted them in color, but nobody had brought all seven together combined in such a single image as Caravaggio‘s. From Caravaggio.ogr:

He set the Acts described in Matthew 25 : 35-36 in a little piazza, perhaps in front of the same Taverna del Cerriglio where three years later he was attacked. It is night, and the padrone is directing three men to his inn (“I was a stranger, and you welcomed me”). One is hardly visible. The second is recognizable as a pilgrim by his staff, Saint James Major’s shell, and Saint Peter’s crossed keys on his hat; perhaps he can be identified as Saint Roch but more likely, following the Gospel, he is Christ in disguise. The third, a young bravo, is Saint Martin c utting his cloak to share it with the naked beggar in the foreground (“I was naked, and you clothed me”). In the shadow behind the blade is a youth whose legs seem to be twisted (“I was sick, and you visited me”). The group of loiterers is completed by a husky man, Samson, in the desert of Lechi (Judges 15 : 19), pouring water into his mouth from the jawbone of an ass (“I was thirsty, and you gave me drink”). Opposite this group, on the right, is Pero breast-feeding her aged father, Ci-mon, through the bars of his prison (“I was hungry, and you gave me food” and “I was in prison, and you came to me”). And in the background, a vested priest holds a torch to illuminate the hasty transport of a corpse, perhaps recalling the plagues that periodically decimated the city’s population (burial of the dead, the seventh Act, not mentioned in the Gospel). Above the scene hover the Madonna and Child with two angels, as if to warrant divine acknowledgment of human charity, particularly of the protagonists in the painting, who may portray members of the confraternity.

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Susan Sontag:

Sontag on pestilence, in Disease as Political Metaphor — courtesy the New York Review of Books:

From pestilence (bubonic plague) came “pestilent,” whose figurative meaning, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “injurious to religion, morals, or public peace—1513”; and “pestilential,” meaning “morally baneful or pernicious—1531.”

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Albrecht Dürer: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:

Most beloved of the most famous set of illustrations of the Book of Revelation is this work by Albrecht Durer. The Met explains:

[T]he Four Horsemen presents a dramatically distilled version of the passage from the Book of Revelation (6:1–8): “And I saw, and behold, a white horse, and its rider had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come!’ And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that men should slay one another; and he was given a great sword. When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come!’ And I saw, and behold, a black horse, and its rider had a balance in his hand; … When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come!’ And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him; and they were given great power over a fourth of the earth; to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” Transforming what was a relatively staid and unthreatening image in earlier illustrated Bibles, Dürer injects motion and danger into this climactic moment through his subtle manipulation of the woodcut..

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But as the Book of Revelation shows, better things eternally await us:–

Durer again, illustrating the Madonna portrayed as the “woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars” in Revelation 12.1

May you each and all receive a blizzard of blessings in these hard times.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis.

Coronavirus meets religion #4

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

[ by Charles Cameron — this one’s fine, with popes, patriarchs, confessions, hindutva and all — but i’ll have something special for you in #5 ]
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I just ran across an Italian site, DIRESOM, that monitors matters of the virus, religion and law, and am going to drop in some of the more potent notices here.

Hindutva:

Around mid-February 2020, Chakrapani Maharaj, who is the President of the Indian fundamentalist party “All India Hindu Mahasabha”, asserted that “corona is not a virus, but an angry avatar [divine embodiment] who came into the world to punish those who eat meat and to protect poor people”

The thuing is, religion allied to nationalism all too easily turns into bigotry, persecution, torture, massacres, whatever..

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Orthodoxy:

ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH ANNOUNCES HALT OF ALL ORTHODOX CHURCH SERVICES GLOBALLY DUE TO CORONAVIRUS
18 MARCH 2020

Brother Hierarchs and beloved children in the Lord,

From the Phanar, from the heart of the Queen of Cities, from the City of the Great Church and of Haghia Sophia, we are communicating with each and every one of you – women, men, and children – because of the unprecedented conditions and tribulation that we are facing as a human race as a result of the global threat posed by the pandemic of the new coronavirus, called Covid-19.

The voice of the Church, of the Mother Church, cannot be silent in such times. Our words, then, take the form we have learned through the ages: through the liturgy and through instruction, with encouragement and consolation.

Church of England:

Same thing in the UK..

As the challenge of the coronavirus grips the world, and as the Government asks every individual and every organisation to rethink its life, we are now asking the Church of England in all its parishes, chaplaincies and ministries to serve all people in a new way. Public worship will have to stop for a season. Our usual pattern of Sunday services and other mid-week gatherings must be put on hold. But this does not mean that the Church of England has shut up shop

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Catholicism:

The issue of the sacrament of confession — traditionally a face-to-face practice (albeit often conducted through a grille or veil) — may, a Vatican authority on canon law argues, legitimately be conducted via telephone, in sufficiently urgent, exigent circumstances.

  • Note on the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the current pandemic situation, by the Vatican’s Grand Penitentiary, Cardinal Piacenza [Italian]
  • .

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    Pope Francis, pray for us

    Coronavirus meets religion #3

    Thursday, March 19th, 2020

    [ by Charles Cameron — third in a series — mostly about locusts ]
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    Eye-grabbing but not helpful:

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    The image comes from Prophecy News Watch, where it heads up today’s article, Is Coronavirus Connected To Bible Prophecy?. The answer:

    I believe what we are witnessing with COVID-19 is part of the birth pains Jesus talked about in the Olivet Discourse. In fact, I think it is a major birth pain; as is the locust plague that is ravaging Africa and the Mideast; as is the large number of social uprisings in countries around he world; as is the increase in earthquake activity; as were the record-breaking Australian wild fires; as is…you get the picture. Birth pains increase in frequency and intensity, and they only increase until the moment of delivery

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    Plague of locusts? From the Times of Israel, courtesy Richard Landes:

    Notice the subtitle: the locusts will ” skip Holy Land”. In the story of the Biblical plagues, the locusts were the eighth out of ten plagues of increasing severity meted out by the Lord against Pharaoh and his Egypt. There was worse to come, but the locust plague itself would be worse than any other locus plague before or since. As Moses prophesies to Pharaoh:

    Exodus 10. 3:Thus saith the Lord God of the Hebrews, How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me? let my people go, that they may serve me.

    4 Else, if thou refuse to let my people go, behold, to morrow will I bring the locusts into thy coast:

    5 And they shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth: and they shall eat the residue of that which is escaped, which remaineth unto you from the hail, and shall eat every tree which groweth for you out of the field:

    6 And they shall fill thy houses, and the houses of all thy servants, and the houses of all the Egyptians; which neither thy fathers, nor thy fathers’ fathers have seen, since the day that they were upon the earth unto this day.

    It was the tenth and worst plague– the death of the firstborn — that afflicted the Egyptians and which “passed over” the Israelites — compare the eerie echo here of the plage that will “skip Holy Land”.

    Coronavirus meets religion #2

    Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

    [ by Charles Cameron — setting the records straight ]
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    That DoubleQuote (above) neatly illustrates the twin poles of this post.

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    I believe it was news of the Japanese sect [or new religious movement] known as Shincheonji being responsible for South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak that first prompted me to make post # 1 in this series — Coronavirus meets religion #1 — but somehow, although I remembered to post about the Pope on video, and the Kaaba empty of pilgtims, and even Lord Shiva’s statue in Banares wearing a surgical mask — I quite forgot to feature Shincheonji!

    Let’s set that straight.

    Dr Massimo Introvigne of CESNUR is the primary author for the white paper on Shincheonji. In 32 pages, it debunks the rumors — initially widespread, and hate-driven — that linked the new religious movement with the spread of the virus, and illuminates the ways in which scapegoating can lead of witch-hunts against minority religious groups who are taking converts away from larger, more established groups with potentially tragic consequences — scapegoats are sacrificed or expelled into the desert to fend for themselves, witches are burnt at the stake, eh?

    The very day I began this post, news arrived of preacher Kenneth Copeland and his bovel theory connecting coronavirus to, let’s be honest, Democrats.

    Fortunately, we have Dr Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, a man who has proven himself speaking truth to power, and huis column today, The Prosperity Gospel in a Time of Plague, offers this warning shot across the bows of those who “preach”solutions to the coronavirus for financial gain at the expense of naive audiences — whose health may also suffer:

    As the entire world faces a public health and economic challenge the likes of which none of us has ever seen, we can, sadly, see the hucksters and grifters of the “prosperity gospel” movement, and their enablers, taking every opportunity, once again, to destroy lives and enrich themselves. This ought to matter to every disciple of Jesus Christ, with urgency like never before.

    Read Dr Moore on the so-called Silver Solution and its claim to cure coronaviruses, as pushed on the Jim Bakker show, and more..

    Finally, today the Washington Post chimed in with a post titled This is not the end of the world, according to Christians who study the end of the world. That’s a relief! In more detail:

    It sure might feel apocalyptic. But not if you ask Christian writers and pastors who have spent years focusing their message on the Book of Revelation — the New Testament’s final book. It lays out a lurid, poetic vision of the End Times, in which many evangelical leaders interpret it to mean that Jesus will return to Earth, believers will be raptured to heaven and those left behind will suffer seven dreadful years of calamities. Most of these Revelation-focused prophesiers don’t see coronavirus as heralding the Second Coming and the end of life on Earth as we know it.

    I’ll keep you informed!

    Coronavirus meets religion #1

    Monday, March 16th, 2020

    [ by Charles Cameron — a quick miscellany ]
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    The Vatican:

    Starting fairly near home, depending on your flavor of the local religion, the Pope in Rome lives in the Vatican — an independent absolute monarchy wholly enclosed by Italy, and unable to escape the virus sweeping its host nation. The Vatican has now reported its first confirmed case of the coronavirus.

    The Pope, accordingly, has delivered his usual public Sunday Mass by video conference, and instructed the pries of the Catholic Church to attend to those affected by tea coronavirus.

    Islam:

    The Kaaba in Mecca, usually crammed with pilgrims, is almost completely empty.

    The Shiite regime in Tehran has declared that that medical work is jihad — struggle, typically “in the way of Allah. The Mullah Khamenei:

    I have already sincerely thanked physicians, nurses and medical teams, but I deem it necessary to thank all those dear ones once more. Certain phenomena were witnessed these days which are really and truly instructive for all of us and which indicate the sense of responsibility of our medical staff and their human and religious commitment in the country.

    India:

    Put face-masks on the gods / “idols”. This one’s Shiva, from the Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi:

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    Sending my best wishes to all..


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