Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, May 11, 2009

"Quid est veritas?"

On May 5, I posted a blog regarding Lyotard and his notion of "differend." Continuing on that theme, it ought not to astound us that we are not understood by our contemporaries. Our Lord was similarly not understood by the religious authorities and the civil authorities of His day. He was shunned by the Sanhedrin in the person of Caiphas. He was shunned by Rome in the person of Pontius Pilate. They did not speak the same language. They did not share the same "rule." They were not on equal ground, and so it was forseeable that Christ would be condemned by law. Christ's presence before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate was not a "litigation," but it was a "differend."

In Georges Roualt's "Christ Before Pilate," the poignant scene of the Lord before the Roman Procurator is the French painter's subject. Christ bound by Roman law, is before the representative of Roman law. Pilate is dressed in the judicial robes of red, not unlike the judges in France at the time of Rouault's flourishing. Horrible irony: the author of Law and the fount of Justice is before the dispenser of human law, and He goes unrecognized. The positive human law, and the human judge of that law, has forgotten the source of his authority. He has forgotten the source of his authority, even when he is reminded of it by the Lord. "You would have no authority over me, unless it had been given you from above." (John 19:11) The message does not register, because Pilate has power, and this message is not one that is received by power, or enforced by power, but it is enforced by conscience, the listening to that still, small voice in the human heart which is easily supressible. We must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar, and render to God the things that are God's. (Matthew 22:21) But in the final analysis, all things are God's, since Caesar would have no authority, unless it came from God. In our contemporary world, Christ's message once again goes unheard. It is as though we are Christ before Pilate. Though our fundamental documents presuppose that God is the author of our laws and the source of our government's power, in practice our modern political and legal systems presuppose the opposite. That is why, in a complete disregard of the Natural Law, the State can arrogate to itself the power to define who is human. That allows it to decide who lives and who dies, chosing to defend the life of those who are outside the womb, but letting those that have not yet travelled through the birth canal die. That is why the State has the gall to suppose that it can define marriage in a manner that is against the Natural Law.

Rouault shows no face upon his Christ, and this is fitting. Christ is a victim; he is unrecognized by human law and the human judge. He is no man. He is no God. Certainly the Divinity of the Lord is entirely outside the possible frame of reference of Pontius Pilate. He senses that the man before him has no guilt, but this sense is not strong enough to overcome his practical habit. Pilate is, above all else, a pragmatist, one wholly insensitive to the things of the spirit. It is Pilate's pragmatism, his blindness to things transcendent, his inability to see (much less embrace) Christ, that allows him to issue the unjust sentence against his own God. That is why Rouault depicts Pilate faceless. The man who has misused his power and misused the law to effect the highest injustice has made himself inhuman. He no longer has a human face. By not recognizing the Holy Face of Christ, he has made his own face unrecognizable. Anything human has been rubbed off. Human law and its human dispensers, will only be human--will only have human faces--if they recognize the Lord and recognize His Law.

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