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.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lex Christianorum's New Header

THE IMAGE IN LEX CHRISTIANORUM'S NEW HEADER is a detail from "Crucifixion on Decayed Wall," specifically a closeup of the wood of the Cross and the arms of the Man-God stretched forth, in a gesture mimicked by Bernini's dual colonnade at St. Peter's Square in the heart of Rome, as if to encompass all of humanity within His embrace. It is graffito, graffito painted on a wall in the city of Barcelona in Spain. The image was taken from a blog entitled Barcelona Photoblog and posted on Christmas Day 2009. I do not know the intent of the street artist who painted this image of Christ on the Cross, and it is difficult to tell whether he or she intended something pious or something blasphemous.

Crucifixion on Decayed Wall
(Modern Graffito in Barcelona, Spain, 21st Century A.D.)

Why did I select this image? For multiple reasons.

First, the image of Christ on the Cross has been part of Lex Christianorum since its inception. Georges Rouault's "Crucifix and Judges" has greeted each visitor to this blog since its inception. "Crucifix on Decayed Wall" thus complements this image. Indeed, it has a Rouaultesque feel to it, having the decided quality of a stained glass window so typical of Rouault.

Second, the image fits in with the pseudo-Cyprian reminder that the Law of Christians is the Law of the Cross. Lex Christianorum crux est sancta Christi, filii Dei vivi. "The law of the Christians is the holy cross of Christ." This likewise has been with Lex Christianorum since its inception.

But why graffito on a decayed wall of a modern European city? There are many excellent images of the Crucifixion that may have been chosen. Why scrape the bottom of the barrel of Crucifixion art? This brings us to our third reason. Graffito from the wall of a modern European city was chosen as thematic of the plaint of Angilbert, "Fracta est lex christianorum . . . ," a plaint which has also greeted each visitor to this blog, and the historical context of which is the subject of a blog post of May 7, 2009, entitled Battle of Fontenay-en-Puisaye. Christianity's influence on the law and public life of the West has become much like the crucifix on the decayed wall of Barcelona. It is on the wane, it has become a superficial painting on an already rotten wall. What remains is misunderstood, like a caricature of the real thing. What remains seems to be corrupted, perhaps an impure and inconsistent admixture of Christianity combined with secular, liberal, individualistic, or relativistic beliefs. Our "Crucifixion on Decayed Wall" shows Christ as a pirate, with a patch over his right eye, a bizarre, even perhaps blasphemous, misinterpretation of Christ. Yet Christ also sports the traditional halo, the symbol of sanctity, and in other respects seems to be treated traditionally enough. Thus, like the graffito, the Christianity of most of us is mixed with things modern it should not be mixed with, just like in the past in might have been inappropriately mixed with things ancient it should not have been mixed with (e.g., chattel slavery, colonialism, war). We have noted the obligation of Christians, in the memorable phrasing of the philosopher Gabriel Marcel, to try to discover and root out the unbeliever that is within them, just like we should try to discover and root out the unbelieving that is in society. See Lex Aeterna in Church, Scripture, and the Pagan. We have tried to do that. Whether we have been successful or not is another story, and we beg God's mercy and the mercy of our readership. In a way, each one of our lives makes a mockery of Christ's Crucifixion. We are like the penitent thief, living our lawless lives, some more lawless than others, and we turn to Christ at the last moment on crosses of our own making. Yet it is in recognizing our own failures that our crosses introduce us to Christ, and when confronting the Crucified our prayer should be as the penitent thief's prayer: Lord, Remember me when you come into your kingdom. Domine memento mei cum veneris in regnum tuum. (Luke 23:42). We hope to hear Christ's invitation and promise: Amen dico tibi: hodie mecum eris in paradiso, Amen I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise. (Luke 23:43) That is the reason behind the motto at the bottommost of this blog, as well as the motive behind the modified Augustinian prayer also found at the bottom of the blog, Domine Deus une, Deus trinitas, quaecumque dixi in his "blogum" de tuo agnoscant et tui, si qua de meo, et tu ignosce et tui. Amen. That is an adaptation of St. Augustine's prayer in his De Trinitate (15.28.51): Domine deus une, deus trinitas, quaecumque dixi in his libris de tuo agnoscant et tui; si qua de meo, et tu ignosce et tui. Amen. Translated, my prayer is "O Lord, one God, God the Trinity, whatever I have said in this blog that is of yours, may they acknowledge who are yours; if anything of my own, may it be pardoned both by you and by those who are yours. Amen."

Another reason, the fourth, why this particular image was chosen is that it has the autumnal orange/yellow theme that is emblematic of life at the end of its stages, life drying out. This graffito is un petit pan de mur jaune! a little patch of yellow wall! The symbolism of yellow was described in our posting of July 5, 2002, "Petit pan de mur jaune"--Proust, Vermeer, the Color Yellow, and the Natural Law. (Note, however, that the sad, yellow/orange color is lifted up by the hopeful color of Marian blue! Not foolish optimism, but Hope is also a part of this blog.)

Alexamenos Graffito
(Ancient Rome, 1st Century A.D.)

There is yet a fifth reason why graffito was chosen. Graffito greeted the first Christians when they began their inroads into pagan Roman society, eventually to overturn it and mold it. The famous Alexamenos graffito (also known as the graffito blasfemo) is also graffito from a European city, but not a modern one. It comes from the ancient European city of Rome. This graffito, perhaps dated as early as the 1st century A.D., was discovered in 1857 when a building called the domus Gelotiana, a house acquired by the Emperor Caligula that later became a Paedagogium or boarding school for boys, was uncovered during the course of excavations on the Palatine Hill of Rome. The graffito can be found today preserved in the Palatine antiquarium in Rome. It bears the Greek text Αλεξαμενος σεβετε θεον, Alexander worships God, clearly a lampooning of Christians and Christian beliefs, perhaps the result of a pagan Roman boy making fun of a Christian fellow pupil. So as graffito greeted the Christians on their way into the mainstream, it appears to greet them as the mainstream becomes increasingly neo-Pagan, and they become sidelined in the definition of culture, of political institutions, of laws.

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