Friday, December 23, 2011

O Emmanuel! Savior of all people, come and set us free!

Hubert and Jan Van Eyck, Adoration of the Lamb, Central Panel of the Ghent Altarpiece
Netherlandish, 1425-1432
Ghent, Cathedral of St. Bavo

The seventh and final "O Antiphon", for December 23rd, reads "O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, Savior of all people, come and set us free, Lord our God".  The title, Savior of all people, applies to Christ through his Passion and Death. 

There are many works of art that show the Crucifixion, most often in a narrative sense.  However, the text of this antiphon is more suggestive of contemplation and adoration of Christ as Crucified Savior.  Three works of art come to mind as an interpretation of the subject.  

The first is the Adoration of the Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, painted for the chapel of the Vidjt family in the Cathedral of St. Bavo in Ghent between 1425 and 1432.  It represents a scene from the book of Revelation  (Rev. 7:9-10).  The blessed in heaven "from every nation, race, people, and tongue" adore the Lamb that was slain.  The Lamb is, of course, Christ and His placement on the altar reminds us of the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is a daily participation in His Passion, Death and Resurrection. For more on this see my post Worthy Is the Lamb.

The second is the Landauer Altarpiece by Albrecht Durer, dated to 1511. It is an image of the Adoration of the Holy Trinity by all the saints.  Here, the Crucified Christ is displayed by God the Father for the adoration of all, the ultimate revelation of the God of Mercy and Love.  See also The Holy Trinity -- Love Made Visible and The Holy Trinity -- The Throne of Grace.

Albrecht Durer, Adoration of the Holy Trinity
German, 1511
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum

The final image is an engraving after a drawing by Gianlorenzo Bernini of the Blood of Christ.  It was engraved as the frontispiece of the book Unica speranza del peccatore (The Only Hope of the Sinner) by F. Marchese, published in Rome in 1670.  In this work, the Crucified Christ, on the cross, is held high by angels in adoring postures.  His blood pours down, forming an endless ocean of grace for sinners to draw upon.  For more on this see "Of the Blood, All Price Exceeding, Shed by Our Immortal King".

Gianlorenzo Bernini, Blood of Christ
Engraved by F. Spierre for frontispiece of Unica speranza del peccatore by F. Marchese,
Italian, 1670
Vatican, Vatican Library

These pictures remind us of the reason for which the anticipated Emmanuel came to us.  As the carol "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" tells us, to make "God and sinners reconciled". 

© M. Duffy, 2011

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