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    A Medievalist Looks for the Image of Christ

    In Jesus through Medieval Eyes, Grace Hamman finds the Lord portrayed as a knight, a mother, a judge, and a lover.

    By Marianne Wright

    June 11, 2024
    • Linda wilson

      I think a core problem with the modern world is its lack of imagination. This isn’t universally true of course, but we put a heavy emphasis on science, math, engineering and such and have become dismissive of the humanities where we develop the imagination and learn to question the facts the math and sciences point to. But just as everything from the Middle Ages should not be preserved, so also not everything we can use math and science to accomplish ought to be accomplished. We are dealing with some of those things now. It doesn’t mean we should abandon things like AI, but we should be much more thoughtful than we are about how we use it and what can be done with it. Of course we cannot help ourselves, we want to play with these sorts of things. But if we did more than just think about what we might do but also imagined what the results might be, we might have fewer problems. Francis Bacon once said, “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.” We have a certainty in what our skills and knowledge can do and end up doubting the end results and the problems they often cause. If we doubted first and thought things through we might have different outcomes, we might anticipate the problems we are creating for ourselves. Cordially, J. D. Wilson, Jr.

    The year our first child was old enough to start understanding the words of Christmas carols, I wondered whether he realized that all the songs were about the same person. We sang about the Holy Infant, the Christ Child, the Messiah, Godhead, Incarnate Deity, Immanuel, the Baby in the Hay, the King of Angels. God became man: it is a wonder so great that Christians have been trying to find words to describe it ever since it happened. In Jesus through Medieval Eyes, Grace Hamman suggests that learning to look with the perspectives of Christians who lived long before us might enlarge our understanding of this mystery.

    The book examines seven depictions of Christ that emerged in medieval Europe. Some of these images of Christ are still familiar today, but it’s refreshing to encounter them in the vivid words and pictures of medieval writers and artists, whether Christ appears as the Knight who accompanies us in the costly acts of love we are called to, the Judge who is both almighty and merciful, the Mother who “gathers her chicks” as described in Matthew 23, or the Bridegroom from the Song of Songs.

    Hamman uses her own experiences and outlook to guide the reader into the foreign country of the past. The result is a double refraction: some of her reactions to the source material were unexpected to me, although not so unexpected as the more startling fruits of the medieval imagination. Still, the earnestness and piety of the medieval Christian, especially in contrast with the pervasive irony and detachment of contemporary culture, is very touching. It was an age, Hamman writes, “saturated in beauty and love of Christ.” She urges readers to encounter the ideas of our medieval brothers and sisters humbly and with childlike openness after the example of Julian of Norwich “reverently beholding” the mysteries of our Lord.

    The book itself is attractively designed. The cover featuring gilded images of saints and the section of vibrantly reproduced artwork add a valuable dimension to the book, since many of the themes discussed are highly visual. Each chapter concludes with a prayer in the words of a medieval Christian that brings the material into focus.

    The book encourages a renewed sense of awe toward Jesus. Just as we can be surprised seeing a beloved person in a new setting and realize something new about him or her, so we might glimpse Jesus better by seeing him through the eyes of the people who built cathedrals (but who also burned heretics; not all ideas deserve to be preserved). Toward the end of the book, Hamman writes, “Like catching a piece of reflection in a broken mirror, each representation catches and renders an aspect of a Christ bigger, more beautiful, more glorious than any of them could separately communicate.”

    This book contains many astonishing and lovely facets of the Name that is beyond all names, who is also, in the words of a twelfth-century carol, “Jesus, our Brother, strong and good.”

    Contributed By MarianneWright Marianne Wright

    Marianne Wright, a member of the Bruderhof, lives in southeastern New York with her husband and five children.

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