Posts Tagged ‘Church’

Changing the picture of hell: 23 August

August 23, 2017

Giovanni Rimini Harrowing Only

Here is Jesus pulling people out of hell. This was the dominant picture of hell for many years. ‘Look! Jesus rescues people from hell.’ A hopeful picture.

This picture is one of six which together make up the Scenes from the Life of Christ, by Giovanni di Rimini, usually seen in Rimini, but currently, until 8 October, in a special small exhibition at the National Gallery in London. The catalogue describes the painting as showing the standard highlights of the life of Jesus. At the time, 1300 – 1305, it was normal to show Jesus pulling people out of hell.

Jesus pulling people out of hell is usually called The Harrowing of Hell. Harrowing here has an old, Middle English, meaning of Despoiling. Jesus is making hell impotent, depleted, empty. This is an accepted and important part of what Jesus came to do.

Very soon, though, this picture changed dramatically. Dante’s Inferno, the most influential book on hell ever, was written about 1314. Over the door of Dante’s hell is written ‘Abandon hope all you who enter here.’ The idea that Jesus can and does pull people out of hell was quashed. Fear replaced hope.

Dante was writing graphically about the hell described by the theologian Thomas Aquinas. The Church made this ‘no hope, more fear’ version of hell the dominant one. The Harrowing of Hell was no longer painted. Instead we see

Salisbury-St-Thomass-credit-to-www.visitwiltshire.co_.uk_Photo from www.visitwiltshire.co.uk

Here Jesus presides over people being thrown into a vividly tormenting hell. Jesus is far removed from these people, and seems not to care about them. Their awful fate is sealed as decided, or supervised, by Jesus.

These pictures, of the Doom, or Last Judgement, became common, replacing the Harrowing of Hell. Above is the best preserved English painting, in St Thomas’ Church, Salisbury, painted about 1475.

Florence Duomo Fresco 2Photo by Paolo Villa – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39353393

Here is perhaps the most well-known Last Judgement painting, from the Duomo Cathedral in Florence. The artist Vasari began this in 1568 and it was completed by Federico Zuccari in 1579.

As in the English painting, the people in inescapable torment in hell are closest to the congregation. Seeing these agonised people, remote from Jesus, gives a very different message from seeing Jesus pulling people out of hell. ‘Look Jesus presides over people being tormented in hell forever.’

Hell changed in the early 1300s. The painting now in the National Gallery is perhaps the last still to show Jesus pulling people out of hell.

Why did the picture of hell change then? What is the true picture of hell? My book The Lie of Hell www.laddermedia.co.uk gives answers. Or search ‘hell’ for other posts on this blog.

The picture of hell has changed. It needs to change again – to the Hades and Gehenna about which Jesus spoke. Hades the tormenting remand prison before Final Judgement; Gehenna the unquenchable fire after Final Judgement where some unrepentant humans are destroyed, body and soul. This dual picture includes Jesus having, and, by implication, using, the keys of Hades, pulling people out of Hades. A stern warning and a serious, sure, splendid, hope.

Roger Harper

 

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The Anglican Communion, dominated by extremists: 7 February

February 7, 2015

Anglican extremists? The two words seem incompatible. Except about gay marriage.

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, was talking on Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 26 December. His reply to a question about gay relationships included: ‘It’s something that, as you go round the Communion, and having visited all the provinces, I’m very aware of this, it is seen by many as an absolutely central understanding of obedience to Christ in both directions either in favour or against.’

Some people, our Archbishop says ‘many’, see gay marriage as a Primary Issue. It has to be either promoted or resisted as a matter of priority. Not to promote or resist means disobedience to Jesus. It is impossible for these Anglicans to compromise on this. Here they stand, insisting that they can do no other

How can either camp be so sure that they are on Jesus’ side on this issue, when it is clear to them and to everyone that fellow Christians, fellow Anglicans, disagree strongly with them? The plain fact that not everyone sees things the same way ought to be enough for them to tone down, pipe down, climb down, at least a little. Add ‘but, of course we might be wrong…’ But no! The extreme, either YES or NO must be proclaimed.

Where does Jesus say in the Gospels that gay marriage is either absolutely necessary or absolutely forbidden? Nowhere so clearly. Some of what Jesus said points one way, some the other way. (See the detail at  https://gaymarriagemaybe.wordpress.com/listening-to-jesus/) On what do the Anglican extremists base their differing views of what Jesus is saying?

Paul and Leviticus give the clear impression that we should not develop gay marriage, but their view is not necessarily the view of Jesus for all time and places, notably for this time and place. Jesus said there were other things he had to say which his hearers at the time could not bear. ‘You need to welcome Gentiles to become part of God’s people, without insisting that they keep the whole Jewish Law.’ ‘Slavery is not part of life as God wants it, but something to be outlawed.’ We know now Jesus has indeed said both of these since speaking before his death, Both of these are also against the recorded view of Paul and Leviticus etc. How can the extremists be so categorical that Jesus is or is not speaking about gay marriage in a way that we could not have borne before?

Part of me wants to shout these questions and more to the extremists. ‘Stop being so dogmatic, so blinkered, so arrogant, so extreme! You’re Anglicans for goodness sake. Take yourself with a pinch of salt.’

I am learning, though, that the approach of gentle curiosity is more Jesus-like and more effective. I need to control the anger at both sides callously tearing apart the body of Christ, and, without threatening, invite them to explain. ‘This is an absolutely central part of you being obedient to Jesus. That’s a bit of puzzle to many of us in the middle. Please can you explain it a bit more?’

The conflicting extremes dominate at present. The puzzled middle ground, where even more Anglicans stand, needs to resist and question both extremes.

Maybe Justin Welby can follow up his listening with some questioning along these lines.

Roger Harper

Generous Spaciousness – Middle Ground Voices. Alleluia!: 12 June

June 12, 2014

Wendy VanderWal Gritter has produced what sounds like an excellent ‘middle ground’ book about the church and gay marriage: Generous Spaciousness (Brazos Press May 2014) http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/books/generous-spaciousness/349140 The publishers write: ‘This book offers a framework for discussing diversity in a gracious way, showing that the church can be a place that welcomes a variety of perspectives on the complex matter of human sexuality. It also offers practical advice for implementing generous spaciousness in churches and organizations.’

Wendy Gritter leads New Direction Ministries, linked to the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Canada. ‘New Direction Ministries began in 1985 as a small Bible study for people of faith addressing personal questions of sexuality. As the ministry developed, counselling, support groups, and equipping for the church were offered…In the twenty plus years that the ministry has been serving the individual and the church, our society and culture have changed dramatically. Having been a member ministry of Exodus International since the beginning, New Direction left Exodus in 2007. This decision was made in light of our distinct identity and no longer fitting an ex-gay paradigm of ministry.

The transition from being an ex-gay ministry to embracing an identity as bridge-builders in the midst of diversity around faith and sexuality has not been a quick or easy one. Such a transition can also raise suspicion as to our true motives and true activities as a ministry.

In the Spring quarter of 2010, the New Direction board concluded a season of conversation with key stakeholders of the ministry. The outcome of this time of reflection on our identity and purpose was an affirmation of our posture as bridge-builders in the context of complexity, diversity, and tension that surrounds the integration of faith and sexuality.’
http://www.newdirection.ca/about/whats-our-story/

A good, extensive review by Andrew Goddard is at http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/articles/generous-spaciousness/

My website ‘Gay Marriage Maybe’ could also have been named ‘Making Space: Gay People and the Church.’ A few years ago I wrote a book proposal with that name making a similar case to this website. The Editor of one Evangelical publisher reported with regret that ‘even your Evangelical via media was deemed by the Board too politically sensitive.’

Since then we have had more argument and schisms are more likely, partly because the middle ground voice has not been properly heard. I hope and pray that Wendy Gritter’s book makes many people realise that there is another voice alongside and critiquing the convinced on both sides of the debate.

Another great middle ground teacher is Brian Maclaren. (More to the liberal edge of middle ground but sympathetic to Conservatives) Wise, helpful words from Brian are at http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/ask-brian-mclaren-response Brian gives an excellent perspective on how to reassure Conservatives, how to keep relationships in disagreement, how denominations could work out a corporate way forward, and more.

Roger Harper