A stolen Cranach painting has been recovered

Lucas Cranach’s painting “Madonna under the Fir Tree” is one of his loveliest works.  It hung in the Cathedral of St. John in what was then Breslau, Bohemia, which later became Wroclaw, Poland.  During World War II, what with allied bombing and the predations of the Red Army, which essentially destroyed the city and razed the Cathedral–just two days before the armistice ended the war!–the population went to great efforts to protect the painting.  But after the war a priest who was also an art expert hired to restore the painting switched it with a forgery and made off with the original painting!   It eventually fell into the hands of an anonymous  Swiss collector who recently died, bequeathing it to his local church.  Anyway, this was all uncovered just last March and the painting has been given back to Poland and installed in the rebuilt Cathedral.   The whole tale reads like a novel and it’s summarized here:    The History Blog » Blog Archive » Cranach Madonna stolen by priest returned to Poland.

Thanks to Paul McCain at Cyberbrethren for alerting me to all of this.

But just look at this painting:

http://cyberbrethren.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Screen-Shot-2012-08-23-at-10.16.29-AM.png

And just look at this detail of the face of the Mother of Our Lord gazing down at her Son:

http://cyberbrethren.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Screen-Shot-2012-08-17-at-7.29.50-AM.png

 

 

Mariology

The recent post on “The Pope on Luther” led to a discussion of Luther’s views of Mary, in which noted Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong weighed in.  (I am continually amazed at who all reads this blog.)  He cited evidence that Luther had a relatively “Catholic” view of Mary  early in his career, though after the Diet of Worms, in 1521.  (The source of that evidence was somewhat confused, though, which the discussion helped to sort out.)

One of the issues was the “immaculate conception,”  the Roman Catholic teaching that by a direct miracle of God the Virgin Mary was born without original sin.  This is an interesting example of the Roman Catholic theological method, as distinct from how virtually all Protestants “do” theology.  The teaching is not arbitrary dogma, or the exaltation of tradition, or an extension of Mary-worship, or “popish superstition.”  Rather, it is a logical conclusion based on reason, as practiced by scholastic theology.

The chain of reasoning goes like this:  In order to redeem the world, Jesus Christ had to be without sin.  He certainly lived a sinless life.  But he also needed to be without original sin as inherited from Adam.  Jesus took His human nature from being born of the Virgin Mary, not having a human father.  Somehow, though, He could not have inherited Adam’s fallen nature, with its inherent sinfulness, its genetic (we would say) disposition to sin,  the accompanying curses of the Fall.  Therefore, the mother of Jesus must not bear that fallen nature.   She was conceived in the normal manner–not as another virgin birth, with which the doctrine is often confused–but, through a miracle, “immaculately.”

That Mary did not have original sin means that she also did not suffer under the curse of the Fall.  This explains the tradition that she did not feel the pains of labor.  It also explains the bookend Catholic dogma the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  If she did not have original sin, she could not die, so must have been taken up bodily into Heaven.

These notions sound strange to Protestant ears, but they grow out of the Roman Catholic approach to theology, which supports and extends revealed truth with flying buttresses of reason.

Now one might believe these things of Mary without  seeing her as a mediatrix between human beings and Christ, without praying to her, and without seeing her as a co-redemptrix.  One could believe Mary was free of original sin and that she was received bodily into Heaven while still being evangelical, as Luther evidently did in 1521.

But the Protestant theological method, which derived from Luther, uses not reason as the primary authority but the Word of God, which is held to be the only authority in theological issues.  The Bible does not mention any of this about Mary, which is presumably would, if, as Rome claims, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are fundamental and necessary dogmas of the Christian faith.  Indeed, in the Magnificat, Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, the Mother of our Lord praises God as her “savior,” which implies that she too is in need of salvation.  And she certainly suffered, which Eve in her pre-fallen state did not, as Simeon prophesied to her:  “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35).

Further, we could argue that Christ’s incarnation and His redemptive work requires that He take upon Himself our fallen nature.  He never sinned even though He shared our fallen flesh.  Thus he became the Second Adam who freed us from the curse.  (I know talking about the two natures of Christ can easily get heretical.  Someone correct me if I’m wrong, and if I am, I recant.)

The Christmas story in Revelation

[It's still Christmas. . . .]

Ray Hartwig, who holds the office of the Secretary of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, draws attention to a Christmas account in the Bible that gets hardly any notice.  It’s in the Book of Revelation:

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. She gave birth to a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days.  (Revelation 12:1-6)

So what do you make of this?  The child is pretty obviously  Christ.  The woman is often interpreted as the Church, but the Church does not bring forth Christ, but the reverse.  Besides, the Church is His bride, not His mother.  Others say the woman is Israel, which is a possibility.  Others say she is the Virgin Mary, which seems most likely.  What does this account teach us about the meaning of Christmas?

UPDATE:  I had always heard that the veneration of the Virgin Mary was a displacement of pagan goddess worship, with one evidence being that in Roman Catholic iconography, the depictions of Mary as the Queen of Heaven showed her wearing a crown of twelve stars and standing on the moon.  Supposedly, this was how Diana the moon goddess was depicted.  But this text, with Roman Catholics do ascribe to Mary, shows that the imagery is Biblical.

And yet the text is also problematic to Roman Catholic Mariology. The woman is “crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth.”  But according to  Roman Catholicism, Mary was blessed with an immaculate conception, so that she did not inherit original sin.  Thus, she was spared Eve’s curse of enduring pain in bearing children.  And, indeed, this is how Roman Catholic accounts depict the birth of Christ.

I suppose the best interpretation is that the woman represents “God’s people”–both in the sense of Israel and the Church as the new Israel–which is what the Lutheran Study Bible says, but that, as Al Colver adds in Carl’s link,  both are represented in the historical Virgin Mary (who does bear the curse of the Fall, so that Christ can fully bear humanity’s Original Sin so as to atone for it).

If I don’t have the Roman Catholic position right, I’m open to correction.


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