Christ Pantocrator

Christ Pantocrator May 20, 2007

I’m not sure where in the New Testament it indicates that Jesus is our best buddy. When I read the gospels he certainly went to parties, was sociable and was very popular, but he is always treated either with extreme respect or with disdain. Even with his apostles there is a distance. He loves people, but he doesn’t come across to me as full of bonhomie, high fives and hearty slaps on the back.

Yet the predominant image of Jesus in our American Evangelical society is that of ‘friend and brother’ isn’t it? People are told they can have a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ and one gets the impression that this is of the same order as the sort of relationship you have with your best buddy from high school days. It’s almost Jesus the work colleague, or Jesus the team leader.

I’m sure that’s all well and good up to a point, but I doubt if it’s really a Scriptural image, nor is it an image that was popular throughout Church history. The closest we get to a chummy, up close and personal Jesus is the intimacy of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and certainly we Catholics love the tenderness of Jesus of the Sacred Heart.

The more dominant image in the New Testament is one of Jesus Christ glorified. The readings for the Ascension emphasize the ‘cosmic Christ’. He is the one under whose feet God has put all things. He is the one who has claimed dominion over all the spiritual forces in the heavenly places. He is the one through whom all things exist, who is in all and through all. In other words, he is Christ the King, Christ Pantocrator.
Why is this image so neglected today, and why has it never (in my experience) been emphasized within Protestantism? Is it just that we are democratic? We’re egalitarian and want Jesus to be ‘an ordinary guy’? Is it because we are uncomfortable with all the supernatural language associated with him being over all the ‘thrones and principalities and powers and dominions’?

Or is it the fact that Jesus–the Dreadful Judge of the Last Day makes us a wee bit, well, squirmy?
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  • Maggie

    Before you depend too much on the Good Shepherd image being one of good buddy, remember what happened to that lamb on the shoulders of the Shepherd. My Israeli friend tells me that when a lamb wandered away, the shepherd went in search of it, and when he found it, he broke its legs so that it would not wander again. Thus the shepherd had to carry the lamb on his shoulders, but, when healed, the lamb never wandered again. The image looks sweet, but it was not–it was tough treatment.I think that the gift of the Holy Spirit that most protects us from such treatment is the gift of Holy Fear. And you are right, it needs cultivating.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, and the notion that Jesus is our “best buddy” is one that the evangelical sects depend on. It’s all that “pro me” “theology” that they’re handing out, the “me and Jesus” stuff that everyone is so eager for us Catholics to appropriate into the Church.

  • An observation.John was Jesus’ beloved disciple and even reclined on Jesus breast during the Last Supper. John was the only recorded disciple who stayed to witness the Crucifixion. It was to John that Jesus entrusted Mary, His Mother.So, seeing at how John and Jesus were such good buddies, when they finally met again after all those years, what did you think happened? Does John goes up and say ‘Hey there JC old buddy. Long time no see. How’ve you been?”Perhaps.Here’s how the Book of the Apocalypse records the incident:I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.-Rev 1:12-17Hmmmm… interesting, isn’t it?When some of our brethren finally see the Lord, perhaps giving Him a noogie is not the best way to go about it, regardless of how chummy they think they are with Him.

  • Excellent point. In fact, the majority of the NT gives us Jesus as the awesome God of Majesty, and not ‘Jesus the best friend.’

  • And even with devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, yes, it is His human Heart aflame with love for humanity, but it is a Heart pierced by the “blasphemies and indifferences” of men, as our Lord told St Margaret Mary, especially those of “consecrated souls” who should know better.When our Lord said to St Mary Magdalene on the morning of the Resurrection, “Noli me tangere”, “Do not cling to me,” while those words might sound harsh at first, I’ve always seen it as His telling her that it was not going to be as it was before, when He was indeed their Companion on the road, but now He was ascending to His Father and their Father, to His God and their God (not “our God”) as their Risen Lord and Redeemer.Fr Brian Mulcahy, OP

  • Anonymous

    “squirmy”–that’s the word! I definitely experienced this when I first visited the Great Upper Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. As I moved from the side chapels to the main altar area, I was entranced by the beauty. As I moved past the altar toward the North Apse, suddenly an awesome (in size and impact) almost frightening view emerged: “Christ in Majesty”, the image in the Eastern Christian tradition of the Pantocrator, meaning the Ruler of All, or Celestial Emperor. I felt overwhelmed and nearly fell on my face in “fear of the Lord”. “This is real”, I said, “This is the true Christ”. I’ve been back again to visit the Shrine, and seen it on EWTN; never will I forget what I learned that first visit… In case you’ve never seen the image, go;=309285&ct;=166455Blessings, Jenny

  • This image of Christ Pantocrator reminds me that we must pray that someday the Church will again breathe with both her lungs, as JP2 once said.

  • along the same lines of having a personal relationship with my Best Bud J.C. are the folks that claim Jeus “speaks” to them. Ad Dominum has an interesting post …

  • Anonymous

    I am a Lutheran; you can call me a Protestant if you wish or an evangelical or any other label that suits your taste. I am not Roman Catholic, but I wholeheartedly share the dismay at “Jesus my Buddy”, and very much dislike the attitude. I have seen quite a bit of “Buddy” attitude among Catholics, too, though so let’s be careful with labels, please.

  • Goodness! You’re absolutely right, but I do believe that the ‘Jesus my buddy’ has come into Catholicism from the dominant Evangelical culture.I agree with you that there are plenty of our ‘separated brethren’ who deplore this trend.Thanks for commenting.

  • Anonymous

    Pantocrator image doesn’t strike me as fearsome. It’s peaceful and blessing. I was going to bring up Scary Christ at the National Basilica, but someone beat me to it.Re Jesus buddy in the protestant, evangelical, fundamentalist, independent, whatever world, (we need a new acronym!)–in popular parlance, what I perceive is that God is the Angry Judge and Jesus is our Defense Attorney that gets us off on a technicality.What suffers is the tenderness towards Abba Father, such a tenderness I relish.God is much bigger than our minds and experiences, but we use human analogies to describe our experiences; so yes, I think it’s fine to have a personal, warm relationship with Jesus; it’s fine to have a tender relationship with God the Father; it’s fine to cry out to be filled with the delightful fire of the Holy Spirit. Suck up all the good stuff while you can. Yes, we will have a different experience of our triune God at a certain moment in the future. Pray we have the habit of grace and trust and the wisdom to fall on our faces and cry out, “Mercy!”I think sacramental reconciliation is good training for that moment.kentuckyliz

  • Anonymous

    I cannot understate how cramped and small it is to treat God the Father as Angry Judge and Jesus as Defense Attorney; for so many, it stops there. Such a juridical and legalistic understanding. It misses so much.Jesus is the image (ikon) of the invisible God; everything that’s so lovable about Jesus is true of the Father.kentuckyliz

  • God the Father, who asked Father Abraham to take Isaac, his beloved son to sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah but then stopped him with a voice from Heaven is the same Father who let His own beloved Son, Jesus walk up Mt. Calvary to be sacrificed. Only this time, there was no voice from Heaven yelling stop. There was only silence.Like Isaac, Jesus carried the wood of his own sacrifice, allowed himself to be bound and ultimately, killed in obedience to the Father’s will. But, this Jesus is also an icon of God the Father, revealing the depth of His mercy, grace and boundless love. If you conceive the Father as an angry God, think of His anger more as arising from hurt, a deep feeling of hurt that the children whom He sent His Son to die for would still sin, abusing the great gift of free will that He wad bestowed and throwing His love and mercy back in His face.He is indeed Judge, but remember that He is also Father, a Father who’s justice is sometimes the more severe because He knows what we can do and what we are capable of and what we have spurned. Unlike a judge just doing his job, the Father has personal stake in how we turn out and it grieves Him greatly to punish us.

  • Good comments all. In our analogies for God we need to remember them all, because together they round out the picture and complement one another. Nothing wrong with ‘Jesus our Friend and Brother’–its only when we exclude Christ Pantocrator. The reverse is also true.

  • Anonymous

    I can only add “Amen” to the comments here. Jenny, I was at the Shrine last year, and was completely overawed by the mosaic of Christ Pantocrator. It is tremendous — and I got the sense, standing there in the church, that this tremendous Figure is indeed my Best Friend — not a “Buddy” I’d go for coffee with, but a Friend worthy of the ultimate respect, love, admiration, reverence, and, yes, Holy Fear. I used to think that if I met Our Lord, I’d hug Him. I still think that way, but would definitely ask permission first! I’m so grateful for His love — that love which culminated with His sacrifice on the Cross. He said it Himself: “No man has greater love than He who gives His life for His friends.” Alleluia!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, thank you, “Anonymous”! My “fear of the Lord” statement was seriously misinterpreted here, and you have described it perfectly–much better than I. “The beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord”, which is not the feeling we often define as fear, but the knowledge of who Jesus really is and what our relationship to Him ought to be. Thanks again!!Blessings, Jenny

  • The Church of Our Saviour in New York City (where the legendary Fr George Rutler is pastor) has a glorious mural of Christ Pantocrator which fills the entire apse of the church; it is a reproduction of the famous icon of St. Catherine’s, Mt. Sinai. Recently, during a wedding preparation meeting, the bride asked the organist if the lights which normally shine on the mural all day could turned off during her wedding. It seems that she was made unconformtable by this image of Christ in power; she said she felt “judged, not comforted.” Guess what, sweetie? You got it right.The lights will remain on during her wedding.

  • Anonymous

    Yay, Fr. Jay! May Christ the Pantocrater protect you and bless you.Jenny

  • it is good to read the variety of comments here that express so vividly how differently we all experience our God and savior Jesus Christ.Personally, I don’t believe the Good Shepherd breaks the legs of his lambs, but I certainly have experienced times when I felt as though that was what was happening.Please visti my web site to see my images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and my best friend, Jesus smiling.~ Miriam A. Kilmer