The Native Tourist
reformed/biblical observations on Christianity and culture

Monday, March 01, 2004
Historical Depictions Okay?
Mark Horne has a link to the RPES report on the second commandment which criticizes some, but not all uses images of Christ in art:

"Portraiture of Christ--the attempt to say, "This is what Jesus looked like,"--may be precluded on the ground of another principle found in the Second Commandment. Portraiture of Christ may convey the idea that Christ is specially present and localized in the portrait; this would be a violation of the principle that the sovereign rule of God is not to be dishonored by localizing, and therefore seeking to control, Him.

While portraiture of Christ thus defined is to be avoided, depictions of Christ whose primary function is to represent this or that episode in the life of Christ are permissible. They do not constitute a violation of the Second Commandment, and are in accordance with the Biblical teaching regarding the incarnation. "

This all strikes me as amazingly imprecise and ultimately (at least in most cases) a false distinction. Are portraits impermissible because they merely try to "show what Jesus looked like", but when an historical setting is supplied, this attribute magically goes away? Seems to me that if a painting of, say, Christ driving the money-changers out the Temple, had sufficient detail in its depiction of Christ that it could function as a portrait (i.e. a cropped section of the painting contraining Christ's 'likeness' could effectively serve as a portrait), then the principle warned against in the RPES report has been violated.

As I have said before, if an historical depiction of a part of the life of Christ is sketchy or exceptionally vague (as is the case in some of Rembrandt's etchings) then such a depiction might be permissible. But this is surely not the case in movies such as The Passion of the Christ.

The free depiction of Christ in pictures tends to lead to all sorts of abuses. Or other kinds of sillinesses such as nativity scenes which come in white, brown, yellow and red versions.