Saturday, December 13, 2008

Sister Wendy Contemplates Saint Paul in Art

Andrei Rublev (c.1360 or 1370 - 1427 or January 29, 1430)
Icon of the Apostle St Paul c.1420
Tempera on wood. 160 x 109 cm.
The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Looking for a book to give at Christmas ? Perhaps Sister Wendy has the answer.

Sister Wendy Beckett has spent the past year working on a book of pictures of St Paul.

Christopher Howse in The Telegraph discusses the latest book by Sister Wendy Beckett. She has chosen the very difficult theme of Saint Paul in Art for her latest work.

Mr Howse writes:

"Through this book of 40 works of art, I have found at last found a way in to this difficult writer. St Paul is all the more difficult because we think that, as he is in the Bible, we ought to find his words congenial.

There are two big obstacles. One is that, like Shakespeare, he is “full of quotes”: familiar phrases distract our attention from the argument. The really big obstacle, though, is the argument itself; the thrust of his prose is bafflingly hard.

Sister Wendy finds a similar difficulty. “It is impossible to 'read’ St Paul in the accepted sense,” she writes. “His text is too dense, its power too deep to be comprehended, except word by word.”

She tells the history of the saintly Elizabeth of the Trinity, a Carmelite nun in Dijon who died in 1906. “Her short life was transformed by three small words in St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. She liked to quote it in Latin, ad laudem gloriae, to the praise of his glory.”