Friday, January 27, 2012

Silence and the Word

Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Le Christ du silence
c. 1895 - 8
Charcoal and pastel on canvas and brown paper
59.5 x 47.5 cm 
Musée du Petit-Palais, Paris

Christ is the Word. The Word seems at the opposite end of the spectrum to Silence.

Silence and the Word was the theme of Pope Benedict`s Message for Communications Day :

"When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning."

Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
Le Silence
46 x 106 cm
Abbaye de Fontfroide, Corbières, near Narbonne

During the 1890s Redon responded to the Catholic revival that emerged in France during the previous decade and remained a powerful force in the nation's cultural life until the First World War

Redon had many close friends who figured in the Catholic revival such as Paul Claudel and the painters Emile Bernard and Maurice Denis on the one hand and the writers Leon Bloy and J.K. Huysmans on the other. All were admirers of Redon's work

By 1900, Odilon Redon had entirely abandoned the confines of his monochromatic Noirs, the macabre and enigmatic charcoals and graphic albums which had dominated the majority of his career.

As Klaus Berger observed, 'The demons have retired' (in Odilon Redon, New York, 1965, p. 88).

Redon never placed limits on the interpretation or meaning of the symbols he employed but rather believed that a subject should never restrict one's freedom of expression or interpretation.

Fontfroide was a Cistercian abbey near Narbonne  founded in the eleventh century. It was abandoned in 1901. It was acquired by Gustave Fayet (1865-1925), a French painter and friend of Redon.

Fayet asked Redon to produce decoration for the library. The result was and is a masterpiece. Le Silence is one of the works in the library.

Silence was a major theme in the work of Redon.

The work, Le Silence, invites calm and serenity, two attributes associated with an abbey and a library. The Word and words.

But in his Message the Pope provided a learned disquisition on the importance of Silence:

"Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist.  
In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. 
 By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible.  
It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other.  
Joy, anxiety, and suffering can all be communicated in silence – indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression.  
Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved. 
When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary.  
Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge.  
For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds."

The silence of Christ can often be a test as it was for the Woman of Canaan, a test of faith:

"21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 
22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” 
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to Him and urged Him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” 
24 He answered, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” 
25 The woman came and knelt before Him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” 
27 “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 
28 Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour."
(Matthew 15: 21 - 28)

It can also be the reaction when we attempt to put God to the test as in the narrative of the woman taken in adultery:

"1 Jesus went unto the mount of Olives. 
2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. 
3 And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, 
4 They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. 
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou? 
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not."
(John 8: 1- 6)

In the Passion the silence of Christ is remarkable:

"The high priests brought many charges against him 
Pilatus again questioned him, saying, 
"Have you no answers? Look how much you are accused of." 
But Jesus still said nothing. 
Pilatus was amazed."
(Mark 15:3-5)

Then there is another different type of silence when Christ is not present:  the silence of The Silence of Holy Saturday, the silence of the tomb