Alonso Cano (1601 – 1667)
The Crucifixion (1640 circa)
Oil on canvas
130 cm x 96 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Recently the Pope devoted two of his catecheses on the words and prayers of Jesus on the Cross
In the first on 8th February 2012 he looked at the account of the prayers in Mark and Matthew
In the second on 15th February he considered the account in the Gospel of St Luke
The words of Christ are recorded by Saints Mark and Matthew in a mixture of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic:
"And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloì, Eloì, lamà sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’”(Mark 15:34).
“Eloì, Eloì, lamà sabachthani?” -- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Luke relates three last words:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)
To the Good Thief: “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43)
“Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46)
Cano`s Crucifixion is a Marcian version of the event
The scene is one of enveloping darkness, loneliness, isolation and silence.
The darkness is ambiguous
In his earlier talk, the Pope said:
"Even the cosmos takes part in this event: Darkness envelops persons and things, but even in this moment of darkness, God is present; He does not abandon.
In the biblical tradition, darkness has an ambivalent meaning: It is a sign of the presence and action of evil, but also of a mysterious presence and action of God, who is capable of vanquishing all darkness.
In the Book of Exodus, for example, we read: “And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Lo, I am coming to you in a thick cloud’” (19:9); and again: “The people stood afar off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (20:21). And in the discourses of Deuteronomy, Moses recounts: “The mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud and gloom” (4:11); you “heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire” (5:23).
In the scene of Jesus’ Crucifixion, darkness covers the earth, and it is into the darkness of death that the Son of God is plunged in order to bring life by His act of love"
Cano`s painting is a meditation on those desolate and heartrending words “Eloì, Eloì, lamà sabachthani?” -- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
On the face of it, Jesus is afflicted by the sense of abandonment by his Father, a feeling of the utter confusion and total emptiness in the face of apparent failure of his mission and therefore of his life.
Where was the Father in the depth of his humiliation, at the moment when all seemed to be irretrievably lost?
The Pope said of these words:
"When faced with the most difficult and painful situations, when it seems that God is not listening, we need not fear entrusting to Him the entire weight of what we carry in our hearts; we need not fear crying out to Him in our suffering; we must be convinced that God is near, even when He appears to be silent.
In repeating from the Cross the opening words of the psalm:
“Eloì, Eloì, lamà sabachthani?” -- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46);in crying out in the words of the psalm, Jesus is praying in the moment of man’s final rejection, in the moment of abandonment.
However, He is praying the psalm in the awareness that God the Father is present, even in this hour when He feels the human drama of death.
But a question arises in us: How is it possible that so powerful a God does not intervene to rescue His Son from this terrible trial?
It is important to understand that Jesus’ prayer is not the cry of one who goes to meet death in despair, nor is it the cry of one who knows he has been abandoned.
In that moment, Jesus makes His own the whole of Psalm 22, the great psalm of the suffering people of Israel, and so He is taking upon Himself not only the tribulation of His people, but also of all people who suffer under the oppression of evil -- and, at the same time, He brings all of this before the heart of God Himself, in the certainty that His cry will be heard in the Resurrection:
“The cry of extreme anguish is at the same time the certainty of an answer from God, the certainty of salvation -- not only for Jesus Himself, but for ‘many’” (Jesus of Nazareth II, p. 214)."
In other words, these words are an affirmation that the Father existed and he was his Son who wished only to do his will.