Friday, April 06, 2012

Job and the Crucifixion

Francesco Raibolini (called Francia) (c.1450 - 1517)
Calvary with Saint Job at the foot of the Cross
c. 1514
Transposed from wood onto canvas
2.55 x 1.75m
Musée du Louvre, Paris

This fine painting is rather unusual

It depicts Christ on the Cross. With Mary and St John there is another figure: the biblical Patriarch, Job, known as St Job. Job, in his suffering, is lying on the ground beneath the suffering Christ

The work was commissioned to be carried out by Francesco Raibolini (called Francia),who was one of the most highly regarded of the Bolognese painters of his day

Gillet in The Catholic Encyclopedia.(1909)  described him as living "apart from the pagan and rationalistic movement of the fifteenth century, was an isolated man of great and noble gifts, original and pure in his use of them, in a word the most eminent personality in Northern Italian art previous to Titian and Correggio"

He was the artist of many religious works

The work was commissioned as the altarpiece for the High Altar of one of Bologna`s famous churches: St Giobbe (St Job). (but now no longer one) This church was attached to the Ospedale di S. Giobbe (the Hospital of St Job) which was the hospital for the treatment of those suffering from syphilis and later other plagues

The veneration and cult of Job was not confined to Bologna but extended to the whole of northeastern Italy. 

In Venice, for example, the church of Saint Job was founded in 1462

Over the high altar of the Church stood the famous Bellini painting of 'Madonna and Child enthroned between SS Job, John the Baptist, Sebastian, Francis and Louis of Toulouse'.

Giovanni Bellini 1426 - 1516
San Giobbe Altarpiece 
c. 1487
Oil on panel
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice
The detail shows Sts Francis, John the Baptist and Job. 

The devotion appears to have spread from Eastern Christian communities Orthodox as well as Melchite and Coptic

There was even in the Latin West, a Mass in the rite of Saint Job such as found in a Missal published in Venice in 1527.  However such rites were abolished by Pope Pius V in his Tridentine liturgical reforms. 

The theme of Suffering in the story of Job is too well known to require repetition. 

Likewise the suffering of the victims of pox and other plagues could only be compared to the misfortunes of Job In the print below we see a Doctor treating a victim of the plague (1482)


Back to the masterwork by Francia

It is a Christian meditation on Suffering

In trying to make sense of what it conveys perhaps we should look at another Christian meditation on suffering by Blessed Pope John Paul II, his Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering) ( 11th February 1984) Even more appropriate since today is Good Friday

"11. Job however challenges the truth of the principle that identifies suffering with punishment for sin. And he does this on the basis of his own opinion. For he is aware that he has not deserved such punishment, and in fact he speaks of the good that he has done during his life. 
In the end, God himself reproves Job's friends for their accusations and recognizes that Job is not guilty. His suffering is the suffering of someone who is innocent and it must be accepted as a mystery, which the individual is unable to penetrate completely by his own intelligence. 
The Book of Job does not violate the foundations of the transcendent moral order, based upon justice, as they are set forth by the whole of Revelation, in both the Old and the New Covenants. At the same time, however, this Book shows with all firmness that the principles of this order cannot be applied in an exclusive and superficial way. 
While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment. The figure of the just man Job is a special proof of this in the Old Testament. 
Revelation, which is the word of God himself, with complete frankness presents the problem of the suffering of an innocent man: suffering without guilt. Job has not been punished, there was no reason for inflicting a punishment on him, even if he has been subjected to a grievous trial. 
From the introduction of the Book it is apparent that God permitted this testing as a result of Satan's provocation. For Satan had challenged before the Lord the righteousness of Job: "Does Job fear God for nought? ... Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face".
         And if the Lord consents to test Job with suffering, he does it to demonstrate the latter's righteousness.   
         The suffering has the nature of a test.
The Book of Job is not the last word on this subject in Revelation. In a certain way it is a foretelling of the Passion of Christ. 
But already in itself it is sufficient argument why the answer to the question about the meaning of suffering is not to be unreservedly linked to the moral order, based on justice alone. While such an answer has a fundamental and transcendent reason and validity, at the same time it is seen to be not only unsatisfactory in cases similar to the suffering of the just man Job, but it even seems to trivialize and impoverish the concept of justice which we encounter in Revelation.  
12. The Book of Job poses in an extremely acute way the question of the "why" of suffering; it also shows that suffering strikes the innocent, but it does not yet give the solution to the problem.,,, 
Christ drew close above all to the world of human suffering through the fact of having taken this suffering upon his very self. 
During his public activity, he experienced not only fatigue, homelessness, misunderstanding even on the part of those closest to him, but, more than anything, he became progressively more and more isolated and encircled by hostility and the preparations for putting him to death.  
Christ is aware of this, and often speaks to his disciples of the sufferings and death that await him: 
"Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise"
Christ goes towards his Passion and death with full awareness of the mission that he has to fulfil precisely in this way. 
Precisely by means of this suffering he must bring it about "that man should not perish, but have eternal life". 
Precisely by means of his Cross he must strike at the roots of evil, planted in the history of man and in human souls. 
Precisely by means of his Cross he must accomplish the work of salvation. This work, in the plan of eternal Love, has a redemptive character."