Annibale Carracci 1560 - 1609
The Samaritan Woman at the Well c. 1595
Oil on canvas,
170 x 225 cm
In the New Testament there are three important meetings of Christ with women: the meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well; the meeting of Christ with the woman caight in adultery; and the meeting of Christ with the woman from Canaan who wanted her daughter cured
Annibale Carracci painted at least two versions of the meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well
Annibale was the greatest of the Carracci family of painters.
His contemporaries regarded him as the new Raphael and as a poet
But on the surface he was not prepossessing. He was described in this way:
"Neither clean nor well dressed, with his collar askew, his hat jammed on any old way and his unkempt beard… [he] seemed to be like an ancient philosopher, absent-minded and alone"
His work often challenged the conventions and norms of Counter-Reformation and Baroque art in
the treatment of religious images.
About 1605 Annibale painted another version of the same theme (in the Kunsthistoriches, Vienna) where there is a change in conception, an increase in spirituality and less of the humanistic 'conversation piece.' Less intellectual, less Mannerist, more classical
Annibale Carracci 1560 - 1609
Christ and The Samaritan Woman at the Well c. 1605
Oil on canvas,
60,5 x 146 cm
Gemäldegalerie Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna
Both paintings in their entirety exemplify the scope and message of the event which they depict.
It takes up almost the whole of one chapter of St John`s Gospel: John 4
It is worthwhile reading the chapter in full. In the Lectionary they cut bits out
The event is also known as "The Water of Life Discourse".
It is the complement of "The Bread of Life Discourse" (John 6:26–58)
Together they show ""Christ as the Life"
The two discourses are two of the seven discourses in John which teach important truths about who Jesus is and what He does for mankind. They focus on Christology—revealing something of the person and the work of Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed One.
The other five are The New Birth (3:1–36), The Divine Son (5:17–47), The Life-Giving Spirit (7:16–52), The Light of the World (8:12–59), and The Good Shepherd (10:1–18)
Chapter 3 of John ends with John the Baptist`s disciples of the Baptist asking about this man Jesus going about the countryside baptising and attracting many followers.
Chapter 4 of John continues the image of Living Water
The Chapter starts rather curiously in a few verses that are usually missed out in the Lectionary before the scene is set
"1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself was not baptizing, just his disciples), 3 he left Judea and returned to Galilee. 4 He had to pass through Samaria5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon."(John 4: 1 - 6)
John goes out of his way to make it clear that Jesus does not baptise. It is his disciples.
This was a detour through Samaria which Christ had to make: to the semi-Jews but a people and land hostile to Jews and the feeling was more than amply reciprocated
The well is still there. At present it is still deep - about 125 feet.
The well is fed by underground springs and the water is cool and flowing not stagnant as in some cisterns. The water was good and it was called "living water" by the people of the time
It was the water which gave life to the parched countryside and the people who lived there
The encounter takes place at high noon, in the heat of the mid-day sun.
A request for a drink of water prompts a revelation, an epiphany when Christ says to the woman:
“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink', you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.... Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:10, 13-14)
The water which Christ speaks of is the Holy Spirit.
This is made even more clear in John 7 when Christ says:
"37 On the last and greatest day of the feast [the Jewish feast of Tabernacles], Jesus stood up and exclaimed, "Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture says: 'Rivers of living water will flow from within him.'"39 He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified."(John 7: 37 - 39)
(The last day of Tabernacles was the Great Day of Judgement and the verdict for water and for rain as well as for the Messiah)
The imagery of "living water" can be subject to misinterpretation and false manipulation.
In the modern age we are used to New Age religions and philosophies some of which have seized on New Age as an alternative to the Judaeo-Christian heritage. The Age of Aquarius is conceived as one which will replace the predominantly Christian Age of Pisces.
In Jesus Christ, the bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian reflection on the New Age, the Pontifical Council for Culture published a report into New Age movements after a six year study
Gnosticism and Spiritual narcissism are the general characteristics of such movements. They use Christian motifs including a false kind of mysticism to perpetrate a false message to those who seek the Truth
Interestingly the Council in its Report offers a detailed and insightful commentary on the meeting of Christ with the woman from Samaria: which in view of the forthcoming Year of Faith is perhaps worthwhile re-reading
"But one episode that speaks really clearly about what he offers us is the story of his encounter with the Samaritan woman by Jacob's well in the fourth chapter of John's Gospel; it has even been described as “a paradigm for our engagement with truth”.
The experience of meeting the stranger who offers us the water of life is a key to the way Christians can and should engage in dialogue with anyone who does not know Jesus.
One of the attractive elements of John's account of this meeting is that it takes the woman a while even to glimpse what Jesus means by the water 'of life', or 'living' water (verse 11). Even so, she is fascinated – not only by the stranger himself, but also by his message – and this makes her listen.
After her initial shock at realising what Jesus knew about her (“You are right in saying 'I have no husband': for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly”, verses 17- 18), she was quite open to his word: “I see you are a prophet, Sir” (verse 19).
The dialogue about the adoration of God begins: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (verse 22).
Jesus touched her heart and so prepared her to listen to what He had to say about Himself as the Messiah: “I who am speaking to you – I am he” (verse 26), prepared her to open her heart to the true adoration in Spirit and the self-revelation of Jesus as God's Anointed.
The woman “put down her water jar and hurried back to the town to tell the people” all about the man (verse 28).
The remarkable effect on the woman of her encounter with the stranger made them so curious that they, too, “started walking towards him” (verse 30).
They soon accepted the truth of his identity: “Now we no longer believe because of what you told us; we have heard him ourselves and we know that he really is the saviour of the world” (verse 42).
They move from hearing about Jesus to knowing him personally, then understanding the universal significance of his identity. This all happens because their minds, their hearts and more are engaged.
The fact that the story takes place by a well is significant.
Jesus offers the woman “a spring... welling up to eternal life” (verse 14).
The gracious way in which Jesus deals with the woman is a model for pastoral effectiveness, helping others to be truthful without suffering in the challenging process of self-recognition (“he told me every thing I have done“, verse 39).
This approach could yield a rich harvest in terms of people who may have been attracted to the water-carrier (Aquarius) but who are genuinely still seeking the truth. They should be invited to listen to Jesus, who offers us not simply something that will quench our thirst today, but the hidden spiritual depths of “living water”. It is important to acknowledge the sincerity of people searching for the truth; there is no question of deceit or of self-deception.
It is also important to be patient, as any good educator knows. A person embraced by the truth is suddenly energised by a completely new sense of freedom, especially from past failures and fears, and “the one who strives for self-knowledge, like the woman at the well, will affect others with a desire to know the truth that can free them too”.
An invitation to meet Jesus Christ, the bearer of the water of life, will carry more weight if it is made by someone who has clearly been profoundly affected by his or her own encounter with Jesus, because it is made not by someone who has simply heard about him, but by someone who can be sure “that he really is the saviour of the world” (verse 42).
It is a matter of letting people react in their own way, at their own pace, and letting God do the rest."
In English literature, the Water of Life Discourse has been very significant
Take one example. Chaucer`s The Wife of Bath Alisoun is similar to Photine in having had five husbands
But in her Prologue to her Tale in The Canterbury Tales, Alisoun affects not to quite understand the Discourse of the Water of Life and is inaccurate in her re-elling of it:
"That by the same ensample, taughte he me,That I ne sholde wedded be but ones.Herkne eek, lo, which a sharpe word for the nones,15 Biside a welle Jhesus, God and Man,Spak in repreeve of the Samaritan.
"Thou hast yhad fyve housbondes," quod he,"And thilke man the which that hath now theeIs noght thyn housbonde;" thus seyde he certeyn.20 What that he mente ther by, I kan nat seyn;But that I axe, why that the fifthe manWas noon housbonde to the Samaritan?
How manye myghte she have in mariage?Yet herde I nevere tellen in myn age25 Upon this nombre diffinicioun.Men may devyne, and glosen up and doun,But wel I woot, expres, withoute lye,God bad us for to wexe and multiplye;That gentil text kan I wel understonde."
Critics have said of The Wife of Bath that she disregards the spirit of the Scriptures in favor of experience and is therefore enslaved by the Old Law
Not for nothing is she "'somdel deef' She is also on pilgrimage from the Diocese of Bath and Wells
Like her, her Tale is of the joys of sensuality and the flesh
John A. Alford, "The Wife of Bath Versus the Clerk of Oxford: What Their Rivalry Means." Chaucer Review 21 (1986): 121-22, 124. writes:
"". . . Chaucer makes the very incarnation of eloquence 'somdel deef'! /121/ Could any other physical trait stand as a more damaging criticism of her art, or at least of the way in which she practices it? Her performance will confirm that she cannot hear, as we do, what she is saying. Her speech is oddly deficient--full of eloquence but lacking in wisdom, rich in invention but poor in judgment." /122/ "The Wife's tendency to digress (for example, D 585-86, 952-82) . . . is the verbal corollary of her 'wandrynge by the weye' . . . ." "The answer to the Wife's riddle [in her Tale] is also the fundamental motive of rhetorical discourse--power. To achieve 'the maistre,' to manipulate other people into believing or behaving according to one's own wishes is 'what orators most desire.'"
She desires power and authority not love. Unlike the Samaritan woman, she has never been touched by the Word and Chaucer makes the point for all her quoting from Scripture, she cannot and will not (or ever) understand the Discourse
Chaucer delivers his devastating verdict on the Wife of Bath to the end of her tale when she proclaims (unknowingly) her guilt to the assembled pilgrims:
"And thus they lyve unto hir lyves endeIn parfit joye;-and Jesu Crist us sende1265 Housbondes meeke, yonge, fressh abedde,And grace t'overbyde hem that we wedde;And eek I praye Jesu shorte hir lyvesThat nat wol be governed by hir wyves;And olde and angry nygardes of dispence,1270 God sende hem soone verray pestilence!"
But what Chaucer does illustrate is that what passes for New Age is often not new and very old indeed