Harmensz van Rijn Rembrandt
1606 - 1669
The Hundred Guilder print: Christ surrounded by numerous figures, many sick, blessing the little children.
Etching, drypoint and burin, printed on japan paper
281 millimetres x 388 millimetres
The British Museum, London
It is celebrated as Rembrandt's most ambitious, complex and highly worked composition as a printmaker
This famous etching already commanded 100 guilders, an enormous sum, in Rembrandt's day, hence perhaps its nickname
It was immensely popular in its day (even with Roman Catholic bishops of the day)
Throughout the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth century this was the most famous and popular of Rembrandt's prints.
It represents Christ healing the sick and encouraging the approach of children, while the Pharisees on the left debate with him. Christ`s teaching is on marriage and divorce, those who are not suited to marriage, what one must do or not do on the Sabbath as well as to enter the Kingdom of God
It is based on incidents in Matthew 19
It is also called Christ healing the sick, Christ with the Sick around Him, Receiving Little Children, or Christ preaching
The centrepiece is in verses 13 - 14:
"13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked them,14 but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Indeed the nickname of the print may derive from the verses quoting Jesus in Matthew 19, 29 -30:
"29 And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life.30 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first"
St. Ephrem the Syrian (c.305 - 373) is said to be the greatest Christian poet before Dante. He was admired by Saint Jerome, he was loved by Syriac-speaking Christians, and on 5 October 1920, somewhat belatedly, he was declared Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XV.
In a catechesis in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI said of Ephrem:
"Ephrem, honoured by Christian tradition with the title "Harp of the Holy Spirit", remained a deacon of the Church throughout his life. It was a crucial and emblematic decision: he was a deacon, a servant, in his liturgical ministry, and more radically, in his love for Christ, whose praises he sang in an unparalleled way, and also in his love for his brethren, whom he introduced with rare skill to the knowledge of divine Revelation."
In Ephrem`s De Paenitentia ('On Repentance') we hear of the attractiveness of the Saviour who drew men women and children to him as depicted so poignantly in Rembrandt`s print. The key is the same as Rembrandt`s: Christ, the Healer of the Sick
Our Lord who came down from the bosom of the Father
and who became our way to salvation
teaching us about repentance,
spoke thus in his divine and blessed voice:
'I did not come to summon the just, 5
but sinners to repentance';
and again 'the healthy do not need a doctor, only the sick'.
If I say this, you would not listen to me
but if the Lord himself says it,
why do you despise it, and neglect your life? 10
If you are aware that you have within you
incurable wounds of thought and action,
why do you neglect your secret wounds
and refuse to show your wounds to the doctor
so that he may cure them? 15
How long will you so evilly neglect your wound,
so that the putrefaction of the wound may become more incurable?
Why, beloved, do you hate yourself?
Do you not wish to be freed from your secret wounds?
Why do you fear the doctor? 20
He is not cruel nor heartless nor unmerciful:
he does not use steel nor burning nor bitter drugs,
he cures only with a word.
If you approach him in the whole truth,
he is full of goodness and full of mercy. 25
For your sake he came from the bosom of the Father;
for your sake he was made flesh out of the virgin's womb
so that you may approach him frankly and fearlessly;
for your sake he was made man, so that he may cure you
of your dangerous wounds. 30
With much love and kindness he calls you to himself:
approach him, sinner; be cured easily.
Cast off the burdens of your sins;
bring your gifts of prayer;
apply tears to the rottenness of your wounds. 35
For he is the good heavenly doctor
who by tears and groans heals your wounds.
Approach, sinner, to the kindly doctor;
bring him your tears, which are the best medicine.
For thus the heavenly doctor wishes everyone 40
to be saved by his own tears.
For nothing is too difficult to be cured by tears.
For this medicine does not hold back the sick man at all,
nor does it acidify the wound, but cures you at once.
The doctor is waiting to see your tears, 45
approach him, and do not be afraid.
Show him your wound
and bring the medicine of tears and sobs.
For behold the door of repentance is open,
hurry, sinner, before it closes. 50
He does not wait for an end to your negligence
nor can the very door see your sloth
and put up with your contempt.
Why do you hate your life, o miserable man?
What is more precious than your soul, o man? 55
But you, a sinner, have despised it.
You do not know, my beloved,
at what hour the heavenly doctor will order
the door of his healing to be closed.
Come, I beg you, hurry to be cured. 60
Willingly gladden the heavenly host by your repentance.
The sun has already come to the evening hour:
for your sake it waits for you to come home.