Friday, March 07, 2014

On the Pinnacle

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775‑1851)
The Temptation on the Pinnacle 
Graphite, watercolour and gouache on paper
212 x 160 mm
Tate Britain, London

The third and final temptation endured by Christ in the wilderness is when he is challenged by Satan to throw himself down from the highest pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Turner depicts the moment of Christ's triumph over Satan who can be seen hurling himself away from the scene in anger and frustration.

It prefigures the final victory on the Cross and the Resurrection

The scene by Turner is an illustration for Milton`s Paradise Regained Book IV and the climax of that work:

So saying he [Satan] caught him [Christ] up, and without wing
Of Hippogrif bore through the Air sublime
Over the Wilderness and o're the Plain;
Till underneath them fair Jerusalem,
The holy City, lifted high her Towers, [ 545 ]
And higher yet the glorious Temple rear'd
Her pile, far off appearing like a Mount
Of Alablaster, top't with golden Spires:
There on the highest Pinacle he set
The Son of God, and added thus in scorn: [ 550 ]
There stand, if thou wilt stand; to stand upright
Will ask thee skill; I to thy Fathers house
Have brought thee, and highest plac't, highest is best,
Now shew thy Progeny; if not to stand,
Cast thy self down; safely if Son of God: [ 555 ]
For it is written, He will give command
Concerning thee to his Angels, in thir hands
They shall up lift thee, lest at any time
Thou chance to dash thy foot against a stone.
To whom thus Jesus: also it is written, [ 560 ]
Tempt not the Lord thy God; he said and stood.
But Satan smitten with amazement fell
As when Earths Son Antæus (to compare
Small things with greatest) in Irassa strove
With Joves Alcides and oft foil'd still rose, [ 565 ]
Receiving from his mother Earth new strength,
Fresh from his fall, and fiercer grapple joyn'd,
Throttl'd at length in the Air, expir'd and fell;
So after many a foil the Tempter proud,
Renewing fresh assaults, amidst his pride [ 570 ]
Fell whence he stood to see his Victor fall.
And as that Theban Monster that propos'd
Her riddle, and him, who solv'd it not, devour'd;
That once found out and solv'd, for grief and spite
Cast herself headlong from th' Ismenian steep, [ 575 ]
So strook with dread and anguish fell the Fiend,
And to his crew, that sat consulting, brought
Joyless tryumphals of his hop't success,
Ruin, and desperation, and dismay,
Who durst so proudly tempt the Son of God. [ 580 ]
So Satan fell and strait a fiery Globe
Of Angels on full sail of wing flew nigh,
Who on their plumy Vans receiv'd him soft
From his uneasie station, and upbore
As on a floating couch through the blithe Air, [ 585 ]
Then in a flowry valley set him down
On a green bank, and set before him spred
A table of Celestial Food, Divine,
Ambrosial, Fruits fetcht from the tree of life,
And from the fount of life Ambrosial drink, [ 590 ]
That soon refresh'd him wearied, and repair'd
What hunger, if aught hunger had impair'd,
Or thirst, and as he fed, Angelic Quires
Sung Heavenly Anthems of his victory
Over temptation and the Tempter proud. 

The temptations of Christ in the desert are among the most mysterious passages in the Gospels

Saint Pope John Paul II in one of his catecheses on the subject said:
"Jesus knew that he was sent by the Father to establish God's kingdom in the world of humanity. On the one hand, for this purpose he accepted being tempted in order to take his proper place among sinners. He had already done this at the Jordan, in order to serve as a model for all (cf. St. Augustine, De Trinitate 4:13).  
But on the other hand, by virtue of the Holy Spirit's anointing, he reached into the very roots of sin and defeated the one who is the "father of lies" (Jn 8:44). Thus he willingly went to face the temptations at the start of his ministry, complying with the Holy Spirit's impulse (cf. St. Augustine, De Trinitate 13:13). 
One day when his mission was completed he would proclaim: "Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out" (Jn 12:31). On the eve of his passion he would repeat once again: "The ruler of the world is coming; but he has no power over me" (Jn 14:30); rather, "the ruler of this world has been condemned" (Jn 16:33).  
The struggle against the "father of lies" who is the "ruler of this world," begun in the desert, will reach its climax on Golgotha. The victory will come about through the cross of the Redeemer."