So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.Romans:10:17 And he said, I will hide my face from them, I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith.Deuteronomy:32:20
Painting will not stop missiles. Music will not end suffering. But culture is not powerless — and a visit to Ukraine reaffirmed what it can do at its best.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.Psalm:29:4 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
By Jason Farago
“Now I would ask a strange question,” said Latimer. “Who is the most diligent bishop and prelate in all England? … I see you listening and hearkening that I should name him…. I will tell you: it is the devil…. He is never out of his diocese; call for him when you will, he is ever at home; … he is ever at his plow…. Ye shall never find him idle, I warrant you…. Where the devil is resident, … there away with books, and up with candles; away with Bibles, and up with beads; away with the light of the gospel, and up with the light of candles, yea, at noondays; … down with Christ’s cross, up with purgatory pickpurse; … away with clothing the naked, the poor, and impotent, up with decking of images and gay garnishing of stocks and stones; up with man’s traditions and his laws, down with God’s traditions and His most holy word…. O that our prelates would be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine, as Satan is to sow cockle and darnel!”— Ibid., “Sermon of the Plough.”
The grand principle maintained by these Reformers—the same that had been held by the Waldenses, by Wycliffe, by John Huss, by Luther, Zwingli, and those who united with them—was the infallible authority of the Holy Scriptures as a rule of faith and practice. They denied the right of popes, councils, Fathers, and kings, to control the conscience in matters of religion. The Bible was their authority, and by its teaching they tested all doctrines and all claims. Faith in God and His word sustained these holy men as they yielded up their lives at the stake. “Be of good comfort,” exclaimed Latimer to his fellow martyr as the flames were about to silence their voices, “we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”— Works of Hugh Latimer 1:8 . GC 248.2 – GC 249.1
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High on a wall of the Palazzo Pitti, in Florence, hangs a famous painting that Rubens completed in the last years of his life.
At its center is Mars, the god of war, surging out in battle armor from the doors of the Temple of Janus.
In Roman peacetime, this temple’s gates were always closed. Now they have burst open, and the frenzy has begun.
Beneath Mars’s feet lie victims about to be trampled. You see a mother looking up with terror at the gathering violence, desperate to protect her wailing child.
Next to her are two figures who have fallen to the ground and are on the verge of destruction. One is a woman with a lute, her instrument already broken. Another is a personified Architecture, his compass falling from his hand.
These are “The Consequences of War,” as Rubens saw them in 1638. Civilians suffer, but not only them; culture is a casualty too.
“Where also our Lord was crucified.” This specification of the prophecy was also fulfilled by France. In no land had the spirit of enmity against Christ been more strikingly displayed. In no country had the truth encountered more bitter and cruel opposition. In the persecution which France had visited upon the confessors of the gospel, she had crucified Christ in the person of His disciples.
Century after century the blood of the saints had been shed. While the Waldenses laid down their lives upon the mountains of Piedmont “for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ,” similar witness to the truth had been borne by their brethren, the Albigenses of France. In the days of the Reformation its disciples had been put to death with horrible tortures. King and nobles, highborn women and delicate maidens, the pride and chivalry of the nation, had feasted their eyes upon the agonies of the martyrs of Jesus. The brave Huguenots, battling for those rights which the human heart holds most sacred, had poured out their blood on many a hard-fought field. The Protestants were counted as outlaws, a price was set upon their heads, and they were hunted down like wild beasts.
The “Church in the Desert,” the few descendants of the ancient Christians that still lingered in France in the eighteenth century, hiding away in the mountains of the south, still cherished the faith of their fathers. As they ventured to meet by night on mountainside or lonely moor, they were chased by dragoons and dragged away to lifelong slavery in the galleys. The purest, the most refined, and the most intelligent of the French were chained, in horrible torture, amidst robbers and assassins. (See Wylie, b. 22, ch. 6.) Others, more mercifully dealt with, were shot down in cold blood, as, unarmed and helpless, they fell upon their knees in prayer. Hundreds of aged men, defenseless women, and innocent children were left dead upon the earth at their place of meeting. In traversing the mountainside or the forest, where they had been accustomed to assemble, it was not unusual to find “at every four paces, dead bodies dotting the sward, and corpses hanging suspended from the trees.” Their country, laid waste with the sword, the ax, the fagot, “was converted into one vast, gloomy wilderness.” “These atrocities were enacted … in no dark age, but in the brilliant era of Louis XIV. Science was then cultivated, letters flourished, the divines of the court and of the capital were learned and eloquent men, and greatly affected the graces of meekness and charity.”— Ibid., b. 22, ch. 7.
But blackest in the black catalogue of crime, most horrible among the fiendish deeds of all the dreadful centuries, was the St. Bartholomew Massacre. The world still recalls with shuddering horror the scenes of that most cowardly and cruel onslaught. The king of France, urged on by Romish priests and prelates, lent his sanction to the dreadful work. A bell, tolling at dead of night, was a signal for the slaughter. Protestants by thousands, sleeping quietly in their homes, trusting to the plighted honor of their king, were dragged forth without a warning and murdered in cold blood.
As Christ was the invisible leader of His people from Egyptian bondage, so was Satan the unseen leader of his subjects in this horrible work of multiplying martyrs. For seven days the massacre was continued in Paris, the first three with inconceivable fury. And it was not confined to the city itself, but by special order of the king was extended to all the provinces and towns where Protestants were found. Neither age nor sex was respected. Neither the innocent babe nor the man of gray hairs was spared. Noble and peasant, old and young, mother and child, were cut down together. Throughout France the butchery continued for two months. Seventy thousand of the very flower of the nation perished.
“When the news of the massacre reached Rome, the exultation among the clergy knew no bounds. The cardinal of Lorraine rewarded the messenger with a thousand crowns; the cannon of St. Angelo thundered forth a joyous salute; and bells rang out from every steeple; bonfires turned night into day; and Gregory XIII, attended by the cardinals and other ecclesiastical dignitaries, went in long procession to the church of St. Louis, where the cardinal of Lorraine chanted a Te Deum …. A medal was struck to commemorate the massacre, and in the Vatican may still be seen three frescoes of Vasari, describing the attack upon the admiral, the king in council plotting the massacre, and the massacre itself. Gregory sent Charles the Golden Rose; and four months after the massacre, … he listened complacently to the sermon of a French priest, … who spoke of ‘that day so full of happiness and joy, when the most holy father received the news, and went in solemn state to render thanks to God and St. Louis.'”—Henry White, The Massacre of St. Bartholomew, ch. 14, par. 34.
The same master spirit that urged on the St. Bartholomew Massacre led also in the scenes of the Revolution. Jesus Christ was declared to be an impostor, and the rallying cry of the French infidels was, “Crush the Wretch,” meaning Christ. Heaven-daring blasphemy and abominable wickedness went hand in hand, and the basest of men, the most abandoned monsters of cruelty and vice, were most highly exalted. In all this, supreme homage was paid to Satan; while Christ, in His characteristics of truth, purity, and unselfish love, was crucified.
“The beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against them, and shall overcome them, and kill them.” The atheistical power that ruled in France during the Revolution and the Reign of Terror, did wage such a war against God and His holy word as the world had never witnessed. The worship of the Deity was abolished by the National Assembly. Bibles were collected and publicly burned with every possible manifestation of scorn. The law of God was trampled underfoot. The institutions of the Bible were abolished. The weekly rest day was set aside, and in its stead every tenth day was devoted to reveling and blasphemy. Baptism and the Communion were prohibited. And announcements posted conspicuously over the burial places declared death to be an eternal sleep.
The fear of God was said to be so far from the beginning of wisdom that it was the beginning of folly. All religious worship was prohibited, except that of liberty and the country. The “constitutional bishop of Paris was brought forward to play the principal part in the most impudent and scandalous farce ever acted in the face of a national representation…. He was brought forward in full procession, to declare to the Convention that the religion which he had taught so many years was, in every respect, a piece of priestcraft, which had no foundation either in history or sacred truth. He disowned, in solemn and explicit terms, the existence of the Deity to whose worship he had been consecrated, and devoted himself in future to the homage of liberty, equality, virtue, and morality. He then laid on the table his episcopal decorations, and received a fraternal embrace from the president of the Convention. Several apostate priests followed the example of this prelate.”—Scott, vol. 1, ch. 17. GC 270.1 – GC 274.1
KYIV, Ukraine — You do not have to go far outside of Kyiv to see how the massacre of civilians and the trampling of culture still come one after the other. In Borodianka, a nucleus of Russian atrocities about 45 minutes north of here — the drive is slower now that the bridges have been demolished — the Palace of Culture has had its windows blown out; its concert hall is dust-caked, and the ticket booths have been ripped asunder. Halfway between the capital and the Belarusian border, I had to contort my body through twisted studs to enter the leveled Ivankiv Historical and Local History Museum, its statuary now pitted, its embroideries scorched. It is far worse further east.
Here in Kyiv the masterpieces have, like many of its citizens earlier, gone underground. The Khanenko National Museum of Arts, in an old mansion on Tereshchenkivska Street, owns a smaller Rubens: a little oil sketch of a river god, normally on a blue wall beneath a Beaux-Arts skylight. I couldn’t see it when I walked over there; the whole collection is in hiding.
. The Ukrainian national anthem was sung at the Metropolitan Opera; a Ukrainian folk song cold-opened “Saturday Night Live.” We have now all internalized the participatory prerogatives of social media: you must react, you must engage. The algorithms do not favor Rubensian allegory.
The authorities in Ukraine, up to the actor-turned-commander in chief, have not been shy in encouraging the domain of international culture to support the war effort.
Those of us in the rich and safe parts of the world, rich and safe as long as the nukes stay sheathed, surely get something out of this cultural solidarity.
Somewhere in the interstices between form and meaning, between picture and plotline, between thinking and feeling, art gives us a view of human suffering and human capability that testimonials, or even our own eyes, are not always able to. These war works are not important because they are “topical” — or, to use the vacuous catchphrase of our day, “necessary.” They are important because they reaffirm the place of form and imagination in times that would deny their potentialities. They narrate history at scales and depths that push notifications simply cannot deliver, and propaganda does not bother with. They are what allow us to discern, in the daily tide of images and insanities, any meaning at all.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.Hebrews:4:12
Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer. Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not. Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about. They are inclosed in their own fat: with their mouth they speak proudly. They have now compassed us in our steps: they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth;Psalm:17:4-5,8-11
But love is nothing now. Mars is in the grip of another woman, the fury Alecto, whose hair stands on end and whose eyes bulge with madness.
Look past the faces, look to the bodies. The big gods writhe and corkscrew as they tumble from left to right. The lesser, innocent figures skid and shatter.
When Rubens began painting “The Consequences of War” around 1638, the Thirty Years’ War was only 20 years old. Never before had Europe known an orgy of death like the one Rubens was living through; it would not again until the 20th century. Compare this painting to Rubens’s earlier tableaus of mythical brutality, such as the anatomically crisp “Massacre of the Innocents” (circa 1610), and you see how the later picture bleeds and pools, runs and ripples.
Rather than depict the battles and the pestilence head-on, here it’s as if paint itself has gone to war. Rubens understood, amid unprecedented violence, that the times had turned the excesses of the Baroque into a mode of realism.
Or, put another way: he understood that the extremity of the Thirty Years’ War required an extremity in form, and that an allegory could show something other representations could not. It was a point he underscored with the last major figure in “The Consequences of War,” the one at far left. She is a young woman in a torn and ungirdled black dress. Her arms are thrust to the sky, her ruddy cheeks stained with fat tears. This wailing woman, as Rubens wrote to a fellow painter in Florence, is l’infelice Europa: “the unfortunate Europe who, for so many years now, has suffered plunder, outrage and misery, which are so harmful to all that they need no further specification.”
Romanism is now regarded by Protestants with far greater favor than in former years. In those countries where Catholicism is not in the ascendancy, and the papists are taking a conciliatory course in order to gain influence, there is an increasing indifference concerning the doctrines that separate the reformed churches from the papal hierarchy; the opinion is gaining ground that, after all, we do not differ so widely upon vital points as has been supposed, and that a little concession on our part will bring us into a better understanding with Rome. (As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people. The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: ….).Proverbs:28:15-16 The time was when Protestants placed a high value upon the liberty of conscience which had been so dearly purchased. They taught their children to abhor popery and held that to seek harmony with Rome would be disloyalty to God. But how widely different are the sentiments now expressed!
The defenders of the papacy declare that the church has been maligned, and the Protestant world are inclined to accept the statement. Many urge that it is unjust to judge the church of today by the abominations and absurdities that marked her reign during the centuries of ignorance and darkness. They excuse her horrible cruelty as the result of the barbarism of the times and plead that the influence of modern civilization has changed her sentiments.
Have these persons forgotten the claim of infallibility put forth for eight hundred years by this haughty power? So far from being relinquished, this claim was affirmed in the nineteenth century with greater positiveness than ever before. As Rome asserts that the “church never erred; nor will it, according to the Scriptures, ever err ” (John L. von Mosheim, Institutes of Ecclesiastical History, book 3, century II, part 2, chapter 2, section 9, note 17), how can she renounce the principles which governed her course in past ages?
The papal church will never relinquish her claim to infallibility. All that she has done in her persecution of those who reject her dogmas she holds to be right; and would she not repeat the same acts, should the opportunity be presented? Let the restraints now imposed by secular governments be removed and Rome be reinstated in her former power, and there would speedily be a revival of her tyranny and persecution. GC 563.1 – GC 564.2
Seek ye out of the book of the LORD, and read: no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate: for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them. Isaiah:34:16
So harmful that they need no further specification. Even in the mid-17th century, scenes of brutality were already so potent and persistent that the whole Thirty Years’ War could be worn in Europe’s tangled gown, her unkempt hair, her hot pink face. If images of war were that ambient in the 1630s, then I don’t even know how to begin quantifying the supersaturation today. Yet our own age’s imagery of plunder and misery has less moral impact each year — as we dreadfully learned during the Syrian civil war, very probably the most documented in human history (until this one).
I, even I, am the LORD; and beside me there is no saviour. I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, that I am God.Isaiah:43:11-12
26]Who hath declared from the beginning, that we may know? and beforetime, that we may say, He is righteous? yea, there is none that sheweth, yea, there is none that declareth, yea, there is none that heareth your words. For I beheld, and there was no man; even among them, and there was no counsellor, that, when I asked of them, could answer a word. Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion.Isaiah:41:26,28-29
Brilliancy of style is not necessarily an index of pure, elevated thought. High conceptions of art, delicate refinement of taste, often exist in minds that are earthly and sensual. They are often employed by Satan to lead men to forget the necessities of the soul, to lose sight of the future, immortal life, to turn away from their infinite Helper, and to live for this world alone.
A religion of externals is attractive to the unrenewed heart. The pomp and ceremony of the Catholic worship has a seductive, bewitching power, by which many are deceived; and they come to look upon the Roman Church as the very gate of heaven. None but those who have planted their feet firmly upon the foundation of truth, and whose hearts are renewed by the Spirit of God, are proof against her influence. Thousands who have not an experimental knowledge of Christ will be led to accept the forms of godliness without the power. Such a religion is just what the multitudes desire. GC 567.1 – GC 567.2
WAR HAS BECOME THE ULTIMATE reflection of the digital addlement that the Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk has identified as the primary challenge to artists and audiences today. On the phone screen, everywhere is just “somewhere,” Tokarczuk regretted in her 2019 Nobel lecture: “‘Somewhere’ some people are drowning as they try to cross the sea. ‘Somewhere,’ for ‘some’ time, ‘some sort of’ a war has been going on. In the deluge of information individual messages lose their contours, dissipate in our memory, become unreal and vanish.” How can any war photograph compel us, how can any work of war art preserve its importance, while swimming upstream in an undammable river of content? Soldiers, too, have phones alongside their AK-74s, and every day since Feb. 24 has brought another evanescent current thing.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.Hebrews:4:12
Our only chance of getting from “somewhere” to somewhere, according to Tokarczuk, lies in a model of artistic creation that breaks the first-person-singular of the status update, and seeks “a story that would go beyond the uncommunicative prison of one’s own self.” American culture has grown fearful of stories like that — more universal ones, more comprehensive ones — but writing them has been the job of artists in wartime since Aeschylus staged “The Persians.” One cultural commitment we can make, as the world of yesterday passes into mist, is to rediscover the full human cost of our perpetual battles, even if their reflections in art are bound to be fragmentary. From those fragments we might yet constellate a view of the consequences of war, and of coming hazards we will not have the luxury to scroll beyond.
Still another fabrication was needed to enable Rome to profit by the fears and the vices of her adherents. This was supplied by the doctrine of indulgences. Full remission of sins, past, present, and future, and release from all the pains and penalties incurred, were promised to all who would enlist in the pontiff’s wars to extend his temporal dominion, to punish his enemies, or to exterminate those who dared deny his spiritual supremacy. The people were also taught that by the payment of money to the church they might free themselves from sin, and also release the souls of their deceased friends who were confined in the tormenting flames. By such means did Rome fill her coffers and sustain the magnificence, luxury, and vice of the pretended representatives of Him who had not where to lay His head. (See Appendix.)
The Scriptural ordinance of the Lord’s Supper had been supplanted by the idolatrous sacrifice of the mass. Papal priests pretended, by their senseless mummery, to convert the simple bread and wine into the actual “body and blood of Christ.”—Cardinal Wiseman, The Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Eucharist, Proved From Scripture, lecture 8, sec. 3, par. 26. With blasphemous presumption, they openly claimed the power of creating God, the Creator of all things. Christians were required, on pain of death, to avow their faith in this horrible, Heaven-insulting heresy. Multitudes who refused were given to the flames. (See Appendix.)
In the thirteenth century was established that most terrible of all the engines of the papacy—the Inquisition. The prince of darkness wrought with the leaders of the papal hierarchy. In their secret councils Satan and his angels controlled the minds of evil men, while unseen in the midst stood an angel of God, taking the fearful record of their iniquitous decrees and writing the history of deeds too horrible to appear to human eyes. “Babylon the great” was “drunken with the blood of the saints.” The mangled forms of millions of martyrs cried to God for vengeance upon that apostate power.
Popery had become the world’s despot. Kings and emperors bowed to the decrees of the Roman pontiff. The destinies of men, both for time and for eternity, seemed under his control. For hundreds of years the doctrines of Rome had been extensively and implicitly received, its rites reverently performed, its festivals generally observed. Its clergy were honored and liberally sustained. Never since has the Roman Church attained to greater dignity, magnificence, or power.
But “the noon of the papacy was the midnight of the world.”—J. A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, b. 1, ch. 4. The Holy Scriptures were almost unknown, not only to the people, but to the priests. Like the Pharisees of old, the papal leaders hated the light which would reveal their sins. God’s law, the standard of righteousness, having been removed, they exercised power without limit, and practiced vice without restraint. Fraud, avarice, and profligacy prevailed. Men shrank from no crime by which they could gain wealth or position. The palaces of popes and prelates were scenes of the vilest debauchery. Some of the reigning pontiffs were guilty of crimes so revolting that secular rulers endeavored to depose these dignitaries of the church as monsters too vile to be tolerated. For centuries Europe had made no progress in learning, arts, or civilization. A moral and intellectual paralysis had fallen upon Christendom.
The condition of the world under the Romish power presented a fearful and striking fulfillment of the words of the prophet Hosea: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee: … seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” “There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.” Hosea 4:6, 1, 2. Such were the results of banishing the word of God. GC 59.1 – GC 60.3
Peter Paul Rubens, “The Consequences of War,” via Uffizi Galleries.