Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In God's hands

At the Prado today, José Ribera's "La Trinidad" (1635) - this is the upper half, taken from the generous image on the museum website - took me back to Lisbon, which I realize I haven't told you much about. This isn't the occasion for a full report, but at least a swatch...

I remember being blown away the last time I saw this work, especially the contrast between the Caravaggiesque world of the dead Christ and the cool pastel world of his father (except for his hands). This time I was struck anew by the shattered look on God's face - it's more than impassive, especially when you put it together with the infinite tenderness of those hands.

This painting took me back to our conference in Lisbon because most of the people there were philosophers doing theodicy; I was one of the few who think the doing of theodicy by human beings an offense to the dead of Lisbon, and to God. Central to my account of Leibniz (hermeneutics of charity or retrieval gone amuck?) was that he wouldn't have us think that any evil could be permitted without the profoundest regret, even in God. Since then I've also become grateful that the dry philosophical theodicies of those days have given way to responses more deeply rooted in Christian resources, including non-verbal ones. And the Trinity, which allows God to suffer with us, and attend our suffering with something like the shattered expression of this depiction, not the triumphalism of most theodicies (and many depictions of the Trinity).

Now I don't know what Ribera meant here. It'd be interesting to find out. But I have no doubt: there's an authentic theodicy in those hands.

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