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A few years ago, the Getty Museum held an exhibit highlighting ancient Christian artwork. One of the paintings on display really caught my eye. Created sometime during the 6th century A.D., this painting is called “Christ Pantocrator,” which translates to Christ “Ruler or Sustainer of All.” What I really like about it is how loaded the imagery is with profound theological concepts.
Let me show you...
Since the time of our Lord, theologians have affirmed the dual substance of Christ – the fact that he was both fully human and fully God. In theo-speak, that’s called the “Hypostatic Union.” But how do you paint that?
Well, this artist chose to portray it in a really interesting way. You can see that the face of Christ feels more like two different faces fused together. And his expression looks like two different expressions. And if you look closer, you can see that even his eyes portray this bifurcation — the one on the right is focused on us, the earthly viewer, while the eye on the left is turned toward heaven.
I think that is quite ingenious. Now let’s see how the artist tackles the Trinity. If you look at Christ’s hand, you can see that he’s holding three fingers together, forming a circle. That’s how the artist chose to symbolize the Trinity – three distinct divine persons, completely joined and unified – three-in-one.
Of course, like all our representations of our Lord, it’s a poor imitation of the glory that is the Incarnation and the mystery of the Trinity. But I love that the artist waded in to the deep end and was willing to wrestle with how to convey these important theological understandings of Christian faith in an interesting and unique way. It is always interesting to see how an artist can “paint theology” into the canvas. I hope art like this will encourage us to dive deeper into the Word of God, and inspire us as we share these truths with those Christ brings us into contact with.