Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Early Christian Art (pt. 3)

We know from the first-hand accounts of Paul and the other New Testament writers that the church was growing from the time of our Lord's ascension.  It was not until the year 313, however, that Christianity was legalized by the Edict of Milan under Constantine.  Before 313, Christians suffered unspeakable persecution at the hands of the Romans and consequently took much of their ministry underground.  Church services were held in catacombs (underground passageways), also where the dead were buried.  Skulls and bones are frequently found in catacombs (you can see some at the bottom of this photo) as well as murals.
These murals are what are considered Early Christian art, though in actuality it is far more than just art.  Christian art was intended to illustrate the power and glory of Christ; beauty or aesthetic principles were of no concern.  The images are symbols, almost like a form of code, since the Christians were in hiding from the Romans.  In fact, the official strategy was to use Roman symbols to tell Christian stories.  So we see images of animals, birds, and plants—for example, a goldfinch.  Goldfinches appeared in Roman art as merely a bird; however, it was a known fact that goldfinches ate thistles and thorns, and so to the Christians, the bird was a reminder of Jesus' crown of thorns.  Other such symbols were dogs (to represent loyalty) and ivy (to represent eternal life).  Here is a mural from a catacomb: an image of a shepherd feeding his sheep.  To Roman guards, the image is harmless, but Christians remembered Jesus' words that He is the good shepherd, and that He lays His life down for His sheep (John 10:11).

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Early Christian Art (pt. 2)

"Et tu, Brutรจ?  —Then fall Caesar."  Shakespeare penned this famous line as the dying words of the great Julius Caesar, and if you're more interested in Roman culture, government, and history—or if you just enjoy excellent poetry—I highly recommend the play.  Julius Caesar was murdered by the famous group of conspirators (including Cassius and Brutus) on March 15, 44B.C.  He was stabbed 23 times in a back room of Pompey's Theater in Rome.  Octavian became the next Caesar and eventually changed his name to Augustus Caesar (which meant "exalted one").  Remember, he was the statue with Cupid clinging to his robe.  He claimed divine right kingship, but only after having achieved the throne with the help of the murdered Julius Caesar's will.  Augustus ruled until 14A.D., after which time Tiberius, Augustus' adopted son and heir, took the throne, as Luke records in his Gospel.
The Romans occupied Palestine at this time.  You will remember that the Roman Empire was so vast that it had long since become necessary to administer rulers for the different regions.  The Roman Senate, with Augustus Caesar's and Mark Antony's support, elected Herod (known today as Herod I or Herod the Great) to be King of the Jews in Palestine.  His reign as such lasted from 37B.C. to 4B.C.
Approximately 6B.C., Jesus is born in Bethlehem, Israel, and Herod the Great tries to kill Him.  Jesus and His family escape to Egypt until Herod dies from a terrible illness in 4B.C.  After Herod the Great's death, Palestinian rule was divided among his three sons: Archelaus, Philip (Philip II, known as the Philip the Tetrarch), and Antipas.  Herod Archelaus was quickly removed from office by the Roman authorities and replaced by Pontius Pilate.  Herod Antipas is the man who married Herodius, his brother's wife.  (The brother was Philip I, not to be confused with Philip II, the Tetrarch).  John the Baptist confronted Herod Antipas on this wrongful act, and Antipas had John executed.  Antipas is also the Herod who questioned Christ on the night before His crucifixion in 30A.D.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Early Christian Art (pt. 1)

Now, we have looked at Roman art as it was seen above; but, as you know, there was another world underneath Rome during the Empire.  This is called Early Christian art.