Engaging Faith: Practical lesson ideas and activities for Catholic Educators

December 13, 2017

Comparing Two Portrayals of the Infant Jesus

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints by Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520)

In this painting, the infant Jesus and the Madonna are seen enthroned in heaven as Jesus is worshipped by several saints, including the infant John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, Catherine, and Cecilia. The fact that these saints lived in different centuries stresses the fact that, for God, there is no past or future. His time is not chronological (measurable and sequential time) but kairological (time that is not bound by sequence or measurement but rather by emotional significance). He lives in an eternal “now” where all are alive for him.

The Burning Babe by Robert Southwell (1561-1595)

The Burning Babe reflects on the love of Christ for fallen humanity. Through poetic imagery he combines the story of Christ's birth with accounts of his Passion and Death. His poem gives an unforgettable portrait of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. As I in hoary winter’s night
 

Stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat
Which made my heart to glow;
And lifting up a fearful eye
To view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright
Did in the air appear;
Who, scorched with excessive heat,
Such floods of tears did shed,
As though His floods should quench His flames,
Which with His tears were bred:
‘Alas!’ quoth He, ‘but newly born
In fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts
Or feel my fire but I!
‘My faultless breast the furnace is;
The fuel, wounding thorns;
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke;
The ashes, shames and scorns;
The fuel Justice layeth on,
And Mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought
Are men’s defiled souls:
For which, as now on fire I am
To work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath,
To wash them in my blood’
With this He vanish’d out of sight
And swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I called unto mind
That it was Christmas Day.

Assignment

  • Write a one page essay detailing the similarities and differences in the depiction of the infant Jesus in Raphael’s painting and Southwell’s poem?

This activity comes from the book The Catholic Spirit: An Anthology for Discovering Faith through Literature, Art, Film, and Music.

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