The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
Father Frank continued:
This is a background feature in a woodcut about depression, ennui, and the distractions that blunt the passion and creativity of people’s lives; given its elegance, one would think it might hold the center of the woodcut, but it doesn’t.
I was pondering Melancholia I the other day. As I wandered through its features, meditating upon the ways life becomes bogged-down, I kept coming back to the square. The longer I looked at it the more dissonant the square became. That is, I think, precisely Dürer’s point. Easily missed hanging on an imagined wall in the background of a woodcut depicting life’s fragmentation and disappointments is a sign of completion….a sign that things resolve in spite of circumstances. Allegory indeed!
This is The Seventh Sunday of Easter. It is a Sunday in the calendar acknowledging that Jesus has ascended, and the Apostles are asking “What now? What next?” Those are fair questions given the predictable undercurrent of anxiety in such circumstances; we must ask them, and failing to ask them is not faithful behavior. We are given our discerning minds and faithful hearts so that we may make such spiritual inquiries.
And there is a clear resolution to the Apostles’ bafflement- baptism.
Present amid the confusion, wreckage and detritus of life is the undeniable fact that the ultimate resolution of all things has already been made. That resolution has been made and perfected in the Paschal Mystery; in His Death and Burial, in His Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus has shown the answer. It is Himself; HE is the answer.
At baptism we recalibrate the context of life- all of life. The baptismal context is being a child of God redeemed at The Cross, and living like one- even and especially in the midst of things that weigh us down, distract us, and rob us of our joy.
The elegant wholeness of Dürer’s square is the divinely elegant wholeness of our baptisms. No matter how we look at it, from whatever angle we choose to calculate it, the answer is the same answer. Always and forever. As baptized persons we are grafted into that elegant wholeness, and in baptism we are meant to become evidence of it.
Perfect calculation in the midst of melancholy….brilliant.
Love you. See you in Church.
FBC3+, Easter VII 2017
Among the woodcuts is Melancholia I. This 1514 woodcut is an allegory, and so of course depicts rich imagery inviting meditation, study, and reflection. As is true of such works, it is in the background that many of the fine details are located. In the background of Melancholia I we find Dürer’s version of a magic square.
A magic square is a mathematical exercise in which all of the numbers total a certain sum, whether added across, down, or diagonally. In the case of Dürer’s magic square, that sum is 34, and the sum may also be derived by adding the numbers in each quadrant, the corners, or the center four; the year he produced Melancholia I is found in the middle two numerals of the bottom row.