Advent Art: Awaiting the New Kingdom
By Br Vincent Antony Löning, O.P. | Br Vincent reflects about novelty and the world to come in the preaching of St Vincent Ferrer.
We’re now at the beginning of Advent, at the start of a new liturgical year, and just when we think we ought to start preparing for Christmas, the liturgy’s main theme seems to be the end of the world. Or Christ’s second coming, to be more precise, since that is what we should be expecting—much like the prophets or saints such as Elizabeth and Simeon expected the first coming of the Messiah. But just like they could not possibly have expected the Messiah to be God in true human flesh, we don’t really know ourselves what the second coming will look like. Scripture gives us hints: “Behold, I make all things new.” (Apoc. 21.5). Our contemporary age is obsessed with novelty: what’s the latest technology, the latest soundbite, the latest idea? Sometimes these things are genuinely good, but they are not genuinely good because they are new! If they were, they would be outdated in a few years’ time, and no genuine goods at all. In Latin, the same word is used to mean both ‘new’ and ‘late’ or ‘last’: the end-times are the novissima, literally the newest things. We like to think of our own age as new, better, because we have a mentality of progress. But do we ever think of it as late? We are certainly closer to the second coming than S. Paul was, but that did not stop him from seeking to prepare the Church for it! A cursory glance at the world around us, in the West and beyond, should be enough to make us realise there is as much decadence as progress in it.
My Dominican patron, S. Vincent Ferrer, especially liked preaching about the end of the world. In the picture above, he is doing precisely that. With his finger he points to the sky: just as Christ has ascended into heaven, so he will also come down from heaven! We even see a little Christ, floating on some clouds, as if ready to come back. And out of his mouth issues S. Vincent’s stark warning: “Fear God, for the hour of his judgment is coming.” (cf. Apoc. 14.7). This is almost a mediaeval comic-strip! This painting by Nicolas Cordonnier dates to the early 16th century, and was rediscovered only as recently as this summer in Pau, in southern France. As apocalyptic prophecies might do, Vincent Ferrer is clearly getting a pretty mixed reaction from his audience… His enthusiasm for this kind of preaching even earned him the nickname ‘the Angel of the Apocalypse’.
Although we might often be tempted to leave to one side such doom-and-gloom warnings, the crux of this message is ever-relevant. Christ wants to save us, and has already come once to do that, and yet he will still come again to usher in his reign of glory—and our own, if he will follow him. Before then, it is never too late for us to repent: we all have to recognise that we only ever follow him imperfectly at best, and cannot even begin doing that without God’s grace. If we do, the promise of judgment becomes a promise of glory. And then, perhaps we can await the last days a little more joyfully and eagerly!
MORE ON: ADVENT
Other posts in the series:
- Introduction: Expectation and Promise, by Br Bede Mullens, O.P.
- William Holman Hunt, The Light of the World, by Br Bede Mullens, O.P.
- Pieter Bruegel, Landscape with the Flight into Egypt, by Br Gabriel Theis, O.P.
- Alexander Ivanov, The Angel Gabriel Appearing to Zechariah, by Br Albert Elias Robertson, O.P.