The History of the Church through 100 Masterpieces
Publication Year: 2011
The History of the Church through 100 Masterpieces has been designed to give that deeper meaning back to our experience of these paintings by providing insightful descriptions of the stories they purport to tell. Jacques Duquesne and François Lebrette choose a beautiful array of works — some already well known to us as visual images — to discuss, recounting both the historical events and the religious and cultural background surrounding them.
Published by: Duquesne University Press
Title Page, Copyright
“And I say to thee that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). This seminal statement of Christ says two things: one, that he established his church on the very human—Peter, whom he knew would waver and even deny him before being confirmed in the Holy...
European art does not offer an exhaustive view of the history of the church. Artists are not historians, and their work cannot reflect every moment of what constitutes an overwhelming chronology. Some events do not readily lend themselves to illustration;...
What sentiments moved the disciples, the companions of Jesus, on Easter morning and after he had departed from them? Were they overwhelmed, flabbergasted, enthused, inspired, enlightened? It is difficult to say, but one thing is certain: these men and women wondered about and pondered the events they had witnessed. They sought to...
The Invention of the Universal
The transformation of the Gospel message into a worldwide church was the work of one man: Paul of Tarsus. A Jew of the Diaspora and a Roman citizen, at first he persecuted the new faith, and then converted to it on his way to Damascus when Jesus Christ appeared to...
The First Pontiff
The history of the church began de facto in Rome, marked by the arrival of Peter and Paul in the capital of the Roman Empire, where they were martyred under Nero’s reign....
The Great Journey of the Saint Marys
In times gone by, when religious fervor did not reject, but was open to the marvelous and extraordinary, tradition complemented the Gospels with accounts of the great deeds of those who had walked with Christ. Thus, The Golden Legend, compiled in the thirteenth century...
Emergence of the Great Symbols
First inspired by the Old and New Testaments, and then by the lives of the saints and events in the history of the church, traditional religious iconography has also been influenced by theological themes, in symbolism that can mystify both the irreligious and Christians...
The Celebration of Baptism
At a very early stage, the church codified the sacraments indispensable for the faithful: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, confession, and extreme unction. To these are added two social sacraments reserved for certain people or certain circumstances: marriage and ordination...
The Rise of Confession
It was with the Counter-Reformation that confessionals began to make their appearance in churches and then in religious paintings. Scenes of confession prior to this time demonstrate the doctrinal fluctuations...
Penance and Flagellants
The notion of penance — inseparable from the sacrament of confession — has at times assumed disproportionate importance, leading to a veritable culture of mortification....
As the central sacrament of Christianity, the Eucharist is naturally a classic theme widely depicted in religious iconography. Besides countless representations of the Last Supper — the blessing of the bread and wine on the occasion of Christ’s last meal — particular stories of...
The Institution of the Viaticum
The last Communion of a dying person, the viaticum, administered jointly with confession and extreme unction if possible, is not obligatory. However, it is strongly recommended by the Catholic and Orthodox churches if circumstances permit....
The Polemic over Purgatory
The gradual emergence of the dogma of purgatory triggered one of the most serious crises to have shaken the church. The dogma concerns the existence of an in-between state which is neither hell nor heaven, where sinners who do not merit going to hell endure a period of purification...
Emergence of the Virtues
“What Greek Antiquity did for the Muses, the Christian seventeenth century did for things spiritual, with yet greater finesse; it invented a Parnassus where, like beautiful maidens, the categories of the ideal hold court.”...
A Celebration of Charity
The virtue of charity is more easily illustrated than the virtue of hope, which is an internal and intimate sentiment. In addition to allegorical and symbolical representations, a number of paintings celebrate...
Very Attractive Sins
The seven capital sins — pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth — constitute an inexhaustible source of inspiration for artists....
The Thousand Faces of Temptation
The existence of sin presupposes the existence of a tempter — Satan, so frequently portrayed in the midst of his malefic operations. The Bible supplies its illustrators with two great stories of temptation: the...
The Period of the Hermits
“At that time, the desert was populated by anchorites.” This slightly ironic remark by Anatole France describes a reality of the beginnings of Christianity. Following the example of Christ, who would withdraw...
The Flourishing of Monasteries
As the persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire ceased, hermits increasingly began to congregate into groups to lead a communal life. The first monastery in Gaul was erected toward the year 240, on...
Three Centuries of Persecution
Whether considered anarchists, enemies of humankind, or simply bad citizens because they refused to sacrifice to the gods of the communities where they lived, the first Christians suffered through three centuries of ferocious persecution, interspersed with periods of respite....
The First Popes
In the two and a half centuries of persecution during which the church had to remain underground, about 30 pontiffs succeeded each other to the throne of Peter. Their history is often obscure; already some...
The Spread of Christianity
The apostles first evangelized their immediate surroundings, an effort that soon came to encompass the entire Roman Empire. By the end of the second century, the new faith had spread from Arabia to Mauritania, and from Egypt to Caledonia (Scotland)....
The Donation of Constantine
In 335, after founding his capital of Constantinople, Emperor Constantine came to Rome to be baptized by Pope Sylvester I. As a sign of submission, he accorded to the sovereign pontiff both the Lateran palace and the insignia of dominion over the Western Empire....
The First Conflicts, the First Councils
Even before his controversial conversion, Emperor Constantine called the first ecumenical council to bring an end to the theological quarrels that were dividing the nascent church. These religious differences threatened the unity of the empire....
The Christianization of Gaul
Christianity arrived in Provence in the earliest days of the church, and rapidly proceeded to spread to the north of France, as records of the persecution of Christians there attest. In 177, a young slave-girl by the name of Blandina was successively exposed to wild beasts, burnt...
Fathers and Doctors
Pastoral concerns and the need to fight against heresies generated intense intellectual activity in the first centuries of the church. A multitude of theoretical and polemical writings (the latter against pagans as well as against believers who were deemed heretical) rapidly...
The Lion and the Vulgate
Three symbols appear frequently in illustrations of Saint Jerome (342– 420): a Bible, a lion, and the cardinal’s hat. The latter signifies Jerome’s illustriousness and the authority that the magisterium recognizes in him. The lion refers to an anecdote related in...
The Baptism of Clovis
From his ascent to the throne at age 15, Clovis — a minor king of a Salian Frankish tribe occupying a small area of Belgium — proved to be a redoubtable strategist. By the age of 20 he had already extended his realm to the Loire River in France, and had grasped the fact that...
The First Great Pope
The definitive reconciliation of the church with civil society can be dated to the rise of Gregory I to the papal throne. Until then, the young religion was still imbued with the nonconformist spirit typical...
The Arrival of Islam
In 732, exactly one century after the death of Mohammed, Charles Martel halted a Muslim raid between Poitiers and Tours. The spectacular speed with which the Arabs carried out their conquests was a phenomenon. After having seized Egypt and the Christian Africa of...
The Conversion of the Saxons
Charlemagne, the son of Pepin the Short and grandson of Charles Martel, continued the bold policies of his dynasty, blocking Muslim expansion in the south, but also marching into the East, in the direction of the Saxon world....
The Conversion of the Slavic World
The effort to evangelize the pagans of northern Europe in the ninth century was double-pronged. While Charlemagne marched from the West into Saxon territory, a missionary movement from Byzantium penetrated the Slavic world. In 863, Photios, patriarch of Constantinople,...
The Period of Pornocracy
This period, the most troubled in all the history of the Roman Church, began in 896 when Pope Stephen VI had his predecessor, Formosus, exhumed and his corpse brought to trial, dressed in pontifical vestments....
The Foundation of Cluny
In 910, the Duke of Aquitaine donated one of his tracts of land — located close to the Saône River, at the farthest ends of the territories under Roman and Germanic law — for the erection of a Benedictine abbey....
The Weapon of Excommunication
Excommunication was a form of sanction used from the very beginnings of the church to chastise heretics and nonrepentant sinners. Those who were excommunicated were forbidden to partake of the sacraments and were removed from the community of the faithful,...
The Great Schism
Not all episodes in the history of the church have found their way into the annals of art. Art is selective about the themes it chooses; it could even be posited that a certain form of pictorial self-censure has been at play — one is not likely to celebrate on canvas what one would...
The Humiliation of Canossa
Less than a century after the plight of Robert the Pious came another political excommunication of much greater import. In 1075, Pope Gregory VII, a monk of Cluny, published an edict reserving the right of nomination of bishops to the Holy See. Henry IV, the Germanic...
The First Crusade
The mounting dominance in the Muslim world of the Seldjuk Turks shook society well into the West. Almost all of Asia Minor was seized from Byzantine control, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, which...
The Taking of Jerusalem
The arrival of the crusading armies in Asia Minor upset the balance of the region, and the first to profit from this state of affairs were the Muslims. The caliphate of Cairo, rival of the Turkish-dominated...
The Reform of Saint Bernard
The son of a wealthy family of Burgundy, Bernard entered the Abbey of Cîteaux in 1112, bringing along with him 30 companions (from Cîteaux comes the name of the Cistercian monks). Three years later,...
Popes and Antipopes
Because of longstanding imprecision in the procedures regulating the election of the sovereign pontiff, a considerable number of disputes arose over the course of time, which led to no fewer than 39 antipopes in the history of the church....
The Crusades gave rise to a very particular type of religious institution, with a fascinating history — the military order, created with the establishment of the Order of the Temple (Knights Templar) in 1129....
Murder in the Cathedral
In 1162, King Henry II of England believed he had made a clever move by appointing Thomas Becket, his chancellor and companion in social pleasures, to the archbishopric of Canterbury. Until then, this Norman from Rouen had proven himself to be a perfect courtier, and...
One full century after Canossa, despite all the treatises, the conflicts between the Holy See and the German emperor reemerged. This time, it was Pope Alexander III in opposition to Frederick Barbarossa, who...
The Third Crusade
The capture of Jerusalem in 1099 had not fully guaranteed security for the crusaders in the Holy Land. The Second Crusade, preached in Vezelay by Saint Bernard in 1145, had come to a sudden end in...
The Capture of Constantinople
After a century of crusading, enthusiasm had waned; volunteers were in shortage, as were funds. When Pope Innocent III preached a Fourth Crusade, only 10,000 knights enrolled. The crusaders hired Venetian ships to transport them to Egypt, where the confrontation was planned...
The Teutons of Prussia
Originally, the confraternity of the Knights of Saint Mary’s House of the Teutons in Jerusalem was simply a military order like others. It was created in 1190 in Saint John of Acre to help Germanic pilgrims to the Holy Land and to care for wounded crusaders....
To the extent that the number of theologians increased with the development of Christianity, so grew the risk of heresies emerging. This was notably the case beginning in the twelfth century. In Italy, Gioacchino...
Dawn of the Inquisition
The Cathar heresy did not disappear with the peace of 1242. Some cells of adepts remained but were mercilessly crushed, as in Montségur where 200 Cathars, men and women, were burned alive in 1244....
The Arrival of the Franciscans
On Christmas 1223, the faithful of the Italian town of Greccio, upon arriving at their church, discovered an unprecedented scene: the prop of a cave, an ass, and an ox before a manger. And thus was born the first nativity scene, by the initiative of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Guelphs and Ghibelins
The struggle between partisans of the papacy and those of the Germanic emperor was a common affair for Italians in the Middle Ages. However, this ongoing conflict took an unexpected turn in Florence, starting in the early thirteenth century, with the rivalry between two...
From Louis IX to Saint Louis
The consecration of the kings of France in Rheims was a profoundly religious ceremony that conferred miraculous powers upon the monarch. Most notable among these was his ability to cure scrofula, a...
The Triumph οf Scholasticism
The life of Thomas Aquinas gives the lie to the myth that the intellectual corpus of classical antiquity was ignored by the Middle Ages and only rediscovered in the Renaissance. Born close to Naples in...
The Last Crusades
While the various crusading expeditions that followed the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 were never able to regain the city, they maintained a Christian presence in the Middle East. The crusaders would not leave...
One century after the official recognition of the Order of Friars Minor in 1223, the Franciscans counted more than 40,000 members. These included not only the friars, but also religious sisters, attracted by the rule of Saint Clare who, like Francis, was born in Assisi. Following his...
There were cases of spontaneous mobilization of the populace in the Middle Ages that have been referred to as crusades. Sparked by popular fervor for the retaking of the Holy Land, they were, more properly...
The Attack at Anagni
In the beginning of the thirteenth century, the neverending conflicts between the French monarchy and the papacy over the matter of competence took a dramatic turn. In 1301, Philip the Fair imprisoned the bishop of Pamiers, who had been plotting to have the county of...
Sojourn in Avignon
On one side, there was Rome and Italy, ever torn by conflicting factions. On the other, the kingdom of France, growing in power, where the king’s authority, while onerous, was at least a guarantee against the intrigues of the Roman families. Faced with such a scenario, Bertrand...
The End of the Templars
The Order of Knights Templar had imperceptibly amassed enormous wealth over time. Protected by the pope, it was exempt from taxes and received copious donations. The number of their commanderies,...
Turlupins and Beghards
In this verse of his Grand Testament, François Villon — a graduate of the University of Sorbonne, and thus of Dominican leanings — plays with a very polemical combination, juxtaposing the order of the...
The First Protestant
He wasn’t just anyone. A renowned theologian, rector of the University of Prague in 1409, and confessor to the queen of Bohemia, Sophia of Bavaria, John Huss at first appeared to be a reformer seeking to...
Hussites and Moravian Brothers
The death of John Huss was not the end of his dissension. In Bohemia, his partisans took to arms under the leadership of Jan Žižka and Nicholas of Hussinetz, reckoning war to be an extension of theology...
Joan at the Stake
The story of Joan of Arc is not only a national epic of France, but also an extraordinary religious adventure. It all began with supernatural visions. The archangel Saint Michael, Saint Catherine of Alexandria,...
The Triumph of the Papacy
By deposing two popes in one single stroke in order to appoint a new pontiff (without counting its obtaining the abdication of the third), the Council of Constance would seem to have confirmed the supremacy...
The Fall of Constantinople
We will never know the gender of the angels with any certainty. A long debate carried on by Orthodox theologians, in hopes of at last obtaining a definitive response to the question, was interrupted by the...
After the fall of Constantinople, Ottoman pressure on Western Christendom continued without respite for three centuries. The island of Rhodes fell in 1522. In 1529, after having conquered Hungary, Suleiman...
Victory in the South
On January 2, 1492, the Catholic armies of the royal couple Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile triumphantly entered a liberated Granada. This was the crowning moment of seven centuries of crusading...
The First Mission to America
It is said that the first action Christopher Columbus and his crew took upon disembarking on a small island of the Bahamas, on October 12, 1492, was to celebrate Mass. This is but a pious legend. It is true that at...
Vain Things Go Up in Flames
Italy was not spared the moral crisis that beset the church at the end of the fifteenth century and that would lead to the Wars of Religion. In the small republic of Florence, a Dominican friar by the name of...
The Period of the Borgias
Rodrigo Borgia’s career is quite simply prodigious. This nephew of Pope Calixtus III, born in 1431 into the high Spanish nobility, was made a bishop at age 18, a cardinal at 26, and finally ordained a priest...
Art in the Service of God
Succeeding Alexander VI — a Spaniard, noble and corrupt — Julius II — an Italian Franciscan from a poor family, honest and pious — ascended to the papal throne. However, they had one point in common: both...
The Concordat with France
In the fifteenth century, a heretofore unknown document somehow resurfaced. It was the Pragmatic Sanction, purportedly of Louis IX. This edict interdicted papal taxes collected in the churches of France,...
Harbingers of Protestantism
To finish the construction of the Basilica of Saint Peter, Leo X had need of funds. He conceived of a measure to be preached throughout Christendom, exhorting the faithful to contribute, through prayer,...
The Theses of Martin Luther
Attached to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Saxony, 95 theses appeared on October 31, 1517. They were the work of a professor of theology of the local university, one Martin Luther. A friar,...
Evangelization of the New World
In 1519, Hernando Cortés landed on the coast of Yucatan, in the Aztec Empire, with 500 men, 16 horses, and 2 priests. With the same passion they felt for seeking gold, the conquistadores immediately set...
The Sack οf Rome
Even a very Catholic sovereign ruler cannot always be selective about his soldiers. Thus, for his campaigns in Italy, Charles V recruited troops from all his domains: Spain, Italy, and Germany....
The Crowning οf Charles V
In his struggle against the Holy Roman Empire, Pope Clement VII formed the Holy League of Cognac, rallying around his pontifical states a few Italian princes, the king of France, and the king of...
The Apostle οf the Indians
Colonists from Spain never doubted that the natives of America had souls, the proof of which is that they did everything to have them baptized. However, there was a question of whether the natives were...
England in Schism
It would have been difficult to imagine a more pious monarch than Henry VIII of England. He usually assisted at three masses a day and, to refute Luther’s heresy, he composed a theological treatise,...
Ever ready to demand liberty of conscience for themselves, the Protestants also demonstrated intolerance toward those who contested their dogmas. The story of John Calvin and Miguel Servet provides an apt...
The Thomas More Affair
The concurrence of the Reformation and humanism may seem to suggest that the two movements were in league. In reality, humanism in Europe remained largely Catholic, as demonstrated by Erasmus’s...
“Perinde Ac Cadaver”
On August 15, 1534, two Basques and a Savoyard studying theology in Paris decided to create a new religious order. They were Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier, and Peter Fabre, and the order they established,...
The Council of Trent
The Council of Trent was called by Pope Paul III in 1542. Lasting 20 years, its objective was to launch a multipronged counterreform, in response to the challenges posed by Luther and the Protestants....
The Reformation’s Theoretician
He was baptized Philipp Schwarzerd, but to show that he knew Greek, he renamed himself Melanchthon, a translation of his surname (“black earth”). A professor and magistrate, Melanchthon lived in Wittenberg...
The Voyages of Francis Xavier
Having been among the very first companions of Ignatius of Loyola, Francis Xavier was 35 when he set sail for Goa, a Portuguese trading post on the coasts of India. With this journey, he embarked upon an...
The Miracle of Lepanto
In September 1570, the Turks seized the island of Cyprus, which until then had been a protectorate of Venice. There was great concern that the Ottomans, already masters of the Balkans and Northern Africa...
The Saint Bartholomew Massacre
It was a beautiful occasion in France, at first. The marriage of the sister of King Charles IX to Henry of Navarre (the future Henry IV of France) in August 1572, brought to the very Catholic city of Paris all...
The Third Rome
While Western Europe was being torn apart by religious wars, another expression of Christianity was triumphing in the East. In 1547, Prince Ivan of Moscow imposed his will on boyars and religious dignitaries,...
Catholics against Catholics in France
In an attempt to pacify his kingdom, Henry III of France extended an offer of peace to the Huguenots through the Edict of Beaulieu, the result of which was an uprising of Catholics. The most intransigent among them created a holy union, commonly called the Holy League....
The Defeat of the Armada
At the same time that he supported the Holy League in France, Philip II of Spain hoped to bring an end to the schism in England. To be sure, there were religious motives for this — Elizabeth, queen of England,...
“Paris Is Worth a Mass”
There was a long period of hesitation before Henry IV came to a decision. Not until four years after the death of his predecessor did he ask, at Saint-Denis, to be received into the Catholic Church. In the...
In conformity with the intentions of the Council of Trent, the Catholic Church mobilized all its intellectual forces to counter the reformed religion. In 1543, three years after the Society of Jesus had been officially...
The political compromise effected by the Edict of Nantes guaranteed liberty of conscience, but a liberty that was strictly circumscribed. Protestant worship and practice was only authorized in the locations...
The Siege of La Rochelle
The ambiguity of the situation created by the Edict of Nantes came to a head 30 years later at La Rochelle, a stronghold of the Huguenots off the Bay of Biscay. In 1622, the city practically seceded from France,...
The Trial of Galileo
“Because you held as true the false doctrine taught by some that the sun is the center of the world and motionless, and the earth is not, but moves with diurnal motion; whereas you taught this doctrine to...
Martyrs of the New World
Christians did not take long to export their theological quarrels to the newly discovered lands beyond the sea. In 1600, Henry IV had granted a monopoly on the fur trade in New France, that is, Quebec,...
Martyr of the Rising Sun
Thirty years after the passage of Francis Xavier, the church in Japan numbered at least 150,000 faithful in the Nagasaki area, with Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries arriving in ever greater numbers to help...
The Mystery of Grace
Rome’s response, and in particular, the Jesuits’ response, to the Calvinist doctrine claiming that God dispenses his grace only upon a small number of predestined elect, was that the sacrifice of Christ has...
The Eagle of Meaux
One of the most important religious arts, all but vanished in our day, was the art of sacred oratory — eloquence that put the subtleties of discourse at the service of preachers....
From Upheavals to Concordats
Periods of turbulence are generally not conducive to artistic expression of the faith; so much more, then, did the French Revolution quell the religious inspiration of artists. At the height of the confusion, nonjuring...
Antireligious polemics are as old as religion itself, and have been expressed more or less openly according to the times. In the seventeenth century, the French poet Nicolas Boileau-Déspreaux already attacked...
The East Stirs
During the many centuries they lived under Ottoman domination, the Greeks remained true to their Orthodox faith. In the nineteenth century, the decline of the Turkish Empire along with the rise of nationalism...
The Way of Compromise
In the France of the Restoration, there was a complete divide between the partisans of the Catholic and monarchist counterrevolution, and a coalition of old republicans, new liberals, and those nostalgic for...
With the upheavals of the French Revolution and empire having ended, Christian Europe resumed its missionary efforts, which had very nearly been interrupted. Furthered by the surge of foreign expeditions...
Pius IX’s Great Turnabout
In all of papal history, the long pontificate (1846–78) of Pius IX had the most reversals and innovations. First, circumstances of history narrowed his powers to the moral realm alone. He was deprived of...
Bound for Africa
The great affair of the end of the nineteenth century was the evangelization of black Africa. Whether because of timidity or lucidity, there was never any real attempt — except for Charles de Foucauld’s — to...
The Greatest Persecution
At least 20 million martyrs of the faith! Western Christianity has not yet truly grasped the depth of tragedy brought about by the triumph of communism in Russia, and then in Eastern Europe and the nations...
Page Count: 236
Illustrations: 100 paintings
Publication Year: 2011
OCLC Number: 830023692
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