Master Seewald, Mass of Saint Gregory, 1491, oil on wood, Munster, Stadtmuseum, Gregorsmesse.

Select quotes from a theological piece I wrote about and inspired by this painting, at a time that I was probably at the worst period of my then rapidly deteriorating mental health:

“Divine Iconoclasm is not the exceptional time, but the ontological background pervading all existence.“

“This over-abundance, this excess is threatening to human existence also. Master Seewald’s Mass of Saint Gregory post-iconoclasm typifies this fear. The worshipers at the Eucharist have all been defaced, whereas the three images of Christ, along with the other objects connected with Christ’s divinity remain intact. Perhaps in this nightmarish portrayal we see the underside of the Eucharistic unification, a manifestation of Bataille’s statement that “paradoxically, intimacy is violence, and it is destruction.” The Eucharist’s destruction is not only upon Christ Himself, but both that divinity (or essence) along with its attendant destruction is threatening to those who participate: “The Divine world is contagious, and the contagion is dangerous.”  In bringing the Divine onto earth, it is perhaps necessary that it does not remain too long, it must be in some sort of transitional state.”

“The Eucharist becomes a visual reminder of the panopt(iconic) reality of the Christ who sees us at all times, both in the judgment of wrong doing, but also in the use of knowledge for control.1 The Eucharistic gaze then encapsulates the most prison-like qualities of the Christian faith; at that moment more than any other we can feel the all knowing eyes of Christ upon us. Although present in the Eucharist, this visual actualization is only a hint at the omnipresent (yet invisible) surveillance that keeps order by virtue of its invisibility. Like Bentham’s panopticon, we view the one who gazes at us “as a dim image through a mirror.” This visual representation of God’s gaze through us becomes an impossible burden, an “excess of intensity” therefore requiring its iconoclasm.“


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