Why do I like Caravaggio better than Carracci? Two paintings, both about 1600, by Italian artists. Annibale Carracci paints the Virgin mourning over Christ for the altar piece in Naples. Here, Mary represents the church, her extended hand inviting us to grasp her role in the passion story. She is serene, wise, and still. Jesus lays on her, like some waxen Adonis, perfect and inert. There are cherubs darting around the stonework, adding a little religious froufrou. I hate this painting.
Jesus goes into the temple and, as John chapter two tells us, gets rid of the cherubs. He doesn’t need a church that is full of holy froufrou. His disciples will gather people together, in simple buildings and homes, for prayer, study, and worship. They will relate to each other and to the world as Christ desires. They won’t need an altar paintings where the Church looks serene, wise, and distant from the world. The also won’t need goats, money changers, and fifty-fifty raffles to pay the heating bill.
Caravaggio paints a picture of the post-modern church. A small intimate circle gathered for an intense learning experience. Thomas sticks his finger into a new reality. Christ crucified, but alive. Death present, but life triumphant. The Jesus of this painting is the one who went from village to village bringing healing to people. He touched the body of those who were wounded. He allowed his own wounds to be seen. Transparency and vulnerability marked his every movement. He ducks inside the great Temple in Jerusalem and what he experiences there makes him angry. He is not the inert, waxen, form, laying on Mary’s lap.
Caravaggio paints us a picture about relationships. Four men gathered in close, loving each other in a way that is seldom experienced on this earth. Thomas is loved by Jesus, even though his theology needs some correction. Peter hovers over Jesus, his bald head wrinkled as he attempts to understand. And we, the viewer of this painting, are invited into this loving circle. Bring your doubts, bring your sins, bring your broken lives needing to be healed.