The commentary of the cover

Believe All That the Prophets Have Spoken by Pierre-Marie Dumont

This fresco was painted around 1440 by Blessed Fra Angelico ­directly on the wall of cell 10 of the Dominican Convent of San Marco in Florence, Italy. In this detail of the Presentation in the Temple, Simeon, a man righteous and devout, has just received Jesus in his arms, from the hands of the Virgin Mary. The saintly old man stands as the final word in the expectation expressed by a long line of prophets from the time Israel was chosen. And indeed, on the side from which he holds the child, the green of Simeon’s gown is as though transfigured into a golden light: thus the Hope, transmitted and strengthened from generation to ­generation down to Simeon, is merged into the Light whose ­advent it so ­desperately longed for.

With that, good Simeon may well intone the Nunc Dimittis, for his eyes have seen the Salvation prepared by God throughout the long and tortuous unwinding of sacred history. And to clearly mark the event, Fra Angelico tilts the head of Simeon so he can better gaze at the sweet little face of the most beautiful among the children of men.

My eyes have seen, testifies Simeon. What have they seen? Salvation, he affirms. But us, what do we see? A child, all in all much the same as our children and, what’s more, swaddled in such a way that he’s unable to make the slightest move. What does this mean? Will the Salvation by our God be no more than an innocuous little child, darling though he be? True, his name is Jesus, “God saves.” But, through him, with him, and in him, how can our Salvation ­really be fulfilled?

The answer is given by another man who the Gospel tells us was also a virtuous and righteous manawaiting the kingdom of God; he too would receive Jesus in his arms, from the hands of the Virgin Mary: Joseph of Arimathea who, in bearing the body of the dead Christ, would make manifest that, indeed, all is fulfilled.

 

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (detail, c. 1440), fresco, Fra Angelico (c. 1400–1455), Cell 10, Convent of San Marco, Florence, Italy. © Battaglini / Leemage.