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Jesus: a portrait

30 November, 1999

Gerald O’Collins SJ has written a theological portrait of Jesus using the best of current biblical scholarship.

246pp. Darton, Longman and Todd. To purchase this book online, go to www.dltbooks.com



  1. The Beauty of Jesus 
  2. God’s Kingdom in Person 
  3. Divine and Human 
  4. Jesus the Healer 
  5. The Meanings of the Miracles 
  6. Jesus the Story-teller 
  7. The Parable of the Father’s Love
  8. Jesus the Teacher 
  9. Facing Death
  10. Jesus the Suffering Servant
  11. Jesus the Lord of Glory 
  12. Jesus the Abiding Presence

Select Bibliography
Index of Names 




It is Jesus Christ alone we must present to the world. Outside of this, we have no reason to exist.                              

Pope John Paul I,
speaking on the last day of his life
to Cardinal Bernardin Gautin

Some of what one sees on television about Jesus or reads in articles and books about him seems quietly evasive. At times producers and writers raise issues of merely historical interest, or allege that official ‘cover-ups’ have hidden the ‘real truth’ for many centuries. Or else they get caught up in secondary and even merely trivial matters. They will do anything but face the challenge in the ultimate religious drama created by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Last Christmas, for instance, I sat through two hours of a programme that was all too ready to indulge eccentric theories about such things as the location of Bethlehem. Shifting the birthplace of Jesus from Bethlehem in Judea to an alternative ‘Bethlehem’ in Galilee on frivolous ‘evidence’ seemed to do nothing more than parallel the nineteenth-century attempt by General Charles George Gordon (1833-85) and others to relocate the site for the death and burial of Jesus (to ‘Gordon’s Calvary’ and the ‘Garden Tomb’) away from the well-authenticated ‘Holy Sepulchre’.

In the past, but seemingly much less today, some literary critics would spend their time on such secondary questions as the geography of Scotland or the latest visitors to the court of Elizabeth I, rather than face what Shakespeare presented in the tragic destiny of Macbeth and in the deliciously beautiful language of Twelfth Night. This kind of evasion lives on in the work of those who present Jesus or write about him but avoid at all costs a face-to-face encounter with the Jesus witnessed to and disclosed by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.


The Gospels pack a lot into their portraits of Jesus, and do so in their own characteristic ways. Given the extraordinary nature of their experience of Jesus, it was almost inevitable that the first Christians would more than once tell that story in the form of Gospels which were to be recognised as the heart of the new Christian Scriptures. Add too the fact that the Gospels came from one eyewitness (John) and from three other evangelists who took much of their material from different eyewitnesses. Mark drew especially on Simon Peter; Luke (as well as using Mark’s Gospel and Q, a collection of the sayings of Jesus) relied on a number of eyewitnesses (Luke 1:2), who included women (Luke 8:1-3); Matthew drew on eyewitnesses, as well as on Mark and Q. The eyewitness testimony of the Twelve played a major role in the formation of all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) (1).

The four portraits may be classified into more representational and historical (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) or more impressionistic and concerned to develop characteristic effects produced by Jesus (John). The first three evangelists at points modify the traditions derived from eyewitness testimony to Jesus (e.g. the longer form of the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13), occasionally retroject into the lifetime of Jesus traditions which come from the post-Easter period (e.g. Matthew 18:20), and are largely (but by no means entirely) responsible for the contexts in which they place the sayings and doings of Jesus. Yet their testimony provides reliable access to the history of what Jesus said, did, and suffered. At the same time, these evangelists have their spiritual and theological messages to announce; they are not to be reduced to mere compilers of traditions that they have drawn from eyewitnesses or otherwise inherited.

One of them, Luke, presses on to write a second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, in which he presents the continuing impact that the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit exercised in the mission and life of early Christianity. Yet the Christians’ ongoing experience of the exalted Christ and his Spirit continued to result from the past history of Jesus and did not dissolve it. From the opening chapters of his Gospel to the end of Acts, Luke makes it clear that the history of Jesus was decisively important for the Church’s life and preaching. In his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus proved the source of salvation for the world and the basis of Christian identity (Acts 4:10-12; 28:31) (2).

John’s Gospel emerged from decades of prayerful, theological contemplation, which took Luke’s work a stage further by merging two horizons: the memory of Jesus which the author recalled from a past that ended with Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and the appearances of the Risen One, and his continuing experience of the exalted Lord through to the end of the first century. In a lifelong process of understanding and interpretation, the author of the Fourth Gospel gained deeper insights into the meaning of the events in which he had participated, which had deeply formed him, and which he reflectively remembered. Like some wonderful modern paintings, his portrait of Jesus plays down some features in Jesus’ activity (e.g. the preaching of the kingdom, his parables, and the exorcisms) and develops other features (e.g. Jesus’ encounters with individuals, his questions, and his self-presentation). The masterpiece, which is the Fourth Gospel, brings out what was to some extent implicit in the life of Jesus and displays for the readers the deep truth about him.

To portray Jesus adequately is an impossible dream (John 20:30; 21:25). Unlike his near contemporary Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC), he left no letters or other personal documents. The only time he was remembered as writing anything came when he ‘wrote with his finger on the ground’ (John 8:6-8). This was in response to some scribes and Pharisees who had caught a woman in adultery and wanted Jesus to agree to her being stoned. According to several later manuscripts, Jesus wrote on the ground nothing about himself but ‘the sins of each of them’. Jesus did not bequeath to his followers any written instructions, and he lived in almost total obscurity, except for the brief period of his public ministry. According to the testimony provided by the Synoptic Gospels, that ministry could have lasted as little as a year or eighteen months. John implies a period of two or three years. Even for the brief span of that ministry, much of the chronological sequence of events (except for the baptism of Jesus at the start and his passion at the end) is, by and large, irretrievably lost. The fact that, explicitly and for the most part, Jesus did not proclaim himself but the kingdom of God, as well as the fact that he left behind no personal papers, makes access to his interior life difficult. In any case the Gospels rarely mention his motives or deal with his states of mind. These sources make it hard (but not impossible) to penetrate his inner life. But they do allow us to reconstruct much of the message, activity, claims, and impact of Jesus in the final years of his life, as well as glimpsing every now and then his feelings and intentions. Jesus himself never wrote, but he continues to speak through the writings of the evangelists (3).


In drawing on the Gospels, I use the obvious and widely accepted scheme of three stages in the transmission of testimony to Jesus’ deeds and words: (1) the initial stage in his earthly life when his disciples and others spoke about him, repeated to others his teaching, and began interpreting his identity and mission; (2) the handing on by word of mouth or in writing (including the use of notebooks) of testimony about him after his death and resurrection; and (3) the authorial work of the four evangelists later in the first century. I agree that one can use such criteria as multiple (independent) witness in arguing that testimony to particular deeds and words derives substantially from the first stage: i.e. from the history of Jesus himself. When I draw on the Gospels, I will indicate whether I understand some passage to testify to what Jesus said or did at stage one, or whether the passage seems to illustrate rather what a particular evangelist at stage three (and/or the tradition behind him at stage two) understood about Jesus’ work and identity. I cannot stop to justify why I hold some deed or saying to have its historical origin in what Jesus said or did. But I will cite only examples for which such justification is available.


In a remarkable recent contribution to New Testament studies, Richard Bauckham (see note 1) has argued persuasively that the four Gospels provide an appropriate and credible means of access to the historical Jesus (stage one), since they derive from the testimony of eyewitnesses (both major ones like Peter, the Twelve, Martha and Mary, and minor ones like Bartimaeus in Mark 10). For decades many scholars have imagined stage two to be a long process of anonymous, collective, and mainly oral transmission that separated the original eyewitnesses from those who wrote the Gospels. Bauckham recognises how the period between Jesus and the final composition of the Gospels (stage three) was spanned by the continuing presence and testimony of those who had participated in the story of Jesus: namely, the original eyewitnesses. Until the final years of the first century, these authoritative living sources continued to provide first-hand witness to Jesus.

In demonstrating that the traditions (both oral and written) about the words and deeds of Jesus were attached to known and named eyewitnesses and those who enjoyed direct personal links with such eyewitnesses, Bauckham probes both the internal evidence from the New Testament and the external evidence from Papias of Hierapolis, Justin Martyr, and other early Christian sources. He sets his argument within a careful study of the ancient standards for writing history and ‘lives’ (such as the Gospels) that can be gleaned from Josephus, Lucian, Polybius, and others. He proposes that many of the named characters in the Gospels were eyewitnesses and were known in the circles in which the traditions about Jesus were originally transmitted. They included Mary Magdalene, Joanna (one of the sources for Luke), and Cleopas (of the Emmaus story in Luke 24). Some, like Jairus (Mark 5:21-43) and Simon of Cyrene (Mark 15:21) could well have remained eye-witness sources for particular stories. The Twelve were especially qualified to testify to the public history of Jesus, since they had participated in it from its early stages to its end and beyond (in the Easter appearances). The Synoptic evangelists drew on the first-hand experience of this group, who were pre-eminently ‘eyewitnesses and ministers of the word’ (Luke 1:2).

Bauckham produces plausible (internal and external) evidence to rehabilitate the case for Simon Peter being the major eyewitness source behind the Gospel of Mark. The naming of Peter creates an ‘inclusion’ that holds together the Gospel from 1:16-18 right through to 16:7. Readers can share the eyewitness perspective which the testimony of Peter embodied. Bauckham identifies the anonymous disciple of John 1:35-40 with the beloved disciple of John 21:24, the ideal witness to Jesus who was with him ‘from the beginning’ (John 15:27) and who ‘saw the glory’ of the incarnate Word of God (John 1:14). This establishes the major ‘inclusion’ in the Fourth Gospel, even though an ‘inclusion’ involving the chief shepherd, Peter, is not abandoned. He is present from Chapter 1 to Chapter 21, yet within the even wider involvement of the beloved disciple. That disciple spent hours with Jesus before Peter even set eyes on Jesus (John 1:35-42). Bauckham puts a strong case for the author of the Fourth Gospel being the beloved disciple, who is not to be identified with John the son of Zebedee or any other member of the Twelve. He was an individual disciple, a close follower of Jesus and is not to be dissolved into a merely representative figure.

This learned and precisely argued book makes a strong case for all four Gospels being close to eyewitness reports of the words and deeds of Jesus. Between the earthly story of Jesus (stage one) and the writing of the Gospels (stage three), the original eyewitnesses played a central and authoritative role in guiding the transmission of the traditions about Jesus (stage two). Bauckham’s book should help put an end to the unfounded impression that a long period of creative, collective development of the Jesus-traditions preceded the work of the evangelists.

This landmark volume illuminates helpfully the obvious difference between the Synoptic Gospels and John. Not having been eyewitnesses themselves, the first three evangelists remained close to the ways in which the original eyewitnesses told their stories of Jesus and handed on his sayings. They allowed themselves only a small degree of freshly created interpretation. The Fourth Gospel, however, offered a more extensively interpreted version of the story of Jesus. Through a more delineated plot, greater selectivity of the events recorded, and the fashioning of lengthy discourses and debates, this Gospel became a strongly reflective interpretation of Jesus’ identity and mission. This was the way in which one central eyewitness understood what he and others had personally experienced. When testifying to the history of Jesus in which he had participated so closely, the beloved disciple allowed himself a higher degree of interpretative appropriation precisely because he had been an eyewitness.


The pursuit of the earthly history of Jesus (stage one) should not lead us to foster the illusion that our research could yield some nuggets of original ‘facts’ about Jesus, historical data which somehow preceded all later doctrinal interpretations, beliefs, and affirmations about him. Human experience and, as we shall see, personal knowledge are never like that. No one (and no instrument, not even the most sophisticated camera) can ever record and communicate the non-interpreted, unmediated ‘hard’ reality of somebody (or, for that matter, of something). Historically there never was an uninterpreted, ‘untheological’ Jesus. Here, as elsewhere, there never was a kind of ‘view from nowhere’, a ‘given’ that was not yet interpreted. ‘Fact’ and interpretation are inseparable.

Right from their earliest encounters with him, the beloved disciple, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and others among the first disciples, necessarily interpreted Jesus and their experience of him. When the evangelists came, decades later, to put the testimony and traditions into gospel shape, they were handling material in which, so to speak, the input from Jesus himself and various responses to him were inextricably intertwined. It cannot be otherwise with our human experience of an historical figure. Not even oral reports from the very first meetings with someone can ever give us the ‘pure’ story of that person, free from any significance that becomes attached to him or her. No one’s reality can ever be captured and exhausted through such initial acquaintance, nor by subsequent research.

Mark, Matthew, and Luke manifested their personal attitude towards and relationship with Jesus, now risen and exalted in glory. There are no good grounds for holding that any of these three evangelists enjoyed personal contacts with Jesus during his earthly existence. They were and remain, however, central figures in the whole story of transmitting the response which Jesus evoked and of creating further response. That response includes Christian worship in all its diversity; creeds and other official doctrines; millions of lives which have taken their inspiration from Jesus (and, in particular, the lives of those who teach us by their shining, saintly example); preaching and theological reflection on Jesus, and all the art, literature, and films that have come into existence around him. As with other figures in human history, the response that Jesus has evoked and continues to evoke belongs essentially to his integral story. This book will attend, here and there, to some of this response: in particular, to the ways artists, writers, and saints have responded to Jesus.


Whenever we seek to know another person and, so to speak, paint his portrait, we are grappling with an elusive mystery. Even with those who constantly live with us, we would delude ourselves if we imagined that their total personal reality were available for our ‘impartial’ inspection. Perhaps we can ‘know’ one-dimensional characters in lesser films, dramas, and novels. Real persons, as well as characters in great dramas, novels, and epic poems, always remain, at least partly, elusive mysteries. If this holds good for any human beings, whether they live in the present or the past, Christian believers expect it to be very much more true in the case of Jesus. His question to Philip, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me?’ (John 14:9), goes beyond a mere reproach to touch a profound truth about the mystery of his person. Could anyone ever hope to know him adequately, either then or now?

Let us recall also the way in which knowing other persons (as much or more than knowing any reality) is always an exercise of personal knowledge. This means that we must reckon not only with the elusive mystery of the other person but also with the inevitably subjective nature of our own knowledge, above all when it is a question of our experiencing and knowing the reality of other persons. Admittedly we can read the Gospels now with all the resources of modern scholarship. These resources enrich and clarify what we know about the historical reality of Jesus’ words and deeds as well as about the events directly connected with him. Yet knowledge of persons always means, at least minimally, our knowing someone, not simply our knowing about him or her. Our personal knowledge of ‘the other’ always goes beyond the merely empirical and publicly accessible data. Knowing other persons, whether they belong to the past like Confucius, Socrates, Martin Luther, and Teresa of Avila or share life with us today like our friends and relatives, is much more than simply knowing a certain number of ‘facts’ about them. Our own (subjective) relationship to and evaluation of those persons is always necessarily involved. There is simply no way of knowing any reality and, above all, other persons in a ‘purely objective’ fashion.

The subjective nature of our knowledge, in particular our historical knowledge and knowledge of other persons, should not be reduced to the mere fact that we are historically and culturally conditioned. Such conditioning expresses but also conceals the deepest desires (for life, meaning, and love) and primordial questions (about such matters as suffering and evil of all kinds) that shape our existence but here and now find only, respectively, fragmentary fulfilment and provisional answers. Inevitably these desires and questions come into play whenever we encounter other persons, all the more when the encounter assumes deep importance for us and the other person is richly significant to us. Such moments bring the meeting of two mysteries – mine and his or hers.


The classic distinction drawn by Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) between a problem and mystery bears on this point. Getting to know any person and, in particular, someone of world stature and significance is always much more than a mere problem to be solved; it is a mystery to be wondered at and grappled with. It is at our peril that we approach our knowledge of Jesus as a problem to be solved by honesty and scholarship rather than as a mystery (or rather the mystery) with which to engage ourselves for a lifetime.’
We are all part of the history of Jesus and his mystery – whether we realise this or not. This necessary nvolvement of ourselves in his full and unfolding story rules out attempts to tackle the history of Jesus as if it were no more than a mere problem ‘out there’ or ‘back there’, standing quite apart from our personal existence. Really knowing another person in depth – and, especially, Jesus – always demands that we relate to and participate in another personal mystery.


The testimony embodied in the Gospels and coming from eyewitnesses provides the substance for this book. Like all testimony, the Gospels invite us to enter a situation of interpersonal communion and trust with the witnesses. Because we relate to these witnesses and trust them, we know Jesus. The testimony coming from eyewitness participants (e.g. Simon Peter, Mary Magdalene, and the beloved disciple) and from those in immediate contact with such eyewitnesses (e.g. Luke) is utterly indispensable if we wish to know and understand Jesus and his history.

The Gospels refer back to Jesus, his earthly reality, and his significance for salvation and divine self-revelation. Yet what they say about him also acts as a mirror for interpreting our own lives. The stories of his birth, life, death, and resurrection have constantly evoked in Christian believers and others the ‘I was/am there’ feeling. When heard during community worship or meditated on during personal prayer, these stories invite their hearers and readers to interact imaginatively with them. Thus such texts function not only as windows on the history of Jesus but also as critical mirrors that reflect and challenge the ways we view ourselves, our community, and our world.

This preface has aimed at explaining and, if needs be, justifying what follows: a personal portrait of Jesus that is also a vital mirror of ourselves. I begin with his beauty, a theme which St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) used when drawing together the story of Christ. I dedicate this book to two dear friends: Brendan Walsh, who suggested my writing it, and Michael Jones, who gave me the laptop on which it was written.

Gerald O’Collins SJ
St Mary’s University College
Twickenham (London)
2 October 2007




Without beauty, the good becomes a burden and truth becomes a useless and empty labour. It is in beauty that truth and the good find their supreme revelation.
                                                                                    Dino Barsotti, The Spirituality of Beauty

At a special consistory in Rome, held in 2001, Cardinal Godfried Daneels, Archbishop of Malines- Brussels, told his brother cardinals that the way into the culture of our times was through an appeal to beauty. By that door we can bring contemporary people to a sense of the truth and goodness of God. If we approach God and the divine attributes directly, our audience may remain sceptical. Like Pontius Pilate, they can say, ‘What is truth?’ While attracted by goodness and its ideals, they can feel put off by their own sense of sinful inadequacy. The door to God through beauty, the cardinal suggested, is the way to let the Christian message enjoy a renewed impact.

How would the cardinal’s advice look when applied to Jesus? Approaching the story of Jesus through his human and divine beauty will have its powerful impact. We gladly give our hearts to what is beautiful. We fall in love with beautiful men and women. Those people who are beautiful possess an instant appeal. We hope that they are also good and truthful, but it is their beauty that catches and holds our attention. Jesus is the beauty of God in person. When we fall in love with his beauty, we are well on the way to accepting his truth and imitating his goodness.

St Augustine of Hippo (354-430) knew through his personal experience the power that beauty exercises over our hearts and feelings. In his Confessions he addresses God as the divine Beauty reaching him through his five senses – through the sense of hearing, sight, smell, taste, and touch: ‘You called and cried to me and broke open my deafness. You sent forth your beams and shone upon me and chased away my blindness. You breathed fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath and now, pant for you. I tasted you, and now hunger and thirst for you. You touched me and I burned for your peace’ (1). The coming of Christ meant that human beings could now literally hear, see, smell, taste, and touch the very incarnation of the divine Beauty. The infinitely beautiful God had reached out to us and become in person available through our five senses.

It is not surprising then that Augustine spelt out in terms of beauty (and not of goodness and truth) the major stages of Christ’s story. In a homily on a royal wedding song that we know as Psalm 45, St Augustine declared: ‘he [Christ] is beautiful in heaven; beautiful on earth; beautiful in the womb; beautiful in his parents’ arms; beautiful in his miracles; beautiful under the scourge; beautiful when inviting to life … beautiful when laying down his life; beautiful in taking it up again; beautiful on the cross; beautiful in the sepulchre; beautiful in heaven’ (2). This eloquent passage from Augustine takes us ‘from heaven to heaven’ — that is to say, from Christ’s pre-existent life ‘in heaven’ ‘before’ the incarnation to his ‘post-existent’ life when risen from the dead. At every stage in that story, beauty characterises Christ, even when he is laying down his life on the cross. Others might have said ‘Christ is good/true in heaven, good/true on earth’ and so forth, but not Augustine. The wonderful framework he provides for summarising Christ’s entire story comes in terms of beauty, and Augustine does so out of the communicative wealth of the Scriptures.

Two things stand out in this list from Augustine: the echoes from St John’s Gospel and the sense that it may be difficult to recognise beauty in the passion of Christ. First, ‘laying down his life’ and ‘taking it up again’ obviously echo the language of John (10:17-18), a Gospel on which Augustine commented in 124 ‘tractates’ (3) and which he often quoted or echoed in other writings. Second, since he seems concerned about the difficulty (and the importance) of accepting that Christ was also beautiful in the passion, Augustine repeats this point four times: ‘beautiful under the scourge’, ‘beautiful in laying down his life’, ‘beautiful on the cross’, and ‘beautiful in the sepulchre’. The beauty of Christ powerfully revealed in his suffering is integral to his total story. Those who curated the ‘Seeing Salvation’ exhibition, which drew so many visitors to London in 2000, obviously shared that conviction. From the 79 paintings and other objects displayed, 22 were placed in two sections dealing directly with Christ’s passion. Further works of art concerned with the passion turned up in other sections, right from the first one, ‘Sign and Symbol’. The Agnus Dei (Lamb of God), a painting by Francisco de Zurburán (1598-1664) lent by the Prado in Madrid, showed a lovely lamb with its feet tied, lying on a butcher’s slab and standing out against a dark background. It conveyed a powerful sense of what human sin did to the Lamb of God in his work of redemption, and set the tone for many visitors to the exhibition.

Many have quoted from The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-81) the dictum ‘beauty will save the world’ and rightly see in Prince Myshkin, a saintly stranger who returns to Russia, an effective symbol of the innocent and beautiful Christ. But not all have noticed the novel’s connection with the passion and with John’s Gospel. On his way to Florence, where he wrote this work, Dostoyevsky stopped in Basel to see The Dead Christ by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543). Deeply moved by this tragic painting, he introduced references to it at key points in the novel, which ends in deeper darkness than any of his other novels. A letter from 1867 shows how he held together this sense of tragedy with the beauty of Christ as portrayed by John: ‘There is only one perfectly beautiful person, Christ, so that the appearance of this immeasurably, infinitely beautiful person … is an infinite miracle. That is the sense of the entire Gospel of John; it finds the whole miracle in the incarnation alone, in the manifestation of the beautiful alone.’ (4)
Augustine would have applauded this view of John’s Gospel. It underpins excellently the summary of Christ’s story we quoted above from Augustine. To that summary we now turn.


The Old Testament frequently highlights something very similar to the divine beauty: namely, the ‘glory of God’ or the radiant, powerful presence of God. When Jerusalem is restored, the luminous presence of God will appear over the city, which is called to reflect ‘the glory of the Lord’ and welcome home her children (Isaiah 60:1-5). Talk of the shining glory of God goes together with the biblical scenarios of fire and light. It is in a flame of fire out of a bush that God speaks to Moses (Exodus 3:16). The New Testament goes beyond speaking of God as ‘dwelling in unapproachable light’ (1 Timothy 6:16) to declare simply: ‘God is light’ (1 John 1:5).

Drawing on St Thomas Aquinas (about 1225-74), Jacques Maritain (1882-1973) describes beauty as follows: ‘For beauty three things are required: in the first place integrity or perfection (integritas sive perfectio) … in the second, proportion or harmony (proportio sive consonantia); in the third, clarity (claritas), for there is splendour in all objects that are called beautiful’ (5). This third element of beauty comes close to the scriptural language of God’s shining radiance or ‘glory’.

Even if no biblical author ever expressly says that ‘God dwells in unapproachable beauty’ or that ‘God is beauty’, some scriptural texts directly celebrate the peerless beauty of a divine personification, Lady Wisdom. Solomon is pictured as declaring this ‘pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty’ to be ‘more beautiful than the sun’. He ‘became enamoured of her beauty’ and desired ‘to take her’ as his bride and teacher (Wisdom 7:25, 29, 8:2, 9). She is understood to be the agent of divine creation and all its beautiful works. From ‘the greatness and beauty’ of these created things comes ‘a corresponding perception of their Creator’, who is the very ‘Author of beauty’, and hence of Lady Wisdom, who is the radiantly beautiful ‘reflection’ or ‘spotless mirror’ image of God the Creator (Wisdom 7:26; 13:3-5). Here the Scriptures come close to joining Augustine in characterising God as ‘the Beauty of all things beautiful’ (Confessions, 3.6; see 9.4).

By opening his list with ‘beautiful in heaven, beautiful on earth’, Augustine pointed to the glory and beauty that Christ possessed in his pre-existence and then manifested in his incarnation. The prologue of John displays Christ as the very incarnation of the divine glory and beauty. It first calls him six times ‘light’ or ‘the true light’, and so encourages readers to think of Christ pre-existing in divine glory or beauty. It is in these terms, then, that John coherently portrays the incarnation: ‘the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen (contemplated) his glory (beauty)’ (John 1:14). The Gospel of John proves to be nothing less than a drawn-out contemplation of the divine glory/beauty revealed in the person of Christ (e.g. John 2:11), which reaches its high point when Thomas gazes at the risen One and confesses: ‘My Lord and my God’ (John 20:28). Along the way Jesus describes himself as ‘the Light of the world’ (John 9:5), equivalently as the radiant and beautiful presence of God in the world, and also as ‘the good Shepherd’ (John 10:11, 14). Although it is normally translated ‘good’, the Greek adjective used here, kalos, also means beautiful. It is applied in the Book of Wisdom to Lady Wisdom; she is both beautiful and good. Christ is likewise good and beautiful in his pre-existence, in his incarnation, and as the beautiful Shepherd in laying down his life and taking it up again.

This beauty, is God’s way of appealing to human beings and calling them back into union with the divine life. Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, an anonymous Christian writer of the late fifth or early sixth century, supposed that the Greek word for ‘call’, kalein, had given rise to the noun for beauty, kallos, and its connected adjective kalos. He understood the call of divine beauty to occur above all through the incarnation of the Son of God. As divine beauty in person, Christ heals human brokenness, restores meaning, and recreates relationships with God and others (6).


While John accounts best for the starting point, when Augustine begins itemising the stages at which the beauty of Christ was manifested, we turn to Luke and Matthew for the next stage: the conception and birth of Jesus. When they open their Gospels with the ‘infancy narratives’, they do not directly describe the beauty of Christ either in his mother’s womb or after his birth. In Luke’s narrative, however, the beauty of the Holy Child in Mary’s womb is implied by the joy that pervades the meeting between Mary and her pregnant relative Elizabeth. The presence of the beautiful Christ Child, still unborn, binds Mary and Elizabeth together in an ecstasy of joy that shines through what they say and is shared by the unborn child (John the Baptist) in the womb of Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56). Elizabeth praises Mary, and Mary praises God. Each mother has learned from heaven about the child of the other: Mary from the angel Gabriel, and Elizabeth from the Holy Spirit when she is ‘filled’ with the Spirit and the child in her womb leaps prophetically. By mentioning twice that leaping (Luke 1:41, 44), the evangelist calls attention to the fact that, even in the womb, John joyfully goes before his glorious Lord.

After his birth the beauty of the Christ Child emerges indirectly and through various heavenly and earthly protagonists in the nativity story: for instance, through the angels, awesomely beautiful heavenly visitors. As ‘the glory/beauty of the Lord’ illuminates the fields at night with divine radiance, the otherworldly beauty of the angels mirrors that of the Holy Child whose birth they announce (Luke 2:8-14). His beauty is also suggested by the joy of the shepherds. They rush to Bethlehem, and find Mary, Joseph, and the Child lying in the manger. They leave ‘glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen’ (Luke 2:15-20). Luke also introduces the impact on two old people who meet Jesus when he is brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. Simeon and Anna have waited so long for this moment. They delight in the beautiful Christ Child and can now die in peace (Luke 2:25-38). In Matthew’s infancy narrative, the Magi ‘rejoice with extremely great joy’ when they finally arrive at the goal of their journey and can present the new-born Jesus with their gifts (Matthew 2:10-11). A sense of the divine beauty threads its way through many details in the nativity story that Luke and Matthew tell in their own ways and in dependence on different traditions (7).

Composers, poets, and artists have taken a cue from this biblical language and introduced the theme of beauty into their versions of the nativity. In his Christmas Oratorio Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) acclaimed the birth of ‘the most beautiful of all human beings’. St Robert Southwell (about 1561-95) adapted the scriptural language of fire and love in his image of ‘a pretty Babe all burning bright’ who appears on Christmas Day (‘The Burning Babe’). Christian artists have excelled themselves in depicting the loveliest Child, whose beauty is reflected in the beauty of his Mother as she holds him in her arms or gazes upon him with intense love. One thinks of the paintings of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-82), with his delicate colours and ethereal forms, Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520), and other classical Italian painters.


Augustine sums up the story of Jesus in his ministry as being ‘beautiful in his miracles’ and ‘beautiful when inviting to life’. Once again the Gospel writers make no attempt to describe directly the exquisite appearance of Jesus. But even though they never tell us what he looked like, they certainly suggest his wonderful beauty through their accounts of his impact on others. People flocked to him. If ever there was a magnetic, attractive personality, he was it. Beauty shone through him.

Mark has Peter and his companions say to Jesus, ‘everyone is searching for you’ (Mark 1:37). In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says to his audience: ‘Come to me all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28). If the poor and overburdened accept his light yoke, they will find enduring peace. As beautiful, divine Wisdom in person (8), Jesus invites his poor and overburdened hearers to accept him and his message; thus they will find enduring peace. He hardly needs to invite his audience to come to him. They know from others, or have already themselves experienced, how tender, welcoming, and comforting he proves to be. They want to stay in his presence and share in the mysterious grace of his person. The sick and the sinful receive from him healing and a joyful wholeness.

The preaching of Jesus reported by Matthew and Luke provides grounds for concluding that Jesus thought of himself in terms of wisdom and made it possible for his followers to recognise him as divine Wisdom come in person. This was tantamount to acknowledging him as the divine Beauty (9). Echoing the Book of Wisdom, the Letter to the Hebrews would call him ‘the reflection of God’s glory’ (Hebrews 1:3) (10). As one should expect, the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit transfigured what early Christians believed about Jesus. Nevertheless, their beliefs regularly reached back to the ministry of Jesus and to what they remembered him saying, or at least implying, about himself. These memories helped them to see in him the radiant splendour of the divine beauty.

During his lifetime one group in their special way sensed that beauty in him. Children were drawn to the joy of Jesus’ lovely presence. In the rural society of ancient Galilee, children were sent off as soon as possible to take care of sheep and in other ways prove themselves to be producers and not merely consumers. Since they did not know the Torah, they were low on the religious and social scale. Yet Jesus showed himself their special friend; he delighted in their company; he worked miracles in favour of children (Mark 5:35-43; 7:24-30) (11). When his disciples tried to keep them away, Jesus took some children into his arms, blessed them, and declared that the kingdom of heaven belonged to them. Children heard him hold them up as models for adults: ‘Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it’ (Mark 10:13-16). To illustrate the new attitude towards God that he required, Jesus singled out little children. He did not say, ‘unless you become like priests and prophets, you will never enter the kingdom of God’. He expected all people to show a trusting, childlike attitude towards their heavenly Father. For Jesus, the seeming incapacity of children turned out to be their greatest asset. The fact that they had nothing to give or to show in order to enter the kingdom of heaven made them receptive to whatever God offered them. They could accept and appreciate the unique gift that they had not worked to deserve.

An American-Italian film that was first shown in December 1999, Jesus, ended with a striking tribute to Jesus (played by a very handsome actor Jeremy Sisko) as the beautiful friend of children (12).’ The film took its viewers through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and then leapt forward nearly two thousand years to the waterfront of modern Valletta (Malta). His long, chestnut hair now cropped, Jesus stood there in jeans as a crowd of small children ran up to him. The film ended with him taking a tiny child in his arms and walking off with the others crowded around him. The beautiful Jesus exited with the beautiful children.

Before leaving the beauty of Jesus manifested in his ministry, we should recall three further items: (1) his baptism, (2) his transfiguration, and (3) his self-presentation as the bridegroom.

Jesus’ baptism

Matthew, Mark, and Luke make much of the baptism of Jesus, an event rich in detail and not least in its manifestation of the Trinity. Many painters have caught something of the special grace and beauty of that moment – not least Piero della Francesca (c. 1416-92) in The Baptism of Christ on permanent exhibition in the National Gallery (London). John’s Gospel, however, does not relate the episode of Jesus’ baptism, but merely alludes to it (John 1:32-34). This may be why Augustine does not insert as a logical marker at the start of the ministry of Jesus ‘beautiful in his baptism’. He is very oriented towards the Gospel of John and ready to follow its lead.

Jesus’ transfiguration

According to the Synoptic Gospels, Peter, James, and John went up a high mountain with Jesus and saw him ‘transfigured’, as the divine glory gleamed through him. His face shone like the sun, and two heavenly figures (the prophet Elijah and the law-giver Moses) talked with him (Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:2836). The disciples reacted not only with astonished awe but also with a desire to prolong the vision of the radiantly beautiful Lord that they were experiencing. As he was naming the moments when the divine beauty of Christ shone through, Augustine could well have added, ‘beautiful in the transfiguration’. But the Gospel of John did not encourage him to do so. Rather than narrate a specific episode of transfiguration, John let the transfiguration pervade, so to speak, the whole story: from the incarnation through to the death and resurrection. The entire life of Christ disclosed his divine glory to people at large (above all through what John calls ‘the signs’); the transfiguration was not limited to a specific event on a mountain that involved only three close disciples of Jesus (13).

Jesus as the bridegroom

The Synoptic Gospels report words of Jesus which imply that, in the joyful time of salvation, he had come as ‘the bridegroom’ for his followers (Mark 2:19-20; Matthew 9:15; Luke 5:34-35). The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Bridesmaids, which presents the coming of the kingdom as the coming of the bridegroom and the need to be prepared for this awesome event (Matthew 25:1-13), left its audience with the question: Who was this mysterious bridegroom if not Christ himself? This language evoked many Old Testament passages, such as the psalm which prompted Augustine’s reflections on the beauty of Christ. An ode for a royal wedding, Psalm 45 highlights the glory, majesty, and beauty of the king: ‘You are the most handsome of men; grace is poured upon your lips … Gird your sword on your thigh, 0 mighty one, in your glory and majesty’ (Psalm 45:2-3).

Christians were to apply this spousal language to the union between Christ and the Church (e.g. Ephesians 5:25-33). The Bible ends with the Book of Revelation and its promise of marriage between the gloriously beautiful Christ and his Church (Revelation 21-22). The awesome splendour of the exalted Christ has already been evoked in the vision with which that book begins (Revelation 1:9-20). The theme of Christ as the supremely beautiful bridegroom, for whom we are all waiting, was to have a long future, not least in the way that mystics would draw on the Song of Songs to describe their ecstatic union with the divine Spouse.


Augustine can seem audaciously paradoxical when he writes of Christ being ‘beautiful under the scourge’ and ‘beautiful on the cross’. Has Augustine forgotten Isaiah and those words about the servant of God being cruelly disfigured, devoid of attraction, and even repulsive – a passage in which Christian tradition from the start saw the suffering and death of Christ (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)? What Augustine appreciates, however, is how the crucified Jesus in a radically subversive way challenges all the normal indices of beauty. As Tom Casey remarks, ‘the beauty of Christ is visible most of all at what is seemingly the ugliest moment of all: Jesus’ tortured death on the cross. The beauty that shines in the form of Christ at that moment is the beauty of infinite love.’ Casey moves on to articulate the ‘call’ of that crucified beauty: ‘This beauty seeks to touch people and to transform them, to awaken and draw them. The response it elicits is not sensual and momentary but all-encompassing, one that embraces the individual’s entire existence. This beauty is a light that pierces the heart.’ Those who contemplate this crucified beauty are called ‘to re-shape and mould anew an entire life so that it may conform to this new standard of beauty’ (14).

In their narrative fashion, the Gospels show Christ’s crucified beauty at work. Women gather around the cross and attend the death of Jesus. The Roman centurion who has been in charge of the crucifixion blurts out his confession (‘indeed this man was the Son of God’) – a confession in which, according to Matthew, the other soldiers join (Matthew 27:54). An outsider, Joseph of Arimathea, boldly comes on the scene to give Jesus a reverent and honourable burial (Mark 15:42-47). Quite visibly the passion accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke show the prophecy in John’s Gospel coming true: in his death Jesus would ‘gather into one the children of God who had been scattered’ (John 11:51-52). In his dying and death on the cross, the Beautiful Shepherd already touches, draws, and re-shapes human lives.

In a laconic, implicit way St Paul concurs with this. It is precisely in his most eloquent passage about the crucifixion (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5) that he calls Christ ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24) (15). But Paul appreciates that we face here a mysterious, hidden wisdom. Otherwise, how could ‘the rulers of this age’ have ‘crucified the glorious Lord’ (1 Corinthians 2:8)? The divine wisdom, glory, and beauty revealed and at work in Christ’s passion were in no way self-evident. Here Christians face perhaps the sharpest challenge to their faith. They are summoned to recognise beauty in the weak and suffering men and women with whom Christ identifies himself (Matthew 25:31-46). His passion continues in them until the end of history. In the words of Blaise Pascal (1623-62), ‘Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world’ (16). One might adapt Paul’s teaching about power being made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4), and say that the power of Christ’s beauty is manifested perfectly in the weakness and ugliness of the crucifixion.

Countless Christians and others have seen the Pietà by Michelangelo (1475-1564) in St Peter’s Basilica (Rome), or at least a photograph or replica of it. Created when the sculptor was in his early twenties, this dramatically intense work represents the Virgin Mary holding the body of her Son across her lap and heartbroken at his death. Yet the physical beauty of the two bodies takes away something of the grief and suffering from an emotionally charged scene. Later in life Michelangelo carved other versions of the Pietà. One is kept in the museum of the cathedral in Florence. Michelangelo himself mutilated and abandoned it, only for the work to be restored and completed by a mediocre artist. Another is the Rondanini Pietà (in the Castello Sforzesco, Milan), on which he was still working a few days before his death when he was almost ninety.

The work in Florence places Nicodemus above and Mary Magdalene on the left, both helping the Virgin Mary to support the body which has been taken down from the cross. Her face is close to the face of her dead Son, and she is interlaced with him in a painful union that merges the two bodies physically and spiritually. This physical and spiritual union comes through even more powerfully from the unfinished splendour of the Rondanini Pietà, which folds the body of the Virgin into that of the dead Christ. The work expresses the spiritual, inner, even divine beauty of suffering, rather than the external beauty of a young athlete dying in the prime of his life.

Few, if any, among Western painters have equalled Rembrandt (1606-69) in his ability to portray the beauty of Christ in his passion and death. The Dutch artist’s images of Christ standing before Pilate, moving towards Calvary, or nailed to the cross itself let a mysteriously haunting beauty gleam through the pain and weakness of the suffering Jesus. The power of Christ’s beauty is manifested in the horror of his crucifixion, when he seems abandoned and powerless.


Augustine calls Christ beautiful ‘in laying down his life’ and ‘beautiful in taking it up again’ – language that echoes what Jesus says about himself in John 10. Through his death and resurrection he is revealed as the beautiful/good Shepherd, who ‘knows his own’, calls them by name, and is known by them (John 10:3-4, 14). We find this mutual knowledge spectacularly exemplified a few chapters later in John’s Gospel, when the risen Christ calls Mary Magdalene by name. She recognises his voice and clings with love to her beautiful Master, now gloriously risen from the dead (John 20:16-17).

Angels are present in the Easter stories of all four Gospels and provide an image of heavenly beauty that accompanies and mirrors the new risen life of Christ. The angelic beauty that reflects the beauty of the risen Christ reaches its high point in Matthew’s ‘angel of the Lord’: ‘His appearance was like lightning and his clothing white as snow’ (Matthew 28:3). In his majestic beauty this angel functions as a kind of double for the risen Christ. But Jesus himself is not described in any of the Easter narratives of the Gospels. It is left to another book in the New Testament to evoke directly the awesome beauty of the resurrected and exalted Lord, whose ‘face was like the sun shining with full force’ (Revelation 1:16). No wonder then, that, when the Book of Revelation portrays the heavenly Jerusalem, it reports a vision of the future in terms of the glorious splendour of God and his Son: ‘The city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb’ (Revelation 21:23).

St Paul writes of the glory/beauty of God on the face of the risen Christ, connecting our chance of knowing this radiant glory with the primeval act by which God first created light: ‘its is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). What the crucifixion and resurrection bring to all believers – the knowledge of the divine glory – sets them apart from Moses. When Moses prayed to see the divine glory, God warned him: ‘You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ The Lord went on to say: ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back. But my face shall not be seen’ (Exodus 33:20-23). The passage contains bold anthropomorphisms – the Lord’s hand and back. The writer wants to stress that, even for the favoured Moses, God may be vividly present but remains hidden. Paul, however, appreciates how faith and baptism bring a unique illumination, knowledge of God’s glory revealed in the face of his risen Son. As the Revealer par excellence, Christ communicates God’s beauty and loving goodness. Since God is love and beauty, Jesus is that love and beauty in person.


Augustine closes his list with the risen and exalted Christ being ‘beautiful in heaven’, but this final marker differs from the opening ‘beautiful in heaven’. The incarnation and what it involves sets the subsequent story off from the ‘beautiful’, eternal pre-existent life of the Son of God. Through his life, death, and resurrection he is now beautiful in a new way – for human beings and their world. ‘He is beautiful for us’, we could say. Augustine’s whole commentary on Psalm 45 (that enfolds his list of moments displaying Christ’s beauty) is deeply concerned with the impact of Christ’s glorious beauty on those who require redemption. Augustine would agree with Dostoyevsky’s dictum ‘beauty will save the world’, but might well have added: ‘it is beauty that is already saving the world’. We are not what we are meant to be; through the beauty of the exalted Christ we are led to the truth and goodness we so desperately need.

Other early Christian writers agreed on the present impact of Christ now ‘beautiful in heaven’. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150c. 215) wrote: ‘Our Saviour is beautiful, and is loved by those who desire true beauty’ (Stromata, 2.5). Apropos of Colossians 1:15 (‘the image of the unseen God’), St Basil the Great (c. 330-79) assured his readers: ‘in the blessed sight of the image [the Son] you will see the inexpressible beauty of the archetype [the Father]’ (De Spiritu Sancto, 9.23). Over the centuries several major anthologies entitled Philocalia (‘love of what is beautiful’) drew on Basil and other Greek Fathers of the Church to encourage the ‘prayer of the heart’ and other practices of the spiritual life centred on Christ who is now ‘beautiful in heaven’. Let me cite one final voice.

In a famous sermon, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) said: ‘There met in Jesus Christ all that can make man lovely and loveable.’ No wonder then that he went on to admit: ‘I look forward with eager desire to seeing the matchless beauty of Christ’s body in the heavenly light.’ Yet ‘far higher than beauty of the body’, Hopkins added, ‘comes the beauty of his character’. He ended his sermon by urging the congregation to praise the beautiful Christ over and over again in their hearts (17).


This chapter has used as a launching pad a list from Augustine which summarises the entire story of Christ in terms of beauty. But, if this book purports to be ‘a portrait’ of Jesus, what about his face? What did he look like? In many cultures, judgements about beauty are strongly linked with facial symmetry, and the modern film industry has led many to equate beauty at least in part with facial beauty. Those who highlight the beauty of Jesus can be asked to swing around and address the question: What did his face look like? It could seem a strange state of affairs to have nothing to say in answer to this question.

Sadly for many people, however, the Gospels rarely mention the face of Jesus and even then do not tell us what it looked like. In his version of the transfiguration, Matthew writes that the face of Jesus ‘shone like the sun’ (Matthew 17:2); Luke simply says that ‘the appearance of his face’ changed (9:29); Mark says nothing specifically about the face of Jesus and merely states in general that Jesus was ‘transfigured’ (Mark 9:2). Luke twice (9:51, 53) writes of Jesus ‘setting his face to go to Jerusalem’. Other references to the face of Jesus belong to the passion stories. In the garden ‘he fell on his face’ (Matthew 26:39). When he was being interrogated by Annas, one of the temple police struck Jesus on the face (John 18:22). According to Mark, at the end of the hearing before the chief priests, elders, and scribes, some of them ‘covered the face’ of Jesus and struck him (Mark 14:65). In Matthew’s account, they ‘spat in his face’ (Matthew 26:67). The Gospels have little to say then about the face of Christ. What they do say emphasises, more than anything else, the tragic beauty of Christ’s face that is spat upon, blindfolded, and struck.

Occasionally the Gospels comment on some ‘look’ on the face of Jesus. Mark supplies a number of examples of this. Before curing a man with a withered hand, Jesus looks around ‘with anger’ at those who think it outrageous to heal someone on the Sabbath (3:5). A woman who has been suffering from haemorrhages touches the cloak of Jesus and is cured. He is aware that ‘power has gone forth from him’ and ‘looks around’ to see who has touched him (5:25-32). Before feeding the five thousand, Jesus ‘looks up to heaven’ and then blesses and breaks the loaves (6:41). He looks lovingly at a rich man and invites him, ‘come, follow me’ (10:21). These and other examples of the look on Jesus’ face show us, we could say, his face in action but do not describe it.

Since the Middle Ages, however, Christian artists have turned Christ’s face into ‘the face of all faces’. For each of the stages listed by Augustine, except for the pre-existence, they have supplied innumerable examples: for the Christ Child, Jesus in his ministry, the suffering Christ, and the glorious Lord. Images of the face of Christ were everywhere in medieval Europe. It was his suffering face that predominated – through copies of the Veronica in the West and the Mandylion of Edessa in the East, until the face on the Shroud of Turin established itself in Christian imagination from the end of the fourteenth century (18).

Everyone has their favourite example. Mine is The Calling of Matthew, a painting by Caravaggio (1571-1610) kept in the Church of St Louis in Rome. The look on the face of the beautiful Christ calls Matthew to a new life. In turn, the light on the face of Matthew shows that he has recognised the beautiful Light of God who has come into the world (John 1:9; 9:5). The divine face and the human face meet in a moment of creation and recreation. 




1. See Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. The Gospels as Eyewitness  Testimony (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2006).
2. See Gerald O’Collins, Salvation for All. God’s Other Peoples (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), pp. 142-61.
3. 1 have mentioned the portraits of Jesus provided by the four evangelists. But, rather than expound these four portraits, I intend to concentrate on developing my own portrait of Jesus. Hence I will not take up, for instance, the way in which each evangelist treats and contextualizes the miracles and parables of Jesus.
4. As Albert Schweitzer wisely remarked, ‘the better we get to know each other, the more mystery we see in each other’ (Memoirs of Childhood and Youth, New York: Macmillan, 1931, p. 70).





I. St Augustine, Confessions, 10.38.
2. St Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 44.3.
3. St Augustine, Tractatus CXX I V in Joannis Evangelium
4. Quoted in The Idiot, trans. R. Pevear and L. Volokhonsky, Every-man’s Library (New York: Knopf, 2002), pp. xii-xiii.
5. J. Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, trans. J. F. Scanlan (London: Sheed & Ward, 1930), pp. 24-38, 159; Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae 1.39. 8. See also Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages (New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 1986); id., The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas (London: Radius, 1988); Patrick Sherry, Spirit and Beauty An Introduction to Theological Esthetics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
6. See A. Louth, ‘Beauty Will Save the World. The Formation of Byzantine Spirituality’, Theology Today 61 (2004), 67-77, at 70.
7. See R. E. Brown, The Birth Of the Messiah (New York: Doubleda edn, 1993).
8. The passage echoes what Ben Sirach says of the serenity with Lady Wisdom has blessed his life (Sirach 51:23-27). See J. Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 200. 473-78.
9. On the wisdom theme in the preaching of Jesus, see Aidan O’Boyle, Toward a Contemporary Wisdom Christology (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 2003), pp. 121-49.
10. W. Sec C. R. Koester, Hebrews (New York: Doubleday, 2001), pp. 179-80 186-90.
11. In John’s Gospel a boy does something for Jesus, by producing five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:9), from which Jesus creates enough for five thousand hungry people.
12. One should add that Jesus also showed himself a realistic friend of children; he knew that they could be petulant and hard to satisfy. (Luke 732).
13. See Dorothy Lee, ‘Transfiguration and the Gospel of John’, Kendall and G. O’Collins, In Many and Diverse Ways. In Honor of Jacques Dupuis (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2003), pp. 158-69.
14. T. Caset, Life and Soul: New Light on a Sublime Mystery (Springfield, Ill.: Templegate, 2005), p. 107.
15. See A. C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2000), pp. 169-75.
16. Pensée 736 (sometimes numbered 552 or 919).
17.  Christopher Devlin (ed.), The Sermons and Devotional Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959) 34-38.
18. See Gabriele Finaldi et al., The lmage of Christ. The Catalogue of the Exhibition ‘Seeing Salvation’ (London: National Gallery, 2000).


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