Ecce Homo by Guido Reni (1575-1642)

The suffering Christ

 Aurelio Porfiri

One of the paintings that has always made a huge impression on me is the so-called Ecce Homo by Guido Reni (1575-1642), a painter I have already dealt with previously and who certainly has to be considered as one of the greatest in pictorial art in his genre. This painting, which is now in the Louvre Museum, is from about the year 1640. It must be said that this was a subject much exploited by Guido Reni and his disciples, a clear sign that his idea was very successful. In fact, we are always lost in admiration before this image that communicates the intense suffering of the Savior, with those eyes that hardly seem to look towards the sky while the head, surrounded by a divine light, is reclined on the other side due to fatigue and pain.

The famous text of Isaiah (53: 5-12) about the suffering servant comes to mind: “He was pierced for our crimes, crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that gives us salvation fell upon him; by his wounds, we were healed. We were all lost like a flock, each of us followed his own path; the Lord made the iniquity of us all fall upon him. Mistreated, he let himself be humiliated and did not open his mouth; he was like a lamb led to the slaughter, like a dumb sheep before its shearers, and he did not open his mouth. With oppression and unjust sentences he was taken out of the way; who grieves over his fate? Yes, he was cut off from the land of the living, for the iniquity of my people he was beaten to death. He was buried with the wicked, with the rich was his mound, although he did not commit violence or deceit in his mouth. But the Lord liked to afflict him with pains. 

When he offers himself in atonement, he will see his offspring, he will live long, the will of the Lord will be done through him. After his intense torment, he will see the light and will be satisfied with the knowledge of him; my righteous servant will justify many, he will take on their iniquity. Therefore I will give him multitudes as a reward, he will plunder the mighty, because he handed himself over to death and was numbered among the wicked, while he bore the sin of many and intercedes for sinners”. Some saw in this passage praise of the disfigured Christ, but in reality, it is the exaltation of suffering that prepares for beauty, because the just “after his intense torment will see the light”.

In the last year of his pontificate, 2005, John  Paul II presented the 13th Message for the World Day of the Sick. In the message, among other things, he said: “In the Gospel passage of the Beatitudes, the Lord proclaims: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Mt 5: 4). The contradiction that seems to exist between suffering and joy is overcome through the consoling action of the Holy Spirit. In conforming us to the mystery of the crucified and Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit opens us from this moment to the joy that will culminate in our beatific encounter with the Redeemer. In fact, the human being does not only aspire to physical or spiritual well-being, but to a “health” that is expressed in total harmony with God, with self and with humanity. 

This goal can only be reached through the mystery of the passion, death and Resurrection of Christ. Mary Most Holy offers us an eloquent anticipation of this eschatological reality, especially through the mysteries of her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption into Heaven. In her, conceived without any shadow of sin, is found full acceptance of the divine will and service to human beings, and consequently, she is full of that deep harmony from which joy flows. We therefore rightly turn to her, invoking her as “Cause of our joy”. What the Virgin gives to us is a joy that endures even in “trials.” Only after having understood well the meaning of the Christian message can we make sense of suffering.

We come to think of this by carefully observing the painting by Guido Reni, it is evident that a strange beauty emanates from that face, it is as if that suffering placed in front of us is recomposed in a higher and greater sense that becomes clear to us precisely. thinking of the overall picture of redemption. This is how the Christian manages to make sense of suffering, he is not a masochist who rejoices in suffering in itself, never shall it be. It makes sense in view of resurrection, otherwise, it would be an unbearable punishment. This is why every sick person joins in the sufferings of Christ, waiting to rise again with him, emanating a strange beauty that only eyes that turn upward can see.