Put Out into the Deep

Christ’s Birth Foreshadows Crucifixion

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Recently, I ran across an interesting painting from the 15th century titled, “The Adoration of the Magi” by Benedetto Bonfigli. The painting pictures the Magi bringing the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Christ Child, with Mary seated in a stable and St. Joseph at her side.

What is most interesting about the painting is that in the background there is portrayed Christ crucified, which certainly seems odd to the viewer.  Perhaps, there is a deep theological insight contained in the work of this 15th-century artist.  Another interesting aspect of the painting is that the oldest of the Magi is kneeling before the Christ Child with his crown at his feet indicating that all of the peoples of the world would prostrate themselves before the King of the Universe.  The messianic promise now has come about as is found in Isaiah.

Returning to the most interesting aspect of the painting, the crucifixion scene in the background, one might say, “What does one have to do with the other?” However, St. Leo the Great once said, “The only purpose of the birth of the Son of God was to render possible the crucifixion and that flesh which was conceived in the womb of the Virgin would be that same flesh that would accomplish the passion.”

Perhaps the gifts of the Magi offer some explanation of this seemingly inconceivable portrait of the Epiphany. The gold symbolizes the kingship of the Savior.  The incense, or frankincense, is the divinity of the Savior.  The myrrh, however, symbolizes His future death because at that time myrrh was used to embalm the bodies of the dead.  This may also explain the custom that has been reinserted in the Liturgy on the Epiphany, after the Proclamation of the Gospel, that the Church solemnly announces the principle feasts of the liturgical year that are to follow, especially the celebration of Easter which is the center of the liturgical year and the culmination of the sacred Tridiuum when the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ are remembered.

In no way does this artist wish to throw a pall over the celebration of Christmas.  Perhaps when we recognize that the Eucharist always celebrates the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, we can understand the unity, not only of the painting, but also of our understanding of the life of Christ.

Sometimes artists force us to put out into the deep to comprehend the mysteries of our faith in a way to which we are not normally accustomed. As we come to this Christmas and recognize the mystery of the birth of the Savior, we cannot forget that His birth made possible His death and His resurrection which we celebrate and which is the heart and the mystery of our faith.

Allow me to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Blessed Christmas and a New Year filled with the blessings of the Lord.

Share this article with a friend.

2 thoughts on “Christ’s Birth Foreshadows Crucifixion

  1. Iam most grateful for the deep insight of the shadow of Christ’s death in His birth and the offerings of the magi further foreshadowing his divine kingship and death.