When asked about his favorite painters, Pope Francis responded: “Among the great painters, I admire Caravaggio; his paintings speak to me. But also Chagall, with his ‘White Crucifixion.’” It’s a fascinating choice.
Marc Chagall was, as Wikipedia notes, “the quintessential Jewish artist of the twentieth century.” He was also captured by the figure of Jesus Christ: he has numerous paintings of the Crucifixion, and designed stained glass windows for several Christian churches. His White Crucifixion, the painting mentioned by Pope Francis, was painted in 1938, on the eve of the Holocaust. It depicts Jesus as a Jew, even wearing a Jewish prayer shawl (a tallit), while He is surrounded on all sides by anti-Semitic violence.
|Marc Chagall, White Crucifixion (1938)|
This dimension of the faith, Jesus the Jew, hovers over every Crucifix in the “INRI” inscription. It’s also reflected in two particularly strong statements on the subject:
“Mark well that in the Catholic Mass, Abraham is our Patriarch and forefather. Anti-Semitism is incompatible with the lofty thought which that fact expresses. It is a movement with which we Christians can have nothing to do. No, no I say to you it is impossible for a Christian to take part in anti-Semitism. It is inadmissible. Through Christ and in Christ we are the spiritual progeny of Abraham. Spiritually, we are all Semites.” – Pope Pius XI, September 6, 1938.
“Anti-Semitism, a quite modern development, is the most horrible buffet that Our Lord has received in His Passion, which is still going on; it is the most outrageous and the most unpardonable because He receives it on the face of His Mother and from Christian hands.” – Léon Bloy (the Catholic poet and author referenced in Pope Francis’ first homily as pope).