Ussher and the Cross – Revisited

November 6, 2007

tncross2.jpgI have been mulling over the strongly visual dimension of Ussher’s preaching on Christ’s Passion. He seeks to paint a picture, directing our gaze to the cross, or more precisely, to the crucifixion. He invites his hearers to ‘conceive…imagine him before your eyes thus represented’, (Works 13.153). This surprised me. It wasn’t what I expected to hear from a churchman of puritan inclination living the midst of Patrick Collinson’s iconophobic and visually anorexic Reformed culture. So the question is, was Collinson wrong (some think so), or was Ussher swimming against the tide. That, and the capacity of the Puritan imagination up to around 1640, is something for me to work on.

In the meantime, consider the words of Luther written against the iconoclasts:

Of this I am certain that God desires to have his works heard and read, especially the passion of our Lord. But it is impossible for me to hear and bear it in mind without forming mental images of it in my heart. For whether I will or not, when I hear of Christ, an image of a man hanging on a cross takes form in my heart, just as the reflection of my face naturally appears in the water when I look into it. (Against the Heavenly Prophets, 1525)

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