The tragedy of Calvary: or the minute details of Christ's life from Palm Sunday morning till the resurrection and ascension taken prophecy, history, revelations and ancient writings by Meagher, Jas. L. (James Luke), 1848-1920
Pictures and images were forbidden the Jews, and therefore no paintings of Him have come down to us. If He had been a Roman, or a Greek, statues would have been erected to Him, and portraits would have been painted of Him, by artists who had known Him. Following the description of Isaias, (Isaias liii. 2.) who in vision saw Him in his terrible agony, Justin Martyr writes of Him as having no beauty. Clement of Alexandria describes Him as being almost repulsive. Tertullian holds he had not even human comeliness. Origen goes so far as to say : " He was small in body and deformed, as well as low-born," that His only beauty was in His soul and life, and the Gnostics reproduced a likeness of Him, they claimed had been by taken Pilate's orders.
But these were ideal pictures of Him in His Passion and death. All other early writers picture Him as the most beautiful of the sons of men. Gregory of Nyassa applies to him the imagery of Solomon's Canticle. St. Jerome seems to exhaust words telling of his physical beauty. St. Chrysostom preached that: " The heavenly Father poured out on Him in full streams, that personal splendor, which distilled only drop by drop on mortal man." St. Augustine tells us in his own peculiar eloquence.
"We have seen Him," the prophet says, " and there is no beauty in Him nor comeliness. Why? because they did not know Him. But to those who knew Him ' And the Word was made flesh' is a great beauty. Why, therefore, did He have neither beauty nor comeliness ? Be cause the crucified Christ was to the Jews a scandal, to the Gentiles foolishness. Why then did He have beauty on the cross? Because what is foolish before God is wiser before men, and what is weak before God is stronger before men. Therefore to us believing, whenever the the Spouse is there He is beautiful. He is beautiful as God the Word with the Father, beautiful in the Virgin's womb where he did riot lose his Divinity when he took His human nature, and beautiful as a child was the Word, and when as a child he sucked and was carried in the arms the heavens spoke, the Angels gave praise, the star directed the Magi, he is adored in the manger as the food of the meek. He is therefore beautiful in heaven, beautiful on earth, beautiful in the womb, beautiful in his Parent's arms, beautiful in miracles, beautiful in scourgings, beautiful inviting to life, beautiful fearless of death, beautiful laying down his life, beautiful taking it up, beautiful on the cross, beautiful in the tomb, beautiful in heaven." 1
A volume might be written on the legends which have come down to us regarding Christ's form and figure. Artists have exhausted the subject in Christian art. His features imprinted on Veronica's veil, incorrectly called her handkerchief, looks very much like the face imprinted on the winding-sheet of Turin. Nicoporus, a Greek historian of Constantinople, reproducing the traditions of his day, says:
"I shall describe the appearance of our Lord, as handed down to us from antiquity. He was very beautiful. His height was fully seven span (about six feet), his hair bright auburn, and not too thick, and it was inclined to wave in soft curls. His eyebrows were black and arched, and his eyes seemed to shed from them a golden light. They were very handsome. His nose was prominent. His beard lovely, but not very long. He wore his hair, on the contrary, quite long; for no scissors had ever touched it, nor any woman's hand except that of his mother, when she played with it in childhood. He stooped a little, but his body was well formed. His complexion was that of the ripe brown wheat, and his face like that of His Mother, rather oval than round, with only a little red in it, but through it there shone dignity, intelligence of soul, gentleness, and a calmness of spirit never disturbed. Altogether he was like his divine and immaculate Mother." 2
There is a description given by Lentulus who knew him personally, and who wrote as follows to the Roman Senate. Although its authenticity is disputed by some, we give it. " There has appeared, and still lives, a man of great virtue, called Jesus Christ, and by his disciples the Son of God. He raises the dead and heals the sick. He is a man tall in stature, 3 noble in appearance, with a reverend countenance, which at once attracts and keeps at a distance those beholding it. His hair is waving and curly, a little darker and of richer brightness, 4 where it flows down from the shoulders. It is divided in the middle after the custom of the Nazarites. His brow is smooth and wondrously serene, and his features have no wrinkles, nor any blemish, while a red glow makes His cheeks beautiful. His nose and mouth are perfect. He has a full ruddy beard of the color of His hair not long but divided into two. His eyes are bright, and seem of different colors at different times. He is terrible in His threatenings, calm in his admonitions, loving and loved, and cheerful, but with an abiding gravity. No one ever saw him smile, but He often weeps. His hands and limbs are perfect. He is gravely eloquent, retiring and modest, the fairest of the sons of men." 5
Writers say Christ dressed in purple as given in Christian art, because he was a member of David's royal family, for descendants of kings, even after the fall of the dynasty from the throne, dressed that way. The members of Mohammed's family are clothed in green all over the changeless Orient. Leaders of Jewish bands and Rabbis wore rings, and carried staffs, and perhaps Christ did the same. His garments worn at the Last Supper gave rise to the crosier, ring, and purple of the bishops, and the vestments worn by the clergy saying Mass.
1 St Augustin Enaration, in Psalm xliv. 3, p. 285. Editio Parent Desbar, Paris, 1836.
2 Quoted in full by Vaihing, Art. Lentulus in Herzog.
3 Some MSS have here "youthful."
4 Some MSS have here "He looks at once guileless and mature."
5 Epist. Lent, given by Vaihinger, Art Lentulus in Herzog.