In Philippians 4:8, Paul instructs his readers to ‘think about’ (logizesthe) whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, and gracious. A favourite term of the apostle, this Greek word implies a specific kind of thinking, something more than fleeting consideration: by using logizesthe, Paul calls the Philippians to dwell over time on all that is excellent and worthy of praise (Thurston and Ryan 2009: 147).
In this painting, Flemish artist Jan van Kessel bids his viewer to meditate in precisely this way by rendering one of the most recognizable signs of the Christian faith as an object worthy of ceaseless devotion. This provocative Roman Catholic image belongs to an artistic genre known as ‘garland paintings’, a type which developed as a Counter-Reformation response to the Protestant reproach of images. At the centre of the painting, we see the principal sign of the Roman liturgy—a Eucharistic host (bread that has been consecrated during worship), set in a monstrance (a liturgical container used to display the Blessed Sacrament) and placed into a niche for our perpetual contemplation.
The word ‘monstrance’ comes from the Latin monstrāre, ‘to show’: its purpose is to make visible the sign of an invisible grace, Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. On the stone frame surrounding the niche is written: ECCE PANE AENG, ‘Behold the bread of Angels’, underscoring this holy mystery. Surrounding the monstrance are emblems of nature’s abundant goodness—grapes, corn, and wheat (the material substances of the Eucharistic feast) in carved cornucopia, and elegant bouquets of flowers. The delicately painted roses, tulips, and poppies are particularly arresting, but these naturalistic flowers are destined to wither and wilt: we would be foolish to focus on such fleeting beauty. Our gaze must move beyond these to the plain white wafer, the only object worthy of our full attention. By presenting this heavenly food for our adoration and reflection, Van Kessel offers us an image through which we might cultivate a habit of logizesthe, perpetual contemplation of this cherished sign of Christian virtue.
Thurston, Bonnie B., and Judith Ryan. 2009. Philippians and Philemon, Sacra Pagina (Collegeville: Liturgical Press)
4 Therefore, my brethren, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
2 I entreat Eu-oʹdia and I entreat Synʹtyche to agree in the Lord. 3And I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. 6Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.