In his shorter commentary on Romans 8, Karl Barth describes a state of existence in which humanity has been ‘judged and put to death on the cross’, and yet in which the fear of death has been removed because it ‘has already taken place’ in Christ and ‘we no longer have to endure it.’ This is life under the ‘shadow’ of the cross, but that shadow is ‘the herald of the glory that awaits’ us (Barth 1959:97).
Vittore Carpaccio’s Meditation on the Passion might give us some sense of this mixture of fatal condemnation, and ultimate hope. Death is certainly prominent: the figure of the dead Christ sits slumped on a ruinous marble throne, in the dusty, bone-strewn, foreground. The crown of thorns and the sharp, lance-like shadows on the ground, are reminders of the Passion. Combining aspects of the Man of Sorrows, Christ on the Cold Stone, and Christ Enthroned, he is accompanied, not by supporting angels, a mourning Virgin, or lamenting disciples, but by Job (on the right) and St Jerome with his companion lion (on the left).
The beleaguered prophet, and the fourth-century ascetic saint—translator of the Bible, and author of a commentary on Job—provide a counterweight to what Barth called the ‘inexorable fatality’ of the shadow of the cross (1959: 97). The crumbling marble block on which Job sits is inscribed with some of his most celebrated words: ‘my Redeemer lives’ (Job 19:25–27). Job, the great sufferer, proffers the hope of the resurrection and points towards the viewers as if to indicate that Christ’s death is for them, while Jerome’s outward gaze reinforces this connection. The shadow of death is not permanent, and Job and Jerome testify to the coming glory.
Barth, Karl. 1959. A Shorter Commentary on Romans, trans. by D.H. van Daalen (London: SCM)
Quash, Ben. 2013. Found Theology: History, Imagination, and the Holy Spirit (London: Bloomsbury), pp. 89–121
Reddaway, Chloë R. 2019. Strangeness and Recognition: Mystery and Familiarity in Renaissance Images of Christ (Turnhout: Brepols), pp.156–158
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; 20for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; 21because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 27And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28 We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? 33Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies; 34who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us? 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.