Friday, November 23, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 80, “The Seven Seals”

Dear friend,

This chapter in Romano Guardini’s book The Lord has nothing to do with Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 movie “The Seventh Seal.” But that’s where my mind went. Immediately.

Back in the 1960s, when we were in school together, Bergman ruled the art cinema, along with other inscrutable European directors like Truffaut and Fellini. Remember?

Our culture has become so saturated with modern and postmodern imagery, so de-Christianized, that when you think of the seven seals you think of Bergman and death and nothingness, instead of the beauty and terror and hopefulness of the Book of Revelation. Which Guardini continues to elucidate here.

“We begin to recognize the general structure of the Book of Revelation,” writes RG, and then he lays it out for us: “the introductory vision brings the vision of the scroll with the seven seals; the breaking of the seals is followed by the first seven events; from out of the seventh event step seven angels with trumpets, who in turn proclaim seven new events. Thus one chain of images issues from the other.”

I’ll give you the first four events, and leave the other three for you to read. They are four horsemen—not the Notre Dame running backs but messengers of the Apocalypse—conquest, war, famine, and death—dressed in white, red, black, and pale green. Though they are often seen as signs of the end times, omens of the Second Coming, Guardini says they are about today. The riders—reminiscent of another pop image, Tolkien’s black riders from Mordor—are “suggestive of the sense of our transitoriness in the face of eternity, of what becomes of temporal existence when eternity rises to replace it. . . . We are apt to feel that existence is complete in itself,” he writes. But “in the realm of the Apocalypise, the eternal stirs, swells to a tremendous power that pushes in our neat little doors.”

I don’t know about you, but I find this imagery and thought hopeful. In our time on earth you and I have watched these riders storming across the landscape: Hiroshima, Biafra, AIDS, abortion . . . If we take the Bible seriously, can the end be far off? But always behind the backdrop—that phony sky behind Max von Sydow as the Knight and Bengt Ekerot as Death—there is another world, the eternal, “stirring.”

The Book of Revelation is terrifying because it cuts close to the bone, but Guardini reminds us that it was and is a book of consolation, too.

Stay hopeful, my friend,
WB

This series of posts on Romano Guardini’s The Lord continues here with chapter 81.

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