The Sound of Love's Call

Luca Signorelli's "Resurrection of the Flesh"

Orvieto is an hour’s train ride north of Rome, about half-way to Florence. Once you arrive at the Stazione Termine, you’ll need to take a funicular up to the city, which sits on a high, fortified butte, overlooking the Umbrian plain. It’s worth the trip.

Life on earth doesn’t get much better than an afternoon spent sipping the white wine of Orvieto in the Piazza del Duomo. The cathedral’s gothic facade is composed of alternating, narrow strands of white travertine and greenish-black basalt. They frame its multi-hued, golden mosaics.

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Inside of Duomo, most of your time should be devoted to chapel of San Brizio, frescoed by Fra Angelico. One wall, however, contains Luca Signorelli’s masterpiece, The Last Judgement (1449-51).His Resurrection of the Flesh, which forms a part, is well worth a ponder.

At the top center of the fresco, two winged angels — before whom any Abercrombie and Fitch, or Victoria’s Secret model would dissolve in shame — blow body-sized trumpets, from which wave billowing white flags, bearing red crosses. In the lower portion of the scene, the dead rise from their graves at the sound of love’s call. They’re literally pulling themselves up out of the earth; in some cases, helping each other to emerge.

There’s nothing frightening about this scene, though one does sees skeletons cropping up. This is only because they haven’t yet been fully transformed by the trumpet’s blast. Most of the figures, however, have once again been clothed in flesh — and not much more. They’re young, muscular, beautiful.

In the background on the left, a group of the blessed have begun to dance, so pleased are they to know once again the measure and movement of the body. Some look heavenward, in wonder and thanksgiving. Some gaze upon each other and embrace.

This is Luca Signorelli’s great witness to the resurrection of the flesh, the new creation promised in the Book of Revelation.

Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The former heaven and the former earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband
(21:1-2).

The picture would make a wonderful screen saver, especially for those who are sorely tempted to turn to the web in pursuit of pornography. Here Signorelli illustrates both the beauty and the holiness of the body. Although Christ does not appear in the scene, his is the sound of love’s call. It is clearly his flesh that sanctifies our own, calling it back from the grave into a blessed, bodily communion, seen here as dance and embrace.

"The Word became Flesh" (Jn 1:14). The great truth of our faith. That which is most transcendent, most spiritual, itself becomes something tangible, fragile, earthly. This is why, in contrast to so many noble paths, Christianity can never chose to disparage the body. How can we adjudge the body to be dross, or something less than the spirit, when Christ our Lord came clothed in the flesh? And yet pornography does just that.

Pornography isn’t evil because it fully depicts the human body. Nothing God created is loathsome, repellent, or unworthy of our eyes. No, its great harm lies in sundering the spirit from the flesh. The one who stares is no longer looking upon another human being, one who, in his or her own flesh, can address the self as an equal. Pornography is harmful because it reduces the other, a human being, to an object. The image cannot address you, cannot challenge you, cannot interact with you so as to transform you. Instead the voyeur retreats from his or her own flesh, becomes a hungry mind cut off from its enveloping world, one that would ravage images rather than dwell in the real.

This of course is the answer to the question, who does pornography harm? If it is a sin, isn’t it victimless? No! We are what we choose to encounter. Physically, what we eat today we carry with us tomorrow. Spiritually, what we consume today we become tomorrow. The young person, the husband or father, who thinks that a human being can be reduced to a body today and then reverenced tomorrow as a lover is deluded.

When we move away from the surety of our centeredness in God’s good creation, we fall into a vortex. A mind no longer at home in the world, in the flesh, feeds upon images that offer no sustenance. It becomes ravenous. Like Lucifer, it roams the earth; it cannot dwell within it.

In his Confessions St. Augustine incomparably recorded both the frenzied sorrow of a soul severed from creation and the healing God alone can give. Remember, the one addicted to pornography deserves more sympathy than scorn.

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace (X.27)

A healthy soul, a graced soul, does not seek escape from the body. It knows that God created it to be a union of body and soul and that to seek escape from the body is to flee from the real into the illusory. It knows that it was made for love, but that it must attend, in its flesh and in its longing, the advent of real love.

The night before he died, Jesus gave himself, body and soul, to those whom he loved and to those who would come to love him. He told us, "I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13: 34-35).

Can those who remember their mother’s laps, who can recall being lifted skyward on the shoulders of their fathers, who remember the first time that they held the hand of another or chastely kissed — can’t they trust that the call will come, that God will fill our lives with love, and that someday our flesh itself will quicken to the sound of love’s call?

Acts 14:21-27    Revelation 21:1-5a    John 13:31-33a, 34-35

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