Evil, Sexuality and Disease in Grünewald’s Body of Christ

Eugene Monick

The Isenheim altarpiece, painted sometime around 1515 by a man known now as Grünewald, is the touchstone of this work of dark fantasy and bold speculation on evil and the divine. Boils and black pustules being more evident in this multipanel painting than the conventionally depicted lacerations, Grünewald’s pestilent Christ suffers from the inside out. He thus embodies evil, and, seen this way, is a unique and powerful symbol to the syphilitic patients for whom the altarpiece was painted, and, by extension, for us today.
After establishing evil and disease as being correlative with the beauty and blessing of sensuality, Monick presents his most startling passages. He imagines potent, archetypal sexual relations between Christ and the four main figures who appear with Him in the Crucifixion panel: John the Evangelist, Mary, Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist. What if Jesus lived as a man and through sexual love contracted syphilis?
“Once one is contagious, involved personally in the inexorable illness, Grünewald’s crucified Christ might be seen as I imagine the Isenheim patients might have seen that stark image dominating their chapel: a revolutionary picture of psychological reality quite aside from one’s faith in a particular religious system. Moralizing about sexual preference and behavior becomes irrelevant; the issue is sickness and death. Even the gods get sick and die, as the Isenheim Crucifixion demonstrates.”
At times irritatingly personal, this book is also expansive and imaginative, dealing, as it does, with “paradox rather than reason, [as] a guiding principle of psychological truth.” Included are interesting discussions of homeopathy and the medical establishment, Susan Sontag, Tim Rollins and KOS, and an illuminating comparison of Grünewald and Albrecht Dürer, who was his contemporary. The author opens up many doors through his meditations on this rich icon. JTW

Publisher: Spring
Paperback: 189 pages

The Sacrament of Abortion

Ginette Paris

According to Paris, some women who choose abortion are actually expressing their long-term maternal feelings. A child must be wanted, they believe, or else its life is a living death. Women who abort see beyond the fetus to the true care that every child must have, making abortion a sacrificial act. The author’s writings on issues of life and death, of love and children, are religious, unlike the work of those who favor abortion but rationalize it as a private and medical act only. “At the other extreme, the pro-lifers see the spiritual dimension, but keep it imprisoned within official orthodoxies, as if no other form of spirituality existed,” she says. Paris presents abortion as a sacrifice to Artemis, who refuses to give of life if the gift is not pure. She holds that there are spiritual standards govern family and children other than those dictated by courts, medicine and traditional religion. SC

Publisher: Spring
Paperback: 113 pages