Renunciation Of Social Power In The Midst Of “Community of Human Animal” Is Destined To Become Masochism

Max Ernst, “The Blessed Virgin Chastising The Christ Child Before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard and The Painter”, 1926
Max Ernst, “The Blessed Virgin Chastising The Christ Child Before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, Paul Eluard and The Painter”, 1926

People with intelligent souls and minds are never unconditional believers or unconditional atheists. Each of them invents a unique combination of religiosity and atheism. But people of exceptional intellectual sensitivity like Breton, Eluard or Ernst are capable of creating unique combinations of feelings and ideas in response to objects or situations appearing in their field of attention. Their reactions on witnessing the Virgin chastising the child Christ are especially interesting and meaningful.

According to the painting not too many people are psychologically able to witness/ visualize the corporeal punishment of child Christ by quite a determined Virgin Mary. The encounter of godly and human substances should be more dramatic than clash of galaxies. As soon as we are talking here not about the child Jesus but child Christ, more than twenty centuries of Christianity have opened to billions of observers the relations between mother Mary and Christ. Of course, amongst these billions only very few people would pay attention to the issue of child Christ being physically abused by his mother. That’s why the window we see in the painting is so small – not many people will dare to look through it. All three artists we see on the other side of the window came to see and confront the unbearable truth. But even Andre Breton cannot force himself to look straight through the window. Paul Eluard saw the truth but his eyes refused to continue to see. And only Max Ernst is forcing himself to keep on looking – we see his terrifying – gloomy and desperate face. But what is the big deal about Mary chastising her son? History is a reservoir of facts, and human behavior can be different or similar in various historical periods. The physical punishment of children by their parents is a very conservatively stable behavioral archetype. Even today and even in Western democracies physical abuse of children is proudly widespread practice.

The question here – about compatibility or incompatibility of godly and human realities, has additional complications because the very sensibilities of a superhuman world and human world are changing, together with continuation of Creation through human history. But why is the Holy Virgin so determine to punish her son? How strained and masklike her face has become! It has lost all the feminine and motherly softness, all the reverie towards the godly nature of child Christ. It is, as though Mary was trying to overcome her natural and pious compassion. Whom does she try to imitate?

An extremely symbolic space with two walls, on the left and on the right, is opened to the heavens. The right wall is, as if, separating god-father’s kingdom of sunny Creation. The left wall is enclosing the human world. And the area of Mary and the child Christ separates the two and mediates between them. It is the area where godly emanation is represented by the sharp triangle of light from above pointed at the godly child. Behind the wall signifying the human world, we see our three witnesses of the truth of the semi-godly and semi-human realm where we see the sadistic cruelty towards Christ as a human god, towards the very human aspect of godliness. On the buttocks and thighs of the child we see redness from the blows inflicted by the mother’s hand (Ernst suggests here, it seems, that the cruelty towards Christ is part of Mary’s destiny). The god-child’s halo ring has fallen to the ground. The position of the child’s body in relation to mother’s “blasphemously” suggests that sadistic libido on part of the mother is part of the situation when beating of the child has perverted sexual connotations which is often the case with physical abuse of children. The parent who has lost his/her temper or follows the proverb that sparing the rod means spoiling the child, is, indeed, as if, trying to break the child’s “stubborn desire” “to be capricious and spoilt” (“to be worshipped”), because parents believe that the sooner a child will learn the lesson the better it will be for him. It is, as though, the child who doesn’t know yet the ordeals and disappointments of adult life, all the terrors and humiliations adults have to go through, and “claims” “to be super-human in comparison with his parents”, has to go through tough pedagogical lessons to be returned to real – human condition. It is possible that in a situation of child Christ it is the mother who feels the necessity to “teach her son” the human – humiliated destiny.

Let’s return to, as if, petrified face of Ernst’s Blessed Virgin. Can it be, that in her (unconscious) envy that she is connected with godly substance only because of her son, she, in the moments of punishing him, righteously feels herself spiritually “bigger” than he, a… goddess? Can it be that for her, earthly woman abused by the patriarchal power and belonging to the bottom of the social hierarchy, to punish the child Christ is the only way to feel worthier than she regularly felt she is? If it is what Ernst is telling us, then we can talk about the Virgin Mary complex in every woman/mother in relation to her sons (who are traditionally considered worthier than she just by belonging to male gender). The fact that Mary‘s Nimbus is victoriously at its place above her head while Christ’s is on the ground, symbolizes the triumph of her secondary godliness over his direct one.

But the reason why Breton, Eluard and Ernst have such a hard times while looking at child Christ being abused by his mother is that they as creative intellectuals are more Christians by sensibility than Christian fundamentalists and dogmatists – they suffer that the godliness of human being (the existentially spiritual human potential) is destroyed with every new generation starting with childhood, when parents frustrated by their humiliated socio-economic life cannot resist revenging their children for their own wounds inflicted by an unjust and cruel life. We can imagine, how tormenting it must have been for Breton, Eluard and Ernst trapped between Two World Wars and post-WWII mass culture, to see how existentially spiritual potential of human beings is destroyed by various politico-economic systems with a Christian tradition.

May be, the incredible attempt of human spiritual genius in Christianity to connect, to “marry” the godly and the human can be successful, but in a fallen world it’s very difficult to achieve. Godliness can create monstrous envy and hatred in the human beings – humiliated, uneducated and uncertain in their survival, and then the drastic contrast between fragility and dependency of a child, on the one hand, and the naïve narcissism of childhood, on the other, can only activate this unconscious envy in adults. In this sense, every child has something from Christ. It is secularly spiritual interpretation of child abuse by Ernst in his painting makes it so painful for viewers to see Christ corporeally punished in every abused child.