Gethsemane as Hiroshima (Third Part)
Reynaldo Santos Reyes- Arroyo
"La Resurrezione" and "III.Water" indicate that God is able to engulf horrors through Christ as a participant in and defeater of horrendous evils

See also: First Part and Second Part.

Other Theological Themes in La Resurrezione

“La Resurrezione” is a theologically rich sculpture, with various features that point to themes that are not necessarily linked to redemptive suffering.  The discussion here will be centered on theological themes of the sculpture that are not evidently connected to redemptive suffering.  For example, “La Resurrezione” strays from depicting themes of redemptive suffering insofar as it employs liturgical memorial as a means of creating justice.  The sculpture accomplishes this through replacing classical art as a commemorative object.  As Del Sarto noted, “La Resurrezione” replaced a classical art installation as the focal piece of the Paul VI Audience Hall.[1]  As opposed to classical art with bold religious themes, “La Resurrezione” depicts Christ as weary and pained.  The sculpture acts as a commemorative object that transforms how the observer engages with and commemorates Jesus.[2]  Observers engaging with the sculpture commemorate Christ and victims of nuclear destruction as like participants in horrendous evils.  Further, commemoration of Christ through engagement with “La Resurrezione” serves as an act of justice, in which observers honor the memories of participants in horrendous evils that regarded them as unfit to live and as barely human.[3]  

One may also conceive of “La Resurrezione” as employing horrific imagery to portray nuclear destruction as Hellish. It is no mistake that Del Sarto mistook the olive groves of “La Resurrezione” as demonic skulls, as this underlies an important aspect of the sculpture: that peaceful places like Gethsemane can quickly become Hellish in the face of horrendous evils.[4]  Consider past descriptions of Hiroshima following the explosion.  Tsuboi described charred bodies surrounding him, eyes melting, a woman trying to replace her intestines, and other horrifying descriptors.[5]  Could that be anything other than Hell?  In “Tongues of Fire,” William P. George questions whether one can follow a conception of war as crucifixion to imagine Christ as descending into the Hell of Hiroshima to grant its victims and perpetrators grace.[6]  The sculpture’s depiction of Christ’s resurrection from the fires of Gethsemane, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki may serve as an inversion of the image George describes that accomplishes his goal of granting grace to participants in horrendous evils.  While such depictions of Christ’s participation in horrendous evils imply hard-won triumph over them, not all theological depictions of the subject matter are so optimistic.

III. Water

The horrendous evils of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had a powerful impact on religious symbolism in the Modern art movement, with artists like Salvador Dali being explicitly inspired by the advent of the nuclear age.[7]  Many of these pieces portrayed Christ or analogous figures in a different light from “La Resurrezione.”  One such work is Iri and Toshi Marukis’ painting, “III. Water.”  This is the third installation in a series of painted panels to commemorate the victims of Hiroshima.  While “La Resurrezione” depicts Christ as triumphant over horrendous evils, “III. Water” depicts an injured mother who, after escaping to a river, attempts to breastfeed her dead child (see fig. 2).  They are the focal point of the painting and are situated next to a pile of corpses.  The Maruki Gallery description of the painting describes this 20th century Madonna as portraying “an injured mother cradling her dead infant” and as “an image of despair” (see fig. 2).  “La Resurrezione” depicts Christ as triumphant, while “III. Water” inverts an image of hope to become one of despair in the midst of nuclear destruction.  There is theological significance to the similarities and differences of the two pieces.

“III. Water” is similar to “La Resurrezione” in its subject matter of Christ in the place of suffering humans and in its perception of nuclear destruction. Both portray Christ or an analogous figure in the midst of nuclear destruction, with “III. Water” portraying an inversion of the Madonna in Hiroshima and “La Resurrezione” depicting the Resurrection (see figs. 1 and 2).  They portray these figures as participants in the horrendous evil of nuclear destruction.  Following these portrayals, both works employ horrific imagery to great effect, but “III. Water” is more explicit in its portrayal.  One may note that “III. Water” aligns more with Tsuboi’s description of Hiroshima after the explosion.  Where Tsuboi describes eyes melting, Water questions whether a man’s eye was moved by a maggot; where Tsuboi describes dismemberment, “III. Water” depicts countless corpses piled atop each other.[8]  A cursory observation of the other Hiroshima Panels displays similar imagery.[9]  Like “La Resurrezione,” “III. Water” inverts William P. George’s suggestion of Christ descending into the Hell of Hiroshima to redeem the world; while the former portrays the Resurrection, the latter portrays the descent in the form of death with no hope of redemption.[10]  While both portray similar subject matter, “III. Water’s” darker portrayal contains different theological themes.

Dissimilarly to “La Resurrezione,” “III. Water” does not employ a theodicy of redemptive suffering and departs from McCord Adams’s more “cosmic” theology, selecting to portray despair in its inversion of The Madonna.  While McCord Adams notes that her doctrine of salvation allows for some degree of Christological materialism, it disallows one that is materially maximally high, as she argues evil is defeated through Gd’s divine nature.[11]  While “La Resurrezione” mirrors this in its portrayal of Christ’s resurrection, which is made possible through their divinity, “III. Water” does not portray such a divine essence.  Its grim portrayal may point to a more materialistic theology, but not one that is ungrounded or incoherent.  In Theology of the World, Metz identifies “hominization” in theology, where the world undergoes an anthropocentric shift where human beings are understood as masters of material nature that one may encounter Christ in.[12]  Theologically, this has powerful implications for interpersonal relationships.  If one grants Metz’s theological concept of the encounter with the divine in the other, one might look at all the corpses in “III. Water” and recognize them as analogous to Christ.[13]  Alongside Japanese theology post-World War II, “III. Water” contains powerful criticisms of “La Resurrezione’s” theology.

Despite their like subject matters, “III. Water” and “La Resurrezione” are the work of artists raised in different contexts, so that these pieces may diverge thematically reveals that there are powerful theological challenges to “La Resurrezione.”  An important context to consider is the faith background of the artists.  While Fazzini was Catholic, the Marukis were not.  Some Catholic survivors of the bombings, like Takashi Nagai, held similar views to the one espoused by “La Resurrezione’s” portrayal of redemptive suffering.  In negating the views of Japanese Shintoists who regarded the bombs as divine punishment, Nagai asserted that the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were better understood as sacrificial lambs for Gd’s will.[14]  This aligns well with McCord Adams’s model of divine insight as evident in “La Resurrezione.” However, Nagai experienced Nagasaki, which Fazzini cannot claim.  Fazzini did not witness the horrors that Tsuboi, the Marukis, or Nagai did.[15]  Intuitively, it seems appropriate to suggest that the testimony of victims should be strongly considered.  Further, one might consider that the suggestion of engulfing and defeating horrendous evil in Hiroshima and Nagasaki may be morally insensitive.  

Conclusions and Suggestions

This paper has examined theological themes of McCord Adams’s theodicy of redemptive suffering in Pericle Fazzini’s “La Resurrezione.”  This paper has summarized the theological underpinning of the themes in the sculpture, analyzed how the sculpture portrays redemptive suffering in the wake of horrendous evils, and briefly analyzed “III. Water” to reveal potential deficiencies in the sculpture’s theodicy.  While focusing on the evidence of these themes and discussing features in “La Resurrezione” and “III. Water,” this paper has found that the sculpture has features that are evidently evocative of McCord Adams’s suggestion that God is able to engulf and defeat horrors through Christ as a participant in and defeater of horrendous evils.  This does not imply that the sculpture or this analysis may not hold theological deficiencies.  Further research should be pursued.

Of the possible objections to the analysis thus far, one of the more troubling criticisms is the possibility of theodicy being morally objectionable.  Proponents of anti-theodicy suggest that theodicy may demonstrate moral insensitivity and, in doing so, increase injustice in the world.[16]  One may be tempted to answer that, because survivors like Nagai come to similar conclusions, theologians need not worry about the moral implications of a theodicy of redemptive suffering in “La Resurrezione.”  However, one should worry about the possibility of perspectives evident in art like “La Resurrezione” overshadowing testimony by victims.  In the future, further research should be conducted into whether McCord Adams’s theodicy is beholden to the moral weakness of other theodicies and into Japanese perspectives on theological themes of redemption and suffering.

[1] Del Sarto, "The Vatican’s Hell Hall."

[2] Wolterstorff, Acting Liturgically, 176.

[3] Wolterstorff, Acting Liturgically, 278-280.

[4] Del Sarto, "The Vatican's Hell Hall."; "Pericle Fazzini," New York Times.

[5] Langer, "Hiroshima Victim... Sunao Tsuboi."

[6] William P. George, “‘Tongues of Fire’: Hiroshima as Hell and a New Pentecost," Theological Studies 81, no. 3 (December 2020): 573-574.

[7] Viladesau, Acting Liturgically, 201-213.

[8] Langer, "Hiroshima Victim... Sunao Tsuboi."

[9] Maruki, "The Hiroshima Panels," Maruki Gallery for the Hiroshima Panels. 1950-1982. https://marukigallery.jp/en/hiroshimapanels/.

[10] George, "Tongues of Fire," 573.

[11] McCord Adams, Horrendous Evils, 78-79.

[12] Peter Losonczi, "Humanization, Eschatology, Theodicy: Metz, Schmitt, and the ‘Hidden Nexus,'” Political Theology 16, no. 2 (March 2015): 118-193.

[13] Losonczi, "Humanization, Eschatology, Theodicy," 118.

[14] Yuki Miyamoto, “Rebirth in the Pure Land or Gd’s Sacrificial Lambs?  Religious Interpretations of Atomic Bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 32, no. 1 (2005): 136-139.

[15] Langer, "Hiroshima Victim... Sunao Tsuboi."; Maruki, "The Hiroshima Panels."; Miyamoto, "Rebirth in the Pure Land," 136-139.

[16] Toby Betenson, "Anti-Theodicy," Philosophy Compass 11, No. 1 (2016): 61-62.