Andre Malraux was an agnostic who worshiped art, and whose private cathedral was that vast and dizzying intellectual structure he called the “imaginary Museum.” Jean Onimus once said of Malraux, “Malraux cannot resign himself to the Death of God. He cannot dwell in nothingness; the absurdity of it catches him by the throat.” To escape this absurdity, Malraux decided that man must defy his fate, “images powerful enough to deny our nothingness.” …
…The change begins when artists introduce men into the world of God. These human figures may be more symbolic than real- “no Romanesque sculptor ever created a shepherd, but all created Christmas shepherds; without Christmas, no shepherd.” But they are human figures nonetheless, and “Christ Himself is also of the earth, invisibly present in the seasons and streams, in the actions of every day, in the works of hand and spirit. Here is the bishop, but also the pilgrim and crusader; the shepherd, the thresher of wheat, the vintner in his vat…Their patron saints have led them to Him, trade by trade, and He told them: ‘I have shed such and such a drop of blood for the vintners.’ …The Christ of Byzantium ignored the vintners. So did Byzantine art: it knew only Biblical figures, manifestations of God.”
But so far, the metamorphosis has taken place within a symbolic world. The figures of Romanesque sculpture are not yet subject to external appearance. This, too, begins to change- with Chartres. The Romanesque Christs dominated the surrounding human figures, not so the Christ of the Royal Portal of Chartres, who seems to mingle with them- “a figure which is at the same time inspired and abandoned by the Sacred.”
What has happened is that “the relation of the Son to the Father, of the Incarnation of the basic mystery, is inverted. Hitherto, the Father had been the God of Job, the Unfathomable. But for the initial credo, God is love, the secular piety of the Gothic period substitutes: God is Jesus.” The Teaching Christ of Chartres evokes Saint Francis, the saint without theology. “Everywhere, the mystery fades before love, the otherness of God before the nearness of Jesus, worship before communion, the fall of man before the feeling of Christ’s victory.”
Original sin has not disappeared, and neither has the figure of the Judge. But the Judge who now lifts His pierced hand above the Last Judgements exhibits a kind of compassionate majesty. As for the deep world of Satan, the cathedrals represent it only satirically, and little remains of it beyond a sort of infernal police force.