Painted in one of the ancient underground catacombs of Rome, this image of Jesus is the oldest in our gallery, dating from around the year AD375. The early Christians were reluctant to make pictures of Christ, so this early painting is very rare.
Jesus is dressed here in the robes of a philosopher. In Roman times, he was often painted in this way, because many early Christian writers taught that Jesus had out-philosophised even the greatest of the ancient philosophers. His way of wisdom fulfilled the best that thinkers such as Plato and Socrates had hoped for. To follow Jesus lets us discover the true meaning of life.
There are two Greek letters on either side of Jesus’s head: alpha and omega, the A and Z of the Greek alphabet. Here the artist is echoing words from the New Testament…
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty… To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 1:8, 21:6).
The artist has included the alpha and omega letters as a way of saying that Jesus is much more than the greatest of the philosophers – he is God, living on earth as a human being. This is especially appropriate as a painting in one of the catacombs, because it was here that people buried their dead and mourned them. As they looked up at this image, they would have been comforted by knowing that they were now with Christ, “who is, and who was, and who is to come”.
In Christ, we have everything…
If you want to heal your wound, he is the doctor.
If you are burning with fever, he is the fountain.
If you are in need of help, he is strength.
If you are in dread of death, he is life.
If you are fleeing the darkness, he is light.
If you are hungry, he is food.
O taste and see that the Lord is good!
Happy are they who take refuge in him.
Ambrose of Milan (339-97)
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Christians have been making images of Jesus since the early centuries of the church. In this section, we look at pictures of the face of Christ – some of them centuries old, some of them from today.
NB: If you are hoping to reproduce these images you will need to seek permission from the original copyright holders (not rejesus). Please don’t contact us looking for permission or asking for contact details for the copyright holders.
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