"As artists, are we concerned more with the Kingdom of Men, or with the Kingdom of God?"
We live in two worlds, the visible and the invisible, and we have a foot in each. The visible world is of earthly kingdoms where truth is relative and fleeting. The invisible world is that of the Heavenly Kingdom where Truth is absolute and eternal. The first world we see plainly, the second is just as present but it is hidden to us. It is understandable then that we focus much more of our attention on the world we can see.
The creative types among us, the artists, and poets, and writers and makers, spend their lives chasing “success.” Success as the world defines it usually involves some mixture of money and celebrity or fame. But for every artist who is able to sell his work for tens of thousands of dollars, there are many more Vincent Van Goughs toiling in obscurity.
Van Gough is now considered an artistic genius. He completed over 2000 paintings in his life and the pieces fetch huge sums when they come up for auction. But during his life Vincent Van Gough sold only one painting. His brother Theo supported him financially and the artist died in poverty.
His story is not an isolated one. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec died in poverty. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn died in poverty and obscurity. Johannes Vermeer left his wife and children deep in debt. Paul Gauguin and Domenikos Theotokopoulos , known as "El Greco," both died penniless.
Artists should absolutely expect to be paid fairly for their work, they have bills to pay and families to support just like anyone else. But at the same time we should be wary of chasing after the fame and celebrity which the world holds out to us as a measure of “success.” It s part of our fallen nature to be susceptible to such temptations and we must always be on guard against it.
Are we concerned more with the Kingdom of Men, or with the Kingdom of God?
Throughout His ministry here on earth, people continually tried to make Jesus their king. They sought to make Him a king like those they had known, one who would lead the people in a revolt against their oppressors, the Romans, and bring freedom to God’s people. And Jesus always seems to elude this plan because the people do not understand. His Kingdom is not the type of earthly kingdom that is familiar to them.
But standing before Pilate, as the time of His crucifixion draws near, Jesus can and must reveal Himself for who He is, the origin and goal of the world. The misunderstandings no longer matter, even Pilate will not understand as Jesus reveals that His kingdom “is not of this world.”
The Kingdom of Christ is different from earthly kingdoms in several ways. While other kingdoms have boundaries the Kingdom of Christ has none; His kingship is universal. Earthly kingdoms are temporal, that is they are temporary, but the Kingdom of Christ is eternal and will never fall. Lastly, our temporal kingdoms are sustained by the strength of their military, but the Eternal Kingdom is sustained by the Truth.
In his letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul challenges us to answer the question, do we seek to please men or do we seek to please God? Do we pursue the fame of this world which is fleeting and the fortune which is temporary, or do we pursue success in the eternal realm of God's Kingdom?
Thomas More was chancellor of England under King Henry VIII. He enjoyed a high standard of living, the respect of his monarch, his friends, and was renowned throughout Europe for his wisdom and judgment. But it was not to last.
King Henry VIII wanted a son, an heir to the throne. His wife, Katherine of Aragorn, seemed to be infertile. England at the time was a Catholic country. The Catholic Church recognizes marriage as a sacrament ordained by God. A bond that no mortal can dissolve. In order for Henry to remarry it was necessary to apply to Rome to have his marriage with Katherine annulled, a decree that the marriage had not met the conditions to be considered sacramental. When the annulment was refused, Henry sought the help of his chancellor, Thomas More.
But Thomas More held the Truth of his faith to be absolute and eternal. The decision of the Pope, guided by the Holy Spirit, was final. Henry's marriage to Katherine was a sacrament and could not be broken. More refused to help his king.
As a result England broke away from the Church, and established its own “Church of England.” Henry was appointed supreme head of this church and was granted a divorce.
Thomas More was arrested for treason. His trial was a sham and based on false testimony he was found guilty and sentenced to death.
Before he fell beneath the executioner's ax, Saint Thomas More addressed the crowd who came to see him executed, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”
William Shakespeare once wrote “truth is truth, to the end of reckoning.” There is a truth that transcends the fickle nature of politics, culture and celebrity. As subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven we belong to the Truth and it is our obligation to stand up and defend the Truth whenever it is attacked or compromised, even if it is inconvenient or difficult to do so.
The Solemnity of Christ the King
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org