Dilatato Corde 2:1
January - June, 2012


Mary Seat of Wisdom
(Click to access video on YouTube)                                         

Artist: P.D. Ranjith

Medium: Cement.


Jesus and Mary as Portrayed by Buddhist Artists
Part I: Mary Seat of Wisdom

(The same introduction is included on all five videos in which Father Pieris describes Jesus and Mary as portrayed by Buddhist artists. It lasts one minute and forty-five seconds.)

These artistic works of Buddhists interpreting Christianity are based on a missiological principle which is the contrary of the traditional missiology. In the traditional missiology, the Church tells the Buddhist who Christ is. We do the opposite; we ask the Buddhists who Christ is. They tell us who Christ is, and in that dialogue they tell us not only who Christ is for them, but also who Christ is for us in Asia. This is a kind of dialogue with artists who believe in another religion but find Christ as an excellent object of artistic appreciation and of religious devotion. All these people who have made these depictions of Christ and Mary in murals, in clay, or in paintings have given us a message: if we want to speak of Christ, even among ourselves, there is a language to be used. And these Buddhists have given us the language.


Here we have not done anything very revolutionary. In the early artistic tradition of the Church we know that Venus and Eros, woman and child, were turned into Mary and agape (Jesus). They had the picture of the Madonna based on existing cultural symbols of woman.

Here we have taken the lead from a very common concept of a woman who represents culture, art, music, and wisdom. The title of this [sculpture] is Mary Seat of Wisdom. It is based on the concept of Saraswati, a goddess of wisdom, culture, and knowledge, and music and art. It’s a combination of everything. In Sri Lanka you never start a drama or a play without a dance in worship of Saraswati. Never. Even in Christian schools we start with this dance. It’s a personification of wisdom, culture, art, everything that is beautiful and holy, and also what is knowledge and wisdom.  So it is not simply beauty, it is the beauty of wisdom.  It is wisdom, culturally expressed, in various forms of art.

Now we have captured Saraswati, and, in Saraswati, the idea of Mary as [a] seat of wisdom. I have made a little pun on that word: we call it Prajñāpīṭha.   ṭha is chair, seat; prajñā is wisdom. And according to Saint Damascene “wisdom” [sophia] was the name for theology. It is a theological faculty that we are looking at, a seat, chair of theology, not just seat of wisdom. [It is] an artistic expression of the lectio brevis I gave to our philosophate, which bore the name Prajñāpīṭha, punning on the word seat, both as an academic chair as well as a locus where wisdom, Jesus, lives.

Saraswati is normally shown not with the baby, it is shown with a little lamp, sign of knowledge and wisdom, as well as a book opened up.  So we have all these signs there to show it is Saraswati, but Saraswati with a message that is new, coming from the primordial symbol of Saraswati found in the mother of Jesus. So it is not an imposition of Saraswati [on Christianity]. Rather it is understanding Saraswati [against] the background of a woman who bore Wisdom and presented Wisdom [to humankind].

We have taken Jesus out of the womb and presented him in a ṇa, a kind of a sitar, which she plays. That is in the original version of Saraswati. But we have put Jesus there outside the [womb], plucking the chords, while Mary gives the melody. The idea we want to show is a new concept of relationship between God and us. We always use the Thomistic and sometimes Ignatian idea of instrumentum coniunctum cum Deo, instrument joined to God. This instrumental theory is denied here, because in Asia we should be careful; nothing is an instrument in this world. The instrumental theory of using things tantum quantum (so far as it is necessary) to go to God is another version of capitalism, use anything to go to your goal. We don’t use anything.

I rather am impressed by the Greek Orthodox idea of synergy. In a business enterprise maybe one is more powerful and uses the other. But in a love relationship they are equal. They are equal partners in a common mission. God invites us through love to be equal with God in working together, not as an instrument in the hand, just mechanically being used, but a conscious willful participation with our own contribution to what God wants. This is what we bring [out] here: humankind as represented by Mary, as in the Apocalypse, the whole of humankind, and Jesus, the Lamb of God, the eternal Lamb. One cannot produce the word, the melody, without the other. They work together, synergically. And who is higher or lower doesn’t count, because God has become us, and we have become God. We are divinized; he is humanized. We work together in this way, and he invites us to participate [as equals].

So here we see Mary given as an example of how she cooperated as an equal partner with God. [She] had to say yes, agree, and give us an example of this synergic dialogue with God where we are equal partners in a common mission.

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