Mosaics by Coppo di Marcovaldo (1225-1276),
Completed by 1265–70,
Lord, even the devils submit to us when we use your name.
The Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself was to visit. He said to them, ‘The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest. Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals. Salute no one on the road.
‘Whatever house you go into, let your first words be, “Peace to this house!” And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you. Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house.
‘Whenever you go into a town where they make you welcome, eat what is set before you. Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you. Yet be sure of this: the kingdom of God is very near.” I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.’
The seventy-two came back rejoicing. ‘Lord,’ they said ‘even the devils submit to us when we use your name.’ He said to them, ‘I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you. Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.’
Reflection on the mosaics
In our Gospel reading today we hear how Jesus not only sent out his disciples to spread the good news but also gave them the power to cast out devils. It is easy to merely glance over these passages where exorcisms are mentioned and consider them to be something of the past. Jesus says the devil and demons are very real. If we don’t believe that they are real, then we are saying that we know better than Jesus, which isn’t the case.
C.S. Lewis in his Screwtape Letters writes that Satan is equally pleased by two mistakes: obsessive interest in the devil and the denial of his existence. Massively overestimating demons or massively underestimating them are common mistakes. One of the most impressive early depictions of the devil in Christian Art is the mosaics by Cope di Marcovaldo in the Florence Baptistry, the small octagonal building that stands in Piazza del Duomo, across from the Florence Cathedral. Its construction was finished in 1128 and it hosted the baptism of Dante Alighieri, who also makes reference to it in His Divine Comedy ("No smaller or no larger they seemed to me; Than are those booths for the baptismal fonts; Built in my beautiful San Giovanni" (Inferno, Canto XIX, 16-18).
The mosaics (completed around a hundred and fifty years after the baptistry’s construction) represent Hell. Satan, horned, on a throne inflamed, is devouring the damned. Monsters in the shape of snakes, frogs or lizards come out from his body. The damned are being tortured by many scary looking demons. Above the scene of Hell, we see six of the apostles who, as we read in today’s Gospel reading, cast out devils in Jesus’ name. Our souls can be a spiritual battlefield between good and evil. But our reading states that our faith in Christ makes the good triumph!
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