Justitia vanquishes the Seven Capital Sins,
Painting by Antoon Claessens (c. 1536-1613),
Painted circa 1601
Oil on panel,
© Dorotheum, Vienna
I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners
Jesus went out to the shore of the lake; and all the people came to him, and he taught them. As he was walking on he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus, sitting by the customs house, and he said to him, 'Follow me.' And he got up and followed him.
When Jesus was at dinner in his house, a number of tax collectors and sinners were also sitting at the table with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many of them among his followers. When the scribes of the Pharisee party saw him eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, 'Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?' When Jesus heard this he said to them, 'It is not the healthy who need the doctor, but the sick. I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.'
Reflection on the Painting
Our Gospel reading today ends with the words 'I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners.' Jesus came for all of us sinners, to free us from the chains of sin. In our painting by Flemish artist Antoon Claessens, we see the female embodiment of justice, wearing a metal girdle around her waist from which the seven deadly sins are chained. That is what sin does, it chains us, it enslaves us.
The biblical inscription in Latin on the scroll above Justice's head translates as "Thou shall break them with a rod of iron". Chained, we see the elegant figure of Luxuria (lust) with her torch symbolising passion; Superbia (pride) is admiring herself in a looking glass; Gula (gluttony) is eating a ham hock whilst drinking; Acedia (sloth) has her hands cut off; Avaritia (greed) slouches under a sack leaking coins; Invidia (jealousy) is depicted as an old lady lying upon red drapery; and finally Ira (rage), is preparing to plunge his dagger into an infant that is raising its arm towards Justitia crying for help.
In our own lives, we are also bound by the chains of sin. Only God's grace and mercy can break the shackles of sin and set us free…
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