Dona nobis pacem – Grant us Peace

Notes about the image (in German and English)

The words Dona nobis pacem between two angels under a rainbow
Dona nobis pacem
Acrylic on paper
Bernd Hildebrandt 2007

Dona nobis pacem – gib uns den Frieden

Alle Jahre wieder eine neue Weihnachtskarte. Diese selbst auferlegte Aufgabe bringt mir immer zuerst Ratlosigkeit. Wenn sich dann aber ein Gedanke vorgedrängt hat, ist es schwer, ihn wieder zu verbannen. Ob dann die Umsetzung in ein Bild gelingt, kann nur der unbeteiligte Beschauer beurteilen. Bei der diesjährigen Komposition frage ich mich, ob sie überhaupt als Weihnachtsbild erkannt wird.

“Freuet euch, ihr Christen alle, freue sich, wer immer kann, Gott hat viel an uns getan.” (EG Nr.34). So singen wir im Weihnachtslied. Durch bekannte Zeichen ist Gottes liebende Zuwendung zur Welt und zu den Menschen, sein Geschenk des Friedens, hier dargestellt. Von der segnenden Hand aus der Wolke, über den Regenbogen zum Stern über der Krippe wird uns gesagt: “Dies habt zum Zeichen” (Lukas 2,12).

Gleichzeitig sind diese Zeichen aber auch Ausdruck der Wahrheit, dass wir Menschen uns von Generation zu Generation gegen Gottes Zuwendung gestellt haben und dass sein Weihnachtsgeschenk, wie der greise Simeon es bei der Darstellung Jesu im Tempel (Lukas 2,34) weissagte, “ein Zeichen ist, dem widersprochen wird.”

Frieden wird in unserer Welt, im weitesten Sinn des Wortes, auf unbeschreibliche Weise unterdrückt, obwohl ein jeder, der seine Menschlichkeit nicht ganz verloren hat, gleichzeitig nach ihm verlangt.

“Dona nobis pacem” – gib uns den Frieden, ist nicht ein Anspruch, den wir Gott gegenüber erheben können, es ist nicht ein ausstehender Lohn. Es ist die Bitte um ein Geschenk. Aber wie können wir Gott um ein Geschenk bitten, das wir nicht bereit sind, mit unseren Mitmenschen zu teilen, geschweige denn, es aus eigenem Antrieb selbst zu schaffen und an andere zu verschenken? “Gott hat viel für uns getan”, er hat alles für uns getan! Die Menschheit hat umgekehrt alles vertan.

Als ich im Bild unten eine Stätte der Traurigkeit, mit einigen unter den Folgen des Unfriedens leidenden Menschen darstellen wollte, gelang es mir einfach nicht, die skizierten Gestalten als erwachsene Menschen zu zeigen; sie blieben Kinder. Und das ist recht so. Denn wenn unter uns jemand unbelastet um Frieden bitten kann, sind es ja wohl die Kinder.

Bernd Hildebrandt, Weihnachten 2007


Dona nobis pacem – Grant us Peace

This year’s Christmas card contributes less to the enchantment of a few festive days than any other I created over the years. On the other hand it is based on a text, which was sung by monks and nuns in Divine Service over a thousand years ago, long before hymn books were known. The language of the Church was Latin, and the lay congregation was not required to understand, only to listen. But because dona nobis pacem was sung in rounds, which means over and over again, it became well known. It is probably one of the earliest Christmas carols sung by ordinary people long before the great changes of the Reformation. In the 16th century, the Common Book of Prayer of the English Church used only English and in the hymnal all Greek, Latin, German and other foreign hymns appeared only in translated form. These few lines on the interesting background of the text may suffice here.

From generation to generation mankind is longing for peace. At the same time mankind continues to fail utterly to help itself to achieve peace. It is therefore praying to God for a gift.

From the Latin word dona comes the English word ‘donation’. If we make a donation, we invariably ask ourselves, if this is deserved, if it is used for the right purpose, if we shouldn’t have left the responsibility for this or any other cause to others, and so on. And if we find out, that our donation has been misappropriated in any way, that’s it then, no more donations. Thus it is quite clear, that we ask God for something, we refuse to provide ourselves, let alone share it with others. One could write a book on the many aspects of God’s dealings with our unreasonable request, with the whole conflicting issue. But this book has already been written long ago. We call it the Bible. This ‘good book’ deals from cover to cover with God’s eternal love for his creation and our perpetual failure, to embrace this love and to pass it on. That God in his grace never turns away from us, but offers us his covenant of peace, is conveyed to us in a wealth of images. I have used some well-known pictures to explain how God’s mercy, which remains beyond our understanding, has always been with us.

God has never shown himself, but has spoken to his people out of the weather, the clouds. The cloud has therefore become a symbol for God’s action, his intervention in our strife. We can read about this in the book of Exodus in the chapters 16, 19, 24, 34, 40; in the book of Numbers, the chapters 9, 10, 11, 12; in Matthew, chapter 17, in the first chapter of Acts.

As it was considered irreverent, to depict God the father as a person, a hand, reaching out of a cloud in a blessing gesture, became symbol of his presence. According to Genesis, chapter 9, the rainbow became a symbol of reconciliation and peace: Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth. To underline this pact, this peace (words derived from the Latin pacem), the dove with an olive branch, which came to Noah as the herald of peace, is also included in the scene. Furthermore, the white colour of the dove emphasises, that this is the absolute truth.

And then there are angels. They stand as intercessors between God and men. The colour green is a symbol of hope as well as divine mercy.

The eight-pointed Christmas star, as background to the text, points to the birth of the Prince of Peace and carries this message to all corners of the earth. In this star appears also the sign of the cross, which points to Jesus’ passion. The crib has the same double meaning. The crossed beams of this simple crib direct our thoughts to Jesus’ death and resurrection and thereby to the words we sing in the Christmas carol:

Hark! The herald Angels sing
Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.

There is no evidence of reconciliation in the scene of destruction at the bottom of the picture. This image stands for the consequences the world has to live with, because it persistently rejects God’s love and his gift of peace. When I attempted to depict, as an act of faith, some people praying the dona nobis pacem, they turned out to look like children. And it came to me, that the children, still unburdened by discord, have surely the greatest right to beg for peace.

Bernd Hildebrandt, Christmas 2007

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