The Kiss of Justice and Peace (Artful Devotion)

La Hyre, Laurent de_The Kiss of Peace and Justice
Laurent de La Hyre (French, 1606–1656), The Kiss of Peace and Justice, 1654. Oil on canvas, 21 5/8 × 30 in. (54.9 × 76.2 cm). Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio, USA.

Lord, thou hast been favourable unto thy land: thou hast brought back the captivity of Jacob.

Thou hast forgiven the iniquity of thy people, thou hast covered all their sin. Selah.

Thou hast taken away all thy wrath: thou hast turned thyself from the fierceness of thine anger.

Turn us, O God of our salvation, and cause thine anger toward us to cease.

Wilt thou be angry with us for ever? wilt thou draw out thine anger to all generations?

Wilt thou not revive us again: that thy people may rejoice in thee?

Shew us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation.

I will hear what God the LORD will speak: for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints: but let them not turn again to folly.

Surely his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

Yea, the LORD shall give that which is good; and our land shall yield her increase.

Righteousness shall go before him; and shall set us in the way of his steps.

—Psalm 85 KJV

This psalm is a community lament, probably written during the period of Israel’s return from the Babylonian exile—to a ruined city, a fallen temple, and a mourning land. The people seek forgiveness for their covenant unfaithfulness and restoration, appealing to the benevolence God has shown them in the past. The closing section expresses confidence that salvation will come.

Verse 10 personifies four of God’s virtues: mercy (lovingkindness; Heb. hesed, Lat. misericordia), truth (Heb. emeth, Lat. veritas), justice (righteousness; Heb. tsedeq; Lat. iustitia), and peace (Heb. shalom, Lat. pax). Mercy and Truth meet together, and Justice and Peace embrace with a kiss. In medieval Christian writings these virtues came to be allegorized as the “four daughters of God,” a motif developed most famously by Hugh of St. Victor and Bernard of Clairvaux.

Many churches sing Psalm 85 at Advent or Christmastime, the birth of Jesus being a time when God’s salvation came near and “glory . . . dwell[ed] in our land.” All the virtues of God kissed each other in Christ, bringing heaven to earth. Others read the psalm as prophesying Jesus’s atoning death.

I love how Eugene Peterson translates this psalm in The Message, which suggests that these virtues of God are ones that humanity should emulate, and indeed what the gospel calls us to:

Our country is home base for Glory!
Love and Truth meet in the street,
Right Living and Whole Living embrace and kiss!
Truth sprouts green from the ground,
Right Living pours down from the skies!
Oh yes! GOD gives Goodness and Beauty;
our land response with Bounty and Blessing.
Right Living strides out before him,
and clears a path for his passage. (vv. 9b–13)

Jesus lived rightly and bound up the brokenness he encountered, bringing wholeness. His ministry announced, verbally and in tangible ways, a kingdom to come, and we are to pave the way for that kingdom by embodying its values.

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SONG: “O God, Will You Restore Us” by Isaac Wardell | Performed by Bifrost Arts, feat. Yolonda Coles Jones, on Lamentations, 2016

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation? (×2)

I will hear what God proclaims.
The Lord our God proclaims peace.
Kindness and truth shall meet,
Justice and peace shall kiss.

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation?

“Here is the fast that I choose:
To loosen the bonds of the oppressed and break their chains.
Let righteousness and justice go out before you,
Then you will call out and I will hear.”

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation?

Near indeed is his salvation to those who call on him.
He will incline his ear and hear their prayers.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
and justice will rain down from heaven.

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation?

The Lord will guide you on a righteous path,
His vindication will shine down forth as the dawn.
Your people will be called repairers of broken walls,
Making straight the path to proclaim his reign!

O God, will you restore us,
And grant us your salvation?

O God, will you restore us?
Please grant us your salvation.

Isaac Wardell’s “O God, Will You Restore Us” cleverly integrates Psalm 85 with Isaiah 58, which both center on themes of restoration, blessing, and social responsibility, even using similar word pictures. The refrain is based on the plea of Psalm 85:6–7, the heart of the psalm.

Opening with that plea, Wardell’s first verse then moves into Psalm 85:8, 10: God proclaims shalom. Verse two articulates what that looks like: the bonds of wickedness loosed, the oppressed set free. This verse is derived from God’s words in Isaiah 58:6, 8–9, in which he expresses the work he wants his people do be about—namely, justice. Only when his people practice true piety—emancipating captives, feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless—will he answer their prayers.

The third verse is drawn from Psalm 85:9, 11, an image of abundance and refreshment. And finally, verse four sandwiches Isaiah 58:8, 12 between Psalm 85:13, which itself has resonance with Isaiah 40:3 (“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God”).

Unmetered and in a minor key, the song has the feel of a Gregorian chant.

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“The Allegory of Justice and Peace,” or “Justice and Peace Kissing,” was a popular subject in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the art of the Italian and Flemish Baroque and the French Neoclassical, including works by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Corrado Giaquinto, Pompeo Batoni, Artemesia Gentileschi, Theodoor van Thulden, Maerten de Vos, Jacob de Backer—and the artist featured above, Laurent de La Hyre. Although the image comes from the Hebrew Bible, where it is rooted in God’s dealings with his people, artists often used it for secular purposes, to express political peace. Some such paintings were gifted to rulers as a form of flattery.

The iconography that developed draws on classical symbolism and mythology, with both virtues being personified as women. Justice’s attributes include a crown, a sword, scales, and a fasces; Peace’s, an olive branch, an inverted torch (which burns weapons and armor), ears of wheat and/or a cornucopia (because peace leads to plenty), and a caduceus (one myth suggests that Mercury saw two serpents entwined in mortal combat and separated them with his wand, bringing about peace between them).

The Hebrew word for “kiss” in Psalm 85 refers seldom to an erotic kiss, says Sigrid Eder, but rather to a form of greeting or goodbye exchanged by near relatives or to the final phase of a peacemaking ritual. In medieval Europe, where the visual motif of Justice and Peace Kissing was first introduced, kissing was even more widespread than in ancient Judaism; it was common for people of equal rank, both male and female, to exchange lip-to-lip kisses. (See a compilation of medieval “kiss paintings,” showing a variety of contexts, here.) But the Baroque taste for undraped figures means that quite a few artistic renditions of Justice and Peace can be read as sexualized, as when one of the women has a bared breast, for example.

In Laurent de La Hyre’s The Kiss of Peace and Justice, the action is set within a larger landscape. An olive-wreathed Peace embraces a blue-beribboned Justice beside a fountain inscribed with Iusticia et Pax // osculatae sunt, from the Latin Vulgate. The women are surrounded by ruins—upturned roadstones, crumbled walls and detached columns, a cracked garden urn. But this an image of hope. A lion-faced spigot emits fresh, flowing water, which sheep flock to for refreshment, and trees part to reveal a vista. After the upheaval, healing and repair are underway. Justice and Peace have harmonized.

The Cleveland Museum of Art, which owns the painting, notes that its date coincides with the end of the Fronde, a period of civil war in France during which the parlement (law courts) and the nobility sought—unsuccessfully—to limit the power of the monarchy. So it’s likely the painting is an allusion to the climate of general reconciliation between parties.


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for Proper 14, cycle A, click here.

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