At Eternity’s Gate: Artists of the Infinite

Updated: Jul 7

by Father John O'Brien, OFM

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism



I am always amazed at the generosity of artists and those interested in Art in getting their word out to all of us. The picture on page 100 entitled Eternity’s Gate gives us a sense of what this book entails. There is an adherence to the beauty and complexity of what art says as different but meaningful for all.


In the introduction, the author gives a brief essay on the philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard who saw the words of Scripture as being addressed to us personally. They contained a call for each individual. “They were love letters from God. In more recent times Henri Nouwen sought to find spirituality in our world. He trained as a a psychologist as well as a theologian. He had to battle against his own insecurities and failures. He spoke of these in his writings to give others courage in their struggles. He had to learn self-compassion and then compassion for others. Through his writings he enables us to find our ‘home’ in the love God has for us and allow that love to heal us. This is the journey we are on in this book. I deal with ‘The Wall’ by Pink Floyd. This shows the wall and we learn ‘we are the Beloved of God’. In Chapter 3 I look at Rembrandt’s ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’ and Henri’s reflection on this painting. Then I look at Vincent Van Gogh and Henri’s teaching based on Van Gogh to teach us compassion. The final chapter is based on Henri’s shared meditations on four icons.”


“The “Wall” ends with a call to tear down the Wall. This is to risk vulnerability and the possibility of being hurt again. Henri Nouwen wrote a book called “Life of the Beloved”. When Henri was at Yale Divinity School he was interviewed for the Connecticut section of the Sunday edition of the New York Times by Fred Bratman. Henri couldn’t help noticing that the young man was ill at ease with himself so he engaged him in conversation. Fred felt stymied by his job and really wanted to write seriously. Henri sensed a beautiful heart that wanted to give and create. Fred was close to abandoning his dreams. Eventually the young man did leave his job and with Henri’s help explored writing his novel and other avenues for self-expression. Fred was Jewish and he laid down a challenge in turn for Henri. He asked him to write for those like him trapped in so many ways in New York. Henri wondered at first what could he say but eventually he wrote “Life of the Beloved’ He had torn down Fred’s wall and now he reached out to others. The conclusion of the film “The Wall” shows young children in an area where there has been rioting. For a moment we can think that the whole cycle of building a wall starts over again. There is an image of hope suddenly. A young boy finds a Molotov cocktail from which he removes the rag and then he empties the liquid from the bottle. He has no wish to do violence to another person. There is hope.”


The author gives a thorough understanding of the Prodigal Son through the work of Rembrandt and the literature of Henri Nouwen. He helps us reflect on the depth of the paintings and the depth of the literature. From Rembrandt’s work we feel that the ending is unfinished and so it is. When we look at the icon of the Holy Spirit we see another unfinished story. Is the one in darkness released? We are called to the community of the Holy Spirit and yet we do not see this meaningful community. We are called to end the story in our own lives. In the Prodigal Son we can find ourselves in the different characters. Ho we respond is up to ourselves. In this sense the ending is in us. The icon of the Holy Spirit teaches us that we often experience the opposite of the peace in the icon. We do not experience the community the icon speaks of. There is no light in the darkness. Yet we are not called to despair but to hope. We need to place ourselves in the group and allow ourselves to be open to God’s Spirit. When we find God in ourselves we can reach out to others. We write the ending- God in us is where we start. We are called, each in our own way, to find our home in the “House of Love”. This is a book you want to get for every person you know. It brings music, art and literature together in a sacred way.