The Embertide paintings describe a landscape of imperial desolation, in which the old order of has fallen, and only uncertainty remains. The Emperor was the last appeal in all questions, but the Emperor is no more, and his colossal marble head lies broken on a lonely hillside, while Lucy, the blinded saint, victim of his edicts, navigates the black tangle, her earthly eyes burning as an offering to God, her bloody sockets sightlessly staring. Will she find her way through, guided by faith, or will the rising shadows seize her and swallow her up?
Even though the City of Man is a jealous competitor with the City of God (since two empires can never exist peacefully in the same space), its worldly order also acts as the Church’s protector. The question is now, as it was a millennium and a half ago, whether the Church can survive the disintegration of the civilization which protected it, and whether, as at the dawn of our own civilization, it can play midwife to the birth of a new order. Through the tangle of civilizational disintegration, only the eyes of faith can guide us, because all the old standards which once seemed wiser than faith no longer apply.