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Nazianzen, and other writers of the fourth century; and allusions to them, or even whole scenes taken from them, occur in the artistic monuments of the fifth and succeeding centuries. Before that time Christian artists seem strictly to have been kept within the limits of the Canonical Books of Holy Scripture. Afterwards it was probably considered that there was no longer any danger to the integrity of the faith, and greater licence was given both to poets and artists.” Thus far Dr. Northcote. Whether this assumed consideration of probabilities was veri. fied in the course of time, our readers will shortly be able to judge.
With thus much of preface, we may now proceed. We are now to emerge from the Catacombs, and leave unnoticed those latert pictures, there existing, whose date can only be approxi. mately determined; and we proceed to speak of some other monuments, whose date admits of being closely fixed. The objects of which we now speak are the mosaic decorations of churches at Rome and Ravenna, the frescoes on the long-buried walls below the Church of St. Clement at Rome, and one or two others that are less well-known.
Of these monuments, there are some few which date from the early part of the fifth century; and these mosaics, executed, as we know them to have been, under the immediate superintendence of the highest ecclesiastical authorities, in Rome or Ravenna, as the case might be, are, from that circumstance, of especial value as indications of received doctrine. The simple records of family affection, which abound in the Catacombs, picture to us, in their few touching words of love, and faith, and hope, how in very truth, to the humblest Christian, death had been robbed of its sting; how the grave had become the gate of peacefuló rest; and death, as men deem death, only a blessed sleep to them that rest in the Lord. But the elaborate mosaics with which, from the close of the fourth century onwards, so many churches, both of East and West, were deco
3 “Canonical" from the Roman point of view, Dr. Northcote, of course, means. He is speaking of Canonical Scriptures of the New Testament, to the exclusion of the Apocryphal Gospels, and such like books, which found circulation in the West during the fifth century, and were formally condemned by Gelasius, Bishop of Rome, A.D. 495.
4 Together with these we pass over also the “Vetri antichi," the ornamented glasses found here and there in the Catacombs. Of their date we have already said a few words. A full treatment of the subject would require a treatise in itself. But when all were
said that could be, on either side, the main argument of our present paper would be in no way dependent on, or affected by, the conclusion reached.
5 " In peace," "received into peace," “committed to the ground in peace," “lieth in peace," "rests in peace," — these are recurrent forms in the inscriptions of the Catacombs. And here and there, but of very rare occurrence, are such expressions as “In pace requiescat" (Aringhi R. S. tom, ii. p. 140).
6 The day of death is often “dormitio," "a falling to sleep.” The same word is often used of the place of burial.
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rated, though they lack this personal interest, have a value all their own, as being deliberate expressions of theological belief. They are little less than embodied creeds, reflecting from century to century the prevailing tone of opinion on the part of those of highest authority in the Church. Bearing this in mind, we may proceed now to consider what are the facts presented to us, on examination of the series of monuments of the fifth and later centuries, which immediately succeed, in historical order, those earlier frescoes, of the “ Biblical Cycle," in the Catacombs.
Mosaics at Rome and Ravenna from 400 A.D. to 600 A.D.
The character of the elaborate mosaics which date from this period is well described by Seroux d’Agincourt in his “Histoire de l'Art par ses Monuments.” [In this case, as in other citations from modern authors, we purposely quote from Roman Catholic writers, as being free from any suspicion of “ Protestant prejudice” in what they write.] Describing? some of the more important mosaics dating from the fifth century, he writes as follows:-"In the mosaics before us, what most deserves praise is the earnestness with which the Christians of that age sought to make art subservient to the greater honour of God. .... All the pomp of a heavenly triumph is displayed in the composition of a mosaic in the Church of St. Paul 'extra muros.' It adorns that portion of the interior which was known to Christians as the “Triumphal Arch. This was situated, in this instance, as in most of the Basilicas and more important churches, above the principal altar, and formed a majestic termination to the great nave, and was immediately followed by the Arch of the Tribune. These two arches, enriched on both sides, both the one and the other, with mosaics, were generally full in view of the faithful as they entered. The Saviour appeared on the Triumphal Arch of this Church in all His glory, seated upon His throne, and receiving the homage and adoration of the inhabitants of heaven. Solio medius consedit avito. It was after such a manner that emperors of Rome, after victories won, found the representation of them reproduced on the triumphal arches erected in their honour by the gratitude of their people.”
We would ask our readers to bear these particulars in mind, while noticing the list that follows. It comprises all the mosaics of importance to our present subject, dating from the years 400 to 600 A.D., in the collections of Ciampinus and Seroux 7 Peinture, Décadence, tom. ii. p. 30. own churches. Accordingly, this arch,
8 By the Arch of the Tribune is and the “Triumphal Arch" above demeant the apse-like termination of the scribed, are what would at once meet Roman Basilicas, at what would corre- the eye of worshippers on entering the spond to the “East end” of one of our church, as d’Agincourt observes. Vol. 68.-No. 384.
D'Agincourt, and in another, consisting of original drawings (once the property of a Pope), to which we have access.
The earliest in point of date are the originalo mosaics in the Church of S. Maria Major, dating from the year 433 A.D., or shortly after. Those of which we now speak are on the upper walls of what we should call the chancel arch, the Arcus Triumphalis' just described. We find here a series of Scriptural subjects bearing upon the truth of the Incarnation and of the Divine nature of our Lord, which culminate (over the centre of the arch) in a symbolical designation of our Lord, derived from Revelation, cap. iv., v. There is here no suggestion whatever of the Virgin Mary being an object of adoration, still less of her sharing the heavenly throne of Christ. Not only so, but, in the picture of the Adoration of the Magi, what may be called the natural arrangement of the picture is sacrificed, for the sake of more clearly expressing divine truth. The Holy Child, with angels in attendanec on Him, is seated alone upon a throne of state ; His own higher dignity, and that of the angels, being marked also by a nimbus upon their heads. The Virgin Mary has a subordinate though honourable place at one side of the principal group; and neither here, nor in any other of the scenes represented, is the nimbus, or any such mark, assigned to her. We have engraved this particular group, and we invite especial attention to it, as of the highest value to the historian of primitive doctrine. For the mosaic was given to the Church by XYSTVS EPISCOPVS3 (so named in the mosaic itself) within two or three years of the acts of the Council of Ephesus being promulgated. In that Council the title of “Theotokos "4 was vindicated for the Virgin Mary, as a protest against the heresy of Nestorius. The entire composition of the mosaic had direct reference to the doctrinal questions which then agitated the Church. And the group now before our readers, more forcibly than any other evidence that could be produced, proves what was the mind of the Roman Church, in the middle of the fifth century, concerning the honour due to
9 They are now intermixed with many, of much later date, in other parts of the church.
i Very imperfectly represented by Ciampini, V. M. i. p. 200. One of the groups (the Annuntiation) is well figured by D’Agincourt, Peinture, Pl. xvi. No. 4. But this group, and others of the same composition, are very exactly represented in the private collection above spoken of, once the property of Pope Clement XI. It is from this that our own illustration is taken. The Annuntiations made both to Zacharias and to the Virgin Mary, the Adoration of the Magi, the Presentation in the
Temple, the Murder of the Innocents, the Questioning with the Doctors, and the Death of John the Baptist ; such are the subjects represented.
To Herod as being a king the nimbus was assigned in the very same mosaics; as this attribute was, in the earliest times, a mark either of celestial or of royal dignity, rather than of sanctity. This fact makes the omission in the representations of the Virgin the more conclusive of our point.
3 Sixtus III., Bishop of Rome from 432 to 440 A.D.
Theotokos, i.e. one of whom God was born.
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our Lord, and to the Virgin Mary, respectively. It is evident that, as in the Acts of that Council, so in this picture, as it was originally arranged (how it was afterwards treated we shall yet have occasion to say), the object proposed was that of vindicating the Divinity of the Son of Mary against those who by implication denied it, and was not, what later perversions have made it to be, that of exalting the Virgin Mary herself to all but coequal dignity with her Divine Son. And accordingly, in the original mosaic, here depicted, not the "glories of Mary," but the glory of our Lord, is evidently the central aim of the whole. Notice, as bearing upon this, the arrangement of the group before us. In every other representation of this particular subject, with which we are acquainted, the Holy Child is, as naturally might be expected, held in the arms of His mother. To the simple faith of an earlier age, merely human pictures such as those already delineated,' sufficed to recall at once all that to the faith of a Christian was implied, in the thought of the star of Bethlehem, and of that Holy Family to which it points. But in the fifth century, at the period of which we now speak, more than this was thought to be required, as a protest against heretical teaching. What was desired now was, that art itself should minister to the assertion of the Divinity of Him who was born of Mary. And accordingly the Holy Child is now seated alone (apart from His mother) upon a throne, angels being in attendance upon Him, as though waiting to do His bidding. The Virgin Mary shares not this His throne, but is in a subordinate position at one side,
5 The opinion that was to be con- (For the words above quoted, see Labbe demned, is most simply expressed by Concil. tom. ii. p. 32. They occur in Cyril Alex. himself (Nestorius' prin- the Letter of Cyril, addressed to the cipal opponent). He represents the Egyptian Monks, $ 14.] Nestorians as using language such as 6 See the last Number of this Review. this :-“He who by the nature of His 7 The accurate drawings here reproown Being, and in very truth, was the duced enable us to correct a mistake Son, and as such was free, He, the shared by Ciampinus and Mr. Hemans. Word of God the Father, who was They speak of the Virgin Mary as subsisting in the form of Him who standing. This is not so. She is seated, begat Him, and was equal unto Him, but on a chair of some kind, as far as He took up His dwelling in a man one can judge ; and in a subordinate born of a woman (κατώκησεν εν αν position, while the Holy Child is seated Opánu yevvnévti dià yuvaikos).” In on a spacious throne. The detailed deother words, the Nestorians maintained, scription by Ciampinus, and the drawing according to the words which S. Cyril which we now publish for the first time, either puts into their mouth, or ac will enable antiquaries to arrive at a tually quotes, that He who was born true conclusion concerning the whole. of Mary was not Himself God, but that More particularly we would call attenGod the Son took up His dwelling in the tion to the fact mentioned by Ciamman that of Mary had been born. In pinus, that there was originally yet direct contradiction to this heretical another figure on the extreme left of statement, the title Theotokos served to the picture (probably the third of the assert, that He to whom Mary gave Magi), which had all but disappeared, birth was God, not a mere man in whom even in his time, in consequence of the Godhead might afterwards abide. alterations in the building.