Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Now for... the Seraphim!

Any artistic endeavour is an interaction of many elements, among them a given space. In Liturgical Art this is particularly so, as often the art must fit to the building, the sacred space set apart as marking the spot where heaven and earth meet.

In Naour, as you can see from the previous post, the apse ceiling is a very peculiar shape, not a proper half dome but a rather flattened 'eye' shape. This isn't particularly inspiring, but we must work with what we have.

Having decided upon Christ in a round mandorla, in this context it leaves the two spaces at the corners to attend to. Given the shapes and that this is a sanctuary, where we enter into the adoration of the the angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven, my mind set upon the Seraphim who often appear in this context, not least on the 'fans' present during Orthodox worship.

Giotto di Bondone (1267-1337), Basilique Assise, Legend of St Francis, Stigmatization of St Francis. Interestingly, here Christ appears in His Passion, the ultimate manifestation of Love in the cosmos, enveloped by the Seraphim.

However, I thought I ought to look a little closer at the theological description of these spiritual beings...and didn't realise just how appropriate they are for this icon of the Sacred Heart. Here I quote from Wikipedia:

"In medieval Christian theology, the Seraphim belong to the highest choir of the Christian angelic hierarchy. They are the caretakers of God's throne, continuously singing "holy, holy, holy". Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite in his Celestial Hierarchy (vii), helped fix the fiery nature of seraphim in the medieval imagination. It is here that the Seraphim are described as being concerned with keeping Divinity in perfect order, and not limited to chanting thetrisagion. Taking his cue from writings in the Rabbinic tradition, the author gave an etymology for the Seraphim as "those who kindle or make hot":
"The name seraphim clearly indicates their ceaseless and eternal revolution about Divine Principles, their heat and keenness, the exuberance of their intense, perpetual, tireless activity, and their elevative and energetic assimilation of those below, kindling them and firing them to their own heat, and wholly purifying them by a burning and all-consuming flame; and by the unhidden, unquenchable, changeless, radiant and enlightening power, dispelling and destroying the shadows of darkness"[6]
Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae offers a description of the nature of the Seraphim:
"The name 'Seraphim' does not come from charity only, but from the excess of charity, expressed by the word ardor or fire. Hence Dionysius (Coel. Hier. vii) expounds the name 'Seraphim' according to the properties of fire, containing an excess of heat. Now in fire we may consider three things.
"First, the movement which is upwards and continuous. This signifies that they are borne inflexibly towards God.
"Secondly, the active force which is 'heat,' which is not found in fire simply, but exists with a certain sharpness, as being of most penetrating action, and reaching even to the smallest things, and as it were, with superabundant fervor; whereby is signified the action of these angels, exercised powerfully upon those who are subject to them, rousing them to a like fervor, and cleansing them wholly by their heat.
"Thirdly we consider in fire the quality of clarity, or brightness; which signifies that these angels have in themselves an inextinguishable light, and that they also perfectly enlighten others."

I was quite balled over to be honest at just how intimate these beings are to the Sacred Heart. From this theological understanding we can legitimately go on to describe the Seraphim as  attendants to the Divine Furnace of the Sacred Heart, fanning its flames into an intense heat and dispersing it to the very furthest limits of the cosmos.  Just as the nature of angels is to proclaim, so the nature of the Seraphim are to disperse the Divine Fire or Light. I could write a whole treatise on this...but enough I think here to indicate that the exploration this icon is demanding is opening up more and more depths to this Mystery.

No comments:

Post a Comment