Tuesday, 31 July 2007

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin and other stories.

A friend sent me this query today, names have been deleted to protect the innocent!
Dear Andrew, Here is an obscure but pressing subject for one PCC and one artist: is it legitimate to depict the haloes of angels with a cross in them? ****** **** has designed and made some glass panels with etched engravings for a ******** church. But now several members of the PCc are upset because apparently only Our Lord may be depicted with a cross in his halo. I see from Ferguson's "Signs and Symbols' that the cruciform nimbus , because it refers to redemption through the Cross may only be used for Christ. But are there variations, or evidence of departure from this?Apparently all ****** has done is put a sort of Greek cross on these haloes. Any ideas? Yours, *****
I came up with this answer....
Dear *****,
The answer, as you probably realise, is no, they should not be depicted with a cross set into the Halo. This is only to be used for images of the risen and ascended Lord.
But why? It harks back to the 10 commandments, in particular..“Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them” (Deuteronomy 5:8-9, )
We also, for the purposes of this exercise, have to subscribe to the belief that we are part of one holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, and we 'hold no doctrine of our own, save that of the one holy Catholic and apostolic Church' (Abp. Geoffrey Fisher) as the Anglican Communion makes no pronouncement on this save that we should follow the example of the older Churches, i.e. the Orthodox and Roman branches of the Faith.
According to the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” the purpose of venerating “sacred images” is to venerate the people represented by them (Jesus, Mary, saints, and angels), not the image itself.
So having “sacred images” in Catholic churches, to be venerated by the people, is not just a holdover from popular piety of the past. It is required by modern Canon Law and promoted by the modern “Catechism of the Catholic Church”, but only for the purposes of intercession.
However, images which are not of the risen and ascended Jesus, and this includes a corpus on a crucifix, are representations which we vererate simply and only because they show how God's saving Grace can be wrought through humanity. Even Mary, who we venerate as the Gate of Heaven because she was the channel through which came life to the world is only that, a channel of Grace. Even Jesus as man, the third person of the Trinity was ALL grace in that way. He was truly God and truly Man. So in venerating, or in making available images which could be used for public veneration (and if they were blessed in a dedication service, then they are precisely that) we have to be careful who is depicted doing what.
Angels and saints share one common characteristic and that is that they are in Heaven, therefore likely to have access to Almighty God in a way which we do not. As the Saints undoubtedly prayed on earth, therefore we believe that that most important practice in their lives has not been forgotton or abandoned as they pass to the fulness of life, into the presence of one to whom communication is possible through prayer. We are and never will be worthy to sit down for tea with the Trinity. Therefore it is right to pray to, and venerate the saints and angels, as intermediaries in the place of our past, future and true nature, which is Heaven (or purgatory or, indeed, Hell). We muct never genuflect or kneel in front of anything which has no Salvific Grace by it's nature, and that is only the Risen and Ascended Lord. The mark of grace, which we make every time we go to mass or are blessed, is the cross. And the cross was borne by only one Man, for us all and forever. Therefore it is wrong, misleading and theologically unsound to attribute the one mark of salvation to anyone else.
Even to the point that some Catholics venerate statues of Jesus as a baby. But Jesus is not a baby. He grew up nearly 2,000 years ago. It may be alright to have fond thoughts of Jesus as a baby. However, it is not appropriate to worship Him as a baby, or to pray to “baby Jesus.” The baby Jesus did not save us from our sins. Jesus was a grown man when He died for our sins and when He was resurrected from the dead. It is not a baby who is sitting at the right hand of God the Father, interceding for us. On Judgment Day, people will not be judged by a baby. And it is, therefore , a mistake, a common mistake admittedly, to venerate or create an image of the baby Jesus with a cruciform upon His halo. This is reserved for the risen and ascended Christ only, who reassumed His immortal and Trinitarian nature in it's fulness only after fulfilling what His Father had planned for Him --- that is, redeeming the world. Angels and saints or even Our Lady did not redeem the world, therefore, they do not bear the mark of the redeemer.
Hope that helps,
Does anyone have any comments, corrections or ideas? I know I should have better things to occupy my mind, but I found it a rather interesting question.