from all eternity there had always existed One whose secret and unutterable Name was yhvh—the Tetragrammaton of four Hebrew letters—meaning i am.1 There was never any time when i am was not; he was not created by anyone, and before anything else had been created by him he existed alone through endless ages of ages, for which reason he was also known by the name Ancient of Days. In appearance he was pure light—not, however, the created light of the sun, moon, and stars—but Shekinah, the Light of Glory. Because man was subsequently created in the image of i am, the appearance of his Glory was always considered as having the human form.
X His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow; / and his eyes were as a flame of fire; 2 and his feet like unto fine brass, as if X they burned in a furnace;
and his voice as the sound of many waters.
And he had in his right hand seven stars; and out of his mouth went a sharp two/edged sword; and his countenance was as the sun when it shines in its strength.2
comprehend because it is what we are. Hence God is I am, or Ens—pure Being. Such a transposition of terms is, however, still mythological, for the notions of underlying and within are just as much borrowed from sensual, timcand'Space imagery as beginning and above. Thus the philosopher should remember that all so-called metaphysical concepts (a contradiction in terms!) are strictly mythological.
1 Exodus 3: 14. The Hebrew yhvh, perhaps pronounced Yahveh, was for centuries translated 1 AM, though modern scholars suggest that "I Will Be" is more accurate. But since we are dealing with Catholic and not early Hebrew mythology, we retain the sense in which the Christian mind has always understood it.
2 Revelation 1:14-16. All quotations from the Bible are based primarily upon the Authorized ("King James**) Version because of die beauty of its language. However, at points where the translation is seriously inaccurate or where the language is so archaic as to mislead the modern reader, I have made minor alterations.
This One, then, Adonai, the Lord, El'Elyon, the Most High God, Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, had lived for always and always before the time when the worlds were first created. Before there were even any heavens or lights of the day and night, before all spirits and angels, the incalculable centuries and aeons of his life go back for ever and ever, shortened no whit by the fact that a thousand years in our time are but a day in his.1
One might imagine that a life stretching through so unthink/ able an abyss of time would have been intolerably dull and lonely. Yet dull it was not—by any means—for the whole infinity of space was, as it still is for those who have eyes to see, filled with his radiance—in comparison with which the fire in diamonds and opals, the clarity of the sapphire sky, the splen/ dour of sunset, and the light of all stars is just a dim and tawdry glitter. Nor was it lonely. For in some deeply mysterious manner, this One and Only 1 am was three Persons, whom we shall discern if we look more intently into his image, and understand the symbolism of the two/edged sword which comes out of his mouth, and the seven stars which he holds in his hand.
The sword which comes out of his mouth is his Word, for "the Word of God is a sharp two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit".2 The seven stars in his hand are his sevenfold Spirit. In God, however, the Word and the Spirit are not mere effluences. They are Persons; and they are as much
1 The very simile of a thousand years being a day in the sight of God is suggestive of the idea—not that time passes faster for God than for man—but that from the divine standpoint all the aeons of time are one "timeless Moment**. It is a universal feature of the philosophia perennis that what we experience as the succession of time is an abstraction rather than a reality, and that the real state of the universe is eternal or timeless—a "moment" without past or future. Hebrew literature is very vague as to numbers, and uses the expression "a thousand" to mean any enormous number, or simply the principle of numerosity. Thus "a thousand days" may be taken as "all days", so that to God—i.e. in reality—all days are one day.
persons and as much God himself as the white-haired Ancient of Days whom we must learn to recognize as but one of three Persons, namely, the Father. The other two are the Word, or the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
These three Persons were, then, the one God, and all three had existed together from all eternity, no one coming into being before or after the others. For always and always the Son was being generated or begotten by the Father, and for always and always the Holy Spirit was proceeding from the Father and the Son. Thus from time without beginning, i am was "the Holy, Blessed (i.e. Happy), and Glorious Trinity, three Persons and one God". For this reason, God was not lonely since he combined within himself not one Person f>ut three, and so constituted a community rather than an individual.
In these most remote beginnings it is difficult for us to make out the proper image of the Trinity, since we are speaking of a time when God the Son had not yet become Jesus the Christ, and when the Holy Spirit had not yet descended in the form of the fiery dove. It is most important to remember that the "only/begotten Son of God" was not originally Jesus the Son of Mary, and that before his Incarnation the Son was simply the Word (Logos) and the Wisdom (Sophia) of God—that is, the creative Power by which the world was to be made. To God the Son as the Divine Wisdom, the Church has applied tjhe famous passage Dominus possedit me from the Book of Proverbs:
The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, ere ever the earth was.
When there were no depths, I was brought forth;
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth____
When he prepared the heavens, I was there; when he set a compass upon the face of the deep; when he established the clouds above;
when he strengthened the fountains of the deep____
Then I was by him, as one brought up with him; and I was daily his delight, playing always before him.1
Throughout all those endless ages before the world began, the Son was the object of the Father's love and delight, and the Holy Spirit was the Love that passed between them—so that the Divine Life was an eternal cycle or play of love. Deus est caritas, God is love—but love implies relationship, and this relationship is constituted by the Father as the Lover, the Son as the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit as the very Love.2
To form some image of the pre/mundane Trinity we must look through the eyes of those icon/painters of the Eastern Orthodox Church who have represented it in the form of three "angels" or winged Beings, and who show God the Son, not as Jesus, but as Sophia—a Being enthroned, crowned and winged, holding a sceptre, and seated in the midst of an aureole of three concentric circles blazing with stars.3 Or perhaps we may think of it, with Dante, as the radiance of an
1 Proverbs 8: 22-31.
2 One of the arcana, or rather obscure mysteries, of Christian mythology is the fact that the Son as Wisdom, Sophia, is feminine and that the Church also applies the above passage from Proverbs to the Virgin Mary, since it is used as the Epistle on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The great cathedral of Constantinople, Hagia Sophia, is of course dedicated to God the Son under this aspect. We shall have more to say of this hidden feminine side of the Godhead when we come to consider the cult of the Virgin Mother.
3 The Trinity represented by three "angels" is based on the story in Genesis 18 of the appearance of God to Abraham in the form of "three men". A famous icon of this type was painted by Rublev (c. 1410) and is now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. A splendid fifteenth'century icon of Holy Wisdom, as described above, is in the Carnegie Institute at Pittsburgh, the work of the Novgorod School. See Russian Icons: The Collection of George R. Hahn (Pittsburgh, 1944)» Item 28, and plate.
eye wherein there somehow circulate three irises or rainbow rings, the whole "painted with the effigy of man"—pinta della nostra effige*1
Even before the creation of the spiritual and material universes, which revealed the extraordinary power and wisdom of the Triune God, his own inner life was so complete that absolutely nothing was lacking to him. He was neither lonely, nor bored. Because he had never at any time been created, he could never cease to be, for he was Being itself—i am. Thus it was never necessary for him to labour in order to live. He neither suffered, ailed, nor died. He was under no constraint whatsoever to do anything or create anything, because there never had been nor could be any action more perfect nor any object more wonderful than his own existence—which was, furthermore, possessed of the most remarkable properties.
For God did not fill the immeasurable immensity of space by mere largeness. He was neither large nor small, but so filled space that all of him was in every place—except that it was only after the world had been made that anyone realized there were places. This did not mean that God multiplied himself in such a way that one of him was everywhere. There was still just one God, but somehow that entire one was—all of him— simultaneously at every point in space. Rather the same thing was true of the way in which he lived in time, for he had a way of knowing past and future happenings which required neither memory nor foresight. This was the ability to see the past and the future as if they were happening in the present, so that as well as being able to be in all places at once, God was able to know all times at once.
Because of this marvelous relation to space and time, he was all'knowing in the most comprehensive way imaginable. Even before he began to create the world, he was totally and clearly aware of every single, minute hair on the wings of every moth that would ever exist. He was as conscious of every leaf
momentarily fluttering in the wind as if he were conscious of nothing else—his mind completely concentrated on every last detail of all things and all events, and on all of them at once— and this without the slightest effort. Thus he was able, with perfect ease, to have in mind not only the details of things but also the combinations of details, the constellations of events, their larger relationships and inner meanings, and so understood the unbelievable network of cause/and^effect which connects, for example, the cracking of a seed'pod with the explosion of a star a million years later.
An even stranger characteristic of his acknowledge was that although he knew everything that would ever happen, this was not at all the same thing as determining everything that would happen. He knew beyond every shadow of doubt all the future deeds of angels and men, but this did not mean that he himself had foreordained those deeds. They were to be done quite freely and responsibly by the individuals concerned, and yet he knew exactly what they would do.1
Marvelous as were these properties of power and knowledge, the Triune God possessed three other attributes at which the Christian tradition has wondered still more—probably because they are still more difficult to explain. They are known
1 From a strictly metaphysical standpoint, God does not foreordain anything, since for him there is no future. Thus one must be careful of how the myth is interpreted at this point. Catholic theology, as distinct from mythology, insists that freewill is the property of the created individual, and is exercised inde pendently of the will of God. It should be apparent, however, that the concept of individual free/will is meaningless, since unmotivated, uncaused, spontaneous action would be something possible only for the First Cause. If, then, the gift of freewill to creatures means anything, it means—as every metaphysical doctrine insists—that God gives himself to creatures, so that freewill is not the property of any creature in so far as he is an individual, but only in so far as the actual reality of his being, his true Self, is God and acts as God. To the extent, then, that creatures act freely they are performing what are essentially the actions of God. God himself is therefore the true actor, playing the many parts of the world/drama. But the drama is "play", not "reality", and "art" or "seeming" rather than "truth", as is indicated in the passage quoted above from Proverbs 8, where the Divine Wisdom is described as "playing".
respectively as holiness, love, and justice. The first is quite the hardest to understand because it is connected in the human mind with the fear of the unknown. For we are afraid when confronted with something which altogether surpasses our experience and comprehension, so that we have not the slightest idea how to deal with it. This fear is not necessarily negative—not just panic or terror; it is rather the feeling of awe, of strangeness, of "the creeps" which come over us in the presence of supernatural events and visitations. It is said, then, that the holiness of God inspires this kind of awesome fear in the saints and angels, giving them a shudder which is at the same time a thrill beyond the most ravishing of sensual pleasures. This is, perhaps, the only way of describing holiness, since it is of the essence of this quality that we do not know what it is, but only what it makes us feel.
Love, as we have seen, was always the predominant relationship between the three Persons of the Trinity, and, when the world had been created, it remained the basic attitude of God to each one of his creatures. Love is said to be the unreserved pouring out, or giving away, of oneself for the good of another. It is that of which shekinah, the divine radiance, is primarily the symbol—for as the sun gives its light without reservation, and without asking anything in return, so God "maketh his sun to shine upon the evil and upon the good, and sendeth his rain upon the just and upon the unjust". It was by love, then, that God created the worlds, for when he gave to other things the power of life and existence, he gave them himself. It is for this reason that Dante speaks of God as "the love which moves the sun and other stars". But this love is on no account to be confused with anything sentimental or doting, because it is inseparable from the awe-inspiring quality of holiness, so that "it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God"—in other words, just to be alive. Thus the love of God inspires a fear, which, if one does not flee from it, becomes a rapture enabling the mind to perceive it as light and splendour. But if this fear becomes panic, if one runs from it, the same radiance becomes the fire which is never quenched and the worm that dieth not, so that the damned who writhe in Hell are burned by the same fire which delights the angels in Heaven.
And then, from beginningless time, God was also justice. At root, justice is the quality of order, though of an order dictated by love. Despite the infinite ages of his existence and the inscrutable complexity of his works, God was never fickle or capricious, for "with him there is neither variableness nor shadow of turning". He would never contradict himself; he might always be relied upon to be completely consistent, so that a single, comprehensive, and perfectly logical law characterized all his works. It was by this law of justice that he was subsequently to govern all events whatsoever, so that, for always and always, every effect should have a sufficient cause, and facts—however complicated—should never be self' contradictory. By no amount of power or ingenuity could the justice of God ever be set aside; one might intend, and even try, to break his law—just as one may try endlessly and fruits lessly to jump out of one's own skin or to draw a square circle.
Such, then, was the "image and likeness" of the Origin from which, in time, all created things were to spring. The tradition insists that there was, however, no necessity for God to create anything apart from himself because the inner life of the Trinity comprised all perfection, lacking nothing. But the superabundance of the divine love was so overflowing that the time came when, quite gratuitously and in total freedom from any constraint, the Holy Trinity created, out of nothing, a vast world of spirits. These were not, as it might seem, a multitude of sparks shaken loose from the central fire; they were not in any sense fragments of God. From beginningless time they were not. And then, by the sudden command of the Word, they appeared—circle upon circle, sphere upon sphere of lesser lights about the Light—points of substantialized nothingness, reflecting in a million ways the central radiance of the Trinity as if they had been great clouds of crystal fragments swirling about the sun.
From the moment of their appearance these spirits—the angels—were startled out of everlasting sleep into the lightnings shock of a direct, unshielded vision of the Glory. To be able to bear the exquisite pleasure^pain of this awakening, they at once protected their eyes with their golden and flaming wings— wings upon which they soared and danced and circled through and all about the Light which gave them birth. At the same instant, all the nine choirs or spheres into which they were divided, burst into the exultant hymn which they have never ceased singing to this day.
"Thou art surrounded by thousands of Archangels and tens of thousands of Angels, by the Cherubim and Seraphim that are six^winged, full of eyes, and soar aloft on their wings, singing, crying, shouting, and saying—
"Agios! Agios! Agios! Kyrie Sahaoth!
Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Hosts!
Heaven and earth are full of Thy Glory!
Hosanna in the Highest!"1
Now a real angel is not to be confused with the simpering creatures which a decadent Christian art now shows in Church windows and upon Christmas cards. Angels are not blonde girls with silver wings, floating around in white nighties—for "he maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire". The angels are, on the contrary, spirited and fiery, and belong to an order of creatures where there is neither male nor female.2 They are not, as some have wrongly supposed, the kind of spirits which men become when they die; they are a special and separate order of creatures, immortal
1 Dime Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. Preface and Trisagion.
2 According to Dom Albert Hammenstede, O.S.B., the noted Benedictine liturgist of Maria Laach, angels are not to be associated with harps and silver trumpets—the proper musical instrument for an angel being the trombone!
from the moment of their creation, and having the double function of enjoying and praising the glory of God, on the one hand, and of ministering between God and the material universe, on the other.
When the angels were created they were divided into nine orders, or choirs, the names of which—in descending rank— are as follows:
The Cherubim and Seraphim are respectively the spirits of divine knowledge and love. The Cherubim are represented as heads only, having two wings—a symbolism appropriate to beings preoccupied with the knowledge of God. The Seraphim, the fiery spirits of love, are six/winged—two wings covering their faces, two covering their feet, and two for flight—and each carries a hexapteryx or fan in the right hand. The Thrones, who actually constitute the Throne upon which the All'Highest takes his seat, are shown as winged wheels.
The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto the colour of a beryl: and the four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel in the middle of a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides: and they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were so high that they were dreadful; and their rings were full of eyes round about those four.1 1 Ezekiel 1: 16-18.
All the members of this first group of three, the highest order of angels, are said to be "full of eyes, before and behind", and sometimes the heads of the Cherubim are described as having four forms—one like a bull, one like a lion, one like an eagle, and one like a man. These are, of course, the four "fixed/signs" of the Zodiac—Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, and Aquarius—which later became the symbols of the Four Evangelists.1
Tradition has little to say about the next group of three, the Dominions, Authorities, and Powers—perhaps because their function, being mixed, is not so clear, for they stand mid' way between those angels concerned with the contemplation of God and those concerned with ministration to the material world. They are to be represented as clothed in green tunicles or dalmatics, the ecclesiastical vestments proper tovDeacons when serving at the altar, beneath which they wear the white alb or chlamys flowing down to the feet, and gathered at the waist with a gold cincture. In their right hands they hold golden staves, and in the left seals inscribed with the X cross —the Signaculum Dei or "Seal of God".
The third and lowest group consists of the Principalities, Archangels, and Angels, represented chiefly as warriors equipped with such instruments as spears, axes, and swords, as well as instruments of skill and art such as measuring/rods, harps, trumpets, and pipes. As we have said, these angels have the special duties of ministering between God and the material universe. They are the protectors and guardians of the laws of nature, of planets, nations, societies, institutions, and individual men—personifications of the omnipresent power of God, directing and ordering every detail of the world.
1 Scorpio is interchangeable, in astrological symbolism, with the Eagle or Phoenix, because of the myth which associates both with death and resurrecrion through fire. The Cherubim are the spiritual prototypes of the Gospel writers, Evangelists, because it is through them that men receive the knowledge of Christ, as the Cherubim are concerned with the knowledge of God. In Greek, the word "angel" has the meaning of "messenger", and thus the Gospel is the good (d5) angel or message (àyyeXoç).
i. the creator measuring the world (From a French "Bible moralisee". Probably Rheims, thirteenth century,) God is represented in the form of the Christ, who, as the Second Person of the Trinity, is the Logos "by whom all things were made". He is shown in the act of "setting his compass upon the face of the deep", since it is by division and measurement (maya) that distinct "things'4 are recognized in the continuum of life.
2. THE CREATION OF THE WORLD This remarkable Christian mattdala is a thirteentlvcentury mosaic upon the vault of the atrium in St. Mark's, Venice. Reading anticlockwise, the subjects are as follows: Inmost ring, (i) The Spirit upon the face of the Waters, (2) the Separation of Day and Night, (3) the Creation of the Firmament, (4) the Division of the Waters, (5) the Trees of Life and Knowledge. Middle ring, (1) Creation of the luminaries, (2) of fish and birds, (3) of plants and herbs, (4) of Adam from the dust, (5) the Sabbath, (6) the Spirit breathed into Adam, (7) Adam brought into Eden where the Four Rivers, represented as men, flow from the Two Trees. Outer ring, (1) Adam's Dominion over Nature, (2) the Creation of Eve, (3) the Naming of Woman, (4) Adam and Eve in the Garden, (5) the Temptation and Eating of the Fruit, (6) they hide their nakedness with leaves, (7) they hide from God, (8) who discovers them, (9) rebukes them, (10) gives them clothes, and (11) exoells them from Eden.
The Principalities are rather remote, in the sense that they govern such vast spheres as natural laws and great areas of the universe. The Christian tradition names only four of the Archangels—Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel—and the general function of the Archangels may be surmised from the respective duties of these four. Michael is the messenger of divine judgement, and Gabriel of divine mercy. In the Last Days at the end of the world, Michael is destined to vanquish the Devil and to drive him down to the bottomless pit of fire. And at the final judgement of the living and the dead, it is Michael who holds the terrible scales in which the souls are to be weighed. Gabriel is the messenger of good news, and was thus the Archangel of the Annunciation, who came to the Virgin Mary with the news that she was to be the mother of Christ. Raphael is the angel of healing, the dispenser of divine mercy to the sick, while Uriel, the Fire of God, is the minister of prophecy and of the interpretation of God's will to the minds of men.1
The Angels—the generic name for the whole company of spirits being used in particular for the lowest choir—are specially charged with the protection of individual men, each human being having, at birth, a guardian angel assigned to him as minister of divine guidance and guard against the powers of darkness. As the guardian angel is the bearer of divine love and wisdom to each man, so in turn he is the bearer of the individual's prayers to God.
The angels of every order are winged to designate their spiritual nature, as well as the instantaneous manner in which they discharge all their activities. For an angel is where it thinks, and thus any number of angels can stand on the point of a pin because any number of angels can think of the point
1 Jewish tradition preserves the names of three other Archangels, making seven altogether. These are Chamuel, the Seer of God, Jophiel, the Beauty of God, and Zadkiel, the Justice of God. The names of all seven are Hebrew in form, the final /el being the general Hebrew word for a god, a divine being, or of something belonging to God.
Was this article helpful?