August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption. Around this feast cluster so many associations that a wide variety of images can prompt meditation. From the Orthodox Church comes another name for the Assumption: the Dormition of Mary.
The word dormition means sleep; icons portray Mary as falling asleep in the Lord. With roles reversed, Christ holds her wrapped in a burial sheet as if she were a newborn child. Christians remember how she held him, wrapped in swaddling clothes, newly born into this life. “Your grave and death,” they sing on August 15, “could not keep the Mother of Life.”
In St Luke’s Gospel on this Solemnity of the Assumption, the Evangelist records the words of Our Lady as she prays: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”. Before reciting the Angelus, Pope Francis reflected on the two verbs in that prayer: to rejoice and to magnify.
“We rejoice when something so beautiful happens that it is not enough to rejoice inside, in the soul, but we want to express happiness with the whole body”, said the Pope. “Mary rejoices because of God… she teaches us to rejoice in God, because He does “great things”.
“To magnify means to exalt a reality for its greatness, for its beauty”, continued Pope Francis. “Mary proclaims the greatness of the Lord… she shows us that if we want our life to be happy, God must be placed first, because He alone is great”. The Pope warned of getting lost in the pettiness of life, chasing after things of little importance: “prejudices, grudges, rivalries, envy, and superfluous material goods”. Mary, on the other hand, invites us to “look upward at the ‘great things’ the Lord has accomplished in her”.
The Gate to Heaven
“Mary, who is a human creature, one of us, reaches eternity in body and soul”, said Pope Francis. This is why we invoke her as the “Gate of Heaven”. “There she awaits us, just as a mother waits for her children to come home”. We are like pilgrims on our way home to Heaven. Seeing that “in paradise, together with Christ, the New Adam, there is also her, Mary, the new Eve, gives us comfort and hope in our pilgrimage down here”.
Heaven is open
For those who are afflicted with doubts and sadness, “and live with their eyes turned downwards”, the Feast of the Assumption is a call to “look upwards” and see that “Heaven is open”. It is no longer distant, and we need no longer be afraid: “because on the threshold of Heaven there is a Mother waiting for us”. Mary constantly reminds us that we are precious in the eyes of God, and that we are made for the great joys of Heaven. “Every time we take the Rosary in our hands and pray to her”, he said, “we take a step forward towards our life’s great goal”.
The greatness of Heaven
“Let us be attracted by true beauty”, “let us not be drawn in by the petty things in life, but let us choose the greatness of Heaven”. Pope Francis concluded by praying that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Gate of Heaven, may help us daily to fix our gaze with confidence and joy “on the place where our true home lies”.
The Assumption signals the end of Mary’s earthly life and marks her return to heaven to be reunited with Jesus. While the bodies of both Jesus and Mary are now in heaven, there is a difference between the Assumption and the Resurrection.
Where Jesus arose from the tomb and ascended into heaven by his own power, Mary’s body was taken up to heaven by the power of her Son.
For this reason we use different words to describe each event. One is the Ascension of Christ and the other, the Assumption of Mary.
The Assumption of Mary Feast Day dates back to earliest Christian times.The first believed to have asked what had happened to Mary’s body was St Epiphanius, a 4th Century bishop who devoted himself to the study of Mary’s death and believed Our Lady did not die but instead was recalled to heaven.
The feast day of this holy and momentous event stems from the middle of the 5th Century when the Commemoration of the Mother of Jesus was celebrated each year on 15 August in a shrine located near Jerusalem.
More than 100 years later, the feast also commemorated the end of Mary’s sojourn on earth and was known as the “Dormition of Our Lady.”
“Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory,” Pope Pius told the masses.
For many, the most telling verification of the Assumption can be found not only in learned theological studies or definitive doctrinal statements, but in the medium of Mary’s many apparitions which the Church has declared worthy of belief. Where these apparitions have appeared have become beloved Holy shrines visited by millions each year.
- The Dormition of Mary
The Dormition of the Mother of God is a Great Feast of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches which commemorates the “falling asleep” or death of Mary the Theotokos (“Mother of God”, literally translated as God-bearer), and her bodily resurrection before being taken up into heaven. It is celebrated on 15 August (28 August N.S. for those following the Julian Calendar) as the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God. The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the Dormition not on a fixed date, but on the Sunday nearest 15 August.
The death or Dormition of Mary is not recorded in the Christian canonical scriptures.
The term Dormition expresses the belief that the Virgin died without suffering, in a state of spiritual peace. This belief does not rest on any scriptural basis, but is affirmed by Orthodox Christian Holy Tradition. It is testified to in some old Apocryphal writings, but neither the Orthodox Church nor other Christians regard these as possessing scriptural authority. And It was knew by Bruegel though the Golden Legends as we have seen ealier.
- Difference of denomination Assumption, Dormition and Death of Mary
In Orthodoxy and Catholicism, in the language of the scripture, death is often called a “sleeping” or “falling asleep” (Greek κοίμησις; whence κοιμητήριον > coemetērium > cemetery, “a place of sleeping”). A prominent example of this is the name of this feast on 15th of August: Dormition; another is the Dormition of Anna, Mary’s mother.
- Theological symbolism
The “Dormition of the Mother of God” is one of the most revered icons in Russia. It is this icon that was first miraculously delivered from Constantinople to Kiev where it consecrated with its divine presence not only the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, but all of Holy Rus, the new (and final) bastion of Orthodoxy.
In the traditional depiction of this icon, we see on the lower level the Virgin falling into slumber on her deathbed surrounded by saints, and on the middle level we see the figure of Jesus Christ standing, holding the soul of the Virgin Mary in the form of an infant in his hands.
In considering the symbolism of this depiction, it is necessary to immediately point to the reverse analogy between the central figure of the Dormition of the Mother of God and the classical “Mother of God” icon. If in the traditional depiction of the Mother of God (for example, the “Vladimir Mother of God”, “Kazan Mother of God,” etc.) we see the ‘adult’ Mother of God holding Jesus, then in the Dormition of the Mother of God we see the inverse: the ‘adult’ Jesus Christ and the ‘infant’ Virgin Mary.
Explaining this contrast will help us discover the universal, ontological character of the Christian tradition which, like any fully-fledged tradition, in addition to a historical aspect bears a deeply metaphysical, supra-historical charge directly tied to the spiritual understand of reality at large.
Thus, the very fact of the Incarnation of the God-Word in the material, human universe necessarily implies a certain “diminishment” of the fullness of the second hypostasis of the Holy Trinity, not an essential “depreciation” (the Trinity always remains self-resembling), but an external, apparent, visible depreciation.
Christ is described in the Gospel as “suffering.” In the First Coming, the true nature of the Son remains veiled, hidden, and can only be guessed by chosen disciples. But for subsequent generations of Christians, defining this divine nature becomes the basis of Faith – Faith, not Knowledge, since Knowledge is associated with the ontological obviousness of a certain sacred fact, and the obviousness of the Son’s divinity manifests itself only at the moment of the Second Coming, the Coming of the Sacred in Power, in Glory, i.e., in his original ‘non-diminished’ quality.
Therefore, the classical image of the Mother of God with the infant has a symbolic meaning that is central to prayer and Church practice.
In this icon, as in the sacred map of reality, a ‘diminished’ spiritual center is shown surrounded by the human or, more broadly, material cosmic nature which externally ‘surpasses’ this center, is ‘predominant’ compared to it, and is ‘bigger’ than it is.
The Mother of God with the infant describes the ontological status of the world between the First and Second Coming where the Son is already revealed to the world, but in a ‘diminished’ quality thereby demanding Faith, personal effort, and spiritual devotion on the part of believers for ‘dynamic,’ willed transformation of Faith into Confidence.
The Dormition of the Mother of God icon presents us with the inverse proportion. Rising above the concrete historical fact of the Virgin Mary’s personal death, the Orthodox tradition here offers a prototype of an eschatological situation, valuably pointing to the meaning of the sacraments of the End Times.
The depiction of Christ holding the infant Virgin in his arms describes the true proportions of the spiritual world in which the Center, the Pole of Being, the God-Word is presented not as diminished, but in its full metaphysical extent.
In the heavenly world, the ‘diminished’ is the ‘material,’ the ‘earthly’ cosmic portion, while the Spirit itself appears in its entirety.
Here the Word is omnipresent and obvious and all-fulfilling.But the material world is not simply destroyed in heavenly reality. It is transformed, it is ‘drawn’ to the spiritual regions and rises to its heavenly and supra-material archetype.
Hence, in fact, the special term ‘dormition’ (a calque from Greek “koimesis,” or sleep, rest, lie; in Latin ‘assumptio”) in contrast to the usual word ‘death.’
Dormition means ‘solace’, i.e., the transition from the state of ‘unrest’ inherent to material, physical reality to a state of ‘peace,’ in which all things abide in the regions of Eternity.
Thus there is not ‘destruction,’ but ‘final disappearance’ understood by the word ‘death.’ It would be interesting in this regard to pay attention to the Russian etymology of the word ‘uspenie’ (dormition), which is akin to the Ancient Indian term ‘svapiti’ (literally ‘to sleep’). This Indian term literally means ‘to enter oneself’ or ‘dive into one’s inner self.’
As follows, our word ‘uspenie’ etymologically means ‘entering the inner world’, the ‘inner ‘world’ being a synonym for the ‘spiritual’ or ‘heavenly’ world.
In the troparion for the celebration of the Dormition of the Mother of God, it is said: “in falling asleep she did not forsake the world.”
In giving birth thou didst preserve thy virginity;
in thy dormition thou didst not forsake the world, O Theotokos.
Thou wast translated unto life,
since thou art the Mother of Life,
and by thine intercessions doest thou deliver our souls from death.
This refers not only to the compassionate participation of the Mother of God in worldly affairs after her departure, but also the fundamental ontological event of the ‘casting of the material world’ into the spiritual sphere as a result of a special, unique sacred event.
What metaphysical event is symbolized by the Dormition of the Mother of God?
This event is the End Times. It is at this moment, the moment of the Second Coming, that happens the final affirmation of true spiritual proportions in correlation to the material and the spiritual.
The ‘material’ (the Virgin Mary) turns out to be an infinitesimal point in the Infinity of spiritual Light, the Light of the God-Word, Christ.
Consequently, the Dormition icon reveals to the Christian the deep mystery of the End Times, which is not a global catastrophe, not the destruction or disappearance of the physical world as is seen most often by those who are only superficially familiar with Orthodox eschatology, but the essential and total restoration of the normal, natural, harmonious ways of being where the spiritual, heavenly Light completely incorporates the physical, material darkness.
Therefore, from a Christian perspective, the End Times is the single most important event of an entirely positive, salvational meaning. The End Times is not a catastrophe, but the end of catastrophe since, from a spiritual point of view, any ‘unrest’, ‘worrying’, or ‘movement’ is essentially catastrophic for the spirit and, in addition, signifies the triumph of inferior, Satanic forces.
The End Times, the End of the World, and Judgement Day act as something repulsive and negative only for the enemies of God, only for those who identify their fate with the dark course of restless, demonic fate.
For believers, on the contrary, this is salvation, a celebration, and transformation – the universal and final ‘dormition’ of matter together with the universal and final ‘awakening’ of the spirit.
Thus, we can now distinguish three levels in this spiritual teaching manifesting such abundant wisdom in the icon of the Dormition.
- Historically, this icon tells of the death of the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ and her subsequent mercy for the believers and suffering of this world.
- Ontologically, it embodies the affirmation of true spiritual proportions of material reality in the larger picture of being, where the spirit fills everything while physical reality is ‘diminished’ to an infinitely small point.
- Eschatologically, it points to the meaning of the End Times, i.e., the restoration of true existential proportions and the affirmation of the absolute triumph of the Heavenly, Divine element. The ‘diminishing’ of matter in the End Times does not mean its destruction, but its ‘induction’ into the fulness of light and peace.
- Universal symbolism
The symbolism of the Dormition icon (if we juxtapose it to the Mother of God icon) also has analogies outside of a Christian context. The clearest such similar spiritual concept of the structure of being is reflected in the Chinese symbol of Yin-Yang, in which the white dot against the black background signifies the diminishing of the spirit in matter, while the black dot against the white background is, conversely, matter in spirit.
However, the Chinese tradition is characterized by contemplation and and the absence of an eschatological orientation. Thus, the Chinese are inclined to consider this symbol as a sign of eternal harmony while Christians see ontological plans in an historical and eschatological perspective, hence Christianity’s distinctly ‘dynamic’ character supposing the personal, volitional engagement of man in the outcome of the fate of the spirit.
The Chinese believe that this volitional aspect is not so important insofar as the Tao ultimately arranges everything in the best way.
Undoubtedly, similar symbolism can be found in many other traditions in reference to the correlations between the material and spiritual worlds, but the Chinese example represents something so clear and comprehensive that all similar parables can be reduced to it.
- Bruegel: The Dormition of Virgin Mary
The Death of the Virgin, 1574
(On behalf of himself and his friends Abraham Ortelius took care of the production.); at bottom center below line of cartouche in lower margin:1574; in lower margin: Gnati certa tui Virgo cum regna petebas/ Complebant pectus gaudia quanta tuum?/ Quid tibi didce magis fuerat quam carcer[a]e terre/ Mi grare optati in templa superna poli?// Cumqkel sacram turbam,fieras cui prfidesidium tu, / Linquebas, nata est qu[a]e tibi maestitia/ Quam mk_lestus quoq[ue], quam lkietus .spectabat eunte[m] /Te, nati atq[ue] idem grex tuus ille pius?// Quid magis his gratutn, quam te regnare, quid faleque/ Triste fuit, facie quam caruisse tried/ M[a]estiti[a]e Ifidetos habitus, vultusqzie proborum/ Artci monstrat picta tabella manui”
( Virgin, when you sought the secure realms of your son, what great joys filled your breast! What would have been sweeter for you than to migrate from the prison of the earth to the lofty temples of the longed-for heavens! And when you left the sacred group [of followers of Christ] whose mentor you had been, what sadness sprang up in you. How sad as well as how joyful was that pious gathering of you and your son as they watched you go. What was a greater joy for them than for you to reign [in heaven], what greater sadness than to miss your appearances? This picture, created by a skillful hand, shows the happy bearing of sadness on the faces of the just.)
- In several respects The Death of the Virgin is an extremely unusual engraving after Pieter Bruegel. It was not made until five years after Bruegel’s death in 1569, and it reproduces a grisaille painting by the master that was not meant to be engraved.
Executed as a result of the efforts of two eminent men who were close friends of Bruegel, it inspired two illustrious contemporary scholars to pen appreciations—which are among the very few commentaries written on prints in the sixteenth century.
And finally The Death of the Virgin is simply one of the best prints engraved after a composition by Bruegel.
The renowned Antwerp humanist and geographer Abraham Ortelius owned Bruegel’s grisaille Death of the Virgin, painted about 1564:
As one of the inscriptions in the lower margin of the print tells us, he had the engraving made for himself and his friends; in 1574 he asked Philips Galle to copy the composition in copper so that he could give away printed reproductions of his admired possession.
It is generally assumed that the erudite Ortelius himself wrote the unsigned Latin verses in the margin, which dweil on the religious content of the image.
That the scholar did present friends with impressions of the print is known from the written testimony of two men. In July 1578 the Dutch moralist, playwright, and engraver Dirck Volckertsz Coornhert thanked Ortelius for sending it to him and offered elegant words of praise for all concerned: “from top to bottom I viewed [the sheet] with pleasure, and in admiration for the artful drawing and the meticulous engraving. Bruegel and Philips [Galle] have surpassed themselves. I do not think that either has ever done better. Thus their friend Abraham [Ortelius] with his favors [in acquiring the painting and ordering the print] encouraged both their arts. Never did I see, such is my opinion, a better drawing, nor an engraving of the same quality than this sorrowful chamber.
Some twelve years later the Spanish theologian and royal librarian Benito Arias Montano appealed to Ortelius for an impression as a token of friendship, recalling in a letter of March 1590 that he had seen the grisaille at his friend’s house and describing it as “painted in the most skillful manner and with the greatest piety“; the next year, in April 1591, he gratefully acknowledged receipt of the engraving.
The death of the Virgin is not recorded in the Bible. Only in the Middle Ages was the theme gradually incorporated into what were for the most part apocryphal accounts of the life of Mary.
The subject became increasingly popular, due especially to a detailed narrative in the Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine, a much-read compilation of writings from the second half of the thirteenth century on the lives of Christian saints and martyrs.
Although it never found as much favor as stories about other moments from the life of Mary, the theme of The Death of the Virgin was taken up by some of the greatest northern European artists of the fifteenth century. Paintings by Hugo van der Goes and Dieric Bouts and prints by Martin Schongauer and Albrecht Durer on the subject established a pictorial tradition that Bruegel embraced.
Indeed, for his own Death of the Virgin Bruegel borrowed specific compositional elements from engravings by Schongauer and Durer
Like most artists (here Rembrandt) of his time, Bruegel derived his conception of the death of the Virgin from the Golden Legend. read here: The Assumption of the Glorious Virgin our Lady S. Mary from Golden legend
While other artists based their representations of the subject quite directly on the account in that volume, however, he introduced highly unusual, innovative features into his scene.
According to tradition, he chose to show the sad event at night, which enabled him to dramatize the composition by means of emphatic chiaroscuro effects especially appropriate to the grisaille technique of his painting.
In Galle’s powerful translation of Bruegel’s image, the bedroom is dimly lit by a fireplace, a few candles, and the light radiating from Mary.
Bruegel filled the room—which literary sources tell us is in the house of the apostle John—with furniture and household utensils, creating an unusually domestic setting, replete with homey details such as the table in the foreground with the remains of a meal.
Whereas the Golden Legend speaks only of the apostles present, here many individuals pay their respects to the dying Virgin. Dressed as a priest, the apostle Peter, the first leader of the Christian community after the death of Christ, stands at Mary’s bed as if he were administering extreme unction; an acolyte holding a cross-staff appears behind Peter; and a friar kneels at the edge of the bed in the right foreground: like the numerous guests in the background, these are elements that are new to the story and suggest that the events shown could just as easily have taken place in Antwerp in the sixteenth century as in biblical times.
It seems probable that here Bruegel chose a familiar contemporary setting, as he did in other religious works, to bring his image close to his viewers so that they could identify with those attending Mary on her deathbed and thus elicit from them strong spiritual feelings.
As one scholar has recently pointed out, Bruegel’s reading of the event as taking place in his own time is close to that of roughly contemporary Jesuit texts on the meaning and interpretation of the Virgin’s death.
The only inexplicable detail in his composition is the sleeping man in the left foreground. He is generally considered to be John the Evangelist, although there is no evidence to confirm this identification, nor has anyone yet convincingly accounted for why he is so conspicuously sleeping at the verg moment of the Virgin’s death.
May Be we can find an answer in tis passage of the Golden Legend:
“And St. Cosmo, in following the narration, saith: And after this a great thunder knocked at the house with so great an odour of sweetness, that with the sweet spirit the house was replenished, in such wise that all they that were there save the apostles, and three virgins which held the lights, slept. Then our Lord came with a great multitude of angels and took the soul of his mother, and the soul of her shone by so great light that none of the apostles might behold it. And our Lord said to St. Peter: Bury the corpse of my mother with great reverence, and keep it there three days diligently, and I shall then come again, and transport her unto heaven without corruption, and shall clothe her of the semblable clearness of myself; that which I have taken of her, and that which she hath taken of me, shall be assembled together and accord.
That same St. Cosmo rehearseth a dreadful and marvellous mystery of dissension natural and of curious inquisition. For all things that be said of the glorious virgin, mother of God, be marvellous above nature and be more to doubt than to enquire. For when the soul was issued out of the body, the body said these words: Sire, I thank thee that I am worthy of thy grace; remember thee of me, for I ne am but a thing faint, and have kept that which thou deliveredst me.
And then the other awoke and saw the body of the virgin without soul, and then began strongly to weep and were heavy and sorrowful. And then the apostles took up the body of the Blessed Virgin and bare it to the monument, and St. Peter began the psalm In exitu Israel de Egypto.
It is usually assumed that Ortelius was the first owner of Bruegel’s grisaille of The Death of the Virgin and that he may have helped to conceive its innovative iconography. His involvement on this level is certainly plausible, for he belonged to a circle of learned friends in Antwerp that included Bruegel as well as Galle and Arias Montano.
It was in this circle of humanist scholars and a few artists, with the publisher Christophe Plantin and his press, Officina Plantiniana, at its heart, that Bruegel’s Death of the Virgin originated and was circulated by means of Galle’s engraving. Ortelius’s tribute to Bruegel, written in his Album Amicorum about 1573, is both brief and apt: “That Pieter Bruegel was the most perfect painter of his age, no one—unless jealous or envious or ignorant of his art— could ever deny.”
The names of Galle, Bruegel, Coornhert, Montano and Ortelius all come together in the story of the engraving of The Death of the Virgin.
The painting, a haunting work in grisaille that hangs today at Upton House near Banbury, had originally belonged to Ortelius. A large number of Bruegel’s drawings were done specifically for the popular market in engravings but his paintings were private commissions and were not produced as editions of prints. The print of The Death of the Virgin is an exception and, even so, there was never a popular edition. Some years after Bruegel’s death Ortelius engaged Galle to produce a very limited edition intended for members of the intimate circle that had constituted the Hiël group.
A letter (dated 1578) exists from Coornhert to Ortelius thanking him for his copy and in 1591 Arias Montano wrote having received his. (See Manfred Sellink in Nadine Orenstein, Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Drawings and Prints, New York: The Metropolitan Museum, 2001, pp. 258-261
Coornhert openly acknowledged a spiritual outlook formed under the influence of Franck and, like his mentor, devoted energy to translating great masterpieces of the perennial tradition including Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, Cicero’s On Duties, Erasmus’ Paraphrases of the New Testament and Homer’s The Odyssey.
At first, as a humanist, he was passionately committed to the cause of freedom of religious thought and opposed the rigidity and doctrinaire stance of Calvin. Later he came under the influence of Franck as well as other spiritual reformers such as Hans Denck and Sebastian Costellio and received from them formative influences which turned him powerfully to the cultivation of inward religion for his own soul and to the expression and interpretation of a universal Christianity‘. Coornhert makes a distinction between the forms of institutional religion, which he calls „outer or external religion’, which he allows as a preparatory stage and „inward religion’ which is the establishment of the kingdom of God in men’s hearts. “Only God has the right to be master over man’s soul and conscience; it is man’s right to have freedom of conscience”. With his intransigent defense of tolerance, even toward nonbelievers and atheists, the Dutch Catholic humanist and controversialist Coornhert made a substantial and permanent contribution to the early modern debate on religious freedom.
Rejection of the institutionalized reform movements on the basis of their new dogmatism and formalism … motivated the believers in a more “inward” spiritualized faith. Like the reformers, Spiritualists advocated free Bible research, but as a result of the notion of a direct personal relationship with God – and individual approach that we also find in Erasmus – they attach great importance to an unimpeded access to the Spirit of the individual.
At the same time they tend to minimize the importance of “externals”: ceremonies, sacraments, the church, often also the supreme authority of the Bible, for they consider the Spirit of prior significance; the Bible without the Spirit becomes a “paper pope” as Frank put it.
The same author points out that while Erasmus and humanism were a significant influence on men like Sebastian Franck, spiritual seekers were also influenced by late-medieval mystical traditions found in Eckhart and Tauler. Voogt acknowledges the importance for 16th century exponents of radical dissent of the anonymous Theologia Germanica (German Theology) which they frequently used and quoted from.
Henry Niclaes, founder of the Family of Love was profoundly influenced by this work (and by Thomas â Kempis‟ Imitation of Christ). He, and his main disciple (and later rival) Barrefelt, felt attracted to the Theologia’s theme of the return to a Platonic oneness and of the freedom of the will. They embraced the notion, found in this small book, that incarnation continued after the Ascension of Christ. This incarnation – known among Familists as Vergottung (godding) – takes place, they believed, whenever the spirit entered the individual.
One element of the Theologia that does leave a strong imprint on Coornhert … mostly through the mediation of Sebastian Frank … was the idea of the invisible church, vested in the hearts of true Christians wherever they may be found.
By the early sixteenth century, the upper classes began to pattern their activities during mealtime after those that occurred in the dining halls of monasteries or courtly circles. Primarily, it was an occasion not only to eat one’s fill but also to express one’s thoughts. Since Plato’s Symposium, the convivium had been an established literary genre ideally suited for discussion of a variety of topics. Founded on further descriptions of feasts in classical texts such as Cicero, Macrobius and Plutarch, the nourishment and self-cultivation that took place at dinner parties was provided in equal measure by food, drink and conversation. For example, the Ancients wanted both Bacchus and the Muses to preside at banquets, for “learned and entertaining words…delight the body and mind as much as wine does, or more.” Athenaeus constantly plays with the idea that words, not just food, provide the “satisfaction” of the meal: “we brought as our contribution not delicacies, but topics for discussion.”Montaigne praises the Greeks and Romans for setting aside “for eating, which is an important action in life, several hours and the better part of the night,” because the meal is an opportunity for total pleasure thanks to “such good talk and agreeable entertainment as men of intelligence are able to provide for one another.” “Edere et audire,” to eat and listen; in Erasmus’s Fabulous Feast, this is the goal of a few friends sitting around a table—to cultivate the mind by taking in stories while nourishing the body with dinner. In the “Sober Feast,” when deciding how to properly dedicate the garden where their dinner will take place, the character Albert suggests that each one make a contribution of his own. Aemilius questions, “What shall we contribute who’ve come here empty-handed?” Albert replies, “You who carry such riches in your mind? Let each offer to the company the best thing he’s read this week.” As we will see, these convivial conversations were spurred on by scripted topics, texts read around the table or paintings hanging on the wall.
That was also the case with the Convivium intended for members of the intimate circle of the Family of Love, that had constituted the Hiël group. And sure for the the “Onze Lieve Vrouw ommegang” which is held on 15 August for the Assumption of Mary.
In the 15th, 16th and 17th century the Ommegang of Antwerp was the most important in Flanders. The “Onze Lieve Vrouwommegang” consisted originally of two events: the first celebrated the religious feast of the Assumption of Mary.
The second was a large, opulent secular participation of the guildsas the Guild of Saint Luke ( where Bruegel was member), crafts and chambers of rhetoric, each of which contributed a float to a procession through the streets of Antwerp[ Some floats contained references to events of the preceding year. There was considerable rivalry between the guilds in their efforts to provide the most splendid display.
For the intimate circle of the Family of Love that had constituted the Hiël group, the Assumption of Mary had sure a deep spitiural meaning.
- Bruegel the Apocalypse Within:
In an introductory passage to his commentary on Revelation which appeared in 1627 the Flemish Jesuit Cornelius a Lapide mentioned the only inward interpretation he seems to have known of — that of the Spanish Biblical scholar Benito Arias Montano — and, although he acknowledged slight differences, he placed it in the medieval tradition of spiritual commentaries.
Certainly the patristic and medieval exegetes quoted by a Lapide,Ticonius,
Primasius, Bede, Anselm, Hayrno, the Victorines, Rupert of Deutz and Denys the Carthusian — have something in common–with the inward commentators. They either rejected a historical-political significance outright or added a spiritual interpretation to persons and places existing in history. For Primasius and Bede Asia is thus equated with pride; BabyIon is commonly interpreted as the sum of all evil, the beast as the devil and the whore as the rejection of God. At the same time, however, the Book was invariably regarded as prophesying the triumph of the Church’ of Christ. Chapters 4 and 5 were seen as a description of this Church, and the last chapters as an account of its victory. In the inward interpretations which I shall be discusring the Church of Christ disappears and is replaced by the human soul.
Benito Arias Montano was the first to admit that his interpretation of the Book of Revelation in his Elucidationes in omnia S. Apostolorum scripta of 1588, original though it might seem, was not of his own devising. He had taken it from the Dutch spiritual writer Hendrik Jansen van Barrefelt who wrote under ‘the pseudonym of Hiël, ‘the uniform life of God’, and Hiël, in his turn, leads us to a particular attitude towards the Scriptures, which– had developed in Northern Europe in reaction to Luther’s ideas.
This attitude, fostered by Thomas Miintzer and shared by Sebastian Franck, Sébastien Castellion, Valentin Weigel and others, was based on the belief that the Spirit was of far greater importance than the Letter and that the Scriptures could only be understood by the man enlightened by that same Spirit with which they had been written. To this must be added a further conviction, held by such men as David Joris and Hendrik Niclaes: the world had entered the last of the three altes of time, the age of the Spirit corresponding to the theological virtue of Charity, in which the seventh seal on the Scriptures would be removed for the spiritual man .
Hiël, a native of Gelderland, had been a weaver, and he prided himself on his ignorance of any language except Dutch’ . He had once been an Anabaptist and had then joined the Family of Love shortly after its foundation by Hendrik Niclaes in Emden in 1540.
The Family of Love, whose ideas are central to Bruegel‟s intellectual and religious outlook, was not an isolated phenomenon and can be shown to be a link in the chain of schools – more or less hidden – stretching alongside the more visible history of Christianity in Europe . Read mor about the movement at The Spiritual Message of Bruegel for our Times
Despite his professed ignorance of languages and an apparent lack of education Hiël was profoundly imbued with the spiritual ideas circulating in the Low Countries and Germany, and above alI he venerated the medieval tract which all the spiritual writers in Northern Europe claimed as one of their main sources, the Theologia Germanica. In 1573 Hiël, who by this time resided chiefly in Cologne, broke away from Hendrik Niclaes and, in the years following, he devoted himself to writing his own books. These included his commentary on the Book of Revelation, the Verklaring der Openbaringe Johannis In het. ware Wesen Jesu Christi.
Refusing to commit himsejf to any visible church but displaying a certain preference for Catholicism rather than for Protestantism, Hiël carried to its extreme conclusion the attitude of the ‘spirituals’ towards the Letter. Rather than attempting any philological interpretation of the Bible he used the Bible as a text illustrating his own doctrine. To it he applied a single scheme of interpretation: throughout the Scriptures, he maintained, there could be detected a figurative indication of the eternal struggle in the soul of man between the sinful earthly being or nature, dominated by earthly wisdom, and the divine nature of God.
Only by killing earthly wisdom and the lusts and properties in his soul would man enable Christ to be reborn within himself and be united with God, thereby restoring that `oneness’ referred to at the beginning of the Theologia Germanica:
“Sin is selfishness:Godliness is unselfishness:A godly life is the steadfast working out of inward freeness from self:To become thus Godlike is the bringing back of man’s first nature”.