CHAPTER EIGHT: ZEROES
2. TWO ORDERS
2. TWO ORDERS
For medieval Europe, there had been a prolonged and fruitful interaction with Islamic civilization in the Mediterranean, from the Levant to Spain, and across the whole of North Africa. Having preserved many ancient texts from the Classical worlds Greece and Rome, Islamic culture also transmitted the great contributions of Sufic poetry which inspired the Provençal poets, the idea of chivalry and the tradition of courtly love. Of dramatic consequence, too, were works covering the range of Islamic science, from mathematics and astronomy to medicine, natural history and geographies. In addition to all the written texts, maps and diagrams finding their way to medieval Europe from the world of Islam or through Muslim intermediaries, there also came lessons drawn from empirical practice. For example, the knowledge of specific laboratory techniques and processes migrated northward from the early academic institution at Salerno which, at the beginning of the 12th century had become a principal conduit for the wisdom and learning that flourished under the Norman kings of Sicily.
The Benedictines were not the only monastic order to distill alcohol for their own ritual and contemplative consumption. St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), who had reformed the Cistercian Order in 1115, and his Carthusian followers in their Charterhouse, devised their own complex and secret recipe for Chartreuse. Yet the style of their respective liquors, both syrupy sweet and potent, has more in common than their distinct approaches to art and architecture.
The monasteries of the Benedictines were embellished with rich and imaginative forms, with painting and fine carving both in wood and in stone adorning the structures both inside and out. Their locations articulated a network for overland travel and communication, planned as stops along the routes of pilgrimage, which also pragmatically served as way-stations along the main highways of trade and commerce. In contrast, the Carthusian approach to architecture was extremely puritanical, and their monasteries were intentionally located out of the way, on land deemed marginally productive or in secluded upland valleys. In the words of the third Cistercian abbot, an Englishman named Stephen Harding, new monasteries were to be "far from the haunts of men." These locations helped to foster the vita contemplativa, in theory turning from the life of the world to the spirit within. But ideals of industry and self-sufficiency also furthered a compelling vita activa with hard work producing--well beyond needs--excesses that were turned into vast profits. The monastery locations also made available waterpower to drive the machines and equipment that became crucial forerunners, eventually, of the Industrial Revolution.
By the end of the twelfth century, 102 years after they had begun, there were 530 houses all over Europe, each one of them a medieval factory. Whenever possible, houses were built with the local water-supply running through the centre of the site--to provide water for hygiene, and to power the machines the Cistercians became so adept at using. By the 1300s they had foundries with associated mills for treating ore, fulling mills, corn mills, water-powered workshops where tools were made and wool treated, with forges, oil mills, wine presses (the Cistercians set up the great vineyards of Clos de Vougeot) and all the equipment and administrative organization to run the vast business concerns which many of the abbeys had become....The Cistercians acted as any major corporation might be expected to act. If villages were included in a land grant, they were destroyed and the people resettled elsewhere. The Order opened warehouses and finance offices at the major seaports, to facilitate the export of the commodity for which they had become famous by the thirteenth century: wool.
[Burke, Connections, p. 91 f.]
Among the most revolutionary machines utilized by the Cistercians was the horizontal loom. As with the alchemical processes involved with the production of Chartreuse--still made today in honor of St. Bruno, who originally founded of the Order in 1084--this loom was probably also the consequence of contacts with the Islamic world. It is often forgotten that, together with timber (and the deforestation that accompanied its exploitation), the wool trade was of profound and wide-spread economic importance from the Middle Ages and through the Renaissance. Wool was one of the premier commodities of international trade; it financed the Viking economy just as it brought wealth and power to the Florentines, whose Wool Guild became a major sponsor of art in the Early Renaissance.
With the commercial activity of the late Middle Ages expanding to international markets, there was a practical and immediate need for some means to account for commodities and exchange, and efficient and accurate system of reckoning, which would depend upon the new place value notational conventions for writing numerals--and in particular, the use and understanding of the zero. But there was another way in which adoption of the zero prepared the way for legitimized action in the name of a collective anonymity.
Piracy and plunder had always threatened transport and travel, from the Kurgan incursions into Old Europe seven thousand years ago, to the exploits of Sir Francis Drake (the "dragon") and founding of the East India Company. The issue became one of the mask or cloak by which identities could be obscured, as the principle of piracy became legalized and embodied in standard operations of corporate enterprise. Formation of corporations created the new concept of an imaginary "person" within the web of man-made laws. The British tag "Ltd." stands for the "limited" liabilities and responsibilities of investors for the life or death of the human beings the corporation might employ or exploit (or both), an attitude quite different from that of the Lombard masons's guilds. The newer legal fiction was labelled with "Inc." for "Incorporated" in the United States, or with variations of "S.A." for "Societé Anonyme" (Anonymous Society) elsewhere. In each, the real identity of capital investors (who could insure against monetary loss) was shielded by the fictive person who/which may enjoy life immortal. The Queen (or King) may die, so "Long live the Queen!" (or King, i.e. whoever is next in line of succession). But the imaginary corporate person, unless deliberately disbanded, need never die.
In the grand palace of the British fortress in Madras, on the southeast coast of India, where the British first established themselves in 1600, there was still preserved (as of 1970) a wall painting depicting the original flag of the British East India Company. It has thirteen alternating red and white horizontal stripes and in a blue rectangular field in the upper left-hand corner, the superimposed crosses of St. Andrew (X) and St. George (+). This was the same flag, flown by the same "Limited," entirely privately owned corporate concern, 175 years before another of its later examplars was captured from the masthead of the Dartmouth, as she lay at anchor in Boston Harbor with her load of high-tax tea, by a band of rebellious colonials celebrating the Boston Tea Party, dressed up in bogus (Native American) Indian costume, but wearing real war paint.
George Washington took command of the U.S. Continental Army under an elm tree in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The flag used for that occasion was the East India Company's flag, which by pure coincidence had the thirteen red and white stripes, though...most of those present thought the red and white stripes did represent the thirteen American colonies--ergo, was very appropriate--but they complained about the included British flag's superimposed crosses in the blue rectangle in the top corner. George Washington conferred with Betsy Ross, after which came the thirteen white, five-pointed stars in the blue field with the thirteen red and white horizontal stripes. While the British government lost the 1776 war, the East India Company's owners who constituted the invisible power structure behind the British government not only did not lose but moved right into the new U.S.A. economy along with the latter's most powerful landowners.
[Fuller, Critical Path, p. 78. On his visit to Madras in 1970, Fuller reports also having seen the flag in a painting of Queen Elizabeth I, together with the seal of the East India Company.]
In early medieval Europe, the monastic orders--which may have provided models for cooperative ventures behind the cover of fictive entities--also amassed wealth and power from trade and industry. Like the rich, private landowners in the young United States of America, the basis of this wealth was the idea of owning land: real estate, granted by "deeds" from royalty--that is, once conquered or otherwise brought under control by actual deeds of warfare or by threats from force of arms. The fruits of labor reaped by exploiting resources of the land, commanded by the corporation, were then put to serve the interests of invisible backers. The roots of many modern mercantilist, "no-nonsense" attitudes can be found in the practical style and calculated efficiencies of the Cistercian order following its reformation by Bernard of Clairvaux in the early twelfth-century. As might be expected from the rigorous, severe and very business-like new attitudes, St. Bernard denounced the decoration of churches as vain folly that would tempt people "to read in the marble rather than in our books."
[Bernard was writing in 1127, as quoted in H. W. Janson, History of Art, 3rd edition revised and expanded by Anthony F. Janson, Abrams, New York (1986), p. 289.]
The juxtaposition of styles represented by the Benedictine and Cistercian Orders shows how deeply the issues of the old Iconoclastic controversy also troubled the West. One Christian faction favored the use of icons (or ikons), holding that it was, indeed, possible for a representational image to be appropriately used in devotions. These icons were conceived as dynamic psychograms, much as yantras or mandalas in the Orient; that is, beyond the particular issues concerning this or that subject matter was a deeper question about ways in which a work of art functioned, especially about the use of art to map or chart the structure and function of the human mind for guiding the practice of spiritual exercises involving controlled breathing, internal visualization, the Uroboros and transformation of consciousness. In their enthusiasm for the efficacy of icons some went even further, stating the belief that it was possible for a spark of the Divine to become manifest in the work of art itself. Such mystical régardeurs thus venerate certain images as holy objects, repositories of and potent with baraka[th], mana, prana, or "divine energy."
We have seen that the tenets of Iconoclasm were based upon beliefs and practices that were, in many ways, similar to those of the patriarchal Semitic tribes obssessed with the sin of idolatry. The Iconoclastic Controversy (726-843) became the casus belli, or the justification for initiating a religious civil war within the Byzantine Empire, which led to the destruction of physical works of art.
The image-destroyers (Iconoclasts), led by the emperor and supported mainly in the eastern provinces of the realm, insisted on a literal interpretation of the biblical ban against graven images as conducive to idolatry; they wanted to restrict religious art to abstract images and plant or animal forms. Their opponents, the Iconophiles [or Iconodules], were led by the monks and centered in the western provinces, where the imperial edict remained ineffective for the most part. The roots of the conflict were very deep: on the plane of theology they involved the basic issue of the relationship of the human and the divine in the person of Christ; socially and politically, they reflected a power struggle between State and Church. The Controversy also marked the final break between Catholicism and the Orthodox faith.
[Janson, History of Art, p. 225.]
The theological issue was not something removed from concern of the arts, but rather went to the heart of the matter: to the twofold question of whether the Divine Spirit could manifest in either visual or audible form, as icon (yantra) or chant (mantra). Focussing on the material presence, some held that man-made images were inspired by original "true" sacred images, come into being by miraculous agency.
During the Iconoclastic Controversy, one of the chief arguments in favor of sacred images was the claim that Christ Himself had permitted St. Luke [who, by the way, was the Greek among the Evangelists] to paint His portrait, and that other portraits of Christ or of the Virgin had miraculously appeared on earth by divine fiat.
[Janson, History of Art, p. 228.]
Yet, even such purported miracles could not stop Emperor Leo the Isaurian from having
the imperial library of about three thousand six hundred [hand illuminated and marvellously embellished manuscript] volumes burnt because its superintendent, an Iconodule, offered him resistance....
[Ernst Diez and Otto Demus, Byzantine Mosaics in Greece: Hosios Lucas and Daphni [The American School of Classical Studies at Athens], Harvard University Press (1931), p. 8.]
In Western Europe, another of the traditional justifications for the use of icons was to be found in the second verse in the twelfth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke:
[This verse was cited as a motto by a modern namesake of the saint, as it appears opposite the title page in Lucas Samaras, by Kim Levin, Abrams, New York (1975).]
Saint Luke was also believed to have painted the portrait of the Virgin Mary and the Baby Jesus, as in the scene depicted in the painting at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts so beautifully that some authorities think it may actually have been painted (probably around 1434-1435) by Roger van der Weyden himself.
In intensity of expression, grace of posture and fluency of line, the Boston St. Luke...decisively subordinate[s] space and volume to relief-like design and rhythmical movement. And the faces, the eyeballs delicately modeled within their sockets and the lips and eyelids tenderly contoured, approach Roger's ideal of structured beauty without as yet attaining that etched precision which char-acterizes his mature and later works....The space, by Roger's standards fairly deep, is pervaded by a mild diffused light which here and there--as in the charming corner occupied by St. Luke's faithful ox and little library--produces remarkable chiaroscuro effects. The tiling of the pavements exhibits rich and complica-ted patterns....And the St. Luke is Eyckian [showing the influence of the contemporary Netherlandish painter, Jan van Eyck], not only in that the throne of Our Lady--its armrest carved into a group representing the Fall of Man--is surmounted by a cloth of honor and canopy but also in that the whole setting with its tripartite colonnade, walled garden and river view is derived from the Rolin Madonna [by van Eyck]; even the two little figures overlooking the parapet have been retained....
According to Roger's anthopocentric philosophy the little figures in the background no longer merge with the scenery but are raised to the status of relatively independent individuals, greatly enlarged in size, proudly detaching themselves from their surroundings; it should be noted that Jan's two fashionable young men have been replaced by a dignified couple that may be meant to represent St. Joseph [or, St. Joachim?] and St. Anne.
In representing St. Luke portraying the Virgin, the art of painting renders account of its own aims and methods. Figuratively speaking, representations of this kind were always self-portraits, and as time went on they tended to become self-portraits in the literal sense also....And as the painter assumed the character of individualized reality, so did his subject. In High Medieval art, when portraiture from life was the exception rather than the rule, St. Luke produced the image of Our Lady by sheer inspiration; but with the rise of naturalism he needed a model. This model was often furnished him by a vision, a type surviving through the centuries and ultimately glorified by Raphael....Roger's interpretation is at once delicate and... sublime. He...conceives Our Lady, not as a vision but as an apparent reality. But instead of visiting St. Luke in his studio [off to the extreme right] she receives him in an ideal throne room. Instead of bringing along his stool, easel, mahlstick, paintbox, and palette, he carefully portrays her in silverpoint. While thus engaged, he maintains a graceful and reverent attitude which can best be described as genuflexion, and thereby the static and secular group of painter and model is transformed into something closely resembling an Annunciation scene, St. Luke taking the place of the Angel Gabriel. It is, in fact, in Roger's own Louvre Annunciation that the pose of his St. Luke has its closest parallel.
[Erwin Panofsky, Early Netherlandish Painting: Its Origins and Character, Volume I, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachu-setts (1958), pp. 252 ff. See, Volume II, Figure 313, Plate 175.]
The liturgical and christological disputes are legion and terrifyingly intricate, with condemnations and counter-condemnations, excommunications proclaimed back and forth, and newly-declared anathemas spawned from each subtle compromise. There is no doubt that the festering question often served merely as a cover for political wrangling; nevertheless, the issue represents a controversy of basic importance for art history and theory: how works of art may relate to the Divine, and whether or not works of art should exist at all.
When in AD 726 the issue of the veneration of images led to an outbreak of iconoclasm, it shook the foundations of the Byzantine Empire. The church fathers who defended the images had to find convincing formulations to prove that icon worship was not idolatry. The key to their reasoning is the Doctrine of the Incarnation and the Dogma of the Two Natures of Christ. Early in the iconoclastic period, John of Damascus wrote his Defense of Holy Images in Palestine--then under Muslim rule--where he was safe from the persecution of the Byzantine emperor. He argued: "It is not divine beauty which is given form or shape, but the human form which is rendered by the painter's brush. Therefore, if the Son of God became man and appeared in man's nature, why should his image not be made?" Somewhat later, Theodore of Studios defined the relationship between the image and its prototype as relations of identity ("Man himself is created after the image and likeness of God; therefore there is something divine in the art of making images") and necessity ("As perfect man Christ not only can but must be represented and worshipped in images: let this be denied and Christ's economy of the salvation is virtually destroyed"). It was this theory of necessity which, after the final triumph of icon-worship in 835, gave the holy image its preeminent position in the life of the Orthodox worshipper.
[Kurt Weitzmann, "Introduction: The Origin and Significance of Icons," The Icon, Alfred A. Knopf, New York (1982), p. 4.]
If inspired by authentic tradition, the images of Christ or of the several saints were constructed in accordance with very rigorous canons of proportion, just as representations of the Buddha may be designed to illustrate the idea of what is called the Divine Human Prototype. Perhaps this was also one of the principal functions of monumental Egyptian and archaic Greek sculpture, as the obvious andpurposive care in rendering anatomical proportions would suggest.
Constantly recurring throughout the great majority of cultures of the world is reference to the relationship between mankind, as anthropos, and the cosmos....This complementary relationship of archetypal man and the cosmos is manifest in schematic form as the determinant of the proportions of the altar or altar and whole temple.
An image of the Anthropos or archetypal symbol of humanity...can be in the form of an ancestor figure or, as Vitruvian man, [in Leonardo da Vinci's famous drawing, standing within the squared circle] as a paradigm for architectural proportions, or an Adam figure, or as in the Hindu tradition as Purusha.
...In the Vedic tradition this figure is Purusha, who is the Divine Essence behind Man the builder, the altar and the fire of the altar. The concept of proportions deriving from this figure are enshrined for the Hindu temple builder in the Vastu-Purusha-Mandala, a geometric formulation of Purusha as the immanent spirit of existence. This Mandala is an image of the laws governing the cosmos, to which mankind is subject as is the earth on which they build.
[Keith Critchlow, Time Stands Still: New Light on Megalithic Science, St. Martin's Press, New York (1982), p. 83 f.]
The reconstitution of the psyche and integration with the self is precisely the function served by such icons, mandalas or yantras. They are pictorial or abstract graphic ways of showing and guiding one in the process of achieving what Dr. Jung has called "individuation," the highest and deepest form of integrating the physical body with the intellect and the emotions, into a spiritually balanced, sane and healthy, whole human being, at harmony with the cosmos and Nature as with the Divine Essence within. This is also, apparently, the grand function illustrated by the classic rope trick, in which the adept's illusory disappearance of the boy, and the dramatic charade of his bodily dismemberment and reconstitution provide an epitomized version of the rituals of initiation into shamanistic traditions.
In the Orthodox tradition, following the Crucifixion and before the Resurrection celebrated on Easter Morning, an essential process of integration takes place on Holy Saturday with the Harrowing of Hell, as the spirit of Christ descends into the nether world. We may notice the analogies here with heroic expeditions from Gilgamesh to Theseus, or the unmistakable congruencies with mystical experiences such as those described in his "dark night of the soul," by the great Spanish poet, St. John of the Cross. Christ goes down into Hell, to rescue the souls of all those--back to Adam and Eve--who were born and who lived on the Earth before that period of Grace marked by His Coming, and, through Forgiveness, Compassion and Love, as manifestations of God's Grace to be raised with His own Spirit at the Resurrection.
Psychologically, both "hell" and "heaven" may be thought of as within; so, the descent of the Essence to the world deep within very well corresponds with the integration of the psyche by dealing with its demons: consciousness "cleaning its karma" so to speak, thereby awakening, having become at one with the Divine Mind. Since a "demon" may be understood as a part of the whole system that has usurped more control and influence than appropriate, the preferred way of neutralizing it is not by expelling, but by embracing the errant energy, to reincorporate it into a purified, reintegrated whole. Properly prepared for the task, assisted by reliable guides, and ideally supported by a like community of souls with mutual respect for the process, the Psychomachia--as an honest and dedicated effort to come to terms with both the "positive" and the "negative" aspects of one's psyche, our own internal "angels" and "demons"--may be (for most of us) an experience of the "Great Spirit" essential for awakening to the true Christ-like, Sufic, Buddha-nature of our consciousness and of the real world.
Whatever the substance of practices still taught by various institutions or monastic disciplines, either of East or West, the truth of the matter is that objective, workable knowledge about the human psyche has, indeed, survived in various "esoteric" schools or traditions, in such a form that it may be put to use by ordinary human beings, within the salutary framework of basic sanity, and relatively free from incidental dogmas of belief, or special pleading for parti-cular organizational doctrines. Historians of art and mythology suppose the roots of this Psychomachia to be found in the archaic combat myths of folklore, as examined in the remarkable study of Python by the classical scholar Joseph Fontenrose. The dichotomy of the gods above and mortals below, as reflected in the famous prepositions of the Hermetic dictum, could already be found in the Iliad.
The battles of heroes and gods with various monsters, chthonic or oceanic, therefore plausibly can be taken as symbolic representations of internal struggles, battles of the soul. Just such a dark theme has been read into one perceptive and eloquent description of the "Zuc-cone" and "Jeremiah" figures from Donatello's series of seven marble prophets in the round done for niches on the Campanile of the Duomo in Florence, on which he worked for a period of twenty years (1415-35).
In the pulsating structure of these folds, in the disordered locks, the tense poses, and the searing glances, the Christian conflict between the Virtues and the Vices, so often represented symbolically in Gothic sculpture and painting (such as in Giotto's grisaille frescoes at Padua...) becomes a modern equivalent for the name this conflict had borne since Early Christian times--the Psychomachia, or Warfare in the Soul.
[Frederick Hartt, History of Italian Renaissance Art, Prentice-Hall & Abrams, (1979, 2nd. ed. 1985), p. 183.]
The scene is more explicitly featured in magnificent compositions of Byzantine art, such as in the mosaics of the Church of Nea Moni on the island of Chios (1042-1046), or in the apse fresco of the Kariye Djami (the Church of Christ in Chora), Istanbul (1315-1321). The scene is referred to as the Anastasis, or Christ Harrowing Hell, which, following the Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, is celebrated on Holy Saturday preceding the Resurrection, and was marked anciently by the ritual kindling of New Fire, cosmically associated with the rising of the sun at dawn on Easter morning, the day of the first full moon after the vernal equinox, before being restricted specifically to Sundays by the calendrical reckoning of later Christian ecclesiastics.
Although the Gospel accounts do not describe this scene, both the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed declare that during the three days when Christ's body lay in the tomb he descended into Hell. Apocryphal accounts, widely believed throughout the Christian world, tell how Christ caused the gates of Hell to burst open before him, filled its darkness with light, commanded that Satan be bound until the Second Coming, and lifted Adam and Eve, followed by all the patriarchs and prophets, from the unhappy realm to which they had been doomed by Original Sin. This theme, known in Western art as the Harrowing of Hell or the Descent into Limbo, is highly appropriate for a funerary chapel as it sets forth vividly the Christian hope for resurrection....As in the [Transfiguration] mosaic at Sinai, Christ is clothed in pearly garments whose white highlights create the impression of blinding radiance. Shadow fills the tombs from which Adam and Eve are drawn up, and the side of Eve's sarcophagus opposite to the source of light in Christ remains deep in shadow. As with the contemporary frescoes of Giotto and his followers in Italy, this apparently naturalistic observation of the effects of light proceeding from a single source is in reality bound up entirely with its religious meaning. The Old Testament kings and patriarchs to the left are led by Saint John the Baptist, who accompanied Christ into Hell, and to the right the prophets are grouped behind Abel. The brilliant colors of the drapery and the creamy, off-white of the rocks shine against the intense blue of the background. Satan, bound, prone, partly across the shattered gates of Hell, is surrounded by a veritable shower of locks, hasps and bolts.
[Hartt, Art, p. 343 f.]
The "binding" of Satan will have been not only through associations with sin and the moral sense of debt but also in the sense of a curse that subdues and binds the fallen angel's damnation. In this context, Mr. R. B. Onians mentions the Old Irish word damnaim "I bind" with dual meaning: "I subdue" and "I condemn." In Roman law, the materiality of a bond (nexus) was expressed as a restriction upon a man or his property imposed because of his obligation for debt, however, the issue of one's spiritual virtue later became conjoined to one's status as reflected in the account books of bankers and money-lenders. Earlier, as in Homer, the fundamental meaning of telos was not "end" or "paying" but something like "band" or "bond." Death and other forms of ill fortune were conceived as bands (tele), the "loosing" (or "loosening") of which meant deliverance from such.
[Onians, European Thought, p. 437 f.]
The liturgical down-playing of the Harrowing of Hell by the Latin Church may be explained in part by Western resistance to doctrinal arguments about the "two natures" of Christ. A bilateral "Crusader icon" probably painted in the thirteenth-century by a Venetian artist shows this ambivalence; it was among the 120 icons, painted by Latin artists connected to the Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem, that was found in the Monastery of St. Catherine by the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expedition to Mount Sinai (1956-65). The Harrowing of Hell appears on one of the panels, and on the other the Crucifixion, with the rare use of Latin rather than Greek inscriptions and showing the feet of Christ affixed with one nail, an iconographical convention originating in Northern Europe, but rapidly adopted by Italian artists.
The Harrowing of Hell, being an Easter picture, would take precedence over the Crucifixion in the Orthodox Church; but our Crusader artist, by setting the Crucifixion against a resplendent gold ground and the Harrowing of Hell against a subdued dark blue starry sky, has reversed the order of rank.
[Kurt Weitzmann, "The Icons of the Period of the Crusades," The Icon, p. 205; see also pp. 201 ff.]
The epic and ritual wanderings of the sacred solar king follow the pattern of comedy and the pilgrimage: they stop at the appointed places and always return, approximately, to the starting point--though never quite to the same place and time, since such a path generates a gyre or spiral. In the context of associations derived from a global, Neolithic cultural substratum of perdurable belief, the simple glyph of a closed circle is always and ever the symbol of the sun: an emblem of cycles and closure, of renovatio, renascence and Renaissance, renewal and rebirth, of resurrection and of the Resurrection. Both Daedalus and Aeneas followed wandering tracks symbolized by the Labyrinth, just as the Hopi of the American Southwest have used the identical glyph to symbolize the primordial wanderings of their early ancestors after the emergence into this present (third) world. The Malekulans, too, threaded a similarly contrived, labyrinthine path before entering the cave that promised, in Malekulan terms, much the same order of renewal and resurrection of the soul celebrated in the rites of the Orthodox church with the Harrowing of Hell by Jesus. Since remote antiquity, the cosmic periodicities were marked by megalithic monuments, some of which we now have reason to believe long antedated the construction of the Great Pyramid. The sun, having sunk to its lowest level at the winter solstice, its angle in the sky rises once again to the half-way point on the occasion of the vernal equinox, in its path toward the zenith at midsummer.
The cycle, of course, continued in the "dark half" of the year, as that resplendent, fiery, celestial orb once again dipped toward the horizon, half-way at the autumnal equinox, and approaching nadir during the halcyon days of midwinter. This was the grand paradigm of the Descent, ritually embodied in the practice of the Psychomachia as a spiritual exercise, certain elements of which are perhaps to be found surviving in the Benedictine Camaldolite tradition of the "Prayer of Jesus," and which correspond to Dante's descent in the Inferno. We know that in the eleventh century, Desiderius, the Abbot of the principal Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino--"throughout the centuries one of the great centers of Christian learning and piety, its influence on European civilization...immeasurable"--brought there Greek artists to make mosaics and to reform the art of painting.
Desiderius, according to a delightful contemporary account by his archivist and biographer, Leo of Ostia, made provision for the Greek artists to train Italian monks and craftsmen in the techniques of religious art. The most impressive example of the Monte Cassino style is the almost complete cycle of frescoes commissioned by Desiderius before 1087 for the interior of the church of Sant'Angelo in Formis on a mountainside above Capua, north of Naples. Especially beautiful if the Crucifixion... [in which, prefiguring the Resurrection] Christ is represented as alive, triumphant over suffering...[while] to the right the Roman centurion [bearing an oval shield with a prominent boss], having been moved by the revelation of Christ's divinity, detaches himself from the soldiers' dice game for the seamless robe.
[Hartt, Art, p. 433 ff. See also, Herbert Bloch, The Bombardment of Monte Cassino (February 14-16, 1944): A New Appraisal, Montecassino (1979); and, The Columbia Encyclopedia (2nd ed.) s.v.]
This radical reformation of art was accompanied also by changes in the liturgical uses for which it was employed, although historical documentation about details of actual ritual practices are understand-ably scarce. Wholistic implications of the new style are revealed by the determined integration of pictorial art with architecture, in the composition of individual works of art, and in the concept of entire illustrative cycles that embellish coherent architectural interiors. One sublime manifestation of this capacity to express an all-embracing artistic vision has been preserved in the eleventh-century joined churches known as the Theotokos and the Katholikon, at the monastery of Hosios Lucas in Phocis, between Athens and Delphi.
The mosaics in Hosios Lucas show the culmination of that style of Byzantine painting which we might call hieratic...the earliest extant work of a comprehensive character on such a scale... The hieratic style in its origin and in its essence can only be fathomed by analysing its spiritual and formal qualities....The key to the secret language of these pictures, which are purposely unintelligible to the uninitiated, was given by W. B. Smith in his book Ecce Deus. All these pictures taken from the gospels [and Gnostic systems which were accepted by Orthodox theology] could be regarded and understood from at least a double point of view, literally and parabolically, and some, such as the Baptism, the Transfiguration or the Crucifixion, have a threefold sense,--historical, mythical and esoteric-mystical.
[Hosios Lucas] presents the clearest and most developed system of this period. It nearly fulfills the ideal that we know only from the description of the Nea [the "New Church," the marvelous quincunx cruciform, domed structure dedicated in AD 881 which formed part of the imperial palace of Basil I] in Constantinople, which was the original starting point of the Painter's Guide of Mount Athos. Every detail of the decoration is subordinated to the idea of the whole, embodied by the Demiurgos and his celestial court in the dome....The decoration is thus paramount to a representation of the Byzantine Church herself, a symbol of the Eastern Christian world....And this system furthermore comprehends the year of the church with its cycle of great and small Feasts like a well-organised calendar....it was this temporal function and connection with the cult that turned pictures into icons by the abstraction of every historical association until they became simply legible symbols of esoteric character. Besides this ranging of the pictures into a hieratic system and ritual cycle, their topographical function must be considered in connection with...the church as a building. Parallel with the hieratic order there is a cosmological one...and furthermore, a certain magic of place is observed....By theological speculation the Church became a microcosmos of the hieratic world.
[Dietz and Demus, Byzantine Mosaics, pp. 24, 38 ff. and p. 3.]
Thus, we may reasonably assume that among the Benedictines, by their relations with Byzantium and through Monte Cassino's connections with the Norman Kingdom of Sicily, works of art from individual icons to monumental mosaics--as in the Orthodox Christian tradition--in addition to their many other functions and levels of interpretation, were actually used to aid ritual contemplation: as psychograms, charts of human consciousness or spirituality, and as maps of the soul.