Saturday, June 29, 2013

Noah and the Deluge

f. 7v, Noah builds the ark, instructed by God and later boards it, carrying animals, followed by his family
From the 'Holkham Bible Picture Book' Add MS 47682
England: second quarter of the 14th century
Parchment codex
285 x 210 mm 
The British Library, London

f. 8r, The dove and the raven released by Noah, with drowning people and animals in the water beneath the ark. 
From the 'Holkham Bible Picture Book' Add MS 47682
England: second quarter of the 14th century
Parchment codex
285 x 210 mm 
The British Library, London

f. 8v, The ark is perched on top of the mountain, while Noah disembarks to cultivate vines and build an altar.
From the 'Holkham Bible Picture Book' Add MS 47682
England: second quarter of the 14th century
Parchment codex
285 x 210 mm 
The British Library, London

The Holkham Bible Picture Book is one of the treasures of the British Library

The book was probably made in London in the mid-14th century about the time of Geoffrey Chaucer's birth

It was commissioned by a Dominican friar with seculars executing the images and the texts

There are three pages devoted to Noah including the Deluge and the Noahide Covenant

The depiction of Noah and his family`s adventures was common in medieval manuscripts (including the Bedford Hours also in The British Library) as well as in ecclesiastical architecture such as the Cathedral at Monreale, the Basilica of San Marco in Venice and Paolo Uccello`s frescoes in the Green Cloister at Santa Maria Novella in Florence

The story of Noah is in Genesis 6 - 9

In The City of God, St Augustine saw the Ark as Christ and the Church

It was this interpretation which held sway in medieval times

The "second St Augustine", Hugh of St Victor (c. 1096 - 1141) was fascinated by the image of the Ark of Noah

Of his views about the interpretation of Scripture and of history, Pope Benedict XVI said:
"To interpret Scripture he [Hugh of St Victor] suggests the traditional patristic and medieval structure, namely, the literal and historical sense first of all, then the allegorical and anagogical and, lastly, the moral.  
These are four dimensions of the meaning of Scripture that are being rediscovered even today.  
For this reason one sees that in the text and in the proposed narrative a more profound meaning is concealed: the thread of faith that leads us heavenwards and guides us on this earth, teaching us how to live.  
Yet, while respecting these four dimensions of the meaning of Scripture, in an original way in comparison with his contemporaries, Hugh of Saint-Victor insists and this is something new on the importance of the historical and literal meaning.  
In other words before discovering the symbolic value, the deeper dimensions of the biblical text, it is necessary to know and to examine the meaning of the event as it is told in Scripture. Otherwise, he warns, using an effective comparison, one risks being like grammarians who do not know the elementary rules.  
To those who know the meaning of history as described in the Bible, human events appear marked by divine Providence, in accordance with a clearly ordained plan. Thus, for Hugh of Saint-Victor, history is neither the outcome of a blind destiny nor as meaningless as it might seem.  
On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is at work in human history and inspires the marvellous dialogue of human beings with God, their friend. This theological view of history highlights the astonishing and salvific intervention of God who truly enters and acts in history.  
It is almost as if he takes part in our history, while ever preserving and respecting the human being's freedom and responsibility."

Hugh of St. Victor wrote three major spiritual works which are devoted to the theme of Noah's Ark: the De Arca Noe Morali, the De Arca Noe Mystica,(variously called De Pictura Arcae and De Reformatione Arcae in the manuscripts), and the De Vanitate Mundi

At the beginning of lessons for his pupils he drew a large Ark over which he superimposed the figure of Christ. His lectures were to explain the drawing

For Hugh of St Victor, the Deluge was considered to prefigure baptism, while the Ark was the symbol for Christ and the Church itself. 

The  water of the baptism removes the original sin, while that of the flood cleansed the world of sinners. 

Noah was saved from the water by the wood of the Ark, just as the wood of the Cross offers salvation to those who are in the Church. 

Three different patterns of behaviour may be distinguished in human beings: while the righteous take refuge in the Ark (the Church) and find salvation therein, the damned attempt to assail it, and others are lost due to their excessive attachment to worldly things, and seek safety carrying their possessions with them. 

But that is an oversimplification

He went on to say:
"We set out to talk about one ark and one thing has so led to another that it seems now we have to speak not of one only, but of four . . . The first is that which Noah made, with hatchets and axes, using wood and pitch as his materials. The second is that which Christ made through His preachers by gathering the nations into a single confession of faith. The third is that which wisdom builds daily in our hearts through continual meditation on the law of God. The fourth is that which mother grace effects in us by joining together many virtues in a single charity" Noah`s Ark, Bk I, ch. 11
Later he wrote:
"If the Ark signifies the Church, it follows that the length of the Ark is a figure of the length of the Church. But the Church's length is to be seen in the duration of the successive periods of her history, just as her breadth is in the multitude of the peoples she includes.  
For the Church is said to widen when the number of her believers is increased, and many are gathered to the faith; while her length consists in that prolongation in time whereby she reaches out of the past, through the present into the future. This length of hers in time is from the beginning of the world to its end.  
For Holy Church started in her faithful ones from the beginning, and will last until the end of time. We believe, indeed, that there is no period from the beginning of the world until the end of time in which believers in Christ will not be found."

And in De Arca Noah Mystica (MPL, clxxvi, col. 684CD). MS Laud. Misc. 370, fol.47v he wrote
"The Ark leans on the column, and his Church leans upon Christ, for undoubtedly she could not stand at all if he did not hold her up, according to that word in the Canticle: Who is she that comes up radiant from the desert, leaning upon her beloved? 
Again, just as the column is the measure of the height of each floor, so Christ gives to each one his measure of virtue and progress. And as it divides the different compartments, so Christ at his good pleasure divides the gifts of his graces in Holy Church, making some prophets, others apostles, yet others evangelists, and all the other different functions that have a share in spiritual gifts.  
So too, as the column is always in the central position, our Lord Jesus Christ has said: Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. 
If, then, we are so weak as to be unable to go up to the third or second floor, let us not lose heart, but let us be gathered together by faith in his name that we may at least be on the ground floor, in the unity of the Church.  
There let us hold true and unshakeable faith and he will come to us, that he may stand in our midst to praise our good beginning, while being ready at the same time to help us to rise to higher things, that he may be one in all, one among all, one above all, even Jesus Christ our Lord"