Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Ecclesia and Synagoga...


The statues of Ecclesia and Synagoga on the façade of Strasbourg Cathedral are in the antient tradition of Christian typology. Both are depicted as beautiful, slender young women and are clearly akin albeit in the sense that Sam perceived that Frodo and Gollum were akin on the slopes of Mount Doom. Ecclesia is crowned, upright, mantled and in posture of triumph; holding Christ's holy rood in her right hand and the Chalice in her left. Synagoga, by contrast, is downcast, blindfold, her mantle gone, she is utterly bereft; in her right hand she holds a broken lance, even the lance with which Christ's side was pierced; and in her left, slipping from her grip, the Old Law. Together these two disparate figures represent the triumph of the Cross, the typological antecedent of the Old Testament in relation to the New (Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Sarah and Hagar, and so on). Synagoga is a deposed queen who ruled the earth during the age of the Law. She is deposed because of her blind refusal to acknowledge Christ as Messiah, yet she remains so that Ecclesia can be shewn forth in her majesty and insofar as Synagoga unwittingly upholds Christian truth. Indeed Synagoga holds an instrument of Christ's Passion in her right hand, broken to symbolise Christ's victory over death. Her blindness is a clear reference to Christ's disputation with the Pharisees and St Paul's description of the veil ("But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart." 2.Cor 3:14-16. Compare the Good Friday Prayer for the Jews (the real one).

For those of you who are interested in a Tolkienian application to the two figures, this is the passage I had in mind:

"Frodo flung him off and rose up quivering.
'Down, down!' he gasped, clutching his hand to his breast, so that beneath the cover of his leather shirt he clasped the Ring. 'Down, you creeping thing, and out of my path! Your time is at an end. You cannot betray me or slay me now!'
"Then suddenly, as before under the eaves of the Emyn Muil, Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than the shadow of a living thing, a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the fire there spoke a commanding voice.
'Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom!'
The crouching shape backed away, terror in its blinking eyes, and yet at the same time insatiable desire." The Lord of the Rings, Book VI, Chapter III.



If you consider Frodo as a type of Christ, Gollum as the people of the Jews and the Ring as the all-encompassing instrument of the Passion, Gandalf's own prophecy that Gollum might avail to do good yet, in spite of both Sauron and himself, assumes a profound Christological significance. The Ring becomes then the broken lance in the right hand of Synagoga and Gollum as Synagoga unwittingly brings about the salvation of mankind.

Unfortunately Ecclesia is no longer in majesty for the Church herself is defiled and men no longer hold her in reverence. In many ways Synagoga has filled the vacuum and has now assumed a crown of her own, a worldly and corrupt crown. She cannot now be deposed but by constant prayer for her conversion. If she is not converted then she will triumph over Ecclesia till Christ comes.

Art: Ted Nasmith.

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