Lay for the Day 24th
the Second Council of Nicaea convenes. The council was a turning point
of European civilisation, because it defined the Churchs doctrine
on representational art holy images and condemned the
iconoclasts, the image-breakers:
we decree with full precision and care that, like the figure of the honoured
and life-giving cross, the revered and holy images, whether painted or
made of mosaic or of other suitable material, are to be exposed in the
holy churches of God, on sacred instruments and vestments, on walls and
panels, in houses and by public ways, these are the images of our Lord,
God and saviour, Jesus Christ, and of our Lady without blemish, the holy
God-bearer, and of the revered angels and of any of the saintly holy men.
more frequently they are seen in representational art, the more are those
who see them drawn to remember and long for those who serve as models,
and to pay these images the tribute of salutation and respectful veneration.
Certainly this is not the full adoration [latria] in accordance
with our faith, which is properly paid only to the divine nature, but
it resembles that given to the figure of the honoured and life-giving
cross, and also to the holy books of the gospels and to other sacred cult
objects. Further, people are drawn to honour these images with the offering
of incense and lights, as was piously established by ancient custom. Indeed,
the honour paid to an image traverses it, reaching the model, and he who
venerates the image, venerates the person represented in that image.
controversy over images flared in the Byzantine Empire for more than a
century. In 730, Emperor Leo III prohibited the use of icons, and his
successor, Constantine V, severely persecuted those who venerated them.
Nor was the matter finally settled by the Second Council of Nicaea. Thirty
years later, with the accession of Emperor Leo V in 814, the iconoclasts
were again in the ascendancy, and icons were prohibited in 815. Their
use was not securely restored until 843 when, after the death of the Emperor
Theophilus, his widow, the Empress Theodora, reinstated the icons. The
event is still celebrated in the Eastern churches at the Feast of Orthodoxy,
on the first Sunday in Lent.
tomb effigies in the poem below are not the kind of holy images that the
councillors at Nicaea had in mind, but it is due to their ultimately successful
defence of the icon that such art exists.
Death & the Hanged Man
In Tewkesbury Abbey
The last Abbot Wakeman,
John is shown in stone,
Long, worn and lowly, and he has no clothes,
And even flesh has left the bones alone.
There he moulders, effigy of those
Who glory in garments to no avail
As they must end. And over the corse
Humble frog and mouse, worm, snake and snail,
Five beasts with dust for meat, do slowly race
To fill their bellies, while the stone itself
In which these things have life, is scribbled
And scratched with years of hands in idle stealth.
It would make his father sad he dibbled,
But for the fact of the case laid bare:
The tomb is empty, and the man elsewhere.
(In Gloucester Cathedral,
to be precise.
His bishopric there was the gracious price
Of giving the Abbey up to the state
Embodied in the gut of Henry Eight.
And there he shares the ground he once mastered
With the first-born son of Bill the Bastard.)
Bright, thin, elfin in his
red and gold,
Robert, son of William, Duke of Normandy,
Conqueror of England, still makes bold
In wood, with armour on and dancers dandy
Legs crossed. But theyve carved him all askew
And not at rest. The knee across is lifted
And his right hands reaching for the sword it knew.
What of deathless daring left him gifted
Thus with art? History remembers
And the world forgets. Tourists pass an odd knight
Oddly twisted like low flames on embers.
But one who stoops may start to see the light
In the open eyes of one about to jump
Up smiling at the playing of the trump.
Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar