Wednesday, October 8
Christ as Hero
The Ruthwell Cross described below.
From William Dalrymple (author of the most humorous and possibly only sequel to St. John Moschos's The Spiritual Meadow), writing in The New York Review of Books:
High on the front face of the cross is an image of Christ. But he is not shown as the Suffering Servant so much as the Hero—tall, well-formed, and toga-clad, receiving submission. To make this explicit, the side of the cross has inscribed on it in runes the anonymous Anglo-Saxon poem, “The Dream of the Rood,” a complete copy of which survives only in a single manuscript now in an Italian cathedral library. The poem, widely regarded as the finest short poem in Old English, was written from the point of view of the cross on which Christ would be crucified. To the poet, Christ’s torturous death was not something humiliating, but instead an act of epic heroism like the sufferings undergone by Beowulf to cleanse the world of evil:
I saw the Lord of MankindLike the image of Christ receiving the submission of the beasts, the poem is a celebration of the victorious Christ. Christ the young warrior mounts the cross because he chooses to, and he remains in control. When he is taken down, his men are standing around their fallen chieftain, who lies there “worn out after battle.” Instead of the fear-filled disciples of the gospel, “The Dream of the Rood” reimagines them as brave followers, or comitates, who would follow their Lord to his death. The poem ends with Christ’s liegemen seated at a banquet: paradise reimagined as a sort of semi-Christian Valhalla, a heavenly Anglo-Saxon mead hall “where the people of God are seated at the feast in eternal bliss.”
hasten with such courage to climb up on me...
Then the young warrior, God Almighty,
stripped Himself, firm and unflinching. He climbed
upon the cross, brave before many, to redeem mankind....
A rood was I raised up; I bore aloft the mighty King,
The Lord of Heaven....
More here in "The Egyptian Connection" by William Dalrymple.
The Ruthwell Cross used to stand in the church at Ruthwell, which was built around it; whether it stood in a churchyard or by itself when first erected is unclear. It escaped injury at the time of general destruction during the Reformation in the sixteenth century, but the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland ordered the "many idolatrous monuments erected and made for religious worship" to be "taken down, demolished, and destroyed". It was not till two years later, however, that the cross was taken down when an Act was passed "anent the Idolatrous Monuments in Ruthwell". It was shattered, and some of the carved emblems were nearly obliterated, and in this state the rood was left where it had fallen, in the altar-less church, and was used, it appears, as a bench to sit upon.
Not a deliberate similarity, but an intriguing one all the same.
"But for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays; And you will gambol like calves out of the stall and tread down the wicked; They will become ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day I take action, says the LORD of hosts." --Malachias iii, 21-22.
"The royal realm of Jesus is founded on the tree." --The Letter of Barnabas