Friday, November 28

A Highpoint of Medieval Typology

Credit: Elfie Raymond, image and some text

The Verdun Altar

Few things theological are as interesting to me as typological exegesis. "Reading the Word of the New Testament by the Light of the Old" is what makes the Bible come alive for me, and what got this particular Catholic interesting in reading Scripture. It's how I teach Scripture to my 6th grade students and how I explain complex theological questions to Protestants.

Medieval typology is especially interesting, and I suspect this is for two reasons. First, it has an innocence and ingenuity to it that is often lacking in the modern mind. But primarily, those monks simply knew their stuff and had years to spend executing it.

"In the year of the Lord, one thousand one hundred and eighty one, the seventeen tripartite panels known as the Altar of Verdun were completed and dedicated to Mary, Our Lady, Most Holy Virgin, Mother of the Savior, the Lord's humble handmaid, footstool of the trinity, intercessor for sinners, consolatrix of the dying, Mater Dolorosa and Queen of Heaven. The time of the panels' dedication in 1181 fell in the short interval between the second and third crusade. The place of the new shrine was an Augustinian monastery near Vienna, the ancient Vindobona, watching over the majestic course of the eastward-flowing Danube from where the mountains glide into the fertile Pannonian plane."

For example, the above graphic depicts Moses going to Egypt (Exodus 4:18-23). The Latin caption reads,
"It redimat gentem dux sub Pharaone gementem"
"(Moses) the leader goes to save the people suffering under Pharao"

The monks linked this type with another Old Testament image, the Passover Lamb going to Slaughter (Exodus 12:1-14).
"Christi mactandus in formam clauditur agnus"
"The sacrificial lamb is prefiguring Christ"

And then they depict the typological fulfilment, Palm Sunday: Christ goes to Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:28-40; John 12:12-19, Mark 11:1-11).
"Turba Deo plaudit qui quos vult salvat et audit"
"The multitude rejoiced in the Lord who listens and saves whom he pleases."

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