In thoughts from visions of the night,
When deep sleep falleth upon men,
Fear came upon me, and trembling,
Which made all my bones to shake.
Then a spirit glided before my face –
The hair of my flesh rose up –
It stood still, but its form I could not discern;
A figure before mine eyes; Silence – and I heard a voice.
Eliphaz, Job IV v 12-16
We have a male cat named Rudy who is the very model of sweet affection unless he is disturbed in his comfortable rest. My belly, shoulders and thighs are a network of small cuts from the sharp claws that he digs into me when he must be moved from my lap or my shoulder (his favorite resting place). It is his protest to the change. Apparently, I am like him, because PJ calls us her “two old guys.”
For my part, when caught up in perplexing, tangled thoughts, I dig in my claws and try to hold on to the world that I love. As much as I try, I can’t seem to come to the heart of darkness that surrounds the world. I can recognize the evil and greed in the heart of man but don’t understand it.
Capital – Moses and the Golden Calf, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay (Yonne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey
It seems that the “how”, “what”, and “who” are easy enough to determine, at least by dint of research. The “why”, however, is less susceptible to explanation, because we have to plumb the murky waters of the human mind or the even more opaque depths of the human soul. On the Via Lucis blog, we write most often the “how” – stories of the churches that can be researched. Sometimes we attempt to examine the “why”. Often we cannot see the answer directly, but must infer it in some way from other evidence.
Corbel detail, Prieuré Sainte Gemme, Sainte Gemme (Charente-Maritime) Photo by Dennis Aubrey
The plays of Shakespeare, for example, perfectly suited the exuberance of the Elizabethan age, but despite their brilliance, within a generation they had lost their popularity. The were replaced by the dark, cynical Jacobean dramas of Middleton, Webster, Tourneur, and Ford. We see The Revenger’s Tragedy, Tis Pity She’s a Whore, The Duchess of Malfi, and The White Devil. While Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Kyd may have used the same plot elements, the pervasive evil and melancholy that dominates the later tragedies were not present.
Refectory tympanum detail, Abbaye Saint Aubin, Angers (Maine-et-Loire) Photo by Dennis Aubrey
The brooding sense of hopelessness against tragedy reflects something in the world of England that was not present earlier. This was apparent even in the literature of the day; in 1621, Robert Burton published his eccentric treatise, the Anatomy of Melancholy, of which Samuel Johnson said “It is the only book that ever took me out of bed two hours sooner than I wished to rise.” But as John Aubrey wrote in his Brief Lives, “Mr. Burton, of whom ’tis whispered that, non obstante all his astrologie and his booke of Melanchollie, he ended his dayes in that chamber by hanging him selfe.”
Capital, Église Sainte Marie-du-Mont, Sainte Marie-du-Mont (Manche) Photo by Dennis Aubrey
We sense this profound change even if we cannot explain it with the Thirty Year’s War, the Gunpowder Plot, a pervasive fear of witches, or the great plague. We can only see it reflected, as it were, as a shadow in the art of the time.
When we try to understand the world of the Romanesque church, we are often forced to look at the same shadows for explanations of the “why”. I believe in some ways this was an enlightened and optimistic age, but there was always a darkness on the periphery. For all the promise of the redemption of the Christ, there was a sense of the brooding Old Testament Lord of Hosts standing watch over the struggle of good and evil, the combat for the souls of humankind.
Fall of Simon Magus, Cathédrale Saint Lazare, Autun (Côte-d’Or) Photo by Dennis Aubrey
Carl Jung states that people believed in evil as something outside of themselves because they project their shadow onto others. His Answer to Job gives an explanation for the difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New and suggests that that difference was created when God himself saw his own shadow projected on the stubborn and enduring Job. Jungian scholar Murray Stein claims Jung viewed the Book of Job as an example of God’s own religious experience:
“And out of this astonishing self-reflection, induced in God by Job’s stubborn righteousness, He, the Almighty, is pushed into a process of transformation that leads eventually to His incarnation as Jesus. God develops empathy and love through his confrontation with Job, and out of it a new relationship between God and humankind is born.”
In this world, even God must face his own shadow and reflect on himself in order to reveal his complete nature. Human beings must do likewise. Perhaps we cannot look directly as God could, but can only do so obliquely. But if we look at what we too often call art – the transitory, self-indulgent, and the numbingly inert creations that drown us – how will we manage to call forth love and empathy? Where do we look to duplicate the transformation that Jung described?
Abbaye Notre Dame de Fontenay, Fontenay (Côte-d’Or) Photo by Dennis Aubrey
So for now, unable to answer this question, I am content to write. Rudy joins me late at night, makes himself comfortable on my desk, nestled in my arms as I type. His tail twitches idly as he rests his head on my forearm. We listen to “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen” and for the briefest moment, and for him, all is right with the world.