Sunday, November 26, 2006
Maso di Banco, The Virgin gives her belt to S.Thomas.
Painting on wood, c. 1330, Staatliche Museen, Gemaelde Galerie, Berlin.
Why should the Virgin do such a thing ?
Thomas means "abyss" and "double". Others say it means "division". It is said to mean abyss because he entered the dephts of divinity when Christ answered his question saying I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. It is said to mean double because he knew in two ways the Resurection of the Lord, by seeing and by touching. It is said to mean division because he separated his spirit from the world.
Prosperus wrote in De Vita Contemplativa "to love God is to conceive in the spirit a desire for the vision of God, a hatred towards sin and the world." Some others still add that Thomas means theos, which is God, and meus, as if it would be my God,theos meus.
Now the Virigin:
She could simply give him her belt as a divine ladder to heaven.
But something more can be looked for in the apocripha.
The Gospel of Thomas reads, near the end:
112 Jesus said,Woe to the flesh that depends on the soul; woe to the soul that depends on the flesh.
113 His disciples said to him, When will the kingdom come ?
Jesus said, it will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying 'here it is' or 'there it is'. Rather, the kingdom of the father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it.
114 Simon Peter said to them, let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.
Jesus said, I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males.
For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.
Now may be we can amplify the symbolic meaning of the gesture in the painting: Thomas is helped to become a woman at the same time that the woman is becoming or has already become a man. Mary the Virgin could be seen as the compassive and loving face of God, the number 4 in the divine unity to be contemplated. No doubt women played significant roles in early christianity and there is in medieval themes a special attention to them, through the cult of Mary, the Virgin mother of God.
Those are also the times ( medieval, I mean, where court poetry flourished and with Dante and others, Les Fidèles d'Amour, such themes were vastly elaborated ).
I don't rule out any alchemical meaning either for many texts refer to the Virgin Mary as the philosophical stone.
For the apocripha, read: The Nag Hammadi Library in English, ed. Brill, London,1996
For Dante and others, Denis de Rougemont, L'amour et l'occident,ed. Plon, 1972 ( this book being an old classic )
For alchemy, C.G.Jung, Psychologie und Alchemie, ed. Rascher, 1952
And to complete your knowledge read the comments by Gawain, illuminating, as always.