Into the secret places of divine incomprehensibility: The symbol of the cherubim in ``De arca mystica'' of Richard of St. Victor

Steven L Chase, Fordham University

Abstract

This work looks closely at Richard of St. Victor's use of the symbol of the cherub in his twelfth century treatise on the grace of contemplation, De arca mystica.^ Beginning with an examination of the Patristic and medieval precedent for exegesis of the cherubim in Hebrew and Christian scripture, the work moves to an investigation of Richard's own exegesis of the ark and cherubim in Exodus 25. Based on his tropological interpretation of this text, Richard establishes an equivalency between the cherubim and wisdom.^ Focusing on the nature of the cherubim as symbols, the work then examines in turn the polysemic function of the cherubim as symbols, how the cherubim represent apophatic and cataphatic elements in Richard's theological methodology, how in contemplation the cherubim "mediate" an immediate consciousness of the presence of God, how Richard establishes the two cherubim as an explicit symbol of the Trinity, and how the cherubim perform as models of the process of human sanctification.^ In examining these functions, the work focuses on two related issues: first, it poses the question of why in De arca mystica, the Crucified and Incarnate Christ is virtually absent from the propitiatory between the two cherubim, and second, it examines the process of entering, by means of the symbol of the cherubim, into what Richard of St. Victor calls "the secret places of divine incomprehensibility." The former issue is discussed under the rubric of "apophatic Christology," the latter issue is related to what this work terms the "angelization" of the contemplative.^ The work concludes that the appropriation of tropological wisdom is accomplished by means of this latter process of "angelization" which involves what might be called a "grounded" or "embodied" flight of contemplation. The mystery or incomprehensibility of this flight is that it enters the secret places of the divine nature by means of the very physicality of the flesh and blood and breath of the contemplative. The "grace" of this contemplation or flight is in turn the very physicality of the flesh and blood and breath of the incarnate Word. While this Word is left unspoken by Richard, it is nonetheless encountered, and encountered on the contemplative's own terms, based on the promise of Exodus 25. Thus, the human soul reaches the deepest Trinitarian mystery by means of apophatic flight only to be "grounded" at that very point by an encounter with the deepest cataphatic mystery of incarnate flesh and blood ... summa sapientia carnem aeterni Verbi in humanitate Jesu. ^

Subject Area

Religion, Philosophy of|Theology|History, Medieval

Recommended Citation

Steven L Chase, "Into the secret places of divine incomprehensibility: The symbol of the cherubim in ``De arca mystica'' of Richard of St. Victor" (January 1, 1994). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI9425190.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI9425190

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