26 October 2010

Patrimonial Moses and Aaron

Not long ago, we walked to Long Crendon church. I was fascinated by two eighteenth century paintings; one of Moses, holding the Tablets of the Law; the other of Aaron, wearing a mitre, the breast-plate, the bells, and holding a smoking thurible.

Before the church was regothicised under the Victorians, these pictures clearly stood at each end of the Ten Commandments, which in pre-Tractarian days stood behind and above the Altar. Moses was presumably on the South side, since he is pointing with his right hand to the (now missing) Commandments.

I was intrigued to imagine the scene: the priest, wearing voluminous surplice and (if he was a gentleman) a red silk MA hood and a neat powdered wig, kneeling at the North End of the Altar to celebrate the Prayer Book Communion Office, with, above his head, the mitred, bell-adorned, Aaron, waggling incense. I wondered what effect these juxtapositions had on the imaginations of eighteenth century farmworkers ...

It is interesting to recollect that this iconography taken strictly suggests a notion of the Sacrifice of the Mass (aligning it narrowly with the Jewish sacrificial system) different from that of the Canon Romanus (which carefully alludes to pre-Mosaic sacrifice). Other texts in the old sacramentaries refer, of course, to the Eucharist as the fulfilment of the 'differentias hostiarum'.


Joshua said...

I recall seeing such pictures - Moses would accompany the Commandments, and Aaron would signify sacrifice. On either side of the Commandments and flanking paintings were the texts of the Lord's Prayer and Apostles' Creed - a curious parallel to the altar cards used at the Tridentine Mass!

Fr H. is very right to mark what, to the Fathers, would have seemed a very Judaizing take on the Liturgy, turning away from Abel, Abraham and Melchisedech.

But surely the hermeneutical key here is that standing at the north side of the altar to offer sacrifice is in fact enjoined for the Aaronic priest in Leviticus i, 11?

"And he shall kill it on the side of the altar northward before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall sprinkle his blood round about upon the altar." (A.V.)

The holy table is therefore pictured as the altar of propitiation, even as the ark upon which the High Priest sprinkled blood...

It is curious to see Aaron with thurible (again bespeaking propitiatory oblation, and foreshadowing the good odour of Christ), let alone with the mitre that no eighteenth century Anglican would ever have worn.

I find an image of such an arrangement at "St Magnus", apparently some old church somewhere:


By an amusing juxtaposition, the holy table is all drest for Mass with big six and cards!

(Is this not far from London Bridge?)

There is even a credence with the holy alms dish, flanked by candles no less. that uniquely Anglican sacred vessel, all ready to be filled with money and elevated as an idolatrous wave offering (as Dearmer put it), substituting for the Oblation of the Son of Man the oblations of the sons of men (as Dix said).

AndrewWS said...

I think my old friend the incumbent of St Magnus would be amused to read it being described as "some old church somewhere". It is indeed near London Bridge station, on the other side of the Thames from where I am typing this.

It is mentioned in Eliot's Waste Land and possesses a chalice mentioned in Shakespeare.

Joshua said...

Some googling turns up the fact that "most Anglican altar-pieces erected during the 18th and 19th CC.... provided handsome frameworks for the Commandments, [Apostles' Creed], and Lord's Prayer" - some containing "pictures of Moses and Aaron to balance the texts". Why the Commandments, above all? because the 84th of the Canons Ecclesiastical of 1604 commanded such to be put up in church.

Joshua said...

I couldn't help but josh...

(A friend of mine just recently returned from a visit Home and mentioned St Magnus the Martyr to me.)

William Tighe said...

Such a tableau of Moses and Aaron can be found in many Swedish parish churches, where they appear to have become almost a "standard feature" of late 17th/18th century church appointments -- and yet the Swedes were as fierce as any other Lutherans in rejecting any sacrificial understanding of the Eucharist other than that of the "sacrifice of thanksgiving" offered by the collectivity of the individuals present at it.

Joshua said...

Is it just then that with Moses as Lawgiver is paired Aaron as Priest? - both in their manner foreshadowing Our Lord, Who taught the New Law and is the One Priest of His New Testament.

Jesse said...

If Nicholas Armitage had not wrapped up his Comfortable Words blog, we would probably be able to find there a good number of passages from early Anglican writers that would illuminate this discussion. One of the passages he highlighted, however, was from Dean Daniel Brevint's The Christian Sacrament and Sacrifice (VII.10), which has the following to say about the connection between the Mosaic sacrifices and the Eucharist:

THIS Sacrifice did consist of two Parts. The first and chiefest was, the Lamb, that did foreshew the Lamb of God; and the second was, the Meat and Drink Offering, made of Flour, mingled with Oil and Wine: all which, being but an Additional thrown on the Lamb, Morning and Evening were counted but for one and the same Sacrifice (Exod 29:38-46; Num 28:1-10).

Those secondary Oblations, so thrown and burnt upon the main Sacrifice, signified properly these Offerings, which Christians must present to God, of themselves, as their Goods, and of their Praises. From this Meat and Drink Offering, which was added to more substantial Sacrifices, came the Bread and Wine to be used at the Celebration of Christ's Death: which Bread in the Communion, considered as Sacrament, signifies the natural; but considered as Sacrifice, it represents the mystical Body of Christ, that is, his Church. For we that are many, saith the Apostle, i Cor. x 17. are one Bread.

(continued below)

Jesse said...

(continued from above)

To this Purpose the holy Martyr Ignatius, being ready to be offered up by Martyrdom, said, he was the Wheat of God, which was to be ground by Beasts Teeth. Soon after, the Church added Oil and Frankincense to Bread and Wine to make up the whole Meat-Offering, which consisted of these four Things. The Truth is, all what we can offer upon our own Account is but such an Oblation: as this Meat and Drink Offering of Moses was, that cannot be presented but by the Virtue and Merits of Jesus Christ, who supports it; and that can never ascend up to Heaven but along with the sacred Smoke of that great Burnt Sacrifice, which is to carry it up thither.

For, on the one Side, our own Persons, our Works, or any Thing else that may be ours, are, by themselves, but weak, unsubstantial Kinds of Offerings, which cannot be presented unto God, otherwise but as these additional Oblations, which from themselves fall to the Ground, unless a more solid Sacrifice do sustain them: and, on the other Side, this solid and fundamental Sacrifice upholds, saves, and sanctifies, but those Persons and Things, that, according to the Law of Moses, his Meat Offerings are thrown into this his Fire, are hallowed upon his Altar; and are, together with him, consecrated to God by him.

Nebuly said...

'and (if he was a gentleman) a red silk MA hood'
- or one of blue silk dear Father: not all had the red of Oxford and St Andrews.

Yes Jesse - what a sad loss is Mr Armitage's Blog 'Comfortable Words'