Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tetramorph

Although many Christians stubbornly refuse to believe it, there is astrological symbolism in the Bible! This is simply due to the fact that the Hebrew people absorbed some of the astrological beliefs of the ancient Babylonian civilization when held in captivity in Babylon. The Hebrew people were liberated by the conqueror of Babylonia the Persian Shah, Cyrus.

Astrological symbolism occurs in the prophet Ezekiel's vision-


As for the likeness of their faces, they four had the face of a man, and the face of a lion, on the right side: and they four had the face of an ox on the left side; they four also had the face of an eagle
. Ezekiel 1:10.




















Its interesting to note that the great winged beasts of the Babylonian are a composite of beasts and human. The better-known Egyptian Sphinx is another example of a four-fold mixture of beasts and human likeness. Saint John in the 27th and only book of prophecy in the New Testament, re-iterates Ezekiel's vision thus-

And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle. Revelation 4:7

One notable interpretation of this frequently found symbol throughout various civilizations, notes of its pre-Christian origins-

The Ancients in their wisdom had drawn from the riddle of the Sphinx four basic rules for conduct of human life -knowledge with the human brain; will with the lion's strength; daring (or lifting oneself) with the bold strength of the eagle's wings; silence with the powerful concentrated bulk of the bull.

Although the astrological schemata differs fractionally from the prophet Ezekiel and John's vision in its usage of the far-less well-known creature, the scorpion, to represent one quarter of the 'Fixed Cross' of Astrology, the Tetramorph quarternity is still a remarkable example of syncretism in religion, that is the over-lapping and adoption of one schemata by a differing belief-system.






















Often the figure of Christ is depicted at the heart of the Tetramorph, as a Pantokrater, that is, an omnipotent Ruler over All.  The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung explains why-

He (Christ) holds an important position midway between the two extremes, man and God, which are so difficult to unite. ..He is lacking in neither humanity nor in divinity, and for this reason he was long ago characterized by totality symbols, because he was understood to be all-embracing and to unite all opposites. The quaternity of the Son of Man,indicating a more differentiated consciousness, was also ascribed to him (via Cross and tetramorph.
(CW 10:692)

As for whether early Christians knew that John's vision referenced back to Ezekiel which itself originated from Babylonian astrological symbolism; one can only presume it be nothing other than an act of knowingly supplanting one set of religious symbols over another.

It was in fact the early Church Father Saint Jerome who is credited as first nominating the symbols of Bull, Eagle, Angel and Lion to the four Gospel authors.  Jerome's selection of the so-called 'Fixed Cross' of Astrology, (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio and Aquarius) as emblematic 'Logo's' to the 4 Gospels is a superb example of syncretism , that is, how belief systems overlap and are adopted by newer beliefs, often entirely different from their sources.

However, in the final analysis the quaternity symbol the Tetramorph can never be fully explained or exhausted; for as a symbol, it will always transcend interpretative attempts.The original definition of a symbol, as a tally of two halves, helps our understanding here; for Man only ever holds one half of the broken coin, tally stick or object used for identification, recognition or completeness, the other, 'invisible and missing half' of the symbolon, is held by God.

Illustrations from the Book of Kells, circa 8th CE, Babylonian Lion and (top) a 13th CE Ivory Casket
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