Author Topic: The Halo of Christ in Iconography  (Read 5097 times)

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Online Alveus Lacuna

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The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« on: April 14, 2009, 05:09:11 AM »
Can anyone explain the significance of Christ's halo in Orthodox iconography?  What do the three bars within the halo represent?  I have heard that there is a correlation between it and earlier symbolism from solar deities or sun worship that was incorporated into Christian iconography.  Is there any truth in this?


Offline Seraphim98

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Re: The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2009, 09:57:23 AM »
They are the bars of the cross. The lower one is of course hidden by His head and neck.  The letters on the bars are the initials for the Greek phrase "He Who Is" (aka I Am). The nimbus (halo) symbolizes the Divine light shining from His presence.

Offline ialmisry

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Re: The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2009, 10:19:34 AM »
I have heard that there is a correlation between it and earlier symbolism from solar deities or sun worship that was incorporated into Christian iconography.  Is there any truth in this?
Of course there is a correlation: Matthew 17:2
His appearance was changed in front of them, His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as light.

So if someone is trying to tell you we are pagan, we are in good company.  St. Matthew's that is.
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Offline scamandrius

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Re: The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« Reply #3 on: April 14, 2009, 01:34:43 PM »
Can anyone explain the significance of Christ's halo in Orthodox iconography?  What do the three bars within the halo represent?  I have heard that there is a correlation between it and earlier symbolism from solar deities or sun worship that was incorporated into Christian iconography.  Is there any truth in this?

Yes, there is truth that the halo, more appropriately called a nimbus, derives from pagan artistic traditions.  One can only look at any number of mosaics of pagan deities, particularly the Olympians.  However, one particular comparison should be brought up.  The pagan sun-god, Mithras, who was born on December 25, is also represented with a nimbus.  The difference with Christ is that he has the three bars which, as has already been pointed out, represents his "pre-existence" as it were.  There are any number of studies done on this.  I could recommend some books, if you'd like to follow up on this in greater detail.

Hey, I don't hand out 9.5s to just anyone!  ;D

Offline LBK

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Re: The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« Reply #4 on: April 14, 2009, 04:32:04 PM »
The cross in Christ's halo is made up of nine lines, each arm of the cross being a single line and a double line. These nine lines represent the nine orders of heavenly bodiless powers (angels, archangels, etc), who serve God, and who are before His throne. The three letters in the halo are, in Greek, the name of God given to Moses on Mt Sinai, usually translated as "He Who Is". Christ Himself, at His trial, also invokes this name when asked by the chief priest if He was the Son of God: I AM.
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Online Alveus Lacuna

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Re: The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2009, 01:22:00 AM »
So if someone is trying to tell you we are pagan, we are in good company.  St. Matthew's that is.

No, no.  None of that concerns me.  I don't care at all that many elements of pagan culture were baptized and welcomed into Christianity.  For example, there seem to be some loose similarities between iconography for the sacrifice of Christ and iconography for Mithras' sacrifice of the bull:





"A. Deman suggests that rather than attempting to find individual references from Mithraic art in Christian iconography, as Cumont does with the sun and moon, for instance, it is better to look for larger patterns of comparison: "with this method, pure coincidences can no longer be used and so the recognition of Mithras as the privileged pagan inspirer of medieval Christian iconography is forced upon us."  For example Deman compares what he calls the "creative sacrifice" of Mithras with the creative sacrifice of Christ. In representations of both iconographic scenes the vernal sacrifice is central to the image, with sun and the moon symmetrically arranged above. Beneath the sacrifice two other figures are symmetrically arranged. In mithraic scenes these are Cautes and Cautopates, and in the Christian scenes, which date from the 4th century onwards, the figures are typically Mary and John. In other Christian instances however, these two attendants are other figures, and carry a raised and lowered object reminiscent of the raised and lowered torches of Cautes and Cautopates. Such figures may be two Roman soldiers armed with lances, or Longinus holding a spear and Stephaton offering Jesus vinegar from a sponge."

Offline LBK

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Re: The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2009, 05:43:53 AM »
"A. Deman suggests that rather than attempting to find individual references from Mithraic art in Christian iconography, as Cumont does with the sun and moon, for instance, it is better to look for larger patterns of comparison: "with this method, pure coincidences can no longer be used and so the recognition of Mithras as the privileged pagan inspirer of medieval Christian iconography is forced upon us."  For example Deman compares what he calls the "creative sacrifice" of Mithras with the creative sacrifice of Christ. In representations of both iconographic scenes the vernal sacrifice is central to the image, with sun and the moon symmetrically arranged above. Beneath the sacrifice two other figures are symmetrically arranged. In mithraic scenes these are Cautes and Cautopates, and in the Christian scenes, which date from the 4th century onwards, the figures are typically Mary and John. In other Christian instances however, these two attendants are other figures, and carry a raised and lowered object reminiscent of the raised and lowered torches of Cautes and Cautopates. Such figures may be two Roman soldiers armed with lances, or Longinus holding a spear and Stephaton offering Jesus vinegar from a sponge."

A. Deman, whoever he or she is, is simply barking up the wrong tree. He/she obviously has no idea of what the Gospels say in describing the Crucifixion, nor has any clue about the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church. All the elements of a Crucifixion icon can be found in the words of scripture and the liturgical texts for Great Friday. Methinks A. Deman is promoting a syncretist or even atheist viewpoint.
« Last Edit: April 15, 2009, 05:44:17 AM by LBK »
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Offline ialmisry

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Re: The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2009, 08:14:17 AM »
With all this talk of Mithra, I put in that he was born in a cave, and that the Zoroastrians expected a savior born in a cave.

The Magi are Zoroastrian priests.
Question a friend, perhaps he did not do it; but if he did anything so that he may do it no more.
A hasty quarrel kindles fire,
and urgent strife sheds blood.
If you blow on a spark, it will glow;
if you spit on it, it will be put out;
                           and both come out of your mouth

Offline Seraphim98

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Re: The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« Reply #8 on: April 15, 2009, 01:19:20 PM »
Quote
A. Deman suggests...

Close your eyes and say the above out loud. Do it again listening carefully. Tell me what do you hear?

Coincidence, or just something that makes you go hmmmm?

Offline PeterTheAleut

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Re: The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« Reply #9 on: April 15, 2009, 02:11:12 PM »
Quote
A. Deman suggests...
Coincidence, or just something that makes you go hmmmm?
If you see anything more than mere coincidence in a person's name, especially if it's the author's family name, then go ahead and knock yourself out with your conspiracy theory. ::)
« Last Edit: April 15, 2009, 02:11:33 PM by PeterTheAleut »
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Re: The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« Reply #10 on: April 16, 2009, 01:14:21 AM »
A. Deman, whoever he or she is, is simply barking up the wrong tree. He/she obviously has no idea of what the Gospels say in describing the Crucifixion, nor has any clue about the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church. All the elements of a Crucifixion icon can be found in the words of scripture and the liturgical texts for Great Friday. Methinks A. Deman is promoting a syncretist or even atheist viewpoint.

Wow.  The point is that Christians did not reinvent the wheel with their iconographic practices.  Many, many of the "pagan" (pre-Christian) customs were taken on by the Church.  So what?  There are striking similarities in the iconography, such as the two attendants to the sacrifice, the sun and the moon flanking overhead, et cetera.  The Christians took what the knew from the world around them and the context that they were in, and they applied that to their faith.  How can anything else be the case?  And why would that be scary, threatening, or problematic for Christians today?  Do we have to believe that everything Christian fell out of the sky and was totally "original"?

Pointing out similarities with and influences on Christianity is not sycretism.

But to say that the "pagans" before the Christians were without hope and totally lost does not seem accurate to me.  Because our faith is universal, it acknowledges all attempts to worship gods as being ultimately intended to reach the One True God.  That does not mean that they were correct or acceptable in every way, but the simple fact for the early Christians is that there is only One God.  So as the people converted from all over, many aspects of what they had directed towards their gods in the past were absorbed into Christianity, assuming that they did not grossly violate the Christian faith or alter it in any substantial way.  The ankh in Egypt, the cross of the Gauls, and the Celtic triquetra were all eagerly absorbed.  The image of Isis holding Horus was utilized as well. 





These images complimented the universal reality of Christ, who in many ways had already been present in their culture and worship, as God has written His law on the heart of every person.

Just as their were many god-men of legend and living before Christ in places across the globe, they all prefigured the arrival of the incarnation of the One True God of all peoples of all nations.  Christ has come and fulfilled the worship of all the gods of old into their ultimate realization!

Offline ozgeorge

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Re: The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« Reply #11 on: April 16, 2009, 07:43:30 AM »
The image of Isis holding Horus was utilized as well. 

It seems a mother holding a child would be a universal symbol- why does it have to be based on Isis?
Why not Kuan Yin?



Or why cant they be based on some prehistoric carving of a mother nursing a child?:

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Re: The Halo of Christ in Iconography
« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2009, 01:53:25 AM »
It seems a mother holding a child would be a universal symbol- why does it have to be based on Isis?
Why not Kuan Yin?

It certainly does not "have" to be based on Isis, but it is the most likely template.  You are right about Kuan Yin though.  The similarities in imagery are so close that the Roman Catholic Christians of Japan combined the images into the "Maria Kannon" during the Tokugawa Era, when Christianity was persecuted for two whole centuries.  Many Japanese faithful shed their blood for Christ in those times.  May their memory be eternal!

http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/maria-kannon.html

« Last Edit: April 22, 2009, 02:02:30 AM by Alveus Lacuna »