Thursday, May 15, 2014

The First Alleluia for the Fifth Easter Sunday: Dextera Dei ("The Right Hand of God")

Here's this chant, sung by the monks of St. Benedict's Monastery in São Paulo (Brazil):

The text comes from Psalm (117/)118, vv. 15-16:
The right hand of God has wrought strength; the right hand of the Lord has exalted me.
(Although the Latin text of the Psalm actually reads "Dextera Domini," and not "Dextera Dei.")

Here's the full chant score:

It seems very likely to me that the text for this Alleluia was chosen as a continuity with the theme begun in the Introit, Cantate Domino ("Sing to the Lord").  Here's that text:
Sing to the Lord a new song, alleluia; for the Lord has accomplished wondrous deeds, alleluia; he has revealed his justice in the sight of the Gentiles, alleluia, alleluia. His right hand and his holy arm have given him victory.
All the chant propers for this Sunday - except the Communio - are the same today as they were in the older Tridentine rite.

Here's a nice "Dextera Domini" sung by the Jeune Choeur Saint Evode ("the St. Evode Youth Choir"), apparently related in some way to (or else singing with) the Choeur de la Cathédrale de Rouen [France];  the conductor is Loïc Barrois and the organist is Monika Beuzelin.    They are attributing this piece, I think, to "Concini," although I'm not sure who that is.  This piece includes the next verse of Psalm 118, too ("I shall not die, but live - and declare the works of the Lord"):
Dextera Domini fecit virtutem,
Dextera Domini exaltavit me:
non moriar, sed vivam,
et narrabo opera Domini.

Here are all the chants for today from
Hebdomada quinta paschæ
Introitus: Ps. 97, 1.2 Cantate Domino (cum Gloria Patri) (4m35.5s - 4308 kb) score
Alleluia: Ps. 117, 16 Dextera Dei (2m02.2s - 1912 kb) score
Alleluia: Rom. 6, 9 Christus resurgens (3m10.5s - 2978 kb) score
Offertorium: Ps. 65, 1.2.16 Iubilate Deo universa terra (3m31.6s - 3306 kb) score
                (anno A)Io. 14, 9 Tanto tempore (1m24.6s - 1324 kb) score
                        Io. 15, 5 Ego sum vitis vera (1m01.1s - 956 kb)

And here are Chantblog posts on some of these propers:

There is an entire Wikipedia listing - a long one! - about "The Hand of God"; this comes from the introduction:

The Hand of God, or Manus Dei in Latin, also known as Dextera domini/dei, the "right hand of God", is a motif in Jewish and Christian art, especially of the Late Antique and Early Medieval periods, when depiction of Jehovah or God the Father as a full human figure was considered unacceptable. The hand, sometimes including a portion of an arm, or ending about the wrist, is used to indicate the intervention in or approval of affairs on Earth by God, and sometimes as a subject in itself. It is an artistic metaphor that is generally not intended to indicate that a hand was physically present or seen at any subject depicted. The Hand is seen appearing from above in a fairly restricted number of narrative contexts, often in a blessing gesture (in Christian examples), but sometimes performing an action. In later Christian works it tends to be replaced by a fully realized figure of God the Father, whose depiction had become acceptable in Western Christianity, although not in Eastern Orthodox or Jewish art.[1] Though the hand of God has traditionally been understood as a symbol for God's intervention or approval of human affairs, it is also possible that the hand of God reflects the anthropomorphic conceptions of the deity which may have persisted in late antiquity.[2]

The largest group of Jewish imagery from the ancient world, the 3rd century synagogue at Dura-Europas, has the hand of God in five different scenes, including the Sacrifice of Isaac,[3] and no doubt this was one of the many iconographic features taken over by Christian art from what seems to have been a vigorous tradition of Jewish narrative art. Here and elsewhere it often represents the bath Kol (literally "daughter of a voice") or voice of God,[4] a use also taken over into Christian art.

The hand may also relate to older traditions in various other religions in the Ancient Near East.[5] Like the hamsa amulet, the hand is sometimes shown alone on buildings, although it does not seem to have existed as a portable amulet-type object in Christian use. It is found from the 4th century on in the Catacombs of Rome, including paintings of Moses receiving the Law and the Sacrifice of Isaac.[6]

There are numerous references to the hand, or arm, of God in the Hebrew Bible, some clearly metaphorical in the way that remains current in modern English, but others capable of a literal interpretation.[7] They are usually distinguished from references to a placement at the right hand of God. Later rabbinic literature also contains a number of references. There are three occasions in the gospels when the voice of God is heard, and the hand often represents this in visual art.[8] Gertrud Schiller distinguishes three functions of the hand in Christian art: as symbol of either God's presence or the voice of God, or signifying God's acceptance of a sacrifice.[9]

Following are some examples of "Hand of God" art.

This is "Jews cross Red Sea pursued by Pharoah."  It's a "fresco from Dura Europos synagogue, 244-256 CE" (photo by Becklectic):

This is Ezekiel's "In the Valley of Dry Bones"; it's a fresco from Doura Europos (I assume again from the synagogue there) and from sometime in the 3rd Century.  DE was border city of the Roman Empire founded in 312 BC by Seleucus I and destroyed 256/257 AD by the Sassanid Empire.

Here's a translation from the German of this page, describing this fresco:
Ezekiel describes in chapter 37 a vision in which God brings the dead bones of the people back to life. It is strongly reminiscent of the creation stories of Genesis 1 and 2.  Here the idea of ​​a resurrection from the dead is first formulated.

Ezekiel (Ezekiel) connects the proclamation of the approaching final judgment (Ez 7) with visions that look back on past history and this "project": not only the "abominations" (Ezekiel 8) that the destruction of the First Temple (Ez 9) and caused pull the downfall of the monarchy (Ez 19), but also the victory of Nebuchadnezzar over Egypt (Ezek. 29-32). Yet unconnected with it now also occurs the idea of an otherworldly Raise Dead shows (Ez 37).
This really lovely piece - it includes a delightful "right hand of God" motif I've never seen before, as God reaches down to help Christ ascend to heaven! - is "Women at the Grave of Christ and Ascension of Christ (so-called „Reidersche Tafel“); Ivory; Milan or Rome, c. 400 AD]]":

This is the Binding of Isaac, a capital at the Visigothic church at San Pedro de la Nave (Spain).  The church was built at some point between 680 and 711 CE. 

This is "Moses receiving the Law" from the Paris Psalter ((BnF MS Grec 139), folio 422v).  According to this page, "Together with Basil I's Homilies of St Gregory Nazianzus, the Paris Psalter is considered a key monument of the so-called Macedonian Renaissance in Byzantine art during the 10th century."


Unknown said...

Great Post! Such interesting pictures too. I really like that one of Ezekiel and the Valley of Dry Bones...


bls said...

I know! I wasn't really aware of these early images; that synagogue - the entire city of Dura Europos, in fact - is apparently a really important acheological location. The city was destroyed in the 3rd Century - and then nothing was ever built on top of it, so everything was preserved. Also, it was "on the edge of empires," so there are a lot of different cultural influences there; the earliest known house church is there, too, I believe.

The city was known through literature, but was "redisovered" in 1885. (It's in today's Eastern Syria.)

A really interesting topic.....


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