Christ Pantocrator from The Bible of St Louis (Rich Bible of Toledo; Bible of Toledo) by Unknown Artist

Unknown artist

Christ Pantocrator from The Bible of St Louis (Rich Bible of Toledo; Bible of Toledo), 1226–34, Illuminated manuscript, 422 x 300 mm, Toledo Cathedral, Vol.1, fol. 1v, Album / Alamy Stock Photo

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Pantocrator Mother of Creation

Individual Commentary
Commentary by
Harry O. Maier

The Toledo Bible was created for the religious instruction of Louis IX of France. Such Bibles, known as Bibles Moralisées, used pictures accompanied by short descriptions to draw theological/allegorical and moral meanings from select Old and New Testament passages/events.

Theological/allegorical meanings suffuse the work: God the Son, Pantocrator, is the ruler and creator of the universe, but he is crowned by a cruciform nimbus; his blue cloak over his brown tunic symbolize the Word becoming flesh; his throne and feet on a gold sphere indicate his divinity; the background gold leaf represents the heavens; the angelic figures at each corner, the heavenly host. He is enthroned in the act of creation; his left hand supporting the universe and the compass in his right inscribing the unformed, chaotic deep of Genesis 1:1 (below) with order.

The illumination also captures ancient and medieval teachings about God Pantocrator as both Son and nurturing, birthing Mother. English anchorite and mystic Julian of Norwich (c.1342–c.1430) presents a vivid expression of this tradition: ‘[O]ur Saviour is our very mother in whom we be endlessly born, and never shall come out of him’ (Revelations of Divine Love 14.52). The Toledo Bible image is similarly lively and dramatic. The orb held between the Son’s spread legs depicts the separated waters under the dome of Genesis 1:6–7. But as its position suggests, it is also a womb. This illumination offers a provocative aid for visualizing Colossians 1:16, that, ‘in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him’. Creation literally passes ‘through him’.

Both Colossians and the Pantocrator of the Toledo Bible express a God simultaneously transcendent and immanent, enthroned in heaven (Colossians 3:1) and incarnate (1:15, 19), a God in and for whom all creation exists, God the Son, ever present and always inscribing and birthing the always new and vital universe after his own youthful image. In his hands, on, from, and through his lap, ‘all things hold together’ (1:17) and find their origin and destination in ‘the first born of all creation’ (1:15).

 

References

Julian of Norwich. 1999. Revelations of Divine Love (New York: Penguin Classics)