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).
Julian of Norwich. 1999. Revelations of Divine Love (New York: Penguin Classics)
1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colosʹsae:
3 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love which you have for all the saints, 5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel 6which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—so among yourselves, from the day you heard and understood the grace of God in truth, 7as you learned it from Epʹaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf 8and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
9 And so, from the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. 11May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; 16for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. 19For in him all the fulness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.