Sunday, 6 September 2015

Golden Fleeced Tree

Jason Retrieves the Golden Fleece
Saint Paul in preaching to the Greeks at Athens referred to a phrase found in Greek poetry - in the work of that of Aratus (B.C. 272) and Cleanthes (B.C. 300) - in order to ‘win over’ his audience by becoming as ‘a gentile to the gentiles’ so that by becoming “all things to all men” he “might by all means save some.” (1 Cor 9:22). In Acts of the Apostles we read: “'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring.'” (Acts 17:28). The Apostle uses these words not as they were meant or intended by the original authors – who were speaking of Zeus – but rather he reinterprets them in the light of the Truth, that is, in light of Christ and the Christian faith. Yet this method employed by Paul is not so much a ‘reinterpretation’ as it is the extracting of the seeds of truth which are apparent in all things – even in pagan literature, especially in what we might call sincere pagan literature. Yet of course whilst all things contain these 'seeds of truth', the Catholic Church contains the fullness of Truth -the very goldmine of Truth we might say. The Church Father St. Justin Martyr refers to these 'seeds of truth' when he writes: “hence there seem to be seeds of truth among all men; but they are charged with not accurately understanding [the truth]”.[1]

However we who have been washed with the waters of regeneration in baptism have been illumined by the Truth of faith, and so we are charged to understand the Truth when we see it, even in its fragments which are scattered throughout lands, eras, religions and cultures. Indeed there is a lot of clay and dirt of falsehood in all such things, but the specks of Truth can be found among them, as gold can be found in the soil. This is exactly how some of the early ecclesial writers and Church Fathers came to see the Greek myths, which they viewed as sometimes containing such ‘seeds of truth’. For example it was commonly believed among intellectual Christians during St. Augustine's time, and he himself believed so, that the poet Virgil, in the ‘Fourth Eclogue’, foretells of Christ.[2] In this section of Virgil’s ‘The Eclogues’, written thirty three years prior Christ’s birth, he prophesies about a saviour figure who would come as a child to usher in a new golden age, whilst mentioning the coming of a second Argo and a new Golden Fleece. Certainly such an account can be dismissed, and nor by any means should such imperfect sources serve to compete with that of Sacred Scripture. Yet by harvesting the scattered jewels throughout such sources as these, one may come to expand the imageries conjured by the imagination – images which can be employed as complimentary allegories in the service of mystical thought. Indeed the imagination is often rebuked as a wicked thing, but it is of itself good, and can be used for holy endeavors when submissive to a faith illumined intellect, in fact this is when the imagination fulfills its purpose.

This golden age spoken of by Virgil is an appropriate metaphor for the era of sanctification, commenced only in these latter days yet beginning with the Holy Family who first lived in the Divine Will. More specifically this golden age can refer to the era of universal peace (yet to come) during this era of sanctification, a period prophesied in Scripture and Tradition. The Ram with the New Golden Fleece is Christ, as is Jason a type of Christ, and perhaps the Argo – the ship that carried Jason and the Argonauts to Colchis in order to retrieve the golden fleece – a symbol of our Lady and the Church. (Click here to read the tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece). Within this poem the Golden Fleece imagery is used as a symbol of the sanctity of Divine Will, for with one’s heart, the tree of one’s soul, bearing this Sacred Fleece of the Supernal Lamb (Old Testament connotations), one becomes divinised so that the tree of one’s soul is turned to gold whilst all the land of one’s being is enriched with every divine virtue and grace.

The Argo (c. 1500-1530), Lorenzo Costa.
The satyr is often associated with the demonic, and its symbolic use is used within the Scriptures themselves (i.e. Is 13:21, translated from ‘hairy ones’). In this poem Satan is depicted as the satyr, yet the human will is also aptly symbolised herein by the satyr; with this foul creature kept at bay from the soul who is donned with the Golden Fleece of Divine Will, this Fleece which formed the very sanctity of the Virgin Mary. As was the tree turned gold by the golden fleece which hung on its bough in the Greek myth; so too is the soul and all her actions sanctified into spiritual gold, into the heights of holiness, by the real Golden Fleece. Concerning this the Spirit through the writings of Paul alludes: “Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw-- each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” (1 Cor 3:12-15). Truly he who wears this Golden Fleece and hangs it always in the tree of his heart, shall build with Gold in all that he does -with the Gold of the Supreme Will; and on the Last Day when "the fire will test what sort of work each one has done" his work will remain as it is: radiant and divine, for the works of Christ Himself were of this very same Gold, and in fact -is this very Gold.

A noble tree doth grow
In the middle of a meadow grove
Wherein many flowers
Unknown do bloom
Beside a silver stream;
With tree’s nobility
Revealed by trunk of gold,
With golden shine
Extending to each branch:
Its leaves jewels of various kinds
Which oft’ would fall,
To brazen stalks delight beneath,
Which then would grow thrice thick,
Increasing tree’s splendour
Thus driving far that foul contender.

For that foul satyr
Was repulsed by the glimmer of jewels
And the shine of bright gold
With which tree gleamed
From gleam of sacred Ram;
For Ram gave life on bough
And shed there golden fleece,
Which still there hangs
As life of tree once dead:
Its golden wool locks making tree
Gold and grove bloom,
So long as fleece doth cloak its boughs;
Thus keeping fiend away
Who seeks to burn tree down-
Tree which enriches all land around.

[1] Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 44, 155-157 A.D.
[2] Augustine, The City of God, Book X, Chapter 27, 426 A.D.