Christ Pantocrator

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Jesus Christ Pantocrator (Detail from the deesis mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul) Christ Pantocrator mosaic from Hagia Sophia 2744 x 2900 pixels 3.1 MB.jpg
Jesus Christ Pantocrator (Detail from the deesis mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul)

In Christian iconography, Christ Pantocrator (Greek : Χριστὸς Παντοκράτωρ) [1] is a specific depiction of Christ. Pantocrator or Pantokrator is, used in this context, derived from of one of many names of God in Judaism.

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Depiction of Jesus Christian icons or images depicting Jesus

Apart from Jesus being described as wearing tzitzit - the tassels on a tallit - in Matthew 14:36 and Luke 8:43-44, there is no useful description of the physical appearance of Jesus given in the New Testament and the depiction of Jesus in pictorial form was controversial in the early Church. The depiction of him in art took several centuries to reach a conventional standardized form for his physical appearance, which has subsequently remained largely stable since that time. Most images of Jesus have in common a number of traits which are now almost universally associated with Jesus, although variants are seen.

The name of God most often used in the Hebrew Bible is Yeloim. Adonai Yeloim. י..הו.ה). It is written in most English editions of the Bible as "the Lord" owing to the Jewish tradition increasingly viewing the divine name as too sacred to be uttered. It was thus replaced vocally in the synagogue ritual by the Hebrew word Adonai ("Master"), which was translated as Kyrios ("Lord") in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures.

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The Pantokrator, largely an Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic theological conception, is less common by that name in Western (Roman) Catholicism and largely unknown to most Protestants. In the West the equivalent image in art is known as Christ in Majesty, which developed a rather different iconography. Christ Pantocrator has come to suggest Christ as a mild but stern, all-powerful judge of humanity.

Christ in Majesty

Christ in Majesty or Christ in Glory is the Western Christian image of Christ seated on a throne as ruler of the world, always seen frontally in the centre of the composition, and often flanked by other sacred figures, whose membership changes over time and according to the context. The image develops from Early Christian art, as a depiction of the Heavenly throne as described in 1 Enoch, Daniel 7, and The Apocalypse of John. In the Byzantine world, the image developed slightly differently into the half-length Christ Pantocrator, "Christ, Ruler of All", a usually unaccompanied figure, and the Deesis, where a full-length enthroned Christ is entreated by Mary and St. John the Baptist, and often other figures. In the West, the evolving composition remains very consistent within each period until the Renaissance, and then remains important until the end of the Baroque, in which the image is ordinarily transported to the sky.

Iconography Branch of art history

Iconography, as a branch of art history, studies the identification, description, and the interpretation of the content of images: the subjects depicted, the particular compositions and details used to do so, and other elements that are distinct from artistic style. The word iconography comes from the Greek εἰκών ("image") and γράφειν.

When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek as the Septuagint, Pantokrator was used both for YHWH Sabaoth "Lord of Hosts" [2] and for El Shaddai "God Almighty". [3] In the New Testament, Pantokrator is used once by Paul (2 Cor 6:18) and nine times in the Book of Revelation: 1:8, 4:8, 11:17, 15:3, 16:7, 16:14, 19:6, 19:15, and 21:22. The references to God the Father and God the Son in Revelation are at times interchangeable, Pantokrator appears to be reserved for the Father except, perhaps, in 1:8.

Hebrew Bible Canon of the Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible, also called the Tanakh or Mikra, is the canonical collection of Jewish texts, which is also the textual source for the Christian Old Testament. These texts are composed mainly in Biblical Hebrew, with some passages in Biblical Aramaic. The form of this text that is authoritative for Rabbinic Judaism is known as the Masoretic Text (MT), and is divided into 24 books, while the Protestant Bible translations divide the same material into 39 books.

Septuagint Greek translation of Hebrew scriptures

The Septuagint is the earliest extant Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures from the original Hebrew. It is estimated that the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Torah or Pentateuch, were translated in the mid-3rd century BCE and the remaining texts were translated in the 2nd century BCE. Considered the primary Greek translation of the Old Testament, it is quoted a number of times in the New Testament,particularly in the Pauline epistles,by the Apostolic Fathers, and later by the Greek Church Fathers.

El Shaddai or just Shaddai is one of the names of the God of Israel. El Shaddai is conventionally translated as God Almighty but the construction of the phrase fits the pattern of the divine appellations in the Ancient Near East and as such can convey various types of semantic relations between these two words: El of a place known as Shaddai, El possessing the quality of shaddai, or El who is also known as Shaddai – exactly as is the case with the names like "’El Olam", "’El Elyon" or "’El Betel". Moreover, while the translation of El as "God" or "Lord" in the Ugaritic/Canaanite language is straightforward, the literal meaning of Shaddai is the subject of debate.

Meaning

Christ Pantocrator mosaic in Byzantine style from the Cefalu Cathedral, Sicily Christ Pantokrator, Cathedral of Cefalu, Sicily.jpg
Christ Pantocrator mosaic in Byzantine style from the Cefalù Cathedral, Sicily

The most common translation of Pantocrator is "Almighty" or "All-powerful". In this understanding, Pantokrator is a compound word formed from the Greek words πᾶς, pas ( GEN παντόςpantos), i.e. "all" [4] and κράτος, kratos, i.e. "strength", "might", "power". [5] This is often understood in terms of potential power; i.e., ability to do anything, omnipotence.

Omnipotence quality of having unlimited power

Omnipotence is the quality of having unlimited power. Monotheistic religions generally attribute omnipotence to only the deity of their faith. In the monotheistic philosophies of Abrahamic religions, omnipotence is often listed as one of a deity's characteristics among many, including omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence. The presence of all these properties in a single entity has given rise to considerable theological debate, prominently including the problem of theodicy, the question of why such a deity would permit the manifestation of evil.

Another, more literal translation is "Ruler of All" or, less literally, "Sustainer of the World". In this understanding, Pantokrator is a compound word formed from the Greek for "all" and the verb meaning "To accomplish something" or "to sustain something" (κρατεῖν, kratein). This translation speaks more to God's actual power; i.e., God does everything (as opposed to God can do everything).

Iconography

The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator, encaustic on panel (Saint Catherine's Monastery). The two different facial expressions on either side may emphasize Christ's two natures as fully God and fully human. Spas vsederzhitel sinay.jpg
The oldest known icon of Christ Pantocrator, encaustic on panel (Saint Catherine's Monastery). The two different facial expressions on either side may emphasize Christ's two natures as fully God and fully human.

The icon of Christ Pantokrator is one of the most common religious images of Orthodox Christianity. Generally speaking, in Medieval eastern roman church art and architecture, an iconic mosaic or fresco of Christ Pantokrator occupies the space in the central dome of the church, in the half-dome of the apse, or on the nave vault. Some scholars (Latourette 1975: 572) consider the Pantocrator a Christian adaptation of images of Zeus, such as the great statue of Zeus enthroned at Olympia. The development of the earliest stages of the icon from Roman Imperial imagery is easier to trace. [8]

Byzantine art Art of the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire

Byzantine art refers to the body of Christian Greek artistic products of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, as well as the nations and states that inherited culturally from the empire. Though the empire itself emerged from the decline of Rome and lasted until the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, the start date of the Byzantine period is rather clearer in art history than in political history, if still imprecise. Many Eastern Orthodox states in Eastern Europe, as well as to some degree the Muslim states of the eastern Mediterranean, preserved many aspects of the empire's culture and art for centuries afterward.

Apse Semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault or semi-dome

In architecture, an apse is a semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault or semi-dome, also known as an exedra. In Byzantine, Romanesque, and Gothic Christian church architecture, the term is applied to a semi-circular or polygonal termination of the main building at the liturgical east end, regardless of the shape of the roof, which may be flat, sloping, domed, or hemispherical. Smaller apses may also be in other locations, especially shrines.

Nave main body of a church

The nave is the central part of a church, stretching from the main entrance or rear wall, to the transepts, or in a church without transepts, to the chancel. When a church contains side aisles, as in a basilica-type building, the strict definition of the term "nave" is restricted to the central aisle. In a broader, more colloquial sense, the nave includes all areas available for the lay worshippers, including the side-aisles and transepts. Either way, the nave is distinct from the area reserved for the choir and clergy.

The image of Christ Pantocrator was one of the first images of Christ developed in the Early Christian Church and remains a central icon of the Eastern Orthodox Church. In the half-length image, Christ holds the New Testament in his left hand and makes the gesture of teaching or of blessing with his right. The typical Western Christ in Majesty is a full-length icon. In the early Middle Ages, it usually presented Christ in a mandorla or other geometric frame, surrounded by the Four Evangelists or their symbols.

Early Christianity period of Christianity preceding the First Council of Nicaea in 325

Early Christianity covers the period from its origins until the First Council of Nicaea (325). This period is typically divided into the Apostolic Age and the Ante-Nicene Period.

Eastern Orthodox Church Christian Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 200–260 million baptised members. It operates as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by its bishops in local synods, although roughly half of Eastern Orthodox Christians live in Russia. The church has no central doctrinal or governmental authority analogous to the Bishop of Rome, but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognised by all as primus inter pares of the bishops. As one of the oldest religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East.

New Testament Second division of the Christian biblical canon

The New Testament is the second part of the Christian biblical canon, the first part being the Old Testament, based on the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament discusses the teachings and person of Jesus, as well as events in first-century Christianity. Christians regard both the Old and New Testaments together as sacred scripture. The New Testament has frequently accompanied the spread of Christianity around the world. It reflects and serves as a source for Christian theology and morality. Extended readings and phrases directly from the New Testament are incorporated into the various Christian liturgies. The New Testament has influenced religious, philosophical, and political movements in Christendom and left an indelible mark on literature, art, and music.

The oldest known surviving example of the icon of Christ Pantocrator was painted in encaustic on panel in the sixth or seventh century, and survived the period of destruction of images during the Iconoclastic disputes that twice racked the Eastern church, 726 to 787 and 814 to 842. It was preserved in Saint Catherine's Monastery, in the remote desert of the Sinai. [9] The gessoed panel, finely painted using a wax medium on a wooden panel, had been coarsely overpainted around the face and hands at some time around the thirteenth century. When the overpainting was cleaned in 1962, the ancient image was revealed to be a very high-quality icon, probably produced in Constantinople. [10]

The icon, traditionally half-length when in a semi-dome, [11] which became adopted for panel icons also, depicts Christ fully frontal with a somewhat melancholy and stern aspect, with the right hand raised in blessing or, in the early encaustic panel at Saint Catherine's Monastery, the conventional rhetorical gesture that represents teaching. The left hand holds a closed book with a richly decorated cover featuring the Cross, representing the Gospels. An icon where Christ has an open book is called "Christ the Teacher", a variant of the Pantocrator. Christ is bearded, his brown hair centrally parted, and his head is surrounded by a halo. The icon is usually shown against a gold background comparable to the gilded grounds of mosaic depictions of the Christian emperors.

Often, the name of Christ is written on each side of the halo, as IC and XC. Christ's fingers are depicted in a pose that represents the letters IC, X and C, thereby making the Christogram ICXC (for "Jesus Christ"). The IC is composed of the Greek characters iota (Ι) and lunate sigma (C; instead of Σ, ς)—the first and last letters of 'Jesus' in Greek (Ἰησοῦς); in XC the letters are chi (Χ) and again the lunate sigma—the first and last letters of 'Christ' in Greek (Χριστός).

In many cases, Christ has a cruciform halo inscribed with the letters Ο Ω Ν, i.e. ὁ ὢν "He Who Is".

See also

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Pantokrator may refer to:

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Epitaphios (liturgical)

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Ancha icon

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Transfiguration of Jesus in Christian art motif in art

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Church of Hosios David church

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Christ Pantocrator (Sinai)

The Christ Pantocrator of St. Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai is one of the oldest Eastern Roman religious icons, dating from the 6th century AD. It is the earliest known version of the pantocrator style that still survives today, and is regarded by historians and scholars to be one of the most important and recognizable works in the study of Byzantine art as well as Eastern Orthodox Christianity.

References

Footnotes

  1. παντοκράτωρ . Liddell, Henry George ; Scott, Robert ; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  2. 2 Kings (2 Samuel) 7:8 and Amos 3:13
  3. Job 5:17, 15:25 and 22:25
  4. πᾶς . Liddell, Henry George ; Scott, Robert ; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  5. κράτος . Liddell, Henry George ; Scott, Robert ; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project
  6. God's Human Face: The Christ-Icon by Christoph Schoenborn (1994) ISBN   0-89870-514-2 page 154
  7. Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine by John Galey (1986) ISBN   977-424-118-5 page 92
  8. Eduard Syndicus; Early Christian Art; p. 96–99; Burns & Oates, London, 1962. Hall pp. 78–80; James Hall, A History of Ideas and Images in Italian Art, pp. 91–97, 1983, John Murray, London, ISBN   0-7195-3971-4
  9. Manolis Chatzidakis and Gerry Walters, "An Encaustic Icon of Christ at Sinai", The Art Bulletin49.3 (September 1967) pp. 197–208.
  10. Galey, John, Forsyth, George, and Weitzmann, Kurt, Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine, p. 92, Doubleday, New York, 1980, ISBN   0385171102
  11. Otherwise the size of the figure would have to be greatly reduced to avoid the head appearing at the flattening top of the semi-dome.

Bibliography

  • Latourette, Kenneth Scott, 1975. A History of Christianity, Volume 1, "Beginnings to 1500". Revised edition. (San Francisco: Harper Collins)
  • Christopher Schonborn, Lothar Kraugh (tr.) 1994. God's Human Face: The Christ Icon. Originally published as Icôn du Christ: Fondements théologiques élaborés entre le Ie et IIe Conciles de Nicée (Fribourg) 1976

Further reading