By Brian Noell
The drawing of the cherub with six inscribed wings first appears in monastic manuscripts in the twelfth century. It later made its way into codices used by clergy, scholars, and laymen as well. The most stable element in the various depictions of the figure is the disposition of the wings. The cherub almost always has two wings folded in front of its body, two extended to its sides, and two held over its head. Generally, the titles of the six wings are the same in spirit, if not always in word. The wings in Beinecke MS 416 are labeled: confessio, satisfactio, munditia carnis, puritas mentis, dilectio proximi, and dilectio dei. Each of the wings has five feathers, representing the sub-virtues of the overarching category. In our example, wings one and two (confessio and satisfactio) cover the cherub's body. The five virtues to be practiced in confession of one's sins are truth, integrity, firmness, humility, and simplicity. Those that go with satisfactio (making amends) are renunciation of sin, flow of tears, chastisement of the flesh, largess of alms, and devotion in prayer. Wings three and four, munditia carnis (purity of the flesh) and puritas mentis (purity of mind), extend to the sides of the angelic figure. The five feathers of wing three are modesty of sight, chastity of hearing, modesty of smell, temperance of appetite, and sanctification of touch. As a point of emphasis or perhaps as visual play the artist shows the cherub figure laying his hand upon this last inscription. Wing number four is characterized by uprightness of affection, delight of the mind in the Lord, pure and ordered thought, discretion of will, and simple and pure intention. The final pair of wings stretches above the cherub's head as if to be used in flight. These are the crowning virtues, those that enable the soul to ascend to mystical heights. The fifth wing is dilectio proximi (love of neighbor) under the influence of which one does no injury, is of benefit to all, gives up first place on behalf of another, risks his life for a friend, and perseveres in these other virtues. Finally, wing number six is dilectio dei (love of God), which the individual has when he desires nothing other than God, gives away his goods, relinquishes all things, denies himself, and perseveres in the previous four practices.