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.

The Cherub With Six Wings
Back
8r

Click thumbnail to see full resolution image.

PDF
Click to download a PDF of the full paper.

 

Figure 1

The cherub diagram in Beinecke MS 416 also depicts three tonsured figures. The man standing below the angel with an open book may be the patron who commissioned the piece or the artist himself. An inscription beside his head identifies him as "Hermanus custos" and another on the back of his book, borrowed from Psalm 16.8, expresses the hope that he would be protected beneath the wings of the image. The term "custos" was an official title in the Cistercian Order for the second dignitary after the prelate. Thus, we can be relatively certain that the image was produced either by or on behalf of an official at the abbey of Kamp.

8r A

Figure 1

 

Figure 2

Above the head of the cherub is a medallion with the title of the short tract by Alan of Lille appearing with it at the bottom of the page: "tractatus super sex alas cherubim de confessione." The title is notable because it links the diagram to the practice of confession. The diagram was a device to warm the monks of Kamp to their obligation to confess their sins and to contritely carry out the enjoined penance. On either side of the title medallion are the images of two doves with a quote from Psalm 67. It reads, "posteriora eius in pallore auri." The text is a phrase from verse 14, the whole of which might be translated as "You shall be as the wings of a dove covered with silver and the hinder parts with white gold."

8r B

Figure 2

 

Figure 3

The Psalm text accompanying the doves is a complement to the scroll being held by the tonsured figure at the right of the drawing. It probably refers to the monk as a student of the image, stating, "may he rise into the heavens on the golden wing of the dove." Both of these inscriptions suggest the promise of grace that is possible to one that would pursue the program advocated in the diagram.

8r C

Figure 3

 

Figure 4

Like his counterpart on the right, the monk on the left of the cherub also makes a request, this time on behalf of both himself and his brethren: "May the wing of Christ protect us in the time of judgment." This recalls the wings of the golden cherubim covering the mercy seat in Exodus 37.9 and Jesus' statement in Matthew 23.37 that he wished to shelter the sons of Israel as the hen shelters her brood.

8r D

Figure 4