JESUIT "ST JOSEPH'S" UNIVERSITY CELEBRATES SYNAGOGA

The Medieval Motif of Synagoga and Ecclesia

And Its Transformation in a Post-Nostra Aetate Church


Ecclesia et Synagoga

These images from Notre Dame de Paris, similar to dozens of other portrayals of Church and Synagogue in the Middle Ages, are on either side of the main portal of the Cathedral's western facade. On the left, Church is a crowned, triumphant woman bearing the chalice of the Eucharist and a staff of authority. On the right, Synagogue is a defeated woman, whose crown has fallen, whose staff is broken, with the tablets of the Law slipping from her limp hand, and her eyes blindfolded by a serpent.


St Joseph's University, Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations

In the Middle Ages, the feminine figures of Ecclesia (Church) and Synagoga (Synagogue) were a familiar motif in Christian art. It was a visual presentation of the understanding of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism that prevailed in that era. Mary C. Boys has described it as follows:

"We can see a [particular] pattern in the Christian iconography of the dual figures Synagoga and Ecclesia. For many Christians of the Middle Ages, the status of Judaism evoked images from Lamentations (1:1; 5:16-17):

"How lonely sits the city
that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

"The crown has fallen from our head;
woe to us, for we have sinned!
Because of this our hearts are sick,
because of these things our eyes have grown dim.

"Like Leah of the weak eyes (see Genesis 29:17), Synagoga was blind to Christ. As second-century apologist Justin Martyr said to the Jew Trypho, "Leah is your people and the synagogue, while Rachel is our church ...; Leah has weak eyes, and the eyes of your spirit are also weak." Synagoga symbolizes an obsolete Judaism.

"In some depictions of this allegorical pair, we see a triumphant Ecclesia standing erect next to the bowed, blindfolded figure of the defeated yet dignified Synagoga (e.g., the thirteenth-century stone figures in the cathedrals of Strasbourg, Freiburg, Bamberg, Magdeburg, Reims, and Notre Dame [Paris]). Though the church has triumphed over synagogue, the latter is a tragic rather than sinister figure--a woman conquered, with her crown fallen, staff broken, and Torah dropping to the ground. ...

"Other representations of Synagoga, particularly in the Late Middle Ages, present a more contemptible figure. For example, in a fifteenth-century portrayal of the crucifixion, Ecclesia holds a chalice to receive the blood from the pierced heart of Jesus, whereas Synagoga turns away from him, in the clasp of a devil who rides atop her neck and blinds her to the Christ by covering her eyes. The association with the devil evokes a malevolent Synagoga. ... Many [Medieval Christians] would have viewed the figures of Synagoga and Ecclesia, and thereby absorbed a dangerous lesson: Judaism no longer has reason to exist."

- Mary C. Boys, Has God Only One Blessing?
Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding
(Paulist Press, 2000), 31-35.

Contrast this long-lived derogatory Christian attitude toward Judaism with these recent words of Pope Francis:

"We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). ... Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians. God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism."

- Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (2014), 247-249.

Clearly Catholic attitudes have changed. A new relationship of respect has replaced the previous one of disdain. The turning point was the Second Vatican Council declaration, Nostra Aetate, issued on October 28, 1965.

The statue being prepared for Saint Joseph's University to mark the declaration's 50th anniversary will reinterpret the medieval motif of Synagoga and Ecclesia to reflect the teaching of the Catholic Church today. "Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time" will depict Synaogue and Church as both proud crowned women, living in covenant with God side by side, and learning from one another’s sacred texts and traditions about their distinctive experiences of the Holy One. Meet the sculptor, Joshua Koffman, HERE.

Follow the creation of the Nostra Aetate anniversary sculpture, "Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time," HERE.



SJU Announces Details of Sculpture to Mark 50 Years of New Catholic-Jewish Relationship

St Joseph's University, Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, April 24, 2015

ecclesia et synagoga hoffman

Maquette of "Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time" by Joshua Koffman. The dimensions of the final work will be 45"wide x 36" high.

PHILADELPHIA (April 24) – Saint Joseph’s University has formally commissioned local artist Joshua Koffman to craft an original sculpture entitled, “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time.” To be situated prominently on the campus near the Chapel of Saint Joseph–Michael J. Smith, S.J. Memorial, Koffman’s preliminary design has been completed and work on the final statue has begun.

The sculpture is part of the University's celebration with the Philadelphia Jewish community of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council declaration, Nostra Aetate (Latin for its opening words, “In Our Time”). That 1965 statement repudiated centuries of Christian claims that Jews were blind enemies of God whose spiritual life was obsolete. The document called instead for friendship and dialogue between Catholics and Jews. Shortly after, what was then Saint Joseph’s College became the first American Catholic college to respond to this appeal by establishing the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations. The sculpture will also memorialize the Institute’s work and mission.

On numerous medieval cathedrals statues of the female allegorical figures of Church (Ecclesia) and Synagogue (Synagoga) portrayed the triumph of Christianity over Judaism. Ecclesia is crowned, majestic and victorious. Synagoga is defeated and blindfolded, her crown fallen at her feet.

"In 1965, Nostra Aetate rejected such images, declaring that Jews are beloved by an ever-faithful God whose promises are irrevocable," says University President, C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J. ’72. "The statue of 'Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time' will portray Jews and Christians using the medieval figures in a strikingly different way to express Catholic teaching today."

According to Institute Director Philip A. Cunningham, Ph.D., the new sculpture will employ Synagoga and Ecclesia rendered with nobility and grace, to bring to life the words of Pope Francis: “Dialogue and friendship with the Jewish people are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. There exists between us a rich complementarity that allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another mine the riches of God’s word.” The work will depict the figures enjoying studying each other’s sacred texts together.

“The sculpture will vividly convey what Pope Francis has called the ‘journey of friendship’ that Jews and Catholics have experienced in the past five decades,” observes Jewish Studies professor and Institute Assistant Director, Adam Gregerman, Ph.D. “We are looking forward to area Jews and Catholics coming together to celebrate the remarkable rapprochement that is occurring.”

Artist Joshua Koffman is a Philadelphia-based sculptor known for his expressive and dramatic large-scale bronze sculptures. The recipient of many distinguished awards including the Alex J. Ettl Grant, the John Cavanaugh Memorial Prize, and First Place in the Grand Central Academy’s Sculpture Competition, he pursued formal art education at the University of California, Santa Cruz and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he currently teaches.

“I am certainly looking forward to creating a sculpture that will communicate an incredibly unique and important message that will be central to such an extraordinary occasion as this historic anniversary,” Koffman says.

The statue of “Ecclesia and Synagoga in Our Time” will be dedicated this coming fall. Further details will be announced nearer the date.

For more information, visit the website of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph's University at http://sju.edu/int/academics/centers/ijcr/.

Background

As Philadelphia's Jesuit, Catholic University, founded by the Society of Jesus in 1851, Saint Joseph's University provides a rigorous, student-centered education rooted in the liberal arts. SJU ranks as a top university in the Northeast, with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in the College of Arts and Sciences and AACSB accreditation of the Erivan K. Haub School of Business. The University is also deeply committed to the Jesuit tradition of scholarship and service, earning a place on the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll and the community engagement classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. With courses offered on campus and online, SJU prepares its more than 9,000 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students to lead lives of personal excellence, professional success and engaged citizenship.

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