Historical setting: 584 C.E. Ligugè
We are at our work stations in the inks instructed to slow-walk the copying of John’s Gospel because there is no next assignment waiting. We will use more art and smaller letters to take up our time. But I fear art is so definitive and this Gospel of John, by its very nature is ethereal.
No doubt, my opinion is heresy, but it is surely no worse than any other heresy that uses this Gospel for its proof. Those expecting a purely tangible duality whisper that John is simply the battle between earth and heaven — even, at one time, it was thought to be a “Gnostic” gospel. But of course it isn’t that.
This metaphor of “Word” which has no word to fill that space but “Word,” is the unspoken name of God for which there is no speakable name. Light, untouchable, Love, invisible, Life, unbounded – these are metaphors that lead the spirit to see invisible things, yet these metaphors are also of earth. So how could this be Gnostic, which denies the sacred nature of earth? Those who would say John is Gnostic notice only its mystical haze and jump immediately to the reliability of tactile stuff of earth and read it as the separation between earth from spirit — a simplistic duality. Then the next part of a Gnostic view is judging one leg of the duality as good (that would be the spiritual) and the other, (creation) as evil.
But clearly, this gospel doesn’t use earth metaphors to speak of evil, rather earthly metaphors are also the breath or pneuma of awe for God. It isn’t heresy because it believes in things unseen, but it is heresy because it denies God’s own edict for Creation: “It is good.” The poetry earth — light, life, and love – simply say it is “on earth as it is in heaven.” It is the opposite of dividing earth and heaven against each other.
So John’s Gospel jumps right into a fearless journey through the thin places, and heaven and earth become one mingling of God through the atmospheres of mystics and the poetry of earth. And there are no heavenly powers separating the great universal love into three “persons” or demanding the artist show us two people and a bird. It is the all-inclusive singular — the everything of all.
So I ask the artists and the master of the scribes and the abbot, “What art are we intending for all this spacious parchment we are saving for art?”