Sunday, November 8, 2020

Ephesians 1.15-23: The Footstool

God put this power to work in Christ...and...has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:15-23) On the Sunday we acknowledge the Reign of Christ, the idea of Christ having all things under his feet makes sense. That would make "everything" Christ's footstool.

Cartographers had the opportunity to illustrate this idea as they created maps of the world with Christ enthroned at the top. The top of a map was generally oriented to the East, so Christ sits on those maps at the direction of the rising sun and the resurrection. Cathedrals altars were usually at the east end of the building, meaning that the congregation faced the rising sun...and the rising son. 

Hearing that, then, you might expect that Jesus' figure on a mappamundi (map of the world) would be seated on a throne with his feet resting on the earth like a footstool. After all, the visual is there in Ephesians. You might expect, but it wouldn't necessarily be true. 
The Map Psalter (BL MS Add 28681, fol. 9r (left) and fol. 9v (right). 1262-1300. London: British Library.
Above are two illustrations from the same manuscript. In one (left), the world, mapped out on a circle, blocks the view of the bottom half of Jesus' body. The other illustration (the verso of the left image), has expanded to cover almost all of Jesus. His head is above the world (here a T-O map), and his arms reach out to embrace the world. And there, at the bottom, Jesus' bare feet peek out from the bottom of the circular map. That is not all things under Jesus' feet. That's Jesus' feet under all things.
Hereford Mappa Mundi. c. 1300. Hereford Cathedral. Hereford, England.
By contrast the Hereford Mappa Mundi (c. 1300) shows Jesus in the peak of the map. He is sitting down, and his feet, on which blood flows from nail holes, are visible. The entire map of the world is beneath his feet. Just as was written to the Ephesians.

But the world as footstool is not exclusively in Ephesians. Acts 7:48-50 quotes Isaiah 66:1-2a.: Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?” There are other times the footstool is used: the ark of the covenant is called the footstool of God (I Chronicles 28:2), the enemies of the people of God are made their footstools (Psalm 110:1, Luke 20:43, Acts 2:35, Hebrews 1:13, Hebrews 10:13), the earth is God's footstool (Matthew 5:35).

That's quite a bit of attention to a pretty insignificant piece of furniture. Mercifully, Christ is more concerned with his footstool that we probably are with ours. 

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