October 5th, 2008


Art on Sunday: Lazarus and Dives

Master of the Codex Aureus Epternacensis
Lazarus and Dives, illumination from the Codex Aureus of Echternach, ca. 1035-1040
Ink on parchment
Lazarus and Dives
Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg, Germany

I mentioned last week that Jane Eyre is better versed in New Testament minutiae than I. So too, it seems, does St. John Eyre Rivers (in my defense, a pastor who studied at Cambridge), who says in Chapter 35, "Remember the fate of Dives, who had his good things in this life." This turns out to be an allusion to the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, verses 19-31, a passage with which I am very familiar:

Jesus said, "There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.

"Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side.

"The rich man shouted, 'Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.'

"But Abraham said to him, 'Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.'

"Then the rich man said, 'Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don't end up in this place of torment.'

"But Abraham said, 'Moses and the prophets have warned them. Your brothers can read what they wrote.'

"The rich man replied, 'No, Father Abraham! But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will repent of their sins and turn to God.'

"But Abraham said, 'If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.'"

Note that there is no one named Dives mentioned in this passage, nor anywhere else in any edition of the Bible. In the Vulgate, the word dives is used to describe the rich man, and for good reason: dives is Latin for "rich man." There is, however, a rich tradition in Christianity of giving names to people who are not named in the Bible (or, in the case of Sts. Joachim and Anne, held to be the parents of the Virgin Mary, mentioned at all), and according to this tradition, Dives has been taken to be the given name of that (literally) damned rich man.

Anyway, this illuminated manuscript page depicts the lives and afterlives of Lazarus and the rich man, or Dives if you prefer. It should perhaps be noticed that this Lazarus is not the same Lazarus who Jesus resurrected from the dead. Obviously, since this one died.