About the Metaphors of Clothing and Nudity


After the Fall, Adam and Eve, deprived of their ‘garment of glory’, discovered that they were naked.

Before that, they were clothed with the light of divine glory.

Double light, double splendor, that of being in glory, and that of glory clothing oneself.

That is why, later on, Job and Justice (or Righteousness) could be said to « clothe » each other:

“I clothed myself with Justice and she clothed herself with me”i.

Isaiah speaks of a ‘garment’ that saves and delivers: « For He has clothed me with a garment of salvation and wrapped me in a cloak of deliverance.»ii

The Jewish cabal of the Middle Ages associated the idea of ‘clothing’ with the Shekinah and the Torah.

« The Torah of Creation (torah da beria) is the garment of the Presence (chekinah). And if man had not been created, the Presence would have been left unclothed, like a poor man. Therefore, whoever commits a fault, it is as if he stripped the Presence of her adornment, and this is what Adam’s punishment consisted of. »iii

The Torah herself unfolds like a veil, she is covered with black darkness, and she is clothed with white light.

« See: darkness is the blackness of the Torah [the written lines] and light is the white of the Torah [what is between the lines].”iv

It is by the splendor of her light, by what can be read between the lines, that she is dressed, more than by what she hides.

The Torah can be read, whether in darkness or in light, but the Presence does not reveal or unveil herself. If naked, she would be the figure of exile itself.

« For that is what exile (galout) is, it is the unveiling of the nakedness of the Presence, which is expressed in the verse, ‘Because of your outbursts, your mother has been repudiated’. (Is 50:1) Because of the unveiling of the nakedness Israel has been exiled and the Presence has also been exiled: the Presence is naked.»v

Christianity, too, has considered the metaphor of a garment of salvation and glory.

When one is baptized, one « puts on Christ »vi.

Reciprocally, Christ put on humanity like a garment (« induere hominem »), as wrote St. Augustinevii. Christ was clothed in the divine form (forma dei), and he annihilated himself « taking the form of the servant (forma servi)viii » in order to « clothe man ». « Have you forgotten that it was written about Christ Jesus that before he was clothed with humanity (‘hominem fuisset indutus‘) he was in forma deiix?

Death is a second nudity, after the nudity resulting from the Adamic fall. But baptism is a new garment, which announces and prepares « the garment of immortality ». « Baptism has erased death from the flesh; that which is mortal has dissipated into the garment of immortality ».x

From all this, seems to emerge the idea that Human nature is fundamentally « naked ».

And this very nudity is stripped off, like a used clothe, at the time of death.

For the Greeks whom nudity hardly frightened, and whose beauty they much valued, the body is ‘the clothing of the soul’.

Contrary to Jewish and Christian thinkers, Greek philosophers « impatiently await the moment when the soul puts off this garment to show herself in her nakedness »xi.

But for Paul, nudity symbolizes death. « When death robs us, we become naked in righteousness; in this robbery by death the laying off of the garment, which began at baptism, is finally accomplished. »xii

However, death is the occasion to put on a new « garment », a new « tent », a « heavenly dwelling »xiii.

It is this new garment that represents true ‘life’, a life beyond ‘death’. What is this new garment? It is the spirit.

We will put on this ‘spirit’, at deathxiv.

Paul does not seek death, he wants life. He does not wish just a soul, bound to a mortal body. He wishes to possess something higher than the soul – and for him what is higher than the soul is the spirit, the pneuma.

In this sense, the garment is for Paul an overcoming of the primitive dualism between body and soul, between being clothed and being naked.

The metaphor of the garment thus becomes an expression of the supernatural, of the revelation of a divine reality that transcends the experiences of man’s life.

The water of baptism was already a kind of garment.

Yet we have to put on a second garment, – of glory, more radiant than the one worn by Adam and Eve in paradise.

It will « make the mortal element disappear in the garment of immortality.»xv

This ‘garment’ does not hide and cover, but reveals, illuminates, shines. It is made of glory, light, splendor.

In the beginning, when the Presence appeared, dressed in her splendor, then Word, Thought and Creation came on the great stage of the world. « He wrapped Himself in splendor – the supreme Right of Thought – to create the heavens. In that splendor, the beginning of all light, He created the heavens.» xvi

A passage from the Midrach Rabba evokes this moment of creative splendor, ‘the beginning of all light’, and of all thought:

« Tell me where was the light created? He replied, ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, wrapped himself in it as in a garment, and illuminated the whole world from one end to the other with all its glory. Then he added with a sigh: ‘There is a verse that says it explicitly: ‘You are clothed in splendor and majesty. You are clothed in light’xviixviii

In the first chapter of Genesis, which recounts the first moments of creation, the word ‘light’, אוֹר, ‘or’, is mentioned five times in three of the opening verses (Gen 1:3-5).

These five quotations symbolically evoke the five books of the Torah according to the interpretation of the Midrach Rabbahxix. « God said, ‘Let there be light’xx » corresponds to Genesis. « And the light was » xxi refers to Exodus. « God saw that the light was good »xxii represents the Leviticus. « And God separated the light from the darkness » xxiii points to the Numbers. « God called the light day » xxiv refers to Deuteronomy.

Curiously, in the first chapter of his own Gospel, St. John mimics this repetition, with fifteen evocations of the ‘light’.

He uses seven times the word ‘light’, phôs (ϕῶς), in the first verses.

« Life was the light of men. » (Jn 1:4)

« The light shines in the darkness. » (Jn 1:5)

« He came to serve as a witness, to bear witness to the light. » (Jn 1:7)

« He was not the light, but he appeared to bear witness to the light. » (Jn 1:8)

« This light was the true light, which, when it comes into the world, enlightens every man. » (Jn 1:9)

Then, John evokes ‘light’ again eight more times, in a pronominal, personal or possessive form (in Greek αύτόν), or as the implicit subject of active verbs.

« She was (ἦν) in the world, and the world was made by her (αύτοῦ), and the world did not know her (αύτόν). » (Jn 1:10)

« She came to her family’s house, and her family did not receive her (αύτόν). » (Jn 1:11)

« But to all who have received her (αύτόν), to those who believe in her (αύτοῦ) name, she has given the power to become children of God. » (Jn 1:12)

What does such an accumulation of repetitions mean?

The light is one, but her shimmers, her glitters, her sparkles, her scintillation are legion.

Light, Or, is unique, but her true meaning is always in potency.

A passage from the Zohar sheds some light (if I may say) on this question, just by replacing the word ‘light’ with another question:

« When the abyssal light unfolded, her clarity gave hold to questioning, although it was still beyond the reach of all that is below. That is why she was called in an interrogative way, she was called Who. » xxv

We also read in Isaiah:

« Lift up your eyes to the heights, and see Who created this. » xxvi

מִי-בָרָא אֵלֶּה

Mi bara’ ellèh.

‘Who’ and ‘that’, these words are in a way ‘naked’, begging for a meaning.

« The words were elusive, for it was impossible to question the ultimate. Wisdom was composed of nothingness, she was so closed and so deep that she could not resist questioning, but no one could grasp anything of her.”xxvii

She was naked, – made of nothing.

She was clothed, – with splendor.

________________________

iJob 29.14

iiIs 61.10

iiiThe Zohar. Genesis. My translation from the French translation by Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1981. 23b p. 133

ivIbid. p. 133

vIbid. 27b p. 156

viGa 3.27 . See also Col 3,9; Ep 4,22; Rom 13,14.

viiAugustine. De diversis quaestionibus. 83 q. 73 (PL 40, 84)

viiiAugustine. De diversis quaestionibus. 83 q. 73, 2 (PL 40, 85)

ixAugustine. De anima et eius origine IV, 15 (21) CSEL 60, p. 402

xSaint Basile. Letter to Palladium. PG 32. 1033 b. Quoted by Erik Peterson. On the margins of theology. Cerf. 2015, p.41

xiErik Peterson. On the margins of theology. Cerf. 2015, p. 30

xiiErik Peterson. On the margins of theology. Cerf. 2015, p.56

xiii2 Co 5.1-2

xiv2 Co 5, 3

xvErik Peterson. On the margins of theology. Cerf. 2015, p.57

xviThe Zohar. Genesis. Ed. Verdier. 1981. 15b p. 96

xvii Ps 104:1-2

xviiiMidrash Rabba, 3.4

xixMidrash Rabba, 3.5

xxGn 1.3

xxiGn 1.3

xxiiGn 1.4

xxiiiGn 1.4

xxivGn 1.5

xxvThe Zohar. Genesis. My translation from the French translation by Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1981. 30a p. 170

xxviIs 40.26

xxviiThe Zohar. Genesis. My translation from the French translation by Charles Mopsik. Ed. Verdier. 1981. 30a p. 170

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