Monday, November 26, 2007
The Papal Triple Crown and the Jewish High Priest's Miter
In order to celebrate the feast of Christ the King (the final day of the liturgical year, celebrated yesterday), I wanted to post just a brief piece of background on the Papal Triple Crown (frequently referred to as the papal "tiara"). Although it is little known, this crown has its roots (surprise!) in ancient Judaism. In particular, we find a direct parallel in the miter that was worn by the Jewish high priest!
Josephus--himself a first-century Jewish priest--gives us a detailed description of the High Priest's miter:
" The high priest's miter was the same that we described before, and was wrought like that of all the other priests; above which there was another, with swathes of blue embroidered, and round it was a golden crown polished, of three rows, one above another ; out of which arose a cup of gold..." (Josephus, Antiquities, 3.172; trans. Whiston, p. 90)
This liturgical head-gear was based on the description of the high priest's miter found in the book of Exodus:
"And you shall make a plate of pure gold, and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, "Holy to the LORD." And you shall fasten it on the miter (LXX mitras ) by a lace of blue; it shall be on the front of the mitre. It shall be upon Aaron's forehead..." (Exodus 28:36-38)
With such descriptions, we find the Jewish background for description of Christ as high-priestly Son of Man in the Van Eyck triptych I attached above (see picture). We also discover the background for the Catholic tradition that the Pope, as the successor to Peter, is not simply the chief bishop, but the High Priestly Vicar of Christ. I'm only speculating--perhaps someone could confirm this--but could the triple crown signify the threefold office: (1) Priest, (2) Prophet, and (3) King?
Along these lines, one day Michael and I will do a post on how Peter is depicted as the new High Priest in the Gospel of Matthew. For now, I will simply note the contrast between the confession of Peter at Caeasarea Philippi and the (anti-)confession of the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas at Jesus' Trial before the Sanhedrin:
Caiaphas, the old High Priest
"Tell us if you are the Christ,
the Son of God" (Matt 26:63)
Peter, the New High Priest
"You are the Christ,
the Son of the living God" (Matt 16:16)
Long live Christ the King and Priest!!!