“Thenceforth the Form of servant to assume…”

Christ Accepting the Office of Redeemer (William Blake, Boston Museum of Fine Arts)
Christ Accepting the Office of Redeemer (William Blake, Boston Museum of Fine Arts)

In one of the most moving passages of John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, God the Son descends to Eden to pronounce judgment upon our foreparents (a judgment which he before creation promised the Father to bear himself). This descent of the Son recalls the theophanies of God in the Old Testament, theophanies that many of the Church Fathers and many since them have considered appearances of God the Son before his incarnation.

After pronouncing judgment on Adam and Eve, the judge then clothes the judged, the Creator clothes his errant and sinning creatures, in a passage that wondrously weaves divine compassion and the servanthood that Jesus assumes in washing his disciples’ feet:

So judg’d he Man, both Judge and Saviour sent,
And th’ instant stroke of Death denounc’t that day
Remov’d farr off; then pittying how they stood
Before him naked to the aire, that now
Must suffer change, disdain’d not to begin
Thenceforth the Form of servant to assume,
As when he wash’d his servants feet, so now
As Father of his Familie he clad
Thir nakedness with Skins of Beasts, or slain,
Or as the Snake with youthful Coate repaid;
And thought not much to cloath his Enemies;
Nor hee thir outward onely with Skins
Of Beasts, but inward nakedness, much more
Opprobrious, with his Robe of righteousness,
Arraying cover’d from his Fathers sight.

It never fails to move me to tears, and I shall think of it tonight at the liturgy of the pedilavium.

Adam and Eve are clothed by God and expelled from Paradise by an angel (Bible Historiale, France, 1372 ©  Museum Meermanno Westreenianum, The Hague)

Christ Washing the Feet of his Disciples (Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1655,  Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Christ Washing the Feet of his Disciples (Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1655, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

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