Allegory of Mercy - Mozart oratory
Today I want to tell you about the allegory of mercy.
In my research I have come across various images of mercy. The ancient form of representation was a breastfeeding woman. So mercy nourishes her children. Another picture that comes to mind is the Merciful Father, this wonderful painting by Rubens, which can be seen in the original in St. Petersburg in the Hermitage.
But what does mercy mean? We tend to confuse mercy with a certain kind of indifference or compassion. The kind of indifference I mean is the understanding that if someone has done some real nonsense, and it would be just that a punishment follows to refrain from doing it. This is actually grace, or it is this way of sweeping something under the carpet or doing something out of compassion.
I hope you understand what I mean.
But mercy has nothing to do with indifference, nor really with compassion. Compassion is a feeling, but mercy is not.
But mercy is a trait of character for which compassion is not necessary. It is a generosity that is not needy.
In Christianity there are seven bodily works of mercy and seven spiritual works.
The seven bodily works of mercy are,
- The hungry eat.
- Give to the thirsty to drink.
- Dress the naked.
- Take in the strangers.
- Visiting the sick.
- Visit the prisoners.
- Burying the dead.
The seven spiritual works of mercy are,
- Teaching the ignorant.
- To advise those who doubt rightly.
- The afflicted comfort.
- Reprimand the sinners.
- Patiently endure the troublesome.
- To forgive those who insult us.
- Pray for the living and the dead.
So much for the introduction to what mercy is. Now the question of how Mozart describes them in this oratorio.
We now know that mercy and justice are sisters. Mozart concentrates particularly on the spiritual qualities of mercy. Interestingly, at first glance, it seems rather ruthless. So she and justice discuss very long with the Christian spirit about his request and explain to him that her help is useless, with this Christian. She admits that it is unfortunate to see so many souls perish, but clearly says that it is their own will.
So she says: "The first, greatest, even the most important commandment: to love her Lord and God with all one's soul, heart and strength, seems to be like a burden to her lazy mind". And likewise "They love the ignorance of the doctrine of their salvation and their obligation.
With this she makes it clear that she cannot help them if they themselves are not willing to listen. In her aria she describes the state of souls with a very impressive picture.
"A fierce lion roars, filling the forest with forest, looking all around for robbery.
But the hunter still wants to sleep, puts down the weir, the weapons, does not respect protection and helpers."
The fierce lion is the spirit of the world. He sneaks and sees who he can devour. And instead of the Christian, the hunter, who should actually know what is going on, he decides to sleep, not to look and not to defend himself and not to use his weapons. He does not use the means that would offer him protection, nor does he use the helpers.
I find this image very strong, because it shows not only that the world spirit is like a hungry lion, but that the Christian is actually a hunter, someone who should provide a natural balance. Not only does he not do his job, no, he even offers himself to the lion by laying down his weapons.
In the further dialogue between Christ Spirit justice and mercy, mercy makes clear that there are enough teachers who tell them the words and the truth, but do not want to hear them, but agree to find a last resort. Only then does justice, by accepting mercy, decide to frighten the Christian in a dream so that he may wake up.
How it ends and whether mercy and justice reach their goal with their means, you will learn in April, at our performances!
For today I wish you a wonderful evening, a good night and a wonderful morning!
Barbara Marie-Louise Pavelka