We are in the Marienkapelle of the German city of Würzburg. In the northern portal, our attention is focused on a tympanum depicting “The Announcement to Mary” – also known as the Annunciation. In an enigmatic, relief-like representation, we see a hose that runs from the mouth of the God-Father enthroned in heaven to the ear of Mary. On the hose, which transforms in a dove at the ear of the mother of God, the naked Christ-child, with a cross adorned, glides towards his mother’s ear. That ear is surrounded by a dove.
Image: Tillman 2007 CC BY-SA 4.0
The work dates from just before 1400. The unusual connection between the mouth of God and the ear of Mary is not an invention of the anonymous late medieval sculptor. On the contrary, he has portrayed what was a firm belief in the fourth, fifth century: the conception of the son of God took place through the ear of Mary, whereby her virginity remained intact. It is a completely different interpretation of the Christmas scene than the traditional story that is now in vogue in almost all of the world. However, the birth through the ear of Mary seems to have been finally erased from the collective memory. It is almost impossible to find in any source. Only in a few places in Europe, such as in Amiens and in Lower Austria, we still find battered examples of this.
This is all the more remarkable when we consider that the Christian holiday of the Annunciation – March 25, which is nine months before Christmas – is an important one and symbolizes the transition from the Old to the New Testament. For centuries, the annunciation coincided with the Florentine New Year. The introduction of the Gregorian calendar ended this. To this day, the feast of the “Annunciation to Mary” in Florence still gives rise to an alternative, tradition-rich “New Year’s celebration”, on March 25th. Birth through the ear (lat. concepcio per aurem) was also common among artists. Early Byzantine images attest to this, as do a group of Italian paintings from the thirteenth century as well as the impressive wall paintings in the chapel of the Egyptian necropolis of El – Bagawat (4th and 5th centuries).
Our interest in the subject only increases when we discover that birth through the ear is not a Christian monopoly but shows universal features. For example, in the Eastern legend of the Mongolian Savior Chigemouni, we learn that he chose the beautiful Mahaenna, the most perfect virgin on earth, and impregnated her by piercing her right ear during her sleep. And Gustav Jung states in one of his works that the Mongol Buddha was born from his mother’s ear.
This apparently peculiar, forgotten depiction of the conception of the spirit, which in Dutch is also called the Mary’s Message, requires further clarification. We are undoubtedly dealing here with a symbolic expression of a hidden truth and certainly not with the literal description of an actual event.
Why do we know so little about birth through the ear and why is the phenomenon virtually invisible in our historical spiritual tradition? Why does birth take place through the ear?
The answer to the first question will come as no surprise. In the fifteenth century, the image was condemned by the ruling church for violating the dogma that the word of God had become flesh from the body of a virgin. It was feared that birth through the ear would draw attention to the greatest Gnostic
Jesus controlled himself under all circumstances. Jesus realized his divinity, he ate and drank in a certain way without secreting food and drink. So great was the power of self-control that no digestion took place in him. Because he did not know destruction.
According to Valentinus, Jesus has only been on earth with a mock body. This view, widely held among the early Gnostics, is also called Docetism (dokein is Greek for appearance).
Giving birth to a God
For Valentinus, Mary was not really a mother, but only a means and a conduit. The Bogomils and Cathars saw it exactly the same centuries later. A Bogomil does not need a Mother of God, he or she is a Theotokos, a Godbearing, while proclaiming the Word of God. For Bogomils and Cathars, the concepcio per aurem was an important aspect of their worldview because they rejected everything that came “from the lust of the flesh”.
Here we touch on a key point.The condemnation of birth through the ear makes it poignantly clear how seriously “Western and Eastern Christianity has deceived his believers” to render Christ convulsively as a human being, to confine him to the person who Jesus may have once been. “Christ is not a human being, is not a writing, but a refined, subtle essence that spreads in the human being and is to the planet the light of the world.”
The ear as a primal organ
Conception through Mary’s ear is a model for a deeply spiritual Christian truth: “Faith comes by hearing,” says Paul. Mary is often depicted as not looking at the angel but only hearing his voice. Hearing a word of God in faith, she believes.
The ear is also called the female part of the head. Hearing has an awareness that offers maximum attention with minimum preconceived intent. The ear itself cannot achieve anything, it cannot produce anything, it cannot do any harm, the ear chooses from what is offered, and if something does not please the hearing one can turn away. Ear and primal are concepts that are close together. The hearing organ is our primal organ; it is the first sense to act in the fetus, and when the time of death is there, hearing is the last sense to leave us. The French listening therapist and throat, nose and ear doctor, Alfred Tomatis
So listening occurs early in pregnancy. The fetus hears the mother’s voice, confidence grows that beings are one with her, before thinking. That trust that is beings-one is love.
Even then the possibility is created to later learn to listen inwardly to the “voice of the silence” or to “what the spirit proclaims from the new field of life”. No mysterious images are needed for this.
How can we develop the inner hearing and seeing? What is the attitude to life of a person who strives for this?
Tat asks Hermes the following question: What kind of human being is that, Father?
That is a person who speaks little and lends the ear to little. Because who spends his time on holding and hearing disputes fight shadows. After all, God, the Father, the Good, can neither be spoken nor heard by the (ordinary) ear.
However, we can only develop our inner ear if we also perfect our outward hearing in a social sense. Hearing is a unique way of perceiving, we “saw” this before. Sounds cannot be changed or pushed away. We can close our eyes, squeeze our noses, withdraw from touch and refuse to taste. But we cannot close our ears. As “the eye is the lamp to the foot” that casts light on the objects it sees, the ear is like a membrane “drummed” and like a shell in which the swell of the ocean echoes. Through sound we experience distance as proximity and the other as near.
Listening is a process in which we become the other and let the other become a part of us. True listening seeks self-forgetfulness, not self-expression. In a dialogue of equal partners, the one who listens is in the position of the humble receiving. While the word echoes, the ear “hears” to the other, the ear is lent to the other. For that short moment we give up our own identity, after which we return to ourselves and accept or reject what has been said.
But in that fleeting moment of self-fading, something new is born!