Foundation Stones and the Apostles

How the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem are associated with the apostles, each apostle's stone, and the controversy about assigning the foundation stones to apostles

That the foundation stones were inscribed with the names of the apostles is expressly stated (Rev. xxi, 14), but it was not until the eighth or ninth century that the commentators on Revelation busied themselves with finding analogies between these stones and the apostles. At the outset, the symbolism of the stones was looked upon from a purely religious standpoint. Few of the early fathers-we may except Epiphanius-thought or cared much for the stones themselves, or knew much of them; but, in time, their natural beauty became more and more highly developed as the lapidarian art demanded better cut and choicer material, their supposed virtues came to the fore, and the symbolism was strengthened and emphasized by a reference to their innate qualities and also to their peculiar powers. The fact that this part of the tradition was rather of pagan than of Christian origin probably contributed to render it less attractive to the early Christians, so that it was not until Christianity had become practically universal in the Greek and Roman world and the opposition to pagan traditions, as such, was weakened and, indeed, largely forgotten, that the virtues of the stones were made prominent, and certain parts of these superstitions were retained, as were some of the pagan ceremonies in the Christian religion.

One of the earliest writers to associate directly with the apostles the symbolism of the gems given as foundation stones of the New Jerusalem by St. John in Revelation xxi, 19, is Andreas, bishop of Caesarea. This author was at one time assigned by critics to the fifth century A.D., (Lucke, "Versuch einer Einleitung in die Offenbarung Johannes," Bonn, 1852, p. 964.) but more recent investigation has shown that he probably belonged to the last half of the tenth century. His exposition reads as follows: (Patrologiae Graecae, ed. Migne, vol. cvi, Parisiis, 1863, cols. 433-438.)

The jasper, which like the emerald is of a greenish hue, probably signifies St. Peter, chief of the apostles, as one who so bore Christ's death in his inmost nature that his love for Him was always vigorous and fresh. By his fervent faith he has become our shepherd and leader.

As the sapphire is likened to the heavens (from this stone is made a color popularly called lazur), I conceive it to mean St. Paul, since he was caught up to the third heaven, where his soul was firmly fixed. Thither he seeks to draw all those who may be obedient to him.

The chalcedony was not inserted in the high-priest's breastplate, but instead the carbuncle, of which no mention is made here. It may well be, however, that the author designated the carbuncle by the name chalcedony. Andrew, then, can be likened to the carbuncle, since he was splendidly illumined by the fire of the Spirit.

The emerald, which is of a green color, is nourished with oil, that its transparency and beauty may not change; we conceive this stone to signify John the Evangelist. He, indeed, soothed the souls dejected by sin with a divine oil, and by the grace of his excellent doctrine lends constant strength to our faith.

By the sardonyx, showing with a certain transparency and purity the color of the human nail, we believe that James is denoted, seeing that he bore death for Christ before all others. This the nail by its color indicates, for it may be cut off without any sensible pain.

The sardius with its tawny and translucent coloring suggests fire, and it possesses the virtue of healing tumors and wounds inflicted by iron; hence I consider that it designates the beauty of virtue characterizing the apostle Philip, for his virtue, animated by the fire of the Holy Spirit, cured the soul of the wounds inflicted by the wiles of the devil, and revived it.

The chrysolite, gleaming with the splendor of gold, may symbolize Bartholomew, since he was illustrious for his divine preaching and his store of virtues.

The beryl, imitating the colors of the sea and of the air, and not unlike the jacinth, seems to suggest the admirable Thomas, especially as he made a long journey by sea, and even reached the Indies, sent by God to preach salvation to the peoples of that region.

The topaz, which is of a ruddy color, resembling somewhat the carbuncle, stops the discharge of the milky fluid with which those having eye-disease suffer. This seems to denote Matthew, for he was animated by a divine zeal, and, his blood being fired because of Christ, he was found worthy to enlighten by his Gospel those whose heart was blinded, that they might like new-born children drink of the milk of the faith.

The chrysoprase, more brightly tinged with a golden hue than gold itself, symbolizes St. Thaddaeus; the gold (chrysos) symbolizing the kingdom of Christ, and the prassius, Christ's death, both of which he preached to Abgar, King of Edessa.

The jacinth, which is of a celestial hue, signifies Simon Zelotes, zealous for the gifts and grace of Christ and endowed with a celestial prudence.

By the amethyst, which shows to the onlooker a fiery aspect, is signified Matthias, who in the gift of tongues was so filled with celestial fire and with fervent zeal to serve and please God, who had chosen him, that he was found worthy to take the place of the apostate Judas.

Some theologians were opposed to the assignment of the foundation stones to the apostles, for they held that only Christ himself could be regarded as the foundation of his Church. Hence the symbolism of these stones was made to apply to Christ alone, the color of the stone often guiding the commentator in his choice of ideas denoted by the different gems. Thus, one writer, applying all the meanings to Christ, finds that the greenish Jasper denotes satisfaction; the sky-blue Sapphire, the soul; the bright-red Chalcedony, zeal for truth; the transparent green Emerald, kindness and goodness; the nail-colored Sardonyx, the strength of spiritual life; the red Sardius, readiness to shed His blood for the Church; the yellow Chrysolite, the excellence of His divine nature; the seagreen Beryl, moderation and the control of the passions; the glass-green Topaz (chrysolite ?), uprightness; the harsh-colored Chrysoprase, sternness towards sinners; the violet or purple Jacinth, royal dignity, and, lastly, the purple Amethyst, with a touch of red, perfection. (Georgius Vitringa, "Nauwkeurige onderzoek van de goddelyke Openbaring der H. Apostels Johannes," Dutch trans. of Latin by M. Gargon, Amsterdam, 1728, vol. ii, p. 681.)


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