The Psychostasis Angel

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    • Presentation speakers
      • Edina Eszenyi, University of Kent, School of History / Lecturer in Art History, Rome Art Program


    Weighing as a metaphor of divine judgment has been used by Christian writers as early as the fourth-century, and the Weighing of Souls or Psychostasis turned Archangel Michael into a central figure of Last Judgment compositions. The task of weighing good and bad deeds to determine the soul’s otherworldly fate upon death is not associated with the archangel by textual tradition, however, and there is no consensus about the reasons for the choice of the archangel for this role in art. Neither the Scriptures nor apocryphal writings give convincing reasons for associating the Weighing of Souls with angels. It is assigned to an angel in the Apocryphal Testament of Abraham, but this angel is called Dokiel, a name that does not appear anywhere else in the apocrypha and translates as ‘the exact measurement of God’. This makes it unclear whether the text refers to a particular angel or to the task he performs. Karl Künstle similarly suggested that the scales could have been held originally by God or the Manus Dei, and this has been replaced by an angel – as angels are functionally personifications of the Manus Dei. This angel and the popularity of the Dragon Slayer Saint Michael iconographical type could have provoked the angel identification as Archangel Michael. Mary Phillips Perry and Emile Mâle explained the lack of clear textual base with the suggestion that the Weighing of Souls was one of the tasks the angel with the highest rank in Christianity simply ‘inherited’ from Mercury or Hermes, the main messengers of gods in ancient mythology. The presentation offers an insight into the dynamics of text and image by juxtaposing art historical theories with angelological texts in search of the mysterious Psychostasis angel.