It’s no secret that the Annunciation has been one of the most influential passages in the history of Christian spirituality. After all it is the setting of one of the mysteries of the rosary, from from this encounter that we receive the words “Hail Mary,” as well as the magnificat. This week, however, I was very intrigued by a spiritual practice common in the middle ages and early renaissance that focuses on how the responses of Mary in the annunciation offer a list of “laudable conditions” for the Christian life. These conditions, as taught by Fra Roberto Caracciola de Lecce, are as follows:
- Conturbatio (Disquiet) – This is the state Mary is in when scripture tells us she is greatly troubled
- Cogitatio (Reflection)– This is the state Mary is in when she listens to the words of the Angel
- Interrogatio (Inquiry) – This is the state Mary is in when she responds
- Humiliatio (Submission) – This is the state Mary is in when scripture tells us she offers herself as handmaid of the Lord.
- Meritatio (Merit) – This is the state Mary is in when she lives in humble acceptance of God’s call
According to this lens on the Christian life, these are spiritual states that the faithful should strive to emulate by God’s Grace. I have decided to try out this practice of spirituality for the rest of the month to see if it helps me develop a better awareness of God’s movement in my life and heart.
To help me with this task I will be looking at some portrayals of the annunciation in art composed at the time when this spiritual practice was popular. Michael Baxandall has identified the following works as expressions of each of the spiritual states:
Fillipino Lippi’s S. Lorenzo Pannel
Master of the Barberini Panels, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Alesso Baldovinetti, Uffizi Panel
Fra Angellico, Musio
Michael Baxandall notes that this spiritual state is seen in depictions of the Theotokas on her own.
I have selected an image by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, called Virgin Adoring the Host.