The Angel's Trumpet and the books of good and evil deeds.
(You can click on the image, or here, to see a larger version of the middle center.)
In the center section of the painting of the Last Judgment, why would the angels be using trumpets? This instrument is a symbol used in the Bible to herald or announce God. In this case it announces the coming of the Son of Man, Christ, His final victory, the end of the world, and judgment.
The trumpet recalls the passage in which God says he will come in a cloud to talk to Moses, and the people may not touch His mountain until they hear the trumpet. Then: "On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled." Exod. 19:16.
Jesus himself in speaking of the end said: "Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see 'the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven' with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Matt. 24:30-31. St. Paul says: "For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality." 1Cor. 15:53. And again: "For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever." 1Ths. 4:16-17. ccc 1001.
In the book of Revelation, it says: "Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever... Rev. 11:15. The nations raged, but your wrath has come, and the time for judging the dead, for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints and all who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying those who destroy the earth." Rev. 11:18.
Rev. 20:12 "And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books."
"Books" are symbols in Christian art for several things, such as learning. However, an open book means "the dissemination of wisdom and truth through knowledge." G.G.Sil, A Handbook of Symbols in Christian Art, Simon and Schuster (1975) p. 129. Therefore, in this context, the books are a symbol used by the artist to convey a basic idea: God knows the truth; He knows everything we have done, and it will be remembered, even if forgiven. Those who have not repented are lost. The books reveal the truth about each person's actions. Notice how one is heavier than another? Notice that angels with bigger book are looking at the damned? Is Michelangelo saying there is more sin than virtue? Rev. 20:15 "[A]nyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire."
People on each side of the trumpeting angels are the judged. When you look at these groups you see that the saved are on Christ's right and the lost are on his left. Why would the artist do this? (The images below are reduced. Click on either panel to see the larger version.)
Matt. 25:31-36. "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'"
Notice how people on Christ's right are looking up; they seem to be helping each other; there is an orderly character to this group. The angel is lifting two people with a "beaded rope", the rosary. Prayer and faith are able to lift one to heaven. The implication is that the rosary is able to do this. But I think there is more. This is a black couple. Could the artist be acknowledging that this group of people have been poor and oppressed for much of history, at least after contact with Europeans? Why would this make a difference? See the CCC on equality of men. CCC 2678 rosary.
Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free..." In other words, Jesus promises to reset the balance, to make right the wrongs done to the poor and oppressed. People forget that slaves, as well as freeborn poor, made up a very large segment of the early converts to christianity. James 2:5 "Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?"
2Ths. 1:6-10. "For it is indeed just of God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to the afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes to be glorified by his saints..."
Being poor will not by itself grant salvation, but it is a
help. Matt. 6:24 "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will
either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and
despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." Luke 6:24 "But
woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation." See
also Matt. 19:16-21; Luke 16:19-25. See poverty
of heart. and love
for the poor, also help
for the poor; scripture
on almsgiving, and Giving
Alms is required.
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"The Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved."