Rivers, the Four

Rivers, The Four

In ancient art our Lord is frequently represented, either in person or under the figure of a lamb, standing upon a hillock from whence issue forth streams of water. These are supposed by many to signify the four rivers of Eden, which went forth to water the earth (Ge 2:10); others (Cyprian, Ep. 73, § 10, ad Jubaian.; Bede, Expos. in Genesis 2; Theodoret, In Psalm. 45; Ambrose, De Paradiso, c. 3) discern in them the four gospels, flowing from the source of eternal life to spread throughout the world the riches and the life-giving powers of the doctrine of Christ, Ambrose, again (ibid.), is of opinion that the four riversare emblems of the four cardinal virtues. The first four oecumenical councils, so often by early writers placed on a par with the gospels themselves, are sometimes compared to the four rivers of Paradise. Jesse, bishop of Amiens in the 8th century, in writing to his clergy, thus illustrates the veneration due to these august assemblies (Longueval, Hist. de ql. Gallicane, 5:144). In several sarcophagi of ancient Gaul we find two stags quenching their thirst at these streams; these are supposed to represent Christians partaking of the gospels and the eucharist of the "well of water springing up into everlasting life." See Cross. The two stags are occasionally found in mosaics; in that of the ancient Vatican, for example (Ciampini, De Sacr. AEdif. tab. 13).

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