Thursday, August 30, 2007


In this week`s TLS, Lucy Beckett reviews three recent books:

Rowan Williams
TOKENS OF TRUST: An introduction to Christian belief159pp. Canterbury Press. £9.99.
978 1 85311 803 6

Herbert McCabe
173pp. Continuum. Paperback, £14.99.
978 0 8264 9547 8

Nicholas Mosley
EXPERIENCE AND RELIGION: A lay essay in theology
156pp. Dalkey Archive Press. Paperback, £8.99.
978 1 56478 424 .

"Forty years ago the present Pope, then Professor Ratzinger of Tübingen University, wrote Introduction to Christianity, an exposition of the Creed. He started this best-selling book with Kierkegaard’s story about a clown from a travelling circus who comes into a village to shout a warning that a fire has started where the performers are encamped. The villagers only laugh, because he is a clown in clown’s clothes. Circus and village are then destroyed by the fire. The clown is the Christian preacher in the contemporary world: people don’t take him seriously because “they know that he is just giving a performance that has little or nothing to do with reality”.

Of course most preaching is to the converted: this is as true of the militant atheism of Richard Dawkins as of sermons of every Christian stamp. People look to preachers for some deepening of what they already believe and for reassurance that they are right to believe it. Those prepared to stop and listen to what is being said in any of the three books under review are more likely to be Christians than non-Christians; their authors nevertheless hope also to attract the attention of unbelievers, to interest them in the personal possibility of faith or of at least trying, one way or another, to understand their own experience in Christian terms. Like Ratzinger, they seek to get the villagers to listen to the clown, and each must have had at the back of his mind the warning suggested in Nicholas Mosley’s sentence: “What prevents a reasonable discussion about (or indeed a belief in) God is the language and behaviour of people who talk about God but in such a way as to make any connection between their words, their actions, and other people’s experience of reality almost indiscernible”.

Rowan Williams’s Tokens of Trust is the most straightforward as well as the most persuasive of the three, although, or perhaps because, it is also the most evidently addressed in the first place to a Christian audience. Talks the Archbishop of Canterbury gave in his cathedral in Holy Week 2005 have become a short, attractive book on the basics – impossible now to use the word “fundamentals” – of Christian belief as expressed in the statements of the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds, printed at the beginning of the book. This is no easier a project now, though no more difficult either, than it was for Ratzinger in 1968. Dr Williams, careful neither to put off the beginner with a forbidding demandingness nor to blunt the definitiveness of Christianity’s description of the plight of the human race and the salvation it is offered, achieves a remarkable degree of success. He begins, in our world pervaded by mistrust because pervaded by the competitiveness of different versions of the will to power, with the possibility of trust. “I trust in God” is both easier and harder to say than “I believe in God”: easier because it requires less of an intellectual effort, harder because trusting in God cannot make sense unless there is God to trust. Paul’s resounding, complex statement of the core of Trinitarian faith at the opening of Ephesians is given at the outset as the affirmation without which there can be nothing truly recognizable as Christian belief. In its light, false notions of God should begin to fade into the shadows – and here, for the first but not the last time, Williams suggests that we may see in human lives lived in this light (“the communion of saints”, in the phrase from the Apostles’ Creed) some “faint reflection” of what God is “like”. "

China and the Issue of Forced Abortions

Forced abortions and sterilisations in China are still being carried out in Mainland China.

Often the terminations take place in the seventh, eighth or ninth month.

In a very disturbing article entitled Forced Abortions Still Plague China Time Magazine gives detailed examples of what happens in some provinces as some state officials attempt to meet their "targets".

"QIAN'AN, China) — Yang Zhongchen, a small-town businessman, wined and dined three government officials for permission to become a father.

But the Peking duck and liquor weren't enough. One night, a couple of weeks before her date for giving birth, Yang's wife was dragged from her bed in a north China town and taken to a clinic, where, she says, her baby was killed by injection while still inside her.

"Several people held me down, they ripped my clothes aside and the doctor pushed a large syringe into my stomach," says Jin Yani, a shy, petite woman with a long ponytail. "It was very painful. ... It was all very rough."

Some 30 years after China decreed a general limit of one child per family, resentment still brews over the state's regular and sometimes brutal intrusion into intimate family matters. Not only are many second pregnancies aborted, but even to have one's first child requires a license.

Seven years after the dead baby was pulled from her body with forceps, Jin remains traumatized and, the couple and a doctor say, unable to bear children. Yang and Jin have made the rounds of government offices pleading for restitution — to no avail."

"Radio Free Asia reported this year that dozens of women in Baise, a small city in the southern province of Guangxi, were forced to have abortions because local officials failed to meet their population targets."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Borso d'Este

Bible of Borso d'Este
Illumination on parchment
Biblioteca Estense, Modena

Borso d'Este (1413 - August 20, 1471) was the first Duke of Ferrara, which he ruled from 1450 until his death. He was a member of the House of Este.

Borso's court was the center of the so-called Ferrarese school of painting, whose members include Francesco del Cossa, Ercole dei Roberti and Cosimo Tura.

Borso d'Este is especially remembered for the famous Bible carrying his name, one of most famous works of miniature in Renaissance Italy, and which he commissioned in 1455.

It was commissioned from Taddeo Crivelli (active 1451, d. ca. 1479, Bologna) who worked with his assistant Franco de' Russi. The Bible was produced in two large volumes at two different rates of remuneration, the higher one reserved for the opening pages of each book of the Bible.

It was made in Ferrara between 1455 and 1461. The manuscript (Modena, Bib. Estense, MS. V.G. 12–13, lat. 422–3) consists of two full-folio volumes of 311 and 293 leaves respectively and contains more than 1000 individual illuminations; it has been termed an encylopedia of 15th-century Ferrarese illumination. The text is written in two columns in a fine Renaissance hand by the Bolognese scribe Pietro Paolo Marone.

The cost of the illuminations alone came to almost 5000 lire, a staggering sum.

Wrong twin aborted

Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into a botched selective abortion that the Vatican has described as the result of a “culture of perfection” resembling Nazi eugenics.

it emerged that a surgeon had accidentally terminated a healthy foetus instead of its twin with Down’s syndrome. The operation – on a 38-year-old woman 18 weeks into her pregnancy – was performed at the San Paolo hospital in Milan in June but has only now come to light. The foetus with Down’s syndrome was also aborted subsequently.

The revelation has reignited the debate in Italy over abortion, which was legalised only in 1978. The law allows terminations of healthy foetuses up to the 90th day of pregnancy, though abortions can be performed at a later stage if there is a risk to the life of the mother or the foetus is malformed.

Anna Maria Marconi, the gynaecologist who carried out the Milan abortion, said that the woman – who has not been named – requested the operation after an amniocentesis test.

Professor Marconi said that her conscience was clear. The foetuses, which had been identical, had changed positions in the womb between the last scan and the operation, an “act of fate that could not have been foreseen”, she said. The professor was backed by the hospital authorities.

The mother, who has a small son, said that her life had been ruined. “Neither my husband nor I can sleep at night,” she told the Corriere della Sera, which first reported the blunder. She said that the happiness she and her husband had experienced when they learnt that she was expecting twins had been transformed into heartbreak.

Her husband said that they were “truly desperate over this terrible mistake” and were consulting family lawyers.

Green sins confessional

The Times reports that Dom Anthony Sutch, the Benedictine monk who resigned as head of Downside School to become a parish priest in Suffolk, will be at the county’s Waveney Greenpeace festival this weekend to hear eco-confessions in what is thought to be the first dedicated confessional booth of its kind.

Vested in a green chasuble-style garment made from recycled curtains, and in a booth constructed of recycled doors, he will hear the sins of of those who have not recycled the things they ought to have done and who have consumed the things they ought not to have done.

He told The Times: “It is not, I hope, blasphemous to do this. I do not think it is. It is just an attempt to make people conscious of the way they live. The Church is aware of green issues and of how aware we have to be of how we treat the environment.

“I know the Pope has now set up his own airline, but I am told the Vatican will be planting trees every time it flies. I do think the way we treat our environment is important.

“There is a huge amount of greed in the West. We have to be aware of the consequences of how we live.”

Father Sutch said that he tried “very hard” to live a green lifestyle but admitted that it was difficult. “I try not to turn on my heating but people come and stay with me and demand it. I get attacked for having a cold church. I have cut my electricity bill by 30 per cent.

"I try to grow my own vegetables and I buy my food from the local area. But when I travel to London I have to drive my car 30 miles to the station to catch the train because I cannot get a bus. My parish is spread out so I have to drive around it by car. It can be difficult to be green. I am hoping to find out about more that I can do at the fair this weekend.

“I’ve had one or two comments about abuse of the confessional. One or two people have said, ‘Father, is this quite right?’ Luckily, more people see it as an excellent idea. As with all these things, we have to look in the mirror and see what we could stop consuming ourselves.”

Monday, August 27, 2007


EYCK, Jan van
(b. before 1395, Maaseik, d. 1441, Bruges)
Portrait of a Young Man (Tymotheos) 1432
Oil on wood, 34,5 x 19 cm
National Gallery, London

The sitter in the so-called Tymotheos portrait in the National Gallery in London is depicted half-length behind a parapet.

He holds a rolled parchment in his right hand.

The principal inscription in the painting is the French phrase "Leal Souvenir" meaning "Loyal Remembrance". The inscription appears to be carved in large letters on the parapet.

Beneath it in Latin are the date (10th October 1432) and the artist`s signature.

Above the inscription on a still smaller scale is the Greek inscription "Tymotheos" followed by a flourish.

Much ink has been spilled in trying to identify the sitter of the portrait.

It is one of the most enigmatic of all van Eyck`s paintings. The sitter is hardly forty years, distinguished but not very expensively dressed, and he has the appearance of a learned but delicate ecclesiastic.

The large inscription (LEAL SOVVENIR) makes it evident that the man must have been one of the artist’s very near acquaintances.

One very unlikely suggestion has been presented: the man should be a musician at the court of Philip the Good, fancifully interpreting the shrewd Greek inscription on the first line of the parapet - often read as TYM.OTHEOS - as alluding to a famous musician Tymotheos in classical antiquity, now forgotten. It has also been suggested that the Greek words might mean ´I fear God´.

This is the earliest known portrait by Jan van Eyck that is dated. On the third line on the parapet it has the not very clearly visible text, formulated in legal language Actu(m) an(n)o d(omi)ni 1432. 10. die octobris. a ioh(anne) de Eyck, as if commemorating in a sepulchral way someone whose death has struck the artist very hard, such as the death of a family member or an old friend, someone who like the artist was one of the few north of the Alps that at this time had some knowledge of Greek.

The date, important for obvious reasons, is not likely to refer to the time when the man died, as the portrait wears all the signs of being painted in situ. It must have required several sittings and may therefore be based on another portrait painted in the person’s lifetime. A very curious detail is a deep crack in the parapet on which the three lines are written. This crack is painted in a very illusory way so as to suggest that the parapet is about to break. It has been suggested that this crack should simply refer to the fragility of life, but this does not seem very convincing, as Jan van Eyck is remembered a very advanced specialist of symbolic allusions.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pisanello: Maker of Medals

Pisanello c. 1395 - c. 1455
Marriage Medaillon of Lionello d'Este,
Signed and dated 1440,
London, National Gallery
Leonello d'Este popularised Pisanello's medals, using them as diplomatic gifts to cement relationships with dignitaries throughout Europe.

Pisanello c. 1395 - c. 1455
Medal of Emperor John VIII Palaeologus (obverse) 1438
Bronze, 10,2 cm
Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris
Pisanello's first medal, of John VIII Palaeologus, Emperor of Constantinople. It was commissioned when the Emperor came to Florence for the Council of Ferrara and Florence.

Pisanello c. 1395 - 1455
John VIII Palaeologus, 1390-1448, Emperor of Constantinople 1425
obverse, 1438, lead//Trial cast, possibly, diameter: 10.3 cm (4 1/16 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
National Gallery of Art, Washington


Pisanello (c. 1395- probably 1455)
Vision of Saint Eustace about 1438-1442
Egg tempera on panel, 54.8 x 65.5 cm
London, National Gallery

The story is told of Saint Eustace that while out hunting he saw a stag with a Crucifix between its antlers and was converted to Christianity.

Pisanello was one of the most distinguished painters of the early Italian Renaissance and Quattrocento. He was acclaimed by poets such as Guarino da Verona and praised by humanists of his time who compared him to such illustrious names as Cimabue, Phidias and Praxiteles.

He was the most famous artist of his time, celebrated as both painter and medallist.

He is recorded in Pisa, Venice, Florence, Mantua, Rome, Ferrara, Milan and Naples. Most notably he was employed at the d'Este court at Ferrara and the Gonzaga court at Mantua.

He was the last and most magnificent artist of the courtly style called the International Gothic style

Pisanello was also the greatest portrait medallist of his period and arguably of the whole Renaissance, his work setting standards of delicacy, precision, and clarity that have not been surpassed.

His art is exceptional for its elegance and its naturalism. While he treats subjects from legend and the Bible, he transposes them to his own time, offering a vivid picture of life in Italy in the fifteenth century.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Father Damien

Father Damien on his death bed

Some of the vast photography holdings of George Eastman House are online here.

Included is a fascinating series entitled "Maison de la Bonne Presse Slides of Father Damien & the Leper Colony at Molokai".

There are 51 images (photographs) including some of Father Damien which do not appear to have been on the net before.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta

In Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith Time Magazine discusses a new book on MotherTeresa.

A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consists primarily of correspondence between Mother Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years.

The Book reveals that for the last nearly half-century of her life Mother Teresa felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, "neither in her heart or in the Eucharist."

"After more than a decade of open-wound agony, Teresa seems to have begun regaining her spiritual equilibrium with the help of a particularly perceptive adviser. The Rev. Joseph Neuner, whom she met in the late 1950s and confided in somewhat later, was already a well-known theologian, and when she turned to him with her "darkness," he seems to have told her the three things she needed to hear: that there was no human remedy for it (that is, she should not feel responsible for affecting it); that feeling Jesus is not the only proof of his being there, and her very craving for God was a "sure sign" of his "hidden presence" in her life; and that the absence was in fact part of the "spiritual side" of her work for Jesus.

This counsel clearly granted Teresa a tremendous sense of release. For all that she had expected and even craved to share in Christ's Passion, she had not anticipated that she might recapitulate the particular moment on the Cross when he asks, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" The idea that rather than a nihilistic vacuum, his felt absence might be the ordeal she had prayed for, that her perseverance in its face might echo his faith unto death on the Cross, that it might indeed be a grace, enhancing the efficacy of her calling, made sense of her pain. Neuner would later write, "It was the redeeming experience of her life when she realized that the night of her heart was the special share she had in Jesus' passion." And she thanked Neuner profusely: "I can't express in words — the gratitude I owe you for your kindness to me — for the first time in ... years — I have come to love the darkness. "

Not that it didn't continue to torment her. Years later, describing the joy in Jesus experienced by some of her nuns, she observed dryly to Neuner, "I just have the joy of having nothing — not even the reality of the Presence of God [in the Eucharist]." She described her soul as like an "ice block." Yet she recognized Neuner's key distinction, writing, "I accept not in my feelings — but with my will, the Will of God — I accept His will." Although she still occasionally worried that she might "turn a Judas to Jesus in this painful darkness," with the passage of years the absence morphed from a potential wrecking ball into a kind of ragged cornerstone. Says Gottlieb, the psychoanalyst: "What is remarkable is that she integrated it in a way that enabled her to make it the organizing center of her personality, the beacon for her ongoing spiritual life." Certainly, she understood it as essential enough to project it into her afterlife. "If I ever become a Saint — I will surely be one of 'darkness.' I will continually be absent from Heaven — to [light] the light of those in darkness on earth," she wrote in 1962. Theologically, this is a bit odd since most orthodox Christianity defines heaven as God's eternal presence and doesn't really provide for regular no-shows at the heavenly feast. But it is, Kolodiejchuk suggests, her most moving statement, since the sacrifice involved is infinite. "When she wrote, 'I am willing to suffer ... for all eternity, if this [is] possible,'" he says, "I said, Wow."

He contends that the letters reveal her as holier than anyone knew. However formidable her efforts on Christ's behalf, it is even more astounding to realize that she achieved them when he was not available to her — a bit like a person who believes she can't walk winning the Olympic 100 meters. Kolodiejchuk goes even further. Catholic theologians recognize two types of "dark night": the first is purgative, cleansing the contemplative for a "final union" with Christ; the second is "reparative," and continues after such a union, so that he or she may participate in a state of purity even closer to that of Jesus and Mary, who suffered for human salvation despite being without sin. By the end, writes Kolodiejchuk, "by all indications this was the case with Mother Teresa." That puts her in rarefied company. "

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Christchurch Gate, Canterbury

Christchurch Gate (built in 1517) is the main entrance to the cathedral precincts.

Buttermarket Square is immediately in front of Christchurch Gate.

From the Square are streets such as Mercery Lane - a narrow medieval street with overhanging buildings.

The bronze figure of Christ in the centre is a recent addition, a bronze figure installed in 1991 replacing a figure of Christ destroyed in 1642 by Parliamentarians.

The elaborate carvings and shields are dedicated to the last patron of the Abbey, Prince Arthur, brother to Henry VIII. Prince Arthur died in 1502, leaving the way to his younger brother, Henry VIII to succeed as King of England.

The Tomb of Cardinal Pole in Canterbury Cathedral

Sebastiano del Piombo,(1485 - 1547),
Portrait of Cardinal Reginald Pole, 1540,
The Hermitage, Saint Petersburg

In his lifetime, he was a highly controversial figure. Even today, his memory can still arouse deep passions and hot debate.

Reginald Pole (1500-1558) was one of the leading figures of the sixteenth-century Reformations. Throughout his life he served as a diplomat, cardinal, papal legate and archbishop. Pole, though, is probably best remembered for his prolific and often inflammatory writing.

He is buried in the Corona of the Cathedral at Canterbury, close to the chair of St Auustine. Cardinal Pole, was the last Roman Catholic Archbishop of England.

He was described by his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker,(non Roman Catholic) as the first ‘inglese italianato, diavolo incarnato’.

Pole was made cardinal under Pope Paul III in 1536, over Pole's own objections. In 1542 he was appointed as one of the three papal legates to preside over the Council of Trent, and after the death of Pope Paul III in 1549 Pole at one point had nearly the two-thirds of the vote he need to become Pope himself at the papal conclave, 1549-1550

He died the same day as his protector, Queen Mary. At his death, as well as being out of line with Elizabeth, Mary`s successor, was also out of favour with the then reigning Pontiff.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Trinity Chapel

Scenes from the Life of Thomas Becket
Stained glass window
Cathedral, Canterbury

The Trinity Chapel in Canterbury Cathedral was built to serve the cult of Thomas a Becket, murdered in the Cathedral in 1170. His shrine was placed in this chapel, and the stained glass window depicts scenes from his life.

Tree of Jesse

Tree of Jesse
c. 1200
Stained glass window
Cathedral, Canterbury

The picture shows the view of the west window in Canterbury Cathedral depicting the Tree of Jesse.

The imagery of the Tree of Jesse was based on a prophecy of Isaiah: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse."

The tomb of Archbishop Henry Chichele

UNKNOWN MASTER, English (active 1420s)
Tomb of Henry Chichele, Archbishop of Canterbury
Polychromed stone
Cathedral, Canterbury

One of the interesting sights in Canterbury Cathedral is the extravagant and colourful tomb of Archbishop Henry Chichele (c. 1364 – April 12, 1443). His life was eventful. Like all ecclesiatics of his time, he was a powerful political magnate.

A "potted biography" of him is available at Wikipedia

Archbishop Henry Chichele founded All Souls College, Oxford, in 1438, to provide education for future public servants and scholars, in the service of the king.

The tomb was erected for him in 1424-6. The archbishop died in 1443. His tomb shows him in splendid robes , and as a naked corpse lying on a shroud below.

Beginning in the 15th century, cadaver tombs were a departure, in tomb architecture, from the usual practice of showing merely an effigy of the person as they were in life.

These tombs were made only for high-ranking nobles, usually royalty or bishops, because one had to be rich to afford to have one made, and powerful to be allotted space for one in a church.

A cadaver tomb (or "transi-tomb" or "memento mori tomb") is a sarcophagus that resembles a carved stone bunk-bed with the deceased shown alive on the top level (life-sized and often kneeling in prayer) and in death on the bottom level, in the grave and complete with worms, rot, and shroud.

It is also another reminder that medieval art in churches was full of bright and vivid colours.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

St Anselm in Canterbury

Visiting Canterbury Cathedral recently, I was happy to see the new Chapel of St Anselm restored.

St Anselm was born in Aosta and then buried in Canterbury Cathedral after his death in 1109.

The life of St Anselm is in The Catholic Encyclopedia

On 21st April 1909, St Pope Pius X issued his Encyclical Communium Rerum on the eight hundredth anniversary of the Death of St Anselm.

On 21st April 2006, the Archbishop of Canterbury (Dr Rowan Williams) dedicated the new altar in the chapel.

The green marble altar was gifted to the cathedral's St Anselm chapel by Roman Catholics from Aosta.

It was blessed with holy oil by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, with the Bishop of Aosta the Abbot of Bec and members of both their communities. among those attending the service.

The altar was made by British sculptor Stephen Cox.

The Dean of the Cathedral, the Very Revd Robert Willis said:

"It was the occasion of ecumenical pilgrimage on the part of those who came from France and Italy and an occasion also of great thanksgiving for the life,teaching and ministry of Anselm. I very much hope that this simple and beautiful gift will be a constant sign of pilgrimage, of unity and above all of God’s loving generosity in the gift of his son Jesus Christ."

Friday, August 17, 2007

Saint Isidore of Seville: Patron Saint of the Internet

Statue of Isidore of Seville (c.560–636) at the entrance staircase of the National Library of Spain, in Madrid. Sculpted in Italian white marble by José Alcoverro y Amorós (1835–1910) in 1892.

Isidore of Seville T-O Map from his Etymologie. Newberry Library

In an article entitled The verbal doodles of Saint Isidore Emily Wilson, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, considers the life and works of St Isodore of Seville who in 1999 was made patron saint of the Internet.

"Isidore, who served as Archbishop of Seville from 600 until the time of his death, was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1598. He presided over the Council of Toledo in 633, which tried to eradicate Jews and heretics from Spain, not for the first or last time. Isidore’s whole family, especially his brother Leander, had played an important role in the conversion of the Visigothic kings to Roman Catholicism, away from Arianism (a form of Christianity which denied that the Son is co-eternal with the Father). But Isidore also spread the reach of the Roman Catholic Church back into classical antiquity. In his Etymologies, three central books (Six, Seven and Eight) deal with Ecclesiastical Offices, God, angels and saints, and the Church. Isidore manages to tell the story of the Latin language in such a way that it becomes the property of Roman Catholicism. He thus made this ancient language the cornerstone for contemporary European culture. ...

[T]he Etymologies was “arguably the most influential book, after the Bible, in the learned world of the Latin West for nearly a thousand years”. Isidore, a prolific and learned writer, lived from about AD 560 to 632 (the exact dates are uncertain), in a Spain which was under the rule of the Visigoths (Leovigild, Reccared, Leiuva, Witteric, Gundemar, Sisebut, Suinthila). It was a time of great upheaval: in the sixth century, four successive kings were murdered; the government was often forced to fight off attempts by Byzantine forces to claim control of the country. Now that Spain’s political links with Rome had been more or less decisively severed, Isidore’s Etymologies provided a summation of the complete intellectual heritage of Roman antiquity. As Isidore’s friend, Braulio, wrote, in Isidore “antiquity reclaimed something for itself”. The broken Roman Empire was reconstructed in Isidore’s book."