Friday, October 31, 2008

Pope to postpone plans for Pius beatification ?

Pius XII

The Times reports today that Pope Benedict XVI is likely to wait at least six years before considering beatification of Pius XII, the pope during the Second World War, according to officials

The delay is being regarded as a concession to Jewish groups who say that Pius, head of the Roman Catholic Church from 1939 to 1958, remained silent during the Holocaust and was passive towards the persecution of Jews.

David Rosen, president of the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations, said that the Pope was “seriously considering” not proceeding with the beatification before the opening of archives on Pius. The Vatican said that the archives would not be open to researchers for at least six years. It said this month that “a time for reflection would be appropriate”. The decree that Pope Benedict must sign has been held by the Vatican since May.

Richard Prasquier, president of the Representative Council of French Jewry, said that he was satisfied by the probable delay.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Paul Preaching at Athens

Raffaello Santi 1483 - 1520
Paul Preaching at Athens, 1515-16
Bodycolour on paper mounted onto canvas (tapestry cartoon),
304 x 404cm
V&A /The Royal Collection, London

The theme of this particular cartoon comes from Acts 17:16-34

Paul is depicted preaching to a group of councillors at the Areopagus (the seat of the judicial council) at Athens.

In the detail above, one can see that behind Paul are two figures paying him rapt attention: the bearded man is Janus Lascaris, the director of the new Greek academy in Rome, and the plump, clean-shaven man is Pope Leo X.

As Leo was interested in the reform of preaching, and considered Paul the 'Prince of Preachers,' Raphael's depiction of him listening closely to Paul showed that he was following in Paul's footsteps. Leo had also recently set up a Greek academy in Rome.

Pope Leo X (1475-1521) was born Giovanni de' Medici, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, ruler of Florence and a major patron of the arts and sciences. He was educated by some of the leading scholars of the day, such as the poet Angelo Poliziano and the Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino.

For centuries Raphael has been considered the supreme High Renaissance painter, more versatile than Michelangelo and more prolific than their older contemporary Leonardo.

Prints were the maiolica painters' main source of Raphael images. One such print is below.

Marcantonio Raimondi, 1480-1534
Paul Preaching by Athens, print of Raphael's cartoon.
Museum no. E.4662-1910
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

To copy a work by Raphael was for many to copy an act of perfection. Here is a nineteenth century copy. This time the medium is clear glass painted in enamels. This is one of two copies made by William Collins of Collins Glassworks, 227 Strand, London
William Collins
Saint Paul Preaching at Athens 1816
Clear glass painted in enamels
Height 51.5 cm (unframed)
Width 58.8 cm (unframed)
Weight 3.60 kg (unframed)
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes

Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520)
The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, 1515-16
Bodycolour on paper mounted onto canvas (tapestry cartoon),
302 x 309cm
V&A /The Royal Collection, London

Christ is in the midst of choosing Peter and Andrew, two fishermen, as his first apostles.

The two men have been fishing unsuccessfully in the Sea of Galilee when Christ appears to them and tells them to let down their nets into deep water.

In the boat next to Peter and Andrew, two other fishermen struggle to pull up a net with a huge catch.

Peter (in blue) and Andrew (in green), their boat overflowing with fish, kneel reverently before Christ, recognising him as a holy man and promising to follow him.

The incident is related in Luke 5:1-11

When Leo X was elected pope in 1513, he decided to continue the decoration in the Sistine Chapel.Leo decided to cover the lower walls with a tapestry cycle.

Leo X commissioned a set of tapestry designs, or cartoons, from Raphael in 1515.

The ten cartoons depicted episodes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul. The scenes, served to emphasise the pre-eminence of the Roman Catholic Church and the legitimacy of papal succession

Raphael and his workshop completed the cartoons in December 1516. They were then sent to Belgium so that the tapestries could be woven.

In 1623, seven of the ten cartoons were purchased by Charles I for £300, and have since remained in Britain.

The cartoons are now regarded as independent works of art in their own right and of the greatest artistic importance.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another Step in the Fight against Slavery

Hadijatou Mani

Slavery may have been abolished in many states as a matter of law. However in many states slavery is in practice still tolerated.

However a landmark case has just been decided in Nigeria: The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas)

The Court has ordered the state of Niger to compensate a former slave for failing to protect her from slavery.

In Free at last: female slave who dared to take Niger to court , The Times reports on the case brought by Hadijatou Mani who was sold into slavery at the age of 12. She was beaten, raped and even imprisoned for bigamy after she married a man other than her “master"

"Astonishingly her story is not that rare in Niger, but now it has a happy ending. In an historic ruling that will resonate across West Africa, where slavery is still rife, Ms Mani won a landmark case yesterday against the Niger Government for failing to protect her. ...

The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) ordered Niger to pay Ms Mani 10 million CFA francs (£12,400) in compensation. The judgment was embarrassing for a government that said it had done all it could to eradicate slavery, but it offered hope for thousands of other men and women in the Sahel region.

The ruling sent a strong message to other governments that more needed to be done to set slaves free. Niger's neighbours, Mali and Mauritania, are also known to turn a blind eye to the practice. Chad and Sudan, which are not members of Ecowas, also use slaves. ...

A government lawyer said that Niger would respect the ruling.

However, analysts said that the country - one of the poorest on the continent - had showed little determination to enforce anti-slavery legislation adopted only five years ago. ...

Ms Mani was sold to a man called Souleymane Naroua when she was 12 for about £300. For the next ten years she was forced to carry out domestic and agricultural work. She was raped at the age of 13 and forced to bear the children of her “master”.

“I was beaten so many times I would run to my family ... then after a day or two, I would be brought back,” Ms Mani told local reporters in Hausa, the language of the Sahel region on the southern fringe of the Sahara. “At the time I didn't know what to do but since I learnt that slavery has been abolished I told myself I will no longer be a slave.”

In 2005 Ms Mani's “master” freed her and gave her a “liberation certificate”, but when she left him and tried to marry another man he claimed that they were already married. A local court found in her favour and she went ahead with the wedding.

The verdict was overturned on appeal, however, and she was sentenced to six months in prison for bigamy. ... Even though slavery has been a crime for five years, human rights groups in Niger estimate that at least 40,000 people are still being kept as slaves.

For generations the children of a slave automatically became the property of their parents' “master”. Ms Mani said that one of the reasons she turned to the international court was to secure the freedom of her two children and ensure that they did not have to suffer the same fate.

“I hope that everybody in slavery today can find their freedom,” she added. ...

Although the judgment will ease the suffering of tens of thousands of people in West Africa it has no bearing on the fate of many more in Sudan, where Arabs in the north of the country have kept African southerners as slaves for centuries.

Mauritania's Moors have also kept Africans in servitude, sowing the seeds for sporadic and violent rebellions. Despite international criticism both countries have consistently refused to take strong measures to eradicate slavery. "

Portrait of Pope Benedict XVI at Prayer with the Holy Theologians

(Alfredo) Fred Villanueva b. 1973
Portrait of Pope Benedict XVI at Prayer with the Holy Theologians 2002-2008
Oil and Acrylic on Canvas,
Dimensions: 8 ft. x 14 ft
The National Museum of Catholic Art and History, New York

Left to right above are:
St. Jose-Maria Ecriva, St. Augustine (after Botticelli), St. Brigid of Sweden, Sistine Madonna (after Raphael), Pope Benedict XVI, Albertus Magnus, St. Gregory, St. Irenaeus,

and then below left to right are:
St. Catherine of Siena (after Beccafumi), St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila (after Rubens), St. Thomas Aquinas (after Crivelli), St.Bonaventure (after Murillo), and center, Cat (after Leonardo da Vinci).

For more about the artist and his works see: : or

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Catholic Canvas

EWTN has produced a ten part art series entitled Catholic Canvas. It is described as a "journey through salvation history as seen through the art of the Vatican Museums."

Entire episodes are dedicated to Mary, to the Epiphany, to Christ's earthly ministry, his Passion, death and resurrection, St. Peter, and the saints as well as the Last Judgment.

Four full days were spent filming in the Sistine Chapel.

The first episode of the show will air on EWTN at 6:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, Nov. 6 and at 11 p.m. EST on Tuesday, Nov. 11.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Jerusalem in the 1860s

In 1860, John Cramb the photographer by Royal Appointment to Queen Victoria went to the Holy Land to take photographs of Jerusalem.

They were intended as records of "these authentic places of scriptural history for the country rectories and theological seminaries of Victorian Britain."

They were published in the Book below.

Jerusalem is now of course a metropolis like many other cities in the 21st century world.

The photographs below from another age perhaps give us a glimpse of Jerusalem in another time.

Via Dolorosa

Jerusalem from the north west

In 1866, Francis Bedford accompanied the Prince of Wales during a tour in the Middle East which included Jerusalem. Here are two of the photographs which were eventually published in England as The Holy Land, Egypt, Constantinople, Athens, etc. etc. A series of forty-eight photographs, taken by Francis Bedford, for H.R.H. the Prince of Wales during the tour in the East, in which ... he accompanied his Royal Highness. With descriptive text and introduction by W. M. Thompson.

Jerusalem. - The Mosk of the Dome of the Rock, from the Governor's House

Jerusalem. - The Mosk El-Aksa

All from The British Library website

Scripture and Culture

Part of Psalm 53
From the Ingeborg Psalter (13th century)
MS. 66 f56
Musée Condé, Chantilly

Another extract of the concluding message of the 12th Ordinary General Assemby of the Synod of Bishops which was approved on 24th October 2008 at the 21st General Congregation included a passage on Scripture and culture:

"15. In his Letter to the Artists (1999), John Paul II recalled that "Sacred Scripture has thus become a sort of ‛immense vocabulary' (Paul Claudel) and ‛iconographic atlas' (Marc Chagall), from which both Christian culture and art have drawn" (No. 5).

Goethe was convinced that the Gospel was the "mother tongue of Europe".

The Bible, as it is commonly said, is "the great code" of universal culture: artists ideally dipped their paintbrush in that alphabet coloured by stories, symbols, and figures which are the biblical pages. Musicians composed their harmonies around the sacred texts, especially the Psalms. For centuries authors went back to those old stories that became existential parables; poets asked themselves about the mystery of the spirit, infinity, evil, love, death and life, frequently collecting poetical quivers that enlivened the biblical pages.

Thinkers, men of learning and society itself frequently used the spiritual and ethical concepts (for example the Decalogue) of the word of God as a reference, even if merely in contrast. Even when the figure or the idea present in the Scriptures was deformed, it was recognized as being an essential and constitutive element of our civilization.

Because of this, the Bible - which teaches us also the via pulchritudinis, that is to say, the path of beauty to understand and reach God (as Ps 47:7 invites us: "learn the music, let it sound for God!") - is necessary not only for the believer, but for all to rediscover the authentic meanings of various cultural expressions and above all to find our historical, civil, human and spiritual identity once again.

This is the origin of our greatness and through it we can present ourselves with our noble heritage to other civilizations and cultures, without any inferiority complex. The Bible should, therefore, be known and studied by all, under this extraordinary profile of beauty and human and cultural fruitfulness. "

Relations with other Religions

Old houses in the Roman Ghetto overlooking the River Tiber, from a photograph taken in 1886

Part of the concluding message of the 12th Ordinary General Assemby of the Synod of Bishops which was approved on 24th October 2008 at the 21st General Congregation included a significant passage on relations with other religions:

"14. Along the roads of the world, the divine word generates for us Christians an equally intense encounter with the Jewish people, who are intimately bound through the common recognition and love for the Scripture of the Old Testament and because from Israel "so far as physical descent is concerned, came Christ" (Rm 9:5).

Every page of the Jewish Scriptures enlighten the mystery of God and of man. They are treasures of reflection and morality, an outline of the long itinerary of the history of salvation to its integral fulfillment, and illustrate with vigor the incarnation of the divine word in human events. They allow us to fully understand the figure of Christ, who declared "Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. Ihave come not to abolish but to fulfill them" (Mt 5:17).

These are a way of dialogue with the chosen people, "who were adopted as children, the glory was theirs and the covenants; to them were given the Law and the worship of God and the promises" (Rm 9:4), and they allow us to enrich our interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures with the fruitful resources of the Hebrew exegetical tradition.

"Blessed be my people Egypt, Assyria my creation, and Israel my heritage" (Is 19:25). The Lord, then, spreads the protective mantle of his blessing all over the peoples of the earth: "he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth" (1 Tm 2:4).

We, also as Christians are invited, along the roads of the world - without falling into a syncretism that confuses and humiliates our own spiritual identity, to enter into dialogue with respect towards men and women of the other religions, who faithfully hear and practice the directives of their sacred books, starting with Islam, which welcomes many biblical figures, symbols and themes in its tradition, and which offers the witness of sincere faith in the One, compassionate and merciful God, the Creator of all beings and Judge of humanity."

The First Vision of St Teresa of Avila

Alonso Cano (1601-67).
The Vision of St Teresa c. 1629
Private Collection

4. On one of the feasts of St. Paul, when I was at Mass, there stood before me the most Sacred Humanity, as painters represent Him after the resurrection, in great beauty and majesty, as I particularly described it to you, my father, when you had insisted on it. It was painful enough to have to write about it, for I could not describe it without doing great violence to myself. But I described it as well as I could, and there is no reason why I should now recur to it. One thing, however, I have to say: if in heaven itself there were nothing else to delight our eyes but the great beauty of glorified bodies, that would be an excessive bliss, particularly the vision of the Humanity of Jesus Christ our Lord. If here below, where His Majesty shows Himself to us according to the measure which our wretchedness can bear, it is so great, what must it be there, where the fruition of it is complete!

5. This vision, though imaginary, I never saw with my bodily eyes, nor, indeed, any other, but only with the eyes of the soul. Those who understand these things better than I do, say that the intellectual vision is more perfect than this; and this, the imaginary vision, much more perfect than those visions which are seen by the bodily eyes. The latter kind of visions, they say, is the lowest; and it is by these that the devil can most delude us. I did not know it then; for I wished, when this grace had been granted me, that it had been so in such a way that I could see it with my bodily eyes, in order that my confessor might not say to me that I indulged in fancies.

6. After the vision was over, it happened that I too imagined--the thought came at once--I had fancied these things; so I was distressed, because I had spoken of them to my confessor, thinking that I might have been deceiving him. There was another lamentation: I went to my confessor, and told him of my doubts. He would ask me whether I told him the truth so far as I knew it; or, if not, had I intended to deceive him? I would reply, that I told the truth; for, to the best of my belief, I did not lie, nor did I mean anything of the kind; neither would I tell a lie for the whole world. This he knew well enough; and, accordingly, he contrived to quiet me; and I felt so much the going to him with these doubts, that I cannot tell how Satan could have put it into my head that I invented those things for the purpose of tormenting myself.

7. But our Lord made such haste to bestow this grace upon me, and to declare the reality of it, that all doubts of the vision being a fancy on my part were quickly taken away, and ever since I see most clearly how silly I was."

Chapter XXVIII The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, of the Order of Our Lady of Carmel.Written by Herself., Translated from the Spanish by David Lewis. (1904)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Holy Family with the infant St. John the Baptist

Michelangelo Buonarroti (b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Rome)
The Holy Family with the infant St. John the Baptist (the Doni tondo)
c. 1506-1508
Tempera on panel, diameter 120 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Michelangelo Buonarroti (b. 1475, Caprese, d. 1564, Rome)
Study for the Head of the Madonna of the Doni Tondo(1504-1506)
Red pencil on paper 200 x 172mm
Casa Buonarroti, Florence

The Doni Tondo was probably commissioned by Agnolo Doni (a wealthy weaver) and his wife (Maddalena Strozzi) for the birth of their daughter Maria on 8th September 1507. Alternatively it has been put forward that it was meant to commemorate and celebrate the marriage of Agnolo Doni and Maddalena Strozzi in 1504.

The tondo was painted after January 1506 when the Laocoon was uncovered in Rome in the presence of Michelangelo.

The painting is dominated by the serpentine composition of Christ, Mary and Joseph in the foreground.

Mary, sitting on the ground, is taking Jesus from the arms of Joseph. The three are oblivious to the other figures. Mary`s eyes and her son`s eyes both stare at each other intently. Joseph seems to be gazing at Jesus, but on closer look his gaze is midway between Jesus and Mary.

Behind the wall which separates the Holy Family from the rest are three groups of figures.

The small boy (who looks like a satyr) apparently gazing at the Infant Jesus represents John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence.

The youths sitting or standing by a balustrade are classical figures. The nude figure behind St Joseph is based on one of the figures in the Laocoon.The other nudes derive from other classical sculptures known at the time.

Behind everything is a simple landscape disappearing into the distance.

The frame was probably designed by Michelangelo. The painting hangs in the Uffizi in its original frame. The Doni Tondo was separated from its original frame during the Enlightenment period, but it was later reunited after the realisation of its importance to the piece as a whole.

The Doni Tondo stood the test of time because of Michelangelo's construction of the frame. The frame was supported with a batten made of coniferous wood. It was constructed of pear wood because fruit woods are advised for optimal carving.

The gilt wood frame, attributed to the Tasso family of woodcarvers, displays the Doni family arms with lions on them intermingled with Strozzi (the family of the patron's wife Maddalena) crescents.

As well as grotesques, the frame contains the heads of two prophets and two sybils surmounted by one of Christ.

When finished, Agnolo Doni was not sure that he wished to pay for it. He thought it too expensive. Further, details of the composition itself aroused criticism: such as the satyr like John the Baptist, the young nude men, the muscular Mary, the presence of St Joseph.

Much ink has been spilt over the centuries about the proper interpretation or interpretations of this work. Sometimes the commentary and argument overwhelm a proper appreciation of the painting. One can be diverted by all the theorising without properly looking at the painting and appeciating it.

The central figure of the painting is Mary. She is the subject of the piece.

Energetic and young. Contemplative and contented.

She is not like other Marys previously painted. She is athletic and bare-armed. She is not on a cloud or ethereal. She is quite firmly seated in the dirt.

She is what the Pagan Classical writers and the Old Testament looked forward to. The agent by which the Saviour became flesh.

Her Love for her child, the Saviour is emphasised. As is His love for her. The mutual looks between them lead to no other conclusion.

The Holy Family represents the new begining for mankind. A line has been drawn in human history. Nothing will ever be the same again. All that has gone before is simply that. History.

This, of course, does not eplain this very complex painting and in particular the presence and significance of the ignudi.

One complete and convincing interpretation is set out by Monsignor Timothy Verdon, in his book Mary in Western Art. (Hudson Hills, 2005) at pages 221ff.

Monsignor Verdon amongst other things is a Canon at the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. His interpretation is based on amongst other things the work of Marsilio Ficino, the major Humanist and contemporary of Michelangelo, who, incidentally was also a priest and a Canon of the Cathedral in Florence.

"Let Us Approach the Table of the Word of God"

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi

Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi (born 18 October 1942 in Merate, Italy) is the current President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and President of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology.

The former Prefect of the Ambrosian Library in Milan drafted the the final message of the synod of bishops which suggests reading the Bible like a love letter, such that each reader approaches it with the certainty, "It was written for me."

The text immediately brought agreement on two points: It was one of the most beautiful ever prepared by a synod and it was very long.

The message was welcomed with a round of applause, which ratified the assembly approval.

A Summary of message:

The Full Final message

Nostra Aetate

Augustin Cardinal Bea SJ

October is a month of many anniversaries and commemorations in the Catholic Church.

One of the most important is the commemoration of the document Nostra Aetate promulgated on 28th October 1965.

The main force behind the Declaration was Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ (May 28, 1881 -November 16, 1968) who amongst other things was the confessor to Pope Pius XII.

On October 14 and 15, 1965, the Fathers of the Roman Catholic Church, assembled in Rome at the fourth and final session of the Second Vatican Council, approved by an overwhelming majority (1,763 to 250) a declaration on "The Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions," with its long-awaited statement on the people of the Jewish faith.

On October 28, the document (after a final public vote of 2221 - 91) was promulgated by Pope Paul VI.

The document was entitled Nostra Aetate

On the anniversary of the Declaration, Cardinal Walter Kasper gave a talk on the importance of the document: the website version is here

He explained why the document is still of importance and why its teaching must still be taught:

"Let me begin not with a personal confession: When I was asked to say some words about the anniversary of the Conciliar Declaration Nostra aetate my first instinct was anger. I asked: What can anyone say that is new, what has not yet been already said over and over, and that everybody already knows?

But then I had to repent. Everybody knows? Forty years ago the Second Vatican Council began. In Word and Church history this is only a short time, but today half an eternity. Not only due to the fact that a long memory in our hasty world is not very well developed, but also that all people under 40 years were not even born when Pope John XXIII opened the Council, and all under 50 years cannot have any personal memory on these stirring years full of debates, full of hopes and disillusions as well, but full also of breakthroughs – not the least on Jewish-Christian relations.

In the meantime a new generation has grown up, for which all this, which for us – sorry for this – for us older people was a joyful experience is past and often enough forgotten.

So we face a new situation where the teaching of Nostra aetate has to be transmitted and explained.

Moreover there are alarming signs of new anti-Semitism we had thought had been overcome. Not the least the tragic conflict in the Middle East does not make things any easier, and new efforts are needed in order for us not to lose sight of each other but to remain together. "

The declaration clearly states that what happened in the Passion of Jesus cannot be attributed to all the Jews of his time, nor to the Jews of today. It stresses that Jews "should not be presented as rejected by God or accursed, as if this follows from Holy Scriptures," and that no one is to teach or preach "anything that is inconsistent with the truth of the Gospel." Indeed, the Church "deplores hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism directed at Jews at any time and by anyone."

The long history of this Declaration is set out in a .pdf document here and also in a Wikipedia article here and in an article here

Perhaps the recent discussions on the beatification of Pope Pius XII have to be seen against the history of Nostra Aetate and the steps towards "dialogue" after the Declaration mentioned in the reflections of Cardinal Kasper.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Florence: a Marian City

Filippino Lippi (Prato c. 1457 - Florence 1504 )
Apparition of the Virgin to St. Bernard (Apparizione della Madonna a san Bernardo) c. 1486
Tempera on wood 210 x 195 cm
The Badia, Florence

Florence has been a Marian city for centuries. Its devotion to Mary can be seen by the great number of Marian images in the streets, the churches, chapels, art galleries and museums. Its medieval Cathedral is called Santa Maria del Fiore.

One of the oldest buildings in Florence is the Badia (the Abbey).

The Badìa Fiorentina is an abbey and church of the Fraternity of Jerusalem situated on the Via del Proconsolo in the centre of Florence. Amongst other things, it is famous for being the parish church of Beatrice Portinari, the love of Dante's life, and the place where he watched her at Mass.

Later, Boccaccio delivered his famous lectures on Dante's The Divine Comedy in the church.

The abbey was founded as a Benedictine institution in 978 by Willa, Margravine of Tuscany, in commemoration of her late husband Uberto, and was one of the chief buildings of medieval Florence

Now, despite a baroque transformation in the seventeeth century, the most striking feature of this historic interior is the above painting by Filippino Lippi

The panel was originally painted for the small monastery controlled by the Abbey, Santa Maria alle Campora di Marignolle. Florence was besieged in 1529 and the painting was transferred to the Badia for safekeeping.

The painting depicts a story narrated in the Golden Legend.

St. Bernard (c.1090-1153) with a group of monks founded the monastery of Clairvaux, which he directed until his death

St Bernard was once afflicted by a moment of weakness. The Virgin appeared to him in a vision ad his courage was restored.

The open book in the painting shows that the saint had been writing on the Annunciation. The relevant text from St Luke`s Gospel ( Luke 1: 26-31) is clearly legible. It is a message of hope.

However this is a "reverse" Annunciation: Mary became Gabriel and appears to the saint. She announces salvation.

It is not a triumphant Mary. It is the Mother of God who emphathises with the saint`s internal struggle and his fatigue.She is human like. Her feet are firmly planted on the ground. She is surrounded by a small retinue of angels. She places her hand on the book.

The monk-theologian with his great devotion to Mary looks at her with love, after the initial joyful surprise. He becomes transformed. His resolve is restored.

His fellow monks are oblivious to what is happening to the saint. However they seem to sense that something strange and miraculous is occurring somewhere. They see a light in the sky.

The viewer sees everything. We are privy to the vision and experience of St Bernard which dominates the painting.

The manuscript on which Saint Bernard is writing has the words “Let me say something concerning this name [Mary] also, which is interpreted to mean “star of the Sea” and admirably suits the Virgin Mother…” taken from the saint`s second homily, Super missus est.

Super missus est is a collection of four homilies written by Saint Bernard about the Annunciation. This text had a profound effect on Marian devotion. Bernard concluded this homily with the words, “When the storms of temptation burst upon you, when you see yourself driven upon the rocks of tribulation, look up at the star, call upon Mary…”

The moral message of the painting is reinforced by an inscription near the portrait of the donor [Piero del Pugliese, a successful Florentine wool merchant] in the lower right of the painting.

Viewers are encouraged to always seek the help of Mary in times when afflicted by doubt.

Some critics have seen this painting by Filippino Lippi as the beginning of a new trend of realism and psychological realism which came into Florenting painting at the end of the 15th Century.

The vision of Saint Bernard is a theme almost unique to Florence and rarely seen outside Tuscany during the Renaissance. It was particularly popular in Florence in the period 1490-1530.

St Bernard was patron of the Cappella dei Priori (Chapel of Priors) of the Florentine republican government located in the newly constructed Palazzo Vecchio.

His selection as the patron saint was probably largely due to his reputation as a peacemaker and arbitrator.

Later during the time of Savonarola from 1494 onwards, Savonarola used amongst others St Bernard as a model for reform.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Familiar Face

Léon-Augustin Lhermitte, 1844–1925
Friend of the Humble (Supper at Emmaus)
Oil on canvas
155.5 x 222.9 cm (61 1/4 x 87 3/4 in.)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Does the Face of Christ in the painting above look familiar ?

Try again with this detail of the painting:

L`hermitte is perhaps not as well known as he was in his time or should be now. He was an accomplished artist. He painted religious themes as well as pastoral scenes with scenes of French peasantry, recalling a time before the industrialisation of society.

Of him, Vincent Van Gogh said:
“If every month Le Monde Illustré published one of his compositions…it would be a great pleasure for me to be able to follow it. It is certain that for years I have not seen anything as beautiful as this scene by Lhermitte…I am too preoccupied by Lhermitte this evening to be able to talk of other things.” (quoted in Léon Lhermitte 1844-1925, ex. cat., Beverley Hills: New York: Galerie Michael)

The painting of Christ was the inspiration for the following well-known painting of The Head of Christ:

Warner Sallman (1892–1968)
Head of Christ 1940
Oil on canvas
The Wilson Galleries, Anderson University, Anderson IN

Sallman said that he was taken by a print of the painting on the cover of the Ladies Home Journal.
Rather than concentrating on the historical detail of the French work, Sallman opted for a close up with soft lighting: almost like one of the 1930/40 photographs of movie stars or other celebrities of the period.

Warner Sallman (1892–1968) was a Christian painter from Chicago. He worked as a freelance illustrator. His portrait of Christ, The Head of Christ, of which more than 500 million copies have been sold, is better known than he is

When Christ or his mother are mentioned many people admit that it is not the words of the Bible that come to mind but rather concrete images or pictures.

Because of the great circulation of the painting by Sallman in the 1940s and 1950s and onwards, for many people the name of Christ may conjure up the above image. And all because someone saw a print of a French painting on the cover of the Ladies Home Journal.

For more about this story and the famous print see The Warner Sallman website

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hide and Seek

Richard II presented to the Virgin and Child by his Patron Saint John the Baptist and Saints Edward the Confessor and Edmund ('The Wilton Diptych') about 1395-9: Front and reverse
Egg tempera on oak
57 x 29.2 cm
The National Gallery, London

Often when we look at paintings, we do not take in the whole meaning intended by the artist.

The "key" to the symbols has often been forgotten.

In an article in today`s Times, Justin Scroggie provides some of the "keys" to five paintings in The National Gallery in London.

The pictures are:

Allegory with Venus and Cupid (c 1540), by Bronzino
Supper at Emmaus (1601), by Caravaggio
The Wilton Diptych (1395-99), anonymous
The Arnolfini Portrait (1434), by Jan van Eyck
Marriage à la Mode II (c 1743), by William Hogarth

For an explanation of some of the symbols in Holbein`s "The Ambassadors" (also in The National Gallery in London), see At 27º to the universe by Theodore K Rabb

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Byzantium 330-1453

Unknown artist,
Mosaic icon of Saint Stephen, c.1108-1113.
Mosaic, 218 x 118 x 7 cm,
National Architectural Conservation Area, St Sophia of Kiev

From 25th October 2008 until 22nd March 2009, The Royal Academy in London is hosting an exhibition entitled "Byzantium 330 - 1453"

Covering the period from 330, when Constantine inaugurated his “new Rome” with sumptuous festivities and chariot races, to 1453, when the glittering capital of Christendom finally fell to the Ottoman Turks, it takes nothing less than the entire 1,100-year history of the Byzantine civilisation as its time span.

At its zenith Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), ruled over a large area including a long belt of North Africa, Egypt, the Holy Land, Italy and Greece, large parts of the Balkans and the southern regions of Spain.

One of the main features of the exhibition will be the glimmering icons including a number from the monastery of St Catherine in Mount Sinai to Britain. In particular the Icon of the Heavenly Ladder of St John, will no doubt be a main attraction. The talk on this icon by Father Justin, the Librarian of the Monastery of St Catherine in Mount Sinai is already sold out.

Saint Matthew and the Angel

Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo (Italian, Brescian, active by 1508, died soon after 1548)
Saint Matthew and the Angel, 1534
Oil on canvas; 36 3/4 x 49 in. (93.4 x 124.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The website at The Metropolitan describes and comments on this painting thus:

"The painting shows Saint Matthew—inspired by an angel, the traditional symbol of the Evangelist—writing his gospel. In the background are two scenes from the saint's life. On the right, he receives hospitality from the eunuch of the queen of Ethiopia, a country in which he preached and exposed the falseness of two magicians. On the left, four small figures, one lower down on the ground, are silhouetted against a towering moonlit edifice; this enigmatic scene may represent Matthew's martyrdom, which, according to some accounts, occurred in Ethiopia.

The simple, rough lamp at the edge of the table throws the figure of Matthew into areas of intense light and dark, strongly illuminating the torso but leaving much of the head in shadow. Each of the background scenes has its own source of light—firelight and the moon—and the expressive drama of the painting is linked with this investigation of light and dark.

It is almost certain that this painting originally hung in the palazzo of Milan's zecca, or mint. Documents show that Savoldo worked for the Milanese duke Francesco II Sforza in 1534, the date given by most scholars to this work. Its subject, Matthew the Evangelist, who had originally been a tax collector, would also be appropriate, given the function of the mint."

For more see The Metropolitan website

Not really much more to be said about this beautiful painting ?

The realism of this painting is heightened by important touches: flames and sparks from the fireplace throw the three figures into relief; four small figures wander along a moonlit street; the figure of the main figure of St Matthew: hands, clothes, neck, beard, glance/look at the angel.

Savldo is first heard of or recorded in Florence. He then spent much of his artistic career in Venice. But he is considered to be part of the Brescia school due to his realism and his acute psychological portrayal.

Savoldo was interested in Flemish painting. His wife was Flemish. He was familiar with the works of Hieronymous Bosch. This may have been because he had travelled to his wife`s homeland. Or, alternatively, because there were a large number of Flemish works at that time in Venice.

Savoldo was an exponent of not adhering to a written text. He simply concentrated on a few significant elements chosen so that the story can be grasped emphatically and at a glance. This is consonant with the new narrative type emerging in Venice at that time.

Of course one has to know the story before one can grasp the meaning of the painting.

He brought the sacred down to earth: his visualisation of sacred events and persons was a characteristic of the Northern Gothic.

Note the emphasis on scripture: but contrary to the incipient Protestant advocates at the time, it is an angel which is dictating the Word to the Apostle.

His direct realism with the new vivid light effects and night scenes prefigure Caravaggio. Some have argued that his style also influenced Rembrandt`s main teacher, Pieter Lastman (1583-1633)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Yours faithfully, Michelangelo Buonarroti

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475 – 1564)
Letter to the Competent Directors of St. Peter’s Fabric
16th century (about 1547)
Vatican Library

One of the most interesting parts of the Vatican Library website is the section on Manuscripts. There is a digital collection of some of the many priceless manuscripts within its walls.

In 1547, Michelangelo (March 6, 1475 – February 18, 1564), was appointed Architect of St Peter`s Basilica which was in the course of construction. He was 71 years of age when he was appointed by Pope Paul III.

Before then, he had been kept at a distance from the project by Bramante, Raphael, Antonio da Sangallo and then Giulio Romano (Raphael d. 1520, Peruzzi . 1536).

In the year of his appointment, he wrote to the Directors of the Fabric of St Peters to resist the widely diffused practice of corruption and not to accept any use of inferior materials for the construction and decoration of the basilica. The letter is above.

He had varying degress of success in his anti-corruption drive. The interests against him were too deeply rooted. The suppliers’ attempts at corruption continued and Michelangelo was obliged to continuously solicit the control of pontifical authorities.

But even a genius like Michelangelo could not defeat graft.

The cathedral was constructed according to Donato Bramante’s plan, but Michelangelo became ultimately responsible for its dome and the exterior of the altar end of the building.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Another historic occasion at the Synod of Bishops

Yesterday there was a historic occasion. A historic gesture of unity.

For the first time a Patriarch of Constantinople addresses a Synod of Bishops in the Sistine Chapel. The Bishops, the Pope and the Patriarch prayed vespers together in the Sistine Chapel.

Pope Benedict XVI spoke of his joy at the presence of the Patriarch Bartholomew. He said that The Word is the light and guide to "our steps"

In his address the Patriarch indicated the common interest which must unite Christians for the benefit of humanity and for a true religious tolerance.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Contemporary biblical illiteracy.

San Marino, Huntington Library, HM 932, f. 2v
Description: Bishop Roger Niger accompanied by two clerics

San Marino, Huntington Library, HM 1163, f. 13v
God the Father with symbols of the four Evangelists in the corners

Timothy Verdon is participating at the synod of bishops as an expert. He was born in New Jersey (USA) in 1946, and studied history of art at Yale University. He is a priest and art historian, professor at Stanford University and the director of Florence's diocesan office for catechesis through art since 1964.

On Sunday, October 12, 2008, "L'Osservatore Romano" published an article by the Father Verdon where he explains in artistic, liturgical, and theological terms the loss of meaning that the Sacred Scriptures have suffered in the modern and contemporary age.

An English translation of the article is published in Sandro Magister

Sandro Magister sees it as a development of Pope Benedict XVI`s lecture at the Collège des Bernardins, on September 12, 2008.

The importance of monastries and monasticism to the history and development of culture in Western Europe is discussed.

"In the history of Christianity, the cultural fruits of monasticism have not been limited to the monks, because the silence and withdrawn life of the monasteries, instead of keeping away the mass of the faithful, has attracted them, and monastic history confirms the fascination that monks have always raised in large segments of society.

Long before Alcuin taught or Anselm wrote, the citizens of Alexandria in Egypt went into the desert to listen to the abbot St. Anthony, and the Romans brought their children to St. Benedict. Even when the golden age of monastic culture began to fade, beginning in the 13th and 14th century, the ideal of a solitude filled with prayer would remain the paradigm for the active religious orders of the late Middle Ages, and for the laity to whom they preached.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the formal achievements of the monks – their art and architecture, their liturgical and devotional practices, their organizational structures and methods of education, agriculture, and trade – shaped the cultural awareness of Europe. Even more, monastic life itself, considered a creative and free decision, was deeply imprinted in the imagination of Christians, to the point that some of the most fundamental aspirations of our civilization can be interpreted only in the light of the monastic "enterprise."

In all of this, it is important to grasp the twofold role of the imagination. On the one hand, monastic life requires an effort of the imagination in those who embrace it by becoming monks; on the other, it requires an effort of imagination in those who do not become monks, in Christian society in general.

The man or woman who gives up the legitimate goods of life, withdrawing in order to seek God in silence and prayer, needs a significant capacity of social and moral "imagination" in order to persevere in believing in "what eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, but God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9): this passage is, in fact, cited in the rule of St. Benedict ( 4:77). Above all in the sometimes problematic relationship with his confreres, in addition to the faith it is also the imagination that permits the monk to feel that "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" ( Matthew 25:40; cf. Regula 36:3).

By a similar act of imagination, those who do not enter the monastery have chosen, over centuries, to consider the monks "wise men" and "prophets" rather than dangerous dissidents at the margin of society. From the thousands of people who went to the abbot Anthony in the Egyptian desert, seeking a word, to the hundreds of thousands who today read Thomas Merton, Christians have believed that the solitude of the monks does not imply disdain for others, and that from their silence can emerge a wisdom at the service of man.

Moving in its simplicity, this trust suggests the most important function of monasticism in the imaginative life of Christians, that of a "symbol" that transmits sanctity to those who approach it. The visitors to a monastery, like the monks themselves, have the impression that, in the contemplative recollection of the cloister, places and things take on something of the intentionality and dedication of the inhabitants of those places.

The objects, even the humble ones, suddenly are perceived as signs that reveal the solidarity between man and the sacred, steps on the ladder reaching from earth to heaven. Precisely in this spirit, St. Benedict says that even the ordinary implements of the monastery must be treated as if they were sacred vessels for the liturgy (Regula 31:10).

This is a sacramental way of seeing, in which the surface of things becomes transparent in order to reveal an infinite perspective, granting power to images. A depiction of the Last Supper in a monastic refectory, like the one by Leonardo da Vinci at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, is not only a decoration, but also a functional object that communicates and nourishes the faith from which it emerges.

The practical choices in the formal genesis of the work, which normally are part of the history of art, are interwoven here with other choices, not aesthetic, but existential."

“They think Penny has Down syndrome.”

Amy Julia Becker, a master-of-divinity candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is also a writer and mother in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

Her daughter, Penny, was born at 5:22 p.m. on December 30, 2005.

Two hours later, a nurse called her husband out of the room. When he returned, he took her hand and said, “They think Penny has Down syndrome.”

In a remarkable article published in the November issue of First Things, Mrs Becker discusses her feelings at the time and since and her own development as a result of having a child with Down Syndrome.

To Read or not to read

''The Streets, Morning'', illustration by George Cruikshank for ''Sketches by Boz'', p. 68, London: Chapman and Hall (1839).

Eleanor Bourg Donlon in First Things discusses why nowadays the classics of English literature are no longer being actively taught as before, despite the fact that reading often and reading well are prerequisites for achievement in areas far beyond literature and literacy alone.

In particular she discusses the present teaching of the works of Charles Dickens.

"With all of this said, there are three basic rules that must be established before one encounters Dickens. First, one ought not to read a three-volume novel expecting it to be short. Second, one should not expect the deep, dark secret of a Victorian thriller to be anything less than utterly predictable (this caution is reiterated, in particular, to a group of young students of my acquaintance who seriously expected the deep, dark secret of Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White to be that the villain was really a werewolf). And third, one should not read Dickens hoping he will not introduce a cast of thousands.

How then should Dickens be taught? As with all of literature, he must be taught with affection, with enthusiasm, with patience, and with a taste for eccentricity. A more fitting introduction for young minds might be found in the reckless youthful energy of Nicholas Nickleby, with its hero who descends to fisticuffs in defense of a downtrodden drudge or attacks strangers in defense of his sister’s virtue. It is perhaps easier to relate to the trials and tribulations of young Oliver Twist than to sympathize with Pip. The death of Nancy is far more dramatically accessible than that of Sydney Carton, and with the former there is the advantage of a cast of colorful, evocative characters—Fagin, Bill Sikes, Nancy, Jack Dawkins, Charlie Bates, and, above all, Bulls-Eye, unite to make the novel one of Dickens’ greatest achievements.

We need to recover the lost art of enjoyment—enjoyment that is not simply mind-numbing intoxication or drooling appreciation of a television hero.

Through the classics, a proper appreciation for virtue (classical and moral) may be effectively cultivated.

In other words, students should put down Pride and Prejudice and read Mansfield Park instead. Teachers should so infuse their students with sympathy for little Paul Dombey that they bawl their eyes out at his death. They should learn together to value the full depth of the character of Fagin—not as a kindly old man (as some film studios have attempted to portray him), but as a creature of deliberate, calculating wickedness. And they should empathize with Nicholas Nickleby’s righteous indignation at the infamous treatment of his beloved sister, Kate.

When they are finished, they may be able to appreciate Mr. Darcy for his full worth, and the character of Sydney Carton will become ever more wonderful. They may even feel the spontaneous urge to pick up Our Mutual Friend on a quiet Sunday afternoon."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Threats to the Right to Life

The Times has a number of disturbing stories.

In `Abortion ship' off Spanish coast it was reported that a flotilla of anti-abortion campaigners threatened to gate-crash a “death party” and prevent a Dutch “abortion ship” from docking in the Spanish port of Valencia

After picking up six passengers the ship,the Aurora, run by the Dutch “pro-choice” group Women on Waves, steamed out into international waters 12 miles from the shore to escape Spanish jurisdiction.

In 'Second-class life' not enough for injured rugby star Daniel James it is reported that Dan James, aged 23 years, of Nuneaton Rugby Club, who was paralysed in a training accident travelled to Switzerland to end his life

"The parents of a young rugby player who travelled to a Swiss clinic to kill himself after he was paralysed in a training accident said he was living “a second-class existence”.

Daniel James, 23, who played for England schoolboys had travelled to a euthanasia clinic last month with his parents, Mark and Julie.

The student was left paralysed from the chest down after his spine was dislocated when a scrum collapsed during training with Nuneaton Rugby Club in March 2007.

But his condition is not believed to have been terminal and he is reported to have made some progress in regaining use of his fingers.

Mr and Mrs James said today that their son had tried “several” times to kill himself before he “gained his wish”. They described their son as “an intelligent young man of sound mind” who was “not prepared to live what he felt was a second-class existence”.

Daniel had several operations and spent eight months rehabilitating in hospital before returning to his parents’ £600,000 home in Sinton Green, near Worcester. He died at the Dignitas clinic on September 12. "


What a pity this man is unlikely to be the next President of the United States....


Part 2 of a wonderful performance. Unfortunately our elections are not anywhere as much fun.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thirty Years Ago Today.....

The conclave to elect John Paul I's successor began on October 14, and ended two days later, on October 16, after eight ballots

He became the 264th Pope according to the chronological List of popes. At only 58 years of age, he was the youngest pope elected since Pope Pius IX in 1846

Pope John Paul II received ecclesiastical investiture with the simplified Papal inauguration on 22 October 1978

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

St Ignatius of Antioch, Martyr (c. 35 AD - Died: c. 106-110 AD)

Sandro Botticelli (b. 1445, Firenze, d. 1510, Firenze)
San Barnaba Altarpiece (detail)
c. 1488
Tempera on wood
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
On the left of the Virgin is St John the Baptist, St Ignatius of Antioch as a bishop, and the archangel St Michael.

No Church Father has expressed the longing for union with Christ and for life in him with the intensity of Ignatius (c. 35 AD - Died: c. 106-110 AD). The commandments to Love and to be united were central to his message.

He was sentenced to die by the Emperor Trajan in the Colosseum. The Roman authorities hoped to make an example of him and thus discourage Christianity from spreading. They failed in all respects.

In AD 106 - 110 the lions tore him to pieces and devoured him, leaving only a few of the larger bones and his heart.

In AD 637 his relics were translated to St. Clement's at Rome, where they now rest.

At his General Audience in St Peter`s Square on Wednesday 14th March 2007, Pope Benedict spoke about Saint Ignatius of Antioch

"Dear Brothers and Sisters,

...Today, we will be speaking of St Ignatius, who was the third Bishop of Antioch from 70 to 107, the date of his martyrdom. At that time, Rome, Alexandria and Antioch were the three great metropolises of the Roman Empire. The Council of Nicea mentioned three "primacies": Rome, but also Alexandria and Antioch participated in a certain sense in a "primacy".

St Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch, which today is located in Turkey. Here in Antioch, as we know from the Acts of the Apostles, a flourishing Christian community developed. Its first Bishop was the Apostle Peter - or so tradition claims - and it was there that the disciples were "for the first time called Christians" (Acts 11: 26). Eusebius of Caesarea, a fourth-century historian, dedicated an entire chapter of his Church History to the life and literary works of Ignatius (cf. 3: 36).

Eusebius writes: "The Report says that he [Ignatius] was sent from Syria to Rome,and became food for wild beasts on account of his testimony to Christ. And as he made the journey through Asia under the strictest military surveillance" (he called the guards "ten leopards" in his Letter to the Romans, 5: 1), "he fortified the parishes in the various cities where he stopped by homilies and exhortations, and warned them above all to be especially on their guard against the heresies that were then beginning to prevail, and exhorted them to hold fast to the tradition of the Apostles".

The first place Ignatius stopped on the way to his martyrdom was the city of Smyrna, where St Polycarp, a disciple of St John, was Bishop. Here, Ignatius wrote four letters, respectively to the Churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralli and Rome. "Having left Smyrna", Eusebius continues, Ignatius reached Troas and "wrote again": two letters to the Churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna, and one to Bishop Polycarp.

Thus, Eusebius completes the list of his letters, which have come down to us from the Church of the first century as a precious treasure. In reading these texts one feels the freshness of the faith of the generation which had still known the Apostles. In these letters, the ardent love of a saint can also be felt.

Lastly, the martyr travelled from Troas to Rome, where he was thrown to fierce wild animals in the Flavian Amphitheatre.

No Church Father has expressed the longing for union with Christ and for life in him with the intensity of Ignatius. We therefore read the Gospel passage on the vine, which according to John's Gospel is Jesus. In fact, two spiritual "currents" converge in Ignatius, that of Paul, straining with all his might for union with Christ, and that of John, concentrated on life in him. In turn, these two currents translate into the imitation of Christ, whom Ignatius several times proclaimed as "my" or "our God".

Thus, Ignatius implores the Christians of Rome not to prevent his martyrdom since he is impatient "to attain to Jesus Christ". And he explains, "It is better for me to die on behalf of Jesus Christ than to reign over all the ends of the earth.... Him I seek, who died for us: him I desire, who rose again for our sake.... Permit me to be an imitator of the Passion of my God!" (Romans, 5-6).

One can perceive in these words on fire with love, the pronounced Christological "realism" typical of the Church of Antioch, more focused than ever on the Incarnation of the Son of God and on his true and concrete humanity: "Jesus Christ", St Ignatius wrote to the Smyrnaeans, "was truly of the seed of David", "he was truly born of a virgin", "and was truly nailed [to the Cross] for us" (1: 1).

Ignatius' irresistible longing for union with Christ was the foundation of a real "mysticism of unity". He describes himself: "I therefore did what befitted me as a man devoted to unity" (Philadelphians, 8: 1).

For Ignatius unity was first and foremost a prerogative of God, who, since he exists as Three Persons, is One in absolute unity. Ignatius often used to repeat that God is unity and that in God alone is unity found in its pure and original state. Unity to be brought about on this earth by Christians is no more than an imitation as close as possible to the divine archetype.

Thus, Ignatius reached the point of being able to work out a vision of the Church strongly reminiscent of certain expressions in Clement of Rome's Letter to the Corinthians. For example, he wrote to the Christians of Ephesus: "It is fitting that you should concur with the will of your Bishop, which you also do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the Bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore, in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And man by man, you become a choir, that being harmonious in love and taking up the song of God in unison you may with one voice sing to the Father..." (4: 1-2).

And after recommending to the Smyrnaeans: "Let no man do anything connected with Church without the Bishop", he confides to Polycarp: "My soul be for theirs who are submissive to the Bishop, to the presbyters and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God! Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together as the stewards and associates and servants of God. Please him under whom you fight, and from whom you receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your Baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply" (Polycarp, 6: 1-2).

Overall, it is possible to grasp in the Letters of Ignatius a sort of constant and fruitful dialectic between two characteristic aspects of Christian life: on the one hand, the hierarchical structure of the Ecclesial Community, and on the other, the fundamental unity that binds all the faithful in Christ.

Consequently, their roles cannot be opposed to one another. On the contrary, the insistence on communion among believers and of believers with their Pastors was constantly reformulated in eloquent images and analogies: the harp, strings, intonation, the concert, the symphony. The special responsibility of Bishops, priests and deacons in building the community is clear.

This applies first of all to their invitation to love and unity. "Be one", Ignatius wrote to the Magnesians, echoing the prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper: "one supplication, one mind, one hope in love.... Therefore, all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one" (7: 1-2).

Ignatius was the first person in Christian literature to attribute to the Church the adjective "catholic" or "universal": "Wherever Jesus Christ is", he said, "there is the Catholic Church" (Smyrnaeans, 8: 2). And precisely in the service of unity to the Catholic Church, the Christian community of Rome exercised a sort of primacy of love: "The Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness... and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father..." (Romans, Prologue).

As can be seen, Ignatius is truly the "Doctor of Unity": unity of God and unity of Christ (despite the various heresies gaining ground which separated the human and the divine in Christ), unity of the Church, unity of the faithful in "faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred" (Smyrnaeans, 6: 1).

Ultimately, Ignatius' realism invites the faithful of yesterday and today, invites us all, to make a gradual synthesis between configuration to Christ (union with him, life in him) and dedication to his Church (unity with the Bishop, generous service to the community and to the world).

To summarize, it is necessary to achieve a synthesis between communion of the Church within herself and mission, the proclamation of the Gospel to others, until the other speaks through one dimension and believers increasingly "have obtained the inseparable Spirit, who is Jesus Christ" (Magnesians, 15).

Imploring from the Lord this "grace of unity" and in the conviction that the whole Church presides in charity (cf. Romans, Prologue), I address to you yourselves the same hope with which Ignatius ended his Letter to the Trallians: "Love one another with an undivided heart. Let my spirit be sanctified by yours, not only now, but also when I shall attain to God.... In [Jesus Christ] may you be found unblemished"

And let us pray that the Lord will help us to attain this unity and to be found at last unstained, because it is love that purifies souls. "

Christian Classics Ethereal Library have the letters of St Ignatius in translation here

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

St Teresa and Her Big Brother

Luis Juárez, ca.1585-1638
St. Teresa and Her Brother Rodrigo on Their Way to the Land of the Moors, first half 17th century.
Oil on canvas
Museo Nacional de las Intervenciones, Churubusco

When Teresa was six, she slipped away from her home with her older brother Rodrigo, aged ten. Both intended to go to the Land of the Moors to teach the Gospel - and to seek the glory of martyrdom. Teresa appears to have been the driving force behind the attempt to go away, buoyed up as she was by the stories of the saints in which she immersed herself as well as thoughts of the Reconquest of Spain and her mother`s stories of chivalry.

They passed through the Adaja Gate; but when they had crossed the bridge, they were met by one of their uncles, who brought them back to their mother

In her Autobiography, St Teresa wrote:

"4. One of my brothers was nearly of my own age; and he it was whom
I most loved, though I was very fond of them all, and they of me. He
and I used to read Lives of Saints together. When I read of martyrdom
undergone by the Saints for the love of God, it struck me that the
vision of God was very cheaply purchased; and I had a great desire to
die a martyr's death,--not out of any love of Him of which I was
conscious, but that I might most quickly attain to the fruition of
those great joys of which I read that they were reserved in Heaven; and
I used to discuss with my brother how we could become martyrs. We
settled to go together to the country of the Moors, begging our
way for the love of God, that we might be there beheaded; and our
Lord, I believe, had given us courage enough, even at so tender an age,
if we could have found the means to proceed; but our greatest
difficulty seemed to be our father and mother.

5. It astonished us greatly to find it said in what we were reading
that pain and bliss were everlasting. We happened very often to talk
about this; and we had a pleasure in repeating frequently, "For ever,
ever, ever." Through the constant uttering of these words, our Lord was
pleased that I should receive an abiding impression of the way of truth
when I was yet a child.

6. As soon as I saw it was impossible to go to any place where people
would put me to death for the sake of God, my brother and I set about
becoming hermits; and in an orchard belonging to the house we
contrived, as well as we could, to build hermitages, by piling up small
stones one on the other, which fell down immediately; and so it came to
pass that we found no means of accomplishing our wish. Even now, I have
a feeling of devotion when I consider how God gave me in my early youth
what I lost by my own fault. I gave alms as I could--and I could but
little. I contrived to be alone, for the sake of saying my prayers
--and they were many--especially the Rosary, to which my mother had a
great devotion, and had made us also in this like herself. I used to
delight exceedingly, when playing with other children, in the building
of monasteries, as if we were nuns; and I think I wished to be a nun,
though not so much as I did to be a martyr or a hermit."

(The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus, Written by Herself. Translated from the Spanish by David Lewis [Third Edition] 1904, Chapter 1)

On November 2, 1535, at the age of 20, Teresa and her brother again ran away from home to pursue religious vocations. Teresa entered the Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation at Avila. Alonso de Cepeda, her father, resigned himself to her decision. A year later, Teresa was professed and took the habit.

Both siblings were born on the same date: 28th March.

Rodrigo de Cepeda, four years older than the Saint, entered the army, and, serving in South America, was drowned in the Rio de la Plata St. Teresa always considered him a martyr, because he died in defence of the Catholic faith. Before he sailed for the Indies, he made his will, and left all his property to the Saint.

Monday, October 13, 2008

St Teresa of Ávila

François Pascal Simon (4 May 1770 - 11 January 1837)
St Theresa. 1827.
Oil on canvas, 172 x 93 cm
Infirmerie Marie-Thérèse, Paris

St. Teresa's monastic cell at the Convento de la Encarnación, Ávila

In art, the image of The Transverberation of St Teresa was very popular and very common.

Of the Transverberation, or piercing of the heart which occurred around the year 1560, she wrote:

"I saw close to me toward my left side an angel in bodily form […] in his hands [was] a large golden dart and at the end of the iron tip there appeared to be a little fire. It seemed to me this angel plunged the dart several times into my heart and that it reached deep within me. When he drew it out, I thought he was carrying off with him the deepest part of me; and he left me all on fire with great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan, and the sweetness this greatest pain caused me was so superabundant that there is no desire capable of taking it away."

The classic of this image is of course Bernini’s Transverberation in the Cornaro Chapel, in the left transept of the Church of S. Maria della Vittoria in Rome.

On 12th March 1662, St Teresa, was canonised in a ceremony which at the same time canonised Francis Xavier, Isidore of Seville, Ignatius of Loyola, and Philip Neri. Banners depicting each of the figures hung in the crossing of St Peter`s. St Teresa’s banner bore a depiction of the Transverberation.

But it cannot be all ecstasy and delight.

Shortly before her death, St Teresa wrote in May 1582 to a sister in her order who had complained of felings of spiritual "dryness" after a period of spiritual "ecstasy" or delight. She explained:

"God is leading you as though you were someone he already has within his palace, who he knows will never leave and to whom he desires to give more and more bay which you can merit....

Prize being able to help God carry the cross and don't be clinging to delights. for it is the trait of mercenary soldiers to want their daily pay at once. Serve without charge, as the grandees do the king."

Sunday, October 12, 2008


Programmes which are preceded by publicity designed to attract viewers should be ignored and avoided. There is always the "off switch"

The latest is a five part series on the BBC called Apparitions.

The headline is entitled; "The BBC is likely to face a Christian backlash over a new drama series featuring a graphic murder, homosexual sex and the exorcism of Mother Teresa"

The headline should of course be: "The BBC hopes that it will face a Christian backlash over a new drama series featuring a graphic murder, homosexual sex and the exorcism of Mother Teresa."

Its the viewing figures of course.

The blurb from The Telegraph continues:

"The series, which has been likened to a horror film, depicts a man possessed by the devil and being skinned alive in a gay sauna.

Another episode shows a father threatening to sexually assault his daughter while in another, Mother Teresa is seen on her death bed.

In other scenes blood drips from the eyes of those supposed to be possessed by the Devil.

The series, called Apparitions, was the idea of the actor Martin Shaw, who also stars in it as a Roman Catholic priest.

He said he realised the programme would be controversial but added: "I'm not going to pretend this is the most positive show on Earth. We're talking about the end of all things but the message is that love conquers all.

"It doesn't show a wholly positive message, otherwise it would be Songs Of Praise and people would switch off. It is going out at nine, an acknowledged watershed."

When asked whether the Mother Teresa scene depicted her being exorcised, he said: "She was exorcised before she died.

"I don't think that's as unusual as it sounds. The Catholic Church would say, and I agree, that the more holy they are, the more likely they are to come under attack.

"Christ spent 40 days in the desert and was hideously attacked by Satan. The scene is not against Mother Teresa or her message."

The six-part series features Shaw playing Father Jacob, a priest running a Roman Catholic seminary in London. "

From the blurb it sounds a very boring series. Demons, ghouls and exorcisms. Not terribly original. After the Exorcist, and the other follow ups, is it really terribly exciting anymore ?

They can show Catholic priests as heads of seminaries doing everything under the sun and I really would not turn a hair.

But why pick on Mother Teresa to sell a programme ? Many have been profoundly affected by her life, her actions and her words - for the better. Surely some things can be left untouched. Many non-Catholics, secular humanists, agnostics and atheists have a profound admiration for her work. Why cheapen and tarnish her achievements ?

The explanation offered by Martin Shaw is risible.

If one does protest, the BBC benefits.

If one does not protest, one is acquiescing in a wrong.

What is one supposed to do ?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Chapel of Light: The church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Bourbourg

Font at The Chapel of Light with surrounding niche scultpures

In May 1940, the church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Bourbourg was hit by a German plane.

Most of the church was eventually repaired. However the Gothic choir was sealed off and lay unrepaired- until now.

In 1999, the British sculptor, Sir Anthony Caro was commissioned to restore the Choir.

The Daily Telegraph reports on the opening of the Chapel of Light which is:

"An extraordinary fusion of Gothic architecture and contemporary sculpture - of soaring stone arches, and monumental works in steel, wood and terracotta - it is the largest religious commission for a major artist in Europe since Matisse created the Chapelle du Rosaire in Vence on the French Riviera, between 1948 and 1951.

Its unveiling also marks the culmination of a nine-year struggle - a mini-war, if you like - between the forces of tradition and modernity that at one time threatened to inflict as damaging a blow to the project as a crashed German fighter.

Some 18 miles from Calais, Bourbourg is a sleepy town with a population of just 7,000, that seems to come to life only on market day, when the streets around the main square are clotted with stalls selling clothes and farm produce.

The church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste stands just off the square, the heart of the town. Its foundations date from Roman times, the choir from the 13th century, the nave from the 15th. There is a bell from 1548 that is said to be one of the most important in France."

"Caro's first thought was to create a series of sculptures that would reflect the region's history of conflict in both the First and Second World Wars. 'All the names that one drives by in this area are so extraordinary,' he says. 'Ypres, Armentières, Dunkirk… But the bishop wasn't terribly keen on the idea of doing anything about the wars. I think he felt they'd rather had enough of that.'

Inspiration arrived in the person of a Dominican priest, Fr Philippe Maillard, who visited Caro's studio early in the project. 'He said, well you've got the font there, why don't you do something to do with water?'

Responding to that idea, Caro has created a series of nine sculptures, collectively known as The Creation, which stand in the niches behind the font: The Deep, Sea Creatures, Galapagos, The Seashore, Watering Hole, Waterfall, In the Undergrowth, Beside the River and Fruits.