Monday, August 30, 2010

Servus servorum Dei

Pier Francesco Sacchi (Called "Il Pavese") (1485 - 1528)
Detail of St Gregory the Great from The Four Doctors of the Church 1516
Oil on wood
1.96 x 1.67 m
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The above detail is from a work commissioned for the Church of San Giovanni di Pré (later Sant` Ugo) at Genova. It is now in the Louvre.

It depicts St Gregory the Great, one of the original four Doctors of the Church, without decor or attributes other than the large book and papal tiara (and a bull underneath the table) to identify him as the Pope said to have left the greatest number of writings.

It must be said that the present Pope looks likely to overtake St Gregory in the number of works stakes. Or at least give him a good run for his money.

The painter conveys a definite idea of the intellectual work of Gregory and the other three Doctors through the great attention to detail and the perspectival accuracy.

Sacchi is recorded in Genoa in 1501 (where he was apprenticed to the Lombard painter Pantaleo Berengerio), and throughout the second and third decades of the 16th Century is known to have continued working in that city.

Note the strong Flemish flavour. There is a suggestion that the painter may have used a Flemish source for his painting. Of all the cities in Italy, Genova - and indeed Liguria as a whole - was one of the richest areas in Flemish painting at this time. It has been argued that, due to the significant number of Flemings in Genova during the first decades of the 16th Century, there was almost a 'Flemish painters' colony'.

The present Pope has talked about St Gregory the Great (c. 540 – 12 March 604), (San Gregorio Magno)

Gregory is considered a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Anglican Communion, and some Lutheran churches. John Calvin admired Gregory and declared in his Institutes, that Gregory was the last good pope

His influence on the forms of public worship throughout Western Europe was enormous

Monk, preacher, Pope and Servant of the Servants of God, “the last of all and the servant of all.”

It was Gregory who first adopted the title "Servant of the Servants of God". In similar vein, Pope John Paul I was the first pope to choose an "investiture" to commence his papacy rather than the traditional papal coronation

Two extracts follow from talks by Pope Benedict XVI on Gregory the Great

The first one is about the title "Servant of the Servants of God". The other is about the Magno`s discussion about those weak in faith and in Christian life.

Both appear to have contemporary significance.

"Before concluding it is necessary to say a word on the relationship that Pope Gregory nurtured with the Patriarchs of Antioch, of Alexandria and of Constantinople itself. He always concerned himself with recognizing and respecting rights, protecting them from every interference that would limit legitimate autonomy.

Still, if St Gregory, in the context of the historical situation, was opposed to the title "ecumenical" on the part of the Patriarch of Constantinople, it was not to limit or negate this legitimate authority but rather because he was concerned about the fraternal unity of the universal Church.

Above all he was profoundly convinced that humility should be the fundamental virtue for every Bishop, even more so for the Patriarch.

Gregory remained a simple monk in his heart and therefore was decisively contrary to great titles.

He wanted to be - and this is his expression - servus servorum Dei. Coined by him, this phrase was not just a pious formula on his lips but a true manifestation of his way of living and acting. He was intimately struck by the humility of God, who in Christ made himself our servant. He washed and washes our dirty feet. Therefore, he was convinced that a Bishop, above all, should imitate this humility of God and follow Christ in this way.

His desire was to live truly as a monk, in permanent contact with the Word of God, but for love of God he knew how to make himself the servant of all in a time full of tribulation and suffering. He knew how to make himself the "servant of the servants".

Precisely because he was this, he is great and also shows us the measure of true greatness. "

"Let us now entrust ourselves to the reflection that St Gregory the Great in his Homilies on Ezekiel has interwoven with the sentence of the Psalm on which we commented earlier: "Your eyes beheld my unformed substance; in your book were written every one of them [my days]" (Psalm 139[138], v. 16).

On those words the Pontiff and Father of the Church composed an original and delicate meditation concerning all those in the Christian Community who falter on their spiritual journey.

And he says that those who are weak in faith and in Christian life are part of the architecture of the Church.

"They are nonetheless added... by virtue of good will. It is true, they are imperfect and little, yet as far as they are able to understand, they love God and their neighbour and do not neglect to do all the good that they can.

Even if they do not yet attain spiritual gifts so as to open their soul to perfect action and ardent contemplation, yet they do not fall behind in love of God and neighbour, to the extent that they can comprehend it.

"Therefore, it happens that they too contribute to building the Church because, although their position is less important, although they lag behind in teaching, prophecy, the grace of miracles and complete distaste for the world, yet they are based on foundations of awe and love, in which they find their solidity" (2, 3, 12-13, Opere di Gregorio Magno, III/2, Rome, 1993, pp. 79, 81).

St Gregory's message, therefore, becomes a great consolation to all of us who often struggle wearily along on the path of spiritual and ecclesial life. The Lord knows us and surrounds us all with his love."