Saturday, December 18, 2010

Saints and Scripture

Fray Juan Bautista Maíno (1581-1649).
Paisaje con San Juan Evangelista / Landscape with St John the Evangelist
1612 - 1614
Oil on canvas
74 cm x 163 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

After traveling through Italy, and perhaps through northern Europe, Maíno was commissioned by the Dominican Monks to paint the main altarpiece at the Convent of San Pedro Mártir in Toledo. The chosen subject was the Four Pascal Feasts: Christmas, Epiphany, Resurrection and Pentecost.

He also painted a number of saints in various landscapes of which the above of St John the Evangelist is but one. It is one of the under estimated and least known works. But perhaps one of his more significant works.

Before finishing this commission, the painter entered the Dominican Order.

After entering the Order he became the teacher of drawing to the King. However his artistic output diminished to almost nothing

In his recent Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Dei Pope Benedict XVI said of the Prologue to St John`s Gospel:

"I would like to present and develop the labours of the Synod by making constant reference to the Prologue of John’s Gospel (Jn 1:1-18), which makes known to us the basis of our life: the Word, who from the beginning is with God, who became flesh and who made his dwelling among us (cf. Jn 1:14).

This is a magnificent text, one which offers a synthesis of the entire Christian faith.

From his personal experience of having met and followed Christ, John, whom tradition identifies as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20), “came to a deep certainty: Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate, he is his eternal Word who became a mortal man”.

May John, who “saw and believed” (cf. Jn 20:8) also help us to lean on the breast of Christ (cf. Jn 13:25), the source of the blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34) which are symbols of the Church’s sacraments.

Following the example of the Apostle John and the other inspired authors, may we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit to an ever greater love of the word of God"

Yesterday`s post on St Veronica Giuliani followed on Pope Benedict`s address on her life. His address focused on her devotion and immersion in Scripture, the Word of God.

In his teaching, Pope Benedict has often focused on the Lives of the Saints. He sees their lives as important examples of interpretation and application of Scripture.

In some circles the study of the lives of the saints can be controversial.

"The saints and the interpretation of Scripture

The interpretation of sacred Scripture would remain incomplete were it not to include listening to those who have truly lived the word of God:namely, the saints.

Indeed, “viva lectio est vita bonorum”.

The most profound interpretation of Scripture comes precisely from those who let themselves be shaped by the word of God through listening, reading and assiduous meditation.

It is certainly not by chance that the great currents of spirituality in the Church’s history originated with an explicit reference to Scripture.

I am thinking for example of Saint Anthony the Abbot, who was moved by hearing Christ’s words: “if you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me” (Mt 19:21).

No less striking is the question posed by Saint Basil the Great in the Moralia:

“What is the distinctive mark of faith? Full and unhesitating certainty that the words inspired by God are true … What is the distinctive mark of the faithful? Conforming their lives with the same complete certainty to the meaning of the words of Scripture, not daring to remove or add a single thing”.

Saint Benedict, in his Rule, refers to Scripture as “a most perfect norm for human life”.

Saint Francis of Assisi – we learn from Thomas of Celano –

“upon hearing that the disciples of Christ must possess neither gold, nor silver nor money, nor carry a bag, nor bread, nor a staff for the journey, nor sandals nor two tunics … exulting in the Holy Spirit, immediately cried out: ‘This is what I want, this is what I ask for, this I long to do with all my heart!’”.

Saint Clare of Assisi shared fully in the experience of Saint Francis:

“The form of life of the Order of Poor Sisters – she writes – is this: to observe the holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ”

... Holiness inspired by the word of God thus belongs in a way to the prophetic tradition, wherein the word of God sets the prophet’s very life at its service. In this sense, holiness in the Church constitutes an interpretation of Scripture which cannot be overlooked.

The Holy Spirit who inspired the sacred authors is the same Spirit who impels the saints to offer their lives for the Gospel. In striving to learn from their example, we set out on the sure way towards a living and effective hermeneutic of the word of God. ...

With [the saints`] lives they testified before the world and the Church to the perennial fruitfulness of Christ’s Gospel. Through the intercession of these saints ... on the word of God, let us ask the Lord that our own lives may be that “good soil” in which the divine sower plants the word, so that it may bear within us fruits of holiness, “thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold” (Mk 4:20)."