Saturday, September 24, 2011

Vineyards, vines and grapes

Paul Edouard Rischgitz (1828-1909)
Vintage on the banks of the Arve near Geneva
Oil on canvas
45.7 cm x 75 cm
The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Ernst Straßner 1905-1991
Schwäbischer Weinberg
Universitätsmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Marburg

In Europe and around the Mediterranean it is the middle of the grape harvest. Unfortunately due to climate we in Britain (apart from a few areas in Southern England such as Dorking) do not participate.

Knowledge about the grape in Britain mainly concentrates on winemaking. It is an imported product. We do not see the time, effort and trouble gone into producing such a tiny berry.

The Limbourg Brothers
The Harvest in the Vineyard
From Le Calendrier. Le mois de septembre in Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry
16th century
Illuminated manuscript
29cm x 21cm
Musée Condé, Chantilly

Vineyards are common in Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey and the Middle East. Viticulture has a long long pedigree going back to at least the Bronze Age.

Vineyards and the cultivation of the grape have been and still are part of "the culture"

Raw grapes and cooked vine leaves for eating, wine making, grape juice, the making of jams, molasses, the use of the grape as dried fruit (Raisins, currants and sultanas), the making of vinegar, and the making of grape seed oil, all are by products of a very versatile fruit.

Long known about and a whole art, craft and science has been devoted to it.

Noah grew vines on his farm apparently. Wine was used in Jewish feasts. The Greeks had a god Dionysos, and the Romans Bacchus, both intimately associated with the vine and the grape.

Christ too knew about vines and vineyards.

They crop up amongst his parables: The Labourers in the Vineyard [Matt 20:1-16]; The Parable of the Evil Husbandmen [ Matthew 21:33-41, Mark 12:1-9, Luke 20:9-16] and the so called parable of The Vine and the Branches [John 15:1-6]

And of course he chose the product of the vineyard to be the means of redemption

The Vine and the Branches was the recent subject of Pope Benedict`s homily at the Mass at the Olympiastadion (Berlin, 22 September 2011)

Jean François Millet 1814 - 1875
Binding the grapevine
Drawing: Black chalk, with blue wash
247 millimetres x 190 millimetres
The British Museum, London

It us only narrated in The Gospel of John. The words of Jesus come in the teaching to his disciples just before the Passover before his Passion, Crucifixion and death:

1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.

2 He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes 3 so that it bears more fruit.

3 You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.

4 Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.

5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

6 Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.

7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.

8 By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.

9 As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love.

10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love.

11 "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.

12 This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.

13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

14 You are my friends if you do what I command you."
(John 15: 1 - 14)

Gérard David (c 1460 - 1523)
La Vierge et les Saintes / Virgin and Saints
Oil on wood panel
1.18 m x 2.12 m
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Rouen

Pope Benedict in his homily said:

"If we consider these beati and the great throng of those who have been canonised and beatified, we can understand what it means to live as branches of Christ, the true vine, and to bear fruit.

Today’s Gospel puts before us once more the image of this climbing plant, that spreads so luxuriantly in the East, a symbol of vitality and a metaphor for the beauty and dynamism of Jesus’ fellowship with his disciples and friends – with us.

In the parable of the vine, Jesus does not say: “You are the vine”, but:

“I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:5).

In other words: “As the branches are joined to the vine, so you belong to me! But inasmuch as you belong to me, you also belong to one another.”

This belonging to each other and to him is not some ideal, imaginary, symbolic relationship, but – I would almost want to say – a biological, life-transmitting state of belonging to Jesus Christ.

Such is the Church, this communion of life with Jesus Christ and for one another, a communion that is rooted in baptism and is deepened and given more and more vitality in the Eucharist. “I am the true vine” actually means: “I am you and you are I” – an unprecedented identification of the Lord with us, with his Church ...

Once again, Jesus says in the parable, and I quote:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (Jn 15:1),

and he goes on to explain that the vinedresser reaches for his knife, cuts off the withered branches and prunes the fruit-bearing ones, so that they bring forth more fruit.

Expressed in terms of the image from the prophet Ezekiel that we heard in the first reading, God wants to take the dead heart of stone out of our breast and give us a living heart of flesh (cf. Ez 36:26), a loving heart, a heart of gentleness and peace.

He wants to bestow new life upon us, full of vitality. Christ came to call sinners. It is they who need the doctor, not the healthy (cf. Lk 5:31f.). ...

[L]et us return to the Gospel. The Lord continues thus:

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me ... for apart from me [i.e. separated from me, or outside me] you can do nothing” (Jn 15:4f.).

Every one of us is faced with this choice. The Lord reminds us how much is at stake as he continues his parable:

“If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned” (Jn 15:6).

In his commentary on this text, Saint Augustine says:

“The branch is suitable only for one of two things, either the vine or the fire: if it is not in the vine, its place will be in the fire; and that it may escape the latter, may it have its place in the vine” (In Ioan. Ev. Tract. 81:3 [PL 35, 1842]).

The decision that is required of us here makes us keenly aware of the fundamental significance of our life choices. But at the same time, the image of the vine is a sign of hope and confidence.

Christ himself came into this world through his incarnation, to be our root. Whatever hardship or drought befall us, he is the source that offers us the water of life, that feeds and strengthens us.

He takes upon himself all our sins, anxieties and sufferings and he purifies and transforms us, in a way that is ultimately mysterious, into good branches that produce good wine.

In such times of hardship we can sometimes feel as if we ourselves were in the wine-press, like grapes being utterly crushed. But we know that if we are joined to Christ we become mature wine. God can transform into love even the burdensome and oppressive aspects of our lives.

It is important that we “abide” in Christ, in the vine. The evangelist uses the word “abide” a dozen times in this brief passage. This “abiding in Christ” characterizes the whole of the parable.

In our era of restlessness and lack of commitment, when so many people lose their way and their grounding, when loving fidelity in marriage and friendship has become so fragile and short-lived, when in our need we cry out like the disciples on the road to Emmaus:

“Lord, stay with us, for it is almost evening and darkness is all around us!” (cf. Lk 24:29),

in this present era, the risen Lord gives us a place of refuge, a place of light, hope and confidence, a place of rest and security.

When drought and death loom over the branches, then in Christ we find future, life and joy. In him we always find forgiveness and the opportunity to begin again, to be transformed as we are drawn into his love.

To abide in Christ means, as we saw earlier, to abide in the Church as well.

The whole communion of the faithful has been firmly incorporated into the vine, into Christ. In Christ we belong together. Within this communion he supports us, and at the same time all the members support one another.

We stand firm together against the storm and offer one another protection. Those who believe are not alone. We do not believe alone, we believe with the whole Church of all times and places, with the Church in heaven and the Church on earth.

The Church, as the herald of God’s word and dispenser of the sacraments, joins us to Christ, the true vine.

The Church as “fullness and completion of the Redeemer”, as Pius XII expressed it (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, AAS 35 [1943] p. 230: “plenitudo et complementum Redemptoris”), is to us a pledge of divine life and mediator of those fruits of which the parable of the vine speaks.

Thus the Church is God’s most beautiful gift.

Therefore Saint Augustine could say: “as much as any man loves the Church, so much has he the Holy Spirit” (In Ioan. Ev. Tract. 32:8 [PL 35:1646]).

With and in the Church we may proclaim to all people that Christ is the source of life, that he exists, that he is the great one for whom we keep watch, for whom we long so much. He gives himself, and thus he gives us God, happiness, and love.

Whoever believes in Christ has a future. For God has no desire for what is withered, dead, ersatz, and finally discarded: he wants what is fruitful and alive, he wants life in its fullness and he gives us life in its fullness."