Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pope John Paul II ("the Great") remembered

For personal recollections about the Pope John Paul the Great see

Bishop Robert Lynch, Blessed John Paul II (6 parts)

Bishop Paul D Etienne Pope John Paul II (3 parts)

The Chaplet of Divine Mercy and the Beatification of Pope John Paul II

Included in the Liturgy for the Mass of Beatification of Pope John Paul II is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

"The Message of Divine Mercy has always been near and dear to me. It is as if history had inscribed it in the tragic experience of the Second World War. In those difficult years it was a particular support and an inexhaustible source of hope, not only for the people of Krakow but for the entire nation.

This was also my personal experience, which I took with me to the See of Peter and which in a sense forms the image of this Pontificate.

I give thanks to Divine Providence that I have been enabled to contribute personally to the fulfilment of Christ's will, through the institution of the Feast of Divine Mercy. Here, near the relics of Blessed Faustina Kowalska, I give thanks also for the gift of her beatification. I pray unceasingly that God will have "mercy on us and the whole world" (Chaplet)."

Johannes Paulus II

The Vatican website has a special micro site entitled Johannes Paulus II to celebrate the Beatification.

Included is the Booklet for the Celebration as a .pdf file. It is in many languages including English

Included is a section on the Prayers of Blessed Pope John Paul II. It can be accessed in two places: one on the principal Vatican website and the other on the "Tribute to John Paul II"

Friday, April 29, 2011

Blessed Pope John Paul II exhumed

The Telegraph reports that the body of Pope John Paul II was exhumed on Friday ahead of his beatification

The report continued:

"Those present at the ceremony included Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, his personal secretary and right-hand man for decades, and the Polish nuns who ran the papal household for 27 years.

The wooden coffin will be placed in front of the main altar of St Peter's Basilica. After Sunday's beatification mass, it will remain in that spot and the basilica will remain open until all visitors who want to view it have done so."

The Daily Mail has a fuller story of the event with photographs


The Snake

Graham Sutherland, O.M. 1903-1980
The Snake 1978 -79
From Apollinaire. Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphée 1978-9
Etching and aquatint 491 x 362 (19 3/4 x 14 1/4) on paper 715 x 543 (28 1/8 x 21 3/8)
The Tate, London

One cannot improve on the catalogue entry on The Tate website for this particular work

Here are the salient points:

"Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d’Orphée' was the last set of prints which Sutherland made before his death in February 1980 ...

Sutherland's interest in Bestiaries dates from the preparatory research he did for the tapestry he designed for Coventry Cathedral (1952-62) in which the Evangelists are represented as beasts.

Deriving originally from the Greek Physiologus, the Medieval Latin Bestiary originated in England in the mid-twelfth century. Essentially it comprised a collection of stories, each of which was based on a description of an animal, plant or stone in order to present a Christian allegory for moral and religious instruction and admonition.

Usually there were around a hundred stories which normally, though not necessarily, were accompanied by illustrations.

Both as an artist, in whose work symbolism and allegory occupy a central place, and as a Catholic, Sutherland was thus attracted to the Bestiary as a means of expressing what Marzio Pinottini describes as ‘multiple significance [:] the necessary counterpart of the ‘One beyond Being.' (Pinottini and Zoppi 1985, pp.18-19).

Pinottini regards Sutherland's art in general as ‘[manifesting] a vision of the metamorphic and metamorphosing ambiguity of nature, bristling with thorns and prickles as it so often is, as an emblem of daily life and of our state of natura lapsa after the fate brought about by original sin' (ibid., p.18).

He interprets the Bestiaries, in particular, as representing ‘the fabric of the transient human frailty to which the metamorphic aggressiveness of the animal and vegetable world of his invention alludes' (ibid., p.20). ...

Image printed in four colours: yellow, green, red and black; replete with sexual overtones, Sutherland's snake writhes against an expanse of sky, menacing its three most famous victims: Eve, Eurydice and Cleopatra who cower, imprisoned, below.

A fourth figure, whose head can be seen above the box-prison, relates to Apollinaire's line: ‘J'en connais encore trois ou quatre' [‘I know three or four more' i.e. victims].

In the centre of the image a snake entwined in a tree alludes to the role of the snake in the Fall of Man brought about by Original Sin."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Titian : Noli Me Tangere

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) (around 1490 - 27 August 1576)
Noli me Tangere
c. 1514
Oil on canvas
110.5 x 91.9 cm
The National Gallery, London

This an early version of one of a number of Noli Me Tangeres painted by Titian.

According to The National Gallery website, X-ray photography has revealed that there was a change in the composition by Titian. Originally the figure of Christ was wearing a gardener`s hat and his face was looking directly away from Mary Magdalene.

The lansdscape is reminiscent of a landscape by Giorgione. Some had thought that the painting had the hand of Giorgione himself. The scene is pastoral and bucolic.

This allows any incidental symbolism in the painting not to intrude: the solitary tree; the sheep; the City on the Hill; the hoe (held like a victory banner)

The main action is the interaction between Christ and Mary Magdalene. That is the focus of the painting.

Both are wearing garments of shining white. In Mary`s case, she is wearing white and purple/red

Mary is kneeling at the feet of Christ. She is not allowed to touch him. There will be no washing of his feet with her tears this time. She had brought unguents for the corpse. These are irrelevant.

She had not recognised him at first. She thought he was the gardener. The painting depicts the time after she recognises him.

Pope Benedict said of this encounter:

"And what can be said of Mary Magdalene? She stood weeping by the empty tomb with the sole desire to know where they had taken her Lord. She encounters him and only recognizes him when he calls her by name. If we seek the Lord with a simple and sincere mind, we too will find him; indeed, he himself will come to meet us; he will make us recognize him, he will call us by name, that is, he will admit us to the intimacy of his love."

Each is looking at the other. His gaze towards her is gentle but serious and firm. Her gaze shows her astonished joy and happiness at seeing him after believing him dead.

He is explaining what has happened and why she cannot touch him. He is about to commission her to bring the Good News to the Apostles and disciples. See post below: Noli me tangere >

She is to be the Apostle to the Apostles

She is transformed by her encounter with the Risen Christ:

"The Lord then called [Mary Magdalene] by name and at that point a deep change took place within her: her distress and bewilderment were transformed into joy and enthusiasm. She promptly went to the Apostles and announced to them: "I have seen the Lord" (Jn 20: 18).

Behold: those who meet the Risen Jesus are inwardly transformed; it is impossible "to see" the Risen One without "believing" in him. Let us pray that he will call each one of us by name and thus convert us, opening us to the "vision" of faith.

Faith is born from the personal encounter with the Risen Christ and becomes an impulse of courage and freedom that makes one cry to the world: "Jesus is risen and alive for ever". "

Mary can see and hear Christ but cannot touch him. The contrast with his later treatment of "Doubting" St Thomas is noticeable. Thomas sees and hears him yet still doubting is then invited to touch Christ and his wounds.

Titian does not paint Christ in disguise as the manuscript in the post below does (The Hours of the Eternal Wisdom: Lauds). Titian paints him as Mary saw him. We are looking at Him with the eyes of Faith, one of the few to whom Christ revealed himself after the Resurrection and before the Ascension.

In the eyes and the face of the Magdalene, Titian captures the joy and the certainty of one who knows that Christ is risen and is impelled to announce the Good News.

Two years before he died Pope Paul VI wrote a letter to his successor as Pope, then simply Cardinal Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice, to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the Death of Titian (Tiziano Vecellio)

Unfortunately on the Vatican website it is only in Italian.

Paul VI paid a rather passionate and personal tribute to Titian and the immense contribution made by Titian to sacred art and in particular to the instition by him of a new school of Sacred Art. His work, he said, were "quasi una summa pittorica dell’esperienza del grande artista cadorino"

He paid tribute to the many humanistic and works of pagan scenes executed by Titian and his workshop. But he expressed his overwhelming preference for those works of Titian which dealt with a religious or spiritual theme which he said were timeless and eternal and promoted a true Catholic sense of piety or faithfulness and a religiosity to popular Catholic devotion and Renaissance aesthetic sentiment.

"Ben sappiamo che l’eredità pittorica del Tiziano non e soltanto religiosa e cristiana; il rinascimento profano e pagano ebbe da lui celebri omaggi. Non saremo noi a negare la potenza della copiosa produzione pittorica a soggetto profano e pagano del Tiziano, ne tanto meno negheremo alla nostra ammirazione i celebri ritratti e le altre figurazioni umanistiche che formano grande parte del tesoro artistico lasciato dall’incomparabile Maestro.

Ma nessuno vorrà contestare a nostro riguardo l’appassionata preferenza per i celeberrimi capolavori, che egli lasciò a testimonianza della squisita e vigorosa religiosità personale ed a perenne alitante conforto sia della pietà iniziata alla visione contemplativa della dottrina cattolica, sia della devozione popolare educata tuttavia alla espressione estetica rinascimentale del sentimento religioso.

Così raccogliendo l’eredità del sommo Artista noi fisseremo i nostri occhi incantati, ed ancor più i nostri cuori commossi all’insuperabile iconografia religiosa del grande Pittore, e ci sentiremo felici di dare fervida voce alla nostra preghiera davanti alle stupende immagini sacre che il Tiziano ci lasciò, documenti non solo dell’arte sua, ma altresì della fede da lui professata ed onorata, la quale a noi ancor oggi, come quella d’un genio del colore e della figura e come quella d’un maestro d’ispirazione religiosa e culturale, a noi lo rende vicino e presente.

Un’arte religiosa di tanto splendore e di tanto fervore sopravvive all’usura dei secoli, e parla ancor oggi con voce squillante per il suffragio stesso del tempo e dell’inconcussa celebrità.

Il nostro voto perciò altro non può essere che la celebrazione del centenario del Tiziano renda sempre degni i figli della sua terra, e la sua terra oggi è il mondo, di onorare le religione con la bellezza dell’arte, e di conservare alla presente ed alle future generazioni la stima vitale dei veri e dei sommi valori dello spirito umano e cristiano dall’arte stessa espressi e raffigurati"

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Noli me tangere

Masters of the Dark Eyes (illuminator)
Active c 1490
Christ appears to St. Mary Magdalene as a gardener
From The Hours of the Eternal Wisdom: Lauds
Fol. 88r, The Hague, KB, 76 G 9
Vellum, 195 x 135 mm,
Koninklijke Bibliotheek: National Library of the Netherlands, The Hague

Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus after he rose from the dead

"11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"

She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."

14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"—and that he had said these things to her."

John 20: 11 - 18

Noli me tangere, meaning "don't touch me" / "touch me not", is the Latin version of words spoken by Jesus to Mary according to St John`s Gospel.

The original phrase in the Gospel written in Greek, is said to be better represented in translation as "cease holding on to me" or "stop clinging to me".

The verse has given rise to a great deal of theological discussion particularly because of the reason Jesus gives Mary why she should not touch him "for I have not yet ascended to the Father"

Tilman Riemenschneider ca. 1460 - 1531
Noli me tangere 1490-92
Parish Church, Münnerstadt

Riemenschneider’s retable for the parish church of Mary Magdalen in Münnerstadt centered on Mary Magdalen. Some of the retable was removed and sold to public collections. In the 1980s the altarpiece was restored. See below

Modern high altar with some of Riemenschneider's original elements
Church of Mary Magdalen, Münnerstadt

For more about the altarpiece and the sculptor see The National Gallery website (Washington DC)

The Resurrected Christ

Marco Basaiti (active 1496-1530 in Venice)
The Resurrection of Christ
Oil on canvas,
140 x 100 cm
Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

Basaiti was a Venetian Greek (of Albanian extraction, perhaps) painter and a rival of Giovanni Bellini

But towards 1500-10 he sometimes approached rather closely the style of Giovanni Bellini. Some writers believe that at one time he was the pupil of Bellini

The facts of Basaiti`s life are indeed obscure

However his faith and works live on.

The Resurrection of Christ is a historical fact. It was accepted as such by Basaiti and his contemporaries. That did not of course stop them asking questions about this Mystery.

One area of discussion was what was the nature of Christ`s resurrected body. How does one depict the corporeal presence of Christ after the Resurrection ?

The differences with an ordinary human body in a normal human scene are emphasised.

Christ is standing on the broken tomb. His feet are quite firmly planted on the lid of the tomb. His pose is one of victory. He is holding the banner of victory.

The Roman soldiers of the Roman State which executed him are shown at his feet sleeping, their weapons useless. The contrast between the figure of Christ and the three Roman soldiers is quite stark.

At the time of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the Roman State was the most powerful human institution in the world, one of the greatest and most powerful in all of human history with its foundations in a pagan culture. We still admire it today as one of the high points of human achievement.

At the time of this painting, Basaiti and his contemporaries knew that this power was only temporary. Indeed Constantinople "the New Rome" had fallen within human memory.

Christ`s figure is luminous compared to the treatment of the three Roman soldiers sent to guard the tomb.

Christ is pointing heavenwards. He is wearing a gleaming white sheet, his death sheet which has become quite transformed.

The scene takes place in semi darkness just before the dawn or at dawn. THe time and place are vague. Christ`s figure lights up the painting.

Historically the actual moment of Resurrection was not depicted in Christian art. This was a later development.

The Catechism sheds some light on the nature of Christ`s resurrected body. It is not a ghost they are seeing or a figment of the imagination of Mary Magdalene or the Apostles and disciples

From the Catechism one can see the difficulties faced by Basaiti and others in depicting the Resurrected Christ:

"The condition of Christ's risen humanity

645 By means of touch and the sharing of a meal, the risen Jesus establishes direct contact with his disciples. He invites them in this way to recognize that he is not a ghost and above all to verify that the risen body in which he appears to them is the same body that had been tortured and crucified, for it still bears the traces of his Passion.

Yet at the same time this authentic, real body possesses the new properties of a glorious body: not limited by space and time but able to be present how and when he wills; for Christ's humanity can no longer be confined to earth, and belongs henceforth only to the Father's divine realm.

For this reason too the risen Jesus enjoys the sovereign freedom of appearing as he wishes: in the guise of a gardener or in other forms familiar to his disciples, precisely to awaken their faith.

646 Christ's Resurrection was not a return to earthly life, as was the case with the raisings from the dead that he had performed before Easter: Jairus' daughter, the young man of Naim, Lazarus. These actions were miraculous events, but the persons miraculously raised returned by Jesus' power to ordinary earthly life. At some particular moment they would die again.

Christ's Resurrection is essentially different. In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space. At Jesus' Resurrection his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state, so that St. Paul can say that Christ is "the man of heaven"."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter and the Resurrection

Miguel Ximénez (active 1462 - 1505)
La Resurrección de Cristo from predella / The Resurrection of Christ from predella
1475 - 1485
Oil on wood
Predella: 70 cm x 200 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

There are five panels in the Predella which was commissioned for the Church of Santa María en Ejea de los Caballeros in Zaragoza

The Resurrection of Christ is the central panel.

One of the great Spanish Gothic painters, Ximénez was appointed Royal painter to Ferdinand II of Aragon (the father of Catherine of Aragon) in May 1484

In his Urbi et Orbi Message on Easter 2009, the Pope said:

" Easter does not simply signal a moment in history, but the beginning of a new condition: Jesus is risen not because his memory remains alive in the hearts of his disciples, but because he himself lives in us, and in him we can already savour the joy of eternal life.

The resurrection, then, is not a theory, but a historical reality revealed by the man Jesus Christ by means of his “Passover”, his “passage”, that has opened a “new way” between heaven and earth (cf. Heb 10:20).

It is neither a myth nor a dream, it is not a vision or a utopia, it is not a fairy tale, but it is a singular and unrepeatable event: Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, who at dusk on Friday was taken down from the Cross and buried, has victoriously left the tomb."

Have a good and happy Easter

The Descent into Limbo and the Harrowing of Hell

Andrea Bonaiuti da Firenze (active 1343-1377, died after 1379)
Descent of Christ to Limbo: The Harrowing of Hell
Cappella Spagnuolo, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

The Holy Father spoke about Holy Saturday in his answer to one of the questions on a television programme titled "A Sua Immagine" [In His Image] on the Italian channel RAI.

Q. Holy Father, the next question is on the theme of Jesus' death and resurrection and comes from Italy. I will read it to you: "Your Holiness, what is Jesus doing in the time between His death and resurrection? Seeing that in reciting the Creed it says that Jesus, after His death, descended into Hell, should we think that that will also happen to us, after death, before going to heaven?"

A. First of all, this descent of Jesus' soul should not be imagined as a geographical or a spatial trip, from one continent to another. It is the soul's journey.

We have to remember that Jesus' soul always touches the Father, it is always in contact with the Father but, at the same time, this human soul extends to the very borders of the human being. In this sense it goes into the depths, into the lost places, to where all who do not arrive at their life's goal go, thus transcending the continents of the past.

This word about the Lord's descent into Hell mainly means that Jesus reaches even the past, that the effectiveness of the Redemption does not begin in the year 0 or 30, but also goes to the past, embraces the past, all men and women of all time.

The Church Fathers say, with a very beautiful image, that Jesus takes Adam and Eve, that is, humanity, by the hand and guides them forward, guides them on high. He thus creates access to God because humanity, on its own cannot arrive at God's level. He himself, being man, can take humanity by the hand and open the access.

To what? To the reality we call Heaven. So this descent into Hell, that is, into the depth of the human being, into humanity's past, is an essential part of Jesus' mission, of His mission as Redeemer, and does not apply to us. Our lives are different. We are already redeemed by the Lord and we arrive before the Judge, after our death, under Jesus' gaze.

On one hand, this gaze will be purifying: I think that all of us, in greater or lesser measure, are in need of purification. Jesus’ gaze purifies us, thus making us capable of living with God, of living with the Saints, and above all of living in communion with those dear to us who have preceded us.

Friday, April 22, 2011

After the Deposition

Attributed to Alfonso Lombardi c 1487-1537
The Crucified Christ
Part of The Lamentation c 1522
The Crypt, The Cathedral of San Pietro, Bologna

Christ is carried to the Tomb

Sisto Badalocchio [1585 - after 1621]
Christ carried to the Tomb [detail]
After 1609
Oil on copper
43.7 x 33.6 cm
The National Gallery, London

Good Friday

The Crucifixion
From Missale quinque tomis constans, qui omnes multis (plus centum) et nitidissimis picturis ornati sunt (Bd. 2)
15th Century
Latin manuscript
Catalogus codicum manu scriptorum Bibliothecae Regiae Monacensis, hrsg. von Karl Halm. - T. 4: Catalogus codicum latinorum. Pars 3: Clm 15121-21313. - Monachii 1878.
Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Munich

Thursday, April 21, 2011

“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Sir James Thornhill 1676 - 1734
Paul and Silas in prison (Acts, XVI, 29)
Before 1715
Black and red chalk, with brown-grey wash, touched with pen and black ink and heightened with white, on buff paper
375 millimetres x 250 millimetres
The British Museum, London

Published by Philips Galle 1537 - 1612
After Jan van der Straet 1523 - 1605
The Conversion of the Warder (Acts 16:25-31)
200 millimetres x 263 millimetres
The British Museum, London

Philippi in Macedonia was the first place in Europe where St Paul preached the Gospel.

The mission was successful until St Paul exorcised a slave girl in the market. Infuriated by his cure which rendered the girl worthless as a fortune teller, her owners brought Paul and Silas to the authorities.

After being beaten, they were imprisoned and put in the stocks.

During the night there was an earthquake. Acts chapter 16, verses 26 -36 describes what happened next:

"26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped.

28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.

30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.

33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.
35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.”

36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.” "

It is a dramatic scene but rarely depicted in painting. From total despair, the warder becomes filled with joy "because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household."

However it was depicted on the cupola of St Paul`s Cathedral in London and Thornhill`s drawing is a study for the work.

The question of the jailer "What must I do to be saved?” is a profound one. A more important one than life or death. It concerns eternal life or eternal damnation.

The question had been asked before.

In Judaea, Jesus was asked by the rich man “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”, His answers to the rich man distressed the disciples causing them to ask Jesus “Who then can be saved?” Peter complained, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

The incident is narrated in Matthew 19: 16 - 30:

"16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honour your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first"

The first part of the story is depicted below. It is in The Riverside Church, New York. It is perhaps ironic that it is one of three paintings by Heinrich Hofmann which John D. Rockefeller, Jr. donated to The Riverside Church

Heinrich Hofmann 1824-1911
Christ and the Young Rich Man (1889)
The Riverside Church, New York

In this Titianesque painting by Watts, Watts interprets the story thus, focusing on the rich man who interrogated Jesus.

George Frederic Watts 1817-1904
`For he had great possessions' 1894
Oil on canvas
support: 1397 x 584 mm
The Tate, London

The caption for the painting in the Tate describes the painting as being antagonist towards Greed. That is a rather simplistic view and one ideologically committed towards a particular viewpoint.

Watts was more subtle. He knew the passage in the Bible well. He would have known that this passage in Scripture was not an easy one to interpret.

Watts focuses on the rich young man. The dialogue with Christ reveals the complex character and motivation of this man.

The question asked by the rich young man is quite significant: “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

Christ is rather surprised at how the question is phrased and what lies behind the question. The young man is used to getting what he wants. He pays for it. He is a high achiever. It is to be another checkmark to achieve in the to-do list in the Checklist of Life. One gets the impression that perhaps humility is not his strongest virtue.

In effect he is saying tell me what to do, I`ll do it and everything will be all right. I will be all right.

Did Jesus suspect that he was being set up for a trap by the Pharisees ?

Christ asked him directly: “Why do you ask me about what is good?”. The man does not answer this question. He avoids the question entirely. He asks another question instead: What commandments must he keep to enter into eternal life ? He does not wish to reveal why he wishes to do good, or to be good.

Instead he answers Christ`s question with a question. This is not entering dialogue to arrive at Truth. There must be a reason for the questions of this rich young man. Something is not right about this conversation. There is no communication or dialogue. The two men are on different planes.

Christ tells him that he must keep the Commandments and in particular, five of the Decalogue given to Moses and another one: ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ The last is not in the Decalogue but enunciated in Deuteronomy and Leviticus and advocated by Rabbi Hillel.

The list given by Christ is rather surprising. There are some notable omissions. What happened to the first three commandments of the Decalogue ? What about the remaining two with the prohibitions against covetousness (although it could be argues that this is contained in the commandment` to love thy neighbour`)

Rather astonishingly the young man replied that he had kept all of the commandments listed. He wanted to know what he still needed to do.

This answer is to say the least disingenuous. He probably could say without hesitation that he that had not murdered, committed adultery, or perjury. He probably had and did honour his parents. But could anyone give such a quick and unequivocal answer to the question “Do you love your neighbour as yourself?”

Either he is lying or lacking in self-knowledge or has a strange view of what is meant by “love” or the content of the Second Great Commandment.

Jesus has sized this man up. The man does not speak honestly. Jesus sees his weakest point: the man`s self-centredness and the man`s great attachment to material and earthly possessions. The man is his possessions and his possessions are him. What will he give up or sacrifice to be part of the Kingdom of God ? Will he radically reform his life? Will he give up all his possessions?

For the young man, Christ`s condition for him to be part of his followers –to give up all his possessions – is too great a sacrifice. He leaves saddened.

What is said after he leaves is significant.

First there is Christ`s celebrated saying about the camel and the eye of the needle. Second, is the Apostles` reaction. They are dismayed.

Peter asks “Who then can be saved ?” and , “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

At this stage of his mission, Christ`s explanations to the Apostles must have been enigmatic and capable of being taken in a number of ways,

If we had been in the rich man`s position, would our attitude have been different from his or the Apostles ? Perhaps Watts` painting depicts someone not so very different from us. There is a deeper message being conveyed in the Scripture passage and in the paintings by Watts and by Hofmann than simply a criticism of wealth and avarice.

In his homily on Palm Sunday 17th April 2011, Pope Benedict referred to this universal desire of Man to know how to seek salvation.

It was the quest of the rich young man who appealed to Jesus to tell him the “Secret” of Eternal Life. The Pope described this quest thus:

“The question of how man can attain the heights, becoming completely himself and completely like God, has always engaged mankind.”

He went on to describe the quest of St Augustine.

Attributed to José de Ribera (“Lo Spagnoletto” or “El Españoleto”) (1591- 1652)
San Agustín en oración/ St Augustine in prayer
Oil on canvas
203 x 150 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

He described the attempts by St Augustine and the neo-Platonists:

“[The question of how man can attain the heights] was passionately disputed by the Platonic philosophers of the third and fourth centuries. For them, the central issue was finding the means of purification which could free man from the heavy load weighing him down and thus enable him to ascend to the heights of his true being, to the heights of divinity.
Saint Augustine, in his search for the right path, long sought guidance from those philosophies.

But in the end he had to acknowledge that their answers were insufficient, their methods would not truly lead him to God. To those philosophers he said: recognize that human power and all these purifications are not enough to bring man in truth to the heights of the divine, to his own heights.

And he added that he should have despaired of himself and human existence had he not found the One who accomplishes what we of ourselves cannot accomplish; the One who raises us up to the heights of God in spite of our wretchedness: Jesus Christ who from God came down to us and, in his crucified love, takes us by the hand and lifts us on high.”

The questions of the Warder and of the Rich Young Man are of course the problem. They are not the correct questions to ask.

It is not a matter of “I” and what “I” have to do. There is the small problem of God and the grace of God.

It is not a matter of doing. There is the issue of disposition, the total conversion of the person, the unity of the person with Christ.

Then there is the matter of Love, the virtue of Charity. Is “salvation” simply a matter of doing an act which will lead to a personal advantage and the act is for the purpose of gaining that advantage. ?

Are acts totally irrelevant or are they a necessary step in the progress towards a state of holiness ?

Is it a relationship and process between the person and the Trinity involving Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Father, a lifetime commitment and not a one-off event or a series of separate discrete events ?

How does one reach the heights of holiness according to Pope Benedict ? How is one “saved” ? He sketches out his answer in the last catechesis on the Lives of the Saints on 13 April 2011:

“Holiness is the fullness of the Christian life, a life in Christ; it consists in our being united to Christ, making our own his thoughts and actions, and conforming our lives to his.

As such, it is chiefly the work of the Holy Spirit who is poured forth into our hearts through Baptism, making us sharers in the paschal mystery and enabling us to live a new life in union with the Risen Christ.

Christian holiness is nothing other than the virtue of charity lived to its fullest. In the pursuit of holiness, we allow the seed of God's life and love to be cultivated by hearing his word and putting it into practice, by prayer and the celebration of the sacraments, by sacrifice and service of our brothers and sisters.

The lives of the saints encourage us along this great path leading to the fullness of eternal life. By their prayers, and the grace of the Holy Spirit, may each of us live fully our Christian vocation and thus become a stone in that great mosaic of holiness which God is creating in history, so that the glory shining on the face of Christ may be seen in all its splendour.”

The Pope goes on to consider each point. It is a remarkable Confession of Faith and Doctrine retailed with reference to key themes in Pope Benedict`s teaching: everything is Christocentric, the importance of the Passion, Crucifixion and Resurrection, the works of the Holy Spirit, the life and works of St Augustine, the importance and true meaning of Christian Love, the importance of the Mass and the Sacraments, the Second Great Commandment and sacrifice and service to one`s neighbour, and the importance of the Lives of the Saints and their veneration, and the Communion of Saints.

In an interesting passage of his talk, he explains for us in simple language some signposts and the celebrated teaching of St Augustine, which has been so misinterpreted and misused in the past:

“[P]erhaps we should say things in a still simpler way.

What is the most essential?

Essential is that no Sunday be left without an encounter with the Risen Christ in the Eucharist -- this is not a burden but light for the whole week.

Never to begin or end a day without at least a brief contact with God.

And, in the journey of our life, to follow "road signs" that God has communicated to us in the Decalogue read with Christ, which is simply the definition of charity in specific situations.

I think this is the true simplicity and grandeur of the life of holiness: the encounter with the Risen One on Sunday; contact with God at the beginning and end of the day; in decisions, to follow the "road signs" that God has communicated to us, which are simply forms of charity. From whence charity for God and for our neighbor is made the distinctive sign of the true disciple of Christ. (Lumen Gentium , 42).

This is true simplicity, grandeur and profundity of the Christian life, of being saints.

This is why St. Augustine, commenting on the fourth chapter of the First Letter of St. John can affirm an astonishing thing: "Dilige et fac quod vis" (Love and do what you will).

And he continued:

"If you are silent, be silent out of love; if you speak, speak out of love; if you correct, correct out of love; if you forgive, forgive out of love, may the root of love be in you, because from this root nothing can come that is not good" (7, 8: PL 35).

He who lets himself be led by love, who lives charity fully is led by God, because God is love. This is what this great saying means: "Dilige et fac quod vis" (Love and do as you will)."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Baptism of the Eunuch of the Queen of Ethiopia

Alexandre-Denis Abel de Pujol (1787-1861)
Saint Philippe baptisant l'eunuque de la reine d'Ethiopie sur le chemin de Jérusalem à Gaza
Saint Philip baptising the Eunuch of the Queen of Ethiopia on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza
Oil on canvas
2.4 x 3.06 metres
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes

De Pujol was a pupil of David and a very successful religious and historical painter all through the first part of the 19th Century. He executed public murals for the Louvre, Saint Sulpice, the Bourse, the Eglise Saint-Etienne-du-Mont and others.

The season for Baptism approaches. The above painting is quite apposite. The treatment of the subject is quite different from that of Lorrain and others.

The subject comes from the Acts of the Apostles (VIII, 26–40). It tells of St Philip on the road meeting a man of Ethiopia, ‘an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians’, whose chariot he shares while discussing Isaiah.

Having established that Jesus is the one foretold by the prophet, Philip stops at some water to baptise the eunuch in His name.

The newly converted then "went on his way rejoicing." The reaction to the reception of the Gospel and Baptism is Joy.

The eunuch did not understand the passage from Isaiah:

"He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth."

Philip explained and expounded the Gospel.

St Augustine in On Christian Doctrine uses this passage from Acts to illustrate the importance of human agency (and not Divine) in the exposition of Scripture and the proper preaching and interpretation of Scripture:

"And we know that the eunuch who was reading Isaiah the prophet and did not understand what he read, was not sent by the apostle to an angel, nor was it an angel who explained to him what he did not understand nor was he inwardly illuminated by the grace of God without the interposition of man. On the contrary, at the suggestion of God, Philip who did understand the prophet came to him and sat with him and in human words and with a human tongue opened to him the Scriptures." (On Christian Doctrine, Preface 7)

The remission of sins takes place by virtue of the Grace or Charity of the Holy Spirit

The episode also narrates how the Apostles in the early church began baptising Gentiles. In this way, the episode shows the authority of the Church to expand the mission of Christ to “all nations” (Mt 28:16) under the Great Commission:

Go and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28.19).

Of the "Baptismal Formula", St Thomas Aquinas wrote:

"The reason [for this formula] is as follows. Regeneration [which baptism brings about] involves three things: that in view of which it is done, that through which it is done, and that whereby it is achieved.

In view of what [is one baptized]? In view of God the Father, as the Apostle says in Romans 8.29: For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestine to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . .

Through what [are we baptized]? Through the Son: God has sent his Son . . . so that we may receive adoption as sons of God (Gal. 4.4–5), for it is by adoption to the image of the one who is Son by nature that we are made sons.

Whereby [are we baptized]? In the gift of the Holy Spirit, which we receive: You have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry Abba, Father (Rom. 8.15).

So it is suitable to mention the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit." (In Matt. 28.19 (. 2465))

In his recent talk on Saints and Holiness Pope Benedict XVI said:

"[T]he question remains: How can we journey on the path of holiness, how can we respond to this call? Can I do so with my own strength?

The answer is clear: A holy life is not primarily the fruit of our own effort, of our actions, because it is God, the thrice Holy (cf. Isaiah 6:3), who makes us saints, and the action of the Holy Spirit who encourages us from within; it is the life itself of the Risen Christ, which has been communicated to us and which transforms us.

To say it again according to Vatican Council II:

"The followers of Christ are called by God, not because of their works, but according to His own purpose and grace. They are justified in the Lord Jesus, because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then too, by God's gift, they must hold on to and complete in their lives this holiness they have received" (ibid., 40).

Hence, holiness has its main root in baptismal grace, in being introduced into the paschal mystery of Christ, with which his Spirit is communicated to us, his life as the Risen One.

St. Paul points out the transformation wrought in man by baptismal grace and even coins a new terminology, forged with the preposition "with":

"We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" (Romans 6:4).

However, God always respects our liberty and asks that we accept this gift and that we live the demands it entails. He asks that we allow ourselves to be transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit, conforming our will to the will of God."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Universal Call to Holiness

In his last catechesis on the Saints and holiness, Pope Benedict XVI said:

"I would like to offer an idea of what holiness is.

What does it mean to be saints? Who is called to be a saint?

Often it is thought that holiness is a goal reserved for a few chosen ones.

St. Paul, however, speaks of God's great plan and affirms: "[God] chose us in him [Christ], before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us" (Ephesians 1:4). And he speaks of all of us.

At the centre of the divine design is Christ, in whom God shows his Face: the Mystery hidden in the centuries has been revealed in the fullness of the Word made flesh. And Paul says afterward: "For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Colossians 1:19). In Christ the living God has made himself close, visible, audible, tangible so that all can obtain his fullness of grace and truth (cf. John 1:14-16).

Because of this, the whole of Christian existence knows only one supreme law, the one St. Paul expresses in a formula that appears in all his writings: in Christ Jesus.

Holiness, the fullness of Christian life does not consist of realizing extraordinary enterprises, but in union with Christ, in living his mysteries, in making our own his attitudes, his thoughts, his conduct.

The measure of holiness is given by the height of holiness that Christ attains in us, of how much, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, we mould all our life to his. It is our conforming ourselves to Jesus, as St. Paul affirms: "For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29). And St. Augustine exclaimed: "My life will be alive full of You" (Confessions, 10, 28).

In the Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Council spoke with clarity of the universal call to holiness, affirming that no one is excluded:

"The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one -- that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who ... follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory" (No. 41)."

Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)
Resurrection: Waking up 1945

Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)
Resurrection: Reunion 1945

Sir Stanley Spencer (1891-1959)
Resurrection: Reunion 1947

Pope Benedict and the Theology of Saints

Piero della Francesca (c. 1420–1490)
Saint Augustine c.1465
Tempera on oak panel
133 x 59,5 cm
Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

One of Pope Benedict`s favourite saints is Saint Augustine, one of the great Doctors of the Church. He rarely fails to quote from his many works.

In his most recent catechesis winding up his two year cycle on the Lives of the Saints, he admitted that he admires many saints, canonised and non-canonised.

"In reality, I must say that also, according to my personal faith, many saints, not all, are true stars in the firmament of history. And I would like to add that for me not only the great saints that I love and know well are "road signs," but also the simple saints, that is, the good persons that I see in my life, who will never be canonized. They are ordinary people, to say it somehow, without a visible heroism, but in their everyday goodness I see the truth of the faith. This goodness, which they have matured in the faith of the Church, is for me a sure defense of Christianity and the sign of where the truth is.

In the communion with saints, canonized or not canonized, which the Church lives thanks to Christ in all her members, we enjoy their presence and company and cultivate the firm hope of being able to imitate their way and share one day the same blessed life, eternal life."

Hagiography, the study of the lives of saints, has a pejorative edge in the minds of many these days. In the immediate aftermath of Vatican II, saints were no longer regarded as subjects worthy of study. The study had the stench of "medievalism" and carried the taint of being uncritical, too reverential, associated with the medieval traffic in relics and corruption and probably as a distraction from a direct relationship with Christ.

One of the great criticisms of the pontificate of Blessed Pope John Paul II was his emphasis on the veneration of the saints, and his great promotion of the processes of beatification and canonisation.

He celebrated 147 beatification ceremonies during which he proclaimed 1,338 Blesseds; and 51 canonizations for a total of 482 saints. He made Thérèse of the Child Jesus a Doctor of the Church.

Pope Benedict talks of "saints" as being "beacons of many generations" worthy of study and veneration and means of intercession:

"We have gotten to know them up close and to understand that the whole history of the Church is marked by these men and women, who with their faith, their charity, and their lives were the beacons of many generations, as they are also for us.

The saints manifest in many ways the powerful and transforming presence of the Risen One; they let Christ possess their lives completely, being able to affirm as St. Paul, "yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Following their example, taking recourse to their intercession, entering into communion with them, "joins us to Christ, from Whom as from its Fountain and Head issues every grace and the very life of the people of God" (Lumen Gentium 50)."

Pope Benedict`s great talent is to sum up or distill in a concise cogent form theological concepts, in this case, the theology of saints.

Sigismondo Caula (1637- 1724)
St Charles Borromeo giving communion to the plague victims in Milan in 1576 (1685)
Oil on canvas
Galleria Estense, Modena

Charles-Henri Hilaire Michel (1817-1905)
La Sainte Communion
Oil on canvas
40 x 32.5cm
Musée Alfred Danicourt , Péronne