Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Blessed Ambrogio Traversari

Venanzio l'Eremita  
Beato Ambrogio Traversari
c. 1618 -1659

Visitors to Florence are familar with the Convento of San Marco, the Dominican convent attached to Santa Maria Novella as well as the Franciscan Santa Croce.

They attract tourists in their thousands.

However there were other celebrated and powerful convents in the city and one of these was Santa Maria degli Angeli (St. Mary of the Angels) which belonged to the Camaldolese congregation

Part of this huge complex now houses some departments of the University of Florence. The rest has been demolished and built upon

Amongst others it housed the artist Lorenzo Monaco (Piero di Giovanni) (ca. 1370 - 1423/24)

A contemporary of Lorenzo Monaco was Ambrogio Traversari (1386 – 1439) who became Prior of the Convent and General of the Congregation. In Tuscany he has the rank of Blessed

He was one of the order of the Camadolese whom Pope Benedict XVI recently celebrated in  Evening Vespers earlier this month

He was a great reformer of his order. He was also one of the great humanists of his day. Unlike the secular and classical humanists, his humanism was based on the works of the Great Fathers of the Church, patristic humanism

He taught himself Greek and achieved such an ascendancy in the study of the Classics he achieved a European renown.

 He participated in the great discussions of the Florentine intelligentsia, which were hosted at Santa Maria degli Angeli, Traversari, Niccoli, and Marsuppini came to form the core of the intellectual circle surrounding Cosimo and Lorenzo de‘ Medici, It was a mecca for humanists, statesmen, prelates, and visiting literary figures. 

Traversari was responsible for the acquisition of many Greek texts from the East which had hitherto been unknown in the West. More importantly he translated these texts into Latin. It is generally recognised that his translation of nineteen sermons of Saint Ephrem the Syrian ("the blessed deacon of Edessa) (ca. 306 – 373) was almost certainly the first of any of St Ephrem’s works to be printed in any language. St Ephrem was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV

He was  a great supporter of the Pope and the primacy of Peter when Conciliarism was at its height. He was  one of the Pope`s legates at the Council of Basel and one of the Pope`s strongest supporters and then when it was transferred to Ferrara and later to Florence

Traversari had an important role in the Council. He wrote to a fellow monk: 
"It is I who do all this business of the Greeks, translating from Greek into Latin or from Latin into Greek all that is said or written" (Gill Council 118).

His mother was very sick during the council, and at one point he took 15 days off to spend with her; the council was not able to proceed in his absence, and he was ordered back.

He helped draft the Council`s decree of reunion "Decretum Unionis" (Laetentur Coeli)

The art historian Richard Krautheimer suggested that one of the doors made by Lorenzo Ghiberti, 1425-52 for the Baptistry of the Duomo (being made while the Council was taking place in Florence) depicts in allegorical form the wedding or union of the two Churches: Salomone e la regina di Saba (Solomon and the Queen of Sheba) 

He went on to suggest that one of the figures depicted in the bronze scene was that of Trevarsari.

Unfortunately this story although a good story has been well and truly debunked by the art historian E.H. Gombrich in Topos and Topicality Annual Lecture of the Society for Renaissance Studies, delivered at University College, London, 10 January, 1975

Traversari died in the year of the Council`s decree. He did not live to see the dissolution of the Union which for him would have represented a catastrophe to his vision of the Church. But despite the dissolution, the Union was a recognition of the importance of the Papacy

 We may not know what  Traversari was like but we can enjoy and appreciate a work which he commissioned hor his Convent. The work The Last Judgment was by another Blessed, Blessed Fra Angelico,  now in the Museo nazionale di San Marco, in Florence

 Blessed Fra Angelico 1400 - 1455
The Last Judgment 
c.  1431
Tempera on wood
105 × 210 cm 
 Museo nazionale di San Marco, Florence

Of this painting, Vasari said:
"[I]n the Church of the Monks of the Angeli he made a Paradise and a Hell with little figures, wherein he showed fine judgment by making the blessed very beautiful and full of jubilation and celestial gladness, and the damned all ready for the pains of Hell, in various most woeful attitudes, and bearing the stamp of their sins and unworthiness on their faces. The blessed are seen entering the gate of Paradise in celestial dance, and the damned are being dragged by demons to the eternal pains of Hell. This work is in the aforesaid church, on the right hand as one goes towards the high-altar, where the priest sits when Mass is sung."

It was a work which set a new paradigm for the depiction of its theme and which lasted until Michelangelo completed his great project in The Sistine Chapel

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Dom Guido Grandi OSB Cam

Portrait of Guido  Grandi (1671 - 1742)
From De infinitis infinitorum, et infinite parvorum ordinibus disquisitio geometrica
Pisa: Ex Typographia Francisci Bindi, 1710
Special Collections, University of Wisconsin

Recently Pope Benedict XVI presided at vespers in  the Roman monastery of San Gregorio al Celio (12th March 2012)

The occasion was perhaps overshadowed by the fact that with him was His Grace Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury who was on a visit to Rome (before he subsequently announced his retirement in October)

However most of the ceremony and the Pope`s homily was devoted to a ceremony marking the thousandth anniversary of the foundation of the mother house of the Camaldolese Order of St. Benedict, the Feast of the Transit of St, Gregory

Of the Camaldolese Order, the Pope said:

"Through the faithfulness and benevolence of the Lord, the Congregation of Camaldolese monks of the Order of Saint Benedict has completed a thousand years of history, feeding daily on the word of God and the Eucharist, as their founder Saint Romuald taught them, according to the triplex bonum of solitude, community life and evangelization.  
Exemplary men and women of God, such as Saint Peter Damian, Gratian – author of the Decretum – Saint Bruno of Querfurt and the five brother martyrs, Rudolph I and II, Blessed Gherardesca, Blessed Giovanna da Bagno and Blessed Paolo Giustiniani; men of art and science like Brother Maurus the Cosmographer, Lorenzo Monaco, Ambrogio Traversari, Pietro Delfino and Guido Grandi; illustrious historians like the Camaldolese Annalists Giovanni Benedetto Mittarelli and Anselmo Costadoni; zealous pastors of the Church, among whom Pope Gregory XVI stands out, have revealed the horizons and the great fruitfulness of the Camaldolese tradition"

We have already covered some of the works of Lorenzo Monaco in previous posts

But let us look at one other name mentioned by the Pope: Guido Grandi

Dom Guido Grandi, O.S.B. Cam., (October 1, 1671 – July 4, 1742) was one of the most celebrated mathematicians of his day and was Professor of Mathematics at the University of Pisa

HIs reputation was international and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in London. He was in correspondence with Newton and Leibniz

See also Giammaria Ortes, Vita del padre D. Guido Grandi, abate camaldolese, matematico dello Studio Pisano, Venezia, Giambatista Pasquali, 1744.


Manoscritti Galileiani : Codex 6806_144
281r - 282v
Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Florence

Letter of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz to Guido Grandi
Manoscritti Galileiani : Codex 6806_143
277r - 280v
Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Florence

Frontispiece of Guido Grandi, Instituzioni delle Sezioni coniche
Venice 1746

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

An Allegory of the Catholic Faith

Johannes Vermeer (1632–1675 ) 
Allegory of the Catholic Faith
ca. 1670–72
Oil on canvas
45 x 35 in. (114.3 x 88.9 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum, New York

In an image-saturated culture where we talk of “sensory overload” and even of “sensory addictions.” with advertising, television, video games and the Internet, this painting reminds us that such sensations are not a present day phenomenon

It is an attempt to illustrate abstract ideas and in particular what is meant by "Christian faith"

Sacred art has always been a “concrete mode of catechesis” (Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists)

As the present Pope said:
"[T]he only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments: namely the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb…If the Church is to continue to transform and humanise the world, how can she dispense with beauty in her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection? No. Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty – and hence truth – is at home” (Joseph Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985] 129-30). 

The entry in the Museum Catalogue for the painting reads:

"Painted about 1670–72, this picture presents an allegory of Vermeer's adopted religion, and was probably made expressly for a private Catholic patron or for a schuilkerk, a hidden Catholic church. It is unlike any other work by Vermeer . 
The choice and interpretation of the imagery included here would have been discussed by the artist and his patron.  
For many of the allegorical motifs, Vermeer must have turned to Cesare Ripa's emblem book, Iconologia (Rome, 1603), translated in a Dutch edition by Dirck Pietersz Pers (Amsterdam, 1644).  
The female figure represents the Catholic Faith, wearing white, a symbol of purity, and blue, the "hue of heaven".  
A hand raised to the heart indicates the source of living faith. 
 She rests her foot on a globe, published in 1618 by Jodocus Hondius, to illustrate Ripa's description of Faith with "the world under her feet".  
In the foreground, Vermeer shows the "cornerstone" of the Church (Christ) crushing a serpent (Satan).  
The nearby apple, which has been bitten, stands for original sin.  
The table is transformed into an altar with the addition of a chalice, crucifix, and a Bible or, more likely because of its proximity to other objects used for the Mass, a missal.  
The glass sphere, hanging from a ribbon, was a popular decorative curiosity; in this context, it may be viewed as a symbol of heaven or God.  
The room itself, with its high ceiling, marble floor, and a large altarpiece based on a work by Jacob Jordaens (possibly identical with one in Vermeer's estate), was meant to be recognized by contemporary viewers as a private chapel installed within a large house or some other secular building.  
Though apparently an illusionistic device, the tapestry at left would also have been understood as part of a very large hanging, drawn aside to reveal a normally secluded space"

Sunday, March 18, 2012

St Joseph - the Just Man

Augusto Colombo 1902 - 1969
St Joseph and the Child Jesus
c. 1950
Oil on wood panel
110 x 233 cm
Raccolte d'Arte dell'Ospedale Maggiore, Milan 

A militant antifascist, Colombo depicted the horrors of war in a series of works during World War II . However he also executed a large number of religious works including Via Crucis (1946), The Family of Jesus (1949), Caino e Abele (1947), L'Addolorata (1950), Tentazione di Adamo (1947), L’adultera
(1961), Cristo nell'orto (1964);

"St Matthew describes St Joseph with one word: he was a “just” man, “dikaios”, from “dike”, and in the vision of the Old Testament, as we find it, for example, in Psalm 1; the man who is immersed in the word of God, who lives in the word of God and does not experience the Law as a “yoke” but rather as a “joy”, who dwells in — we might say — the Law as a “Gospel”.  
St Joseph was just, he was immersed in the word of God, written and transmitted through the wisdom of his people, and he was trained and called in this very way to know the Incarnate Word — the Word who came among us as a man — and was predestined to look after, to protect this Incarnate Word; this remained his mission for ever: to look after Holy Church and Our Lord" 
(Pope Benedict XVI, At the end of the spiritual exercises of the Curia, 19th March 2011)

See also:
Pope Leo XIII Quamquam pluries (15th August 1889) (Devotion to St Joseph) 
Pope John Paul II Redemptoris Custos (15th August 1989) (St Joseph in the Life of Christ and in the Church)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Religious Art and Italian Hospitals

The Ospedale Maggiore, traditionally named Ca' Granda is a building in the centre of Milan,constructed to house one of the first community hospitals, the largest such undertaking of the fifteenth century.

Francesco Sforza (one of the patrons of Leonardo da Vinci) founded this hospital in 1456 "Ad Sustentandos Christi Pauperes" ("For the sustenance of the poor of Christ"). 

The old buildings still exist and are now part of the University of Milan. The hospital is now in new buildings

Over the years the hospital has built up a very fine art collection from the donations and gifts of people grateful for the hospital`s services.

It has about 2500 works from the 16th to the 21st century: paintings, sculptures, ceramics, 

The works are by amongst others  il Moretto, il Guercino, Ceruti, Adler, Hayez, Vela, Segantini, Gola, Carrà, Casorati, Sironi, and Tadini

The Church has always had a close relationship with this great institution and it still retains this even to the present day

As you might expect many of the works in the Hospital`s collection are of religious art

Here are some:

Camillo Ripetti (1859 - 1929), 
Adamo ed Eva si nascondono da Dio
Adam and Eve hide from God
c. 1913
Oil on canvas
151 cm x 100 cm
Raccolte d'Arte dell'Ospedale Maggiore, Milan

Giovanni Buffa 1871 - 1954
Allegoria in memoria di un benefattore anonimo, Il buon samaritano (The Good Samaritan)
Oil on canvas
120 x 200 cm
Raccolte d'Arte dell'Ospedale Maggiore, Milan

Gianfilippo Usellini 1903 - 1971
Allegoria in memoria di Rosa Sciomachen, La Carità
c. 1962
Oil on canvas
121.5 x 201 cm
Raccolte d'Arte dell'Ospedale Maggiore, Milan

Mario Carletti  (1912 -1977)
Allegoria in memoria di Guido Pozzi, Cristo Maestro
Christ the Teacher
c. 1966
Oil on canvas
120 x 200 cm
Raccolte d'Arte dell'Ospedale Maggiore, Milan
Guido Pozzi`s life was saved as an infant by the hospital when he contracted a particularly intractable form of pleurisy. He became a teacher. On his death he left all his property to the Hospital. The hospital commissioned this work as a tribute to him and his gift

Dina Bellotti 1911-2003
Giovanni Paolo II tra gli ammalati del Policlinico
John Paul II amongst the sick children at the Sick children`s hospital
c. 1985
Oil on canvas
116 x 114 cm
Raccolte d'Arte dell'Ospedale Maggiore, Milan

Dina Bellotti was an Italian religious artist and was very close to Pope Paul VI

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Images of British Catholicism during the Second World War

The website of The Imperial War Museums covers conflicts, especially those involving Britain and the Commonwealth, from the First World War to the present day

The Museum in South London  is one of the essential sights to see

The website displays many items in the collections which often are not on display

Here are some images from The Second World War showing some Catholic events during that particular conflict

In 1941, at the conclusion of a special week of prayer for France, a High Mass was celebrated at Westminster Cathedral, for France and the occupied countries. The service was led by Cardinal Hinsley. 

A priest, probably Father Dixon, stands in the roofless shell of St George's Roman Catholic Cathedral, on the corner of St George's Road and Lambeth Road in Southwark, South East London. The Cathedral was severely damaged by an incendiary bomb attack in 1942

Led by the Holy Cross and two sailors carrying candles, the procession nears the shrine at Carfin in Scotland. Father John Wilson, a naval chaplain led more then a hundred Catholic naval officers, ratings and Wrens of HM ships and establishments 

Father Whitestone in his cabin checking a list of men recently drafted to the ship in September 1940

Squadron Leader T Sweeney of Cork, Eire the Roman Catholic chaplain of an RAF Wing operating in Central Burma, conducting Mass in a wooden pagoda which has been made into a chapel (about 1942)

The Roman Catholic Chaplain to 2nd Battalion, Essex Regiment, Captain the Reverend W R Thomas, receives the Military Cross from General Montgomery for gallantry during the Normandy landings (17th July 1944)

Two British Army chaplains, Rev Leslie H Hardman, Senior Jewish Chaplain to the 2nd Army, and the Roman Catholic Padre Father M C Morrison, conduct a service over one of the mass graves in Belsen Concentration Camp before it is filled in

Father Dunstan Dobbins, a Franciscan Friar and Roman Catholic chaplain in the Royal Navy, talking to members of his flock on board HMS RENOWN at Scapa Flow

A Roman Catholic padre, Father Condron, gives a cup of tea to a wounded soldier at No 35 Casualty Clearing Station, 6 October 1944.

It is 6:15pm on a Saturday in 1943. French Canadian soldiers kneel in prayer or read religious texts during a period of meditation during a religious retreat in the chapel at Campion House, Osterley, Middlesex

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sacred Stories and Spanish Religious Art in the Nineteenth Century

Luis de Madrazo y Kuntz 1825 - 1897
The Burial of Saint Cecilia in the Catacombs of Rome 
Oil on canvas
302,6 cm x 253,5 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Alejo Vera 1834- 1923
The Burial of Saint Lawrence in the Catacombs in Rome
Oil on canvas, 224 x 233 cm. 
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

At present there is a temporary exhibition in The Prado in Madrid entitled Sacred Stories. Religious Paintings by Spanish Artists in Rome (1852-1864)

The two paintings above are just two of the exhibits

Before the 19th century, a stay by artists in Rome was regarded as an essential part of their training. In the 19th century, however, the period spent in the Spanish Academy in Rome was considered the final phase in an artist’s academic training and marked the start of professional maturity

The course of study usually took three years. In the first year students copied Greek and Roman sculpture to learn anatomy, classical architecture to learn ideal proportion, and  they copied old master paintings. In the second year they did work on the human figure. In  the third year they utilised all the skills learned by practice, travel, and observation into one large historical painting drawn from either religious, classical, or historical texts. 

Both these paintings illustrate the revival of religious feeling and interest aroused by the re-discovery of the Christian catacombs in Rome in the nineteenth century especially the discovery of the tomb of Saint Cecilia near the Appian Way

This rediscovery and publicisation of the catacombs was the work of two men: Giovanni Battista De Rossi (1822–1894), contributor to more than two hundred publications,and generally regarded as the father of modern scientific Christian archaeology; and his close friend the Jesuit scholar Father Giuseppe Marchi (1795–1860) who began the study of early Christian monuments.

The nineteenth century saw a steady stream of books and articles which sought to interpret the evidence of the Roman catacombs in an aid to "uncover" the early years of Christianity

In England, there were Hypatia, or New Foes With an Old Face (1852–1853), by Charles Kingsley; Fabiola, or The Church of the Catacombs (1854), by Nicholas Wiseman; and Callista: A Tale of the Third Century, by Blessed John Henry Newman (1855)

Kingsley`s novel is critical of the early Christianity as corrupt - like the Roman Catholic Church who set great store by the patristic fathers and the idea of tradition.. Wiseman and Newman`s novels were a necessary refutation and correction

"Then Almachius, hearing that, commanded that she should be beheaded in the same bath. Then the tormentor smote at her three strokes, and could not smite off her head, and the fourth stroke he might not by the law smite, and so left her there Iying half alive and half dead, and she lived three days after in that manner, and gave all that she had to poor people, and continually preached the faith all that while; and all them that she converted she sent to Urban for to be baptized, and said: I have asked respite three days, that I might commend to you these souls, and that ye should hallow of mine house a church. 
 And then at the end of three days she slept in our Lord, and S. Urban with his deacons buried her body among the bishops, and hallowed her house into a church, in which unto this day is said the service unto our Lord. She suffered her passion about the year of our Lord two hundred and twenty three, in the time of Alexander the emperor, and it is read in another place that she suffered in the time of Marcus Aurelius"

According to Johann Peter Kirsch (1908):
"De Rossi located the burial-place of Cecilia in the Catacomb of Callistus in a crypt immediately adjoining the crypt or chapel of the popes; an empty niche in one of the walls contained, probably, at one time the sarcophagus with the bones of the saint.  
Among the frescoes of a later time with which the wall of the sepulchre are adorned, the figure of a richly-dressed woman appears twice and Pope Urban, who was brought personal into close relation with the saint by the Acts of her martyrdom, is depicted once."

From this interest in the catacombs and the early Christian history, Madrazo was led into an interest in painting Biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments

Vera`s work is much later. 

Obviously his work is influenced by the earlier work of Saint Cecilia.

Of the death and burial of Saint Lawrence, The Golden Legend states:
"And so he [Lawrence] gave up his spirit. And then Decius, being all confused, walked into the palace of Tiberius with Valerianus, and left the body lying upon the fire, which Hippolitus in the morning took away, with Justin the priest, and buried it with precious ointments in the field Veranus. And the Christian men that buried him fasted three days and three nights and hallowed the vigils, weeping there and wailing"
The classical style of early Madrazo heavily influenced by the Nazarene school in Rome gives way to a more realistic style. But both artists were heavily influenced by the same religious source to produce works which show that in the middle of nineteenth century Spain, Spanish art had not lost religion as a vital spark of inspiration and Christian evangelisation.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Theology Today"

Published by Claudio Duchetti (fl.1565 - 1585)
Speculum Romanae Magnificentiae: A session of the Council of Trent, apostolic lawyers seated at left before a large audience of speakers and ecclesiastic delegates
Inscription Content: Lettered in palque above centre: 'Congretatio patrum generalis ... / theologi et uirisperiti',
329 millimetres x 488 millimetres
The British Museum, London

Just published on the Vatican website is an important   document by the International Theological Commission entitled Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria.

It has been a long time in the gestation 

The initial work was begun in 2004-8 and the present text was only approved on 29th November 2011.

Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, only now has authorised its publication

It is an important document about the nature of Catholic theology today, what is meant by a "Catholic" theology, the role of the theologian (in particular, his or her role in the Church) and the rights and duties of the theologian.

It is a particularly important document in the run up to the Year of Evangelisation

One of the main issues in Catholic theology since Vatican II has been the idea of the "sensus fidelium" ("the sense of the faith that is deeply rooted in the people of God who receive, understand and live the Word of God in the Church"). On occasion it has been used almost as a slogan, or if there is no other argument, one could always call on it to support almost any proposition

In an important section, the Commission explain and define what is the sensus fidelium and what it is not. And how cautious theologians should be in declaring what they see as genuine and valid statements of the "sensus fidelium"

"3. Attention to the sensus fidelium 
33. In his First Letter to the Thessalonians, St Paul writes: 
‘We constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers’ (1Thess 2:13). 
These words illustrate what Vatican II referred to as ‘the supernatural appreciation of the faith [sensusfidei] of the whole people’, and ‘the intimate sense of spiritual realities’ that the faithful have, that is, the sensus fidelium.  
The subject of faith is the people of God as a whole, which in the power of the Spirit affirms the Word of God. That is why the council declares that the entire people of God participates in the prophetic ministry of Jesus, and that, anointed by the Holy Spirit (cf. 1Jn 2:20, 27), it ‘cannot err in matters of belief’. 
The pastors who guide the people of God, serving its faith, are themselves first of all members of the communion of believers. Therefore Lumen Gentium speaks first about the people of God and the sensusfidei that they have, and then of the bishops who, through their apostolic succession in the episcopate and the reception of their own specific charisma veritatis certum (sure charism of truth), constitute, as a college in hierarchical communion with their head, the bishop of Rome and successor of St Peter in the apostolic see,the Church’s magisterium
 Likewise, Dei Verbum teaches that the Word of God has been ‘entrusted to the Church’, and refers to the ‘entire holy people’ adhering to it, before then specifying that the pope and the bishops have the task of authentically interpreting the Word of God 
This ordering is fundamental for Catholic theology. As St Augustine said: 
‘Vobis sum episcopus, vobiscum sum christianus’.
34. The nature and location of the sensusfidei or sensusfidelium must be properly understood. The sensus fidelium does not simply mean the majority opinion in a given time or culture, nor is it only a secondary affirmation of what is first taught by the magisterium.  
The sensusfidelium is the sensus fidei of the people of God as a whole who are obedient to the Word of God and are led in the ways of faith by their pastors. So the sensusfidelium is the sense of the faith that is deeply rooted in the people of God who receive, understand and live the Word of God in the Church.   
35. For theologians, the sensus fidelium is of great importance.  
It is not only an object of attention and respect, it is also a base and a locus for their work. On the one hand, theologians depend on the sensusfidelium, because the faith that they explore and explain lives in the people of God. It is clear, therefore, that theologians themselves must participate in the life of the Church to be truly aware of it.  
On the other hand, part of the particular service of theologians within the body of Christ is precisely to explicate the Church’s faith as it is found in the Scriptures, the liturgy, creeds, dogmas, catechisms, and in the sensus fidelium itself.  
Theologians help to clarify and articulate the content of the sensus fidelium, recognising and demonstrating that issues relating to the truth of faith can be complex, and that investigation of them must be precise.It falls to them also on occasion critically to examine expressions of popular piety, new currents of thought and movements within the Church, in the name of fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition.  
Theologians’ critical assessments must always be constructive; they must be given with humility, respect and charity: 
‘Knowledge (gnosis) puffs up, but love (agape) builds up’ (1Cor 8:1).  
36. Attention to the sensus fidelium is a criterion for Catholic theology. Theology should strive to discover and articulate accurately what the Catholic faithful actually believe. It must speak the truth in love, so that the faithful may mature in faith, and not be ‘tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine’ (Eph 4:14-15). "

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Humpty Lives On

Illustration by Peter Newell (1862 - 1924) to "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There", (1902) New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, " it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, whether you can make words mean different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all." (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), c. vi.) 

At the height of the Blitz in the Second World War, Britain`s highest court, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords sat to hear a very important case about the power of the Executive to detain people without trial, simply on the basis of a Ministerial fiat. The case was Liversidge v Anderson [1942] AC 206

The question before the House of Lords was a matter of the interpretation of Defence Regulation 18B which provided that the Home Secretary may order a person to be detained "if he has reasonable cause to believe" the person to be of hostile origin or associations. 

A majority of four Law Lords  held that if the Home Secretary thinks he has good cause that is good enough. 

But one Law Lord did not agree. In his famous dissent Lord Atkin chose the objective interpretation: the statute required the Home Secretary to have reasonable grounds for detention. 

At the time the terms of Lord Atkin's dissent caused grave offence to his colleagues. 

But Lord Atkin's view on the interpretation of provisions such as Regulation 18B has prevailed, not only in England and Wales but in the other common law jurisdictions.The view of the majority who upheld the Government has been thoroughly discredited

In his stinging dissent he quoted the above passage from Lewis Carroll`s book to illustrate what he saw as the position of the majority. Why did Lord Atkin`s view prevail ? Why is it still cited ? It is a passionate and robust statement which even re-reading today still has a live and vital feel.

The present debate in the United Kingdom about whether the law should be changed to allow marriage between persons of the same sex has an unreal feel to it, a Wonderland or Looking Glass feel. Marriage is to be redefined in a way which ten or twenty years ago would have been regarded as ludicrous and incredible

The two Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark in England and Wales have produced an excellent letter to be read out soon setting out the Catholic position in reasonable terms. 

By its very nature their defence of the present definition of marriage  is somewhat abstract. Somewhat dry, But all the points are made. The boxes are ticked.  One does wonder however despite the excellence of its content if it will be persuasive

It does seem likely that the legislation will pass in the United Kingdom.

Like Lord Atkin`s dissent, one hopes that the dissenting  statement of the two Archbishops will eventually prevail.

But in the debate thus far there seems to be lacking a statement of why Marriage holds such an exalted position. in Catholic doctrine. 

Why is it that Cardinal O`Brien of Edinburgh (the gentlest and mildest of men) and other Christian leaders such as the Anglican Archbishop of York have been roused to anger by such a proposal to redefine marriage ?

The best defence of Christian marriage is probably that of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Arcanum (On Christian Marriage) (10th February 1880) Despite it being in translation, the passion and emotion are palpable despite the length of time which has passed since it was written and published.

It should be read in full.

In some ways the joint letter of the two Archbishops is a concise (but filletted) summary of this Encyclical. But it lacks the verve and persuasive edge of the Encyclical.

It is an essay to appeal to reasonable men and women as one would in a submission in response to a civil service consultation. Unfortunately anything stronger would attract the hated epithets "irrational", "emotional", "ideological" and the like. And easily dismissed as such. And ignored.

By writing their letter in such a way, the Government will have to respond in rational logical and reasonable terms. One hopes. But as is clear the die is cast and the Government for its own reasons will have its way, notwithstanding the rationality of the Archbishops` positions.

So how does one explain to a non-government audience what the issue is all about ? Perhaps the answer lies in the Encyclical.

The Encyclical itself is a masterly apologetic for the classic doctrine of Christian marriage and puts the institution in its historical context from earliest times to the time of Christ and to the time of Pope Leo XIII

The key point for the purposes of the present debate is that the founder of Christianity, Christ himself, defined Christian marriage and its rights and duties, It became a sacrament. And there is no higher authority than the words of Christ  for the Christian.

And that teaching has been followed consistently by Christians since Christ founded His Church

And how this is not the first time that a State or State authority has attempted since then to thwart or undermine the institution. And it will not be the last.

The Pope wrote:

"And this union of man and woman, that it might answer more fittingly to the infinite wise counsels of God, even from the beginning manifested chiefly two most excellent properties - deeply sealed, as it were, and signed upon it-namely, unity and perpetuity.  
From the Gospel we see clearly that this doctrine was declared and openly confirmed by the divine authority of Jesus Christ. He bore witness to the Jews and to His Apostles that marriage, from its institution, should exist between two only, that is, between one man and one woman; that of two they are made, so to say, one flesh; and that the marriage bond is by the will of God so closely and strongly made fast that no man may dissolve it or render it asunder.  
"For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God bath joined together, let no man put asunder." ... 
So manifold being the vices and so great the ignominies with which marriage was defiled, an alleviation and a remedy were at length bestowed from on high.  
Jesus Christ, who restored our human dignity and who perfected the Mosaic law, applied early in His ministry no little solicitude to the question of marriage. He ennobled the marriage in Cana of Galilee by His presence, and made it memorable by the first of the miracles which he wrought and for this reason, even from that day forth, it seemed as if the beginning of new holiness had been conferred on human marriages.  
Later on He brought back matrimony to the nobility of its primeval origin by condemning the customs of the Jews in their abuse of the plurality of wives and of the power of giving bills of divorce; and still more by commanding most strictly that no one should dare to dissolve that union which God Himself had sanctioned by a bond perpetual.  
Hence, having set aside the difficulties which were adduced from the law of Moses, He, in character of supreme Lawgiver, decreed as follows concerning husbands and wives, "I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and he that shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery." 
But what was decreed and constituted in respect to marriage by the authority of God has been more fully and more clearly handed down to us, by tradition and the written Word, through the Apostles, those heralds of the laws of God.  
To the Apostles, indeed, as our masters, are to be referred the doctrines which "our holy Fathers, the Councils, and the Tradition of the Universal Church have always taught,"namely, that Christ our Lord raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament; that to husband and wife, guarded and strengthened by the heavenly grace which His merits gained for them,  
He gave power to attain holiness in the married state; and that, in a wondrous way, making marriage an example of the mystical union between Himself and His Church, He not only perfected that love which is according to nature, but also made the naturally indivisible union of one man with one woman far more perfect through the bond of heavenly love.  
Paul says to the Ephesians: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it. . . So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. . . For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the Church; because we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the Church." 
 In like manner from the teaching of the Apostles we learn that the unity of marriage and its perpetual indissolubility, the indispensable conditions of its very origin, must, according to the command of Christ, be holy and inviolable without exception. Paul says again: "To them that are married, not I, but the Lord commandeth that the wife depart not from her husband; and if she depart, that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband." And again: "A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband die, she is at liberty." 
It is for these reasons that marriage is "a great sacrament"; "honourable in all," holy, pure, and to be reverenced as a type and symbol of most high mysteries""

Monday, March 05, 2012

Transitus Domini

The privilege of Paschal I (817-824), issued in 819 for the Church of Ravenna, the most ancient and most solemn among papal documents. It is written on papyrus in the typical “Roman curial” script

ASV, A.A., Arm. I-XVIII 3747
Instrument of possession of the Castle of Miranda (5 April 1287)

ASV, Arch. Nunz. Berlino 92, fasc. 4, f. 53r
Minute of the Nuncio to Berlin then Mons Eugenio Pacelli to the Secretary of State Cardinal Gasparri

Lux in arcana - The Vatican Secret Archives is the exhibition in Rome celebrating the 400th year of the foundation of the Vatican`s Secret Archives by Pope Paul V

The website is a fascinating preview of the highlights of the exhibition

On 31st January 1612 Pope Paul V appointed Baldassarre Ansidei (1612-1614)  former custodian of the Vatican Apostolic Library, custodian of the new archives. The official history of the Archivio Segreto Vaticano dates back to this day, and today the Archives are still a sort of department of the Papal Library. 

The documents stored go back far before 1612

It was Pope Leo XIII who opened the archives to scholars and developed the archives. He founded «La Scuola speciale di Paleografia e di Storia Comparata" as part of the Archives

So is it simply a history geek`s dream come true ? More for scholars interested in dry dust documents rather than everyday life and true religious life ?

Pope Paul VI answered this question in a speech on 26th September 1963 to the archivists while the Second Vatican Council was in progress: In those days of modernism and destruction of the old, an archivist`s job may not have seemed in the vanguard of Reform towards a reformed and revitalised Church. 

Pope Paul VI on the contrary stressed the importance and  necessity of the vocation of the ecclesiastical archivist
"Egli è convinto che la coltura storica sia necessaria, parta dal genio, dall’indole, dalla necessità, dalla stessa vita cattolica, la quale possiede una tradizione, è coerente, e svolge nei secoli un disegno, e, ben si può dire, un mistero.  
È il Cristo che opera nel tempo e che scrive, proprio Lui, la sua storia, sì che i nostri brani di carta sono echi e vestigia di questo passaggio del Signore Gesù nel mondo. 
Ed ecco che, allora, l’avere il culto di queste carte, dei documenti, degli archivi, vuol dire, di riflesso, avere il culto di Cristo, avere il senso della Chiesa, dare a noi stessi, dare a chi verrà la storia del passaggio di questa fase di «transitus Domini» nel mondo. "

 Perhaps Pope Benedict XVI in a different way expressed the same thoughts as Pope Paul VI when he wrote:
"“It is part of the mystery of God that he acts so gently, that he only gradually builds up his history within the great history of mankind; that he becomes man and so can be overlooked by his contemporaries and by the decisive forces within history; that he suffers and dies and that, having risen again, he chooses to come to mankind only through the faith of the disciples to whom he reveals himself; that he continues to knock gently at the doors of our hearts and slowly opens our eyes if we open our doors to him” (Jesus of Nazareth II, 2011, p. 276).

Or as he said of Pope John Paul II`s view of the Church and its history:
"The entire Church, as beloved Pope John Paul II used to say, is one great movement animated by the Holy Spirit, a river that travels through history to irrigate it with God's grace and make it full of life, goodness, beauty, justice and peace."

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Cathedra Petri

Much ink has been spilt about Bernini`s Cathedra Petri  (Throne of St Peter)  (1657–66) in the Vatican Basilica.

Commissioned by Pope Alexander VII (1655 to 1667), it was one of three elements to ennoble the Basilica and its precincts:  the view through the Baldacchino to the Cathedra Petri in the apse; the piazza and its colonnades; and a projected entrance pavilion, the Terzo Braccio (never built)

The piazza colonnades and the Cathedra Petri are simultaneous and interrelated projects 

For the pilgrim to the Vatican, Bernini envisaged Piazza San Pietro, as where the dome became
the head, the façade the chest and shoulders, and the colonnades the embracing arms of the mother church 

On entering the Basilica, the Pilgrim is faced with the view of the Cathedra through the Baldacchino. 

In the distance one sees the suspended, brazen chair to which the four Holy Fathers of the Latin and Greek Church with angels are conjoined, the luminous infiltration of the Holy Spirit, and  the implosion and explosion  of the  ‘Gloria’

It is a celebration of the singularity and the unity of the Church under the Papacy

It was on the Feast of the Chair of St Peter this year (19th February) when he also celebrated the consistory creating new cardinals) that Pope Benedict set himself the task of preaching on the Feast of the Chair of St Peter and Bernini`s Masterwork

He said:
"Dear brothers and sisters, this Gospel episode that has been proclaimed to us finds a further and more eloquent explanation in one of the most famous artistic treasures of this Vatican Basilica: the altar of the Chair.  
After passing through the magnificent central nave, and continuing past the transepts, the pilgrim arrives in the apse and sees before him an enormous bronze throne that seems to hover in mid air, but in reality is supported by the four statues of great Fathers of the Church from East and West. And above the throne, surrounded by triumphant angels suspended in the air, the glory of the Holy Spirit shines through the oval window.  
What does this sculptural composition say to us, this product of Bernini’s genius? 
 It represents a vision of the essence of the Church and the place within the Church of the Petrine Magisterium."

In his analysis the Pope looked at the individual elements of the work and then at the entirety of the work. 

The homily is worth looking at for a proper interpretation of this great work of religious art

The themes of "first seat, the rule of faith, foundation of the church" are there. But it is not the whole story. 

Perhaps one has to also look at the  reliefs that decorate the front and sides of Bernini’s Cathedra Petri: Feed my Sheep; Christ giving the keys to heaven to Peter; and Christ washing the feet of his disciples

It is the third image of love and humility that the Pope emphasised in his homily:

"After considering the various elements of the altar of the Chair, let us take a look at it in its entirety.  
We see that it is characterized by a twofold movement: ascending and descending. This is the reciprocity between faith and love. The Chair is placed in a prominent position in this place, because this is where Saint Peter’s tomb is located, but this too tends towards the love of God. Indeed, faith is oriented towards love.  
A selfish faith would be an unreal faith. Whoever believes in Jesus Christ and enters into the dynamic of love that finds its source in the Eucharist, discovers true joy and becomes capable in turn of living according to the logic this gift.  
True faith is illumined by love and leads towards love, leads on high, just as the altar of the Chair points upwards towards the luminous window, the glory of the Holy Spirit, which constitutes the true focus for the pilgrim’s gaze as he crosses the threshold of the Vatican Basilica.  
That window is given great prominence by the triumphant angels and the great golden rays, with a sense of overflowing fullness that expresses the richness of communion with God. God is not isolation, but glorious and joyful love, spreading outwards and radiant with light."