Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Temptations of Christ

The Master of the Dresden Prayerbook (active: about 1465 - about 1515)
The Temptations of Christ (First Sunday of Lent).
From The Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile - Breviary, Use of the Dominicans
c. 1497
Illuminated manuscript
The British Library, London

The anonymous illuminator known as the Master of the Dresden Prayer Book was a painter of tremendous originality. Named after a book of hours now in Dresden, he worked in Bruges from around 1465 until about 1515

He was one of the first illuminators to capture differing moods and atmosphere in landscapes

Queen Isabella I was given the manuscript shortly before 1497 by her ambassador Francisco de Rojas to commemorate not only the double marriage of her children Infante Juan and Infanta Joanna to Margaret and Philip, the children of Emperor Maximilian of Austria and Duchess Mary of Burgundy, but also the successful undertakings of her reign: the discovery of America and the conquest of Granada.

The manuscript is of great historical importance because it captures the political unrest of late fifteenth-century Europe.

Isabella (1451-1504) spared no expense in its creation

It is the first document in which Isabella is referred to as ‘divine’ and ‘Queen of the Spains and Sicily

The Royal Houses of Isabella and Ferdinand had close connections with the Dominican order

Her breviary contains the usual sections of a Dominican breviary as they were drawn up by Humbert de Romans, Master General of the Order between 1254 and 1277

For Lent, the Dominican hymns in the Office were:

Audi benígne Cónditor, sung at Vespers, Summi largitor præmii for Matins, Jam Christe sol justitiæ for Lauds, and Christe qui lux es et dies, sung at Compline

These four hymns are sung for each day of Lent that is not a feast day, including both Sundays and ferias.

The Devil who is tempting Christ is in the guise of a religious holding a rosary.

Perhaps the artist and composer of the Breviary was  missing the point 

On Ash Wednesday of last year, two days after his resignation announcement Pope Benedict XVI preached on the theme of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, the theme of the extract from the Breviary of the great and powerful Spanish monarch

His talk makes one wonder what was going through her head as she read her breviary at this stage of the Liturgical Year, the first Sunday of Lent

Was it, as the artist of the Breviary thought, beware of Franciscans and therefore by implication favour the Dominicans, their rivals ?

Perhaps she saw deeper

Perhaps it curbed and mitigated her arbitrariness and lessened a wilful exercise of absolute power

Perhaps it engendered in her a fundamental respect for religion that feared and did not dare attempt to use religion for her own and purely secular purposes

Nowadays of course earthly rulers and powers very rarely hear or listen to such lessons

They refer to listen to those whose messages please them as well as the spinsters and opinion pollsters

Pope Benedict XVI  said:
"Forty was also the number of days that it took Elijah to reach God’s mountain, Mount Horeb; and this was likewise the period that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry and where he was tempted by the devil.  
In today’s Catechesis, I would like to reflect on this very moment in the Lord’s earthly life which we shall be reading in the Gospel next Sunday. 
First of all, the wilderness to which Jesus withdrew is the place of silence and poverty, where man is deprived of material support and faces the fundamental existential questions; where he is driven to the essential and for this very reason can more easily encounter God.  
However the wilderness is also the place of death because there is no water, nor even life, and it is the place of solitude where man feels temptation more acutely. Jesus went into the wilderness and was subjected there to the temptation to stray from the path marked out for him by the Father so as to follow other easier and more worldly paths (cf. Lk 4:1-13).  
He thus took on our temptations, burdened himself with our wretchedness in order to defeat the Evil One and open a path to God for us, a pathway of conversion. 
Reflecting on the temptations to which Jesus was subjected in the wilderness invites each one of us to answer a fundamental question: What really counts in my life?  
In the first temptation the devil proposes to Jesus that he turn a stone into bread to appease his hunger. Jesus retorts that man lives on bread as well, but that he does not live on bread alone. Without a response to his hunger for truth, to his hunger for God, man cannot be saved (cf. vv. 3-4). 
In the second temptation the devil proposes the way of power to Jesus. He takes him up and offers him dominion over the whole world; but this is not God’s way. Jesus is very clear that it is not worldly power that saves the world, but the power of the Cross, of humility and of love (cf. vv. 5-8). 
In the third temptation the devil suggests to Jesus that he throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem and have himself saved by God through his angels, that is, that he do something sensational to put God himself to the test; but the answer is that God is not an object on which to impose conditions of our own making; he is the Lord of all (cf. vv. 9-12). 
What is the essence of the three temptations to which Jesus is subjected?  
It is the proposal to exploit God, to use him for one’s own interests, for one’s own glory and for one’s own success. And therefore, essentially to put oneself in God’s place, removing him from one’s own existence and making him seem superfluous. Each one of us must therefore ask him- or herself: what place does God have in my life? Is he the Lord or am I? 
Overcoming the temptation to subject God to oneself and one’s own interests, or to put him in a corner and be converted to the correct order of priorities, giving God first place, is a journey that each and every Christian must make over and over again.  
“Repent” is an invitation we shall often hear in Lent, it means following Jesus in such a way that his Gospel is a practical guide for life; it means letting God transform us, in order to stop thinking that we are the only ones to build our existence. It means recognizing that we are creatures, that we depend on God, on his love, and that only by “losing” our life in him can we gain it."

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