Andrea del Sarto (1486 - 1530)
Disputa sulla Trinità / Debate on the Trinity
Oil on wood panel
232 x 193 cm
Galleria Palatina e Appartamenti, Palazzo Pitti, Florence
The saints in contemplation are Saints Augustine, Laurence, Peter Martyr, Francis, Sebastian and Mary Magdalene
It was commissioned for the Peri Chapel in the Chiesa di San Gallo in Florence
The Peri family had distinguished itself in republican service. The so called "inventor" of opera Jacopo Peri (1561 - 1633) was (to be) a member of this family
In 1529 when the church was destroyed in the Siege by Charles V, it was transferred to the Church of San Jacopo de' Fossi in Florence where it stayed for about 100 years before falling into the ownership of the Medici family
The Church of San Gallo was with the Augustinian Order hence the significance of St Augustine and one of St Augustine`s great field of study: The Trinity
The models for the work are two works by Raphael: The Disputa of the Eucharist (1508) in the Stanze Vaticane and his Ecstasy of Saint Cecilia (1514)
Del Sarto produced two other works for this Church: the Annunciation and Noli me tangere (1510)
One sees the Trinity and a variety of saints of different times, situations and backgrounds but all of major importance
In De Trinitate, VIII, 8, 12, Saint Augustine wrote:
“If you see charity, you see the Trinity”
As Pope Leo XIII said (see below), the worship paid to the saints and angels, to the Mother of God, and to Christ Himself, finally redounds to the honour of the Blessed Trinity.
In Divinum Illus Munus, (1897) Pope Leo XIII with reference to St Augustine tried to explain some aspects of the Catholic Doctrine of the Trinity:
"The Catholic Doctrine of the Blessed Trinity
3. Before We enter upon this subject, it will be both desirable and useful to say a few words about the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity.
This dogma is called by the doctors of the Church "the substance of the New Testament," that is to say, the greatest of all mysteries, since it is the fountain and origin of them all. In order to know and contemplate this mystery, the angels were created in Heaven and men upon earth. In order to teach more fully this mystery, which was but foreshadowed in the Old Testament, God Himself came down from the angels unto men:
"No man bath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (John i., 18).
Whosoever then writes or speaks of the Trinity must keep before His eyes the prudent warning of the Angelic Doctor:
"When we speak of the Trinity, we must do so with caution and modesty, for, as St. Augustine saith, nowhere else are more dangerous errors made, or is research more difficult, or discovery more fruitful" (Summ. Th. la., q. xxxi. De Trin. 1 L, c. 3).
The danger that arises is lest the Divine Persons be confounded one with the other in faith or worship, or lest the one Nature in them be separated: for
"This is the Catholic Faith, that we should adore one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity."
Therefore Our predecessor Innocent XII, absolutely refused the petition of those who desired a special festival in honour of God the Father. For, although the separate mysteries connected with the Incarnate Word are celebrated on certain fixed days, yet there is no special feast on which the Word is honoured according to His Divine Nature alone.
And even the Feast of Pentecost was instituted in the earliest times, not simply to honour the Holy Ghost in Himself, but to commemorate His coming, or His external mission.
And all this has been wisely ordained, lest from distinguishing the Persons men should be led to distinguish the Divine Essence. Moreover the Church, in order to preserve in her children the purity of faith, instituted the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, which John XXII. afterwards extended to the Universal Church.
He also permitted altars and churches to be dedicated to the Blessed Trinity,and, with the divine approval, sanctioned the Order for the Ransom of Captives,which is specially devoted to the Blessed Trinity and bears Its name.
Many facts confirm its truths.
The worship paid to the saints and angels, to the Mother of God, and to Christ Himself, finally redounds to the honour of the Blessed Trinity. In prayers addressed to one Person, there is also mention of the others; in the litanies after the individual Persons have been separately invoked, a common invocation of all is added: all psalms and hymns conclude with the doxology to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; blessings, sacred rites, and sacraments are either accompanied or concluded by the invocation of the Blessed Trinity.
This was already foreshadowed by the Apostle in those words:
"For of Him, and by Him, and in Him, are all things: to Him be glory for ever"(Rom. xi., 36),
thereby signifying both the Trinity of Persons and the Unity of Nature: for as this is one and the same in each of the Persons, so to each is equally owing supreme glory, as to one and the same God.
St. Augustine commenting upon this testimony writes:
"The words of the Apostle, of Him, and by Him, and in Him are not to be taken indiscriminately; of Him refers to the Father, by Him to the Son, in Him to the Holy Ghost" (De Trin. 1. vi., c. 10; 1. i., c. 6).
The Church is accustomed most fittingly to attribute to the Father those works of the Divinity in which power excels, to the Son those in which wisdom excels, and those in which love excels to the Holy Ghost. Not that all perfections and external operations are not common to the Divine Persons; for "the operations of the Trinity are indivisible, even as the essence of the Trinity is indivisible" (St. Aug., De Trin., I. 1, cc. 4-5); because as the three Divine Persons "are inseparable, so do they act inseparably" (St. Aug., i6.).
But by a certain comparison, and a kind of affinity between the operations and the properties of the Persons, these operations are attributed or, as it is said, "appropriated" to One Person rather than to the others.
"Just as we make use of the traces of similarity or likeness which we find in creatures for the manifestation of the Divine Persons, so do we use Their essential attributes; and this manifestation of the Persons by Their essential attributes is called appropriation" (St. Th. la., q. 39, xxxix., a. 7).
In this manner the Father, who is "the principle of the whole God-head" (St. Aug. De Trin. 1 iv., c. 20) is also the efficient cause of all things, of the Incarnation of the Word, and the sanctification of souls; "of Him are all things": of Him, referring to the Father.
But the Son, the Word, the Image of God is also the exemplar cause, whence all creatures borrow their form and beauty, their order and harmony. He is for us the Way, the Truth, and the Life; the Reconciles of man with God. "By Him are all things": by Him, referring to the Son.
The Holy Ghost is the ultimate cause of all things, since, as the will and all other things finally rest in their end, so He, who is the Divine Goodness and the Mutual Love of the Father and Son, completes and perfects, by His strong yet gentle power, the secret work of man's eternal salvation. "In Him are all things": in Him, referring to the Holy Ghost."