Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Visitation

Jean Fouquet. (c. 1415/20 - c.1480)
Visitation. c. 1453-1456.
Miniature from the Book of Hours of Etienne Chevalier.
Body colour on parchment.
Musée Condé, Chantilly, France

The visit of the Virgin Mary to her cousin St. Elizabeth soon after the Annunciation, is described by St. Luke (1:39-56).

The scene shows the meeting of Mary, on the right, pregnant with Jesus, and her cousin Elizabeth, who was in her sixth month awaiting the child who would become St John the Baptist. The meeting took place at the entrance to the house of Zachariah, the husband of Elizabeth

When Elizabeth saw Mary and heard her greetings, 'the baby stirred in her womb.' And she said to Mary: 'Happy is she who has had faith that the Lord's promise to her would be fulfilled!'

And Mary answered:

'My soul tells out the greatness of the Lord, my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour; for he has looked with favour on his servant,lowly as she is.

From this day forward all generations will count me blessed, for the Almighty God has done great things for me."

Rogier van der Weyden.(1399/1400 - 1464)
Visitation of Mary. c.1440-1445.
Oil on panel.
Museum der Bildenden Kunste, Leipzig, Germany

Cardinal warns

Catholic Online carries the story on the homily due to be delivered today by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, archbishop of Edinburgh and St. Andrews.

In it he warns that Catholic politicians must not cooperate in sustaining through legislation “the unspeakable crime of abortion” and to do so creates a barrier to their receiving holy Communion.

He decries the killing of about millions of unborn babies and the spreading of the “culture of death” throughout society.

The result of the Abortion Act is “beyond our grasp,” Cardinal O’Brien says, pointing to the murder in Scotland alone of the “equivalent of a classroom full of school children every day.”

Abortion for many women, he notes, has become “an alternative form of birth control,” with the procedure used to “save the life of a woman are almost unheard of.”

“Around 7 million lives have been ended as a consequence of that one piece of legislation,” he says.

Politicians must answer whether they will “protect the right to life of all persons in our society from conception until natural death,” the cardinal says, urging voters “to hold these elected representatives to account.”

”I urge politicians to have no truck with the evil trade of abortion,” Cardinal O’Brien says. “Peace cannot be built in the shadow of the abortion rooms.”

Politicians, especially “those who claim to be Catholic,” must examine their consciences and determine whether they are helping in any way sustain “this social evil,” he said.

“I remind them to avoid cooperating in the unspeakable crime of abortion and the barrier such cooperation erects to receiving holy Communion,” the cardinal warns, adding that “I would be failing as a pastor not to highlight the gravity of this situation not just to lawmakers but to anyone – mother, father, boyfriend, counselor who in any way leads a mother to abortion.

He says that, beyond the outright banning of abortion, “there is much we can do,” including legislation aimed at reducing current abortion limits, ensuring parental notification for minors seeking an abortion and providing women considering the procedure full information about the physical and emotional risks to themselves and about fetal development.

“We can work to ensure that the more light, which is shone on this terrible procedure the less acceptable it will be to our society,” he says.

The full text of the sermon is in the Scottish Catholic Media Office website.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Hitchens takes on God

God is Not Great: Why Religion Poisons Everything is the latest offering from Christopher Hitchens. The title says it all.

In Man v God, Janice Turner in The Times presents a rather revealing portrait of a rather strange personality.

"He observes Passover (he discovered late in life that he was Jewish, his mother’s family having changed their name from Levin), which his Jewish wife thinks is contemptible. “She never felt she should identify with anything except to be an American. To say you’re Jewish or anything else is sectarian. I should praise that, but why don’t I? Because somehow it would be banal. And I want my daughter to know what the tradition is.
He was married to his first wife in a Greek Orthodox church, to his second, Carol Blue, by a rabbi. He had his son, Alexander, now 23, baptised. He educates his daughter, Antonia, 13, at a Quaker school, Sidwell Friends, alma mater of Chelsea Clinton and Al Gore’s son. He has taken her to Washington’s Anglican cathedral to familiarise her with the liturgy. He worries that without the scriptures – which he can quote chapter and verse – she will never understand Milton or Shakespeare.
I wonder whether he envies the faithful as he gets older and death looms, since all that secularism offers in place of everlasting life is “life’s a bitch and then you die”. “Well, that is not said as a gloomy thing, is it? People say it to cheer themselves up.” But it is a dark statement. “There is comfort in noir,” says Hitchens.”

In So, Mr. Hitchens, why are we here? Carl Olson examines some features of Hitchens` book which present a very pessimistic view of life.

Father Raymond J. de Souza, in "Hitchens’ flat world." National Post, (Canada) May 12, 2007 reviews the book.

"“Religion has run out of justifications,” Hitchens concludes. “Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers an explanation of anything important.” Hitchens is not unlike the zealots he assails, which explains how an obviously intelligent man could write something so embarrassingly stupid.

Here are some unimportant questions for which a microscope is rather unhelpful in answering: Why are we here? Why is there something instead of nothing? What is the purpose of human existence? Hitchens is so fascinated with what he can see in the skies or in the laboratory that he is blind to the world in which men actually live. Perhaps he thinks that without religion there would be more peace, wisdom and beauty in a world dominated by politics, science, entertainment and industry. There is no evidence for that claim whatsoever, and good reason to believe that such a flat world would be more brutal to live in.

In the end, I suspect that the principal objection Hitchens has is to the Christian doctrine of original sin, namely that human wickedness, freely chosen, has made our world one in which beastly things are done to us and by us, and that this world needs a redeemer. On the contrary, the world glimpsed through the telescope and microscope is one where there is no room for freedom — asteroids and atoms do not make choices — and therefore no room for sin or sanctity, and no need of a redeemer. Indeed, there is no room even for man, the measure of which cannot be reduced to scientific instruments.

God has no place in the world Hitchens wants, but nobody else has ever lived there either."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Pope Pius XI : Against the Tide of Eugenics

During the late 19th century and the first part of the 20th century, several physicians, such as Nobel prize winner Alexis Carrel, supported eugenics, a theory first formulated in 1865 by Francis Galton.

For certain eugenicists, sterilisation was considered a valid part of the "solution" to ending the "menace of the feebleminded" in society. These eugenicists believed that by halting the reproductive capabilities of the "feebleminded" and "defective," their genetic traits would not be passed on to further generations, and over time would therefore be eradicated from society.

Eugenics was discredited as a science after the Nazis' experiments in World War II became known.

However, prior to this, sterilisation of the "feebleminded" (including compulsory sterilisation) became part of the public policy of certain states in the United States, Nazi Germany, some provinces in Canada, Sweden, Australia, and a number of other countries.

It was a very near thing but compulsory sterilisation was only just averted in the United Kingdom.

In The Great Socialist Shame, the noted Human Rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson QC explained:

"[T] he warped biological principles of the English eugenics movement, had the enthusiastic backing of some of the most distinguished intellectuals, writers, doctors and civil servants in the UK. In 1934, for example, a Department of Health report, from a committee chaired by Sir Lawrence Brock, praised Nazi legislation and recommended adoption in the UK of compulsory sterilisation of the "feeble-minded", a class comprising "a quarter of a million mental defectives and a far larger number of the mentally subnormal".

The US Supreme Court, in 1927, had already upheld eugenics-based forcible sterilisation of "degenerates" (ie, of the poor, and especially of poor blacks). The liberal jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes dismissed the court challenge with the comment that "three generations of imbeciles are enough". In the same year, after lobbying from the Eugenics Society, the British government had updated the UK's Mental Deficiency Act, which provided for the detention of the "feeble-minded", including "moral imbeciles" such as single mothers on benefits.

Most shocking of all was the extent of support for eugenics from British socialists and literary giants. George Bernard Shaw argued for humane extermination of "the sort of people who do not fit in". Aldous Huxley wanted to "prevent the sub-normal from having any families at all". Marie Stopes publicly pleaded for the sterilisation of "the hopelessly rotten and racially diseased". Both Virginia Woolf and D H Lawrence privately urged that the state should exterminate "imbeciles".

Oxford's Professor Desmond King has, in a recent book, concluded that their "desire to improve the lower orders was invariably well-intentioned". This is over-kind: these arrogant intellectuals were perfectly capable of imagining the inhumanity that their policies entailed. Their main objective - compulsory sterilisation of the unfit - did not happen in Britain because of opposition from the Catholics (thank God, in this respect, for G K Chesterton) and from Labour MPs (who rightly feared that the working class would be the real victims of the Fabian intelligentsia). "

In the face of the prevailing orthodoxy, the Catholic Church always opposed sterilisation especially eugenic sterilisation. The same was not true of some other Christian denominations.

The author G.K. Chesterton (before he converted to Catholicism in 1922) led the opposition outside the UK Parliament to the Mental Deficiency Bill of 1912, which had been introduced by Winston Churchill, the Home Secretary in the Liberal Administration. As a result of his campaign and those inside Parliament such as Wedgwood, Outhwaite, and Banbury, the Bill was defeated. A new Bill was reintroduced in 1913 but this omitted the most objectionable parts of the original Bill.

In 1930, Pope Pius XI put the Catholic position beyond all doubt in his Encyclical, Castii Connubii (On Marriage). Nowadays the Encyclical seems to be mainly known for its position on artificial contraception and being the forerunner of Humanae Vitae.

Its importance and its courage in contradicting the prevailing orthodoxy of favouring compulsory eugenic-based sterilisation programmes now seems to be forgotten or overlooked. Events would prove him right. Unfortunately, the events were in Nazi Germany.

He said:

"68. Finally, that pernicious practice must be condemned which closely touches upon the natural right of man to enter matrimony but affects also in a real way the welfare of the offspring. For there are some who over solicitous for the cause of eugenics, not only give salutary counsel for more certainly procuring the strength and health of the future child - which, indeed, is not contrary to right reason - but put eugenics before aims of a higher order, and by public authority wish to prevent from marrying all those whom, even though naturally fit for marriage, they consider, according to the norms and conjectures of their investigations, would, through hereditary transmission, bring forth defective offspring. And more, they wish to legislate to deprive these of that natural faculty by medical action despite their unwillingness; and this they do not propose as an infliction of grave punishment under the authority of the state for a crime committed, not to prevent future crimes by guilty persons, but against every right and good they wish the civil authority to arrogate to itself a power over a faculty which it never had and can never legitimately possess.

69. Those who act in this way are at fault in losing sight of the fact that the family is more sacred than the State and that men are begotten not for the earth and for time, but for Heaven and eternity. Although often these individuals are to be dissuaded from entering into matrimony, certainly it is wrong to brand men with the stigma of crime because they contract marriage, on the ground that, despite the fact that they are in every respect capable of matrimony, they will give birth only to defective children, even though they use all care and diligence.

70. Public magistrates have no direct power over the bodies of their subjects; therefore, where no crime has taken place and there is no cause present for grave punishment, they can never directly harm, or tamper with the integrity of the body, either for the reasons of eugenics or for any other reason. St. Thomas teaches this when inquiring whether human judges for the sake of preventing future evils can inflict punishment, he admits that the power indeed exists as regards certain other forms of evil, but justly and properly denies it as regards the maiming of the body. "No one who is guiltless may be punished by a human tribunal either by flogging to death, or mutilation, or by beating."

71. Furthermore, Christian doctrine establishes, and the light of human reason makes it most clear, that private individuals have no other power over the members of their bodies than that which pertains to their natural ends; and they are not free to destroy or mutilate their members, or in any other way render themselves unfit for their natural functions, except when no other provision can be made for the good of the whole body. "

Time`s edition of Jan. 19, 1931 reported extensively on the wide adverse reaction to the Encyclical.(It only quoted those against.) In particular, it noted one which it described as a compelling rebuttal:

"But one of the most compelling rebuttals was not a direct one. It came from Professor Julian Sorell Huxley. Brother of Novelist Aldous Leonard (Point Counterpoint) Huxley, and grandson of the late great Biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, Julian Huxley is himself a most distinguished biologist and eloquent member of the scientific vanguard. Speaking to the Philadelphia Forum, he said: "In the long run we must envisage the control of population in the same manner we now control contagious disease. Birth control is by no means perfect, but it is one of the major events in the world's history! . . . In one or two centuries ... we shall tell the man who can't provide for himself and his family that he cannot have State aid unless he agrees not to have any more children. If he refuses, State aid shall also be refused him or else he shall be locked up. ... In our society a man with a small family finds that he gets ahead quicker and that his smaller number of children can have greater advantages. All of this may seem very undemocratic, but heredity and biology are very undemocratic."

After the Nazi experiences in Germany discredited such practices, Pope Pius XII re-iterated the position in his Allocution to midwives, October 29, 1951. He said:

"It would be more than a mere lack of readiness in the service of life if an attack made by man were to concern not only a single act but should affect the organism itself to deprive it, by means of sterilisation, of the faculty of procreating a new life. Here, too, you have a clear rule in the Church's teaching to guide your behaviour both interiorly and exteriorly. Direct sterilisation— that is, whose aim tends as a means or as an end at making procreation impossible—is a grave violation of the moral law and therefore unlawful. Not even public authority has any right, under the pretext of any "indication" whatsoever, to permit it, and less still to prescribe it or to have it used to the detriment of innocent human beings.

This principle is already proclaimed in the above mentioned Encyclical of Pius XI on marriage. Thus when ten years or so ago sterilisation came to be more widely applied, the Holy See saw the necessity of expressly and publicly declaring that direct sterilisation, either perpetual or temporary, in either the male or the female, is unlawful according to natural law, from which, as you well know, not even the Church has the power to dispense.

As far as you can, oppose, in your apostolate, these perverse tendencies and do not give them your cooperation."


1. The experience in the United States

Eugenic Sterilization Laws by Paul Lombardo, University of Virginia

The Eugenics Archive

"Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Virginia, Eugenics, and Buck v. Bell"

Eugenics in America : Sterilization

The Betrayal at the Root of the Culture Wars By Anne Barbeau Gardiner (New Oxford Review)

Eugenic Sterilization and a Qualified Nazi Analogy:
The United States and Germany, 1930–1945
Andre´ N. Sofair, MD, MPH, and Lauris C. Kaldjian, MD
Ann Intern Med.: American College of Physicians–American Society of Internal Medicine (2000) (.pdf file)

Eugenic Sterilization and a Nazi Analogy
Jay A. Nathanson, MD, and Michael A. Grodin, MD
Ann Intern Med.: (June 2000)

Catholic participation in the American Eugenics Society in the 1920s by Sharon Leon (.pdf file)
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences Volume 59, Number 1, pages 3 -49 (2004)

2. The experience in the United Kingdom

The Enemy of Eugenics by Russell Sparkes

Eugenics and Politics in Britain, 1900-1914 by G. R. Searle

3. General History

Ethics, Law and Science of Using New Genetic Technology in Medicine and Agriculture
12. Selective Human Breeding (pp. 214-235 )

Ilaria del Carretto

QUERCIA, Jacopo della
(b. ca. 1367, Quercia Grossa, d. 1438, Siena)
Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto 1406-13
Marble, sarcophagus 244 x 88 x 66,5 cm, effigy 204 x 69 cm
Cathedral of San Martino, Lucca

Ilaria del Carretto, who died at aged twenty-six after giving birth to her second child in 1405, was the second wife of Paolo Guinigi, the local merchant tyrant in Lucca. Ilaria was from an old and noble family who came from Zuccarello in the province of Savona in Liguria.

Jacopo barely had time to finish it in 1407 before Guinigi married again

Ilaria is actually buried, and always has been, in the Guinigi chapel of Santa Lucia in San Francesco; Paolo Guinigi had the tomb placed in the cathedral just to show off what he could buy.

What remains of Jacopo`s work is a sarcophagus and an effigy.

A dog, symbol of fidelity and in particular marital fidelity, looks up expectantly at his mistress from her feet. Ilaria seems to be sleeping with her hands over her swollen abdomen to remind us of the cause of her death.

His use of several nude putti at the flanks of the tomb clearly shows the classical influence of the Roman sarcophagi at Camposanto (Pisa). This is a first, a harbinger of the incipient Renaissance.

The work was eulogised by Ruskin.

Recently in `1990 it was restored. The noted art historian Professor James Beck criticised the restoration which removed the ancient yellow patina. This led to four actions of criminal libel being brought against him which he successfully defended. As a result, he founded the organisation "Artwatch" which amongst other things campaigns against ill thought out restorations of ancient art works.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Wordsworth and Hume

Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)
The Chancel and Crossing of Tintern Abbey, Looking towards the East Window 1794
Pencil and watercolour on paper
support: 358 x 255 mm
Tate Britain, London

In Jesus Christ today (1998), the late Cardinal Basil Hume OSB spoke of experiences on his spiritual journey.

Here is one of them:

"This leads me to the last of the five experiences I would like to describe. This was my personal discovery, through the poetry of Wordsworth, of the role of beauty as a way of contemplating God.

I was still at school. The syllabus required, in addition to the main subjects in the Higher Certificate Examination, two additional subsidiary subjects. One of these covered some aspects of English literature. It was fashionable then in the Sixth Form for the cleverer boys to read and enjoy T S Eliot. It was less fashionable to admit to enjoying Wordsworth. I did.

Discovery that he was able to sense the presence of God in nature quite transformed my attitude to all created beings. In Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey (13 July 1798), Wordsworth described in enthralling terms his realisation that nature could disclose the presence of God:

And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

I realised, at first only dimly no doubt, that God was not, of course, part of his creation but that nonetheless all that exists not only owes its origin to him, but in some manner also reflects him just as a work of art speaks of the artist who created it. Thus in all that is good and beautiful some glimpse is given of those qualities in God - in a manner which is of course different but, as the theologians tell us, is analogous.

We are given some idea of his glory, a hint only, but precious indeed."

Praying for a miracle

The Sunday Times reports that an estimated 200m Christians in 60 countries are now suffering increasing victimisation.

“One of the world injustices least noticed in the West is the growing scale of Christian persecution,” says Eddie Lyle, who runs the British arm of Open Doors, a charity that works with afflicted churches and individuals. “We estimate that 200m Christians in more than 60 countries face the most brutal retribution because of their faith.” Christians have been persecuted, and have persecuted others, of course, since the Romans. What is unparalleled today is the sheer scope across the world. Take Bhutan: a Buddhist country with a religion usually associated with tolerance, it refuses to acknowledge that Christianity exists and is among the top 10 on the Open Doors 2007 list of global offenders.

The tradition of tolerance is under strain in India, too, from Hindu zealots. Anti-conversion laws aimed at evangelising have been passed in four states. For generations, many Christians were taught to pray for the conversion of communist Russia. Though the break-up of the Soviet Union restored the Orthodox Church to the heart of Russia, as Polish Catholicism helped to unravel the Soviet bloc, in some of the newly independent republics, notably Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, it has brought renewed persecution. Elsewhere, surviving communist states are continuing to repress. More Christians are imprisoned in China than anywhere else, a measure of the explosive success of underground or house churches. They may have as many as 70m members, vulnerable to arrest for non-regulated worship. In terms of severity, communist North Korea tops the Open Doors list, and International Christian Concern’s new “Hall of Shame”. Its capital, Pyongyang, was once known as “the Jerusalem of the East”. At least 50,000 Christians are now held in labour camps. Torture is frequently reported.

But it is across the Muslim world that persecution – sometimes government-inspired, but more often at mosque and street level – is spreading fastest. The problem is becoming acute along the fault line where largely Christian or animist Africa meets the Islamic north, from northeast Kenya and Ethiopia and Sudan, across northern Uganda and on into Nigeria."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Pentecost: "The Birthday of the Church"

As you get older, birthdays get more difficult. Especially the ones ending in "0". The so called "Big Os": 40; 50, etc.

It can be a time for reflection. And Catholic blogs are no exception on this Pentecost - often referred to as "The Birthday of the Church".

Don Marco of Vultus Christi presents a series of reflections on Pentecost

"Christ’s glorious triumph over sin in our lives is something that must be worked out day by day and hour by hour; this is our personal participation in “the combat stupendous” of the Prince of Life (Easter Sequence, Victimae Paschali Laudes). Paschal joy is not incompatible with spiritual combat; it is the fruit of it. And for those who are stricken in battle and fall into sin, there is the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter who is everywhere present and fills all things. The Holy Spirit is sent for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit descends to heal our wounds, to renew our strength, and to lift us when we fall."

Zadok the Roman gives us an extract from Parochial & Plain Sermons.

"This wonderful change from darkness to light, through the entrance of the Spirit into the soul, is called Regeneration, or the New Birth; a blessing which, before Christ's coming, not even Prophets and righteous men possessed, but which is now conveyed to all men freely through the Sacrament of Baptism. By nature we are children of wrath; the heart is sold under sin, possessed by evil spirits; and inherits death as its eternal portion. But by the coming of the Holy Ghost, all guilt and pollution are burned away as by fire, the devil is driven forth, sin, original and actual, is forgiven, and the whole man is consecrated to God."

Terry at Abbey Roads 2 writes on the "Convincing Power of the Holy Spirit".

"It seems to me the Church and the world desperately needs this convincing power of the Holy Spirit, His illumination of conscience, in order to attain the healing of sin and division through obedience to His promptings and urgings in the deepest recesses of our hearts, guided by the teachings He transmits through the Church."

Elena Maria Vidal at Tea at Trianon sets out a number of reflections on the theme of The Pentecost.

"The Holy Spirit comes to each of us at our baptism and later at our Confirmation, which is our own personal Pentecost. There is much discussion today of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as the gift of tongues, of prophecy, of discernment of spirits, of visions, etc. but they are extraordinary gifts given in special circumstances to benefit the Church and souls. The "ordinary" gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to each of us through the sacraments and it is for us to use and develop them. The seven gifts are wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord; it is these gifts which will make us into saints. They increase in proportion to the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. In the words of St. John of the Cross: "For the purer and the more refined in faith is the soul, the more it has of the infused charity of God; and the more charity it has, the more it is illumined and the more gifts of the Holy Spirit are communicated to it, for charity is the cause and means whereby they are communicated to it." (Ascent of Mt. Carmel, Book II, Ch. 29)"

In Babel Undone by Richard J. Mouw at First Things (1998) the author reflects on Pentecost as the reversal of Babel.

"In the Christian scriptures, there is a more profound corrective to Babel’s chaos: Pentecost was God’s reversal of Babel. There the confusion of tongues was replaced by effective communication. On that founding event of the Christian church, multiculturalism was not eradicated, but people were nonetheless capable of understanding each other: "Are not all these who are speaking Galilieans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in our own native language? . . . [I]n our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power" (Acts 2:7-11).

I take the Pentecostal alternative to Babel seriously, because I believe the miracle of Pentecost really did happen. But I also believe that it can serve as an alternative trope for anyone who refuses to allow Babel to function as the normative image for the human condition. Babel represents one kind of multi-culturalism. It posits an irreducible diversity, a loss of common patterns of understanding; Babel confuses, divides, and erects barriers. Pentecost, on the other hand, represents a very different kind of multiculturalism. The Pentecostal experience does not eliminate the diversity of tongues, but it provides us with the ability to communicate across linguistic and cultural boundaries. Pentecost heals, unites, and promotes understanding."

In The Church and the City by Monsignor M. Francis Mannion in First Things (2000) the theme of Pentecost as the reversal of Babel is further developed.

"As the story is told in Genesis 11:1-9, Babel is the archetype of the confused, disoriented, fragmented city-the place where, to humble human pride, "the Lord confused the speech of all the world." The confusion of Babel is significant because it has been replicated in every city in history. In the poem "The Rock," T. S. Eliot described modern London as a city full of the "knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word." James Dougherty of the University of Notre Dame describes the modern city as "never silent; it speaks with a voice of its own, the voice of false prophets in Jerusalem, of sophists in Athens and Carthage, of gramophones and television in London and Wichita. Like the prophet’s cry, the city’s own voice summons the citizens to believe-but to believe in their common self-sufficiency and in the durability and satisfaction of the city’s goods. Its call to worship is ultimately to self-worship."

The problems of Babel are reflected in modern America in our ongoing debates about history, identity, the future, and how we can live together as a nation. The America of the recent past has lost faith in words, in reliably coherent meanings, in the possibility of common language, in the very idea of truth. We live increasingly in a culture in which language is suspect, a culture of contestation regarding meaning, a world of illusions and hyperreality.

The mission of the Church is to reverse Babel, to give new voice and understanding to communities struggling to achieve meaning. Such a reversal began at Pentecost. We read in the Acts of the Apostles (2:4-11): The disciples "were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them. . . . [The people] asked in utter amazement, . . . ‘How is it that each of us hears them in his native tongue? We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites. We live in Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the regions of Libya around Cyrene. . . . Yet each of us hears them speaking in his own tongue about the marvels God has accomplished.’"

The mission of the Church is to speak the language of Pentecost, to introduce this voice into the city of Babel, to find and engage those voices in Babel that seek out and give expression to truth. Christians individually and the Church corporately are called to a ministry of the word that will redeem the language of the city, provide a meaningful account of life, and enable the citizenry to speak a language that is unitive, cooperative, and dialogical. "

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Veni Creator Spiritus- Hortus Musicus - Gregorian Chant

From Estonia, Hortus Musicus provide a rendering of Veni Creator Spiritus

Pope Benedict: "What I Meant to Say..."

Pope Benedict: "What I Meant to Say..." in Time Magazine comments on five occasions where clarification has been made after the Pope has spoken.

"Benedict's supporters say that the world simply isn't adept at digesting a man of such conviction and confidence who, even they would admit, doesn't have the deft diplomatic touch of his predecessor. Particularly in these high-profile speeches, his main objective is to push the intellectual envelope, and prove a point with whatever historical and philosophical means are at his disposal."

One does wonder however if there is a conscious attempt to pick over evry word and comma of the what the Pope says or writes to pick out errors, real or apparent. It makes a good story.

Does the Church want to return to the days of the speeches of Pope Paul VI which were diplomatic but opaque and were not exactly "interesting". Often he was criticised for that, not being relevant and what people wanted to hear discussed.

Did Pope John Paul II always have a "deft diplomatic touch" ?

Could it be that the press still hankers after the image of Benedict as the tough Rottweiler of "the Inquisition" which they stuck on him during the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II and that they don`t like what he has turned out to be, a rather friendly, amiable teacher always more interested in the pursuit of truth and to interest his particular audience in the topic which he wants to discuss.

One is reminded of the number of times that Saint Pope Pius X had to issue "clarifications" of what he said, especially in the early years of his Pontificate.

Professor Owen Chadwick in A History of the Popes 1830-1914 (at page 542) describes one particular incident:

"On 29 May 1910 the Pope [Pope Pius X] issued an encyclical which held Borromeo up as a model of pastoral zeal. He meant to speak to the Italians and issued it in Italian as well as Latin. But he took the opportunity not only to praise Borromeo but to denounce modernism.

The chief drafter was the Spanish cardinal Vives y Tuto. But Monsignor Benigni, hammer of the modernists, took a hand and pushed into the wording of the bull about Charles Borromeo quotations on Luther and the Reformers. He called them enemies of Christ's cross, and said that their belly was their god, and they were men of carnal mind and seducers of the people. The texts were of obsolete controversy of 200 years before.

Since the encyclical, being about an archbishop of Milan, was intended for Italy, no one in Rome thought of the effect in Germany. These phrases soured relations with the Lutherans as Leo XIII's efforts damaged amity with the Anglicans; and worse, for this time there were discussions in the Parliaments of Prussia, Hessen, Bavaria, and Saxony, talk of 'the smearing of the German nation by a foreign priest', protests in pulpits and press articles, and official representations in Rome from the governments of Prussia and Saxony.

Neither Pius X nor his Secretary of State were pleased at the wording which the drafters had put into the pope's mouth. Merry del Val said he first heard of the encyclical when it appeared in the Osservatore Romano. The Pope told the German bishops not to publish it. Merry del Val gave the Prussian ambassador a note—that the pope is sorry that he has been misunderstood and that he has much sympathy for all the German nation.

This ended the controversy; though some Protestant journalists were glad because, so they claimed, this was the first time that a pope publicly recanted one of his formal acts. "

The Pentecost 7

Anonymous artist(s) of the Meuse Valley
Plaque Showing the Pentecost, ca. 1150–1175
Champlevé enamel on copper gilt; 4 1/16 x 4 1/16 in. (10.3 x 10.3 cm)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Pentecost 6

Emil Nolde (1867 - 1956 )
"Pentecost (Pfingsten)", 1909,
Oil on canvas, 87 x 107 cm,
Nationalgalerie SPMK, Berlin

The Pentecost 5

Jean Fouquet (c. 1420 - 1478/1481)
Heures d'Étienne Chevalier
Musée Condé, Chantilly

The Pentecost 4

DUCCIO di Buoninsegna
(b. ca. 1255, Siena, d. 1319, Siena)
Tempera on wood, 37,5 x 42,5 cm
Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena

The Pentecost 3

GIOTTO di Bondone
(b. 1267, Vespignano, d. 1337, Firenze)
Fresco, 200 x 185 cm
Cappella Scrovegni (Arena Chapel), Padua

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Pentecost 2

RESTOUT, Jean II (b. 1692, Rouen, d. 1768, Paris)
The Pentecost 1732
Oil on canvas, 465 x 778 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Pentecost 1

GRECO, El (b. 1541, Candia, d. 1614, Toledo)
The Pentecost 1596-1600
Oil on canvas, 275 x 127 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Thursday, May 24, 2007

"On The Medusa of Leonardo da Vinci In the Florentine Gallery"

In 1819, Shelley was in Florence. He visited the Uffizi. He penned the following lines:


IT lieth, gazing on the midnight sky,
Upon the cloudy mountain peak supine;
Below, far lands are seen tremblingly;
Its horror and its beauty are divine.
Upon its lips and eyelids seems to lie 5
Loveliness like a shadow, from which shrine,
Fiery and lurid, struggling underneath,
The agonies of anguish and of death.

Yet it is less the horror than the grace
Which turns the gazer's spirit into stone; 10
Whereon the lineaments of that dead face
Are graven, till the characters be grown
Into itself, and thought no more can trace;
'Tis the melodious hue of beauty thrown
Athwart the darkness and the glare of pain, 15
Which humanize and harmonize the strain.

And from its head as from one body grow,
As [ ] grass out of a watery rock,
Hairs which are vipers, and they curl and flow
And their long tangles in each other lock, 20
And with unending involutions shew
Their mailed radiance, as it were to mock
The torture and the death within, and saw
The solid air with many a ragged jaw.

And from a stone beside, a poisonous eft 25
Peeps idly into those Gorgonian eyes;
Whilst in the air a ghastly bat, bereft
Of sense, has flitted with a mad surprise
Out of the cave this hideous light had cleft,
And he comes hastening like a moth that hies 30
After a taper; and the midnight sky
Flares, a light more dread than obscurity.

'Tis the tempestuous loveliness of terror;
For from the serpents gleams a brazen glare
Kindled by that inextricable error, 35
Which makes a thrilling vapour of the air
Become a [ ] and ever-shifting mirror
Of all the beauty and the terror there-
A woman's countenance, with serpent locks,
Gazing in death on heaven from those wet rocks. 40

Florence, 1819.

The painting in the Uffizi which inspired these lines is this one:

Head of Medusa
Oil on wood, 49x74
Palazzo Pitti; at the Uffizi since 1753.

The mass of writhing snakes is in the foreground. The eyes of the Medusa are half-closed. They eyes look upwards. The head is surrounded by a mist in which can be seen a variety of bats, mice, and other more ambiguous and sinister creatures. Out of the half-open mouth issues a whitish cloud of breath, the "thrilling vapour" referred to by Shelley.

In Greek mythology, Medusa , was the only mortal of the three Gorgon sisters.

The gorgons were vicious female monsters with brass hands, sharp fangs and hair of living, venomous serpents. Medusa was literally petrifying to look upon. Every creature who saw her was turned to stone.

She was said to be a daughter of Phorcys and Ceto, a mortal woman whom Athena changed into a Gorgon as punishment for desecrating her temple by sleeping with Poseidon there. When Athena came upon Medusa and Poseidon (also an arch-rival of Athena's), she turned Medusa's beautiful hair into snakey tendrils and banished her to the far ends of the earth where she remained with her sisters.

Medusa was killed by Perseus with aid from Athena and Hermes.

After Perseus used Medusa's head to kill Phineas, he gave it to Athena, who placed it on her shield, the aegis.

From Medusa's blood sprang two children by Poseidon: Pegasus and Chrysaor.

By the sixteenth century Medusa was said to symbolise the triumph of reason over the senses. Cellini and Caravaggio also produced famous works on the theme of the Medusa: Cellini`s Perseus and the Medusa standing only yards from the Uffizi in Loggia of the Piazza della Signoria, and Caravaggio`s painting is also in the Uffizi.

As regards the poem, Carol Jacobs asked: "Who is the gazer - Perseus, his predecessors, the painter, the poet, the reader?" Grant Scott answered: "None of the above" and suggested that it was the Medusa herself.

As a meditation and reflection on the painting, Shelley makes it clear that he has been transformed.

It is perhaps unfortunate but not fatal that the painting is now considered not to be by Leonardo da Vinci.

The confusion seems to have derived from the fact that Vasari mentions a famous depiction with two versions of the Medusa by Leonardo. According to Vasari, one version of the painting ended up in the possession of the Duke of Milan in the sixteenth century. The second version ended up in the possession of Duke Cosimo de` Medici.

In 1782, Leonardo's biographer Luigi Lanzi, while making a search for his paintings in the Uffizi, discovered a depiction of Medusa's head which he erroneously attributed to Leonardo, based on Vasari's description of Leonardo's second version of the subject.

The attribution by Lanzi stuck. It was accepted until the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century, it was regarded as one of Leonardo`s most popular works. Shelley`s error is therefore understandable.

In the 20th century, Bernard Berenson and other leading critics argued against Leonardo's authorship of the Uffizi painting. It is now believed to be a work of an anonymous Flemish painter, active ca. 1600.

One does wonder if the wrong attribution had not been made, whether Shelley would have penned the same lines if at all.

The Hunt By Night

Paolo Uccello (b. 1397, Firenze, d. 1475, Firenze)
The Hunt in the Forest/ The Nocturnal Hunt / The Hunt by Night 1460s
Tempera on wood

65 x 165 cm
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The so-called Nocturnal Hunt in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxfordis one of Paolo Uccello`s last surviving works.

The scene is lit by the strange kind of moonlight that falls on the elegant little figures of the hunters scattered through the dark forest.

Huntsmen and hounds are in full cry after stags through the strange darkly lit wood.

Uccello mapped out a grid on the panel’s surface as a guide for his design, fixing a central vanishing point.

The bright clear colours are set off against a dark background. The foliage of the trees was once picked out with gold.

Like some of Uccello`s paintings, this painting has also inspired poetry: in this case by Derek Mahon.

"The Hunt By Night"

Flickering shades,
Stick figures, lithe game,
Swift lights of bison in a cave
Where man the maker killed to live;
But neolithic bush became
The midnight woods

Of nursery walls,
The ancient fears mutated
To play, horses to rocking horses
Tamed and framed to courtly uses,
No longer crazed by foetid
Bestial howls

But rampant to
The pageantry they share
And echoes of the hunting horn
At once peremptory and forlorn.
The mild herbaceous air
Is lemon-blue,

The glade aglow
With pleasant mysteries,
Sylvan excitements, pungent prey;
And midnight hints at break of day
Where, among sombre trees,
The slim dogs go

Wild with suspense
Leaping to left and right,
Their cries receding to a point
Masked by obscurities of paint --
As if our hunt by night,
So very tense,

So long pursued,
In what dark cave begun
And not yet done, were not the great
Adventure we suppose but some elaborate
Spectacle put on for fun
And not for food.

Derek Mahon
December 1980

Georges Henri Rouault: Miserere

Miserere Plate 30: "We . . . it is in His death that we have been baptised."

Miserere Plate 36: "This will be the last time, father!"
The young man kneels, gives his father a kiss, and says, “This will be the last time, Papa,” and the skeleton is at the back of him. He is going to the trenches. It is World War I. He will not come back.

Georges Henri Rouault (27 May 1871 – 13 February 1958) was a French Fauvist and Expressionist painter, and printmaker in lithography and etching

About 1916, Rouault began more than a decade of work for the famous dealer and publisher Vollard. Using a variety of graphic techniques, he executed a series of about 60 prints called Miserere, which is generally considered his finest achievement.

Miserere was finished in 1927 and exhibited in 1948.

Rouault, born during the German bombardment of Paris in 1871, regarded World War I as an indication of what people could do to each other if left on their own. For Rouault, what saves us from ourselves, if anything can, is Christ and the Virgin Mary, both depicted throughout many of Rouault's works.

The central theme of his Miserere prints is suffering. Suffering, however powerfully portrayed, is familiar matter for contemporary art. What is controversial is Rouault's conviction that suffering leads to God and redemption. Rouault concluded that suffering was unavoidable, integral to life and yet, through Christ, ultimately the passage to redemption.

It is hard for any generation to accept this view.

In the reviews of Rouault’s work before 1914, it is said that his work is not merely ugly but it simply was not art, that he had a nervous breakdown. It was only after 1918 that the same paintings are described as religious.

Rouault wrote in the preface to the series:

"...Most of the subjects date from 1914-18. They were originally drawn in India ink, and later, at Ambroise Vollard's request, were transformed into paintings. He then had them transferred to copper plates. It was apparently desirable that a first impression on copper should be made. With these as a starting point, I have tried, taking infinite pains, to preserve the rhythm and quality of the original drawing. I worked unceasingly on each plate, with varying success, using many different tools. There is no secret about my methods. Dissatisfied, I reworked the plates again and again, sometimes making as many as fifteen successive states; for I wished them as far as possible to be equal in quality."


"George Rouault" at Spaightwood Galleries

Miserere: Miserere

Rouault’s Anguished World: “Miserere et Guerre” at the Musueum of Biblical Art By Maureen Mullarkey

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Climbs on Alpine Peaks

Mont Blanc

Pope Benedict XVI is not the first Pontiff to have published a book whilst Pontiff.

In 1923, Pope Pius XI (Achille Ratti) published Climbs on Alpine Peaks. As a young man, he had been an expert mountaineer and alpinist. The book records his ascent of Monte Rosa (Dufour Peak), the first traverse of the Zumsteinjoch, the ascent of the Matterhorn and the ascent of Mont Blanc and descent by the Dome Glacier.

In fact, in 1890, he was part of the original team which discovered the normal Italian route (West Face direct) on their descent of Mont Blanc. Today the route is known as the "Via Ratti - Grasselli".

He made his last climb in 1913.

However he was always and remained a member of the Club Alpino Italiano and often contributed articles for Club publications.

In Britain, there is a mountaineering club called The Achille Ratti Climbing Club

Christ Pantocrator, The Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily

The Cathedral of Monreale ("Santa Maria la Nuova,") in Monreale, Sicily, was begun about 1170 by William II, one of the Norman kings in northern Sicily. In 1182 the church, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, was, by a bull of Pope Lucius III, elevated to the rank of a metropolitan cathedral.

The mosaics of Monreale's duomo are grandiose, covering practically every inch of the vast interior. They extend to 6,500 m² or 68,220 square feet of glittering gold mosaics. It is the largest cycle of Byzantine mosaics in Italy.

Completed in 1182, the rich mosaic cycle adorning the walls shows scenes from the Old Testament (nave), Teachings of Christ (aisles, choir, and transepts), and the Gospels (side apses).

The design, execution and choice of subjects all appear to be of Byzantine origin, the subjects being selected from the Menologium drawn up by the emperor Basil II in the 10th century.

The cathedral's Latin-cross plan focuses on the imposing mosaic of Christ Pantocrator (the all-powerful Christ), which dates from the 12th or 13th century. The Byzantine mosaic decorations were executed by skilled Venetian and Moslem craftsmen.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Daniele da Volterra

Daniele da Volterra (1509-1566)
Sculpture of the head of Michelangelo (1564)
Fused from Michelangelo's death mask
Castello sforzesco, Milan

Daniele Ricciarelli (c. 1509 - April 4, 1566), better known as Daniele da Volterra, was an Italian mannerist painter and sculptor.

He was born in Volterra

As a boy, he initially studied with the Sienese artists Il Sodoma and Baldassare Peruzzi, but left.

In Rome he started working in the circle of Michelangelo and befriended him. It was this association which was the most influential on his life and on his artistic style.

Daniele is infamous for having covered over many of the genitals and backsides in Michelangelo's The Last Judgment fresco in the Sistine Chapel. It earned Daniele the nickname "Il Braghettone" (the trouser maker).

Volterra`s New Restaurant

Dominating Volterra is the Fortezza Medicea (Medici Fortress). It is now a top security prison housing about 200 lifers and long term prisoners, almost all southern Italians.

Apart from academics from The University of Pisa who are studying the architecture of this impressive building, it has been difficult to get in and almost impossible to get out.

But Zadok the Roman reports that it is now partly a very exclusive restaurant.

"Diners are flocking to what could perhaps be termed the most exclusive restaurant in Italy - one located inside a top security prison, where the chefs and waiters are Mafiosi, robbers and murderers.

Serenaded by Bruno, a pianist doing life for murder, the clientele eat inside a deconsecrated chapel set behind the 60 ft-high walls, watch towers, searchlights and security cameras of the daunting 500-year-old Fortezza Medicea, at Volterra near Pisa.

Under the watchful eye of armed prison warders, a 20-strong team of chefs, kitchen hands and waiters prepares 120 covers for diners who have all undergone strict security checks. Tables are booked up weeks in advance."

The prison is also well known for its “Compagnia della Fortezza”, one of Italy’s most well known and loved theatre groups. Many theatres would like to book them. The problem is that its members are inmates and cannot leave. Of its 200 inmates about 50 belong to the Compagnia della Fortezza. Their performances are in the square of the Fortezza di Volterra.

The fortress is really two forts. The Old Fortress, "Rocca Vecchia," was built on the rocky outcropping in the 1342 by Gualtieri di Brenne. After Lorenzo di Medici conquered Volterra in the 15th century, the Rocca Nuova was constructed between 1472 and 1475 to improve city defence, with a sturdy stone buildings and walls connecting the new and old fortress.

Monday, May 21, 2007

On the Road to Reason

In Britain, there is increasing secularisation in the public sphere, possibly even a hostility towards the religious ethic. It is particularly noticeable in the sphere where there are developments in the regulation of human fertility and embryology.

It can also be seen in the popularity of Dawkin`s views about God and religion.

It is now good copy to "knock" religion in the journals and broadsheets. Religion is often portrayed as utterly incompatible with Reason and Science. Backward, eccentric,even.

It is therefore perhaps not surprising that in the British press, no mention is made of the recent speeches of Cardinal Ruini.

At the International Book Fair in Turin on 11th May 2007, Cardinal Ruini delivered an address on the requirements for a positive encounter of Christianity with the dominant traits of contemporary culture.

Sandro Magister sets out the discourse in its entirety.

The speech traces in very broad lines a history of the encounter between Christian theology and cultures, from the Roman empire to the modern age, moving on from there to concentrate attention above all on the season that runs from Vatican Council II to today.

He describes the divergent interpretations that the Council has received within Catholic thought: and “that have divided Catholic theology and strongly influenced the Church's life.”

Like Pope Benedict XVI, he calls for dialogue with critical reason and quest for liberty in such a way as to open up this reason and this freedom, and to assimilate within the Christian faith the values that they contain:

"[T]he meaning of that program of “making more room for rationality” that Benedict XVI proposes with insistence, ... concerns both scientific reason and historical reason.

This program entails the twofold conviction that the revelation of God in Jesus Christ offers valuable assistance to reason in order to continue along its path, always more elaborated, complex, and specialized, without losing sight of its global horizon and the deeper questions, and moreover that precisely through the encounter with contemporary reason, faith and theology are stimulated to further explore the newness concerning the mystery of God and man that came to meet us in Jesus Christ.

In contributing to such a program, theology must not take on the rationalistic pretense of cogent demonstrations, as I have already referred to concerning the “praeambula fidei,” but rather must be aware of the limitations of its own discourse: thus, with regard to creative Logos, Joseph Ratzinger asserts that from the rational point of view this remains “the best hypothesis,” an hypothesis that requires on the part of man and his reason that he in turn renounce a position of dominion, and risk that of humble listening."

Some English speaking Reviews of "Jesus of Nazareth"

The Times carries a review of the Pope`s new book "JESUS OF NAZARETH: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration" (Bloomsbury £14.99 pp374 ) now published in English in Britain.

Wilson finds the book remarkable and "a startling break with Catholic tradition":

"Older Roman Catholic scholars will be wistful as they read: “I take for granted everything that...modern exegesis tells us about literary genres, about authorial intention, and about the fact that the Gospels were written in the context, and speak within the living milieu, of communities.” Any theologian who wrote those words during the pontificate of Pius X (1903-14) could easily have been branded a modernist, and excluded from a teaching office. Until the mid-20th century, any scholarly critical exegesis of the Scriptures was forbidden by Rome. Most Roman Catholic priests, until the last 20 years, would not have read the books quoted in this work for a simple reason: the pope of the day had forbidden them to do so. "

Wilson finds the purpose of the book a simple message:

"From the supposed “Rottweiler Pope” comes this gentle exposition of a simple idea: namely, that the Jesus of History and the Christ of Faith are one and the same, and that faith in Jesus Christ is reasonable. ...

[The Pope] sets out in this book to demonstrate that the central contention of the Catholic faith – Jesus was both God and man – was told to the disciples by the Man of Nazareth himself. "

Wilson does not find that the Book answers all the difficulties which he might encounter in trying to understand Jesus but:

"If this book will not satisfy every puzzled reader, it will explain why the book of the Gospels is carried so reverently at Catholic and Orthodox services – half as if it were a vulnerable child, half as if it were a time bomb that might explode.

One of the best passages in the Pope’s book defines the word Gospel, the saving message, as “not just informative speech, but performative – not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters the world to save and transform”.

Overall the review is favourable and also enlightening if perhaps at times not unduly respectful towards the Pope. His conclusion is summed up thus:

"[T]here is a dogged impressiveness about the Pope’s exposition of scene after scene from the Gospel, a reading that finds it more logical to worship the Christ of Faith in the Gospels than to invent the vestiges of some Jewish prophet who had his words distorted by some later theological genius. Jesus was the genius....

Wordy as the old German can be, this reader at least felt that he had repeatedly identified what was haunting, indeed frightening about the Gospels. No amount of reasonable liberal “explanation” can evade the voice that comes through them – calling the reader not to a set of propositions, nor to a theory, but to a Person, who is at one with God. "

I wonder what The Times Literary Supplement will have to say about the book.

Newsweek carries a number of reviews and articles on the book by the Pope including an excerpt in English.

They are

A Portrait of Faith subtitled: "With 'Jesus of Nazareth,' Pope Benedict XVI fights back against 'the dictatorship of relativism' by showing the world his vision of the definitive truth of Christ." which gives you an idea that the reviewer looks at the book in political terms rather than evaluating the book as a work of scholarship;

A Jesus Beyond Politics subtitled "Pope Benedict becomes the teacher he always wanted to be." and by George Weigel. A very sympathetic review perhaps summed up by the following passage:

"Jesus of Nazareth (and its promised successor volume) is a great summing-up of a lifetime of learning, refined into insight and understanding by a lifetime of praying the New Testament as well as studying it. If, amidst some familiar Ratzingerian themes, there is a new chord struck with particular force, it is Benedict XVI’s insistence, repeated several times, that a Christian Church faithful to its Lord cannot be a Church of power. Benedict does not quite describe Christianity’s alliance with state power as a Babylonian captivity. Still, he comes very close when he writes that “the temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in various forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus’ Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.” "; and

Book Excerpt: John wonders why Jesus has come down to the river. The answer is in the Cross and the salvation of the world..

How to Lobby the Pope

Time Magazine presents an interesting example of "How to Lobby the Pope" in this case: to get Pope Benedict XVI to mention the the United Nations World Food Program's annual worldwide anti-hunger march, Walk the World. The lobbying was successful.

The Madonna of Mercy

Piero della Francesca (1416/17-1492)
Polyptych of the Misericordia. 1445-62.
Mixed technique on panel. 273 x 330 cm.
Pinacoteca Comunale, Sansepolcro, Italy

Piero della Francesca (1416/17-1492)
Madonna of Mercy. Main panel of the Polyptych of the Misericordia. 1445-1462.
Mixed technique on panel. 134 x 91 cm.
Pinacoteca Comunale, Sansepolcro, Italy.

The Madonna of Misericord (Madonna of Mercy) is a devotional image expressing her votaries' faith in her as intercessor. A typical example of Madonna of Misericord is a scene where her votaries or commissioners are crowding beneath her outspread mantle.

The Misericordia Polyptych was commissioned in 1445. The contract called for it to be completed in 3 years. It took about 15 -20 years.

It stood in the Church of the Compagnia di Santa Maria della Misericordia, a group of pious laymen who performed works of charity in the town of Sansepolcro.

The centre of the work is the Madonna of Mercy (Misericordia). Her open mantle calls to mind the arch of the central panel. The great mantle open like a church apse, or as it has been described a "Bramantesque niche".

The Madonna is monumental and immobile. She opens her cloak to shelter the fervent faithful who, on their knees, pray for her mercy through their prayers.

Of the Madonna's face, Sir Kenneth Clark has written: "Piero's subtleties of tone reveal a shape remarkably like that of the finest Congo masks in the balance of convex and concave." This he qualifies however: "this head is in no way a mask. We never doubt that its formal consistency will continue all round, and it is a shock to realise that we shall never see the back."

The Virgin Mary embraces everybody: Piero himself in the most intimate part under the mantle, the unknown brother of the Compagnia, the rich man, the powerful man.

This group of figures balances perfectly the female group on the other side of the Virgin: the 15th century lady, the lower class woman, the old and the young.

About 1635 the frame, probably designed by Piero himself, was destroyed and replaced with an intricated baroque dorsal.

With the Napoleonic suppression of religious organisations at the beginning of the 19th century, the painting was split up and transferred to the church of S. Rocco.

In 1892, for the 4th centennial of Piero's death, the polypytch was exposed in the Museo Civico and was badly reconstructed putting the tables near to each other.

In 1901 it became the property of the Municipality.

In the Second World War, it was nearly destroyed as Sansepolcro was in the front line. In 1944, Anthony Clarke, the British officer in charge of the artillery, gave the order to temporarily cease fire. He had read a travel book by Aldous Huxley in which Huxley had described the Polyptych as the most beautiful painting he had ever seen. The next day the allies were able to take the town without firing a shot. Clarke then ensured the safety of the great work.

The present arrangement of the Polyptych dates from 1975. It is exposed in a special room.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Charterhouse of Pisa

The Charterhouse of Pisa only 3km from Pisa lies within the hills overlooking Pisa. It is sometimes called the Charterhouse of Calci from the name of the nearby village.

It is a Carthusian house founded in 1366. The present aspect of the extensive complex of buildings results from the remodeling in Baroque style which was carried out in the 17th and 18th century.

Visitors can be shown round the monastery only on conducted tours.

The main features of interest are the two cloisters (15th and 16th centuries) and the church, in pure Baroque style.

In the 1970s, the last monks left the monastery. Since 1981, the "Certosa di Pisa" hosts a Museum of Natural History.

Itala Mela (28 August 1904 - 29 April 1957), Servant of God

On 3rd May 2007, the Archbishop of Genova, Angelo Bagnasco, as Metropolitan of Liguria, travelled to the Cathedral of Cristo Re in La Spezia to preside over the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the death of Itala Mela, a Servant of God, who was born and who died in the city of La Spezia, a town on the coast half-way between Genova and Pisa.

Itala Mela was chosen by Ligurian bishops as the most significant figure amongst Italian Catholics in the 20th Century.

She was born in La Spezia to two teachers. Her parents were not religious. She was brought up by her maternal grandparents who prepared her for her first Confession and Communion. Her parents did not send her for her second Communion.

In 1920, tragedy struck the family. Her nine year old brother, Enrico, died suddenly. She wrote later of the feelings she and the family experienced: "Dopo la morte, il nulla”. After his death, nothing.

She attended the University at Genova. She appears to have been an outstanding student.

In December 1922, she appears to have undergone a radical transformation after having accepted an invitation to go to Confession and Communion. For her, it was the beginning of a new life.

In 1923, under the guidance of her Confessor, her faith deepened. She said: “Signore ti seguirò anche nelle tenebre, a costo di morire”. Lord, I shall follow you into the darkness, unto Death.

As a student she joined FUCI, a national grouping of Catholic university students. The future Pope Paul VI was an important influence on this group. From this association came many of the leaders of the Christian Democrats after the fall of Fascism and in the reconstruction of Italy after the Second World War: Andreotti and Moro were both leading lights of the Association.

She continued to deepen her faith. In 1928 before the tabernacle in the church of the seminary at Pontremoli, she had her first vision of God: a ray of light and a voice or realisation

In 1928,she transferred to Milan and Mons. Adriano Bernareggi (later to become Bishop of Bergamo) became her confessor. She considered and pondered a vocation in the Benedictine order.

In 1933, she completed her novitiate and in S.Paolo fuori le Mura in Rome, she took her four vows (virginity, poverty, obedience and transformation of her life) as an Oblate in the Benedictine Order. She took as her name: Maria della Trinità. Her name summarised her devotions: the Mystery of the Trinity and Mary.

Illness prevented her proceeding further as a religious. In 1933, she returned to La Spezia.

From then until her death in 1957, she proceeded with her religious vocation.

In 1941 she presented a Memorial to Pope Pius XII who accepted it.

A mystic. Her writings. Her idea of the “famiglia sacerdotale”. All centred on her idea of her experience of visions of the Mystery of the Trinity, and its relation to Mary.

Her body was transferred in 1983 to a special tomb in the Crypt of the Cathedral of Cristo Re in La Spezia.

The vice postulator of her cause is Don Gianluigi Bagnasco. The validation of the Diocesan inquest was in 1992. Her cause is promoted by the Convent of S. Maria del Mare, P.zzale S. Stefano, 1, 19020 Marinasco, located in the village of Marinasco overlooking La Spezia.

Most writings about her are in Italian.

Reference is made to:

Links to websites regarding Itala Mela

Madonna with Angels and Saints

LORENZETTI, Ambrogio (b. ca. 1290, Siena, d. 1348, Siena)
Madonna with Angels and Saints (Maestà) c. 1335
Tempera on wood, 155 x 206 cm
Municipio, Massa Marittima

Ambrogio Lorenzetti (or Ambruogio Laurati; c. 1290 - June 9, 1348) was an Italian painter of the Sienese school. He was active between approximately from 1317 to 1348. His brother was the painter Pietro Lorenzetti.

La Madonna delle Grazie

Attributed to DUCCIO di Buoninsegna
(b. ca. 1255, d. 1319, Siena)
La Madonna delle Grazie, (1318)
Cathedral, Massa Marittima

Baptismal Font and Tabernacle at Massa Marittima

In the Cathedral of San Cerbone, the Baptismal Font is carved from a single block of travertine and dates from 1267. It was executed by Como, Giroldo (di Jacopo) [ also known as da Giroldo da Lugano] who was active in the period 1267-74. There are works by him in other parts of Tuscany: San Miniato in the Cathedral, the Duomo in Carrara, at Badia di S. Maria near Montepiano,and at Volterra in the Baptistry.

Three sides of the font depict scenes from the life of St John the Baptist. The fourth represents his Glorification.

Of note is the use of Greek characters on the font. Massa had contacts with the Far East through its trade links. Another source of Greek learning was the presence in Massa of Irish influence through Simone l'Irlandese.

Originally, when built, baptism was by immersion.

The marble Tabernacle balancing above it dates back to the year 1447 and is decorated according to the criteria of the “Medieval Bestiaries”, with scenes from the Bible and the Gospels. On top is a statue of St John the Baptist.

Amongst those baptised at the font was Saint Bernardino of Siena (September 8, 1380 – May 20, 1444) the Italian preacher, Franciscan missionary and Christian saint. Bernardino was born in 1380 to the noble Albizeschi family in Massa Marittima, of which his father was then governor.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Arca of Saint Cerbone, Massa Marittima

The Duomo of St Cerbone at Massa Marittima

Tomb of St Cerbone 1324
Duomo, Massa Marittima

Saint Cerbone Healing the Sick 1324
Marble, height of portion shown cm 37. Detail on Tomb of Saint Cerbone, 1324.
Cathedral, Massa Marittima

St Cerbone Being Thrown to the Bears (detail) 1324
Marble, height: 37 cm (size of detail)
Duomo, Massa Marittima
The picture shows a detail of the relief on the Tomb of Saint Cerbone, representing the scene of St Cerbone being thrown to the bears by the barbarian Totila. The beasts can be seen at the Bishop's feet, the barbarian is in the box on the left.

St Cerbone before the Pope 1324
Marble, height: 37 cm
Cathedral, Massa Marittima

Massa Marittima is a town in the Maremma (southwest of Tuscany) not yet adversely affected by the tourist trade.

Its patron is Saint Cerbone, a former bishop of the town in the sixth century.

The Duomo is dedicated to him. The Duomo itself was first built in a pre-Romanesque style in the 12th century in order to shelter the remains of St. Cerbone. The majestic façade of the Duomo in Romanesque style has relief panels depicting St. Cerbone’s life.

His remains rest in the Arca, a tomb shrine, which is within the Duomo.

The Arca was executed in 1324 by the Sienese sculptor, Goro di Gregorio (active in the first half of 14th century in Siena). He was an artist from the Sienese school of sculptors formed in Siena under Nicola and Giovanni Pisano in the 13th- and 14th-centuries.

On each side of the Arca are episodes of the saint’s life.

Until the 1950s the Arca was located beneath the high altar of the cathedral. It is now located in the early fourteenth-century choir of the cathedral. It has been suggested that the arca was only placed beneath the high altar in the 1480s and that prior to this date, the Arca was a free-standing monument located in the north aisle of the cathedral.