Friday, July 31, 2009

Prayer Without End

Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693)
Old Woman at Prayer, known as 'Prayer without End'
c. 1656
Oil on canvas
134 x 113 cm
The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Nicolaes Maes was one of Rembrandt's most gifted pupils

A pious old woman is saying grace. On the table a simple meal has been prepared: bread, porridge, butter and salmon. A cat attempts a furtive attack

The hour-glass is a symbol of passing time. The Bible, the prayer book and the lamp tell us that God's word enlightens the soul.

Although there is salmon on the table, Maes has painted simple fare. Salmon was an everyday food in the seventeenth century.

A closer look reveals that the cat is not entirely accurately depicted.

"Without Thy presence, nought, O Lord, is sweet,
No pleasure to our lips can aught supply.
Whether 'tis wine we drink or food we eat,
Till Grace divine and Faith shall sanctify
From Prudentius (5th century) Cath. Hymn., III, Ante cib., ii, 10 sq

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Right to be Assisted to Die (Assisted Suicide)

The last case to be decided by the House of Lords before the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords is replaced by the new Supreme Court takes over its functions has been determined today.

Unfortunately the case is "the assisted suicide" case: Purdy v Director of Public Prosecutions.

Debbie Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, won a landmark victory in the House of Lords today in her fight to allow her husband to help her commit suicide.

The judges backed her call for a policy statement from the Director of Public Prosecutions on the circumstances in which a person such as her husband might face prosecution for helping a loved one end their life abroad.

This is despite the fact that Parliament recently refused to accept an amendment to the Suicide Act 1961 which would have allowed persons to escape prosecution for cases for assisting suicide abroad, the House of Lords has decided that the DPP must set out the circumstances in which it would prosecute in such cases.

In effect the law has been changed when Parliament recently voted not to amend the law on this important point

The full judgement can be read here.

Unfortunately no account seems to have been taken of Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects the right of every person to their life.

In certain circumstances Article 2 imposes a duty on States to take positive action and active measures to save lives.

In particular it would seem to run counter to the decision of the Suropean Court of Human Rights in Pretty v. the United Kingdom (Judgment of 29 April 2002) when it considered both Articles 2 and 8.

In that case Mrs Pretty was paralysed as a result of a degenerative and terminal illness, and sought a guarantee from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) that her husband, if he helped her to commit suicide, would be immune from prosecution. Her intellect and capacity to make decisions remained unimpaired by the illness. She emphasised her determination to control how and when she died, but her disease prevented her from committing suicide which is legal under UK law.

The Court declined to hold that the present system was in breach of the ECHR.

In that case the European Court said of the present system:

"It does not appear to be arbitrary to the Court for the law to reflect the importance of the right to life, by prohibiting assisted suicide while providing for a system of enforcement and adjudication which allows due regard to be given in each particular case to the public interest in bringing a prosecution, as well as to the fair and proper requirements of retribution and deterrence.

Nor in the circumstances is there anything disproportionate in the refusal of the DPP to give an advance undertaking that no prosecution would be brought against the applicant’s husband. Strong arguments based on the rule of law could be raised against any claim by the executive to exempt individuals or classes of individuals from the operation of the law.

In any event, the seriousness of the act for which immunity was claimed was such that the decision of the DPP to refuse the undertaking sought in the present case cannot be said to be arbitrary or unreasonable."

Already the Director of Public Prosecutions has made it clear that his new guidelines will be published as soon as possible.

Further that the guidelines will cover all assisted suicides not simply those suicides committed abroad in jurisdictions where suicide is legal.

Of course, it will not be long before people start to campaign that the law should be changed to reflect the then administrative practice. And the argument will be difficult to resist.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Charity of St John Of God

One of the most beautiful of Murillo`s paintings still in situ in the Church of St George in the Hospital de la Caridad in Seville is one of two paintings by Murillo of St John of God (San Juan de Dios)

In 2006 it was restored by a team at the Prado Museum

St John of God is shown carrying a poor but heavy man on his back. It is a night scene and there is no other light than from the Angel Gabriel who suddenly appears to help the Saint carry the beggar. The drama rests in the gaze between the Angel and the Saint

The saint (1495-1550) was and is a popular saint and is the patron saint of hospitals, the sick, nurses, firefighters, alcoholics, and booksellers

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. ca.1617-1682
La caída de San Juan de Dios 1672-74
Oil on canvas
Hospital de la Caridad, Seville, Andalucia

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hospital de la Caridad, Seville

Hospital de la Caridad, Seville, Andalucia

Portal, Church, Hospital de la Caridad, Seville, Andalucia,

High Altar, Church, Hospital de la Caridad, Seville, Andalucia

Patio, Cloister , Hospital de la Caridad, Seville, Andalucia

Another Two Allegories by Juan de Valdés Leal

Juan de Valdés Leal (1630 - 1691)
Allegory of the Crown of Life 1655 - 1665
Oil on canvas
127 x 95 cm
The Art Gallery, York

Juan de Valdés Leal (1630 - 1691)
Vanitas/ Allegory of Vanity 1660
Oil on Canvas
Dimensions: 51 7/16 x 39 1/8 in.
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford

The two allegories are companion pieces which were painted by de Valdés Leal and were commissioned by Don Miguel de Mañara to hang at the Hospital de la Caridad in Seville

Now several thousand miles separate the two works.

The first painting has many titles:

An Allegory of the Crown of Life, also called A Jesuit Conversion, An Allegory of Salvation and An Allegory of Repentance

The human figure in the first painting bears an uncanny resemblance to Don Miguel de Mañara

The Crown of Life was a traditional symbol of grace

The title "Crown of Life" refers to the Biblical passage from the Epistle of St James:

"Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he hath been proved, he shall receive a crown of life, which God hath promised to them that love him." (James 1,12; cf. 2 Timothy 4,8; Revelation 2,10)

A crown can be a sign of festive joy, used at weddings and festivals in olden times . It can be a mark of royalty and those in authority. It can refer to victory, as in a crown of laurels given to the victorious athlete in games. It can also be a mark of honour or of dignity.

In Reformation times a few theologians, most notably Martin Luther, argued that the Epistle of St James was too defective to be part of the canonical New Testament. This is probably due to the book's specific teaching that faith alone is not enough for salvation (James 2:24), which seemed to contradict Luther's doctrine of sola fide (faith alone).

The Council of Trent dogmatically defined the Epistle of St. James to be canonical. The emphasis given to the Epistle was one of the distinguishing marks of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.

Don Miguel de Mañara`s message was that the Christian can achieve eternal salvation only through charity and good works not through contemplation and faith alone

When Miguel de Mañara died in 1679, his will expressly forbade spending money on a pompous funeral because he wanted to leave his money to the poor. He left all his wealth, except for small amounts given to long-time servants, to the Hospital de la Santa Caridad.

He directed that a verse be written over the place where he was buried in the floor of the church: "Here lie the remains of the worst man that has ever lived. Pray to God for him."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Shared Vision Before Death in Ostia

Antonio Vivarini 1405-1484
Birth of Saint Augustine
Tempera on panel
height: 32.7 cm; width: 25.3 cm
The Courtauld institute, London

St Augustine`s Confessions, Book 9 details how in March 387, St Augustine, Alypius, and his son, Adeodatus, were all baptized in Milan. His state of happiness came to an end with the death of his son a short time later

After this, the group including his mother, Monica, decided to return to Africa to dedicate their lives to the service of God. On the way back to Thagaste, they stopped at Ostia, the port of Rome to await the boat to Africa.

At Ostia, while they were still waiting for the boat that would take them back, Augustine describes how he and his mother were looking out upon a garden in the house where they were staying in Ostia. While they are reflecting on the joys of the next life, the two have a joint mystical experience

The results of this vision at Ostia differed completely from that of the vision in Milan. As in the former vision, Augustine’s soul ascends upward towards "that region of never-failing plenty," where he briefly intuits the bliss of heavenly existence, though barely touching it with the "whole strength of [his] hearts’ impulse." The entire experience is described as "a moment of comprehension" (momentum intelligentiae) and ends as suddenly as it began with Augustine’s returning to his normal state.

This time at Ostia , however, the experience does not end in ever greater misery and despair, but rather a greater sense of peace and hope. As opposed to the first vision, in which he was pulled away from God by the weight (pondus) of how own carnal habit, the vision at Ostia reinforced his belief that the goods of the world, over which he had previously lusted, are nothing compared to the joy of resting in God for all eternity.

Shortly after their experience at Ostia, Monica fell into a fever and died at the age of 56. Augustine`s sorrow and pain was intense.


23. As the day now approached on which she was to depart this life--a day which you knew, but which we did not--it happened (though I believe it was by your secret ways arranged) that she and I stood alone, leaning in a certain window from which the garden of the house we occupied at Ostia could be seen. Here in this place, removed from the crowd, we were resting ourselves for the voyage after the fatigues of a long journey.

We were conversing alone very pleasantly and “forgetting those things which are past, and reaching forward toward those things which are future. We were in the present--and in the presence of Truth (which you are)--discussing together what is the nature of the eternal life of the saints: which eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man. We opened wide the mouth of our hearts, thirsting for those supernatural streams of your fountain, “the fountain of life” which is with you, that we might be sprinkled with its waters according to our capacity and might in some measure weigh the truth of so profound a mystery.

24. And when our conversation had brought us to the point where the very highest of physical sense and the most intense illumination of physical light seemed, in comparison with the sweetness of that life to come, not worthy of comparison, nor even of mention, we lifted ourselves with a more ardent love toward the Selfsame, and we gradually passed through all the levels of bodily objects, and even through the heaven itself, where the sun and moon and stars shine on the earth. Indeed, we soared higher yet by an inner musing, speaking and marvelling at your works.

And we came at last to our own minds and went beyond them, that we might climb as high as that region of unfailing plenty where you feed Israel forever with the food of truth, where life is that Wisdom by whom all things are made, both which have been and which are to be. Wisdom is not made, but is as she has been and forever shall be; for “to have been” and “to be hereafter” do not apply to her, but only “to be,” because she is eternal and “to have been” and “to be hereafter” are not eternal.

And while we were so speaking and straining after her, we just barely touched her with the whole effort of our hearts.

Then with a sigh, leaving the first fruits of the Spirit bound to that ecstasy, we returned to the sounds of our own tongue, where the spoken word had both beginning and end. But what is like to your Word, our Lord, who remains in himself without becoming old, and “makes all things new”

25. What we said went something like this: “If to any man the tumult of the flesh were silenced; and the phantoms of earth and waters and air were silenced; and the poles were silent as well; indeed, if the very soul grew silent to herself, and went beyond herself by not thinking of herself; if fancies and imaginary revelations were silenced; if every tongue and every sign and every transient thing--for actually if any man could hear them, all these would say, ‘We did not create ourselves, but were created by Him who lives forever’--and if, having uttered this, they too should be silent, having stirred our ears to hear him who created them; and if then he alone spoke, not through them but by himself, that we might hear his word, not in fleshly tongue or angelic voice, nor sound of thunder, nor the obscurity of a parable, but might hear him--him for whose sake we love these things--if we could hear him without these, as we two now strained ourselves to do, we then with rapid thought might touch on that Eternal Wisdom which abides over all.

And if this could be sustained, and other visions of a far different kind be taken away, and this one should so ravish and absorb and envelop its beholder in these inward joys that his life might be eternally like that one moment of knowledge which we now sighed after--would not this be the reality of the saying, ‘Enter into the joy of thy Lord’. But when shall such a thing be? Shall it not be ‘when we all shall rise again,’ and shall it not be that ‘all things will be changed’

26. Such a thought I was expressing, and if not in this manner and in these words, still, O Lord, you know that on that day we were talking in this way and that this world, with all its joys, seemed cheap to us even as we spoke.

Then my mother said: “Son, for myself I have no longer any pleasure in anything in this life. Now that my hopes in this world are satisfied, I do not know what more I want here or why I am here. There was indeed one thing for which I wished to delay a little in this life, and that was that I might see you a Catholic Christian before I died. My God has answered this more than abundantly, so that I see you now made his servant and spurning all earthly happiness. What more am I to do here?”


27. I do not well remember what reply I made to her about this. However, it was scarcely five days later--certainly not much more--that she was prostrated by fever. While she was sick, she fainted one day and was for a short time quite unconscious. We hurried to her, and when she soon regained her senses, she looked at me and my brother as we stood by her, and said, questioningly, “Where was I?” Then looking intently at us, dumb in our grief, she said, “Here in this place shall you bury your mother.”

I was silent and held back my tears; but my brother said something, wishing her the happier lot of dying in her own country and not abroad. When she heard this, she fixed him with her eye and an anxious countenance, because he savoured of such earthly concerns, and then gazing at me she said, “See how he speaks.” Soon after, she said to us both: “Lay this body anywhere, and do not let the care of it be a trouble to you at all. Only this I ask: that you will remember me at the Lord’s altar, wherever you are.” And when she had expressed her wish in such words as she could, she fell silent, in heavy pain with her increasing sickness.

28. But as I thought about thy gifts, O invisible God, which you plant in the heart of your faithful ones, from which such marvellous fruits spring up, I rejoiced and gave thanks to you, remembering what I had known of how she had always been much concerned about her burial place, which she had provided and prepared for herself by the body of her husband. For as they had lived very peacefully together, her desire had always been--so little is the human mind capable of grasping things divine--that this last should be added to all that happiness, and commented on by others: that, after her pilgrimage beyond the sea, it would be granted her that the two of them, so united on earth, should lie in the same grave.

When this vanity, through the gift of your goodness, had begun to be no longer in her heart, I do not know; but I joyfully marvelled at what she had thus disclosed to me--though indeed in our conversation in the window, when she said, “What is there here for me to do anymore?” she appeared not to desire to die in her own country.

I heard later on that, during our stay in Ostia, she had been talking in maternal confidence to some of my friends about her contempt of this life and the blessing of death. When they were amazed at the courage which was given her, a woman, and had asked her whether she did not dread having her body buried so far from her own city, she replied: “Nothing is far from God. I do not fear that, at the end of time, he should not know the place whence he is to resurrect me.” And so on the ninth day of her sickness, in the fifty-sixth year of her life and the thirty-third of mine, that religious and devout soul was set loose from the body.”

Two Allegories

Juan de Valdés Leal 1622-1690
In Ictu Oculi
Oil on canvas, 220 x 216 cm
Hospital de la Caridad, Seville

Juan de Valdés Leal 1622-1690
Finis Gloriae Mundi
Oil on canvas, 220 x 216 cm
Hospital de la Caridad, Seville

These two paintings stand above and opposite the entrance to the Church of the Hospital de la Caridad in Seville. They are known together as The Hieroglyphs (or Allegories) of Death or the Last Days (Los Ieroglificos de nuestras postrimerias o Los muertos)

The present Hospital and the Chapel were commissioned by Miguel de Mañara, a curious 17th-century sevillano often likened to Don Juan. After a scandalous youth of seduction and deceit he reformed completely after seeing a vision of his own death and dedicated himself to a life of charity and religion. See below

Juan de Valdés Leal 1622-1690
Don Miguel de Mañara leyendo la Regla de la Santa Caridad
Oil on canvas. 196 x 225 cm.
Hospital de la Caridad. Salón de Cabildos. Seville

In Ictu Oculi (“In the Blink of an Eye”) depicts a leering skeletal Death with a scythe, putting out a candle with one hand while trampling over objects that represent wordly wealth, power, and knowledge.

Finis Gloriae Mundi (‘The end of wordly glory’) depicts a crypt in which a dead bishop and knight are being eaten by worms. Above, a balance is borne by the hand of Christ. On one side are symbols of the seven deadly sins, on the other side symbols of a holy love of God and Christ. “Neither more nor less” read the words on the scales.

The face of the knight is thought to be that of Mañara

Both are meditations on the Day of Last Judgement.

The Brotherhood which was responsible for the Hospital and the Chapel were responsible for many acts of charitable works in contemporary Seville. (Indeed the Hospital still functions today as a charitable institution)

One of their main functions was the burial of the dead. In those days, often the poor who died were left lying in the street, unmourned for and unburied. In 1649, the city of Seville was afflicted by an outbreak of bubonic plague. Death was not the unknown unseen hygienic event that it is today in modern Western societies.

Both works are amongst the finest of the religious painter, Juan de Valdés Leal and are amongst the finest of the Spanish baroque.

Inside the chapel were and are great works by Juan de Valdés Leal, Murillo, Pedro Roldán and Bernardo Simón de Pineda. The works inside depict works of charity by saints, and from the Life of Christ.

They show Love given and Love received. At the place of the reception of Charity, they were meant to inspire the members of the Brotherhood and others to give Love.

The gentleness that suffuses Murillo's eleven canvases, depicting acts of Christian charity contrasts sharply with the two paintings at the entrance to the Chapel

One cannot really contemplate the pictures without knowledge of the context. Without some explanation, the masterpieces of Juan de Valdés Leal may appear to some as simply ghoulish Gothic horror stories equivalent to today`s horror comics or horror films. They are certainly chilling works and leave nothing to the imagination.

If they were taken away and put in a Museum or Art Gallery, their significance would be greatly diminished. They might be at the most regarded as vanitas or momento mori works.

Ictus oculi is the Latin expression for the time taken to blink. It is the Latin equivalent of the Greek atomos. In medieval times the atomos was the shortest possible unit of time. It was indivisible and was calculated at 15/94 of a second.

The phrase evokes Paul’s description of the general resurrection on the Last Day, which will happen in ictu oculi (1 Corinthians 15:52).

1 Cor. 15.50-54, reads:

`hoc autem dico, fratres: quia caro et sanguis regnum dei possidere non possunt neque corruptio incorruptelam possidebit.

(51) ecce mysterium vobis dico: omnes quidem resurgemus, sed non omnes immutabimur

(52) in momento, in ictu oculi, in novissima tuba: canet enim tuba, et mortui resurgent incorrupti: et nos immutabimur.

(53) oportet enim corruptibile hoc induere incorruptionem: et mortale hoc induere immortalitatem.

(54) cum autem mortale hoc induerit immortalitatem tunc fiet sermo qui scriptus est, “absorpta est mors in victoria.” [Is. 25.8]'

“50Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.

51Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,

52In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

53For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

54So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”

St Augustine in his Confessions uses the phrase at the one of the most important points in his narrative of his life. It is at his intellectual conversion in Milan when he “sees” or recognises or appreciates God`s invisible nature: when he hears the voice calling out to him “tolle lege” and his subsequent reaction to reading of another passage from St Paul (pervenit ad id quod est in ictu trepidantis aspectus (Confessions 7.17.23)).

In describing what happened in Milan, the phrase “ictus occuli ” is used at the apex of the pilgrim`s ascent when he touches God (or God touched him) but only for the briefest of moments.

The soul is left yearning for deeper union. Later books and chapters include the account of Augustine`s second and more important vision in Ostia (Confessions 9.10.25). The first nine chapters of the Confessions are the story of Augustine`s ascent to God. The Confessions go on further after that.

Boethius in De Cons. 5.2 said that “ictus oculi` described the speed of God` mind which can see all things in a blink, taking in past, present and future

The two references in St Paul and St Augustine were well known. The First Letter of St Paul to the Corinthians was and is quoted at Easter time masses and in funeral Masses. The story of St Augustine in Milan was a frequent subject of religious art. His Confessions were read widely.

A year after his works in the Hospital de la Caridad, de Valdés Leal had an opportunity to return to St Augustine but in an indirect way: to depict the Baptism of St Augustine. The painting now hangs in St Louis. See below. The painting is part of a series of Life of St. Ambrose, part of the Spinola Altarpiece, commissioned for the oratory of Archepiscopal Palace in Seville. But one does wonder if the proper title has been adhibited to this painting. Did St Ambrose convert St Augustine ?

Juan de Valdés Leal 1622-1690
St Ambrose converting and baptising Saint Augustine
Oil on canvas 165 x 109 cm.
The Art Museum, Saint Louis

Mindful of the references in St Paul and St Augustine, Petrarch in his letter regarding The Ascent of Mount Ventoux (Epistolae familiares (IV, 1)) used a similar expression.

The outer world may have motivated Petrarch to climb Mont Ventoux, but the inner world is what he discovered when he reached the top and read the passage from Augustine's Confessions.

On the trip down, Petrarch reflected on the vanity of human wishes and the nobility of uncorrupted human thought:

“As if suddenly wakened from sleep, I turned about and gazed toward the west. I was unable to discern the summits of the Pyrenees, which form the barrier between France and Spain; not because of any intervening obstacle that I know of but owing simply to the insufficiency of our mortal vision.

But I could see with the utmost clearness, off to the right, the mountains of the region about Lyons, and to the left the bay of Marseilles and the waters that lash the shores of Aigues Mortes, although' all these places were so distant that it would require a journey of several days to reach them. Under our very eyes flowed the Rhone.

While I was thus dividing my thoughts, now turning my attention to some terrestrial object that lay before me, now raising my soul, as I had done my body, to higher planes, it occurred to me to look into my copy of St. Augustine's Confessions, a gift that I owe to your love, and that I always have about me, in memory of both the author and the giver.

I opened the compact little volume, small indeed in size, but of infinite charm, with the intenition of reading whatever came to hand, for I could happen upon nothing that would be otherwise than edifying and devout. Now it chanced that the tenth book presented itself.

My brother, waiting to hear something of St. Augustine's from my lips, stood attentively by. I call him, and God too, to witness that where I first fixed my eyes it was written: "And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not."

I was abashed, and, asking my brother (who was anxious to hear more), not to annoy me, I closed the book, angry with myself that I should still be admiring earthly things who might long ago have learned from even the pagan philosophers that nothing is wonderful but the soul, which, when great itself, finds nothing great outside itself.

Then, in truth, I was satisfied that I had seen enough of the mountain; I turned my inward eye upon myself, and from that time not a syllable fell from my lips until we reached the bottom again. Those words had given me occupation enough, for I could not believe that it was by a mere accident that I happened upon them. What I had there read I believed to be addressed to me and to no other, remembering that St. Augustine had once suspected the same thing in his own case, when, on opening the book of the Apostle, as he himself tells us, the first words that he saw there were, "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”...

I thought in silence of the lack of good counsel in us mortals, who neglect what is noblest in ourselves, scatter our energies in all directions, and waste ourselves in a vain show, because we look about us for what is to be found only within. I wondered at the natural nobility of our soul, save when it debases itself of its own free will, and deserts its original estate, turning what God has given it for its honour into dishonour.

How many times, think you, did I turn back that day, to glance at the summit of the mountain which seemed scarcely a cubit high compared with the range of human contemplation, - when it is not immersed in the foul mire of earth?

With every downward step I asked myself this: If we are ready to endure so much sweat and labour in order that we may bring our bodies a little nearer heaven, how can a soul struggling toward God, up the steps of human pride and human destiny, fear any cross or prison or sting of fortune? How few, I thought, but are diverted from their path by the fear of difficulties or the love of ease! How happy the lot of those few, if any such there be! It is of them, assuredly, that the poet was thinking, when he wrote:

Happy the man who is skilled to understand
Nature's hid causes; who beneath his feet
All terrors casts, and death's relentless doom,
And the loud roar of greedy Acheron.

How earnestly should we strive, not to stand on mountain-tops, but to trample beneath us those appetites which spring from earthly impulses?”

The paintings stand at the entrance of the chapel. The paintings and their visions are at the beginning of the contemplation which starts the ascent of the viewer to God. The paintings and their location outside the Chapel of Charity may be compared to Milan or the top of Mount Ventoux . By entering inside the Chapel of Charity, one advances towards Ostia and beyond. In their locations, they are a reminder that conversion may not be a “one off”. It may be part of a journey which lasts a lifetime.

On Wednesday, 27 February 2008 Pope Benedict XVI said of St Augustine:

“Today, it is still possible to trace St Augustine's experiences, thanks above all to the Confessions, written to praise God and which are at the origin of one of the most specific literary forms of the West, the autobiography or personal expression of one's self-knowledge.

Well, anyone who encounters this extraordinary and fascinating book, still widely read today, soon realizes how Augustine's conversion was not sudden nor fully accomplished at the beginning, but which can be defined rather as a true and proper journey that remains a model for each one of us.

This itinerary certainly culminated with his conversion and then with baptism, but it was not concluded in that Easter Vigil of the year 387, when the African rhetorician was baptized in Milan by Bishop Ambrose. Augustine's journey of conversion, in fact, humbly continued to the very end of his life, so much so that one can truly say that his various steps - and three can be easily distinguished - are one single great conversion. “

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Not so Bloody Mary ?

Anthonius Mor (ca.1517-1577)
Mary Tudor, Queen of England, second wife of Felipe II (1554)
Oil on canvas 109,00 cm x 84,00 cm
The Royal Collection, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Four recently published books offer a reappraisal of the role and significance of Queen Mary I (Mary Tudor) of England, more popularly known as “Bloody Mary”.

She was the daughter of King Henry VIII and Catharine of Aragon and reigned over England and Ireland from from 19 July 1553 until her death on 17 November 1558. She succeeded her brother Edward VI and was in turn succeeded by her half-sister “Gloriana”, Queen Elizabeth I

In 1554, she married Felipe II of Spain. Prior to that she had been engaged to Carlos V, who kept the above portrait with him when he retired to the Monastery of Yuste.

Her re-establishment of Roman Catholicism in England was reversed by Elizabeth I.

The four books are:

Eamon Duffy, FIRES OF FAITH: Catholic England under Mary Tudor 240pp. Yale University Press. £19.99 (US $28.50).

Linda Porter , MARY TUDOR: The first Queen 464pp. Piaktus. Paperback, £9.99.; US: St Martin’s Press. $27.95

Anna Whitelock , MARY TUDOR: England’s first Queen 384pp. Bloomsbury. £20.

Judith M. Richards, MARY TUDOR 264pp. Routledge. £14.99 (US $27.95).

The four books are each reviewed in The Times Literary Supplement (Review by Peter Marshall, Professor of History at the University of Warwick)

The reviews but especially the review in The Telegraph (Review by Noel Malcolm) show that the rehabilitation of Mary still arouses deep and contrary passions.

Most interesting is the attempt by Professor Duffy at the total rehabilitation of Mary as a wise and beneficent ruler who should not be seen as a cruel tyrant.

Here is an extract from the review in the TLS. However as the reviewer points out, the attempt at rehabilitation is not without its difficulties when one looks at the historical record:

“And yet there is a problem, a fiery road-block to the rehabilitation of “Bloody Mary”. What of those 300-odd Protestant dissenters, who died, horribly, at the stake for holding resolutely to opinions of which the Queen disapproved?

Whitelock and Porter deal fleetingly with the burnings; Richards more robustly insists that we not view them through modern eyes, while struggling to establish the extent of Mary’s personal responsibility for the policy.

Eamon Duffy’s Fires of Faith makes clear in its title that the issue cannot be ignored, and that the campaign of religious persecution is central to his assessment of the religious policies of the regime.

This is in some ways the paying of an old debt. Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars (1992) contained a brilliant rereading of Marian Catholicism, stressing its creativity and far-sightedness, but there Duffy consciously chose not to deal with the burnings, and as a result, his picture of the regime’s policies and priorities was inevitably partial. The invitation to deliver the Birkbeck Lectures at Cambridge in 2007–08 provided an opportunity to redress the imbalance, or rather to seek to remove what Duffy regards as the last remaining obstacle to a comprehensively positive reassessment of the aims and achievements of the Marian restoration.

His thesis, baldly stated, is that the policy of religious persecution, conventionally regarded as disorganized and deeply counter-productive, was in fact not only inevitable, but also competently directed and largely successful. Over the course of its three-and-a-half years, the campaign against heresy intensified, the authorities seizing the initiative and holding their nerve, as Protestants were increasingly burnt in larger batches and in fewer places. The fact that by 1557 a high proportion of the victims were repeat offenders suggests that the regime had isolated a core of recidivists, and the tailing-off of the burnings in 1558 may be a sign that there were fewer zealots around to execute, as much as of the economic and political disruptions of that year.

In spectacularly overturning the accepted narrative, Duffy supplies a masterclass in against-the-grain readings of the historical record, as his principal source is Foxe, whose Acts and Monuments is now available online in all its versions. Against his own intentions, Foxe can be made to show that popular support for the martyrs was often limited, and that the Marian authorities frequently went to remarkable lengths to try to save prisoners from the flames, albeit by demanding a (sometimes minimal) recantation of their beliefs.

Some critics will accuse Duffy of acting as apologist for a campaign of violent repression, but this would scarcely be fair: “confronted by the sanctified savageries of the Tudor age, it would be a hard heart that withheld pity from the victims or felt no indignation against the perpetrators”.

Nonetheless, he argues that we should respect the uncomfortable alterity of the past (where religious leaders on all sides saw death as the appropriate punishment for heresy), and try to put aside modern humanitiarian sensibilities in the cause of sober historical understanding. Yet this does not prevent Duffy from pursuing his brief with verve and gusto, or from taking evident delight in the exposure of platitudes and the debunking of myths. “Pure invention” is his judgement on the famous last words attributed by Foxe to Bishop Latimer, addressing his companion at the stake: “Be of good comfort Master Ridley, and play the man: we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as (I trust) shall never be put out”.

Occasionally, the rhetorical pudding feels over-egged: there were certainly more (often genuine) reconversions of Protestants to Catholicism at the start of the reign than previous scholars were aware of, or wanted to admit, though whether this really qualifies as a “tidal wave” is questionable.

There is faith as well as fire in Duffy’s account: a key concern is to situate the burnings in the context of a Catholic restoration that was articulate, coherent and authentic. The arguments of judges and interrogators at heresy trials were of a piece with those hammered home in propaganda tracts, journalistic pamphlets, devotional writings and a concerted homiletic campaign: the idea that the Marian authorities were suspicious of preaching is another debunkable myth, as is what Duffy terms A. G. Dickens’s “fatuous” claim that the tragedy of the Marian regime was its failure “to discover the Counter-Refomation”. Marian Catholicism was in fact at the forefront of new devotional currents. Some of this has already been demonstrated in Duffy’s earlier work.

The fresh value of Fires of Faith is two-fold.

First, Duffy brings out more clearly than any previous commentator just how much later Catholicism, in England and internationally, owed to the reconstructed, and intellectually and morally stiffened, Church of Mary Tudor. That all but one of Mary’s bishops refused the Elizabethan Oath of Supremacy is well known, as is the post-1559 exodus of leading figures from the University of Oxford – and to a lesser extent, Cambridge. But Duffy is able to demonstrate that a clear majority of cathedral dignitaries (people one might expect to be Trollopean timeservers) also refused to serve the new regime, and hints – further research is required on this – that there may have been much more resistance among the parish clergy than has often been supposed.

Marian clerics in exile, like Nicholas Sander, went on to play important roles in the final sessions of the Council of Trent, where two of the decrees of the 1555 Westminster Synod – on episcopal residence, and on the establishment of diocesan seminaries – were adopted as normative for the entire Roman Church.

The Marian Church, Duffy concludes, not only discovered, but actually “invented” the Counter-Reformation.

Duffy’s second major achievement is to put a name and a face to the movement’s chief inventor, Cardinal Reginald Pole, papal legate and Archbishop of Canterbury, and yet for long “the invisible man of the Marian restoration”. Pole, Duffy contends, has been seriously misunderstood, and consistently underestimated, then and now. He was not always his own best friend: “a charming and eloquent conversationalist among friends, he could appear forbiddingly austere, taciturn, even secretive in public”, an assessment which makes him sound a bit like Gordon Brown.

Nonetheless, Duffy demonstrates convincingly that Pole’s leadership was crucial across several spheres. From the outset, he pushed a papalist agenda, with which the other leaders of the Church gradually fell into line. John Foxe thought Pole “none of the bloody and cruel sort of papist”, and he has often been seen as an unwilling or ineffectual persecutor.

But Duffy puts him firmly in what has hitherto tended to be an empty historical chair, that of principal director of the Marian burnings. Pole’s closest servants and collaborators were notably avid and efficient in the detection and punishment of heresy, and his hand can be seen in the issuing of central directives on how the problem was to be tackled. He invariably wanted heretics to recant, saving their lives (and their immortal souls). But if they would not do so, he did not shrink from the consequences. Most intriguingly, Duffy demonstrates that Pole was the moving force behind a campaign to undermine the Protestant “pseudo-martyrs” by painting a sophisticated and positive picture of genuine Catholic martyrdom.

This involved promoting the memory of Thomas More. In a piece of inspired literary detective work, Duffy establishes that Nicholas Harpsfield’s Life of Thomas More, generally supposed to be the work of Edwardine exile, must have been composed at the end of 1556, when, as the Cardinal’s right-hand man in the South-east, Harpsfield was up to his elbows in the campaign to reimpose Catholicism. He would hardly have taken the time without Pole’s explicit encouragement or commission, and Duffy also ascribes William Rastell’s 1557 edition of More’s English Works, and William Roper’s manuscript memoir of his father-in-law, to Pole’s direct influence.

History can be reinterpreted, but not rewritten. The Marian regime ultimately failed completely in its aim of remaking England as a Catholic nation, when Mary herself died (of causes none of her biographers can quite agree on) on November 17, 1558. Scholars have suspected for some time that, had she lived longer, failure might not have been inevitable. Now we can be sure it was not. Fires of Faith is a dazzling exercise in historical reappraisal, after which the reign of Mary Tudor will never look quite the same again. We might even start calling it the reign of Mary I. “

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Italian “James Bond” to be Beatified

Fr. Carlo Gnocchi (1902-1956) is to be beatified in a ceremony in Milan on 25th October 2009.

He was ordained as a priest of the Ambrosian diocese in 1925.

An assistant to the oratory for some years, he was then named spiritual director of the Gonzaga Institute in Milan run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools.

When war broke out, he enlisted as a volunteer chaplain, first on the Greek-Albanian front, and later – with the Alpine troops – for the Russian campaign. In January 1943, during the retreat of the Italian contingent, he was spared.

It was during this time that he came into contact with the OSS (the Office of Strate¬gic Services, the forerunner of the American CIA).He supplied information to the organisation then headed by Allen Dulles in Berne. Before the war he was arrested by the Fascists for espionage but thanks to the intervention of Cardinal Schuster he was released. After the War, the American consul at Lugano declared that the priest had rendered important service during the War.

As he was working to help the wounded and dying Alpine soldiers, and hearing their last prayers, he decided to organize a major charitable endeavour, which when the war was over, was put into effect into the Pro Juventute Foundation. This Foundation now has places all over the world.

He died on February the 28th 1956. His final prophetic gesture was to donate his corneas to two blind children, at a time when organ transplants were not yet regulated by law in Italy.

A film has been made of his life.

Who said that being a priest or a saint had to be boring ?

For the wartime services of Don Gnocchi see Avvenire: Don Gnocchi, 007 per la Resistenza (Italian only)

For the organisation set up by Don Gnocchi see Fondazione Don Carlo Gnocchi – ONLUS

For the TV Film see Don Gnocchi - L'angelo dei bimbi

St Augustine Discovers Truth

Benozzo Gozzoli 1420, -. 1497
St Augustine Reading the Epistle of St Paul (scene 10, east wall)
Fresco, 220 x 230 cm
Apsidal chapel, Sant'Agostino, San Gimignano

“28. Now when deep reflection had drawn up out of the secret depths of my soul all my misery and had heaped it up before the sight of my heart, there arose a mighty storm, accompanied by a mighty rain of tears. That I might give way fully to my tears and lamentations, I stole away from Alypius, for it seemed to me that solitude was more appropriate for the business of weeping. I went far enough away that I could feel that even his presence was no restraint upon me. This was the way I felt at the time, and he realized it. I suppose I had said something before I started up and he noticed that the sound of my voice was choked with weeping. And so he stayed alone, where we had been sitting together, greatly astonished.

I flung myself down under a fig tree--how I know not--and gave free course to my tears. The streams of my eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to thee. And, not indeed in these words, but to this effect, I cried to thee: "And thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former iniquities." For I felt that I was still enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries: "How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?"

29. I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which--coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, "Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it." Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon.

For I had heard how Anthony, accidentally coming into church while the gospel was being read, received the admonition as if what was read had been addressed to him: "Go and sell what you have and give it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me." By such an oracle he was forthwith converted to thee.

So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle's book when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof." I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.

30. Closing the book, then, and putting my finger or something else for a mark I began--now with a tranquil countenance--to tell it all to Alypius. And he in turn disclosed to me what had been going on in himself, of which I knew nothing. He asked to see what I had read. I showed him, and he looked on even further than I had read. I had not known what followed. But indeed it was this, "Him that is weak in the faith, receive." This he applied to himself, and told me so.

By these words of warning he was strengthened, and by exercising his good resolution and purpose--all very much in keeping with his character, in which, in these respects, he was always far different from and better than I--he joined me in full commitment without any restless hesitation.

Then we went in to my mother, and told her what happened, to her great joy. We explained to her how it had occurred--and she leaped for joy triumphant; and she blessed thee, who art "able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think." For she saw that thou hadst granted her far more than she had ever asked for in all her pitiful and doleful lamentations.

For thou didst so convert me to thee that I sought neither a wife nor any other of this world's hopes, but set my feet on that rule of faith which so many years before thou hadst showed her in her dream about me.

And so thou didst turn her grief into gladness more plentiful than she had ventured to desire, and dearer and purer than the desire she used to cherish of having grandchildren of my flesh.”

[From St Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions Book 8, Chapter 12 ]

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Archbishop Nichols on Assisted Suicide

Britta Teckentrup
'Health Service Journal - Suicide'
24 December 2008

Archbishop Nichols of Westminster has penned an article in The Telegraph (16th July 2009) regarding the debate about assisted suicide which is bubbling on in the United Kingdom as a result of recent events. See post below.

His article is worth reading in full. But the following passage is striking:

“Once life is reduced to the status of a product, the logical step is to see its creation and disposal in terms of quality control. This raises important questions: Who is to decide? What value is to be put on suffering that is borne with patience, or on enduring love and care for those in distress and pain?

If my life has no objective value, then why should anyone else care for it? The notion of an absolute right to choose "a good death" may sound libertarian but it undermines society's commitment to support fellow members in adversity. And it encourages the abandonment of the ailing.

Once life is entirely subject to human decision in its beginnings and endings, then the horizon of hope is dramatically reduced. I may hope to be the agent of that decision. But the likelihood is that someone else will either take it for me, or guide me towards taking it. Once the coin of sovereignty over death has been minted, then it will be claimed by not a few.”

Hat tip to Saint Mary Magdalen

Assisted suicide

The recent failed attempt in the United Kingdom by some to amend the law on “assisted dying” and the case of Sir Edward Downes who, although not terminally ill, was assisted by the Dignitas suicide clinic to commit suicide has shown that the topic of assisted suicide will not leave the public forum in the United Kingdom.

The repercussions of allowing a change in the law in this area are neatly summarised in this letter to The Times on 18th July 2009 by Professor Nigel Biggar, Director of the McDonald Centre for Theology, Ethics and Public Life, at Christ Church, Oxford :

“July 18, 2009
Dangers of Dignitas and the law

The dangerous logic of libertarian arguments for assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia


The policy of the Dignitas suicide clinic exposes the dangerous logic of libertarian arguments for assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia (letters, July 17). Dignitas assisted Sir Edward Downes to kill himself, even though he was not terminally ill.

This was entirely in accord with the view of its founder, Ludwig Minelli, that anyone with “mental capacity” should have the right to kill him or herself with assistance — and presumably also without it.

It follows from this that not just the terminally ill, but the chronically ill or disabled, the grievously bereaved, the philosophically miserable and the amorously unsuccessful should have the same right. After all, if the individual is the sole arbiter of the value of his or her own life, and if some adult reckons that living is no longer worth the candle, then who may gainsay them?

It also follows that when someone should volunteer to die in the masochistic ecstasy of being mutilated and eaten — as happened five years ago in Germany in the case of Armin Meiwes — the law should be silent, no crime having been committed.

The problem is that what fends off interference also generates indifference and carelessness. If my life only has the worth that I accord it, then it has no objective value; and if it has no objective value, then why should anyone else care for it?

Edward Downes’s son and Melanie Reid (report and commentary, July 15) are therefore wrong: the assertion of the individual’s absolute right “to choose what they consider to be a good death” is not simply a private matter that affects no one else. Its libertarian logic undermines society’s commitment to support fellow members in adversity — and encourages the abandonment of the ailing.

Professor Nigel Biggar “

Saturday, July 18, 2009

St Bridget

Print made by Crispijn de Passe the elder 1564 - 1637
St Bridget, 1303 – 1373 reading
Engraving with etching
141 millimetres (cropped) x 100 millimetres
The British Museum, London

St Bridget (also known as St Brigitta of Sweden or St Birgitta) was devout noblewoman who founded the Order of Bridgettines.

She is the Patron saint of Sweden as well as co Patroness of Europe. She died in Rome and was canonized in the year 1391 by Pope Boniface IX, and confirmed by the Council of Constance in 1415.

Saint Bridget of Sweden recounted Christ's birth as it appeared to her in a vision. She spoke of His 'ineffable light and splendour…totally annihilating the material light'.

It is this vision which has influenced the depiction of the child in the manger in many paintings

Friday, July 17, 2009

Charity or Love ?

Tino da Camaino (1285, -. 1337)
c. 1321
Marble, height: 136 cm
Museo Bardini, Florence

I am glad to see that Anna Arco has raised the question of the English translation of the new Papal Encyclical Caritas in Veritate on the Vatican website.

She raises the question of of paragraph 67 of Caritas in veritate : the notion that the Pope is calling for a "a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth." (as per the English translation).

In other translations (including the German) he talks of such institutions to be "given a real and concrete form".

Translation is of course an art and not a science.

I have a problem with the English translation with its use of the words "love" and "charity". The words "love" and "charity" seem to be used interchangeably in the English translation. Both can be used to translate the word "caritas" (agape, the highest form of Love). But in modern English the word "charity" has a rather antique feel and sound and can easily confused with the doing of good.

Wikipedia states:

"Note that the King James Version uses both the words charity and love to translate the idea of caritas / ἀγάπη: sometimes it uses one, sometimes the other, for the same concept. Most other English translations, both before and since, do not; instead throughout they use the same more direct English word love, so that the unity of the teaching should not be in doubt. Love can have other meanings in English, but as used in the Bible it almost always refers to the virtue of caritas"

The French, German, Italian and Spanish translations generally use the word "Love" not "Charity": L’amour; Liebe; L`amore; et cetera. There are occasions where they also use the word for "charity"

By deciding to use the word "Charity" over "love", the English translation can come out different from other translations.

The first words of the Encyclical demonstrate this:

"Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace."

But the French translation of the same sentences is slightly different and uses the word "amour":

"L’amour dans la vérité (Caritas in veritate), dont Jésus s’est fait le témoin dans sa vie terrestre et surtout par sa mort et sa résurrection, est la force dynamique essentielle du vrai développement de chaque personne et de l’humanité tout entière. L’amour – « caritas » – est une force extraordinaire qui pousse les personnes à s’engager avec courage et générosité dans le domaine de la justice et de la paix."

See also the German:

"Caritas in veritate – die Liebe in der Wahrheit, die Jesus Christus mit seinem irdischen Leben und vor allem mit seinem Tod und seiner Auferstehung bezeugt hat, ist der hauptsächliche Antrieb für die wirkliche Entwicklung eines jeden Menschen und der gesamten Menschheit. Die Liebe – »caritas« – ist eine außerordentliche Kraft, welche die Menschen drängt, sich mutig und großherzig auf dem Gebiet der Gerechtigkeit und des Friedens einzusetzen."

Note the use in the first sentence in the French and German texts of the Latin title which is entirely missing from the English translation.

Further there are occasions where the use of the word "charity" hides the meaning of what the Pope is saying.

See this passage when the Pope is talking about the devaluation of the word "love":

"I am aware of the ways in which charity has been and continues to be misconstrued and emptied of meaning, with the consequent risk of being misinterpreted, detached from ethical living and, in any event, undervalued. In the social, juridical, cultural, political and economic fields — the contexts, in other words, that are most exposed to this danger — it is easily dismissed as irrelevant for interpreting and giving direction to moral responsibility."

Compare the German:

"Ich weiß um die Entstellungen und die Sinnentleerungen, denen die Liebe ausgesetzt war und ist, mit der entsprechenden Gefahr, daß sie mißverstanden, aus der ethischen Lebenspraxis ausgeschlossen und in jedem Fall daran gehindert wird, in rechter Weise zur Geltung zu kommen"

However it does have to be said that the French and Italian translations in this sentence use the words "la charité" and "la carità "

The same possible obscurity is also seen in paragraph 5. The English translation reads:

"Charity is love received and given. It is “grace” (cháris). Its source is the wellspring of the Father's love for the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Love comes down to us from the Son."

The German translation (is this the language which the Pope used to write the Encyclical ?) is different:

"Caritas ist empfangene und geschenkte Liebe. Sie ist »Gnade« (cháris). Ihre Quelle ist die ursprüngliche Liebe des Vaters zum Sohn im Heiligen Geist. Sie ist Liebe, die vom Sohn her zu uns herabfließt. "

By intelligent use of italics for the words "Caritas" and "cháris", the German translation gives a proper understanding of the first sentence which has been rendered rather obscure in English by the sentence "Charity is love received and love given."

Again it should be said that for this sentence the French and Italian translations in this sentence use again the words "la charité" and "la carità "

The problem is of course the rather long and complex argument with subtle nuances which has to be translated so that it is both faithful to the text as well as being understandable to a very large English speaking culture which spans several continents. Translation of a work has to be considered as whole and not simply by way of line by line dissection.

But I wonder whether it would have been better and would have allowed more people accessibility to the Pope`s text if the English translators had decided to use the word "Love" more and give greater weight to using the word "Love" in preference to the word "Charity" in the same way as the French, Italian and German translations seem to do

And in the same way the situation appears to have been handled in the translation of Deus Caritas Est

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

St Francis and Poverty

Andrea Sacchi 1599 = 1661
St Francis Marrying Poverty
Oil on canvas 292 x 201 cm
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome

His biographer said of Sacchi:

"[He] worked with an uneasy mind; knowing perfectly well the difference between the good and the better, he was never content."

In Rome Sacchi`s major patron was Cardinal Antonio Barberini who had a great devotion to St Francis of Assisi

Sacchi was a slow worker but had a cerebral intellect. But he sometimes carried his didacticism to extremes

According to legend, Francis was walking in a street in Siena, when he encountered three similar women who represented the three virtues of the Franciscan order; poverty, chastity and obedience.

Francis greeted them extending a particular welcome to poverty, saying, "you are welcome, Lady Poverty".

The saint loved poverty and truly considered that virtue to be his wife: thus the legend of the saint's marriage to Poverty was born.

“At the root of the different expressions of Consecrated Life there is always a strong Gospel inspiration. I think of St Anthony Abbot who was moved by listening to Christ's words: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mt 19: 21) (cf. Vita Antonii, 2, 4). Anthony listened to these words as if they were addressed to him personally by the Lord.

St Francis of Assisi in his turn affirmed that it was God who revealed to him that he should live according to the form of the holy Gospel (Testament, 17; Franciscan Omnibus 116). "Francis", wrote Thomas of Celano, "who heard that Christ's disciples were supposed to possess neither gold, nor silver, nor money, nor purse; were to have neither bread nor staff, were to have neither shoes nor two tunics... rejoicing in the Holy Spirit said: "This is what I want! This is what I ask! This is what I want to do from the bottom of my heart!'" (
I Celano 83; Franciscan Omnibus 670, 672 )

(From the address of Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday, 2 February 2008 at the Vatican Basilica)

“The Crib helps us contemplate the mystery of God's love that was revealed in the poverty and simplicity of the Bethlehem Grotto. St Francis of Assisi was so taken by the mystery of the Incarnation that he wanted to present it anew at Greccio in the living Nativity scene, thus beginning an old, popular tradition that still retains its value for evangelization today.

Indeed, the Crib can help us understand the secret of the true Christmas because it speaks of the humility and merciful goodness of Christ, who "though he was rich he made himself poor" for us (II Cor 8: 9).

His poverty enriches those who embrace it and Christmas brings joy and peace to those who, like the shepherds in Bethlehem, accept the Angel's words: "Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes" (Lk 2: 12). This is still the sign for us too, men and women of the third millennium. There is no other Christmas.”

(From the Angelus talk of Pope Benedict XVI on III Sunday of Advent, 11 December 2005)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Saint Antoninus: a possible revival ?

Lorenzo Lotto (1480, d. 1556)
The Alms of St Anthony
Oil on wood, 332 x 235 cm
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice

The scene above shows Saint Antoninus of Florence (1389-1459) who is regarded as one of the founders of modern moral theology and Christian social ethics

He was one of the most powerful and influential Archbishops of Florence in medieval times.

A Dominican monk, his life story and achievements are fascinating. There is a movement to have him declared a Doctor of the Church.

See Sant` Antonino ("Wee Anthony")

His Summa moralis is a pioneering work in moral theology, of interest for its treatment of commercial ethics and the morality of banking St. Antoninus was one of the first teachers of the Church to take away the stigma of the profession of commerce and, instead, point to the potential for spiritual growth in that profession. In his Summa Theologica, he even explained the mechanisms for the merchant to grow in perfection: he is to grow in the virtues and conduct all his business in a virtuous manner

The latest Papal Encyclical Caritas in Veritate has a large section devoted to Ethics in Business.

Is it time to dust down and consult again his Summa moralis ?

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Man on the Money

Lord Griffiths is a trustee of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lambeth Trust and Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs International.

In The Times he has described the recent Encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI (“Caritas in Veritate”) as “the best analysis yet of the global economic crisis [which] tells how people, not just rules, must change”.

“Despite heavy competition from some of the world’s finest minds, it is without doubt the most articulate, comprehensive and thoughtful response to the financial crisis that has yet appeared. It should strike a chord with all who wish to see modern capitalism serving broader human ends.”

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Misères Humaines

Paul Gauguin 1848-1903
Grape Harvest in Arles (also known as "Misères Humaines"/ Human Misery)1888
Oil on sackcloth of jute 73,5 x 92 cm
Ordrupgaard Collection Charlottenlund Denmark

"26. On the cultural plane, compared with Paul VI's day, the difference is even more marked.

At that time cultures were relatively well defined and had greater opportunity to defend themselves against attempts to merge them into one. Today the possibilities of interaction between cultures have increased significantly, giving rise to new openings for intercultural dialogue: a dialogue that, if it is to be effective, has to set out from a deep-seated knowledge of the specific identity of the various dialogue partners.

Let it not be forgotten that the increased commercialization of cultural exchange today leads to a twofold danger.

First, one may observe a cultural eclecticism that is often assumed uncritically: cultures are simply placed alongside one another and viewed as substantially equivalent and interchangeable. This easily yields to a relativism that does not serve true intercultural dialogue; on the social plane, cultural relativism has the effect that cultural groups coexist side by side, but remain separate, with no authentic dialogue and therefore with no true integration.

Secondly, the opposite danger exists, that of cultural levelling and indiscriminate acceptance of types of conduct and life-styles. In this way one loses sight of the profound significance of the culture of different nations, of the traditions of the various peoples, by which the individual defines himself in relation to life's fundamental questions.

What eclecticism and cultural levelling have in common is the separation of culture from human nature.

Thus, cultures can no longer define themselves within a nature that transcends them and man ends up being reduced to a mere cultural statistic. When this happens, humanity runs new risks of enslavement and manipulation. ...

28. One of the most striking aspects of development in the present day is the important question of respect for life, which cannot in any way be detached from questions concerning the development of peoples.

It is an aspect which has acquired increasing prominence in recent times, obliging us to broaden our concept of poverty and underdevelopment to include questions connected with the acceptance of life, especially in cases where it is impeded in a variety of ways.

Not only does the situation of poverty still provoke high rates of infant mortality in many regions, but some parts of the world still experience practices of demographic control, on the part of governments that often promote contraception and even go so far as to impose abortion.

In economically developed countries, legislation contrary to life is very widespread, and it has already shaped moral attitudes and praxis, contributing to the spread of an anti-birth mentality; frequent attempts are made to export this mentality to other States as if it were a form of cultural progress.

Some non-governmental Organizations work actively to spread abortion, at times promoting the practice of sterilization in poor countries, in some cases not even informing the women concerned. Moreover, there is reason to suspect that development aid is sometimes linked to specific health-care policies which de facto involve the imposition of strong birth control measures. Further grounds for concern are laws permitting euthanasia as well as pressure from lobby groups, nationally and internationally, in favour of its juridical recognition.

29. ... [A]s well as religious fanaticism that in some contexts impedes the exercise of the right to religious freedom, so too the deliberate promotion of religious indifference or practical atheism on the part of many countries obstructs the requirements for the development of peoples, depriving them of spiritual and human resources.

God is the guarantor of man's true development, inasmuch as, having created him in his image, he also establishes the transcendent dignity of men and women and feeds their innate yearning to “be more”.

Man is not a lost atom in a random universe: he is God's creature, whom God chose to endow with an immortal soul and whom He has always loved.

If man were merely the fruit of either chance or necessity, or if he had to lower his aspirations to the limited horizon of the world in which he lives, if all reality were merely history and culture, and man did not possess a nature destined to transcend itself in a supernatural life, then one could speak of growth, or evolution, but not development.

When the State promotes, teaches, or actually imposes forms of practical atheism, it deprives its citizens of the moral and spiritual strength that is indispensable for attaining integral human development and it impedes them from moving forward with renewed dynamism as they strive to offer a more generous human response to divine love.

In the context of cultural, commercial or political relations, it also sometimes happens that economically developed or emerging countries export this reductive vision of the person and his destiny to poor countries. This is the damage that “superdevelopment” causes to authentic development when it is accompanied by “moral underdevelopment”....

53. One of the deepest forms of poverty a person can experience is isolation. If we look closely at other kinds of poverty, including material forms, we see that they are born from isolation, from not being loved or from difficulties in being able to love.

Poverty is often produced by a rejection of God's love, by man's basic and tragic tendency to close in on himself, thinking himself to be self-sufficient or merely an insignificant and ephemeral fact, a “stranger” in a random universe.

Man is alienated when he is alone, when he is detached from reality, when he stops thinking and believing in a foundation.

All of humanity is alienated when too much trust is placed in merely human projects, ideologies and false utopias.

Today humanity appears much more interactive than in the past: this shared sense of being close to one another must be transformed into true communion.

The development of peoples depends, above all, on a recognition that the human race is a single family working together in true communion, not simply a group of subjects who happen to live side by side."

-- From Pope Benedict XVI Caritas in Veritate

Gauguin`s childhood was marked by frequent moves and shifting relationships.

Driven to paint full-time, he returned to Paris in 1885, leaving his family in Denmark. Without adequate subsistence, his wife (Mette Sophie Gadd) and their five children returned to her family

Gauguin turned his back on a well-to-do life to become a painter. This decision plagued him for several years and drove his wife into a state of emotional and psychological distress which left her racked with disappointment and rancour.

She suffered all the more keenly because they had married for love, which was unusual in middle class circles at the time. But some inner force carried Gauguin towards his destiny.

In 1887, after visiting Panama, he spent several months near Saint Pierre in Martinique, in the company of his friend the artist Charles Laval

At the end of 1888 Gauguin lived and painted with Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) at Arles in the south of France.

In this picture he painted women in costumes from Brittany - where he had just been staying - but in a vineyard in Arles, while the main figure in the foreground resembles a Peruvian mummy he had seen in Paris.

Gauguin's theme in his picture is fundamental human misery. The melancholy figure and tone of the picture are typical of his work as a whole

In 1891, Gauguin went to Tahiti, an island he imagined to be a primitive paradise. The artist wanted "to live there in ecstasy, calm and art". His financial difficulties, his aesthetic concerns and this very Baudelairian "invitation au voyage" drove him to that distant land to escape "the European struggle for money" - to be "free at last

When he went to live on Tahiti in 1895 it was as part of a movement away from civilization towards a life based on a dream of Paradise and primitivism

On May 9th, 1903, Gauguin, dissipated by drug-addiction, died of a heart attack on Hiva Oa Island in the Marquesas in French Polynesia

Gauguin's art has all the appearance of a flight from civilisation, of a search for new ways of life, more primitive, more real and more sincere

Gauguin had a curious relationship with religion. Not holding one firm set of beliefs, his religion can best be described as naturalistic and his paintings reflect Christian, Buddhist, and Maori influences, among other religions

He was raised as a Catholic and attended Catholic schools while growing up. As an adult, Paul Gauguin was interested in and participated in a number of eclectic religious trends popular among intellectuals and artists of his time, including Spiritualism, the occult, Theosophy and Rosicrucianism.

Eventually Gauguin became a convert to Theosophy and a member of the Theosophical Society. Gauguin "surrendered completely" to this new religion organized by Madame Blavatsky. Theosophy united elements of many different major world religions (particularly Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism) along with many esoteric religious traditions of the era, including Spiritualism. Gauguin remained a devout Theosophist for about twenty years until the end of his life.

Charity in Truth, a Synthesis

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)
De barmhartige Samaritaan (naar Delacroix)/
The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix)
early May 1890
Oil on canvas 73 × 60 cm
Kröller-Müller Museum, near Otterlo, Netherlands

Those looking for a proper summary of this long dense and multi-layered Encyclical might like to look at that offered by Vatican Radio: Charity in Truth, a Synthesis

Vatican Radio (English language services) also provides a number of recordings of talks on the Encyclical. See Vatican Radio (English services) including talks by Sr Helen Alford the Dean of the Social Sciences Faculty at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas, and by Kishore Jayabalan, the Rome Office Director of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty

Rather disapppointingly, in New sins, new virtues, The Economist magazine has only a short summary devoted to the Pope`s new Encyclical.

In so far as it goes it is quite admirable. Hopefully a more considered and longer article on the Encyclical will follow.

It writes:

“GLOBALISATION, technology and growth are in themselves neither positive or negative; they are whatever humanity makes of them. Summed up like that, the central message of a keenly awaited papal pronouncement on the social and economic woes of the world may sound like a statement of the obvious.

But despite some lapses into trendy jargon, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), a 144-page encyclical issued by Pope Benedict XVI on July 7th, is certainly not a banal or trivial document. It will delight some people, enrage others and occupy a prominent place among religious leaders’ competing attempts to explain and address the problems of an overheated, overcrowded planet. ...

Pope Benedict, for all his concern with cosmic issues, is certainly not watering down his insistence on old-fashioned religious virtues, including caution and sobriety. On many big public questions, he proposes a middle course between faith in scientific progress and nostalgia for a simpler past. People cannot expect to avoid the extremes, Benedict rather provocatively adds, when they are looking at the world through purely secular spectacles. “When nature, including the human being, is viewed as the result of mere chance or evolutionary determinism, our sense of responsibility wanes,” he argues ...

Encyclicals are the heaviest ammunition in the papacy’s intellectual arsenal. This one was delayed for more than two years as the Vatican’s thinkers struggled to keep abreast of developments in the world economy. But the original purpose has remained intact: to offer a Catholic response to a global marketplace that in Benedict’s elegant turn of phrase, “makes us neighbours but does not make us brothers.”

The document accepts the legitimacy of markets or profits, as long as they are not idolised, or elevated far above the human beings who are affected by economic decisions. But Benedict’s proposal for discerning the difference between healthy markets and pathological ones is uncompromising and offers no sops to the secular. An economy, he suggests, is working well when it allows individuals and societies to fulfil themselves in every way—something that in his view can happen only when God is involved.

The encyclical grafts this ideal of development in the service of God and man onto an insistence on Catholic morality in ethics. As Austen Ivereigh, a British Catholic writer, puts it, “the message is that you can’t believe in social justice if you also believe in abortion and euthanasia.” Giving short shrift to non-believers, the pope also argues that without “truth” in the Christian sense, “there is no social conscience and responsibility, and social action ends up serving private interests and the logic of power.” This purist approach may risk narrowing the scope for the sort of tactical co-operation between believers and secularists that is emerging on many fronts, from the fight against malaria to weaning the world off hydrocarbons. ...

Benedict finds the roots of the economic crisis in wickedness. The global recession, he argues, is merely the latest effect of a tendency to confuse happiness and salvation with prosperity. But economic activity “cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic”. And the market should not be a place “where the strong subdue the weak”.”

Friday, July 10, 2009

Every Word is Truth

Han-Wu Shen (1950-)
Every Word is Truth
Oil on canvas
25 1/2 x 31 3/8 inches (65 x 80 cm)
Private collection

Only in truth does charity shine forth, only in truth can charity be authentically lived. Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity.

That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion.

Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality.

Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way.

In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love. It falls prey to contingent subjective emotions and opinions, the word “love” is abused and distorted, to the point where it comes to mean the opposite. ...

Truth, by enabling men and women to let go of their subjective opinions and impressions, allows them to move beyond cultural and historical limitations and to come together in the assessment of the value and substance of things.

Truth opens and unites our minds in the lógos of love: this is the Christian proclamation and testimony of charity.

In the present social and cultural context, where there is a widespread tendency to relativize truth, practising charity in truth helps people to understand that adhering to the values of Christianity is not merely useful but essential for building a good society and for true integral human development.

A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance.

In other words, there would no longer be any real place for God in the world.

Without truth, charity is confined to a narrow field devoid of relations. It is excluded from the plans and processes of promoting human development of universal range, in dialogue between knowledge and praxis. ...

Love in truth — caritas in veritate — is a great challenge for the Church in a world that is becoming progressively and pervasively globalized. The risk for our time is that the de facto interdependence of people and nations is not matched by ethical interaction of consciences and minds that would give rise to truly human development. Only in charity, illumined by the light of reason and faith, is it possible to pursue development goals that possess a more humane and humanizing value.

The sharing of goods and resources, from which authentic development proceeds, is not guaranteed by merely technical progress and relationships of utility, but by the potential of love that overcomes evil with good (cf. Rom 12:21), opening up the path towards reciprocity of consciences and liberties. ...

The Church does not have technical solutions to offer and does not claim “to interfere in any way in the politics of States.” She does, however, have a mission of truth to accomplish, in every time and circumstance, for a society that is attuned to man, to his dignity, to his vocation.

Without truth, it is easy to fall into an empiricist and sceptical view of life, incapable of rising to the level of praxis because of a lack of interest in grasping the values — sometimes even the meanings — with which to judge and direct it.

Fidelity to man requires fidelity to the truth, which alone is the guarantee of freedom (cf. Jn 8:32) and of the possibility of integral human development. For this reason the Church searches for truth, proclaims it tirelessly and recognizes it wherever it is manifested. This mission of truth is something that the Church can never renounce.”

(Pope Benedict XVI , Caritas in Veritate, Introduction)