Monday, August 31, 2009

St Jerome on the Rocks

Joachim Patinir (Netherlandish, active by 1515, died 1524)
The Penitence of Saint Jerome, triptych, ca. 1518
Oil on wood
Shaped top: central panel, overall, with engaged frame, 46 1/4 x 32 in. (117.5 x 81.3 cm); each wing, overall, with engaged frame, 47 1/2 x 14 in. (120.7 x 35.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum, New York

The gallery label for this beautiful work states:
"A milestone in the history of European landscape painting, this intact altarpiece may have been made for a church in southern Germany. Its outside wings show Saint Sebald, patron saint of Nuremberg, and Saint Anne with the Virgin and Christ Child.

Following Netherlandish tradition, large-scale sacred figures dominate the foreground: Christ, who is baptized in the Jordan River, Saint Jerome, and Anthony the Hermit (shown with the monsters that assailed him).

The true subject of the picture, however, is Patinir's splendid panoramic landscape, which the viewer is encouraged to travel through visually in the manner of a pilgrimage"

Patinir often let his landscapes dwarf his figures, which were often painted by other artists.

Patinir was a pioneer of landscape as an independent genre and he was the first Flemish painter to regard himself primarily as a landscape painter

It has been said that Patinir's religious subjects incorporate precise observation and naturalism with fantastic landscapes inspired by the northern traditions of Bosch.

Joachim Patinir painted similar works on the theme of St Jerome. See below. Again the landscape is to the fore.

But each painting is a reflection or meditation on St Jerome. The works encourage reflection and meditation. They are not as didactic as the Counter-Reformation and baroque paintings.

The painter would have assumed a knowledge of the Life of St Jerome on the part of the viewer. The details of his life would have been well known. In the paintings there are precise symbols: Christ - the Spiritual Rock and source of living water; Christ - the Good Shepherd. There are also details which remind us of the particular moments in the life of St Jerome: the lion which was cured; the Cardinal`s habit; the books which he studied and so on. These symbols and details would have reminded the viewer of the various incidents and motifs from the life of St Jerome.

There is a timeless quality about the paintings. It is as if the scene which they portray could be the 4th Century or any time either before or after. What we are looking at is an eternal verity. It transcends a particular culture and moment of time.

Is there not also a rather subtle moral theme. In the pictures we see what appears to be a rather insignificant man, a tramp, an eccentric. Man or a man is shown to be a mere speck on the face of the Earth. Yet for some reason this man`s works live on and his memory is preserved and honoured as the greatest of the Doctors of the Church. The parable of the Mustard Seed comes to mind. He was humble in the face of Christ. He became exalted. He immersed himself in Scripture. He became a living Scripture.

Joachim Patinir (Netherlandish, active by 1515, died 1524)
St Jerome in Rocky Landscape
c. 1520
Oil on oak, 36,5 x 34 cm
The National Gallery, London

Joachim Patinir (Netherlandish, active by 1515, died 1524)
Rocky Landscape with Saint Jerome
Oil on wood, 47,2 x 37,3 cm
Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp

Joachim Patinir (Netherlandish, active by 1515, died 1524)
St Jerome in the Desert
c. 1520
Oil on wood, 78 x 137 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Joachim Patinir (Netherlandish, active by 1515, died 1524)
Landscape with St Jerome
Oil on panel, 74 x 91 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

We shall leave the final word to Pope Benedict XVI. On 7th November 2007, he concluded the first part of his Catechesis on St Jerome as follows:
"What can we learn from St Jerome?

It seems to me, this above all; to love the Word of God in Sacred Scripture. St Jerome said: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ".

It is therefore important that every Christian live in contact and in personal dialogue with the Word of God given to us in Sacred Scripture.

This dialogue with Scripture must always have two dimensions: on the one hand, it must be a truly personal dialogue because God speaks with each one of us through Sacred Scripture and it has a message for each one.

We must not read Sacred Scripture as a word of the past but as the Word of God that is also addressed to us, and we must try to understand what it is that the Lord wants to tell us.

However, to avoid falling into individualism, we must bear in mind that the Word of God has been given to us precisely in order to build communion and to join forces in the truth on our journey towards God.

Thus, although it is always a personal Word, it is also a Word that builds community, that builds the Church.

We must therefore read it in communion with the living Church. The privileged place for reading and listening to the Word of God is the liturgy, in which, celebrating the Word and making Christ's Body present in the Sacrament, we actualize the Word in our lives and make it present among us.

We must never forget that the Word of God transcends time. Human opinions come and go. What is very modern today will be very antiquated tomorrow. On the other hand, the Word of God is the Word of eternal life, it bears within it eternity and is valid for ever. By carrying the Word of God within us, we therefore carry within us eternity, eternal life.

I thus conclude with a word St Jerome once addressed to St Paulinus of Nola. In it the great exegete expressed this very reality, that is, in the Word of God we receive eternity, eternal life. St Jerome said: "Seek to learn on earth those truths which will remain ever valid in Heaven" (Ep. 53, 10). "

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Death of St Jerome

Vittore Carpaccio (1472-1526)
Funeral of St Jerome
Tempera on canvas, 141 x 211 cm
Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, Venice

"65. Hence was Jerome wondrously uplifted to love for and knowledge of Christ through his study of the Bible in which he discovered the precious pearl of the Gospel:

"There is one most priceless pearl: the knowledge of the Saviour, the mystery of His Passion, the secret of His Resurrection." (In Matt., 13:45)

Burning as he did with the love of Christ we cannot but marvel that he, poor and lowly with Christ, with soul freed from earthly cares, sought Christ alone, by His spirit was he led, with Him he lived in closest intimacy, by imitating Him he would bear about the image of His sufferings in himself. For him nought more glorious than to suffer with and for Christ. Hence it was that when on [Pope] Damasus' death he, wounded and weary from evil men's assaults, left Rome and wrote just before he embarked:

"Though some fancy me a scoundrel and guilty of every crime - and, indeed, this is a small matter when I think of my sins - yet you do well when from your soul you reckon evil men good. Thank God I am deemed worthy to be hated by the world. . . What real sorrows have I to bear - I who fight for the Cross? Men heap false accusations on me; yet I know that through ill report and good report we win the kingdom of heaven." (Epist. ad Asellam, 45, 1, 6.)

66. In like fashion does he exhort the maiden Eustochium to courageous and lifelong toil for Christ's sake:

"To become what the Martyrs, the Apostles, what even Christ Himself was, means immense labour - but what a reward! . . . What I have been saying to you will sound hard to one who does not love Christ. But those who consider worldly pomp a mere offscouring and all under the sun mere nothingness if only they may win Christ, those who are dead with Christ, have risen with Him and have crucified the flesh with its vices and concupiscences - they will echo the words: "Who shall separate us from the charity of Christ?" (Epist. ad Eustochium, 22, 38)"

Pope Benedict XV, Spiritus Paraclitus (15th September 1920

Domenichino: The Last Communion of St Jerome

Domenico Zampieri ( Domenichino) 1581-1641
The Last Communion of St Jerome, 1614
Oil on canvas
cm. 419 x 256
The Vatican Museum, Vatican City

When pilgrims visit St Peter`s Basilica in Rome many go to venerate the tomb of Blessed Pope John XXIII.

He lies at the Altar of St Jerome.

The Altar of St Jerome, St Peters Basilica, Vatican

Above the body of the Blessed Pope and the altar is a copy of a masterpiece: Domenichino`s The Last Communion of St Jerome. The copy above the altar is a mosaic copy of 1730.

The original is in the Vatican Museums.

The aged saint receives communion from Saint Ephrem in the monastery of Bethlehem. Kneeling in the act of kissing the hand of the dying man is the profile of Saint Paula of Rome, one of the great Biblical scholar's favourite disciples

After it was excuted and for a long time thereafter it was regarded as one of the world`s masterpieces, surpassed only by Raphael`s The Transfiguration

The painting was seized by Napoleon. In the nineteenth century it was returned to the Vatican

It was commissioned from Domenichino by the Compagnia della Charità (Confraternity of Charity) for the main altar of the Church of San Girolamo della Carità in Rome in 1614.

The Church reputedly was built on the site where St Jerome and his disciples lived in Rome in AD 382 and there had reputedly been a church on that site since the 4th Century,

The Confraternity was set up in 1551. Between 1551 and 1583 Saint Philip Neri played an active part in the life of the Confraternity and lived in St Jerome of Charity where the Congregation of the Oratory was created. The Church was the first centre of the pastoral activity of St Philip Neri. His initiation of the Forty Hours "Quarant`ore" took place at that Church. There was pressure to have an appropriate monument as St Philip Neri was due to be beatified as he was by Paul V in 1615

The Confraternity had many charitable functions in the Rome of that day particularly amongst prisoners.Clement VIII had provided in 1603 that on the Feast day of St Jerome, the Confraternity had the right to ask for and obtain the release of any prisoner condemned to death (apart from certain crimes). This right lasted until 1815

The commission was therefore an important one.

For Domenichino it was his first commission of an altarpiece for a high altar.

He did a great deal of preparation.

He visited Bologna to see the painting by Carracci (see below) which was on the same theme. He took drawings of it. This was later to bring about charges of plagiarism against him by a jealous rival.

A comparison between the versions by Domenichino and Carracci

The number of studies and preparatory drawings which he made were legion.

He consulted his friend Monsignor Agucchi a great deal about all aspects of the work

The result is a triumph of Counter Reformation Art.


- the central role of the Eucharist in the painting. In Carracci`s painting, the Eucharist is partially obscured

-both forms of the Eucharist are being held by priests: not so in Carracci`s version

-the story of the Last Communion of St Jerome is based on a medieval forgery which was exposed by Erasmus at the time of the reformation: Erasmus is ignored. Eventually nearly all of his works would be put on the Index

-the other central figure of St Jerome: the penitent, the celibate, the advocate of perpetual virginity, the scholar, the railer against heresy and heretics, the great translator and compiler of the Vulgate, the scholar, the great saint who acted in obedience to the Popes of his day, the monk, the ascetic

-the humility and piety of St Jerome kneeling before the Eucharist

Agostino Carracci: The Last Communion of St Jerome

Agostino Carracci (or Caracci) (August 16, 1557 – March 22, 1602)

The Last Communion of St Jerome
Oil on canvas
376x224 cm
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna

The Chapel of St Jerome in the Carthusian Church of San Girolamo, Bologna where the painting originally was displayed

The work was commissioned for one of the large chapels in the nave of the Carthusian Church of San Girolamo in Bologna where it was to face Ludovico Carracci`s painting of Preaching of St John the Baptist.

The era of the Counter-Reform coincided with the priorate of Giovan Battista Capponi (1588-1613). He carried out a large reconstruction of the Church. The chapels of Saint Jerome and Saint John the Baptist were re-built and were now facing each other at the entrance of the Church

It was regarded as Agostino Carracci`s masterpiece. The style is classical.

It was seized by the French during the time of the Napoleonic occupation. It was later returned to the Pinacoteca Nazionale

This work was later used as the model for and improved upon by Carracci`s pupil, Domenichino.

A Rare Theme

Lazzaro Bastiani 1430-1512
The Last Communion of St Jerome
Oil on canvas, 191 x 240 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice

Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi) 1444/45-1510
The Last Communion of Saint Jerome 1494-1495
Tempera and gold on wood
13 1/2 x 10 in. (34.3 x 25.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum, New York

A feature of the Renaissance humanists was their enthusiasm for the writings of the Church Fathers, especially St Jerome.

The Fathers, as products of the ancient world, could be seen as bridges between the two cultures that informed humanism: pagan antiquity and Christianity.

The scholar and multilingual Jerome, the penitent and the student of Scripture appealed to the intellectual side of the Renaissance.

Erasmus edited the letters of St Jerome in four volumes which were published in 1516. He also produced an edition of the works of Saint Jerome,and a biography of the Saint

In 1920 in Spiritus Paraclitus (15th September 1920), Pope Benedict XV described St Jerome as the Church`s " `Greatest Doctor` divinely given her for the understanding of the Bible."

According to legend, the Saint refused to receive his last communion in bed but insisted on getting up and kneeling to receive the Eucharist, thus demonstrating his humility before Christ.

On last Communion, St. Jerome warned that it was "dangerous to try to get to heaven without the Bread of Heaven."

St Jerome made a number of statements on the Eucharist:

"Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the Apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ, and through whose efforts also it is that we are Christians… (Letter of Jerome to Heliodorus)"

"The flesh and blood of Christ is understood in two ways; there is either the spiritual and divine way, by which He Himself said: "My flesh is truly food, and my blood is truly drink"; and "Unless you shall have eaten my flesh and drunk my blood you shall not have eternal life." Or else there is the flesh and blood which was crucified and which was poured out by the soldier's lance. (Commentaries on Ephesians 1:1:7)"

"After the type had been fulfilled by the passover celebration and He had eaten the flesh of the lamb with His Apostles, He takes bread which strengthens the heart of man, and goes on to the true Sacrament of the passover, so that just as Melchisedech, the priest of the Most High God, in prefiguring Him, made bread and wine an offering, He too makes Himself manifest in the reality of His own Body and Blood. (Commentaries on Matthew 4:26:26)"

The Last Communion of St Jerome is a theme not found often in religious art.

As regards the painting by Bastiani, in the second half of the fourteenth century, Augustinian nuns erected a church in the district of Cannareggio in Venice and dedicated the sacristy and a confraternity to St Jerome.

They ambitiously decorated their headquarter with paintings depicting episodes from the life of the titular saint

In the painting by Bastiani, the saint is supported by his friend and disciple Eusebius and surrounded by the brethren.

As regards the work by Botticelli, the frame on the Botticelli picture was carved in the workshop of Giuliano da Maiano. Its painted lunette is by Bartolomeo di Giovanni.

The picture was painted for the Florentine wool merchant Francesco del Pugliese, who described it in his will of 1502. It would appear that the Francesco del Pugliese was a follower of Savonarola

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Two contrasting views of the Italian Seicento

Domenichino (Domenico Zampieri) [1581-1641]
Landscape with St John baptising circa 1610 to 1620
Oil on canvas
Height: 112.3 cm, width: 156.2 cm
The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge

" The Baroque period took for granted a belief in a future perfection and transfiguration of life, and this faith, instinct with hope, so far from damping in any way its enjoyment of the natural life, precisely gave to that life its value and price. Hence the joyousness, the splendour, the flood of light in which baroque art clothes even this earthly existence ; hence the cheerful affirmation of all reality, including that of matter ; hence the ease with which every natural means of expression was pressed into the service of religious art; hence the disappearance of all strict boundaries between the world above and that below, since everyone was convinced that there was no gap between spirit and matter, between nature and the supernatural, between heaven and earth; that, on the contrary, the one builds on the other, that, in fact, they complete each other. And the result was that all the positive forces of the civilization of that period, whether of a material, spiritual or a religious kind, worked together for the building up of this art, thus making of it a mirror of the harmonious culture of a whole period."

From Weingartner, Der Geist des Barock, Augsburg, 1925, 24.

On the other hand, John Ruskin (1819-1900) despised the Italian baroque painting of the 17th century - the seicento. He had a puritanical loathing and mistrust of its lushness, religiosity and emotionalism. His views were immensely potent.

He wrote that Domenichino was "palpably incapable of doing anything good, great or right in any field, way, or kind, whatsoever." About Italian seicento painting in general, he wrote, "There is no entirely sincere or great art in the 17th century."

It was Ruskin's fundamental belief that understanding came from close observation and could be enhanced by the hand copying what the eye could see

In a memorable passage in Modern Painters (1843-60) he wrote that young painters should “go to Nature in all singleness of heart…having no other thoughts but how best to penetrate her meaning, and remember her instruction; rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing.”

His views were immensely potent. When the National Gallery bought two paintings by the baroque artist Guido Reni, Ruskin condemned the purchase so fiercely that the gallery did not dare buy another seicento work for over half a century.

For Ruskin, Italian Baroque was the art of the counter Reformation, the Roman Catholic backlash against Protestantism.

The main critique of Ruskin was that there was no genuine feeling behind Italian Baroque. Like Friedrich Nietzsche, in Menschliches Allzumenschliches (1878, Aphorism 144), he thought that “the Baroque style arises every time at the waning of every great art.”

It was a sign of national decline and decadence.

Cardinal Girolamo Agucchi

Domenico Zampieri, called Il Domenichino (October 21, 1581–April 16, 1641)
Portrait of Cardinal Agucchi
Oil on canvas, 141 x 111 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Cardinal Girolamo Agucchi (1555-1605) was the brother of Monsignor Giovanni Batista Agucchi (1570-1632 - see previous post).

At first the Cardinal considered Domenichino idle and uncouth and refused to have him under his protection. Due to the influence of his brother, the Monsignor, the Cardinal changed his mind, had him confirmed as a member of his household and commissioned a number of works from the artist.

The artist stayed in the Agucchi household until 1608 and maintained a strong friendship with the Monsignor after the death of the Cardinal.

The cardinal was created cardinal priest in the consistory of June 9, 1604. He received the red hat and the title of S. Pietro in Vincoli, June 25, 1604. He participated in the first conclave of 1605, which elected Pope Leo XI. He died on April 27, 1605,on the same day that Pope Leo XI also died. He is buried in S. Pietro in Vincoli in Rome,

The cardinal`s funeral monument in S Pietro in Vincoli was designed and executed by Domenichino. See below.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Monsignor Agucchi

Annibale Carracci (1560 - 1609)
Monsignor Agucchi
1603 - 1604
Oil on canvas 60 x 46 cm
York Art Gallery, York, England

This painting was previously attributed to Domenichino, but now has been attributed to Annibale Carracci

Monsignor Agucchi (1570-1632) was a friend of the Bolognese painters: Ludovico, Agostino and Annibale Carracci as well as Domenichino (1581-1641). Through his friendship he helped to strongly influence the character of Baroque painting from his time onwards.

Agucchi was a nephew of Cardinal Sega, Bishop of Piacenza and special Papal legate and a strong supporter of the reforms promulgated by the Council of Trent.

He was secretary to Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini. While in his service he compiled an important inventory of the works of art of the Aldobrandi`s family ownership in 1603. The inventory is an important source of art history in tracing the provenance of paintings and other works of art.

Agucchi was a Papal diplomat and curial high flyer. He accompanied the Cardinal on important diplomatic missions. His diary includes a presentation of the political circumstances of the diplomatic legation of the cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini for the wedding of Maria de Medicis to the King of France Henry IV by proxy in Florence, followed by the marriage festivities in Lyons and the diplomatic negotiations for the peace treaty between France and the Duchy of Savoy.

Eventually Agucchi reached the position of private secretary to Pope Gregory XV in 1621

He was also a friend and supporter of Galileo and wrote a number of astronomic works based on his own private observations.

However due to Professor Denis Mahon (Studies in Seicento Art and Theory, 1947) he is now probably known better as an art theorist and historian and friend and patron of Domenichino as well as a major influence on the Carraccis.

There was a crisis in art in the wake of the Council of Trent. Clarity, intelligibility and stimulation of piety became the declared objectives of art. Art became highly artificial, dominated by unnatural colours and unrealistic perspectives. Painting became pedantic: heavy-handed accounts of holy stories. Or extremely distant, arid, recondite and incomprehensible to the average viewer. The Bologna School aimed to restore a popular art which inspired religious devotion and contemplation.

Agucchi was a member of the Accademia dei Gelati in Bologna. He and Annibale Carracci consulted frequently about the portrayal of sacred subjects, A new style and a new school was born: the Accademia of the Incamminati.(Academy of the Progressives)

As regards art history and theory we have two of Agucchi`s works. First, the Trattato della Pittura written between 1603 and 1610 and only published posthumously under a pseudonym in 1646 . Second, the Idea della bellezza, written between 1607 and 1615, which comes to us in fragmentary form, published as the introduction of Simon Guillain`s Etchings after Drawings by Annibale Carracci in 1646.

In the Trattato della pittura for the first time Italian regional schools – Lombard, Venetian, Tuscan, and Roman – were identified on the basis of style. Even while basing himself on schemes of interpretation derived from the tradition of classical rhetoric and historiography (mainly Cicero and Pliny), Agucchi was able to outline accurately the stylistic and formal identities of each local tradition.

At the same time, he made clear the reintegration on a national, Italian level that Annibale and his pupils achieved. This was in fact a history, albeit a cursory one, of Italian art, seen through the eyes of the Carracci.

In the Idea della Bellezza, Agucchi propounds a theory on Beauty which is a fusion of ancient and modern ideas based on the ideas of Aristotle and Alberti. Basing himself on Aristotle’s Poetics, Agucchi concludes that just as in poetry, vulgarity and the highest art are incompatible in painting. The highest form of art is idealised imitation, in which the artist treats the subject as it ought to be. The model for art should be the most beautiful real objects that one can find in Nature not just any ordinary every day objects.

Agucchi’s description of the Carracci’s experience of ancient and modern artists seems Neoplatonic when he uses the term Idea, but is based firmly in his interpretation of Aristotle`s idealized imitation:

«As soon as they saw the statues of Rome, and the paintings of Raphael and Michelangelo, and as they especially reflected upon those of Raphael, they confessed that they found themselves in the presence of higher understanding and greater delicacy of disegno than in the works of Lombardy; and they decided that to establish a manner of sovereign perfection, it would be fitting to unite the beauty of Lombard colorito with the extremely subtle Roman disegno.

And since they soon perceived the kind of study Raphael had made of antique things, from which he had found out how to conceive the Idea of that beauty which is not found in nature, if not in the manner that we were speaking about before; the Carracci put themselves to studying the most celebrated and famous statues of Rome; and given that they were already great masters, in a short time they showed that they had taken great profit from it.»

A Papal Ceremony

Giovanni Maria Morandi 1622-1717
Le Pape Alexandre VII porté à la procession du Corpus Domini/Pope Alexander VII being carried in the procession of Corpus Christi c. 1655
Oil on canvas 200 x 285 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy

In 1746, this picture was hanging in the Church of Sant Mary Major in the Premonstratensian convent in Pont-à-Mousson.

During the French Revolution in 1793 it was seized by the French State and given to the Museum in Nancy where it has been exhibited ever since.

It is a mystery as to how the painting came to Pont-à-Mousson

The picture depicts the procession in Rome of Corpus Christi which took place on 27th May 1655

Cardinal Fabio Chigi (1599-1667) had just been elected Pope on 7th April 1655. The election had taken two months but he was elected unanimously. He came from Siena and was descended from a wealthy family of bankers.

During the procession the Pope knelt on a ceremonial prie-Dieu which was specially designed by Bernini. It was the first occasion on which a Pope was carried kneeling in the procession of Corpus Christi in Rome. Prior to that he had either stood or walked. The prie-Dieu was used by subsequent Popes. Apparently the last Pope to use this particular prie-Dieu was Pope Paul VI.

A contemporary Gigli wrote:
"A dė 27 di Maggio fu la festa del Corpus Domini, et si fece la Processione solennissima, nella quale e solito che il Papa e portato sopra le spalle dalli scudieri in sedia con maestā coronato, tenendo nelle mani il Sacramento. Ma il papa Alessandro si fece portare non in sedia, ma inginocchiato con la testa scoperta tenendo in mano il SS. Sacramento, essendo scalzo e con tanta devotione senza muovere gli occhi, né la persona che pareva pių tosto una figura immobile, che un huomo, la qual cosa mosse tutti a gran devotione et compuntione, che gli pareva di vedere una visione in aria."

It is likely that the work was specially commissioned to mark the occasion

Ten years later the Pope specially commissioned a medal depicting the event. See below

Decennial medal showing Alexander VII kneeling as in the Corpus Domini procession of 1655

The Corpus Christi procession, Pope Alexander at centre, vested in a cope, kneeling on a priedieu under a baldachino, adoring a monstrance which he is carrying; the whole is being carried upon the shoulders of Palafranieri.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Paying Homage to the Emperor

Alessandro Pigna (1883-1903)
Paying Homage To The Emperor
Oil on canvas
39 x 29 3/8 inches (99.1 x 74.9 cm)
Private collection

Flavius Claudius Julianus (known as Julian the Apostate) (AD331/332 - 363) became sole emperor in 361.

He attempted to reverse the Christianisation of the Roman Empire inaugurated by Constantine. He favoured reinstituting the pagan system.

He had a deep love of Hellenic culture and a passionate hatred of the "Galileans", as he dubbed Christians.

His restoration of paganism was intended to restore the lost strength of the Roman State

His intention was to create a society in which every aspect of the life of the citizens was to be connected, through layers of intermediate levels, to the figure of the Emperor - the final provider for all the needs of his people. Within this project, there was no place for a parallel institution, such as the Christian hierarchy or Christian charity

Amongst other facets of Christianity which  he had in his sights was Christian charity.

Pope Benedict XVI referred to this in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est:

"A mention of the emperor Julian the Apostate († 363) can also show how essential the early Church considered the organized practice of charity. As a child of six years, Julian witnessed the assassination of his father, brother and other family members by the guards of the imperial palace; rightly or wrongly, he blamed this brutal act on the Emperor Constantius, who passed himself off as an outstanding Christian. The Christian faith was thus definitively discredited in his eyes.

Upon becoming emperor, Julian decided to restore paganism, the ancient Roman religion, while reforming it in the hope of making it the driving force behind the empire. In this project he was amply inspired by Christianity. He established a hierarchy of metropolitans and priests who were to foster love of God and neighbour. In one of his letters, he wrote that the sole aspect of Christianity which had impressed him was the Church's charitable activity. He thus considered it essential for his new pagan religion that, alongside the system of the Church's charity, an equivalent activity of its own be established.

According to him, this was the reason for the popularity of the “Galileans”. They needed now to be imitated and outdone. In this way, then, the Emperor confirmed that charity was a decisive feature of the Christian community, the Church. ...

[But f]or the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being. ...

The increase in diversified organizations engaged in meeting various human needs is ultimately due to the fact that the command of love of neighbour is inscribed by the Creator in man's very nature. It is also a result of the presence of Christianity in the world, since Christianity constantly revives and acts out this imperative, so often profoundly obscured in the course of time.

The reform of paganism attempted by the emperor Julian the Apostate is only an initial example of this effect; here we see how the power of Christianity spread well beyond the frontiers of the Christian faith. For this reason, it is very important that the Church's charitable activity maintains all of its splendour and does not become just another form of social assistance."

(From Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2006))

Some historians have commented that in the pre-Christian world, there was absent love-motivated charity. There was civic private philanthropy: the provision of public baths, games, buildings. But the motivation was not love. It was policy.

The cynical and cold nature of Julian the Apostate`s enterprise can be seen in this extract from Letter to Arsacius. What he planned was cold charity, crabbed and iced in the name of a calculating and power hungry Emperor:

"The religion of the Greeks does not yet prosper as I would wish, on account of those who profess it.

Why then do we think that this is sufficient and do not observe how the kindness of Christians to strangers, their care for the burial of their dead, and the sobriety of their lifestyle has done the most to advance their cause?

Each of these things, I think, ought really to be practiced by us. It is not sufficient for you alone to practice them, but so must all the priests in Galatia [in modern Turkey] without exception. Either make these men good by shaming them, persuade them to become so or fire them . . .

Secondly, exhort the priests neither to approach a theater nor to drink in a tavern, nor to profess any base or infamous trade. Honor those who obey and expel those who disobey.

Erect many hostels, one in each city, in order that strangers may enjoy my kindness, not only those of our own faith but also of others whosoever is in want of money. I have just been devising a plan by which you will be able to get supplies. For I have ordered that every year throughout all Galatia 30,000 modii of grain and 60,000 pints of wine shall be provided. The fifth part of these I order to be expended on the poor who serve the priests, and the rest must be distributed from me to strangers and beggars. For it is disgraceful when no Jew is a beggar and the impious Galileans [the name given by Julian to Christians] support our poor in addition to their own; everyone is able to see that our coreligionists are in want of aid from us.

Teach also those who profess the Greek religion to contribute to such services, and the villages of the Greek religion to offer the first-fruits to the gods. Accustom those of the Greek religion to such benevolence, teaching them that this has been our work from ancient times. ... Do not therefore let others outdo us in good deeds while we ourselves are disgraced by laziness; rather, let us not quite abandon our piety toward the gods . . .

While proper behavior in accordance with the laws of the city will obviously be the concern of the governors of the cities, you for your part [as a priest] must take care to encourage people not to violate the laws of the gods since they are holy . . . Above all you must exercise philanthropy. From it result many other goods, and indeed that which is the greatest blessing of all, the goodwill of the gods . . .

We ought to share our goods with all men, but most of all with the respectable, the helpless, and the poor, so that they have at least the essentials of life. I claim, even though it may seem paradoxical, that it is a holy deed to share our clothes and food with the wicked: we give, not to their moral character but to their human character. Therefore I believe that even prisoners deserve the same kind of care. This type of kindness will not interfere with the process of justice, for among the many imprisoned and awaiting trial some will be found guilty, some innocent. It would be cruel indeed if out of consideration for the innocent we should not allow some pity for the guilty, or on account of the guilty we should behave without mercy and humanity to those who have done no wrong . . . How can the man who, while worshipping Zeus the God of Companions, sees his neighbors in need and does not give them a dime--how can he think he is worshipping Zeus properly? . . .

Priests ought to make a point of not doing impure or shameful deeds or saying words or hearing talk of this type. We must therefore get rid of all offensive jokes and licentious associations. What I mean is this: no priest is to read Archilochus or Hipponax or anyone else who writes poetry as they do. They should stay away from the same kind of stuff in Old Comedy. Philosophy alone is appropriate for us priests. Of the philosophers, however, only those who put the gods before them as guides of their intellectual life are acceptable, like Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics . . . only those who make people reverent . . . not the works of Pyrrho and Epicurus . . . We ought to pray often to the gods in private and in public, about three times a day, but if not that often, at least in the morning and at night.

No priest is anywhere to attend shameful theatrical shows or to have one performed at his own house; it is in no way appropriate. Indeed, if it were possible to get rid of such shows altogether from the theater and restore the theaters, purified, to Dionysus as in the olden days, I would certainly have tried to bring this about. But since I thought that this was out of the question, and even if possible would for other reasons be inexpedient, I did not even try. But I do insist that priests stay away from the licentiousness of the theaters and leave them to the people. No priest is to enter a theater, have an actor or a chariot driver as a friend, or allow a dancer or mime into his house. I allow to attend the sacred games those who want to, that is, they may attend only those games from which women are forbidden to attend not only as participants but even as spectators."

Translation of Edward J. Chinnock, A Few Notes on Julian and a Translation of His Public Letters (London: David Nutt, 1901) pp. 75-78

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Seeing St Augustine

Vittore Carpaccio, (c. 1460 – 1525/1526)
Vision of St. Augustine, c.1502
Oil on canvas, 141 x 210 cm
Venice, Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni

The theme of the the painting is based on an apocryphal story in pseudo-Augustine popular in the thirteen and fourteenth centuries.

St Augustine, one of the most important scholar-saints of the early Christian Church, is interrupted as he writes a letter to his fellow scholar, St Jerome.

Augustine looks up to the light which floods in at the window as he hears the voice of Jerome telling him of his death and ascent to Heaven.

While writing the letter St Augustine had been pondering how much glory and joy the saints have in Heaven. St Jerome, accordig to the story, admonished the saint:

"Do you think that you can put the whole sea in a little vase ? ...Will your eye see what no eye of man can see ? Your ear hear by what no human ear can hear ?"

For St Augustine, sunlight was "the Queen of all Colours pouring down for everything". Light was the subject of his only poem which was on the light of the Easter Candle.

The shaft of light transfixes both St Augustine and his Maltese dog. For Renaissance Platonists the light would have signified the emanations from the mind of God that illuminate human mind giving rise to the highest and most spiritual understanding.

The light illuminates the eye and the mind. God made light before the rest of creation. The Light is the third figure of the painting.

In the background is an altar with a statue of Christ and Augustine's bishop's mitre and staff. Books lie open on the bench on which Augustine sits, while others are piled up on the floor in front and on the shelves. The sea shell is a reference to the meeting of St Augustine with the Christ child on the sea shore.

The painting gives a marvellous, if idealized vision of a contemporary Venetian scholar's room.

The artist records everything in minute detail which impress his viewers with the reality of the story.

Some commentators have speculated that the features of St Augustine in the painting are those of Cardinal Bessarion, whose collection of books formed the nucleus of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice.

Soon we shall be celebrating the Feast of St Augustine.

Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote that the Saints constitute the most important message of the Gospel, its actualisation in daily life, and therefore represent for a real means of access to Jesus.

Bernanos wrote that "every Saint's life is like a new blossom in spring".

Twenty three years ago Pope John Paul II noted the importance of St Augustine of Hippo by issuing an Apostolic Letter on the 16th Centenary of the Conversion of St Augustine.

The scope of the Letter is long, comprehensive and exhaustive.

Here is only one small section of the letter which deals with one small but important facet of a great, towering and complex individual:
"[St Augustine] was a man of prayer; one might indeed say, a man made of prayer—it suffices to recall the famous Confessions which he wrote in the form of a letter to God-and he repeated to all, with incredible persistence, the necessity of prayer: "God has willed that our struggle should be with prayers rather than with our own strength", he describes the nature of prayer, which is so simple and yet so complex,) the interiority which permits him to identify prayer with desire: "Your desire is itself your prayer; and if your desire is continuous, then your prayer too is continuous." He brings out its social usefulness also: "Let us pray for those who have not been called, that they may be called. For perhaps God has predestined them in such a way that they will be granted and receive the same grace in answer to our prayers"; and he speaks of its wholly necessary link to Christ "who prays for us, and prays in us, and is prayed to by us. He prays for us as our priest; He prays in us, as our head; He is prayed to by us, as our God. Let us therefore recognize our voices in him, and his voice in us."

He climbed with steady diligence the steps of the interior ascents, and described their program for all, an ample and well-defined program that comprises the movement of the spirit toward contemplation—purification, constancy and serenity, orientation toward the light, dwelling in the light) _ the stages of charity — incipient, progressing, intense, perfect—the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are linked to the Beatitudes, the petitions of the Lord's Prayer, the examples given by Christ himself."
(From Pope John Paul II, The Apostolic Letter Augustinum Hipponsensem on the 16th Centenary of the Conversion of St Augustine on The feast day of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church, 28th August 1986)

Monday, August 24, 2009

St Augustine and the Pear Tree

Gustav Klimt 1862-1918
Pear Tree, 1903 (later revised),
Oil and casein on canvas
101 x 101 cm (39 3/4 x 39 3/4 in.)
Busch-Reisinger Museum at Harvard University

Pear trees are beautiful. They flower in the spring. They produce fruit succulent and tasty.

As a youth, the beauty of the pear tree was not evident to St Augustine and his friends.

Saint Augustine admitted that in Tagaste as a youth he lived with a fast set—“the Depravers” or “Destroyers”. He said of them “whose actions I ever did abhor, that is, their Destruction of others, amongst whom I yet lived with a kind of shameless bashfulness.”

In his Confessions, St Augustine devoted much of Book 2 to an incident involving the theft of pears from a pear tree which was near the family home. Of all the wrongs at this time, this incident appears to have given him the most chagrin

"There was a pear tree close to our own vineyard, heavily laden with fruit, which was not tempting either for its colour or for its flavour. Late one night–having prolonged our games in the streets until then, as our bad habit was–a group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went to shake and rob this tree. We carried off a huge load of pears, not to eat ourselves, but to dump out to the hogs, after barely tasting some of them ourselves. Doing this pleased us all the more because it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart–which thou didst pity even in that bottomless pit. Behold, now let my heart confess to thee what it was seeking there, when I was being gratuitously wanton, having no inducement to evil but the evil itself. It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own undoing. I loved my error–not that for which I erred but the error itself. A depraved soul, falling away from security in thee to destruction in itself, seeking nothing from the shameful deed but shame itself."

His theft of pears in the Confessions has occasionally been held up to ridicule as an example of a neurotic soul that was burdened by excessive and unnecessary guilt

This view was expressed by Oliver Wendell Holmes when he wrote to Harold Laski, "Rum thing to see a man making a mountain of robbing a pear tree in his teens"

With a gang of his friends, Augustine sneaked into an orchard at night and stole a load of pears. He did not want the pears, nor was he motivated by any self-interest. He simply enjoyed the act of doing wrong for its own sake. He reflects on the incident. Trapped in misdirected love of earthly goods, the soul separates itself from God and tries to demonstrate its power over God by breaking God’s laws. Augustine knows also that he would never have committed the theft alone.

The mature Augustine was not so much concerned with the mere act of stealing pears. His real concern was with what was happening inwardly

He wrote:

"Everyone knows there is a divine law which forbids theft, so if I can steal [pears] and get away with it, this will show that I am not subject to God or to any divine law. And if I am not subject to any law which defines what is good, then the good will simply be what I say it is. Hence I will be free and omnipotent. I can do what I want and what I want is the good."

The drive, it seemed to the mature Augustine, was scornful pride (fastidium) and the nourishment of iniquity (sagina iniquitatis). He enjoyed, not the thing stolen, but the theft itself. He had no provocation, he says, but evil itself:

“For having gathered them, I flung them away, eating little of them but my own sin only, which I was extremely pleased with the enjoying” (Confessions 2.6.12 )

For the text see:The Confessions of Saint Augustine, tr. by Edward Bouverie Pusey, [1909-14], at

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Religious Sensibility of Beardsley

Aubrey Beardsley (1872 - 1898)
"V" (from "Volpone"): Elephant
Drawing (1898)
Black ink and graphite on white paper
actual: 17.9 x 16.2 cm (7 1/16 x 6 3/8 in.)
Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum

There is a great deal of literature about the artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872 - 1898). However there is very little about his religious beliefs. Possibly because most works about Beardsley concentrate on the erotic aspects of his work and seem to regard him as a rebel against Victorian conformity and sensibility. Religion and rebellion do not sit well together.

But to ignore the religious side of Beardsley is to ignore the most important part of his character. No one is advocating his canonisation.

But perhaps his early death deprived the Catholic Church of an important religious artist.

In 1895 Arthur Symons met Beardsley at Dieppe. In 1966 he recalled one of their meetings that summer:

"It was on the balcony or the Hôtel Henri IV at Arques, one of those September evenings, that I had the only quite serious, almost solemn, conversation I ever had with Beardsley. Not long before we had gone together to visit Alexandre Dumas fils at Puy, and it was from talking thoughtfully, but entirely, of that Parisian writer, and his touching, in its unreal way so real, Dame aux Caméllias (the novel, not the play), which Beardsley admired so much, that we passed into an unexpectedly intimate mood of speculation.

Those stars up yonder, whether they were really the imprisoning worlds of other creatures like ourselves ; the strange ways by which the soul might have come and must certainly go ; death and the future : it was of such things that I found him speaking, for once without mockery. And he told me then a singular dream or vision which he had had when a child, waking up at night in the moonlight and seeing a great crucifix, with a bleeding Christ, falling off the wall, where certainly there was not, and had never been, any crucifix.

It is only by remembering that one conversation, that vision, the tone of awe with which he told it, that I can, with a great effort, imagine to myself the Beardsley whom I knew, with his so positive intelligence, his imaginative sight of the very spirit of man as a thing of definite outline, transformed finally into the Beardsley who died in the peace of the last sacraments, holding the rosary between his fingers."

One of the key figures in the conversion of Beardsley was Marc-André Raffalovich (11 September 1864 – 1934), a French poet and patron of the arts. In 1896, he converted to Catholicism and and joined the tertiary order of the Dominicans as brother Sebastian

Here are extracts from some letters which Beardsley wrote to Raffalovich about his conversion and at the time of his formal reception into the Church in March-April 1897

By way of background Beardsley moved to a guest house in Bournemouth on the English South Coast. The guest house was known as Muriel (also called Cheam House) in Exeter Road, which stood just off Bournemouth Square and was demolished as recently as 1995.

Father Bearne appears to have been a Jesuit priest at the local Church, the Sacred Heart Church which was opened in 1875. The building was designed by the architect Clutton. Its architecture is a mixture of neo-gothic and neo-Norman influences, popular in Victorian times.

"To: André Raffalovich
Wednesday [31 March 1897]

Muriel, Bournemouth

My dear André

Very many thanks indeed for your little line and kind enclosure

This morning I was received by dear Father Bearne into the Church, making my first confession, with which he helped me so kindly. My first communion will be made next Friday. I was not well enough to go up to the church, and on Friday the Blessed Sacrament will be brought me here. This is a very dry account of what has been the most important step in my life, but you will understand fully what those simple statements mean. I don`t feel I can write a long letter today.

Your letter has just arrived. I am touched more than I can say with all your loving sympathy.

I am feeling so happy now.

Goodbye my dear friend and brother, and with the deepest gratitude for all your prayers.

I am ever yours most affectionately
Aubrey Beardsley"

On 1st April 1897 he again wrote to his friend:

"My dearest Friend and Brother,
Father Bearne. came to see me this afternoon, & brought me such a dear little Rosary, that had been blessed by the Holy Father. He explained to me the use of it. I feel now, dear André, like some one who has been standing waiting on the doorstep of a house upon a cold day, & who cannot make up his mind to knock for a long while. At last the door is thrown open & all the warmth of kind hospitality makes glad the frozen traveller. ..."

Then after his First Communion he wrote:

"To André Raffalovich
Friday [2 April 1897]

Muriel, Bournemouth

My dear André, my dear Brother,

The Blessed Sacrament was brought to me here this morning. It was a moment of profound joy, of gratitude and emotion. I gave myself up entirely to feelings of happiness, and even the knowledge of my own unworthiness only seemed to add fuel to the flames that warmed and illuminated my heart.

Oh how earnestly I have prayed that the flame may never die out !

My dear André, I understand now so much you have written to me that seemed difficult before. Through all eternity I shall be unspeakably greatful to you for your brotherly concern for my spiritual advancement.

This afternoon I have felt a little sad at the thought of my compulsory exile from Church just now; and that the divine privilege of praying before the Blessed Sacrament is not permitted me.

You can guess how I long to assist at Mass, and you will pray, I know, that I may be strong enough to do so.

Goodbye dear André.

I am yours very affectionately
Aubrey Beardsley"