Monday, August 29, 2011

Gregory`s Children

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828)
Saint Gregory the Great / San Gregorio Magno
1796 - 99
Oil on canvas
190 x 115 cm
Museo del Romanticismo, Madrid

The painting of St Gregory the Great by Goya is exhibited above the altar in the intimate chapel in the Museum It is the museum's most valuable painting,

It was one of four canvases depicting the four Doctors of the Church, The institution for which it was intended is not known but it may have been for a Jesuit institution

Saint Jerome in Penitence, 1798 is in The Norton Simon Museum

St Ambrose is in The Cleveland Museum of Art

St Augustine is in a private collection

The depiction shows St Gregory the Great as a luminous majestic monumental figure. Goya depicts the great saint through his facial features, the concentration, the hands, the writing and the great books on his lap, symbols of one of the great and most proific writers of the Early Church

Some have seen a relationship between Goya's Gregory and Augustine and Murillo's depiction of the same subjects

He was at the height of his powers. In 1799 he was appointed first court painter, the highest artistic position attainable.

I always remember my sheer amazement at coming across the tomb of St Gregory the Great in St Peter`s Basilica in Rome, I had never realised that he was buried there.

In front of the huge altar there was a simple plaque announcing that it was there that the bones of St Gregorio Magno was buried. One of the greatest Popes and historical figures, without whom there would have been no medieval Church. No medieval Church, no Western civilisation as we know it. For such a great figure it was a rather non descript anonymous place

In the space of 30 minutes no one else bothered about it. The tourists were congregated around more "famous" sights in the Basilica

He was one of the great pivotal figures in Western history.

It can be truly said that if he had not lived the world would have been an extremely different place.

As regards his significance, he is recognised as "Great" not simply by the Roman Catholic Church. The Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, the Lutheran Church and other non-Roman Catholic Churches all recognise him as "Great", as a Saint and commemorate him and his memory

The painting above the altar does not help. The subject is "The Mass of St Gregory". Not many Catholics now recall the significance of the story or even know what it is about.

The fact that compared to the other Papal tombs such as Gregory XIV in the Basilica, it is relatively non-descript. Who now recalls Gregory XIV or regards him as one of the "great" Popes ? Yet in the 19th century, Gregory XIV, the last monk to become Pope, took the name of "Gregory" because of his reverence for Gregory the Great. Both had been abbots in Rome before their election to the Papacy.

The German historian Ferdinand Gregorovius ( 1821 – 1891), no friend of the Papacy, said of Pope Saint Gregory the Great:

"The sixth century is one of the most memorable in history.

In it mankind experienced the overthrow of a great and ancient civilization, and on this account believed that the end of the world had come. A thick cloud of barbarism, as it were of dust arising from the crash, hung over the Roman Empire devastated through out its length and breadth by the destroying angel, dealing pestilence and other ills. The world entered upon a turning-point in its development.

Upon the ruins of the ancient Empire, amid which the Goths, premature heralds of Germany, had perished, fresh forms of national life now slowly arose ; in Italy, through the instrumentality of the Lombards ; in Gaul, through that of the Franks ; in Spain, by means of the Visigoths ; in Britain, by those of the Saxons. The Catholic Church everywhere constituted itself the vital principle of these growing nations. To the Church they turned as to a centre, and, through the conquest of Arianism, the Church by degrees drew them together in a union which was destined, sooner or later, to give political form to a new Western Empire.

These events took place at a time when the East was stirred by a like impulse of development ; when Mohammed had appeared to found a new religion, which, uniting nations on the Eastern ruins of the Roman dominion, forced the Byzantine Empire first to return to Italy, and then for centuries to be the bulwark of Hellenic culture in the West.

Gregory and Mohammed were the two priests of the West and East. Each founded a hierarchy on the ruins of antiquity, and through the concussion of the two systems the future fate of Europe and Asia was decided. Rome and Mecca, here the Basilica of St. Peter, there the Caaba, became the symbolic temples of the Covenants of the European and the Asiatic world, while the marvel of the Byzantine Empire, the Church built by Justinian to St. Sophia, remained the centre of existing Hellenism."

Gregorovius Rome in the Middle Ages ii. 70

Pieter Pauwel Rubens 1577 = 1640
The Ecstasy of St Gregory the Great
Oil on canvas
477 x 288 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Grenoble

Rubens was commissioned to paint The Ecstasy of Saint Gregory the Great when he was staying in Rome.

It was meant for the high altar of the Oratorians' main church, Santa Maria Vallicella. The majestic Baroque classical composition fitted in well with the prevailing ethos of the Counter-Reformation, in one of the main centres of the Counter-Reformation.

At the time Rubens regarded this painting as one the best he produced.

Unfortunately in situ the painting reflected the light and was rejected, another painting being put in its place

When he left Italy, Rubens took the work with him and it hung over the tomb of his mother in the Abbey Saint Michael, Antwerp

The saints who surround the figure of St Gregory are now obscure legendary early martyrs: Maurus, Papianus, Domitilla, Nereus and Achilleus. All are either gazing at the figures of Madonna and Child or looking at the spectator. The painting of the Madonna and Child is the "Madonna di Vallicella", a painting believed to possess certain powers.

But again we see the majestic monumental form of Saint Gregory, one of the pillars of the Church.

There are only a few biographies of Gregory in English. One of the last great ones is Frederick Holmes Dudden`s Gregory the Great : his place in history and thought (1905). Volumes One and Two can be downloaded from the Internet Archive: Volume One and Volume Two

In his Preface, Dudden explained the greatness of Gregory. In Europe we are all Gregory`s children:

"Gregory the Great is certainly one of the most notable figures in ecclesiastical history.

He has exercised in many respects a momentous influence on the doctrine, the organization, and the discipline of the Catholic Church. To him we must look for an explanation of the religious situation of the Middle Ages : indeed, if no account were taken of his work, the evolution of the form of mediaeval Christianity would be almost inexplicable. And further, in so far as the modern Catholic system is a legitimate development of mediaeval Catholicism, of this too Gregory may not unreasonably be termed the Father.

In recent times an attempt has been made to distinguish the Christianity of the first six centuries from that of the Schoolmen and the later divines. But to any one who will take the trouble to examine the writings of the last great Doctor of the sixth century, the futility of this arbitrary distinction will soon become apparent.

Almost all the leading principles of the later Catholicism are found, at any rate in germ, in Gregory the Great.

Nor, again, can those who are interested only in purely secular history afford to overlook the work of one of the greatest of the early Popes, whose influence was felt alike by the Byzantine Emperors, by the Lombard princes, by the kings in Britain, Gaul, and Spain.

Gregory was by far the most important personage of his time.

He stood in the very centre of his world, and overshadowed it. He took an interest and claimed a share in all its chief transactions ; he was in relation,more or less intimate, with all its leading characters. If the history of the latter part of the sixth century is to be studied intelligently, it must be studied in close connexion with the life and labours of that illustrious Pontiff, who for many years was the foremost personage in Europe, and did more, perhaps, than any other single man to shape the course of European development.

Finally, to Gregory the students of English history are more especially bound to devote their attention, since it is he who was the means of introducing Christianity among the English, and of renewing the broken communications between Britain and the Roman world. How far-reaching have been the effects of his action it is unnecessary to point out. I will only remark that, in respect of the history of the doctrine of the English Church, Gregory's theology is of particular interest. For the system of dogma which was introduced into our island by Augustine was the system elaborated by Augustine's revered master."

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1913) makes it clear that he was not a great philosopher, theologian, conversationalist, nor a great intellectual:

"[I]t will be best to clear the ground by admitting frankly what Gregory was not. He was not a man of profound learning, not a philosopher, not a conversationalist, hardly even a theologian in the constructive sense of the term. He was a trained Roman lawyer and administrator, a monk, a missionary, a preacher, above all a physician of souls and a leader of men. His great claim to remembrance lies in the fact that he is the real father of the medieval papacy"

Perhaps in an era where Europe prides itself on intellectual ability and talent and because of the Enlightenment "worships" the Intellect, Gregory is ignored.

Perhaps we need a new history of St Gregory the Great. His story is a remarkable one. The present day needs to be reminded of it. We are all Gregory`s children.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Baptist, The Witness, The Catechist, The Evangelist

Historiated initial 'O' of the beheading of John the Baptist Cuttings from a choir book c. 1475
Additional 18197, ff. A and H
The British LIbrary, London

Historiated and foliate initial 'L' of the Martyrdom of John the Baptist with the executioner holding up the saint’s severed head.
Cutting from a choir book
Italy, N. (Bologna); Last quarter of the 14th century
Additional 71119D
The British Library, London

Miniature of John the Baptist with an angel, decorated initial 'D'(omine) and foliate borders including hybrid and human figures, at the beginning of the Hours of John the Baptist
France, Central (Angers?); c. 1450 - c. 1460
Harley 5764 f. 81
The British Library, London

Miniature of John the Baptist.
From The Book of Hours, Use of Sarum
Netherlands, S. (Bruges); c. 1500
King's 9 ff. 2v-255v
The British LIbrary, London

The Roman Catholic Church commemorates St. John the Baptist on two feast days:

June 24 – The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
August 29 – The Beheading of St. John the Baptist

We recall the passage in the Gospel of John (John 1:29-1:36) which is still recalled in and is an essential part of the Liturgy:

"The Lamb of God

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

30This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.’

32And John testified, ‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.”

34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.’*

The First Disciples of Jesus

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, ‘Look, here is the Lamb of God!’ "

Blessed Pope John Paul II set as an example for Catechists and Teachers of Religion, the great figure of Saint John the Baptist

"1. "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight" (Lk 3: 4). Today John the Baptist speaks to us in these words.

In a certain sense, his ascetic figure embodies the meaning of this time of expectation and preparation for the Lord's coming. In the desert of Judea he proclaims that the time has come for the fulfilment of the promises and that the kingdom of God is at hand: it is therefore urgent to forsake the ways of sin and believe in the Gospel (cf. Mk 1: 15).

What figure could be more fitting for your Jubilee than John the Baptist, dear catechists and Catholic religion teachers?...

2. In the Baptist you are rediscovering today the fundamental features of your ecclesial service. By taking him as your model, you are encouraged to examine the mission entrusted to you by the Church.

Who is John the Baptist?

First of all he is a believer personally committed to a demanding spiritual journey, consisting of attentive and constant listening to the Word of salvation. He also bears witness to a way of life that is detached and poor; he shows great courage in proclaiming God's will to everyone, even to its ultimate consequences. He does not yield to the easy temptation to take a prominent role, but humbly lowers himself to exalt Jesus.

Like John the Baptist, the catechist too is called to point out Jesus as the awaited Messiah, the Christ. His task is to invite people to fix their gaze on Jesus and to follow him, for Jesus alone is the Teacher, the Lord and the Saviour.

Like the Precursor, it is Christ and not himself whom the catechist must emphasize. Everything must be directed to him: to his coming, to his presence, to his mystery.

The catechist must be a voice that refers to the Word, a friend who leads to the Bridegroom. And yet, like John, he too is indispensable in a certain sense, because the experience of faith always needs a mediator who is also a witness.

Who among us does not thank the Lord for an effective catechist - a priest, a man or woman religious, a lay person - to whom we owe our first practical and engaging explanation of the Christian mystery? "

Inside the Mind of a Tyrant

There is soon to be a forthcoming exhibition at The British Library entitled Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination

It features some works of a unique collection of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts assembled by English kings and queens over 700 years.

One of the highlights will be Henry VIII’s Psalter, commissioned and annotated by the King himself.

Here is the first page which shows Henry. But not just as King Henry of England. It is Henry as King David, the conqueror of Jerusalem, the composer of the Psalms and the King chosen by God to lead the people of Israel

The King is looking out at the viewer. The viewer was of course himself. It is an extraordinary conceit and piece of flattery.

Henry is depicted as a scholar-king, diligently reading and following the guidance of the first verse of Psalm 1:

‘Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly … his will is in the law of the Lord.’

Henry reinforces the connection by writing ‘note who is blessed’ (nota quis sit beatus) next to the verse.

Jean Mallard or Mallart
Henry VIII as David,
Henry VIII’s Psalter, London c. 1540,
Royal 2 A xvi
The British Library, London

The Psalter is a beautiful and fascinating work. It featured prominently in the recent exhibition also at The British LIbrary entitled Henry VIII: Man and Monarch as well as the Sacred Texts exhibition

You can view the Psalter using the software links on the special Turning the Pages™ webpage

The Psalter was produced about 1540 by Jean Mallard or Mallart, a French scribe and illuminator calligrapher and poet,, The Psalter is signed in Latin

“Johannes Mallardus, regius orator, et ex calamo regi Anglie et Francie fidei deffensori invectissimo”

The Prayer Book was presented to Henry VIII in 1540. It was a particularly significant year.

On 6 January Anne of Cleves became Henry's fourth wife; on 6 July the marriage was annulled.

Henry’s adviser Thomas Cromwell was beheaded at Tower Hill on 28 July, the same day that Henry married Catherine Howard in a private ceremony at Oatlands Palace in Surrey. However, the young bride was condemned to death for adultery less than two years later.

In 1540 Henry also sanctioned the destruction of the English and Welsh shrines to saints. It was one of the greatest acts of cultural vandalism in Western civilisation.

In 1535, Henry added the "supremacy phrase" to the royal style, which became "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England and France, Defender of the Faith, Lord of Ireland and of the Church of England in Earth Supreme Head". In 1536, the phrase "of the Church of England" changed to "of the Church of England and also of Ireland". Henry had the Irish Parliament change the title "Lord of Ireland" to "King of Ireland" with the Crown of Ireland Act 1542

The style "Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith and of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head" remained in use until his death in 1547

The full styles are significant.

It was not simply that he was ousting the spiritual jurisdiction of the Pope from England, Wales and Ireland.. He assumed the Pope`s spiritual jurisdiction in England, Wales and Ireland.

The centuries old distinction between Church and State vanished. There were no longer the two "spheres". Caesar became the Vicar of Christ on Earth, at least as far as England, Wales and Ireland were concerned.

Prior to this time, an English Monarch did not have the full plenitude of legal power which we now call "Sovereignity". Kings and Monarchs were always accountable and subject to higher law. No longer. It took more than a century for Parliament to come to legally rival and break the King`s monopoly of legal and spiritual power.

On his accession, in 1509, he inherited a huge fortune from his father. Despite the seizing of assets from the Church and people whom he had executed, the right to customs duties and other taxes, grants and subsidies from Parliament and two debasements of the coinage, he died in debt. His spending was excessive and profligate. At his death he had 55 palaces.

Henry VIII used the Psalter as his personal prayer book until his death. The Book gives a glimpse into his thought and feelings in the religious sphere.

The pages with Psalms 17 -20 with the King`s annotations are interesting (See below)

The commentary of The British Library on these two pages is instructive:

"Folios 19v–23

At the top of the left-hand page, Psalm 17: 26–7 assure us that, with the holy, God will be holy, that, with the innocent man, He will be innocent, but, with the perverse, He will be a hard judge. Henry VIII was certain that he was numbered among the blessed and comments that this message is encouraging (de confortio).

The King has annotated the right-hand page in two places.

At the top of the page, he highlights the last verse of Psalm 19:

‘O Lord, save the king: and hear us in the day that we shall call upon thee’ as ‘an appropriate prayer for kings’ (pro rege oratio).

With his pencil annotation ‘concerning kings’ (nota de regibus), Henry draws attention to Psalm 20: which instructs him that, as king, he is called to ‘rejoice in the Lord’s strength and delight in His salvation’.

Perhaps even more revealing are the next two pages with the continuation of Psalm 20 and following:

Here again is the commentary of The British Library:

"Folios 23v–27

Henry VIII found further evidence in Psalm 20 (left-hand page) to support his belief that the Lord would seek out and destroy those who ‘have intended evils against thee’ because ‘the king hopeth in the Lord’.

Henry believed that God’s enemies were his enemies and his enemies were God’s and has therefore written ‘note what is said about Christ’s enemies’ (nota quid ait de Christi inimicis) alongside verse 9, which reads:

‘Let thy hand be found by all thy enemies: let thy right hand find out all them that hate thee.’

As previous examples of Henry’s marginalia have demonstrated, he was supremely confident of his own salvation, based on his own conduct and obedience to God’s law."

"Verses from Psalm 23 (right-hand page) provided Henry with further evidence to confirm his belief. The King observes that verse 3 poses the ‘question’ (questio) ‘who shall ascend into the mountain of the Lord or who shall stand in His holy place?’. Henry notes that the ‘answer’ (solutio) is to be found in the next verse:

"The innocent in hands, and clean of heart, who hath not taken his soul in vain, nor sworn deceitfully to his neighbour.’"

Here is a miniature from the Psalter:

The young David [Henry VIII] prepares to confront Goliath. Dressed in Tudor costume, he wears a soft black hat with a white feather brim, similar to that worn by Henry in the famous Holbein portrait in Whitehall.

Goliath is modelled on Pope Paul III, who excommunicated the ‘heretic’ King in 1538. David’s victory over Goliath is thus directly analagous to Henry’s ‘liberation’ of England from servitude to Rome.

The British Library has the following comment:

"The illustration prefacing Psalm 26 depicts Henry VIII as the Old Testament King David preparing to slay Goliath. As the illustration shows, Henry saw himself as an English King David and considered his liberation of England from papal authority and the enemies of God’s word to be the equivalent of David’s victory against the giant Goliath.

In Henry’s opinion, both kings had destroyed icons and restored true religion. Henry has marked up Mallard’s title, which reads,

‘The complete trust of Christ in God’ (Christi plena in Deum fiducia).

These words would certainly have resonated with Henry, who increasingly saw himself standing not only in the shoes of David but also those of Christ

On the left-hand page Henry has drawn attention to Psalm 24: 3, which reads:

‘Neither let my enemies laugh at me: for none of them that wait on thee shall be confounded.’

Henry was convinced that his enemies would be sought out and destroyed because, like David, he put his trust in the Lord. "

Of Psalm 48 and Henry`s annotations, The British Library comments:

"Folios 59v–60

The annotations on these pages demonstrate how the Psalms not only provided Henry VIII with guidance in his role as king and chief priest but also instructed him about his own behaviour. On the left-hand page Henry notes that he considers the warning contained in Psalm 48, not to place one’s trust in worldly goods, to be excellent advice (pulchra monitio).

On the opposite page, Psalm 48 continues to offer warnings about the relative value of wealth, but Henry, who, by the time of his death, owned 55 palaces, and had a profoundly literal understanding of divine providence, appears to have understood that his wealth was a sign of God’s blessing on him.

Next to verse 19, which reads, ‘For in his lifetime his soul will be blessed and he will praise thee when thou shalt do well to him’, Henry responds, ‘note what he says about life’ (nota quid de vita ait)."

Psalms 49 -51 are very revealing:

"Folios 61v–63

Henry VIII’s marginal comments on these pages once again focus on the wicked and their behaviour. The King’s first pencil annotation on the left-hand page is written beside Psalm 49: 21, which warns that God will rebuke those wicked people who disobey His law and interpret His silence as approval, and will set before them their transgressions.

In Henry’s opinion, this verse is a ‘formidable saying’ (tremende dictum). On the same page Henry ‘takes special notice of’ (nota bene) verse 22, which cautions that those who forget God are in peril of being snatched away without any hope of rescue.

On the right-hand page Henry has written three notes next to Psalm 51, which speaks ‘of the evil’ (de maliciosis) and assures us that ‘their reward’ (eorum remuneratio) will be eternal destruction.

Henry’s last marginal comment is the most revealing for, always confident of his own righteousness, he has noted that the righteous will laugh in derision at the everlasting ruin of the evil (de iustorum oppinio in maliciosis)."

Here is the miniature accompanying Psalm 52, showing Henry and his jester, Will Somers:

Of this the Library says:

"Psalm 52 is accompanied by an illustration of an aged Henry VIII sitting in his Privy Chamber and playing a harp to identify him with the Psalmist King David.

His companion, wearing a green hooded jacket and green-blue stockings, can be identified as his jester Will Somers, with whom Henry enjoyed a close relationship for more than two decades.

The inclusion of the royal fool in the picture provides the link with the text immediately to the right of it. The illuminated ‘D’ by Will Somers’s head is the first letter of the Psalm in Latin:

Dixit inspiens in corde suo, non est Deus (‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”’).

Will Somers faces out of the illustration, obviously rejected, as the content of the Psalm dictates"

As an antidote to this rather eccentric view of The Psalms, it is perhaps helpful to remind ourselves of how The Psalms should be prayed, interpreted and approached.

A much more reliable spiritual guide is Pope Benedict XVI.

In his Audience of 22 June 2011, he delivered a general view on praying the Psalms

Amongst the many things he said was the following:

"Since the Psalms are prayers they are expressions of the heart and of faith with which everyone can identify and in which that experience of special closeness to God — to which every human being is called — is communicated.

Moreover the whole complexity of human life is distilled in the complexity of the different literary forms of the various Psalms: hymns, laments, individual entreaties and collective supplications, hymns of thanksgiving, penitential psalms, sapiential psalms and the other genres that are to be found in these poetic compositions.

Despite this multiplicity of expression, two great areas that sum up the prayer of the Psalter may be identified: supplication, connected to lamentation, and praise.

These are two related dimensions that are almost inseparable since supplication is motivated by the certainty that God will respond, thus opening a person to praise and thanksgiving; and praise and thanksgiving stem from the experience of salvation received; this implies the need for help which the supplication expresses.

In his supplication the person praying bewails and describes his situation of anguish, danger or despair or, as in the penitential Psalms, he confesses his guilt, his sin, asking forgiveness. He discloses his needy state to the Lord, confident that he will be heard and this involves the recognition of God as good, as desirous of goodness and as one who “loves the living” (cf. Wis 11:26), ready to help, to save and to forgive.

In this way, for example, the Psalmist in Psalm 31[30] prays:

“In you, O Lord, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame... take me out of the net which is hidden for me, for you are my refuge” (vv. 2,5).

In the lamentation, therefore, something like praise, which is foretold in the hope of divine intervention, can already emerge, and it becomes explicit when divine salvation becomes a reality.

Likewise in the Psalms of thanksgiving and praise, recalling the gift received or contemplating the greatness of God’s mercy, we also recognize our own smallness and the need to be saved which is at the root of supplication.

In this way we confess to God our condition as creatures, inevitably marked by death, yet bearing a radical desire for life.

The Psalmist therefore exclaims in Psalm 86 [85]:

“I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name for ever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (vv. 12-13).

In the prayer of the Psalms, supplication and praise are interwoven in this manner and fused in a single hymn that celebrates the eternal grace of the Lord who stoops down to our frailty.

It was precisely in order to permit the people of believers to join in this hymn that the Psalter was given to Israel and to the Church.

Indeed the Psalms teach how to pray. In them, the word of God becomes a word of prayer — and they are the words of the inspired Psalmist — which also becomes the word of the person who prays the Psalms."

In the annotations to Henry`s Psalter, one looks in vain for "his situation of anguish, danger or despair or, as in the penitential Psalms, [a confession of] guilt, his sin, asking forgiveness.. and [the recognition of] our own smallness and the need to be saved which is at the root of supplication"

In 2008 in an address to the Bishops attending 12th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, Pope Benedict XVI perhaps put his finger on the problems of reading Scripture (or exegesis):

"We are always searching for the Word of God. It is not merely present in us. Just reading it does not mean necessarily that we have truly understood the Word of God. The danger is that we only see the human words and do not find the true actor within, the Holy Spirit. We do not find the Word in the words.

In this context St Augustine recalls the scribes and pharisees who were consulted by Herod when the Magi arrived. Herod wants to know where the Saviour of the world would be born. They know it, they give the correct answer: in Bethlehem.

They are great specialists who know everything. However they do not see reality, they do not know the Saviour.

St Augustine says: they are signs on the road for others, but they themselves do not move. This is a great danger as well in our reading of Scripture: we stop at the human words, words form the past, history of the past, and we do not discover the present in the past, the Holy Spirit who speaks to us today in the words from the past.

In this way we do not enter the interior movement of the Word, which in human words conceals and which opens the divine words. Therefore, there is always a need for "exquisivi". We must always look for the Word within the words.

Therefore, exegesis, the true reading of Holy Scripture, is not only a literary phenomenon, not only reading a text. It is the movement of my existence. It is moving towards the Word of God in the human words. Only by conforming ourselves to the Mystery of God, to the Lord who is the Word, can we enter within the Word, can we truly find the Word of God in human words. Let us pray to the Lord that he may help us search the word, not only with our intellect but also with our entire existence."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Danish Certificate of Baptism

If you look inside a United Kingdom EU passport, you will see beautiful watermark images of British birds on the empty pages.

If you ask a Danish friend to see his or her EU passport, you will find on one whole page an image of Christ crucified. I don`t know if the EU authorities have caught onto this yet. So let`s just keep it quiet.

The image is a very old one and is found on an ancient rune stone in a Danish churchyard in the town of Jelling. It is thought that this is the earliest extant representation of Christ in Scandinavia

Harald Bluetooth’s rune stone

The site at Jelling

Harald Bluetooth’s rune stone is one of two rune stones. One was raised by King Gorm in memory of his wife, Queen Thyra arouynd AD 950.

The other (Harald`s) was raised around AD 965 by his son Harald Bluetooth, in memory of his parents and his own achievements in particular. Harald Bluetooth’s rune stone has been called "Denmark's certificate of baptism".

With its Ruinic script the Danish king officially confirmed the new Christian faith:

""King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian"

The stone has a figure of Jesus Christ on one side and on another side a serpent wrapped around a lion

Here is a reconstruction of how the stone would have looked as new and painted:

Replica of the Harald Bluetooth’s rune stone
The Palace courtyard, The National Museum, Copenhagen

The National Museum in Copenhagen has a website entitled The Jelling Project which provides a great deal of information about the site, the Church and the stones

The site is one of the only five UNESCO World Heritage Centres in Denmark

The site is a unique illustration of the transition between the old pagan Nordic religion and Christianity and at the same time of the pivotal moment in the creation of the national state of Denmark. It represents an event of exceptional importance, the beginning of the conversion of the Scandinavian peoples to Christianity.

Jelling was not the first Scandinavian settlement to adopt Christianity. It was brought to Birka by Ansgar in the mid 9th century.But Jelling was the place where Christianity was first officially adopted (by Harald Bluetooth) in the mid lOth century

Here is a video of the site and its history:

Blessed Pope John Paul II referred to the deep roots of Christianity in the Danish soil, nation and psyche:

"Danish freedom is in large part the flower of the Christian roots of Danish culture; and that is why it is right that the Dannebrog, marked with the sign of Christ's Cross, still flies indomitably as the emblem of your land and your people.

It is an emblem which evokes the great Christian past of Denmark, in which luminous figures such as Saint Ansgar and the martyred King Canute stand as beacons for all time.

Christianity brought to birth a free and humane society, and it must also play its part in protecting that heritage now by ensuring that freedom is tied inseparably to truth, since freedom sundered from truth quickly gives rise to new forms of slavery".

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

¿Qué hace una chica como tú en un sitio como éste?

Sister Teresita (aged 103 years) meets the Pope

Sister Teresita was born in September 1907. She will be 104 years old this September

On 16th April 1927 she entered the closed Cistercian convent of nuns in Buenafuente del Sistal in Guadalajara, Spain and has remained there ever since.

On Sunday 19th August 2011 she left the convent for the first time since she entered to meet Pope Benedict. They met at the Nunciature in Madrid at 7.30 am

By coincidence he was born in Germany on the very same day that she entered the convent more than 84 years ago

There was a certain irony that they met during the World Youth Day celebrations in Spain. Perhaps not. She entered the convent when she was only 19, the same age or thereby as most of the attendees of the Celebration. The video below shows that despite her age she still has many qualities of youth.

Sister Teresita still has all her faculties and more as can be seen from the video below.

Sister Teresita presented the Pope with a number of gifts including a signed copy of a book entitled: "¿Qué hace una chica como tú en un sitio como éste?” ("What`s a girl like you doing in a place like this ?") ,by Jesús García.

The book is a series of ten interviews with nuns including Sister Teresita.

She was born in the Pontificate of Saint Pope Pius X. Perhaps it was due to his reforms that she received her first Holy Communion at an early age. She would have been seven when he passed away.

She would have been ten when the apparitions of Our Lady appeared at Fatima, about the same age as the children there.

She entered the convent in the Pontificate of Pope Pius XI.

In between while she stayed living and praying in the same convent, on the outside there would have been the persecutions and troubles during the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, the rise and fall of Communism in Russia and Eastern Europe, the rise and fall of Francoism, a Great Depression and many recessions.

Pope Benedict XVI is her ninth Pope.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Bartholomew: the Unknown Apostle ?

Artists have been fascinated by St Bartholomew, the unknown Apostle

He is not mentioned or described in the Synoptic Gospels. All we know about him is in the Gospel of St John

He is called "the man of no deceit" by Christ. In Scripture he was called Nathaniel:

"43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.

45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

(John 1: 43 - 50)

Bartholomew was, according to John, the first apostle who was the subject of Christ`s power. At first he is suspicious and cynical then on meeting Christ becomes his firm and faithful disciple.

His fate was that of a cruel and vicious martyrdom.

Here is his great statue in St John Lateran by the great Pierre Le Gros the Younger (1666 - 1719), one of the statues of the twelve apostles which in its time was one of the great artistic wonders of its age. Here we see the hunting knife used to kill the Apostle and the Apostle`s flayed skin:

Pierre Le Gros the Younger (1666 - 1719)
St Bartholomew
Height 425 cm
San Giovanni in Laterano, Rome

In New York we can see a much smaller but still impressive version of this work, perhaps even of parts not readily visible to visitors to St John Lateran:

After a composition by Pierre Legros II (1666–1719)
Saint Bartholomew
after 1738
H. 34 in. (86.4 cm.)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The relics of the Apostle are in the ancient Basilica of St Bartholomew on Tiber Island in Rome.

The ancient church was especially designated by Blessed Pope John Paul II in 2002 as a place for the memorial of the 20th century and later martyrs. In 1993 it was entrusted by him to the Community of Sant'Egidio,

Six altars commemorate the Christians who fell under the totalitarian violence of Communism, Nazism, those killed in America, Asia and Oceania, in Spain and Mexico, and in Africa,

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The new Doctor

Attributed to El Greco 1541 - 1614
Portrait of St John of Ávila
Oil on canvas
79 cm x 62 cm
Museo y Casa del Greco, Toledo

Pierre Hubert Subleyras (1699-1749)
St John of Ávila
c. 1746
Oil on canvas
64 cm x 48.5cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Pierre Hubert Subleyras (1699-1749)
St John of Ávila
Oil on canvas
136 cm x 98.5 cm
Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery (BMAG), Birmingham, England

Saint John of Ávila,(6 January 1500 – 10 May 1569) Apostlic preacher of Andalusia, reformer of clerical life in Spain and the patron saint of the diocesan clergy of Spain is the latest saint who will shortly be declared a Doctor of the Church

Pope Benedict XVI made the announcement at the Mass for Seminarians at the Cathedral Church of Santa María La Real de la Almudena on Saturday, 20 August 2011:

" I announce to the People of God that, having acceded to the desire expressed by Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid and President of the Bishops’ Conference of Spain, together with the members of the Spanish episcopate and other Archbishops and Bishops from throughout the world, as well as many of the lay faithful, I will shortly declare Saint John of Avila a Doctor of the universal Church.

In making this announcement here, I would hope that the word and the example of this outstanding pastor will enlighten all priests and those who look forward to the day of their priestly ordination.

I invite everyone to look to Saint John of Avila and I commend to his intercession the Bishops of Spain and those of the whole world, as well as all priests and seminarians."

The two works in the Louvre and in Birmingham are related. More than simply because they were both by the French painter Subleyras

Both were probably commissioned by Cardinal Annibale Albani (1682 – 1751) in 1746 when he translated a Life of Father John of Avila of Granada

The Louvre work is the esquisse. The Birmingham work is the finished item.

Both works were originally in the Albani collection then the Chigi collection. It would appear that they were then separated.

Seek truth while you are young

The connection between the Church and the foundation of the medieval Universities is well known

Let us take one example: the College of the Sorbonne in Paris in 1257

It was founded by Robert de Sorbon (October 9, 1201 – August 15, 1274), theologian, the chaplain of Louis IX of France

The novel feature of this college is that it was planned for graduates who already had the degree of Master of Arts and were about to undertake the Doctorate in Theology. It was originally intended to teach theology to twenty poor students

It was of course to become the most famous College of the University of Paris

But it was only one of the nineteen colleges founded at Paris before 1300

At least another thirty seven colleges were founded at Paris in the fourteenth century. The fourteenth century was the high point of collegiate expansion in Paris and in Western Europe. It is thought that in the fourteenth century at least eighty seven colleges were founded in Western Europe

Here is the original foundation document of the Sorbonne. The central idea was vivere socialiter et collegialiter, et moraliter, et scholariter

Charter of foundation for the College of the Sorbonne
February 1257
Musée de l'Histoire de France, Paris

Looking at it who would have thought from such small beginnings such a great instutution would have developed. It is useful to compare it with the more modern charter documents of universities set up in Britain within the last twenty years.

Here is the Charter or Bull granted by Pope Clement IV approving the foundation of the College of the Sorbonne and the rules for the election of Administrator

Bull of Pope Clement IV
In Latin from Viterbo and dated 23 March 1268
Manuscript and ink on Parchment and lead seal
31 x 44 cm; Seal 3.5cm
Musée de l'Histoire de France, Paris

Clement IV was one of the French Popes (before Avignon) and friend and protector of among others Roger Bacon and St Thomas Aquinas

With the background of the long involvement of the Church in the foundation and development of Universities, and also his own involvement in University life and studies, the recent words of Pope Benedict XVI to the young professors of Spanish Universities should be looked at carefully. They were part of the World Youth Day celebrations presently going on in Madrid (Basilica of the Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial Friday, 19 August 2011)

The theme of his talk was their vocation: "Service in the spread of Truth"

He referred to the place of his talk, the Basilica of the Monastery:

"an eloquent witness to the life of prayer and study. In this highly symbolic place, reason and faith have harmoniously blended in the austere stone to shape one of Spain’s most renowned monuments."

He again referred to the vocation of the university professor in what a University should be, using the example of his own experience as a young professor at the University of Bonn:

"our passion for an exciting activity, our interaction with colleagues of different disciplines and our desire to respond to the deepest and most basic concerns of our students. This experience of a “Universitas” of professors and students who together seek the truth in all fields of knowledge, or as Alfonso X the Wise put it, this “counsel of masters and students with the will and understanding needed to master the various disciplines” (Siete Partidas, partida II, tit. XXXI), helps us to see more clearly the importance, and even the definition, of the University."

Nowadays there has of course been an explosion of Universities in Britain and Western Europe. In Britain, this has been achieved by the conversion of what were Colleges of Further Education and Technical Colleges into "Universities".

This has been encouraged and funded by the State.

Even the older universities require this State funding to fund their expansion and present maintenance. Primarily this State expansion is for the training of a more educated workforce, that is to say for economic reasons

The Pope referred to this and the reasons for this State intervention. He also warned of the dangers:

"At times one has the idea that the mission of a university professor nowadays is exclusively that of forming competent and efficient professionals capable of satisfying the demand for labour at any given time. One also hears it said that the only thing that matters at the present moment is pure technical ability. This sort of utilitarian approach to education is in fact becoming more widespread, even at the university level, promoted especially by sectors outside the University.

All the same, you who, like myself, have had an experience of the University, and now are members of the teaching staff, surely are looking for something more lofty and capable of embracing the full measure of what it is to be human.

We know that when mere utility and pure pragmatism become the principal criteria, much is lost and the results can be tragic: from the abuses associated with a science which acknowledges no limits beyond itself, to the political totalitarianism which easily arises when one eliminates any higher reference than the mere calculus of power.

The authentic idea of the University, on the other hand, is precisely what saves us from this reductionist and curtailed vision of humanity."

What then is a "University" ? What is the Catholic idea of an "authentic University" ? Blessed John Newman wrote screeds on this subject. The Pope only had the opportunity to sketch out the barest details. What it is and what it is not:

"In truth, the University has always been, and is always called to be, the “house” where one seeks the truth proper to the human person.

Consequently it was not by accident that the Church promoted the universities, for Christian faith speaks to us of Christ as the Word through whom all things were made (cf. Jn 1:3) and of men and women as made in the image and likeness of God.

The Gospel message perceives a rationality inherent in creation and considers man as a creature participating in, and capable of attaining to, an understanding of this rationality.

The University thus embodies an ideal which must not be attenuated or compromised, whether by ideologies closed to reasoned dialogue or by truckling to a purely utilitarian and economic conception which would view man solely as a consumer."

In trying to achieve this proper ideal, the pursuit of proper truth, the vocation of university teacher is a noble one. But what is it that an "authentic" university teacher should strive for ? Pope Benedict XVI devotes quite some time to that subject:

"You yourselves have the honour and responsibility of transmitting the ideal of the University: an ideal which you have received from your predecessors, many of whom were humble followers of the Gospel and, as such, became spiritual giants.

We should feel ourselves their successors, in a time quite different from their own, yet one in which the essential human questions continue to challenge and stimulate us.

With them, we realize that we are a link in that chain of men and women committed to teaching the faith and making it credible to human reason.

And we do this not simply by our teaching, but by the way we live our faith and embody it, just as the Word took flesh and dwelt among us.

Young people need authentic teachers: persons open to the fullness of truth in the various branches of knowledge, persons who listen to and experience in own hearts that interdisciplinary dialogue; persons who, above all, are convinced of our human capacity to advance along the path of truth.

Youth is a privileged time for seeking and encountering truth. As Plato said:

“Seek truth while you are young, for if you do not, it will later escape your grasp” (Parmenides, 135d).

This lofty aspiration is the most precious gift which you can give to your students, personally and by example. It is more important than mere technical know-how, or cold and purely functional data.

I urge you, then, never to lose that sense of enthusiasm and concern for truth. Always remember that teaching is not just about communicating content, but about forming young people. You need to understand and love them, to awaken their innate thirst for truth and their yearning for transcendence. Be for them a source of encouragement and strength.

For this to happen, we need to realize in the first place that the path to the fullness of truth calls for complete commitment: it is a path of understanding and love, of reason and faith. We cannot come to know something unless we are moved by love; or, for that matter, love something which does not strike us as reasonable.

“Understanding and love are not in separate compartments: love is rich in understanding and understanding is full of love” (Caritas in Veritate, 30).

If truth and goodness go together, so too do knowledge and love. This unity leads to consistency in life and thought, that ability to inspire demanded of every good educator.

In the second place, we need to recognize that truth itself will always lie beyond our grasp. We can seek it and draw near to it, but we cannot completely possess it; or put better, truth possesses us and inspires us. In intellectual and educational activity the virtue of humility is also indispensable, since it protects us from the pride which bars the way to truth.

We must not draw students to ourselves, but set them on the path toward the truth which we seek together. The Lord will help you in this, for he asks you to be plain and effective like salt, or like the lamp which quietly lights the room (cf. Mt 5:13).

All these things, finally, remind us to keep our gaze fixed on Christ, whose face radiates the Truth which enlightens us. Christ is also the Way which leads to lasting fulfilment; he walks constantly at our side and sustains us with his love. Rooted in him, you will prove good guides to our young people"

The United Kingdom does not have a Catholic University. There were attempts to set one up after Catholic Emancipation. However Blessed John Newman`s attempts failed (or rather, were thwarted). The attempt by Cardinal Manning to set one up in Kensington, London was a disaster.

Thus we have a situation unlike the United States, and many parts of Continental Europe.

Therefore we have a situation in the United Kingdom where primary and secondary education is well catered for but not tertiary education.

Apart from a rather meagre presence in some chaplaincies in some universities, there is no Catholic presence or influence in British universities. Considering that most young people strive to obtain places for three years in such institutions often living away from home, is it no wonder that there is a problem ?

The environment in most British universities is secular, and determinedly so.

The Pope`s citation from Plato is quite apt: “Seek truth while you are young, for if you do not, it will later escape your grasp” (Parmenides, 135d).

If the truth is not available at such a formative stage of young person`s development, are we surprised if later on the Church has no place in their lives at a later date, or if very few young people wish to take up a religious vocation ?

Perhaps for too long Bishops have ignored the Tertiary sector especially in the more modern universities and they are now reaping the whirlwind.