Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sedes Sapientiae

Saturnino Gatti (1463–1518)
Madonna con il Bambino
c. 1510
Oil and tempera on wood panel
175 x 92 cm
Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo, L’Aquila

Maestro della Madonna del Duomo di Spoleto
Madonna in trono con il Bambino
c. 1300 - 1350,
Wooden sculpture painted
Height 153cm
Chiesa di San Silvestro, L’Aquila

Anonymous Abruzzese artist of a Byzantine style
Madonna del latte
Second half of the Thirteenth century
Tempera on pine wood,
219 x 73 x 4 cm
Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo, L’Aquila

An exhibition in Rimini in Italy is coming to an end: The Glory Of Wisdom. Madonnas Of Abruzzo From The Middle Ages To The Renaissance. (La Sapienza Risplende. Madonne d’Abruzzo tra Medioevo e Rinascimento)

The above three Madonnas are from the exhibition. Originally in the Museum at L`Aquila, they were moved after the recent earthquake in the city of L’Aquila until the town and the Museum are rebuilt

"The Seat of Wisdom" or "The Throne of Wisdom" (sedes sapientiae) is identified with one of many devotional titles for Mary, the Mother of God.

There are a number of tags associated with the title:

In gremio matris fulget sapientia patris: In the lap of His Mother shines the wisdom of His Father.

Alternatively, the tag also reads In gremio Matris sedet Sapientia Patris: In Mary's womb sits the Wisdom of the Father

The first tag part of a Leonine hexameter occurs on a number of statues and paintings depicting the Sedes Sapientiae, particularly in the Abruzzo area

The latter is preferred by the Holy Father:

"The "mind of Christ", which through grace we have received, purifies us of false wisdom.

And this "mind of Christ" welcomes us through the Church and into the Church, taking us to the river of her living tradition.

The iconography that depicts Jesus-Wisdom in the womb of Mother Mary, symbol of the Church, expresses this very well: In gremio Matris sedet Sapientia Patris; in Mary's womb sits the Wisdom of the Father, that is, Christ. Remaining faithful to that Jesus who Mary offers us, to the Christ whom the Church presents to us, we can commit ourselves intensely to intellectual work, internally free from the temptation of pride and boasting always and only in the Lord."

Which is why Pope John Paul II in 2000 commissioned Jesuit artist Father Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ to make the icon, the Sedes Sapientiae, entrusted to students around the globe to inspire them to bring Christianity to life in their universities.

Father Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ
Sedes Sapientiae
Mosaic: marble and ceramic with gilt

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Pilgrimage

Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746 – 1828)
La Romería de San Isidro (The Pilgrimage of St Isidore)
1820 - 1823
Mural transferred to canvas
138,5 cm x 436 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

In February 1819, aged 73, Goya bought a farmhouse outside Madrid - the House of the Deaf Man.

In it, straight on the plaster of its walls, Goya painted his last cycle of big pictures : the Pinturas Negras, the "Black Paintings".

One of them is now entitled "La Romería de San Isidro" (The Pilgrimage of St Isidore)

St Isisdore is the patron saint of Madrid. Each year on his feast day there was a great procession from Madrid to the hermitage of St Isidore. It was then quite a small city - just under 150,000 people in the 1780s. Almost the whole citizenry attended.

Goya had painted a number of paintings of the event: bright, festive and most beautiful during his youth. Two of them are also in the Prado: La ermita de San Isidro el día de la fiesta (1788)and La pradera de San Isidro (1788)

The mural is completely different: dark and sombre. Neither descriptive nor narrative but didactic and, it is said, satiric.

Painted after the French Revolution, the Peninsular Wars and a Spanish Civil War, which tore Spain apart, it is said that Goya is expressing his dislike of the superstition and ignorance of the ordinary people (at least on the official Prado website).

Would one want it to be a permanent feature of one`s house - in fact in the most prominent place in the house ? Surely not.

It depicts poverty and suffering but also one of Goya`s main themes: pilgrims on the march

The characters at the front of the work are crazy, leering, howling, glaring . . . almost as if a world of moral chaos or not how we are accustomed to view the world

Perhaps a way into this painting, one of Goya`s most private and intimate works, is through one short story by the American writer, Flannery O`Connor (1925 – 1964)

In “Revelation” O`Connor tells the parable of Mrs Ruby Turpin, a white Southern woman in the early segregated Sixties, a “country female Jacob”

Ruby has an exalted view of her station in life and in religious life:

"Sometimes Mrs. Turpin occupied herself at night naming the classes of people.

On the bottom of the heap were most coloured people, but not the kind she would have been if she had been one, but most of them; then next to them—not above, just away from—were the white-trash; then above them were the home-owners, and above them the home-and-land owners, to which she and Claud belonged.

Above she and Claud were people with a lot of money and much bigger houses and much more land. But here the complexity of it would begin to bear in on her, for some of the people with a lot of money were common and ought to be below she and Claud and some of the people who had good blood had lost their money and had to rent and then there were coloured people who owned their homes and land as well. ...

When I think of all I could have been besides myself and what all I got, a little of everything, and a good disposition besides, I just feel like shouting, ‘Thank you Jesus, for making everything the way it is! It could have been different!’"

Ruby Turpin has a bad day.

While visiting the doctor`s surgery filled with people beneath her station, she is called “a wart hog from hell” by a psychotic woman and knocked unconscious by someone throwing a book at her which hits her on the head.

Later at home while in pig pen she shouts at the Lord and she hears the voice of the Lord echoing back to her

Then Mrs. Turpin has a vision perhaps of Purgatory:

"There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. [Ruby] raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound.

A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire.

Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black n----s in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs.

And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given with to use it right . . . .

They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. . . .

Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away . . . .

In a moment the vision faded but she remained where she was, immobile.

At length she got down . . . and made her slow way on the darkening path to the house. In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah."

Flannery O’Connor, From “Revelation,” from Everything That Rises Must Converge (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1965),

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Robinson Crusoe: A Guide to Prayer

Emrik and Banger (Printer)
Robinson Crusoe Programme for Drury Lane Theatre
December 1881
Chromolithographic printing on paper

Charles Samuel Keene
Robinson Crusoe
c. 1847,

Most people regard Robinson Crusoe as a children`s book, influenced very much by their reading of heavily abridged editions and their viewing of pantomime, TV programmes (including Gilligan’s Island, Lost and Survivor), films, animated cartoons. It is very much not a children`s book. It is very much a book for adults

Swift described DeFoe as a "grave, sententious, dogmatical rogue" although he went on to write a satirical book about another castaway of an entirely different type

However it is a Puritan tale of religious conversion: from original sin (disobeying his father) to spiritual hardening (eight years of rambling with other sinners) to a gradual repentance and ultimate conversion

He is brought to the island by a ship called the Ariel and at first the island is his prison. Later it is the place which gives Crusoe his freedom.

"Robinson Crusoe is, then, nothing less than a textbook in the appropriate relationships amongst human being, culture, and God.

It might fairly be retitled, Civilization and Its Contents.

The lessons couldn't be more clear: Welfare and worship are inseparable; both the well-ordered state and the well-ordered individual rest squarely upon the divine.

Every component of civilization-shelter, handicraft, agriculture, and animal husbandry no less than law, art, and worship-ultimately depends upon a vigorous relationship with God; "In God We Trust" would sit well on Robinson's coins.

This is not an eccentric reading of the text: Robinson Crusoe's spiritual depths are evident to all who read it unabridged. Whenever I include it on a syllabus, my students are thunderstruck by the power of Robinson's conversion; I suspect it leads one or two readers to their own fruitful self-examination. In just this way-as manual of conversion and guide to the good life-was Robinson understood for centuries."

In their book Prayer: A History New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005, Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski go further and describe it as the best primer on the De Profundis prayer (Psalm 130/129) one of the great fifteen Gradual Psalms and seven Penitential Psalms

Here is an extract from the original first edition which helps give the lie to the Zaleski thesis:

"It happen’d one Day about Noon going towards my Boat, I was exceedingly surpriz’d with the Print of a Man’s naked Foot on the Shore, which was very plain to be seen in the Sand: I stood like one Thunder-struck, or as if I had seen an Apparition; I listen’d, I look’d round me, I could hear nothing, nor see any Thing, I went up to a rising Ground to look farther, I went up the Shore and down the Shore, but it was all one, I could see no other|<182> Impression but that one, I went to it again to see if there were any more, and to observe if it might not be my Fancy; but there was no Room for that, for there was exactly the very Print of a Foot, Toes, Heel, and every Part of a Foot; how it came thither, I knew not, nor could in the least imagine. But after innumerable fluttering Thoughts, like a Man perfectly confus’d and out of my self, I came Home to my Fortification, not feeling, as we say, the Ground I went on, but terrify’d to the last Degree, looking behind me at every two or three Steps, mistaking every Bush and Tree, and fancying every Stump at a Distance to be a Man; nor is it possible to describe how many various Shapes affrighted Imagination represented Things to me in, how many wild Ideas were found every Moment in my Fancy, and what strange unaccountable Whimsies came into my Thoughts by the Way.

When I came to my Castle, for so I think I call’d it ever after this, I fled into it like one pursued; whether I went over by the Ladder as first contriv’d, or went in at the Hole in the Rock, which I call’d a Door, I cannot remember; no, nor could I remember the next Morning, for never frighted Hare fled to Cover, or Fox to Earth, with more Terror of Mind than I to this Retreat.

I slept none that Night; the farther I was from the Occasion of my Fright, the greater my Apprehensions were, which is something contrary to the Nature of such Things, and especially to the usual Practice of all Creatures in Fear: But I was so embarrass’d with my own frightful Ideas of the Thing, that I form’d nothing but dismal Imaginations to my self, even tho’ I was now a great way off of it. Sometimes I fancy’d it must be the Devil; and Reason joyn’d in with me upon this Supposition: For how should any other Thing in hu-|<183>man Shape come into the Place? Where was the Vessel that brought them? What Marks was there of any other Footsteps? And how was it possible a Man should come there? But then to think that Satan should take human Shape upon him in such a Place where there could be no manner of Occasion for it, but to leave the Print of his Foot behind him, and that even for no Purpose too, for he could not be sure I should see it; this was an Amusement the other Way; I consider’d that the Devil might have found out abundance of other Ways to have terrify’d me than this of the single Print of a Foot. That as I liv’d quite on the other Side of the Island, he would never have been so simple to leave a Mark in a Place where ’twas Ten Thousand to one whether I should ever see it or not, and in the Sand too, which the first Surge of the Sea upon a high Wind would have defac’d entirely: All this seem’d inconsistent with the Thing it self, and with all the Notions we usually entertain of the Subtilty of the Devil.

Abundance of such Things as these assisted to argue me out of all Apprehensions of its being the Devil: And I presently concluded then, that it must be some more dangerous Creature, (viz.) That it must be some of the Savages of the main Land over-against me, who had wander’d out to Sea in their Canoes; and either driven by the Currents, or by contrary Winds had made the Island; and had been on Shore, but were gone away again to Sea, being as loth, perhaps, to have stay’d in this desolate Island, as I would have been to have had them.

While these Reflections were rowling* upon my Mind, I was very thankful in my Thoughts, that I was so happy as not to be thereabouts at that Time, or that they did not see my Boat, by which they would have concluded that some Inhabitants|<184> had been in the Place, and perhaps have search’d farther for me: Then terrible Thoughts rack’d my Imagination about their having found my Boat, and that there were People here; and that if so, I should certainly have them come again in greater Numbers, and devour me; that if it should happen so that they should not find me, yet they would find my Enclosure, destroy all my Corn, carry away all my Flock of tame Goats, and I should perish at last for meer Want.

Thus my Fear banish’d all my religious Hope; all that former Confidence in God which was founded upon such wonderful Experience as I had had of his Goodness, now vanished, as if he that had fed me by Miracle hitherto, could not preserve by his Power the Provision which he had made for me by his Goodness: I reproach’d my self with my Easiness, that would not sow any more Corn one Year than would just serve me till the next Season, as if no Accident could intervene to prevent my enjoying the Crop that was upon the Ground; and this I thought so just a Reproof, that I resolv’d for the future to have two or three Years Corn beforehand, so that whatever might come, I might not perish for want of Bread.

How strange a Chequer Work of Providence is the Life of Man! and by what secret differing Springs are the Affections hurry’d about as differing Circumstance present! To Day we love what to Morrow we hate; to Day we seek what to Morrow we shun; to Day we desire what to Morrow we fear; nay even tremble at the Apprehensions of; this was exemplify’d in me at this Time in the most lively Manner imaginable; for I whose only Affliction was, that I seem’d banished from human Society, that I was alone, circumscrib’d by the boundless Ocean, cut off from Mankind, and con-|<185>demn’d to what I call’d silent Life; that I was as one who Heaven thought not worthy to be number’d among the Living, or to appear among the rest of his Creatures; that to have seen one of my own Species, would have seem’d to me a Raising me from Death to Life, and the greatest Blessing that Heaven it self, next to the supreme Blessing of Salvation, could bestow; I say, that I should now tremble at the very Apprehensions of seeing a Man, and was ready to sink into the Ground at but the Shadow or silent Appearance of a Man’s having set his Foot in the Island.

Such is the uneven State of human Life: And it afforded me a great many curious Speculations afterwards, when I had a little recover’d my first Surprize; I consider’d that this was the Station of Life the infinitely wise and good Providence of God had determin’d for me, that as I could not foresee what the Ends of Divine Wisdom might be in all this, so I was not to dispute his Sovereignty, who, as I was his Creature, had an undoubted Right by Creation to govern and dispose of me absolutely as he thought fit; and who, as I was a Creature who had offended him, had likewise a judicial Right to condemn me to what Punishment he thought fit; and that it was my Part to submit to bear his Indignation, because I had sinn’d against him.

I then reflected that God, who was not only Righteous but Omnipotent, as he had thought fit thus to punish and afflict me, so he was able to deliver me; that if he did not think fit to do it, ’twas my unquestion’d Duty to resign my self absolutely and entirely to his Will; and on the other Hand, it was my Duty also to hope in him, pray to him, and quietly to attend the Dictates and Directions of his daily Providence.|<186>

These Thoughts took me up many Hours, Days; nay, I may say, Weeks and Months; and one particular Effect of my Cogitations on this Occasion, I cannot omit, viz. One Morning early, lying in my Bed, and fill’d with Thought about my Danger from the Appearance of Savages, I found it discompos’d me very much, upon which those Words of the Scripture came into my Thoughts, Call upon me in the Day of Trouble, and I will deliver, and thou shalt glorify me.*

Upon this, rising chearfully out of my Bed, my Heart was not only comforted, but I was guided and encourag’d to pray earnestly to God for Deliverance: When I had done praying, I took up my Bible, and opening it to read, the first Words that presented to me, were, Wait on the Lord, and be of good Cheer, and he shall strengthen thy Heart; wait, I say, on the Lord:* It is impossible to express the Comfort this gave me. In Answer, I thankfully laid down the Book, and was no more sad, at least, not on that Occasion.

Daniel DeFoe, Robinson Crusoe (London: W. Taylor, 1719).

Monday, October 24, 2011


Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, better known as Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445 – May 17, 1510)
Adorazione dei Magi (The Adoration of the Magi)
1475 - 6
Tempera on panel
111 x 134 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi Florence

One of the most beautiful depictions of The Adoration of the Magi is that of Botticelli in the Uffizi in Florence, the so called "the Medici Adoration"

Originally it was the altarpiece of a now demolished chapel in Santa Maria Novella

Botticelli painted a whole series of Adorations of the Magi including one for the front of a coffin.

It was a popular theme in Florentine painting. It was a particular favourite theme of the Medici family. A confraternity of the Magi was attached to the church of San Marco. In the Convent of San Marco Cosimo de' Medici had his own cell which was decorated with a fresco of the Adoration. In the Medici palace chapel by Benozzo Gozzoli, portraits of the family are placed in the retinue of the Kings

Botticelli was among the first artists to centralise the subject of the Adoration

Members of the Medici family are the Magi

The painting is usually highlighted as the the blond man with yellow mantle on the far right is supposed to be a self portrait of the artist

The setting of a broken down house or palace represents the end of the old dispensation of the Mosaic Law and the beginning of a New which the birth of Christ heralded. Legend had it that earthquakes destroyed pagan temples at the moment Christ was born

In the painting the Magi including the Medici and the elite of Florence have come to worship the Infant Christ.

Sandro Botticelli was in many ways the artist who became most closely identified with the Medicis and their image. Later he became a follower of the Dominican, Girolamo Savonarola, who replaced the Medici as rulers of Florence. It was a true and deep conversion. He never painted again

The Magi`s quest and purpose was quite simple. They said to Herod:

“Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)

The great hymn of praise and thanks in Jesus`s time was Psalm 136, the Great Hallel:

"Psalm 136

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.
His love endures forever.
2 Give thanks to the God of gods.
His love endures forever.
3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
His love endures forever.
4 to him who alone does great wonders,
His love endures forever.
5 who by his understanding made the heavens,
His love endures forever.
6 who spread out the earth upon the waters,
His love endures forever.
7 who made the great lights—
His love endures forever.
8 the sun to govern the day,
His love endures forever.
9 the moon and stars to govern the night;
His love endures forever.

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
His love endures forever.
11 and brought Israel out from among them
His love endures forever.
12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm;
His love endures forever.

13 to him who divided the Red Sea asunder
His love endures forever.
14 and brought Israel through the midst of it,
His love endures forever.
15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea;
His love endures forever.

16 to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.

17 to him who struck down great kings,
His love endures forever.
18 and killed mighty kings—
His love endures forever.
19 Sihon king of the Amorites
His love endures forever.
20 and Og king of Bashan—
His love endures forever.
21 and gave their land as an inheritance,
His love endures forever.
22 an inheritance to his servant Israel.
His love endures forever.

23 He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
24 and freed us from our enemies.
His love endures forever.
25 He gives food to every creature.
His love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His love endures forever. "

It was this great Psalm which was the subject of Pope Benedict XVI`s catechesis on Wednesday last. He said:

"[The Psalm] summarises the whole of salvation history as recounted for us in the Old Testament. It is a great hymn of praise that extols the Lord in the manifold, repeated manifestations of His goodness throughout the course of human history. "

Here is an Orthodox sung version of the Psalm, the song known to and sung by Christ himself and sung by Him and His disciples after the Passover:

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Ostrich Egg

Piero della Francesca (c. 1415 – October 12, 1492)
The Brera Madonna (also known as the Pala di Brera, the Montefeltro Altarpiece or Brera Altarpiece)
Tempera on panel
248 cm × 150 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Much ink has been spilt on the ostrich egg pendant hanging by a chain from what seems a semi-dome above the Virgin Mary.

First, is it an ostrich egg ? Some have speculated that that is in fact a pearl coming out of the shell - a symbol of the Immaculate Conception.

However it does look oval not spherical. An egg would seem to be a preferred explanation

However some have said that if one looks at the painting from a certain perspective, the "egg" is oval and therefore could be a pearl.

Possibly, Piero della Francesca intended the ambiguity and the double meaning.

Second, if it is an ostrich egg what is the Christian symbolism of that ?

Pendant ostrich eggs were not unknown in medieval churches but they were rare. One can be seen in the painting below by the circle of Vittorio Carpaccio

The circle of Vittore Carpaccio (1450-1525)
Apparition of the Crucified of Mount Ararat in the Church of Sant' Antonio di Castello, c.1512
Oil on canvas
Gallerie Dell' Accademia, Venice

They caused admiration and drew people to church. Ostriches and ostrich eggs were likely to have been considered rare exotica in medieval times

Ostrich-egg-lamps hang in Coptic , Armenian, Greek-Orthodox, and Nestorian Christians churches (for example in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem) as well as in some Western cathedrals

In the Old Testament, the ostrich was not considered "a good creature". It is rejected like the jackal, the scapegoat

It was regarded as a cruel parent:

"Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones : the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness" (Lamentations 4, 3)

When Job laments his low situation he describes himself as thelowest of the low rejected by everyone and God:

"A brother I have become to the jackals, and a companion to the young ostriches."(Job 30, 29)

Even God knows its faults and limitations as can seen from God`s speech to Job, although He does complement the creature on its speed:

"13 The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
though they cannot compare
with the wings and feathers of the stork.
14 She lays her eggs on the ground
and lets them warm in the sand,
15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,
that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
she cares not that her labour was in vain,
17 for God did not endow her with wisdom
or give her a share of good sense.
18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
she laughs at horse and rider." (Job 39: 13 - 18)

But the ostrich and its egg did come to have religious significance as a Christian symbol.

The belief that the ostrich let her egg hatch in the sunlight without intervention became a symbol of virgin birth

But it went further

It seemed to start in early Christian times

The third century Physiologus composed in Alexandria had this to say about the ostrich and its eggs:

"The ostrich looks up to heaven in order to see when her time has come to lay her eggs. She does not lay before the Pleiades rise, at the time of the greatest heat. She lays her eggs in the sand and covers them with sand ; thereupon she goes away and forgets them, and the heat of the sun hatches them in the sand.

Since the ostrich knows her time, man ought to know his to a still higher degree : we have to look up toward heaven, forget worldly existence, and follow Christ."

It is therefore apt that the ostrich egg which has been rejected is compared like the stone that the builders rejected: the fragile and rejected egg becomes the key stone. And that is where Piero della Francesca painted it

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Matthew 22

Editio ultima: in qua sacer textus ad emendationem Bibliorum Sixti V. et dementis VIII. restitutus (Antwerp, 1595).

Matthew 22 is illustrated twice in The Evangelicae historiae imagines (Images of Gospel History) by Father Jerome Nadal (1507-1580) - see posts below

Matthew 22 starts with Jesus narrating the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (verses 1 - 14). It ends with the rather ominous words and lesson:

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

The rest of the Chapter in Matthew narrates how the Pharisees and their allies tried to put Jesus to the test - to try to trick him up

First the Pharisees` disciples asked if it was right to pay taxes or tribute to Caesar. He asks for a denarius, asks whose head is on the denarius (Caesar`s) and then says

“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” (vv 15 - 22)

Next the Sadducees come along to trick him. The Sadducees did not believe in the Resurrection. They referred to the Mosaic rule that a if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. They asked at the resurrection whose wife would she be .

Jesus turns the tables on them:

"29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

Having seen off the disciples of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Pharisees decide to bring out the big guns. They bring in their expert in the Law.

"34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.

35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’

38 This is the first and greatest commandment.

39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” "

Jesus finally defeats the Pharisees by posing one of his own questions about how if the Messiah is the Son of David, then

"“How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’?

For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” "

The Pharisees leave with their tails between their legs.

But the section where Christ states the Two Great Commandments: Love your God and Love your neighbour is probably the best known. It was this passage of the challenge of the Pharisees and his reply which was the subject of a homily by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican Basilica on Sunday, 26 October 2008

It was given at a special Mass for Bishops and priests at the conclusion of the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops

Of this passage in Matthew, he said:

"The Word of the Lord, resounding a short while ago in the Gospel, reminded us that the whole divine law is summarised in Love.

The Evangelist Matthew narrates that after Jesus had answered the Sadducees, silencing them, the Pharisees met to put him to the test (cf. 22: 34-35).

One of them, a doctor of law, asked him:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" (22: 36).

The question makes apparent the concern, present in ancient Jewish tradition, over finding a unifying principle in the various formulations of God's will.

This was not an easy question, considering that in the law of Moses, a good 613 precepts and prohibitions are contemplated. How does one discern, among all of these, which is the most important?

But Jesus does not hesitate, and readily responds:

"You shall love the Lord your God with your all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment" (22: 37-38).

Jesus quotes the Shemà in his answer, the prayer the pious Israelite recites several times a day, especially in the morning and in the evening (cf. Dt 6: 4-9; 11: 13-21; Nm 15: 37-41): the proclamation of the integral and total love due to God, as the only Lord.

Emphasis is placed on the totality of this dedication to God, listing the three faculties that define man in his deep psychological structures: heart, soul and mind.

The word mind, diánoia, contains the rational element.

God is not only the object of love, commitment, will and sentiment, but also of the intellect, which should not be excluded from this milieu.

Then, however, Jesus adds something which, in truth, had not been asked by the doctor of law:

"And a second is like it, You must love your neighbour as yourself" (22: 39).

The surprising aspect of Jesus' answer consists in the fact that he establishes a similarity between the first and the second commandments, defined this time too with a biblical formula drawn from the Levitical code of holiness (cf. Lv 19: 18).

And thus by the end of the passage the two commandments become connected in the role of a fundamental union upon which all of biblical Revelation rests:

"On these two commandments the whole law is based, and the prophets as well" (Mt 22: 40).

The Gospel passage on which we are focusing makes clear that being disciples of Christ means practicing his teachings, which can be summarised in the first and greatest commandment of the divine law, the commandment of love. ...

The Readings in today's liturgy offers for our meditation remind us that the fulness of the law, as all of the divine Scriptures, is love.

Therefore anyone who believes they have understood the Scriptures, or at least some part of them, without undertaking to build, by means of their intelligence, the twofold love of God and neighbour, in reality proves to be still a long way from having grasped its deeper meaning.

But how can we put this commandment into practice, how can we live the love of God and our brothers without a living and intense contact with the Sacred Scriptures?

The Second Vatican Council asserts that "access to sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful" (Dei Verbum, 22), so that persons, encountering the truth, may grow in authentic love.

This is a requisite that is indispensable for evangelization today."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Evangelicae historiae imagines

Frontispiece of Hieronymus Natalis, Adnotationes et meditationes in Evangelia quae in sacrosancto missae sacrificio toto anno leguntur: cum eorundem Evangeliorum concordantia. Auctore Hieronymo Natali Societatis lesu theologo. Editio ultima: in qua sacer textus ad emendationem Bibliorum Sixti V. et dementis VIII. restitutus (Antwerp, 1595).

The Evangelicae historiae imagines (Images of Gospel History) by Father Jerome Nadal (also known as Hieronymus Natalis and Jerônimo Nadal) (1507-1580), consists of a series of 153 folio-size engravings, with a frontispiece.

These prints illustrate significant narrative elements developed in each of the Gospels read at the Mass on Sundays.

They map the travels of Christ, Mary and the disciples. The reader (or more accurately the exercisant) is meant to gaze on the images, not glance or treat the images as objets d`art. In his introduction, Ximenes said that they should be looked at for a day or more. Nadal wished the viewer or exercisant to memorise the images and consider and retrace the travels and what the images depicted

The accompanying written annotations (adnotationes) and meditations (meditationes) are aids to the contemplation of the images but more than simply complementary

Nadal’s magnum opus assisted and reinforced the Exercises of St Ignatius Loyola , giving visual representations of the scenes to be meditated upon.

Saint Ignatius explained that “under the name of Spiritual Exercises is understood every method of examination of conscience, of meditation, of contemplation, of vocal and mental prayer, and of other spiritual operations”

The Adnotationes was commissioned by Saint Ignatius.

Juan Polanco, the secretary to St Ignatius , wrote that Nadal understood the founder's spirit more profoundly than anyone else he knew in the Society.

The engravings were by Hieronymus Wiericx after designs by Marten de Vos. The work was first published in Antwerp in 1595 by the Wiericx brothers. Nadal wrote the text between 1568 and 1576.

Later, the Jesuit Giovanni Battista Fiammeri completed a handful of images for the Adnotationes as did Bernardino Passeri

The images from the Adnotationes were meant to ingrain the Gospel passage into the memory of the reader.

Central to the work is the centrality of Christ in time and place

Nadal explained that one must not simply see an image, but experience it spiritually, using the external senses. Placing oneself into images one should imagine the sounds and the smells of the surrounding actions.

Natalis believed that visual imagery arose from imitation and representation and could embrace and express modes of experience beyond the scope of words.

Jerusalem and the locations in the Holy Land could be any where and at any time, allowing devotees to put experience the event as if present themselves using their own experience of everyday scenes and environments.

It has been described as "Jesuit Aristotelianism".

By linking the images and meditations to the liturgical calendar the Adnotationes were meant to deepen the experience of the liturgy and vice versa. Meditatio and acclamatio. The distinction between meditative prayer and liturgical prayer became blurred to the advantage of both.

Here are the sections of the Book on Lazarus (the brother of Martha and Mary) , his death and his resurrection by Jesus.

Under each print is a series of legends explaining what each part of the image is meant to represent.

M. Nicolau, in Jeronimo Nadal, sus obras y doctrinas espirituales, Madrid, 1949. explains the procedure in this way:

"The manner in which these engravings reproduce the life of the Saviour is as follows.

A primary scene, the nucleus of the evangelical act commemorated, first catches our eye. However, either in the landscape background, or through the aperture of a window, or perhaps in the vicinity of the architecture depicted, there will appear letters demarcating different scenes connected with the principal representation.

These other scenes, usually situated as though they were seen in the distance, either represent the preceding steps, leading up to the main event, or they may represent successive steps, deriving from the main event, or they may also make allusions to the metaphorical language to which the evangelical narration refers. . . .

The first letters of the alphabet discretely signal those other parts at the same time that they refer to the "adnotationcula" containing the titles or epigraphs of those other scenes"

The images were meant for meditation. The annotations and meditations were an aid to understanding the image or images and thus to meditation. But the annotations and meditations are more than complementary to the images.

Of particular note in the illustrations is "the picture(s)-within-the-picture" which was essentially a medieval technique of narrative art

In Renaissance art, it was a throwback to an earlier art. The normal linear rules of time and the normal rules of distance are suspended. The technique is called displacement. The technique is extremely noticeable in the works of the Counter-Reformation artists.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Christ after the Flagellation contemplated by the Christian Soul

Diego Velázquez
1599 - 1660
Christ after the Flagellation contemplated by the Christian Soul
probably 1628-9
Oil on canvas
165.1 x 206.4 cm
The National Gallery, London

The National Gallery in London attracts hordes of foreign visitors of all nations, cultures and religions. One often wonders what they think of some of the great paintings. This is one of them

What would a life long Buddhist or Shinoist make of this painting in a few minutes assuming of course he or she stopped for a look in the first place

Velázquez here painted a rare subject, one which seems to have begun after the Counter-Reformation but even then still rarely painted

Christ is seen tied up after being whipped at the Flagellation by the Roman soldiers

A Guardian angel brings along the Human Soul (personified by the child) to contemplate His suffering

The soul looks on Christ. Christ seems to be looking on the soul.

The weapons of torture are in the foreground

Prior to the seventeenth century, compositions of Christ at the column were common as were compositions of Guardian Angels. But the combining of the two separate compositions as we see here appears to have only begun about 1616 and only in Andalusian art

Some are of the view that this composition was "designed" by the priest and Spanish artist Juan de Roelas o Ruelas (nicknamed the Spanish Tintoretto and the Spanish Veronese 1570 - 1625) for King Philip III

Roelas` work in the Real Monasterio de la Encarnación in Madrid is dated 1616 and has the inscription:

"O Soul, take pity on me for you have reduced me to this state."

It invites meditation on the Passion and to contemplative prayer

Velázquez through his marriage had close connections with the newly formed Company of Jesus in and around Seville. His father in law was Francisco Pacheco

Two of the most important works of Catholic spirituality of the period were Saint Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises and Father Jerome Nadal S J `s (1507-1580) series of illustrated meditations on the Gospels, Annotations and Meditations on the Gospels (Adnotationes et meditationes in Evangelia, first published in Antwerp in 1595)

At the start of the first meditation in the Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius advises that one should ‘see the place’, and he calls this ‘prelude’ or preliminary the ‘composition’. He describes the process as follows:

"It should be noted here that for contemplation or meditation about visible things, for example a contemplation on Christ our Lord (who is visible), the ‘composition’ will consist in seeing through the gaze of the imagination the material place where the object I want to contemplate is situated.

By ‘material place’ I mean for example a temple or a mountain where Jesus Christ or our Lady is to be found—according to what I want to contemplate.

Where the object is an invisible one, as is the case in the present meditation on sins, the composition will be to see with the gaze of the imagination, and to consider, that my soul is imprisoned in this body which will one day disintegrate, and also my whole composite self (by this I mean the soul joined with the body), as if exiled in this valley among brute beasts." (Exx 47) (translation by Michael Ivens (Leominster: Gracewing, 2004).

Nadal composed his Annotations at the instigation of Saint Ignatius, and their main purpose was to teach student members of the Society of Jesus how to meditate and pray.

The central feature of the work were the many engravings. The aim was to allow interaction or conversation between the reader (viewer) and the figure of Christ depicted in the engravings and within the narratives in the annotations and within the location depicted.

One therefore wonders if this work by Velázquez was meant for a seminary of novitiates, possibly of the Jesuit order. The influence of Nadal can not be underestimated. In his Arte de la pintura, Pacheco often approvingly cited Nadal's unsurpassed expertise in orthodox Catholic iconography In describing how one ought to paint the Visitation, Pacheco said that one ought to paint it "asi lo estampo el padre Nadal".

(The 1595 edition of Adnotationes et meditationes in Evangelia : [cum Imaginibus et lineis rubris] by Gerónimo Nadal can be accessed by following this link )

This work still impresses.

The artist Leon Kossoff has made a number of etchings and prints of this work. Three are at the Tate. According to the Tate:

"Kossoff has made drawings after paintings by Velazquez and other old masters at The National Gallery for most of his life, since first visiting it in the late 1940s. His commitment to drawing has resulted in a decades-long dialogue with Velazquez and others. "

Leon Kossoff born 1926
Christ after the Flagellation Contemplated by the Christian Soul (1) 1998
Etching on paper
image: 254 x 327 mm
The Tate Collection, London

Leon Kossoff born 1926
Christ after the Flagellation Contemplated by the Christian Soul (3) 1998
Etching on paper
image: 452 x 559 mm
The Tate Collection, London

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Saint Luke

Valentin de Boulogne (Le Valentin) 1591 - 1632
Saint Luke
c. 1625
Oil on wood panel
120 x 146 cm
Musée national des châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles

Valentin`s father and uncle were artists. He was trained by the French artist Simon Vouet

In Rome he was influenced by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio and Bartolomeo Manfredi.

But this work of Saint Luke was commissioned by King Louis XIV of France.

The author saint is writing his work.

According to the early Church historian Eusebius Luke was born at Antioch in Syria.

He is also an artist. On the table there seems to be a painting by him of the Virgin and St John. Without Luke, would we know of the Annunciation and the importance of Mary ?

By tradition he was also a doctor.

Looking on is an ox, the symbol of the Evangelist due to the fact of the account at the beginning of the Gospel of the sacrifice of the calf.

But unlike other paintings of the Evangelist, this work has reality, the ring of truth.

The common author of the Third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles dedicated his two volume work to one Theophilus (Friend of God or Lover of God or Beloved by God)

The hero of Volume One - Luke`s Gospel - is Christ. His follow-up Volume Two - The Acts - is about the Spirit.

He wrote:

"1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach

2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. ...

7 He said to them: It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight."(Acts 1: 1 - 2; 7 - 9)

Why did he write ? So that Theophilus and all Friends of God would know the Truth of what they had been taught. He wrote:

"3 it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;

4 so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught." (Luke 1:3-4)

He appears to have accompanied St Paul on some of his journeys. In Acts we learn that at Troas he meets St. Paul, and, after the vision, crossed over with him to Europe as an Evangelist, landing at Neapolis and going on to Philippi, "being assured that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them" Apart from Paul`s Letters, Acts is the main source about the life of St Paul

He is also why we know about St Stephen, his life and thought. St Luke dedicates two whole chapters to him and the Ministry of Deacons.

Luke is one of the most extensive writers in the New Testament. Without the written witness of St Luke, Christianity would now be something entirely and radically different from today assuming that it had even survived.