Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Saving the Lateran

Initial A with Saint Dominic Saving the Church of Saint John Lateran
From a Dominican gradual
Mid-15th century ( Lombardy)
Tempera, gold, and ink on parchment
4 5/16 x 3 11/16 in. (10.9 x 9.3 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Giotto di Bondone (1267 - 1337)
Legend of St Francis: 6. The Dream of Innocent III
270 x 230 cm
Upper Church, San Francesco, Assisi

There is a story that Pope Innocent III allowed the Dominicans to be established after he dreamed that Saint Dominic saved the Church of Saint John Lateran in Rome - the Pope`s own Church in Rome

There is another story that Pope Innocent III dreamt of Saint Francis being the person who saved the Lateran and then approved the Order of St Francis

In 1215 the year of the Fourth Lateran Council, Dominic and one of his followers, Foulques, went to Rome to secure the approval of the Pope, Innocent III, of their order. It is understood that Dominic did attend the Council himself as a spectator (as apparently did St Francis of Assisi) Dominic returned to Rome a year later, and was finally granted written authority in December 1216 and January 1217 by the new pope, Honorius III for an order to be named "The Order of Preachers"

In 1209, Francis led his first eleven followers to Rome to seek permission from Pope Innocent III to found a new religious order. The story is that although Pope Innocent initially had doubts he had a dream in which he saw Francis holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran. He then decided to endorse Francis' order on April 16, 1210

Francis later attended the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215

It is interesting to note that there is inscription in the Basilica of St John Lateran which ascribes the dream of Inncoent to St Francis and there is a 17th century fresco on the apse which depicts again the dream of Innocent after meeting St Francis

Unfortunately there is no reliable record of St Francis meeting St Dominic at the Fourth Lateran Council

But what is significant is the linking of the foundation and founders of the two great medieval mendicant orders (the Franciscans and the Dominicans) with Pope Innocent III and his great programme of reform which culminated in the greatest of the medieval Councils - the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.

The Council is largely forgotten in modern times but its effects still reverberate today.

Norman Tanner, Professor of Church History at the Gregorian University in Rome, in his book The Ages of Faith: Popular Religion in Late Medieval England and Western Europe (2009) wrote of the Council:

"The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 opens a unique window onto pastoral care in the Middle Ages.

Summoned by Pope Innocent III and meeting in the Lateran basilica in Rome during the month of November 1215, the assembly of several hundred bishops and other prelates from all over western Christendom enacted in its 71 decrees the most impressive and influential legislation of all medieval councils.

Regarding the preparation for the council, the balance between papal input and that of other contributors is difficult to weigh precisely.

Most of the decrees appear to have been drafted by Pope Innocent and the Roman Curia before the beginning of the council, so the task of the latter was largely to rubber-stamp the prepared legislation.

More detailed information about possible amendments introduced by individuals is hard to come by, on account of lack of evidence about the council’s proceedings. On the other hand, the decrees were not invented out of nothing. Several of them are traceable to decrees of earlier councils, and in the letters sent out in April 1213 to announce the forthcoming council, bishops were invited to suggest topics for the council.

In the next two and a half years, moreover, many local councils were held in preparation, at the Pope’s express wish, and it seems likely that these local councils had some influence upon the decrees that were drafted for Lateran IV. In short, while the principal impetus for the decrees came from the Pope and the Roman Curia, they certainly reflect a wider constituency within the Church.

The purpose of the council was set forth by Innocent in his letter of summons:

‘To eradicate vices and plant virtues, to correct faults and reform morals, to remove heresies and strengthen faith, to settle discords and establish peace, to get rid of oppression and foster liberty, to induce princes and Christian people to succour the Holy Land.

A broad programme of what we can recognise as pastoral care is intended and this is reflected in the decrees of the council ...

How influential were the decrees? Was the council the motor of developments in the Church in the thirteenth century – often regarded as the golden age of the Western Church in the Middle Ages – or was it merely an onlooker? No doubt the answer lies somewhere in between.

What is certain is that in almost all the areas of Christian life in which the century saw spectacular achievements, as well as deviations and disasters, the council issued a decree of some relevance: famous saints such as Francis and Clare of Assisi or King Louis IX of France; the four orders of friars – Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinians – and the beguine movement for women; the universities, pre-eminently Bologna, Paris and Oxford, and theologians of the stature of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus; mystical writers such as Mechtild of Magdeburg and Gertrude of Helfta; parish churches, cathedrals and works of art; the Christianity of countless individuals, largely unknown; as well as the Inquisition, crusades, continuing schism with the Eastern Church, the expulsion of Jews.

The council did not produce the results single-handed but at least it was a guide, not just a spectator"

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Tax Collectors

Marinus Van Reymerswaele (c.1493- c 1567)
The Tax Collectors
c. 1540s
Oil on oak panel
94.1 cm x 77 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

A nearly identical picture by Marinus Van Reymerswaele hangs in The National Gallery in London

However it would appear that the picture in The Louvre is the earlier work

Other simplified versions are in Antwerp and Warsaw. But the narrow range of themes which the artist painted were very popular. The existence of many old copies and studio repetitions is an indication of the popularity of his satirical critique of his subject matter.

It would appear from the writing on the various Deeds that the picture depicts two tax gatherers in the town of Reymerswaele.

In the fifteenth century Reymerswaele was the third most important town in Zeeland after Middelburg and Zierikzee. However disaster struck in 1530 with the Saint Felix Flood and Reymerswaele became a separate island. It was abandoned in 1631 and the town was submerged under the waters of the Ooster Schelde.

One of the few facts we know about Van Reymerswaele is that he was a Calvinist

The man on the left is entering into an account book the excise and tax revenues for the town for a period of seven months. He may be the Treasurer or Tax Collector of the town.

The other man who appears to be quite a grasping and unattractive fellow is either one of the collectors or Alternative Book-Keeper who was meant to keep an eye on the Treasurer or his surety

The tax collector or treasurer on the left is a rather extraordinary figure. He appears to be rather sexless, possibly feminine. This is emphasised by his rather extraordinary headgear which it is understood was popular amongst women in the mid-fifteenth century.

The man on the right is the picture of Avarice. His grasped hands, his sneering and contorted countenance. His gaze at the viewer of the picture is neither friendly nor welcoming, quite the opposite in fact. One eye seems to be bigger than the other.

These two gentlemen do not appear to be ordinary people.

As in Biblical times, tax collectors were not popular. At the time of the painting, the usurer, the miller, the money changer and the tax collector were commonly said to be "Lucifer`s Four Evangelists" It is unlikely that as a Calvinist Van Reymerswaele thought they were amongst the "Elect"

Tax collectors received a percentage of the tax collected. Therefore they were not disposed to remit taxes even from the poor and destitute

The taxes collected include imposts on miller`s fees (that is on flour and bread) and on the beer stall

It has been hypothesised that the present work and the many other known examples of its compositional type were in turn based upon a second, lost, derivation of Metsys' that was itself adapted by Marinus van Reymerswaele. See Lorne Campbell in The Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen. The Early Flemish Pictures, Cambridge, 1985

In two other versions of the painting the French texts on the ledgers put the message of the painting beyond all doubt:

"The avaricious man is never sated with money ... Have no care for unjustly gained riches for they will be of no profit to you on the day of reckoning and vengeance. Be therefore without avarice."

This message is reinforced by all the symbols in the painting especially the candlestick holder with the extinguished candle at the top of the work which looms over the scene below. Christ, the Light of the World, is not present. The two men are creatures of the Dark.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Moneychanger and his Wife

Marinus Claeszoon van Reymerswaele (c. 1490 – c. 1546)
The Moneychanger and his Wife 1539
Oil on panel
83 cm x 97 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Amongst the works of the Flemish-Dutch painters Quentin Matsys (1466–1529) and Marinus Claeszoon van Reymerswaele (c. 1490 – c. 1546) are two themes: Money lenders (or Bankers and clients) and Tax gatherers.

They were very popular themes.

The theme of moneylending seems to have been first popularised by a lost half-length Banker and Client by Jan van Eyck of 1440, that was probably commissioned by Italian financiers working in Bruges

Van Eyck's composition appears to have been adapted by Quinten Metsys in two works including The Banker and his Wife of 1514 in the Louvre, Paris

It would appear that it was Metsys' work that was the source of the theme by Marinus van Reymerswaele. But there are major differences between the two works.

Van Reymerswaele repeated the composition shown in the Prado many times.

Seated at their table a rather attractive married couple in 16th century Flemish dress are seated at a table totally rapt and absorbed in the process of counting money. It is obviously one of their deep shared interests. It is one of the main (or only ties ?) which binds them together. In modern terms it could be said that it shows the family as an economic unit in society or a modern economy

It is a satirical work. The husband and wife do not have eyes for each other: only the coins of gold and silver on the table. They relate to each other through money, not touch or conversation. The treasure which they value is not each other or their children (there do not appear to be any) but the little lumps of metal which are the centrepiece of the painting.

The room in which they are sitting is rather disordered, drab and untidy. Sheets of paper litter the room. The room is devoted entirely to the practice of moneychanging. There are no paintings, decoration or religious symbols.

However their clothing is quite fine. It is good bourgeois clothing. The husband has fur cuffs and collar and a strange hat with a pendant. The woman wears a red suit and a white cap

Amongst the accoutrements of their trade are the scales, the symbol of justice. But they ascertain value by the process of weighing the lumps of material metal in a method which seems mechanical and roughly scientific.

They are not stupid people. They can read and write. But it would appear that their book are entirely related to their calling. They are account books.

Above their heads is a candle. The candle has been extinguished. It provides no light.

Alsoon the jumble on the shelf above their heads is an empty beaker stuffed with account papers. In medieval art, the carafe of water often symbolised the purity of the Virgin, the receptacle for the Water of Life. There is no Water in the beaker and no room for any water to be there.

The trade of currency exchange was a lucrative one. It was one which Christians could carry out in medieval times without apparently contravening the prohibition againist usury. However there was also some doubt about this. The Florentine bankers developed a system of currency exchange which was a form of lending but on the face of it did not appear to be a loan. It was derivative. It was an adjunct of trade and without which international trade could not flourish. It was therefore necessary. But for the medieval Christian the dangers were obvious.

Why was there such a theme popular in Flemish painting at the time ? Antwerp was a major trading centre and rapidly became the principal city for commerce between northern and southern Europe. Portuguese and Spanish merchants and powerful Italian bankers visited Antwerp for trade, making the bustling city the economic capital of Europe in those times.

Monday, November 21, 2011

No more Walmart Churches

The Vatican Insider has reported some good news.

There is to be a new Vatican commission: "The Liturgical Art and Sacred Music Commission". It will be established shortly

According to Andrea Tornielli the Commission "will not be just any office, but a true and proper team, whose task will be to collaborate with the commissions in charge of evaluating construction projects for churches of various dioceses."

Further and perhaps more importantly "The team will also be responsible for the further study of music and singing that accompany the celebration of mass."

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Benedict XVI, consider this work as “very urgent”.

Tonielli comments:

"The reality is staring everyone in the eyes: in recent decades, churches have been substituted by buildings that resemble multi purpose halls. Too often, architects, even the more famous ones, do not use the Catholic liturgy as a starting point and thus end up producing avant-garde constructions that look like anything but a church. These buildings composed of cement cubes, glass boxes, crazy shapes and confused spaces, remind people of anything but the mystery and sacredness of a church.

Tabernacles are semi hidden, leading faithful on a real treasure hunt and sacred images are almost inexistent.

The new commission’s regulations will be written up over the next few days and will give precise instructions to dioceses. It will only be responsible for liturgical art, not for sacred art in general; and this also goes for liturgical music and singing too. The judicial powers of the Congregation for Divine Worship will have the power to act."

One wonders what took them so long

I wonder if they will be able to order demolition of existing structures and demand changes in certain interiors ?

Saint Cecilia

After Niccolò Circignani called "Il Pomarancio" (c. 1517/1524 - after 1596)
Print made by Monogrammist MP (16th C. late - 17th C. early; fl)
Church martyrs, with in the foreground St Cecilia standing in a cauldron of boiling water
After the fresco executed in San Stefano Rotondo by Niccolò Circignani
268 millimetres x 171 millimetres
The British Museum, London

Nicola Circignani's cycle of the early Christian martyrs (1582) in the ambulatory of the Jesuit church of San Stefano Rotondo was one of the most celebrated of the numerous martyrdom cycles in Rome during the last twenty years of the sixteenth century. It consisted of thirty-one frescoes each depicting a scene of horrendous martyrdom within the early Church

The cycles were part of the Catholic response to the Protestant martyrologies such as John Foxe's Acts and Monuments

One of the main themes of the Pontificate of Gregory XIII (1572-1585) was an Early Christian revival which took shape in Rome. Early Christendom was referred to as a Golden Age in the history of the Church

The church of San Stefano Rotondo had first been given to the Hungarian College in 1573 by Gregory

The Church was an Early Christian construction dating back to the fifth century

Circignani`s figures in the foreground are life sized and situated at eye level.

There are legible inscriptions below and above the panels. The inscription at the top is a quotation from one of the Psalms or other verse from the Bible. The lower inscription explains the scene and giving the name of the emperor who ordered the execution

The composition of the cycle is the work of the Jesuit Father Michele di Loreto, the then rector of the German-Hungarian College. Gregory refounded and reformed the German-Hungarian College in 1573 and took a very close interest in the internal decoration of the Church of San Stefano Rotondo at this time

Circignani was one of the major artists patronised and commissioned by the Pope in his programme for the remodelling of Rome. One of the major works which he carried out for Gregory was in the famous Loggia dei venti in the Vatican (now recently restored)

The cycle is a means of meditation and a visual Litany of the Saints and Martyrs

In the cycle, the figure of St Cecilia was one of the major scenes in the cycle.

She died about AD 230 with her husband Valerian, his brother Tiburtius, and a Roman soldier Maximus. She was already a popular Roman saint.

But it was only in 1594 that she was officially made the Patron Saint of Music - again by decree of Gregory XIII, a patronage which give a boost to her cult

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Judgment of Solomon

Giacomo Pacchiarotto 1474 - 1540
The Judgment of Solomon
Oil on wood panel
97 x 126 cm
Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon

The Wisdom of King Solomon was and is proverbial

The Wisdom of Pacchiarotto was not.

When he was young he worked in Pintoricchio's studio in Rome

But he was rather restless, aggressive and ideological. He went back to Siena and became a member of a group of ideological reformers in Siena called the "Bardotti" He and his fellow members loved to theorise. They criticised and loved to put the world to rights. They were politicians and Pacchiarotto was one of the leaders

He seemed to have been carried away with his eloquence and emotion.

Unfortunately the society was bloodily suppressed and Pacchiarotto had to seek the assistance of the Observant Fathers who saved his life. They hid him with a corpse in a tomb until the hunt was called off. He spent the rest of his life hiding in exile

"My life found its May grow October.
I talked and I wrote, but, one morning,
Life's Autumn bore fruit in this warning:

'Let tongue rest, and quiet thy quill be!
Earth is earth and not heaven, and ne'er will be.'

Man's work is to labour and leaven—
As best he may—earth here with heaven;
'Tis work for work's sake that he's needing:
Let him work on and on as if speeding
Work's end, but not dream of succeeding!
Because if success were intended,
Why, heaven would begin ere earth ended."

The Pope recently referred to the wisdom of Solomon. It was one of the themes in his talk to the Bundestag, the German Federal Parliament in Berlin:

"Allow me to begin my reflections on the foundations of law [Recht] with a brief story from sacred Scripture.

In the First Book of the Kings, it is recounted that God invited the young King Solomon, on his accession to the throne, to make a request. What will the young ruler ask for at this important moment? Success – wealth – long life – destruction of his enemies? He chooses none of these things. Instead, he asks for a listening heart so that he may govern God’s people, and discern between good and evil (cf. 1 Kg 3:9).

Through this story, the Bible wants to tell us what should ultimately matter for a politician. His fundamental criterion and the motivation for his work as a politician must not be success, and certainly not material gain. Politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace. ...

As he assumed the mantle of office, the young King Solomon was invited to make a request. How would it be if we, the law-makers of today, were invited to make a request? What would we ask for?

I think that, even today, there is ultimately nothing else we could wish for but a listening heart – the capacity to discern between good and evil, and thus to establish true law, to serve justice and peace."

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Psalm 110

Psalm 110 with the Trinity, in a Psalter
c. 1210
Illuminated manuscript
Ink and pigments on vellum
29.3 x 19 cm
Arundel MS 157, f.93r
The British Library, London

This Psalter dates back to 1210. This page shows the beginning of Psalm 110 which begins:

"Dixit Dominus Domino meo sede a dextris meis donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum"

'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand while I make your enemies a footstool for your feet."

The large historiated initial "D" shows the Trinity seated in heaven. Inspired by the first verses of the psalm, Jesus sits at the right of God the Father, both with demons under their feet.

Another medieval treatment of Psalm 110 is in the St.-Omer Psalter which dates back to 1330 and is in The British Library in London

Psalm 110
The St.-Omer Psalter
From 1330
Ink and pigments on vellum
Illuminated manuscript
Yates Thompson MS 14; f.120r
The British Library, London

The history of this Psalter is interesting. The British Library website states:

"Probably first commissioned by a knight of the St Omer family of Mulbarton, Norfolk, c.1325, this psalter was decorated in two campaigns about seventy years apart. The original artists finished the paintings but only part of the decoration. In the early 15th century another artist finished most of it, resulting in combinations of 14th- and 15th-century styles on some pages."

The main image is of Christ seated on a Rainbow flanked by angels and below Him the Dead are rising from their graves, possibly at The Last Judgment

However it is the culmination of a visual narrative cycle which starts at the bottom left of the page. These images read towards the right side of the page and then up the page:

Jesus is captured in the Garden of Gethsemane; Jesus is scourged at the pillar; Jesus is made to carry his Cross; Jesus is crucified and suffers death; Jesus is laid in his tomb; Jesus rises from the tomb; the three Maries discover that the tomb is empty; Jesus ascends to Heaven; the Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost on the Disciples

It is a visual meditation on the Psalm as a prophecy of Jesus as the Messianic King who conquers Death and brings Eternal Life

After Pentecost Peter and the eleven apostles went out to preach in Jerusalem (Acts 2)

He said:

"29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it. 33 Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. 34 For David did not ascend to heaven, and yet he said,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
35 until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”’

36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

(Acts 2: 29 -36)

It was this Psalm which was the subject of the latest catechesis by Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday last at his Wednesday audience

The Pope summarised the Psalm thus:

"In our catechesis on Christian prayer, we now turn to Psalm 110, one of the famous "royal psalms", originally linked to the enthronement of a Davidic monarch. The Church reads this Psalm as a prophecy of Christ, the messianic king and eternal priest, risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Father."

He also said:

"Dear friends, following the New Testament's line of interpretation, the Church’s tradition has held this psalm in high regard as one of the most significant messianic texts. And in an eminent way, the Fathers made continual reference to it as a Christological key: the king of whom the psalmist sings is Christ, the Messiah who establishes the Kingdom of God and who conquers the powers of the world.

He is the Word generated by the Father before every creature -- before the dawn -- the Son who was made incarnate, who died, rose and ascended into heaven, the eternal priest who in the mystery of bread and wine, grants the remission of sins and reconciliation with God, the king who lifts up His head by triumphing over death with His Resurrection."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Old St Peters

Print made by Pieter de Bailliu (1613 - 1660)
After Pieter van Lint (1609 - 1690)
Emperor Constantine the Great laying the foundations for the Basilica of St Peter in Rome
309 millimetres x 240 millimetres
The British Museum, London

The emperor is kneeling in front of a statue of St Peter in a niche, one of his soldier carrying a basket at right, another outlining the foundations of the basilica with an axe, and an architect is standing beyond at left and holding the plan

The work on the construction for the Old Basilica probably began about AD 319 - 326 during the Pontificate of Sylvester. The work was essentially finished in AD 333

Pieter van Lint became a master in Antwerp in 1632. He then moved to Rome where his primary clients were a prominent family and a Roman Catholic cardinal. During this period he painted a series of frescoes and made chalk studies of antique and Renaissance drawings. Lint returned to Antwerp in 1640

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Saint Margaret, Queen of Scotland

After Carlo Dolci 1616 - 1686
Print made by Domenico Marchetti 1780 - 1844
St Margaret, Queen of Scotland
1810 -1844
494 mm x 350 mm
The British Museum, London

Print made by Alexander Runciman 1736 - 1785
Marriage of King Malcolm and St Margaret
Print engraving
227mm x 188 mm
The British Museum, London

Genealogical roll of the kings of England
England, S.; 1st quarter of the 14th century, before 1308
Detail from the roll: six roundels of Edmund II Ironside and his descendants: Edward Ætheling, Edgar, Saint Margaret, Edmund, and Christine.
The British Library, London

(Edmund Ironside or Edmund II (c. 988/993 – 30 November 1016) was king of England from 23 April to 30 November 1016. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, it was given to him "because of his valour" in resisting the Danish invasion led by Cnut the Great.)

This week is the Feast Day of Saint Margaret (c. 1045 – 16 November 1093), also known as Margaret of Wessex and Queen Margaret of Scotland, was an English princess of the House of Wessex.

She was canonised in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV in recognition of her personal holiness, fidelity to the Church, work for religious reform, and charity.

There is a beautiful illustrated history of her life at this site

The images are part of a frieze ("the Lonsdale Frieze") created by the Victorian artist, H. W. Lonsdale, and commissioned by the 3rd Marquess of Bute

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Psalm 119

Gottfried Hintz
Psalm 119;37: Er kehre ab meine Augen daß sie nicht sehen
Mühlhausen (Kreis Preußisch Eylau) / Gwardejskoje

The Russian town of Gwardeiskoje was originally part of East Prussia and called Mühlhausen (Kreis Preußisch Eylau)

Originally founded by the Teutonic Knights, the town later became the home of one of the daughters of Martin Luther when she married

The Church became Lutheran and had strong Lutheran connections

The fresco above has as its theme Psalm 119, v, 37:

"37 Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way"

Psalm 119 is one of the alphabetic acrostic poems in the Bible. Its 176 verses are divided into twenty-two stanzas, one stanza for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet; within each stanza, each of the eight verses begins (in Hebrew) with that letter

It is the longest Psalm and the longest Chapter in the Bible

It celebrates God’s law and speaks of the wonders of the Torah (the Law of Moses) and helps worshipers to aspire to obey it more fully

It is prized and celebrated in the Jewish religion, the Orthodox Churches and all Western Christian Churches (Catholic and non-Catholic)

In Orthodox liturgical practice it occupies a whole division of the Psalter. In Orthodox monasteries it is read daily at the Midnight Office and at Orthodox funeral services

Martin Luther said that he prized the Psalm so highly that he would not exchange the whole world for a leaf of it

In his commentary on Psalm 119[118] St Augustine wrote on how happiness derives from observing the Law of the Lord.

"From the very beginning, this very long Psalm invites us to happiness, which, as everyone knows, constitutes the hope of every man. Indeed, could there (was there or will there) ever be anyone who did not desire to be happy? And if this is so, what need is there to invite people to a goal that the human soul spontaneously strives for?...

Might not the reason be that although we all aspire to happiness, most of us do not know how to attain it? Yes, this is precisely the lesson that is taught by the One who says: "Blessed are those who are undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord'.

It seems to say: "I know what you desire; I know you are seeking happiness; if, then, you wish to be happy, be undefiled. All seek the former, whereas few trouble about the latter: however, without it, what all wish for cannot be attained.

But where can anyone be undefiled, except in the way, which is none other than the Law of the Lord? Hence, it is those who are undefiled in the way, those who walk in the laws of the Lord who are happy! This exhortation is not superfluous but necessary to our spirit" (Commentary on the Psalms, III, Rome, 1976, p. 1113).

Only last year at the Mass for the End of the Year of the Priest (2010), Pope Benedict XVI repeated this idea when he talked of "the Great Psalm":

"The people of Israel continue to be grateful to God because in the Commandments he pointed out the way of life. The great Psalm 119(118) is a unique expression of joy for this fact: we are not fumbling in the dark. God has shown us the way and how to walk aright.

The message of the Commandments was synthesised in the life of Jesus and became a living model.

Thus we understand that these rules from God are not chains, but the way which he is pointing out to us. We can be glad for them and rejoice that in Christ they stand before us as a lived reality. He himself has made us glad. By walking with Christ, we experience the joy of Revelation"

On Wednesday last Pope Benedict delivered a lengthy catechesis on the Psalm reported here.

In part of his lengthy talk he said:

"The Psalmist proclaims his love for God's Law, which brings light, life and salvation. ... A striking example of the Psalmist's devotion is seen in his words: "The Lord is my portion" (v. 57).

We can apply these words in a special way to priests, whose lives of celibacy testify to their call to complete devotion to the Lord and his Kingdom. But they can also be applied to all the faithful, who share in Christ's royal priesthood and are called daily to bear witness to the Gospel."

Monday, November 07, 2011


Jacob de Backer (c. 1555 – c. 1585)
Envy, one of the Seven Deadly Sins
Oil on canvas
1.180 m. x 1.560m
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Naples

Théodore Géricault
(1791 - 1824)
La Monomane de l'envie, also called La Hyène de la Salpêtrière
Oil on canvas
72 x. 58 cm

Géricault`s painting is meant to be a scientific work, a work of the scientific Enlightenment. A depiction of an unfortunate lady in La Salpêtrière in Paris, the hospital for the insane. One of the main symptoms of her illness was Envy. Envy is etched on her face. It has eaten her away. That is what, prior to the age of photography, Géricault meant to convey. It was to be an exemplar of what doctors were to look for when diagnosing patients.

In both paintings one sees Envy as an isolated, closed and frightened figure determined to do down others as if by damning others their own existence and superiority are secured.

One often sees such examples (but on a much lesser scale) in the workplace. They are the ones who come into an office and their eyes are darting everywhere.

Or when someone is invited to someone`s house for the first time, the person`s eyes seem to make a quick but detailed inventory of the house`s possessions. And afterwards can tell one what exactly the person had down to the last teaspoon

In the Second Terrace of Mount Purgatory, Dante meets the Envious in Purgatory (Cantos 13 - 15)

Envy is the feeling of offence at the perceived superiority of another person.

It is to be distinguished from jealousy which is distress at the possibility of another person getting one’s possessions.

René Girard wrote:

"Envy involuntarily testifies to the lack of being that puts the envious to shame. . . .That is why envy is the hardest sin to acknowledge."
(René Girard, A Theatre of Envy: William Shakespeare (New York: Oxford UP, 1991) 4)

St Bernard of Clairvaux identified the sin of Envy with the gift of Sight:

"What is envy if not seeing evil. If the devil were not a basilisk, death would never have entered our world through his envy. Woe to the wretched man who has not forestalled envy. . . . Let no one look with envious eyes upon the goods of another."
(Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on Conversion, CF 25 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1981) 226.)

According to John Milton, it was Envy which filled Satan and led him to plot the fall of Adam and Eve

Pope Benedict XV seemed to subscribe to Milton`s theory. In Ad Beatissimi Apostolrum (1st November 1914)

he wrote:

"Our Lord Jesus Christ came down from Heaven for the very purpose of restoring amongst men the Kingdom of Peace, which the envy of the devil had destroyed, and it was His will that it should rest on no other foundation than that of brotherly love. These are His own oft-repeated words: "A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another (John xiv. 34); "This is my commandment that you love one another" (John xv. 12); "These things I command you, that you love one another" (John xv. 17); as though His one office and purpose was to bring men to mutual love."

In his Encyclical written before the full onslaught of the First World War came to pass, he refers to "envy" repeatedly and the necessity to avoid and to overcome it as a precondition of peace

In Dante`s Purgatory, the envious sit huddled against the cliff of Purgatory. They lean against each other in their helplessness. People have to help and support each other. As part of their "cure", the dead have their eyes sealed: like hawks with a hood - so that they can be trained. Without sight, the temptation to sin is removed.

In the Cantos, Dante refers to Matthew v. 44, 45:

'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.

On each Terrace, a Prayer is intoned. On this Terrace is intoned The Litany of the Saints (Litania Sanctorum). It has been described as the model litany of great antiquity

The Litany is the prayer asking for intercession of the saints on behalf of their sinful brothers and sisters still on their pilgrim way towards the heavenly Jerusalem, a sign of the Church on her pilgrim way.

The Biblical example of the Envious which Dante gives is the killing by Cain of Abel. The opposite is also referred to: Generosity and Mercy. Generosity is referred to in the story of The Marriage at Cana. ("They have nothing to drink") and Christ`s response to Mary`s persistent requests

Mercy is an aspect of fraternal co-existence, a reciprocal grace ‘for they shall obtain mercy

Virgil explains that envy destroys fraternal love while shared good increases good, increases love. By giving one does not diminish, one increases

Virgil tells Dante:

"Because are thither pointed your desires
Where by companionship each share is lessened,
Envy doth ply the bellows to your sighs.
But if the love of the supernal sphere
Should upwardly direct your aspiration,
There would not be that fear within your breast;
For there, as much the more as one says 'Our,'
So much the more of good each one possesses,
And more of charity in that cloister burns." (15.49-57)

When one prays for intercession, as in The Litany of the Saints, our intercessors are apt to hear and answer such prayers as that is the nature of the Good and of Love.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The Madonna of Humility

Niccolò Semitecolo (Nicoletto) (Nicholeto Semitecholo da Venexia)(active 1353 - 1370)
The Madonna of Humility
c. 1370
Tempera on panel
The Basilica of St Anthony of Padua, Padova

Lorenzo Veneziano (active 1357 - 1379)
The Madonna of Humility with Saints Mark and John the Baptist
About 1359/66
Tempera on poplar panel
31 x 57.5 cm
The National Gallery, London

The depiction of the Virgin sitting on the ground was called The Madonna of Humility

It was promoted by the Franciscan order who had a particular calling to the virtue of Humility through their founder

The earliest known painting on this theme is 1346. The two paintings above therefore are early examples of the genre

In Dante`s Purgatory, Purgatory is a steep and high mountain which Dante must ascend to reach Paradise which is at the summit.

On the mountain at differing levels are seven terraces corresponding with the Seven Deadly Sins. On each Terrace, sinners are doing expiation for that particular sin

The First Terrace is that of the Proud, those who lack humility. It is a sin of excessive love of one's own perceived excellence. It is one of the sins which according to Dante arises from love perverted, that is, sins arising from the heart of the sinner being set upon something which is wrong in the eyes of God

Dante and Virgil approach the sinners on the First Terrace. On all the Terraces, the sinners are saying a prayer. On this First Terrace, Dante has recasted The Lord`s Prayer as the expiatory Prayer of the Proud:

"Our Father, who are in heaven, encircled by
nothing except the greater love you have
for the first works that you made there on high,

praised be your name and your power by
every creature, with those thanks that are due
for the sweet emanation that flows from you.

May the peace of your kingdom come to us
who are not able to reach it by ourselves
try as we may, unless it comes to us.

As your angels make sacrifice to you
of their wills singing hosannas, even so
may humans offer their own wills to you.

Give us today the manna of every day
for without it, in this harsh desert we
go backward, straining forward as we may.

And as we pardon each one for the harm
that we have suffered, in loving-kindness
overlook what we deserve, and pardon us.

Do not oppose to the old adversary
our virtue that gives way so easily
but deliver us from his goading of it.

This last request we make not for ourselves,
dear Lord, who do not need it now for us.
It is for those who remain behind us"

Dante. Purgatory. Canto XI. Lines 1 - 24 (translated by W.S. Merwin)

In these lines we see the influence of St Augustine and St Francis of Assisi.

For St Augustine, one of the indispensable virtues was humility.

In replying in writing to an intelligent young man named Dioscorus, Augustine felt his patience being tested.

He emphatically declared:

"This way is first humility, second humility, third humility and no matter how often you keep asking me I will say the same over and over again." (Augustine, Letter 118)

According to Augustine,in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer the Christian pilgrim asks to be made acceptable to God through a process that begins in this life but which can only be completed in eternity.

"Praised be your name and your power by every creature" is an echo of the first poem of the Italian poetic tradition, a poem written by St. Francis, which is known as the The Canticle of the Sun, also known as the Laudes Creaturarum (Praise of the Creatures)

As St Francis says we are not the most important or the centre of creation, we are like everything else valuable in creation.