Friday, August 31, 2012

Lucerna pedibus meis verbum tuum et lumen semitis meis

Psalm 119, verse 105
From The Psalter of Henry VIII
c 1540 - 1
Royal MS 2 a xvi  f 150v
The British Library, London

Lucerna pedibus meis verbum tuum et lumen semitis meis
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path 
Psalm 119, verse 105
Cardinal Carlo Maria  Martini who died today aged 85 was one of the great Catholic leaders of his generation.

A great Biblical scholar he requested that the above verse be his epitaph on his tombstone:
"Lucerna pedibus meis verbum tuum et lumen semitis meis"

Henry Purcell: memorably put these verses to music: Thy Word is a lantern unto my feet, Z61

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the promulgation of Dei Verbum by the Second Vatican Council, Pope Benedict XVI explained the importance of the Declaration on Scripture 

"The Church knows well that Christ lives in the Sacred Scriptures. For this very reason - as the Constitution stresses - she has always venerated the divine Scriptures in the same way as she venerates the Body of the Lord (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 21).  
In view of this, St Jerome, cited by the conciliar Document, said that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 25).  
The Church and the Word of God are inseparably linked. The Church lives on the Word of God and the Word of God echoes through the Church, in her teaching and throughout her life (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 8)."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Rimsha Masih

Locked house of Rimsha, 11, a Christian girl who has been arrested on blasphemy charge

The British Christian Pakistani Association are leading the protests in the United Kingdom to free Rimsha Masih, the Christian girl  aged 11 years with Down Syndrome 

She has been arrested on blasphemy charges in Pakistan, accused of burning pages inscribed with verses from the Koran, She is still in custody in one of Pakistan`s adult prisons.

The blasphemy charges can carry the death penalty

Pakistan prisons are known for their harsh conditions, poor food & hygiene and ill treatment of prisoners

She is now in the hands of a judicial system which recently convicted  a Pakistani doctor who helped the Central Intelligence Agency pin down Osama bin Laden’s location. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to 33 years in prison

In May 2012 our Prime Minister Mr Cameron met with the Prime Minister of Pakistan to conclude a series of bilateral agreements on trade and education

One of the  purposes of the accords was "Bringing children together" bewteen the two nations, 

Included in the scheme is  a project which 
"provides protective environments to encourage sports participation for girls and for young people living with disabilities. The aspiration is for at least one million children and young people in Pakistan to have access to high-quality and inclusive PE and sport" (emphasis added)

Unfortunately one 11 year old girl will be unable to take advantage of the scheme as she will be in prison.

Both Father Ray of Brighton and Father T. Finigan – The hermeneutic of continuity have posts on this very disturbing subject

Ooberfuse, a London-based electro-pop band, featuring Wizard MC from the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), has released Turn the Tide, a song in protest against the treatment and detention of Rimsha

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Year of Faith: «Tu es Christus, Filius Dei vivi»

Giovanni di Tommas (known as Masaccio) (1401-1428)
Predella  of an altarpiece called The Pisa Altarpiece: The Martyrdom of Saint Peter 
Oil on poplar wood
0.210 m. x 0.610 m
Gemäldegalerie (SMPK), Berlin

Masaccio painted this work for an altarpiece commissioned for Santa Maria del Carmine, the Carmelite church in Pisa

It was executed for the chapel  of Saint Julian for a wealthy notary, Giuliano di Colino degli Scarsi in 1426

The price was the sum of 80 florins

Ser Guiliano was also  a member of the Opera (OPA -still in existence today), the organisation in charge of the care and maintenance of Pisa Cathedral

In 1428, in the Florentine catatasto (tax assessment), he declared a net worth of 497 florins. 

Therefore on the face of it one sixth of the notary`s wealth went to this painting.

However one should bear in mind that tax avoidance in Italy is not a new phenomenon

There were strong links between the Carmelite convent in Pisa and the mother house in Florence where Masaccio painted his famous work for the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine

The main fresco cycle was The Life of St Peter which he painted including a Crucifixion of St Peter which was destroyed when alterations were made in connection with the reconsecration of the chapel to the Madonna del Popolo

The Pisa Predella is perhaps the only evidence what it may have looked like

The present Crucifixion of St Peter in the Brancacci Chapel is by Filippino Lippi (1457 -. 1504) below. On the left the first figure is probably a self portrait of Lippi. On the right the figure looking toward the viewer is probably Sandro Botticelli 

Filippino Lippi (1457 -. 1504) 
Crucifixion of Peter 
Fresco, 230 x 598 cm
Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence

The Crucifixion of St Peter is one of the most important and powerful images in Catholic iconography. One recalls the frescoes of Michelangelo in The Pauline Chapel in the Vatican. It recalls the preservation of True Faith and its handing down ("traditio") from the Apostles and through Peter and his successors

When Pope John Paul I became Pope the first thing he did was to enter the private Chapel of the Pontifical Household. He noticed that his predecessor the late Pope Paul VI had had a mosaic made: the Crucifixion of St Peter

Under the mosaic were engraved  the words of Christ: 
"I will pray for you, Peter, that your faith may never fail." (Luke 22:32)
In his Apostolic Letter of 11 October 2011, Porta fidei, Pope Benedict XVI declared a Year of Faith

It commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council,  (11 October 1962), and the twentieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (11 October 1992). 

One of the fruits of the Council has been the frequent convocation of  the Synod of Bishops, first by  Paul VI, in 1965

The next General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, to be held in October 2012, will have as its theme: The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith

Benedict also recalled  the first Year of Faith in 1968 called by Pope Paul VI. 

That year was to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of the martyrdoms of Saints Peter and Paul

It ended with the promulgation of The Credo of the People of God

In the last months of his life in 1978 (what he called "il tramonto" - the sunset), Pope Paul`s mind again returned to the importance of Faith. It is a pity that these homilies and addresses are only in French, Italian and Spanish. There are no translations on the Vatican website into English or German. 

These speeches are very moving. It was almost as if he knew he was dying and he wanted to render his final accounts of his stewardship

His last homily was on 29th June 1978. It was the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul and was also the 15th anniversary of his election as Pontiff. It also discussed at length The Second Vatican Council and the measures he had enacted to put into effect what the Council required and also those measures to put down that which threatened the deposit of faith. 

Of the Credo of The People of God, he said that he considered it to be one of the most important acts of his Pontificate. Its purpose was to:
"per ricordare, per riaffermare, per ribadire i punti capitali della fede della Chiesa stessa, proclamata dai più importanti Concili Ecumenici, in un momento in cui facili sperimentalismi dottrinali sembravano scuotere la certezza di tanti sacerdoti e fedeli, e richiedevano un ritorno alle sorgenti."

He explained what is meant by Fides - The Faith and in doing so referred to the inscription underneath the mosaic of The Crucifixion of St Peter which he had installed for his private chapel and which was noticed almost immediately by Pope John Paul I:

"Faith is not the result of human speculation (cf 2 Peter 1, 16) but the "deposit" received from the Apostles, those men who had heard it spoken by Christ whom they had "seen, contemplated and listened to" (1 John 1, 1-3). 
This is the faith of the Church, the apostolic faith 
The teaching received from Christ remained intact in the Church through the presence within it of the Holy Spirit and by the special mission entrusted to Peter, for whom Christ had prayed: «Ego rogavi pro te ut non deficiat fides tua» (Luke 22, 32) and to the College of Apostles in communion with him: «qui vos audit me audit» (Ibid. 10, 16). ... 
And the nucleus of this faith is Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, confessed by Peter in this way: «Tu es Christus, Filius Dei vivi» (Matth. 16, 16). "

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Year of Faith: St Hildegard of Bingen

On 10 May 2012, Pope Benedict XVI extended the liturgical cult of St. Hildegard of Bingen to the universal Church

One of the most important women in medieval Europe has in effect been canonised

Hildegard’s parish and pilgrimage church in Eibingen near Rüdesheim houses her relics.

Benedict XVI is set to appoint her as a Doctor of the Church in October  2012

There is a great deal of interest in this newly canonised saint and soon to be Doctor

There have been attempts by New Age believers to "hijack" her for their own ideological ends but her work far transcendssuch narrow confines, work which is all the more remarkable for being caried out in spite of great debilitating illness.

YouTube has a channel devoted to Saint Hildegard of Bingen. At the moment it has 903 videos.
Many are beautiful renditions of her work.

Some are erudite lectures.

The German film "Vision" about her life can be viewed in its entirety -  in Spanish.

Here is a version of the plainchant Columba aspexit (The Dove peered in), a sequence for St Maximinus  ca. 1140 -1179 :

Columba aspexit
per cancellos fenestrae
ubi ante faciem eius
sudando sudavit balsamum
de lucido Maximino. 
Calor solis exarsit
et in tenebras resplenduit
unde gemma surrexit
in edificatione templi
purissimi cor dis benivoli. 
Iste turris excelsa,
de ligno Libani et cipresso facta,
iacincto et sardio ornata est,
urbs precellens artes
aliorum artificum. 
Ipse velox cervus cucurrit
ad fontem purissime aque
fluentis de fortissimo lapide
qui dulcia aromata irrigavit. 
O pigmentari
qui estis in suavissima viriditate
hortorum regis,
ascendentes in altum
quando sanctum sacrificium
in arietibus perfecistis. 
Inter vos fulget hic artifex,
paries templi,
qui desideravit alas aquile
osculando nutricem Sapientiam
in gloriosa fecunditate Ecclesie. 
O Maximine,
mons et vallis es,
et in utroque alta edificatio appares,
ubi capricornus cum elephante exivit,
et Sapientia in deliciis fuit. 
Tu es fortis
et suavis in cerimoniis
et in choruscatiane altaris,
ascendens ut fumus aromatum
ad columpnam laudis. 
Ubi intercedis pro populo
qui tendit ad speculum lucis,
cui laus est in altis.

Here is a translation from the Hyperion Records album: A Feather On The Breath Of God 

The dove peered in
through the lattices of the windows
where, before its face,
a balm exuded
from incandescent Maximilian. 
The heat of the sun burned
dazzling into the gloom:
whence a jewel sprang forth
in the building of the temple
of the purest loving heart. 
He, the high tower,
constructed of Lebanon wood and cypress,
has been adorned with jacinth and diamonds,
a city excelling the crafts
of other builders. 
This swift hart sped
to the fountain of clearest water
flowing from the most powerful stone
which courses with delightful spices. 
O Perfume-Makers,
you who are in the sweetest greenness
of the gardens of the King,
ascending on high
when you have completed the holy sacrifice
with the rams. 
This builder shines among you,
the wall of the temple,
who longed for the wings of an eagle,
kissing his nurse Wisdom 
in the glorious fecundity of the Church.
O Maximilian,
you are the mount and the valley
and in both you seem a high building,
where the goat went with the elephant
and Wisdom was in rapture. 
You are strong
and beautiful in rites
and in the shining of the altar,
mounting like the smoke of perfumes
to the column of praise. 
Where you intercede for the people
who stretch towards the mirror of light
to whom there is praise on high.

French Catholic TV (KTO) produced an hour long documentary in French on her life and works. It is well worth looking at for the views of the Rhine scenery , the chant and the interviews with the nuns who follow Hildegard:

Here is the first 15 minute clip if the film "Vision" - in Spanish. The other clips can be seen on You Tube. It shows her as a little girl and being taken to the convent at aged 8 years

Here in the Sunday Forum series held at St Paul's Cathedral, London we see and hear a lecture on the new Saint by Reverend Professor June Boyce-Tillman who amongst other things discusses the saint`s life and her view of the Trinity:

It is no coincidence that St Hildegard (and St John of Avila) are being proclaimed Doctirs of the Church before the Year of Faith. Pope Benedict made this quite clear

"But the sanctity of their life and the profundity of their doctrine render them perennially relevant: the grace of the Holy Spirit, in fact, projected them into the experience of penetrating understanding of divine revelation and intelligent dialogue with that world which constitutes the eternal horizon of the life and action of the Church. 
Especially in light of the project for a new evangelization, to which the Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, mentioned above will be dedicated on the eve of the Year of Faith, these two Saints and Doctors are of considerable and timely importance. Even today, through their teaching, the Spirit of the Risen Lord continues to resonate his voice and illuminate the way which leads to the Truth that alone can set us free and give full meaning to our lives."

Monday, August 13, 2012

All my eye and Betty Martin

In Agatha Christie`s short story Strange Jest  in Miss Marple`s Final Cases, one of the big clues towards solving the case is when Miss Marple explains an old English expression which was uttered by an old uncle shortly before his death:
" "Surely, my dear, you must have heard the expression meaning that something is not a true picture, or has it quite died out nowadays: 'All my eye and Betty Martin.' " 

Agatha Christie was very fond of the expression. It figured in several of her novels.

The phrase means "nonsense". It may be a corruption of an old Latin prayer Ora pro mihi beate Martine (“Pray for me, Blessed Martin”)  or even Ora pro mihi beata Mater (“Pray for me, Blessed Mother”)  
[Blessed Martin is apparently St Martin of Tours]

It would therefore  seem an apt comment about the Press coverage of the revelations about the Pope`s former Butler in the Vatican, Sig Paolo Gabriele

Like many news agencies the BBC  has spun the line that Sig Gabriele stole the documents from the Papal apartments because he was a whistleblower determined to uproot "evil and corruption everywhere in the church" while the pope was "not sufficiently informed". 

Yet this line is still being peddled despite the fact that the Magistrate`s indictment has now been served on the Butler and more facts are emerging about What the Butler Saw and Did

"According to the [indictment], a 100,000 euro cheque belonging to the Pope was recovered from Mr Gabriele's apartment during the investigation, as well as a gold nugget and a 1581 Italian translation of Virgil's classic poem Aeneid by Annibale Caro, both of which were gifts to the Pontiff.  
During his questioning, Mr Gabriele allegedly insisted he "meant to give back" the items, that he had also written to the Pope expressing his "sorrow" and adding that he had not received "any money or other benefits" insisting that he had acted to "keep the Holy Father informed of certain facts and events."

Not one of the Vatican`s friends, The New York Times reports:
"The indictment also said that a search of Mr. Gabriele’s apartment at the Vatican had found other purloined items there besides documents, including a check for 100,000 euros ($123,000) made out to the pope, a golden nugget, and a 16th century translation of Virgil’s Aeneid.  
The indictment said Mr. Gabriele told investigators that he might have removed those items from the pope’s offices in “the degeneration of my disorder.”

Ora pro nobis  beate Martine. Ora pro nobis beata Mater


Sandro Magiter in Chiesa has more important information about the indictment

He has published the full indictment (in Italian)

In English, he also gives rather interesting facts about the startling breaches of trust effected by the butler and his outright denials when first confronted about the leaks


The discovery of the culprit turns out to be particularly dramatic. The book with the leaked documents had been on sale in Italy for two days when, on May 21, there was a meeting of the entire "pontifical family": Msgr. Gänswein; the pope's second secretary, Alfred Xuereb; the four Memores Domini sisters; the pope's other assistant, Birgit Wansing; and the butler, Paolo. 
Each of those present denied having given any papers to the author of the book. Msgr. Gänswein confronted the butler, showing him documents that had gone into the book and had passed through none other than his hands. But he continued to deny it. 
But in the meantime, the investigators of the Vatican secret service had accumulated hard evidence against Gabriele. On May 23, the "pontifical family" met again, and Msgr. Gänswein told Gabriele that he had been suspended from his position pending the outcome of the investigation. 
Gabriele proclaimed his innocence once again. He even accused those present of unjustly wanting to turn him into a "scapegoat." He said that he had the comfort of his spiritual director. ....


In the judgment of Msgr. Gänswein and of the Memores Domini sisters, Gabriele was a very devout person. Each morning he attended the Mass celebrated by the pope. But he did not excel at his job: "He always needed to be directed and guided." But he was believed to be honest and loyal, and precisely for this reason he was allowed to "follow the flow of documents" that passed "across the desk of Msgr. Gänswein or were lying on the shelf in front of it." 
And from there – he later admitted during questioning – he took documents, photocopied them, and brought home the copies, which he finally delivered to the author of the book. ..."

His denials and his attempts to falsely accuse others of lying against him do undermine the credibility of his claims that he acted out of the highest motives to expose crime and corruption in the heart of the Church and begin the process of reform.

Unfortunately it would also appear that indeed he may not have acted  alone. His spiritual adviser is being accused by the butler of giving him rather strange counsel:

Gabriele's spiritual director, indicated as witness B, is another of the disconcerting characters of the affair. Gabriele also delivered to him a series of documents, collected in a box with the pontifical seal. Questioned by the judges, the spiritual director said that he had received them, knew of their dishonest provenance, and therefore burned them without reading them. 
But Gabriele also said – during an interrogation on July 21 – that it had been his spiritual director himself who had advised him to deny any blame, in the dramatic face-to-face with Msgr. Gänswein on May 21: "My spiritual father told me not to acknowledge my responsibility in this, unless I were asked by the Holy Father himself."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Images of the Priesthood

Sacrament: The ordination of a Priest
Liturgy from a Pontifical (From Antioch on the Oronte)
13th century 
Syriaque 112, Folio 61v
Département des Manuscrits, Division orientale, Bibliothèque nationale de France

Priest kneeling from Stained glass window at Notre Dame de Chartres
Aquarelle drawing
Bouchot 57
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris 

Publisher : François Jollain l'aisné
Le vray portrait du pieux et charitable prêtre Pierre Ragot, curé de la Paroisse du Crucifix de la ville du Mans, surnommé le Pêre des Pauvres et le véritable père du peuple, décédé en odeur de sainteté le 13.e may 1683, aagé de 73 ans
17th century
Département Estampes et photographie, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris

Agence de presse Meurisse. Agence photographique 
Belgian priest attending to the wounds of a German soldier
13 x 18 cm 
Département Estampes et photographie, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris 

Agence Rol. Agence photographique 
Belgian priest in a church devastated by bombardment: at  Termonde in Belgium
13 x 18 cm 
Département Estampes et photographie, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris 

Agence Roi. Agence photographique 
Priest in front of an improvised chapel about to celebrate mass with soldiers beside him
13 x 18 cm
Département Estampes et photographie, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris 

Agence Rol. Agence photographique
Italian priest giving communion to British soldiers
13 x 18 cm 
Département Estampes et photographie, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris 

Recently Tom Hoopes in The National Catholic Register wrote of "Unforgettable Images of the Priesthood"

Despite the pedophile and other sex and financial scandals of the priesthood blazoned in the papers, he said that the images of the Catholic priesthood he would  always remember are not of priests on a stage — or even priests in the pulpit — but "by priests in action, doing what only priests can do."

He gave a number of examples which he had experienced including this one:
"[T]he greatest priestly action I have ever seen was at Mass on a hot summer Sunday at St. Mary’s Parish in New Haven, Conn. 
This was back before the parish had air conditioning. It was tough for the congregation, but worse for the visiting priest who said Mass in the summer. He had diabetes and some kind of degenerative nerve disorder that made his hands shake. 
“It’s hot for you,” he would joke. “But I’m up here wearing a horse blanket!” 
This priest’s homilies were excellent, showing him to be a great student of Catholic social teaching, but the moment that is burned in my memory happened during the Eucharistic prayer. 
Father was slowing down through the first part of the prayer, like an old record player that needed to be cranked. When he started the consecration, it sounded like he was going to stop altogether. 
But after he started the consecration, it quickly became clear that nothing could make him stop 
“Take this,” pause, “all of you,” pause, “and” … long pause … “eat it.” 
He took a long gasping breath and looked like he wouldn’t recover. A parishioner ran to his side. The priest made it clear he wasn’t about to leave the altar, so the parishioner brought a chair for him to rest on. 
“This … is … my … body … which will be … given up … for you.” 
He lifted the host with shaky hands. We watched in rapt silence. 
He slowly worked through “When the supper was ended, he took the cup …” 
And then a replacement priest had been brought over from the rectory. 
But Father wasn’t about to stop halfway through the consecration. 
Word after agonizing word, he got to the end of the consecration. 
By then, an ambulance had come. After he elevated the chalice, he was carried away on a stretcher. 
Then the replacement priest stepped up to the altar. “Let us proclaim the mystery of faith,” he said. 
Talk about alter christus. Watching that priest was like watching Our Lord consecrating the Eucharist — from the cross. 
“Mom, why wouldn’t he stop?” the kids asked their mother in the car. 
“Because he’s a priest,” said April. “That’s what priests do.”

The parish was St. Mary's, in New Haven, CT. run by the Dominican order.

The priest was Dominican priest,  Fr. Jack Reid OP, who suffers from Parkinson's Disease and is currently retired at Providence College. 

The Dominican priest that relieved him to finish the Mass was the then, Fr. Anthony Giambrone OP, who is currently studying at Notre Dame towards his PhD in Biblical Theology.

St. Mary's is also the church where the Knights of Columbus were founded by the Servant of God, Fr. Michael McGiveny.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Is "Romeo and Juliet" really a stern morality play ?

William Hatherell (1855‑1928) 
O, Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo? 
Circa 1912 
Gouache on paper 
 241 x 178 mm
Tate Britain, London

Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863)
Roméo et Juliette devant le tombeau des Capulets
c. 1855
Oil on paper marouflé on canvas 
35.2 x 26.5 cm
Musée Eugène Delacroix, Paris

Print made by Francesco Bartolozzi  (1728 - 1815)
Published by James Birchall (1781 fl - 1794)
After William Hamilton (1750 - 1801)
Romeo and Juliet: Romeo and Juliet; in the centre, Romeo dressed as a pilgrim, standing in profile to right, holding Juliet's hand with his left hand, and a stick and a mask in his right; on the right, Juliet's nanny standing; on the left, two figures with masks standing in background;
Etching with stipple, printed in red ink on paper
257 millimetres x 201 millimetres
The British Museum, London

Published by Bowles & Carver (1763 - 1830)
The Scene of Romeo and the Apothecary, in the 5th: Act of Romeo & Juliet
Mezzotint on paper
350 millimetres x 250 millimetres
The British Museum, London

The Catholic Herald carries an essay by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith on Romeo and Juliet

Entitled Romeo and Juliet shows the danger of privatising love: The truth is that love is not a purely private matter. Every marriage has a public resonance

Both criticise the modern interpretation of the play 
"as an extravagant tale of love at first sight that for some horribly twisted reason had been doomed from the beginning. The whole thing just wasn’t fair. And then everyone died. The two had simply languished in Fate’s hands. What a waste."

Fr  Lucie-Smith`s take on the play is 
"the madness of love. Neither Romeo nor Juliet chose to fall in love, and their falling in love is clearly not a good idea, but neither of them have any choice in the matter. The Nurse does not help, in that she starts out as very helpful and then loses her nerve, and the same can be said of the Friar. In fact, all the adults fail these two children in love ..."
He goes on:
"What this play warns us about is the privatisation of love. Of course we admire Juliet and her Romeo, but the truth of the matter is, surely, that love is not a purely private matter. It has public resonance and the rite of marriage is always to be celebrated before proper witnesses, who represent the community in which the marriage takes place. Married love is a special relationship, but at the same time one of the many sorts of relationship that goes to make up the web of relationships that is society. 
So, Romeo and Juliet and the Friar and the Nurse all ought to have given more thought to the needs, not just of the young couple, but of Verona itself."
The comments on the article are scholarly and interesting

Could this be the start of a re-interpretation of a much misunderstood play ?

Shakespeare's primary source for Romeo and Juliet was Arthur Brooke's Romeus and Juliet, first published in 1562, two years before Shakespeare's birth. It was  reprinted in 1587, about eight years before the first performance of Romeo and Juliet.

The complete original text, with a glossary and a search engine are here

Whem one looks at this source one can see that neither Meg  Matenaer nor Father Lucie-Smith  are stretching the text. Indeed they cast light on some of Shakespeare`s most interesting speeches within the play which too often are ignored or simply passed over

Could the modern popular re-interpretation be a very striking example of how modern men and women are imprisoned within their culture, formed by the Enlightenment and unable to truly ynderstand what a late medieval mind such as Shakespeare intended the play to mean ? Has modern mankind simply regressed to a time before the advent of Christianity in Western Europe ?

Could it be that Pope Benedict XVi was spot-on when in Deus Caritas Est he said:
"The tendency to avoid the word eros, together with the new vision of love expressed through the word agape, clearly point to something new and distinct about the Christian understanding of love.  
In the critique of Christianity which began with the Enlightenment and grew progressively more radical, this new element was seen as something thoroughly negative. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, Christianity had poisoned eros, which for its part, while not completely succumbing, gradually degenerated into vice. 
Here the German philosopher was expressing a widely-held perception: doesn't the Church, with all her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most precious thing in life? Doesn't she blow the whistle just when the joy which is the Creator's gift offers us a happiness which is itself a certain foretaste of the Divine? 
 But is this the case?  
Did Christianity really destroy eros?  
Let us take a look at the pre- Christian world. The Greeks—not unlike other cultures—considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a “divine madness” which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness.  
All other powers in heaven and on earth thus appear secondary: “Omnia vincit amor” says Virgil in the Bucolicslove conquers all—and he adds: “et nos cedamus amori”—let us, too, yield to love.  
In the religions, this attitude found expression in fertility cults, part of which was the “sacred” prostitution which flourished in many temples. Eros was thus celebrated as divine power, as fellowship with the Divine. 
The Old Testament firmly opposed this form of religion, which represents a powerful temptation against monotheistic faith, combating it as a perversion of religiosity.  
But it in no way rejected eros as such; rather, it declared war on a warped and destructive form of it, because this counterfeit divinization of eros actually strips it of its dignity and dehumanizes it.  
Indeed, the prostitutes in the temple, who had to bestow this divine intoxication, were not treated as human beings and persons, but simply used as a means of arousing “divine madness”: far from being goddesses, they were human persons being exploited.  
An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then, is not an ascent in “ecstasy” towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man.  
Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns"

Friday, August 10, 2012

John Martin (1789–1854)

The artist John Martin (1789–1854) from the North of England is gradually making a comeback and rightly so

Many of his works are religious in nature. But he was a deist, a Romantic and radical reformer

But it is the works dealing with the Apocalypse and other great and architectonic themes which are causing his reputation to rise again

Many see in his works the fantastic element in modern sci-fi illustrative works and in computer games graphics

One of his early works was a commission to do twenty four mezzotint engravings for an edition of "Paradise Lost" by John Milton - the great classical which few read these days.

Recently the Watt Library in Greenock discovered an early edition of the work with the illustrations by John Martin and put them on special exhibition

An interesting commentary on the mezzotints is available from the website of the Spaightwood Galleries, Inc.

Martin`s works have been described as "the summit of Romantic art"

His interest in Milton is not coincidental. At that time after the French Revolution and the social turmoil after the Napoleonic Wars, many poets and artists were inspired by their image of John Milton

Martin’s art was hugely popular with the public. But in his time  critics more often saw his art as tawdry, sensationalist and bombastic. Samuel Taylor Coleridge dismissed Martin as ‘a poor creature’, John Constable lamented his artistic ‘pantomimes’, and John Ruskin declared that his art was ‘merely a common manufacture, as much makeable to order as a tea-tray or a coal-scuttle’. The critics did not change their opinions in the 20th century 

Below are some of the mezzotints from the imperial octavo edition of 1827 as seen in the Greenock exhibition:

John Martin (Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789–1854 Douglas, Isle of Man) 
Book 1 Line 44: 'Him the Almighty Power Hurl'd headlong from the ethereal sky' 
From Paradise Lost 
Publisher: Septimus Prowett (London)
Printer:Chatfield & Company (London)
Plate: 7 11/16 x 11 1/2 in. (19.5 x 29.2 cm) Sheet: 14 13/16 x 21 13/16 in. (37.7 x 55.4 cm)
The Watt Library, Greenock

The full quotation from the epic poem is:
"He trusted to have equall’d the most High,
If he oppos’d; and with ambitious aim
Against the Throne and Monarchy of God
Rais’d impious War in Heav’n and Battle proud
With vain attempt.     Him the Almighty Power
Hurl’d headlong flaming from th’Ethereal Sky
With hideous ruin and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire,
Who durst defy th’Omnipotent to Arms." 
Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, lines 40-49

In mezzotint the artist began with a dark plate and literally scratched his way to light. 

The contemporary viewers of these plates would have been more than familiar which the Scriptural underpinnings of these lines by Milton:

"How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!" (Isaiah 14:12)
"And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6: 6)
"For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into Hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment" (2 Peter 2:4)
And not least:
"17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” 
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." (Luke 10: 17 -18)
Suddenly and without warning God casts Lucifer, his Light bearer, and his fellow rebels like a bolt of lightning from the height of heaven  into the depths of the black earth, the exterior darkness. The force of God, his speed, the greatness and grandeur all within the poem are conjured up to perfection by Martin

John Martin (Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789–1854 Douglas, Isle of Man) 
Book 1 Line 192: 'Thus Satan, talking to his nearest mate'
From Paradise Lost 
Publisher: Septimus Prowett (London)
Printer:Chatfield & Company (London)
Plate: 7 11/16 x 11 1/2 in. (19.5 x 29.2 cm) Sheet: 14 13/16 x 21 13/16 in. (37.7 x 55.4 cm)
The Watt Library, Greenock

Wiliiam Blake and others thought that Milton's Satan, the rebel against God, was the true hero of Paradise Lost

Milton created Satan as a politician and a seducer, a tragic but heroic figure with virtues of readiness, fervour, eloquence and opposition to tyranny

Here we have Milton`s physical description of Satan:

"Thus Satan, talking to his nearest mate,
With head uplift above the wave, and eyes
That sparkling blazed; his other parts besides
Prone on the flood, extended long and large,
Lay floating many a rood, in bulk as huge
As whom the fables name of monstrous size,
Titanian, or Earth-born, that warred on Jove,
Briareus, or Typhon, whom the den
By ancient Tarsus held, or that sea-beast
Leviathan, which God of all his works
Created hugest that swim the ocean stream:
Him, haply, slumbering on the Norway foam,
The pilot of some small night-foundered skiff,
Deeming some island, oft, as seamen tell,
With fixed anchor in his scaly rind
Moors by his side under the lee, while night
Invests the sea, and wished morn delays.
So stretched out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay
Chained on the burning lake."

Here Martin depicts the huge expanse of Hell: some great cavernous Kingdom steeped in darkness and only barely lit by sulphur fires

His "mate" is Belzebub and both are amking their way from the lake of fire to the fiery plain to join their compatriots in revolt

Satan is large. He lay floating "many a rood." about 1/4 acre. Satan`s bulk is compared to mythological monsters such as Leviathan

John Martin (Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789–1854 Douglas, Isle of Man) 
Book 1 Line 710: 'Anon, out of the earth a fabric huge' -
From Paradise Lost 
Publisher: Septimus Prowett (London)
Printer:Chatfield & Company (London)
Plate: 7 11/16 x 11 1/2 in. (19.5 x 29.2 cm) Sheet: 14 13/16 x 21 13/16 in. (37.7 x 55.4 cm)
The Watt Library, Greenock

Milton writes of The Building of Pandemonium
"Anon out of the earth a Fabrick huge
Rose like an Exhalation, with the sound
Of Dulcet Symphonies and voices sweet,
Built like a Temple, where Pilasters round
Were set, and Doric pillars overlaid
With Golden Architrave; nor did there want
Cornice or Freeze, with bossy Sculptures grav'n,
The Roof was fretted Gold. Not Babilon,
Nor great Alcairo such magnificence
Equal'd in all thir glories, to inshrine
Belus or Serapis thir Gods, or seat
Thir Kings, when Ægypt with Assyria strove
In wealth and luxurie. "  
Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, lines 710 - 722

Martin depicts Satan before his Palace, He came back to this image time and time again Here we see it in oils:

John Martin (Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789–1854 Douglas, Isle of Man) 
Oil on canvas
123 x 184 cm
Private collection

Pandemonium is the palace of Satan,  place of All Demons  It was a word invented by Milton

The demons built it in about an hour. It exceeded  all human palaces or dwellings; It was designed by the architect Mulciber, who had been the designer of palaces in Heaven before his fall. In Milton, Mulciber is also the Roman God Vulcan, the God of Fire and volcanoes

If you think that there is something familiar about the scene,or that you may have seen something like this before, you probably have.

Martin's painting was inspired not only by Milton's text but also by the contemporary architecture of London such as the immense water-gates of Somerset House, the arcade of Carlton House Terrace in Pall Mall, and Charles Barry's perspective plans for the new Houses of Parliament

Byron, in  Don Juan (1818) also associated Pall Mall with Hell.

At the centre of Pandemonium is the throne room, the seat of Satan`s power

John Martin (Haydon Bridge, Northumberland 1789–1854 Douglas, Isle of Man) 
Book II Line 1: 'High on a throne of royal state' 
From Paradise Lost 
Publisher: Septimus Prowett (London)
Printer:Chatfield & Company (London)
Plate: 7 11/16 x 11 1/2 in. (19.5 x 29.2 cm) Sheet: 14 13/16 x 21 13/16 in. (37.7 x 55.4 cm)
The Watt Library, Greenock

High on a throne of royal state, which far
Outshone the wealth or Ormus and of Ind,
Or where the gorgeous East with richest hand
Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold,
Satan exalted sat, by merit raised
To that bad eminence; and, from despair
Thus high uplifted beyond hope, aspires
Beyond thus high, insatiate to pursue
Vain war with Heaven; and, by success untaught,
His proud imaginations thus displayed:-- 
Milton, Paradise Lost, Book II, lines 1 - 10

Milton`s vision of Satan`s throne is that of a Far Eastern despot`s 

It is the beginning of Satan`s address to his co-inhabitants of Hell for the preparations of the Second Battle for Heaven

It is of course not a coincidence that Milton portrayed Satan as a King. Milton and the Puritans had just executed a King. In 1649, after the execution of Charles I, Milton published the tract The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates, stating that power resides in the people, who may depose and execute an unworthy and absolute king who seeks to deprive them of fundamental rights

Martin depicts the mindset of the intelligent despot: the epitome of the Satanic  Non serviam: History is littered with countless examples
"The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav'n of Hell, a Hell of Heav'n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then he
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th' Almighty hath not built
Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav'n." 
Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, lines 233 - 242

Satan sitting on the highest throne over all the  territorial dominions of the Earth. It was an image and theme to which Milton would return in 1677 in Paradise Regained

After wandering in the wilderness for forty days Jesus is starved of both food and the Word of God. Satan, too blind to see any non-literal meanings of the term, offers Christ food and various other temptations, but Jesus continually denies him.

It is The Temptation of Christ according to the Gospel of Luke (Luke 4:1-13)
Christ rejects Satan's offer of all the worldly kingdoms in exchange for worshipping Satan: He also rejects worldly kingdoms in favor of other worldly kingdoms.Christ's reply also implies that worldly kingdoms are Satan's domain. Since Satan has the power to give these kingdoms away, they must be under his control:

"It is written
The first of all Commandments, Thou shalt worship
The Lord thy God, and only him shalt serve;
And dar'st thou to the Son of God propound
To worship thee accurst, now more accurst
For this attempt bolder then that on Eve,
And more blasphemous? which expect to rue.
The Kingdoms of the world to thee were giv'n,
Permitted rather, and by thee usurp't,
Other donation none thou canst produce:
If given, by whom but by the King of Kings,
God over all supreme? If giv'n to thee,
By thee how fairly is the Giver now
Repaid? But gratitude in thee is lost
Long since. Wert thou so void of fear or shame,
As offer them to me the Son of God,
To me my own, on such abhorred pact, 
John Milton Paradise Regained Book IV, 175 - 191