Saturday, June 29, 2013

Noah and the Deluge

f. 7v, Noah builds the ark, instructed by God and later boards it, carrying animals, followed by his family
From the 'Holkham Bible Picture Book' Add MS 47682
England: second quarter of the 14th century
Parchment codex
285 x 210 mm 
The British Library, London

f. 8r, The dove and the raven released by Noah, with drowning people and animals in the water beneath the ark. 
From the 'Holkham Bible Picture Book' Add MS 47682
England: second quarter of the 14th century
Parchment codex
285 x 210 mm 
The British Library, London

f. 8v, The ark is perched on top of the mountain, while Noah disembarks to cultivate vines and build an altar.
From the 'Holkham Bible Picture Book' Add MS 47682
England: second quarter of the 14th century
Parchment codex
285 x 210 mm 
The British Library, London

The Holkham Bible Picture Book is one of the treasures of the British Library

The book was probably made in London in the mid-14th century about the time of Geoffrey Chaucer's birth

It was commissioned by a Dominican friar with seculars executing the images and the texts

There are three pages devoted to Noah including the Deluge and the Noahide Covenant

The depiction of Noah and his family`s adventures was common in medieval manuscripts (including the Bedford Hours also in The British Library) as well as in ecclesiastical architecture such as the Cathedral at Monreale, the Basilica of San Marco in Venice and Paolo Uccello`s frescoes in the Green Cloister at Santa Maria Novella in Florence

The story of Noah is in Genesis 6 - 9

In The City of God, St Augustine saw the Ark as Christ and the Church

It was this interpretation which held sway in medieval times

The "second St Augustine", Hugh of St Victor (c. 1096 - 1141) was fascinated by the image of the Ark of Noah

Of his views about the interpretation of Scripture and of history, Pope Benedict XVI said:
"To interpret Scripture he [Hugh of St Victor] suggests the traditional patristic and medieval structure, namely, the literal and historical sense first of all, then the allegorical and anagogical and, lastly, the moral.  
These are four dimensions of the meaning of Scripture that are being rediscovered even today.  
For this reason one sees that in the text and in the proposed narrative a more profound meaning is concealed: the thread of faith that leads us heavenwards and guides us on this earth, teaching us how to live.  
Yet, while respecting these four dimensions of the meaning of Scripture, in an original way in comparison with his contemporaries, Hugh of Saint-Victor insists and this is something new on the importance of the historical and literal meaning.  
In other words before discovering the symbolic value, the deeper dimensions of the biblical text, it is necessary to know and to examine the meaning of the event as it is told in Scripture. Otherwise, he warns, using an effective comparison, one risks being like grammarians who do not know the elementary rules.  
To those who know the meaning of history as described in the Bible, human events appear marked by divine Providence, in accordance with a clearly ordained plan. Thus, for Hugh of Saint-Victor, history is neither the outcome of a blind destiny nor as meaningless as it might seem.  
On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is at work in human history and inspires the marvellous dialogue of human beings with God, their friend. This theological view of history highlights the astonishing and salvific intervention of God who truly enters and acts in history.  
It is almost as if he takes part in our history, while ever preserving and respecting the human being's freedom and responsibility."

Hugh of St. Victor wrote three major spiritual works which are devoted to the theme of Noah's Ark: the De Arca Noe Morali, the De Arca Noe Mystica,(variously called De Pictura Arcae and De Reformatione Arcae in the manuscripts), and the De Vanitate Mundi

At the beginning of lessons for his pupils he drew a large Ark over which he superimposed the figure of Christ. His lectures were to explain the drawing

For Hugh of St Victor, the Deluge was considered to prefigure baptism, while the Ark was the symbol for Christ and the Church itself. 

The  water of the baptism removes the original sin, while that of the flood cleansed the world of sinners. 

Noah was saved from the water by the wood of the Ark, just as the wood of the Cross offers salvation to those who are in the Church. 

Three different patterns of behaviour may be distinguished in human beings: while the righteous take refuge in the Ark (the Church) and find salvation therein, the damned attempt to assail it, and others are lost due to their excessive attachment to worldly things, and seek safety carrying their possessions with them. 

But that is an oversimplification

He went on to say:
"We set out to talk about one ark and one thing has so led to another that it seems now we have to speak not of one only, but of four . . . The first is that which Noah made, with hatchets and axes, using wood and pitch as his materials. The second is that which Christ made through His preachers by gathering the nations into a single confession of faith. The third is that which wisdom builds daily in our hearts through continual meditation on the law of God. The fourth is that which mother grace effects in us by joining together many virtues in a single charity" Noah`s Ark, Bk I, ch. 11
Later he wrote:
"If the Ark signifies the Church, it follows that the length of the Ark is a figure of the length of the Church. But the Church's length is to be seen in the duration of the successive periods of her history, just as her breadth is in the multitude of the peoples she includes.  
For the Church is said to widen when the number of her believers is increased, and many are gathered to the faith; while her length consists in that prolongation in time whereby she reaches out of the past, through the present into the future. This length of hers in time is from the beginning of the world to its end.  
For Holy Church started in her faithful ones from the beginning, and will last until the end of time. We believe, indeed, that there is no period from the beginning of the world until the end of time in which believers in Christ will not be found."

And in De Arca Noah Mystica (MPL, clxxvi, col. 684CD). MS Laud. Misc. 370, fol.47v he wrote
"The Ark leans on the column, and his Church leans upon Christ, for undoubtedly she could not stand at all if he did not hold her up, according to that word in the Canticle: Who is she that comes up radiant from the desert, leaning upon her beloved? 
Again, just as the column is the measure of the height of each floor, so Christ gives to each one his measure of virtue and progress. And as it divides the different compartments, so Christ at his good pleasure divides the gifts of his graces in Holy Church, making some prophets, others apostles, yet others evangelists, and all the other different functions that have a share in spiritual gifts.  
So too, as the column is always in the central position, our Lord Jesus Christ has said: Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. 
If, then, we are so weak as to be unable to go up to the third or second floor, let us not lose heart, but let us be gathered together by faith in his name that we may at least be on the ground floor, in the unity of the Church.  
There let us hold true and unshakeable faith and he will come to us, that he may stand in our midst to praise our good beginning, while being ready at the same time to help us to rise to higher things, that he may be one in all, one among all, one above all, even Jesus Christ our Lord"

Friday, June 28, 2013

Grains of Wheat

Vincent Van Gogh  1853-1890
The Sower with Setting Sun
Oil on canvas
73.5 x 93 cm
Stiftung Sammlung E.G. Buhrle, Zurich

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) 
The Harvest
Oil on Canvas, 73 x 92 cm 
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Van Gogh`s  father was the Minister of the small Reformed congregation in Nuenen. Van Gogh`s knowledge of Scripture was profound and he tried at one stage to become a minister too

The parables of Christ appear to have been among his favourite passages. The Sower is one of his constant references. As is the parable of the grain of wheat in John 12. Fields of golden wheat are one of his main themes

In a letter to his brother Theo  in 1883 Van Gogh  wrote:
"I’m not an artist — how coarse that is — even to think it of oneself — should one not have patience, not learn patience from nature, learn patience from seeing the wheat slowly come up, the growing of things — should one think oneself such a hugely dead thing that one believed one wouldn’t grow? Should one deliberately discourage one’s development?  
I say this to show why I find it so silly to talk about gifts and no gifts.  
But if one wants to grow, one must fall into the earth. So I say to you, plant yourself in the soil of Drenthe — you will sprout there. Don’t shrivel up on the pavement. You’ll say that there are city plants — well yes, but you are wheat and belong in the wheatfield"
The connection between wheat and the Eucharist needs no explanation

Parables involving wheat are not unusual. See the Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13

In a recent visit to Scotland Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gave a series of major speeches/homilies to a beleaguered Scottish Church

In one of them he spoke of the parable of the grain of wheat and the meeting of Christ with the pilgrims from the Diaspora and the crowd in John 12
"I am thinking of Chapter 12 in John’s Gospel, verses 20 to 33. 
In this text St John allows us to overhear Jesus praying to his Father. The prayer, in fact, ends with the words, “Father, glorify your name”, a phrase familiar to us from other reported prayers of Jesus. 
But there is something unusual, all the same, about the prayer. It is not uttered in solitude, alone with his Father, in preparation for some major decision; nor is it said in the remote solitude of a high mountain; nor at the Last Supper with a few chosen friends; nor in the solitude of the Garden of Gethsemane.  
No – while Jesus is praying, he is surrounded by all kinds of different people. 
The text speaks, first of all, of a number of Greeks who had arrived in time for the Feast, and who had expressed the desire “to see Jesus”. Then Philip and Andrew are mentioned. 
And, finally, we hear of a crowd of bystanders. 
What is impressive here is that, although Jesus finds himself surrounded by all kinds of noise and commotion, and by different individuals seeking his attention, he is still able to find time to pray. 
And that, of course, is what is encouraging to witness in the lives of many hard-working parish priests today. Their life of prayer does not take place in the quiet solitude of a monastery, but instead at the pulsing heart of a busy parish with all its pressures and demands. 
A life of dedicated prayer, in other words, but one achieved against the odds, and in the midst of the world. 
The prayer spoken by Jesus to his Father is brief but unforgettable. He says: 
“Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? Save me from this hour? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” 
Just before he pronounced this prayer, while the crowd were listening, Jesus did not hesitate to deliver a number of robust and challenging statements.  
Here is one, for example: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” A hard saying indeed! The words themselves: confident, hard-edged, and authoritative. 
But, when Jesus starts to pray, moments later, we have the impression that, all of a sudden, he has been struck by the force and meaning of his own words.  
It is a rare moment in a Johannine text: this sudden, hurt inwardness, this dawning realization, on the part of Jesus, of the sacrifice that is being asked of him: 
“Now my soul is troubled. And what shall I say? Save me from this hour?” ... 
The most human thing in the world is to want to avoid the cross, and to want to say to God “Save me from this hour”. 
But if, in those moments of great fear and anxiety, we fall back on his grace, and on his strength as God, we will find courage to say, “No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

"In the request of these anonymous Greeks we can interpret the thirst to see and to know Christ which is in every person's heart; and Jesus' answer orients us to the mystery of Easter, the glorious manifestation of his saving mission. 
"The hour has come", he declared, "for the Son of man to be glorified (Jn 12: 23). Yes! 
The hour of the glorification of the Son of man is at hand, but it will entail the sorrowful passage through his Passion and death on the Cross. Indeed the divine plan of salvation which is for everyone, Jews and Gentiles alike will only be brought about in this manner. Actually, everyone is invited to be a member of the one people of the new and definitive Covenant.  
In this light, we also understand the solemn proclamation with which the Gospel passage ends: "and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (Jn 12: 32), and likewise the Evangelist's comment: "He said this to show by what death he was to die" (Jn 12: 33). The Cross: the height loftiness of love is the loftiness of Jesus and he attracts all to these heights. ... 
What our association with his mission consists of is explained by the Lord himself. In speaking of his forthcoming glorious death, he uses a simple and at the same time evocative image: "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12: 24).  
He compares himself to a "grain of wheat which has split open, to bring much fruit to others", according to an effective statement of St Athanasius; it is only through death, through the Cross that Christ bears much fruit for all the centuries.  
Indeed, it was not enough for the Son of God to become incarnate.  
To bring the divine plan of universal salvation to completion he had to be killed and buried: only in this way was human reality to be accepted, and, through his death and Resurrection, the triumph of Life, the triumph of Love to be made manifest; it was to be proven that love is stronger than death."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Christ and the Greeks

St John and His Symbol at the beginning of the Manuscript of St John`s Gospel
From the Gospels of Abbaye Saint-Remi, Reims
c. 1062
Reims - BM - ms. 0009, f. 128 
Bibliothèque municipale de Reims, France

St John and His Symbol at the beginning of the Manuscript of St John`s Gospel
From  Bible de Saint-Sulpice de Bourges (Abbaye Saint-Sulpice de la Nef)
Last quarter of 12th century
Bourges - BM - ms. 0003 , f. 335
Bibliothèque municipale de Bourges, Bourges, France

The Prologue to St John`s Gospel  states the main themes of the Gospel: life, light, truth, the world, testimony, and the preexistence of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Logos, who reveals God the Father. 

In origin, it was probably an early Christian hymn.

In his Apostolic Exhortation, Verbum Domini, Pope Benedict XVI referred to the Prologue throughout. 

He wrote:
"I would like to present and develop the labours of the Synod by making constant reference to the Prologue of John’s Gospel (Jn 1:1-18), which makes known to us the basis of our life: the Word, who from the beginning is with God, who became flesh and who made his dwelling among us (cf. Jn 1:14).  
This is a magnificent text, one which offers a synthesis of the entire Christian faith.  
From his personal experience of having met and followed Christ, John, whom tradition identifies as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20), “came to a deep certainty: Jesus is the Wisdom of God incarnate, he is his eternal Word who became a mortal man”.  
May John, who “saw and believed” (cf. Jn 20:8) also help us to lean on the breast of Christ (cf. Jn 13:25), the source of the blood and water (cf. Jn 19:34) which are symbols of the Church’s sacraments"

In Chapter 12 of John we read of the time that a group of Greek Jews who were visiting Jerusalem came up to speak to Jesus:
20 Now there were some Greeks among those who had come up to worship at the feast.
21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.” 
22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 
23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 
24 Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. 
25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.
26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honour whoever serves me.
27 “I am troubled  now. Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour. 
28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it and will glorify it again.” 
29 The crowd there heard it and said it was thunder; but others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”
30 Jesus answered and said, “This voice did not come for my sake but for yours. 
31 Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.
32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” 
33 He said this indicating the kind of death he would die. 
34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever.Then how can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?”
35 Jesus said to them, “The light will be among you only a little while. Walk while you have the light, so that darkness may not overcome you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going.
36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of the light.” After he had said this, Jesus left and hid from them. 
37 Although he had performed so many signs in their presence they did not believe in him, 
38 in order that the word which Isaiah the prophet spoke might be fulfilled: 
“Lord, who has believed our preaching,
to whom has the might of the Lord been revealed?”
39 For this reason they could not believe, because again Isaiah said: 
40 “He blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
so that they might not see with their eyes
and understand with their heart and be converted,
and I would heal them.”

The Greeks were part of the Jewish Diaspora. 

More Jews lived outside the Land of Israel in the Diaspora than in Palestine. 

They were different

In First Corinthians, Paul wrote:
" Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we [Christians] preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:22-23)

Howard Marshall, “The Jewish Dispersion in New Testament Times,” Faith and Thought 100.3
(1972-3): 237-258.

"In the ancient world and especially in the Roman Empire, as scholars in the subject teach us, Jews must have accounted for about 10 percent of the total population; later, here in Rome, towards the middle of the first century, this percentage was even lower, amounting to three percent of the city's inhabitants at most.  
Their beliefs and way of life, is still the case today, distinguished them clearly from the surrounding environment; and this could have two results: either derision, that could lead to intolerance, or admiration which was expressed in various forms of sympathy, as in the case of the "God-fearing" or "proselytes", pagans who became members of the Synagogue and who shared the faith in the God of Israel. ... 
It is certain that the number of Jews, as, moreover, is still the case today, was far greater outside the land of Israel, that is, in the Diaspora, than in the territory that others called Palestine. "

The numbers of Jews from outside Palestine were great who would visit Palestine and from all nations. 

In Acts we read of the first Pentecost when the pilgrims said of the Apostles speaking in tongues:
“Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:7-11).
The distinction between the Palestinian (Hebrew) Jew and the Hellenist (Greek) Jew was not only reflected in the language but also in thought and  religion

The Pontifical Biblical Commission (in The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible) explained the position thus:
"17. Since the first Christians were for the most part Palestinian Jews, either “Hebrew” or “Hellenistic” (cf. Ac 6:1), their views on Scripture would have reflected those of their environment, but we are poorly informed on the subject. Nevertheless, the writings of the New Testament suggest that a sacred literature wider than the Hebrew canon circulated in Christian communities. 
Generally, the authors of the New Testament manifest a knowledge of the deuterocanonical books and other non-canonical ones since the number of books cited in the New Testament exceeds not only the Hebrew canon, but also the so-called Alexandrian canon.  
When Christianity spread into the Greek world, it continued to use sacred books received from Hellenistic Judaism. Although Hellenistic Christians received their Scriptures from the Jews in the form of the Septuagint, we do not know the precise form, because the Septuagint has come down to us only in Christian writings.  
What the Church seems to have received was a body of Sacred Scripture which, within Judaism, was in the process of becoming canonical.  
When Judaism came to close its own canon, the Christian Church was sufficiently independent from Judaism not to be immediately affected. It was only at a later period that a closed Hebrew canon began to exert influence on how Christians viewed it. ... 
20. The Hellenistic world had different methods of which Christian exegesis made use as well. The Greeks often interpreted their classical texts by allegorising them. Commenting on ancient poetry like the works of Homer, where the gods seem to act like capricious and vindictive humans, scholars explained this in a more religious and morally acceptable way by emphasising that the poet was expressing himself in an allegorical manner when he wished to describe only human psychological conflicts, the passions of the soul, using the fiction of war between the gods. 
In this case, a new and more spiritual meaning replaced the original one. 
Jews in the diaspora sometimes utilised this method, in particular to justify certain prescriptions of the Law which, taken literally, would appear nonsensical to the Hellenistic world. 
Philo of Alexandria, who had been nurtured in Hellenistic culture, tended in this direction.  
He developed, often with a touch of genius, the original meaning, but at other times he adopted an allegorical reading that completely overshadowed it. As a result, his exegesis was not accepted in Judaism"

In his Lectio Divina on St Paul`s Letter to the Romans on 15th February 2012, Pope Benedict XVI referred again to this division between the Palestinian and the Hellene in relation to St Paul`s teaching on worship of God and contrasts them with the Christian idea of worship of God (or latria) based firmly on the Incarnation 
"Then Paul tells us: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (v. 1): the Greek term is logike latreia and it then appears in the Roman Canon, in the First Eucharistic Prayer, “rationabile obsequium”.  
It is a new definition of worship but is prepared for both in the Old Testament and in Greek philosophy; they are two rivers — so to speak — that flow towards this point and converge in the new liturgy of Christians and of Christ.  
In the Old Testament: from the outset they understood that God did not need bulls, rams, and such things. In Psalm 50[49], God says: Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? I have no need of these things, I do not like them. I do not drink and eat these things. They are not a sacrifice for me. Sacrifice is praise of God, if you come to me it is thanksgiving to God (cf. vv. 13-15, 23).  
Thus the Old Testament route leads towards a point in which these external things, symbols and substitutions, disappear and man himself becomes praise of God. 
The same happens in the world of Greek philosophy. 
Here too one understands increasingly that it is not possible to glorify God with these things — animals or offerings — but that only the “logos” of man, his reason having become the glory of God is really worship, and the idea is that man must come out of himself and unite with the “Logos”, with the great Reason of the world and thus truly be worship.  
However, here there is something missing: man, according to this philosophy, must — so to speak — leave his body, he must be spiritualized; only the spirit would be adoration. 
Christianity, on the contrary, is not simply spiritualization or moralization: it is incarnation, that is, Christ is the “Logos” he is the incarnate Word and he gathers all of us so that in him and with him, in his Body, as members of this Body, we really become a glorification of God." 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Choirs and Sacred Music

José de Gallegos Arnossa (1857 - 1917)
The Children`s Choir in Seville
Oil on canvas
44 x 61,5 cm
Real Academia de bellas artes de San Fernando, Madrid

François-Marius Granet (1775-1849)
Intérieur du choeur des Capucins, à Rome
Interior of the Choir of the Capuchins in Rome
c. 1811
Brown ink, black pencil, pen (drawing), wash with brown
8.5 x 15.5 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Pope Pius XII in Musicae Sacrae discussed the orgins of sacred music: singing and the playing of musical instruments particularly the organ

By sacred music he meant music which "may contribute more every day to greater splendor in the celebration of divine worship and to the more effective nourishment of spiritual life among the faithful" 

"6. No one, therefore, will be astonished that always and everywhere, even among pagan peoples, sacred song and the art of music have been used to ornament and decorate religious ceremonies. This is proved by many documents, both ancient and new. No one will be astonished that these arts have been used especially for the worship of the true and sovereign God from the earliest times. Miraculously preserved unharmed from the Red Sea by God's power, the people of God sang a song of victory to the Lord, and Miriam, the sister of Moses, their leader, endowed with prophetic inspiration, sang with the people while playing a tambourine. 
7. Later, when the ark of God was taken from the house of Abinadab to the city of David, the king himself and "all Israel played before the Lord on all manner of instruments made of wood, on harps and lutes and timbrels and cornets and cymbals." King David himself established the order of the music and singing used for sacred worship.This order was restored after the people's return from exile and was observed faithfully until the Divine Redeemer's coming.  
8. St. Paul showed us clearly that sacred chant was used and held in honor from the very beginning in the Church founded by the Divine Redeemer when he wrote to the Ephesians: "Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." He indicates that this custom of singing hymns was in force in the assemblies of Christians when he says: "When you come together each of you has a hymn."  
9. Pliny testifies that the same thing held true after apostolic times. He writes that apostates from the Faith said that "this was their greatest fault or error, that they were accustomed to gather before dawn on a certain day and sing a hymn to Christ as if He were God." These words of the Roman proconsul in Bithynia show very clearly that the sound of church singing was not completely silenced even in times of persecution.  
10. Tertullian confirms this when he says that in the assemblies of the Christians "the Scriptures are read, the psalms are sung, sermons are preached." 
11. There are many statements of the fathers and ecclesiastical writers testifying that after freedom and peace had been restored to the Church the psalms and hymns of liturgical worship were in almost daily use. Moreover, new forms of sacred chant were gradually created and new types of songs were invented. These were developed more and more by the choir schools attached to cathedrals and other important churches, especially by the School of Singers in Rome.  
12. According to tradition, Our predecessor of happy memory, St. Gregory the Great, carefully collected and wisely arranged all that had been handed down by the elders and protected the purity and integrity of sacred chant with fitting laws and regulations.  
13. From Rome, the Roman mode of singing gradually spread to other parts of the West. Not only was it enriched by new forms and modes, but a new kind of sacred singing, the religious song, frequently sung in the vernacular, was also brought into use.  
14. The choral chant began to be called "Gregorian" after St. Gregory, the man who revived it. It attained new beauty in almost all parts of Christian Europe after the 8th or 9th century because of its accompaniment by a new musical instrument called the "organ." Little by little, beginning in the 9th century, polyphonic singing was added to this choral chant. The study and use of polyphonic singing were developed more and more during the centuries that followed and were raised to a marvelous perfection under the guidance of magnificent composers during the 15th and 16th centuries.  
15. Since the Church always held this polyphonic chant in the highest esteem, it willingly admitted this type of music even in the Roman basilicas and in pontifical ceremonies in order to increase the glory of the sacred rites. Its power and splendor were increased when the sounds of the organ and other musical instruments were joined with the voices of the singers.  
16. Thus, with the favor and under the auspices of the Church the study of sacred music has gone a long way over the course of the centuries. In this journey, although sometimes slowly and laboriously, it has gradually progressed from the simple and ingenuous Gregorian modes to great and magnificent works of art. To these works not only the human voice, but also the organ and other musical instruments, add dignity, majesty and a prodigious richness.  
17. The progress of this musical art clearly shows how sincerely the Church has desired to render divine worship ever more splendid and more pleasing to the Christian people. It likewise shows why the Church must insist that this art remain within its proper limits and must prevent anything profane and foreign to divine worship from entering into sacred music along with genuine progress, and perverting it."

All Popes have stressed the importance of "sacred music". Recently Blessed Pope John Paul II stressed once again the importance of the cathedral or church choir
"8. The importance of preserving and increasing the centuries-old patrimony of the Church spurs us to take into particular consideration a specific exhortation of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium: "Choirs must be assiduously developed, especially in cathedral churches" 
In turn, the Instruction Musicam Sacram explains the ministerial task of the choir:
"Because of the liturgical ministry it exercises, the choir (cappella musicale or schola cantorum) should be mentioned here explicitly. The conciliar norms regarding the reform of the Liturgy have given the choir's function greater prominence and importance. The choir is responsible for the correct performance of its part, according to the differing types of song, to help the faithful to take an active part in the singing. Therefore,... choirs are to be developed with great care, especially in cathedrals and other major churches, in seminaries and in religious houses of study" 
The schola cantorum's task has not disappeared: indeed, it plays a role of guidance and support in the assembly and, at certain moments in the Liturgy, has a specific role of its own.  
From the smooth coordination of all - the priest celebrant and the deacon, the acolytes, the altar servers, the readers, the psalmist, the schola cantorum, the musicians, the cantor and the assembly - flows the proper spiritual atmosphere which makes the liturgical moment truly intense, shared in and fruitful. The musical aspect of liturgical celebrations cannot, therefore, be left to improvisation or to the arbitration of individuals but must be well conducted and rehearsed in accordance with the norms and competencies resulting from a satisfactory liturgical formation" 
Blessed Pope John Paul II Chirograph for the Centenary of the Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini on Sacred Music (22 November 2003)

Sunday, June 23, 2013

St John the Baptist: the Witness

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452 - 1519)
St John the Baptist
1513 - 1516
Oil on wood
69 x 57 cm.
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Giovan Francesco Rustici (1474–1554)
St. John the Baptist Preaching to a Pharisee and a Levite 1506 - 09
Bronze sculptures
Formerly above the North door now inside
The Baptistry, Florence

Annibale Carracci (1560–1609)
Saint John the Baptist Bearing Witness
c. 1600
Oil on copper
21 3/8 x 17 1/8 in. (54.3 x 43.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum, New York

St John the Baptist was and is the Patron saint of Florence. Leonardo and Rustici would have been aware of the great devotion to St John among all strata of Florentine society

According to Vasari, Rustici was Leonardo's zealous student and enjoyed his master's help in sculpting his large group in bronze of "St. John the Baptist Preaching" over the north door of the Baptistry. 

Both Leonardo`s work and Rustici`s work have the unusual gesture of St John the Baptist pointing upwards. The show John foretelling what is to come.

In Rustici`s work, the lines of each protagonist - the Baptist, the Priest and the Levite -  are inscribed, anachronistically, in Hebrew rather than Aramaic on the base of each statue. 

Carraci`s work focuses on John calling Christ "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" - the same prayer repeated in the Mass. The words spoken by John when Christ came to meet him face to face.

John 1 describes the scene. 

One day while baptising in the Jordan, John is confronted and questioned by the Pharisees and Levites as to who he is. John says that he is not the Messiah. The next day, by the waters of the Jordan, John the Baptist sees Jesus and testifies about Jesus to his disciples:

19  And this is the testimony of John. When the Jews from Jerusalem sent priests and Levites [to him] to ask him, “Who are you?” 
20 he admitted and did not deny it, but admitted,“I am not the Messiah.” 
21 So they asked him, “What are you then? Are you Elijah?" And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.”
22 So they said to him, “Who are you, so we can give an answer to those who sent us? What do you have to say for yourself?” 
23 He said: 
“I am ‘the voice of one crying out in the desert,
“Make straight the way of the Lord,”
as Isaiah the prophet said.” 
24 Some Pharisees were also sent. 
25 They asked him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet?”
26 John answered them, “I baptize with water; but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
27 the one who is coming after me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” 
28 This happened in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing. 
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
30 He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’ 
31 I did not know him, but the reason why I came baptizing with water was that he might be made known to Israel.” 
32 John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. 
33 I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the holy Spirit.’ 
34 Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.” 

This passage of Scripture is problematic especially verse 31.

When John says:  I did not know him, this gospel shows no knowledge of the tradition (Lk 1) about the kinship of Jesus and John the Baptist. 

John the Baptist explains that his baptism is not connected with forgiveness of sins; its purpose is revelatory, that Jesus may be made known to Israel

In Veritatis Splendor, Blessed Pope John Paul II said of St John the Baptist:
"Martyrdom, the exaltation of the inviolable holiness of God's law  
91. In the Old Testament we already find admirable witnesses of fidelity to the holy law of God even to the point of a voluntary acceptance of death ... 
At the dawn of the New Testament, John the Baptist, unable to refrain from speaking of the law of the Lord and rejecting any compromise with evil, "gave his life in witness to truth and justice", and thus also became the forerunner of the Messiah in the way he died (cf. Mk 6:17-29). 
 "The one who came to bear witness to the light and who deserved to be called by that same light, which is Christ, a burning and shining lamp, was cast into the darkness of prison... The one to whom it was granted to baptize the Redeemer of the world was thus baptized in his own blood". (Saint Bede the Venerable, Homeliarum Evangelii Libri, II, 23: CCL 122, 556-557)"

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

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Peter in Prison

Giovanni Serodine (1600 – June 10, 1631)
Pietro medita in carcere   / Peter meditates in Prison
c. 1629
Oil on canvas, 
119,5 x 160,5 cm
Pinacoteca cantonale Giovanni Züst, Roncate, Switzerland

Gerrit van Honthorst (4 November 1592 – 27 April 1656)
L’angelo libera Pietro dal carcere 
The angel frees Peter from Prison
c 1630 
Oil on canvas
131 x 96 cm
Museo Civico di Prato, Prato, Italy

Serodine was greatly influenced by Caravaggio’s work, especially his use of unidealised figures and strong light and shadow

He died young and only about fifteen paintings of his survive

Like Serodine, Gerard van Honthorst was strongly influenced by Caravaggio and of his closest Italian follower Bartolomeo Manfredi (1582-1622)

He was one of the Utrecht Caravaggisti 

Because of his interest in candle-lit night scenes, he was known in Italy as Gherardo della Notte. His scenes of nocturnal revelry remained a favorite for discerning collectors

The work in Prato is a later version of the same theme explored by the artist in 1616 in his work which is now in the Staatliche Museen, Berlin

Acts 12 narrates the imprisonment of Peter by Herod in Jerusalem, and his subsequent escape through divine intervention

It was a time of popular persecution. James had been executed. Then they came for Peter. 16 soldiers took him away. He was expected to be killed after Passover in the same way that Christ had been killed.

No doubt Peter was very well aware of what was supposed to happen to him.
"1 About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. 
2  He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, 
3 and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (It was [the] feast of Unleavened Bread.) 
4 He had him taken into custody and put in prison under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. He intended to bring him before the people after Passover. 
5 Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.
6 On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison. 
7 Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, “Get up quickly.” The chains fell from his wrists. 
8 The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.” 
9 So he followed him out, not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 
10 They passed the first guard, then the second, and came to the iron gate leading out to the city, which opened for them by itself. They emerged and made their way down an alley, and suddenly the angel left him. 
11 Then Peter recovered his senses and said, “Now I know for certain that [the] Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.” 
12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark, where there were many people gathered in prayer. 
13 When he knocked on the gateway door, a maid named Rhoda came to answer it. 
14 She was so overjoyed when she recognized Peter’s voice that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 
15 They told her, “You are out of your mind,” but she insisted that it was so. But they kept saying, “It is his angel.” 
16 But Peter continued to knock, and when they opened it, they saw him and were astounded. 
17 He motioned to them with his hand to be quiet and explained [to them] how the Lord had led him out of the prison, and said, “Report this to James and the brothers.” Then he left and went to another place."

Last year when Pope Benedict XVI may have been going through a time of crisis of his own, he delivered a talk on this liberation of St Peter. In retrospect the talk has great resonance

"The narrative is once again marked by the prayer of the Church. St Luke writes: “So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5). And, after having miraculously left the prison, on the occasion of his visit to Mary’s house, the mother of John also called Mark, it tells us “many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12).  
Between these two important observations that illustrate the attitude of the Christian community in the face of danger and persecution, is recounted the detainment and release of Peter, during the entire night. The strength of the unceasing prayer of the Church rises to God and the Lord listens and performs an unheard of and unexpected deliverance, sending his Angel. ... 
The light that fills the prison cell, the same action to awaken the Apostle, refers to the liberating light of the Passover of the Lord that triumphs over the darkness of night and evil. Finally, the invitation to “Wrap your mantle around you and follow me” (Acts 12:8) echoes the words of the initial call of Jesus in our hearts (cf. Mk 1:17), repeated after the Resurrection on Lake Tiberias, where on two occasions the Lord says to Peter, “Follow me” (Jn 21:19,22). 
It is a pressing call to follow him. Only by coming out of ourselves to walk with the Lord and by doing his will can we live in true freedom. 
I would also like to highlight another aspect of Peter’s attitude in prison. In fact, we note that while the Christian community is praying earnestly from him, Peter “was sleeping” (Acts 12:6). In a critical situation of serious danger, it is an attitude that might seem strange, but instead denotes tranquility and faith. He trusts God. He knows he is surrounded by the solidarity and prayers of his own people and completely abandons himself into the hands of the Lord. 
So it must be with our prayer, assiduous, in solidarity with others, fully trusting that God knows us in our depths and takes care of us to the point that Jesus says “even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore” (Mt 10:30-31). ... 
[T]he episode of the liberation of Peter as told by Luke tells us that the Church, each of us, goes through the night of trial. But it is unceasing vigilance in prayer that sustains us.  
I too, from the first moment of my election as the Successor of St Peter, have always felt supported by your prayer, by the prayers of the Church, especially in moments of great difficulty. My heartfelt thanks.  
With constant and faithful prayer the Lord releases us from the chains, guides us through every night of imprisonment that can gnaw at our hearts. He gives us the peace of heart to face the difficulties of life, persecution, opposition and even rejection.  
Peter’s experience shows us the power of prayer. And the Apostle, though in chains, feels calm in the certainty of never being alone. The community is praying for him. The Lord is near him. He indeed knows that Christ’s “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). 
Constant and unanimous prayer is also a precious tool to overcome any trial that may arise on life’s journey, because it is being deeply united to God that allows us also to be united to others."


Charles Willson Peale (1741 - 1827)
The Artist in His Museum 
Oil on canvas 
103¾ x 79 7/8 in. (263.5 x 202.9 cm)
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts 

Charles Willson Peale (April 15, 1741 – February 22, 1827) was an extraordinaryAmerican: painter, soldier and naturalist. A Renaissance man

His portrait paintings of leading figures of the American Revolution are naturally celebrated and remembered

He founded the Philadelphia Museum, later known as Peale's American Museum which sadly later failed after his death. The collection all dispersed

Now we live in an age of Museums. Of all different sorts, types, collections, and the like

No longer are they "wonder rooms or cabinets of curiosities". In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the museum came to be seen as an agent of Nationalism and the advancement of the State

The sociologist Tony Bennet in The Birth of the Museum (New York: Routledge Press, 1995), 6, 8, 24 wrote that the development of more modern 19th century museums was part of new strategies by Western governments to produce a citizenry that, rather than be directed by coercive or external forces, monitored and regulated its own conduct.

Peale`s vision however was a high vision. It was similar to that of Sir  Hans Sloane, whose collection was the foundation of The British Museum in London.  

Sloane had a very clear idea that the purpose of his collections was to show the greater glory of God:
‘They [products of natural history] afford great Matter of Admiring the Power, Wisdom and Providence of Almighty God, in Creating, and Preserving the things he has created. There appears so much Contrivance, in the variety of Beings, preserv’d from the beginning of the World, that the more any Man searches, the more he will admire; and conclude them, very ignorant in the History of Nature, who say, they were the Productions of Chance.’

In his Will, Sloane was quite explicit:
"Whereas from my youth I have been a great observer and admirer of the wonderful power, wisdom and contrivance of the Almighty God, appearing in the works of his Creation; and have gathered together many things in my own travels or voyages, or had them from others ... 
Now desiring very much that these things tending many ways to the manifestation of the glory of God, the confutation of atheism and its consequences, the use and improvement of physic, and other arts and sciences, and benefit of mankind, may remain together and not be separated, ... where they may by the great confluence of people be of most use."

Monday, June 17, 2013


Eustache du Caurroy 1549-1609 
Missa pro defunctis 
Choir book

Polyphonic mass: here

Christians have always loved music and also to sing.

From the beginning

In the Gospels, immediately after the Last Supper we learn that Christ and the disciples sang a hymn before leaving the Upper Room for the Mount of Olives

Probably Psalms  114–118, the Egyptian Hallel, thanksgiving songs concluding the Passover meal.

Psalms 114 et seq are here, here, here, here and here 

Of the Egyptian Hallel, Pope Benedict XVI said:
"The Jewish tradition intentionally connected this series of Psalms to the Paschal liturgy. The celebration of that event, according to its historical-social and, more especially, spiritual dimensions, was perceived as a sign of liberation from the multifaceted forms of evil." 

According To Pope Benedict, Psalm 113 was used by the early Church in an ancient Vesper Hymn which was 
"preserved in the so-called Apostolic Constitutions (VII, 48), [and] takes up once more and develops the joyful introduction to our Psalm. We recall it here, at the end of our reflection, to highlight the customary "Christian" re-reading of the Psalms done by the early community: 
"Praise the Lord, O children, praise the name of the Lord. We worship you, we sing to you, we praise you for your immense glory. Lord King, Father of Christ, spotless Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. To you all praise, to you our song, to you the glory, to God the Father through the Son in the Spirit, for ever and ever. Amen" (S. Pricoco M. Simonetti, La preghiera dei cristiani, Milan, 2000, p. 97). 
Here is Psalm 113 in Hebrew:

In Chapter 5 of his Letter to the Ephesians, St Paul seems to quote from an early Baptism hymn:
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light.”
In the same chapter he exhorts his correspondents in Ephesus:
"18 And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
19 addressing one another [in] psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts,
20 giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father"
In Chapter 3 of his Letter to the Colossians, St Paul writes:
"15 And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. 
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God."