Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Death of a Saint

C. de Mallery (1571–1645)
Plate 13 Death of St Ignatius of Loyola
30 x 40 cm
Pedro de Ribadeneyra (1526-1611) Vita beati patris Ignatii Loyolae religionis Societatis Iesu fundatoris ad viuum expressa ex ea quam 1610

Adrianus Collaert (c.1560-1618) 
Plate 14 Funeral of St Ignatius of Loyola
30 x 40 cm
Pedro de Ribadeneyra 1526-1611 Vita beati patris Ignatii Loyolae religionis Societatis Iesu fundatoris ad viuum expressa ex ea quam 1610

St Ignatius of Loyola died early on the morning of 31st July 1556 in Rome

The death was not expected despite the fact that he had been in ill health but he had been expected to make a full recovery

He was 65

The body was embalmed and then  put in priest`s vestments and then  put on a bier

The funeral mass commenced after the 5 o`clock  evening vespers on 1st August

The Mass was in the Maria della Strada Church where the body was buried

In 1568 the Church was demolished to make way for  Il Gesù where he now rests

In a lengthy report on the death and burial  to the superiors of the order, St Ignatius` secretary, Father  Juan de Polanco SJ described the funeral:
"The burial of his blessed body was deferred till after vespers on Saturday, and although he was never moved from the place where he expired, there was a great concourse of devout and pious persons. Some kissed his hands, and some his feet, and some touched them with their chaplets, many of our Fathers did the same. 
We had great difficulty in preventing those who wished to take away pieces of his berretta, his clothes, strings, night-caps, or other articles; we gave nothing to any person whatsoever, or suffered such things to be carried away, knowing whence they were procured.  
Some artists came to take portraits of him, which he had never allowed whilst living, though frequently requested.  
In the largest chapel of our church, on the Gospel side, a tomb has been excavated, and there we have placed the body in a coffin, and said the office for the dead in the customary manner. The tomb has been covered with a large slab which can be removed when necessary, and here the body will remain till it is determined what else ought to be done." 
(quoted in Mariani, The life of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits , Volume II, translated 1848)

Pedro de Ribadeneira  (1 November 1527 – 10 September or 22 September 1611) was one of the early Jesuits and admitted to the order by St Ignatius himself in 1540

He moved up the ranks quickly and took on many positions of responsibility

Amongst his works is the official Life of St Ignatius which went through several editions in 1572 and 1587

There are distinct changes as the cult and iconography of the saint matured

The work above published in 1610 was to commemorate the beatification of St Ignatius

The finest artists and engravers of Antwerp were engaged in the work

See also Pollen and Thompson Saint Ignatius Loyola (1913)

Sunday, July 28, 2013


Our Lady of Aparecida, Patroness of Brazil


Pope Francis constantly refers to this. He has just visited the Shrine again

More particularly he refers indirectly to the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean,  held close to the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, Patroness of Brazil in May/June 2007

It followed four previous conferences: Rio de Janeiro, Medellín, Puebla and Santo Domingo

Pope Benedict delivered at the beginning of the Conference an address which set out the agenda (Conference Hall, Shrine of Aparecida Sunday, 13 May 2007)

The Conference produced a document called "The Aparecida Document" which was approved of by Pope Benedict. The Document and Pope Benedict`s introduction are here

In June 2012, George Weigel in First Things said:
"I read the “Aparecida Document,” the final report of the Fifth General Assembly of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean (CELAM), which was held in Brazil in 2007. This master plan for the New Evangelization in Latin America is rather long—20-times longer than the Gospel of Mark, I’d guess. But in virtually every other respect it’s an entirely admirable piece of work that should be known throughout the world Church."
Weigel was impressed by the lack of defensiveness about the document. It frankly acknowledged that the Church had failed in its essential message to evangelise. It was not a political or bureaucratic document.

Weigel interviewed the then Cardinal Bergoglio about why the Document was such a break from previous CELAM documents. Here is what he said:
"In a meeting with Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., the archbishop of Buenos Aires and one of the world Church’s great leaders, I asked how the Aparecida Document—which seemed such a break from previous CELAM documents—had happened. The cardinal cited three reasons. 
First, Aparecida is a Marian shrine, and meeting there oriented the bishops’ reflections in two directions: toward the traditional piety of Latin America and toward Our Lady as the Star of the New Evangelization (as Blessed John Paul II had named her). In that intersection between past and future, and under Mary’s protection, there was an opportunity for real creativity in facing the truth of the Church’s situation and prospects. 
Second, the bishops had regular contact with the throngs that came to Aparecida on pilgrimage: it was as if CELAM was meeting, not in some convention center or monastic enclosure, but right in the middle of the People of God on their pilgrimage through the early 21st century—a pilgrimage in which both popular piety and new missionary initiatives will be part of the New Evangelization and in which lay Catholics will be the Church’s primary evangelists. 
And third, the cardinal replied, the bishops were surrounded by prayer: as they discussed the future of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean at the shrine of Aparecida, they could hear their people praying around them. Thus the fifth CELAM conference became, not another bureaucratic exercise, but a kind of retreat."
The visit to Aparecida and the Aparecida Document seemed to have a profound effect on Pope Benedict XVI. Most of his Address to the Members of the Curia in December 2007 was devoted to the visit and the Document

Here is his address

The Address should be read in full

Here is a short extract:
"[I]t was there that we drafted the document on the theme "Disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that in him they may have life". 
Of course, someone might immediately ask: but was this the right subject at this time in history in which we are living? Was it not too abrupt a turn toward interiority at a moment when the great challenges of history, the urgent questions about justice, peace and freedom, require the full commitment of all people of good will and in particular of Christianity and the Church? Should we not have tackled these problems rather than withdrawing into the inner world of faith? .. 
[W]as Aparecida right to give priority to the discipleship of Jesus Christ and to evangelization in the quest for the life of the world? Might it have been an erroneous withdrawal into interiority? 
No! Aparecida decided correctly because it is precisely through the new encounter with Jesus Christ and his Gospel - and only in this way - that forces are inspired which enable us to give the right response to the challenges of the time."

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saint Martha and the Jesuits

Pedro de Ribadeneyra 1526-1611
Cornelis Galle  1576-1650
Théodore Galle  1571-1633
Jan Collaert 1566-1628
Plate 12 is an image of Rome showing Ignatian places of devotion in Rome and 
Plate 15 is composite image of the miracles of Saint Ignatius and includes the conversion of women
Published Antwerp
Engravings 30 x 40 cm.
Boston College, Boston, USA

Monday is the Feast of St Martha of Bethany (sister of Lazarus)

Wednesday is the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits

St Ignatius and the Jesuits are often celebrated for their work in the Counter-Reformation, the Spiritual Exercises and the establishment of schools and universities, and their missionary activity

The Vita beati patris Ignatii Loyolae religionis Societatis Iesu fundatoris ad viuum expressa ex ea quam was published by the Jesuit Order to celebrate the beatification of St Ignatius in 1609

One aspect of the apostolate of St Ignatius is often overlooked. It is not widely known. 

Indeed after his death it was marginalised and in the pious biographies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it is barely (if at all) mentioned

In 1543 St Ignatius founded a house for the reformation of Rome`s prostitutes. It was called Casa Santa Marta

There is a bit of historical irony that the first Jesuit Pope, Francis, has elected to make his home in Rome in a building also called Casa Santa Marta (Domus Santa Marta)

Both buildings were dedicated to Saint Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus.

Martha was of course the mistress of the house where the Lord came and was the house of those who sought out the Lord. It was a house of service dedicated to the Lord 

In one of his last messages as Pope for Lent 2013, Pope Benedict said:
"In sacred Scripture, we see how the zeal of the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel and awaken people’s faith is closely related to their charitable concern to be of service to the poor (cf. Acts 6:1-4). In the Church, contemplation and action, symbolized in some way by the Gospel figures of Mary and Martha, have to coexist and complement each other (cf. Lk 10:38-42)."
By the fifteenth century prostitution was accepted as a service industry in Italy and most of Europe. 

It was regarded as a sin but not so much for the male client. Many theologians regarded the use of prostitutes as a lesser evil

As the Catholic Reform progressed, the Oratorians had set up a convent for the reform of prostitutes. The accent was on repentance. That was in 1520

But St Ignatius` approach was different.  It was to seek out prostitutes and offer them an opportunity or have in which they could renounce their former life, reform and be reintegrated into society The aim was not to make them become members of a religious order

It was the "half way house" and the model spread throughout the major cities of Italy

Ignatius spent about ten years in this activity

Ignatius himself took an active role in  developing Casa Santa Marta, In addition to preaching to prostitutes, Ignatius raised funds to support the house and to supply dowries for women who wished to marry.

He recognized that women became prostitutes because of economic and social conditions. 

They were often fleeing abusive marriages or were without dowries required for marriage or the religious life. 

Ignatius offered the women he served a wider range of choices than other charities permitted

These women could marry, embrace religious life as conversae, or enter domestic service. 

Ignatius also recognized the intergenerational character of prostitution and provided education and dowries for the daughters of prostitutes between the ages of ten and twelve to provide them with better options than their mothers had. 

Ignatius was insistent that the prostitutes who came to Casa Santa Marta freely choose from the available options they had open to them

"Ignatius founded a residence for penitent prostitutes. 
Prostitution was a significant service industry in Rome and was more or less accepted in the fifteenth century, but the advent of syphilis and the changing moral tenor led to sixteenth-century reform movements. 
In 1520 the Oratorio del Divino Amore had established a convent for former prostitutes, based on the earlier monastic model emphasizing a strict life of penance.
Santa Marta aimed at rehabilitation of former prostitutes and their reintegration into ordinary social life. In a sense, it was similar to what we now call "half-way houses." 
Among the 170 founding members of the confraternity that administered the work were 15 cardinals, seven bishops, and several ambassadors to the papal court. Leaving financial and material matters to the lay people, Ignatius provided spiritual direction. 
Besides a concern for the moral well-being of the women, Ignatius also wanted to reform the Papal Court. 
When the mistress of the papal postmaster entered Santa Marta, the enraged postmaster began accusing the Jesuits of having their own concubines there. The accusation was serious enough that Ignatius demanded an official investigation; the result was that the Jesuits were cleared of all charges of misconduct. ... 
Father Pedro Ribadeneira described the scene of Ignatius leading to the Residence of Saint Martha some of the women he had rescued: 
"When some people told him that women like that, veterans confirmed in vice, easily go back to their former ways..., and so one ought not spend much effort to convert them, Father Ignatius responded: 'By no means. If all my efforts and concern could persuade only one of them not to sin for one night out of love for Jesus Christ, I would omit no effort whereby just for that time at least she would not offend God even though I knew that afterwards she would return again to the former ways.'"

Perhaps it is this type of Ignatian spirituality which lies behind Pope Francis and which is behind among other things his call to South American nations not to legalise drugs

See also:

Charles Chauvin « La maison Sainte Marthe, Ignace et les prostituées de Rome » Christus n°149, p.117  - 126.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Apostle James: The Suffering Servant

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo 1617 -  1682
El Apóstol Santiago  /  The Apostle Saint James
Oil on canvas
134 cm x 107 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

This is only one of many depictions in the Prado of the Apostle Saint James, the Patron Saint of Spain

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was the leading exponent of the seventeenth-century Sevillan school, which was known for its seamless blend of realism and sentimental beauty in painting.

He presents Saint James as a pilgrim like those who flocked to the shrine of his relics in Santiago de Compostella

One of the earliest called by Jesus, he was one of the Boanerges ("sons of thunder") and brother of the apostle John. He was one of the three apostles who were witnesses of The Transfiguration

James suffered martyrdom in AD 44 at the hands of Herod Agrippa, being the first apostle to suffer martyrdom

Murillo presents an image of a strong and upright man but no longer in the flush of youth. But it is his face and in particular his eyes which is the central feature of the painting.

His eyes show someone not filled with temper and vehemence but of anxiety and, perhaps, of fatigue and worn down slightly by cares and responsibilities. But something impels him on

It is a human portrait not a depiction of a sculptural icon

But it is a portrait of someone who is no longer the man who when the Samaritans refused to receive Christ, asked: 
"Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them?" 
The worldly ambition has gone. So has the ideological zeal.

The prophecy of Jesus about James is fulfilled. He was to drink of the cup that Christ  was to drink of in the Passion and Crucifixion. 

In Matthew 20 his mother pushed him and his brother forward to Jesus and got them to ask to sit at either side of Jesus in his kingdom. He and his family thought that the kingdom which Jesus spoke about was of this earth and time. They thought it was about power. They (like the rest of the Apostles) did not understand.
"The Request of James and John. 
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee approached him with her sons and did him homage, wishing to ask him for something.
21 He said to her, “What do you wish?” She answered him, “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”
22 Jesus said in reply, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” They said to him, “We can.”
23 He replied, “My cup you will indeed drink, but to sit at my right and at my left [, this] is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
24 When the ten heard this, they became indignant at the two brothers.
25 But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt.
26 But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant;
27 whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
28 Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom  for many.”

For Christ,  authority is rendered as service to others  rather than for personal aggrandisement

James`s "reward" is to be a share in Jesus’ sufferings, the endurance of tribulation and suffering for the Gospel

Rather than despising the Samaritans and wishing to destroy them, after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the Apostle James  became  the Good Samaritan, a sharer in the sufferings of others (See Salvifici Doloris)

What Murillo is depicting is the Song of the Suffering Servant from  the Book of Isaiah (Isaiah 53)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Counter Culture

Antonio Busiello 
Winner of the Gold Award of The Royal Photographic Society 2013

Christianity is, if anything, counter-cultural

In a world where bodily perfection is the ideal, the above photograph illustrates counter-culture, towards the real and the permanent and away from fantasy and the transitory

The "cullatori" are men who have tremendous calluses on their shoulders from bearing the weight of huge wooden structures year after year at the Festival of the Lillies in Nola, a small town in Southern Italy. 

Since 410 AD the team of "cullatori" carry eight 82 foot traditional derrick-shaped structure weighing over 2,000 pounds through the narrow streets of the town for one day and one night. 

Busiello said that he  was impressed by how proudly they wear their huge calluses as symbols of their sacrifice and devotion to Saint Paulinus, who gave up his freedom and all his possession to save the citizens of Nola during the Visigoth invasion. 

Other images by Busiello of other cullatori are available here on his website

Paulinus of Nola (also known as Paolino di Nola;  and Pontius Meropius Anicius Paulinus) (ca. 354  – 22 June 431) was a friend and contemporary of St Augustine. He died one year after St Augustine. They corresponded.

He also was in contact with Saint Ambrose and St Jerome and many others

He is one of the Fathers of the Church and was the subject of one of Pope Benedict`s catecheses on the lives of the Fathers (2007)

Born in Bordeaux he experienced a total conversion. He gave up all his substantial material goods

The seed of his conversion was according to Pope Benedict "the simple and intense faith with which the people honoured the tomb of a saint, Felix the Martyr, at the Shrine of present-day Cimitile." 

The tomb is still there. 

He became a monk, then priest then Bishop

He did not write "theological treatises, but poems and ample correspondence ... rich in a lived theology, woven from God's Word, constantly examined as a light for life."

He called the poor "his masters" but for him poverty was the final objective but only the beginning of a pilgrimage towards unity with Christ:
"The relinquishment or sale of temporal goods possessed in this world is not the completion but only the beginning of the race in the stadium; it is not, so to speak, the goal, but only the starting point. In fact, the athlete does not win because he strips himself, for he undresses precisely in order to begin the contest, whereas he only deserves to be crowned as victorious when he has fought properly" ( Ep. XXIV, 7 to Sulpicius Severus). 
His cult is not limited to Nola and Southern Italy. It extends to the United States

His cult also was strong in France especially in the 16th and 17th centuries

Montaigne said this of him in his essay On Solitude:
"When the city of Nola was ruined by the barbarians, Paulinus, who was bishop of that place, having there lost all he had, himself a prisoner, prayed after this manner: 
“O Lord, defend me from being sensible of this loss; for Thou knowest they have yet touched nothing of that which is mine.” 
The riches that made him rich and the goods that made him good, were still kept entire."
One of the stories about the saint is his heroic gesture of offering himself as a prisoner in the place of a widow's son. The historical truth of this episode is disputed

It is retold by St Gregory the Great and in The Golden Legend

It is shown in the image below in the Belgian manuscript of The Golden Legend

Workshops of Willem Vrelant and of Jean le Tavernier and others
Saint Paulin de Nole se livrant pour libérer le fils d'une veuve 
From Jacobus de Varagine  The Golden Legend
c. 1470
F. 177 Mâcon - BM - ms. 0003 

There may be an element of truth in the story. 

Paulinus was married. He had a son, Celsus, who died while still young. There were no other children. 

Several of his poems are about parents who have lost their only child. They are authentic words of comfort as only who who has suffered such a loss could understand. 

Perhaps his offering of his life for the only son of a widow is credible standing such a background

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Dürer: Head of the Dead Christ

Albrecht Dürer (1471 - 1528)
Head of the Dead Christ
Charcoal on paper
310 millimetres x  221 millimetres 
The British Museum, London

One of the Highlights of The British Museum is the drawing by Dürer of the head of the crucified Christ

The inscription is by Dürer: 
“Die 2 angsicht hab ich uch erlgemacht in meiner Kranckeit“ ('I produced these two countenances when I was ill').
The second face is also in the Museum

This is of course only one of a number of portraits by Dürer of the crucified Christ. However, this must be one of his most powerful depictions

We can only speculate from what suffering Dürer was inspired to produce a work of great Christian witness

At the time of this drawing Dürer was in Nuremberg

His influence in Western European art during the Renaissance was profound

In the new Encyclical by Pope Francis Lumen Fidei, there is one paragraph when he considers the importance of  contemplation on the death of Christ in the life of the faithful

The Crucifixion is the manifestation of Christ`s perfect love for all of mankind when Christ embraced Death to bring salvation
"16. The clearest proof of the reliability of Christ’s love is to be found in his dying for our sake. If laying down one’s life for one’s friends is the greatest proof of love (cf. Jn 15:13), Jesus offered his own life for all, even for his enemies, to transform their hearts.  
This explains why the evangelists could see the hour of Christ’s crucifixion as the culmination of the gaze of faith; in that hour the depth and breadth of God’s love shone forth.  
It was then that Saint John offered his solemn testimony, as together with the Mother of Jesus he gazed upon the pierced one (cf. Jn 19:37): 
"He who saw this has borne witness, so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth" (Jn 19:35). 
In Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, Prince Myskin sees a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger depicting Christ dead in the tomb and says: "Looking at that painting might cause one to lose his faith".  
The painting is a gruesome portrayal of the destructive effects of death on Christ’s body. 
Yet it is precisely in contemplating Jesus’ death that faith grows stronger and receives a dazzling light; then it is revealed as faith in Christ’s steadfast love for us, a love capable of embracing death to bring us salvation.  
This love, which did not recoil before death in order to show its depth, is something I can believe in; Christ’s total self-gift overcomes every suspicion and enables me to entrust myself to him completely."

Friday, July 05, 2013

Si non credideritis, non intellegetis

Girolamo Tessari (called Del Santo)
Achaz (Ahaz), King of Judah from The Kings and Progenitors of Christ Fresco cycle
80.0 x 43.0 cm
On the columns of the entrance to the Capella of Santa Maria Madonna Immacolata, Chiesa di San Francesco, Padova

King Ahaz was not what anyone would call a good King

He was king of Judah, and the son and successor of Jotham

He was 20 when he ascended the throne and reigned for 16 years, dying about 716 BC

His reign is described in 2 Kings 16;  Isaiah 7-9; and 2 Chronicles 28

He is said to have given himself up to a life of wickedness, introducing many pagan and idolatrous customs (Isaiah 8:19; 38:8; 2 Kings 23:12). 

Perhaps his wickedest deed was sacrificing his own son, likely to have been Rimmon. 

He also added an idolatrous altar into the Temple. 

He sold his country down the river to the Assyrians

He was so wicked that when he died "they did not bring him to the tombs of the kings of Israel."

They attempted to erase him from history, from the collective memory

Hence a depiction of Azah in art is extremely rare  Even in the Sistine Chapel, his depiction is hidden in a lunette shown as  child beside his father Jotham

He ignored the remonstrances and warnings of the prophets Isaiah, Hosea, and Micah

It is only because the genealogy in Matthew mentions him as an ancestor of Christ that he occupies a very small place in art in churches - a very minor footnote whose only partial redemption is through a remote, very remote connection to Christ

But it is his story which forms a large section of the new Encyclical by Pope Francis Lumen Fidei

As Pope Francis has made clear publicly and in the text of the Encyclical itself it is based on a first draft by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

The prophet Isaiah is preaching to Ahaz at the command of God. At Isaiah 7:9, the prophet says: 
"Unless your faith is firm, you shall not be firm!"
In a Ratzingerian passage on the relationship between Faith and Truth,  Pope Francis and Pope Benedict write:
"Faith and truth 
23. Unless you believe, you will not understand (Si non credideritis, non intellegetis)
(cf. Is 7:9).  
The Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint translation produced in Alexandria, gives the above rendering of the words spoken by the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz.  
In this way, the issue of the knowledge of truth became central to faith.  
The Hebrew text, though, reads differently; the prophet says to the king: 
"If you will not believe, you shall not be established". 
Here there is a play on words, based on two forms of the verb ’amān: "you will believe" (ta’amînû) and "you shall be established" (tē’āmēnû).  
Terrified by the might of his enemies, the king seeks the security that an alliance with the great Assyrian empire can offer.  
The prophet tells him instead to trust completely in the solid and steadfast rock which is the God of Israel.  
Because God is trustworthy, it is reasonable to have faith in him, to stand fast on his word.  
He is the same God that Isaiah will later call, twice in one verse, the God who is Amen, "the God of truth" (cf. Is 65:16), the enduring foundation of covenant fidelity.  
It might seem that the Greek version of the Bible, by translating "be established" as "understand", profoundly altered the meaning of the text by moving away from the biblical notion of trust in God towards a Greek notion of intellectual understanding.  
Yet this translation, while certainly reflecting a dialogue with Hellenistic culture, is not alien to the underlying spirit of the Hebrew text.  
The firm foundation that Isaiah promises to the king is indeed grounded in an understanding of God’s activity and the unity which he gives to human life and to the history of his people.  
The prophet challenges the king, and us, to understand the Lord’s ways, seeing in God’s faithfulness the wise plan which governs the ages.  
Saint Augustine took up this synthesis of the ideas of "understanding" and "being established" in his Confessions when he spoke of the truth on which one may rely in order to stand fast: 
"Then I shall be cast and set firm in the mould of your truth".
From the context we know that Augustine was concerned to show that this trustworthy truth of God is, as the Bible makes clear, his own faithful presence throughout history, his ability to hold together times and ages, and to gather into one the scattered strands of our lives. 
24. Read in this light, the prophetic text leads to one conclusion: we need knowledge, we need truth, because without these we cannot stand firm, we cannot move forward.  
Faith without truth does not save, it does not provide a sure footing. 
It remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves.  
Either that, or it is reduced to a lofty sentiment which brings consolation and cheer, yet remains prey to the vagaries of our spirit and the changing seasons, incapable of sustaining a steady journey through life.  
If such were faith, King Ahaz would be right not to stake his life and the security of his kingdom on a feeling.  
But precisely because of its intrinsic link to truth, faith is instead able to offer a new light, superior to the king’s calculations, for it sees further into the distance and takes into account the hand of God, who remains faithful to his covenant and his promises. 
25. Today more than ever, we need to be reminded of this bond between faith and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age.  
In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable.  
Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings.  
Yet at the other end of the scale we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual, which consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, yet these are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others in an effort to serve the common good.  
But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion.  
Surely this kind of truth — we hear it said — is what was claimed by the great totalitarian movements of the last century, a truth that imposed its own world view in order to crush the actual lives of individuals.  
In the end, what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth — and ultimately this means the question of God — is no longer relevant.  
It would be logical, from this point of view, to attempt to sever the bond between religion and truth, because it seems to lie at the root of fanaticism, which proves oppressive for anyone who does not share the same beliefs.  
In this regard, though, we can speak of a massive amnesia in our contemporary world.  
The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness.  
It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path"

One has to say that as a criticism of modern society and politics, there can be no harsher judgment

I wonder what modern Ahazs the two Popes had in mind when they composed  this passage

The Pope and the Ambassador

Benedetto Luti (1666–1724)
Pius V and the Ambassador of the King of Poland
Black and red chalk, brush and brown wash, highlighted with white
15-7/16 x 21-3/4 in. (39.2 x 55.2 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This is a modello of a now lost work which originally hung in the Palazzo Albane delle Quattro Fontane in Rome

It was commissioned by the Master General of the Dominican Order Father Jean Francois Antonin Cloche (1628 - 1720)  He was Master of the Order for 34 years

Although an ascetic he did act as a grand seigneur and was a great patron of the arts in Rome

The commission was to commemorate the canonisation of the Dominican Pope and Saint, Saint Pope Pius V (Michele Ghislieri) which took place in 1712

It was a gift for the then Pope Clement XI (of the Albani family)

Pius V ruled from 1559 to 1565 and the picture depicts an event in that time occurring in St Peter`s Square during the construction of the new Basilica

The King of Poland at the time was Sigismund II Augustus I, the last of the Jagiellons without whom Catholicism would not be the same in Poland today as it is. He allowed the Jesuits into Poland in 1564 

The Jesuits and the Dominicans were the main Catholic reformers in Poland at the time

Both Pius V and the King died in 1572

The picture represents an apocryphal tale from the life of the Pope about whom many tales were told of miracles occurring even when he was still alive

While walking in the Vatican Piazza, which is built on the site of the ancient Circus of Nero, he was reminded of the martyrs who had suffered on that very site. He took up a handful of dust  and put the dust into a cloth which the Ambassador of Poland, who was with him, held out to receive it. 

When the Ambassador opened the cloth, after returning to his house, he found it all saturated with blood, and the dust had disappeared. 

A charming story but  legend

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


Jean-Marie Pirot known as Arcabas b. 1926
Adam et Eve chassés du Paradis (chapelle sud)
Adam and Eve driven from Paradise (South chapel)
Musée d'art sacré contemporain Saint-Hugues, Chartreuse, France

Jean-Marie Pirot known as Arcabas b. 1926
La Libération de l'Apôtre Pierre 
The Freeing of the Apostle Peter 1983
Musée d'art sacré contemporain Saint-Hugues, Chartreuse, France

Jean-Marie Pirot known as Arcabas is a distinguished French artist born in 1926 

His works include many of a religious nature

His main monumental work is in the  Musée d'art sacré contemporain Saint-Hugues in Chartreuse, France. It is truly a monument to the Gospels and to his faith. He has worked on it for over 60 years

Here is his Hommage à Bernanos (the distinguished French Catholic writer) (painted in 1962) which is on  special exhibition at the Chapelle des Petits-Carmes in Metz, France

His works are in many churches not only in Europe but also in North America. 

Here is a particularly beautiful Prodigal Son situated in Bergamo, Italy

Jean-Marie Pirot known as Arcabas b. 1926
Le Fils Prodigue
The Prodigal Son
Oil on canvas
1.3 x 1.62 m
Cappella della Riconciliazione, Costa Serina, Bergamo

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Sibling rivalry

Paul the Apostle preaching in front of a great number of Jews and Gentiles in Rome
From a copy of the Pauline Epistles and copies of Alcuin's works "De dialectica" and "De rhetorica" and of the work "Peri hermeneias"
Written in the monastery of St. Gall in the second half of the 9th century, with amendments from the 11th century
Parchment 21.4 x 16.7 cm 
Cod. Sang. 64, 12
Stiftsbibliothek, St. Gallen

The 9th century drawing shows St Paul standing in front of a group of Jews and Gentiles in Rome. He is preaching to them but the audience is restless and argumentative

Paul is acting as peacemaker and trying to restore peace among the quarelling people. He is reddens concordes rebeccae ventre frequentes, says the inscription ("Restoring peace and harmony among the bickering children of Rebecca`s womb")

The picture accompanies an introduction to a commentary on one of St Paul`s Letter to the Romans

The author is the monk Pelagus who tells the tale of a a dispute between the Jews and Gentiles of St Paul`s day who had converted to Christianity. 

They believed that each group was more deserving of salvation.

Paul stopped the argument by insisting that each was equally deserving of salvation and not deserving of salvation

In Romans 9 and following St Paul addresses Israel’s unbelief and its rejection of Jesus as saviour. He discourages both complacency and anxiety on the part of Gentiles. To those who might boast of their superior advantage over Jews, he warns that their enjoyment of the blessings assigned to Israel can be terminated. 

St Paul uses the example of Jacob and Esau born of Rebecca:
"but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one husband, our father Isaac— 
11 before they had yet been born or had done anything, good or bad, in order that God’s elective plan might continue, 
12 not by works but by his call—she was told, “The older shall serve the younger"
Both religions took the prophecy made to Rebecca ("Two nations are in your womb. Two peoples are quarrelling while still within you. But one shall surpass the other and the older shall serve the younger"[Gn 25:23]) to further their competing claims to divine favour

However they argued so much in her womb Rebecca cried out: “If it is like this, why go on living!” 

Monday, July 01, 2013

Fire fighters

Città del Vaticano: The National Fire College being received by Paul VI in 1971 (in the centre, Don Ettore Ballerini)

Unfortunately the worldwise 24 hour news cycle has almost obliterated the selfless heroism of the nineteen firefighters in Arizona who perished yesterday while carrying out their duty

They should never be forgotten

However modern society appears to have a short attention span. Firefighting appears to some to be another "job"

During the pontificates of Paul VI and Blessed John Paul II, there was an annual event at the Vatican which appears to have fallen into desuetude: a talk to the students of the College of the Italian Fire Service

The talks were, of course, in Italian and the Vatican website has not got round to translating them

The talks were actually quite profound. Pope Paul VI talked of fire fighters having a "mission"

Paul VI in 1972 praised the firefighters for their discipline, the faithfulness to duty, the spirit of sacrifice, the courage and above all the selflessness and utter disposal of self to others

He went on:
"La preparazione pertanto che vi viene impartita ha un alto significato umano e cristiano. La vostra non è soltanto una scuola di abilità e destrezza personale, ma altresì palestra di severe virtù, tanto più apprezzabile in un tempo in cui i rapporti umani sono tante volte viziati dal freddo egoismo, e si parla più volentieri di diritti che di doveri. 
Diciamo di più, questo tirocinio di dedizione a servizio del prossimo è una ricchezza spirituale, che raffina e matura la vostra personalità umana, perché l’uomo raggiunge la sua vera statura nell’amore per gli altri. 
E se saprete far ciò con retta intenzione e con spirito sinceramente cristiano, voi ne avrete certamente la ricompensa dal Signore, che non lascia mai senza premio quanto si è fatto per gli altri nel suo nome."
All his annual talks and those of Blessed John Paul II were of a similar vein

Pope Francis I should revive the custom forthwith