Saturday, November 30, 2013

Closed after 600 Years

Fra Bartolomeo (1472 - 1517)
St Dominic
Fresco on wood
Museo nazionale di San Marco, Florence

Fra Bartolomeo (1472 - 1517)
St Thomas Aquinas
c 1512
Fresco on wood
Museo nazionale di San Marco, Florence

The convent of San Marco in Florence was founded in 1435

Apart from a brief time when they were expelled during the Napoleonic invasions, there has always been a Dominican presence in this convent, one of the great religious and cultural institutions of Florence

Beato Angelico, Saint Antonino Pierozzi,  Fra' Bartolomeo, and Fra Girolamo Savonarola are only a  few of the Dominicans who have lived here

It has now been announced that after six centuries the remaining Dominican convent and church at San Marco are to close

The remaining four brothers will temporarily go to the Dominican convent at Santa Maria Novella 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Saint Andrew the Protoclete

Mosaic of St Andrew
AD 705
Left wall of the Chapel of John VII in St Maria Antiqua, Rome

The rediscovery of the church of St Maria Antiqua on the Palatine  in the heart of Rome in 1900 was one of the great art history discoveries of the twentieth century

It contained paintings from the sixth, seventh and eighth centuries which had never been "improved" or "repaired" by the hand of any restorer

They were "originals"

The church had been sealed and virtually forgotten about for about 1000 years

It had been crushed under Imperial buildings which had fallen  on the church

One of the earliest studies was by the British Council in Rome through its Director, Gordon Rushforth. See Rushforth G and Ashby T, The church of S. Maria antiqua (1902)

Three Popes in particular were responsible for the embellishment of the Church:  John VII (705-07), Gregory III (731-741) and Leo III (795-816), 

But John VII is also the only Pope whose work in the church was explicitly recorded in the Liber Pontificalis. 

The Church itself followed a Greek plan.

All the saints depicted in the diakonikon are Eastern and  all inscriptions are in Greek. 

The style of the frescoes has been described as “Hellenistic” 

The artists are commonly assumed to have been Byzantines.

S. Maria Antiqua was the church of a Greek community closely associated with the Byzantine administration residing on the Palatine. 

A Byzantine quarter established itself during the sixth and seventh centuries around the Palatine. Many Byzantine families  settled in the city after the re-conquest of Justinian in the mid-sixth century. There was a major influx of Greek immigrants from Egypt into the city after the Arab conquest of Alexandria in 641

The Pope himself like many Popes of the time was of Greek origin

The liturgy was in Greek not Latin

Therefore it is not surprising to see in this Church the icon of the first called Apostle, the Protoclete, the founder and the first bishop of the Church of Byzantium and  the patron saint of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

St Andrew was one of the two Apostles who spoke Greek

It was he who was responsible for introducing Christ to a number of Greek speakers. He acted as mediator between Christ and the Greek speakers.

Pope Benedict recalled this point in his catechesis on St Andrew in 2006. He said:
"[A] third initiative of Andrew is recorded in the Gospels:  the scene is still Jerusalem, shortly before the Passion. For the Feast of the Passover, John recounts, some Greeks had come to the city, probably proselytes or God-fearing men who had come up to worship the God of Israel at the Passover Feast. Andrew and Philip, the two Apostles with Greek names, served as interpreters and mediators of this small group of Greeks with Jesus. 
The Lord's answer to their question - as so often in John's Gospel - appears enigmatic, but precisely in this way proves full of meaning. Jesus said to the two disciples and, through them, to the Greek world:  "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified. I solemnly assure you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit" (12: 23-24).  
Jesus wants to say:  Yes, my meeting with the Greeks will take place, but not as a simple, brief conversation between myself and a few others, motivated above all by curiosity. The hour of my glorification will come with my death, which can be compared with the falling into the earth of a grain of wheat. My death on the Cross will bring forth great fruitfulness:  in the Resurrection the "dead grain of wheat" - a symbol of myself crucified - will become the bread of life for the world; it will be a light for the peoples and cultures. 
Yes, the encounter with the Greek soul, with the Greek world, will be achieved in that profundity to which the grain of wheat refers, which attracts to itself the forces of heaven and earth and becomes bread. 
In other words, Jesus was prophesying about the Church of the Greeks, the Church of the pagans, the Church of the world, as a fruit of his Pasch."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Baptism of St Augustine

Louis de Boullogne (Le jeune) (1654 - 1733 )
Le Baptême de saint Augustin
c 1695 - 1700
Oil on canvas
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux

Pol, Jean et Hermann Limbourg (15th cent)
The Baptism of St Augustine by St Ambrose in Milan 
From Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry: Les Heures de la Vierge Ms65-folio37verso
1411 - 1416
Illuminted manuscript: painting on paper
29 cm  x  21 cm
Musée Condé, Chantilly

Florentine school 15th century
The taking of the habit by St Augustine from St Ambrose at his baptism
Painting on poplar wood
35 x 75 cm
Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon

"This very night it will be 1625 years ago that the future Church father Augustine from Hippo in North Africa was baptised in the North Italian city of Milan by its Nicene Christian bishop Ambrose. [at Easter 387] 
In those days Christian baptism was an extensive ceremony.  
Its preparations started weeks before the actual baptism took place. A person who would like to receive baptism should first ‘turn in his name’ (the so-called nomen dare) to be inscribed by the Church official, who as a rule, was the bishop.  
After that he received an extensive catechetical instruction.  
Baptism took place at dawn on Easter Sunday.  
We do not know the exact rites of the Church of Milan at the time of Augustine, but from two works by Ambrose, his so-called On the Sacraments (De sacramentis) and On the Mysteries (De mysteriis) we seem to be able to reconstruct how baptism was administered in 387.  
It was accompanied by rites such as a washing of feet (symbolising the forgiveness of sins, a symbol dear to Ambrose), anointments, the laying on of hands, and so on. Also, the newly baptised person received the sign of the cross on the forehead: from then onwards he belonged to Christ.  
This sign was originally an X, derived from the old-Hebrew sign of Tau already mentioned by the prophet Ezekiel (ch. 9), and also in St John’s Apocalypse . This sign was considered a mark of property and protection. ... 
[T]he adult Augustine, by then 32 years old, was immersed in ‘living’ (that is: flowing) water. 
This immersion took place three times, after he had heard three questions: ‘Do you believe in God the Almighty Father?’; ‘Do you believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and his cross?’; ‘Do you also believe in the Holy Spirit?’ and after that he subsequently answered three times: ‘Credo, I believe!’ (Ambrosius De sacramentis 2, 20; cf. Ambrosius De mysteriis 21; 28).  
It is from the baptismal rite with its three questions and answers that we still have our tripartite confessions" 
Van Oort, J., 2013, Augustine’s baptism: Its significance once and today, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 69(1), Art. #1914, 3 pages.

It was not only Augustine who was baptised that day. His companion Alypius and his son Adeodatus , aged 15 years, also received the sacrament that day beside St Augustine

In The Confessions 9, 193-194, St Augustine describes the scene:
""And so we were baptised .... What tears I shed in your hymns and canticles! How deeply was I moved by the voices of your sweet singing Church. Those voices flowed into my ears and the truth was distilled into my heart, which overflowed with my passionate devotion. Tears ran from my eyes and happy I was in those tears."
Throughout the years St Augustine developed his views on the sacrament and wrote much about it

One set of works were the seven books entitled On Baptism, Against the Donatists

Others include

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Saint Cesarius

Reliquary bust  of Saint Cesarius (Saint-Césaire)
Silver exterior decked with sapphires,and other jewellery on top of wooden base
12th century
Height 90 cm
Eglise Saint-Sulpice, Maurs, Auvergne

This year marks the 1500th anniversary of the grant by Pope Saint Symmachus of the pallium to St. Caesarius Archbishop of Arles (370 -543)

It is said to be the first occasion on which it was granted to any Western bishop.

The 1500 year old pallium has recently been restored and was exhibited in a recent Exhibition in Arles

The exhibition also had other relics of the saint

He dominated  Gallic Christian politics throughout his tenure of his see  from 502-542. 

As a result of his intervention the Pope also  granted to the clergy of Arles the use of the dalmatic

The Pope confirmed him as Metropolitan, and renewed for him personally (11 June, 514) the dignity of Vicar of Apostolic See in Gaul, more or less regularly held by his predecessors

As Vicar of the Pope he was responsible for the summoning and presiding at a large number of synods and Councils: Arles (524), Carpentras (527), Orange (II) and Vaison (529), and Marseilles (533) as well as  Agde,  Gerone, Saragossa, Valencia and Lérida in Spain (516-524), as well as of Epaone (517) and Orléans (538, 541)

Cesarius adopted the view of St Augustine of Hippo in the battle with the Manichaens

Now he is best known for his sermons. He was one of the great popular preachers, "the first great Volksprediger of the Christians"

Recently a biography in English was published which should bring him to the attention of a wider audience:

William E. Klingshirn, Caesarius of Arles: The Making of a Christian Community in Late Antique Gaul. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Pp. xxii + 317. ISBN 0-521-43095-X.

His sermons are short, down to earth -models of clarity and simplicity

Here is a brief extract from one:
 "What kind of a Christian is the man who ... drinks until he vomits and, after he is drunk, gets up to dance and leap like a madman in diabolical fashion, and sings shameful, bawdy, and wanton verses?" (Serm. 16.3)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Chûte de feuillus

Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853 – 29 July 1890)
Chûte de feuillus  or Falling Autumn Leaves I
November 1888, Arles
Oil on canvas
73 x 92 cm
Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo

Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853 – 29 July 1890)
Chûte de feuillus  or Falling Autumn Leaves II
November 1888, Arles
Oil on canvas
72 cm × 91  cm
Private collection

Van Gogh painted the twin works when Gaughin was staying with him in Arles

The area is Les Alyscamps, Occitan for The Elysian fields, an area outside the town which was the site of an ancient Roman necropolis lined with poplars and stone sarcophagi.

Here is a photograph of the scene from 1870

Arles, Les Alyscamps
c. 1870
Print on albumen paper
0.115 m. x 0.168 m.
Musée d'Orsay, Paris

In a letter to his brother Theo dated 3rd November 1888, Vincent wrote:
"I think that you’d like the leaf-fall that I’ve done. 
It’s lilac poplar trunks cut by the frame where the leaves begin. 
These tree-trunks, like pillars, line an avenue where old Roman tombs coloured lilac-blue are lined up to right and left. Now the ground is covered as if by a carpet with a thick layer of orange and yellow leaves — fallen. Some are still falling, like snowflakes. 
And in the avenue dark figurines of lovers. The top of the painting is a very green meadow and no sky, or almost none. 
The second canvas is the same avenue but with an old fellow and a fat woman, round as a ball."
In April 1889 he had to send the works to Theo to be sold. He needed the money to pay for his board and lodging at the asylum in Arles. The prices for both totalled 400 francs

It was the main burial ground for 1500 years and from AD 250, the growing Christian influence can be detected until by AD 310 it was solely for Christian burial. 

Until suppressed in the French Revolution and later by the Concordat of 1801, the See of Arles was one of the oldest and most important in the Western church

For centuries, martyr, saints and bishops resided in the town. It was also one of the most important centres of pilgrimage for centuries

Dante reversed the image. He used it as a metaphor for Hell

In Canto IX of The Inferno, Dante and Virgil enter the city of Dis. There heretics are being  punished in tombs burning with intense fire. the scene of the multitude of sephulcres is compared to the great number at Arles:

"We, unopposed,        105
There enter’d; and, my mind eager to learn
What state a fortress like to that might hold,
I, soon as enter’d, throw mine eye around,
And see, on every part, wide-stretching space,
Replete with bitter pain and torment ill.        110 
  As where Rhone stagnates on the plains of Arles,
Or as at Pola,  near Quarnaro’s gulf,
That closes Italy and laves her bounds,
The place is all thick spread with sepulchres;
So was it here, save what in horror here        115
Excell’d: for ’midst the graves were scattered flames,
Wherewith intensely all throughout they burn’d,
That iron for no craft there hotter needs.  
  Their lids all hung suspended; and beneath,

From them forth issued lamentable moans,        120

Such as the sad and tortured well might raise."

Here is Sandro Botticelli`s vision of the scene

Sandro Botticelli 1445 - 1510
Dante and Virgil in the City of Dis amongst the tombs of the heretics
Silverpoint drawing on parchment, completed in pen and ink, coloured with tempera
Manuscript Reg. lat. 1986
Biblioteca Apostolica, Vatican

Here is the artist Gustave Doré`s conception of the same scene. You can access a free edition of The Divine Comedy featuring Doré’s illustrations at Project Gutenberg.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Saint Peter and Cornelius

Charles Le Brun (1619-1690)
Le baptême du centurion Corneille à Césarée
The Baptism of the Centurion Cornelius at Caesarea
Oil on canvas
98 x 68 cm
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nancy

Louis XIV declared Le Brun to be the greatest French painter of all time

He was certainly celebrated while he was still alive

This is an early work when he was still under the influence of Vouet. Later he went to Rome in 1642 and worked under Poussin

The theme of the painting is one of the important events which occurred after the first Pentecost

The importance of the event is such that one whole chapter in Acts (Acts 10) is given over to relating it: the baptism of the Roman centurion Cornelius, the first Gentile and non-Jew to be baptised

The incident is again related in Acts 11:1–18 where Peter is forced to justify his actions before the Jerusalem community and alluded to in Acts 15:7–11 where at the Jerusalem “Council” Peter supports Paul’s missionary activity among the Gentiles.

The narrative concludes with Peter’s presentation of the Christian kerygma (Acts 10:4–43) and a pentecostal experience undergone by Cornelius’ household preceding their reception of baptism 
"15 As I began to speak, the holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us at the beginning,
16 and I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the holy Spirit.’
17 If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?”
18 When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, “God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too.” "
It was a very controversial act in its time. Its legitimacy was only settled by the Council of Jerusalem

The ramifications and significance of the event was reflected in early Christian art

Joseph Wilpert (1857 - 1944) in I sarcofagi Cristiani Antichi (1929, 1932)  and his other works is at pains to emphasise the frequency of the depiction of the scene and therefore its significance in the early Church

He writes:
"In Rome Christians converted for the most part from being pagan ... 
It is therefore no wonder that the baptism of Cornelius became in the art found in cemeteries the scene which far exceeded in number all other scenes . In sculpture alone there are at least one hundred known examples ... and we shall be adding another twenty examples hitherto unpublished." 
(Wilpert,  I sarcofagi Cristiani Antichi, Volume I, page 111 (1929))

Here are some examples

Sarchophagus of the handing of the law to Peter
With separate panel showing the Baptism of Cornelius and the miraculous source of the living water
White Carrara marble
4th century
Musée départemental Arles antique, Arles, France 

The story of the Baptism of Cornelius is associated with that of Moses in the desert (which prefigures the rite of Baptism)

On the arrival of Peter, Cornelius prostrated himself before him

Like Moses, Peter carries a rod similar to that of Moses with which he performed the miracle in the desert

Cornelius is dressed in the armour of the centurion. Other soldiers from his regiment can be seen

Séraphin Médéric Mieusement 1840 - 1905
"Tombeau antique" au musée d'Arles (4th century AD  white Carrara marble)
 0.25 m  x  0.364 m
Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France

In this photograph image of a 4th century tomb in the Musée départemental Arles antique, Arles,  the scene between Peter and Cornelius is on the top right of the sarcophagus

Sarcophage des époux (Sarcophagus of the Spouses, also known as the Sarcophagus of the Trinity)
With detail showing The Baptism of Cornelius and the miraculous source
2.05m x 1.09m x 1.05m
Second half of 4th century
White marble
Musée départemental Arles antique, Arles, France 

This was one of three sarcophagi discovered in Trinquetaille, Arles in 1974

The sarcophagus has scenes from The Old Testament, the mirac;es of Christ and scenes from the life of St Peter

Peter is depicted as "the new Moses": the receiver and giver of the Law and the means by which the Source of the Water of Life is discovered

It bears similarities to the  "Dogmatic" Sarcophagus of AD 320 -350 now in The Vatican Museums

As Wilpert emphasises, it is this vision and revelation accorded to St Peter in the episode involving Cornelius which for the early Church was one of the main reasons for the primacy among the Apostles to be accorded to St Peter and his successors

Without the vision and the revelation the Christian Church would have been very different

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Deer Drinking

The Good Shepherd between Deer Drinking at the Water of Life 
4th century
Baptistry of St John, Naples
From Joseph Wilpert, Die römischen Mosaiken und Malereien der kirchlichen Bauten vom IV. bis XIII. Jahrhundert Volume 3 (1916) (Tafel 36a)

Stag and Hart drinking at the Water of Life
Mosaic fragment from the Christian pilgrimage church complex at Carthage, Bir Ftouha
6th century AD
1.4 m x 0.71 m
Musée du Louvre, Paris

The Baptism of Christ (f.  407v)
From  Hours of the Holy Spirit, 'Officium de Sancto Spiritu'.
In Psalter and Hours, Dominican use (the Prayerbook of Alphonso V of Aragon)
225 x 155 mm 
Add MS 28962
The British Library, London

The symbol of the deer drinking at the water of life as that of Baptism has for the modern man and woman lost its significance and power

It is the symbol of the human soul thirsting for God, finding only its thirst being slaked by Baptism

Father Joseph Wilpert (1856 - 1944) originally went to Rome to study canon law

However once there he became fascinated by the catacombs and the Christian art displayed in them

He became one of the leading Christian archaeologists, iconographers and Christian art historians of his generation specialising in the catacombs

He published a number of important works on the art which he discovered in the catacombs including:

Die Malereien der Katakomben Roms. 2 volumes  Herder, Freiburg (Breisgau) 1903

In his work I sarcofagi Cristiani Antichi (Rome, 1929) (Volume 1,1 at page 18 he wrote about the early Christian iconography of baptism 

In particular he drew attention to the symbol of the deer drinking at the water of life

He drew attention to the fact that the symbolism was based on Psalm 42
"2 As the deer longs for streams of water,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
3 My soul thirsts for God, the living God.
When can I enter and see the face of God?"
He said that "the deer who drink became in ancient Christian art the symbol of baptism par excellence. In fact their images appear in all the baptistries of which we have sufficient remnants or in literary works"

From the earliest times the symbol of deer drinking at the water of life was part of the ceremony of baptism. 

Psalm 42 was the song at the ceremony for Catechumens. Even today

We see this from St Augustine  Exposition on the Psalms (Psalm 42)

He wrote:
"Such "longing" indeed is not found in all who enter the Church: let all however who have "tasted" the sweetness "of the Lord," and who own in Christ that for which they have a relish, think that they are not the only ones; but that there are such seeds scattered throughout "the field" of the Lord, this whole earth: and that there is a certain Christian unity, whose voice thus speaks, "Like as the hart desires the water-brooks, so longs my soul after You, O God." 
And indeed it is not ill understood as the cry of those, who being as yet Catechumens, are hastening to the grace of the holy Font. On which account too this Psalm is ordinarily chanted on those occasions, that they may long for the Fountain of remission of sins, even "as the hart for the water-brooks."  
Let this be allowed; and this meaning retain its place in the Church; a place both truthful and sanctioned by usage.  
Nevertheless, it appears to me, my brethren, that such "a longing" is not fully satisfied even in the faithful in Baptism: but that haply, if they know where they are sojourning, and whither they have to remove from hence, their "longing" is kindled in even greater intensity.."

Joseph Mallord William Turner, (1775‑1851)
The Lake, Petworth: Sunset, a Stag Drinking 
Oil paint on canvas
635 x 1320 mm 
Tate Britain, London

Petworth is one of the most beautiful villages in England 

Turner was often invited to stay at Petworth House

As a guest of the Egremonts, he often painted there

A large number of his Petworth paintings were begun either shortly before or shortly after his father’s death which occurred in 1829

Turner was deeply affected by the death of his father

He was invited to stay at Petworth House shortly after his father`s death and this was one of the works which he produced while there

One cannot say that Turner is a religious artist in the sense that the term is usually defined

But a number of his works have religious themes such as Death on a Pale Horse (1825 - 30), a depiction of Death, the last of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse who announce the Day of Judgement (Book of Revelation)

But what Turner`s religious views were is known only to God

However in this painting wrought shortly after his father`s death, the death of his second parent, one sees in the colours of the sunset intimations of mortality

But one is also reminded of the Light and the Kingdom of Light which is the conditional promise to those baptised and of Colossians 1: 12-14:
"12  giving thanks to the Father, who has made you fit to share in the inheritance of the holy ones in light.
13 He delivered us from the power of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Leasehold not freehold

Land leased by Espmethis son of Osoroeris to Nekhthmonthes son of Horos. Scribe Harsiesis 2 son of Khenstephnakhthes 2
119 BC
Papyrus, written with black ink, legal document dated year 51 of Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II 
15.5 centimetres x  27.7 centimetres
The British Museum, London

Thomas Chawner 
Plan of houses & ground in and near Holbourn, held by Thomas Lee Esqr. under lease from the Crown
 Pen and ink on paper
368 x 610 mm
Maps Crace Port. 15.25
The British Library, London

The late Margaret Thatcher once said: "There is no prouder word in our history than “freeholder”"

However our tenure is leasehold and not freehold

George Herbert once expressed the thought beautifully in his poem Redemption

HAVING been tenant long to a rich Lord,
      Not thriving, I resolved to be bold,
      And make a suit unto him, to afford
A new small-rented lease, and cancell th' old.

In heaven at his manour I him sought:         5
      They told me there, that he was lately gone
      About some land, which he had dearly bought
Long since on earth, to take possession.

I straight return'd, and knowing his great birth,
      Sought him accordingly in great resorts;  10
      In cities, theatres, gardens, parks, and courts:
At length I heard a ragged noise and mirth

      Of theeves and murderers: there I him espied,
      Who straight, Your suit is granted, said, & died.  

George Herbert, (1593 – 1 March 1633) Redemption

This of course is not a new idea and reminds us of the Jubilee laws in Leviticus

In Steven Wedgworth The Jubilee and Land Ownership we learn:

"Leviticus 25:23 says, “The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with Me.” This is the fundamental principle which controls the surrounding restrictions on property redemption. We should keep in mind that the land in question is the Promised land, “When you come into the land which I give you…” (Lev. 25:2). There is no true ownership of this land because it is a gift from the Lord. ... 
The land cannot be sold permanently. It can only be rented for 50 year periods.... 
The best Christian understanding of the Jubilee is certainly one that closely follows the 4th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, noting that the Promised Land was a type of the eschatological rest which was still future. After explaining Israel’s history of rebellion, we are told: 
`Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said:
“So I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest,’”
although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.” 
Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, 
“Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said:
“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. (Heb. 4:1-11)`"

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Altar history

The Altar of Ratchis, Duke of Friuli
737 - 744
1.44 x 0.90 x 0.88 m
Museo Cristiano, Cividale del Friuli, Italy

You do not have to be an out and out  "Traditionalist" to feel at least a degree of sadness when you see a Christian altar in a Museum or art gallery

We are of course already well into and past the age described by Philip Larkin in his poem "Church Going"

We should be used to it by now

It is a but like visiting the Egyptian section of The British Museum to see some of the mummies. All that is left is the old husk. No life.

The altar of Duke Ratchis of Friuli is displayed in the Christian Museum in  Cividale del Friuli.

The altar dates from 737 and  744,when Ratchis was Duke of Friuli

It is one of the most important extant works of sculpture from the Lombard Renaissance under Liutprand, King of the Lombards

The reliefs depict Christ in Majesty, the Visitation, and the Adoration of the Magi

Decorative pieces include  angels, crosses, palms, stars and flowers

The reliefs were polychromed and when constructed must have been extremely impressive

In the English language, an "altar" is an "altar"

We do not readily distinguish the different types and functions.

The Latin fathers used different terms for "altar" often as a means of distinguishing their use, their symbolism and means of differentiating them from pagan altars.

The words used were: altare, mensa, ara, altarium

In Greek there were also different terms: trapeza, thysiasterion, bomos

See also: Schulte, A.J. (1907). Altar (in Liturgy). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved November 14, 2013 from New Advent: 

According to Schulte:
"[The altar] signifies, according to Amalarius (De Eccles. Officiis, I, xxiv) the Table of the Lord (mensa Domini), referring to the Last Supper, or the Cross (St. Bernard, De Coena Domini), or Christ (St. Ambrose, IV, De Sacram. xii; Abbot Rupert, V, xxx). The last meaning explains the honour paid to it by incensing it, and the five crosses engraved on it signify His five wounds."
Needless to say the French with their great precision in language have an extensive vocabulary relating to altars. The word "autel" is only the start:  Maître-autel, Autel secondaire, Autel de chœur de religieux, Autel isolé, Autel du Saint-Sacrement, Autel des morts and so on

See Joël Perrin, L’autel : fonctions, formes et éléments   In Situ [En ligne], 1 | 2001, mis en ligne le 24 avril 2012, consulté le 14 novembre 2013.

The standard works in German on Catholic altars is by the theologian, Jesuit and art historian, Joseph Braun SJ (1857  -  11 July 1947). They are available online at the website of the University Library of the University of Heidelberg.

Der christliche Altar in seiner geschichtlichen Entwicklung (Band 1): Arten, Bestandteile, Altargrab, Weihe, Symbolik [The Christian Altar in its Historical Development. Vol. 1: Types, Components, Altar Cavity, Consecration, Symbolism]

Der christliche Altar in seiner geschichtlichen Entwicklung (Band 2): Die Ausstattung des Altars, Antependien, Velen, Leuchterbank, Stufen, Ciborium und Baldachin, Retabel, Reliquien- und Sakramentsaltar, Altarschranken [The Christian Altar in its Historical Development. Vol. 2: The Appointments of the Altar, Frontals, Vela, Gradines, Steps, Ciborium and Tester, Reredos, Relic and Sacrament Altar, Altar Rails]

The work was encouraged before the First World War  by the then German Superior General of the Jesuits Father Franz Xaver Wernz

The work aimed to be a history of the development of the altar and its furninshings and accoutrements

His aim is to show that the altar, the location of the Eucharist, was from the earliest times not only the location of a feast but also a real sacrifice

Theology, Christian history and art history all come together in these great works of erudition

Here are just some of the over 800  illustrations and plates from these works:

Three column support marble table altar (possibly 7th century), at the Museum of Vienne, France

Block altar in S. Giovenale, Orvieto,  Italy commissioned by Abbot Guido in 1170

HIgh altar at the Cathedral of Tarragona, Spain (14th century)

Altar ciborium, Or San Michele, Florence

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The forgotten Great

The Lothair Crystal
From Lotharingia (Lorraine), possibly Aachen (in modern Germany), Carolingian, AD 855-869
The British Museum, London

The Lothair crystal is one of the treasures of the British Museum in London

The large rock crystal is engraved with scenes of the story of Susannah as recorded in the Apocrypha: Daniel 13

Susannah, falsely accused by the elders of adultery, is vindicated

The crystal commemorates one of the strangest disputes in the history of the Carolingian Empire which led to one of the greatest clashes between the Church and the Carolingian State

Lothair II of Lotharingia (AD 855-69) tried many times to have his marriage annulled so he could marry his mistress, which resulted in a bitter dispute between Lothair and Pope Nicholas I.

The full story of how Lothair tried to get a divorce is told in the BBC History of the World Series which includes a section on The Lothair Crystal

The transcript of the programme is here

In the programme the former Lord Chief Justice of England and the former senior judge of the House of Lords, Lord Bingham, took part. He said:
"In the centre of the [Lothair] Crystal, one sees the king who commissioned it [Lothair II] to be made in the role of judge, and this is of considerable interest and importance, because historically the crown and monarchy has always been regarded as the fount of justice. 
Interestingly, the Queen, when she took her Coronation Oath in 1953, swore - it's a very old oath prescribed by an Act of 1688 - but she swore to do justice and mercy in all her judgements. 
And this is exactly the role in which one sees King Lothair, in the role of actually personally administering justice which, of course, the Queen no longer does. But the judges who do it in her name are very proud to be called Her Majesty's judges, recognising that they're exercising their judicial functions on her behalf."

But the British Museum and the BBC miss out a very important person and very important part of the story.

The person is Saint Pope Nicholas I  (also known as Pope Nicholas the Great) (c. 820 - died 13 November, 867) (Pope from 858 to 867)

He is only one of three Popes to have the title "the Great" appended after their name. However compared to Pope Leo and Pope Gregory he is nowadays virtually forgotten

The  Martyrology says about him: Romæ Nicolai papæ vigore apostolico præstantis.

Lothair II had assembled a tame synod of bishops to declare the marriage void and that Lothair II was free to marry another. 

Nicholas I convened another Synod to have the marriage declared valid, the decrees of the Synod declared void and the two Archbishops who colluded with the King excommunicated

Despite the great political turmoil Nicholas adhered to his position to defend the sanctity of Christian marriage and eventually Lothair II capitulated. 

Hence Lothair`s commissioning of the rock crystal  - after his capitulation

To put the dispute into perspective, in his encyclical Arcanum on the sanctity of marriage, Pope Leo XIII said:
"As often, indeed, as the supreme pontiffs have resisted the most powerful among rulers, in their threatening demands that divorces carried out by them should be confirmed by the Church, so often must we account them to have been contending for the safety, not only of religion, but also of the human race. 
For this reason all generations of men will admire the proofs of unbending courage which are to be found in the decrees of Nicholas I against Lothair; of Urban II and Paschal II against Philip I of France; of Celestine III and Innocent III against Alphonsus of Leon and Philip II of France; of Clement VII and Paul III against Henry VIII; and, lastly, of Pius VII, that holy and courageous pontiff, against Napoleon I, when at the height of his prosperity and in the fullness of his power. "

But that is not the only reason why Nicholas received the soubriquet "the Great"

He presided over the Roman synod of November 18, 861,  the Roman "Council of the Seven Canons". 

Canon  6 "anathematizes anyone who denies that the election of the pope is a matter for the sacerdotes, primates, nobles and all the clergy of the Roman church as laid down in the council of Stephen (IV)".

He asserted successfully the primacy of the See of Peter in many other spheres

By setting out and establishing the nature of papal and episcopal power in the ninth century. he laid the foundations for the growth of the Church in Western Europe and beyond under papal patronage in the eleventh and twelfth centuries

His written works can be read in Latin here

Here is his answer to the first question, just as clear and as relevant today as it was then:
"Now then, at the very beginning of your questions, you properly and laudably state that your king seeks the Christian law. 
If we attempted to explain this law fully, innumerable books would have to be written; but, in order to show briefly in what things it chiefly consists, one should know that the law of the Christians consists in faith and good works. 
For faith is the first of all virtues in the lives of believers. Whence, even on the first day there is said to be light, since God is portrayed as having said: Let there be light,[Gen.1:3] that is, "let the illumination of belief appear." 
Indeed, it is also because of this illumination that Christ came down to earth. 
Good work is no less demanded from a Christian; for just as it is written in our law: Without faith it is impossible to please God,[Heb. 11:6] so it is also written: Just as a body without a spirit is dead, so, too, faith without works is dead.[James 2:20] This is the Christian law, and whoever keeps this law properly, shall be saved."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Paul Nash War Artist

Paul Nash 1889 - 1946
We are making a New World
Oil on canvas
711 x 914 mm
Imperial War Museum, London

Nash was an official British war artist in the two great conflicts of the twentieth century: 1914-1918; and 1939 - 1945

At this time Nash was an rtist involved in the Symbolist movement

The biting satire of the title of the image above is clearly evident from this work and others by Nash executed at this time

In light of subsequent events, the satire is quite prophetic

In the image below we see the reality of the horrific damage of war this time in Inverness Copse in Belgium (near Ypres) where two bombed out abandoned British tanks can be seen

Paul Nash 1889 - 1946
Inverness Copse
Watercolour and charcoal on paper
246 x 356 mm
Imperial War Museum, London

In war  paintings we think of the horrendous loss of life first and foremost. As it should be.

However one might think that the destruction to the country landscape was of no moment

However as a distinguished landscape painter Nash knew that the landscape  destroyed was the work of over a thousand years of the labour of mankind in tilling a wild landscape to agricultural purposes.

South of the Alps, Saint Pope Pius X died in 1914 and Pope Benedict XV was elected Pope. In November 1914 he issued his first Encyclical Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum (1st November 1914) which in many ways was also quite prophetic in view of the fact that many still thought that the conflict was going to be a short war and not very different from those which had preceded it
" On every side the dread phantom of war holds sway: there is scarce room for another thought in the minds of men. The combatants are the greatest and wealthiest nations of the earth; what wonder, then, if, well provided with the most awful weapons modern military science has devised, they strive to destroy one another with refinements of horror. 
There is no limit to the measure of ruin and of slaughter; day by day the earth is drenched with newly-shed blood, and is covered with the bodies of the wounded and of the slain. 
Who would imagine as we see them thus filled with hatred of one another, that they are all of one common stock, all of the same nature, all members of the same human society? Who would recognize brothers, whose Father is in Heaven? 
Yet, while with numberless troops the furious battle is engaged, the sad cohorts of war, sorrow and distress swoop down upon every city and every home; day by day the mighty number of widows and orphans increases, and with the interruption of communications, trade is at a standstill; agriculture is abandoned; the arts are reduced to inactivity; the wealthy are in difficulties; the poor are reduced to abject misery; all are in distress."