Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A decree from Caesar Augustus

John Siferwas (c.1360 -  c.1430)
Historiated initial of Caesar Augustus issuing an edict, with courtiers, at the beginning of the reading for Christmas with a passage from the Gospel of Luke (2:1-14): 'And it came to pass that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled . . .'
From The Lovell Lectionary
Between c. 1400 and c. 1410
Harley 7026   f. 5  
The British Library, London

John,  the fifth Lord Lovell of Tichmersh (near Thrapston in Northamptonshire), (d 1408) commissioned the Lectionary  as a gift to Salisbury Cathedral

The work was commissioned for the benefit of his soul and that of his wife. The text prays:
'Orate pro anima domini iohannis lovell qui hunc librum orinavit ecclesie cathedrali Sarum pro speciali memoria sui et uxoris`
His wife was Maud de Holand (d. 1423)

He commissioned Siferwas,  a Dominican friar

Here we see Lovell receving the book from the artist:

Harley 7026   f. 4v

This work  is why Siferwas  is credited with having painted the earliest naturalistic self-portrait in England.

Here we see that fourteenth-century manuscripts were actually executed in England by  English artists using an English variation of an International artistic style: the International Gothic

Siferwas is the first English illuminator whose career can be followed to some extent through documentary references and signed works.

He was ordained an acolyte at Farnham in 1380, and went on to enter the Dominican friary at Guildford.

He was ordained a priest in London in 1382 and he probably trained as an artist there. All his known work was done for religious houses in the south-west of England.

His most important manuscript is the Sherborne missal (c.1405, BL, London), a very large and sumptuous book made for Sherborne Abbey, Dorset. It is a masterpiece of the International Gothic style

In 1427 he seems to have been resident in Somerset

His personal motto was: `Soli deo honor et gloria'

In those times the lectio or reading of Scripture was not a straightforward process

First the passage was read literally, in its historical context, the Literal or Historical sense.

Second, the passage was taken to have a symbolic meaning, the Typological or Allegorical sense.

Then the spiritual meaning was discerned in terms of moral behaviour, the Moral or Tropological Sense followed by the Eschatological, Mystical or Unitive Sense that incites hope for transforming union in this life and final fulfilment in the beatific vision. See Michael Casey. The Art of Sacred Reading. North Blackburn: Dove, 1995, 54.

The passage in Luke describes how an edict came from the most important and powerful man in the known civilised world: the Roman emperor and his acolytes are depicted in 15th Century dress

It was to be enrolled in obedience to the edict  that Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem.

On the left we see half naked king beseeching mother and child in the afterlife. A parable like Dives et Lazarus

Visually we see the key role Mary played in human redemption.

We see the Annunciation. Mary is at the heart of the process of the IncarnationL how the Word became flesh

She has an ornate crown on her head and a glowing sun at her heart, reminiscent of the woman clothed with the sun with a crown of twelve stars on her head described in the Book of Revelation (Rev 12:11)

A male and female peacock symbolising light, immortality and the joy of the afterlife give expression to human hope.

As depicted six hundred years ago, may you have a holy and blessed Christmas

Monday, December 08, 2014

Vasari and The Immaculate Conception

Giorgio Vasari (1512-1574)
The Immaculate Conception 
Oil on panel
Santi Apostoli, Florence

Giorgio Vasari (1512-1574)
The Immaculate Conception
Brown ink and wash, blank ink and pencil on parchment
51.8 x 35.7 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris (D.A.G)

The artist said of this work:
"In October, then, of the year 1540, I began the altar-picture for Messer Bindo, proposing to paint in it a scene that should represent the Conception of Our Lady, according to the title of the chapel; which subject presenting no little difficulty to me, Messer Bindo and I took the opinions of many common friends, men of learning, and finally I executed it in the following manner.  
Having depicted the Tree of the Primal Sin in the middle of the picture, I painted at its roots Adam and Eve naked and bound, as the first transgressors of the commandment of God, and then one by one, bound to the other branches, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, David, and the other Kings in succession, according to the order of time; all, I say, bound by both arms, excepting Samuel and John the Baptist, who are bound by one arm only, because they were blessed in the womb.  
I painted there, also, with the tail wound about the trunk of the Tree, the Ancient Serpent, who, having a human form from the middle upwards, has the hands bound behind; and upon his head, treading upon his horns, is one foot of the glorious Virgin, who has the other on a Moon, being herself all clothed with the Sun, and crowned with twelve stars.  
The Virgin, I say, is supported in the air, within a Splendour, by many nude little Angels, who are illumined by the rays that come from her; which rays, likewise, passing through the leaves of the Tree, shed light upon those bound to it, and appear to be loosing their bonds by means of the virtue and grace that they bring from her from whom they proceed. 
And in the heaven, at the top of the picture, are two children that are holding certain scrolls, in which are written these words: QUOS EVAE CULPA DAMNAVIT, MARIAE GRATIA SOLVIT. [Those whom the fault of Eve damned, the grace of Mary saved] 
In short, so far as I can remember, I had not executed any work up to that time with more study or with more lovingness and labour; but all the same, while I may perhaps have satisfied others, I did not satisfy myself, although I know the time, study, and labour that I devoted to it, particularly to the nudes and heads, and, indeed, to every part. 
For the labours of that picture Messer Bindo gave me three hundred crowns of gold, besides which, in the following year, he showed me so many courtesies and kindnesses in his house in Rome, where I made him a copy of the same altar-piece in a little picture, almost in miniature, that I shall always feel an obligation to his memory. " 
Giorgio Vasari,  Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects Trans Gaston de Vere 1912 - 15 (Volume  10, pp 185 - 186)

Bindo Altoviti  was a rich Floretine banker who engaged Vasari for the work in the family chapel in the Church of Santi Apostoli in Florence

It is still there in situ

The work was a great success and many copies and replicas were made

The Church itself was founded about 800 and was popularly called Il  Vecchio Duomo

It is situated in Piazza del Limbo

It was called Piazza del Limbo because it used to house a cemetery for neonates who had not been baptised. In The Divine Comedy, Dante refers to it to as a subterranean part of the material world

The work depicts Mary as the New Eve who remedies the evil unleashed through Eve and by her grace is the sine qua non by which the Gates of Heaven are re-opened and the Old Testament saints released from Limbo

Mary is depicted as being so blessed and powerful she is depicted as descending into Limbo itself

This work was the epitome of a new Florentine iconography of The Immaculate Conception which remained popular 

The Scriptural sources are Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12:1

However references to Limbo and The Harrowing of Hell  also bring to mind the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus

In that Gospel, Christ is the one who descends into Hades to deliver the Patriarchs, not Mary

However in the Gospel reference is made repeatedly to Christ as the breaker of chains, the same designation given by Vasari to Mary

For example
"Ecce iam iste Iesus suae divinitatis fulgore fugat omnes tenebres mortis, et firma ima carceris confregit, et ejecit captivos et solvit vinctos" (Chapter 23)
In this work Mary is shown as defeating the Serpent alone

This was not acceptable and by 1543 Vasari had changed the inscription on another Immaculate Conception (now in Lucca) to:
"Quod Eva tristis abstulit, tu reddis almo germine"
Christ is firmly the Redeemer

In 1572 St Pope Pius V settled the matter and decreed that in iconography of The Immaculate Conception where Mary is shown crushing the head of the Serpent, she must be shown as accompanied by her son, Jesus, the  Redeemer

See also Donal O’Connor, G. Vasari’s Allegory of the Immaculate Conception and its Theological Tensions  in Irish Theological Quarterly, 2000, 65, p. 169-177

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ecce Homo

Hans Hausser von Ach  (1576-1612) 
Ecce Homo
c 1603
Pen and ink (brown) on paper (light buff)
26.0 cm x 34.0 cm
The Courtauld Gallery, London

Rembrandt van Rijn  (1606 - 1669) 
Christ Presented to the People (Ecce Homo)
c 1655
Drypoint, printed in black ink on cream-colored Asiatic wove paper
38.4 x 45.1 cm
The Frick Collection, New York

Christ is presented to the people who clamour for his crucifixion. 

It was Pilate and the Romans who ironically referred to Christ as "King"

"Pilate tried to release him; but the Jews cried out, “If you release him, you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 
13 When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha
14 It was preparation day for Passover, and it was about noon. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your king!” 
15 They cried out, “Take him away, take him away! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your king?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 
16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified"
(John 19: 12 - 16)
In the New Testament, Christ is referred to as "King of the Jews" by the Magi, Pilate and the Roman soldiers. He is mocked by the Romans. 

On the Cross they affixed the plaque "INRI"  - IESVS·NAZARENVS·REX·IVDÆORVM (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum)

In Quas Primas (1925), in instituting  the Feast of Christ the King (now called "the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe")  Pope Pius XI wrote:
"[T]his power and dignity of Our Lord [as King] is rightly indicated by Cyril of Alexandria. "Christ," he says, "has dominion over all creatures, a dominion not seized by violence nor usurped, but his by essence and by nature."[In huc. x.] 
 His kingship is founded upon the ineffable hypostatic union. From this it follows not only that Christ is to be adored by angels and men, but that to him as man angels and men are subject, and must recognize his empire; by reason of the hypostatic union Christ has power over all creatures.  
But a thought that must give us even greater joy and consolation is this that Christ is our King by acquired, as well as by natural right, for he is our Redeemer.  
Would that they who forget what they have cost their Savior might recall the words:
"You were not redeemed with corruptible things, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb unspotted and undefiled."[I Pet. i, 18-19
We are no longer our own property, for Christ has purchased us "with a great price"[1 Cor. vi, 20];  our very bodies are the "members of Christ."[I Cor. vi, 15] ... 
This kingdom is spiritual and is concerned with spiritual things.  ...  
On many occasions, when the Jews and even the Apostles wrongly supposed that the Messiah would restore the liberties and the kingdom of Israel, he repelled and denied such a suggestion. When the populace thronged around him in admiration and would have acclaimed him King, he shrank from the honour and sought safety in flight. Before the Roman magistrate he declared that his kingdom was not of this world.  
The gospels present this kingdom as one which men prepare to enter by penance, and cannot actually enter except by faith and by baptism, which, though an external rite, signifies and produces an interior regeneration. This kingdom is opposed to none other than to that of Satan and to the power of darkness.  
It demands of its subjects a spirit of detachment from riches and earthly things, and a spirit of gentleness. They must hunger and thirst after justice, and more than this, they must deny themselves and carry the cross."

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Guillaume de Digulleville

The Soul of the Pilgrim in the Flames of Purgatory
Miniature from Guillaume de Digulleville Pèlerinage de l'âme
14th century
Bibl. Sainte-Geneviève - ms. 1130, f. 110

Le Pèlerinage de l'Âme is a fourteenth-century poem written in Old French by Guillaume de Deguileville  (1295 - before 1358)

Guillaume de Deguileville  was a French  Cistercian 

He entered the Cistercian abbey of Chaalis in 1316, at the age of twenty-one.

He  was over 60 years old when writing the Âme. The cloistered monk had not left the monastery grounds for 40 years or more

Le Pèlerinage de l'Âme was one of three long poems which he wrote on the theme of man as a traveller, a pilgrim on the road to the Spiritual Jerusalem: Le Pèlerinage de la vie humaine (1330-31); Le Pèlerinage de l'Âme (1355-58); and Le Pèlerinage de Jésus Christ (1358)

All come to the same conclusion: to reach the Celestial Jerusalem, one must experience Death

The setting is a dream but the theme is the same: How does mortal Man save his Immortal Soul

Deguileville was followed by Chemin de vaillance by Jean de Courcy and Chemin de paradis by  Jean Germain, 

In these works the interest lies not not only in the destination itself but the voyage, the means of getting there

The interior journey

Of Purgatory Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Spe Salvi:

"For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God.  
In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul.  
What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge?  
Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur?  
Saint Paul, in his First Letter to the Corinthians, gives us an idea of the differing impact of God's judgement according to each person's particular circumstances. He does this using images which in some way try to express the invisible, without it being possible for us to conceptualize these images—simply because we can neither see into the world beyond death nor do we have any experience of it. 
Paul begins by saying that Christian life is built upon a common foundation: Jesus Christ. This foundation endures. If we have stood firm on this foundation and built our life upon it, we know that it cannot be taken away from us even in death.  
Then Paul continues: 
“Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Cor 3:12-15). 
In this text, it is in any case evident that our salvation can take different forms, that some of what is built may be burned down, that in order to be saved we personally have to pass through “fire” so as to become fully open to receiving God and able to take our place at the table of the eternal marriage-feast."

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Blessed Paul - alone and exposed

In 1902, Giorgio Montini, the father of Blessed Pope Paul VI, constructed the monument to the Redeemer (above) on the top of Monte  Guglielmo near Brescia

The future Pope was only five years old when the monument was consecrated on 24 August 1902

The monument was restored and despite its age, the weather and its very exposed position it still stands, lonely and against the hostile elements

Every year in July there is a pilgrimage from Brescia to the monument

The statue to the now beatified Pope Paul VI stands beside his father`s monument (above). 

"In his humility the grandeur of Blessed Paul VI shines forth: before the advent of a secularized and hostile society, he could hold fast, with farsightedness and wisdom – and at times alone – to the helm of the barque of Peter, while never losing his joy and his trust in the Lord."

Papa Montini died in 1978. In his Audiences of that year you can detect that he knew the end was coming but he was not afraid. Unfortunately the addresses are only in French, Spanish  and Italian on the Vatican website

His last homily was on 29th June 1978 on the fifteenth anniversary of his election as Pope, on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. It reads like a farewell address. 

He said he was in the sunset of his life and wanted to review what he had done over the last fifteen years and give an accounting of his Pontificate

He said he considered himself the last and most unworthy successor of St Peter but on the threshold of death he felt some comfort 
"by the consciousness of having tirelessly repeated in front of the Church and the world, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" ( Mt. . 16, 16); we, like Paul, we feel we can say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4: 7)."
He said that he had two accomplishments: the Protection of the Faith; and the Defence of Human Life

As regards the latter, he cited Gaudium et Spes 51: 
"God is the  Lord of life and has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life!"
In this connection he said that in absolute fidelity to the teachings of the Council he had made the defence of human life in all its forms the central theme of his Pontificate

Of Humanae Vitae ,  he again repeated that the transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator.

He also stressed that the document had become even more urgent and relevant due to the wounds inflicted by State laws on the sanctity of the indissoluble marriage bond and the inviolability of human life from conception

The defence of human life is inextricably linked to Christian marriage: 
"Hence the repeated statements of the doctrine of the Catholic Church on the painful realities and very painful effects of divorce and abortion, which are contained in our ordinary magisterium and in particular acts of the competent Congregation. We have them expressed, moved only by the supreme responsibility of the teacher and of the universal shepherd, and for the good of mankind!"
In the popular mind, Humanae Vitae is about contraception. It is not. It is an encyclical on Christian marriage and the defence of human life in all its forms

At the heart of Humanae Vitae is the following statement:
"[Married] love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment. 
It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself. 
Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all other, and this until death.  
This is how husband and wife understood it on the day on which, fully aware of what they were doing, they freely vowed themselves to one another in marriage. Though this fidelity of husband and wife sometimes presents difficulties, no one has the right to assert that it is impossible; it is, on the contrary, always honourable and meritorious. The example of countless married couples proves not only that fidelity is in accord with the nature of marriage, but also that it is the source of profound and enduring happiness."

Sunday, November 02, 2014

All Saints

Antonio Boselli (c 1496-1536)
Cristo e la gloria di Ognissanti
Christ and the Glory of All the Saints
Oil on panel
140 cm x 210 cm
Basilica di S. Maria Maggiore, Bergamo, Italy

In June 1449, the city Council of Bergamo entrusted the Basilica of S. Maria Maggiore in Bergamo Alto to the Congregazione della Misericordia Maggiore (The Congregation of Greater Mercy), a charitable foundation begun in 1265 and still very much in existence today

At the end of the fifteenth century, the foundation founded a College of Music with a Cappella Musica in the Basilica (Donizetti was a pupil)

Amongst  the works of art the Congregation commissioned was this work by Boselli in 1514 It still is in the Basilica

In the top centre, Christ is  seated in a mandorla surrounded by the Madonna and a host of angels and saints

With one hand he blesses. In the other he holds a book

There are thirty six saints who are depicted

On the right  among the saints depicted are: St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. Stephen, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and  St. Mark 

In the centre below Christ  are: Moses, Abraham, St. Gregory the Great and St. Jerome. 

On the left include: St. Catherine of Alexandria, St. Joseph, St. Vincent, St. Mary Magdalene, St. Alexander, San Bernardino, Blessed Guala (Dominican from Bergamo), and S. Proiettizio (a deacon martyr from Bergamo)

"The Solemnity of All Saints, which we celebrate today, invites us to raise our gaze to Heaven and to meditate on the fullness of the divine life which awaits us. “We are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be” (1 Jn 3:2): with these words the Apostle John assures us of the reality of our profound relation to God, as too, of the certainty of our destiny. 
Like beloved children, therefore, we also receive the grace to support the trials of this earthly existence — the hunger and the thirst for justice, the misunderstandings, the persecutions (cf. Mt 5:3-11) — and, at the same time, we inherit what is promised in the Gospel Beatitudes: “promises resplendent with the new image of the world and of man inaugurated by Jesus” (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Milan 2007, p. 72). 
The holiness, imprinted in us by Christ himself, is the goal of Christian life"

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Blessed are those who mourn...

Pierre Antoine Augustin Vafflard (1777–1837)
Study for "Young and His Daughter"
c 1804
Oil on paper, laid down on canvas
27.3 x 20.6 cm
The Metropolitan Museum, New York

Edward Young (1683-1765) was an English Protestant clergyman and writer

At the height of his career and success in the Anglican Church, he married. But happiness did not last. 

His stepdaughter, her husband and finally his wife all died between 1736 and 1740.

The comparison with Job in the Old Testament is unmistakable

His major and most popular work was a nine part poem in blank verse entitled   The Complaint, or Night Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality (1742-45)

It consists of a number of dialogues with Lorenzo, a dissipated youth, and meditates on the deaths of Lucia, Narcissa and Philander, whom, according to most interpretations, are loosely based on Young's wife, his stepdaughter and her husband. 

In 1736 Young was traveling through France with his family when his stepdaughter, Elizabeth Temple, died at Lyons. 

Forbidden to inter her remains in the city’s Catholic cemetery because of their religion, he was obliged to seek out the Protestant burial ground in the middle of the night and bury her. This is the subject of the painting. 

It was a very popular work in the French Revolution

The Third Canto entitled Narcissa narrates the macabre story of what happened in Lyon

"And on a foreign shore, where strangers wept! 
Strangers to thee, and, more surprising still,
Strangers to kindness, wept; their eyes let fall
Inhuman tears; strange tears, that trickled down
From marble hearts! obdurate tenderness!
A tenderness that call'd them more severe, 
In spite of Nature's soft persuasion steel'd.
While Nature melted, Superstition raved:
That mourn'd the dead; and this denied a grave.
Their sighs incensed; sighs foreign to the will!
Their will, the tiger-suck'd, out-raged the storm. 
For, O the cursed ungodliness of zeal!
While sinful flesh relented, spirit nursed
In blind Infallibility's embrace,
The sainted spirit petrified the breast;
Denied the charity of dust to spread 
O'er dust! a charity their dogs enjoy.
What could I do? what succour, what resource?
With pious sacrilege a grave I stole;
With impious piety that grave I wrong'd;
Short in my duty; coward in my grief! 
More like her murderer than friend, I crept
With soft-suspended step, and, muffled deep
In midnight darkness, whisper'd my last sigh.
I whisper'd what should echo through their realms;
Nor writ her name, whose tomb should pierce the skies. 
Presumptuous fear! how durst I dread her foes,
While Nature's loudest dictates I obey'd?
(Pardon necessity, blest shade!) Of grief
And indignation rival bursts I pour'd;
Half execration mingled with my prayer; 
Kindled at man, while I his God adored;
Sore grudged the savage land her sacred dust;
Stamp'd the cursed soil; and with humanity
(Denied Narcissa) wish'd them all a grave."

The German Bishops' Conference issued a decree in 2012 warning those who opted out of paying the country's "church tax" that they would no longer be entitled to the sacraments, to a religious burial or to play any part in parish life.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Three Dutch Kinds of Marriage

After: Hendrick Goltzius (1558 – January 1, 1617)
Print made by: Jan Saenredam (C.1565-1607) 
Three kinds of marriages: Marriage for love officiated by Cupid; Cupid stands between a young, finely attired couple who face each other and hold hands
c 1595
235 millimetres x 163 millimetres
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

After: Hendrick Goltzius (1558 – January 1, 1617)
Print made by: Jan Saenredam (C.1565-1607) 
Three kinds of marriages: Marriage for wealth officiated by Satan; Satan stands between a finely attired couple who face each other and hold hands 
c 1595
235 millimetres x 163 millimetres
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

After: Hendrick Goltzius (1558 – January 1, 1617)
Print made by: Jan Saenredam (C.1565-1607) 
Three kinds of marriages: Marriage for spiritual love officiated by Jesus Christ; Jesus blesses the couple who face each other and hold hands; the bride holds a palm and resembles a female saint
c 1595
235 millimetres x 163 millimetres
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

The three prints are from a series of three plates showing three different kinds of marriage, engraved by Saenredam after designs by Hendrick Goltzius

The set was first published in Haarlem by Goltzius around 1595

This set was numerously copied by Dutch and German printmakers up to the eighteenth century

Goltzius was an internationally acclaimed engraver, print publisher, draftsman, and painter,and was one of the outstanding figures in Dutch art during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries

In the late 1580s, he was at the height of his success and created some of the most spectacular pieces in the history of prints

When Goltzius was only a year old, he fell headfirst into the fireplace and burned both his hands on the red-hot coals. His right hand was permanently deformed. Despite this he was capable of exceptional virtuosity, and one of the greatest draftsmen of his time.

At the age of 21 Goltzius married a rich widow Margaretha Jansdr in 1579. It was she who  helped him set up a workshop

In Holland at the time the role of the family as the basis of society was strongly emphasised

Physical attraction was only one of the factors to be taken into account. Spiritual and mental connection between spouses also had to exist as the basis for life long companionship

In a strongly Protestant Holland ruled by Catholic Spain, prints on the ideal Christian marriage were popular

In the third image we see the sacramentality of marriage as well as a union declared indissoluble in terms of Divine command

In the third print which obviously contrasts with the two others, we see Christ himself officiating at the Sacrament of marriage. 

The man is more mature. The woman holds a palm the symbol of purity

The inscription reads: "Quos connectit amor verus, castumque cubile / Auspice iunguntur Christo, remanentque fideles." - Those who are joined by true love and a chaste marriage bed will be faithful to each other

In the background of the image the husband receives a  crown from his wife. The other images have other background images which show that the other relationships are destined to lead to unhappiness, loneliness and vice

Mutual fidelity and not simply fidelity on the part of the wife towards the husband is what is being depicted

But more than that, mutual affection and love  which are absent from the other two images

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Trinitarian Love

Unknown Peruvian
Sacred Conversation between St. Felix de Valois and St. Juan de la Mata
18th century
Oil on canvas
55.50 cm x 75.50 cm
The British Embassy, Bogota

The painting is by an unknown Peruvian artist in the 18th century, a mixture of European Baroque and indigenous influences, perhaps part of the Cuzco school (Escuela Cuzqueña),  the Roman Catholic artistic tradition based in Cuzco, Peru (the former capital of the Inca Empire) 

Its influence extended through Peru, Chile, and northern Argentina and beyond

The painting depicts two saints: St. Felix de Valois  (April 16, 1127 – November 4, 1212) and St. Juan de la Mata, (1150 - 1213)  both co-founders of the Trinitarian Order, the Order founded for the redemption of captives 

The Rule of the Order was approved by Innocent III on December 17, 1198 with the bull Operante Divine Dispositionis. 

It is the first official institution in the Church dedicated to the service of redemption and unarmed, with no other weapon beside Divine Mercy, and with the only purpose of returning hope to the brothers in the faith who suffer under the burden of captivity.

Here we see the two saints in  the forest or desert of Cerfroid, near Paris where the mother house of the whole order presently is

Margaret of Blois granted the order twenty acres of the wood where Felix had built his first hermitage, and on almost the same spot he erected the famous monastery of Cerfroi, the mother-house of the institute. 

Within forty years the order possessed six hundred monasteries in almost every part of the world.

The stag is a symbol for Christ, who tramples and destroys the Devil. The stag is the enemy of the Snake, the symbol of the Evil One. Both are visible in the painting

For more on the symbolism of the stag and the snake see The Medieval Bestiary

In the 7th century, St Isidore of Seville wrote in his  Etymologiae about the stag:

[They] are foes of snakes, and when they feel that they are weighed down with  weakness they draw snakes out from their holes by the breath of their nostrils and  overcoming the deadly poison they  refresh themselves by eating them. They made known the plant dittany. For they eat it, and shake out the arrows that have stuck in them. 
They give a wondering attention to the whistling sound of the Pan’s pipes. They  listen sharply with up-pricked ears, not with hanging ears. If ever they swim across great rivers or seas, they lay the head on the haunch of the one in front, and following one another in turn they feel no weariness from the weight
The name of the hermitage "Cerfroid" has significance. The French for stag is "Cerf". The place is therefore the place of the Cold Stag, or Winter Stag

The arch also has significance in the founding of the Order.

The church of San Tommaso in Formis in Rome is the church which Pope Innocent III gave to the Trinitarian Order. Saint John of Matha, lived there and made it the Order's headquarters

The Church is situated beside a Roman aqueduct and the ruin of the Arch of Dolabella and Silanus on the Caelian Hill

St John of Matha died there on 2 December 1213. His cell can still be seen

From the very beginning of the Order, a life of special dedication to the Most Holy Trinity has been an essential and characteristic element of the Order’s patrimony

The painting is a contemplation on the fons et origo of the Order

Members of the Order consecrate themselves to the Trinity in a further and special way “since God willed that we, among all other religious, be the chosen vessels to bear the wonderful title of the Most Holy Trinity throughout the world"

"Work, effort and freely given love are all summed up in the Rule of St John of Matha, in the words Ministro e sine proprio (Trinitarian Rule, n. 1). Indeed, the Trinitarians know, and we should all learn from them, that every responsibility or authority in the Church should be lived out as a service. 
Therefore, our action must be divested of any desire for profit or personal promotion and must always aim at sharing any talents we have received from God, in order to direct them, as good stewards, towards the end for which they have been granted to us, so as to give relief to the less fortunate. 
This is what interests Christ and that is why the homes of your Family are homes whose “doors are always open” in fraternal welcome (Direttorio primitivo delle Suore Trinitarie, n. 2, cf. Evangelii Gaudium, n. 46)."

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Wrong doing

L'Ortolano (1485–c.1527)
Woman Taken in Adultery
Oil on panel
71.6 x 87.3 cm
The Courtauld Gallery, London

Rembrandt van Rijn 1606 - 1669
The Woman taken in Adultery
Oil on oak
83.8 x 65.4 cm
The National Gallery, London

The event depicted is told in John 8

The Scribes and Pharisees, knowing that Jesus took pity on wrong-doers, tried to catch him condoning disobedience to the Law. 

They brought a woman to him who had been caught in the act of adultery and said, 'Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?' 

Christ replied, 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her' 

He started to write in the dust. The crowd gradually dispersed

Only Jesus and the woman were left at the scene
"10 Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 
11 She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.” "

Of this passage in Scripture, Pope Benedict XVI said:
"St John the Evangelist highlights one detail: while his accusers are insistently interrogating him, Jesus bends down and starts writing with his finger on the ground. St Augustine notes that this gesture portrays Christ as the divine legislator: in fact, God wrote the law with his finger on tablets of stone (cf. Commentary on John's Gospel, 33,5). 
Thus Jesus is the Legislator, he is Justice in person. 
And what is his sentence? "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her". These words are full of the disarming power of truth that pulls down the wall of hypocrisy and opens consciences to a greater justice, that of love, in which consists the fulfilment of every precept (cf. Rom 13: 8-10). 
This is the justice that also saved Saul of Tarsus, transforming him into St Paul (cf. Phil 3: 8-14)."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

David Haines, rest in peace.

Mr Haines was an aid worker. He helped people who were the victims of violence and suffering.

He was murdered by people who sole raison d`etre is to kill people without proper reason and to cause pain and suffering` The act was one of "pure evil" as the Prime Minister has said

May God grant him mercy and eternal rest

Let us pray for him and also for his family and friends

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord
And let perpetual light shine upon him
May his soul and those of the faithful departed forever rest in peace

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pope Gregory the Great

St Gregory the Great
From Gregory the Great, Registrum epistularum
c. 1170
Illuminated manuscript
Latin 2287, folio 1v
Département des Manuscrits, Division occidentale, Bibliothèque nationale de France

St Gregory the Great inspired by the Holy Spirit
From Sacramentarium
9th century (c 870)
Illuminated manuscript
Latin 1141, folio 3
Département des Manuscrits, Division occidentale, Bibliothèque nationale de France

St Gregory writing inspired by the Holy Spirit with two copyists acting under the dictation of the Pope
From St Gregory, Epistulae
Early 12th century
Dijon - BM - ms. 0180, folio 001
Abbaye Notre-Dame, Cîteaux

Mass of St Gregory
From Missel de Philippe de Luxembourg
1495 - 1503
Mans (Le) - BM - ms. 0254, folio 057

Mass of St Gregory
From Heures à l'usage de Paris
c. 1490
Moulins - BM - ms. 0079, folio 098

Giacomo Cavedone 1577-1660
St Gregory the Great
about 1640
Oil on canvas
114.3 x 95.3 cm
English Heritage, Chiswick House, Chiswick, London

John Rogers Herbert 1810–1890
Saint Gregory Teaching His Chant
Oil on canvas
83.5 x 119 cm
The Royal Academy of Arts, London 

"Rather than Augustine, the true father of medieval European eschatology was Pope Gregory the Great, the second most-quoted author in Julian’s Prognosticon.  
Gregory set the eschatological tone for the entire period, through his Dialogues, homilies, and biblical exegesis. Presented in an accessible question-and-answer format, enriched with homely anecdotes, his Dialogues were especially popular.  
They were translated into Greek in the eighth century and Old English in the late ninth century, with a personal preface written by King Alfred himself. Book 4 of the Dialogues, which provided a summa on the afterlife and the end times, was particularly influential.  
Its imagery and doctrine permeate the Merovingian Vision of Barontus. When Wetti, a monk at Reichenau in the early ninth century, sensed the approach of death, he asked his fellow monks to read to him from the Dialogues.  
Gregory also guided Byzantine contemplation of the Last Things, especially as the seventh most frequently cited author in the Synagoge of Paul of Evergetis (d. 1054),a widely-influential florilegium on the ascetic life which has shaped the consciousness of many generations of Orthodox Christians. 
Part of the appeal of Gregory’s Dialogues lay in its transmission of “tales useful for the soul.” Such edifying tales originated in ascetic circles, but circulated broadly, and tales in early medieval collections began to reflect the everyday concerns of lay Christians living in the world, as well as those of monastic men and women.  
The stories run the gamut of eschatological anxieties, including the efficacy of almsgiving and prayers for the dead, resuscitation of the dead, the particular judgment of the soul, the struggle for the soul between angels and demons, interim afterlife zones, and the particulars of otherworld punishment and reward. 
Written in simple language, they impressed their teachings on sin, repentance, judgment, and the afterlife on the minds of hearers in concrete, unforgettable terms. 
Like the monk Wetti on his deathbed, Christians throughout the ages have derived both compunction and consolation from these short, homely tales of the death and afterlife fate of both ordinary and extraordinary people." 
Jane Baun, Last Things in The Cambridge History of Christianity; volume 3, Early medieval Christianities, c. 600–c. 1100,  pages 610 - 611

As well as theology the contribution of St Gregory to liturgy especially  the proper celebration of the Eucharist. was also immense

Of Music and Chant he wrote:
"For the voice of melody, whenever it is moved by the intention of the heart, is made thereby to return again to the heart by the agency of Almighty God, so that it pours the mysteries of prophecy or the grace of compunction into the intent mind. Whence it is written:
“The sacrifice of praise shall glorify me: and there is the way by which I will show him the salvation of God” (Ps 49:23). 
As in the Latin salutare, so in Hebrew Jesus is meant. 
Furthermore, the way of revelation of Christ is in the sacrifice of praise, because while compunction is poured out through the melody, a way is opened in our hearts whereby we can finally approach Christ, as He speaks of the revelation of Himself." (In Ez. hom. I, 15)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The wisdom of Saint Gregory the Great

St Gregory in the Initial "U"
From The Letters of St Gregory the Great
Avranches - BM - ms. 0102, f. 001
Abbey Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy

St Gregory writing while inspired by the Holy Spirit
From St Gregory the Great Homiliae in Evangelia
Before 1072
Avranches - BM - ms. 0103, f. 004v
Abbey Mont-Saint-Michel, Normandy

Gregory the Great in Initial "A" of Gregory`s Homily on "Luke 15"
From Lectionary F of the Chapter of Reims
Before 1096
Reims - BM - ms. 0294, f 252
Manassès de Châtillon, Reims

In these illustrations St Gregory the Great is shown blessed by the Hand of God and inspired by the Holy Spirit

Gregory (540-604) was the 64th Pope of the Latin Church, the first to take the title "servus servorum Dei" 

During the Middle Ages he was one of the most read and copied authors

It was during this time he was one of the four Doctors of the Latin Church

Pope Gregory the Great inspired by the Holy Spirit dictating to his secretary, the deacon Peter
From the Hartker-Antiphonar
Cod. Sang. 390, f 13
Stiftsbibliothek, St. Gallen

Saint Gregory the Great and his Deacon Peter
From Jean Mansel Fleur des histoires
c 1470
Illuminated manuscript
Paris - Bibl. Mazarine - ms. 1560, f. 219

"When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice" (Saint Gregory the Great, Pastoral Rule, 3:21)

 "Holy Church has two lives: one that she lives in time, the other that she receives eternally; one with which she struggles on earth, the other that is rewarded in heaven; one with which she accumulates merits, the other that henceforth enjoys the merits earned. And in both these lives she offers a sacrifice: here below, the sacrifice of compunction, and in heaven above, the sacrifice of praise. Of the former sacrifice it is said: "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit' (Ps 51[50]: 19); of the latter it is written:  "Then will you delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and in whole burnt offerings' (Ps 51[50]: 21).... In both, flesh is offered, since the sacrifice of the flesh is the mortification of the body, up above; the sacrifice of the flesh is the glory of the resurrection in praise to God. In heaven, flesh will be offered as a burnt holocaust when it is transformed into eternal incorruptibility, and there will be no more conflict for us and nothing that is mortal, for our flesh will endure in everlasting praise, all on fire with love for him" 
(Saint Gregory the Great, Homilies on Ezechiel, 2, Rome 1993, p. 271)

“The supreme art is the direction of souls” (Saint Gregory the Great, Regula Pastoralis, I, 1: PL 77, 14)

"[T]he faithlessness of Thomas was far more useful to us, as regards faith, than the faith of the other disciples. While, in fact, Thomas is brought back to faith through touch, our mind is consolidated in faith with the overcoming of all doubt, Thus the disciple, who doubted and touched, became a witness to the reality of the Resurrection" (Saint Gregory the Great, XL Homiliarum in Evangelia lib. III, Homil. 26, 7: P.L. 76, 1201)