Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Temptations of Christ

The Master of the Dresden Prayerbook (active: about 1465 - about 1515)
The Temptations of Christ (First Sunday of Lent).
From The Breviary of Queen Isabella of Castile - Breviary, Use of the Dominicans
c. 1497
Illuminated manuscript
The British Library, London

The anonymous illuminator known as the Master of the Dresden Prayer Book was a painter of tremendous originality. Named after a book of hours now in Dresden, he worked in Bruges from around 1465 until about 1515

He was one of the first illuminators to capture differing moods and atmosphere in landscapes

Queen Isabella I was given the manuscript shortly before 1497 by her ambassador Francisco de Rojas to commemorate not only the double marriage of her children Infante Juan and Infanta Joanna to Margaret and Philip, the children of Emperor Maximilian of Austria and Duchess Mary of Burgundy, but also the successful undertakings of her reign: the discovery of America and the conquest of Granada.

The manuscript is of great historical importance because it captures the political unrest of late fifteenth-century Europe.

Isabella (1451-1504) spared no expense in its creation

It is the first document in which Isabella is referred to as ‘divine’ and ‘Queen of the Spains and Sicily

The Royal Houses of Isabella and Ferdinand had close connections with the Dominican order

Her breviary contains the usual sections of a Dominican breviary as they were drawn up by Humbert de Romans, Master General of the Order between 1254 and 1277

For Lent, the Dominican hymns in the Office were:

Audi benígne Cónditor, sung at Vespers, Summi largitor præmii for Matins, Jam Christe sol justitiæ for Lauds, and Christe qui lux es et dies, sung at Compline

These four hymns are sung for each day of Lent that is not a feast day, including both Sundays and ferias.

The Devil who is tempting Christ is in the guise of a religious holding a rosary.

Perhaps the artist and composer of the Breviary was  missing the point 

On Ash Wednesday of last year, two days after his resignation announcement Pope Benedict XVI preached on the theme of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness, the theme of the extract from the Breviary of the great and powerful Spanish monarch

His talk makes one wonder what was going through her head as she read her breviary at this stage of the Liturgical Year, the first Sunday of Lent

Was it, as the artist of the Breviary thought, beware of Franciscans and therefore by implication favour the Dominicans, their rivals ?

Perhaps she saw deeper

Perhaps it curbed and mitigated her arbitrariness and lessened a wilful exercise of absolute power

Perhaps it engendered in her a fundamental respect for religion that feared and did not dare attempt to use religion for her own and purely secular purposes

Nowadays of course earthly rulers and powers very rarely hear or listen to such lessons

They refer to listen to those whose messages please them as well as the spinsters and opinion pollsters

Pope Benedict XVI  said:
"Forty was also the number of days that it took Elijah to reach God’s mountain, Mount Horeb; and this was likewise the period that Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his public ministry and where he was tempted by the devil.  
In today’s Catechesis, I would like to reflect on this very moment in the Lord’s earthly life which we shall be reading in the Gospel next Sunday. 
First of all, the wilderness to which Jesus withdrew is the place of silence and poverty, where man is deprived of material support and faces the fundamental existential questions; where he is driven to the essential and for this very reason can more easily encounter God.  
However the wilderness is also the place of death because there is no water, nor even life, and it is the place of solitude where man feels temptation more acutely. Jesus went into the wilderness and was subjected there to the temptation to stray from the path marked out for him by the Father so as to follow other easier and more worldly paths (cf. Lk 4:1-13).  
He thus took on our temptations, burdened himself with our wretchedness in order to defeat the Evil One and open a path to God for us, a pathway of conversion. 
Reflecting on the temptations to which Jesus was subjected in the wilderness invites each one of us to answer a fundamental question: What really counts in my life?  
In the first temptation the devil proposes to Jesus that he turn a stone into bread to appease his hunger. Jesus retorts that man lives on bread as well, but that he does not live on bread alone. Without a response to his hunger for truth, to his hunger for God, man cannot be saved (cf. vv. 3-4). 
In the second temptation the devil proposes the way of power to Jesus. He takes him up and offers him dominion over the whole world; but this is not God’s way. Jesus is very clear that it is not worldly power that saves the world, but the power of the Cross, of humility and of love (cf. vv. 5-8). 
In the third temptation the devil suggests to Jesus that he throw himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem and have himself saved by God through his angels, that is, that he do something sensational to put God himself to the test; but the answer is that God is not an object on which to impose conditions of our own making; he is the Lord of all (cf. vv. 9-12). 
What is the essence of the three temptations to which Jesus is subjected?  
It is the proposal to exploit God, to use him for one’s own interests, for one’s own glory and for one’s own success. And therefore, essentially to put oneself in God’s place, removing him from one’s own existence and making him seem superfluous. Each one of us must therefore ask him- or herself: what place does God have in my life? Is he the Lord or am I? 
Overcoming the temptation to subject God to oneself and one’s own interests, or to put him in a corner and be converted to the correct order of priorities, giving God first place, is a journey that each and every Christian must make over and over again.  
“Repent” is an invitation we shall often hear in Lent, it means following Jesus in such a way that his Gospel is a practical guide for life; it means letting God transform us, in order to stop thinking that we are the only ones to build our existence. It means recognizing that we are creatures, that we depend on God, on his love, and that only by “losing” our life in him can we gain it."

Monday, February 24, 2014

San Diego de Alcalá

Francisco de Zurbarán 1598 - 1664
San Diego de Alcalá
1658 - 1660
Oil on canvas
93 cm x 99 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Francisco de Zurbarán 1598 - 1664
San Diego de Alcalá
Oil on canvas
116 cm x  86,60 cm
Museo Fundación Lázaro Galdiano. Madrid

San Diego de Alcalá (also known as Diego de San Nicolás) (1400 - 1463)  was  the Franciscan lay brother born in Seville but was one of the first missionaries to the newly conquered Canary Islands

He first went to Arrecife on the island of Lanzarote

Later he was sent to the Friary of Santa María de Jesús in Alcalá where he died

In English he is known as Saint Didacus

There is a strong devotion to him in Southern Spain, the Canaries and in Mexico and California

The importance of this saint is underlined by the fact that he was canonized by Pope Sixtus V in 1588, the only canonisation done during the 16th century after the Council of Trent, and the first saint of a lay brother of the Order of Friars Minor

The iconography of the painting is based on an episode of the saint`s life. He used to take bread from the table of their convent to give to the poor. One day the guardian of the convent   asked to see what he had hidden in the habit. The saint replied that they were roses and naturally as you might have expected when he uncovered what he had hidden, it was seen that the  bread had miraculously turned into flowers.

He had a profound devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and he attributed the many marvels which seemed to appear round him to her intervention

He had a passion for the Eucharist. He was an  obedient man of prayer and mortification, He lived simply and lived the virtues heroically 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Day of Five Canonisations

Giuseppe Tiburtio Vergelli (Italian, active ca. 1690)
Canonisation of Five Saints in Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome on October 16th, 1690
43 x 69.1 cm
The Metropolitan Museum, New York

His reign was a brief one October 6, 1689-February 1, 1691

The main religious event of the brief pontificate of Alexander VIII  occurred when five saints were canonised on 16th October 1690

It was an important event.

After the closing of the Council of Trent, only two saints were canonised in the remainder of the sixteenth century

In the seventeenth century, there were only 24 canonisations of which this event created more than 20% of that total

The saints raised that day to  the altars were:
Saint Lorenzo Giustiniani, Patriarch of Venice; 
Saint Giovanni of Capistrano, the Franciscan monk who distinguished himself in the victory of the Hungarians against the Turks; 
Saint  John of God, founder of the Hospital Order; 
St. Pasquale Baylon, the so-called Mad Saint and founder of the "Fatebenefratelli;" and 

The Pope`s nephew  Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni commisioned his tomb and it was designed by Count Arrigo di San Martino.

But it was the Genovese sculptor Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – June 12, 1715) who executed the famous bas relief at the base of the tomb which commemorates the great canonisations that day in 1690 (below)

Angelo de' Rossi (1671 – June 12, 1715) 
The Canonisation of Five Saints by Pope Alexander VIII on 16th October 1690
Marble relief
1702 - 1704
St Peter`s Basilica, Vatican City

For a drawing of the bas relief  by Pompeo Litta:

Pompeo Litta
Drawing of the Bas relief on the Tomb of Alexander VIII
From Famiglie celebri italiane (Milan 1819)

For those who wish to know more about the celebrated tomb please see 

Edward J. Olszewski, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni (1667-1740) and the Vatican Tomb of Pope Alexander VIII (American Philosophical Society, November 15, 2004)

Also see Amazon

It is thought that the man with a wig may be a self-portrait of De Rossi himself

Louis XIV had a gypsum model of the bas relief placed in the French Academy as an example for the students. 

It is considered to be de Rossi`s masterpiece. With the outward curve of the relief and the subtlety of the sculpture, the figures seem to move and emerge out of the marble

The man standing before the Pope presenting the acolyte with the gifts is the late Pope`s great nephew, Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni

The Pope favoured him and other members of his family. At the canonistaion, Ottoboni aged 23 years at the time was the Promoter of the Faith. Despite at the time being a lay man but cardinal, Ottoboni was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the Church by his Pontiff relative. He held this post until his death, a period of over 50 years

Ottoboni was also the one responsible for the tomb

On his death his collection included more than 500 art works

In Francis Haskell, Patrons and painters, London 1963, Haskell called Ottoboni  «the most adventurous patron of the time» and his Palazzo alla Cancelleria  «the centre of the most enlightened and extravagant patronage in Rome» 

In the then liturgy of canonisation, the scene represents the presentation of gifts: bread, wine, doves, candles

There are five gift bearers consistent with the five candidates for canonisation

Other members of the Ottoboni family are depicted, including Cardinal Giovanni Rubini, the son of the Pope`s sister who was Papal Secretary of State

As a Venetian from a Venetian noble family, the Pope was canonising the first Venetian patriarch, Lorenzo Giustiniani (1381 – January 8, 1456)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Glimpses of 18th century Rome

Pier Leone Ghezzi 1674-1755
The Lateran Council of 1725
Oil on canvas
243.5 x 311.1 cm
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh NC

Carlo Marchionni 1702 –  1786
Sarcophagus relief depicting The Pope presiding over the Lateran Council 1725
From the Tomb of Pope Benedict XIII
White Marble
S. Maria sopra Minerva, Rome

1726 was a Jubilee Year and Benedict XIII, a Dominican, had just been elected Pontiff. 

He convoked a provincial Council at the Lateran, the Lateran Council of 1725 which is what Ghezzi  illustrates above

It opened on April 15 and ended on 29 May 1725

It had a very heavy agenda.

There were seven sessions

To it were invited all bishops within the Diocese of Rome as well as all abbots and others from further afield

The Council reiterated and made clear the binding force of Unigenitus. The Council called for  the suppression of Jansenism and the solemn confirmation of the Bull "Unigenitus", which was declared a rule of faith demanding the fullest obedience.

The main items of reform concerned reform of the clergy.

Clergy had to wear "the uniform of the clergy" and reside within the jurisdiction where his office lay. No absenteeism was allowed

Lay dress was forbidden

There were new provisions for sermons and the distribution  of benefits

For the life of Pope Benedict XIII, now Servant of God, and the Council of 1725 see Pastor`s History of the Popes Volume 34

In the following works we see some of the activities and dress of the clergy at this time, which as Gregory XVI once said was an age of urgent need of reform

Pier Leone Ghezzi  1674-1755
The Singing Monks (Matins)
c. 1715-1730
Oil on canvas
23" x 18”
Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, Wisconsin

Pier Leone Ghezzi  1674-1755
Cardinal Granacci
Brown ink on off-white antique laid paper
27.4 x 18.9 cm 
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Mass

Although the Harvard Art Museums identify the portrait as Cardinal Granacci, the standard list of cardinals does not list such a cardinal of that name

Pier Leone Ghezzi  1674-1755
Fra Martini Conducting the Choir in Sant' Apostoli
Brown ink over black chalk on off-white antique laid paper
44.5 x 33.8 cm
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Mass

This may be a drawing of the famous Italian musician and composer Giovanni Battista Martini, O.F.M. Conv. (1706 -1784), friend of Gluck and one of the teachers of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A Franciscan Capuchin, he spent his whole life in Bologna where he would have known the Archbishop, Lambertini, later Pope Benedict XIV

However it is recorded that he did make several trips to Rome. In 1747, he attended a General Chapter of the Order. 

In 1753, he travelled to  the Basilica of the Holy Apostles in Rome to celebrate the solemn liturgy  on the feast of Saints Philip and James (1 May), and the Triduum in honor of Joseph of Cupertino (6-8 May). In that year the Bolognese  Pope Benedict XIV offered him the post as successor to Jommelli in the Sistine Chapel. He declined the offer due to health reasons. (Jommelli or Jomella is shown depicted below)

Pier Leone Ghezzi  1674-1755
Caricature of Antonio Schinella Conti (1677-1749), also called l'abbé Conti of the French Mission in Rome 
Pen and brown ink 
4½ x 4 in. (11.2 x 10.2 cm.)
Private collection

Antonio Schinella Conti (1677 – 1749) was an Italian historian, mathematician, philosopher and physicist.

He was known as Abbé Conti and is famous for having been the intermediary, in England in 1715–16, in the Leibniz-Newton calculus controversy

Voltaire used him as the model for the character of Pococurante in Candide 

Pier Leone Ghezzi  1674-1755
Caricature portraits of two ecclesiastics
(Mon.r Diedo Vescovo di Torcello e Murano.Venetiano. Padre Lombardi Veronese Gesuita alla chiesa del Novitiato)
Pen and ink on paper
35.3 cm x 23.7 cm
Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery, London

These are some of the works from the book:

Pier Leone Ghezzi  1674-1755
Sig Iomella, Master of the Choir in St Peters Basilica in the Vatican

Pier Leone Ghezzi  1674-1755
Fra Atanasio della Fara, The Searching Capuchin

Here are some pen portrait sketches from the collection in The British Museum

Pier Leone Ghezzi  1674-1755
Michelangelo Juvinese, Camadolese, 30th October 1749
Pen and brown ink on paper
104mm x 73 mm
The British Museum, London

Pier Leone Ghezzi  1674-1755
Caricature of a Jesuit from the Collegio Germanico in Rome, head and shoulders, facing front, turned to right: drawing from an album
Pen and brown ink on paper
111 x 70 mm
The British Museum, London

Pier Leone Ghezzi  1674-1755
Portrait of Abbot Agostino Isaia, standing in an interior, seen in profile, to right, pointing towards his own framed portrait; drawing from an album.
Pen and brown ink on paper
307 x 219 mm
The British Museum, London

Monday, February 17, 2014


After Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 – 1755)
Engraving by Girolamo Rossi II (1682- after 1762)
Drawing of Pope Clement XI
30.1 x 22.6 cm
Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon, Versailles

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 – 1755)
Scene from The Life of Pope Clement XI
Brown ink on brown wash and white stone on paper
29.1  cm x 19.2cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris 

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 – 1755)
Allegory on the Promulgation of the Encyclical Unigenitus
Black pen and pencil on grey and brown wash on paper
40.3 cm x  28.9 cm
Musée de Port-Royal des Champs, Magny-les-Hameaux

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 - 1755)
Pope Clement XI  receiving Pilgrims in the presence of Cardinals
Pen and brown ink with grey wash over black chalk, heightened with white, on greenish grey paper
265 x 419 mm
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Pier Leone Ghezzi (28 June 1674 – 6 March 1755) was an Italian Rococo painter and caricaturist active in Rome.

He was a  secretary to the Roman Accademia di San Luca and he organised the centenary celebrations for the academy in 1695, and invited Pope Clement XI to be an honorary fellow of the Academy

The modern interest in his work focuses mainly on his sketches and caricatures revealing a side about life in Rome in the early 18th century

Like his father he received many commissions for churches in Rome

He received many commissions under Pope Clement XI (Albani)

He and Albani got on well. 

Both originally came from Le Marche. But the Pope was a genuine admirer of his work and commissioned Ghezzi for works for the Albani family chapel at St. Sebastian outside the Walls

However his favourite artist was Marratti

A great patron of the arts, Clement XI is today remembered for his role in the Chinese Rites controversies and the issuing of the bull Unigenitus in 1713, the apostolic letter which led to the extinxtion of the formal movement we now know as Jansenism

He also thrived under Clement`s successor, Pope Benedict XIII although he did not have the same close relationship that he had with Clement

As with Clement XI, Ghezzi did a cycle of paintings on the life of Benedict XIII

It is from Ghezzi`s drawings executed in the reign of Benedict XII we see glimpses of clerical and liturgical life during the early eighteenth century in Rome. Many of these drawings are in the Louvre. 

Here are some

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 - 1755)
The administration of chrism by the bishop  during the sacrament of Confirmation to children
Brown ink on brown wash and white stone on paper
12.8 x 19 cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris 

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 - 1755)
Ceremony of reconciliation of penitents during the Jubilee Holy Year
Brown ink on brown wash and white stone on paper
12.8 x 19 cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris 

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 - 1755)
Call to penitents: the bishop taks and leads one of the penitents by the hand
Brown ink on brown wash and white stone on paper
12.8 x 19 cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris 

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 - 1755)
Blessing of a cemetery and the blessing of one of the crosses
Brown ink on brown wash and white stone on paper
12.8 x 19 cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris 

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 - 1755)
Blessing of oil for the sick
Brown ink on brown wash and white stone on paper
12.8 x 19 cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris 

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 - 1755)
Consecration of an altar: the bishop prays over the altar table
Brown ink on brown wash and white stone on paper
12.8 x 19 cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris 

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 - 1755)
A bishop consecrates a newly elected bishop
Brown ink on brown wash and white stone on paper
12.8 x 19 cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris 

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 - 1755)
A bishop consecrates a new church and traces a St Andrew`s Cross with his staff
Brown ink on brown wash and white stone on paper
12.8 x 19 cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris 

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 - 1755)
Journey of a prelate seated on a mule and surrounded by other clerics and servants
Brown ink on brown wash and white stone on paper
12.8 x 19 cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris 

Pier Leone Ghezzi (1674 - 1755)
The bishop confers the first tonsure
Brown ink on brown wash and white stone on paper
12.8 x 19 cm
Musée du Louvre département des Arts graphiques, Paris 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Great Organ

The Great Organ, Cathédrale Saint-Gatien, Tours, France

The present cathedral building was started in the 12th century and was not completed until the 16th century

It is dedicated to St Gatien, the first bishop of Tours (previously dedicated to St Maurice)

The first organ documented in the cathedral was in the 16th century by the Archbishop Martin de Beaune (1519 - 1527)

The present organ (with a few reconstructions) is from the 17th century

The Tours organ illustrates that at one time, the organ and its music was regarded as fundamental to liturgy

Consider the labour in the making of the great instrument, not simply the external decoration but the  sheer technical proficiency in the selecting of the materials, fashioning it and ensuring  the sound produced

Then the effort in installing it taking into account the acoustics of the building in which it resides

Then the maintenance and renewal

And lastly the effort and talent in making the instrument sing throughout its life

No mean effort and no mean achievement. But then it was for the liturgy, the centre of worship when  the centrality of worship of God in society was undisputed

Perhaps nowadays (apart from cathedrals and major churches) we do not receive the opportunity to hear it

Pius XII extolled the place of the organ in church and in liturgy

In Musicae Sacrae (25th December 1955) he wrote:
"Among the musical instruments that have a place in church the organ rightly holds the principal position, since it is especially fitted for the sacred chants and sacred rites. It adds a wonderful splendour and a special magnificence to the ceremonies of the Church. 
It moves the souls of the faithful by the grandeur and sweetness of its tones. It gives minds an almost heavenly joy and it lifts them up powerfully to God and to higher things."
The most musical of Popes, Pope Benedict XVI likewise praised its position in the Church and its use in liturgy when he blessed the new organ in Regensburg's Alte Kapelle (13th September 2006) in a speech which showed his passion for music:
"The organ has always been considered, and rightly so, the king of musical instruments, because it takes up all the sounds of creation – as was just said - and gives resonance to the fullness of human sentiments, from joy to sadness, from praise to lamentation.  
By transcending the merely human sphere, as all music of quality does, it evokes the divine.  
The organ’s great range of timbre, from piano through to a thundering fortissimo, makes it an instrument superior to all others. It is capable of echoing and expressing all the experiences of human life. The manifold possibilities of the organ in some way remind us of the immensity and the magnificence of God. 
Psalm 150, which we have just heard and interiorly followed, speaks of trumpets and flutes, of harps and zithers, cymbals and drums; all these musical instruments are called to contribute to the praise of the triune God.  
In an organ, the many pipes and voices must form a unity.  
If here or there something becomes blocked, if one pipe is out of tune, this may at first be perceptible only to a trained ear. But if more pipes are out of tune, dissonance ensues and the result is unbearable.  
Also, the pipes of this organ are exposed to variations of temperature and subject to wear.  
Now, this is an image of our community in the Church. Just as in an organ an expert hand must constantly bring disharmony back to consonance, so we in the Church, in the variety of our gifts and charisms, always need to find anew, through our communion in faith, harmony in the praise of God and in fraternal love.  
The more we allow ourselves, through the liturgy, to be transformed in Christ, the more we will be capable of transforming the world, radiating Christ’s goodness, his mercy and his love for others."

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Killing children and the helpless

Statue of Pope Pius XII commemorating his visit to the Quartiere San Lorenzo in July 1943  in Rome after the Bombing in the Second World War
Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le mura, Rome 

In the middle of the Second World War, Pope Pius XII issued a courageous denunciation of the ongoing Nazi euthanasia program, under which disabled Germans were being removed from care facilities and murdered by the state as "life unworthy of life". 

Impelled by his revulsion at what he saw as a grave moral evil and crime, at considerable personal danger to himself and others in the Church, he wrote:
"94. For as the Apostle with good reason admonishes us: "Those that seem the more feeble members of the Body are more necessary; and those that we think the less honorable members of the Body, we surround with more abundant honour."[I Cor., XII, 22-23]  
Conscious of the obligations of Our high office We deem it necessary to reiterate this grave statement today, when to Our profound grief We see at times the deformed, the insane, and those suffering from hereditary disease deprived of their lives, as though they were a useless burden to Society; and this procedure is hailed by some as a manifestation of human progress, and as something that is entirely in accordance with the common good.  
Yet who that is possessed of sound judgment does not recognize that this not only violates the natural and the divine law [Decree of the Holy Office, 2 Dec. 1940: A.A.S., 1940, p. 553] written in the heart of every man, but that it outrages the noblest instincts of humanity?  
The blood of these unfortunate victims who are all the dearer to our Redeemer because they are deserving of greater pity, "cries to God from the earth."[Gen., IV, 10
Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi (28th June 1943)

The denunciation by Pope Pius XII was followed, on 26 September 1943, by an open condemnation by the German Bishops which, from every German pulpit, denounced the killing of "innocent and defenceless mentally handicapped, incurably infirm and fatally wounded, innocent hostages, and disarmed prisoners of war and criminal offenders, people of a foreign race or descent"

Last week 160 Belgian paediatricians signed an open letter against the law, claiming that there was no urgent need for it and that modern medicine is capable of alleviating pain.

The Catholic Church in Belgium would appear to be moribund in a State devoid of all  reason, moral sense and charity

It also seems strange that the death of one giraffe in a zoo in Copenhagen can attract more attention and condemnation than this horrific Belgian legislation

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pilgrims to Loreto

Donato Bramante 1434 - 1514
Shrine of the Holy House
Santuario della Santa Casa, Loreto, Le Marche, Italy

Andrea Sansovino 1450 - 1529
Detail, relief, Annunciation
Santuario della Santa Casa, Loreto, Le Marche, Italy

Niccolò Tribolo 1500 - 1550, Raffaello da Montelupo 1495 - 1567. Andrea Sansovino 1450 - 1529
Detail, relief, Marriage of the Virgin
Santuario della Santa Casa, Loreto, Le Marche, Italy

Andrea Sansovino 1450 - 1529
Detail, relief, Nativity
Santuario della Santa Casa, Loreto, Le Marche, Italy

The tale is quite fantastic and very hard to believe

Belief in it is not a matter of faith

Yet Popes and other pilgrims flock to it

On 4 October 1962, Blessed John XXIII came as a pilgrim to this Shrine to entrust to the Virgin Mary the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, due to begin a week later.

Nowadays Catholics get rather embarassed by it

However it is still a magnet

In 1582 the great sceptical Montaigne went on pilgrimage there. He thought that the cures there were true
See The journal of Montaigne's travels in Italy by way of Switzerland and Germany in 1580 and 1581. Translated and edited, with an introd. and notes by W.G. Waters (1903)

Erasmus wrote a Mass in honour of The Virgin of Loreto

In 1619 René Descartes had three dreams which were to change his life and the course of Western philosophical thought. He was inspired to seek a new method for scientific inquiry and to envisage a unified science

At the same time he made a vow to go on pilgrimage to the shrine of Loreto in thanksgiving In 1623  he carried out his vow

Saturday, February 08, 2014

The decline of Confession

Jean-Jacques Hauer 1751 - 1829
La confession de Louis XVI par l'abbé Edgeworth
Oil on canvas
32.5 x 24.5 cm
Musée Lambinet, Versailles

There was a time when Catholics, even absolute monarchs, went to Confession regularly

Henry Essex Edgeworth (1745 – 22 May 1807), also known as L'Abbé Edgeworth de Firmont, was an Irish-born Catholic priest and confessor of Louis XVI

Here we see the final reconciliation before Louis XVI was taken out to the guillotine

Hauer was born in what we now call Germany but come to Paris where he resided until his death

During the French Revolution Hauer was a captain of the National Guard in the Section des Cordeliers

From his vantage point he witnessed many of the important events of the French Revolution and painted many of the historical scenes of those tumultuous times as part of the iconography of the "New Order"

But even in those turbulent times, the final confession before death was regarded as the last opportunity to become reconciled with God. Even vicious enemies would never deprive their victims of that opportunity. Only the most evil would

Such was the belief in sin, life after death and final Judgment

The controversial historian John Cornwell has recently written a book entitled The Dark Box - a history of Catholic confession

Professor Eamon Duffy, a much more distinguished and able historian wrote a review of the work in The Guardian

As usual Professor Duffy`s review is worth more and much more illuminating than the book which he reviews. Read the review.

Duffy  sets the scene:
"[I]n the years after the Second Vatican Council, those long queues dwindled to nothing, as Catholics in their millions simply stopped attending. Despite vehement attempts by John Paul II to promote its revival, frequent confession is now the custom of the few."
Both Cornwell and Duffy attempt to consider why there has been the  "exodus from the confessional queue"

Unfortunately Cornwell`s book focuses entirely on what Duffy describes as the use of the confessional for "dysfunctional sexuality"

While recognising that there is some truth in Cornwell`s claims, Cornwell`s thesis is utterly unbalanced:

"[H]is powerful, persuasive and disturbing book is not in fact a history of confession. 
It is instead an impassioned response to the crisis in the Catholic church over sexual abuse by clergy. Cornwell has a stark and challenging case to argue. 
Confession, he believes, has been on balance a malign institution, both religiously and psychologically. The obsessive emphasis of Catholic moral theology on sexual sin fostered joyless self-loathing among Catholics at large, while its rule-bound legalism propagated an infantile understanding of sin as mere contravention of external rules, rather than radical failure in virtue. 
The "dark box" itself was a well-intentioned innovation of the 16th century, designed to ensure that confessions were heard in church, not a priest's bedroom. 
Ironically, Cornwell argues, it provided an ideal environment – dark, intimate, where the priest sat judicially before the subjugated penitent – for clerical domination and the solicitation, seduction or sexual grooming of the young and vulnerable. 
And Cornwell sees Pope Pius X's decision in the early 20th century to extend the obligation to confess to children as young as seven as a moral disaster, putting them at the mercy of rogue clergy, teaching them to think badly of themselves, and to imagine God as "trivial, petulant" and "obsessed with cleanliness". ... 
Anyone who experienced a pre-conciliar Catholic upbringing will recognise the force of Cornwell's case. The exodus from the confessional queue speaks volumes for itself. 
Most clergy of course were neither prurient nor predators, but the institutional church has undoubtedly been far too interested in what the faithful do in bed. Yet Cornwell at times lays it on with a trowel. 
The fact is that, religious or otherwise, we are all far too interested in what people do in bed. Sex is a problem for the Catholic church because it is a problem for the human race. Human sexuality can be a source of life, joy and tenderness. But from the Trojan war to the poisonous antics of Jimmy Savileit is also the cause of some of the world's grossest ills, and in our society is routinely the locus of betrayal, infidelity and broken promises. "

Duffy criticises the one sided polemic of Cornwell. Cornwell ignores the matters other than sex which Confession was and is concerned about. He summarises his view thus:
"There are 10 commandments, and only two of them concern sex. 
The Dark Box doesn't discuss the thousands of catechisms and devotional works produced down the ages to help lay-people examine their consciences, but by and large those works treat sex with notable reticence, devoting far more space to other kinds of sin. 
The clergy who promoted the confessional from the 16th century onwards were indeed negative about sex, but they confronted communities where people were at least as liable to steal each other's corn, to gossip or lie, to fiddle the scales in their shops, and to settle their arguments with knives or bottles. 
The role of confession in moderating these sins, cultivating civility and a sense of right and wrong, is also a necessary part of the story. 
The Dark Box is a major contribution to the Catholic church's examination of conscience about the roots and circumstances of sexual abuse. But for a rounded historical assessment of confession itself, we will need to look for a different kind of audit."

Unfortunately for Cornwell there is one major error in his thesis. He makes out that until the Pontificate of St Pope Pius X, children did not make confession until adolescence. This is wrong

St Teresa of Lisieux for instance made her first confession at the age of six in 1879 (Pope Pius X only became Pope in 1903). See Biography   Infant Confession was a very common practice before Pius X issued Quam Singulari in 1910

As to what Quam Singulari was about, please see Cardinal Wright`s discussion on Infant Confession and Communion on the Vatican website here

From the discussion one can see that even as an Anglican, Blessed Cardinal Newman was in favour of the approach eventually allowed by Pope Pius X and which at the time of Newman was already an established practice and norm