The Way of Beauty
The good life is the joyful life
Recently a reader contacted me with a question about Fra Angelico’s fresco of the Last Supper. Is there a particular reason why some of the figures are kneeling and others not? And who is the female figure present? In answer to the first, I assumed that he was emphasising that the Last Supper is the Mass I don’t know if there is any tradition that governs who knelt and who sat. (I find it interesting that Judas, with the black halo is kneeling in line.) I guessed that the lady present is Our Lady (or perhaps Mary Magdalene) but didn’t really know. Ordinarily the names would be present (in accordance with the theology of Theodore the Studite from the 9th century). So this is an additional question: does anybody know who she is and also, do you know if Fra Angelico put the names of those portrayed somewhere as part of this painting? If not I would be interested to know why not as names are necessary to make an image worthy of veneration.
I posed these questions on the New Liturgical Movement blog also, so I am curious to see how the answers of the two readerships varies!
I have been carrying out a little journey of investigation into the free economy and its compatibility with Catholic social teaching. I have concluded that the two are wholly compatible and despite the strongly held objections from some readers (this seems to be a subject that provokes strong reaction). The next question one might ask is how well does it work? In seeking and answer to this I looked to John Zmirak’s excellent book about the Swiss economist Wilhelm Ropke ‘perhaps one of the most unjustly neglected economists of the 20th century’.
Wilhelm Ropke was advisor to Ludwig Erhard the West Germany finance minister who engineered the ‘economic miracle’ after the Second World War. What Erhard introduced through a series of reforms enacted in 1948 was a free market system infused with the social values of Catholic social teaching. Most of the allies and economic experts assumed that free markets and capitalism had had their day and were advocating government controlled economic systems that owed much, still, to Marx. Politically there was no natural free market constituency so in a stroke of political genius, Erhard developed the phrase ‘social market economy’ to sell what he was doing to the German people.
Nevertheless, the conventional wisdom was convinced that this wouldn’t succeed. As Zmirak reports: ‘The eminent John Kenneth Galbraith wrote in 1948 (just after Erhard made his reforms) “There has never been the slightest possibility of getting German recovery by this wholesale repeal and it is quite possible that its reiteration has delayed German recovery.…
St. Mary’s University College, which is an independent Catholic liberal arts university located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada is launching a Certificate in Sacred Arts. This is open to anyone. there are practical classes and lectures, but the emphasis appears to be learning through doing. Three of the teachers are known to me and cause me to recommend it. First Martinho Correia whom I met when I was studying in Florence is doing much of the organisation and is teaching the Western naturalistic tradition; second my own teacher Aidan Hart is teaching iconography and third Jed Gibbons who teaches illumination.
Students have the choice of either taking a single workshop or registering for a series of workshops to qualify for the newly-created Certificate in the Sacred Arts – Foundations. The first courses being offered in 2013 include:
Methods of the Masters of the Western Sacred Art Tradition taught by Martinho Isidro Correia
The Foundations of Calligraphy taught by Renate Worthington
Iconography taught by Aidan Hart
The Art of Manuscript Illumination taught by Jed Gibbons
Stained Glass for Beginners taught by Jody Martin
Gregorian Chant Workshop taught by Malcolm Edwards
For a more detailed description of the courses see: www.stmu.ca/sacredarts
It is uncanny how often this sort of thing happens: if you read the Fathers, Scripture or the Liturgy, I find that just when I’m thinking about something I discover a passage that has something to say about it. The psalms particularly are like this. The seem to speak to the human person wherever he is emotionally and offer thoughts on just about any aspect of life. I will read something I have read many times, but this time it is commenting on something in a way I had never noticed before.
This has just happened to me again. Some of you may remember a piece posted very recently in which I expressed surprise that Leo the Great should say that man is higher than the angels. Then just a few days ago I read a passage by St John of Damascus. I was reading the third of his three treatises On the Divine Images, which he wrote against iconoclasm in the 8th century. The general theme of these is to stress the importance of holy images in safeguarding the doctrine of the Incarnation. In this passage he is discussing the veneration of images of those who not God, the saints and angels.
He wants to make the point that all worship is due to God, but there are degrees of worship that are appropriate in different situations. So we adore God directly, but through veneration of images of his saints and angels, we bring worship and honour to God.…
Readers may remember that I have posted a couple of pieces recently featuring sacred images from the Russia that are statues (not relief carving, full 3-D images). As I mentioned, I had been under the impression that although they were not forbidden, that by tradition they were not produced and was surprised that the examples shown existed. I suggested that the reason they were discouraged was because it is difficult to produce a three-dimensional image that is consistent with the theology of sacred images as applied to the icon (for example, the deliberated elimination of space to suggest the heavenly realm). But I couldn’t give much more information about their existence and place in the tradition of the Eastern Church.
I was happy to receive responses from two Orthodox Christians in regard to the attitude to statues in the East which are helpful, I think, and I reproduce them here.
The first is from Bishop Jerome, Bishop of Manhattan of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and this seems to summarise the situation nicely. He says: “The reason that statues are avoided in the Orthodox Church (and in some of the Eastern Catholic Churches) is not that they were seen as “heretical”, but as part of the struggle to overcome the iconoclasts. Prior to the iconoclastic controversy, there were bas-relief representations of holy figures in the East, and in Russia the iconoclasts seem not to have been as virulent as they were in Constantinople.…
Every society’s culture is a reflection of its core beliefs and values. At the heart of this therefore is man’s attitude to God. The most powerful factor in influencing this is worship and this principle was articulated by the Church Fathers with the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi – rule of prayer, rule of faith. If we wish to achieve cultural reform, therefore, we should look first at our liturgy and strive for liturgical reform.
What this phrase of the Father is saying is that man is made to worship God and how he does it affects everything else he believes. If he does not worship God in the liturgy of the Church, then he will worship in another, lesser way; or else very likely he will worship something else. Even those who think of themselves of having no religion will submit to principles and ideals that at the deepest level are just assumed, accepted on faith so to speak, and through this the instinct for worship manifests itself somehow with customs and practices developing in accordance with them. Pope Benedict XVI discusses this in his book, so often referred to in this blog, the Spirit of the Liturgy. To the degree that this instinct for worship is repressed, and its repression is much less common than its misdirection, then man is trying to negate something fundamental to him and the result is despair and a culture of ugliness.…
Here are some recordings of what we sang. Last Sunday, the First Sunday in Lent, the Thomas More College choir sang at St Patrick’s in Nashua, NH. We sang at the invitation of Fr Kerper, the pastor at St Patricks. The college has enjoyed a long connection with the parish, its longest standing chaplain, Fr Healey, is resident at the church. The Mass was composed by a German, Blasius Amon, in the 16th century – Missa Super ‘Pour ung Plaisir’. Our director, Dr Thomas Larson, did his usual and put his cell down amongst us in the choir stall and came up with these recordings.
I had never heard of Blasius Amon before Tom introduced this to the choir, but it is a great Mass for a choir to learn polphony on. Relatively simple, but still very good to listen to. I hope these recordings give a sense of it. As usual, remember this is an amateur choir recorded on a very simple piece of equipment. Below are the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei from the Mass.
I have just completed this painting of King David. It is based on the image that is in the Westminster Psalter, which dates from about 1200AD. The original is an illuminated manuscript, this is painted in egg tempera on high quality paper. You can see the original beneath. It is 11″ x 7″ (image without the border is 10″ x 6′ and so, like the original, in the ratio 5:3 which is one of the fundamental ratios used in gothic proportion corresponding the structure of the ideal man, according to St Augustine). It is also defines the harmonic interval of a sixth, which as I understand it, was not considered harmonic in medieval times, when the original was painted, but was during the common practice period of music (from the 17th century onwards). To was as much due to an improvement in tuning practices as to changing tastes, I am told. if this is so, it does reinforce the value of the ratio in my mind.
And thinking about her in the week of her birthday
Not long ago I wrote an article in which I suggested ways of developing the cultural sensibilities of children, here. I have many blessings in my life and one is a young daughter Victoria (undoubtedly the most beautiful and endearing little baby girl in the world!). So already I am putting some of these things into practice.
As the father of a household, coping imperfectly with all the duties and responsibilities (just ask my wife), I try to fulfill one of the fatherly roles of praying on behalf of our family to God. I do my best to rise early and each morning, I face the icon corner in our home and sing softly (so as not to disturb others still sleeping) the Office of Readings and then Lauds. I like this time on my own. The house routine has developed so that usually Victoria is awake by the time I get to Lauds so I feed her. Then I hold her up and show her the icons and tell her who they are (Isaias, St John the Baptist, Our Lady and Jesus). I am always surprised, and gratified I must admit, by how much she responds to these, pointing and smiling. Then I put her down next to me and start to sing the Office. She responds very well to the music too and seems to enjoy it, smiling and laughing as I chant.…
I recently posted an article about Fr Robert Sirico’s book in which he presented a moral case for the free economy, here. This provoked as strong a reaction as any I have posted. Many of the criticisms, it seemed to me, were aimed at views that we were assumed to hold (presumably because they imagine that everyone who was in favour of the free economy would think these things) even though it was not the case. For example, some suggested that Fr Sirico’s book and my article were undermined by the fact that John Paul II and others have argued for a just wage. Nowhere did I, and to the best of my recollection nowhere in his book, neither did Fr Sirico say anything to undermine the principle of justice in general or just wages in particular. In fact the opposite is true, right through the book it is apparent that the basic needs of the human person especially the poor are right at the forefront of Fr Sirico’s concerns. Speaking for myself, I do not want to see unjust wages at all. Some seemed to suggest that there is an inherent contradiction between a just wage and the free economy and whether we knew it or not, acceptance of the free economy was a rejection of a just wage.…