Sunday, April 26, 2015

Giotto: Hats

I haven't been writing the past few days because I hurt my right shoulder and left elbow and needed to give them some rest.

Since I've been taking a short break, and since we are at a natural stopping place between the cardinal and theological virtues, I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk about the headgear, or lack of that we've seen in frescoes so far. There's a wide variety of hats and hair and each one speaks to its particular vice or virtue.

Justice wears a crown, a symbol of her authority, and a royal authority, and in the Middle Ages, there was a belief that royal authority was given by God.

I don't know if Injustice's hat has any significance, but it is similar to those worn by these 14th century notaries,

and this detail of a painting of a village lawyer by Breughel the Younger.

Temperance's head covering is, well, temperate. It's modest and serves its purpose appropriately.

Wrath wears no head covering at all. She submits to no authority and her hair is loose and uncontrolled.

As mentioned before, Fortitude wears the head of a lion, a symbol of strength and courage.

While Inconstancy, like Wrath is bare-headed, no covering, no plan.

Prudence's hat is all business. It's tied on to make sure it stays in place.

And Foolishness wears the silliest hat of all, a crown made of feathers and bells instead of gold and jewels. 

All of this is my own best guess. I'm not in any way an expert on the subject, and there may be much more in the frescoes than I'm capable of ferreting out. It's wonderful, though, how Giotto seems to take every last detail into consideration, and how the more you look at his images, the more you can see.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices ~ Foolishness

The shrewd always act prudently but the foolish parade folly.Proverbs 13:16
The tongue of the wise pours out knowledge, but the mouth of fools spews folly. Proverbs 15:2
A wise heart accepts commands, but a babbling fool will be overthrown.Proverbs 10:8
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Their deeds are loathsome and corrupt; not one does what is good. Psalm 14:1

What, you may ask, is this all about? At first glance this fool looks almost like a parody of an American Indian, but that would be impossible in the 14th century. Bearing a large club, he (she?) is crowned with feathers and bells. There are bells? tied around his waist; the sleeves of his tunic look like little wings; and the hem of his tunic resembles a bird's tail. He looks almost as if he might drop that club on his own head. This would make sense because the fool is his own worst enemy. The opposite of Prudence in Giotto's estimation, he never counts the cost or prepares for the future. I see in Strong's Concordance that the Greek word for folly or foolishness is  ἄνοια, literally, without a mind.

As you can see, all of the quotes are from Proverbs and Psalms. Most of the discussion about foolishness in scripture and in the Fathers is about how the wisdom of Christ seems like foolishness to the world, so isn't quite applicable here.

So that wraps up the cardinal virtues. They are excellent and necessary, but even when practiced perfectly, they can result in a cold, loveless world without faith, hope and charity. You can see that at work in ancient civilizations, and you can see it in some areas of modern life, although our current culture seems to be abandoning even the cardinal virtues--prudence most assuredly. 


Monday, April 20, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices ~ Prudence

Home and possessions are an inheritance from parents, but a prudent wife is from the LORD. Proverbs 19:14
I, Wisdom, dwell with prudence, and useful knowledge I have. Proberbs 8:12
[Prudence is] an intellectual habit enabling us to see in any given juncture of human affairs what is virtuous and what is not, and how to come at the one and avoid the other. It is to be observed that prudence, whilst possessing in some sort an empire over all the moral virtues, itself aims to perfect not the will but the intellect in its practical decisions. Its function is to point out which course of action is to be taken in any round of concrete circumstances. It indicates which, here and now, is the golden mean wherein the essence of all virtue lies. It has nothing to do with directly willing the good it discerns. That is done by the particular moral virtue within whose province it falls. Prudence, therefore, has a directive capacity with regard to the other virtues. It lights the way and measures the arena for their exercise. The insight it confers makes one distinguish successfully between their mere semblance and their reality. It must preside over the eliciting of all acts proper to any one of them at least if they be taken in their formal sense. Catholic Encyclopedia
[P]rudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it...prudence is love making a right distinction between what helps it towards God and what might hinder it. On the Morals of the Catholic Church, Chapter 15, St. Augustine

Seated at her desk, Prudence resembles nothing so much as the head clerk in an accounting house. She has a very no-nonsense look about her. Pen in hand, she notes all the facts, all the details and takes them into consideration. She looks in a mirror, even perhaps taking her own motivation into account. 

Prudence is the moderator over all the other virtues. She judges the positive and negative aspects of all situations and decides whether or not any given action is wise at any given time. She doesn't provide the will to accomplish these actions, but she uses the intellect to make the best decision. I wrote in the post on temperance that even our virtues can become disordered. It's temperance that strengthens our will against this disorder, but it's prudence that informs the will that it is disorder.

So far, I have written about Justice, Temperance, Fortitude and Prudence, the four cardinal virtues. These are all virtues that would have been recognized and commended by the pagans. After the post about Prudence's opposite number, we will move on to the theological virtues.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Reception, Not the Intent

In which I wander far afield of my usual posts.

Many, probably most, of you have heard that the Friends School of Baltimore, after originally posting a link to a Washington Post article featuring alumnus Ryan T. Anderson, removed the link because readers were offended by Mr. Anderson's opposition to same-sex marriage.  In explaining his reasons for his decision to remove the link, Matt Micciche, head of the school, said:
By far, the most important factor in my decision to remove this post were the voices of students and alumni who felt that by posting this article, we were, as a school, validating (if not tacitly endorsing) the views that Mr. Anderson put forth in the article as he described his work opposing same-sex marriage. While that was not our intent, as we often point out to students, it is the reception, rather than the intent, that matters [emphasis mine].
It's this last line that pulled me up short. So we are teaching children that it doesn't matter how innocent a person's intent may have been, if you receive their words or actions as being offensive, they are guilty of an offense. This is absolute death to any desire to have a rational, polite discussion on any topic on which we disagree. If I placed all my hope in the belief that people who disagree can calmly and rationally discuss their differences, I would now be in complete despair. Fortunately, that is not where I place my hope, but it still looks really bad on the toleration front.

A bit later I came across this article which begins:
A California college has apologized for its “insensitivity” after serving Mexican food at an official school night party whose theme, “Intergalactic,” included decorations featuring aliens from outer space.
I thought it had to be a spoof. I kept looking for the Onion's logo, but to no avail.

According to the article, these students have had other themed events. For Midnight in Paris night, they had French food. For Harry Potter night, they had turkey, potatoes and stew. I would have preferred chocolate frogs, but there's no accounting for taste. And when it came time for the space alien event, "students landed on Mexican food because they weren't sure what food would work with the intergalactic theme." Ah, perfidy indeed.

So, despite the fact that the students had the commendable intent to feed hungry scholars (always a monumental and thankless task) and foster fellowship on campus, they are guilty by reason of reception, and will now be subjected to Orwellian reprogramming, or, as it is now known, cultural competence training.

This whole scenario is ridiculous, but the underlying message that one can determine the moral validity of a person's words or action by the way one chooses to receive them is terribly dangerous. There is no way to ever know when you have overstepped some invisible line that you did not know existed. But even more, it is an impossible obstacle to charity. If we are going to love our fellow man, we must do the exact opposite of what this educator is saying. We must be willing to put the best possible interpretation on the words and actions of those around us. This puts us in a very vulnerable position. It's a real risk. But it's the true school of friendship in Baltimore or anywhere else.


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices ~ Inconstancy

But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, which is moved and carried about by the wind. Therefore let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is inconstant in all his ways James 1:6-8
Inconstancy denotes withdrawal from a definite good purpose. Now the origin of this withdrawal is in the appetite, for a man does not withdraw from a previous good purpose, except on account of something being inordinately pleasing to him: nor is this withdrawal completed except through a defect of reason, which is deceived in rejecting what before it had rightly accepted. Thomas Aquinas, Summa, ii-ii, q. 53, a. 5

This image of Inconstancy beautifully portrays the one that is "moved and carried about the wind." She is completely unbalanced. It makes me a bit queasy to look at her. The garment around her waist is blown up into the air. She perches precariously on some sort of wheel and even the floor beneath her is rolling like a wave of the sea. 

I'm wondering if that wheel represents the Wheel of Fortune, that medieval concept in which Fortune blindly spins her wheel, and he that is king today becomes a slave tomorrow, and vice versa.

The faith of the inconstant man reels under the vicissitudes of life. When things are going well, he makes resolutions and keeps them, but when troubles come he loses his balance, his resolution fails.

As you can see, I had a very difficult time finding any references to inconstancy. There were plenty of passages that used the word as an adjective, but nothing much that described what inconstancy is. The only exception is the above answer to a question in the Summa where Thomas argues that Inconstancy is not a vice that opposes Fortitude, (as in this series from Giotto) but one which opposes Prudence. 


Friday, April 17, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices ~ Fortitudo

The glory of fortitude, therefore, does not rest only on the strength of one's body or of one's arms, but rather on the courage of the mind....And in very truth, rightly is that called fortitude, when a man conquers himself, restrains his anger, yields and gives way to no allurements, is not put out by misfortunes, nor gets elated by good success, and does not get carried away by every varying change as by some chance wind. But what is more noble and splendid than to train the mind, keep down the flesh, and reduce it to subjection, so that it may obey commands, listen to reason, and in undergoing labours readily carry out the intention and wish of the mind?      St. Ambrose On the Duties of the Clergy, Chapter XXXVI
Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause. "The Lord is my strength and my song." "In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1808
But if, on the one hand, we are enduring affliction, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if, on the other hand, we are receiving comfort, it is for your comfort which is produced within you through your patient fortitude under the same sufferings as those which we also are enduring. 2 Corinthians 1:6

This is one of my favorite pictures of the virtues. There is so much to see. Fortitude is shown standing steadfastly in the breech. I've read descriptions of her face that I don't really agree with. What I see is someone who doesn't know for sure if she will be able to survive the onslaught, but who is willing to hold out until her last breath. She stands behind her shield which bears the form of a lion, the symbol of courage--the Lion of Judah? The shield already bears the points of at least three broken spears, one of which is lodged in the neck of the lion. Not only is she shielded by a lion, she wears a lion's pelt with the head as a hood and the paws tied around her neck and waist. She also is wearing a breastplate. In her left hand she holds a weapon that confused me at first. I could not imagine why a weapon would be shaped that way, and I spent some time looking at pictures of 14th century weapons to see if I could find anything like it. A few minutes ago, it dawned on me that it is probably a broken sword.

The Church Fathers talk about the virtue of fortitude both as a physical virtue--fortitude in battle--and as a spiritual virtue--fortitude in fighting temptation. In his fresco, Giotto seems to capture both aspects of the virtue. The figure certainly has real concrete enemies. Then again, her battle garb reminds me forcibly of Ephesians 6.
Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all [the] flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices ~ Wrath

Does anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD? Can one refuse mercy to a sinner like oneself, yet seek pardon for one’s own sins? If a mere mortal cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? Remember your last days and set enmity aside; remember death and decay, and cease from sin! Sirach 28:3-6
Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, for the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20
If we chance to be among heathens, let us thus stop their mouths. without wrath, without harshness. For if we do it with wrath, it no longer seems to be the boldness (of one who is confident of his cause,) but passion: but if with gentleness, this is boldness indeed. For in one and the same thing success and failure cannot possibly go together. The boldness is a success: the anger is a failure. Therefore, if we are to have boldness, we must be clean from wrath that none may impute our words to that. . . . Let us then be clean from wrath. The Holy Spirit dwells not where wrath is: cursed is the wrathful. It cannot be that anything wholesome should approach, where wrath goes forth. For as in a storm at sea, great is the tumult, loud the clamor, and then would be no time for lessons of wisdom: so neither in wrath. John Chrysostom, Homily 17 on Acts of the Apostles

We've seen this bared chest before. But while Caiaphas was smug and the angel was anguished, this woman is just angry. Head thrown back, hair let down, a kind of maniacal gleam in her eyes, she is out of control. Unlike her opposite number, Temperance, she is unbridled. 


In the list of capital sins that is commonly used today, we use the word anger  instead of wrath, but wrath is not quite the same as anger. It is anger multiplied and it wants to exact punishment. 

It was hard to find scriptures and quotes about wrath as a vice. In the scripture, the word wrath is used almost exclusively for the wrath of God; most of the Church Fathers, when they discuss wrath, are talking about the wrath of God; and the wrath of God is always a response to sin or evil. The wrath of man is, in a way, its own punishment. The wrathful man, says St. John Chrysostom is cursed--nothing wholesome will approach him.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices ~ Temperance

Temperance is here considered as one of the four cardinal virtues. It may be defined as the righteous habit which makes a man govern his natural appetite for pleasures of the senses in accordance with the norm prescribed by reason. In one sense temperance may be regarded as a characteristic of all the moral virtues; the moderation it enjoins is central to each of them. It is also according to St. Thomas (II-II:141:2) a special virtue. Thus, it is the virtue which bridles concupiscence or which controls the yearning for pleasures and delights which most powerfully attract the human heart. Catholic Encyclopedia
Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. 2 Peter 4:1-9
First, then, let us consider temperance, which promises us a kind of integrity and incorruption in the love by which we are united to God. The office of temperance is in restraining and quieting the passions which make us pant for those things which turn us away from the laws of God and from the enjoyment of His goodness, that is, in a word, from the happy life. Augustine, Of the Morals of the Catholic Church, chapter 19

Temperance may be the least valued of the virtues. On the face of it, it might seem rather dull. When Shakespeare wrote, "Thou art more temperate and more lovely," I can't imagine his beloved saying, "Oh thank you! I've always wanted someone to notice how temperate I am!"  It's not active, doesn't require great deeds, but rather, the strength to not act when our passions are inciting us to imprudent or sinful action. Without temperance even our virtues can become disordered. We give to those who would be better off without what we're giving. Our mercy is channeled in the wrong direction. Our charity becomes obsession.

Giotto's Temperance has a quiet and peaceful sturdiness. She has an almost shrewd expression, as though she is carefully calculating the wisdom of some considered course. As I looked closely at her face, I thought, "What is going on around her mouth?" If you go to the Web Gallery of Art and enlarge her picture, you can see that her mouth is bound in some way. It reminds me of Psalm 141, "Set a guard, LORD, before my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips" On the Getty Images site, this is described as a bridle, and I think that must be it. Temperance bridles her tongue, exhibiting a wisdom which our world desperately needs. A wisdom that I desperately need. She has a sword, and she will use it, but it, too, is bound. No hasty slicing off the soldier's ear for her. She weighs the result of her deeds.

The inscription below her feet is all but obliterated. The only word I can make out is Temperentia, but maybe that's all we need.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jesus Slept

I should say at the outset that I have no idea where I'm going with this post. It's just the result of this idea that's been going around in my head. For some reason that I don't remember, yesterday it occurred to me that Jesus slept, and that people saw Him sleeping. I thought about his apostles who were with Him night and day for three years. They must have often seen Him sleeping, and as they slowly came to the realization of who He was, it must have been overwhelming sometimes to look at Him asleep, and completely vulnerable--completely in their power, so it seems. God sleeping--a little bit scary--almost unimaginable.

Then as I was thinking about this, I remembered something that had happened on Sunday. I'm sure that most of you must have come across a picture of this statue, Homeless Jesus, by Timothy Schmalz. 

Sunday when we were driving from Mass to our daughter's house, we passed a man sleeping on a bench. I immediately thought of this statue. He looked just like this. I don't know if I have actually seen this before, especially in the middle of the day. He looked completely vulnerable. He looked as if he were someone who had nothing left to lose--because he was. Less than half a mile down the road, we saw another man sleeping on another bench. That was a bit overwhelming. I don't know what to do with this experience. I don't know what the appropriate response is. 

This morning when I was looking for a picture of the statue to put in this post, I found this picture of the child in North Carolina with Jesus. This is an appropriate response. I also found this story about people in Buffalo leaving gifts at the statue that is there. That's another appropriate response. But while it's easy to show this concern for a statue, it's much harder to approach the real thing. It's frightening. There's a real danger there. I don't have any answers to this dilemma, but it's very much on my mind.

Meanwhile, I see that there is now copy of the statue in Rome, and that it has been blessed by the Holy Father. He doesn't seem to have any trouble figuring out what to do in situations like this. I think it's because he sees himself as a man with nothing left to lose.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices - Injustice

 Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.              Proverbs 22:8
I answer that Injustice is twofold. First there is illegal injustice which is opposed to legal justice: and this is essentially a special vice, in so far as it regards a special object, namely the common good which it contemns; and yet it is a general vice, as regards the intention, since contempt of the common good may lead to all kinds of sin. Thus too all vices, as being repugnant to the common good, have the character of injustice, as though they arose from injustice, in accord with what has been said above about justice (58, 5,6). Secondly we speak of injustice in reference to an inequality between one person and another, when one man wishes to have more goods, riches for example, or honors, and less evils, such as toil and losses, and thus injustice has a special matter and is a particular vice opposed to particular justice. Summa 2nd part of the 2nd part, q 59
The acceptance by human society of murderous famines, without efforts to remedy them, is a scandalous injustice and a grave offense. Those whose usurious and avaricious dealings lead to the hunger and death of their brethren in the human family indirectly commit homicide, which is imputable to them. Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2269. 

Injustice also sits in the seat of authority, but there are no scales to balance his judgement. The vicious hook and barbs of his staff are echoed in his fingernails, and even in the cracks in the wall, bringing to mind our idiom, "He had his hooks in him." He appears to me to have a tusk. In his left hand he grips a sword. His eyes looked strange to me and this author says they are covered--I believe they are shut. It's interesting that contrary to our saying that Justice is blind, Giotto depicts Injustice as blind. The above author also mentions that the Virtues look at us, while the Vices avert their gaze, and that Injustice is the only clearly defined male in this series of frescos. I had noticed that some of the figures were definitely female, and some questionable. 

Below this tyrant, the scene is very different scene from that which flourishes beneath the throne of Justice. Rape, pillage and murder hold sway here. The weak have no protection from the strong. Unfortunately, the inscription is all but erased. 

I put that last quote about usurious and avaricious dealings there for a reason which will be clear later in this series of posts.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Giotto: Mercy

For a while now, my husband and I have for several reasons been thinking about leaving the parish which we have been a part of for 13 years and moving to a parish in Memphis. We agreed to pray about it during Lent, and although we had originally planned to wait until after Easter to make the decision, we changed our minds on Ash Wednesday, and started going to the new church the next Sunday.

We love it there. The church is beautiful. The liturgy is beautiful. The pastor is great. We have some friends there, and we have been able to attend a very good class on Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching, about which I have posted a couple of times, before Mass.

The church is also the national shrine of St. Martin de Porres. Anyone who has read this blog for very long knows that I have a great love for and devotion to St. Martin. It has been a blessing to be able to pray in this chapel before or after Mass most weeks.

Still, I have been a bit concerned whether this was the right decision. We love our friends in our old parish and we miss them. I wonder sometimes if there is still something we could contribute there. I worry that we are taking the easy way out. My husband, though, doesn't have the slightest doubt, and I figure this is my usual scrupulosity in action, so we plan to stay at the new parish.

In the new parish, there is a rectangular space that has in the past contained a brass crucifix over the altar (that crucifix wasn't originally there and there is a large marble crucifix higher over the altar) and they had recently decided to change the crucifix for other things periodically during this year which is the 175th anniversary of the church. This morning, we walked in and found this.

You may not recognize that picture, but it's a detail from this

I wanted to write something about the Feast of the Divine Mercy today, but I wondered what I could possibly write that everybody else hadn't already written, and wasn't writing again today. Then, when I walked into church this morning and saw Giotto's risen Christ looking at me from the altar, it seemed as if the mercy of Christ was granted to me in a very personal way. It was as if He was issuing me an invitation to stay in that parish.

Jesus told St. Faustina to have the phrase, "Jesus, I trust in you," at the bottom of the Divine Mercy painting. I think about this often because I wonder if that message does not get lost sometimes. We pray the novena, and the chaplet. We might take part in a special celebration on the feast day. But maybe we forget that the main message of Jesus to St. Faustina was that He was looking for people who would accept all the graces that He suffered to win for us, and that He wants us trust Him with everything--even the smallest things.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices - Justice

This is a model of the chapel which was exhibited
at Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv
 Along the sides of the bottom register of the Scrovegni Chapel there is a series of fourteen grisaille figures which represent the seven virtues and the seven vices. From left to right in this picture, you can see Charity, Hope, Desperation, and Envy. Note that the virtues are on the right hand side of Christ in the depiction of the Last Judgement on the far wall, and the vices are on the left. I chose to use this picture of a life size model because you can see the pictures more clearly than in pictures of the actual chapel.

I had originally planned on writing about a different virtue or vice every day for fourteen days, but as soon as I started looking at the picture below, I realized it was going to take longer than that, so I'll probably post one every few days.

 Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and enter the land which the Lord your God gives you. Dueteronomy 16:20
Justice is here taken in its ordinary and proper sense to signify the most important of the cardinal virtues. It is a moral quality or habit which perfects the will and inclines it to render to each and to all what belongs to them....Together with charity it regulates man's intercourse with his fellow men. But charity leads us to help our neighbour in his need out of our own stores, while justice teaches us to give to another what belongs to him.  From the Catholic Encyclopedia
...justice is love serving God only, and therefore ruling well all else...On the Morals of the Catholic Church, Chapter 15,St. Augustine

Giotto depicts Justice, "the most important of the cardinal virtues," wearing a crown which signifies her authority. She looks as if she were enthroned. Although we cannot see any kind of elaborate throne, any chair in the 14th century would have belonged to someone in authority. She balances the scales in her hands. According to this author, the figures in the scales are clemency and punishment, and that seems to be correct. Note that clemency is on her right hand. Each is exercising his role upon a person on the ledge on either side of justice. Unfortunately, the side figures have been damaged and we cannot see who they are or what they are doing. Beneath her feet, we see the result of her administration, people going about their business in peace, a safe home, people dancing!

In the bottom register of the picture there is a Latin inscription:
Equa lance cuncta librat/ perfecta justicia/coronando bono vibrat/ensem contra vicia/cuncta gaudent libertate/ipsa si regnaverit/agit cun iocunditate/quisque quidquid volvert/miles propter hanc venatur/ comitatur truditur/mercatores iam proditur
At least that is what Andrea Moschetti thinks it says. I don't see it exactly that way and other authors give a slightly different version. I can't translate this myself--I tried and it is way beyond my abilities--and I can't find a translation. If anyone else knows what it says, please tell me. I think it has something to do with perfect justice, crowned with good, brandishing a lance that frees all and all rejoice to be free. Something about she so reigns and somebody thanks with laughter and everyone turns and a soldier and merchants. Not very helpful, but I think it has something to do with the scene above. But the important thing is that Justice is in aid of a good life.

Ah! Now my daughter tells me that the first part is right, and the last part says something like,  "whatever you wish the soldier hunts on account of this and merchants are unmasked."

If you go to the Web Gallery of Art, you can see the fresco in much greater detail.


Friday, April 10, 2015

More From Pope Leo XIII and Anthony Esolen

From Christian marriages, says Leo, "the state may rightly expect a race of citizens animated by a good spirit and filled with reverence and love for God, recognizing it their duty to obey those who rule justly and lawfully, to love all, and to injure no one" (Arcanum divinae) ...              Are we to believe that men who are shameless and shiftless in the most intimate and most socially productive of human relations will be animated by civic responsibility and love of neighbor in their public actions, where their duties are less clear and the opportunities for self-serving almost limitless?
Every sin against marriage is a sin against the very possibility of any kind of society at all. Every Christian marriage begun in purity and continued in faithfulness and duty and love is an exemplar for all social relations and allows us to imagine something better than the loneliness of self-will "wedded," in ghastly symbiosis, to the inhumanity and insanity of economics without households, and a State without citizens. 
This is a great book. I have trouble not highlighting every paragraph.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

Who We Are

Human beings do not have bodies as a plumber has a wrench or a doctor has a probe. Nor are they bodies, simply, reducible to their constituent parts; even a dog is more than the sum of its parts. Human beings are embodied rational souls, and everything they touch they mark with the fire of their spirit, the gift of God. ... But they are not solitary atoms either, rebounding against one another in a chaotic war of all against all. For the human soul is made for love and can attain its end only by communion with other souls. Therefore, long before we meet the State, we find human beings fashioning not artificial but real bodies in turn: families and clans and villages.     

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Giotto and Dante

Giotto by Paolo Ucelli
Dante by Giotto
Once Cimabue thought to hold the field as painter; 
Giotto now is all the rage, 
dimming the lustre of the other's fame.

That quote is from Canto XI of Purgatorio. The translation is by Mark Musa. 

This portrait of Dante is from an altarpiece which Giotto painted for the Podestà Palace; however, the original chapel burned down, and so this is believed to be a copy from the original.

Dante and Giotto were good friends and Julia Cartwright in The Painters of Florence relates this story.
When Dante visited Padua, in 1306, he found his friend Giotto living there with his wife, Madonna Ciutà, and his young family, and was honorably entertained by the painter in his own house. The poet often watched Giotto at work, with his children, who were "as ill-favored as himself," playing around, and wondered how it was that the creations of his brain were so much fairer than his own offspring.
I'm not finished with the Scrovegni Chapel yet. There will be a bit more soon about Enrico Scrovegni, the patron of the chapel and why we're talking about Dante, and then another series on more of the pictures--the virtues and vices.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Can't Be Serious All the Time

Yesterday, I was feeling a bit down. I was exhausted from having been in the car for a good part of the previous 4 days, and I have done something painful to my shoulder. So, I thought I would just sit and watch a movie. I started out with The Better Angels, Terence Malick's 2014 movie about the childhood of Abraham Lincoln. It was typical Malick, quiet, wind blowing in tall trees, the story more in the visual than in the spoken word. I may write more about it later. About the time that we got to the death of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, I figured it just wasn't the best medicine for depression, so I decided to look for something lighter.

The first thing that struck me when I started poking around in Amazon Prime is that movies tend to be really serious and dark nowadays, and when they aren't, they are either comedies that seem to revolve around sex, or mushy, overly sentimental love stories. But eventually, I came upon this:

It was exactly what I was looking for. I'm not sure exactly how to describe this movie. Google says it is Fantasy/Coming of Age, and I guess it is a bit Coming-of-Age-y, but the guy is 26. It's a bit of sci-fi, but not serious, scientific sci-fi, and a love story, but not, I think, a chick-flick. The closest thing I can think of is Galaxy Quest, although it's not as funny (although it is funny) and not the same kind of story at all. It has its serious moments, but it doesn't lead you down the deep, dark paths of the human psyche or heart.

Eleven year old Joe is a die-hard science fiction fan--science fiction of the Buck Rogers sort. He is drawing a comic book based on stories his father tells him about the planet Zalaxon. Then his dying father reveals to Joe that the stories are true, and that he has a destiny to fulfill on Zalaxon when the rebellion is over. So, for the next fifteen years, Joe waits for sign from his home planet and keeps himself to himself, until he meets Maria, the woman who is his perfect mate. 

There is absolutely nothing deep, or spiritual, or improving about this movie, but if you are over-burdened and tired, and looking for an enjoyable movie that you can watch with your brain pretty much at rest, I would recommend this one. One caveat, although there are no sex scenes, Joe and Maria are cohabiting (as we are informed), and we do see them a couple of times immediately after the act. 


Monday, April 6, 2015

Christus Vincit

While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had happened. The chief priests assembled with the elders and took counsel; then they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him while we were asleep.’ And if this gets to the ears of the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” The soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has circulated among the Jews to the present day. (Matthew 28: 11-15)

It seems almost incredible, doesn't it? Even in the face of what might be a miraculous action of the God that they serve, the chief priests are willing to perjure themselves in order to protect their--their what? Well, we can't really know. Perhaps they were just afraid. Perhaps they felt their own faith to be threatened. Some of them may have been concerned about their status or their authority. Some may have had noble motives, and some ignoble. We can't really know, but what we can clearly see is that they were willing to do something that they knew was objectively wrong to achieve their ends.

We know that this is business as usual. It could almost be a Netflix drama. These are the enemies of the Truth, and sometimes it seems as though those who have given their lives to the Truth are at a great disadvantage. They can't use any of the weapons that seem to be effective in this world: lies, hatred, vituperation. They can only stand firm and insist on speaking and living the Truth. In the eyes of the world, they seem to be weak, and they seem to be losing, but Our Lord has showed us that there is only one way to triumph in this life, and that is to be willing to lose it.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I'm not quite through with Giotto yet. I plan to post a couple of things about the history of the Arena Chapel sometime this week.


Sunday, April 5, 2015

Giotto: Easter Sunday

But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her. (John 20:11-18)
Mary Magdalene who, unlike the disciples in the Garden of Olives, has stayed awake with our Lord even after his death, is rewarded for her faithfulness by being the first to see the risen Lord. Giotto portrays her where she is so often found, kneeling at the feet of Jesus.

One thing about this fresco that is really interesting to me is the hand of the angel on the left. 


It is pointing to Jesus, but the fingers are held in the position that you see in icons of Jesus and the saints raised in blessing. The hand is always held upright, but in this case, it is not. The following explanation of the hand gesture was found here.
The fingers spell out “IC XC”, a widely used four letter abbreviation of the Greek for Jesus (IHCOYC) Christ (XPICTOC). It is by the name of Jesus that we are saved and receive blessings: “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;” (Phil 2:10). 
 The three fingers of Christ – as well as spelling out “I” and “X” – confess the Tri-unity of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The touching finger and thumb of Jesus not only spell out “C”, but attest to the Incarnation: to the joining of divine and human natures found in the body of Jesus Christ.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
to Galilee he goes before you.”
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Amen. Alleluia.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Holy Saturday: A Little Hopkins, A Lot of Silence

O God, I Love Thee
Gerard Manley Hopkins

O God, I love thee, I love thee--- 
Not out of hope of heaven for me
 Nor fearing not to love and be
 In the everlasting burning. 

 Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me 
Didst reach thine arms out dying, 
 For my sake sufferedst nails and lance, 
 Mocked and marred countenance, 
Sorrows passing number, 
Sweat, and care and cumber, 
Yea, and death, and this for me. 
And thou couldst see me sinning: 

Then I, why should I not love thee, 
Jesu, so much in love with me ? 
Not for heaven's sake; not to be 
Out of hell by loving thee; 
Not for any gains I see; 
But just the way that thou didst me 
I do love and will love thee: 

What must I love thee, Lord, for then ? 
 For being my King and God. Amen.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Repository for Holy Thursday
No Giotto today. More tomorrow.


Friday, April 3, 2015

Giotto: Good Friday

Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas to the praetorium. It was morning. And they themselves did not enter the praetorium, in order not to be defiled so that they could eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and said, “What charge do you bring against this man?” . . . Then Pilate took Jesus and had him scourged. And the soldiers wove a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head, and clothed him in a purple cloak, and they came to him and said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they struck him repeatedly. Once more Pilate went out and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you, so that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” (John 18:28-29, 19:1-4)

We see here Pilate, protesting to that same figure--almost surely a chief priest--that we saw in the Garden of Olives yesterday. He is clearly very unhappy about what he feels forced to do. Instead of the purple cloak that is described in the scripture, Giotto portrays Jesus in a very finely-worked gold cloak. What strikes me the most is the contrast to Fra Angelico's image of the same scene. Giotto's mockers are very much flesh-and-blood with a schoolboy nastiness. Fra Angelico paints disembodied, anonymous hands and head, prompting us to see that they could have very well been ours had we been there.

So they took Jesus, and, carrying the cross himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. (John 19:16-17)
Jesus carries his cross to Calvary followed by the crowd of people. We see many different classes of people in this group. The first person looks quite wealthy and is carrying something mysteriously blurry. There are soldiers, the high priest, and a man who looks like a laborer. And then we see his mother, her face filled with grief. It looks as if the soldier is trying to turn her back. Perhaps he wants to spare her the sight of her son suffering so much. It reminds me very much of the time that my comatose three-year old daughter had to have a spinal tap. I wanted to stay with her, but the nurse took me very firmly by the shoulders, turned me around, and said, "You don't need to see this." And Jesus is looking over his shoulder as though he realizes something is happening to his mother.

Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses. (Isaiah 53:11-12)
The face of Jesus has always troubled me in this picture because it looks so crudely executed when some of the other faces are so finely drawn. I wonder if it is a later restoration.

Here we see several elements that are frequently found in pictures of the crucifixion: the skull under the cross, Mary Magdalene in her traditional position at Jesus's feet, the sorrowing mother, and the soldiers arguing over the garments. And then there are those grieving angels. Three of them are catching the blood from his hands and side and one is rending its garments at the blasphemy of the murder of God in the same way that yesterday we saw the high priest rending his at the perceived blasphemy of Jesus's "I Am." But look at the difference in the expressions on their faces--Caiaphas so smug--the angel in true anguish.

After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body. Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by. (Isaiah 53:11-12)
Lamentation. It's such a perfect word. Here are the steadfast few: his mother, of course, and all the faithful women, Mary Magdalene at the feet of her beloved master, John, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea, and the grieving angels. Are they thinking about the fact that man has killed God, or are they just missing the one they love, wondering how they will be able to go on without him?

All pictures are from the Web Gallery of Art.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Giotto: Holy Thursday

The devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to hand him over. So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.” For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”  (John 13:2-11)
One thing about writing these posts is that I notice things in scripture that I never noticed before. I don't think that I ever noticed that Judas was still present when Jesus washed the disciples feet. When I get a minute, I'm going to sit and think about that for a while. If you look at the picture above, at first it looks like there are only eleven disciples present, but then you can see the twelfth halo in the upper right-hand corner. At first I thought this was Judas, hiding, but then I saw Judas on the right-hand side with a misshapen halo that is black. From my reading, I believe that the halos of the other disciples were originally silver but have darkened over the years.

This fresco of the Last Supper is the one from which I posted the detail on Tuesday.

And the last event of the evening.

I wish I had more time to write about this one, but this kiss may be Giotto's most famous picture. Once again, look how intensely Jesus and Judas look into each other's eyes. What must they have been thinking? And look at Peter on the left, cutting off the soldier's ear from behind. Is that one of the chief priests richly dressed in pink and gold lace in the lower right corner? And what are we to make of that mysterious hooded figure with his back to us, holding onto the cloak of an escaping disciple? 
Now a young man followed him wearing nothing but a linen cloth about his body. They seized him, but he left the cloth behind and ran off naked. (Mark 51-52)

The high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his doctrine. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken publicly to the world. I have always taught in a synagogue or in the temple area where all the Jews gather, and in secret I have said nothing. Why ask me? Ask those who heard me what I said to them. They know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the temple guards standing there struck Jesus and said, “Is this the way you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. (John 18:19-24)
The high priest rose before the assembly and questioned Jesus, saying, “Have you no answer? What are these men testifying against you?” But he was silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him and said to him, “Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?” Then Jesus answered, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’” At that the high priest tore his garments and said, “What further need have we of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?” (Mark 14:60-63)

All pictures are from the Web Gallery of Art.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Giotto: Spy Wednesday

Judas' Betrayal
From today's gospel:

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.
Matthew 26:14-16

...woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.”
Matthew 26:24-25

Surely those are some of the most frightening words ever said.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I hope that you can enlarge this picture (click once) enough so that you can see the expressions on the faces. It looks very much like every shady deal that ever took place in a back room. Judas has Cassius's lean and hungry look. The evil one looks almost comic at this size, but not so much magnified. On a website called Everything2, I found an article that says:
...this strange image of the Devil is notable for the manner in which it echoes the figure of Judas (or vice versa), especially in the positioning of the head, hands and beard, as well as the arches of his shoulder and lower torso, which correspond to the curves of Judas’ robe.  
Although I think the author draws the wrong conclusion from this (that the devil is purely figurative), I can see what he's talking about. And what is that black shape over Judas' head? Is it a black halo, and is the reason we can't see the rest of it because the picture was damaged in some way where there appears to be a crack in the plaster? I was looking for some commentary on that when I found the above article. One interesting thing about this picture is that the frescoes in the chapel are arranged in three ranks and in chronological order. This image is out of order, coming after and not before the Last Supper. This places it on the front wall of the nave, just to the left of the sanctuary. Is is just opposite the fresco of the Visitation, and you can see, very similar in style and color--two very different sorts of meetings.

See how the color of the robes in each picture is almost a mirror image or the other. There's even a dark space behind St. Anne. And in both pictures, look how they are looking into each other's eyes.

When I started posting these frescoes by Giotto, I thought that it would be much less time-consuming than posting all of Fra Angelico's pictures last year, and it will be because there are fewer pictures and I don't have to translate Latin. Still, it is taking up much more time than I thought it would because I keep having questions about the artwork, and the questions lead me to more and more information that I find fascinating.

All pictures are from the Web Gallery of Art.