Showing posts with label christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label christianity. Show all posts


Medieval Majesty: Exploring the Intricacies of 11th Century Ivory Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Journey through the Metropolitan Museum's medieval wing with an insightful look at a unique 11th-century ivory carving of Christ 'The Door' and a plaque featuring the Four Evangelists, unveiling the rich tapestry of Byzantine, Islamic, and Norman art influences.

Christ the Door
I find myself in the medieval wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, standing before an exquisite ivory carving of Christ. This piece, likely intended as a book plate for an illuminated manuscript, originates from the 11th century CE. During this period, particularly in Southern Italy, there was a flourishing of art influenced by a confluence of diverse cultures — Byzantine, Islamic, and Norman, to name a few.

Such ivory works were integral to the trade networks linking the Islamic world and other regions across the Arab world, serving as a testament to the cultural intersections at the Mediterranean crossroads. This is evident in the variety of objects within this display case, all crafted from ivory, symbolizing this rich cultural exchange.

Interestingly, this particular depiction of Christ is unique. He is shown holding the gospel book, referencing a passage from the Gospel of John, Chapter 10: ‘I Am the Door.’ It’s a fascinating symbolic choice, as Christ is not commonly portrayed as a door, despite the theological significance of the metaphor — representing the doorway to salvation. This element adds a distinctive layer to this already remarkable artifact.

The Four Evangelists
In the same display of ivory works, I stumbled upon another mesmerizing piece of history - an ivory plaque dating back to around 1050 CE. By the way — in the following video, I apologize for the audio quality; the museum is busy today!


Aesthetic Thursday: Encountering St. Firmin, the Ultimate Multitasker from the 4th Century, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Embark on a historical journey with a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, home to a striking 13th-century French limestone sculpture of St. Firmin, the fourth-century multitasker. Explore the mesmerizing world of medieval art and uncover the enigmatic saint's intriguing tale of unwavering faith, becoming a bishop, and his peculiar post-decapitation joy. 
I am at the Metropolitan Museum of Art today, and I embark on a captivating journey through time as we explore the mesmerizing world of medieval art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our focus lies on an intriguing 13th-century French limestone sculpture of none other than St. Firmin, a high-achieving multitasker hailing from the fourth-century (i.e., a Roman Catholic Saint with a penchant for carrying his decapitated head).

Encountering St. Firmin, the ultimate multitasker from the 4th century, at the #MetropolitanMuseumOfArt today. 🎨🏛️ Staring at this 13th-century French wooden sculpture, it's clear this #Saint wasn't your average holy man! 😇🙏 Quickly ascending the celestial corporate ladder, he claimed the coveted position of Bishop at #Amiens.

But here's the quirky part — he's joyfully holding his head! Yes, you read that right. A case of post-decapitation bliss, perhaps? 😂🤔 Nevertheless, he seems quite content. Go, hun!

A day well spent appreciating #ArtHistory and uncovering some divine oddities. Truly, there's nothing like a #SaintStory to keep things interesting! 💫📖

As we stand before this masterful creation, we can't help but wonder about the life and accomplishments of this enigmatic saint. St. Firmn's journey was one of immense determination and unwavering faith. Climbing the celestial corporate ladder, he eventually earned the esteemed position of bishop at Amiens, France – a feat that undoubtedly demanded great dedication and virtue.

Yet, what truly captivates us is the portrayal of St. Firmin holding his head in his hands, an expression of joy illuminating his features. His happiness and contentment in this sculpture are palpable, leaving us with the question: What was the source of his boundless joy?
A limestone sculpture of Saint Firmin
Saint Firmin

Indeed Saint Firmin is a real person and is said to have been beheaded in Amiens, France; his feast day is celebrated on September 25th. However, historical records do not confirm the exact year of his death. It's believed to have occurred during the early 4th century, possibly around 303 C.E. Miracles attributed to the discovery and translation of his relics during the time of Bishop Savin are part of the saint's hagiography.

Steeped in history, medieval art provides a rich tapestry of stories that often speak to the human experience. St. Firmn's sculpture is no exception. The depiction of a saint holding his head symbolizes his unwavering devotion to the church, even amidst the trials and challenges he faced. Also, Saint Firmin is a martyr, which means he gave up his life for his belief and devotion to Christ. In this way, martyrs are often depicted in the same way they were killed — in this example, by cutting off the poor saint's head. To illustrate that for the Christian — death is not the end, but a beginning — he carries his head as a defiance against the ravages of sin and death. And how are you doing?

Seeing such a treasure trove of medieval pieces at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is also cool. The museum serves as a befitting venue for our encounter with St. Firmn. Its halls house an extensive collection of art that transcends time, mimicking the architecture of a Gothic cathedral, allowing us to connect with our past and embrace the beauty of diverse cultures and histories.

So, next time you find yourself at the Met, take a moment to visit this 13th-century French limestone sculpture and meet the remarkable St. Firmn. Witness his joy and dedication, and let it be a reminder that happiness lies in pursuing our passions and fulfilling our purpose in life. Keep your head on properly.

In conclusion, a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art can be more than just an exploration of history – it can also be an introspective journey, connecting us with the triumphs and struggles of those who came before us. Let St. Firmn's story inspire us as we continue our paths, aiming to find joy and fulfillment in our endeavors, just as he did in the fourth century.


Tombstone at Trinity Churchyard on Wall St.

Detail of a tombstone at Trinity Church in New York City
Not too far from Alexander Hamilton's grave in Lower Manhattan, one can find detailed grave markers like this one.  How many symbols can you find on this tomb?
Possible Answers:
 htaerw; soroboruo; rats detniop-thgiE ,; nus; noixificurc; tsirhc; ssorc; xificurc; eniv eparg; ssalgruoH


Christmas Post: If Jesus were Albrecht Dürer

Self-Portrait of Albrecht Dürer
The twenty-fifth day of December is an odd time to commemorate an incarnation of a God? I agree with T.S. Eliot, though, "satisfactory." (the best use of that word in a poem is reprinted below).

Jesus, a rabbi from the first century (a century named after him, so to speak, in the year of our Lord) was born in Palestine, in the Northern Hemisphere, correct? So, he came into the world at the eclipse of the sun’s strength. The Winter Solstice (which by the way, this year was also marked by another eclipse, a lunar one). If he had born in Australia, however, he could have at least eschewed swaddling clothes. And there would have been more reason for sheep(or kangaroo) to be lowing.

How do the Australians celebrate seasonal Christian feasts? I suspect their Christmas's are void of hot chocolate and burning fires. More like surfing and tan lines to fête the baby Jesus.
And their Easter has to be a mess? But, that’s another story. Just suffice it to say, it’s a difficult stretch to celebrate new birth when everything around is falling into winter.


"Voice II" Mailed to Keizersberg With a Nod to the Times Picayune

Keizersberg is a small Benedictine monastery in Leuven, Belgium; also home to students who go to the Catholic University. And Stella Artois. The mural of the Omega Christ on the bottom right was painted by Dom Gregory DeWit, a Dutch monk and muralist. The mural can be found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Voice II is by the American Artist George Tooker. The newspaper clipping is from the Travel section of The Times-Picayune. A librarian meets her philosophy pal at the steps of the stad huis in Leuven.


Alpha Christ Mural from Saint Joseph Abbey With Accompanying Poem

Artist credit: A mural by Gregory DeWit, St. Joseph Abbey Church, Saint Benedict, Louisiana


Poem: Four Loves

The shrink’s nose told me to read The Four Loves
so i did

i read the whole book in two sittings,
even the bibliography,

sorta −

and pondered the book’s message,
you know,

how there are four loves,
according to the greeks,

those sexy helens


like how i used to love diecast cars and bowling
and now i mainly instant message.

how i used to love you in some other symbol,

how i used to gaze on you and blush.

how you ran away and closed the book.

how i came to sit and read

wonderin’ where it all went,


stitching together a story


An Interview with My Former Self (When I Was a Benedictine Monk)

When I was a Benedictine monk, I was interviewed by a high school student for his school project. His teacher had asked him to interview a person who had undergone a life changing odyssey. Here is the transcript of the interview.
Fr. Raphael often smoked a cigarette after Mass.

1. Describe your odyssey, spiritual, mental, or physical. You told me, Luke, that you are reading the Odyssey by Homer. So, it seems to make sense to start from there: “Sing to me,” the poet says to the muses at the beginning of the poem, invoking their help (who, I assume, stand in for the gods, or God). The spiritual longing alluded to in being “sung to” by the gods is intoxicating. Desiring the muses' song describes my odyssey the best. The “mental part” as you put it, is figuring out what the heck the gods are trying to say! And the physical part most likely boils down to the daily decision to get up, physically, in the morning. That, my friend, is an odyssey enough!
2. What was your childhood like? My childhood was for the most part pretty unassuming. I grew up in a suburban town, mainly middle-class. But, as a child, I had a very active imagination. And I spent an awful lot of hours daydreaming and reading books and listening to records. I loved stories and music as a child and I was very much active in drama and performing.
3. Did your childhood inspire your odyssey in any way? I think my childhood was most influential in that I was introduced to the world of knowledge — a world that has become my life’s mainstay. The greatest gift my parents gave to me was bringing me to the Public library and teaching me how to pray. I think my childhood introduction to libraries and an early memory of going to Church, influenced me more than I realize. That was the good part of my childhood. The difficulties of childhood also influenced me too. I learned from my childhood, that childhood is not perfect. In fact, we spend most of our adult life figuring out what the heck actually happened to us as kids.
4. Were you influenced by anyone to go on your odyssey? My mother read to me stories from books, when I was a little child. I think this profoundly influenced me. Also, she was probably the first person to teach me about God. She taught me that God was like a loving father. This too had profound — and also difficult — ramifications for me in later life. Also, my godmother was very influential for me. She taught me to follow my dreams but cautioned me that it would not always be easy. She told me that to pursue your desires often entails heartache, sweat, and a little bit of blood. I am thankful for her does of realism coupled with her undaunting affirmation and love for me.
5. How old were you when you found out your calling? Well, I can remember when I was about fifteen years old I wanted to do something that brought me closer to God and also strengthened my mind. I went on a retreat to a monastery and felt that the monk’s dedication to “love of learning and their desire for God” was an attractive aspect of their life. I have to admit, I did have an overly romantic view of monastic life as a young kid. And now that I am older, I don’t think I am as easily swept away by such ideals. Perhaps, I have learned along the way to acquire some of Odysseus’s practical intelligence.
6. How did your family and friends react when you told them? Well, family members really did not understand. My mother was dead set against it. My brothers were okay, but they figured it was kind of a strange decision. My father really did not have much to say, except telling me, “Do what you feel will make you happy.” My friends are very supportive but some of my friends question the validity of what they feel is an archaic lifestyle. I think they just wanted me to be happy and not make any foolish decisions.
7. Was it hard when you first began? Yes. I packed my bags several times. In fact, it still can be a difficult journey. I don’t believe our journeys are ever free from difficulties. If they were they would cease to be journeys.
8. Did you receive help from anyone who did the same or a similar journey you did? Yes, I have been blessed to have many mentors along the way. I don’t think I have ever had such a great guide as Athena in the Odyssey, but I have come close. There was one monk who told me that when he joined the monastery, he had no idea what he was really getting into. I think that is a great metaphor for life! Do we truly know what we are getting ourselves into? Hah. Probably not.
9. Would you help someone the same way they helped you? Of course. I believe helping a person find their own odyssey is a good thing. An odyssey should not be imposed on a person. That would not be a good thing. People are ready when they are ready. We all have to find our own way in the world. And a little bit of “help from our friends,” to quote that famous Rock song, helps tremendously along the way. In fact, the times I have helped people has in fact been some of the most pleasurable and enjoyable times of my life.
10. Was there a major hardship during your odyssey? Well, the life I lead now precludes me from having a significant love relationship and a family. While, I knew this going into monastic life, sometimes, the lack of a significant other and the prospect of adopting children of my own, has proven to be a hardship at times. But, looking back on my life thus far, I am amazed at what my life has granted to me thus far. I am very grateful. And I am very much interested in what the future will bring.
11. Do you ever look back and want to change anything you did or didn't do? I don’t regret the past. My fears have more to do with the future. You know, like, plans and hopes for my future that are not yet realized.
12. If you could pick one thing to change what would it be? Well, I would have liked to have been born French because I really enjoy French and consider myself a francophile but I have to consign myself to the reality that I am a Louisianian which is close enough! But, seriously, to answer your question, I have been plagued with this question often enough to realize that it leads me nowhere. There are, of course, many things I could change or would desire to change. But a person can go mad spending time dwelling on that stuff.
13. Was your journey always tough, or were there any enjoyable moments? Of course, there were many enjoyable moments. Enjoyment is something I think highly of!!! It is funny though when I think back on my life thus far I tend to think more about the good stuff. I often marvel at how I was even able to manage myself through the difficult stuff even though while it was happening I did not think the same way. One of the most difficult years for me was my junior year abroad when I studied in Europe under the most difficult professors at the University I attended. I was stunned when I got my grades in and saw that I had passed.
14. If so, name the most predominant one. Well, like I said, when I graduated from college with my degree in Philosophy, I was very proud of myself and felt an enormous surge of satisfaction. But also, I have had many enjoyable moments. On an intimate level, the most enjoyable moments have been with my friends on several travels and vacations I have been able to take.
15. Once you were finished your odyssey, how did you feel? Well, Luke, I am not finished yet!! What are you trying to do? Put me in an early grave?! I like to think of life as an enormous Odyssey.
16. Have you ever regret doing it? No regrets. It is too costly to think that way.
17. How has it changed your life? Well, I think I would have led a lonelier life if it had not been for this journey that I am on now. I think by nature, I am a free-spirit, so my decision to become a Benedictine is at first a strange one, because of the constraints put on a monk’s life — but at the same time, my life has helped me to hone my free-spirit nature in ways that I never imagined.
18. How has it helped you in the certain area? (physical, mental, spiritual). I think I am by nature a mental and a spiritual person. I think I chose the life I lead because it matches already (more or less) what is inside of me. Not that there are other things I could be doing but I tend to gravitate toward activities that I already have a natural aptitude.
19. Were these changes for better or worse? The life I lead does not always privilege the physical aspects of life. Running jumping swimming, etc. This change poses a challenge. I often have to force myself to think outside of the mental and the spiritual and just plunge into the physical activity of life. Sometimes this just means closing my book and going outside. So a goal of mine is to try to remain more physically active and not remain sedentary.
20. Are you glad you don’t have to take on your odyssey again? Once this odyssey is finished, I think I will be ready to pack my bags.
An interview with Bede Greig Roselli, OSB by Luke Bernard


Poem: "Crucifix"


Poem: "brother & sister"

    she’s a waif about to vomit her bread,
    to get ready for the Banana Republic shoot,
    the “I love it when you look at me” pose.

    she’s singularly angular, positioned on a bar,
    her brother at her side,
    singing glad hallelujahs to the boys passing by.

    Everyone loves a stare, a glance, une regarde,
    but this gal wallows in it,
    lapping up the paparazzi shots, the mental
    undressing behind the pews.

    She loves it;
    she’s sick,
    or possibly stuck in a Truffaut film.
    he loves it,

    And we are so sick that we stare anyway,
    because we know he, she, they love it.


A response to a new pope

The following is a brief response to 
newly elected to the papal throne.
Ratzinger squashes individuality; Roberts questions his rash stamp-out.
Cardinals enter the Sistine Chapel to begin the election of a new pope.
Papal Conclave, photo credit: reuters

It is true; the church is not immune to the laws of human nature, but according to the church, strict individualism that is separated from objective truth, that attempts to construct its own truth denies human nature.  Roberts champions individuality, the freedom to express one's point of view, to be an individual; Ratzinger sees individuality as a threat, liable to "dissent," tantamount, for him, to infidelity.  
Is individualism to be respected, or is it a suspicious slight to Christianity? Has modern individuality silenced human communication with the gods?

We are individuals, unique beings created in the image and likeness of God.  God gave us a mind and a heart, so we should use it to stumble upon goodness and truth.  I disagree with  Cokie and Steven's use of the word "condemn." It is not true that this pontiff condemns individuality, but he and his predecessor worry that unbridled individuality separated from truth will cause more damage than good in this world. I can see unbridled individuality divorced from reason as a poison, like an inexperienced student who thinks they know more than the teacher, but really they know nothing, or the kid who spouts out ideology his parents taught him rather than speak for himself.

But, I disagree with Ratzinger more; It is not true that individuality serves only "ego and desires".  The Church needs to realize that individuality is not going away, and maybe honor individuality a little more (just like the Copernican Revolution never went away) and the rest of the world needs to realize that objective truth and goodness should never be separated from individual conscience.


Theology: On Augustine and Pelagius

A Review of Gerald Bonner on Augustine and Pelagius

        Gerald Bonner has written extensively on the Pelagian Controversy in books and scholarly articles. Two chapters of his book on Augustine are dedicated to the Pelagian controversy. He also has two later articles on the subject in Augustinian Studies, “Pelagianism and Augustine,” a two-part series.  Also, his article “Rufinus of Syria and African Pelagianism” in the same journal is worth reading.  In these writings, Bonner writes on the origins of Pelagianism, not as a negative force in the church but rather as a positive movement that had intentions of building up, not destroying.  Bonner’s thesis is that if we begin from this positive point of view then, in the end, we can see if there are negative attributes of Pelagianism.[1]  It is a certain methodology Bonner follows: to start from “seeing what is right” about the Pelagians to a conclusion about what may be wrong about their positions; how they themselves would have looked at their movement, from the inside out, not outside in.[2]
        The problem is that we view Pelagianism through the lens of Augustine which distorts what Pelagianism actually stood for.  Looking back at a centuries-old problem, we can fail to see the man who began it all, Pelagius himself.  What did Pelagius actually say and what has been merely been attributed to him?  This is the task of the historian, to be as objective as she can be in the presentation of the facts, to steer clear from any biased retelling of history as far as possible and to sometimes relook history from the lens of another key figure.  In this case, let us look at the Pelagian controversy through Pelagius’ eyes rather than Augustine.  Of course, this task is never perfect; for, even the historian, merely reporting the story, informs history from their own vantage point, not only personal vantage point but the perspective of her time in history, the culture the historian writes from and the intent of the article.  Bonner is suggesting that history has been in favor of Augustine; so, do we get any new insights taking a retrospective look in the shoes of Pelagius?  

The Life of Pelagius

        From 408 - 431 are the years of Pelagianism, but it must be remembered that Pelagianism was not like other theological movements that found disfavor in the church because it was a local phenomenon and not systemic to the entire church at the time.  It basically sprung up in Rome, northern Africa and other pockets of Europe where Pelagius’ followers traveled.[3]   Bonner calls the modern retelling of Pelagianism “the demolition of what may be called the monolithic view of Pelagianism”.[4]   Nascent Pelagianism was not as grand a scheme as people make it out to be. Really, it is Augustine who brought the teachings of Pelagius into more universal awareness.  If it were not for Augustine’s extensive writings against Pelagius we probably would not know about it, but because Augustine spoke out against it so vehemently it has stood the test of time.[5]       
        In 408 Pelagius first comes onto the stage in Rome.  It arose first in aristocratic circles of women in Rome because Pelagius was a spiritual advisor to many women there. Demetrias, the daughter of Anicia Faltonia Proba.  Melania the Younger. All devout women of high rank -- like Jerome before him Pelagius courted single, young women of the bourgeoisie.[6]     About 410, around the same time as the Donatist movement (which is closely related to Pelagianism, sometimes confused with one another) is when Augustine began to preach against Pelagius.  Actually, in 415 The synod at Diospolis declared the writings of Pelagius to be orthodox but in 417 Pelagius was condemned in Rome.  The final stake in the Pelagian coffin was in 418 at the Council of Carthage, with over two hundred bishops under Augustine's leadership, Pope Zosimus pronounced Pelagianism heretical.[7] 
        Pelagius was a monk (although it is not quite clear whether he really was a monk or not) from the present day British Isles and came to Rome where most of his influence was felt; he was well-educated with “a profound knowledge of the bible” so he attracted the higher echelon of female society in Rome.[8]   He was probably born in the latter half of the of the fourth century.  He is different from other infamous dissidents in that there are no scandalous accounts attributed to his name, no grisly tales, and lecherous behavior: He did not die a horrible death, nor was he accused of licentious behavior with the young.[9]   Even Augustine, at one time, attested to his character.[10] Probably Pelagius was not searching for glory and fame; he was not a rabble-rouser dissident but actually a quiet man who tried to stay out of the public eye as much as he could and avoided publicity.[11] Augustine was quite pastoral in his letters to Pelagius which were later used to conclude falsely that Augustine was favorable to Pelagius’ cause.[12]   It is good to note here that Pelagius himself was probably closer to the truth (to orthodoxy) than the followers who took up his name. The third council of Ephesus condemned Caelestius, not Pelagius, who was considered apart of the Pelagian party (but to call the Pelagians a party is misleading because there is no evidence to support that they represented a strongly connected band).[13]   Maybe in the eyes of Augustine, but in reality, the movement was much more provincial than widespread.  Sometimes we tout certain ideas as from Pelagius but when really they are words from his admirers, like Caelstius and Rufinus.[14]
Actually, this is true of many movements in the church.  Jansens is less Jansenistic than Jansenists. Luther was less a Lutheran than the Lutherans.  Pelagius himself did not deny the need for grace nor did he dismiss baptism as essential.[15] 


Poem: "The Pope and Mr. Murdoch"

Others say the pope should quit
to a monastery
to live out the rest of his days,

but I say look at the gnarled hands that scoop up soup on
a Saturday afternoon at the old folks home,
insistent on doing it himself, murdoch says,
dribble of reason coagulates on the tip of his chin

and the pope rolls on like murdoch,
both stubborn in their resolve,
clutching oversize spoons,
suffering from influenza

and doesn’t he look beautiful
sitting alone during bingo,
munching on fried rice
that I had brought him
despite the MSG −

once a six pack −

and now he asks the orderly for a Splenda,
which he brings −
he tears open the package himself,
as if following a medieval rubric,
gingerly pouring the contents into his mug that reads:

what do you get when you work like a mule?

O L D 

stenciled across the porcelain
in a marker felt type.
© 2005 Greig Roselli