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Archives for April 2011
Sant Apollinare in Classe, outskirts of Ravenna.
6th-7th century AD.
Very peaceful. Like stepping into another world.
The mosaic in the apse, shown before is an allegorical representation of the Transfiguration. It is hypnotic.
Right in the centre of the cross is an image of Christ, see detail above.
Funny, how the Christian imagination has almost always represented Christ in the same way–long, lean bearded face, piercing eyes.
|Robert Powell in Franco Zefferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth|
See also Byzantine Mosaics the Mausoleum of Galla Placida
|Bologna is all red; it’s known as La Rosso|
|Bologna has 44 km of arcades|
|An angel sculpted by Michaelangel|
|Perfectly pointess towers|
This is our second trip to Italy this year, and our fifth trip–previous trips were Rome (twice), Florence (twice), Venice and Val D’Aosta.
One of the things I enjoy about Italy is the friendliness, the sense of relaxation, the slow pace of life. It is considered good manners in restaurants for the waiters to take their time bringing a menu, taking your order, bring your food, bringing the bill. I cannot help smiling as I watch the voluble friendly Italians. We make friends with the local grocer and patisserie owner. He gives us a diary with his email address and phone number. “Call me from Oxford when you crave my Parma ham,” he says, “And I arrive.” “Did he mean it?” Irene asks, awed.
Food is so important here. Perhaps that makes sense. If one has to eat, why not eat good food and make it a celebration?We had the most amazing fresh tagliatelle with mushroom sauce yesterday, and gnocchi with walnuts and spinach today. The breads, the icecream, the pastries are good.
On the whole, we prize efficiency and hard work, and wouldn’t like to be on holiday forever. But for 10 days, la dolce vita is sweet. Waking late, having a breakfast of a couple of trays of delicious pastries, strolling around museums and churches and medieval city centres, lunch in an outdoor cafe.
The other thing I like about Italy is the sheer beauty. Bologna, from where I am writing this, is sheerly lovely–a maze of impossibly narrow streets with beautiful red buildings with a mass of splendid architectural details. Their 44 km. of covered arcades are a joy and marvel in themselves.
Bologna as a city is probably one of the most charming I’ve visited–up there with Venice and Oxford and the canals of Amsterdam and Bruges and Ghent. The museums and churches weren’t outstanding; what we loved was the eye-candy, the narrow red streets, houses protruding into them, the medieval architecture. The sheer beauty. I don’t think my camera did justice to it.
We feel refreshed, and rejuvenated.
I love Europe and I love European culture. We enjoyed sitting in piazzas in the evening, watching the beautiful Italians, dressed up strolled around on their evening passegiatta, kiss each other effusively, talk volubly.
Is the European century over? Are we moving into the Chinese century of Tiger Mothers, people studying hard, working hard, saving money while the Europeans are spending up, concerned with image and la dolce vita.
I don’t like that thought, for there is something so sweet, and generous-spirited and gracious about the European countries we most like to travel in Italy, France, Spain, Ireland and Greece.
Then, no, I think. It won’t be the Chinese century. It won’t be the Middle Eastern century. It won’t even be the European or the American century. It will be Christ’s century.
As the theologian Abraham Kuyper put it, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’
And with that ownership, I am well pleased.
s Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”
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|Ford Maddox Ford, Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet|
Matthew 23 1-12 Blog Through the Bible Project
1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
So what to do when those who preach to you are corrupt and hypocritical? Or you suspect them of being so.
Separate the message from the man. Turn your devotion to Christ. Do the right thing for the love of Christ.
Spend more time with Christ and Scripture, and less time with the politics of your church.
Loading burdens onto people is one mark of a Pharisaical preacher (and perhaps an indicator of inner, hidden, secret sin).
(The scribes and Pharisees were two distinct groups, with some overlap. The scribes were professional interpretative experts on the Torah itself, while the Pharisees were experts in the theological matters that the Torah raised.)
5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
Jesus sums up the religious hypocrite in this brilliant phrase: “Everything they do is done for people to see.”
It may be irritating to see people achieve religious or churchly respect they don’t deserve. However, this is indeed a kind of slavery and servitude–to do everything for the sake of being seen.Never to enjoy simple humble anonymous pleasures and acts of goodness. The stress and lack of freedom this involves is not worth the respect they might gain.
The Pharisees Jesus says love the places of honour at banquets, and the most important seats in the synagogues, they love the respect of men.
And here is gets troubling, for most people do love honour, and respect, significance and importance. It is one of the great conscious or unconscious human quests.
What then are we to do? I would say that when we are aware that we are doing something mainly for the sake of appearances; when we are seeking honour and respect from others, rather than from God, it’s time to “Stop, Drop, and Repent.”
(Seating at banquets was assigned to guests according to their rank or status.
Rabbi literally meant My Lord, but it was sued generally for outstanding teachers of the law, most frequently heads of rabbinical schools.)
8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah.
11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
And here is where Jesus’ teaching gets really challenging–and this is among the most challenging things he says.
We are not to run after this sort of honour, recognition, praise and importance.
He urges us to follow another sort of greatness. The greatest person is the one who can serve others.
And he is right!!
And then Jesus makes a prophetic statement which we Christians generally ignore. That the one who seeks to exalt himself–to show off, to blow his own trumpet, to be honoured– will inevitably be humbled.
Those who seek to be humble will be exalted.
I know the former part of this saying is true–because I have seen it played out so often in my own life and the life of others
But he who humbles himself will be exalted? What does that mean? What does it mean to humble oneself? Not showing off, for starters. Taking on some “menial” tasks?
Since I have experientially proved that so many things Jesus says are true, I take the things I have not yet proved on trust.
Like his statement that those who humble themselves will be exalted. His advice to be gentle and humble. Not to show off. And that he will take responsibility for honouring the one who is humble and gentle.
ESV Jesus’s disciples should not try to gain authority over each other as teachers and masters, since Jesus is ultimately each disciples’ teacher and master to whom each disciple is accountable.
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God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts
|Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights|
Romans 1: 21-27
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
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|Tissot, Imprécations contre les pharisiens|
The woes Jesus pronounces on pseudo religious professionals, with a vested interest in their religious image, who are more concerned with image than with reality.
The seven woes echo the criticism that Christ has repeated throughout his ministry, and stand in contrast to the seven blessings of the Sermon on the Mount, which describe Jesus’s true disciples. And here we see the upside down Kingdom.
Christ views those who are in, accepted by religious people for their flawless appearance and pronounces woe on them. Conversely, he views those who are despised and rejected and poor and hungry for righteousness, and declares that in his eyes, they are blessed.
It is always better to be blessed in the eyes of Christ, rather than in the eyes of the religious establishment.
13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Woe to those who do not experience the true joy of surrender of their lives to God. They do not experience Christ’s spiritual joy–and prevent others from experiencing it too.
Woe to the leaders who have drawn people away from the kingdom of heaven, rather than towards it.
15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
They emphasize conversions, but have no joy or love or peace to offer their entrapped converts.
16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.
The illogicality and hypocrisy seriously annoys Jesus.
As is typical of their belief system, they focus on misguided superficial distinctions, and overlook the higher principles of the law. Those with faith in God, who recognize their constant accountability in his presence need only give a simple “yes” or “no.”
When the teachers of the law and the Pharisees took an oath, they differentiated between what was binding, and what was not. This allowed for evasive oath-taking. Jesus rejected such subtleties by showing how foolish they were, and by insisting that people simply tell the truth.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
Legalism–a particular temptation of religious people–to be meticulously correct–tithing garden herbs–while one’s heart lacks justice and mercy. Who are careful to avoid small sins, but are guilty of enormous ones.
See Jesus’s vivid and easily understandable imagery and hyperbole–You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel!!
They had become lost in the minute details of the law, while neglecting its overarching intent.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
The outside of their lives looks good. Inside there is greed and self-indulgence. And these are contemporary temptations for all religious people.
However, if one cleans the inside–makes sure one is motivated by love and the desire for wisdom rather than by greed; by self-control rather than self-indulgence, then one will also look good from the outside.
A moral renewal will manifest itself in righteous living.
27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Woe to those whom Christ says “Woe” over. Those who look beautiful from the outside, but inside are full of hypocrisy and evil.
One needs to focus primarily on the interior of our souls so that we are not the ones whom Christ regards, and says, “Woe.”
29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!
Spoken ironically. They would bring the sin of their ancestors to completion with the crucifixion of the Son of God.
A prophecy fulfilled in part with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70.
Those who have a vested interest in religion, who are interested in appearances rather than reality will always be threatened by prophets and sages and teachers who are the real thing.
In scheming to have Jesus murdered, the religious leaders show that they are following in the footsteps of their ancestors who persecuted and murdered God’s prophets. Abel was the first person murdered in the Old Testament, and Zechariah was the last. The expression was like our “From Genesis to Revelation.”
37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
All Jewish religious authority will collapse with the destruction of the temple in AD 70.
Christ’s maternal heart–beautiful image, “I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
2 May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
3 May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
5 May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
The LORD gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
9 LORD, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!
I loved the bright, perfectly preserved mosaics in Ravenna, and decided to research them a bit.
In Byzantine times, the greatest gift an emperor could bestow on a dependent town was a few tons of gold, glass and enamel–and an artist. From Justinian’s time, the art became a trademark of Byzantine civilization. As part of diplomatic initiatives, Constantinople’s emperors send their mosaicists abroad–their work can be seen in Egypt, Sicily and in The Great Mosque of Cordoba.
Mosaics were a favourite Roman medium before the advent of Christianity, but not always taken seriously, usually reserved for the decoration of villas.
However, early Christians with a desire to build for the ages, and a body of scriptures which could best be interpreted pictorially made mosaics the new medium of public art in the 6th century.
Ravenna’s mosaics were probably created by Greek artists from the court of Constantinople. Early Christian art was born here.
The early mosaicists sought to serve both art and religion. Using a new vocabulary of images (The Good Shepherd, sacrifice) they sought to duplicate and surpass the sense of awe and mystery still half-remembered from the interiors of pagan temples.
In churches like San Vitale, with their glorious colours, we still see the same light that enchanted the Byzantine artists–the light of the Gospels, the light from beyond the stars.
The Mausoleum of Galla Placida was one of the most magical buildings I saw on this trip.
|ceiling of mausoleum of Galla Placida|
Unimpressive from the outside, but rich and ornate from the inside. The vault shows a deep blue firmament glowing with hundreds of dazzling gold stars set in concentric circles. In the centre, at the top of the vault, a cross represents the transcendent God above the heavens. At the corners, are the traditional iconographic symbols of the four evangelists, the lion, ox, angel and eagle.
All the Byzantine churches use a similar technique–the small glass tessera are laid in section, alternate rows set at slightly different angels to vary the reflection of light and give an impression of depth. Colour is emblematic, with gold denoting holiness–or high status!!
|A close up. What bright colours for a 1500 year old mosaic!!|
|Elaborate lavish interior|
|The Good Shepherd|