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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Saturday, 6 February 2016

ORTHODOX AND CATHOLIC LEADERS MEETING VITAL TO PROTECT CHRISTIANS



Orthodox, Catholic Leaders Meeting Vital to Protect Christians
Pope Francis and Russian Patriarch Kirill may transform the focus of the ecumenical movement to concentrate on protecting Christians persecuted around the world and to promote social justice, eminent US Catholic and Orthodox scholars told Sputnik.

ADMIN | 06 FEBRUARY 2016
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — Pope Francis will meet with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Kirill on February 12 in Havana, Cuba, according to a joint statement published between the two churches earlier on Friday.


Photo: AP/Andrew Kelly

“This might be one of Pope Francis’s most important firsts,” Catholic University of America (CUA) Theology Professor Reverend Regis Armstrong said on Friday.

Their meeting “has the potential for changing the landscape of Ecumenism,” Armstrong pointed out.

He said the meeting fitted into the pattern of bold and innovative initiatives the Pope had taken since assuming office nearly three years, ago and described the upcoming meeting as one of the pontiff’s “Franciscan firsts.”

The two church leaders are scheduled to meet at the airport in Havana, and the main topic of their meeting will reportedly be the persecution of Christians.

Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia Archpriest Victor Potapov of the Washington Cathedral said the Pope had shown himself willing to cooperate in key areas that Russian Christians had long recognized to be of crucial importance.
Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia Archpriest Victor Potapov of the Washington Cathedral said the Pope had shown himself willing to cooperate in key areas that Russian Christians had long recognized to be of crucial importance.

“I welcome this meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis. The Russian Orthodox Church has long held that churches should work together for the defense of persecuted Christians and social justice,” Potapov said.

He too emphasized the importance of the meeting taking place when Christians around the world, especially in the Middle East, faced huge and growing dangers to their faith and physical survival.

“This is especially important in our times, when the plight of our brothers and sisters barely garners any mention in the mainline Western media,” Potapov noted.

The meeting, Potapov added, would give hope an encouragement to hundreds of millions of believers.

“May their historic encounter bear fruit,” Potapov concluded.

The Christian Church split into a Catholic Church and an Orthodox Church in 1054, an event that is known as the East-West or Great Schism.

Metropolitan Hilarion: “It is necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts for saving Christianity “




Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Department for External Church Relations (DECR), held a press conference on February 5, 2016, at the DECR. The meeting with Russian and foreign mass media reporters was devoted to the Primatial visitation of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia to Latin America, which will take place from February 11 to 22, 2016, His Holiness will visit the Republic of Cuba, Republic of Paraguay and Federal Republic of Brazil.



"   There will be another important event in Cuba. Because of the intersection of the itineraries of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis of Rome, who will be on a visit to Mexico in the same days, it has been decided to hold a meeting between the heads of the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church on the Freedom Island on February 12. The meeting will take place at Havana’s international airport.

The meeting of the Primates of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church has been in preparation for a long time. Throughout the years 1996-97, intensive negotiations were held on the arrangement of a meeting between His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II and Pope John Paul II to be held in Austria, but these negotiations were stopped because of the problems on which the agreement failed. In the first place, it concerned the actions of the Greek Catholics in Ukraine and proselytism of Catholic missionaries in the canonical territory of the Moscow Patriarchate. At the same time, the Supreme Authority of the Russian Orthodox Church has never rejected a possibility itself for such a meeting in the future when the necessary conditions for holding it will be in place.
All these years, the principal problem in the relations between the two Churches and the principal obstacle for holding a meeting between the two Primates has lied in Unia. The fact that the Uniates devastated three dioceses of the Moscow Patriarchate in western Ukraine in the 1980s and 1990s, that they moved the headquarters of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church from Lvov to Kiev, that the UGCC’ mission extended to the traditionally Orthodox lands in eastern and southern Ukraine, that they supported the schismatics – all these factors only aggravated the problem. The situation aggravated further as a result of the recent events in Ukraine, in which the UGCC representatives took a direct part, coming out with anti-Russian and russophobic slogans. So, regrettably, the problem of Unia is still there, with Unia, remaining a never-healing blooding wound that prevents the full normalization of relations between the two Churches.
Nevertheless, the situation as it has developed today in the Middle East, in North and Central Africa and in some other regions, in which extremists are perpetrating a real genocide of the Christian population, has required urgent measures and closer cooperation between Christian Churches. In the present tragic situation, it is necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts for saving Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe persecution.
The Sacred Bishops’ Council of the Russian Orthodox Church, which completed its work on February 3, in Moscow, called to make the year 2016 a year of special efforts to be taken in this respect, Therefore, despite the remaining obstacles of ecclesial nature, it has been decided that a meeting should be urgently held between His Holiness Patriarch Kirill and Pole Francis of Rome. The problem of the persecution against Christians will become central at this meeting.
Throughout the recent years, numerous proposals have been coming in concerning the venue of such a meeting. However, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill, from the very beginning, did not want it to take place in Europe, since it is with Europe that the grave history of divisions and conflicts between Christians is associated. The coincidence of the date of Patriarch Kirill’s visit to Latin American countries with that of the Pope of Rome’s visit to Mexico has become an opportunity for holding the meeting in the New World, and we hope that it will open a new page in the relations between the two Churches. Along with the main topic – the situation of Christians in the Middle East and other regions in which they are subjected to persecution, the talk will also involve the pressing problems of the bilateral relations and international policy. The meeting will be concluded with the signing of a joint statement.
On February 14 and 15, His Holiness Kirill will visit the Republic of Paraguay at the invitation of President Horacio Manuel Cartes. The visit will become a historical memory tribute to the Russian émigrés who made a considerable contribution to Paraguay’s development in the 1920s-30s, by undertaking research expeditions to the regions difficult of access for studying the mode of life of local Indians and by teaching in local universities.
On February 15, the Day of the Meeting of the Lord, His Holiness the Patriarch will celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the Russian church of the Protecting Veil of Our Lady in Asuncion. Then he will the Russian part of the city cemetery to conduct the Office for the Dead. On the same day, His Holiness will meet with President Horacio Manuel Cartes and our compatriots living in that country.
His Holiness’s visit to Brazil is timed to the 95th anniversary of the day when 1217 Russian refugees arrived in Rio de Janeiro from Gallipoli and the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Russian Orthodox Church’s diocese of Argentina and South America, in which Brazil occupies an important place.
The program will begin with a visit to the capital city of Brasilia, where His Holiness will meet with the President of the Federative Republic of Brazil Ms Dilma Rousseff. Then His Holiness will visit Rio de Janeiro to celebrate a thanksgiving on Mountain Corcovado at the Statue of Christ the Redeemer. He will also visit the Russian Orthodox church of the Holy Martyr Zinaida and meet with Cardinal Orani João Tempesta, Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro. The visit to Brazil will be concluded on Sunday, February 21, with a visit to São Paulo, where His Holiness will celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In the evening of the same day, His Holiness and his party will fly to Moscow.”

Russian Catholics place high hopes on meeting of Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill
ADMIN | 06 FEBRUARY 2016
Moscow, February 5, Interfax - Russian Catholics are hopeful that a meeting between Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia and Pope Francis in Havana on February 12 will help unite all efforts to protect Christians from persecution and genocide.

“The pope has regularly met with the heads of different Orthodox churches. A meeting with the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, as the largest of them, will serve as a crucial milestone not only in strengthening the Orthodox-Catholic dialogue, but, first and foremost, will help unite the Christians’ efforts to defend fundamental values and primarily protect the Christians themselves from persecution,” the secretary general of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Russia, Priest Igor Kovalevsky, told Interfax-Religion.

“It is a scandalous situation that Christians in different regions of the world are subject not only to persecution, but also to genocide in the 21st century,” he said.

Hopefully, the upcoming meeting between Patriarch Kirill and Pope Francis will help unite efforts of different faiths to protect the Christians around the world, he added.

More on the Pope Francis-Patriarch Kirill Meeting in Cuba
FEBRUARY 6, 2016 BY THERESA NORRIS
my source: Inside the Vatican 

February 5, 2016, Friday — More on the Pope Francis-Patriarch Kirill Meeting in Havana, Cuba, on February 12

“Thus, in full awareness and at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome that Peter bathed with his blood, the current successor assumes as his primary commitment that of working tirelessly towards the reconstruction of the full and visible unity of all Christ’s followers. This is his ambition and compelling duty. He is aware that to do so, expressions of good feelings are not enough. Concrete gestures are required to penetrate souls and move consciences, encouraging everyone to that interior conversion which is the basis for all progress on the road of ecumenism.“Theological dialogue is necessary. A profound examination of the historical reasons behind past choices is also indispensable. But even more urgent is that ‘purification of memory,’ which was so often evoked by John Paul II, and which alone can dispose souls to welcome the full truth of Christ. It is before Him, supreme Judge of all living things, that each of us must stand, in the awareness that one day we must explain to Him what we did and what we did not do for the great good that is the full and visible unity of all His disciples.”
—Remarks of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, on April 20, 2005, the day after he was elected Pope, in the first homily of his pontificate, which made clear how central the work of seeking Christian unity must be to any Roman pontiff, and so, also to Pope Francis (link)

=====================

There are several points to keep in mind in the run-up to the just-announced two-hour meeting in Cuba between Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome — and so the head of the Roman Catholic Church — and Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, scheduled for February 12 at the airport in Havana.

The Pope will be traveling from Rome to Mexico, where he will make a week-long pastoral visit. So the meeting has been added on to the beginning of his trip.

Kirill will be in Cuba for a visit to a Russian Orthodox community in the country, and after meeting the Pope, he will proceed to visit other Russian Orthodox communities in several countries in South America. So the meeting has been inserted into the middle of his continental visit schedule.

(1) The importance of the meeting.
  • Such a meeting has never occurred before.
  • Because it is unprecedented, it is of world-historical importance.
  • It is of importance for the history of the Church, that is, for the history of the Christian faith. It is also, therefore, important for salvation history.
  • Finally, it is important for the history of Western culture, and therefore for the history of the world.


(2) Prior attempts to have such a meeting.

Such a meeting almost occurred 20 years ago between Pope St. John Paul II and Patriarch of Moscow Alexi II.

But that meeting was canceled at the last minute, for reasons that have never been made entirely clear, and it has been postponed each year since, for two decades now.

(3) Reasons the meeting has not been held.

The postponement of such a meeting has largely been due to disagreements involving:

(a) alleged Catholic “proselytism” among the Orthodox Russians in Russia;

(b) theological and pragmatic disagreements between the two Churches over the existence and activity of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine.

Note: The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church dates back to 1596, when it reunited with Rome. Then, some 350 years later, Stalin suppressed the Church, declaring it illegal in 1946. The Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church went underground for 45 years, re-emerging only after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It is based primarily in the western part of Ukraine, in the area close to Catholic Poland and Catholic Austria. It is a Church which celebrates its liturgies according to the Eastern (Byzantine) rite — just as the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox do — but is in communion with Rome, and so is a part of the Catholic Church. The Russian Orthodox Church itself has a strong presence in Ukraine — about one-third of the Russian Church’s bishops are in Ukraine.

This is the background of disputes during the past 25 years over who owns churches which were Catholic prior to 1946, then Orthodox between 1946 and 1991, then Catholic again after 1991, and are today claimed by both Churches.

(3) The “diplomacy of music” and of “exchange of gifts.”

In recent years, the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox have been in contact through many and diverse channels, creating a number of opportunities for conversation and improved mutual understanding.

These channels included exchanges of gifts, including musical exchanges (concerts), which were effective in allowing contacts to take place in a non-polemical context.

(a) A key moment in this process was the decision of Pope John Paul II, in the last months of his life, to return to the Russians the much-revered Russian icon known as The Icon of the Blessed Mother of Kazan, a “wonder-working” icon which is known popularly in Russia as “the Protection of Russia.”

The icon returned to Russia on August 28, 2004, and is now in the Cathedral of Kazan.

(b) Another key moment came in Rome on March 29, 2007, when a Russian orchestra and choir presented The Passion According to St. Matthew, composed by the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, who has now become the “foreign minister” of the Russian Orthodox Church (our magazine helped to organize that concert, which took place in the Auditorium on via della Conciliazione).

(c) Another key moment came on December 17, 2007, when a second composition by Hilarion, called Christmas Oratorio, was presented in Washington D.C. in the largest Catholic Church in the United States, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, to a standing-room only audience.

At the same time, a moving exhibit on “The Spiritual Renewal of Russia,” which included a wooden icon of Mary pierced by bullet holes, was offered in the crypt of the basilica (our magazine also helped to organize that concert and exhibit).

(d) Still another key moment came on May 20, 2010, when Benedict XVI attended a concert in Rome in which a number of the pieces had been composed by Hilarion.

Hilarion attended that concert and sat next to Pope Benedict during the performance.

(e) A pivotal moment also came on November 12, 2013, when a “Concert for Peace” was presented in Rome in honor of Pope Francis following the Pope’s calling of a day of prayer for peace in Syria and the Middle East in September, 2013 (our magazine and our Urbi et Orbi Foundation for Church Unity also helped to organize that concert).

(f) Finally, on December 17, 2015, in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, the choir of the Moscow Patriarchate sang alongside the Sistine Chapel choir, the choir of the Pope, as a gift to Pope Francis on his 79th birthday, which fell on that day. Pope Francis was not in attendance at the concert, but Cardinal Kurt Koch was.

All of these events — and many others too numerous to list — made up the “diplomacy of music” and the “diplomacy of gifts” which helped prepare the way for this historic meeting schedued to take place in Havana, Cuba.

(4) Why now?

It is not entirely clear why the meeting is being held precisely now, in Cuba, and announced publicly only a week before it takes place.

Both leaders are clearly concerned about the dramatic turn of events now occurring in Syria, and have publicly lamented and warned about the dangers of a wider war.

Since August, Russian troops have been directly engaged in Syria, in a battle against the forces of ISIS seeking to overthrow the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad.

Recently, the events in Syria have taken on an even more dangerous complexion.

As of this writing, there are unconfirmed reports that thousands of Turkish troops are massing on the Syrian border in what seems to be a prelude to an incursion.

Since Russia is now in Syria, defending the Assad regime, such an incursion might lead to Russian casualties, with the possibility of igniting a conflict between Russia and Turkey.

Since Turkey is a member of NATO, such a conflict would have the potential of growing wider.

Pope Francis on several occasions has alluded to the danger of a “Third World War” developing from the various conflicts now occurring in the Middle East, the Ukraine, and elsewhere.

It seems possible that, in this context, Francis and Kirill both desire to have a face-to-face talk, to exchange views and information without any intermediary.

It is well-known that Kirill is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has openly declared his support of Russian Orthodoxy in post-Soviet Russia.

In this context, the meeting takes on the significance of a possible effort by two religious leaders to forestall the eruption of a wider war in the Middle East, which could spread outside of the Middle East.

And the choice of Cuba for the meeting — the place where a conflict between the West and the Soviet Union almost erupted in 1962 at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis — seems, in this context, fitting.

(5) What will be the result of the meeting?

It is impossible to know, of course, but clearly a new historical phase is opening up.

The two religious leaders are concerned first of all about spiritual matters, the lives of their Churches, the lives of Christian believers, the preaching of the message of Christ in the world, the ending of the Great Schism of 1054, which has divided Catholics and Orthodox since that time — now almost 1,000 years.

But they are also concerned about the events of our time, particularly the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, where 2,000-year-old Christian communities — some still speaking the Aramaic language used by Jesus himself — are being threatened, scattered, and killed.

It is believed that the common statement that Pope Francis and Kirill will sign will address this ongoing persecution, and call for action to protect the Christians of the Middle East.

At the same time, even though some unresolved theological disagreements remain, the leaders of the two Churches are expected to call for collaboration in defense of certain fundamental values and institutions, like the dignity of human life and the defense of the traditional family.

So two important Christian leaders will be meeting for the first time, and the world will be watching with considerable interest to see what results from their meeting.

========================

My friend Peter Anderson of Seattle, Washington, who has followed developments in the Orthodox Churches for more than 30 years, today sent me this email. It is worth sharing…

========================

By Peter Anderson

Father Hyacinthe Destivelle, O.P., of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity gave a very interesting interview today to Philippa Hitchen of the English-language service of Vatican Radio (link).

Father Hyacinthe is responsible for the Vatican’s relations with the Slavic Orthodox Churches and was probably the person most involved at the Vatican for working out certain details of the Havana meeting between Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill.

Father Hyacinthe speaks fluent Russian and was the pastor of the Catholic Basilica of St. Catherine of Alexandria in St. Petersburg, Russia, immediately prior to his assignment to the Vatican in 2013.

Both Cardinal Koch and Father Hyacinthe will be in Havana for the meeting.

According to Father Hyacinthe, the personal conversation between the Pope and the Patriarch “will be a long encounter – almost two hours.”

After the encounter, there will be an exchange of gifts between the Patriarch and the Pope.

Then there will the signing of a joint declaration.

Father Hyacinthe states that “it is a long declaration.”

He adds: 

“it will be a declaration of different aspects of collaboration, of testimony that the Russian Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church can give to our world today. Probably important aspects will be the question of the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, the question of secularization, the question of the protection of life from its beginning to its natural end, the question of family, marriage, and youth, and other important things to give a common testimony to the world today. But it will not be a theological assessment. The role of this meeting is in the frame of the dialogue of charity.”

Father Hyacinthe, who is from France, also gave an interview to the French-language service of Vatican Radio (link).

This common declaration to the world will probably cover a number of the points that will be also made by the 14 autocephalous (independent or “self-headed”) Orthodox Churches in their message to the world when the pan-Orthodox Council meets in June on the island of Crete.

A detailed summary of Metropolitan Hilarion’s remarks to the press (in Moscow) after the announcement of the Havana meeting have now been posted in English (link).

In his remarks, Metropolitan Hilarion stressed that in view of the persecution Christians, “it is necessary to put aside internal disagreements and unite efforts for saving Christianity in the regions where it is subjected to the most severe persecution.”

The attention given by the world to the historic Havana meeting will probably equal or exceed the great attention given by the world media to the meetings (in the past two years) between the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Pope Francis.

Anderson concludes: 

“I believe that Pope Francis was concerned that his very close friendship with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew not be construed as a lack of interest in a good relationship with Patriarch Kirill. The Havana meeting has the practical, and perhaps unintended, advantage to Moscow in that it will show that Moscow is not ‘playing second fiddle’ to Constantinople.”

Excerpts from ABC News 

Although next week’s meeting is significant, observers of both the Russian and Western churches said it represented more of a pragmatic step to unite efforts to preserve Christian communities threatened with annihilation in the Middle East, rather than a serious move toward reunification.

“The meeting has a political, a humanitarian significance,” said Yevgeny Nikiforov, a prominent Russian historian of the Church who helps run an Orthodox radio station. “But it has no divine significance.”

The reasons why the two have decided now to meet are complex. The initiative for the meeting appeared to have first come from the Vatican, with Francis telling Kirill in 2014, “I’ll go wherever you want. You call me and I’ll go,” according to The Associated Press.

John Julius Norwich, a bestselling historian of the Byzantine Empire, as well as of the papacy, said he believed the meeting was likely part of a broader effort by Francis to try and strengthen a Catholic church under assault by changing lifestyles in South America and mass violence in the Middle East.

“Christianity is being threatened on every side and he wants to strengthen all the internal bonds he possibly can,” Norwich said.

But Diarmaid MacCulloch, an Oxford University professor and author of an authoritative history of Christianity, believes the rapprochement is, in fact, the result of a fracture within Orthodoxy itself.

MacCulloch said he thought the Russian side’s participation was likely part of a “grand strategy” to position the Moscow Patriarchate as the supreme representative of Orthodox believers, displacing the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, who currently formally heads the faith but whose influence in practice falls far short of Moscow’s.

“It’s a huge, bitter power struggle,” MacCulloch said. “What’s going on in the Orthodox world is that the Moscow Patriarchate is waging a very determined bid to be supreme in the Orthodox world.”

The Moscow Patriarchate oversees the world’s largest number of Orthodox believers and views itself as having inherited the seat of the church after Constantinople was sacked by Muslim armies in the 15th Century. Under President Vladimir Putin’s rule, the Russian church has become increasingly assertive, MacCulloch said, and that by meeting with the pope, it hoped to present itself as the voice of Orthodoxy.

MacCulloch said the Russian church was effectively “parking tanks on the lawns of other churches.”


Still, most observers viewed the meeting as a positive development, although they said they struggled to see how far reconciliation could go, given the centuries of hostility and compacted dogmatic dispute between the two churches.

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The Vatican has asked for the prayers of all Catholics, and of all Christians, for the success of this meeting between the Patriarch of Moscow and the Bishop of Rome.


Friday, 5 February 2016

THE POPE TO MEET THE PATRIARCH OF MOSCOW ON FEBRUARY 12TH // THE COSMIC LITURGY AND THE MIND OF THE CREATOR by DAVID CLAYTON


my source: Vatican Radio

05/02/2016 12:14:
(Vatican Radio)  It was announced on Friday that Pope Francis will hold a meeting with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia in Cuba on February 12th. It marks the first ever such meeting between a Roman Pontiff and the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Please find below the Joint Press Release of the Holy See and of the Patriarchate of Moscow:

The Holy See and the patriarchate of Moscow are pleased to announce that, by the grace of God, His Holiness Pope Francis and His Holiness Patriarch Kirilll of Moscow and All Russia will meet on February 12th next. Their meeting will take place in Cuba, where the Pope will make a stop on his way to Mexico, and where the Patriarch will be on an official visit. It will include a personal conversation at Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, and will conclude with the signing of a joint declaration. 


This meeting of the Primates of the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, after a long preparation, will be the first in history and will mark an important stage in relations between the two Churches.

 The Holy See and the Moscow Patriarchate hope that it will also be a sign of hope for all people of good will. They invite all Christians to pray fervently for God to bless this meeting, that it may bear good fruits.


my source: The Thomas More College of Liberal Arts
 
Giotto's Chapel in which he illustrates the cosmic scope
of Christianity, and hence, of Liturgy. 
He made the moon also to serve in its season, to mark the times and to be an everlasting sign. From the moon comes the sign for the feast days, a light that wanes when it reaches to the full. The month is named for the moon, increasing marvellously in its phases, an instrument of the host on high shining forth in the firmament of heaven.
–Sir 42/43[1]

Look how the floor of HeavenIs thick inlaid with patines of bright goldThere’s not the smallest orb that thou beholdestBut in his motion like an angel singsStill quiring to the young-eyed cherubimsSuch harmony is in immortal souls
–Lorenzo in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice

The Cosmic Liturgy


The natural order can be described mathematically. Even before the advent of modern science, the ancients were aware of this, as they observed changes and movements of the constellations in the night sky. Most ancient peoples (Babylonian, Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Greek, Roman, Mayan, Inca, and Aztec) observed these in great detail. They believed that the celestial bodies and the seasonal changes were controlled by mysterious powers or gods. For Christians, a single God controls all, but the stars and the planets are signs of the rhythms of heaven, to which the material world points.

The focal point for the meeting of the material and the spiritual is in the liturgy – the formal worship of the Church. All creation participates in a liturgy of praise to God. The book of Revelation describes the timeless heavenly liturgy; the Mass and Divine Office are a participation in this same liturgy. The physical and the spiritual come together in a single point in the body and blood of Christ, in the Eucharist. Everything else unfolds from this. Liturgy is not something that is confined to the services taking place in a church. Creation, through its being, is seen as giving liturgical praise to God. As Erik Peterson writes:

“The worship of the Church is not the liturgy of a human religious society, connected with a particular temple, but worship which pervades the whole universe and in which sun, moon, and all the stars take part…. The Church is no purely human religious society. The angels and saints in heaven belong to her as well. Seen in this light, the Church’s worship is no merely human occasion. The angels and the entire universe take part in it.”[2]

The Canticle of Daniel,[3] which is chanted in the Divine Office, calls upon all of creation to bless the Lord, including the sun and moon, stars of the heavens, clouds of the sky, showers and rain. How can the conformity of the natural world to the patterns of heaven be interpreted as giving praise to the Lord? This becomes clearer when we consider why God made creation. He made it that through our perception of it, we might come to know Him. Creation is made for us and we have a special place within it. The study of Creation and how we perceive it can provide knowledge of its Creator, and it is for example the basis of much of the work of the ancient Greek philosophers on the subject. This knowledge is completed in the Christian Faith by God revealing the full truth to us himself, in the person of Christ. This revelation provides us with those truths that can never be known by reason alone, such as the Trinity, referred to as the ‘mysteries’. Aside from the mysteries, creation speaks to us of the Creator in a way that is perceived at a deep, intuitive pre-conscious level when we recognise its beauty. When creation speaks to us in this way it ‘gives praise’ to the Lord. It is a praise that we are made to hear. As St Athanasius puts it: ‘Because an impress of Wisdom has been made in us and is found in all the works of creation, it is natural that the true creative Wisdom should apply to itself what belongs to its impress, and say: “The Lord created me in His work.”’[4] It is the underlying order of creation, the ‘impress of Wisdom’ that we recognise as beauty.
Ghent Alterpiece

As a part of God’s creation, albeit holding a special place, mankind and the angels give praise through their existence too. But they have free will and have the additional capacity to praise God, and to offer him thanksgiving through choice. This capacity is something that marks mankind out from the rest of creation, including other animate beings. In discerning how to harmonize his work of praise and gratitude to God – his liturgical activity – to that of heaven, man takes his cue, as it were, from the cosmos.

Christian cosmology is the study of the patterns and rhythms of the planets and the stars with the intention of ordering our work and praise to the work and praise of heaven, that is, the heavenly liturgy. The liturgical year of the Church is based upon these natural cycles. The date of Easter, for example, is calculated according to the phases of the moon. The purpose of earthly liturgy, and for that matter all Christian prayer, cannot be understood without grasping its harmony with the heavenly dynamic and the cosmos. The earthly liturgy should evoke a sense of the non-sensible aspect of the liturgy through its dignity and beauty. All our activities within it: kneeling, praying, standing, should be in accordance with the heavenly standard; the architecture of the church building, and the art and music used should all point us to what lies beyond it and give us a real sense that we are praising God with all of his creation and with the saints and angels in heaven.  Pope Benedict XVI is sensitive to this dimension of Christian life and his little book The Spirit of the Liturgy seems devoted to awakening us to this. He discussed the importance of orienting church buildings and the Mass to the East, to face the rising sun, the symbol of the Risen One:

“The cosmic symbol of the rising sun expresses the universality of God above all particular places…But…this turning toward the east also signifies that cosmos and saving history belong together. The cosmos is praying with us. It, too, is waiting for redemption. It is precisely this cosmic dimension that is essential to Christian liturgy. It is never performed solely in the self-made world of man. It is always a cosmic liturgy. The theme of creation is embedded in Christian prayer. It loses its grandeur when it forgets this connection.”[5]

But why would we want to have a liturgical life at all? One reason is the desire of believers to worship him well by giving Him our thanks and praise, as an end in itself simply because we love God. Another reason is that if we participate in the liturgy fully, it becomes an ordering principle for the whole of our lives; that is, by participating in an earthly liturgy that is in harmony with heaven, we receive grace that flows through our lives and overflows into the world. The liturgy is a portal that ushers the presence of God into our lives and (through our participation) the lives of others around us.

If we want to increase our collective ability to conform to grace, we should strive to make our liturgy conform to that in heaven. Canon law is the way that we do this. The rubrics of the Mass are gifts from God that can guide us so that we can love him more, and open us, and so the world, to the grace of God. And number is an essential part of this, through the rhythmical repetitions of prayer and words, through posture, and in the production of beautiful music, art, and architecture that is “liturgical” even when it has a secular use.

The patterns observed in the cosmos are described using number. The beauty of number is that once its significance has been discerned, that symbolism can transferred, so to speak, and applied to any aspect of our lives through the ordering time, space, art, music in accordance with it. This is its special mystery. When we apply the liturgical numbers of the cosmos to the rhythms and actions of our lives extending beyond that part lived in the church building, the whole of life becomes infused with a liturgical rhythm. We can imbue all our activities and work with a heavenly grace and beauty if the application of this symbolism is appropriate to that to which it is applied.


In the sixth century AD, St Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine Order, underlined an aspect of “liturgical number” in chapter 16 of his Rule by looking to the Old Testament: “the prophet says: ‘Seven times daily I have sung your praises’ [Psalm 119:164]. We will cleave to this sacred number if we perform our monastic duties at Lauds, Prime, Tierce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.” Man cannot address his attention to prayer constantly, but must attend to the needs of life. These seven occasions of prayer during the day are seven portals through which grace pours into the daily life and to the degree we cooperate, sanctifies the times between prayer by integrating them with the cosmic rhythm of the liturgy.

The connection with the mind of the Creator

There are three ways in which one can discern significance in number:

Revelation through scripture.
Observation of the natural world.
Consideration of numbers significant in the abstracted world of mathematics.
The second and third are Christian traditions that stem originally from ancient Greece and the philosopher Pythagoras[6]; but are nevertheless consistent with the principles given in scripture.


Pope Benedict XVI discusses the mathematical ordering of time, space and matter in his book the Spirit of the Liturgy. An extended quotation from this work is justified, in order to sum up and extend all that has been said so far.

“Among the Fathers, it was especially St Augustine who tried to connect this characteristic view of the Christian liturgy with the world view of Greco-Roman antiquity. In his early work ‘On Music’ he is still completely dependent on the Pythagorean theory of music. According to Pythagoras the cosmos was constructed mathematically, a great edifice of numbers. Modern physics, beginning with Kepler, Galileo and Newton, has gone back to this vision and, through the mathematical interpretation of the universe, has made possible the technological use of its powers. For the Pythagoreans, this mathematical order of the universe (‘cosmos’ means ‘order’!) was identical with the essence of beauty itself. Beauty comes from meaningful inner order. And for them this beauty was not only optical but also musical. Goethe alludes to this idea when he speaks of the singing contest of the fraternity of the spheres: the mathematical order of the planets and their revolutions contains a secret timbre, which is the primal form of music. The courses of the revolving planets are like melodies, the numerical order is the rhythm, and the concurrence of the individual courses is the harmony. The music made by man must, according to this view, be taken form the inner music and order of the universe, be inserted into the ‘fraternal song’ of the ‘fraternity of the spheres’. The beauty of music depends on its conformity to the rhythmic and harmonic laws of the universe. The more that human music adapts itself to the musical laws of the universe, the more beautiful it will be.
“St Augustine first took up this theory and then deepened it. In the course of history, transplanting it into the worldview of faith was bound to bring with it a twofold personalization. Even the Pythagoreans did not interpret the mathematics of the universe in an entirely abstract way. In the view of the ancients, intelligent actions presupposed an intelligence that caused them. The intelligent, mathematical movements of the heavenly bodies were not explained, therefore, in a purely mechanical way; they could only be understood on the assumption that the heavenly bodies were animated, were themselves ‘intelligent’. For Christians, there was a spontaneous turn at this point from the stellar deities to the choirs of angels that surround God and illumine the universe. Perceiving the ‘music of the cosmos’ thus becomes listening to the song of angels, and the reference to Isaiah chapter 6 (‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ Isaiah 6:1-3) naturally suggests itself.
“But a further step was taken with the help of the Trinitarian faith, faith in the Father, the Logos, and the Pneuma. The mathematics of the universe does not exist by itself, nor, as people now came to see, can it be explained by stellar deities. It has a deeper foundation: the mind of the Creator. It comes from the Logos, in whom, so to speak, the archetypes of the world’s order are contained. The Logos, through the Spirit, fashions the material world according to these archetypes. In virtue of his work in creation, the Logos is, therefore, called the ‘art of God’ (ars = techne!). The Logos himself is the great artist, in whom all works of the art – the beauty of the universe – have their origin. To sing with the universe means, then, to follow the track of the Logos and to come close to him. All true human art is an assimilation to the artist, to Christ, to the mind of the Creator. The idea of the music of the cosmos, of singing with angels, leads back again to the relation of art to logos, but now it is broadened and deepened in the context of the cosmos. Yes, it is the cosmic context that gives art in the liturgy both its measure and its scope. A merely subjective ‘creativity’ is no match for the vast compass of the cosmos and for the message of beauty. When a man conforms to the measure of the universe, his freedom is not diminished but expanded to a new horizon.”[7]

The beauty of the cosmos and the Beauty of God
Eglise Saint Denis, Paris.
An artist who seeks to tap into a creativity that draws on the ‘vast compass of the cosmos and for the message of beauty’ could do well to take this last point to heart. It is hard to see how any artist can truly reunite his art with the principle of liturgical number and ultimately all beauty if he is not himself living a life infused with liturgical rhythm.
Abbot Suger

 Abbot Suger who built St Denis, the first gothic church, in France in the 12th century, wrote as much when he described the process of the design and creation of the building. He drew on the theology of Dionysius the Areopagite as received through the works of John Scotus Erigena and Maximus the Confessor. As Otto von Simson wrote, Suger believed that ‘the mystical vision of harmony can become an ordering principle for the artist only if it has first taken possession of his soul and become the ordering principle of all its faculties and aspiration…For Suger, as to his master St Augustine, this process is not so much the physical labour as it is the gradual edification of those who take part in the building, the illumination of their souls by the vision of divine harmony that is then reflected the material work of art’[8]. For Catholics, this starts with the Mass and the Divine Office. From that foundation in Christ, we may begin to integrate all the other aspects of life. Underlying this argument is the assumption that the cosmos is beautiful; and the beauty that it possesses points to an even purer beauty, the heavenly beauty and ultimately to Beauty itself, God.
Boethius teachig his Pupils

The Church Father who is credited, along with Augustine, with bringing these ideas into Christian thought is a Catholic martyr, canonized as St Severinus Boethius, but usually known simply as Boethius. Pope Benedict XVI made a special point of drawing our attention to Boethius in a general audience in Rome on 12th March 2008. Boethius was born in Rome in about 480. Recognized as a brilliant scholar at an early age, he wrote manuals on arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy, the four liberal arts of a traditional education, called collectively the ‘quadrivium’. The manual on arithmetic and part of that on music survive. He used the categories of Greek philosophy to present the Christian faith, seeking a synthesis between the Hellenistic-Roman heritage and the Gospel message. Boethius has been described as the last representative of ancient Roman culture and the first of the Medieval intellectuals. His most famous work is De Consolatione Philosophiae, [The Consolation of Philosophy]. It was written while in prison to help explain his unjust detention at the hands of the Ostrogothic Emporer, Theodoric. In this work he draws extensively, though not exclusively, on the philosophy behind the quadrivium. His insight in applying the lessons of the study of something as abstract as arithmetic to the practical considerations of life – and adversity that, please God, few of us will have to face – can only be marveled at. Boethius was executed on 23 October 524. The date of his martyrdom is commemorated as his feast.

The influence of Boethius’s work lasted well beyond his life. For example, his works are seminal in the rise of the 12th-century schools, especially that of Chartres; Dante, who structured his work according to numerical symbolism, read him[9]; Geoffrey Chaucer translated his work into middle English and thereafter he structured his literary works, for example, Troilus and Creseyde and The Knight’s Tale[10], around the ideas that Boethius had proposed.  
C.S. Lewis
More recently, CS Lewis in The Discarded Image listed the Consolation as one of the few volumes that shaped his philosophy of life[11]. It has recently been proposed, and broadly accepted, that a unifying principle of Lewis’s seven chronicles of Narnia is Christian cosmology[12].

The reason for incorporating a Christian cosmology in these works is deeper than a superficial desire to conform to an ancient symbolism that only a few will recognize. The assumption is that human beings are hardwired to pick up information presented in accordance with the pattern of the divine mind. Nature appears beautiful because we recognize in it the thumbprint of the Creator. When the work of man is structured in the same way, we see the mark of inspiration from the Creator and we are drawn to it. This can be at different levels. If the dimensions of the page of a book, and the print within it conform to these proportions, then the eye finds it easier to take the information in. If the dramatic structure of the story being told within it conforms also to this divine model, then the author can decide to place those moments of high drama within the structure in such a way that they will have an even greater impact than the narrative alone would give. Lewis himself refused to explain the structures his stories, although it is known that he employed them, saying that they should work for the story without the reader being aware that they are there.

For both Augustine and Boethius, number and due proportion hold a special key to the order of heaven and ultimately the ‘mind of the Creator’. Mathematics might be described as the science of pattern. As already mentioned, philosophically it is seen as a stepping stone that leads the mind to contemplation of the spiritual because it can be considered as a descriptor of the material world; and can be conceived in the abstract without application to physical quantities in its own ‘world’ of mathematics. Modern science makes use of its power to quantify. The ancients saw this too, but they took it further. They equated sensible beauty (that is beauty as perceived through the senses) with the symmetry, and harmony of relationships in the non-sensible mathematical world. So for the ancients a beautiful harmony in music reflected a harmonious mathematical relationship (derived from the consideration of the relative lengths of string that produced the notes when plucked).

Number reflecting hierarchy in creation


Many modern mathematicians see a beauty in the form of a perfect mathematical solution to a problem regardless of whether or not it has a material application. But the Church Fathers saw in this a hierarchy, consistent with the hierarchy of God’s creation. The more perfect the symmetry or harmony in the relationship, the more beautiful. So this gave rise to special regard to certain numbers and certain mathematical relationships. This was confirmed for them by the fact that the writers of the bible consistently highlight the number of days, the dimensions of buildings, the number of repetitions of acts. As God’s revelation, the bible can be considered an independent and authoritative source of significant numbers. These ‘governing’ numbers could be used to classify and order the observed patterns in the universe. Indeed, the view was taken that the bible could not be interpreted properly without knowledge of the hierarchical nature of number. St Augustine wrote:

‘An unfamiliarity with numbers makes unintelligible many things that are said figuratively and mystically in scripture. An intelligent intellect, if I may put it thus, cannot fail to be intrigued by the meaning of the fact that Moses and Elijah and the Lord himself fasted 40 days. The knotty problem of the figurative significance of this event cannot be solved except by understanding and considering the number, which is four times 10, and signifies the knowledge of all things woven into the temporal order. The courses of the day and the year are based on the number four: the day is divided into the hours of morning, afternoon, evening and night; the year into months of the spring, summer, autumn and winter. While we live in the temporal order, we must fast and abstain from the enjoyment of what is temporal for the sake of eternity in which we desire to live, but it is actually the passage of time by which the lesson of despising the temporal and seeking the eternal is brought home to us. Then the number 10 signifies the knowledge of the Creator and creation: the Trinity is the number of the Creator, while the number seven symbolises the creation because it represents life and the body. The former has three elements (hence the precept that God must be loved with the whole heart, the whole soul, and the whole mind [Matt 22:37] and as for the body, the four elements of which it consists are perfectly obvious [Fire, earth, water, air]. To live soberly according to the significance of number 10 – conveyed to us temporally (hence multiplied by the number four) – and abstain from the pleasures of the world; this is the significance of the 40-day fast. This is enjoined by the law, as represented by Moses; by prophecy, as represented by Elijah; and by the Lord himself, who to symbolize that he enjoyed the testimony of law and the prophets, shone out in the midst of them on the mountain as the three amazed disciples looked on. [Matt 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-6]’[13]

Even though Augustine describes at length the root of the significance of 40 in the 40-day fast, he assumes an acquaintance with the basic ideas of significant number beyond that of most modern readers. The next article on the NLM website will explain in greater detail how the significance of certain numbers is established. The reader might assume that modern science will have undermined the understanding of nature of the Church Fathers. If this were the case we should certainly modify in some way also our reading of the significance of number. However, I am not aware of a situation where this is so once one understands how the Fathers understood what these numbers reveal. Sometimes increased knowledge can lead to an adaptation of what was described without destroying the fundamental idea. Taking just one example: the four ‘elements’ quoted by St Augustine are described also by Aristotle. The modern scientist, when considering the word ‘elements’, would look to the periodic table and see more than four and so, perhaps, reject the significance of four as constituting the material world. But if one takes element to mean fundamental part, then all matter can still be reduced to the four states, as best as the ancients were able to describe them, in Aristotle’s four elements, in the form of solid, liquid, gas and energy.

Numbers govern nature as much as the other way around. This is illustrated by the number six. Six has significance in arithmetic because it is a ‘perfect number’. A perfect number is one that is numerically equal to the sum of its aliquot parts. The aliquots of six are those numbers that can be multiplied by a whole number to give six. So the aliquot parts of six are 1, 2 and 3. Six is perfect because it is the sum of 1, 2 and 3. It has a higher degree of perfection in that it is also the product of 1, 2 and 3. It is both the product and the sum of its aliquot parts. The number six has biblical significance also because the work of creation was carried out in six working days. St Augustine notes the connection between the two and sees the arithmetic principle as the governing principle. In the City of God he says:

‘Six is a number that is perfect in itself, and not because God created the world in six days: rather the contrary is true. God created the world in six days because this number is perfect, and it would remain perfect, even if the work of the six days did not exist.’[14]

The application of this understanding is the ordering of human time into seven-day weeks, with one day of rest, mirroring the work pattern of God in creation.

Beauty and Love

There is an even deeper meaning of that ‘meaningful inner order’ referred to by Pope Benedict XVI. For the Christian it is Love, or God –  the two are the same. The poem in Book 2 of Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy is worth quoting. It describes how this ordering principle of harmony of both heaven and earth can be identified with the ordering principle of harmonious human relationships, pure love – ‘Love’ – that is God:


‘Why does the world with steadfast faithHarmonious changes put in train?Why do the ever warring seedsEternal treaties yet maintain?
Why does the sun in golden carInaugurate the rose-red day?Appoint the moon to rule the nightOnce Hesperous[15] has led the way?
And greedy sea confine its wavesWithin the boundaries it has setForbidding the encroaching landsExtend the coastline further yet?
The power that contains this chainOf natures orderings is Love.Love governs lands and seas alikeLove orders to the heavens above.
Should Love once slacken tight its reinAnd cease to order near and farThe mutual love which all things showWill in a moment turn to war.
With beauteous motions Nature’s partsIn fond compact invigorateThe fabric of the universeWhich else they’d strive to dissipate.
Such love embraces nations too;In hallowed pacts it them combinesWith chaste affections man and wifeIn solemn wedlock it entwines.
Love’s laws most trusty comrades bindHow happy is the human race,If Love by which the heavens are ruled,To rule men’s minds is set in place!

When we apprehend beauty, it stirs in us that which causes us to love. When they spoke of love, the Fathers were not referring so much to a feeling or emotion (although these are not unconnected), as to the inclination to act on behalf of others before oneself. A true loving relationship is one of mutual self-sacrifice rather than the alignment of self-interest. As well as defining the covenantal relationship with God, it applies to all human interaction, such as the love of a child by a parent, or even the service a public servant might give to the community. Romantic love, as we might term it, can be true love too, if directed towards the good of the other, rather than the possession of the other for pleasure. Human love has no power or meaning if it is not intimately connected with our love for God and, more importantly, His love for us. God’s love for us is already there, constant and unmoving. With us it’s not so much a question of whether or not we love. We all do. It’s more a question of what we love. Do we love what is good, or what is not good; or as St Augustine put it, what is God, or what is not God? When mankind loves, one might describe rightly ordered love as free will in harmony with God’s will.

Moral and Spiritual Beauty Reflects the Same Order



The principle of beauty relates as much to abstract principles of truth as it does to the proportions of a beautiful building. This leads to the idea that a good life is also a beautiful life for its possession of spiritual and moral beauty. The abstract world of arithmetic is seen as a stepping stone for the mind in its contemplation and grasping of morality. The mind that is formed, through a good education, in the symmetry and beauty of number, is more likely to reach instinctively for objective moral truth because it will be attracted by its beauty. St Thomas Aquinas stated that three qualities are required for beauty:

‘In the first place integrity or perfection, since incomplete things, precisely because they are such, are deformed; due proportion and harmony among parts is also required; finally clarity or splendour [claritas].[16]’

‘Integrity’ or ‘perfection’ relates the form of something to its intended purpose. One might refer to this as a kind of harmony also – the harmony between what an object is and the original idea, conceived in the creative intellect, of what it ought to be. Since the Fall, the order that pervaded the material universe has been ruptured so that it is no longer perfect. This has created disorder – there is no order outside the divine order. Ugliness appears where there is disorder. Just as disorder is not a thing in itself, but the absence of order; ugliness is not a thing in itself, but a lack of perfection in regard to beauty. In general, however, we would say that although the universe is not perfect, and not as beautiful as when redeemed at the final judgement, it is still good and still beautiful.

Claritas is the means by which the harmony and integrity of the object become graspable, that is knowable, by our intellects. When something is beautiful, it ‘speaks’ to us of its harmonious nature. During this life, beautiful things usually ‘speak’ to us for the most part through interaction with the senses. Claritas is often equated with a literal splendour of bright light, or bright colour. Aquinas himself used this example to illustrate the point and said that we describe things whose colours are clear and brilliant as beautiful. However, something can be beautiful in concept, even if its interaction with the senses is not literally dazzling – we can be attracted to the beauty of an idea of something described in writing, even if written in a dull, moth-eaten book. Also we can perceive a moral beauty in the actions of a good man. Perhaps even a man whom we have not met or seen, but simply have been told about by another. When we are told of the lives of the saints, their action possess harmony with the will God and claritas, a brilliance that communicates itself to us. We grasp through the relating of the story that the abstract principles of morality revealed in their actions relate to the standards of goodness and truth that we know. Quoting St Thomas again:

‘Spiritual beauty consists in the fact that the conduct and the deeds of a person are well proportioned in accordance with the light of reason.’[17]

As mentioned, claritas includes conventional optical light, but can also be equated with the ‘uncreated’ light that is described as shining from the transfigured Christ and in the book of Revelation as illuminating heaven for Saint John in his vision, and for us also, if we reach that heavenly state. All of creation exists for us to know. And each harmonious form that exists has its own divinely orchestrated package of ‘claritas’ that characterises its unique beauty and makes the truth of what it is knowable and communicable to our minds. If we are ever united with God in heaven then we will know all beauty fully.

‘Hence it happens that this universal architecture of the world is an exceedingly great light made up of many parts and many lights to reveal the pure species of intelligible things and to intuit them with the mind’s eye, as divine grace and the help of the reason work together in the heart of the wise believer. When theologians call God the father of Lights they do well, because from him come all things, through which and in which He manifests himself and in the light of His wisdom they are unified and made.’[18]

Spiritual beauty is assumed to posses harmony and due proportion very often perceived intuitively. Virtue, for example, speaks to us of its goodness even if we have never been taught that there are seven cardinal virtues. And due proportion always, in principle relates to a numerical description.

‘Since, therefore, all things are beautiful and to some measure pleasing; and [since] there is no Beauty and pleasure without proportion, and proportion is to be found primarily in numbers; all things must have numerical proportion. Consequently “number is the principal examplar in the mind of the Creator” and as such it is the principal trace that, in things, leads to wisdom. Since this trace is extremely clear to all and is closest to God, it leads us to Him…’[19]

There is a number symbolism running through the Church’s presentation of the spiritual life. We have mentioned some instances already in the ordering of her liturgy, but we have also, for example, seven sacraments, seven deadly sins and seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The seven cardinal virtues can be divided into those revealed by God to St Paul[20] and transmitted through scripture (faith, hope and love) known as the theological virtues and those deduced by reason after observation of the natural world (fortitude, prudence, temperance and justice)[21]. This follows a common division of seven into three and four, where three corresponds to the spiritual or heavenly (and equated with the number of the Trinity) and four corresponds to the earthly (characterised by the four rivers in Genesis taking water to the four corners of the world, just as the four evangelists, through the four gospels, take the good news to the four corners of the world). Catholic artists then manifest these geometrically in the design of their paintings. So Raphael, for example, in his Transfiguration, has the ‘heavenly’ trio of the Christ and the two prophets arranged within a triangle which is the geometric form of three, above the figures of the earthly onlookers whose limbs and shadows trace out the shape of a square the geometric form of four (though less easily discernable). In another example, the octagonal design of his ‘Mond’ crucifixion (right) conveys the significance of the ‘eighth day’ symbolising the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Christ. One can see the octagon traced out by the heads of the onlookers below and the heads and feet of the two flanking angels. Through this, Raphael communicates spiritual truths, appealing to us at a deep intuitive level with the form that runs through the design of the composition.

Beauty, God’s call that leads us to happiness

For Boethius writing in his Consolation, the desire for happiness is equated exactly with desire for unity with God, when we partake of the divine nature in heaven. The division between heaven and earth is not a chasm between two geographical places that can only be crossed at death; but rather a continuum between two different modes of existence. We can experience the heavenly, divine state here on earth and all of us do to degrees when we are happy. God, he says (reproducing the argument used by other Fathers) is the highest good that can be imagined. He then says that perfect happiness is the highest good that men seek and therefore God is happiness. He then continues:

‘Since men become happy by achieving happiness and happiness itself is divinity, clearly they become happy by attaining divinity. Now just as men become just by acquiring justice, and wise by acquiring wisdom, so by the same argument they must become gods by acquiring divinity. Hence every happy person is God: God is by nature one only, but nothing prevents the greatest possible number from sharing in that divinity[22].

Later he equates this good that we all seek with Love, the source of our life and our final end.

‘Love is that common fount of allAll seek adhesion to that end, the good.Things cannot otherwise surviveUnless in Love’s renewed embrace, they flowBack to the source, their fount of Life[23].

This then reveals the reason for our wishing to conform our lives and our work with the underlying harmony of heaven as revealed in the traditional discipline of arithmetic and applied in all aspects of our lives. In doing so we have joy in our lives and create an environment that tends to influence others to accept that joy too.

For all Christians happiness is achieved by the possession of the Good, God. God has already given himself to us. If we wish to accept that gift we strive to follow God’s will. The life of beauty is one infused with and revealing harmonious relationships that reflect the divine order. The beautiful life is a happy life, because we will have Joy. In order to feel that joy we must also believe that we have it. We are, in truth, as happy as we decide to be[24].

I shall give the last words to Pope Benedict XVI, in his address at Bagnoreggio, Italy on September 7th and speaking of St Bonaventure he said:

‘In addition to being a seeker of God, St. Bonaventure was a seraphic singer of creation who, following St. Francis, learned to “praise God in all and through all creatures,” in which “shines the omnipotence, wisdom and goodness of the Creator” (Itinerarium Mentis in Deum The Journey of the Mind to God, I, 10). St. Bonaventure presents a positive vision of the world, gift of God’s love to men: He recognizes in it the reflection of the highest Goodness and Beauty that, following St. Augustine and St. Francis, assures us that it is God himself. God has given it all to us. From him, as original source, flow truth, goodness and beauty. To God, as on the steps of a stairway, one ascends until arriving and almost attaining the highest Good and in him we find our joy and peace. How useful it would be if also today we rediscovered the beauty and value of creation in the light of divine goodness and beauty! In Christ, observed St. Bonaventure, the universe itself can again be the voice that speaks of God and leads us to explore his presence; exhorts us to honour and glorify him in everything (Cf. Ibid. I, 15). Herein we perceive the spirit of St. Francis, with whom our saint shared love for all creatures.’

This article first appeared in Second Spring (Issue Eight) as well as on the New Liturgical Movement.

Endnotes

[1] Taken from the Office of Readings, Thursday, Week 1.
[2] Erik Peterson, The Angels and the Liturgy (Herder & Herder, 1964), pp. 22, 50.
[3] Dan 3:57-88, 56; and Divine Office: Lauds (Morning Prayer) of Sunday Week 1 and all Solemnities, Feasts and Memorias.
[4] St Athanasius, Or 2, 78-79, taken from the Divine Office: Office of Readings, Wk 30, Thursday.
[5] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2000), pp. 70, 76.
[6] By tradition Pythagoras lived around 550BC. His ideas were conveyed largely through the works of Plato, especially the Timeaus; and through those of Aristotle in works now lost but referred to by later writers, such as Boethius.
[7] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2000), pp. 152-4.
[8] Otto von Simson, The Gothic Cathedral (Harper and Row, NY, 1964), p126
[9] Henry Chadwick, Boethius: The Consolations of Music, Logic, Theology and Philosophy; Clarendon Press, 1990, pp223, 252.
[10] Consolation of Philosophy, in introductory notes page xlvii, by PG Walsh: OUP, 1999.
[11] Consolation of Philosophy, in introductory notes page l, by PG Walsh: OUP, 1999.
[12] Michael Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of CS Lewis; OUP, 2008
[13] On Christian Teaching, St Augustine, Book 2, XVI 24-25 (Tr Green, OUP, 1997)
[14] St Augustine, City of God, Book XI, Chapter 30 entitled ‘Of the perfection of the number six, which is the first of the numbers which is composed of its aliquot parts’.
[15] Hesperus is the Evening Star and Morning Star, Venus. In Christian cosmology, Venus is the symbol of the Mother of God.
[16] St Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, 39, 8
[17] St Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, II-II, 145, 2
[18] John Scotus Erigena (9th century), Commentary on the Celestial Hierarchy [of Dionysius the Pseudo-Aeropogite], 1
[19] St Bonaventure (13th century), Itnerarium mentis in Deum, 11, 7
[20] 1 Cor 13:13
[21] They were described by Plato in his Republic
[22] Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Bk III, Ch 10.
[23] Ibid, Bk 4, Ch6.
[24] For and extended discussion of this point, see Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Heaven But Never Dreamed of Asking, by Peter Kreeft; Ignatius Press, 1990.

The Author: David Clayton


The Way of Beauty is managed, maintained, and, unless otherwise stated, written by David Clayton. David is an Englishman living in New Hampshire, USA. He is an artist, teacher, published writer and broadcaster who holds a permanent post as Artist-in-Residence and Lecturer in Liberal Arts at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The Way of Beauty program, which is offered at TMC, focuses on the link between Catholic culture, with a special emphasis on art, and the liturgy. David was received into the Church in London in 1993.

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