Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Summer of Pain

Hans Memling, Last Judgment Triptych
Flemish, c. 1467-1471
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts 
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, 
it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck 
and he were thrown into the sea.” 
(Mark 9:42, repeated in Matthew 16:8 and Luke 17:1).  



This summer has truly been a summer of pain for me.  On Friday night, June 29, I went to bed with nothing but the usual “background” pain that I have lived with for a dozen years as the effects of aging have begun to cause a narrowing of the bony tube through which my spinal cord runs.  In most places, the narrowing has been minimal but in one or two it has been growing worse in recent years, sometimes causing significant pain in movement, but not truly keeping me from doing most of the things I want to do.
The Alexander Master, Jesus Curing the Paralytic Woman
From a History Bible
Dutch (Utrecht), c. 1430
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 78 D 38, fol. 170r

On Saturday morning, June 30, I woke up to a changed world.  I could hardly walk; I could not straighten up.  To avoid piercing pain, I had to walk bent at a 90angle.  I needed a cane for support, then a walker.  Since that date I have been unable to do almost all of the things I like and want to do.  I have visited multiple doctors and had multiple tests.  The MRI tests reveal the cause of the sudden onset of this pain – a herniated disc, but also slippage of two of my vertebrae.  I have been forced to take powerful drugs to reduce my pain and to stabilize the nerves.  They help, but cannot relieve the pain even so far as to get me back to where I was on June 29.   I am now facing serious surgery to try to relieve the terrible pressure on the spinal nerves.  All this would be pain enough to occupy my mind at any time.

However, there has been another pain, which began at about the same time as my physical pain.  This is the pain of the horrendous revelations about the abuse of children, young adults and seminarians that have been brought to light by the removal from public ministry (June 20) and resignation from the College of Cardinals of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick (July 27), followed by the release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury’s Report on sexual abuse in the dioceses of that state over the entire span of my life (August 14) and the release of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s “testimony” about the cover up of Archbishop McCarrick’s abusive behavior, which he claimed extended all the way to Pope Francis (August 27).  As I write this the latest jabs of pain have come from Germany, where three times as many children are said to have suffered abuse over the same time span as in Pennsylvania, and the announcement from many states attorneys general, including my home state of New York, that they are also opening investigations into clerical sex abuse.  

This psychological pain has been as difficult to bear as the physical pain.  And while my physical pain affects no one but myself, this pain is shared by millions of other Catholics all over the world, who are angry, confused and hurting.  It is further compounded by the astonishing lack of sensible, honest action from the Holy See and many, though not most, bishops. 

Last Judgment
From Commentary on the Apocalypse by Beatus of LIebano
Spanish (Castille), c. 1200-1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Nouvelle acquisition latine 2290, fol. 160
Here we see the two different outcomes of the Last Judgment.  At the top the Blessed travel toward the left (Jesus' right hand) into heaven, while in the second tier the Damned travel to the right (Jesus' left) bound by chains and led by devils toward their destination in Hell, seen below.  Prominent in both groups are kings, bishops and priests.  However, more priests seem destined for Hell than Heaven.

Given my own disposition, I have looked at the situation with somewhat different eyes than have many of those with whom I have spoken.  I recognize in this terribly shocking situation the telltale signs of an old story, one that seems to play out every 500 years in the life of the Church.  Sadly, it’s happened before.  I think of the sixth century, when Saint Benedict was so repulsed by the decadence he found in late Roman/early medieval society that he fled to a cave in the mountains.  I think of Saint Peter Damian in the eleventh century, when he strove to reform the Church from exactly the same sins we see revealed today.  I think of the sixteenth century, when a series of popes with names like Borgia, della Rovere and Medici lived unedifying lives, culminating in the papacies of Alexander VI Borgia, with his mistresses and brood of acknowledged children, and Julius II della Rovere, with his lust for worldly power and art.  Their lifestyles, which revolted many, provided ample material for the onslaught of the Protestant Reformation, which their successor, Leo X Medici, was quite unable to face.  And now, in the twenty-first century, right on time, a similar scandal rears its very ugly head.  The church always suffers through the sins of those who cause the scandal, but She also always rises, in better shape than She was before. 

This time, however, the situation is a bit more serious.  The crises of the sixth, eleventh and sixteenth centuries took place in a more confined space, i.e., Europe and, with the exception of the sixth century, in a more unified religious situation, i.e., a Christian Europe.  Not since the sixth century has the Church faced a crisis like this in such a hostile environment as we have today.  Nevertheless, the knowledge that it has happened before and that the Church has rebounded should be of some comfort, even in what is still likely to be a very bitter and worsening experience.  We have not seen the bottom yet, and I fear we have a long way to go before we do see it. 

Last Judgment
From the Psalter of St. Louis and of Blanche of Castille
French, c. 1225
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Arsenal 1186, fol. 170
In this picture from the Psalter that belonged to the French king and saint, Saint Louis
(Louis IX) we see that a bishop and cardinal are among those roped together and 
pulled toward Hell by a demon, just as a bishop, a king and several  monks are led
toward Heaven by an angel.

In this regard art may have something to offer to us.  Because it is a visual record of the thought of the past, it can remind us in a graphic way of something that seems to have been forgotten by those “men of God” who have done these evil deeds.  They are sins.  They were sins in the first century, they were sins in the sixth century, as in the eleventh and the sixteenth.  And they remain sins today.  Sins have consequences, both in this life and in the next.  Grave sins, such as the sexual abuse of a child or young person, have grave consequences and result, not just in the damage done to the innocent victim, but to the abuser.  The abuser damns himself both in this life and, far worse, in the next.  Without the acknowledgment of and request for forgiveness of these acts, the abuser chooses final damnation for himself. 

Giotto, Last Judgment, Hell (Detail)
Italian, 1306
Padua, Scrovegni/Arena Chapel

The great painter Giotto painted the Last Judgment as the crowning image of the famous Arena Chapel, offering the image of the final act that completes the wonderful series of frescoes depicting the life of Christ. Here we are looking at the half of the painting that depicts Hell.  Clerical figures are prominent throughout.  You are invited to play detective and find the condemned clerics.  Look for the tonsure or for the bishop's miter.  Also, several clerical figures are also monks, these are indicated by the rather peculiar fact, that although their bodies are naked, they wear the cowl, a hood pulled over their heads.  You can see one bishop seated slightly to the left of the huge figure of Satan.  Naked in body, he wears the bishop's miter, and is receiving a bag of money from a kneeling figure in front of him, to whom he is indicating silence with the same gesture we use today.  Does this remind you some parts of our current situation?

It has become fashionable in recent decades to assume that the loving God who gave himself for us would never condemn anyone to hell, that he will forgive anything.  But that is wishful thinking, coming from the kind of mushy La-La land school of Christianity lite that has become all too prevalent since the 1960s.  Jesus himself is quoted by the three Synoptic Gospel writers as saying “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42, repeated in Matthew 16:8 and Luke 17:1).  

Andrea Orcagna, Fragment of Hell from the Last Judgment
Italian, c. 1345
Florence, Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce
In this double scene from Hell two specific sins are highlighted.  In the portion at the top the sin is that of Anger.  In the bottom portion, it is the clearly labeled "Avaritia" or Avarice.  While no clerics are represented among the angry, a number of them, including a pope, a cardinal and a bishop join a king and judge among the greedy.

Sin then remains sin now and it is the failure to confront and overcome our darker desires, to be overcome by them and to act on them that is at the heart of the abuse crisis in the church.  It is not specifically homosexuality or heterosexuality that is to blame (though by all accounts the majority of persons abused were young boys and young men) but the sin of the priest who acted on his sexual desire, whether its focus was a young boy, or girl, or young man or woman, or older man or woman. It remains a sin even if the object of his desire consented with him, for priests swear a vow of chastity in the single state.  That is to remain celibate in perpetuity, not merely to remain unmarried.  Therefore, it is sin, period. 

Last Judgment
German, After 1400
Würzburg, Episcopal Collection
Although by far the greatest portion of this painting is devoted to the paradise earned by the Saved, the lower right corner does portray a group of the Damned being driven into the mouth of Hell by both demons and an angel.  In the group are a pope (identifiable by his white garment and short red cape, as well as the triple crown), an emperor, a king and a bishop.  All are easily identifiable by their distinctive headgear.  Several others in the group are less distinct.

The very word “sin” has scarcely been mentioned during this entire summer, but that is the underlying subject.  It is not the fault of “errors of judgment” or “violation of boundaries” that is at fault, still less is it “clericalism”.  It is plain, old fashioned sin against the sixth and the ninth commandments.  In that we have lost a sense of what this is really about, we may find it hard to eradicate.  And this is where the subject becomes most difficult.  

Master of the Brussels Initials and Associates, The Torments of Hell
From a Book of Hours
French (Paris), c 1405-1407
London, British Library
MS Additional 29433, fol. 89r
This detailed image features many clerical figures.  Watch for the tonsured heads, the miter, the triple tiara, the distinctive red galero hat of the cardinals.  It is somewhat unusual in depicting some members of the popular Franciscan, Dominican and Benedictine orders still dressed in their habits (for better recognition value) and it includes several nuns as well.  in addition. there are also many figures from the secular world, such as kings and judges (always good bets for assignment to Hell).

In the past times I mentioned, when the church has been in crisis, there has always been radical reform.  That reform usually was so radical that it was able to carry the church through about the next 400 years.  Then, in the years between 400 and 500 from the previous event, there was a gradual loss of discipline and a softening up that lead, as this has, into the same kind of morass we are in today.    Each time, an event has occurred, unexpected, unlooked for, that turned the church around.  In the sixth century it was the work of Saint Benedict, who as a young man turned his back on a decadent Rome, and ended up founding the Benedictine order which, as it spread out across Europe, gradually effected reformation of the church and the Christianization of Europe.  In the eleventh, it was the work of a series of reforming popes and of Saint Peter Damian, that cleaned out the church and set the stage for the glories of the high middle ages.  In the sixteenth, it was the Council of Trent and another series of reforming popes and cardinals that reset the church on a firm footing as it confronted both its own corruption and the challenge of the Protestant Reformation and that opened up the splendid era of the Counter-Reformation and Baroque.  
Limbourg Brothers (Jean, Paul and Herman), Hell
From the Tres Riches Heures du duc de Berry
Netherlandish, c. 1411-1418
Chantilly, Musée Condé
MS 65, fol. 108r

Clerical figures predominate in the group of figures clustered around the image of Satan, including a bound cardinal being dragged by one demon and stabbed by another at the lower left.  

In the twenty-first century, we are still waiting for the reform that is needed.  Among the sad and painful things that I have witnessed this summer is spiteful sniping within the elite of the church, as though this were simply another part of the culture wars and an internal power struggle within the ranks of the hierarchy, virtually divorced from real people and their very real pain.  There has been a near spectacular failure of the Pope to confront this issue.  And, judging by his record with regard to Chile, he will need to be faced with radical anger directly before he will confront it.  It is not reassuring.  So far, the “reforming pope” of the 2013 conclave seems to have only succeeded in drawing around himself a group of men who appear to share in the very corruption that needs to be excised.  Without an equally spectacular reformation of thought and action, we may have a long wait for the real reform so desperately needed.

Fra Angelico and Assistants, The Last Judgment
Italian, c. 1431
Florence, Museo di San Marco
Those who have earned damnation are being herded toward the mouth of Hell by demons.  The group includes a cardinal, at least one bishop (possibly more), and several members of different religious orders, as well as numerous secular authority figures, such as kings and judges.  

We need to return to the acknowledgement that these things are sins, damaging to the sinner as well as to the victim.  Further, that they are sins whether the sinner is a lay person or a cleric.  And the middle ages can teach us something here.  They had no doubt about the fate of those who remain in sin.  Long ago I noted, with some surprise and amusement, that nearly every scene of the Last Judgment or of the damned writhing in hellfire included a sprinkling of churchmen, as well as secular authority figures. Look for figures wearing the distinctive headgear of bishops, cardinals and popes, and for the distinctive circular clerical tonsure on the heads of monks and priest in these scenes, as well as for the robes of judges and the crowns of kings.  The people saw these images when they prayed in church and they also appeared in their Books of Hours.  They were not afraid to acknowledge that sin is sin, that no state in life is exempt from sin, and that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Stefan Lochner, Last Judgment
German, c. 1435
Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Museum

Jan van Eyck and Workshop Assistant, The Last Judgment (Detail of Hell)
Dutch, c. 1440-1441
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bartolomeo di Tommaso, Hell-Luxuria, From a Last Judgment
Italian, c. 1444
Terni, Church of San Frencesco, Cappella Paradisi
It should be noted that the word "luxuria" that appears here is not a reference to our contemporary understanding of the word "luxury", as in a luxury automobile or hotel room.  "Luxuria" is the sin of lust.
Dieric Bouts the Elder, Hell
Dutch, c. 1450
Lille, Musée des Beaux-Arts

Fra Angelico, Last Judgment
Italian, c 1450
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Maitre de Coetivy, Hell
From Commedia Divina by Dante
French (Paris), c. 1460-1465
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Italien 72v, fol. 1
A bishop is among the sinners being dragged in at the bottom left and a pope is in the middle of the fiery cauldron at the right.

Hans Memling, Hell
Detail from the Last Judgment Triptych (shown at the top of this essay)
Flemish, c. 1467-1471
Strasbourg, Musée des Beaux-Arts 

Master Francois, Last Judgment
From Les Sept articles de la foi by Jean Chappuis
French, c. 1470
Chicago, Art Institute
The damned, bent figure being pushed into Hell by the sword wielding angel at the left shows the clerical tonsure.

Last Judgment, The Saved and the Damned
From Renner
Austrian (Tyrol), c. 1475-149
New York, Pierpont Morgan Library
MS M763. fol. 260v
Equal opportunity for salvation and damnation is shown here as a pope, a bishop and a cardinal are admitted to Heaven by Saint Peter, while a devil welcomes a bishop and cardinal to Hell.

The Damned Entering Hell
From a Last Judgment Wall Painting
German, c 1499
Weilheim an der Teck, Evangelical Parish Church of St. Peter
At the forefront a pope has fallen (no doubt from surprise) and is being assisted by a bishop and cardinal as he is prodded into the mouth of Hell by demons.

Charles the Fat Visits Hell
From Chronique de Saint-Denis et des rois de France
French, c. 1500-1525
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 24948, fol. 26v
For the story of the vision of Charles the Fat see below. 1 

Master of the Orleans Triptych, Last Judgment
French, c. 1500
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Robert Lehman Collection
A cardinal appears as one of the damned in the top group.

Triumph of Death
From Trionfi by Petrarch
French, c. 1500-1525
Paris, Bibliotheque nationale de France
MS Francais 12423, fol. 37v

Hans Weiditz, Hell
German, c. 1520
London, British Museum

Frans Francken II, the Damned Being Cast into Hell
Detail from a Last Judgment
Flemish, c. 1605-1610
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum
After about 1600, following the effects of the Council of Trent and the general tightening up of discipline in the Church, the frequency of depicting clerical figures suffering in Hell declined sharply.  

Joseph Anton Koch, Hell
From the Dante Cycle
Austrian, c. 1827-1828
Rome, Casino Massimo
This nineteenth-century painting shows a couple of ecclesiastical figures.  There is what looks like a friar among the group gathered around Satan and a bishop struggling with a man in secular dress at the extreme bottom left.  At around this time there was a revival of interest in the Divine Comedy of Dante, especially in the first volume, Inferno/Hell.  For example, Eugene Delacroix painted the Barque of Dante (Paris, Musée du Louvre) in 1822.

Octave Tassaert, Heaven and Hell
French, c. 1850
Cleveland, Museum of Art
This is the latest image of Hell with any reference to a religious figure among the damned.  And, in this case it is not a bishop or cardinal or other cleric, but a seemingly pregnant nun.  This may say much about the fears of the middle of the nineteenth century, but not much that is relevant to the scandals of today or of the past.  

We need to remind ourselves of this truth, whether we are a lay person, a priest, a bishop or a pope and all the more so when we are sinners.  For the unrepentant sinner who “causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42, repeated in Matthew 16:8 and Luke 17:1).  That is the message of our forebears.  We would do well to remember it now. 

© M. Duffy, 2018

1.   Hell-On-Line, a website developed by my former classmate, medieval historian Eileen Gardiner.  It can be found at Hell-On-Line  Information about the vision of Charles the Fat can be found at Number 30 of the Judeo/Christian Hell section, in the period "Before the Christian Era to 1000 CE", copyright 2007 by Italica Press

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Aching Back Update

The Alexander Master, Jesus Curing the Paralytic Woman
From a History Bible
Dutch (Utrecht), c. 1430
The Hague, Koninklijk Bibliotheek
MS KB 78 D 38, fol. 170r
About a month ago I wrote about my back problems.  They continue, made worse recently with sudden shooting pains that hit me without warning in random places and in response to often very small movements.  They are so severe that they may make me scream or yell or groan out loud, unsettling whomever I may be with, I'm sure.  Surgery can't come soon enough, if it will end this.

I have now seen several spinal surgeons and have settled on one.  Unfortunately, the surgical solution seems to be the same, so the choice has been made on credentials, experience and personality.  The latter may not seem so important as the other two, but it is a recognized factor in successful surgeries, as I have already found once in my life.  The surgery will involve cutting out a part of the spine to allow room to the nerves, removing the herniated disc, and replacing it with what amounts to a bone sandwich filling.  Then my spine will be straightened a bit with the use of screws and rods.  I am not terribly happy with this, but it is the general consensus that I need it. 

I now have a date for the surgery.  It will be October 1.  I am told that I may be in the hospital for three days, then probably in a rehab facility for another 2-3 days, possibly more, depending on my progress in walking, 

So, it may be some time before I am back in the swing of being able to properly research things in order to write new posts.  There is one post which I hope I can complete before surgery, however.  After that I will try to keep the references to feasts, etc. up to date in the right hand column, until I can do the necessary work for new items. 

Please continue to say a prayer for me if you read this note.  And wish me luck too. Thank you.