Thursday, May 22, 2008

Corpus Christi

Disputation over the Blessed Sacrament. Raphaël.Vatican. c.1509.

Stanza della Segnatura, was an office, library, court and ceremonial document finishing room. In this room four great frescoes were done by Raphaël (*1483, †1520). The first completed was supra. Another on the opposite wall, The School of Athens, has been far more reproduced. They are similar in construction, but the Disputà is the grander masterpiece. Its competition is Michelangelo’s ceiling. They are the climax of the High Renaissance, which ended with the Sack of Rome, by german imperial troops, on the 6th of May 1527.

The papal swiss* guard in valiant and heroic military defense were obliterated by the germans†, whom in pillage, vandalism, rape and murder‡ devastated Rome. The frescoes, being paint infused plaster walls, were not mobile. On this fresco the names, of the emperor and Luther were cut in, on two of the limned popes.
“Rome and the Pope have been terribly laid waste. Christ reigns in such a way that the Emperor who persecutes Luther for the Pope is forced to destroy the Pope for Luther.” — Martin Luther
The geometry and perspective of the painting is an architectural feat that translates theology into an icon. This image is on the centrality of The Sacrament in heaven and earth. The indentation on the bottom right is for a door. On a flat wall, Raphaël paints the vault of heaven. On a ledge of clouds and angels sit a company of saints of both Testaments. Moses is holding his stone tables, Peter has a key and so on. Above them stay two coteries of angels, below from left to right a band of historical doctors and members of the Church Militant. Some are identifiable by the books§ beneath them. Aquinas, Dante and some contemporaries are discernable. The Trinity, the Eucharist and the entire Church of heaven and earth in union. With the talent of Raphaël, depth and perspective present a quarter sphere, with diagonal rays and strong rectangles delineated. But, the central axis proves the highest theological demonstration. Raphaël paints a theological geometry. And the focus is the Sacrament.

God the Father, God the Sun, God the Holy Spirit and the Eucharist, displayed in a monstrance are in a direct line. Their Unity is allegorically shown. Jesus is flanked by His Mother and John the Baptist. And this Communion invites us, to join.

There is so very much in this painting. This was completed before the protestant heresies came. The centrality of the Eucharist in our universe is portrayed. An item of instructive humor is the location of the Bird. It can be hypothesised, that, if the Bird (the representation of the Holy Spirit) was positioned between the Father and the Son, then the eastern interpretation (and the only real difference between the Catholicism of the west and the Orthodoxy of the east) of the Spirit proceeding from only the Father, would be asserted; but Raphaël being the exacting draftsman, he was, portrays the Spirit proceeding from both the Father and the Son. On either side of the Holy Spirit are putti holding the four Gospels inspired by Him.

To-day is the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, traditionally Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body (and Blood) of Christ. Now, in Holy Week, which is so solemn and grave, Thursday saw the institution of the Eucharist; but this wonderful Sacrament that is an ever continuing gift to us is not, cannot be, festively celebrated. The Eucharist is in repose. Now, to-day it can be festively celebrated. After mass was celebrated there would be colorful and joyful processions with a monstrance and a Benediction. It is quite sad, that these traditional practices have become rare, and it is sad, that for convenience, this great day has been transferred to Sunday.

This mass contains the sequence, Lauda Sion, composed by the foremost doctor of the church, and poet of the Sacrament, Saint Thomas Aquinas, when the feast was instituted for the entire Church in 1264|| . The First Gospel, of the old rite is from the 6th chapter of John 56-9:
For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.
*500 total, 147 of 189 died outside the Basilica
†20,000 mercenary Landsknechte
‡ 40 - 50,000 ?
§ Moralia at the feet of Gregory the Great, De civitate Dei by Augustine, Bible and Epistles by Jerome. Now, if the Koran lay on the ground, how many fatwas would there be on Rapha
|| “Although we daily, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; renew the memory of this Holy Sacrament, we believe that we must, besides, solemnly commemorate it every year, to put the unbelievers to shame; and because vie have been informed that God has revealed to some pious persons that this festival should be celebrated in the whole Church, we direct that on the first Thursday after the octave of Pentecost the faithful shall assemble in church, join with the priests in singing the word of God ” — Urban IV, 1264

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