Friday, May 16, 2008
Saint John Nepomuk kept silence
The representation of a saint in art is meant to convey a message of his story. Many of these saints died centuries ago, and many never had a likeness, in their lifetime, recorded in any artistic media. But, one glance at an icon, or statue, or painting transmits a story. Some subjects may have more than one representation, each which tells a story.
I always had in my mind, the image of Saint John Nepomuk (Nepomucene*1340), in a definitive identification, a priest in a surplice, a biretta, and a stole, with a finger, or two, in front of his closed lips. To a non-Catholic, I suppose, this is puzzling. It seems that our spiritual references are alien to many, and those persons if not honestly bewildered, can create their own backstory and presentation, which then confounds us completely.
Often martyred saints are depicted in regards to their last moment. We have seven sacraments, instituted by Our Lord Jesus, which grant us graces. One is called by several names, as a child, I knew it as confession. It is also called penance or reconciliation. We are responsible for what we do. We confess our sins, not another’s, in solemn confidentiality to a priest. He is bound not to break the sacramental seal by thought, sign, word, or deed; to do so he would incur the highest clerical penalty. Saint John Nepomuk is emblematic of this fidelity.
I had a teacher, in high school, Brother Joe Clark, whom made up facetious eleventh commandments. One, I vaguely misremember, as: thou shall not have a test on a Monday (?). Well, another was: thou shall not rat.* So then, there is Saint John.
John of Nepomuk was Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Prague and was martyred on 20 March 1393. King Wenceslaus IV of Bohemia had him tortured in sundry manners beforehand. The king, himself, put a torch to the flesh of John. John’s corpse was thrown into the Vltava from Charles Bridge.† This was done, because the king thought himself as a Leviathan, and wanted to control church appointments and property. John was a doctor of canon law and the official in charge of the canon court. Wenceslaus did not care for his judgment. But, prievously, John was the deceased queen’s confessor, and he would not reveal her confession to the king, sorely vexing him.
Again and again, the state or the power that controls the state, which, believes it is the state, declares its right to power and jurisdiction to be absolute. How little changes. The church is often in conflict, when she tries to maintain her jurisdiction. This is another argument for the separation of church and state.
It was believed, that, the enmity for John existed from his rôle as confessor. The king wanted all power, and personal revenge. Immediately, John was recognised as a holy martyr of Christ, although his canonisation would wait till 1729. In the mean time, protestant propagandists conflated his story, that there were two different men tossed, or John Huss (Jan Hus) was repackaged by conniving Jesuits. There are historical documents predating the existence of the birth of the first Jesuit and before the trials of Hus, but in manipulation for sake of partisan arguments, cogent facts can be ignored and dismissed.
A comparable personage is Saint John Sarkander, *1576.†1620. He was taken prisoner in 1618 by protestant authorities in Olomouc, Moravia. He died after his third session of torture. The torturers, also, wanted him to betray the seal of confession. Our, sainted Pope, John Paul II formally canonised him in Olomouc in 1995, over protestant protest.
*This brings up the ethicality of the civil authorities, police and the courts, pressuring people to rat others out. I am responsible for what I have done. I can confess to my actions, asking me to confess another’s transgressions is of a different order. Now, we know bushjr cannot be a Catholic, he confesses to nothing and promotes and awards his confederates. The first step, component, of a good confession is sorrow for the wrongs done, the second is self accusation, and the third, is penance.
†There is a statue at that spot on the bridge in Prague. There are other statues of Jan Nepomucký throughout the country on bridges. These statues have John holding a crucifix and five stars about his head. The only other saint depicted with stars is the Virgin Mary.