One of the most celebrated frescoes of Raphael is found in the Vatican and depicts the so-called “School of Athens”. Plato and Aristotle are in the centre. Plato’s finger is pointed upward, to the world of ideas, to the sky, to heaven as we might say. Aristotle holds his hand out before him, towards the viewer, towards the world, concrete reality.
He suggested to the Parliament that they might reflect upon this fresco in order to rejuvenate the European project ( Read Here ) .
It struck me that whilst the philosophers - the lovers of wisdom - suggested we look to the heavens or the world for the truth and the way, Jesus points elsewhere. He points to his heart! As the Litany of the Sacred Heart expresses it:
Cor Iesu, in quo sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae.
Yes, it is in the heart of Jesus, that is the Love of God, that we will find all the great treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Jesus tells us to learn from his humble and gentle heart. That is our great school, his heart, not Athenian cleverness !
The other related comment by the Pope was about the importance of humility. Now humility was not exactly seen as a virtue by Plato and Aristotle. Quite the opposite - for Aristotle 'greatness of soul' (megalopsychia) was considered to be the ultimate virtue. But Jesus placed humility at the very core of his teaching. We have to learn from his humble heart.
During his homily ( on the 2nd December ) the Pope spoke about the Gospel of St Luke
"He makes us know the Father, introduces us to this inner life that He has. And to whom does the Father reveal this? To whom does he give this grace? 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little ones'. Only those whose hearts are like the young are capable of receiving this revelation, the humble of heart, the meek, who feel the need to pray, to open up to God, who feel poor; only he who goes forward with the first Beatitude: the poor in spirit. "
Therefore, poverty is a privileged gift that opens the door to the mystery of God. A gift that sometimes, noted Pope Francis, that may be lacking in those dedicated to a life of study.
"Many may know the science, theology well, so many! But if they do not practice this theology on their knees, humbly, like children, they will not understand anything. It will tell them many things, but they will not understand anything. Only with this poverty is one capable of receiving the revelation that the Father gives through Jesus, through Jesus. Jesus is, not like a captain, an army general, a powerful ruler, no, no. He is like a bud. Just like we heard in the First Reading: 'On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse'. He is a bud that is humble, mild, and came to the humble, and to the meek, to bring salvation to the sick, the poor, the oppressed.”
If we wish to have knowledge of God - Theology- we must have a humble heart. Why? Because what we learn about God from the Word of God made flesh is that God is all powerful, but also humble. This is such a profound mystery that it is utterly bewildering. Paradoxically, God, the Creator of all things, has a humble Heart. And God - as a Trinity - is love. Therefore God is humble. Indeed, humility is the essence of God - the heart of God. The devotion to the heart of the Lamb of God is, in truth, all about a journey to humility.
Advent, it seems to me, is about a journey towards humility. It is about a journey to the Word of God incarnate in a baby in a stable. Adam and Mary Magdalene in the icon remind us that we have to practice our theology on our knees. We can only move slowly towards Bethlehem by learning from the heart of the Saviour born of Mary. Without a humble and contrite heart we can never really know the truth, the way and the life.