Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Sacred Heart - an icon of the Wisdom of God.

The wonderful thing about an icon is that it acts as a kind of doorway or window, that so often opens your mind and heart to thoughts and ideas which take one by surprise.  Early on in the life of the icon I remember Ian writing about ‘uncreated wisdom’.  In truth I confess to not really thinking or meditating on that, but recently this theme of wisdom has come more and more to the fore.  The Litany describes the Heart of Jesus as  containing ‘all the treasures wisdom and knowledge’ ( Cor Iesu, in quo sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae).  As I pondered over how the young man in Jersey was prepared to place all his trust in the Heart  of Jesus and allow his faith and science to unfold in their own time, I was reminded of what he wrote to his cousin, Marguerite Teillard-Chambon, in 1915.

'Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that may take a very long time. … Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves without due haste. Don’t try to ‘force’ them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within in you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you surely through the obscurity and ‘becoming’, and accept, for love of him, the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete'.

 The Making of Mind: letters of a soldier priest 1914-19, p57-8 

Teilhard is telling her to place her faith and hope in the loving  wisdom of God – and let this be her guide. Then it 'hit' me that the Sacred Heart is an icon of wisdom.  We have to trust in the love of God, and trust in the power and wisdom of God. Jesus is the ‘logos’ who was from the beginning and is now made flesh to live with us.  Just as wisdom ‘pitched’ her tent ( her tabernacle) in Israel in ancient times, so now wisdom is to be found in the very heart of Christ.  As the Litany says, Jesus is the ‘Tabernacle’ (or dwelling place) of the Most High.  The Heart of Jesus is the meeting place where humanity can encounter the divine wisdom.  The icon shows Christ’s Sacred Heart , rather than a book of scripture, since Jesus told us to learn from his meek and humble heart.  It is his heart which contains all wisdom and knowledge. We have to change our hearts - by trusting to the wisdom of God.

In this way, contemplating this heart of Christ as the great treasure of all wisdom and knowledge opens the window to allow the light of scripture to illuminate what the Litany means. Indeed, what putting all our trust in the heart of Christ means.  And what putting our trust in the slow work of God means.  Unlike the Orthodox tradition the Catholic tradition does not seem to have an iconic history of presenting wisdom – Sophia or Sapientiae.

In the Orthodox tradition we can find numerous representations of wisdom – Sophia- drawing on scriptural references.  In the Old  Testament:

"Wisdom has built a house for herself, and has set up seven pillars…." (Proverbs, 9:1).
‘All wisdom comes from the Lord…Wisdom was created before everything..’ (Ecclesiasticus, 1, 1-4)

Then the creator of all things commanded, and said to me: and he that made me, rested in my tabernacle, And he said to me: Let thy dwelling be in Jacob, and thy inheritance in Israel, and take root in my elect.  From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before him. And so was I established in Zion, and in the holy city likewise I rested, and my power was in Jerusalem.
(Ecclesiasticus. 24- 1- 15)

And in the New Testament:

‘ as the child grew to maturity, he was filled with wisdom, and God’s favour was with him.’, Luke 2:49

‘and they found him in the Temple…and all who heard him were astounded in his intelligence…And Jesus increased in wisdom…’ (Luke 2 : 41-52)

Teilhard's approach to the Sacred Heart was wholly grounded in St Paul.  So, he must have known Paul's words well. Hence in the Luc Barbier picture in the Chapel at Paray - influenced by Teilhard's ideas - we see that he has placed St Paul  next to the Virgin.  Paul preached  ‘..a Christ who is both the power of God and the wisdom of God’ ( 1 Corinthians  1: 24) Paul encourages us to have knowledge of the mystery of  ‘Christ in God’ (Colossians 3.3) in which are  hidden ‘ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians. 2, 3.)

The seat of wisdom, Lady Chapel: St Albans Cathedral. 
The Catholic and Orthodox traditions , however, do draw upon the idea of Mary as the seat of wisdom,  and Jesus as the  dwelling place of the wisdom of God. In the Orthodox images we find icons of 'the Virgin Enthroned' - Mary as the Temple which holds Christ - the wisdom of God. ( Often in  'akathistos' art . )  In the Catholic tradition the image of Mary as the Seat of Wisdom was popular from the middle ages.  In these we find Christ seated  as the power and wisdom of God on Mary's lap.

Icon by Fr.  Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ
Both the Catholic and Orthodox images serve to remind us that the Wisdom of God - the Logos that was with God and was God from the beginning ( John,1) - is now incarnate in the child born of Mary.  He is the beginning and the end: the heart which contains all wisdom and knowledge.  The heart that urges us to open our hearts to his loving wisdom.

Blessed John Paul says of this invocation - in his Angelus meditation , September 1985-  that it 'permits us to understand the necessity of going to the heart of Christ to enter the fullness of God':

'The knowledge referred to here is not the knowledge that ‘puffs up’ (1 Cor8:1), knowledge based on human ability. It is divine wisdom, a mystery hidden for centuries in the mind of God, creator of the universe ( Eph. 3.9).It is  anew knowledge, hidden from the wise and learned, but revealed to little ones, those who are rich in humility, simplicity and purity of heart.  This knowledge and wisdom consist in recognizing the mystery of the invisible God who calls men to share in his divine nature and admits
them into communion with himself.  We know these things because God himself has deigned to reveal them to us through his Son, who is the wisdom of God (1 Cor1:24).  All things in heaven and on earth were created through him and for him (Col 1:16) … Knowing Jesus, we also know God. Whoever sees him sees the Father (John 14:9). With him the love of God has been poured into our hearts. (Rm 5.5) Human knowledge is like water from our wells: whoever drinks it will thirst again.  The wisdom and knowledge of Jesus, however, open the eyes of our mind, stir the heart in the depths of its being and arouse man to transcendent love…With the wisdom and knowledge of Jesus, we are rooted and grounded in charity (Eph 3:17).  A new interior man is created, one who puts God at the centre of his own life and himself at the service of his brothers.  This is the degree of perfection which Mary reaches, the Mother of Jesus and our Mother, the only example of a new creature enriched with the fullness of grace and ready to do the will of God… For this reason we invoke her as ‘Seat of wisdom.’ '

In 2000 Blessed John Paul commissioned Fr.  Marko Ivan Rupnik SJ (above)  to design an icon of the seat of wisdom.

Benedict XVI his homily in December 2009 also drew attention to the importance of the image of the 'seat of wisdom' .

Seat of Wisdom, 1199,  Camaldolese abbey , Italy
"O Wisdom from the mouth of the Most High,  you fill the whole world. 
With strength and gentleness you order all things:  come to teach us the way of prudence"  (Liturgy of the Hours, Vespers of 17 December)."

This wonderful invocation is addressed to "Wisdom", the central figure in the Books of Proverbs, Wisdom and Sirach. These are in fact called the "Sapiential" Books, and in them the Christian tradition discerns a prefiguration of Christ. This invocation becomes truly stimulating and even provocative when we find ourselves before the Nativity scene that is, before the paradox of a Wisdom that "from the mouth of the Most High" comes to lie in swaddling cloths in a manger (cf. Luke 2: 7, 12, 16). Already we can anticipate the response to that initial question: the One born in Bethlehem is the Wisdom of God. St Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, uses the phrase: "a hidden wisdom of God" (1 Cor 2: 7): in other words, a divine plan, which has long been kept hidden and that God himself has revealed in the history of salvation. .. The Christian paradox consists precisely in the identification of divine Wisdom, that is the eternal Logos, with the man Jesus of Nazareth and with his story. A solution to this paradox cannot be found if not in the word "Love", which naturally in this case is written with a capital "L", in reference to a Love that infinitely exceeds human and historical dimensions. Dear friends, a Christian professor, or a young Christian student, carries within him a passionate love for this Wisdom! He reads everything in her light; he finds Wisdom's imprints in the elementary particles and in the verses of poets; in juridical codes and in the events of history; in works of art and in mathematic formulas. Without Wisdom not anything was made that was made (cf. Jn 1: 3) and therefore in every created reality one can see Wisdom reflected, clearly visible in different ways and degrees. Everything understood by human intelligence can be grasped because in some sense and to a certain extent it participates in creative Wisdom. Herein lies, in the last analysis, the very potential of study, of research, of scientific dialogue in every field of knowledge.  [But] …. Let us ask ourselves: who was present on Christmas night at the grotto in Bethlehem? Who welcomed Wisdom when he was born? Who hurried to see him, to recognize him and adore him? They were not doctors of law, scribes or sages. There were Mary and Joseph, and then the shepherds. What does this mean? Jesus was one day to say: "Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will" (Mt 11: 26); you revealed your mystery to the little ones (cf. Mt 11: 25). But then is there no use in studying? Or is it even harmful counterproductive in understanding the truth? The two thousand-year-old history of Christianity excludes the latter hypothesis, and suggests to us the correct one: studying entails deepening one's knowledge while maintaining a spirit similar to the "little ones", an ever humble and simple spirit, like that of Mary, the "Seat of Wisdom". ... In that Child, born of the Virgin, the two came together: mankind's longing for eternal life softened the heart of God, who was not ashamed to assume the human condition.

Read full Text .

As Christmas approaches I will keep these thoughts on the incarnation of divine wisdom in the heart of a baby beating in the womb of his mother.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Bethlehem icon school

Ian's work in the Holy Land is remarkable and so important.  Recently he was featured on Palestinian TV.

View broadcast here.

Visit the school here.

All those concerned about the future of Christianity in the Holy Land should pray for the school. God Bless, Ian.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The delight of all the Saints

Yesterday was the feast of All Saints.  I attended mass (on the first Friday of the month) in a beautiful chapel designed by Pugin, St. Peters in Marlow.  During the mass it dawned on me that the feast is very much a feast of the Sacred Heart. Never thought of it as such 'till then.

The feast brings to mind the very last invocation ( 33) of the litany of the Sacred Heart: ‘ Heart of Jesus, Delight of all the Saints’.  The feast celebrates the joy of the saints in seeing God face-to face in the ‘beatific vision’.   In his reflections of this invocation Blessed John Paul asks us to meditate upon the heart of Christ as the

 ‘source of the life and love of the saints; in Christ and through him the blessed in heaven are loved by the Father, who unites them to himself in the bond of the spirit, divine Love; in Christ and through him they love the Father and all people, their brothers and sisters, and the love of the Spirit’.

He describes the beatific vision which is the delight of all Saints as:

‘the life giving space of the blessed, the place where they remain in love, deriving eternal and unlimited joy. The infinite thirst for love, the mysterious thirst which God has placed in the human heart, is satisfied in the divine heart of Christ’ 

(see  his meditations on the  Litany in Prayer and Service, October-Nov 1990, No. 4.  I don't think that the John Paul's meditations are on-line? It is available on Amazon..) 

So with such thoughts in mind I think we should ask for the prayers of all the saints to help us to deepen our devotion to the Heart of Jesus which they now behold in all its fullness.   And especially all the saints who are most closely associated with the devotion.  The image by Luc Barbier, that was inspired by Teilhard, is, I think, one of the few examples of the Sacred Heart surrounded by the 'delight of all the saints'. SEE here

The feast prompted me to recall in particular the role of St Bernard of Clairvaux (1070-1153) , one of the earliest saints to be associated with the devotion.  Significantly ( I think) Dante uses St Bernard to guide Dante at  the end of the Divine Comedy to his beatific vision of Divine Love symbolized by a rose – not a heart .  BUT, we should note that  in his great prayer sequence ‘ The Rhythmical Prayer to the Sacred Members’,  St Bernard says this of the Sacred Heart:

Thou  Rose of wondrous fragrance, open wide, And bring my heart into Thy wounded Side, O sweet heart, open! Draw Thy loving bride, All panting with desires intensified, And satisfy her love unsatisfied.

See here for the complete text.

Dante himself uses this image of the abode of God – the Empyrean -  as a rose within whose very centre is an image of Christ.  He sees the delight of all the saints who behold the face of God! The rose as a symbol of the heart?