Review: Richard of Saint Victor: The Book of the Patriarchs, The Mystical Ark. By Grover Alfonso Zinn

“focusing more on the object of contemplation, on the possibilities that man has at his disposal”
Link to purchase

Richard of St. Victor (CWS): The Book of the Patriarchs, The Mystical Ark, Book Three of the Trinity (Classics of Western Spirituality Series) Paulist Press, Paperback – 1 Jan 1979 – Author: Grover Alfonso Zinn

Richard of San Vittore C.R.S.A., (Ireland or Scotland, c. 1110 – † Paris, 10 Mar 1173) was a Canon Regular of Saint Augustine of the twelfth century. Originally from Scotland, he entered the abbey of San Vittore, near Paris, where he also became Prior in 1162. Less well known than Hugh of San Vittore, he distinguished himself for a series of ascetical and mystical works, as well as for a De Trinitate. In a previous work Benjamin Minor, had discussed how to prepare one’s soul for contemplation. Here instead, in the Benjamin Major, he directly addresses his favourite theme.

The title of the work should actually be The Ark of the Covenant, because the letter „A“ makes an allegorical reading of the Ark built by Moses according to the divine specifications (cf. Ex 25:10-22). Such a reading was favoured by the different elements that made up the ark: the acacia wood structure; the purest gold overlay; the four golden rings; the two bars of acacia wood again covered with gold; the propitiatory of purest gold and the two golden cherubs with spread wings covering the Oracle and looking towards one another. This structure suggested the idea of an order, not however static, but dynamic.

Thus, Richard develops one of the most cherished themes of spirituality, beginning with Origen, namely that spiritual life is a journey, made of beginnings, successive stages and a conquest of the final goal. The image that dominates these pages is therefore “the metaphor of movement” (p.22). Following the Augustinian school, the A. favours an anthropological perspective, „focusing more on the object of contemplation, on the possibilities that man has at his disposal“ (p.21).

ugo di san vittore insegna riccardo e studenti
Miniature of Hugh of Saint Victor teaching the young canons of Richard’s abbey

Where to start, then? As a good medieval, Richard answers: from the senses, yes from the five senses. There is nothing in the mind that does not start from the senses first. Here too there is a long tradition, that of the „spiritual senses“, initiated by Origen, used by Augustine (just reread the sero te amavi!) And developed by Bonaventura. To contemplate with the senses is to see, to feel, to taste, to touch things for what they are, that is to say creatures that bear within themselves the trace of the Creator. This is the first step. The term is given by the “possibility of man to return to communion with God” (page XI). And it is really a question of „returning home“, since man was created „in the image of God“ and „according to his likeness“.

It is a path, however, that must take into account the historical condition of man, who, despite this internal push towards God, feels the resistances of his finitude, and above all of his pride, who does not want to recognise himself dependent on the other. But when the Other is God, that is the Good, the Truth and the Love, recognising oneself as dependent is not humiliation, but elevation. Therefore, although he is surrounded by grace, from beginning to end, man remains free. Richard’s claims about human freedom are surprising, because „while rationality has been blurred and conditioned by sin, freedom has not been minimally compromised: man has remained free, despite being in a condition made weak by sin“ (p. XIV).

The Preface by Abbot Prof. Jean Chatillon (1912- +1988) of the Institut Catholique, Paris, is an excellent premise to the understanding of a text in many respects far from today’s sensibility, but for other aspects still current. Labelling Richard „as a great spiritual figure, perhaps one of the greatest, of a Christian Medieval time that included so many.“  Suffice it to recall that „until the time of Teresa of Avila, Richard was considered the reference point for mystical theology and the doctrine of contemplation“. This is confirmed by some very prestigious witnesses, for example, by Dante Aligheri, who in the 10th canto of Paradise, vv. 130-132, does not hesitate in affirming that Richard “a considerar fu più viro“, as well as St. Bonaventure himself, who considers him „‚master’ in contemplation“ (page XXI).

Regarding the translator, Father Antonio Orazzo S.J., we know how reliable his work is, given his long association with patristic and medieval authors. However, it deserves pointing out what he himself notes, that is, that for the biblical texts he followed his own translation, to make the commentary to the text uniform as it was read by Riccardo. Recourse to modern translations of the Bible, which are based on the Vulgate, as many do, are very often different from the Hebrew text, and can render the patristic or medieval author’s argument incomprehensible.

Review: What is the responsibility of every Christian in society today? “The Benedict Option” and the Donatist heresy.

The Benedict OptionOn the 14th of March 2017, a book entitled The Benedict Option was published in the United States, which then sparked a great debate [1]. The book’s name refers to St. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480- † 547 A.D.). David Brooks of The New Yorker defined the book as “the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade” [2]. The book basically attempts to advance a course of action for the Christian faithful and their communities not only in safeguarding their principles and their religious traditions, but also prosper within an extremely secularised society. It is therefore worthwhile taking the time to ponder over this book so as to get the measure of it.

The author of the book is Rod Dreher, a 51 year old American writer, editor and journalist for The American Conservative magazine, he also contributes to magazines and newspapers such as National Review and The Wall Street Journal. Dreher, in “The Benedict Option”, appears to suggest that Christians, within “local” and “small” communities, should prepare themselves to live in a post-Christian society, operating as a “parallel polis“, capable of “exercising the virtues” as a “counter-cultural” force within a world that is now noticeably and at times  vehemently rejecting Christianity.

The author has the merit of analysing the problem of Christian life in the face of the challenges of growing world secularisation. Dreher is commendable, his intent on imagining a modern world which is non individualistic but a communal life is very commendable. Equally commendable is his desire to give a Christian witness. The “option” of Dreher is a kind of re-adaptation of the rule and the charism of St. Benedict in our time.

Inspired by After Virtue (1981) by Alasdair MacIntyre, Dreher bases the “Benedict Option” on a narrative that interprets the history of the past and our present time. The “dark ages” following the fall of the Roman Empire are put in parallel and our presumed post-Christian era. According to Dreher, in founding his monastic Order St Benedict “responded” to the “collapse of Roman civilisation“. That response consisted in the recreation of small communities of virtuous men, in which civilisation would be preserved to prosper in later times [3].

In this sense, the author maintains, with a certain stylistic finesse, that Christians in the West should “separate” from the “official order“, without however departing completely from society. This is not about building a “closed community“. Rather, Dreher insists on the construction of “common practices” and “institutions” that are able to “overthrow” the “isolation” experienced by the communities of faithful Christians today [4].

Even if the “Benedict Option” could be acceptable within contemporary American society, it certainly seems to be based on a very simplified and debatable narration of the Benedictine charism. According to Dreher, “Benedict’s political option starts with recognising that Western society is post-Christian” [5]. And he bases this option in our time, not only by interpreting contemporary Western societies as the beginning of an “obscure post-Christian era“, but also by stating that the rule of St. Benedict is a response to paganism [6].

The risk of a “small group”

However, it must also be said that the father of Western monasticism, despite the original elements of his rule, has become part of a pre-existing tradition. Cenobitic monasticism appeared and flourished not primarily as a “response” to the fall of the Roman Empire in the dark barbarian age, but during the imperial Christian era, soon after the end of the persecution of the early Church.

In fact, just as before him, Pachomius and Basil, St. Benedict did not act in a reactive way, in response to the uncultivated pagans who were destroying the Empire [7], but in continuity with the so-called “tradition of white martyrdom” . The cenobite monks sought a way to offer their lives to God, in a later historical context different from that of the primitive Church of the martyrs.

The proponents of the “Benedict Option“, as already described, tend to see an analogy between the dark ages that followed the Roman era and our society. It is difficult to remain indifferent to the “apocalyptic” tone with which Dreher expounds his thesis. The “dark ages” of our time, the inevitability of becoming “poorer” and “more marginalized“, the need to learn from the opponents of the communist tyranny in Czechoslovakia, the use of terms such as “anti-political policies” or “parallel polis“», The prediction of losing “careers” due to subtle “persecutions“, the underlining of the damages of technology, of the internet and of sexual libertine practice … all these statements are made within the narration of a persecuted Church, analogous to what happened to the first martyrs.

If it is true that contemporary Christians can learn from the Benedictine rule and adapt it to current times, it is also true that exalting the reality of persecution could entail a risk: that of perceiving one’s “small group” as the true and better Church of the others. Ultimately, this is the risk of arrogance, connected to an ecclesial sin against unity and communion.

The Donatist temptation and the reaction of Augustine

This was precisely the temptation of the Donatist heresy. The “donatist’s” were a religious movement born in Africa, circa 311 A.D., from the ideas of the bishop of Numidia Donatus Magnus of Casae Nigrae. It was born in an age of persecution. Donato made a harsh criticism of those bishops who had not resisted the persecutions of Diocletian and who had handed over the sacred books to the Roman magistrates. According to the followers of Donato, the sacraments administered by these bishops would not have been valid. This position presupposed, therefore, that the sacraments did not work in themselves, but that their validity depended on the dignity of those who administered them.

As noted by the theologian Fr. Yves Marie-Joseph Congar O.P., the Donatists exalted the act of martyrdom, tended to rigidity and moral purity, and manifested a strong hostility towards secular authorities and institutions [8]. For the Donatists, the persecution of the Church has been an important criterion for corroborating its belonging to the true Church of Christ. In fact, they were proud of being persecuted and felt connected to the Church of the martyrs. It should be added that this sentiment was entirely justified by the violent opposition that the imperial authorities had unleashed against them [9].

St. Augustine opposed their sacramental theology, citing Cyprian – the great martyr praised by the schismatics – in order to show that martyrdom and, in general, persecution are fruitful only when required by grace and lived in union with the Church. According to the bishop of Hippo, unity, charity and humility are intrinsically linked to each other. Therefore, those who are schismatic fall into an ecclesial sin, breaking unity (and, consequently, charity and humility) [10]. For Augustine, the great sin of the schismatics would be that of pride or arrogance: the belief that one is right in opposition to all the others, thus destroying communion.

On the one hand, Augustine proposes a more articulate and cohesive theology of that of the Donatists, showing them that the only persecutions could not attest to their fidelity to the Church of Christ: charity and humility are indispensable for seeking unity. On the other hand, he seems to find a coherent way to praise the martyrdom of the early Church, while at the same time managing to adapt the Church’s practices and traditions to the new historical epoch.

At the end of this controversy, the Church chose to reintegrate these traditores, after some penance,  rather than drive them away [11].

When rigidity is at the cost of unity and peace

Without, of course, falling into heresy, in Dreher we can see the echoes of Donato’s voice: “If today’s Churches want to survive the new dark age, they must stop ‘being normal’. We will need to engage more deeply in our faith, and we will need to do it in ways that appear strange to contemporary eyes. If we rediscover the past, if we recover liturgical worship and asceticism, if we focus our lives on the ecclesial community and if we strengthen the discipline of the Church, we will succeed, with God’s grace, to return that special people we should always have been. This focus on Christian formation will not only result in stronger Christians, but also a new evangelisation, because salt will regain its taste.” [12].

In their desire to identify themselves with the primitive Church of the persecuted martyrs, the Donatists did not accept a different way of living and practicing faith. Even in the new historical context, in which the persecution was over, they felt that their persecuted being gave confirmation of their being true and good Christians. In doing so, those schismatic Christians constituted a small party of “pure people“. By contrasting integer to profanus as the main difference between those ‘who did‘ and those ‘who did not‘ belong to the Church, the Donatists tended to admit only irreproachable members.

A firm reply from Augustine

To their rigidity and to the emphasis on asceticism, Augustine gave some answers that can be very useful to reread today. The Bishop of Hippo makes two distinctions, which the Donatists were not able to do. In the first place, it distinguishes between the present historical Church and the future eschatological Church. The pure Church, made up only of irreprehensible men, comes true at the end of time in the ecclesia qualis future est. Now, in the present age, God is patient and allows different kinds of men and women to participate in the ecclesia talis nunc est. The present Church is pro mixta societas, or a society mixed with good and bad people. A Church is made up of the best and worst (or the not so virtuous) believers. [13]

While Dreher’s “Benedict Option” seeks to build communities in which discipline is “strengthened“, in order to ensure a Christianity that is supposed to be truer and healthier, Augustine’s writings addressed to the Donatists underline other aspects such as example, patience towards sinners, also in consideration of the value of maintaining communion.

Augustine notes the arrogance of those who want to separate the good from the bad, the “right” from the “unjust” before the opportune time. In this context he asks for “humility“, “patience” and “tolerance“. Humility appears to be a fundamental Christian virtue, without which unity and communion are not possible within the mystical body of Christ. The Bishop of Hippo relies heavily on the authority of Cyprian, and shows how this martyr attempted to accept different opinions in order to maintain the unity of the Church. [14]

The “Benedict Option” does not automatically imply the arrogance that Augustine perceived in the attitude of the Donatists. However, the appeal for a “strengthening of discipline in the Church” echoes the Donatist moral rigidity. Moreover, the desire to build small communities of “strong Christians” could erase the importance of Christian virtues such as humility, patience and tolerance – which stand out in Augustine’s writings -, compromising the communion among believers and the formation of peace relations in the world.

The emphasis on “purity” and the hostility toward secular institutions

A further characteristic of the Donatist attitude that greatly struck the Dominican theologian Fr. Yves Marie-Joseph Congar O.P., concerns the hostility towards secular institutions. The Donatists tended to refuse to collaborate with the authorities of the Empire, which represented pagan powers for them. In their theological perspective, the purity of a Christian practice implied the refusal to participate, collaborate or engage with the pagans in their non-Christian institutions.

In this sense, the Donatists were indeed a “parallel polis“. On the contrary, Catholics like Augustine remained linked to some imperial institutions and felt compelled to consider the Donatists as schismatic Christians.

This emphasis on purity, as a precaution against any contamination from any element external to the Christian environment, is connected to the interpretation that the donatists gave the theological concept of “catholicity“. According to them, “Catholic” indicated perfection and sacramental fullness. In this sense, the Donatists believed that “true Catholicism” was limited only to their small local Church in North Africa.

Following Otto’s theology, Augustine proposed another interpretation of “catholicity“, highlighting universality as the unity of the whole Church as the mystical body of Christ [15]. He insisted that local Churches throughout the world should be in communion in order to realise Bible prophecies regarding the effectiveness of the proclamation of Christ’s Resurrection. [16]

All in all, Augustine’s argument sought to show that the Donatists, even if they had been more virtuous than all the other Christian faithful, could never have had the exclusive of the true Church. He wanted to make it clear that isolating himself from other Christians and from society in general was not a positive sign.

Although Dreher does not advocate the isolation of Christian communities, his “Benedict option” requires “separation” from political powers and secular institutions, to the point of developing life as much as possible within Christian institutions, in which Christian entrepreneurs they mainly employ workers belonging to their own Churches [17]. Furthermore, the emphasis placed on the negative aspects of technology and the internet can be understood as a warning not to be contaminated by pagan culture. Thus, this option could “close” the Christian communities.

In this sense, for Dreher, the principle of defence of religious freedom serves to establish the possibility of existing and acting for institutions that conform to the “Benedict Option“. Dreher is not interested in establishing a real dialogue with those who have a different cultural and religious background and follow different lifestyles. It is difficult even to imagine a possibility of collaboration with people of different options.

Consequently, a pessimistic view of contemporary society weighs on the “Benedict Option“. Although the affirmation of religious freedom is essential, if Christians are to be able to practice their faith, Dreher does not seem interested in showing the importance of true dialogue, which springs from the human dignity from which all liberties derive. Although the Internet may be “the most radical, destructive and revolutionary technology” that a Christian must avoid and limit, especially for children [18], Dreher’s option does not propose a way of life within this new “place” and to evangelise it.

Looking at the Donatist controversy, it is clear that the option of Augustine, in particular, and the Catholic Church, in general, are not designed to establish distinctions between being a good citizen and being a good Christian. Naturally, as Christians, we must be cautious in collaborating with people and with secular institutions. We can refer to Dreher’s metaphor: Christians should not “burn incense to Caesar” [19]. However, finding ways that “do not compromise” our Christian “consciences“, in the context of the “Benedict option“, risks preventing the development of healthy relations with all men of good will and social commitment together with them. Proper attention to the devotions of popular religiosity and a propensity for open dialogue outside the Church seem to justify, at least, options other than Dreher’s.

And what about social injustices?

The “Benedict Option” also runs the risk of “establishing” (or “re-establishing“) strong Christian communities and practices at the expense of organised social assistance. Obviously, Christian practices and institutions should not be reduced to “NGO” style social activities. However, this does not mean that Christian practices and institutions can remain indifferent to the poor and the most marginalised in Western society and, indeed, throughout the world.

According to Yves Congar, the Donatists did not care much about social injustice [20]. Dreher’s book seems to find a way to safeguard, animate and activate Christian practices, but it is not easy to see how such practices can take into account the “preferential option for the poor“.

In the context of increasing globalisation, Christian faithful could opt for the expansion of their relations with other communities, even outside their Churches, in order to increase synergies for the construction of peace and justice. This could also be a way to live, practice and witness Christian virtues and true faith.

The importance of humility and mercy

Dreher states that “the Benedict option must ultimately be a matter of love” [21]. No one who recognises himself in the Christian tradition could disagree with this statement. And yet the “Benedict Option” is not immune to the recurring risks inherent in moral rigidity and countercultural forces. The main risk of such attitudes concerns the lack of communion, unity and peace within the Church and with the society in which we live.

For Pope Francis’, mercy is “the message of Jesus“, “it is the strongest message of the Lord” [22]. If Augustine disapproved of the rigidity that the Donatists adopted at the expense of the Church’s unity, even today Pope Francis is working to introduce more merciful practices to the wounds and difficulties that contemporary men and women experience. This spiritual attitude can not be reduced to a political strategy: it has a biblical and theological foundation.

Answering to Peter that asks him how many times the disciple should forgive, Jesus says: «I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times.» (Matthew 18:22). After having said this, Jesus recounts the parable of the “ruthless servant“, who, despite having received the forgiveness of his master, is unable to forgive his neighbour. In the end, he is condemned by his master (cf. Matthew 18:23-35).

For the Pope, “the parable contains a profound teaching for each of us. Jesus affirms that mercy is not only the action of the Father, but becomes the criterion for understanding who his true sons are“. [23] Perhaps, in the effort to re-establish “small” communities in which members are “strong” Christians and act as a sort of “parallel society“, believers may deviate from this criterion. Faced with God and the whole world, Christians must be credible in witnessing to God’s merciful nature, making it possible to experience it within Christian institutions.

There is no doubt that secularism is a great challenge and in some cases even a threat for Christian communities today. Pope Francis seems to be responding to the secularisation of the modern world with a perceivably humble attitude, with dialogue followed by gestures of goodness and greater understanding towards all [well nearly all as there are still many marginalised religious groups today]: perhaps this is one evangelical “option” open to today’s Christians.

Continue reading “Review: What is the responsibility of every Christian in society today? “The Benedict Option” and the Donatist heresy.”

Review: “Inquiry into Jesus” “Inchiesta su Gesù” By M. Pesce & C. Augias

IMG_6629Having been released for publication last September – with a second edition printed in October – the book, in which journalist Corrado Augias and Prof. Mauro Pesce, professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Bologna, discuss – initially by asking questions and secondly by giving responses – on the topic of Jesus, «the man who changed the world». Augias professes to be a “non-Catholic” and does not consider Jesus as being the “son of God” (p. 239), but is enquiring so as to get to “know Jesus, better known as Christ, who has profoundly influenced the history of the world”: that is, getting to know Jesus as he really was, before “the liturgies, the doctrines, the myths which transformed his memory into a cult, a cult within a faith, a faith within one of the greatest religions of humanity” (p. 3). 

Professor Pesce has perpetuated himself as a historical researcher, expressing “convictions to which he arrived after what seems to have been a long and honest search”. Therefore – he states – “in the dialogues condensed in this book I have always attempted to constrain myself within the confines of history, avoiding the encroachment of my own personal convictions on faith” (p. 236). He is “convinced that rigorous historical research will not distance us from the faith, and does not push us towards it“. In essence, the Jesus that the Christian faith professes must be distinguished from that of the researched historical Jesus. 

In summary, the thoughts of Pesce as summarised by himself: “Jesus was a Jew who did not want to start a new religion. […] He was convinced that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures was beginning to transform the world so as to finally establish his kingdom upon earth. He was completely focused on God and prayed to understand his will and obtain his revelations, but he was also totally focused on the needs of mankind, especially the sick, the poorest and those who were treated unfairly. His message was inseparably both social and mystical. The kingdom of God did not arrive and, indeed, he was put to death by the Romans for political reasons. His disciples, who came from the most varied backgrounds, gave different interpretations from the very beginning. They questioned his death by providing different explanations and many of them were convinced that he had resurrected. A certain number of his followers remained within their Jewish communities, while others gave life to an entirely new religion following the different currents of the time, Christianity” (p. 237). 

Jesus is a Jew, not Christian 

So the central concept of the publication I have examined is that Jesus has nothing at all to do with Christianity, that he did not establish it nor wanted to establish it: an idea that is expressed within the aphorism of “Jesus is Jewish, not Christian”. 

The dialogue between Augias and Pesce begins with a question: “What can we know about Jesus?” Pesce replies: “A historically reconstructed Jesus is as possible as it is for any other person in the past. The sources are however particular, and the research is based on lacuna, contradictory and manipulated texts” (p. 8). These sources are the Gospels, canonical and non-canonical. Among these Gospels the Church chose four, and rejected others as “apocryphal” and therefore condemning them to oblivion. The reasons for this choice “is complex, motivationally uncertain, it could have had something to do with some practical or doctrinal tumult that always accompanies the birth and rise of a new movement, especially when it is proclaimed as directly inspired by God” (p. 10). However, “they are not clear. It can be said that those containing an overly Jewish image of Jesus or those that seemed to give a Gnostic or spiritualistic perception, like the Gospel of Thomas, were excluded” (p. 21). In any case, “the believer who attends a Church […] does not, as a primary pursuit seek to know Jesus historically” (p.22). The Church has no historical interests because “historical research digs into and highlights the differences within the Gospels, the variants that where introduced after the death of Jesus, and this is not something that the faithful can easily accept” (p. 23). Moreover, “the Gospels, normally considered as the primary sources for knowledge on Jesus, in reality are one of the first sources of the  Christianisation of his figure”. 

Realistically, Jesus would only have been Jewish and he would have been totally so: “The novelty, an important novelty, which has occurred in the last half century of biblical studies, was precisely the recovery and the rediscovery of the Hebrew part of Jesus, whereas previously christianity’s anti-Judaism tended to make it a great critic of the Jewish religion” (p. 24). To tell the truth “there is not a single idea nor custom,  that are not entirely Hebraic in the main initiatives of Jesus […]. All the fundamental concepts expressed by Jesus are Hebraic: the kingdom of God and redemption, the final judgment, the love of you neighbour. He believes as any Jewish Pharisee in the resurrection of the body and not as the Greek’s did who only believed in the immortality of the soul […]. He believes that he was sent by God to preach only to the Jews and not others” (p. 26s). Jesus strictly respected the prescriptions of the Torah, including those concerning food. “It is the Christians after him who have neglected them” (p. 28). Like every “devout Jew”, Jesus prayed. Therefore, “Jesus is a Jewish man who does not identify himself as identical to God. One does not pray to God if one think one is God” (p. 28). 

Jesus taught us the Our Father: but this prayer “has nothing Christian in it. Any religious Jew could recite it without having to convert to Christianity. In this prayer Jesus is never named. He serves no function in the salvation of humanity” (p. 30). On the one hand, Christians see Jesus as a supernatural being, with whom we must relate to in order for us to obtain salvation. “present-day historians on the other hand see Jesus as a man and are therefore also able to rediscover his Jewishness” (p. 30). 

To conclude, there is a radical “difference between the Jewish Jesus and the Christian Jesus: the Christian Jesus is he of whom St Paul give utterance to: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”. The Jewish Jesus says: it is God who forgives sins […]. When he taught the Our Father, Jesus did not think he should die for the sins of mankind” (p. 29). Therefore “his message is substantially different from that of subsequent Christianity” (p. 55). “Jesus is both a mystic and a great religious dreamer, who tries to place justice at the centre of the world” (p. 62). There is therefore “a fundamental difference, I would almost say a discontinuity: if we want, a betrayal by Christianity, with regard to Jesus” (p. 68). 

Jesus is not the Son of God 

But who was the “Jew” who was Jesus historically, that is, liberated from the dogmatic incrustation with which Christianity have clothed him? Pesce believes that Jesus was born, not in Bethlehem, but “in Galilee, probably in Nazareth” (p. 10) and that “the father was Joseph and the mother is Mary” (p. 11). The Gospels of Matthew and Luke affirm the virginal conception of Jesus, that is, that Mary would have conceived Jesus miraculously, by the exertion of God, without the intervention of Joseph. Luke adds that he who is conceived in Mary “by the work of the Holy Spirit” will be called “son of God”. Matthew sees within the virginal conception, a Jesus who is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy, according to which “the virgin (almah) will conceive and bear a son who will be called Immanuel”, [עִמָּנוּאֵל], meaning “God with us”. Professor Pesce points out that this insistence of the virginal birth of Jesus “the need to show that the life of Jesus brought into fulfilment some prophecy of the Hebrew Bible” and the “influence of Hellenistic culture on young Greek-Christian communities”, since “the history of classicism is full of divine or semi-divine figures whose birth was said to be supernatural”, due to the gods (particularly Zeus) who had occasion to join with women. (p. 90). 

With reference to the phrase “Son of God” – once again Pesce observes – which at the time of Jesus was quite common. Son of God was a title that could be given to Roman emperors, like Augustus, to the kings of Israel, to philosophers like Plato and Pythagoras. “In short, the term as such does not express a divine nature of Jesus” (p. 91). Nor is this expression “connected in an exclusive or privileged way to a Messiah, nor does it indicate a messianic role in itself” (p. 91). The Gospel of Mark is the most persistent in applying this allonym to Jesus. God himself proclaims it twice. “Be careful, though: for Mark, Jesus was a man. The term “son of God” has been interpreted as if he really meant to refer to “God” but only at the end of his gospel, inserted into the New Testament, read in light of the Gospel of John, in which Jesus was the “word of God made flesh”. (p. 92).

Homosexual’ relations among the disciples of Jesus 

There follows an astonishing chapter in which Augias, with a somewhat morbid insistence, revives the old insinuations and hypotheses that the disciples of Jesus cultivated “homosexual relationships” (p. 123); that is between Jesus and his disciples whom Jesus “loved” and that there was “a real amitié amoureuse […] even if not always effectuating an explicitly erotic relationship” (p. 120); that Jesus had a special relationship with Mary Magdalene going as far as to kiss her on the mouth, as is said in the apocryphal Gospel of Philip (see p. 121) and, finally, that before his arrest he had spent the night with the boy who had escaped arrest, leaving him in the hands of those who wanted to take away the sheet which was covering him, (see p. 124): the presuppositions and inferences which Prof. Pesce holds as being “without foundation” (p. 123), “absurdity” (p. 124) or “interpretative errata of the texts” (p. 129), but which  are insisted upon by Augias at the end of the novel, the two authors simply contradict each others work. 

On Jesus the miracle worker – who is redefined as “Jesus the magician – Charlatan or Son of God?” (a title which the illustrious American scholar and professor of ancient history at Columbia University, Morton Smith gave to his book on Jesus who had sprung from a Galilean sect of Semitic pagans) – Pesce is rather reticent: he recognises that there may have been “some healings or even resurrection phenomena  might have occurred here and there, that he worked in an unexplainable manner in light of science” (p. 113), but notes that “Jesus needed these miracles to instil faith to those who listened to him” (ibid.). Moreover, when Jesus becomes aware of these powers, he tries to understand where they came from and to what extent he is able to control them: what in others aroused nothing but admiration created a deep inner turmoil within him; we see him resorting to prayer in an attempt to receive some enlightenment. “It could be said that Jesus was a mystery not only to others, but also to himself […]. He himself has probably tried to clarify the mystery of divine intervention in his life. He did so often by praying, asking God to enlighten him. It is one of my hypothesis” encourage by the fact that during the incident of the Transfiguration he “invoked Elijah and Moses so as to clarify his future destiny” (p, 134s). Pesce states that he is “convinced” that the miraculous episodes, such as the resurrection of Lazarus or the multiplication of the loaves, “were not invented, but that his followers were really convinced that they had witnessed these extraordinary events  (p. 134). 

I found this chapter contradicting his previous suppositions in “Jesus is a Jew, not Christian” where he informed us that “Jesus has nothing at all to do with Christianity, that he did not establish it nor wanted to establish it”, yet we are then asked to believe that he used confidence tricks and slights of hand as a magician because, as Pesce notes “Jesus needed these miracles to instil faith to those who listened to him” (p. 113). I frankly fail to see to what end if he was not the “Son of God” and was not “starting a new religion”, why place himself in such a precarious position especially under a Roman occupation, strict religious guidelines of the religio licita (a permitted religion which Rome had approved) which most of the country observed; where any deviation could send you to your death.  A magician raising the dead in earshot of the Romans, the Sanhedrin and Pharisees. The rabbis condemned magic as one of the “ways of the Amorites(Mishnah Shabbat 6:10), and they sanction its practitioners to death by stoning (Mishnah Sanhedrin 7:7).  Furthermore sexual intercourse between males is a to’eivah (something that is abhorred or detested) and was subject to capital punishment by the Sanhedrin under halakha (Jewish law).  As for the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Jesus (I forget was he supposed to be gay of straight or polyamorous – according to Pesce) in Judaism, extramarital sex is universally frowned upon; it falls under a biblical prohibition. Nevertheless, even when begin to note the futile efforts of an author trying to justify his spurious hypothesis (much in the same manner as the Da Vinci Code which I wrote about here) yet I have to continue to read the book in order to review it.

Jesus is not really risen 

The crucial days of Jesus’ life are the last days: he is arrested on a Thursday night, is tried, crucified and dies on Friday. Pesce believes that the cause of Jesus’ arrest is the danger he represents to the fate of the Jewish nation. Note then that it was not Jesus who instituted the Eucharist, of which neither the Gospel of John nor the Gospel of Thomas spoke. From this “some biblicists have deduced that, after the death of Jesus, some Christian groups created the ritual of the Last Supper”. This was not “a case of a historical event or a formal institution established by Jesus” (p. 141). But then stating: “I believe it is impossible to deny that Jesus consumed a particular supper before his arrest, celebrating a ritual around bread and wine” (p. 146). In any case, the fact is that the Gospel of John does not speak of a Eucharist, but of the washing of feet, while the Synoptic Gospels focus their attention on the institution of a Eucharist “doesl not allow us to think that the version in the synoptic gospels is more dependable than that of John’s” (p. 147).

Speaking of the stories of the Passion, Pesce observes that they do not report any facts that actually occurred, but that “they are only interpretations of faith on the basis of a historical nucleus” (p. 157). In reality “the editors of the Gospels have transformed or created a series of episodes that, in fact, did not occur. Among the historically invented facts is the episode of Barabbas”(p. 158). 

Regarding the resurrection of Jesus, Pesce noted that “his ‘proof’ are entirely based on the apparitions that occurred after his death on the cross” (p. 175), which – as in the case of the apparition of Jesus to Mary Magdalene – could be defined as “hysterical visions” or hallucinations: in other words, “as a result of desire, a powerful projection of the subconscious” (p. 177). Moreover, “today some Catholic scholars interpret these apparitions of the risen Jesus as an altered state of consciousness” (page 182). In conclusion “the apparitions of the risen are only visions” (p. 184). Jesus therefore did not “really” rise , but it would have been his disciples who believed that he had, they had “seen” it: but in reality where only hallucinating. 

Who is Jesus then, according to Prof. Pesce? Certainly not the Son of God made man, which the Church professes on the basis of the testimony of his disciples who lived with him, ate with him, spoke with him and accompanied him throughout most of His ministry: a testimony contained in the four canonical Gospels, which are therefore an essential source in our knowledge of Jesus. “Jesus is obsessed with the evil that dominates the world […]. For him God is the Father who can save and who gave him the extraordinary power to restore and to heal. But God also seems to be incomprehensible to him. Throughout his life Jesus tries to know what God wants; in the end he feels abandoned and does not understand why God destined him to such an unjust end, to a humiliating defeat as well as atrocious sufferings. To him he attributes his defeat and for this reason he accepts it, even if he does not understand it” (p. 213). Thus, according to Prof. Pesce, Jesus is nothing more than a poor man who feels a tragic destiny looming over his head, which he indisputably accepts, without even a comprehension of him: “He continues to believe that God is strong, powerful and beneficial, even if he allows him to be killed” (p. 213) and abandoned to the forces of evil. 

Thus, according to Pesce, Jesus is not the Savior of men who consciously goes towards suffering and a horrendously tortured death simply so as “even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28). He submits himself to an atrocious death, simply because this is what God wants from him but he seems not to understand why this is being asked of him. Jesus is a “lonely man”, who prays to God to reveal to him what is expected of him. 

Critical remarks

The first general relief to be made is that in the novel “Inchiesta su Gesù” Christianity is denied in its entirety. In fact, all essential Christian truths are here denied or derided in some way or another, such as the divinity of Jesus, his incarnation, his virginal conception, the redemptive character of his death, his resurrection from death. These realities of faith – says Pesce in essence – would be parasitic incrustations with which the Church has covered the historical figure of Jesus, turning him into a divine being, the Logos made flesh of which the Gospel of John speaks. The task of exegesis is to liberate from the incrustations, which pervert the historical figure of Jesus. Hence the insistence of Pesce on the absolute Jewishness of Jesus and his conviction that Jesus was “Christianised”, and therefore entirely fabricated, even his being the founder of Christianity.

What seems to us to be absolutely unacceptable precisely at a historical level is the fragmentation that Prof. Pesce expounds between the “Jesus of history” the ‘real’ “Jewish Jesus” and that of the “Jesus of the faith” the “Christianised Jesus” who has disappeared “under a dense blanket of theology”. In reality, this fragmentation does not exist. 

Undoubtedly Jesus was a Jew: he was circumcised on the eighth day after birth according to the Law; He was given a Hebrew name (Jehoshua, which means “God saves”); as a child he attended the synagogue of his country every Saturday (Nazareth), where he learned Sacred Scripture; when he turned 12, he went on a pilgrimage to the Temple of Jerusalem; like all adult Jews (they were also famous scribes) he exercised a manual trade. The only thing that distinguished him was the fact that he was not married. When he left his country to begin the ministry of an itinerant preacher, the first thing he did was go to John the Baptist and, like other Jews, he was baptised by him. He wanted to restrict his preaching to the people of Israel.

Jesus therefore was a “Jew”, but we must contradict Prof. Pesce when he says that Jesus did not criticise the Jewish religion; that there is no idea or custom, no initiative that is not entirely Jewish; that all the concepts he expressed are Jewish; that Jesus respected, to the letter all the prescriptions of the Torah, including those concerning food. 

As for the Jewish religion, or rather, as for the Torah, Jesus certainly considered it an expression of God’s will, but on the one hand he corrected certain interpretations that the scribes gave it, as in the case of the Korban: “You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8); on the other, he brought the divorce, permitted by Deuteronomy (24:4), back to the genuine original project of marriage, stating that man must not separate what God has joined in the creative act of man and woman (cf. Genesis 1:27; 2:24). But what is most important and significant is that Jesus does not mean “to abolish the Law” but “to fulfil it” and therefore to highlight its profound needs, which go far beyond what “was said to the ancients” (Matthew 5:17-31). About the foods, which the Leviticus divided into pure and impure, Jesus, says Mark, “Thus he declared all foods clean.” (Mark 7:19), noting that “there is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him.” (Mark 7:15).

In conclusion Jesus, in the wake of the ancient Law, proclaims a new Law, which does not contradict the first, but does it, asking, for example, “not to oppose the evil”, “to love your enemies” and “to pray for your persecutors” (Matthew 5:39-44): certain things that the Torah did not prescribe. As for the observance of the Sabbath, Jesus diverged deeply from the scribes and the Pharisees, proclaiming that “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Therefore it is permissible to perform healings and tear off the ears to feed on the Sabbath. Equally scandalous is the conduct that Jesus holds with publicans, sinners, women of ill repute. All things that show that Jesus is, yes, a “Jew”, but that he comes out of the Judaic frameworks of his time. It is therefore not clear how one can affirm that there is nothing in Jesus that is not “wholly Jewish”. 

Jesus and the Father

Pesce also wonders about the affirmation that Jesus prayed because he did not feel identical to God: “We would not pray to God” says Pesce “if we think we are God” (p. 28). Jesus’s prayer, often made during the night, is a “filial” conversation with the Father, whom Jesus addresses with the affectionate term of abba (a term that is not found – unless it has escaped us – in the volume we are discussing). Yet it is a term of very great importance, which allows us to penetrate into the interior life of Jesus, or rather, into the “mystery” of his “filial” conscience. In reality, God is “his Father”, in a different manner from being the Father of all mankind, so speaking to his disciples he utters “my Father” (Matthew 7:21) and “your Heavenly Father” (Matthew 6:26), he never says “our Father”, that is, placing himself and his disciples in a position of equality. 

Pesce also marvels at the statement that the prayer taught to the disciples by Jesus – the Our Father – has nothing Christian, but is totally Jewish. We know that the term Father is very little used in the Old Testament, where it only appears fifteen times, and is applied to all people, not to individuals, except for the king, who alone can say to JHWH: “You are my father, my God and the rock of my salvation” (Psalms 88:1 89:26). For Jesus the term “Father” is the proper name of God, and all men – not just Jews – are his sons. Regarding the totally Jewish character of the Our Father, the catholic exegete and theologian Heinz Schürmann wrote: “All those who say that when Jesus prays the Our Father he does so as a Jew and every Jew can join in this prayer are quite right; each sentence can be documented with an identical or similar Jewish texts […]. But the “peculiar Jesuanic aspect” the prayer of Jesus allowed Hebraism to “leap”. Only in the complexity of the Our Father has he perceived this “peculiar Jesuanic aspect” […] as implicit inchoate christology, has understood the prayer of Jesus in its depth”. That is, only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God can recite the Our Father in its profundity and authenticity. 

Jesus and Christianity 

The assertion that Jesus is not a Christian seems very incongruous to us, along with that he neither founded nor wanted to found a new religion, Christianity. In fact, he addressed his preaching “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6): to this end he called on twelve disciples to follow him, so that “they would stay with him and also to send them to preach” (Mark 3:14-15). But his message was not accepted by the people of Israel nor its leaders. Here then he consecrates himself to the instruction of his disciples and of persons – men and women – who believe in him: he teaches them to pray, to see the Father in God who loves them, who takes care of them; teaches them the righteous use of riches, the forgiveness of offences; in his last supper, on the eve of his death, he institutes a new Easter rite and asks the Twelve to reiterate it in his memory. After his death and his resurrection, his disciples, whilst remaining within Judaism, form an autonomous group, which has as its leaders (the Twelve), its own particular rite – with the repetition of the gestures performed by Jesus in his Last Supper – the teachings of Jesus. Precisely this small group of the followers of Jesus forms his “Church” which, expanding with the adherence of new people, being both Jewish and pagan who believe in Christ, form the first Christianity. There is therefore no fragmentation between Jesus the “Jew” and Christianity, who live by the teachings of Jesus and profess him as God and Lord. In reality, Christianity was born and developed within Judaism, and only gradually did Christian communities break away from the Jewish communities to which they originally belonged, in this case excluding the Christian communities founded by St. Paul at the beginning which where independent of the Jewish communities. 

Historical value of the Gospels 

From the four Gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, we obtain a very clear picture. Yet what historical value do these Gospels have? For Prof. Pesce it is dealing with  deficient, contradictory, manipulated” texts, which the Church has chosen among many Gospels for “unclear” reasons, rejecting other Gospels as “apocryphal” and thus condemning them to oblivion. In reality, the “choice” of the four “canonical” Gospels occurred for very clear and obvious reasons. The first is that only within the four Gospels did the primitive Christian community recognise “apostolic tradition”, that is, what the Twelve taught, the disciples who were with Jesus during the entire time of his preaching, from Baptism to the Resurrection, who listened to his preaching and witnessed his miracles and his activity of expelling demons, as well as his disputes with the scribes. The second is that while the four canonical Gospels were all written in the first century (by approximation, Mark c. 65-70 A.D., Matthew and Luke c. 80-90 A.D., John c. 90-100 A.D.), the “apocryphal  Gospels are later and largely depending upon the canonical Gospels, that is, they do not bring any new elements to our knowledge of Jesus, that is except for the Gospel of Thomas. The third reason is that many so-called “apocryphal” Gospels express Gnostic tendencies, as it appears from some sayings of the Gospel of Thomas. For example, 114 states: “Simon Peter said to him [Jesus]: Let Mariham go out from among us, for women are not worthy of the life”. Jesus said: “Look, I will lead her that I may make her male, in order that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who makes herself male will enter into the kingdom of heaven”. The “gnostic” character of these sayings are quite evident. It is something that can be said about many other “sayings” of this Gospel. In fact, even when it literally agrees with the canonical Gospels, its animating principle is by and large Gnostic. 

Unquestionably the canonical Gospels pose many problems, they are written by different authors, each of whom has his own way of propounding Jesus and write bearing in mind the needs of the community for which they writing the Gospel; but it cannot be said that the four Gospels are  “incomplete, contradictory, manipulated” in the essential things. They give four portraits of Jesus that complement each other. In particular, the Gospel of John is very different from the others and sometimes deviates from them, but it is not in substantial contradiction with the other three, and there is no quantifiable reason to prefer it to the others. 

Finally, the skepticism with which the four Gospels are dealt with in the “Inchiesta su Gesù” [Inquiry into Jesus] are simply unwarranted. The elemental facts are displeasing – historically and exegetically unjustified – which in this thesis are objectively contained, whatever the intentions of the two authors, it is nothing more than a frontal attack on the Christian faith. 


(Please note: i. None of the opinions or comments expressed by Prof. Pesce or Mr. Augias in this article are shared by the Hermits of Saint Bruno and are entirely the opinions of the authors. ii. This is a Post Edited Machine Translation (PEMT) bridging the gap between Human Translation (HT) and Machine Translation (MT) methods of speed translation of a machine translation and the quality of native speaker human translation, as translators review, edit and improve machine-translated texts.  This article was originally in Italian and from “Un attacco alla fede cristiana” from “La Civiltà Cattolica”, booklet 3755, December 2nd,  2006. )

The Da Vinci Code

220px-DaVinciCodeIt may seem unusual to give a book review on Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, and I do so reluctantly but for the fact that yesterday upon returning from Westminster Cathedral after attending the 10:30 a.m., Mass of the Feast of St. John, Apostle & Evangelist, I overheard a conversation on the train regarding The Da Vinci Code.  One of the ladies was in the process of convincing the other of the historical veracity and accuracy of the book assuring her friend that [sic.] “I should know I was born a catholic“.  When we all know that the novel which sold 80 million copies worldwide (as at 2009) is a work of fiction and not based on anything that is historically correct, other than perhaps the names of some people and some places.  

Therefore upon returning to St. Mary’s Hermitage I contacted my brother in law to borrow his copy (he, by the way, understands that this is a work of fiction), I personally tend to never read works of fiction as they clutter contemplative pursuits and are of little use to anyone other than those who prefer to live in a fantasy world, I will guide you through the many errors that are purported as historical fact in the hope that it will make someone realise that this is all make belief.  

Registration of PS
The Priory of Sion (A Ludibrium)

“Audacter calumniare, semper aliquidi haeret” – Slander boldly, something always sticks. (in De Augmentis Scientiarum by the Rt. Hon. The Viscount St. Alban Francis Bacon 1623)

The novel has sold more than 80 million copies and then the story was transformed into a film that was intended not only to be successful but also to generate extremely large amounts of revenue.


  • Did Jesus really marry Mary Magdalene?
  • Has the Church kept this perturbing truth hidden for two thousand years?
  • What value do the Gnostic gospels have?
  • Is there a hidden lineage, which the Templars and the Priory of Sion protected with their life?
  • Is there an interdicted secret hidden in Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings?
  • Have ancient documents been uncovered to reveal the mystery of the Holy Grail?

An indispensable guide that helps us to discovering what is real (and above all false) in Dan Brown’s novel. Dates, names, facts, circumstances, background, secret documents, authentic parchments and clamorous fakes, unpublished testimonies: for those who want to see clearly and go to the end of the mystery that claims to cancel two millennia of Christian history.

Andrea Tornielli’s book “Processo al Codice Da Vinci” examines in detail the main contents of the Dan Brown novel of the same name and focuses on the substantial accusations that the author addresses against the Catholic Church. The contents of the books that allegedly inspired “Brown”, which had been published in previous years, are also analysed.

Regardless of whether you agree with Brown’s conclusions, it’s clear that his history is largely fanciful, which means he and his publisher have violated a long-held if unspoken agreement with the reader: Fiction that purports to present historical facts should be researched as carefully as a nonfiction book would be.” (Ford, M., Da Vinci Debunkers: Spawns of Dan Brown’s Bestseller.)

A substantial premise explains the reasons of the book: although many repeat that the novel by Dan Brown is “only fiction“, in reality the same author and his inspirers are convinced that it is historical reality and make it transpicuous in every chapter, with a scheduled work of indoctrination of the reader, led to identify himself with the female protagonist of the novel, Sophie Neveu, who is “initiated” with the knowledge of this terrible mystery: Was the early Church really founded on the feminine principle? Was Mary Magdalene really the bride of Jesus? Was Christ really a man like all others who was gradually “deified” thanks to the benefactions, endeavours and audaciousness of the Emperor Constantine? Were the ‘harmless‘ canonical gospels chosen “by sacrificing the most ancient and truer Gnostic apocryphal ones” enabling the church to hide a Brobdingnagian truth capable of undermining the church and the principles of Christianity? Does a royal/holy blood lineage really exist or are there any descendants that lead us from Jesus to a present day person? Did the Church really use every means at its disposal – besides assassinations – to conceal this terrible secret inconsistency that would have rocked the church to its very foundations? Did the Priory of Sion truly safeguard this secret? Does Leonardo da Vinci’s paintings really contain a secret “code” that can prove all this? An inexhaustible sequence of questions which, page after page, draws the escapism seeking reader deeper into the pits of falsehood and fantasy.

Each page leaves a trace, a small seed that appends to ones memory, both conscious and rational (especially if what we have read is interesting and has enlighten us), and at the unconscious level remain as a distant memories, which are, however, part of our being; so we should really be careful in what we choose to read.

Who has not read it (well I had not and had no intention of doing so) I had only heard brief conversations when it first came out, I’d of courser heard of Dan Brown’s  international success with his novel.  I listened to my Archbishop’s apoplectic ictus when the bookshop across the road from the cathedral decided to stay open on a Sunday and sell the book.  Frankly, I have tried to give the book a chance and so that I would know if all the fuss and confusion it was causing and the anger where actually justified.  My biggest hurdle yet was that both the religious and historian parts of me became restless, unnerved and somewhat provoked (which I think was one of the aims of the author), yet I could not reconcile any of the information that the book divulged.  This book cannot be considered productive reading; Rather, it is comprised of slander,  misrepresentation and a derogation against Christ, His teachings and the Catholic Church. Thomas Roeser writes a column in the Chicago Sun*Times, Sep. 27, 2003, on the anti-Catholic bigotry behind Dan Brown’s book:  It is written with a breezy roman-a-clef approach, the reader is introduced to Catholic religious orders that really exist, well known religious holy sites that are easily accessible, naming well known people from the past and present, all of whom share in what is being propounded as the foremost theological distortion of all history.

From an academic point of view Brown’s thesis can only be considered as having used “corrupted” texts (with many “errors”) and overall have an entirely different meaning from what Brown wants to allude to. This is not just my view but is the opinions of the most famous and authoritative scholars of biblical exegesis and history being from Catholic, Protestant and Jewish background. Brown’s eccentric conjectures are haphazardly entwined with misstated facts, myths and flights of fancy, the research is flawed and without foundation. As Celia McGee of the New York Daily News said on Sept. 4, 2003 “His gross errors can only surprise an uneducated reader“.

In our ”correct” society, a statement seen as racist, anti-Semitic, anti-woman or gay bashing will disqualify a writer for years — but not insults to Jesus Christ and those who follow his precepts. Far from it: Enlarge shop-worn Catholic-conspiracy tales into book length, and it can make you rich and famous, as it has one Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. The novel mixes fact with fiction in docudrama form, spewing a passel of baseless conjectures against Catholicism, representing modern feminist revisionist theory…. Let’s go into as many canards as we can quickly. Brown says Jesus was not the son of God but a good man elevated to God status by the emperor Constantine as a means of boosting the Roman’s power, with the New Testament adjusted to support the God myth. Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene who, at his crucifixion, was carrying his unborn child. The Holy Grail was not the chalice from which Christ drank at the Last Supper, but literally the womb of Magdalene: a secret that Catholicism – indeed all of Christianity – has preserved by countless murders to suppress the ”sacred feminine” truth. The key is supposedly found in Da Vinci’s ”Last Supper” where, Brown insists, the figure at Christ’s right is not St. John but Magdalene (not true, insists Bruce Boucher, curator of arts and sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, who immediately debunked this theory)….

Thomas Roeser is quoting Bruce Boucher, who writes about Leonardo’s Last Supper in The International Herald Tribune, Aug. 5, 2003:

…. The conventional interpretation of the mural (tempera on stone, not fresco, as Brown has it) is that Jesus is prophesying to his disciples that one of them will betray him. Leonardo groups the disciples in triads, which not only isolates Jesus at the center of the scene, but also plays the disciples’ reactions off of one another. Langdon and his sidekick find it significant that Jesus and the beautiful figure seated on his right form the letter “M.” Moreover, Langdon believes this second figure is not St. John, as conventionally interpreted, but Mary Magdalene, the “bride of Christ,” dressed as a man.  “The Last Supper” appears to prove that the grail was not a chalice (none is depicted by Leonardo), and the presence of the Magdalene represents, in Langdon’s words, “the sacred feminine and the goddess, which of course has now been lost, virtually eliminated by the Church.” Brown seems to have derived this arresting theory from feminist accounts of Mary Magdalene and from conspiracy theories about the true nature of the grail, which Leonardo’s mural seems to confirm – hence its crucial role in the unfolding of the novel. This interpretation is quite a stretch, and there is more sangria than Sangreal swirling around it. Leonardo’s composition points, in fact, in another direction, for it conforms to traditional Florentine depictions of the Last Supper, stressing the betrayal and sacrifice of Jesus rather than the institution of the Eucharist and the chalice….

The biggest danger is that the reader, who often does not fully scrutinise what they are reading, can take the affirmations from the novel as plausible and reliable facts, undermining the little or fragile religious formation that they carry within themselves.

For this very reason, reflections are necessary.

Despite being a novelist and not a historian, nor a theologian, Brown has managed to insinuate doubt and suspicion about Christ and his message, especially in readers who have not had any specific formation in their religion. Brown has shamefully slandered  Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, Opus Dei, a history of lies, violent and bloody Christianity, taking shelter from accusations of defamation, premising a declaration of innocence: “this book is a work of fantasy. Characters and places mentioned are inventions of the author ». Nonetheless, on page 9, at the beginning of the novel, he adds that «All the descriptions of works of art and architecture, of documents and secret rituals contained in this novel reflect reality».

The Da Vinci Code is inaccurate right down to the smallest details. The book itself is an attack on Christianity. “[Frank Wilson of the Pittsburg Post-Gazette] «… The rites he describes are the result of a mixture of imaginary stories …» [Cynthia Greiner of the Weekly Standard].

Prof. Massimo Introvigne, director of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), in a recent book in Italian “Gli illuminati e il Priorato di Sion. La verità sulle due società segrete del Codice da Vinci e di Angeli e Demoni” (The illuminati and the Priory of Sion. The truth about the two secret societies of the Da Vinci Code and of Angels and Demons) published by Piemme Aug 2005, reveals with detailed data to the hand, that the novel is nothing more than a pile of inventions, erroneous dates, the exploitation of documents invented in turn.

All this is known today, but the mass media continue to pretend as though it is nothing, some reporters even use lines from the book as though they were truth and so further propagate the lie. As Franco Cardini writes about Avvenire: «On all this tangle of ugly fairy tales it has been full light for some time, […] gazetteers and televisionaries continue to impose upon us these ridiculous stories. And documentary evidence, philology, false accusations, nothing detracts from this monument to imbecility and bad taste».

I could go on to provide citations from authoritative thinkers and writers who demonstrate with actual “historical documents” that the alleged historical truths of the novel are nothing but falsehoods, but beyond all this it is right to reiterate that the book is an affront to Christ, to Him who has conquered death, giving his life for us on the cross, thus redeeming our sins. In the book is seen only with human eyes, blind to his teachings: Brown seems to say: “… look at your Christ, the King of the Jews is dead, he enjoyed his life with Mary Magdalene, that your Church is nothing but a heap of falsehoods, of lies, that those who know are killed, marginalised … ” We know that the Devil is a liar and the father of lies and his followers cannot but do the same.

In the perspective of seeing everything in the positive vision of Christ, (OMNIA IN BONUM) that also draws good where there is only evil, if the novel has raised questions concerning the foundations of our very faith and has motivate us to revisit the apocryphal Gospels so as to compare them with authentic ones, then it can also be affirmed that the “Code” has even become an instrument of recovery and strengthens our Christian heritage.

The Vitruvian man

Le proporzioni del corpo umano secondo Vitruvio
Vitruvian Man

In his book on architecture, Vitruvius (1st century) writes that the measurements of the human body are distributed by nature according to mathematical proportions. For example, the length of a man’s arms is equal to his height. Leonardo’s design of the Vitruvian Man was an illustration for a book on the architect’s works. It is the favorite work of Sophie Neveu, and the pose taken by her grandfather, Jacques Saunière, before dying. From here the clues for the pursuit of the secret starts. Leonardo da Vinci’s collaboration with the author of Divina proportione (Divine Proportion) [Leonardo da Vinci’s Polyhedra, by George W. Hart] have led some to speculate that he incorporated the golden ratio in Vitruvian Man, but this is not supported by any of Leonardo’s writings, [Livio, M., 2018. The golden ratio and aesthetics. The mathematics of diseases. Accessed December 29, 2018] and its proportions do not match the golden ratio precisely.


The Last Supper

Il Cenacolo
Il Cenacolo or The Last Supper

It is considered by some art historians as the most important painting in the world. Dan Brown highlights some symbolic meanings through Sir Leigh Teabing (Sir Ian Murray McKellen CH CBE), who reveals to Sophie that Leonardo has encoded a great secret within this painting. The mural was painted between 1494–98 and is housed in the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, Italy.  The painting represents the scene of the Last Supper of Jesus with his apostles, as it is told in the Gospel of John 13:21. Leonardo depicts the consternation that occurred among the Twelve Apostles when Jesus announced that one of them would betray him. According to Brown, the figure on the right of Christ (left for the beholder) is a female figure. It according to Brown represent Mary Magdalene and would be reclined backwards so as to form a V with Christ, which apparently symbolises the Sacred Feminine.

Mona Lisa (La Giaconda)

La GiocondaIt is probably the most recognised and famous painting in the world, the painting is thought to be a portrait of Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo who had commissioned Leonardo in 1503-06 (see the margin note by Agostino Vespucci below)., which has been on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris since 1797 (except from when it was stolen by Antonio Peruggia on August 21, 1911 and returned to the Louvre on 4 January 1914.  It makes its appearance in the thriller when Sophie and Langton are led by the clues left by Saunière.   According to the Brown it represent an asexual person or perhaps faithful mirror image of Leonardo’s face that would have been a supporter of the feminine principle: “he thought that a human soul could not be illuminated unless it possessed masculine and feminine elements“. Mona Lisa would not be “either male or female, it would contain a subtle message of androgyny, a fusion of the two sexes” (p.44-45).

Agostino Vespucci's margin notes
A margin note by Agostino Vespucci (visible on rt.) found in a book at the Heidelberg University. Dated 1503, it states that Leonardo was working on a portrait of Lisa del Giocondo.

Gnomon of Saint-Sulpice

It is an astronomical measurement device, being located in the Church of Saint-Sulpice (Église Saint-Sulpice) in Paris, where the keystone sought by Bro. Silas was hidden. The

Le gnomon astronomique de Saint Sulpice
The astronomical gnomon of Saint Sulpice

gnomon was built at the initiative of Fr. Jean-Baptiste Languet de Gergy, the parish priest at Saint-Sulpice from 1714 to 1748. Languet de Gergy initially wished to establish the exact astronomical time in order to ring the bells at the most appropriate time of day. For this, he commissioned the English clockmaker Henry Sully to build the gnomon, there is a meridian strip of brass running from north to south on the floor of the church transept. The rays of the sun at the winter solstice on December 21st arrive at a particular point. But it was destroyed during the French revolution. Brown describes it as “a pagan astronomical instrument (…) an ancient sundial of sorts, vestige of the pagan temple that had once stood on this very spot”, despite an early modern building date of 1714, the fact that it is an astronomical device there is nothing pagan about it at all. Brown further identifies the obelisk as “Egyptian” despite its recent date of manufacture in 1743: “a most unexpected structure, a colossal Egyptian obelisk”.  He also identifies the Saint-Sulpice meridian as the Paris Meridian, although they are different, being several hundred meters apart: “Long before the establishment of Greenwich as the prime meridian, the zero longitude had passed through Paris and through the Church of Saint-Sulpice”.


The distance between Saint-Sulpice meridian as the Paris Meridian
The distance between Saint-Sulpice meridian and the Paris Meridian


The Gnostic Gospels

Gospel of Thomas c. 4 a.d.
Chenoboskion Manuscripts or Gnostic Gospels

Gnosis spread from the second century and was contested by Christian writers, introduced so that we could learn about Gnosticism through criticism. In 1945, at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, a collection of 12 leather bound papyrus apocalyptic codices of early Christian and Gnostic origins, and 1 Trimorphic Protennoia, were discovered by a local farmer named Muhammed al-Samman [The Nag Hammadi Scriptures: The Revised and Updated Translation of Sacred Gnostic Texts, pp. 2-3; HaperOne 2007.] among them those  of Thomas, Philip and Truth amongst others. Here is the story of the relationship between Jesus and Magdalene (the text speaks of Mary Magdalene as “companion” of Jesus, of “kisses on the mouth” and the frequent jealousy of the apostles against Mary Magdalene who is seen as being favoured more compared to them.  Brown mentions a descent deriving from the union of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.


The Priory of Sion

Fact: The Priory of Sion – a European secret society founded in 1099 – is a real organization.” These are the opening words of The Da Vinci Code (on an introductory page at the beginning of the novel), a novel in which the Priory of Sion (Prieuré de Sion in French) plays a central role. This organisation is at the roots of the plot of the entire Da Vinci Code.  The Priory, which claims to have had  some very illustrious Grand Master’s among whom we find Blanche of Navarre Queen of FranceLeonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, Jean Cocteau … most recently Jacques Saunière. This Priory worked harmoniously with the Templars, but then separated and continued with the Rosicrucians. According to a theory of some British historians, obviously not documented, the purpose of the Priory would be to safeguard the dynastic  descendants of Jesus and Magdalene throughout history. The Priory of Sion practiced the cult of Mary Magdalene.


In Reality the Prieuré de Sion, is a fraternal association, founded and dissolved in France in 1956 [the registration took place at the subprefecture of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois on 25 June 1956 and this was announced in the Journal Officiel de la République Française on 20 July 1956] by a Mr. Pierre Athanase Marie Plantard as a ludibrium, a convicted and known confidence trickster [see The Secret of the Priory of Sion, CBS News ’60 Minutes’, transmitted on 30 April 2006, presented by Ed Bradley, produced By Jeanne Langley.]  In the 1960s, Plantard fabricated the history for that association, now characterising it as a secret society founded by Baron Godefroy de Bouillon Defender of the Holy Sepulchre on Mount Zion in the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1099, conflating it with a genuine historical monastic order, the Abbey of Our Lady of Mount Zion. In 1993 Plantard was investigated by a judge during the Pelat Affair; Plantard had had his house searched, search failed to find any documents related to Pelat, but turned up a hoard of false documents, including some proclaiming Plantard the true king of France. Plantard admitted under oath he had fabricated everything, including Pelat’s involvement with the Priory of Sion, he acknowledged that both lists he had issued with names of the Grand Masters were fraudulent.  The Priory of Sion myth has been exhaustively debunked by academic scholars, journalists and the French Court as one of the greatest hoaxes of the 20th century.  Yet some believe this is a cover up to discredit Plantard and the Priory.  Frankly the Priory is now pointless as it seems very doubtful that French Republic will allow any of Plantard’s relatives or anyone else for that matter to accede to the French Crown.

Mary Magdalene

Detail of M M
Detail of Mary Magdalene weeping at the crucifixion of Jesus,  in The Descent from the Cross (c. 1435) by Rogier van der Weyden.

Has a fundamental role in the “Code”.  In another book (which I’ll refrain from advertising) we are asked to believe the hypothesis that Mary Magdalene was the wife of Christ and the mother of their children particularly a girl named Sara, whom we are told would perpetuate an entire dynastic line of the House of David. This dynasty would of course continue to become that of the Merovingians, kings of France, and then be hidden under the protection of a secret society, the Priory of Sion. Brown convinces himself and unfortunately others that Christ was married, since it was the practice of every Jew at that age. [I’ve even discussed this with a Rabbi colleague, who asserts that it would have been unusual but not impossible for a Jew at that time, of that age and station to have been unwed.] Now in this day and age, we see Mary Magdalene being reincarnated as the embodiment of the Sacred Feminine, or the spirit of the Mother Goddess. The apocryphal gospels have frequently been promoted in works addressed to popular audiences as though they were “reliable“, most often to support some sensationalist claim, such as  Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s marital status. In 2012, scholar Karen L. King published a book, regarding a purported Coptic papyrus fragment in which Jesus says: “My wife … she will be able to be my disciple.”  The overwhelming consensus of scholars, including King herself, is that the fragment is a modern forgery. If genuine, the papyrus would have dated to sometime between the sixth and ninth centuries A.D.; Ehrman states that the historical sources reveal absolutely nothing about Jesus’s sexuality and that there is no evidence whatsoever to support the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married or that they had any kind of sexual or romantic relationship. None of the canonical gospels imply such a thing and, even in the late Gnostic gospels, where Mary is shown as Jesus’s closest disciple, the love between them is not sexual. The extremely late Greater Questions of Mary, which is not extant, allegedly portrayed Mary not as Jesus’s wife or partner, but rather as an unwilling voyeur. Furthermore, Ehrman points out that the Essenes, a contemporary Jewish sect who shared many views with Jesus, and the apostle Paul, Jesus’s later follower, both lived in unmarried celibacy, so it is not unreasonable to conclude that Jesus did as well. According to the Gospel of Mark 12:25, Jesus taught that marriage would not exist at all in the coming kingdom of God. Since Jesus taught that people should live as though the kingdom had already arrived, this teaching implied a life of unmarried celibacy. 

If Jesus had been married to Mary Magdalene, the authors of the gospels would definitely have mentioned it, since they mention all his other family members, including his mother Mary, his father Joseph, his four brothers, and his at least two sisters. Casey rejects the idea of Mary Magdalene as Jesus’s wife as nothing more than wild popular sensationalism. Kripal writes that “the historical sources are simply too contradictory and simultaneously too silent” to make absolute declarations regarding Jesus’ sexuality.

In Conclusion

I could actually continue as there are a lot of errors to work with, yet I tire of this subject.  At the end of this critical path, we can observe with clarity and a certain detachment, as an overall look, at Brown’s text. At the end of the of my rebuttal to all those unfortunates who believe that the book is based on fact, with primary or even secondary sourced historical evidence, please do not forget that it is a “NOVEL” with all the characteristics of this literary genre, whose first requirement is imagination and invention. When we realise this we can read this thriller, without ever forgetting the words in the exergue: “this book is a work of fantasy.” And if this book has raised questions on the foundations of our faith and has stimulated us to revisit the historicity of the Gospels, the life of Jesus … if he invited us to be interested in the apocryphal Gospels, to compare them with authentic ones and make us discover the abyss between the historical sobriety of the latter and the nebulous evanescence and lack of apocrypha … then we can conclude that the Da Vinci Code has even become an opportunity to recover the historical strength of our Christian heritage that has filled hearts for two millennia and the souls of millions of people.

At least in this manner the underlying hatred and anti-Catholic resentment displayed by the author can be transformed by every one of us into a renewed and conscious reappropriation of that Love and the hope that Christ has entrusted within each one of us as the most precious treasure.  As I never finished reading this book (this is a first for me), I’m somewhat at a loss as to what to do with it…

I added this picture simply because I liked it and thought you might too.

A View from the Tower of London: A Review of “Autobiography of a Hunted Priest” by Fr. John Gerard S.J.

Everywhere a hunt was being organised for Catholics and their houses searched; in every village and along all the roads and all along the roads and lanes very close watches were kept to catch them


Read my Goodreads Review         Buy Autobiography of a Hunted Priest

There’s an undeniable mystique about 16th-century England, an era peopled with colourful characters like Henry VIII, epic events like the Armada, the adventures of Francis Drake on the Spanish Main, the Reformation, and the heroic stand of St. Thomas More. An exciting if overlooked tale of heroism is the work of the Jesuits to keep Catholicism alive in 16th-century England. Hundreds of Englishmen trained abroad, their religion outlawed, returned home to restore the “old faith,” facing certain death if caught. Many are listed today in the Roman martyrology.

For four decades, Ignatius Press has reclaimed many forgotten Catholic classics. One of these is Autobiography of a Hunted Priest, by Father John Gerard (1564-1637), an English Jesuit who spent eighteen years clandestinely ministering to his fellow countrymen. Born a Catholic in Derbyshire, young Gerard studied in Europe where he joined the Jesuit order. Founded in 1540, the Jesuits were the shock troops in the campaign to win Protestant Europe back to the Catholic faith.

Trained and ordained on the continent, Father Gerard secretly returned to England in the fall of 1588. Anti-Catholic hostility, exacerbated by the recent defeat of the Spanish Armada, was at a fever pitch: 

Everywhere a hunt was being organised for Catholics and their houses searched; in every village and along all the roads and all along the roads and lanes very close watches were kept to catch them.”

Catholics were forced to attend Protestant services or pay a fine. (Only the wealthy could afford to remain openly Catholic, although under intense pressure to convert.) Pope St. Pius V‘s 1570 bull Regnans in Excelsis exacerbated the situation by excommunicating Elizabeth and absolving her subjects from allegiance to her. Catholics were now seen as traitors to the realm. Jesuits were the subject of a special ire. Three years before Gerard’s return, they were banned from entering the country. They were political fugitives.

To stay above suspicion, Gerard cultivated a respectable public image. For six years he

Priest Hide at Harvington Hall

traveled through England, staying in the homes of wealthy Catholics, the safest place available. Here he posed as a visiting relative while secretly celebrating the sacraments. But even in these homes there was the risk of the “priest hunters” appearing. Some of the most heroic figures in Gerard’s book are the laypeople who kept the faith alive at great risk, harbouring clergy in secret passages known as “priest-holes.” (Gerard hid in one for four days with nothing but a biscuit for food.)

Betrayed by a servant, Gerard spent three years in prison. (All Catholics, he notes, lived in constant fear of betrayal.) Some of the book’s most interesting passages cover this period. He spent an entire month in chains doing the Spiritual Exercises (.pdf) of St. Ignatius Loyola from memory. He describes the many uses for an orange. From the peel he made a rosary, while using the juice to write letters legible only when heated (so the recipient would know if the letter had been intercepted). Sometimes he bribed the guards to look the other way while he celebrated Mass and conducted retreats for his fellow prisoners.

Through it all, he writes, he was entirely ready to “water the Lord’s vineyard” with his blood. For six months he stayed in the Tower of London, Elizabethan England‘s version of a maximum security prison. It was here that he underwent torture, an experience he describes in detail:

The chamber was underground and dark, particularly near the entrance. It was a vast place and every device and instrument of human torture was there. They pointed out some of them to me and said that I would try them all. Then they asked me again whether I would confess. “I cannot,” I said.

On October 3, 1597, with the help of friends, Father Gerard escaped from the Tower of London. For the next eight years he continued his ministry among the English people before he was recalled to the continent to train Jesuits for the English Mission. He spent the rest of his life at The Venerable English College in Rome. Toward the end of his life, Gerard’s Jesuit superiors asked him to write a memoir of his work in England, which he did, in Latin. Translated into English in 1871, the present edition was re-translated by the English Jesuit historian Father Philip Caraman S.J.

In his preface to the new edition, Father James V. Schall S.J., a Jesuit at Georgetown University, calls it “an ecclesiastical adventure story with a rather happy ending.” At a time when Christianity is undergoing new persecutions worldwide, Father Schall notes, “It may, in fact, be a very up-to-date book in its own way.” If you’re looking for a good read, or if you’re looking for a great Christmas present to give someone, you can’t do better than this.


Memorable Words of Life For Everyone Trying to Lead the Good Life By Fr. Francis Acharya OCSO.

Modelling their life on the early Church of Jerusalem, they lived the
common life to the hilt, sharing living quarters, basic amenities and
goods. Prayer services were initially in Syriac. Fr. Francis, driven by the
typical Cistercian search for authenticity, traveled all the way to Iraq
and managed to procure original Syriac prayers of the Antiochean rite
(the Penqito). By a Herculean effort spanning nearly two decades, he
translated selected portions into four volumes totalling 2300 pages,
named Prayer with the Harp of the Spirit. “…He has freely used his
sources with striking effect, reflecting the Christian freedom and
creative genius of the great masters of liturgical prayer in the past”
wrote Orientalia Christiana Periodica of the Pontifical Oriental
Institute. Rome, praising the first of this quartet, adorned as it is
with ‘seeds of the word’ gleaned from the spiritual heritage of
India. A book of daily readings on the Lives and Saying of Saints

St. Mary’s Hermitage Press – the publishing branch of St. Mary’s Hermitage are extremely delighted to make available to the Friends of St. Mary’s Hermitage their latest publication free of charge.

Memorable Words of Life For Everyone Trying to Lead the Good Life By Fr. Francis Acharya OCSO.

This book came into existence quite by accident after Bishop Alistair said that he would like to one day visit the Monastery of Our Lady of Kurisumala in Vagamon India. Dom Ugo-Maria ESB had a look at their website and saw an opportunity and contacted Father Abbot Savanand OCSO.

Several emails and 13 days later we present to our readers on behalf of Kurisumala Abbey a book that we hope will enlighten you.

Click on image to download

May the Holy Spirit enlighten you and Guide you always.

Dom. Ugo-Maria ESB (csr)

Recension: The Community and Abbot in the Rule of Saint Benedict

ADALBERT DE VOGÜÉ, La communauté et l’Abbé dans la Règle de saint Benoît; Desclée de Brouwer, 1961.

It would seem anachronistic to present D. de V.’s book, fifty seven years after its publication, in addition to which, we have had the subject dissected and addressed in several prestigious journals in international circulation. Valid as a justification by the fact of having been found virginally intact in some library, or with its pages only half cut and pasted in some other …

D. de V., in his dense introduction, saves us half of the work, when he realises that his purpose is none other than to meditate on the meaning of the relations that mediate between the Abbot and his monks, and of the society that is formed with them (p.11) “Theology of the abbacy and the particular station of the Abbot,” he states sometime later (p.14). The examination of the nucleus aspect, so to speak, of the Rule of Saint Benedict, converged on the axis of evangelical obedience, could not be done without the critical study of the extensive literature that preceded on the same subject. It is here ‘in the first place, where we begin to perceive by what prudent modesty and natural defect of perspective that the author could neither grasp nor manifest. The criticism of the commentators that precede it – and in particular the most modern ones – is of an exceptional objectivity, precisely because the informing criterion of which it consists by filling the hiatus introduced between the Rule and its sources, and it is this aspect, this objectivity in addition to exceptional we would say that it is really “raw”, which places us in front of a brave and faithful book, without ever falling into polemical tone. D. de V . wrote:

St. Benedict

“The spirit with which we approach the RB is by no means the same as our predecessors did … An intense filial piety is the common denominator of all these modern works, mostly the work of Benedictine monks. But the cult that is thus paid to St. Benedict is not without its drawbacks in terms of the exact interpretation of his thought. Often, in fact, veneration leads to magnify its historical role and the scope of its rule. There has been a real inflation here, extremely detrimental to the interpretation of the RB; it is exalted systematically, at the expense of everything that proceeded to it; an innovative intention is lent to its author; it is placed in opposition to all previous legislators or theorists.” (p.15).

Consistent with this severely critical attitude, D. de V. does not hesitate to analyse —  or, more accurately, to question — the notes of the “founder” and the “Roman”, traditionally attributed — and we would almost write “totemically” – to the Patriarch. But, above all, as a methodical patrologist, his review of traditional commentaries — without excepting the most illustrious, some of which inspire him the denomination of “historical novels” — tends to save the disconnection “introduced” between the RB and his sources, which, in his opinion, obeys the desire to “bring the Patriarch closer to us.”  “The Benedictine monasticism of our times,”  D. de V. states, “seeks to justify itself in this way. It is believed that Saint Benedict can be attributed the tendencies that have in fact prevailed. For our part, our preoccupation to edify (in the noblest sense of the term), which could be that of Abbot Paul Delatte OSB, Fr. Alban Butler, Abbot Ildefons Herwegen OSB, must remain alien to the comment we undertake to express. There is no intent on our part, like those great abbots, to extract from the Rule what seems to best suit the possibilities and needs of a contemporary monastery.  And even less, write a “mirror of abbots!” (P.19).

In the same way, driven by the historical rigour of D. de V., we will see other “certainties” disappear.  Thus, for example, that Saint Benedict gave his monastery a “family appearance”  which was missing from the Egyptian monastery, “faithful heir — in this sense —  of Saint Basil.” “This feature, in our opinion, does not characterise the Benedictine community more than that of Pacomio … The ideal of monasticism — continues D. de V. — has not evolved towards a more complete cenobitism, but is still dominated, as in the past, by an eremitical aspiration. It is the misery of men, and care to ensure the minimum of honesty, which have led to the development of common life.” (p. 26)

One could resist the persuasion of D. de V. — a risk, of course, to ignore his erudition, not share their conclusions on these aspects; but no one could fail to recognise, serenely, without obfuscation, that he had seldom heard a language so loyally addicted to the truth without partisanship.

At this point of the question it could be believed that we are in the presence of another iconoclast, and that, following the same method, D. de V. will turn, after the figures, the concepts. None of that. His exegesis of the holy Rule is very far from the spirit of novelty.  Boasting of erudition, it is at the same time boast of fidelity to the “per ducatum Evangelii;”  and if we discover some new approach, it is also situated in the line of fidelity to the “nova et vetera.” Commenting on the two Gospel texts (Luke 10:16 and John 6:38) in which Saint Benedict refers the monastic obedience to Jesus Christ, which sometimes makes the Abbot the  example of the Lord, D. de V. writes this comment evenly and beautiful (which we transcribe by way of example — or indication if you prefer — of that fidelity):

“The first (Luke 10:16) presents Christ as the one who is obeyed. In this perspective, it is the Abbot. His mission is to transmit the divine word, to speak in the name of Christ who sent it. We find here the abbot who was conceived as a ‘vicarious’ authority, as a ‘doctoral’ charisma, as a hierarchical authority … .” 

“The second text (John 6:38) presents Jesus Christ as one who imitates obedience.  In this perspective, Jesus Christ is no longer the one who orders, but the one who obeys: the command word no longer being asked for, but an example of obedience … .” (p. 266)

Was it the critical apparatus or was D. de V.’s stance in front of his predecessors on the subject, so daring in the first approach, which muffled the resonance that this book deserved? Or perhaps it is one of those books written before their time, and intended for future generations? Perhaps his mission consisted in destroying the prisms through which we had habitually become accustomed to “think,” in prefabricated terms, the holy Rule, paving the way for its rediscovery. Opposing the “inflation” which he denounces and highlighting the dependence upon the RB with respect to the RM and its predecessors, far from undermining the merit of the Patriarch and the value of the holy Rule, it is restored in all its authenticity. “Fructus enim lucis est in omni bonitote, et justitia, et veritate  .”

Sollemnitas Sancti Tomás de Villanueva MMXVIII September.
Eremitarum Santa Maria,
Ordo Eremitae Sancti Brunónis

Discovering Aquinas. An Introduction to His Life, Work and Influence.[1] by Aidan Nichols, O.P.

The chapters of Fr. Nichols’ book can be seen as keys inviting one to enter the many gardens of Thomistic thought. In Chapter One, “Thomas in his Time,” after a brief summary of his life and a presentation of his Sacra Doctrina as an orderly reflection on the Bible in the light of faith, there follows an overview of his most famous work, the Summa Theologiae: the exitus of creatures going forth from God by his Word, and the reditus — their returning back to God in the grace of the Holy Spirit.

This book is vailable for purchase from the Online Shop of St. Mary’s Hermitage.

In the early years of my noviciate and Holy Orders St. Thomas Aquinas was an unfathomable depth in the Marianas Trench of the Pacific ocean. I knew him to be the paragon of Catholic theology but any attempt to enter into his thought left me numb and benighted.  St. Thomas Aquinas’, Summa Theologiae was required formational reading in the seminary, something we delved into for 5 years. It was the Theological Formation Program for priests that enabled me to “dip my toes into the water” and now I am contentedly “saturated” in the clear waters of his profound sagacity.  So it is with elation that I received the new book with a title that captured my pedagogy: Discovering Aquinas by the Dominican theologian, John Christopher “Aidan” Nichols O. P., whom I had met at Blackfriars Oxford during my Baccalaureate in Sacred Theology.

Cognisant of the “universal call to holiness” based on the Gospel according to Matthew 5:48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” and promulgated by Pope St. John Paul II in his Apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte,[2]  This universal call to holiness has always been a teaching of the Church and is rooted in Her mission to take sinners and raise them from their sinful nature into saints by the glory and perfection of Jesus Christ. For God does not choose us by our virtue or goodness, but by His infinite mercy and desire for all men’s salvation.[3] St. Thomas, a consummate spiritual master, was able in his lifetime to maintain the intimate connection between theology and spirituality, faith and reason, by an adherence to Truth which surpasses and unites them in the Being of God. His metaphysics enables one to think through and probe the doctrines and mysteries of faith. Through the application of philosophical principles one is reinforced in the truth that one already believes. This is a source of dynamism and conversion in Christ.

The chapters of Fr. Nichols’ book can be seen as keys inviting one to enter the many gardens of Thomistic thought. In Chapter One, “Thomas in his Time,” after a brief summary of his life and a presentation of his Sacra Doctrina as an orderly reflection on the Bible in the light of faith, there follows an overview of his most famous work, the Summa Theologiae: the exitus of creatures going forth from God by his Word, and the reditus — their returning back to God in the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Chapter Two on “Revelation” may come as a refreshing surprise to many. Thomas takes us beyond the current exegetical climate of historical-biblical criticism and ushers the reader straight to the heart of the matter: God, as First Truth, speaking to us. For St. Thomas, Revelation is a gift coming down from the Father of lights, so that by faith, we might pass through the words to the divine reality from which they spring. In Scripture, “God utters himself as he really is” and the light of faith “is a share in God’s own knowledge of himself” (38). By putting faith in first place, the soul adheres to the revealed mystery given us by God with Jesus taking his rightful place as Master and Lord. The chapter concludes with a magnificent invitation to take the gift of God’s Word “as the very measure of our own minds” and to do so “with absolute certitude” (35). Such faith, actualised in the soul by the Holy Spirit’s gift of knowledge, can only be a loving faith by which we possess our whole life. The theological virtue of faith is a fragrant garden in which the sincere seeker will want to linger long.

Chapter Three, “God and Creation,” focuses on St. Thomas’ three-fold teaching of how the creature can know the Creator: first, through the descending gift of Revelation coming down from above from the Father of lights (James 1:17); secondly, in the ascending gift of reason and the analogy of being; thirdly, through the gift of mystical experience, touched on but developed further in Chapter Eleven. In his creation theology, we can know as creatures that God exists, albeit in a real distinction from the world—God is completely distinguished from the world and outside any world-view as totally Other, and we can know how God exists—by means of his attributes, a study which is, in fact, an explanation of the ways in which God does not exist, a saying of what God is not and finally, we can represent how God acts — by means of his knowledge, will and power by which all things come to be.  St. Thomas sees creation as the analogical comprehension of created being participating in the Divine Being of God himself. In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Creaturely beings are not their own being but are beings by participation in the very being of God.[4] Indeed the creature exists “only in its relation to God” (58). The reader is introduced to the divine simplicity, goodness, immutability, and perfection of God, as well as the metaphysical topics of causality, act and potency, and participation. Attention is given to the chief contribution of Aquinas in the advancement of philosophy: esse—the first perfection and the ultimate act of all reality, the act in which we as creatures participate. The ardent seeker will gradually want to explore all these paths in this intricate but rewarding garden of Thomistic thought.

Chapter Four, “The Trinity,” begins with a summary account of the historical development of Trinitarian theology. I found this chapter particularly tightly packed until I came to its final section, “The Trinity in relation to ourselves.” Here the reader is drawn into the Trinitarian “life of grace and glory” (72) which is ours as adopted sons and daughters of the Father and the ultimate purpose of our creaturely existence. The glory that you have given me I have given them (John 17:22). A tip for the reader: whenever a chapter seems particularly dense it might be helpful to turn to the last few enlightening pages.

Chapter Five, “The Trinity in Man,” discusses the Trinitarian processions and their missions – the indwelling of the Son and the Holy Spirit in the human spirit. How human beings share in this Trinitarian Life was for St. Thomas an important question. The answer he gives is grace (in Chapter Seven) by which we are conjoined to the divine being itself.

The following is a personal reflection on how the Trinitarian ‘conjoining,’ in a synthesis of faith and reason, might be both spiritually and theologically understood—an invitation to the reader for further in-depth study and penetration in prayer of this sublime mystery. St. Thomas, following St. Augustine on whom he builds his Trinitarian theology, speaks of the verbum cordis (word of the heart) as an adequate analogical concept to represent divine life. The procession of the Son (verbum) from the Father, which may be compared to the procession of a mental word in our interior action of knowing according to Thomistic epistemology, might also be compared to a word of wisdom spoken in the soul by a gratuitous gift of the Holy Spirit. “… abide in my love” (John 15:9).  When one hears the word of God spoken in one’s being and understands that word in one’s mind, it could be called the term and perfection of the faith-filled soul. Like the procession of the Eternal Word revealing the perfection of the Father, the soul in its act of understanding of the  word spoken within, produces in the intellect a conception of what it is called to be. This is the procession of the interior word.  In that word spoken within the soul, the Father, so to speak, offers His gift of salvation.  The intellect, in its reception of that word through the Spirit’s gift of understanding, is made one with the word which has been impressed in its being.  And as the Father’s act of understanding is the generation (conception) of the Son in his own likeness, so the intellect’s reception of the Spirit’s gift of understanding in its “womb” of faith is a conception of the word in the likeness of the Son.

St. Augustine says something similar regarding the soul who has received this perfect knowledge and conceives a mental word in the likeness of the Son of God.

With the eye of the mind, therefore, we perceive in that eternal truth, from which all temporal things have been made, the form according to which we are, and by which we effect something either in ourselves or in bodies with a true and right reason. The true knowledge of things, thence conceived, we bear with us as a word, and beget by inner speech; nor does it depart from us by being born.[5]

So it was with the Virgin Mary who, as St. Augustine teaches, conceived Christ first in her mind before she conceived him in her womb.

When the angel had said this, she full of faith and conceiving Christ first in her mind and then in her body, ‘Behold,’ she said, ‘the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word’ . . . Mary believed and what she believed was done in her (Serm. CCXV).

Are we not all called to the same? The soul will not conceive the word in its life unless it has first, through faith and prayer, conceived the word in the conception of its intellect. When through grace, the soul identifies itself with that word and seeks to express that word in the thoughts, words, and deeds of his or her life, the soul gives birth to Christ again and again: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:21).

Adrienne von Speyr has a similar message:

The Word can stick in our memory and at any moment take on life through our will. It can become the measure of our activity, the mantle of our existence, and it can put forth such vital energy that it is, in a certain sense, more alive than our life. It can constantly receive and shelter us within itself. It can do so even insofar as it is a demand; but it does so above all insofar as it is love.[6]

Chapter Six, “Angelology,” introduces the reader to the tract on the angels which won the title by which St. Thomas is most familiarly known—the Angelic Doctor.  Thomas was keenly interested in the reality of angels, those pure spirits, indestructible mental realities of knowing and willing, independent of all but God. Angels do not share our human limitations and can be our best friends in our efforts to live the supernatural life of grace. They have been assigned to help us on the way to salvation if we but ask for their powerful assistance.

Chapter Seven, considers “Grace and the Virtues.” Here is revealed the special “spiritual love” of the Holy Spirit, “made interior to the soul’s essence.”  God gives his creature the Holy Spirit, “a new inward principle or power” — a “pneumatic existence” which “has its energising centre within.”  This is God’s most glorious gift, a sharing in his own divine nature, the “grace of glory [which] will bring us finally before God” (105-106).[7]

Chapter Seven includes a section, “Grace and freedom,” which is a profound study in itself. God brings about his will in the creatures’s regard through grace, while at the same time leaving our personal freedom intact. Fr. Nichols uses the example of a person emerging from sinfulness who does so “by a decision which is really his own yet at the same time is made possible by the ground-preparing grace of God” (106). “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Grace places the intelligent creature in that condition where the achievement of its being is possible. And it likewise places her in a condition of liberty where the choice of this possibility can be made (96).

Fortified with the reality of grace , “the divine energeia,” the mind and will is then prepared to live the life of virtue which begins with the moral order both in ourselves and in society (105). The life of virtue is St. Thomas’ way to reclaim a Christian cultural environment wherein supernatural values are, once again, household realities. “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (Ephesians 2:10). The supernatural world of grace is a luminous and spacious Thomistic garden for study and contemplation.

Fr. Nichols points out in Chapter Eight, “Christ, Church, Sacraments,” that although Thomas does not provide a sustained study of the Church, “all the elements necessary for ecclesiology can be found in his work” (120).  It seems that here would be an opportune place to compare and synthesise those “ecclesial elements”  found in St. Thomas with the highly developed understanding of the Church found in the writings of Hans Urs von Balthasar. Such a study could facilitate seeing the depth of meaning present in Thomistic thought. Nichols gives a hint of this depth where he explains, for example, that Thomas’ “key term for the Church is congregatio fidelium, ‘congregation of the faithful,’ but owing to his high view of faith [has] exalted consequences” (121).  On the one hand, von Balthasar spells out some of these “exalted consequences” — for example, the Church as bride of Christ— while on the other, St. Thomas undergirds and exalts their reality.[8]

In Chapter Eight, Fr. Nichols does an outstanding task in explaining divinity and humanity united in the one Divine Person that is Christ.  Aquinas speaks in a way that can be absorbed by modern ears yet faithful to Chalcedon and the Greek Fathers. To his interpretation of the Chalcedonian Formula there is added his own rich metaphysics of being (113).

In the section, “The grace of union,” the author unveils the splendours of the Christian call to deification which can be found in St. Thomas and is another example of his high view of faith. Here we are told that Christ became incarnate to redeem us for this life of intimate union with himself and that following Thomas’ thought:

our humanity can also attain through grace that further perfection that lies far beyond our capacities. All this came about ‘for us men and for our salvation.’ The life of Christ can be our salvation history because God has filled and super-filled the being of Christ with graces, graces meant not least to overflow from the Church’s Head to the Church’s members (116).

We are meant to live the life of Christ, that is, to be transformed into Christ in his mysteries, which is the next section of this chapter.  A quotation from the renowned Thomist, Yves Marie-Joseph Cardinal Congar, O. P., speaks of the abiding impact of the grace of these mysteries as: 

mysteries lived out by the Saviour [and] [remaining] in his glorified humanity as a disposition of eternal value, properly equipped to produce in us the saving effects which correspond to each of these mysteries (119).[9]

Meditation on the Mysteries of the Rosary might be suggested here and the parenthetical reference to Mariology made in this chapter (118) might be another opportune place for further development of Thomistic thought.[10]

Chapter Nine gives a thumbnail sketch of “Thomas in History.” St. Thomas (c. 1225-1274) worked in an age when the lectio of the monastery was giving birth to the quaestio which evolved into the disputatio of the university.  The lofty coalescence of faith and reason, contemplation and argumentation, which St. Thomas was capable of holding together, began after his lifetime to split apart opening a rift between philosophy and theology.   This chapter recounts the turbulent waters which resulted in a “Second Scholasticism,” and then a “Third Scholasticism.”  There was another “decline” at the Second Vatican Council and now it seems, as Jesuit Thomist Gerald A. McCool S.J.,  predicted, St. Thomas is rising again and a “Fourth Scholasticism” is in the making.[11] Notwithstanding the numerous challenges to Thomistic teaching, particularly Scotism and nominalism. Pope John XXII, on July 18, 1323, canonised Thomas with great solemnity; Pius V, in 1567, elevated him to the status of a doctor of the Church, Doctor Communis; and in 1880 Pope Leo XIII declared Thomas to be the patron saint of all Catholic schools and universities.  In 1974, the seventh centenary of the Angelic Doctor’s death, Pope Paul VI proclaimed at a Dominican Congress in Rome that we were witnessing a “formidable return of Thomistic influence.”  Karol Wojtyla taught Thomism at the University of Lublin for twenty-four years before becoming John-Paul II with world wide influence.  In 1997, an international survey of the most important personalities of the second millennium in religious, political and artistic spheres revealed St. Thomas to be in first place.

Part Four concludes the book with a look at some necessary philosophical and theological tools. In Chapter Ten, “Thomas and the Practice of Philosophy,” the reader is introduced to Thomistic metaphysics as the science of being as being together with its properties, of first causes or principles, act and potency, the analogy of being, essence and existence, and the transcendentals.  The most exciting of these, yet the most difficult to get a hold of, is St. Thomas’ central innovative concept of esse: existence as “dynamic, energising act” (151).  Esse for St. Thomas is so basic and important that it is not captured in “existence” considered as “a fact” or “out there.”  Esse is best thought of as actus essendi, the act of the essence, the root actuality of being, the perfection of all perfections, of all acts. Esse is the fundamental dimension of reality at the heart of everything else; it is the root of everything else that is.  

The metaphysics of esse can be applied to the spiritual life. Man is composed of two essential principles, soul and body, his essence and existence, but he has only one act of existing (esse)—his spiritual existence—given as a gift from the Creator God. The act of existence belongs to the soul which the soul communicates to the body, making one complete composite person. Each particular person’s act of existence belongs to himself alone, while his specific essence, the ens commune, or common being of man, considered in distinction from its act of existence, is the same for all members of the same species. According to Étienne Gilson “a human soul is an act that stands in need of further actualisation … ‘Become what thou art’ is for such a form [the human soul] an imperative order, because it is inscribed as a law in its very nature.”[12]

The author of a Thomistically flavoured study of St. Teresa’s Interior Castle,[13] proposes that the act for which the human soul was created is “to identify itself with the act by which God desires himself,” to become one Spirit with him (1 Corinthians 6:17).  This act, the author continues, is “a kind of participation in the aspiration of love which is in God, associating the creature not with his Being but with the divine act. Union is in the act; St. Teresa compares it to two candles which mingle their flames without being merged together.” Within the Trinity, God gives himself completely to the Son; and the Son returns himself completely to the Father in an endless exchange of love that is the Holy Spirit. We are called to mingle our human love with the totally Other divine love that God is, “Abide in me as I abide in you” (John 15:4). This objective act of pure love is a spontaneous interior choice of God at all times in the depth of the soul.[14]  It is a becoming that is entirely interior, an ordering of the potency of our spiritual being toward a precise goal: our true actualisation by grace in a progressive becoming of who we really are in God.  Like esse, it is the root actuality of our ‘to be’ in Christ, the root act of all spiritual life and growth, the perfection of all perfections, the fundamental of union in reality with the Heart of Christ “love united to love”: “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20). “An act of this kind is mystical, being the essential reality of the mystical life.” It is mystical because it is supernatural; it can only be accomplished with the help of grace. “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5).[15]

The concluding Chapter Eleven, “Thomas and the Idea of Theology,” brings the reader full circle.  In Chapter Two on Revelation, we saw that Sacred Scripture was “central to Thomas’ picture of Christian theology” (29).  In Chapter Eleven, we are brought back to the same idea — a theology “soaked in Scripture” (169), and a glance at his writings prove this to be true. St. Thomas was first of all a lecturer on the “sacred page.”  Like all Masters of Sacred Theology, or Sacra Doctrina, he was fully conversant with the sacred text and had mastered all the Patristic commentaries.

St. Thomas was open to truth wherever he found it. In his study of theology as a science, he adapted a theory of Aristotle and called it the sub-alteration of the sciences, a method by which one can make use of other sciences as subordinates and handmaids.[16]  This is possible because in all fields of knowledge there are sub-fields that can contribute to the main subject of investigation.  Frequently, distinct fields of their own become sub-fields to something else.  Depending on the objective purpose of the study, the sciences, without losing their own integrity as a science, sometimes are subjected to other sciences.  An example of this subjection would be the relation of musical theory to mathematics.  Consequently, if one is using the historical-critical method in the exegesis of Sacred Scripture, it is necessary to apply the sub-alteration of sciences principle because theology and exegesis are distinct, logically speaking, in the way that theology is distinct from philosophy, astronomy, biology, music, mathematics, etc. The application of the historical-critical method to Sacred Scripture must always be subservient to faith and the Tradition of the Church, the Tradition that St. Thomas considered a fount of revealed understanding not distinct from the Scriptures, since “Scripture itself [is] transmitted by Tradition and the two together are the norm of Christian faith” (30-31).  Christians study the Bible in the light of faith and in the Tradition of commentary and doctrine, liturgy and lectionary, approved by the magisterium of the Church. Historical-critical exegesis can be an illuminating tool but it must be shaped to theological purposes, that is, to the fundamental vision of the Scriptural world which all Christians share.

The book’s conclusion offers high praise for “the apostolic value of St. Thomas’  thought and writing” (181), and (this writer would add) for the solid grounding and mystical heights his theology offers.  In the opening question of the Summa theologiae, St. Thomas taught “the purpose and meaning of human existence is ultimately to be found only in God who is invincible and incomprehensible.” (24) Because St. Thomas focused his whole life on knowing and loving God, he knew that:

it was necessary for the salvation of man that he should have, beyond the philosophical disciplines investigated by human reason, a teaching that proceeds from divine revelation.[17]

The Doctor Communis dedicated himself to this kind of holy teaching or sacra doctrina. He wrote in the Summa contra Gentiles, “the ultimate salvation of man is that he may be perfected in his intellectual aspect by the contemplation of the First Truth.”[18] But for Thomas, the intellect is more than logic and abstract conceptualisations; his intellectus includes an understanding by “kinship, propter connaturalitatem, rather than by the application of reasoning, secundum perfectum usum rationis,” and the intuitive grasp of truth enlightened by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  The Summa theologiae is meant to engage the whole person in his psychological, physical, spiritual unity, in a living communion with God. “Christian theology moves in the world of grace and depends on a loving intercourse with divine things.”[19] On January 28th, the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, the following passage is read in the liturgy:

Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me; I called on God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.  I preferred her to sceptres and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her.  Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem, because all gold is but a little sand in her sight, and silver will be accounted as clay before her.  I loved her more than health and beauty, and I chose to have her rather than light, because her radiance never ceases.  All good things came to me along with her, and in her hands uncounted wealth.  I rejoiced in them all, because wisdom leads them; but I did not know that she was their mother.  I learned without guile and I impart without grudging; I do not hide her wealth, for it is an unfailing treasure for mortals; those who get it obtain friendship with God, commended for the gifts that come from instruction.  (Wisdom 7: 7-14)[20]

St. Thomas, one of the great mystics of the Church, desired above all to enter the wine cellar of divine love. During the last three years of his life he experienced ecstatic union with God more and more often.  After the feast of St. Nicholas, December 6th, 1273, he put away his quill and wrote no more.  He never completed his famous Summa theologiae.  From an image of the Crucified, Thomas heard these words, “Bene scripsist de me, Thoma. Quam ergo mercedem accipies,” “Thou hast written well of me, Thomas. What wouldst thou claim as a reward.”  Thomas replied, “Nil nisi te, Domine,” “Only Thyself, O Lord.”[21]

As Fr. Nichols tells us in the beginning of his book (18) and again at its conclusion, the theology of St. Thomas “no matter how speculative its flights, had never had an ultimate goal different from that of Benedict or Bernard in the heavenly city of God.”  (178).

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!“For who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?”  “Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?”  For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever.  Amen.  (Romans 11:33-36)

[1] Aidan Nichols, O.P., Discovering Aquinas, (London: Darton, Longman, Todd, 2002).
[2] At the beginning of the new millennium. 6 January 2001.
[3] Wagner, Francis de Sales O.S.B., “The universal call to holiness,” St. Meinrad Archabbey.
[4] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, la., q. 44, a. 1.
[5] St. Augustine, The Trinity, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 45, trans. Stephen McKenna, CSSR (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1963), Bk. IX, Ch. 7, p. 281.
[6] Adrienne von Speyr, “Holiness in the Everyday,” Communio, 29, 4, 2002, p. 758.
[7] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, la. Ilae., q. 110, a. 1.
[8] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology II: Spouse of the Word, Who is the Church?, trans. A. V. Littledale with Alexander Dru (San Francisco CA: Ignatius Press, 1991), p. 161, and St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologicae, Ilia. Q. 30, a. 1.
[9] Yves Congar, O.P., “Le sens de I’Economie salutaire dans la ‘theologie’ de saint Thomas d’Aquin,” Festgabe J Lortz. II. Glaube und Geschichte (Baden-Baden,1958),pp.73-122.
[10] St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa theologiae, vol. 51, ed. and trans, with appendices by T. R. Heath, O.P. (NY: Mc Graw Hill, 1969); The Three Greatest Prayers: Commentaries on the Our Father, the Angelic Salutation, Namely the Hail Mary, and the Apostles’ Creed, trans. Laurence Shapcote, O.P. with intro. by Thomas Gilby, OP (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1956); Commentary on Gospel of St. John, trans. James Weisheipl, O.P. and Fabian Larcher, OP, Part I: Chapters 1-7 (Albany, NY; Magi Books, 1980) and Part II: Chapters 8-21 (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications).
[11] “Why St. Thomas Stays Alive.” International Philosophical Quarterly, vol. XXX, No. 3, Issue No. 119 (Sept. 1990) pp. 285-287.
[12] Etienne Gilson, Being and Some Philosophers, (Toronto; Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1952), pp. 171, 181.
[13] Sr. Madeline of St. Joseph, OCD, Within the Castle with St. Teresa of Avila, trans, and abridged, Carmel of Pittsford , N.Y., with intro by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD (Chicago: Franciscan Press, 1982).
[14] Summa theologiae, IIa. IIae., q. 27, a. 1, 3, 4, 5; Ia., q. 8, a. 3.
[15] Sr. Madeline of St. Joseph, Within the Castle with St. Teresa of Avila, pp. 38, 80; see also Summa theologiae, lla. Ilae., q. 24, a. 2.
[16] Joseph Augustine Di Noia, O.P., Theological Formation Program, Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC, 1998, Lecture no. 10. See also St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, Ia., q. 1, a. 5 ad 2.
[17] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, la., q. 1, a. 1.
[18] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles, IV, 42.
[19] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, vol. 1, ed. and trans, with appendices by Thomas Gilby, O.P. (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1963), Appendix 10, p. 124.
[20] Solomon’s Respect for Wisdom.
[21] Reginald M. Coffey, O.P., The Man from Rocca Sicca (Milwawukee; Bruce Publishing Co., 1942), p. 123.


The latest book by The Reverend Father Don Pietro Leone, academic, Lecturer in Doctrine and Traditional Ritual, is directed at Pope Francis, although the topic is not dear to the heart of the recipient: Mass in Vetus Ordo. The author of Come è Cambiato il Rito Romano Antico, published by Solfanelli, has set himself the objective of evaluating the two rites, the new and the ancient in a scientific manner, by comparing them in light of their respective sacramental theologies.

The decree of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI, published in July 2007 to liberalise the ancient Roman Rite, aroused a variety of reactions: some welcomed it with joy, in the hope that it would be applied as widely as possible; while others have labeled it as “something for the nostalgic”.   In this context, the Book aims to evaluate the two rites with scientific discipline: more precisely, to compare them in light of their respective sacramental theologies.  The book further aims to offer the reader a synthetic vision on the topic, concerning both the ordinary (or “common”) of the Mass, that is the parts that are common to all Masses, those parts that are proper to one Mass or another.  The first part of the essay analyses the common of the Mass, the second part analyses inter-alia the differences of each Mass.  This comparison of the two rites will allow us to evaluate them in the correct manner.

Available from our: Hermitage Bookshop:


The latest book by The Reverend Father Don Pietro Leone, academic, Lecturer in Doctrine and Traditional Ritual, is directed at Pope Francis, although the topic is not dear to the heart of the recipient: Mass in Vetus Ordo. The author of Come è Cambiato il Rito Romano Antico, published by Solfanelli, has set himself the objective of evaluating the two rites, the new and the ancient in a scientific manner, by comparing them in light of their respective sacramental theologies.

This resulted in a text that does not seek controversy and, free from all hypocrisy or duplicity, highlights the objectivity and the truth of the facts. The sources, on the other hand, are of unquestionable theological and historical value. It is essentially a compendium, a summary on the two rites accessible to all more or less on the subject prepared readers. A close examination of each one emerges, as it is written in the preface, “that they are so different that we cannot accurately speak of two forms of the Roman rite, nor to two Roman Rituals; but rather of two distinct rites, the first Roman and the second non-Roman: it will show us that in creating the New Rite the ancient Rite was destroyed”.

Father Leone has no reservations and no fear in highlighting the Protestant character of the new rite, so, he rigorously proposes a confrontation that leaves avenue for open to deception or for sugar-coating the subject: “In fact, all that was suppressed was almost everything that was part of the true essence of the Mass, that is, its sacrificial nature.  It is therefore in this perspective that we will compare the theology of the two rites in the following subsections: §1 on the offertory, relating to the anticipation of the sacrifice; §2 on the canon, relating to making the presence of the sacrifice; §3 on the real Presence, relating to its object, that is Jesus Christ himself; §4 on the sacrificial priesthood, relating to the minister who has received the power to make the sacrifice, §5 on the purpose of the Mass, relating to the finality of the sacrifice; §6 on Latin, relating to the language that is suitable; §7 on the orientation of the celebrant, relating to the appropriate orientation; §8 on the altar and table relating to the altar of sacrifice; and §9 on intelligibility and participation, concerning their principal objective, that is, the sacrifice itself” (p.27).

One could not then miss the correct interpretation of the sacramental priesthood. Priests are presbyters and not the laity, while, with the new rite, the priests are aligned with the lay priesthood of the Protestants.

So we see the change very clearly: in the modern Mass all the verbal distinctions in the offertory and in the canon between the priest and the laity have been removed, with the exception of the “pray brothers” (or “Orate Frates”).

The double Confiteor and the double Communion have been replaced with a single Confiteor and a single Communion, where no clear distinction exists between the priests and the faithful (a term that has been substituted with “assembly” or “people”), while the formula of absolution has been removed, as it was removed by the Protestants in the sixteenth century.

The Council of Trent replied very sternly to Luther and to all the Protestants for the heresy that arose from this with On The Sacrifice of the Mass: Canon I. — “If any one saith, that in the mass a true and proper sacrifice is not offered to God; or, that to be offered is nothing else but that Christ is given us to eat; let him be anathema.” (pp. 49-50)..

Therefore the purpose of the Mass is not simply for praise or adoration and thanksgiving, but it is also an expiation and supplication.  This statement is as true as it is eternal and is the answer not only to the Protestant repudiation that the Mass is a sacrifice and, as such, atoning appealing in nature, but also a response to the new Mass endorsed by Paolo VI and Annibale Bugnini, who as early as the pontificate of Pio XII, began to, with his collaborators in the Liturgical Commission to meet with the separated brethren.

Too bad that those brothers with their errors have affected the revolutionaries within the Church, poisoning a rite that has become directed more at mankind rather than a worship directed toward God.

However, the Vetus Ordo, thanks to the Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI of 7 July 2007, continues to reaffirm a response to the growing interest for both the priests who apply it, and for the faithful who assist him and where the young are of great importance.

The author’s supernatural vision, which is expressed when he asserts that God has allowed so much liturgical degradation as a possible “severe punishment to the Church for the harm with the most extreme severity” (p. 131) with an appropriate similarity between the punishments to mankind as suffered during the twentieth century and foretold by Our Lady of Fatima, it does nothing but add value to this work of nonfiction, having value of a spiritual character.

Related to this book of great interest and usefulness, is the release of an analysis by Abbé Claude Barthe, theologian, defender and populariser of the “genius” of the traditional Roman liturgy, entitled Storia del Messale Tridentino, translated from French into Italian by Carlotta Anna Pallottino Luyt and published again by Solfanelli. [I have been unable to find a translation in English at this time]

The text is intended for all those who wish to understand how the product which is studied by a few, or rather that the Novus ordo, is nothing more than a consequence of a matured mentality, over a period of four centuries (ie from the promulgation of the Missal of the Council of Trent, which took place July 14, 1570, to the first edition of the missal of Vatican Council II, published March 26, 1970), during which the enemies of the Church operated with an invasive and systematic strategy.

The liturgical work carried out by the Council of Trent sanctioned the results of the medieval stabilisation of the Roman cult.  The reception of this Council, during these four hundred years, has been accompanied by an evolution of Catholicism, and the evolution that demarcated it – thanks to the burrowing actions of the opponents of Catholicism – in an increasingly incisive and firm way from Tradition, until we reach our chaotic and heretical times.

The liturgy of this Catholicism of the Counter-Reformation was celebrated from Pius V to John XXIII, up to the explosive threshold of a contemporary crisis.  I have chosen to focus the study in a particular way on this period, since in it there has been an assimilation of all the anterior liturgical stratifications, essentially following the Carolingian romanisation and the centralisation process realised by the Gregorian reform.  This retrospective is characterised by the fatal tendency to favour the author’s French point of view, which can indeed find an objective justification because of the important role that the Churches of France have participate in over this period in history of the Roman cult” (pp. 5-6).

Scrutinising the history of the Roman Missal is to understand the doctrinal, theological, liturgical and sacred a heritage that has been built, brick by brick, until we reach the formation of the Tridentine Missal.

Not, therefore, a handful of revolutionary men who idealised an alternative, as happened with the Novus Ordo, but a Pope, St. Pius V, who regularised and unified the Catholic liturgy in the world.  Commencing in the High Middle Ages, it has acquired a relevance, not equal to that of the Bible, but, on closer inspection, comparable and complementary, such as to give sacred character to the missal and vice versa.  To this we must add an intrinsic osmosis of the liturgical texts and ceremonies with the teachings of the magisterium.  Osmosis much greater than that, however still very strong, of the rights of the Church with the same teachings”(p.5).

So as to understand better lets give an example: the Carolingians accentuated the Romanisation of the liturgy of Gaul with a view of political and religious unification of their territories, but also to ensure the spread of Roman Catholicism in defence of religious orthodoxy.

The increasing use of the Roman liturgy as it was celebrated in Rome, as did the Franciscans of the thirteenth century, was achieved through the dissemination of the liturgical books of the Roman Curia and adopted by them.  The importance of the Missal and the Breviary, but also the pontifical of the Roman Curia, augmented by the invention of the printing press and the Counter-Reformation.

Thus the, violent Protestant attacks against the “papist” Masses and on the other hand, the doctrinal work of the Council of Trent (particularly in sessions XIII and XXII) have conferred on the Mass of the Curia added a truly Roman value.  It becomes, more evidently, a beacon of the Catholic Profession of faith as conveyed by tradition”.  A tradition that is so betrayed today, violated with inconceivable and sacrilegious abuses, abuses that find their matrix in the Lutheran denial of transubstantiation.