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Decay of Gravitas in the Church Clergy - I

From St. Dominic to Cardinal Richelieu

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira


Saint Dominic -  Fra Angelico is, on one hand, a well qualified artist to depict the gravity of men and, on the other hand, one of the least qualified to do so. This is because in a certain way his paintings transcend the weaknesses of human nature and he depicts man almost without original sin.

St. Dominic by Fra Angelico

Here we have St. Dominic painted by Fra Angelico. St. Dominic is envisioned here dressed in his Dominican habit in a thoughtful attitude, still very young and delicate.

A characteristic trait of gravity appears in his complete concentration. He is totally focused on what he is reading. One of the most difficult things for the contemporary man is to fix his attention on an arid theme and enter into it completely, the capacity to transcend the concrete.

This concentration is translated into something like a scowl on St. Dominic's brow. Here we see him feeling the difficulty of understanding what he is reading. His mind is entering a labyrinth and he wants to resolve something that offers a natural resistance to his understanding.

His gravity is accentuated and completed by the great serenity of the ensemble. His intellectual effort is serious, calm and detached, without any pretense of assuming imaginary roles. He is who he is, alone before the eyes of God and desiring to find the truth.

This picture could be titled “Effort of a serious, upright and pious soul to find the truth.”

St. Bernardino of Siena

St Bernardino of Siena

Here we find no longer the man of studies, but the preacher. He is St. Bernardine of Siena who spread the devotion of the Holy Name of Jesus. He was a preacher who would attract immense crowds in large squares. While he spoke, the multitude would change positions, following the direction of the wind, in order to hear his words. Look at his face. It is the face of a man who knows he is invested with the divine mission to tell the hardest truths to his contemporaries, which is, in fact, what he did.

In this picture he appears as if he were telling those truths and fulfilling his mission. And if people would not hear, burning coals would fall over their heads.

His mind is brimming with ideas, convictions about the transcendental character and the infinite perfection of God and the high eternal destiny of man. In his fiery gaze there is no place for trifling matters. He displays an enormous grandeur and seriousness.

Abbé Suger

 Abbe de Suger

Here you have a portrayal of the Abbé Suger, who was a minister of King Louis VII of France.

In this picture he is represented as a statesman rather than a religious man. In him we do not see the intellectual or the man invested with a divine mission, but rather the man of thought accustomed to govern. In this sense, this representation is expressive.

We can observe the virile bearing and the gravity and seriousness of his persona. If we compare him with our present day Ministers of State, we realize the immense gravity of this man.

Cardinal Richelieu

Here one sees how much things changed. In this portrait of Cardinal Richelieu, it is useless to look for the fire of a St. Bernardino of Siena or his consciousness of a divine mission; it is useless to look for anything transcendental, anything that goes beyond human nature.

Cardinal Richelieu by Philippe de Champaigne

What happened? Before, men had acquired a great supernatural elevation that was accompanied by a great natural elevation. When they lost that supernatural elevation, the natural elevation continued to exist for some time. There was a kind of acquired velocity in virtue that continued on for a certain time, even though it diminished in each generation. The propulsion of that velocity stopped after the apostasy of Christendom even though the movement continued for a while, and so the men of each generation became worse.

St. Pius X expressed this same principle, saying that when a vase of flowers is removed from a room, it still conserves the flagrance of the flowers for some time. In this picture the supernatural is no longer there, but its perfume is still present.

This portrayal shows Richelieu as a man whose spirit completely dominates matter, because this man is all eyes, eyes that are all soul.

His eyes are large and luminous, indicating a strong, resourceful will, a man who ardently wants what he desires and determinedly executes his resolutions. He has nothing of those soft men who wish for a thing and then, after a while, fall to the ground, exhausted by their efforts. Here we have a determined will enlightened by intelligence. His body is slender, but his bearing and everything else – including the cape – express this will.

We see the fall from the earlier types of man, but nonetheless, we would admire such a man should we cross him in some church.

Continued

Posted October 18, 2010

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