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‘Everything Is Reflected in the Eyes’

Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira

We often analyze ambiences in buildings, pieces of furniture or landscapes. It is interesting to emphasize that the principal element of every ambience is man. This is evident with regard to the ideas man expresses and the actions he practices, but is less evident regarding what we could call the imponderable elements of the human presence: his bearing, attitude and gaze. Here we will analyze the human gaze.

Prosper Gueranger
Our first photo pictures one of the most illustrious personalities of the French Ultramontane Movement in the 19th century, Dom Prosper Guéranger, OSB, founder and Abbot of the famous Monastery of Solesmes, restorer of the Sacred Liturgy, distinguished writer and the good friend of Louis Veuillot.

The broad forehead and strong, vigorous features indicate intelligence and strength of personality. But everything that these features signify is summarized, condensed and brought to their highest capacity of expression in the eyes. Large, clear eyes, full of light, which never appear to have mirrored any weakness or human vileness. Grand eyes that seem to have been made for the exclusive consideration of what is transcendent in this life and for the immense horizons of Heaven.

At the same time, it is a gaze of an invincible penetrating force regarding earthly things, able to see through all appearances, all sophistry, all the artifices of men, plunging into the deepest recesses of events and of hearts. The soul of a just and contemplative man, who sees high and deep because he lives immersed in the clarity of logical thought, enlightened by an impeccably orthodox faith.

Before such a gaze, how can one not think of the beautiful words the Holy Father Pius XII in his allocution of June 12, 1954 directed to the members of the First Latin Congress of Ophthalmology? He said:

St Philip Neri
“Everything is reflected in the eyes: not only the visible world, but also the passions of the souls. Even a superficial observer discovers in the gaze the most varied sentiments: wrath, fear, hatred, affection, joy, confidence and serenity. The play of the muscles of the face is somehow concentrated and summarized in the eyes, as in a mirror.”

From the grand eyes that Dom Guéranger kept so open to Heaven and to this life, let us pass to the admirable expression of eyes that were closed by death, which will reopen only in novissimo die [on the last day] to contemplate the terrible splendors of the Last Judgment.

The second photo shows the admirable death mask of St. Philip Neri, the famous apostle of Rome in the 16th century. The vigor of his personality was such that his death mask still shines with subtlety, strength and a mild and gentle irony that seems to open his lips in a light smile.

But the “gaze” is still the most expressive note, a gaze so fixed and strong that it not only spans the closed eyelids, but also the veils of death and time, revealing the very depths of the coherence and robustness of that soul that has already left this earth. The strength, harmony and logic of a Saint, who merited to see in Heaven the diaphanous light of God.


Blason de Charlemagne
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Translated from Catolicismo n. 45 - June 1954
Posted October 5, 2011

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