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Recapitulation (III)

Thomas Cahill is writing a series of popular (and profitable) books under the general title: "The Hinges of History." The latest handsome volume is  Mysteries of the Middle Ages.

Acknowledging one of his own sources, Norman Cantor's Inventing the Middle Ages, Cahill calls it "selective, quirky, and subjective." If I may make bold: the same assessment seems applicable to Cahill's own volume.

Yet, I forgave him all his excesses, di tutto cuore, when I came upon his description of the mosaic of the Cross as Tree of Life in San Clemente. He writes: "[it] presents us with a view of reality that is both cosmic and eucharistic ... there is no sight in all of Rome more worthy of contemplation." E troppo vero!

Cahill ends his reflection (enhanced by wonderful photos) with these words:

To appreciate the impact of this mosaic it is nearly necessary to attend a Mass celebrated at the altar below the apse. As the ritual of the Mass unfolds beneath the cosmic wildness of the apse, we reflect that we are all caught up in the universal mystery of Christ, who has redeemed us and all of creation, even the humblest humans and the humblest things, so that he might come to us as bread.

When I sit, contemplating the mosaic during the celebration of the Eucharist, I sense the presence of countless pilgrims who, through the ages, have been strengthened in their love of Christ by this masterwork of anonymous artists of centuries past.

I wonder whether Francis of Assisi paused here for prayer on his way to the nearby Lateran Palace and his history-changing encounter with Innocent III. I muse that perhaps Thomas Aquinas composed his great Sequence Adoro Te Devote while kneeling before the life-giving Cross. If not the whole Sequence, surely the fifth stanza:

O memoriale mortis Domini
          panis vivus
vitam praestans homini,
praesta meae menti de te vivere
et te illi semper dulce sapere.

A blessed celebration of the Holy Triduum in which Jesus the Christ recapitulates all things in himself, becoming Eucharist for the many, for all.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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You almost persaude me we should go to Rome to see the Tree of Life at San Clemente. Sue and I heard a talk recently by an archaeologist who works on Cyprus, where, we learned, there are many finds that throw light on ancient Israel. The Tree of Life is apparently the origin of the columns found in classical temples and such columns were also used in the temple of Solomon. The image seem to have originated in the Middle East from which so many things come that we think of as Greco-Roman.

Joseph,By all means, GO!and buona Pasqua to you and Susan.

I think Cahill is unfair in his assessment of Norman Cantor's book, which I thoroughly recommend. I'd call it personal -- at the same time that it is highly informative and thought provoking -- rather than selective, quirky, and subjective, although I do sort of want to know just what Christopher Brooke ever did to Cantor. And Cantor is a real scholar, as opposed to Cahill, who is sort of embarrassing when he writes about areas I am better qualified to judge.My own reaction to Cantor's book was that it he made a serious attempt to be fair to Catholicism and Catholic scholarship, which is rare and revealing in secular scholarship.

And Easter is nothing without our Fiat. The discipleship of Jesus is in humility and genorosity. "Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles. Esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes, "He has removed the powerful from thier thrones and lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.Messengers like Francis keep reminding us of this.

Fr. ImbeliiWe will look into it. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.Gene,I quite agree that Cahill is perennially embarassing, but well meaning.

The beautiful meaning of Easter is that this Jesus who is the closest person to God, suffered the most humiliating death, disgraced and abandoned by all. The problem of evil has its answer. No one can curse their fate anymore because Jesus set the example. "I have given you an example."Further, following Jesus leads to life in abundance as the waters of the Spirit are splashed upon us. As Francis put it: "Is in dying that we are born to eternal life."

Since I discovered it while studying in Rome, St. Clement's has been my favorite Church there. I said my first Mass at the main altar, beneath the marvelous mosaic. The tomb of St. Cyril is in the Church because he died in Rome a year after he and his brother Methodius brought the relics of St. Clement to Rome.The basilica has its own website, with, unfortunately, only one photo of the great mosaic.

I think that San Clemente is a largely unsung jewel in the crown of Rome. There are many other churches that get all of the promotional press. However,those of us who have visited Rome and San Clemente seem to a person to find it to be one of the very best places to visit. The scavi there are equally as impressive as those under St. Peter's. And, SC is also very close to one of the other unsung jewels for the laity: The Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas, found on the grounds of the Irish College.

Father Imbelli:Please provide a translation of the lines you quote from Thomas Aquinas.Thanks.

Mr. Palumbo:a little freely:O remembrance of the Lord's death,Living Bread,Bestowing life on mankind,Grant me to live with your life,and ever to taste your goodness.a peaceful Holy Saturday.

Since we've gotten into translation, what do you make of illi in the last line?

Gene,I take it to refer to menti"(praesta) illi (menti) te sapere.Quid putas?

Makes sense. Medieval Latin never ceases to surprise me.I do have a question -- is the first line of the letter Ecclesia de Eucharista (vivit) a conscious allusion to this hymn?Reason #923 for learning Latin, you get realize what a fine poet Aquinas was.

A more literal translation of the last two lines of the verse:praesta meae menti de te vivereet te illi semper dulce sapere.Grant to my soul that it may live by you and that you may always taste sweet to it.

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