Sunday, January 19, 2014

St. Peter's Square: Tradition, Antiquity, and the Pope's Sundial

The Catholic Church is about two millennia old. (Matthew 16:18)

The Church has a reputation for being old-fashioned, outdated, and generally obsolete. I don't see it that way, although we don't keep up with the latest fads.

Some things we can't change, like the Decalog. The Pope and the Magisterium have considerable authority: but they don't outrank God. Not even close. (October 19, 2011)

Vatican II, Real and Imagined

I've run into Catholics who seem to believe that the Church should be exactly the way it was in the 'good old days:' 1950, give or take a decade. Rose-colored memory is a wonderful thing, and that's another topic.

They're usually upset about wackadoo version of Vatican II committed in too many parishes.

That's understandable. Cockeyed "reforms" done "in the spirit of Vatican II," had about as much to do with the II Vatican Council as the Three Stooges' "Disorder in the Court" had to do with America's Constitution.

Maybe lurid stories sold more papers. I don't know. The reality isn't nearly as titillating:
I've ranted about science, religion, and clueless reporting before. (May 24, 2013)

Ancient, Not Old-Fashioned

The Catholic Church is old, ancient. But we're not old-fashioned.

Folks can be very fond of their culture's traditions, habits and customs passed along generation to generation. I like some traditions, but realize that "we've always done it this way" doesn't necessarily mean "this makes sense." (August 20, 2012)

Catholics have developed quite a few traditions over the last two millennia, which isn't quite the same as our Tradition.

What the Church means by Tradition, with a capital "T," is not clinging to antique habits:
"TRADITION: The living transmission of the message of the Gospel in the Church. The oral preaching of the Apostles, and the written message of salvation under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Bible), are conserved and handed on as the deposit of faith through the apostolic succession in the Church. Both the living Tradition and the written Scriptures have their common source in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ (75-82). The theological, liturgical, disciplinary, and devotional traditions of the local churches both contain and can be distinguished from this apostolic Tradition (83)."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary) [with links added]
Bottom line? "Tradition" isn't "torpor," "authoritative" isn't "autocratic," and what's new isn't necessarily bad. Neither is what's old.

St. Peter's Square: Antiquity and a Repurposed Obelisk

(From Fran├žois Malan, via Wikimedia commons, used w/o permission.)

That's St. Peter's Square, a huge public area in Vatican City: world capital of the Catholic Church. I speak American English, so I call it the Vatican, or the Holy See.

Either way, it's where the Pope's church and offices have been since before the current iteration of Western civilization started.

The building with columns and a dome is St. Peter's Basilica., the Pope's church.1 There's been a church there for nearly 17 centuries, and the site's been important to Christians for about two thousand years.

Some of what you see is ancient. The column is an obelisk from the Fifth dynasty of Egypt. One Roman emperor moved it to Alexandria, another had it shipped to Rome, and it's been there ever since.

St. Peter's Square is fairly new. Domenico Fontana had the obelisk moved to the square in 1568, and over the next century or so a succession of architects designed and re-designed St. Peter's Square.

The Pope's Sundial, or Getting a Grip

Someone converted the obelisk into a titanic sundial in 1817 by setting paving stones in an arc around it. Now the obelisk's shadow touches a stone at noon, each time the sun enters another sign of the zodiac.

Many folks have sundials that mark the passage of hours. The Pope's marks the passage of months.

By now, a Maria Monk wannabe has probably written a book about the 'superstitious' Catholic Church: based on that arc of stones, the zodiac, and unfounded assumptions.

I'm pretty sure that some of the billion-plus living Catholics are superstitious. We're not perfect people.

We're also not allowed to be superstitious, or dabble in any sort of divination, including astrology. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2110-2111, 2116)

There's nothing in the rules that says we can't have fun, though. Moving on.

Controversial Architecture, Then and Now

(From Lalupa, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

The Saint Apollinaris church is more than a dozen centuries old, but what you see in front is fairly new. Pope Benedict XIV commissioned a renovation project in 1742. The facade is a mix of ancient, 16th century, and baroque styles.

That sort of mix-and-match design gives some folks fits, but I like it. Saint Apollinaris isn't in Vatican City, but it's close: about a mile east of Vatican City.

Back in the 16th century, folks in Italy were enthusiastically copying architectural styles used by ancient Greeks and Romans.

In sharp contrast to that sort of "civilized" architecture, folks in northern Europe were designing gothic churches and cathedrals. It's easy to forget that at the time, "gothic" meant barbaric.

A half-millennia later, places of worship built in the Gothic or Greco-Roman style are what many folks think of as "real" churches.

I strongly suspect that a thousand years from now, someone's going to be fussing about the newfangled parish church, built in a new style: not at all like the good, decent, glass-and-steel churches we've "always" built.

Crystal Cathedral, Anaheim/Orange County Visitor and Convention Bureau
(Adapted from Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau, used w/o permission)

My parish church is a basilica, by the way: the same ancient style as St. Peters, but nowhere near as big or fancy. I like it: but I also like Gothic cathedrals, baroque architecture, the design of Himeji Castle, and that's yet another topic.

Related posts:

1 Oops. A tip of the hat to Alex Scrivener, for catching an error in this post. I had, incorrectly, said that St. Peter's Basilica is a cathedral. It's not.

St. Peter's Basilica is Vatican City's most famous church, and the traditional (lower case "t") site of some major celebrations.

It is not, however, a cathedral. The Diocese of Rome's cathedral church is St. John Lateran: that's where the Pope's ecclesiastical seat is.

Sorry about the mix-up. While writing this post, I was focused on the architecture and history of St. Peter's: not its function in the church.


1 comment:

Brigid said...

Missing an article: "They're usually upset about wackadoo version of Vatican II"

Too much punctuation: "dome is St. Peter's Basilica., the"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.