This week our New Testament class completed its study of Mark’s Gospel and began to read Matthew. We visited San Luigi Dei Francesi, the French national church in Rome, which has in its Contarelli Chapel three famous Caravaggio frescoes of St. Matthew: the altarpiece of St. Matthew and the Angel, showing Matthew half-kneeling at his writing table and looking toward the angel in the air behind him for inspiration to write the gospel, the Calling of Matthew at his tax office, and the lengendary Martyrdom of Matthew as he is pulled from an altar while celebrating the Eucharist.
This week we had the good fortune to be joined by Dr. Arthur Urbano who is in Rome as part of his sabbatical research project on the art of the catacombs, particularly the early portrayals of Christ and the apostles. Dr. Urbano pointed out that the depiction of the Inspiration of Matthew was consistent with Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Costitution on Divine Revelation from The Second Vatican Council. Caravaggio portrays Matthew in his red robe looking up to the angel over his right shoulder for inspiration, but he is also a true human author, as he has his pen in his own hand and it is not being guided by the angel as in an earlier now lost version.
We also were able to do a close reading of the Call of Matthew. The text in the Gospel is extremely brief. “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax office; and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him.” (Mat 9:9)
Caravaggio, using his brilliant chiaroscuro technique, has captured the moment of the call before Matthew has responded. He has light streaming into a dingy dark room from the right hand side just above the head of a young Jesus whose hand is extended toward a bearded Matthew whose face is bathed in the incoming light. Jesus’ hand gesture is reminiscent of Adam’s in Michelangelo’s Sistene ceiling. He and Peter, who is in the shadow just in front of him and also pointing to Matthew, are dressed in the garb of 1st century Jews and are barefoot. In fact Jesus’ feet are already turned to leave the room, having given the call. Matthew and the others at the table are dressed in Renaissance clothing: elaborate hats with feathers, tights, swords, doublets with puffed sleeves, etc. The two young men nearest Jesus are looking at him, but the elderly man and the young man at the far left of the painting are absorbed in counting money and have no awareness of Jesus. Matthew is famously pointing to himself with his left hand in an extension of Jesus’ gesture, as if to say, “Who, me?” He still has his right hand on the money at the end of the table, but his legs under the table are preparing to rise and follow Jesus. The painting is a brilliant illustration of the moment of the light of grace summoning Matthew to abandon his attachment to money and follow Jesus’ call.
In the afternoon, thanks to Arthur, we attended a moving performance of the contemporary German opera “Augustinus – A Musical Mosaic” at Castel Gandolfo in honor of his holiness Benedict XVI who was in attendance and seemed to be very moved by the performance. The event was part of a conference on Augustine’s City of God sponsored by the diocese of Wurzburg. We thought we were simply going to a tour of Castel Gandolfo, but leave to Arthur to lead us to such a moving event.
This week our New Testament class completed its study of Mark’s Gospel and began to read Matthew. We visited San... MORE
On Wednesday September 12, the students and I visited the Roman Forum as a way to explore the Greco-Roman context for the New Testament. We had a wonderful tour guide, Nicoletta Messini, who met us at the monument to Victor Emmanuel II in Piazza Venezia and walked us down the Via dei Fori Imperiale to the Forum. As we approached the Forum she pointed out to us the Mamertine prison just outside the Forum on the northwest side where, according to tradition, Peter and Paul were imprisoned before their deaths by martyrdom. This observation immediately linked all that we would see to the context of the NT in Rome. The two apostles probably walked through the Forum when it was at the height of its magnificence in the early days of the Empire (1st century AD).
Once we entered the Forum, Nicoletta explained that it was the center of political, religious, economic and social life from the founding of the city in 753 BC through the period of the “kings,” the Republic (509-31 BC), and the Empire until the city was sacked by Alaric in the early 5th c. AD. We saw many of the major sites: the huge Temple of Emperor Antoninus Pius and his wife Faustina, the Basilica Aemilia, the Temple of Julius Caesar where his body was cremated after his assassination in 44 BC, the Sacra Via (the central road that runs through the Forum and was the route for triumphal processions), the majestic Curia or Senate House with its various artifacts including the 4th c. column base showing the suovetaurilia (the sacrificial bull, ram and sow), Temples to Vesta, Saturn , Castor, etc. Throughout the tour Nicoletta continued to stress how religion, government and social life were integrated in pagan Roman and how the Romans were open to new cults like that of Isis and Mithras, but did not accept the strict monotheism of both Judaism and early Christianity and therefore emperors periodically persecuted Christians for failure to honor the Roman gods or the emperor’s cult. She also pointed out to us the irony of how many of the originally pagan buildings became Christian churches: the library constructed by Vespasian became the Church of Ss. Cosmas and Damian and the Temple dedicated to Antoninus Pius is the church of S. Lorenzo in Miranda.
For most of the students the tour ended with a close look at the triumphal Arch of Titus at the summit of the Sacra Via on the eastern end of the Forum just before the road descends to the Colosseum. This arch celebrates Titus’ victories in the Jewish War and the sack of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. On one underside of the arch, we were able to see the relief depicting a triumphal procession bringing to Rome the altar of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem decorated with trumpets and the Menorah (the seven-branched golden candlestick). This event, of course had enormous repercussions for both Jews and Christians. It marked the end of Judaism as a sacrificial religion and led to the Rabbinic Judaism of late antiquity that still persists today. For Christianity, it was the fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy of the Temple’s destruction (see Mk 13, Matt 24; Lk 21) which would inaugurate the woes and challenges of the Messianic Age.
As we begin to study Mark’s gospel this week, we will be challenged to reflect on the striking difference between Roman culture with its emphasis on status, order, and power and the preaching of Jesus who, when the disciples wanted the privilege of sitting at his right hand and left in his glory, said:
“You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:42-45)
On Wednesday September 12, the students and I visited the Roman Forum as a way to explore the Greco-Roman context... MORE
Patrick V. Reid, Ph.D. is a professor of Theology at Providence College. Since 1977 he has taught courses in Biblical Theology, Old Testament, and New Testament on both the undergraduate and graduate level, and all four semesters of the Development of Western Civilization course for both honors students and regular students. He has published three books–Readings in Western Religious Thought: the Ancient World, Readings in Western Religious Thought: The Middle Ages through Reformation, and Moses’s Staff and Aeneas’s Shield— and several articles in scholarly and popular journals on the Old and New Testament and the Roman Catholic Lectionary. He also does a weekly column on the Lectionary for The Rhode Island Catholic paper.
Patrick V. Reid, Ph.D. is a professor of Theology at Providence College. Since 1977 he has taught courses in Biblical... MORE
In the fall of 2011 the inaugural group of students arrived in Rome to begin their studies at the Providence College/CEA Center for Theology and Religious Studies in Rome! Under the guidance of Faculty Resident Director Dr. Dana Dillon (FRD 11-12), students spent four months exploring Italy, learning about the New Testament in the Eternal City, and living like Romans.
For more on what our 2011-2012 group did in Rome, check out Dr. Dillon’s blog!
In the fall of 2011 the inaugural group of students arrived in Rome to begin their studies at the... MORE