Having now read and reviewed a whole selection of books published by Magnificat, I have finally discovered the point of them – to show that the profound mysteries of the Christian faith are best explained within a framework of beauty: examples of great art and poetry that have been born throughout the last 2,000 years as a Christian artist’s response to the sheer wonder of the Faith.
The three volumes surveyed here illustrate this even more than their predecessors. A reader alert both to visual art and to the music of words will find their understanding of theology immeasurably (if subliminally) enhanced.
The first in this series is The Splendors of the Creed by Fr Joseph Lienhard SJ and Fr Frederic Curnier-Laroche (Magnificat, 126pp, £19). The authors are at pains to show that what might seem a dry formulary, the Nicene Creed, recited unthinkingly every Sunday at Mass, is actually an extraordinary statement. I have recently had some inkling of this. Reading Fr André Ravier SJ’s thoroughly researched biography, St Bruno, the Carthusian, I was very moved to learn that on his deathbed, knowing he was about “to go the way of all flesh”, St Bruno simply recited his own heartfelt profession of faith.
This book demonstrates why the last things on St Bruno’s mind before death were the eternal truths for which he had lived, sacrificed and suffered. It shows us how this brilliantly clear formula of faith was developed and wrought during the early Christian centuries: why the historical person of Pontius Pilate was included, the introduction of Filioque, “the most contentious word in the Creed”, and much more. My favourite painting, among the visual feast of those offered, is Piero della Francesca’s The Madonna of Mercy – Our Lady, with her arms open to embrace the whole of fallen humanity, as the personification of Holy Mother Church.
The Splendors of the Rosary by Pierre-Marie Dumont (Magnificat, 110pp, £18) reminds the reader of why, in common with many other saints, St John Paul II’s favourite prayer outside the Mass was the rosary. So much so that in his apostolic letter of 2002, Rosarium Virginis Mariae, he had the inspired pastoral wisdom to include five new mysteries, the so-called “Luminous Mysteries”. Those who cling to tradition have sometimes deplored this addition. In fact, it remains a wonderful example of the development of Christian piety and practice (though not doctrine).
As Fr Dumont explains, the late pope “wished to accentuate the Christological character of the rosary” and, as John Paul II himself wrote, he intended the addition “to give [the rosary] fresh life and to enkindle renewed interest in the rosary’s place within Christian spirituality”.
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