Our Lord as the Point of Reference

November 6, 2014

In fact, Our Lord was the point of reference for all things. “About the figure of the Divinity,” writes Johan Huizinga, “a majestic system of correlated figures crystallizes, which all have reference to Him, because all things derive their meaning from Him.”*

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 158r. The Christmas Mass the Musée Condé, Chantilly.

The Christmas Mass the Musée Condé, Chantilly. taken from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Folio 158r.

It was not just an abstract figure of the Divinity that so attracted medieval man. What touched him was the fact that the Word, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, became flesh and dwelt among us. In a very personal way, medieval man took to heart not only Who He is, but all that He taught and did.

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

As we have seen, we can still hear the faint echoes of this generalized perception in the grace of Christmas. Christmas Eve is still impregnated with that medieval notion of the birth of Our Savior where, in that holy and silent night, one can sense the sweetness and perfection that emanates from the Divine Infant in the manger in Bethlehem.

Neapolitan Presepio Figures that were purchased by Mrs. Sallie Casey Thayer of Kansas City from Prince Fabrizio Massimo, whose historic collection was exhibited in 1914 at the Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome. Most of the costumes are original.

Neapolitan Presepio Figures that were purchased by Mrs. Sallie Casey Thayer of Kansas City from Prince Fabrizio Massimo, whose historic collection was exhibited in 1914 at the Castel Sant’Angelo, Rome. Most of the costumes are original.

This same tender sentiment was heartily and universally felt for the Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, far surpassing any devotion that had come before and “obliterate[ing] the traces of an older severity and reticence” that were part of the developing spirituality of the early Church of the patristic age.**

Nativity

“It is true that Augustine had an enormous love of God,” writes historical scholar Henry Osborn Taylor. “It was fervently felt; it was powerfully reasoned; it impassioned his thought. Yet it did not contain that tender love of the divinely human Christ which trembles in the words of Bernard and makes the life of Francis a lyric poem.”***

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* Johan H. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages: A Study of the Forms of Life, Thought and Art in France and the Netherlands in the XIVth and XVth Centuries (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1954), 202.

 

** R. W. Southern, The Making of the Middle Ages (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), 233.

 

*** Henry Osborn Taylor, The Medieval Mind: A History of the Development of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages (New York: Macmillan, 1919), 1:360.

John Horvat II, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need To Go (York, Penn.: York Press, 2013), 335-6.

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