Saturday, January 14, 2012

One Week in Rome

Well, I have survived my first week a a superannuated student functioning in a foreign language! I now have just 8 weeks more of class - followed by exams!

What have I actually learned? This first week was largely introductory in nature – the concept of sanctity itself, the (Aristotelian-Thomistic) understanding of the virtues as acquired habits, the Thomistic theology of infused virtues, the theology of merit and intercession. That's fairly basic material whihc, of course, I learned long ago. New for me, however, was the detailed discussion of “heroic virtue” (specifically its relevance to the process of canonization). I thoroughly enjoyed the lecturer, clearly a true scholar who knows his material inside out. Hopefully the subsequent weeks' lecturers will be as good. We start martyrdom on Monday! Linguistically, listening to lectures and reading from the textbook have so far turned out to be much less difficult than I had feared.

Since my mornings are free, I have spent much of my time visiting various churches. Having already been to Rome, sight-seeing is not my priority right now. So I can pace myself and take my time visiting places and historic sites that interest me. Within walking distance slightly downhill from the Paulist apartment is the Piazza della Republica (originally Piazza dell'Esedra), by the remnants of the Baths of Diocletian and the marvelous Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martyri, famous for its Meridian Line in the floor, and used as the church for state occasions during the modern kingdom of Italy. From there earlier this week, I walked down the Via Torino to the Papal Basilica of St. Mary Major, continuing from there (with a detour to S. Pietro in Vincoli, famous for Michelangelo's Moses) all the way down to the Lateran Basilica. Yesterday, staying close to home, I walked past Santa Susanna the short distance toward the Quirinale Palace, visiting along the way the churches of S. Bernardo (once the titular church of the future St. Pius X), S. Carlo alle Quatro Fontane (at an intersection with 4 fountains), and S. Andrea al Quirinale (where St. Stanislas Kostka spent his Jesuit novitiate). This morning, I took the bus "downtown" to the Jesuit Gesu Church (where St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier are), and from there walked to the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (resting place of St. Catherine of Sienna's and the artist Fra Angelico), S. Luigi (the French National Church, known for its Caravaggio), the Pantheon, and S. Agnese in the Piazza Navona, where this mornign I venerated the relic of St. Agnes' head. (The first time I visited Rome, in 1990, S. Susanna was closed for repairs, and the Paulists were celebrating Mass at S. Agnese).

In this city of baroque churches, the Pantheon (picture) really stands out as different. The first great pagan temple to be turned into a church, the Pantheon with its monumental rotunda under the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome, was thus preserved in its classical Roman splendor (minus, of course, its original statues of the gods), even as it has since served as a Catholic church (and the remote origin of our annual feast of All Saints). Its relative simplicity in terms of its internal artistic decoration only serves to highlight the its architectural magnificence. It also serves symbolically as a vivid reminder of the continuity (and discontinuity) between ancient and Catholic Rome, as the transient earlier empire was transformed into the seat of an eternal empire. The modern earthly empire that sought to displace Catholic Rome also has its honored place there, as the Pantheon now also serves as the final resting place of modern Italy's Kings Vittorio Emmanuele II (1878) and Umberto I (1900) and Queen Margherita (1926). Dwarfed by the splendor of ancient Rome but belatedly included within the sacred space of Catholic Rome, their tombs only further attest to the transitoriness of the secular state.

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