On the feast of the Archangels

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Today is the feast of the Holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. In today’s first reading, we heard:

“War broke out in heaven;
Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.
The dragon and its angels fought back,
but they did not prevail
and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,
who is called the Devil and Satan,
who deceived the whole world,
was thrown down to earth,
and its angels were thrown down with it.” (Rev 12, 7-9)

This scene is depicted in the Michaelerkirche in Vienna. The integration of the Baroque sculpture into the Gothic architecture is truly amazing.

Wikipedia explains: “The high altar was designed in 1782 by Jean-Baptiste d’Avrange. It is decorated with the monumental stucco alabaster Rococo sculpture Fall of the Angels (1782) by sculptor Karl Georg Merville. It represents a cloudburst of angels and cherubs, falling from the ceiling towards the ground. It was the last major Baroque work completed in Vienna. The centerpiece of the high altar is Maria Candia, a Byzantine icon of the Virgin Mary, belonging to the Cretan School of hagiography.”

(The photo is taken from Wikipedia)

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Mary as guide to Jesus

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This is to share two gems that I have discovered resp. rediscovered recently. Both text are on Mary and both have to do with St. Bernard of Clairvaux whom the Church commemorates today.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 20 August 1153)  was born to the French nobility and joined together with four of his brothers and 25 friends the Benedictine abbey of Citeaux at the age of 22; his father and another brother joined soon after. Imagine the eyes of the abbot when 30 young and not so young men came and asked to be admitted as monks. It surely was an incredible moment!
He founded and led the monastery of Clairvaux which soon had over 700 monks and eventually 160 daughter houses. He served as adviser to the French kings, he attended the Second Lateran Council and fought the Albigensian sect (a Gnostic sect). He preached in France, Italy, and Germany. He was the spiritual adviser to Pope Eugene III, who had originally been one of his monks. He was canonized in 1174, and proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius VIII. The two greatest loves of his life were Jesus and Mary.

Here is the text:

In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal. [1]

Around hundred years later, Dante Alighieri would write his “Divine Comedy”. In the last Canto (Paradiso, Canto 33), Dante, led by Beatrice (representing theology), through the celestial Spheres, finally arrives at the highest of heaven. And here St. Bernard comes into play: He asks the Blessed Virgin Mary to obtain from the Trinity the grace for Dante to contemplate the brightness of the Divine Majesty. Here is the text (in the translation by Allen Mandelbaum):

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Mary and the Trinity [3]

Virgin mother, daughter of your Son,
more humble and sublime than any creature,fixed goal decreed from all eternity,
you are the one who gave to human nature
so much nobility that its Creator
did not disdain His being made its creature.That love whose warmth allowed this flower to bloom
within the everlasting peace—was love
rekindled in your womb; for us above,

you are the noonday torch of charity,
and there below, on earth, among the mortals,
you are a living spring of hope.

MG_Mandorla_Seckau

Our Lady in Seckau [4]

Lady, you are so high, you can so intercede,
that he who would have grace but does not seek
your aid, may long to fly but has no wings.Your loving—kindness does not only answer
the one who asks, but it is often ready
to answer freely long before the asking.In you compassion is, in you is pity,
in you is generosity, in you
is every goodness found in any creature.

This man—who from the deepest hollow in
the universe, up to this height, has seen
the lives of spirits, one by one—now pleads

with you, through grace, to grant him so much virtue
that he may lift his vision higher still—
may lift it toward the ultimate salvation.

And I, who never burned for my own vision
more than I burn for his, do offer you
all of my prayers—and pray that they may not

fall short—that, with your prayers, you may disperse
all of the clouds of his mortality
so that the Highest Joy be his to see.

This, too, o Queen, who can do what you would,
I ask of you: that after such a vision,
his sentiments preserve their perseverance.

May your protection curb his mortal passions.
See Beatrice—how many saints with her!
They join my prayers! They clasp their hands to you! [2]

And her intercession was successful for Dante. It will also be successful for us.

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[1] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Homily II on the text “Missus est”

[2] Dante Alighieri, Paradiso Canto 33, 1-45 on Digital Dante

[3] Siegel, Jane. “Illustrations from Early Printed Editions of the Commedia.” Digital Dante.New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017.

[4] The picture of Our Lady is in the Benedictine Abbey in Seckau, Upper Styria, Austria. It is very small, made from alabaster and dates back to 1200. The frame is made by one of the monks in the second half of the the 20th century.

Sophie Scholl

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“Man muss einen harten Geist und ein weiches Herz haben.“
“Il faut avoir l’esprit dur et le coeur doux.“
“You need to have a strong spirit and a compassionate heart”.
– Jacques Maritain

Sophie Scholl

This was the preferred quote of Sophie Scholl. She and her brother Hans together with Christoph Probst were murdered on 22 February 1943 – today 75 years ago – by the Nazi regime. The “White Rose” – the resistance group that her brother  and she founded with some friends – represents one of the young faces that did not bend in the moment of atrocity. She was 21 years old when she died. When she saw her mother a few hours prior to her death, she said: “You know – Jesus.”

Maria Kirch

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On 29 December 1720, the German astronomer Maria Kirch died in Berlin. Her father, a Lutheran pastor, believed that she deserved an education equivalent to that given to young boys of the time. From by her father and her uncle, she learnt mathematics and astronomy going on to study with and work together with the amateur astronomer Christoph Arnold. Through Arnold she got to know the astronomer Gottfried Kirch and despite the fact that he was 30 years older than her they married. Kirch was official astronomer of the Berlin Royal Academy of Science and her and Maria ran the Academy’s observatory together for many years. In 1702 she became the first woman to discover a comet but the credit for the discovery was given to her husband. When Gottfried died in 1710, Maria applied for his position arguing correctly that she had done half of the work in the past. Despite her having published independently and having an excellent reputation as well as the active support of Leibniz the Academy refused to award her the post. She worked in various other observatories until 1717 when her son was appointed to his father’s position, Maria once again becoming the assistant. Despite having more than proved her equality to any male astronomer Maria never really received the recognition she deserved. However, she was admitted by the Berlin Academy of Sciences.

Idea for this post: The Renaissance Mathematicus, Sorry Caroline but you were not the first, Maria was.

A Refugee family

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“The émigré Holy Family of Nazareth, fleeing into Egypt, is the archetype of every refugee family. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, living in exile in Egypt to escape the fury of an evil king, are, for all times and all places, the models and protectors of every migrant, alien and refugee of whatever kind who, whether compelled by fear of persecution or by want, is forced to leave his native land, his beloved parents and relatives, his close friends, and to seek a foreign soil.”

Pius XII, Exsul Familia Nazarethana, 1952

Painting: The Nativity by American painter Julius Garibaldi Melchers (1860-1932).

Gott und der Tsunami

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Hier ein kurzer Gedanke meines Vaters, Herrn Prof. Dr. Helmut Moritz (siehe auch: http://www.helmut-moritz.at) zum Theodizee-Problem: Ist unsere Sprache geeignet, über Gott nachzudenken? Ist es berechtigt, Gottes Güte angesichts von Tragödien anzuzweifeln? Mit welchen Worten könnten wir Gott und sein Wirken beschreiben? – Der Beitrag wurde im Februar 2005 für die Nachrichten unserer Pfarre Graz Kroisbach verfasst. Ich freue mich, ihn hier noch einmal aufgreifen und veröffentlichen zu können.

Vor zwei Wochen war ich eingeladen, in Wien über Erdbeben und Tsunamis zu sprechen. In der Diskussion kam dann die aktuelle Frage, wie ein guter Gott ein so schreckliches Ereignis zulassen könne wie einen Tsunami, ein Seebeben, das fast 300.000 Menschen das Leben kostete. Ich wollte mich in keine theologische Frage einlassen, zu der ich als Naturwissenschaftler nicht qualifiziert bin. Ich sagte nur, dass mich vor zwei Jahren ein für mich schreckliches Ereignis traf, und ich dann das Lieblingsbuch meiner Frau, das Buch Ijob, las. Das Ergebnis war: ich wurde getröstet. Die Reden, in den Gott den Ijob und seine Freunde abkanzelte wie Schulbuben, öffneten meine Augen und machten mich geradezu heiter. Wer bin ich, dass ich Gott zur Rechenschaft ziehen wollte? Bei Jesaja heißt es: „Meine Gedanken sind nicht eure Gedanken, und meine Wege sind nicht eure Wege – Spruch des Herrn.“

Nun ist unsere Sprache tatsächlich nicht geeignet, Göttliches exakt auszudrücken. Man kann über Ihn nur in Gleichnissen reden. Jeder Katechismus ist ein Versuch, das Unsagbare zu sagen. Wenn man das bedenkt, kann er sehr hilfreich sein; wörtlich genommen, kann er für den Außenstehenden unverständlich wirken.

Mit der gewöhnlichen Sprache kann man über alltägliche Dinge reden; über das Wetter, die Gesundheit, das Essen und das Geld. Die Mathematik hat eine wunderbar präzise Formelsprache entwickelt und den Begriff des Unendlichen geprägt. Vor der Unendlichkeit Gottes wird aber auch sie stumm.

In der Mathematik kann man beweisen; Gottes Existenz kann man nicht im selben Sinne „beweisen“. Das liegt nicht an Gott, sondern an der Armseligkeit unserer Sprache und unserer Gedanken. Gegenstände existieren, aber Gott ist kein Gegenstand wie dieser Baum, dieses Haus oder die wenigen Euro, die ich gerade in der Tasche habe. Für die Existenz Gottes kann ich kann man mehr oder weniger plausible Argumente finden, die für mich selbstverständlich sind, für andere Wissenschaftler, die oft viel klüger sind, merkwürdigerweise aber nicht.

Die Richter und Rechtsanwälte mögen sich ihrer scharfsinnigen Argumente rühmen, bei Jesus hatten sie noch weniger Erfolg als Ijob. Unser Glaubensbekenntnis ist ein Gebet, nicht eine Aussage vor Gericht. Mit der Allmacht Gottes kann man seinen Spott treiben wir schon beim Prozess Jesu: „Wenn Gott unendlich gut ist, müsste er sofort alles Böse, alle Krankheiten, alle Kriege und alle Tsunamis abschaffen; er kann es doch, er ist ja allmächtig.“ Gott hat das Böse nicht geschaffen, er hat unsere schöne, aber unendlich komplexe Welt und unsere zerbrechliche Freiheit geschaffen. Gott schuf die Welt und sah, dass „alles sehr gut war“ (Genesis). Wenn ich wieder unsere Sprache missbrauchen darf, er hat Respekt vor der Freiheit des Menschen, auch dann, wenn er sündigt, und er hat Respekt vor seiner eigenen Schöpfung, denn er greift nicht plump in ihren Ablauf ein, um diesen nicht zu stören.

Welche Worte unserer armen Sprache kommen einem solchen Verhalten nahe? Ich meine, nicht so sehr die Worte „gut“ und „mächtig“, sondern „gütig“ und „weise“. „Erschienen ist die Güte und Menschenfreundlichkeit Gottes“, lesen wir im Titusbrief.

(c) Helmut Moritz, 7. Februar 2005

Picture: Katsushika Hokusai, Under the Wave off Kanagawa (ca. 1830–32)

The German Roots of Sustainability

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The German term “Nachhaltigkeit” (sustainability) was first used in forest management by Hans Carl von Carlowitz, but the concept is still older.

This post was inspired by a facebook conversation some time ago on renewable and non-renewable resources:

A: Those who have an interest in continuing to make and sell products have a profit motive to replenish and renew their supply, e.g., timber companies plant more trees than anyone else.

Me: Timber is renewable. In fact, the term “sustainability” was coined by von Carlowitz in the context of forestry.

B: Is it true that a man named von Carlowitz was first to use the word “sustainability”? Sustainable: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. The concept of sustainability did not originate with forestry, nor does it end there. Sustainable techniques are applied to all natural resources, as well as behaviors…..

It did originate in forestry. Here is the story.

Erzgebirge (Saxony, Germany), early 18th century

 

slogan_stempel_kombi_engDue to the increasing demands of the developing mining industry and the agglomeration of small cities, the original large and dense forests in this region in Saxony had disappeared. Trees had been clear-cut over the course of generations, old-growth forest had disappeared, and no effort had been made to regenerate the forests. The extensive grazing of cattle, pigs and goats, as well as subsistence agriculture, impeded forest recovery. The local mining chief, Hans Carl von Carlowitz had one major problem: the silver mines were far from depleted, but the mining industry needed wood (and a whole lot of it), and wood was becoming unavailable and unaffordable; it was in fact becoming so scarce that small industries were even at the brink of bankruptcy. As he would later state: In a few years, more trees will have been felled in Europe than have grown in several centuries (“Binnen wenig Jahren ist in Europa mehr Holtz abgetrieben worden, als in etzlichen seculis erwachsen”). Continue reading