minima maxima sunt

The Small things are the Great things; as in a grain of mustard seed.

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

Orbis Terrarum

Circle of Lands

The Latin Orbis Terrarum, translates as the circle of lands, but simply means “The World“. It’s used in the titles of several early maps, such as this world map from “Theatrum Orbis Terrarum” by Abraham Ortelius (1570), which translated means “Theater of the World“.

Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1570

Another example would be the “Orbis terrarum typus de integroin plurimis emendatus auctus et icunculis illustratus“, which roughly translates as “The World pictured as a whole with many improvements, enlarged and wonderfully illuminated”.

Orbis terrarum typus de integroin plurimis emendatus auctus et icunculis illustratus c. 1660

Both of these examples come after the discovery of the “New World” as can be seen not only from the dates on the maps, but also from the addition of a very recognizable North and South America. Every one knows the story of Christopher Columbus setting sail in 1492, and his struggle with the ignorance of people in the 15th century who thought he would sail off the end of the world. This is a modern myth which strangely enough was still being taught when I was in school, even though the myth was debunked long ago.

The real problem Columbus had to contend with was not a round vs. a flat Earth, but opposing views on just how big the Earth really was. More on this can be found here at the excellent site of Bede’s Library. It was C.S. Lewis who first brought this to my attention in his book “God in the Dock“, in the chapter called Religion and Science, where he points out that the earth being a globe as well as it being a great distance from the stars, was understood from Ptolemy’s Almagest, which is said to be “the standard astronomical handbook used all through the middle ages.”.

To me it didn’t really pose a problem that people believed in a flat earth or in a geocentric universe for that matter. I just figured that people are people and deal with what they know. If they didn’t have rockets or telephones or if they hadn’t sailed around the world then what could be expected? During the enlightenment people believed in a static universe, now we understand that the universe wasn’t always around. It came into existence with a bang. Maybe in a few more centuries we will know something completely different about the universe and people then will look back and think we were in a “dark age”. Or there may be people who see how well the ancients did with what they had. And it’s here that I have to ask myself, if I had lived in those days would mapping the earth, or trying to discern it’s shape and place in the universe have been on my mind? I honestly cannot answer, but it’s clear that the science of those days was not as dark as I had thought; and that startled me.

Mappae Mundi

Mappa Mundi from La Fleur des Histoires. 1459-1463

This is where it gets interesting. So far we have seen a few examples of maps after Columbus, who set sail as noted in 1492 and returned with news of the new continent discovered in 1493. What about maps before this time? Well there were the Mappae Mundi, which were more of a symbolic map sometimes containing absolutely no detail except for demarcation. A zone for Europe, Africa and Asia and sometimes the Antipodes which was a theoretical land on the other side of the world.

The idea of an antipodes comes before Christ, from a dialogue of Plato, where he discusses the spherical world. From the Greek it means opposed (anti) to the foot (pous). In the Latin usage it also theorized a people who lived on the other side of the earth.

A medieval T-O map representing the world as described by St. Isidore in his Etymologiae.

Some of the Mappae Mundi are also referred to as a T and O map.. (Orbis Terrarum). The one to the left you can see the circle of the earth “O” and inside a “T” formed by the waters of the Mediterranean separating the lands. The same can be found on the Mappa above from La Fleur des Histoires. However the Mappae Mundi were not confined to mere schematics, and representation: several were more detailed maps of the known world, which date back from the Middle Ages to B.C. and most represent the world as a circle (orbis).

Pictured below is a Map from 1482, which was made based on information from Ptolemy’s Geographia (c 150). The known world is very recognizable and clearly leaves the unknown world (terra incognito) open to discovery. Notice how Africa stretches across the bottom of the map and eventually connects with Asia.

Map reconstructed from Ptolemy's Geographia -1482

The real fascination for me is that it’s just fun to look at maps. (This is probably from peering over maps of Middle Earth when I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as a child.) It’s interesting to see the development of cartography, how oceans and land mass were drawn and corrected as well as the wonderful art and imagination of the simpler Mappea Mundi. Along with these there are even some early globes, one of which dates to 1492, which is before Columbus returned with news of the new world in 1493, and another known as The Globe of Crates of Mallus(ca. 150 B.C.). It is truly a wonder how much knowledge men gained without satellites and GPS; especially when you consider that even today there are people who cannot find America on a map.

Agnes’ Day

St Agnes of Rome – January 21

c. 291 – c. 304

St. Agnes
St. Agnes

The 21st of January is the Feast of St. Agnes of Rome. One of the female martyrs recognized by the church, St. Agnes is the patron saint for girls, engaged couples, rape victims, chastity and a few others, including the Girl Scouts. Tradition holds that she was martyred on this day in the year 304 ad. at the age of twelve for refusing to marry the son of a Roman Prefect.

The name Agnes comes from the Greek hagne which means pure or chaste, but sounds like the Latin agnus which means lamb, as in agnus dei, or Lamb of God. This is probably why in iconography and religious art St. Agnes is often shown holding a lamb.

The death of any one at such an early age is always a blow to the senses. Agnes comes from a time lost to us in antiquity, maybe making it easy to shrug off her death as something that could only have happened in another era, another time when religions ruled and men were un-enlightened; and yet in our modern world, we have our Amber alerts, pictures on milk cartons and see all too often the abuse and destruction of the innocent.

The church in its recognition of St. Agnes demonstrates catholicity, the complete and universal nature of the church, in its acceptance of children and women; which was a progressive idea for the time. St. Agnes was not the first female saint to be recognized, but she may be the first saint that was a child, by our definition. She was, after all, old enough for marriage according to he culture she lived in.

It is my thought that we should remind ourselves of saints like Agnes. Remind ourselves of chastity, of innocence, of the resilient nature of children. Hammer into our lives and the lives of those around us a reminder of the words of Christ:

Luke 17:1 And he said to his disciples: It is impossible that scandals should not come. But woe to him through whom they come! 2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones.

Signum Crucis

One of the defining symbols of the ancient church is the practice of making the “sign of the cross”. There are several ways in which this is done. The most popular is by making the sign with our hand to our forehead then to our chest, and then to each shoulder. This is done while speaking the phrase, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, or the Latin: “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti”. Then clasp our hands back together saying “amen” which is the same in Latin.

The priest or bishop may make a similar gesture as a blessing toward an object or the congregation during certain rituals or during the liturgy. This “signum crucis” can be done with the same words or silently, but with the hand extended and opened flat while positioned vertically.

Another form is making a small cross shape with the thumb, which is most commonly done at the reading of the gospel in the Liturgy, where we make the sign on our foreheads, mouth and heart. Be in my mind, my words and in my heart.

The sign is also done during baptisms with the anointing with oil, on Ash Wednesday when ashes are placed on the forehead and other various devotions and rites. The mass begins and ends with the Signum Crucis, as well as novena’s, daily prayers and even prayers at meals.

Twelfth Station of the Cross

The signum crucis was clearly in use by the third century in some form:

“In all our travels and movements, in all our coming in and going out, in putting on our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupies us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross” (De corona, 30). Tertullian (d. ca. 250)

And developed into other variations:

“Let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in everything; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in our goings out; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are traveling, and when we are at rest” (Catecheses, 13) .St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386)

Later more formal versions would develop that would be used during liturgy and for prayers and these have become a part of our identity as the church. The invocation and the action bring to mind the Most Holy Trinity to the believer in a “personal” custom, like wearing a wedding ring. The sign is a small action with great meaning; a symbol of sacramental substance and unseen reality, a prayer to begin a prayer; a prayer to end a prayer.

 “In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti”.

Malleus Arianorum – The Hammer against Arianism

St. Hilary of Poitiers January 13th

c 300 – 368

St. Hilary of Poitiers
St. Hilary of Poitiers

The Memorial of Saint Hilary remembers one of the doctors of the church who served as bishop of Poitiers,  France,  during the fourth century. In the heat of the Christological controversies he was one of the heavy weights who fought on the side of orthodoxy against the beliefs of the Arians, who rejected the divinity of the Son of God.

A friend and supporter of Athanasius, he suffered exile under the Arian Emperor Constantius II. He is also referred to as the Athanasius of the west.

In the heat of the Arian Controversy, which a great portion of the christian world was adopting, there were few voices that stood their ground, but through their diligence, their stand for what they knew was right and true, they persevered and preserved the faith.

Book of Hours

There was a tv series several years ago called Millennium that I followed. It was an offshoot from the X-Files….sort of. Sadly it only ran three seasons and then ended. It was in an episode from this series that I first heard about a Book of Hours.

A Book of Hours is a book of devotions from the middle ages. In those times books were hard to come by. Materials for writing and producing, along with the skills needed to create a book, were very selective. Until the invention of the printing press, all books, manuscripts, scrolls and text messages were written by hand and ink and was nothing short of art; a blending of calligraphy and iconography. Many of these books use illumination and some examples are brilliantly decorated and gilded, however the majority limited their decoration to capital letters at the beginning of psalms or prayers.

The Book of Hours developed as a devotional for the layperson, but followed in the footsteps of a few other books used by the religious in the church. The Psalter, which contained the psalms, and the Breviary, which contained the Divine Office read in monasteries. Basically this is a collection of psalms and prayers. The Book of Hours was a way for many to experience the contemplative life without the monastery.



January from: Les Tres Riches Heures Du Duc de Berry

anuary is the first month of the year in the Gregorian Calendar. It was the same in the Julian Calendar, which it replaced. However it wasn’t always there. Early calendars in the roman world didn’t keep any months for the winter, considering it a month-less period. January is named after Janus, (Ianus) who is the Roman god of doorways, beginnings, endings, transitions… you get the point. Janus is usually depicted as having two faces; one looking back and the other looking forward, a fitting symbolism for the New Year.

The picture above from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a 15th century book of hours, shows the Duke of Berry in a blue robe handing out gifts and tables with foods and drink; still a time of celebration.

Feasts during January from the General Roman Calendar are:

1. Mary, Mother of God, Solemnity
2. Basil the Great; Gregory Nazianzen, Memorial
4. Elizabeth Ann Seton (USA and CAN), Memorial
5. John Neumann, Memorial
6. Andre Bessette, Opt. Mem.
7. Raymond of Penafort, Opt. Mem.
8. Epiphany of the Lord, Solemnity
9. Baptism of the Lord, Feast
13. Hilary; Kentigern (Scotland), Opt. Mem.
15. Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
17. Anthony, Memorial
20. Fabian; Sebastian, Opt. Mem.
21. Agnes, Memorial
22. Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
24. Francis de Sales; Our Lady of Peace, Memorial
25. Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, Feast
26. Timothy and Titus, Memorial
27. Angela Merici, Opt. Mem.
28. Thomas Aquinas, Memorial
29. Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sunday
31. John Bosco, Memorial

A Twelfth Day Consideration.

Three Kings

January 6th, the “twelfth day of Christmas” is the Epiphany of Our Lord (though it will be celebrated on the nearest Sunday). In older times the Epiphany or “revealing” had a few more concepts than it does today. There was the Baptism of the Lord,  the Wedding at Cana, The Visitation of the Magi, and The Nativity.  In the west, these have been spread out a bit… The Nativity is now celebrated on Christmas day; The Baptism of the Lord on the Sunday after the Epiphany and The Wedding at Cana (Christs first miracle) the Sunday following. That leaves the Visitation of the Magi and their bringing the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, to honor the Infant. In the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox churches, they use the term Theophany, which in ancient Greek means “vision of God” and celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.

In all of the ways it has been, and is now celebrated, the epiphany comes down to the idea of revealing or disclosure. God reveals himself to Israel in the Nativity; and to the Gentiles at the Visitation of the Magi. God reveals His Son at the Baptism of Jesus and Christ reveals His own Divinity at Cana, turning water into wine.

As Christmastide comes to an end, the trees put away, the lights and decorations taken down, the New Year begun; we continue the journey of faith, with an epiphany in our hearts.

Theotokos, The Solemnity.

Mary, Mother of God

January 1st is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This feast finds itself on the octave day of Christmas and celebrates Mary as the Mother of Jesus. Theotokos, is the Greek word which we translate as Mother of God. It means God-bearer. The title has often been criticized or rather misunderstood and applied. To the Catholic it simply means that Mary is the Mother of God in his Incarnation, not that Mary is the Mother of God in Eternity. The importance of this term really comes from the time when it was first coined. Debates in the early church over Christology, the theology centered on the nature of Jesus Christ, caused some division in the Church. Some believed that Christ was God and others that He was only a man or a creature; others that He was not a man but a spirit. The point of Theotokos was to state that the child of Mary was God, and that he was truly a child of flesh, human. Fully God and Fully man.

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