Monday, March 12, 2007

Catechism in Images

From Sandro Magister:

Catechism in Images: A Very Special Edition of the “Compendium”

It’s printed by FMR, one of the most prominent art publishers in the world. With forty-nine magnificent reproductions of Christian art masterpieces, selected according to Benedict XVI’s guidelines

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, March 12, 2007 – The image above [see the link] is the “Salvator Mundi” by Antonello da Messina, painted in 1475 and kept at the National Gallery in London. It is the first of forty-nine images that illustrate a sumptuous new edition of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, printed by FMR, one of the world’s most illustrious art publishers.

The volume itself is a work of art. It’s in large format with red silk binding and inscriptions in gold; the paper is cotton fiber and bears the papal watermark; the printing and reproductions are of the highest quality. It’s a limited edition, with a correspondingly high price: 1,500 euros.

The text of the Compendium of the Catechism is identical to the one issued by Benedict on June 28, 2005, in one of the first defining actions of his pontificate. Even in the mainstream edition, released in multiple languages and millions of copies, the text is accompanied by images. These were selected by Joseph Ratzinger himself, who as a cardinal was the chief architect of both the Catechism and its Compendium.

The images are not accessories. They are an integral part of the Compendium. It is obligatory that they be reproduced in all its printings. And they must always be placed in the same position relative to the text. For example, the “Sermon on the Mount” by Fra Angelico must always appear beneath the title of the section dedicated to the ten commandments.

The difference between the mainstream edition and the one by FMR is the number of images. There are fourteen in the former case, and forty-nine in the latter.

As in the mainstream edition, the selection of images for the luxury edition was also made according to Benedict XVI’s guidelines.

But in concrete terms, they were selected and presented to the pope by Timothy Verdon, American by birth, an art historian and a priest in the diocese of Florence, director of the office for catechesis through art there and the author of important books on Christian art.

In an article entitled “Immagini della Fede [Images of the Faith],” Verdon explains the meaning of this connection between word and image in the catechesis of the Catholic Church. His is the lead article in the first edition of a new magazine also published by FMR, “Eikon.”

“Eikon” is the Greek word meaning “icon” or “image.” And Verdon cites Paul, who in the letter to the Colossians describes Christ as “eikon of the invisible God.” The Compendium of the Catechism, at question number 240, precisely echoes this Pauline assertion in stating that “the image of Christ is the liturgical icon par excellence,” and that his image encompasses all other sacred images, and all of Sacred Scripture. The Church has believed in this truth so strongly that over the centuries it has dedicated extravagant resources to creating works of liturgical art and architecture, and to crushing the iconoclastic tendencies that have tempted it on occasion.

Thus it is natural that the Compendium of the Catechism should open with the image of Jesus. In the FMR edition, there are two of these images rather than one. Beside the image of Christ painted by Theophane of Crete in 1456 for the Stavronikita monastery on Mount Athos, there is the "Salvator Mundi” by Antonello da Messina. Church of the East, Church of the West.

With Verdon’s article in the magazine “Eikon” are reproduced some of the additional images that illustrate FMR’s edition of the Compendium of the Catechism. These include an extraordinary “God with compass creating heaven and earth,” a miniature from an eighth century Bible, and a marvelous “Adoration of the shepherds” by Domenico Ghirlandaio, from 1480.

In one passage of his article Verdon writes about the catechetical efficacy of Christian art, even in a secularized society:

“Believers and nonbelievers are still fascinated by the heritage of painting, sculpture, and architecture generated by Christians over the centuries, not only because of the formal beauty of the works, but because in them one finds oneself face to face with themes that correspond to urgent contemporary questions. In the Europe of legalized abortion, which is considering the admissibility of euthanasia, typical images of the Christian tradition like the Madonna with Child or Christ on the Cross rattle consciences, insisting with quiet power on the irreplaceable value of life, and even of suffering life.”

“Eikon,” the new magazine by FMR, directed by Flaminio Gualdoni, is dedicated to “contemporary visual culture,” and therefore also to how man today sees the art of the past. The theme of the first issue is “Faith and the arts,” and Verdon’s article is followed by, among others, two articles concerning masterpieces very well known to Rome’s visitors: the “Pietà” by Michelangelo, in St. Peter’s Basilica, and the modern “Risen Christ” by Pericle Fazzini that dominates the papal audience hall.

A splendid photo of Michelangelo’s “Pietà,” taken by Aurelio Amendola, is on the cover of the magazine’s first issue.

Moreover, again for FMR, Timothy Verdon has edited the large-format volume “Bellezza e identità. L'Europa e le sue cattedrali [Beauty and identity: Europe and its cathedrals],” dedicated to Benedict XVI on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, which falls next April 16th. Its cost, which is double that of the Compendium of the Catechism, gives an idea of the extraordinary quality of the work, dedicated to the Christian imprint on Europe that can be discerned in its cathedrals.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: