Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), The Immaculate Conception
Museo del Prado, Madrid
In an article published by L’Osservatore Romano in 2008, Italian historian Francesco Guglietta, an authority on the life of Pius IX, revealed how the Pontiff decided to consult with the bishops of the world to proclaim the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1854.

Guglietta points out that the revolution that ended with the proclamation of the 'Roman Republic' in 1848 and that forced the Pope to take up residence for nine months in Gaeta, south of Rome, had a profound effect on the Pontiff, who like Cardinal Giovanni Maria Mastai Ferretti, had openly sympathised with the European revolutionary movements.

“During this lapse of time, in fact, Pius IX progressively lost trust in the processes of the 'revolution’ that were taking place in Europe and distanced himself from the liberal Catholic environment, beginning to see in the insurrection movement, as well as in the 'modernity’ of that time, a dangerous snare for the life of the Church,” Guglietta writes.

The historian points out that “understanding what happened with the thinking of Pius IX in Gaeta is of significant historic relevance” and is an “area of research not yet explored.” Nevertheless, he said, the Pope’s sojourn in Gaeta was fundamental for his decision of proclaiming the Marian dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Diego Velazquez (1599-1660), The Immaculate Conception
National Gallery, London
According to tradition, Pope Pius IX spent a long period in prayer in Gaeta before a painting of the Immaculate Conception by Scipione Pulzone preserved in the so-called Chapel of Gold, and that moment of encounter with God convinced him to proclaim the dogma.

However, French historian and professor Louis Baunard said that while gazing upon the Mediterranean from the city, “the Pope mediated on remarks made to him by Cardinal Luigi Lambruschini: Holy Father, you will not be able to heal the world unless you proclaim the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Only this dogmatic definition will reestablish the meaning of the Christian truths and bring minds back from the paths of naturalism upon which they have become lost.”

According to Guglietta, naturalism, which rejected all supernatural truth, could be considered the “backdrop” for the Pope’s proclamation of the dogma. “The affirmation of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin laid a strong foundation for affirming and strengthening the certainty of the primacy of grace and the work of Providence in the lives of men.”
Philippe Sollers:

We are in 1854-1860, an extraordinarily fertile period. It was on 8th December, 1854 that Pius IX - a very interesting Pope, whose Syllabus delights me because one imagines one is reading the Poésies of Lautreamont; everything is rejected, without exception, all that seems natural, progressive, is very strongly rejected - Pius IX, therefore, on 8th December 1854, proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which deals with the bringing into the world of Mary by her mother Anne. Anne is Mary's mother, therefore the grandmother of Christ. How curious. Anne's husband is somehow ignored by most historians who have never tried to learn more about him. His name is Joachim; he is a saint, of course, like Joseph. The bull in which Pius IX, in a quite extravagant way, but after a very long incubation through the centuries, promulgates the Immaculate Conception, is a dogma - that means one is bound to believe it, if one professes this system of coordinates. One is not obliged to profess it, one can adopt other systems, but within the logic in question, you are bound to believe as an article of faith, from 8th December 1854 and not before, in the Immaculate Conception... 

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682)
The Immaculate Conception
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Well, this bull has a beautiful name in Latin, it is the bull Ineffabilis Deus. It's ineffable, not susceptible to any discourse, to any verbalisation, any evaluation. We are in the ineffable, and much later, a century later - we boldly skip through the centuries, no? - In 1950 only, another Pope with a very bad reputation, Pius XII (a very bad reputation, a very controversial Pope, hellish, but perhaps he is especially controversial in what he did, in what I am about to tell you, more than the rest), promulgated the dogma of the Assumption. This is not the same thing. His bull was called - even better, this: Munificentissimus Deus, that is to say the most munificent God, munificence being beyond anything one can imagine in terms of generosity, and therefore incalculable. So, on one side it's ineffable, and on the other munificent. The Immaculate Conception is being bound to believe that the Virgin Mary was engendered by her mother Anne without sin.

What does the Immaculate Conception mean? I wager that all suffering, especially in the psychic field in which you are the listeners and interpreters, has something to do with conception. Conception without sin, that means without original sin. Interruption of sin. So here one needs to return to historical considerations. There was already a tradition in this case but not dogmatic, it was not an article of faith, a suture, whereas dogma is there to suture something. Indeed, there were the Conceptionists, who were nuns of the contemplative order founded in Toledo in 1484. There was also, subsequently, a nursing and teaching congregation of the Sons of the Immaculate Conception founded in Rome in 1857. This should all passionately interest psychoanalysis, of course. What is this incubation of the Immaculate Conception? Well, it turns out that it was painters who were much occupied by it...

(from Philippe Sollers, Le Saint-Ane, Editions Verdier, 2004)

Tiziano Vecellio (Titian, 1490-1576), Assumption of the Virgin
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice
Giambattista Tiepolo, The Immaculate Conception on Google Maps
Papal bull Ineffabilis Deus, 8th December, 1854
Papal bull Munificentissimus Deus, 1st November, 1950

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