Sistine Chapel

Of late the Vatican has been putting online these really cool virtual tours of different Vatican sites.  Here is the one for the Sistine Chapel.  You can click and drag around for a 360 view and zoom in and out.  Super cool.

Reminds me of a few remarks by Pope Benedict (back when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger):

“The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb.”

And also this remark on Bach:

“… For me an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death of Karl Richter.  I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas triumphantly faded away, we looked at each other spontaneously and right then we said: “Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true”. The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer’s inspiration. “

Author: Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

15 thoughts on “Sistine Chapel”

  1. On pain of being more overtly religious than I prefer to be on this blog, I am also reminded of these lines from John Paul II’s book of meditative poetry called the Roman Triptych:

    I stand at the entrance of the Sistine Chapel.
    Perhaps all this might have been said more simply
    in the language of the Book of Genesis.
    But the Book awaits its illustration – And rightly.
    It awaited its Michelangelo.

    The One who created “saw” – He saw that it “was good.”
    “He saw,” yet the Book continued to await the fruition
    of His “vision.”
    Yes, O Man, you who also see, come –

    I am calling you, all “who see,” down the ages
    I am calling you, Michelangelo!
    In the Vatican a chapel awaits the fruition of your vision!
    The vision was awaiting an image.
    From the time that the Word became flesh,
    the vision continued to wait.

    We are standing at the threshold of a Book.

    It is the Book of Beginnings – Genesis.
    Here, in this chapel, Michelangelo penned it,
    not with words, but with the richness
    of a riot of colors.

    This is quite remarkable, really. Pope John Paul II is all but entering Michelangelo into the canon. It is one of the great mysteries of Christianity – that God chooses to come to men through men. Here the great mystery of God’s “vision” did not reach its fruition until it found an image, an image that Michelangelo provided.


  2. I feel like a complete and total moron for asking this, but do you know the identity of the musical pieces being played? I just adore them.


    1. I’m not sure exactly what the work is, but if you like this music you’d love the work of Palestrina, the greatest Italian Renaissance composer. I’m sure you can find CDs of his work in the library. It is very similar. He had more influence on Catholic music than just about any other composer.

      And my all time favorite choral work: Bach’s ‘Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland’ (Now comes the Gentile’s Savior). I will be playing a piano transcription of the work at an upcoming recital (May 22nd, 7:00, in the USU Performance Hall).


  3. I hate to be a smartass (well, not really), but I wonder whether Bernstein thought that “anyone who has heard this knows that the faith is true.”

    More seriously, what do you think it is that operates when “God chooses to come to men through men”? When human A paints a beautiful religious painting or composes touching music, what is it that brings the faith to human B? Is it the Holy Spirit in B’s heart, or an internal resonance in B?


    1. I don’t really have a well formulated answer to that question, Source. The movements of the human heart (and particularly the movements of the heart toward both neighbor and God) are mysterious things indeed! But to at least point you in some direction with respect to the question of artistic inspiration: though I have my reservations about the account, I actually think Plato is on to a few things in the ‘Ion’.


  4. I’m caught in two currents right now, but I’ll say what I can, I think its both. One of my friends told me over a meal that she thought Dr. Kleiner was “a roach” for claiming only uncultured people find the Mona Lisa unattractive. I pressed her on it, and she got into aesthetical relativism, that beauty is just whatever someone calls it. I’m not totally with the Mona Lisa, but I think Kleiner (and the history of philosophy that has informed our views on this) are right. In creation and reception, divine beauty is felt and given, a gift from a profound other. Not all have the gift, it has to be sort of nurtured in those that do, or else you have people putting a crucifix in a bottle of urine and calling it art.
    I like the idea of possession from Plato going both ways, its unconscious, it speaks and we don’t quite know why. In great metal music (there goes my reading audience) critics like Prozak are blasted because they don’t talk about the sheer speed or intensity, but the “voice” of the music, its soul. There is scientific resonance going on with eardrums and things, but good music and great music are separated by just being catchy and being moving.
    Sorry, can’t make this more meaningful right now.


    1. A “roach”? Couldn’t I have been something slightly less despicable, like a worm? I guess roaches can live through just about anything, so I’ll let it slide off my exoskeleton.
      While I don’t quite recall ever saying what Blood and Ashes’ friend reported (I am not thereby denying saying it), here was likely my point: Proper reception requires than one have properly oriented the rational, appetitive and thumotic (spirited) aspects of the soul. Souls can be defiled and discordant and can then become capable of only enjoying “spectacle”. Those are almost certainly incapable of appreciating aesthetic greatness (Mona Lisa or whatever else). Democratic souls (in the Platonic sense) result in a “dictatorship of relativism”. If you don’t like the soul talk here, even John Stuart Mill makes a roughly similar point when he speaks of the capacity for nobler feelings being a “tender plant” which can die from both hostile influences but also from sheer want of sustenance.
      I stand by this: Shakespeare and Bach and Michelangelo have produced genuinely beautiful works, and anyone who says otherwise discloses more about himself than he discloses about the works in question.


    1. Thank you, Rob, for the flattery of considering me a thoughtful and morally serious person. And before I speak on Benedict I should make plain what is obvious to all – the sexual abuse of children and the either ignorant or occasionally malfeasant manner in which some Church authorities addressed the matter is a terrible shame and stain on the Church. All sensible people are terribly grieved by it, and I am not in the business of pretending that some Churchmen did not do some very bad things.

      But on Benedict and the question of resignation (or any of the other calls by people who have an axe to grind – ending celibacy, ordaining women, having the pope be democratically elected by the laity, etc etc etc), well I think the calls for him to resign are ridiculous. Any objective look at the record would show that Benedict has pushed through enormously positive changes in how the Church handles these cases. The great unreported fact in all of this is that the sex abuse problem has all but disappeared in the Catholic Church (I hasten to add that I am most familiar with US statistics). I understand there is a desperate desire to pin this all on Benedict, but efforts in that direction have and will continue to fail. The alleged smoking gun of the Kiesle case has already been largely debunked, not that things like fact-checking prevent the AP and NYTimes from running overcharged headlines. (The Kiesle letter was a form letter in a “dispensation case” – a process that was slow for good reasons that have nothing to do with sexual abuse (few dispensation cases concern that issue). The letter in question does not actually concern laicizing the priest).

      A few quick thoughts (though I am dreadfully weary of all this) on what I think the institutional problem was:

      a) Excessive legalism trumped prudence. These matters were vetted through extremely complex canonical procedures. Those procedures were slow and ineffective. Compounding this was either involuntary or voluntary ignorance about who had what responsibility. If you look at the Kiesle documents it makes clear what was always the policy – it was the responsibility of the diocese to prevent further abuse. The Vatican is not in the business of running parishes (there are hundreds of thousands of them). We all know that some bishops either did not understand their responsibility in this regard, or in some instances they actively flouted it. But do I put this on Ratzinger/Benedict? No, and I think it would be ridiculous for anyone else to try to finger him for this. If anything, Benedict has worked against this legalism (as did JPII, this Theology of the Body was implicitly an argument against legalism in sexual ethics).

      b) There developed a lack of “manliness” or “thumos” in the Church. Too much trust in therapy and “working through issues” when what was needed was thumotic reaction. We would not have this scandal in the news at all if Churchmen had the manly thumos to handle this “filth” (Benedict’s term) by cleaning house with swift justice. This does not exclude “paternal care” for the abusive priests – the Church ought to love them and that would mean, for instance, providing them with sacraments in prison so that they might find reconciliation with God.

      c) The Church ‘thinks in centuries’ and so it is ill-equipped to do battle in the tabloid-esque 24 hours news cycle. As such, they have failed miserably to get a handle on this story and are dying the death of a thousand cuts. Again, a bit of thumotic manliness would help here.

      I have blogged about this over at SHAFT:

      Worth reading some of the links Jon puts in his original post there.

      You’ll may have to scroll to “older comments” to see my comments here, in particular taking up the question about whether or not this is a uniquely Catholic problem or whether it has anything to do with celibacy.


    2. This is arm-chair media analysis, but I think it is telling that the Kiesle letter story had a media life of around 24 hours. I first saw it yesterday, and today I have to dig to find it. If this was the “smoking gun” it was heralded to be early on, one would think it would remain above the fold or at least would appear somewhere on the front online page of the Times or msnbc (the two places I checked). The only mention I see of it after a brief search is a predictably ill-informed and intemperate anti-Catholic rant from NYTimes columnist Maureen Dowd. I guess some people take her seriously, but I certainly do not. (If she hates the Catholic Church so much, why doesn’t she just leave?!)


  5. Thanks for replying, Kleiner. No flattery or sarcasm was intended by my query. The growing chorus of the condemnatory has become rather tedious to me, so I figured, rightly, that you would be a good person to whom to turn for a thoughtful contrast.


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