Scares you the possibility of eternity



"Salone Sistino", Vatican Museums
Thursday October 18, 2007


At the opening ceremony, Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone gave a speech in which he underlined the uniqueness of this show and spoke about the importance of the Book of the Apocalypse. First, he welcomed the people present, including Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, President of the Governorate, and numerous ambassadors to the Holy See. The responsible persons of the »Committee of St. Florian «and his staff, as well as the Vatican Museums with their director Dr. Francesco Buranelli thanked Cardinal Bertone for realizing the exhibition. Then he said:

More than 100 masterpieces from some of the world's most important museums will be on view in the “Salone Sistino”. They will encourage the visitor to reread and understand the last book of scriptures. In this book, the seer John addresses the churches of Asia - Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea - and in spirit to the entire Church: he calls the disciples of Jesus to remain true in the faith and neither to themselves to be seduced or frightened by the evil forces of this world, which seem to be superior but are in reality doomed to failure.

So the Apocalypse is not, as is often thought, the disturbing announcement of a catastrophic end for humanity, but the declaration of the failure of the infernal powers and the magnificent proclamation of the mystery of Christ, who died and rose to the rescue of history and the cosmos.

Reading the Apocalypse shakes the soul, as does the contemplation of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. But it is the ecstatic shock at the sight of majesty and surprising mercy that comes to meet us, not that dull and desperate shudder of doom and fear. This text and the works of art do not want to frighten us when they show us scenes from eternity. At most they want to remind us that life here on earth is fleeting and that we shape it every day through the quality of our actions.

Reading the announcement of the resurrection on Judgment Day in the Apocalypse is in itself a comfort and a kind of righteousness. One must not forget that only a world will be just in which the dead rise and ultimately every wound is healed, every tear dried, every interrupted conversation is continued and every longing for the good is fulfilled. In this respect, the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem not only fills the final part of the Apocalypse and the exhibition, but is also a logical necessity, a moral duty, and an indispensable requirement for speaking of justice to have any meaning at all.

Another positive aspect of the apocalypse can only be clearly perceived if one reads the text in one go, as the exhibition in the »Salone Sistino« offers and makes possible. One can only adequately describe this aspect if one raises one's mind to the high poetry of the longest, richly pictorial and impressive text from the Requiem, which can be read as a work of art among others on various panels in the exhibition. Of the five verses listed in the Missal under the name Sequence, this is »Dies irae«By Thomas de Celan the last; the first is »Victimae Paschali«. Both refer to one another; the first is related to the last like the resurrection of Christ to the universal resurrection, of which it is the cause and cause.

"Day of wrath, that day ...": The Latin Christian tradition has learned from the Apocalypse that the wrath of God is celebrated precisely because and only because of its dissolution and reversal through the love of the innocent Lamb who stands for has sacrificed our salvation. This becomes clear in the narrative strategy of the Apocalypse as well as in the structure of the exhibition and the »Dies irae«. The first seven stanzas of this medieval prayer paint the terrifying picture of the return of the divine ruler at the Last Judgment. But from the eighth stanza onwards, this reversal occurs: the very judge whom we are now invoking, Jesus, is the one who saves without any motive, without consideration, so to speak "free of charge". Precisely because a person cannot justify himself, he must be saved by someone who loves him with pure love: in short, a love worthy of God!

So what happens when we reread the Apocalypse and look at its fascinating translation into images that so many artists have left us? It means ending your reading or a visit to the "Salone Sistino" with confirmation in your heart that the last word of our personal and common life on earth belongs neither to death nor to evil.

And while the confession of our faith is an expression of the expectation of the highest and ultimate encounter with God in Christ, the pages of the Apocalypse, as well as the engravings and paintings describing the desolation of the earth and the overthrow of the peoples, instruct us in each to fundamentally reject any other reality as the possible ultimate fulfillment of the world and of man.

The apocalypse helps to keep the heart free from the endless temptations that want to ensnare the world with thousands of magic by offering the world what it can only find in God. Let us not forget what St. Augustine said: The Lord made our hearts for himself, and our hearts will not find peace until they rest in Him.

Down here, however, from the beginning of things to the eschatological wedding supper, good and evil stand in battle against each other on the lofty and terrible stage of this world. And it is precisely from this that we will finally be freed, irrevocably protected from fallibility, ignorance, fatigue, old age, pain, vanity, but above all from the possibility of sin, the absurd possibility of choosing a creature over the Creator. The image of the heavenly Jerusalem - made of immortal gold and adorned with precious stones, like the wonderful reliquary from Tournai that can be seen in the exhibition - is an image of the glory that descends from above into the depths of the earth, which means in all fibers of our entire being, body and soul, when nothing will offer any more resistance. And this happened immediately to the most blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, for nothing in her ever opposed God's love.

So all we need to do is to look comforted at the beauty of the text of the Apocalypse, the prayer of the Church and the works of the artists.

In conclusion, I would like to emphasize that this exhibition is undoubtedly very valuable not only because of the message it conveys, but that it is also unique in its kind, because the Vatican Museums received it after it was in a small place of the Carnic Alps could be seen in Illegio, where the »Committee of St. Florian «is at home. I visited this mountain village when I opened this exhibition up there: Illegio is neither a metropolis nor a historically significant capital of art. But it is a place where faith and art meet on the fertile soil of people's hearts, because this exhibition - and I say this because I saw it with my own eyes - is a people's reality, the result of inclusion by many who wished to be of service to the Gospel and the spread of Christian thought, as well as to promote the treasures of beauty and Christian tradition of their homeland of Friuli, and in some ways those of all of Europe. Therefore, may the Lord bless them and encourage them to move on with great enthusiasm.

May it be granted to the visitors of this exhibition in the Vatican Museums and to all of us - that is my wish - that admiring these works of art will lead us to an encounter with the Lord and recognize his radiant beauty. I entrust this wish to the heavenly intercession of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Michael, who are shown in the Apocalypse to conquer the dragon by virtue of the Savior. Their humility in their desire to serve God was the means to accomplish the work of him who wants us to partake forever in his glory, the King of kings and Lord of lords: this miracle happened before our eyes!