Saint Peter's: a Basilica Desecrated - by Roberto de Mattei
Roberto de Mattei
11th December 2015
The image that will remain tied to the opening of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is not the anti-triumphalist ceremony celebrated by Pope Francis on the morning of December 8th, but the pretentious spectacle Fiat Lux: Illuminating Our Common Home, which brought the day to a close, by inundating the façade and Dome of St. Peter’s with lights and sounds.
Throughout the course of the show, offered by the World Bank Group, the images of gigantic lions, tigers and leopards were superimposed on St. Peter’s, which was built exactly upon the ruins of Nero’s circus, where ferocious wild beasts had [once] devoured Christians. Due to the play of lights, the Basilica seemed then to be turned upside down, dissolved and immersed in water, while clownfish and sea-turtles appeared on its façade, almost evoking the liquefying of the structures of the Church, devoid of any element of solidity. An enormous owl and strange, winged, luminous creatures circled over the Dome, while Buddhist monks, on the march, seemed to indicate a way of salvation alternate to Christianity. Not one religious symbol, not one reference to Christianity; the Church gave the way to “sovereign nature”.
Andrea Tornielli wrote that we needn’t be scandalized since many artists over the centuries, as the art historian Sandro Barbagallo documents in his book, Animals in Religious Art. St. Peter’s Basilica (The Vatican Press, 2009), have depicted luxuriant fauna around St. Peter’s sepulcher. Yet, if St. Peter’s Basilica is a “sacred Zoo” as the author of this work irreverently defines it, it is not because the animals represented in the Basilica are enclosed inside a sacred barrier, but because it’s sacred, that is, it is ordered to a transcendent purpose. This is the significance attributed through art to these animals.
In Christianity, in fact, animals are not divinized, but valued for their purpose, which is that of being destined by God for the service of man. The Psalms narrate “Thou hast subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen: moreover the beasts also of the fields. The birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea, that pass through the paths of the sea” (Psalm 8, 7-9.) Man has been placed by God as the apex and king of creation, to whom everything has to be ordered until he orders everything to God, acting as the representative of the cosmos (Gen. 1, 26-27). God is the final end of the universe, but the immediate end of the physical universe, is man. “In a certain sense, we are also the end of all things” St. Thomas affirms (in II Sent, d.1,q. 2, a. 4), since “ God made all things for man” (Super Symb. Apostolorum, art. 1).
Christian symbolism moreover, attributes an emblematic significance to animals. Christianity is not interested in the extinction of animals nor in their well-being, but in the ultimate and profound meaning of their presence. The lion symbolizes strength and the lamb meekness to remind us of the existence of different virtues and perfections, which God alone possesses entirely. On earth, a prodigious hierarchy of created beings of inorganic material culminating in man, has an essence and intimate perfection which is expressed in the language of symbols.
Environmentalism is presented as a vision of the world which turns this hierarchy upside down, by eliminating God and dethroning man. Man is placed on a level of absolute equality with nature in a relationship of interdependence, not only with the animals but also with the inanimate components of the environment which surround him: mountains, rivers, seas, landscapes, food chains, and the ecosystem. The supposition of this cosmological vision is the dissolution of all boundaries between man and the world. The Earth with its biosphere forms a sort of unitary, cosmic-geo-environmental entity. It becomes something more than “a common home”: it represents a divinity.
Fifty years ago, when the Second Vatican Council ended, the dominant theme of that historical season appeared: a distinct “cult of man”, implied in Jacques Maritain’s formula “integral humanism”. The French philosopher’s book with this title, is of 1936, but it had above all, its greatest influence when one of its most enthusiastic readers, Giovanni Battista Montini, subsequently Pope Paul VI, wanted to use it as a compass for his pontificate. On December 7th 1965, in his Mass homily, Paul VI recalled that in Vatican II the encounter was produced between “The religion of the God who became man” and the “religion (for such it is) of man who makes himself God.”
Fifty years later, we are witnessing the passage of integral humanism to integral environmentalism, from the Chart of the rights of man to that of the rights of Nature. In the XVI century, humanism had rejected Medieval Christian Civilization in the name of anthropocentrism. The attempt to construct the City of Man on the ruins of the City of God tragically failed in the 20th century and the attempts to Christianize anthropocentrism under the name of integral humanism have come to nothing,
The religion of man is substituted for the religion of the Earth: Anthropocentrism criticized for its “deviations” is substituted for a new eco-centered vision. The theory of Gender, which dissolves all identity and all essence, is inserted into this pantheistic and egalitarian prospective.
This is a radically evolutionist notion, which coincides largely with Teilhard de Chardin’s. God is the “self-conscience” of the universe, which in its evolving, becomes conscience of its own evolution. The Teilhard quotation in paragraph 83 of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato si is not casual, and philosophers like Enrico Maria Radaelli and Arnaldo Xavier da Silveira have highlighted the points in dissonance with Catholic Tradition. Further, the Fiat Lux show was presented as an “environmentalist manifesto” which wanted to translate the encyclical Laudato si in images.
Antonio Socci, in Libero, defined it as” a Gnostic, Neo-Pagan ‘sceneggiata’ which had a precise ideological, anti-Christian message” , observing that “at St. Peter’s, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the celebration of Mother Earth was preferred to the celebration of the Mother of God, to propagate the dominant ideology, of that ‘climatist and environmentalist’, Neo-Pagan and Neo-Malthusian religion, which is supported by the great powers of the world. A spiritual profanation (also since that place – let’s not forget – is a place of Christian martyrdom.”).
Alessandro Gnocchi also has this to say in ‘Riscossa Cristiana’ “So, – it is not ISIS that has profaned the heart of Christianity, it is not the secular extremists that damaged the Catholic Creed, it is not the usual blasphemous artists, affected by coprolalia that sullied the faith of many Christians. There was no need for perquisitions and metal detectors to block the entrance of vandals into God’s Citadel: they were already inside the walls and had already triggered their bomb in multicolor and on world-vision from the warmth and coziness of the control-room”.
The photographers, the graphic artists and the advertisers who created Fiat Lux, know what St. Peter’s - the material image of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church - represents for Catholics. The plays of light that illuminated the Basilica have a symbolic intent, antithetic to that expressed by all the ‘luminaries, lamps and fires’, who have transmitted the significance of the Divine light over the course of the centuries. This light was extinguished on December 8th. Among the images and lights projected on the Basilica, those of Our Lord and the Immaculate were missing, and it was Her Feast Day. St. Peter’s was immersed in the false light brought by the rebel angel, Lucifer, Prince of this World and the King of Darkness.
The words Divine light are not only a metaphor, but a reality, as is the reality of the darkness which today envelopes the world. And on this eve of Christmas, humanity awaits the moment in which the night is illuminated like the day, « nox sicut dies illuminabitur » (Psalm 11) and that the promises made at Fatima by the Immaculate will be fulfilled.