A street in the necropolis below St Peter's, where St Peter himself is buried.
The Missionaries of Divine Revelation are kind enough to send me their newsletter each month from Rome. (I have posted about them before here here and here.) I liked this article musing on the importance of our Christian Tradition and how it connects us to the generations of Christians down the ages, right back to the Apostles and Our Lord Himself. Very appropriate as we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Chair of St Peter. It put me in mind of Chesterton's saying from Orthodoxy, Chapter 4, “The Ethics of Elfland.”
“Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead... Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”
A city like Rome, with its abundance of history and art, can, at times, produce sentiments of inadequacy and disorientation. Here we can find places that open our minds to the possibility of a recuperation of our Christian identity and roots.
For a moment, let us abandon the noisy hub-bub of the streets and try a fascinating experience by descending right unto the core of the ancient city. Let us imagine the Vatican necropolis that lies below St Peter’s Basilica and Rome’s rich population of Catacombs.
Exploring these places, one captures the breath of an entire community that has managed to realise beautiful, “anonymous” harmonious compositions that arose, not from the desire of the artist, but by a believing community as a testimony of Beauty. Their works show that they share our faith and that they form part of a Church that, through the centuries, has handed down an abundance of wonder and collective witness of martyrdom and Christian dedication.
Right from the Apostolic era, Christians have merged like yeast in the dough of contemporary society and have quickly shown their specific identity. We need only call to mind Diognetus famous letter from the second century to a Christian and a pagan: “Christians are indistinguishable from other men either by nationality, language or customs. They do not inhabit separate cities of their own, or speak a strange dialect, or follow some outlandish way of life... They live in their own countries as though they were only passing through. Any country can be their homeland, but for them their homeland, wherever it may be, is a foreign country. They pass their days upon earth, but they are citizens of heaven.”
One of the burial chambers below St Peter's.
Remembering is a precious act of the spirit. Considering the heritage that we hold in common with so many Christians, helps us to be amazed at the constancy of our Tradition. This heritage teaches us to appreciate the beauty of Holy Mother Church who is always growing and maturing in the purpose for which Christ founded her.
The Church is primarily and essentially a memorial of her Saviour, a passionate memory that is ever alive and covers over two thousand years of the history of mankind.
Let us enter into the maternal heart of the Church where we can draw from the fountain of the history of the martyrs, the saints, the Councils formed to defend the Truth, the miracles and all the spiritual richness that culminates in our greatest gift: the Eucharist. “Do this in memory of me” The Church never forgets the Spouse that, “loved the Church and handed himself over for her” (Eph 5,25). By remembering our history and reliving the testimony of those Christians that have gone before us, we are able to learn how we too can put Jesus at the centre of our lives and to teach those who have not met Christ that there is a superior, happier way of living here and now on earth.