In the sweet time of autumn, in our villages but not only in them, housewives make food preserves. Aristotle himself took an interest in the matter; in fact he suggested that to preserve the apple it was enough to wrap it in the soft clay of the potter and leave it there until the moment of consumption.
The simplest acts, such as that of making preserves, can contain the deepest meanings. Preserving food for the future means hoping and almost being certain that there will be a future.
Not a small thing, in a time that, like ours, worries and anguishes us with a war in the heart of Europe, with the energy crisis, with intense climate change, which painfully add to the problems of all time.
As happened to Nietzsche, Dürer’s engraving “The Knight, Death and the Devil”, from 1513, captured me for its gloom. “The birth of the tragedy”, Nietzsche is 28 years old and is in love with Schopenhauer’s philosophy. In one passage, he compares the pessimistic thinker to the knight marching without batting an eye across a desolate landscape framed by death and the devil. Schopenhauer, says Nietzsche, is “The knight who, inflexible to his horrible traveling companions and yet desperate, has the strength to follow […] his hellish way. Such a Dürerian knight was Schopenhauer: he lacked all hope, but he wanted the truth. There is no one else like him “.
However, Durer’s engraving has also been interpreted in another way. According to a Christian reading, the knight represents the crusader who proceeds confidently and strongly; every Christian of our time, however, can recognize himself in him. His goal is Jerusalem, represented by the distant fortification. God is with him, so he does not care about death which indicates with the hourglass the time that runs away. The knight does not even fear the devil who pursues him as the verse of Psalm 22, 4 says: “Even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
Thanks to the courage that draws substance from faith in his own truth, the knight of Dürer can go on, without fear of his terrible companions: the evil of the world and his own death.
But if death is the ultimate measure of our lives, then it is also the urge to do something honorable with our own lives. It is, whether we know it or not, the engine of our actions.
The knight of engraving refers to the idea of the “Miles Christianus“by Erasmus of Rotterdam, whose armor represents faith and”pietas“and whose gait recalls balance, harmony, zeal and justice.
Man fights various forms of struggle. One of them, superficial and a little ridiculous but very widespread and intense, is the desire of good people to stand out from others.
Of the strategies, the most obvious is to exhibit one’s material status. Throughout history, there have been various means of communicating their star higher from the crowd.
A clear example is offered by the possession of an expensive sports car and therefore within the reach of only a few.
The same desire to excel and stand out can be exercised on a cultural level with the use of books, music, films, bizarre, exotic, difficult to find foods.
The elite who only taste what is rare and distant very often derides the taste of the simpler people.
A peacock with an open tail would be absolutely ridiculous if it weren’t adorned with surprisingly beautiful plumage.
Likewise, some beliefs would sound silly and counterintuitive if they weren’t juggled by an intelligent person. Trying to cross borders, real or metaphorical, belongs to man; crossing them out of thirst for domination or snobbery can produce very sad repercussions. The reality is complex, and these notes of mine are perhaps too simplifying.
However, it is no coincidence that I have spoken of borders. In the field of work, their savage openness can, for example, bring cheap labor, to the full profit of the elites and to the detriment of the poor who must thus suffer a new and bitter competition.
Hoping not to have oversimplified it, I would like to hope, in these times of crisis, for a catechism of social survival.
But what matters most to me as a priest is the fact that a hastily cosmopolitan vision can promote agnosticism.
As a “Byzantine” priest, the figures of the great spiritual fathers come to mind. They were not all highly educated but rather relatively ordinary people, who however knew the life of the world, with its challenges and harshness. After entering monasticism, they sincerely tried to identify with their role, with naive ardor, not only by following the doctrine of the narrow way, but above all by trying to bear witness to Christ. Their path towards holiness did not pass through diplomas, rhetoric or propaganda strategies, but through a mystical path not free from suffering and fighting that led them into the universe of full and fraternal understanding of the other.
The line of Pope Francis’ high Petrine ministry somehow follows that simple and clear outline.
Together with those Byzantine saints, so many men and women of our time, rich or poor, inside and outside the Church, fighting against the devil of our fears and disappointments, resemble the knight of Dürer’s engraving.
Let us now refresh our gaze and spirit with another image. The Hours (Ωραι) in Greek mythology were the daughters of Zeus and Themis and personified the passage of time. In Edward Poynter’s painting entitled “Horae Serenae“(this is the image I alluded to), the Hours dance gracefully with grace and joy, rhythm the passage of time. It is a hopeful dance, which smells of the future just like the jars of canned food that housewives prepare these days.
But having hope, for a Christian, is equivalent to having faith in God. Faith and hope are therefore closely united. Constant and profound prayer makes the faith of the Christian community grow, in the ever renewed certainty that God never abandons his people.