Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Educated, the New Nobility?

Looking back on life, we hear of persons who have done much good and yet in retrospect with great humility, considered it vanity. St. Thomas Aquinas was one of these who at the end of life considered every thing he had written as so much straw, after the things he had seen in a revelation while saying Mass. He wrote no more and left his Summa Theologiae unfinished. He died shortly after.

An article in the Catholic Peace Weekly by a university professor of art asks the readers what human desire is the most difficult to abandon? Is it money or honor? She tells us about a famous Buddhist monk who prohibited the publishing of his books after his death. Did he understand at the end of life that his fame was vanity? Was this similar to the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas at the end of life?

The article is about the great Renaissance painter and sculptor Michelangelo Buonarroti who lived most of his life with the nobility of that time. He died at 88 years old and during that time saw the change of 7 popes. Even if the heavens should divide he was honest and rational in everything he did. He was thrifty in the clothes he wore. He worked hard to support his family, a humorous person, good to those who worked for him.

"He was an extraordinary painter and sculptor. He was from the family of Count Canosa,who came from the region of Reso, he inherited the blood of the illustrious emperors of Rome."

He had one of his students write the above lines in his biography, the first paragraph of the book. The professor says there is virtually no evidence that the Buonarroti family is descended from Count Canosa. Why was Michelangelo obsessed with the fame of his family? He told his nephew when scolding him: "We are a family that is noble."  

The writer wanted to find the reason for Michelangelo's obsession with nobility and she feels it was the social status of the artist of that time.  Artists were craftsmen but they became a social elite and this is partially with the help of Michelangelo. He is quoted as saying: "Art is what nobles do not common people."

She wrote a book about Michelangelo and a few years ago visited his home. The town Caprese  was 700 meters above sea level, a mountainous village.  His father was a magistrate in the village. She believes that in the town, they lived the life of the nobility and later dealing with kings, popes and cardinals he felt something missing in that rarefied society. May this not be the reason, she asks, for his obsession?

She concludes the article by wondering if the search for an education at the best of schools is not a sign of this looking for honors that has taken the place of the noble life of the past.

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