Monticello Monastery

Sometimes, the world-famous internet maddens you with its lacunae. One cannot read St. Augustine’s second sermon on the Apostles’ Creed in its entirety on-line. That said, it is well worth reading the parts of the sermon that Google Books offers, to prepare spiritually for Trinity Sunday…

…Upon entering the reception hall in Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home, the visitor espies a familiar map on the wall. Perhaps, gentle reader, you will recall the joy with which we considered the Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia a few months ago.

What made Thomas Jefferson? Can we say that, above all, he was the son of the man who had made Virginia colony’s most excellent map?

…My peregrinations have taken me to Monticello, to George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and to the Cistercian Abbey of New Melleray in Peosta, Iowa, among other places.

Monticello reminds me more of New Melleray than it does of Mount Vernon. Jefferson conceived and built a hilltop cloister to house his quiet life of study and meditation.

Everything about the clever, simple, orderly way in which the necessaries of Monticello are arranged recalls the refreshing straightforwardness of the architecture of a monastery.

And, of course, the quadrangle of the University of Virginia, which Jefferson designed, feels like a brick neoclassical cloister.

Perhaps Sally Hemmings could report that Jefferson did not live his 43 widower years as a perfect monk. But there is no question that he built an edifice designed for reading, working the land, hospitality, and contemplation. This is precisely what St. Benedict directed.

It is ironic, since Jefferson despised monks. Like repels like.

Someday, perhaps, the Lord will afford me the leisure to write the book I have always wanted to write: The Untold History of the Contemplative Life in the United States.

Chapter 1 will consider Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

The supreme goodness of Him who controls heaven and earth

As you may recall, this year is the four-hundredth anniversary of the death of Father Matteo Ricci.

Father Ricci advanced the Kingdom of Christ in China. He was probably the most brilliant and creative missionary ever.

One thing he did to teach the Chinese the truth about God was to prepare a map of the world for them.

The Library of Congress has been displaying this map. I wish I could tell you to hustle down and see it. But your foolish servant waited until the last day of the exhibition to see it himself.

Let me tell you this: It is an impressive work.

It is particularly interesting in this way: The most accurate parts of the map depict those areas of the world where Father Ricci’s Jesuit brethren had traveled. For instance, the map of Brazil is precise and realistic.

The problem is this: The Library of Congress did not do a good job of displaying this map. It is in a poorly lit room. This afternoon, two of the five bulbs that should have been illuminating the map were burnt out. Not good. Plus, the display offered no translation of all the interesting Chinese legends on the map.

Hopefully some day this amazing evangelical map will be back in Washington, presented by someone who cares enough to display it in a worthy manner.