Theology and Philosophy

About Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition

Wander around ruined pagan temples and the nearby Coliseum and ponder the cultural context in which early Christianity developed.

The Coliseum (Photograph: Jo Laffin, used with permission).

Descend into ancient catacombs and see how early Christians expressed their faith in art.

Enter basilicas built in the fifth and sixth centuries, decorated with apse mosaics depicting the risen, triumphant Christ.

The Risen Christ (6th century) in the Basilica of Saints Cosmas and Damian (Photograph: Jo Laffin, used with permission).

Visit medieval churches and observe how Christian art and architecture evolved in response to the needs of the time, how greater attention was paid to the suffering of Jesus on the cross in the Middle Ages, and devotion to Mary became warmer and more intimate.

Renaissance and Baroque Catholicism can be encountered at almost every turn, and one of the greatest collections of modern religious art can be found in the Vatican Museums; works which evoke strong emotions as they challenge and inspire.

Theological thinking becomes more obvious in Rome.

Christian spirituality cannot be separated from Christian theology. The city is a kind of sacrament of Catholicism where basic tenets of Catholic theology, including the importance of history and tradition and the nexus between liturgy and doctrine (lex orandi, lex credenda), are clearly visible.

At the Vatican, in particular, the universality the Church comes to the fore, not just in the tourists and pilgrims from around the world, the diversity of art and artefacts in the Vatican Museums, but also in the work of some of the Congregations and Councils such as the recently established Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.  Here one can encounter the Church as Sacrament, at the same time spiritual and institutional, with spaces and structures that support both dimensions.

Many of the outstanding figures in the history of Christian spirituality, such as Benedict of Nursia, Francis of Assisi, Dominic Guzman, Ignatius Loyola and Teresa of Avila, founded religious communities which still promote their approaches to the spiritual life. The riches of these different spiritual traditions are accessible in Rome, at universities and research centres run by the Benedictines, Dominicans, Carmelites and Jesuits. Along with site visits to some of the places where their spirituality was born, some of these universities will be part of our theological journey in Rome, to see how their traditions were and continue to be a living part of Christian life and spirituality.

In Rome the living tradition of the Church blends seamlessly with the Catholic heritage. Around the corner from the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, which still contains some of its original fifth century mosaic decoration, you can visit the Aletti Study and Research Centre. Founded as a part of the Pontifical Oriental Institute in 1991 to help bridge divisions between eastern and western Christians, the Centre has a resident community of artists which produces and promotes liturgical art, including icons and mosaics.

In conjunction with the Aletti Centre, you can visit the chapel at the Pontifical Irish College, recently redecorated by Jesuit Fr Marko Ivan Rupnik and the team of artists based at the Aletti Centre.

In the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, just a short walk from the ACU Rome Centre, you can see one of the oldest icon of Mary, the sixth or seventh century Madonna Della Clemenza. If you are there in the evening, you can also attend one of the lively liturgies of the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay movement established after the Second Vatican Council with a focus on prayer, communicating the Gospel, solidarity with the poor, ecumenism and interfaith dialogue.

Late 12th century mosaic of Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus on the façade of the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere (Photograph: Jo Laffin, used with permission).

Not far from the Coliseum is the Basilica of San Clemente, currently home to the Irish Dominicans. It is possible to go beneath the existing medieval church to see the remains of a fourth-century Christian basilica, and beneath that, the ruins of a pagan temple and a Roman house where Christians may have gathered for worship from the second century. This one place gives an irreplaceable space to reflect on the history of Christian worship over time and how it has marked contemporary life and praxis. You could attend celebration of the Eucharist in the church above the excavations, where the glorious twelfth century apse mosaic depicts the cross of Christ as the Tree of Life. Its swirling vine leaves, decorated with animals, flowers, birds, and humans engaged in everyday activities, is a stunning witness to the importance of creation and redemption in Catholic thinking.