Columnist Matt Flocco sums up his religious studies in Rome with “Music of the Spheres.”
ROME – While chanting monks, accordion players and the Italian version of “Beauty and the Beast” I saw last week were very cool, I’m here to talk to you about a different kind of tune than what you’ll find in the rest of this paper: “Music of the Spheres.”
This ancient philosophy explains there is a harmony between God and heavenly beings that move around the Earth, especially the Sun and the Moon. The idea was later explained in a literal and physical sense by Johannes Kepler, astrology scholar David Plant said. Kepler explained that geometry, astrology and other sciences worked together to explain the movement of the planets.
Last week for class, I watched the film “Agora.” It displays a clash of ideologies in 5th-century Alexandria (Roman Empire), running the gamut from Roman Paganism to Judaism and Christianity, to astronomy and philosophy. It is impossible for me to go in depth, but what you need to know is that every denomination of faith in the film is portrayed in a bad light.
The only clarity comes from the teachings of Hypatia, who studies the planets years before Kepler, Copernicus and Galileo. In the beginning of the film, there is a motif of the circle as a symbol of perfection. God – or the gods – have made the shape and orbit of the Earth in this way. In the film, Hypatia comes to a revelation that the shape of Earth’s orbit is an ellipse – an imperfect circle.
The circle and ellipse are seen all over Rome, especially in Vatican City. This concept is explored in the novel “Angels & Demons,” when character Robert Langdon explains that the preferred shape of the church shifted from a perfect circle to a perfect ellipse.
If one were to look at a cross section of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, they would see that it is obviously a perfect circle. However, when one sees it from the square, they might be shocked to find out that the dome is not a half-sphere. Upon closer investigation, as pointed out by my art history professor, it in fact looks like the top half of an egg.
It is only fitting that this dome sits above the tomb of St. Peter, the founder of Christianity. The iconic egg was used even before Easter as a symbol of spring, rebirth and the life cycle. For Christians, it is a symbol of Christ’s resurrection. The belief is that Jesus was sealed in a tomb, three days later, the tomb opened, and he ascended into heaven, starting a new life.
In this way, the shell of the egg is like the tomb, and Jesus is the yolk inside. It may be a coincidence, but a yoke is a beam of wood that animals carry on their backs. In this way, the yoke/yolk represents Christ’s burden of his crucifixion.
The Easter egg and the ellipse connections don’t stop there. Rome’s Holy Week starts and ends in the elliptical St. Peter’s Square, where the Pope delivers mass and blesses the people below. On Good Friday, the anniversary of Christ’s death, the Pope leads a procession in another egg: the Coliseum. This is called the Stations of the Cross and represents Jesus’ ordeals on his journey to Golgotha, where he was crucified.
To some, Jesus was the Messiah. To others, he was a mortal man. And to others, he was a martyr, dying for what he himself believed in. In my class reading for “Agora,” the author wrote Hypatia’s martyrdom (she is killed by Christians) serves as a transition from a Pagan Rome to a Christian Rome. At the end of the film, the camera zooms out into space, as if a heavenly being were looking down on the mortals, shaking its head in dismay at the mess created.
Hypatia’s discovery that the Earth’s orbit is imperfect sends the audience a powerful message. As she looks up into the sky, she questions the planets that are named after her gods and how perfect they really are or are not. A millennium and a half later – are we so different?
Religion is arguably the largest catalyst for war in the history of the world. Over the thousands of years of our existence, people have killed others in order to prove their belief is the correct one. Many do not believe in a higher power because they see this warfare. How many of us have asked ourselves, “If there really is a God, why is there so much pain?”
After Adam and Eve’s sins, God wiped the slate clean with the Great Flood and took a second try by allowing Noah and his family to start anew. It was a rebirth of the world. Yet since then, ongoing conflict has scarred the surface of the Earth.
The book of Genesis states, “God made man in His image.” If this is true, we are forced to look at the world and the people He created. If we mortals are imperfect, isn’t it possible that we are made from an imperfect God? Maybe this is why He started over with Noah and then again with Christ. Maybe this is why the shape of our spheres and our orbit are not perfectly round.
It seems (almost) all too perfect that I end this journey talking about eggs and Easter. I have always been interested in religion, and yet, the more I dig here in Rome, the more it seems I am just cracking the surface. Watching films, viewing art and walking around the city have caused me to question religion and look at it from all different angles. This four-month journey has given me my own rebirth and spiritual insight.
There is no single correct answer for what lies out there. My truth is this: There is something greater than us, but how we interpret it does not matter. As humans, it is not our place to tell others what to believe and what not to believe. Let people educate themselves and choose their own beliefs.
This is the music of the spheres that I long to hear. A harmony, a rebirth, a realization that a religion is not nearly as important as the being it worships. Philosophy, monotheism, polytheism, astronomy, physics are all religions in their own way.
In Italy, Easter eggs are usually home to small children’s toys or stuffed animals. One celebration we do differently in America, which I will unfortunately miss this year, is the Easter egg hunt.
In a way, each of us is searching for eggs. Each one holds an unknown prize inside. Some of us get a lot, some of us get a little and some of us don’t get anything. It’s all a part of the hunt. I believe those who live life in full and search the hardest and the longest will find the “Golden Egg” and greatest rebirth. This may be through an afterlife, memories we leave behind to our family members or an impact we made while alive. It’s whatever you believe.
Matt Flocco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.