All Things Are Bare Before His Eyes | John Paul II’s ‘Roman Triptych’

Michelangelo Buonarotti, The Sistine Chapel Ceiling | Fresco, 1508-1512, Vatican City.

Michelangelo Buonarotti, The Sistine Chapel Ceiling | Fresco, 1508-1512, Vatican City.


All flesh shall come to Him.

For He says “come, and see” (Jn 1.39); “if any one thirst, let him come to me and drink” (Jn 7.37).

“Whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light” (Lk 12.3).

All is known by the One Who Is.

Omnia nuda et aperta sunt ante oculos Eius, ea etiam, quae libera creaturarum actione futura sunt“-For all things are bare and open before his eyes, even those that are yet to be by free action of creatures”

Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, 1870

Meditating on the knowledge of God, revealed to us in his Word–Christ who is God enfleshed–we come to see how pithy our own knowledge is. Its fragmentation is disorienting, especially in this time of suffering for the Church. We come to know only gradually and in part, painfully: as yet incompletely. All the while, reason yearns for revelation: for the fullness of truth. We are made to know what is real–to be renewed by truth. We wish to “know the truth, and the truth shall set us free” (cf. Jn 8.32).

Since nothing escapes the divine action in the world, even the disclosure of sin is a purification that participates in the endless revelation of God: his pure disclosure of all that is true, however imperfect, elevates us in our life-long ascent to glory. Perfection cannot admit of superfluity, and so nothing is wasted in the divine dynamic of redemption. Sin is no exception.

This divine ascent from misery to glory is made possible insofar as we become the bearers of the light along the way. And we become bearers of the light once we are illuminated by its source. We bear the light insofar as we bare ourselves before the One who knows us better than we know ourselves, who “spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty word” (Heb 1.2-3).

“I am the light of the world” (Jn 8.12). He is Light since he is the refulgence of the splendor of the Father: “He and the Father are one” (cf Jn 10.30).

Entering into the light, baring the barrenness of our humanity, we admit indigence and arrive into restored innocence: “When he had accomplished purification from sins, he took his seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (cf Heb 1.3). Eden is reclaimed for us by the offering of blood, and we are gathered in.

Everything we are and have is taken up in the labor of purification. Creation was made good, then tarnished in sin, and it will be returned to original glory. The Incarnation is a pledge of the final perfecting of all that is. This perfecting is not an accidental process: God gave everything first in giving himself to save us. The totality and plenitude of his oblation is the paradigm for our own. No part of our lives remain untouched. Over and over we are prepared for greater and greater offering: for that perennial giving back of everything we are given to love most deeply–“of house and brothers and sisters and mother and father and children and lands” (cf. Mk 10.29). Humanity is perfected by oblation.

Though it all, the flesh and the spirit are at enmity. One against the other, they battle against the harsh severance that ultimately begets the union of beatitude

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end”
Ephesians 2.13-16

The profound humanness of God in Christ enables this full restoration of all flesh: our flesh. Hostility is nullified; the ancient divide is bridged. Man and God meet, and become “one new man”.

The following excerpts of the poetic meditations “Roman Triptych“, by St. John Paul II, reflect this cycle of restoration. One of his lesser known poetic works, “Roman Triptych” was first introduced by Cardinal Ratzinger at the Vatican in September 2003. Here, we find contemplative insight into the mystery and wonder of Creation, and of re-creation by grace: the corporeal communication that unfolds and divinizes when God speaks his Word–in the flesh. We are reminded of the oblation this Word makes of himself, prefigured of old in the offering of Abraham, and re-presented still in us. Here, St. John Paul II unites “The Beginning” of Genesis with its fulfillment: “The Judgment”, and that promised ultimate triumph of the Church’s enduring sacramental presence–the Bride’s eternal manifestation of God’s grace at work in the world.

We return to the origins of creation, to “The Beginning”, for solace in these times of judgement. The majesty of the Primordial Word’s creative power is divulged in a gaze upon the glorious renderings of salvation history that are the aesthetic progeny of a Renaissance master. And through this vision of things eternal, the Word still speaks: this time in lyricized strophes–the poetic ode of a saint.

Let us go, and see. Let us go to Him, and drink. Let us hear, in the light.

ALL THINGS–are bare before His eyes.


The Stream

I. Ruah

The Spirit of God hovered above the waters.

I. Wonderment

The undulating wood slopes down

to the rhythm of mountain streams.

To me this rhythm is revealing You,

the Primordial Word.

How remarkable is Your silence

in everything, in all that on every side

unveils the created world around us …

all that, like the undulating wood,

runs down every slope …

all that is carried away by the stream’s

silvery cascade,

rhythmically falling from the mountain,

carried by its own current—carried where?

What are you saying to me, mountain stream?

Where, in which place, do we meet?

Do you meet me who is also passing—

just like you.

But is it like you?

(Allow me to pause here;

allow me to stop at a threshold,

the threshold of simple wonder).

The running stream cannot marvel,

and silently the woods slope down,

following the rhythm of the stream—

but man can marvel!

The threshold which the world crosses in him

is the threshold of wonderment.

(Once, this very wonder was called “Adam”).

He was alone in his wonder,

among creatures incapable of wonder—

for them it is enough to exist and go their way.

Man went his way with them,

filled with wonder!

But being amazed, he always emerged

from the tide that carried him,

as if saying to everything around him:

“Stop—in me is your harbour”,

“in me is the place of meeting

with the Primordial Word”.

“Stop, this passing has meaning …

has meaning … has meaning”.


II. The Source

The undulating wood slopes down

to the rhythm of mountain streams….

If you want to find the source,

you have to go up, against the current,

tear through, seek, don’t give up,

you know it must be somewhere here.

Where are you, source? Where are you, source?!


Stream, stream in the wood,

tell me the secret of your beginning!

(Silence—why are you silent?

How carefully you have hidden the secret of your beginning).

Allow me to wet my lips

in spring water,

to feel its freshness,

reviving freshness.

II. Meditations on the Book of Genesis at the Threshold of the Sistine Chapel

I. The First Beholder

“In him we live and move and have our being”, says Paul at the Areopagus in Athens—

Who is He?

He is like an ineffable space which embraces all.

He, the Creator,

embraces everything, summoning to

existence from nothing, not only from

the beginning, but always.

Everything endures continually becoming—

“In the beginning was the Word, and through Him all things were made”.

The mystery of the beginning is born together with the Word and is revealed through the Word.

The Word—eternal vision and utterance.

He, who was creating, saw—”saw that it was good”,

his seeing different from ours.

He—the first Beholder—

saw, finding in everything some trace

of his Being, his own fullness—

He saw: Omnia nuda et aperta sunt ante oculos Eius

Naked, transparent,

true, good and beautiful—

He saw in terms so different from ours.

Eternal vision and eternal utterance:

“In the beginning was the Word, and through Him all things were made”,

all in which we live and move and have our being—

The Word, the marvellous eternal Word, as an invisible threshold

of all that has come into being, exists or will exist. As if the Word were the threshold.

The threshold of the Word, containing the invisible form of everything, divine and eternal —beyond this threshold everything begins to happen!

I stand at the entrance to the Sistine—

Perhaps all this could be said more simply

in the language of the “Book of Genesis”.

But the Book awaits the image—

And rightly so. It was waiting for its Michelangelo.

The One who created “saw”—saw that “it was good”.

“He saw”, and so the Book awaited the fruit of “vision”.

O all you who see, come—

I am calling you, all “beholders” in every age.

I am calling you, Michelangelo!

There is in the Vatican a chapel that awaits the harvest of your vision!

The vision awaited the image.

From when the Word became flesh, the vision is waiting.

We are standing at the threshold of the Book.

It is the Book of the origins—Genesis.

Here, in this chapel, Michelangelo penned it,

not with words, but with the richness

of piled-up colours.

We enter in order to read it again,

going from wonder to wonder.

So then, it is here—we look and recognize

the Beginning which emerged out of nothingness,

obedient to the creative Word.

Here it speaks from these walls.

But still more powerfully the End speaks.

Yes, the judgment is even more outspoken:

the judgment, the Final one.

This is the path that all must follow—

every one of us.

II. Image and Likeness

“God created man in his image,

male and female he created them

and God saw that it was very good.

Naked they were and did not feel shame”.

Was it possible?

Do not ask those who are contemporary, but ask Michelangelo

(and perhaps the contemporaries as well!?).

Ask the Sistine.

How much is said here, on these walls!

The beginning is invisible. Everything here points to it.

All this abundant visibility, released by human genius.

And the End too is invisible,

though here, traveller, your eyes are caught

by the vision of the Last Judgment.

How make the invisible visible,

how penetrate beyond the bounds of good and evil?

The Beginning and the End, invisible, pierce us from these walls.


IV. Judgment

In the Sistine the artist painted the Judgment.

The Judgment dominates the whole interior.

Here, the invisible End becomes poignant visibility.

This End is also the summit of transparency—such is the path of all generations.

Non omnis moriar.

What is imperishable in me

now stands face to face with Him Who Is!

This is what fills the central wall of the Sistine profusion of colour.

Do you remember, Adam? At the beginning he asked you “where are you?”.

And you replied: “I hid myself from You because I was naked”.

“Who told you that you were naked?”….

“The woman whom you put here with me” gave me the fruit….

All those who populate the central wall of the Sistine painting

bear in themselves the heritage of that reply of yours!

Of that question and that response!

Such is the End of your path.


It is here, at the feet of this marvellous Sistine profusion of colour that the Cardinals gather—

a community responsible for the legacy of the keys of the Kingdom.

They come right here.

And once more Michelangelo wraps them in his vision.

“In Him we live and move and have our being

Who is He?

Look, here the creating hand of the Almighty Ancient One, turned towards Adam….

In the beginning God created….

He, the all-seeing One….

The Sistine painting will then speak with the Word of the Lord:

Tu es Petrus—as Simon, the son of Jonah, heard.

“To you I will give the keys of the Kingdom”.

Those to whom the care of the legacy of the keys has been entrusted

gather here, allowing themselves to be enfolded by the Sistine’s colours,

by the vision left to us by Michelangelo—

so it was in August, and then in October of the memorable year of the two Conclaves,

and so it will be again, when the need arises

after my death.

Michelangelo’s vision must then speak to them.

“Con-clave”: a joint concern for the legacy of the keys of the Kingdom.

They will find themselves between the Beginning and the End,

between the Day of Creation and the Day of Judgment.

It is given to man once to die and after that the judgment!

A final clarity and light.

The clarity of the events—

The clarity of consciences—

It is necessary that during the Conclave, Michelangelo teach them—

Do not forget: Omnia nuda et aperta sunt ante oculos Eius.

You who see all—point to him!

He will point him out….


III. A Hill in the Land of Moria


III. Conversation between father and son in the land of Moria

So they walked and talked together on the third day.

Here is the hill, where I shall offer a sacrifice to God—

said the father, and the son was silent, dared not ask:

Where is the lamb? We have fire, wood, a sacrificial knife,

but where is the sacrifice?

God alone will choose it—

This he said, and dared not say aloud

the words: the lamb, my son, will be you—

so he was silent.

With this silence he was falling again into a soundless hollow.

He had heard the voice which led him.

Now the voice was silent.

He was left with nothing but his own name

Abraham: He who believed against hope.

In a moment he will build a sacrificial pile,

make fire, bind Isaacs hands—

and then—what? the pile will burst into flames….

Already he sees himself as the father of a dead son,

the son the Voice gave him and is now taking away?

O, Abraham, you who are climbing this hill in the land of Moria,

there exists a certain boundary to fatherhood, a threshold that you will never cross.

Here another Father will accept the Sacrifice of his Son.

Do not be afraid, Abraham, go on,

and do what you have to do.

You will be the father of many nations.

Do what you have to do, to the end.

He will stop your hand, when it is ready to strike that sacrificial blow….

He will not permit your hand to fall,

when in your heart it has already fallen.

Yes—your hand will stop in the air.

He Himself will stay it.

And from now on, the Hill of Moria will wait—

for on this hill the mystery must be fulfilled.

IV. God of the Covenant

O, Abraham—the One who came into human history

wants only, through you, to unveil this mystery hidden from the foundations of the world,

a mystery earlier than the world!

If today we go to these places

from which, long ago, Abraham set out,

where he heard the Voice, where the promise was fulfilled,

it is in order to stand at the threshold—

and reach the beginning of the Covenant.

For God revealed to Abraham

what is, for a father, the sacrifice of his own son—death offered up.

O, Abraham—God so loved the world

that he gave his only Son, that all who believe in Him

should have eternal life.

—Stop here—

I carry your name in me,

this name is the sign of the Covenant

which the Primordial Word made with you

even before the world was created.

Remember this place when you go away from here, this place will await its day.


Maria Grizzetti lives New York, and is a member of the Lay Fraternities of the Dominican Order. You may reach her at:

Full text in English translationThe Poetry of John Paul II, Roman Triptych: Meditations

Translation | Jerzy Peterkiewicz

Copyright | Libreria Editrice Vaticana