St Finbar's Glenbrook Parish

Symbols of St Finbar’s Church explained

Church Front Bronze Plaques: Latin Inscriptions

Symbols of St Finbar's - Bronze Plaque
Photo: Peter McMahon

One of the inscriptions on the bronze plaques attached to the front of the church refers to the building as a temple and the other as an "ecclesia", in English "a church".

While the use of the word temple calls to mind our religious heritage stemming from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, the language of the inscription draws heavily on the Roman tradition and especially on the inculturation of the Judeo-Christian religion into the traditional Latin and Roman religious experience. When the Christians were given civil rights in the fourth century, they adopted many of the common Latin words to describe their officers and practices instead of importing Greek or Jewish words. Contemporary studies of the origin of the Hebrew Bible and Jewish religious practices reveal that the early Israelites also borrowed heavily from the middle Eastern culture of which they were part, even though they condemned many of its practices as an unsuitable expression of true religious experience.

The foundation stone is described as sacred and auspicious. Those who have been to an Italian wedding have, no doubt, been puzzled as to why a little bird is released from a cage on the top of the wedding cake when the cake is cut. In Roman times the state official who officiated at a wedding was called an "auspex" which literally means "a bird-watcher" since it is a contraction of the words "avis" and "spectator" from which comes our English word "aviary" etc. He was so known because this official also watched birds at weddings because he or she claimed to be able to predict the future of the marriage from the manner of the bird's flight. It was a kind of soothsaying and certainly unscientific but it was probably as effective as any contemporary and "scientific" method of foretelling, for example the future development of the Australian economy.

The Romans, therefore, saw the beginning of significant events in their lives as important occasions in which to seek divine guidance and blessing and to pray for the successful outcome of the project. And so it was that when the first stone of the new church was laid, prayers were made that it would be successfully completed, etc. The adjective "auspicalls" means more than our English word "auspicious" having the sense of "momentous" and "significant for the future". The translation is expanded in English to read:

"The auspicious and sacred stone of this temple, belonging to the most gracious God and Father of Our Lord, Jesus Christ and dedicated in remembrance of the Irish Bishop St Finbar, was put in place by Rev. Brian Larkey acting as delegate of the most Reverend and Illustrious Bede V Heather, First Bishop of the Diocese of Parramatta, on the seventh of November, 1994".

The Latin word used in the inscription and translated as Bishop is "Antistes". In ancient Rome an "antistes" was the president or chief priest of a temple. The word also had the sense of "an overseer" and has as its root the word "stat" and in English "stand". As time progressed, however, the president of a Christian church became as "a bishop" which derived from a Greek word with the same sense, namely "overseer".

This inscription then reflects the cultic aspect of religion and reveals the ancient Roman influence in our religious heritage.

The other plaque reflects the pastoral nature of the Christian faith. Following precedents in the Hebrew Bible, Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd who never leaves His flock untended. He calls it together and presides over it. He seeks out the one that is lost. The church in this imagery is the sheep-fold. With this imagery foremost in our imagination, the new church can be seen as continuing the synagogue tradition. This is the place where the Bible is read, and commented upon, and prayers are offered as distinct from the Jerusalem temple from which derives the cultic aspects of our religious heritage.

The inscription may be translated as follows:

"On the seventh of May, 1995, the Most Reverend and Illustrious Bede V Heather, the first Bishop of Parramatta, consecrated this church to which Our Lord, Jesus Christ calls together His flock, and placed it under the patronage of the Irish Bishop, St Finbar."