The mission of The Fra Angelico Institute for Sacred Art is to deepen the prayer life of Western Rite Catholics by evangelizing the truth, goodness, and beauty of God through education and the prayerful creation of sacred art.
This post was previously published in 2012; however I desired to rewrite and republish it because of the crisis the Chinese Catholic Church, that is loyal to Rome, is experiencing this day. The Communist Chinese Government’s persecution of the Church has already produced contemporary martyrs to the faith.
We remember today, July 9th, the 120 martyrs who died in China between the years 1648 and 1930. Eighty-seven of these were native born Chinese and were children, parents, catechists, and simple laborers ranging in age from nine to seventy-two.
In the early 19th century, St. Augustine Zhao Rong was a Chinese soldier who accompanied French missionary Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse to his martyrdom in Bejiing. He was profoundly touched by the Bishop’s courage in the face of great trials, humiliation, and eventual death. As a result, Zhao Rong sought baptism, was given the baptismal name of Augustine, and soon ordained a diocesan priest. He spoke often of Bishop Dufresse’s sense of hope, love of Christ, and confidence.
In 1815 the Chinese government martyred Father Augustine Zhao Rong.
An icon of Father Zhao Rong was completed by the brilliant Chinese artist Ken Jan Woo. Many of his icons and sacred art can be seen at his website http://www.kenwooart.com/index.html. Classically trained, Ken brings a new contemporary spirit to the sacred images of the Church’s past history. His exquisite rendering of this saint, in a typical icon format, is powerful in its simplicity and harmony.
The witness of these Chinese saints, in association with the Gospel passage of Matthew 9: 18-26, begs a question: What sets St. Zhao Rong, his martyred companions, and the people in the Gospel apart from many in our society?
Jesus provided the people with faith-filled hope even when circumstances dictated that their situation was hopeless. Why is this? It is because Jesus’ love for them, and willingness to share The Truth, was always directed back to His Father. Jesus tells us, “With God, all things are possible to those who believe.”
Jesus’ words were incendiary; for He said to the woman “Take heart, daughter – your faith has made you well.” That phrase “Take heart” ignited the woman’s expectant faith. Her belief allowed her to cooperate with the healing process.
Matthew’s Gospel passage provides witness to the local ruler’s spiritual courage to request Jesus’ help. The girl was already considered dead. Professional mourners had already been hired to demonstrate the family’s public grief. The mourners and others in the crowd scornfully laughed at Jesus. Their grief was as bogus as their lack of faith. Jesus’ was ready to heal, teach, and be open to the needs of that family. It gave them a glimpse into the mind and heart of God; and it provides us with a model to follow, too.
Let our prayer be the prayer of the martyrs: Lord, you love each of us with a unique and personal love. As we face our troubles with confident hope, touch our souls with your saving power, and restore us to the fullness of your eternal life. Amen
Artistic images of the Blessed Mother of Jesus, as portrayed in different cultures and historical periods, have been part of world history for centuries. Below are a few examples.
The various images of Jesus and His Mother portrayed by each ethnic group are beautiful and have spiritual meaning. Are the artists of these works prejudiced?
Because of the controversy over comments made by political activists over the last few weeks it would appear that the motive of cultural artistic contributions is based on racial superiority. In this climate confusion is very possible.
The belief in human racial supremacy cannot be supported by facts.
“Races are highly genetically differentiated populations with sharp geographical boundaries.
Alternatively, races can be distinct evolutionary lineages within a species.
By either definition, races do not exist in humans but doexist in chimpanzees. [italics mine, P.O.I]
Adaptive traits such as skin color do not define races and are often discordant with one another.
Human populations are interwoven by genetic interchanges; there is no tree of populations.”
Thus, in the grand scheme of things superficial traits are what separate us not genetic differences. It certainly appears that the concept of five races is outmoded and not substantiated by modern genetic research. It is obviously correct to say that specific ethnic groups, with superficial physical traits, living within specific geographical areas, do exist.
If in America or Europe when “white” artists portray Jesus and all the individuals found in Holy Scripture, they would in the majority of cases, be artistically portrayed as having the superficial traits of European/Middle Eastern populations.
The images above certainly portray that the artists within another culture, or dominant ethnic group/cultures, will do the same thing. This is logical because the artist of a specific ethnicity paints or sculpts to meet their group’s spiritual needs, or, the patron’s specific request. That is not an act of ethnic supremacy or racism.
Genetically, can we say with any assurance what the genetic make-up of Jesus, Mary, and His fellow Hebrews were when they existed? There is historical evidence to contribute to the answer.
Since the time of the Patriarch Abraham’s son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob, there occurred the development of the twelve tribes of Israel.
These tribes definitely took shape and became a cultural, military, and political force by circa 1925 BC. Tribal leaders were very strict about intermarriage with other populations. Under Moses’ leadership, circa 1250 BC, they did not allow it at all. They were a large enough population to marry within the system of their tribes, and their members conformed to the demands of God and their leaders.
Abram (Abraham) and his flock of followers originated within the city of Ur, which was a Chaldean city-state of the Sumerian civilization. Today the archeological remains of the city of Ur are located in Southern Iraq. Ur was Abram’s home before he, his family, and followers were given the order by God to travel to the land of Canaan.
Abram would later be given the name Abraham by God. “In various sources, “Canaan” refers to an area encompassing parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. The Israelites occupied and conquered Palestine, or Canaan, beginning around 1750 BC, or perhaps earlier. The Bible justifies such occupation by identifying Canaan with the Promised Land, the land promised to the Israelites by God” (source: https://www.britannica.com/place/Ur
Bottom line, Jesus, Mary, and “His friends” were ethnic Israelite/Hebrews. They were Hebrews from the genetic line of King David. David’s genetic line originated from Abraham’s son, Isaac, and grandson Jacob. There is no way to prove that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s genetics are related to the people of today’s southern Iraq, or any other ethnic group.
If a person believes in the truth of the Holy Scriptures then the answer is that Jesus, His family, and Apostles, were all of the genetic line of Israelite/Hebrews with the superficial physical traits of that ethnic group.
Ultimately, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Biblical sacred art is not about race or superficial physical traits. The entire Hebrew and Christian Scriptures point to the truth that the human nature of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, was born of Mary within Roman occupied Israel. The spiritual union of the power of the Holy Spirit with the consent of Mary led to the birth of Jesus, the Redeemer of mankind.
Supremacy is not found in race, ethnic group, or prejudice/bigotry. It is only found in the authority and power of the Holy Trinity.
In the June 22, 2020 issue of Newsweek an on-line article by Aila Slisco reported some statements by political activist Mr. Shaun King.
She states: “He [King] also remarked that stained glass windows and other images of a white Jesus, his European mother and their white friends should all be destroyed, insisting they are racist, examples of ethnic propaganda, and “a form of white supremacy. “They should all come down.” (I’ll comment on these statements by Mr. King in another post).
King’s comments came in association with Black Lives Matter protests against the brutality of some police officers toward minorities. These protests quickly moved away from the issue of police brutality in some major cites and expanded into protests against historic and artistic representations of American/European civilization and the “white supremacy” that it allegedly represented.
We have observed over the last two weeks examples of the new iconoclasm.
Rhetoric like Mr. King’s and other activists could be passed off as uninformed except for the fact that two California mobs tore down and desecrated a statue of the Spanish missionary Fr. Serra. In the process they also harassed Catholic college students, laity, and a priest who were defending it.
Legitimate non-violent protests are protected by the U.S. Constitution, however, the destruction of public or private property is not.
Public religious, military and political statues are the property of the local churches and governments. What happened to the government’s responsibility to protect them? Churches, and whatever articles they contain, are the property of the church regardless of denomination. Will the governments across the nation protect them?
Religious statues, sacred art, stained glass windows, etc, are defended by the 1st amendment of the U. S. Constitution. Is Mr. King saying that a Satanic statue of Baphomet can be placed in a public square but a statue of a Roman Catholic saint, who is specifically honored for his cultural contributions, cannot?
Are the representations of the God and saints of the Roman Catholic Church, who has been a major contributor to world civilization, to be torn down because a segment of the population believe that they, without taking into account time period or cultural conditions, have been historically ethnocentric and intolerant of other cultures? Are these legitimate religious statues equivalent to the statues of Lenin, Stalin, Mao or Saddam Hussein?
What happened to Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for positive non violent change and tolerance in America?
Today, July 1st, is the Roman Catholic Church’s memorial of the missionary efforts of Fr. Junipero Serra, an 18th century Spanish missionary priest. Fr. Serra’s leadership and contributions to improving the educational and technological life of Native Americans and development of California is recognized as a public act and not just a religious effort; this is why his statues were erected by the state of California. His statue also stands in Statuary Hall in the U. S. Capitol building in Washington, D. C. At various times national and state politicians, of both political parties, were present to honor him.
Fr. Serra’s main goal was to be an effective Christian missionary. He was following the Gospel injunction of Christ Himself in the 28th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: “All power in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
The new iconoclasm appears to be intolerant, or unaware, of history. The adherents public efforts, both in word and deed, are clearly seen in the mobs in California and specifically in St. Louis, Missouri where they beat Catholics who were praying in front of a monument of St. Louis IX. In both cases mob action desires to vent its anger, ideology, and psychological wounds against historic personalities. The mob desires to sponge away the past rather than continue to lawfully, peacefully, and vigorously work for social change.
Is significant change necessary in the way some police departments train their recruits? Absolutely. Productive change can occur. It cannot occur when the structures of Constitutional democracy are trampled upon. Polarization has never accomplished anything; positive social change has never occurred through a mob’s physical or verbal violence.
The past cannot be rewritten. In America, many times statues regardless of being religious, political, or military, celebrate the good that people have accomplished, not their ethnocentrism. If small groups through mob action tear down public property, or Church property, then they are no better than many other mobs, tyrants and demagogues through history; such as Mao Zedong’s actions during the ten years of China’s Cultural Revolution, Lenin and Stalin’s iconoclasm and political/religious oppression during the 70 odd years of their Communist debacle, Hitler’s 13 year rampage of mass destruction and inhumanity, or present day Isil and their damage of populations and archaeological sites in the name of religious ideology.
As civilizations are we still unable to learn from the lessons of history? Is it too late?
Father, by the merits of your Son’s passion, death, and resurrection hear us in our troubles and fears. Strengthen us against anxiety and illness. This day allow us to join Jesus’ suffering with ours. Please have mercy on the souls of those who, from this current pandemic, pass into eternal life.
Thank you Lord, for Your Son’s sacrifice, love, and mercy.
“It was about nine in the morning when they nailed Jesus to the Cross. From noon until three o’clock there was darkness over the whole world. At three o’clock, Jesus cried out in a loud voice: ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit;’ and having said this He expired.”
St. John Chrysostom, an Early Church Father, tells us: “There flowed from His side water and blood. Beloved do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. From these two Sacraments the Church is born: from Baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth [into the family of God] and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the Holy Eucharist [physical and spiritual nourishment; as He said: “Take and eat this is My Body. Take and drink for this is My blood]… (Excerpts from the Holy Gospels and the Catechesis by St. John Chrysostom, AD 347 – 407, Archbishop of Constantinople).
On this day our Redemption [from sin] was earned by the suffering and death of Jesus, the Son of God; by His wounds you were healed. JESUS CHRIST IS LORD! (Philippians 2: 6-11, and 1 Peter (chapter 2: 21-24).
On this solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25th, we remember St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation:
“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.”
“And when the angel had come to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.” When she had heard him she was troubled at his word and kept pondering what manner of greeting this might be.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he shall be king over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end”
“But Mary said to the angel, “How shall this happen, since I do not know man?”
“And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; and therefore the Holy One to be born shall be called the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth thy kinswoman also has conceived a son in her old age, and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month; for nothing shall be impossible with God.”
And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1: 26-38)
Mary, the Blessed Mother, the Theotokos – “the God bearer” at first, questions Gabriel, “How shall this happen…” Upon his explanation Mary undertakes her all important journey with perfect trust and obedience to God’s will. She accepts her eternal role not in fear but in love. Mary will be the God Bearer, the bearer of her Son Jesus, our Savior, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
Jesus, at the moment of His conception, is both true God and true man: two natures in one Person.
Mary is the perfect disciple of God. She provides us with the model of love, obedience, and trust in Him. There were many times throughout her life that she had to express her trust and obedience, and at times not knowing where the journey would lead. It led from the great joy of her pregnancy, Jesus’ birth, family life, through to His ministry, and her motherly presence before the Holy Cross.
A few verses later, in her beautiful canticle the Magnificat, she exclaimed to her kinswoman Elizabeth her lack of doubt in what has happened. She praises the mercy of God and her willingness to be the servant of Him who is faithful to His word. In her humility, trust, love, and obedience to God, Mary, as the New Eve, will be given the privilege of crushing Satan at the end of time.
From the beginning, the Catholic Church has neverworshipped Mary. The Church venerates her as the first disciple and its greatest saint.
On this beautiful Solemnity of the Annunciation let us join with the great St. John Henry Cardinal Newman in his prayer to Jesus: “Dear Jesus, Your Holy Mother cooperated with the divine plan for the human race. Let me try to imitate her in her obedience and service to You.” Thank you, Jesus.
Note: The sacred image that appears at the top of all of my posts is The Annunciation by Fra Angelico.
The author of the interesting and challenging blog site on sacred art and its analysis called Catchlight sent me two questions yesterday. They related to my last post which was entitled Fatima Messages, Pagans in the Vatican, and the End Times.
Second, let’s refer to what Jesus Christ says in response to Nicodemus’ questions concerning eternal life in the Gospel of St. John, John 3: 1-21: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus continues to question Him, and Jesus responds, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God…You must be born again.”
Baptism into the Christian faith is again stressed in another passage of the Gospels. The Gospel of St. Matthew, in its very last passage deals with the commissioning of the Apostles, which occurred after His resurrection and before His Ascension back to the Father. Jesus emphasizes that combined with their preaching and works they must baptize faith-filled individuals because of Adam and Eve’s sin. Humanity’s broken relationship with God must be healed. It was healed through the death and resurrection of the Father’s Son Jesus the Christ. Jesus death, on our behalf allowed the formation of the Church and the Sacraments to be instituted to provide the grace to a broken humanity. Baptism is the Sacrament that makes this happen. It makes an individual’s body and soul a member of God’s family. Matthew 28: 18-20:“Jesus drew near and spoke to them saying, “all power in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
Third, it appears, within the Christian faith, that we can come to specific conclusions that will provide a springboard for my response to Mr. Gallagher:
If the human race was alienated from God, and the spiritual relationship with Him was broken, then a loving and merciful God would not give up on His children. Thus, through the course of history God has slowly manifested and revealed Himself to humanity starting with our spiritual parents, Adam and Eve, then through the patriarchs, leaders, and prophets of the chosen Jewish tribes culminating in the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus the Christ. God desires us to love Him and conform to His Laws. He has given us reason and free will. He has given us the ability to think and act not like robots but as free men and women. His revealed truths and laws must be evangelized and faithfully kept by individuals and mankind as a whole. The “Good News” must be spread by the Church as a whole and individuals, too.
The First Commandment applies, as we see in Exodus 20: 1-6ff: “I, the Lord am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides Me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves…you shall not bow down to them or worship them. For I the Lord am a jealous God…inflicting punishment on those who are wicked and hate me…and mercy on those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
Through Scripture and study of the Catechism united with faith we also know that Jesus Christ, as the consubstantial only Son of God, is the promised Savior. Now, have the Amazonian pagans, or the new pagans of the 20th and 21st centuries been exposed to that truth?
He freely offered Himself for our eternal salvation. This was accomplished through the words and actions of His human ministry and ultimately through His Passion, death, and resurrection. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Have apostates, pagans, or other non believers been exposed to that truth?
We see God through faith in Him, participating in prayer, Scripture study, good works, and the sanctifying grace found in the Seven Sacraments. Have pagans been exposed to these truths?
As Jesus Christ said Himself, the Sacrament of Baptism into the family of the Holy Trinity is a mandatory necessity. Have apostates, pagans, and nonbelievers, been exposed and evangelized to that truth?
A multitude of volumes have been written on the above six points. I may have missed some critical ones, for which I apologize. For the sake of brevity, however, allow me to move on to specifically answer the questions of Mr. Gallagher.
Fourth, so, are pagans going to Heaven or Hell?
In a nutshell, I would never presume to know God’s mind, except from that which He revealed through Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition. I would never make a judgement on another person’s soul as he or she are seen by God at the time of their death and individual judgement. Unknown to the world, even a great sinner may suddenly, in their last moments, repent of their sins and ask for mercy. But, make no mistake about it, Scriptural Revelation, and the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church and specifically the words of Jesus in the Holy Scriptures, specifically says that there is a Hell (Matthew 10: 28; 22: 13. Luke 16: 26; etc.); there is a Heaven, and, damnation into Hell for all eternity.
Some additional issues:
Let’s take a look at three major Greek philosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. They were scholars who lived and died before the birth and ministry of Jesus Christ. They lived within a pagan society whose members believed in a multitude of pagan gods. Their society was polytheistic and pantheistic. Are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in Heaven or Hell?
The answer is, “I don’t know!”
But Jesus said, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14: 6). Wouldn’t that statement preclude the Greek philosophers entrance into Heaven?
The answer is “Not automatically.”
Why? What do we know? We know that those three philosophers were men who searched for the truth, not only about themselves as individuals but about the world itself. They searched after the truth. They made the sincereeffort to find the truth by thinking, questioning, analyzing reality, both physical and metaphysical. They used all the evidence at their disposal to do so. They lived, before the Son of God was incarnated. They did not have the witness, of Jesus Christ, and to His specific and eternal revelation as the Son of God, both human and divine. They also probably did not have any exposure to the history of the Jewish people and God’s revelation to them.
But, in the time after the Incarnation and Ascension of Jesus, a person who had the opportunity to be exposed to the teachings of the Christian Faith (in the Protestant and Anglican churches, and the full expression of it in the Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church), would have a critical free choice to make.
If they are pagan, agnostic, atheist, Christian, deist, Satanist, etc, and they would then, after an effort to know the truth, reject Jesus Christ out of intentional misunderstanding, intellectual arrogance, stubbornness, cultural and historic prejudices, selfishness, willful rejection of Christian Revelation, narcissistic impulses, apostasy, or some evil influence, they would be freely putting their eternal soul into mortal sin. They would be facing the eternal punishment of Hell because they chose the path, through their own free will, of “definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed in Heaven (confer page 269 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition).
God is loving and compassionate, filled with mercy (for those who sincerely repent of their sins). God is merciful; however, our God is a God of Justice. Why would Jesus Christ be Incarnated to minister, suffer, die, and resurrected if the Holy Trinity would give mortal sinners “A get into Heaven free pass?” The “Pass theory” doesn’t make sense, it is illogical, bogus, and yes it is a lie. There are dire consequences for freely turning your back on Jesus Christ: Hell.
But do today’s pagans turn their backs?
The key to answering that question is: Have they made the effort to know the Truth? Have they been exposed to the truths of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures? Have they been evangelized by courageous and selfless missionaries who are willing to undergo all sorts of hardships and possibly even martyrdom for the sake of their flocks eternal souls? Have they deliberately turned their backs on the truth and revelation of God through the Christian Scriptures, and the presentation of the Apostles, Church’s Doctors and Fathers, and the bishops and Pope in unison as they all present the truth on faith and morals?
The Church’s duty and responsibility is to bring, without arrogance or condescension, the Holy Scriptures, Sacred Traditions, and the Holy Sacraments to the world. If its bishops, priests, deacons, and laity shirk or compromise their duties and teaching authority, die in the state of mortal sin without sincere repentance, give bad example through public and private sin, then they will be denied entrance into Heaven, too.
Is the Church giving sufficient resources to the missionaries in the field? Are we able to inspire young men and women in today’s world of the necessity and challenge to enter the life of a missionary? Have we thrown in the towel?
This is my great concern about what I see in the Church today. The Christian churches should not be about assimilation of pagan cultures into the Faith in order “To learn from them,” or in a “spirit of dialogue” and accommodation.
The Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church have the complete and total revelation of God to humanity. We have the complete revealed truth of God, and the example of what it means to live in the heart of the Father, through the Redemptive Act of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.
Matthew 28: 18-20, relates Jesus’ specific command. Our duty is to compassionately and without arrogance teach pagans and other non-believers about Jesus Christ, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
It is intellectually and morally irresponsible to give the impression that apostates, heretics, or pagan/polytheistic cultures can add to the Deposit of Faith. We are either for Him or against Him. We either understand the gift of the Deposit of the Faith or we don’t. There should be no waffling.
We either proclaim His truth effectively and with conviction or we will see the Church continue to decline, make compromises, and cause confusion, anxiety, division, and resentment among its faithful,
The Gospel of Luke18: 8 challenges us to examine our own hearts: “When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?”
To paraphrase Kreeft and Tacelli, If we have a diamond of immense and extraordinary value (our Catholic/Christian Faith) why would we go about the world seeking additional baubles?
Refer also to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd edition, 1997, pages 311-324) which has an excellent section on the Sacrament of Baptism.
We celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary. In her honor let us review some the Church’s truths; dogmas which progressed to the point of Venerable Pope Pius XII proclaiming the meaning of the Blessed Mother’s life and her Assumption into Heaven.
We are able to see this progression through Sacred Scripture, the various early ecumenical Councils of the Church, the individual writings of the early Church fathers (such as St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. John Cassian, St. Vincent of Lerins, St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Augustine, St. John of Damascus, and the Gothic Missal of the 6th century).
The Church’s movement through the process of unfolding the truths that were to become its dogmas progressed over time. Below are a few key occurrences which provide evidence for the debate and development proclaiming the dogmas of the Church.
• In AD 313, the Emperor Constantine declares that Christians can freely worship throughout the Roman Empire, thus, providing for a peaceful development of Christian communities, formal places of worship, and the continuation of theological scholarship and Scripture study.
• In 325, the Council of Nicea declared that the Father and the Son are consubstantial (that is, having the same substance);
• In 381, the Edict of Emperor Theodosius declared that Christianity is the official religion of the Roman Empire (the Roman Empire formally collapsed in 476);
• In 431, the Council of Ephesus proclaimed that Mary is the Mother of God, that is, mother of the human nature of Jesus: Mary is declared to be the Theotokos, the God Bearer – Mother of the Son of God’s human nature.
• In 451, the Council of Chalcedon declared that two natures, both human and divine, coexist in Jesus Christ;
In 1950, Venerable Pope Pius XII, in his Apostolic Constitution Munificentissimus Deus, declared the Assumption of Mary to be a dogma of the Faith. Dogmas are defined as the set of principles of the Church which are unquestionably true, and must be accepted and believed if a person is a member of one of the Rites of the Catholic Church.
Pope Pius XII tells us in this Apostolic Constitution that “from the second century the holy Fathers present the Virgin Mary as the new Eve, most closely associated with her Son, the new Adam.”
“She is subject to Him in the struggle again the enemy (Satan).” Confer the Book of Revelation (chapter 12, verse 1 ff) on her role in the war with the deceiver of mankind.
Pope Pius XII continues: “Hence, the august Mother of God, mysteriously united from all eternity with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination, immaculate in her conception, a virgin inviolate in her divine motherhood, the whole hearted companion of the divine Redeemer who won complete victory over sin and its consequences, gained at last the supreme crown of her privileges: to be preserved immune from the corruption of the tomb, and like her Son, when death had been conquered, to be carried up body and soul to the exalted glory of Heaven, there to sit in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal king of the ages.”
Mary is not a goddess. Eastern and Western Rite Catholics do not worship her, rather, we venerate her as the greatest of all the saints.
Catholics view the Blessed Mother Mary as an intercessor. As our spiritual Mother she intercedes with Jesus, similar to our biological mother interceding on our behalf with our biological father. Eastern and Western Rite Catholics do this because this example of her intercession is seen in Sacred Scripture, when at the Wedding Feast of Cana Mary intercedes with her Son to help the newly married couple avoid embarrassment and additional expense.
Mary is always present and truly cares for all of us. We should never ignore her.
May Jesus Christ and His Blessed Mother bless you and your loved ones on this holy day of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary.
P.S. I’d like to thank all the new followers of this blog who came aboard this summer. I pray that you continue to find my posts beneficial. I would like to thank Mr. Marek Czarnecki for use of the image of his beautiful icon of the Assumption of Mary. I had the pleasure and good fortune of studying with him during one of his workshops a number of years ago.
Today, May 2nd, is the “Memorial” day of St. Athanasius, a Doctor (profound theologian) of the Church.
There are four “giants” of the Nicene and Post Nicene period, all are known as “Doctors” of the Church: St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Augustine. They are immortalized in bronze by the Renaissance sculptor, Bernini, and are portrayed in his magnificent sculpture of the Throne of St. Peter found in the sanctuary of St. Peter’s Basilica.
St. Athanasius and St. John Chrysostom are saints of both the Latin and the Greek Rites of the Church. Both were bishops. Yet, Bernini does not put the Bishop’s mitre on their heads. Sadly, the sting of the Great Schism of 1054 between the Latin and Greek Rites still stung in the 17th century.
Thus, these two Greek Fathers of the Church were slighted, not because of anything that they did (they were profound shepherds and theologians), but because Bernini wanted the authority of and preeminence of St. Peter’s position of “first among many” and the importance of two of the Latin Rite Fathers, to be showcased in bronze and remembered in the centuries to come.
The above photo is the “Chair of St. Peter” and is found in St. Peter’s Basilica (Chair created 1656 – 1665). It is an extraordinary masterpiece by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598 – 1680) which he made for Pope Alexander VII (Chigi family, 1655/67). Bernini was a child prodigy and polymath. This Chair proved to be a wooden throne dating to the year 875. It was donated by Charles the Bald to Pope John VIII (served AD 872/882) on the occasion of his coronation to the papacy. Four humongous bronze statues of Doctors of the Church flank the chair: In front to the right “St. Augustine”, to the left “St. Ambrose” (Latin Rite). Behind to the left “St. Athanasius”, to the right “St. John Chrysostom” (Greek Rite). The entire bronze structure’s weight is 74 tonnes (81.5 tons). The height is 14.74 m (48.3 feet). The statues of the Doctors of the Church are 5.35 m (17.5 feet) high. Above the four saints is located a stained glass window: “Dove of the Holy Spirit,” dated 1911 by the German glassmaker Hagle from the original design of Giovanni Paolo Schor (1615/74). These facts are from https://romapedia.blogspot.com/2013/10/basilica-of-st-peter-second-part_3.html. That blog is edited by David Macch. This is an excellent website about all aspects of the art, architecture, and history of Rome.
There are five Councils of the Church that had major impact on the development of the Church’s sacred art: the Council of Nicaea, the First Council of Nicaea/Constantinople, the Council of Ephesus, the Council of Chalcedon, and the 2nd Council of Nicaea (2nd Nicaea met in AD 787 and is the last of the Seven Ecumenical Councils). Besides these Councils all the Church Fathers through their scholarship, pastoral zeal, and extraordinary homilies, witnessed to the truth, beauty, and goodness of the Holy Trinity.
The list below provides the names and birth/death dates of the Fathers of the Church within the “Post Nicene” (that is, the time after the Council of Nicaea, AD 325) period of Church history. A quick review of each of their contributions will prove to be beneficial to you if you decide to paint a sacred image of them. How can you truly benefit from painting a sacred image of a person that you don’t know! 🙂
I recommend that you refer to my bibliography (“Early Church Fathers”) provided in my post of February 8, 2019. There are a number of different books in that bibliography that will prove to be helpful to you.
The Post Nicene Church Fathers born within the Western (Latin) Rite are:
St. Ambrose (AD 340-397),
St. Jerome (AD 345 – 420),
St. Augustine (AD 345-430),
Pope St. Leo the Great (AD 400 – AD 461),
St. Benedict of Nursia (AD 480 – 547) and
Pope St. Gregory the Great (AD 540 – 604);
the Post Nicene Fathers born within the Eastern (Greek) Rite are:
St. Athanasius (AD 295 -373) – (he straddles the Nicene and Post Nicene Periods),
St. Basil the Great (AD 330 – 379),
St. Gregory of Nazianzus (AD 330 – 390),
St. Gregory of Nyssa (AD 330 – 395)
St. John Chrysostom (AD 345 – 407),
and St. John Damascene (Damascus) (AD 675 – 749)
All of the saints listed, including those in the Greek Rite, are venerated within the Western Rite of the Catholic Church.
I would like to thank one of my readers who identified the contemporary icon of St. Spyridon (thanks Carol!). The iconographer is the Catholic priest William Hart McNichols. He is a very talented artist who paints traditional icons and sacred images. At times, he steps out of the bounds of the traditional approach and adds his own personal interpretation of the person he is portraying. His artistic vision is unique.
John Daly from Australia emailed me this morning to provide further grist for our mill concerning St. Athanasius, St. Spyridon, and the Council of Nicaea. One of the participants in his iconography school is a Greek Orthodox lady who is the sister-in-law of an Orthodox priest. He is coincidentally named Athanasius.
John had the opportunity to discuss with her the icons that we were analyzing in my posts of the last few days. She provided John some valuable information by explaining that her mother had given her a beautiful sacred image of the First Council of Nicaea and specifically St. Spyridon’s role in the debate with the heretic Arius. The sacred image is below.
Also, like the sacred icon we examined in yesterday’s post we see the Emperor Constantine, dressed in the royal robes of Byzantine reddish purple (almost a maroon) sitting on the right. On the Emperor’s right we again observe a bishop, maybe its Bishop Alexander of Alexandria, Egypt. In front of him we again see a deacon, dressed in what is either an alb or dalmatic (he would have to stand up to see all the garments).
In the above sacred image, the deacon is again seated at the scribe’s desk. This makes sense, since a deacon serves the administrative needs and report’s directly to his bishop. That is true to this day; yet, throughout the world today the local bishop has his deacons serving in parishes, hospitals, prisons, etc. rather than in an administrative capacity in the local chancery. Notice the bishop is behind the deacon scribe to facilitate accurate communication.
The above sacred image, which I have never seen before John Daly sending it to me, is very well done. The painter has captured the meaning of the Council as a whole and two of its major participants: St. Nicholas’, in his famous interaction with the heretic Arius, and the great oratorical and mystical abilities of St. Spyridon challenging Arius, too.
Is the deacon pictured in the painting from the Latin Rite or is he Orthodox? Truly, there is no way to accurately tell because the deacon is seated, and what is showing of the deacon’s stole is inconclusive. Depending on the angle of view both the Western and Eastern Rites’ deacon’s stole placement looks the same.
In today’s painting and in yesterday’s post of the icon, the deacon is seated and the possible vertical panel on the Eastern Rite and Orthodox stole is in shadow or not detectable, yet, the panel that drapes from left shoulder and gathers at the waist is visible, and would appear, as you see below, in both Latin, Eastern, and Orthodox Rites!
Just between you and me, I think the deacon depicted in the icon, from my April 16, 2019 post and today’s, is St. Athanasius from Alexandria, Egypt. The Catholic Church, the Eastern Rites in union with Rome, and all the Orthodox Churches venerate St. Athanasius as a great saint and designate specific feast days for him. He belongs to all of us.
The deacon’s stole in the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church that are in union with Rome; and, the Greek Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, and Coptic Orthodox deacon stoles look like this:
The cassock, alb, stole, and dalmatic all have the same meaning and functions in both the Western and Eastern Rites of the Church. In today’s Western, that is, the Latin Rite (Roman Catholic) tradition, a deacon wears the rank of his ministry and ordination, the stole, over the alb but under the dalmatic. Latin Rite deacons would wear their stole’s in this manner:
I’ve really enjoyed this lively information exchange. Thanks to all who participated in it!
May you have a blessed Easter Tridiuum of the Passion and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am always very appreciative of my readers writing to me and providing new information and interpretations of sacred icons and images. Happily, that occurred last evening when a reader, Mr. John Daly from Australia, provided me with information on the second icon that was in yesterday’s post on St. Athanasius. Let me provide you with that image so we will have a reference point:
Mr. Daly is correct – it is St. Spyridon (born AD 270, died 340).
Let’s take a look at the reasons for this correction:
The bishop castigating the heretic Arius is wearing a distinctive hat. The hat is unique. It is shaped like a beehive. It is made of woven straw and was traditionally worn by Cypriot and other shepherds tending their flocks – an apt metaphor for a bishop caring for the flock of his faithful.
St. Spyridon was from the island of Cyprus, and eventually became a bishop serving the people of Trimythous, thus, he would have been invited to the First Council of Nicaea as were all the other bishops in Christendom.
At another time, possibly in Cyprus, St. Spyridon was involved in a debate with a pagan philosopher whom he ultimately converted to Christianity. Besides his theological arguments about the Holy Trinity, the good bishop used a piece of pottery or a brick, to demonstrate to the philosopher how you could have one single substance be also composed of three separate substances (pottery and bricks consist of clay, water, and are unified by the substance of fire).
The story of his discussion with the pagan philosopher continues and says that as soon as St. Spyridon finished speaking the piece of pottery or brick burst into flame, water dripped from it, and clay ash remained in his hand. Well that would have been enough to place me on the road to conversion, and so it was with the philosopher, too. If you look closely at the icon above you can perceive the fire bursting out of the brick and the water puddling beneath it. Hmm, I didn’t see that! As Sherlock Holmes once said, “Watson, you see, but you do not observe” (taken from the story A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir A.C. Doyle). Wise advice.
Mr. Daly also relates that it was [and probably still is] common for an iconographer to fuse the two incidents of St. Spyridon converting a pagan, and St. Spyridon at the Council of Nicaea debating with the heretic Arius.
There it is: the beehive woven straw hat, the bishop’s vestments, the water, fire and ash metaphor, the confrontation with an individual that has an opposite argument, and the public venue for both incidents.
So where is St. Athanasius in this icon? Mr. Daly offers that in the upper left corner of the icon, we see an individual portrayed as listening intently to St. Spyridon. He is dressed in a dark alb with a white collar. He suggests that this is St. Athanasius. That argument makes some sense because, as a deacon, Athanasius may not have been up front with the bishops, rather he possibly would be located near the altar ready to perform his diaconal duties. At the same time he is still involved in the proceedings, and/or ready to respond to the needs of his bishop – Alexander of Alexandria. You notice the priests and monks in the back of the room, too, in dark conical monastic hats and cassocks.
My only issue with that interpretation is that the figure portrayed in the upper left does not have a nimbus (halo) circling his head, nor is he wearing his deacon’s stole; however, the scribe in the lower left corner is wearing a deacon’s stole. My stole comes across my chest from the left shoulder and is gathered at the right hip; and the scribe’s stole does the same thing. Is this individual St. Athanasius? There appears to be writing on his stole. I have no proficiency in Greek so I cannot be of help there.
The scribe in the lower left corner has a halo, too, and so do all the bishops. Did the iconographer think that all the bishops present were saints? This is not unlikely, since they produced a Creed for Christendom in three months. Truly, a stunning achievement. It indicates that the assembled bishops were very clear in their own minds what the Faith, based on Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, was all about. The bishops all appear very animated and involved in the Council proceedings. It’s obvious that the Holy Spirit was working within that Council!
There is a lot going on in the upper part of this icon, too. Christ, as a young child, is found walking across what appears to be an altar towards another bishop. That bishop on the upper right is seen discussing some issue with, possibly, another dissenter (a priest, or deacon; even though the priests and deacons in attendance didn’t vote, they certainly could influence the bishop of their diocese on issues and arguments).
Sadly, I believe that the only existing documents that we have concerning this Council that are still in existence are the Nicene Creed itself, the procedural rules of the Council, and Emperor Constantine’s address to the assembled bishops. It is said that many of the bishops came, returned to their dioceses, and then came back to the Council. This probably contributes to the fact that we don’t have all the names of the participating bishops, just those mentioned in other documents or in the stories that were passed on through to the faithful (confer Anna Erakhtina’s article The “Model of Meekness,” and Slapping Arius, at http://www.orthochristian.com, May 22, 2016, specifically the contribution by Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin. He discusses the documents available to us today). If anyone has additional information on the actual participants please tell me your source, and the participants, and I will spread the information through a post.
St. Spyridon was also known as a miracle worker, especially for his successful intervention (caused by the prayers of the soldiers and sailors of the Catholic Rites) in the 1716 battles with the invading Ottoman Turks on the Greek island of Corfu.
John, thanks again; this was a fun interaction.
Additional images of St. Spyridon:
In the Roman Catholic Church, St. Spyridon is venerated on his feast day, December 14th; and on December 12th in the Eastern Rites and the Orthodox Church.
St. Athanasius of Alexandria was “the Lion” of the Council of Nicaea. He was instrumental in providing well argued testimony rebuking the heretic Arius during the Council’s debates. His verbal skills, as powerful and commanding as a lion, shredded Arius’ arguments. His eloquence convinced the assembled bishops of the correct dogma that Jesus Christ has two, separate and distinct, natures (divine and human), and that Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. The heretic Arius insisted that Jesus was “just a creature” of God.
The Council’s main purpose was to address the divine nature of Jesus Christ and the concept of HIs being the Son of God the Father. This had to be done in order to squash the Arian heresy once and for all. It was also to establish a date for the celebration of Easter, resolve organizational and clerical issues, and the development of Church law (what today is called Canon Law). They were also attempting to settle a schism that had occurred in Egypt. That schism was being fomented by another bishop who had enlisted with the heretic Arius.
The Council was also tasked with development of a Christian Creed that would provide unity of belief for both the Eastern and Western Rites of the Church. This unity of belief was critical since the Church needed a formal set of beliefs that could be used as a catechetical tool and a binder that kept all the cultural and geographical “Catholic” churches together.
The Council of Nicaea basically resolved all the main issues of its agenda. It was a stunning achievement. The priest Arius was banished for promoting heresy and his ideas declared anathema. Yet, the problem the Council still faced was convincing Arius’ followers of their heretical errors. Banishment or not, an unrepentant Arius continued to spread his opinions fomenting confusion throughout the Empire.
The Eastern and Western Rites of the Catholic and Orthodox Church have always believed that sacred icons and sacred images are always venerated by the faithful; they have never and are never worshipped.To worship sacred icons, sacred images, statues, and other visual reminders of the glory of God and His saints is against the 1st Commandment (confer Exodus 20: 2-17, and Deuteronomy 5: 6 – 21). If anyone worshipped those visual images they would correctly be called idolaters. Worshipis for God alone, that is, the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; Three Divine Persons in One God.
Our Savior Jesus Christ is One Person with two natures: human and divine; that is a state of being which is part of the great Mystery of the Incarnation of God into human existence.
Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God, sacrificed in Jerusalem through His Passion, Crucifixion, and death. Jesus, following His Father’s will, suffered and died for us in order to atone for all of humanity’s sins (past, present, future). God the Father and God the Holy Spirit responded by raising Jesus from the dead on the third day, ultimately enabling Jesus to interact and be seen by His Apostles and hundreds of disciples.
Truth, Goodness, Beauty, and Love, incarnate in our Savior.
Thanks for stopping by.
May you continue to have a prayerful Holy Week and a joyous Easter Season.
The extensive Gospel reading for Palm Sunday relates the Scriptural and historical truth that Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem, yet, five days later He was arrested, put on trial, tortured, and executed.
As you know, the religious and secular leaders of Israel did not accept Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God. They were adamant about the fact that Jesus was just a man and that His claims, teachings, and healings were all fraudulent. Their disbelief took place during the first century, yet, two hundred years later there were Christians saying the same thing.
The questions came down to, “Who is Jesus Christ? Is He a man? Is He God? Is He both?”
These were the same questions that the people of Jerusalem, some of them waving palm branches, and their leaders were asking each other.
In the year 325 scholars and clerics were still grappling with those questions, too.
Many deacons, priests, and bishops of the Church had settled the question in their own mind, yet, all of Christendom was not in agreement. Emperor Constantine was worried; as a military man he knew trouble when he saw it. Religious disagreements could easily spread into civil war. Something had to be done.
Stories have come down to us through the centuries that St. Nicholas of Myra, a faith-filled bishop, decided to defend Sacred Tradition and the Scriptural interpretation of the reality of Jesus as the Son of God the Father. The story relates that he not only vigorously defended Sacred Tradition but became so worked up that during one of the debates he slapped the author of this heresy which was called Arianism.
But, was it a verbal or physical slap?
Let’s take a brief look at some of the details:
Who: Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bishop, (Myra, an Ancient Greek city on the coast of present day Turkey), vs. Arius, priest from the diocese of Alexandria, (Alexandria, a city on Egypt’s Mediterranean coastline). Emperor Constantine, Roman Empire, centered in the new city named in his honor: Constantinople (present day Istanbul, Turkey). Constantine convenes an ecumenical council of bishops from the five major patriarchies of Christendom (Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, Jerusalem, and Rome).
What: Supposed incident of Bishop Nicholas “slapping” the priest Arius, at the first ecumenical Council of Bishops: the Council of Nicaea. This was the first Council since the Council of Jerusalem (held in the first century and was attended by luminaries such as St. Peter and St. James).
When: Late Spring and early Summer of the year 325.
Why: The incident concerned the critical issue of who is Jesus Christ, and whether Jesus Christ is “the same in being and the same in essence” as God the Father. Arius was promoting the heresy that Jesus Christ was “just a creature” of God and not a divine Person of the Holy Trinity.
Where: Nicaea, an ancient city in Asia Minor; it is the present day city of Iznik, Turkey.
As it applies to sacred art, the Council of Nicaea provided a specific creed: a set of theological proclamations that impacted sacred artists from the 4th century to the present day. It is stated clearly in this Creed that God the Father has communicated His love, mercy, and laws to humanity through His revealed word in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. This action culminated in the ministry, passion, death, and resurrection of His incarnated Word, His Son Jesus Christ.
The Nicene Creed definitivelyproclaimed that Jesus Christ is the same in essence, and the same in being, as God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. So we have the great Mystery of the Incarnation, the nature of Jesus Christ: He is both human and divine – the Son of God – One Person with two natures – human and divine.
The day-to-day proceedings and debate notes of the Council have been lost to history, so we will never know if St. Nicholas gave Arius a physical or just a verbal “slap.” Regardless, St. Nicholas made his point and contributed to giving us the gift of the Nicene Creed.
In AD 381, the Nicene Creed was edited and amended at the First Council of Constantinople (thus, the Creed is called the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed. Try to say that phrase fast, three times!😃).
Thanks for visiting with me. May you have a prayer-filled Holy Week.
Sources for the above post are found in my bibliography post, entitled Early Church Fathers – A Short bibliography of February 8, 2019. I relied primarily on Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s works, also Aquilina and D’Ambrosio’s volumes.
Is communication just a trait of human beings? Is it a trait of God?
The Dogma of the Holy Trinity is one of the great Mysteries of the Christian Faith. All Christians acknowledge and accept that The One True God, the divine Holy Trinity, are three separate and distinct Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity is not three separate Gods. They are one God in three Divine Persons. This is known as the dogma of the “consubstantial” Trinity: each of the three Persons is God – completely and entirely.
These ideas were debated and verified by the assembled bishops at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 and subsequent Councils (specifically the ecumenical Council of Nicaea/Constantinople in AD 381).
In the 13th century the Fourth Lateran Council stated: “Each of the Persons is that supreme reality (nature, essence, and substance) of God” (confer Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, paragraphs 198 through 315, pp. 54-84).
These three Divine Persons relate and communicate among themselves and desire to communicate and relate with Their creation. This is verified through Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the historic teachings of the Apostles, the Ecumenical Councils, and the saints of the Church.
The first of Their creation, the nine choirs of angels, communicate with God and each other, too.
Obviously, human beings communicate and relate through speech, behavior, and the written word, though at times, not very well. To a much lesser extent, there is “communication” in the other members of the animal kingdom (by instinct, chemical, and behavioral signals) and in the plant kingdom (through chemical signals).
God the Father has communicated specifically through His Word, the incarnated Son, Jesus Christ. In accordance with the Father’s will the human Jesus is “born of a woman” into space and time through the great Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ.
Jesus agreed to humbly obey His Father’s will. Through His Incarnation the Divine Son Jesus expresses His two natures: human and divine. He does this while “hiding” the full majesty of His divinity (except for the moments of His Transfiguration, Resurrection, and subsequent appearances to His Apostles).
The Holy Spirit (as the Council of Florence stated in 1439) “Is eternally from the Father and Son; He has His nature and subsistence at once from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration (the life-giving breath of God).”
“When the Father sends His Word to His Creation He also sends His Breath. “Jesus and the Holy Spirit are on a joint mission, while at the same time being distinct but inseparable. It is the Son who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, while it is the Holy Spirit that reveals Him.” (please refer to page 181 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, also pages 54 through 90).
The Holy Spirit communicates and spiritually shapes us through the Holy Scriptures, liturgical and private prayer, the teachings of the Western and Eastern Rites of the Church, and with the Father and Son in the seven Holy Sacraments (in the Eastern Rites – the Holy Mysteries).
The solemnity of Pentecost recalls the full expression of the Holy Spirit’s “Fruits and Gifts” to the Apostles, and through the Holy Sacraments to us, too (refer in the Christian Scriptures to the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2, verses 1 – 42; and in St. Paul’s letters to the Galatians chapter 5: verses 22 ff; and 1st Corinthians chapter 12, verses 4 ff; also refer in the Hebrew Scriptures to the book of the prophet Isaiah chapter 11, versus 2 – 3).
God the Father sent His Son to be born of a woman through the fecundity of the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ changed the Universe. God became flesh and walked among us. Why? In order to teach, heal, and redeem us from our sins. The New Covenant with His creation is written in His Blood. There is, if you have the gift of faith, ample proof that God wants to communicate with you.
It is up to each man and woman to honestly determine whether or not they are ignoring Him, and if so, to decide what to do about it. Time is short.
This passage from the Gospel of St. Luke is a parable about a destitute man named Lazarus and a rich man, who at times is called by the name Dives (the word dives in the Latin Bible refers to a “rich man”).
Jesus places Lazarus sitting day after day by the rich man’s front door. Lazarus is sick. He is at Dives’ home hoping to receive a scrap of food from his table. The food never comes.
Jesus continues to tell the story which culminates in the death of both men and their subsequent judgment. Lazarus is welcomed into Paradise and is seen talking to Abraham, while Dives is condemned to the flames of Hell hoping for a drop of water to quench his thirst.
The parable concludes with Abraham rejecting Dives’ wish that someone from Paradise will inform his relatives of his eternal sentence in an attempt to get them to change their way of life.
Abraham says that it is fruitless: “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”
You see its not just the issue of Dives, as a fellow human being, not providing nourishment and solace to Lazarus. It is the fact that Dives does not even acknowledge Lazarus. He and his servants pass him every day with no perception, no acknowledgement, no understanding, no charity.
How many times have we done that to men and women standing at intersections, asking for a scrap that falls from our table. We get uncomfortable at the thought that they are there. Irritated at bad government decisions that pushed them out on the street, supposedly to be helped by the social justice safety nets; nets filled with holes. I saw a woman today holding a sign that said “I need a miracle.” There was no exclamation point or happy face penned next to it.
Lazarus may be outside our front door, or, even in the house.
Question: are we passing by people in our own family who are in need? The neighbor who lives next door? A member of our parish? Are we passing by Jesus Christ?
Lent is the natural time to reflect on how well we remember and assist, in some small way, those around us who are in need. It may be financial help, or it might just be they need someone to talk to.
Upon reflection, we may find ourselves missing the mark, even committing sins of omission. Let’s remember that, unlike Dives, we still have time to do something about it.
My thanks to Rev. Msgr. Anthony Mancini, Pastor of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, Providence, Rhode Island USA, for stimulating this blog post.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, He was famished. (Gospel of Luke chapter 4: verses 1-2)
In the extraordinary painting below, we see Jesus after He was led into the desert wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He is surrounded by rocks and sand. He sits on a boulder, hands in front of Him. His eyes are filled with the knowledge of reality, of passions, power, and pain, ego and emptiness, sin and self aggrandizement.
This painting may move us from the awareness that in the desert wilderness Jesus is not only thinking through His ministry, Passion, and death but is also viewing our lives – our ministries, our passions, our death.
What do we see?
Let us examine His face.
We see the seriousness of the forthcoming temptations; the physical, mental, and the spiritually violent struggle with the devil. It is written plainly upon His emaciated face.
We see the irrefutable fact of Jesus’ humanity.
We see that He is like unto us, except for sin.
This is the face of our Savior; but the victory is not His, yet.
His temptations, public ministry, Passion, and death are still to occur.
What do we see?
We see a man who knows His Mind. He knows His Body, Soul, and Spirit.
He knows His freely accepted duty to accomplish His Father’s will.
This is not the face of a defeated man. It is the face of a determined man who is also Lord and Savior.
Observe Christ’s clenched hands, gaze deeply into His eyes, and you will see the artist’s portrayal of a Savior that is already, at the beginning of His ministry, aware of the viciousness of the tempter and the burden of our sins. Sins accepted by Him, and through His Passion and death, makes all things new.
Jesus had to confront in that desert assault whether or not He was going to be faithful to His mission.
The Gospel passage above challenges us with the same questions: are we going to be faithful to the Commandments, to our Baptismal promises, to the mission given us in Confirmation to live and practice the truths that He taught us?
Are we going to be faithful to the spiritual power and grace given to us, not just when we feel like it, but even in the most difficult of circumstances?
As disciples of Christ we are on a daily basis constantly revolving around the axis of temptation and sin – faith and grace. We understand that temptation, in and of itself, is a test – it is not sin. It is only sin when we willfully place ourselves in its shackles, when we give into its fueled power to overwhelm our body and soul. That power – a deadly power – obtains its animus and energy from the original tempter and liar – Lucifer himself.
Hell is real. It is not a mental construct. To say that it doesn’t exist is to call Jesus a liar, and His Passion, death, and Resurrection meaningless.
Jesus the Christ lived heroically in the face of Hell’s demons and witnessed to the power of God’s grace.
But you say, I am not Jesus Christ, I am a weak man or woman, boy or girl.
I say true, we all are; but by virtue of our faithful reception of the Holy Sacraments (Holy Mysteries) of Reconciliation (Penance/Confession) and the Holy Eucharist we have the power of Christ’s grace within us. A power, freely given by God and unmerited by us, to resist and overcome temptation and sin.
If we do sin – if we do “miss the mark” – we have a remedy. We follow St. Paul’s advice: pick yourself up, dust yourself off (confess your sins), and confidently continue on your journey. We must do our part in cooperation with God’s love and mercy.
The Season of Lent is a time of joyful repentance, prayer, and fasting.
Let’s remember the words of Nehemiah, who in the Hebrew Scriptures says: Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength! (Nehemiah 8: 9-10. 5th century BC)
The painting above was created and completed in the late 19th century by Ivan Kramskoi. He was a gifted Russian painter, noted portraitist, draughtsman, and teacher. The painting is entitled Christ in the Wilderness.
Today’s post will continue to add to my two previous posts: The Apologists (Defenders of the Faith) – Part 7, and The Apologists – Comparing Icons.
The men below are also known as the Ante Nicene Fathers. The word Ante (before) refers to the fact that they defended the Faith during the terrible persecutions of the first three centuries of the Church (the Domitian, Decian, Valerian, and Diocletian persecutions). These persecutions occurred prior to the Council of Nicaea (AD 325).
The Council of Nicaea was called by the Emperor Constantine in order for the assembled bishops, and their representatives from throughout the Empire, to discuss, debate, and establish the basic elements of a Creed for the Catholic Church (Eastern and Western Rites).
Prior to calling this Council, Constantine had proclaimed the toleration of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. He accomplished this through the Edict of Milan. This Edict (AD 313)did not mandate that Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire, that was to be done by a later Emperor – Theodosius I – in AD 380. The Edict just allowed for Christianity’s toleration as a religion.
The list below provides the additional Apologists who significantly contributed to the defense of all the aspects of the Early Christian Faith, such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Seven Sacraments, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, etc.:
St. Justin Martyr, (born circa AD 100), an excellent writer, debater and teacher. He defended the Sacraments of the Church, especially the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the genuineness and inerrancy of the four Gospels, the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, how reason can come to know God, the Sacraments, God’s revelation and inspiration, etc. He also saw some aspects of ancient philosophy as a precursor of the Christian faith, and wrote two powerful defenses of the Faith to the Emperor and the Roman Senate. He was martyred, along with six other Christians, in AD 165.
St. Justin Martyr is a very important witness to the developing beliefs of the Catholic Church (Western and Eastern Rites) because he is discussing and describing many of the primary dogmatic and doctrinal beliefs of the Church which would be established over one hundred and fifty years later in the Nicene Creed (AD 325), and clarified and confirmed in the Council of Constantinople in AD 381.
St. Melito of Sardis, (died circa AD 185), a scholar who saw the immense value and importance of the Hebrew Scriptures and how they contributed to the Christian Scriptures; in AD 175, wrote a defense of the Christian Faith which was published in a letter to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He was also instrumental in teaching and explaining the two natures of Jesus Christ: one divine and one human. His explanations kept the two natures separate, and teaches that Jesus was truly human and truly divine. He fought the Christological heresies that were developing at this time (especially Marcion’s heresy concerning Jesus’ physical body).
Tertullian, (died circa AD 222) a powerful, yet, at times, tactless writer and lawyer. He wrote on many aspects of early Church theology. He also wrote a spirited defense of the Christian Faith in a letter to the Roman Emperor. Interestingly, he is known for his description of the members of the Christian Faith: “See those Christians, how they love one another,” and “The blood of Christians is [the] seed [of the Church].”
St. Hippolytus of Rome, (died circa AD 236) in his book – The Apostolic Tradition – sets down a manual of liturgical prayers and tradition and it refers to an order of the Holy Mass. The current Eucharistic Prayer 2, in the Sacramentary (liturgical missal) used in the Western Rite, is attributed to the central prayer found in his The Apostolic Tradition.
Origen of Alexandria, (died AD 254), a genius in speculative theology who wrote extensively on subjects such as the belief in One God, the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Sacraments of the Church, etc. He was a voluminous writer and died a martyr.
St. Cyprian of Carthage, (born circa AD 200); he was a student of Tertullian. St. Cyprian was a tireless theologian and worker for unity within the Church, and through his patient and good-hearted efforts solved many controversies and squabbles. As a bishop he proclaimed that he was willing to welcome any pagan or heretic into the Church who confessed their sins, were willing to do penance, and were baptized. His defense and scholarship on the Holy Sacraments is considered important. He died a martyr in AD 258.
In my next post, Part 8, I will briefly discuss the Golden Era of the Apostolic Fathers (AD 325 – 430) whose blossoming occurred after the Council of Nicaea; also in that post, I will discuss and list the Post Nicene Fathers (circa AD 430 – AD 800). In Part 9, I will briefly list some of the important Church Councils of the 5th century and how they affected the Church’s sacred art.
Please review the bibliography page (found at the post of February 8, 2019). It provides the sources that I have been using in this specific sequence of posts on Church history.
Thanks for visiting with me. On this Ash Wednesday allow me to offer you my best wishes for a productive and prayerful Lenten Season.
Can you pick out the seven similarities between the two sacred icons of Church Apologists that are below? The differences?
Let’s take a look at the two icons above.
Both are correct in the way they are represented. From an artistic and symbolic point-of-view there are distinct similarities.
They have seven similarities: the beard (signifying experience, authority, and that the saint is an elder); a large, highforehead (signifying Christian wisdom as influenced by the Holy Spirit which is visualized through the saint’s works and knowledge); the Holy Cross upon the priest’s stole (it appears as a garment that circles the neck and extends down the torso which signifies Christ’s Redemptive suffering and the saint’s willingness to give witness and suffer for Christ); the presence of the book of the Gospels (the revealed truth of God through His Son, Jesus Christ); the script of the saint’s name at the top or side of the icon; and the halo circling the head (representing the sanctity of the saint).
There are twoabsolutelynecessary and critical indicators that designate a valid orthodox icon or sacred image: the artist must distinguish the person represented with his or her name, and, the icon must give witness to their life and ministry to the Church.
How does the sacred artist accomplish this requirement?
The artist needs to follow this rule: if the person(s) represented is/are a cleric (deacon, priest, or bishop) they need to be clothed with the proper vestments of their rank, and prototypical appearance. If their physical appearance is known (such as St. Therese of Lisieux or St. Maximillian Kolbe) they must be represented in a correct and accurate manner. The artist must also represent some aspect that distinguishes their ministry, such as the Book of the Gospels.
This is also true if the person(s) is/are a martyr, holy man or woman, monk, etc. This is, again, necessary since the faithful need to know the name of the saint so they “may honor, revere, and give salutation to them and aspire after them” (from The Seventh Ecumenical Council: Concerning the Holy Icons).
The differences between these two icons of Church Fathers are primarily in the icons’ age, the colors used by each sacred artist, the adornment of the garments and book of the Gospels, and whether or not the halo, and area surrounding the figure is gilded. Many of these differences reflect the specific culture the sacred artist lived in, the time period of the artist’s life, and the artistic resources (such as pigments) that were available.
Historically, violent disputes broke out between icon supporters and icon destroyers. The situation came to a head in October AD 787, when the 2nd Council of Nicaea, among other issues, reinstated the validity and necessity of the veneration of holy icons/images. It specifically quoted: Genesis 31: 34; Exodus 25: 19 ff; Numbers 7: 89; and Hebrews 9: 5 ff;) in support of their position. The Council Fathers especially cited various passages of the Fathers of the Church which proved to be critical in the authority of their proclamation. They were also heavily influenced by the writings of St. John Damascene. The Council documents were signed by the Byzantine Empress Irene, as many as (or more than) 300 bishops, and two legates of the Pope.
Sacred icons, sacred images, statues, etc are never worshipped. Worship belongs to God alone as represented in the Holy Trinity. The holy personalities represented give witness to unity with Christ and point us in the truthful – orthodox – direction. We venerate sacred statues, icons, and sacred images – never worship them. (See the documents of the 7th Ecumenical Council of the Church (AD 787) to reiterate this position).
Church tradition also warns the sacred artist who paints sacred icons to guard against unnecessary innovations and artistic flourishes. Please remember that in my blog I make a distinction between sacred icons and sacred images. My articles on this subject can be found in the Category window found on the top, right hand side, of my Home Page. You may find that my article A Canon for Catholic Sacred Artists, found in the Category: Sacred Artists, in the month April, 2018 (once there, scroll down to April 2, 2018 and you’ll find the article). That article has a short section in the Notes following the ten elements of my suggested “Canon” that express my opinion on the differences between sacred icons and sacred images.
Thanks for visiting with me. My best wishes for a relaxing weekend.
A Challenge: Are you as a Christian artist willing to internalize the message of the saint, scene, or Scripture passage you are artistically representing, and then, correctly portray it according to Church tradition?
Sacred artists must have more than just an awarenesses of Jesus, His Mother, angels and saints because their witness provides us with the foundation stones of our Faith. Sacred artists must be more than artists who propose “Art for art’s sake”.
If we do this what do we become? We become evangelists to the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, through the witness of Jesus Christ and the holy men and women who called Him the Son of God.
In the years immediately following St. Polycarp’s martyrdom (died, circa AD 155, and remembered yesterday, February 22nd, in the Roman Breviary and Missal) a group of eight Western and Eastern Rite scholars and clerics arose known as the Apologists (Defenders of the Faith).
The Apologists defended the beliefs and traditions of the Church that passed down to them, in an uninterrupted line, directly from the Apostles and Apostolic Fathers. This occurred during the years of continued persecution – AD 155 through AD 313.
The works and ministerial witness of the Apologists provide evidence for the continuity of beliefs and dogmas in the Early Christian Church. It is through this historic development, and the literary and physical witness of their efforts, that we have religious and cultural traditions which dramatically affected the growth of sacred art. These clerics and scholars desired to unify and establish the beliefs of the Western and Eastern Rites of the Church.
Church artists, and the later group of clerics and scholars known as the Nicene Fathers (who I will cover in later posts), were heavily influenced by their efforts. These two groups, the Ante Nicene and Nicene Fathers all desired to make concrete and visible the correct teaching – the orthodoxy – of the Church. These efforts ultimately produced artistic representations of these early spiritual heroes – a visible sign of the truths of the Gospels being preached – and in some cases, their witness in blood.
The Apologists have also been termed The Ante (Before) Nicene Fathers because they lived and died prior to the establishment of the Creed of the Catholic Faith, ultimately to be known as the Nicene Creed.
Let us briefly review two of the Apologists: St. Irenaeus of Lyons, and St. Clement of Alexandria. In a subsequent post you will have the opportunity to read three or four sentence descriptions of the contributions of the other six Apologists.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons was born in AD 130 and died circa AD 202. He speaks of the four Gospels as being the “Four Pillars of the Church,” and was in a position to know that since he heard St. Polycarp (a friend and disciple of the Apostle John) preach. He was steadfast in supporting the belief in Apostolic Tradition. He taught that the true Faith is the one imparted by the bishops of the Church who, in turn, received it directly in an uninterrupted set of teachings from the Apostles. St. Irenaeus was tenacious in his fight against heterodoxy, specifically the Gnostic heresy.
St. Irenaeus understood the value of St. Polycarp’s New Testament scholarship and his emphasis on the Church’s sacred Tradition. He spoke with authority on Mary as the New Eve, and the Holy Eucharist. St. Irenaeus barely escaped death during the persecution of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, however during the round-up approximately 50 other Christians had the joy of earning the holy crown of martyrdom. He may have eventually died a martyr, yet, there is not sufficient evidence to support it.
Another critical Apologist is St. Clement of Alexandria (born circa AD 150, died circa 215). He led a major catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt and agreed with St. Irenaeus that the truth and knowledge of the holy Gospels proceed through the bishops and are for the population as a whole and not for any secret society (thus, he fought against the Gnostic heresy).
He taught that in order to understand the truths of the Gospels you must have faith in unison with reason. He is also known for three major catechetical works which are still in existence. These works were meant to accompany catechumens and those baptized into the Christian faith as an aid to their spiritual development. He was not martyred.
Thanks for stopping by the Institute. I hope you have a relaxing weekend.
This post and an upcoming posts will very briefly explain some of the major figures in the Church history during the period of AD 65 through AD 155 – the period known as the age of the Apostolic Fathers. Ultimately, Parts 7 through 9 will cover some of the key leaders within the three subsequent periods of the early Church (circa AD 155 to circa AD 800). I am presenting this material because it is critical for anyone studying and painting sacred images and sacred icons to be aware of the theological understanding of the scholars and bishops in the Church’s early history. Sacred art developed in tandem with the approved theology of the Church. I will ultimately show you how this is expressed, specifically how our Blessed Mother Mary is artistically portrayed in Part Nine and subsequent posts.
After Jesus Ascension to Heaven the Apostolic Fathers continued the mission of Jesus and His Apostles to shepherd the early Church. The term “Father” refers to the early leaders of the Church who remained faithful to the Apostolic faith and traditions and brought the early Church out of “diapers” into “young adulthood.” These men carried on the spiritual beliefs and religious traditions of the Apostles and, in some cases, directly knew the Apostles (for example, both St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Polycarp were disciples of St. John the Apostle, and St. Peter consecrated St. Clement of Rome a bishop).
The Apostolic Fathers lived and died between the years AD 65 through AD 155. Their writings began to be circulated around the year AD 95. Apostolic Fathers that I will not cover in this post are Marcion, who was an eye-witness to the martyrdom of St. Polycarp and wrote an account of it and the anonymous writers of important documents: (TheShepherd of Hermas – this document and the Apocalypse of Peter were eventually removed from the canonical collections of Christian writings), TheDidache, The Epistle to Diognetus, and The Epistle of Barnabas.
Many scholars believe that the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Epistles: of Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John were all written before the year AD 100. Yet it took approximately another four hundred years for the dogmas, doctrines, writings and the Church approved Gospels/Epistles to be studied, discussed, codified, and accepted or eliminated by the bishops of the Catholic Church (Eastern and Western Rites). Concomitantly, the sacred art of the early Church was affected by and developed within these cultural and spiritual currents. To exemplify this I will definitely present images of these developments, as they apply to Our Blessed Mother Mary, in upcoming posts.
The Apostolic Fathers confronted numerous controversies and heresies. For example, Pope St. Clement of Rome (martyred in AD 99 or 101) addressed the question of the authority of the Bishop of Rome and clerical leadership (see his very important Letter to the Church at Corinth written in the first century). The Emperor Trajan (reigned AD 98 – 117) had him martyred by being thrown into the sea with an anchor around his neck.
While traveling to Rome to be martyred, the bishop St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote significant letters to various churches in Asia Minor on important theological issues. He promoted the structure of clerical hierarchy (deacons, priests, and bishops). Adhering to Apostolic Tradition, Ignatius promoted belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist (which was achieved by a validly ordained male priest through the Scriptural words of Consecration within the liturgical structure of the Holy Mass). St. Ignatius of Antioch is also the first bishop to use the word “catholic” (universal) to describe the first Christian Church communities. He was martyred in Rome’s Circus Maximus by being savaged by lions. His martyrdom occurred in AD 107 – 108.
The last Apostolic Father that I will briefly discuss in this post is the bishop St. Polycarp of Smyrna (a city in Asia Minor – currently in Turkey). Polycarp’s name, in Greek, means “much fruit.” St. Polycarp was a friend and disciple of St. John the Apostle; and he was known as a New Testament scholar, and author of an important letter to a Church community in Greece.
St. Polycarp was tireless in his fight against the Marcionite heresy. That heresy grew out of a heresy accepted by some interpreters of the Hebrew Scriptures who claimed that there were “two Gods” – one good and one bad. Polycarp was martyred in AD 155 or 156. The story of his martyrdom relates the attempted burning of this good bishop at the stake, but when the fire had no affect at all his frustrated executioners pulled him out and did the deed with a dagger!
The “Great Schism” between the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic (Orthodox) Rites did not occur until AD 1056; and the Protestant movement did not begin until the middle of the 15th century. The Protestant Revolt came to full force in the early 16th century and continued through to the 17th century. The Protestant sects viewed sacred art as unnecessary for the faithful since they needed to concentrate only on Sacred Scripture (Sola Scriptura).
Prior to AD 1056 all Christians were “Catholics” from different cultural areas of Europe, Africa, and the Near East. Each one of these Eastern and Western Rite communities applied their own interpretation to appropriate liturgical music, sacred art, liturgical disciplines to their regional church environments. Examples of this interpretation are celibacy for male deacons and priests, and liturgical use of cultural specific language. This was achieved by remaining faithful to approved Catholic Creeds (Nicene and Apostles), Holy Scripture, clerical/hierarchical organization, etc. A unified set of Church dogmas and doctrines developed out of this 800 year history.
Thank you for stopping by and reading this brief post. My next post will briefly review the next group of “Fathers of the Church” – the Apologists.
My best wishes for a restful weekend; and if you are in the United Stats an enjoyable Super Bowl football game!