Twelve Ethical Principles of a Christian Sacred Artist

My friends and fellow sacred artists, allow me to present to you my expression of twelve ethical principles that I have developed for members of the Fra Angelico Institute of Sacred Arts. These principles may be valuable to colleagues in other Rites and Denominations in fostering dialogue about these ideas. I write this as a preface to a series to follow at fraangelicoinstitute.com, on the spiritual and artistic values of Beato Fra Angelico. I perceive Fra Angelico as being one of the last artists of the Gothic Period in Western sacred art that was true to the tradition that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI speaks of in his book Spirit of the Liturgy. Please see the Explanatory Notes that follow these twelve principles. They further reveal my understanding of these points. Upon further discussion with you, these Principles may be edited to reflect your contributions. Thank you.

                        Twelve Ethical Principles of a Christian Sacred Artist

1) A Christian sacred artist’s work is wed to a Christ centered spirituality of service and tradition (with both a small “t” and a capital “T”).

2) A Christian sacred artist bases his or her work on prayer.

3) A Christian sacred artist’s spirituality has its roots firmly planted in Sacred Scripture and Church history.

4) A Christian sacred artist’s spirituality is enlivened when he or she prayerfully unites their inner senses (common sense, imagination, cognition, and sense-memory) fortified by faith, to their creativity.

5) Christian sacred artists recognize that the main work of the Church is threefold: spreading the good news of Christ’s Gospel message, prayer, and for the Western and Eastern Rites of the Church providing the Holy Sacraments (Holy Mysteries) to the faithful.

6) Christian sacred artists are a critical part of the liturgical work and prayer of the Church. They produce sacred arts that are sacramentals if they conform to the aesthetic, semantic, and theological principles of the faith.

7) Christian sacred artists believe that the grace of God compliments and strengthens their technical expertise.

8) Christian sacred artists believe that the act of making their work, and the finished product, is not just art; it is communion with the great mystery of God made visible in Christ and His saints.

9) Christian sacred artists who are members of the Western and Eastern Rites recognize that the creation of sacred art may be viewed as a liturgical act.

10) Christian sacred artists produce art that clearly teaches and preaches the lessons of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, and the Creeds of the Church, thus allowing their artistic message to contribute toward individual and congregational transformation in Christ.

11) Christian sacred artists are aware of the teachings of the 7th Ecumenical Council (2nd Council of Nicaea, AD 787) as it applies to icons and the role that the contributions of St. John of Damascus played in its debates.

12) Western and Eastern Rite sacred artists are aware of, and subscribe to, the principles that apply to sacred art within the writings of their spiritual leaders.

Explanatory notes – the numbers below correspond to the number of the specific Principle above:

 1) The small “t” relates to cultural norms of a specific Rite or denomination. The capital “T” refers to Church Tradition as specified by Jesus Christ, the Apostles, the Fathers of the Church, and the many hierarchical pronouncements proclaimed by Popes, Patriarchs, and Bishops of the Western and Eastern Rites of the Church.

2) Christian sacred artists undertake a great spiritual responsibility. This responsibility requires that the artist be firmly rooted in faith, grace, and prayer for they are promoting the truth, goodness, and beauty of Almighty God, His angels, and saints. Sacred artists are assisted in this by understanding that certain artistic schools or methods, an example being abstract expressionism, have no place in the sacred art of the Church.

3) This unity allows a sacred artist, through prayer, to walk the various paths of Holy Scripture and experience the moment that the Scripture, or story of the saints, presents to the soul. This experience feeds and transforms the sacred artist by affecting the clarity, line, and color of their art. This is how Beato Fra Angelico experienced the Crucifixion, and according to Vasari, as he painted it wept over the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice. In this process Fra Angelico prefigures Ignatius of Loyola by about 100 years in the ability to experience the words of Holy Scripture within his imagination. The use of the word – “imagination” – does not mean or imply “fantasy,” nor does the person at prayer “make-up” images not found in the Gospels or Church history. St. Andrei Rublev, Beato Fra Angelico, St. Ignatius of Loyola and others utilized this type of prayer experience to affect their work.

4) What is prayer? The saints tell us that prayer is the turning of the heart toward Our Lord God and allowing the mind and heart to sincerely speak words of love to Him. It is the connection, the sharing, of rational mind and free will to conversational intimacy with Our Lord, His angels and saints. The sacred artist enters into communion with God through prayer and this communion comforts and assists the sacred artist in their work.

5) The Western and Eastern Rites go a step further and affirm that preaching the Gospel message and delivering the Holy Sacraments (Holy Mysteries) is critical for the spiritual health and salvation of God’s people.

6) An icon is a sacred image (confer John 1:14). An iconographer follows specific traditions of craftsmanship and specific elements of Theological (Scriptural and dogmatic content), Semantic (the visual language of the icon, appropriate perspective, the use of light, line, and color to create form, and correct use of signs and symbols within the icon), and Aesthetic principles (the quality of beauty with the icon itself). These three principles are based upon the sacred Tradition of the Church. The history of the Western and Eastern Rites illustrates that the sacred artist has continually moved through different artistic periods and technical understanding. As it relates to sacred art, the Western Rite of the Church moved out of an Iconographic period into the Gothic period, and then onto the Baroque period. The Eastern Rite stayed within the period of Iconography that developed out of the early centuries of the Church. Cultural conditions, access to earth pigments, and artistic differences affected the Iconographic period within the Eastern Rite of the Church. It is important to note that within the Western Rite a sacred image is an image that is created of a historical holy person or religious scene; however, the artist allows their full creativity and personal interpretation to enter into the craftsmanship and artistic process. Personal creativity and technique, while present within Iconography, is not seen as an important issue. An example of an icon is St. Andrei Rublev’s image of Christ, or his icon of the Holy Trinity. An example of a sacred image is Pietro Annigoni’s image of St. Joseph and the child Jesus in Joseph’s workshop, or Masaccio’s Holy Trinity. I am indebted to one of my teachers of iconography, Marek Czarnecki (whose teacher was Ksenia Pokrovsky), for clarifying the elements of theological, semantic, and aesthetic tradition for me.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI provides a wonderful overview of the three periods of sacred art within the Western Rite in his book Spirit of the Liturgy. You will notice that he does not include the Renaissance within the three traditions. Historical research has shown that Renaissance artists were not inspired so much by prayer in the production of their art; rather, they were motivated by the desire to please themselves, their patrons, or the profit motive. Some of the Renaissance sacred images do have spiritual value and can motivate the viewer to prayer and communion with God.

Icons, sacred images, woodcarvings, calligraphy and other sacred arts if based on the Holy Gospels and Church Tradition spread the good news of the Gospel. The sacred arts are sacramentals when they point the way to God. Sacramentals are blessings. The seven Sacraments (Holy Mysteries) provide the grace that interiorly heal and nourish us. Sacramentals, however, assist us in the exterior visualization of Our Lord Jesus who made that process possible through His Incarnation. It also assists us in the visualization of His angels and especially His saints, who modeled Jesus in their own lives. To picture this one has only to view an icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov, and remember his words that “A true hope seeks only the Kingdom of God…the heart can have no peace until it obtains such a hope. This hope pacifies the heart and produces joy within it.” Christian sacred artists are “hope filled” people.

7) Within the Western Rite, it is believed that “Our justification comes from the grace of God which was merited for us by the Passion of Christ. Grace is a participation in the life of God. Justification is conferred through the Sacramental grace of Baptism. Grace is the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to His call to become children of God, adoptive sons and daughters, partakers of the divine nature and eternal life” (confer John 1:12-18; 17:3; Romans 8: 14-17; 2 Peter 1:3-4). As the Council of Trent teaches – grace is known by faith – and as Our Lord teaches in Matthew 7: 20 “You will know them by their fruits” (confer Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, paragraphs 1987 through 2005).

8) Contemporary Greek artist and iconographer, Dr. George Kordis, writes of this principle in his book Icon As Communion.

9) In the Western Rite, liturgy as defined in the New Testament, “refers not only to the celebration of divine worship but also to the proclamation of the Gospel and to active charity” (confer Luke 1:23; Acts 13:2; Romans 15:16, 27; 2 Corinthians 9:12; Philippians 2: 14-17, 25, 30. Confer Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, and paragraphs 1066 through 1209). The work of a sacred artist (this of course includes all the sacred arts) can be viewed as a liturgical act because it provides a service to our neighbor, in that the sacred art elucidates the reality of the truth, goodness, and beauty of God by providing a means for the individual to hear or visualize that reality. The sacred artist assists the Church in making the reality of Christ present within the community of believers. Sacred artists, by providing this service, are participants in active charity. They aid in providing a “visible sign of communion in Christ between God and men” (confer paragraph 1071, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition).

10) Transformation in Christ is a spiritual process. Writers within both the Latin and Greek Rites of the Church and the various Protestant denominations have extensively written about it. The Holy Bible, the Philokalia, Dietrich von Hildebrand, and many other writers provide very helpful advice on this topic.

11) Christian sacred artists, as they study iconography and the various manifestations of sacred art need to also be aware of the significant contributions of Leonid Ouspensky, George Kordis, Aidan Hart, David Clayton, Jonathan Pageau, and the Monk Patrick Doolan. There is enough wisdom in their words and works to advance the studies of any serious Christian sacred artist.

12) Some of the Popes have expressed valuable artistic insights, which will assist the Western sacred artist in their comprehension of their task. A few examples of this are: Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s book The Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope St. John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, and Pope Pius XII’s 1947 encyclical, Mediator Dei. The encyclical Mediator Dei explains in paragraph 187, that “Three characteristics of which our predecessor Pope Pius Xth spoke should adorn all liturgical services: sacredness, which abhors any profane influence; nobility, which true and genuine arts should serve and foster; and universality, which, while safeguarding local and legitimate custom, reveals the catholic unity of the Church” (Pius XII referenced this from an Apostolic Letter of Pope Pius X of November 1903). These three principles, when united with the principles of aesthetic, semantic, and theological truth, provide the Christian sacred artist with a firm foundation on which to build their creative work.

Thank you for reading this and I look forward to your comments, Deacon Paul O. Iacono.

Copyright © 2011- 2017 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Images:

Christ-Pantocrator.-Andrei-Rublev.-1410-1420s.-The-central-part-of-the-iconographic-Deesis-of-Zvenigorod.-Moscow-The-State-Tretyakov-Gallery

St. Andrei Rublev’s Christ (completed 1410, above) and his The Trinity (1411, or 1425-27)trinity-rublev-1410

 

Masaccio_Holy_Trinity

Masaccio’s Holy Trinity (completed 1428, above) and

Annigoni’s St. Joseph the Worker (altarpiece, completed 1963, below)annigoni, st joseph

 

Pope Benedict 16th – Evangelization Demands Courage and the Truth

No sooner had Pope Benedict announced his planned abdication of St. Peter’s chair when the attacks on him began to appear. I am posting on this story because the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts is primarily concerned with evangelization of the Catholic faith through the prayerful study and creation of the sacred arts. Be that as it may, when a vicious and false attack occurs on the Church or a member of the clergy it is incumbent upon us as Catholics to respond with courage and the truth.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, based in New York, and headed by Bill Donohue, Ph.D is in the forefront of presenting the truth when the Church is attacked. It deserves our support and prayers.

The following re-post which concerns an attack on Pope Benedict 16th (found below after my comments) is from their website http://www.catholicleague.org/.

Bill Donohue wrote the post which tells the truth about the Pope’s actions and it deserves to be read by every Catholic. We cannot sit idly by while the Church is being attacked. If you read this blog then you are interested in sacred beauty and the truth, goodness, and beauty of God that the Church has faithfully taught for two thousand years. Yet, it is very easy to get lost in beauty. We must support the arts, but we must not retreat into them. Saying, “Well, there is nothing I can do about it.” Wrong. There is something you can do about it.

There are two ways to support the Church in this effort: first through your prayers for those who are in the front-lines fighting on behalf of the Church, and second, through your actual involvement by defending the Church when you see or hear it attacked. We are in a very dynamic spiritual war. We cannot sit on the side-lines. The Lord Himself said that we need to choose – one side or the other – but don’t be neutral. He was very specific about the truth that He is sickened by neutrality (confer Revelation 3: 13 – 22; Romans 16: 17-18).

The re-post of Bill Donohue’s article concerns a now dead atheist British journalist named Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) who loved to attack the Church and any public figures who he believed were wrong or, in his opinion, frauds (from Mother Teresa, to Winston Churchill, to Princess Diana).

The article that Bill Donohue wrote and published this morning relates some of the lies that Hitchens told concerning Pope Benedict 16th. These lies have been picked up and resold as the truth by another journalist by the name of Andrew Sullivan. I have posted this article by Donohue so you can be armed with the truth.

We must unite as a force for truth-filled evangelization and arm ourselves with the facts. Donohue’s article contains the facts – arm yourself with them and use the grace you received at your Confirmation to patiently, but firmly, inform those that malign our Catholic faith, the papacy, and Benedict in particular, with the truth.

Here is Bill Donohue’s article:

Hitchens is Back from the Dead

February 12, 2013

“Bill Donohue takes note of the resurrection of Christopher Hitchens:

Hitchens has been brought back from the dead by Slate and Andrew Sullivan, but it won’t do them any good. Yesterday, they republished a hit piece by the atheist from 2010 that was vintage Hitchens: the man was a great polemicist but a third-class scholar. Facts never mattered to him.

Hitchens said the scandal “has only just begun.” Wrong. It began in the mid-60s and ended in the mid-80s. Current reports are almost all about old cases.

Hitchens said Munich Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger (the pope) transferred an offending cleric to another parish. Wrong. Ratzinger’s deputy placed the priest in a new parish after he received therapy (the tonic loved by those pushing rehabilitation), and even the New York Times admitted there was no evidence that Ratzinger knew about it. By the way, there were 1,717 priests serving under him at the time.

Hitchens said Ratzinger wrote a 2001 letter to the bishops telling them it was a crime to report sexual abuse. Wrong. The letter dealt with desecrating the Eucharist, and the sexual solicitation by a priest in the confessional (the letter cited a 1962 document detailing harsh sanctions).

Hitchens said Ratzinger was obstructing justice when he crafted new norms on sexual abuse in 2001. Wrong. He actually added new sanctions and extended the statute of limitations for such offenses.

Hitchens says Ratzinger ignored accusations against Father Marcial Maciel. Wrong. It was Benedict who got him removed from ministry (he was too infirm to put on trial) and put his religious order in receivership.

In short, Hitchens’ hatred of Catholicism allowed him to swing wildly. That he should be resurrected by Slate and Andrew Sullivan makes them all look incompetent, as well as vicious.”

Copyright © 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Gaudete Sunday In Light of the Tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut

Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means, “Rejoice!” – and we visualize this by the rose-colored vestments and candle in the Advent wreath.

Yet, it is so difficult to rejoice in light of the unspeakable horror and evil that befell the 27 innocent children and adults in Newtown, Connecticut, or the 22 children and an adult who were slashed by a man wielding a knife in a city in China, or the teenager arrested in Oklahoma for plotting to kill his fellow students and bomb his high school; and this all occurred on the morning of December 14th.

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, at the Vigil service at St. Rose of Lima Church on Friday night, spoke of the fact that true evil had touched the community of Newtown and that this evil would continue to have repercussions for many years.

Its consequences would be long lasting because it would continue to test the faith of the children and all those families and residents affected by this tragedy. He went on to say that it would be “a test not only of our faith in God, but faith in our fellow man – our community.”

He was right in saying that, given that the forces of darkness have always preyed upon mankind in an attempt to subvert and infect the beauty of the most significant element of God’s creation – our fellow human beings.

Through distortion of the good, and the promotion of rage and evil, the forces of darkness attempt to drag mankind down into the despair, and loss of God, that they themselves feel.

But, the knowledge of that ancient cosmic distortion of God’s creation, perpetrated by Satan himself, on a spiritual and historical level, is the exact reason for our celebration of the solemnity of Christmas. It is the reason for our rejoicing – for the moment of the birth of the innocent Savior marks the beginning of the end of the period of time that evil will reign on this earth.

We cannot help but remember another madman, King Herod, who upon learning from the Magi of the birth of this innocent child, gave the order to kill over a hundred children, and their parents, if they attempted to get in the way of his psychotic depravity. And we remember another grieving mother, Our Blessed Mother, who witnessed the horror of the killing of her child – and the tears that must have flowed from her.

Rage against motherhood, rage against childhood, rage against innocence: in two thousand years of Christian history this has become the sad spectacle of man’s inhumanity to man; it appears nothing has changed.

But, if we are a people of faith, we have opened our minds and hearts to understand that the birth and death of Jesus Christ – has, in reality, changed everything.

Today, Gaudete Sunday, we are called to rejoice, as St. Paul tells us “Rejoice in the Lord always” – not just in good times but in bad, as well.

How do we do that?

How do the parents, and husbands, and wives, the teachers and children, the communities of Newtown, Columbine, Aurora, and many other cities and towns in America, and the world, surrounded by the darkness of evil and senseless violence – do that?

To a secular person the answer would come simply from psychological and grief counseling that would occur over many years. Yet important as that is, it is not the only answer.

A close reading of the letters of St. Paul show us that it was St. Paul’s faith – the knowledge in his mind and heart that he shared a deep personal relationship with the Savior of the world – that enabled him to withstand all sorts of evil.

It was that mental memory of who Jesus was – what He preached – how He suffered and died – and the truth that Jesus – the Word of God and the Light of the World – had resurrected from the dead and had appeared to him – face to face – mind to mind – to express His love for all of us and to say that evil would never endure – it would never in the end – win.

It is this focus, this trust, this faith that enabled St. Paul to deal with his problems and maintain joy in the knowledge that all the evil that he faced, and that ultimately would kill him, was overcome by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul tells us today “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

My brothers and sisters, the Apostle Paul does not speak empty words. They are there for us to hang on to with dear life in times of great trial and grief as we turn our heavy hearts over to Jesus and Our Blessed Mother.

It will be many, many years before the grieving parents, and the innocent children and adults heal from the trauma of Friday morning; yet, St. Paul tells us that healing is possible.  The Blessed Mother’s life – and Jesus Himself – tells us that healing is possible: through daily prayer, faith, trust, and the love of God Himself. When we pray we must not forget these families or the families throughout the world who suffer, and walk the path to Calvary, carrying their own crosses thrust upon them by a violent world.

It is at times like these that we truly understand our own fragility and brokenness – and realize that we are not able to survive without the grace of God and the support of the people in our own families and community.

So on this Gaudete Sunday, our hearts and prayers go out to all the grieving people of Newtown, and we remember that we are called to rejoice in the truth that, even though evil swirls all around us, Jesus our Savior loves us – was born and was killed for us – and He will never abandon us; with that knowledge, and His grace and strength, we can endure any tribulation.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.  Sermon delivered by Deacon Iacono on Sunday December 16, 2012 at St. Francis of Assisi Church and St. Romuald Chapel  Wakefield, Rhode Island USA

Saints Pontian and Hippolytus and Our Call to Duty

Today we celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Pontian, who was the lawfully elected successor pope to St. Callistus during the early 3rd century. St. Pontian was considered a criminal by the emperor Maximinius and banished to the silver mines in Sardinia – an exile which meant certain death. We also celebrate today a saint by the name of Hippolytus, who was a priest in the Church of Rome at this same moment in time.

Saint Hippolytus is recognized because of his brilliance and profound scholarship. He is considered to be one of the finest theologians of the 3rd century, and is the source of the 2nd Eucharistic Prayer recited at Mass. Hippolytus’ most important work is a treatise known as The Apostolic Tradition; and scholars such as Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio, (at http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com) tell us that it provides “an enlightening and extensive glimpse into the liturgical and devotional life of Roman Christians around the year 200.” The statue found below is of Roman origin, found in the mid 16th century. It has the name Hippolytus carved into it as well as references to works of other Apostolic Fathers. The image is presented through the courtesy of Dr. D’Ambrosio.

Controversy, however, erupted when St. Callistus, was elected to the papacy. St. Hippolytus considered Callistus to be a liberal since Callistus extended absolution to new converts who had committed mortal sins such as adultery and murder. Hippolytus contested the election, violently disagreed when Callistus was affirmed, and then made history by declaring himself pope, thus becoming the first anti-pope in the history of the Church!

As a result of his action he divorced himself from full communion with the Church. When Pope Callistus was martyred, in the year 222, Hippolytus began disagreeing with his successors – the last being Pope Pontian.  Hippolytus’ theological differences and self-imposed actions didn’t mean anything to the Romans for they arrested him, too, and exiled him off to Sardinia; and there, St. Hippolytus – the anti-pope met St Pontian, the true pope and lawful successor to Pope Callistus.

In the silver mines of Sardinia, Pope Pontian abdicated his office, making way for a lawful successor to be elected, and Hippolytus renounced his anti-papacy and was absolved of his sins by Pontian. Fully reconciled they died together for the faith in the year 235.

So, what does this have to do with us?!

Our Gospel today (Matt 17: 22 – 27) provides the answer, for in it our Lord and the Apostles were confronted with the arrogance of the officials who implied they were evading the local taxes.  Jesus attempts to clarify His position not only for St. Peter but for the officials as well.

Jesus is basically saying that, yes, they must pay the tax; the reason being they must not do anything to put a stumbling block in the way of people understanding His ministry and message. Again we see Christ not getting political. He is not ranting about the just or unjust qualities of the Temple tax, or Roman occupation. He is beyond that, and demands that the Apostles, as His successors, not give a bad example to the people.

This is a lesson that St. Hippolytus, for all of his brilliance never learned. He did give bad example to the Church of Rome in declaring himself an anti-pope. His dissension and attacks were not productive or helpful in a highly charged environment which constantly witnessed Roman persecution.

Yet, St. Hippolytus ultimately saw his sin, repented of it, and along with Pope St. Pontian, did his duty and defended the true faith with his life. We must always do the same, and whatever our calling or ministry may be, we must never become a stumbling block that prevents others from seeing and believing in Jesus and His Church.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved   Images of all the popes are found in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome, Italy. The custom of having a mosaic of a deceased pope put on display was started by Pope Leo the Great.

A Most Amicable Teacher – The Insights of Artist Robert Henri

One of the great pleasures of life is discovering and becoming friends with people who have a similar philosophy of life – especially when it comes to understanding truth, goodness, and beauty.

Some of us may have been fortunate to have had the experience of great teachers in our lives. In my junior year of high school I experienced  teachers of English and history who opened up for me the nature of those two subjects and introduced me to the idea of inquisitive scholarship. On an undergraduate level I remember three teachers in particular – one in comparative literature, the second in physical and cultural anthropology, and the third in the philosophy of education that definitely influenced my own desire to someday walk into a classroom and teach my own class.

I spent thirty years in the field of education. Two of those years were in an administrative role, and twenty-eight were in the classroom. During that time I had the opportunity to study not only the philosophy of education but implement it as well.

In the process of the great adventure of being a classroom teacher, you come across individuals and books that have a marvelous impact on your own style and understanding of the art and craft of becoming a quality teacher.  For example, Gilbert Highet, first introduced me to viewing teaching as an art, and the truth that all who desired to be great teachers must become artists of their craft. Another who molded my teaching behavior (literally like a potter molding a vase) was Haim Ginott. Listen to this beautiful and critical phrase which discusses the power that a teacher has over the lives of their students (from his book Teacher and Child):

“I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

Another teacher that influenced me was Robert Henri. As artists we may all benefit from the wisdom of Henri. He was an influential artist, art teacher, and critical force in the American art community during the early 20th century. Henri died before I was born, yet, in reading his wonderful book The Art Spirit, published in 1923, I find a kindred spirit, a brother in arms, our weapons: our brushes, our helmets: our words that inspire others to see themselves as artists.

Allow these paragraphs from his The Art Spirit  to roll around inside your mind and touch your heart:

“Art when really understood is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing. When the artist is alive in any person, whatever his [or her] kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens, and he [or she] opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he [or she] opens it, shows there are still more pages possible. Art tends towards balance, order, judgment of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living – very good things for anyone to be interested in.”

So, Henri implores us to see ourselves as artists; to see ourselves as people who desire to create beauty, express truth as we understand it, and to always keep the book open – in a spirit of charity and goodness. Robert Henri can teach us a great deal. He continues to teach and prod me to create everyday. Maybe he will touch your mind and heart, too.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Photo of Robert Henri courtesy of the Parrish Art Museum:http://www.parrishart.org/.

A Decisive Hour for American Catholics

As we approach the conclusion of the Fortnight for Freedom, we draw near to the decisive hour, an hour of decision in the history of our great nation; an hour which truly challenges  American Catholics’ sense of discipleship.

It has been a fortnight in which our bishops have asked us to reflect upon our liberties, our history, and our current state of affairs. If you have thought about these issues at all you know that our history has not lied in this case: America is a nation that was built upon reverence for God, His natural law, and respect for the primacy of individual conscience and religious tradition.

In 1636, one hundred forty years before Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, the founder of the little colony of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, made freedom of conscience and religion the keystone of his community.

In 1776, The Declaration of Independence, and in 1789 the Constitution of the United States, all clearly stated the limitations of government; and in 1791, the Bill of Rights, carefully enunciated the rights of each individual citizen – the first right being, freedom of religion.

James Madison, a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and its secretary and recorder, described the legitimacy of conscience as “the most sacred of all property.” (1)   He wrote, “The religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as they may dictate.” (2)

George Washington wrote, “the establishment of civil and religious liberty was the motive that induced [him] to the field of battle.” (3)

In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson assured the Ursuline Sisters of Louisiana – who had, for seventy-seven years, been serving an indigenous population by operating schools, hospitals, and an orphanage – that the principles of the Constitution were a “sure guarantee” that their ministry would be free “to govern itself according to its own voluntary rules, without, interference from the civil authority.” (4)

This is a matter of history. It is not a matter of conjecture, dispute, or equivocation; yet it is clear that the vast majority of our current state and federal government leaders do not accept this understanding of what the founding fathers of our nation wrote, lived, and established as our heritage.

So, we are at a decisive hour – an hour of decision – an hour that will determine the depth of our discipleship and test our understanding of who we are as American Catholics.

Many pundits, commentators, and yes even Catholic politicians, have remarked that there is nothing to worry about with this now Supreme Court approved Health Care Law. Yet our Church leaders – our bishops – are united in telling us that there is something drastically wrong with this law.

The American bishops have been united and clear on this issue and they clearly tell us that the Fortnight for Freedom has been about getting American Catholics – all 52 million of us – to understand that our federal government will force our Church to provide for certain types of medical procedures even though it is in direct violation of our collective conscience. My brothers and sisters, the Federal government’s actions are wrong and must be opposed.

So society may ask, “What do you want?”

Our Church responds, we respond, that as Catholics we ask nothing more than what Saints Peter and Paul and all the martyred saints and true disciples of Jesus Christ wanted; and as Americans we want nothing more than what Roger Williams, George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and all true American statesmen and women have wanted: the right to follow our conscience, worship our God as we see fit, and to live out our faith by making a contribution within the public square.

We ask nothing more of our government than what our history has told us is our patrimony, our heritage: our blessed liberties.

This is a decisive hour – for it is the hour of discipleship in Christ Jesus. We must not shrink back in fear; for our sense of commitment to our nation’s heritage, and our loyalty to Jesus Christ and our Church, demands that we do not compromise on this issue.

We believe that all Americans, of all religious persuasions, and not just Federal or state government, must be allowed to have a contribution to the common good as prescribed by their faith and sense of duty. This is a liberty that has always been granted under our system of laws – until, until this critical moment in time.

So you may ask, “What do we do?”

We rise up my brothers and sisters and use all the law abiding and peaceful means at our disposal to inform our elected officials of this singular outrage against freedom of conscience. If they don’t address and rectify our concerns – we must remember it, and respond accordingly when we select our state and federal representatives. We can do no less.

Let us pray that through the intercession of the Holy Spirit we may have the courage to act as disciples of Christ – peaceful, courageous, and steadfast in the face of imperial tyranny.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Quotations taken from: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty – their document: Our First, Most Cherished Liberty – A Statement on Religious Liberty

1. James Madison, “Property,” March 29, 1792, in The Founding Fathers, Eds. Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1987) accessed March 27, 2012. http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch16s23.html.

2.  James Madison, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment,” June 20, 1785, in The Founding Fathers, accessed March 27, 2012. http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions43.html.

3. Michael Novak and Jana Novak, Washington’s God, 2006.

4. Anson Phelps Stokes, Church and State in the United States (Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1950), 678.

When People Or Governments Get In Our Face

Recently I received a rather funny email from a friend concerning a God loving Marine coming to terms with an atheist professor. It triggered, however, a serious reflection on how we, as Christians, are to confront those who “get in our face” about issues of spiritual beliefs, sacred art, religious freedom, and personal liberty.

The passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5: 38-42, on “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” gives us an insight into who Jesus is as God. The behaviors that He explains, and asks us to imitate, are actions that He would perform; so in this passage on “an eye for an eye” we are getting a glimpse into the personality of God.

Jesus explains that the old Jewish law of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is no longer appropriate or virtuous in God’s eyes, it doesn’t reflect the behavior and actions that the Lord is trying to teach His people to follow, actions which reflect the Lord’s own mind and heart.

The following photo by talented photographer Kenny Lindstrom found at www.flickr.com/photos/kennylindstrom/ provides meaning, visual imagery, and the clarity of a typical traffic stop sign. We instantly recognize what the creator of this sculpture is trying to say (by the way, is this image done in sand, stone, or clay?). We get the message; but, as in all art, its interpretation depends on the values and beliefs of the viewer. Lindstrom’s photograph is a wonderful example of how a piece of art can display an impression that is both a teaching and reflective moment for the viewer.

The Holy Scriptures, however, are not to be viewed as artistic reflections or suggestions to the reader and listener. The Holy Spirit divinely inspired the Bible; thus, the faithful understand (sometimes better than many of the academics) that Jesus, as the Son of God, came to teach, preach, and heal mankind. His words are not suggestions, they are directions for living within His Sacred Heart; and that demands fortitude, perseverance, and most importantly, His grace.

Over the last two thousand years the Catholic Church has taught that we have a right to defend ourselves – a right to resist the evil that is done to us. But Jesus teaches that we should not resist evil with an evil response or by an evil means  – in other words we should not resist evil with a spirit of vengeance, rage, anger or with an unlawful or excessive physical or verbal response.

So, Jesus is teaching us that the tribal law of an “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is destructive and directly opposed to the Father’s plan of a loving spiritual family living within a shared community.  Yet, not everyone in the world is a Christian; and the 20th and 21st centuries are showing themselves to be much more personally and collectively violent than many of the other centuries combined.

So what do we do? Jesus teaches us that our response to evil and insult, as difficult as this may be, should be measured; that is, it should be filled with patience and grace. For if we confront and attempt to defeat evil with an evil or vengeful response, then, we are weakening ourselves and empowering that which we hope to defeat. This does not mean, however, that we are to deny a sense of righteous and justifiable anger over injustices that are done – the Lord Himself gave witness to that when He drove the moneychangers and polluters of His Father’s Temple into the street.

The world can slap us on the cheek, it can take our belongings, it can take away our religious, political, and artistic freedoms and prevent us from speaking out against injustice, and it can even take our lives, but it can never touch our hearts or souls because the Lord God Himself has forever claimed us as His own children.

Let us pray that when we do have to correct our own actions or those of another, we do it based on Jesus’ spirit of graceful moderation, love, and kindness.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved