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.
Today, Holy Saturday, is observed by the Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, and other denominations as the Anastasis (Greek, “resurrection”), or the Harrowing of Hell by Jesus Christ.
In this harrowing, Christ’s purpose was to free the righteous people of the Old and New Testaments from their inability to enter Heaven. This occurred because of their death prior to the passion and death of Jesus. His Redemptive acts freed them from what Roman Catholics would call Purgatory and the Eastern Rites and some Protestant denominations would call Hades.
There are over fifteen verses and references found in both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures that mention Hades. It is also discussed in non-canonical apocryphal writings such as the Gospel of Nicodemus. Its referred to as Purgatory because it is “the state of those souls who die in God’s friendship, assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purgation to enter into the happiness of Heaven” (CCCC; para. 210, see notation below).
An analogy for Purgatory, though limited, would be the understanding that you cannot enter a beautiful wedding without showering and dressing appropriately. Hell, however, is the place of eternal damnation for those who through reason and free will die in the state of unconfessed mortal sin. They have deliberately intended to separate from the love of God by pursuing and participating in deadly sins.
Please enjoy another Fra Angelico fresco of the Resurrection of Christ. I wish you a happy and blessed Easter!
CCCC: refers to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd edition, 2012.
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.
October 13, 2019 commemorates the last message in the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary by three Portuguese children. The children’s ages were six through nine, and they lived in the town of Fatima, Portugal. The apparitions occurred over a five month period which began on May 13th and ended on October 13, 1917.
The Roman Catholic Church, after a period of study, formally declared in 1930 that these apparitions are worthy of belief by the faithful. It is wise to remember that many supposed apparitions have occurred over the centuries that have not been approved by Church authorities.
In this post let us pursue a quick review of who Mary is in the teachings of the Church, the three parts of the message of Fatima, and the ramifications of what the Blessed Virgin Mary told the children over that five month period.
Who is Mary?
Mary was a human being, born during the early first century in Israel, her parents were named Anne and Joachim.
Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph, whom she eventually married. The Sacred Scriptures and the Traditions of the Church teach us that prior to the marriage she conceived, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Joseph became the stepfather of Jesus. He was not His biological father. Mary remained immaculate from the stain of sin and a virgin prior, during, and after the birth of Jesus.
As the Gospels clearly state, Jesus’ Mother appears at very critical times in His ministry; she was present at the Crucifixion, and at Pentecost. The Fathers of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Rites of the Catholic Church clearly discuss and formally state Mary’s role in Salvation History in their scholarship from the first through fifth centuries.
The Fathers of the Church, at the Councils of Nicaea, Ephesus, and Chalcedon in the 4th and 5th century discuss these basic points. The Council of Ephesus clearly proclaims and defines Mary as the Theotokos, the Mother of God – “the one who gave birth to God”.
The Holy Trinity could have chosen any method for our Redemption. The Father chose the Son’s Incarnation through the means of a human birth to be the instrument through which the Redemption occurred. This was accomplished through the ministry, suffering, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus the Christ.
Mary’s “Yes” in response to the angel Gabriel’s invitation during the Annunciation allowed the Incarnation of Jesus to occur. The Council of Nicaea defines very specifically that Jesus, as the Son of God, has dual natures: human and divine. The human woman, Mary, gave birth to the human nature of Jesus. Yet, the two natures of Jesus – human and divine – are united in Him. Jesus has a direct human relationship and unity with us through His Blessed Mother; and He has a spiritual relationship to us through His Redemptive Act and as the 2nd Person of the Holy Trinity.
Early heretics denied these ideas. But the early Councils clearly refuted the heretics. The Gospel writers, and specifically St. Paul in his Epistles, stated these truths in their writings.
We should always remember that our Blessed Mother Mary, was never considered by the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches, to be a goddess. We worship One God who is known through the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. We venerate Mary as the greatest of the saints. She is the perfect and most virtuous of women. She is our spiritual mother.
Mary, is the “without which nothing,” the sine qua non, of our Redemption. Of course, Jesus, as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, accomplished the healing of the separation that occurred as a result of the sins of Adam and Eve. The Holy Trinity willed it, Jesus fulfilled it, but the instrument that started the process was the woman, Mary; this is why we call her the Blessed Mother.
Now, what does this have to do with the messages of Mary at Fatima? As our spiritual mother Mary warns us that we need to rise from our spiritual slumber and take seriously her messages to us. Below are the three basic parts of the Fatima message conveyed during the summer of 1917:
The Message of Fatima:
The First Part: Heaven is real, and Hell is real, too. The extraordinary fearful vision of Hell was received by Lucia, the oldest of the children, on July 13, 1917. She saw a “lake of fire” with demons and humans within it. The Church Fathers and St. Thomas Aquinas discuss and assert the reality of Hell. It was clearly stated that many people, including members of the clergy, are going to Hell as a result of their lifestyle and unrepented sins. Lucia, who ultimately became a religious sister, was not known to be, as a child or adult, a liar. The reality of Hell was seriously questioned by some theologians and some members of the clergy during the 20th century and it continues into the 21st century. The question can be asked “If we don’t admit to the reality of Hell, then why do we need the Sacraments? Why did Jesus need to suffer and die for us?” Jesus Himself stated and exhibited the need to fight the demons, their temptations, and the possibility of spending eternity in Hell. If we don’t believe this then we are calling Jesus a liar, and the Sacred Scriptures nothing but a collection of pious stories. The life of the average Catholic has been dramatically affected by many clergy, over the past sixty years, not preaching the doctrine of Hell. What are the spiritual consequences of unrepented sinful acts if there is no Hell? In the first message of Fatima, Mary warns us about the reality of Hell, and the fact that many in the 20th and 21st century would deny it – to their peril.
The Second Part: Mary told the three children to inform the Pope that he needed to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart. Russia would soon be renamed the Soviet Union through the Communist Revolution in November 1917. Through this consecration to Mary’s heart, Russia would be converted and become a sensible member of the community of nations. I learned in high school, fifty-seven years ago, the phrase “To Jesus through Mary.” The Lord does not want mankind to suffer damnation or turmoil. Mary was warning that Russia, if it wasn’t consecrated to her Immaculate Heart, would become a major cause of war, famine, turmoil and suffering during the 20th century. There is continuous discussion and debate whether or not the Popes of the 20th century formally and correctly performed this consecration, or, if it was ignored and/or performed in an incomplete way.
The Third Part: This part is the most discussed, furiously debated, and controversial of the three messages of the Blessed Mother. Some declare that the entire Third Part of the message of Fatima has not been released. This part of message has been reviewed in great detail on the internet and in video on YouTube. When you view these videos make sure you are on a Catholic site, but understand that even Catholics disagree on this part of the message of Fatima. The Third part is indirectly related to the approved apparition of the Blessed Mother in Akita, Japan. Pope Benedict XVI when he was known as Cardinal Ratzinger, the head of the Congregation of the Faith and a direct advisor to St. Pope John Paul II, said that the messages of Mary in Akita, Japan are related to the Third Message of Fatima. It has been recommended that you review Mary’s message at Akita, Japan for a clear understanding of many of the elements of the third part of the Fatima message. Mary repeated her warnings at Akita to again emphasize to the world that the time is short. She tells us to be on our guard. To be ready and watchful, to repent, prepare, and pray the Holy Rosary.
The Blessed Mother, as our spiritual mother, has warned mankind of the reality of Hell, the significance of Russia, and the entrance of Satan and turmoil intothe Catholic Church. Did the world take her warning seriously? Did the Church?
In Rome the Amazon Synod this past week produced a series of events that were egregious and flagrantly offensive to the theology, sacred traditions and dignity of the Church. October 4th produced the spectacle of pagan idol worship ceremonies by Amazonian shamans and tribesman in the Vatican Gardens. The Pope, certain clergy associated with the Synod, lay men and women from the nations of the Amazon region, and a Franciscan friar were present. The shaman performed ritual pagan blessings and was accompanied by two fertility symbols of naked women. The purpose of this disgraceful event was to show the Amazonian cultures’ pantheism, love of the earth and the interrelationship of all the elements of nature.
Have men forgotten the first Commandment, the preeminence of God the Father, Christ’s Redemptive Act, and the role of the Holy Spirit? Have they forgotten the dogmas of the Nicene Creed?
Hopefully, the clergy that organized the event would say that they did not forget any of these basic principles. Yet, is it not fairto say that in the case mentioned their theological judgement, pastoral sense, ignorance of the “optics” of the situation, and defiance of the dignity and sacredness of a church and its gardens was totally lacking?
Some of the Synod leaders and supporters said that we can “learn” from these cultures. Have they forgotten that their evangelization efforts are to bring the truths of Jesus Christ, His redemptive act as Savior, the grace of the Sacraments, and the truths of Sacred Scripture to the world?
God does notcome from within us. God’s transcendent truths have been made immanent through the events found within Holy Scripture and specifically through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God’s truths have been revealed to us. We have the free will and reason to accept or reject it. We do not need to learn and adapt the theological truths of pantheistic cultures to our Faith.
To add insult to injury, during this past week at the church of Santa Maria in Traspontina (close to the front piazza of St. Peter’s Basilica) what appeared to be an additional pagan like “nature” ceremony took place in front of the sanctuary and the tabernacle. Also, contained within that church were exhibits showing the tribal cultures of the Amazonian rainforest region of South America. A Brazilian guide explained a large poster of the “nature relationships” of the Amazonian tribes to the earth. One photo portrayed a woman suckling a human infant on one breast and a dog, yes, a dog, on the other breast. See journalist George Neumayr’s (he writes for the American Spectator) video report of this event on Taylor Marshall’s podcast of October 11th, it is entitled “Dog Nursing Story & Cardinals in Rome” warning: this video is a very frank discussion of what happened).
Are the current troubles and sins a potential precursor of the “end times”? Only God the Father knows the “time and the date,” but the events of the last 102 years, 1917 – 2019, certainly indicate that it may be right around the corner.
Let us pray, Jesus, I trust in you. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us. St. Michael protect us from the snares of the devil.
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.
I once heard a friend repeat a quote by the author Katherine Mansfield: If you wish to live, you must first attend your own funeral.”
How true. We begin to live life perceptively only when we project ourselves to the time of our own death, imagining how we’ve lived our life and wondering whether we’ve met the mark.
Depending on our frame of mind, and perspective on life, we may not include the spiritual in our self-assessment, or, only give it a passing thought. That is why Mansfield’s phrase may be viewed as spiritually deficient.
In today’s Gospel on the parable of the Prodigal Son there are family members that Jesus is requiring us to understand. The behavior of these people, the father and the two sons, provokes four questions. Questions not so much about our secular situation but our spiritual – our relation to God, and, each other.
At first glance, the younger son impresses us as an individual who is quite selfish. When he requests his inheritance from his father, he isn’t just asking for the cash, he is in effect saying to his father: “I want to live my life now and without any strings attached. To me you’re unimportant, this family is unimportant. Just let me get on with my life and give me my share right now.”
Are we living in a way that categorizes God? Are we willing to acknowledge Him only because we want to get something out of Him? Do we play upon His charity and generosity?
If this is so, if we have the younger son’s attitude, we end up like him – swimming with the pigs. What will be our inheritance? It will undoubtedly be spiritual poverty and secular discontent. Sadly, sometimes people understand this only in the last few months of their life, or, in the moments right before their death.
Jesus is teaching us that the prodigal son was only able to enter into a state of recovery when he “attended his own funeral.” When he was able to perceive his own personal endpoint, his own material and spiritual poverty. He was finally able to admit that he was grievously wrong only when this realization slammed into his consciousness.
His new perception demanded that he learn the root causes of his problem, reject his worldly self, and humbly ask for repentance. He needed to realize that his father and family were all important to his happiness. This required acceptance of and humbly requesting his father’s mercy and love.
This perception did not demand psychoanalysis. He did not need years of therapy on a psychologist’s couch. He had the intelligence to figure it out because he confronted himself as he truly was and extended that personal analysis to his family and surroundings. He acknowledged his sins, and how truly needy he was of his father’s love and mercy.
We are half way through the Season of Lent. Like the younger son, have we confronted our own faults, our lack of perception, and yes – our own sins?
The Prodigal says: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you.”
This is the turning point in the Prodigal’s life. It can also be ours.
Improvement begins with a decision to change the way we do things, the way we behave and perceive reality, both in a secular and spiritual sense. If you are a Western Rite Catholic, this is accomplished in three ways: Sacramental Confession, prayer, and resolution of purpose. Reconciliation is always possible. Our God is a God of justice, but also, a God of infinite familial love and mercy.
Do we behave like the younger son or the elder son? Are our hearts cold?
What the younger son ultimately accepts the elder son initially rejects. At first, the elder son resents the generosity of the father’s love – he resents the generosity of the act of forgiveness. It appears that he is unable to accept his repentant brother or his generous father.
Does this, in any way, apply to us? Do we ignore the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s love for us; do we resent people who have converted, changed their spiritual way of life? Or do we continue to judge them as if they were still enveloped by their sins? Do we verbalize our resentment or question their repentance? Are we unwilling to repent of these attitudes? Are our hearts cold?
I am a sinner and you are a sinner. There are very few people on this earth that are living saints. Regardless of whether our sins are small or large, visible or hidden, it is paramount that we remember the words of St. Paul: God the Father “reconciles us to Himself [through the passion and death of His Son] and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him [Jesus Christ] to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5: 17-21).
We need to take stock of ourselves this Lenten season, repent and return to the Father’s embrace. This can only be done through the Sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation – a Sacrament made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
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.