Good Friday 2020

Father, by the merits of your Son’s passion, death, and resurrection  hear us in our troubles and fears. Strengthen us against anxiety and illness. This day allow us to join Jesus’ suffering with ours. Please have mercy on the souls of those who, from this current pandemic, pass into eternal life.

Thank you Lord, for Your Son’s sacrifice, love, and mercy.

“It was about nine in the morning when they nailed Jesus to the Cross. From noon until three o’clock there was darkness over the whole world. At three o’clock, Jesus cried out in a loud voice: ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit;’ and having said this He expired.”

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Closeup of the face on the Holy Shroud of Turin. A forensic artist’s recreation of a potential human likeness of the image found on the Shroud.

St. John Chrysostom, an Early Church Father, tells us: “There flowed from His side water and blood. Beloved do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. From these two Sacraments the Church is born: from Baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth [into the family of God] and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the Holy Eucharist [physical and spiritual nourishment; as He said: “Take and eat this is My Body. Take and drink for this is My blood]…   (Excerpts from the Holy Gospels and the Catechesis by St. John Chrysostom, AD 347 – 407, Archbishop of Constantinople).

 

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Full view of the Holy Shroud of Turin. It shows the results of the scourging on both sides of His Body, the crowning with thorns, the wound in His side, and the marks of the nails in His feet and wrists (necessary because the wrists would have been able to hold the weight of His Body). The triangular patches surrounded by white areas on the Shroud are the result of a fire which melted a lead casket encasing the Shroud. 

On this day our Redemption [from sin] was earned by the suffering and death of Jesus, the Son of God; by His wounds you were healed. JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!  (Philippians 2: 6-11, and 1 Peter (chapter 2: 21-24).

Copyright © 2011- 2020, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

Virgin Mary: Trust and Obedience in the Lord

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.

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Icon of Mary: it is the icon called The Madonna of Saint Sisto, located in Rome in the Dominican convent of Monte Mario. It is one of the oldest and most beautiful icons of the Virgin from antiquity.

 

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 never worshipped 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.

Copyright © 2011- 2020, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

Bernini’s Bronze Sculpture of Four “Giants” of the Church

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.

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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.

Ciao!

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

Sacred Icons and Sacred Images – the Nicene Debate Continues!

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A photo of the inside of the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sophia) church in what is the present-day city of Iznik, Turkey. Iznik was called Nicaea prior to the rule of the Ottoman Turks . This photo shows the interior of one of the rooms in the  building complex that served as the location for the First Council of Nicaea (AD 325). Also, in the late 8th century the Seventh Ecumenical Council met in this building, too. That Council met to debate and decide the issue of iconoclasm (should sacred icons and images be prohibited and destroyed). The written arguments of St. John Damascene (Damascus) won the day and sacred icons were allowed to continue to be made. Iconoclasm was to raise its ugly head again in later years, and came to full fruition during the Protestant rebellion/reformation, the French Revolution, and worldwide Communism in all its cultural forms.  This photo of the inside of the Nicaean building is from Bryan Cross’ website: calledtocommunion.com. It was posted in May, 2010. Thanks Bryan!

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.

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Greek Orthodox sacred image of the First Council of Nicaea. Notice St. Nicholas on the lower right about to possibly physically strike Arius who reacts by pulling away. On the left you see St. Spyridon, holding a brick with flames streaming upward and water puddling below it to the floor (confer yesterday’s post of April 16th to obtain the explanation of that imagery). The room of the actual Council, as portrayed in this sacred image is quite ornate.

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:

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Orthodox deacon’s stole in a royal Byzantine fabric (in  what appears to be a royal maroon purple) is bordered in gold thread with gold crosses. Originating at the left shoulder, gathered at the waist, with the fabric of the stole hanging vertically on the left shoulder both in the front and the back. The stole is worn on top of  the ornate gold and white dalmatic.

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:

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A Roman Catholic deacon’s stole running from the left shoulder and gathered at the waist, then hangs vertically under the right arm. It is worn on top of a white alb, and under a dalmatic. The dalmatic is only worn during Holy Mass. When the deacon performs baptisms, marriage and funeral services, liturgical prayer services, and formal blessings, etc. the deacon would not wear a dalmatic, so the deacon would appear as in the above photo wearing a simple white or cream colored alb and a stole in the appropriate color..  The stole’s fabric in the photo above is dyed dark purple for Lent; during the season of Advent a purple stole is used, too; sometimes, it is of a lighter purple than the Lenten penitential purple. A white stole would be used for Baptisms. Marriages, Funerals, Holy Thursday services, and during the Easter and Christmas season. Red stoles would be worn at Palm Sunday and Good Friday services, Pentecost, and on the feast days of martyrs.
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A Roman Catholic deacon’s dalmatic which is worn over the white alb and the stole. The dalmatic is in the corresponding color to the stole. The color green is worn during “Ordinary” time (which is the liturgical period that borders the great seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter).

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.

Peace be with you.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

St. Athanasius and St. Spyridon: A Correction and Another Interpretation – Let’s Take A Closer Look!

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:

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This is the sacred icon of a bishop confronting a heretic at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). Mr. John Daly of Melbourne, Australia informed me that we should take a closer look at the details of this icon because of how it depicts the bishop’s castigation of the heretic. I concluded erroneously that it must be St. Athanasius since he was a pivotal orthodox figure at the Council. Even though he was a deacon at that time, and not a bishop at the Council, he was ordained a priest and bishop about three years later, so the iconographer just inserted him as a bishop. Mr. Daly recommends a closer look to discover that it is St. Spyridon of Cyprus.

Mr. Daly is correct – it is St. Spyridon (born AD 270, died 340).

Let’s take a look at the reasons for this correction:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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!
  10. 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).
  11. 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.
  12. 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:

ST. Spyridon Orthodox
A contemporary Sacred Icon of St. Spyridon showing his beehive woven straw hat, his bishops stole, the blazing potsherd or brick with water dripping from it, and his holding the book of the Gospels (dogmatic truth based on the Holy Scriptures and the Sacred Apostolic Traditions of the Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church. If anyone knows that artist that is responsible for this beautiful icon please tell me and I will credit him/her in this post. Icon found on Wikipedia and originates at St. Spyridon Orthodox Church in Loveland, Colorado (thanks to them for posting the image of this magnificent icon).
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A medieval icon of St. Spyridon, wall fresco, Bulgarian Orthodox, found in the  Zemen Monastery, Bulgaria. Photograph may have been taken by I.E. Stankov in 2012 using a Canon EOS 600D camera.

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.

Thanks for stopping by and reading this post.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

St. Athanasius – Coptic and Eastern Orthodox Icons

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.

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A contemporary icon, completed in The Egyptian Christian Coptic style, of St. Athanasius of Alexandria standing on the back of the heretic Arius (seen in very dark colored clothing) at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). Athanasius is seen in front of the assembled bishops from the Eastern and Western Rites of the Catholic Church. He is holding the Council’s accepted conclusions in the document known as the Nicene Creed. Notice that he does not have a bishop’s mitre on his head similar to the bishops sitting in attendance behind him, and is dressed in what appears to be a deacon’s dalmatic with cape. The style of this sacred icon is very similar to the style of the Coptic (Egyptian) Orthodox Church’s sacred art; yet, the inscription above his head is in Greek rather than Coptic. Image found at churchofourladyofkazan.org; (thanks to them) throughWikipedia images.

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.

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The above image is another example of a sacred icon, however, it is not completed in the Coptic style which originated in Egypt. It is an Eastern Orthodox icon (Greek, Russian, or one of the many other Eastern Rites of the Church), completed centuries after the Council ended in the summer of the year 325. It shows a non-heretical bishop castigating the heretic priest Arius (who is raising his hand in an attempt to stop the speaker). The bishop, because of his hat (mitre), appears to be labeled with Athanasius’ name found at the bottom); however, he is not clothed in a deacon’s dalmatic, nor did deacon’s wear that style of hat. It is believed that Athanasius was not ordained a priest and bishop until after the Council ended. The Emperor Constantine sits on the right dressed in imperial clothes and it may be surmised that it is Bishop Alexander of Alexandria (the bishop of Arius’ and Athanasius’ diocese) who sits to the immediate right of the Emperor.

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. Worship is 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.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students, and those interested, may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

 

Saint Nicholas Slaps a Heretic! A Reflection Appropriate for Palm Sunday

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:

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Partial icon of the “incident” at the 1st Council of Nicaea. Immortalized in an early icon. The Early Church was well aware of the importance of this Council in debating and agreeing to the specific dogmas of the Church that would be ultimately proclaimed in the Nicene Creed. All catechumens that enter the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass proclaim their belief in the great Sacred Mysteries and historical truths of the Nicene Creed.

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 definitively proclaimed 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.

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The above is a 6th century sacred icon of Jesus as Pantocrator. Pantocrator is a Greek word describing the all knowing, all powerful Son of God: Jesus Christ. The Council of Nicaea declared that Christ, as God, is consubstantial: Jesus is the same in essence (substance) and in being as the Father and the Holy Spirit. Also, Jesus possesses two natures: human and divine. This is truly a great Mystery of the Church. The sacred artist of the above icon, probably a monk, used hot pigmented wax (the encaustic method) to render this likeness. This sacred icon is currently located in St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. The face has a striking resemblance to the face on the Holy Shroud of Turin.

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.

Copyright © 2011- 2019, Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you.

 

 

 

Christ in the Wilderness: Lent – the Season of Preparation – Luke 4: 1-2.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days He was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, He was famished. (Gospel of Luke chapter 4: verses 1-2)

In the extraordinary painting  below, we see Jesus after He was led into the desert wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He is surrounded by rocks and sand. He sits on a boulder, hands in front of Him. His eyes are filled with the knowledge of reality, of passions, power, and pain, ego and emptiness, sin and self aggrandizement.

This painting may move us from the awareness that in the desert wilderness Jesus is not only thinking through His ministry, Passion, and death but is also viewing our lives – our ministries, our passions, our death.

What do we see?

Let us examine His face.

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We see the seriousness of the forthcoming temptations; the physical, mental, and the spiritually violent struggle with the devil. It is written plainly upon His emaciated face.

We see the irrefutable fact of Jesus’ humanity.

We see that He is like unto us, except for sin.

This is the face of our Savior; but the victory is not His, yet.

His temptations, public ministry, Passion, and death are still to occur.

What do we see?

We see a man who knows His Mind. He knows His Body, Soul, and Spirit.

He knows His freely accepted duty to accomplish His Father’s will.

This is not the face of a defeated man. It is the face of a determined man who is also Lord and Savior.

**679px-Kramskoi_Christ_dans_le_désert

Observe Christ’s clenched hands, gaze deeply into His eyes, and you will see the artist’s portrayal of a Savior that is already, at the beginning of His ministry, aware of the viciousness of the tempter and the burden of our sins. Sins accepted by Him, and through His Passion and death, makes all things new.

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Jesus had to confront in that desert assault whether or not He was going to be faithful to His mission.

The Gospel passage above challenges us with the same questions: are we going to be faithful to the Commandments, to our Baptismal promises, to the mission given us in Confirmation to live and practice the truths that He taught us?

Are we going to be faithful to the spiritual power and grace given to us, not just when we feel like it, but even in the most difficult of circumstances?

As disciples of Christ we are on a daily basis constantly revolving around the axis of temptation and sin – faith and grace. We understand that temptation, in and of itself, is a test – it is not sin. It is only sin when we willfully place ourselves in its shackles, when we give into its fueled power to overwhelm our body and soul. That power  – a deadly power – obtains its animus and energy from the original tempter and liar – Lucifer himself.

Hell is real. It is not a mental construct. To say that it doesn’t exist is to call Jesus a liar, and His Passion, death, and Resurrection meaningless.

Jesus the Christ lived heroically in the face of Hell’s demons and witnessed to the power of God’s grace.

But you say, I am not Jesus Christ, I am a weak man or woman, boy or girl.

I say true, we all are; but by virtue of our faithful reception of the Holy Sacraments (Holy Mysteries) of Reconciliation (Penance/Confession) and the Holy Eucharist we have the power of Christ’s grace within us. A power, freely given by God and unmerited by us, to resist and overcome temptation and sin.

If we do sin – if we do “miss the mark” – we have a remedy.  We follow St. Paul’s advice: pick yourself up, dust yourself off (confess your sins), and confidently continue on your journey. We must do our part in cooperation with God’s love and mercy.

The Season of Lent is a time of joyful repentance, prayer, and fasting.

Let’s remember the  words of Nehemiah, who in the Hebrew Scriptures says: Today is holy to the Lord your God. Do not be sad, and do not weep; for today is holy to our Lord. Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength! (Nehemiah 8: 9-10. 5th century BC)

***

The painting above was created and completed in the late 19th century by Ivan Kramskoi. He was a gifted Russian painter, noted portraitist, draughtsman, and teacher. The painting is entitled Christ in the Wilderness.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Portions of this essay may be used in accordance with correct notation and bibliographical insertion; contact deaconiacono@icloud.com for more information or questions.

Icons – Important Similarities/Differences

Can you pick out the seven similarities between the two sacred icons of Church Apologists that are below? The differences?

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St. Irenaeus of Lyons (died circa 201). Famous for his manuscripts Against Heresies. He used 21 out of the 27 books of the New Testament in his writings and sermons.

 

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St. Clement of Alexandria, Egypt.  Born AD 150, died AD 215.                                                               Famous for his manuscripts on the Blessed Mother Mary as the New Eve, the significance of the Holy Eucharist, and other catechetical works.

Let’s take a look at the two icons above.

Both are correct in the way they are represented. From an artistic and symbolic point-of-view there are distinct similarities.

They have seven similarities: the beard (signifying experience, authority, and that the saint is an elder); a large, high forehead (signifying Christian wisdom as influenced by the Holy Spirit which is visualized through the saint’s works and knowledge); the Holy Cross upon the priest’s stole (it appears as a garment that circles the neck and extends down the torso which signifies Christ’s Redemptive suffering and the saint’s  willingness to give witness and suffer for Christ); the presence of the book of the Gospels (the revealed truth of God through His Son, Jesus Christ); the script of the saint’s name at the top or side of the icon; and the halo circling the head (representing the sanctity of the saint).

There are two absolutely necessary and critical indicators that designate a valid orthodox icon or sacred image: the artist must distinguish the person represented with his or her name, and, the icon must give witness to their life and ministry to the Church.

How does the sacred artist accomplish this requirement?

The artist needs to follow this rule: if the person(s) represented is/are a cleric (deacon, priest, or bishop) they need to be clothed with the proper vestments of their rank, and prototypical appearance. If their physical appearance is known (such as St. Therese of Lisieux or St. Maximillian Kolbe) they must be represented in a correct and accurate manner. The artist must also represent some aspect that distinguishes their ministry, such as the Book of the Gospels.

This is also true if the person(s) is/are a martyr, holy man or woman, monk, etc. This is, again, necessary since  the faithful need to know the name of the saint so they “may honor, revere, and give salutation to them and aspire after them” (from The Seventh Ecumenical Council: Concerning the Holy Icons).

The differences between these two icons of Church Fathers are primarily in the icons’ age, the colors used by each sacred artist, the adornment of the garments and book of the Gospels, and whether or not the halo, and area surrounding the figure is gilded. Many of these differences reflect the specific culture the sacred artist lived in, the time period of the artist’s life, and the artistic resources (such as pigments) that were available.

Historically, violent disputes broke out between icon supporters and icon destroyers. The situation came to a head in October AD 787, when the 2nd Council of Nicaea, among other issues, reinstated the validity and necessity of the veneration of holy icons/images. It specifically quoted: Genesis 31: 34; Exodus 25: 19 ff; Numbers 7: 89; and Hebrews 9: 5 ff;) in support of their position. The Council Fathers especially cited various passages of the Fathers of the Church which proved to be critical in the authority of their proclamation. They were also heavily influenced by the writings of St. John Damascene. The Council documents were signed by the Byzantine Empress Irene, as many as (or more than) 300 bishops, and two legates of the Pope.

Sacred icons, sacred images, statues, etc are never worshipped. Worship belongs to God alone as represented in the Holy Trinity. The holy personalities represented give witness to unity with Christ and point us in the truthful –  orthodox –  direction. We venerate sacred statues, icons, and sacred images – never worship them. (See the documents of the 7th Ecumenical Council of the Church (AD 787) to reiterate this position).

Church tradition also warns the sacred artist who paints sacred icons to guard against unnecessary innovations and artistic flourishes. Please remember that in my blog I make a distinction between sacred icons and sacred images. My articles on this subject can be found in the Category window found on the top, right hand side, of my Home Page. You may find that my article A Canon for Catholic Sacred Artists, found in the Category: Sacred Artists, in the month April, 2018 (once there, scroll down to April 2, 2018 and you’ll find the article). That article has a short section in the Notes following the ten elements of my suggested “Canon” that express my opinion on the differences between sacred icons and sacred images.

Thanks for visiting with me. My best wishes for a relaxing weekend.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you. Deacon Paul Iacono, at deaconiacono@icloud.com.

 

 

 

Christian Witness and Sacred Art – The Early Church Fathers – Part 7

A Challenge: Are you as a Christian artist willing to internalize the message of the saint, scene, or Scripture passage you are artistically representing, and then, correctly portray it according to Church tradition?

Sacred artists must have more than just an awarenesses of Jesus, His Mother, angels and  saints because their witness provides us with the foundation stones of our Faith. Sacred artists must be more than artists who propose “Art for art’s sake”.

If we do this what do we become? We become evangelists to the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, through the witness of Jesus Christ and the holy men and women who called Him the Son of God.

In the years immediately following St. Polycarp’s martyrdom (died, circa AD 155, and remembered yesterday, February 22nd, in the Roman Breviary and Missal) a group of eight Western and Eastern Rite scholars and clerics arose known as the Apologists (Defenders of the Faith).

The Apologists defended the beliefs and traditions of the Church that passed down to them, in an uninterrupted line, directly from the Apostles and Apostolic Fathers.  This occurred during the years of continued persecution – AD 155 through AD 313.

The works and ministerial witness of the Apologists provide evidence for the continuity of beliefs and dogmas in the Early Christian Church. It is through this historic development, and the literary and physical witness of their efforts, that we have  religious and cultural traditions which dramatically affected the growth of sacred art. These clerics and scholars desired to unify and establish the beliefs of the Western and Eastern Rites of the Church.

Church artists, and the later group of clerics and scholars known as the Nicene Fathers (who I will cover in later posts), were heavily influenced by their efforts. These two groups, the Ante Nicene and Nicene Fathers all desired to make concrete and visible the correct teaching – the orthodoxy – of the Church. These efforts ultimately produced artistic representations of these early spiritual heroes – a visible sign of the truths of the Gospels being preached – and in some cases, their witness in blood.

The Apologists have also been termed The Ante (Before) Nicene Fathers because they lived and died prior to the establishment of the  Creed of the Catholic Faith, ultimately to be known as the Nicene Creed.

Let us briefly review two of the Apologists: St. Irenaeus of Lyons, and St. Clement of Alexandria. In a subsequent post you will have the opportunity to read three or four sentence descriptions of the contributions of the other six  Apologists.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons was born in AD 130 and died circa AD 202. He speaks of the four Gospels as being the “Four Pillars of the Church,” and was in a position to know that since he heard St. Polycarp (a friend and disciple of the Apostle John) preach. He was steadfast in supporting the belief in Apostolic Tradition. He taught that the true Faith is the one imparted by the bishops of the Church who, in turn, received it directly in an uninterrupted set of teachings from the Apostles. St. Irenaeus was tenacious in his fight against heterodoxy, specifically the Gnostic heresy.

St. Irenaeus understood the value of St. Polycarp’s New Testament scholarship and his emphasis on the Church’s sacred Tradition. He spoke with authority on Mary as the New Eve, and the Holy Eucharist. St. Irenaeus barely escaped death during the persecution of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, however during the round-up approximately 50 other Christians had the joy of earning the holy crown of martyrdom. He may have eventually died a martyr, yet, there is not sufficient evidence to support it.

IconPM-Irenaeus-2
St. Irenaeus of Lyons (died circa 202). Famous for his manuscripts Against Heresies. He used 21 out of the 27 books of the New Testament in his writings and sermons.

Another critical Apologist is St. Clement of Alexandria (born circa AD 150, died circa 215). He led a major catechetical school in Alexandria, Egypt and agreed with St. Irenaeus that the truth and knowledge of the holy Gospels proceed through the bishops and are for the population as a whole and not for any secret society (thus, he fought against the Gnostic heresy).

He taught that in order to understand the truths of the Gospels you must have faith in unison with reason. He is also known for three major catechetical works which are still in existence. These works were meant to accompany catechumens and those baptized into the Christian faith as an aid to their spiritual development. He was not martyred.

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St. Clement of Alexandria – an Apologist of the Early Church – as represented by an early iconographer of the Eastern Rite of the Catholic Church.

 

Thanks for stopping by the Institute. I hope you have a relaxing weekend.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint must be obtained from the author in writing. Students may quote small sections of the article as long as the proper credit and notation is given. Thank you. Permission to copy these posts must be obtained from Deacon Paul Iacono at deaconiacono@icloud.com.

St. Joseph’s Art Workshop: Lesson 4 – Applying Color and Modeling the Face

Just wanted to notify the people who are following the art lessons in my St. Joseph Art Workshop tab that I just published Lesson 4: Applying Color and Modeling the Face. You need to go to the Menu tab above and click on Lesson 4 to see it.

My next post in the St. Joseph’s Art Workshop tab will be Lesson 5. It will be the last post in my Art Exercise of Painting Sacred Images using Acrylic Paint. 

Thanks.

 

Fra Angelico’s Four Reliquaries for the Church of Santa Maria Novella – Part 4 of the “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition

Today’s post is Part 4 in my series that began on May 16, 2018 concerning the recently concluded exhibition of extraordinary egg tempera paintings by the Dominican friar Beato Fra Angelico. The exhibition was held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts during the Spring of 2018 and was entitled Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth.

Nathaniel Silver, Associate Curator of the Collection for this exhibition, includes in his book, Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth, articles by eleven scholars. Each paper is a quality contribution to scholarship. There is one article authored by Chiara Pidatella, entitled “The Provenance of the Four Reliquaries for the Church of Santa Maria Novella.” It clarifies and answers the confusion surrounding the provenance of the four reliquaries. Ms. Pidatella has written an important paper in that it compiles the documentary evidence that proves that the four sacred images within the reliquaries in the sacristy of the Church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, were painted by Fra Angelico. These reliquaries and other Angelico masterpieces were on display in the Gardner Museum.

A reliquary is an ornate elaborately constructed box, frame, etc. that is made of wood or precious metals and contains the remains of an individual or multiple saints. These remains may be small or large particles of bone, hair, etc of the deceased saint.  Depending on the design of the frame the openings for the relics are contained in the top or bottom, and in the center if it is a box with lid. You can see the potential opening for the relics at the top of the frame in The Dormition and Assumption of Mary.  It would be within the top circle that is vertically sliced in the center, the relics would be put in that small opening behind “the doors.” It should be noted that Colnaghi & Co. built a new frame for that painting in 1899. I presume they were loyal to the original design of a gabled early Renaissance reliquary, and that the vertical slice is actually an opening for the relic(s).

The reliquaries in the exhibition are embellished with four extraordinary paintings of events in the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Ms Pidatella says that “The fact that the saints whose relics they [the reliquaries] contained are not explicitly named suggests that the relics were of minor importance, especially in comparison to others mentioned in the same documents and described with great precision (particularly those decorated with gemstones and precious metals). The third inventory also confirms that all four reliquaries stayed together in the sacristy until at least 1772″ [Pidatella, p. 25]. 

The history of the movements of the four reliquaries is interesting. I won’t go into the historic details yet one incident deserves mentioning  (I recommend that you purchase the book, Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth, 2018, Gardner Museum, and Paul Holberton, London). The incident concerns the events of the early 19th century when the French government was required (under orders from Napoleon) to make an inventory of Italian artworks. The result being the French government took a very hard stand in relation to Italian art. Ms. Pidatella mentions their belief “that only France deserved to exhibit works from the most important moments in the history of art” (emphasis mine) [Pidatella, p. 27].   Pretty cheeky.

While three of the reliquaries remained in Florence, the Dormition/Assumption of Mary reliquary (one of four seen below) made its way into a collection of an English family headed by Rev. John Sanford (1777 – 1855; he was the chaplain to the Duke of Cambridge, brother of the British King George IV). This acquisition occurred  in the early 19th century; however economic difficulties led to Sanford’s daughter, Anna Horatia Caroline Methuen, to put this Angelico painting on the market. When this occurred Bernard Berenson recommended Isabella Stewart Gardner of Boston to purchase the piece, which she ultimately did in 1899, for £4000 [Howard, p. 18, Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth]. The Dormition and Assumption of Mary painting then became the first Fra Angelico to be displayed in the United States. Its current frame (that you will see below) was commissioned by Colnaghi & Co.(art dealers) in 1899. Their focus was to frame it in its original gable design {Howard, p. 18-19, ibid].

It is my privilege to present to you my quickly snapped photos of these masterpieces of the four reliquaries (through the courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum) . I will also provide my photograph of the back of one of the reliquaries to show you the wooden panel on which the egg tempera paint was applied. You will see that the panel was covered with a decorated piece of paper-like parchment. The reliquaries are approximately 24 inches tall by 15 inches wide.

The Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi (painted 1426-27) egg tempera and gold on wood panel. This frame is not slightly tipped to the right in reality. It was my attempt to snap a photo before someone stepped in front of me; I didn’t realize the photo was tipped at the time!

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The above two are closeups of the Annunciation and Adoration. Slight tipping resulting from a quick snap occurred here, too. The green squares to the left of Mary’s head are not part of the painting. I did not use a flash. I don’t know what they are, possibly security lights. Notice the extraordinary grill work in back of the Virgin Mary, the angel Gabriel, and the Magi.

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The Dormition and Assumption of Mary (1433-34, egg tempera and gold on wood panel). Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1899, making it the first Fra Angelico painting in America. The painting shows in the lower section the Dormition (falling asleep, death, and above it the resurrection of Mary, the Mother of God ( that is, Mother of Jesus’ human nature) and her simultaneous Assumption into Heaven. The angel, dressed in a blue garment to the left of the frame, is one of a number of larger than life size posters that graced the black walls surrounding the exhibit. These poster angels were copied from Fra Angelico’s paintings. They provided a dramatic effect to the entire exhibit.

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The above is a closeup of Mary which has also been expanded into a larger than life size poster image found in the above Assumption painting. This image was the first you saw as you rounded the second floor stairs into the exhibit at the Gardner Museum. It was taken from the above reliquary on the Dormition and Assumption of Mary and introduced visitors to the beauty of the exhibit.

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The Coronation of the Virgin (1429). The lower image within this reliquary is contained in a small rectangular panel called a predella. It shows the Adoration of the Christ Child by Mary, St. Joseph, and six angels. It also is completed in egg tempera, gold, on a wooden panel. You see more poster angels taken from the Dormition and Assumption of Mary painting in pink and blue garments to the right of this reliquary on the black walls of the exhibit.

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This is a closeup of the Coronation of the Virgin found within the above reliquary. Below are gathered a group of saints. The saint looking over his shoulder at the viewer near the extraordinary translucent stairs is Saint Peter holding the keys of Heaven. St. John the Baptist is on his left. Dominican saints, St. Peter Martyr and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas are also present, St. Francis of Assisi showing the stigmata in his hands, two deacons (St. Stephen, the first martyr (protomartyr), and possibly the deacon St. Benjamin, and some Old Testament prophets. St. Thomas Aquinas (above within the  bigger photo) is looking at the viewer. He is situated next to a pope (the Benedictine Gregory the Great?), possibly placed in that position because both Aquinas and the pope were not martyrs.

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The Madonna della Stella (The Madonna of the Star, 1433/34). Within the predella are the major saints of the Dominican Order (Order of Preachers). Saint Dominic (middle) flanked on the right by St. Thomas Aquinas and on the left by Saint Peter Martyr. The small circular photo of the Church of Santa Maria Novella on the back wall of the exhibit accidentally was included in my quick snap of this picture.  It is interesting that it appeared, I did not plan it. It is the church that the four reliquary paintings were originally housed before they were split up during the last two and one-half centuries.  Presently the Gardner Museum has the Dormition/Assumption of Mary reliquary staying in its collection and the other three will be returned to the Museo San Marco in Florence, Italy.

 

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Closeup of the Madonna della Stella, showing the symbolic colors of the garments worn by the figures. The color blue represents divine attributes, which in the Blessed Mother’s case, represents the belief that she was always immaculate – without sin – and that the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her resulting in the Incarnation taking place within her physical body. The presence of her immaculate nature was within Mary from the moment of her conception. The Latin Rite, the Eastern Rites in union with Rome, the Coptic Church, and the Orthodox Rites believe that Mary is not God, or a goddess. All of these Rites and Churches do not worship Mary; she is venerated by them. Worship and veneration are two very different concepts; they should never be equated.

The color red of Mary’s inner cloak (as well as Jesus’ outer cloak) represents their human nature. The orange trim of her cloak represents the specific spiritual illumination, and self knowledge, of her status as the Mother of Jesus’ human nature, not His divine nature.

With the two lower angels you notice that the blue/red colors are reversed. The inner cloak is blue representing their spiritual illumination and unique qualities/functions, yet, their outer cloak is red. This is done because Fra Angelico represents them all with human features, but, in the case of the two lower angels he represented their outer cloaks as red. I can place no other interpretation on it other than to say that because Jesus and Mary were resurrected from the dead, and have new physical bodies (with unique and specific qualities) the angels dressed in red outer cloaks may be serving Mary’s physical needs (whatever they may be) in Heaven. Heaven is viewed as both a physical (while different from ours) and a spiritual dimension.

As you know, angels are spiritual beings living within the divine atmosphere of Heaven. According to the Latin Rite (Roman Catholic) and other Rites, there are nine “choirs” of angels; each choir possesses specific attributes and functions. Fra Angelico may be distinguishing one “choir” from another through the different colors of the angels’ garments. Angels are pure spiritual beings; they do not have human features or bodies. They are represented that way in Latin and Greek Rite paintings, and some of them in the Holy Scriptures, in order to give the observer/reader a way to relate and understand their functions.

The Dominican Order was keen on expressing the theology of illumination as expressed in the Blessed Mother, their founder – St. Dominic (who illuminated Europe with his sermons against heretics) – and the illumination of the doctrines and dogmas of the Catholic faith provided through the writings of 13th century theologian St. Thomas Aquinas.

For Mary, Fra Angelico expressed that illumination through the orange pigment of Mary’s inner garment and the extraordinary gilding of the rays of light emanating from Mary and Jesus’ bodies. Notice that Fra Angelico shows the love between the two by having the child Jesus place His head close to His Blessed Mother as if He is about to give her a kiss with the Madonna lovingly holds Him.

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Closeup of the Madonna della Stella; also showing a lovely lavender angel on her left.

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The back of one of the reliquaries showing the structure of the wooden panel, and its decorated paper covering. On the front Fra Angelico applied a base coat of gesso, and then his egg tempera paints and gilding.

I hope you enjoyed viewing my four part series on this extraordinary work by Beato Fra Angelico – Fra (Friar) Giovanni di Fiesole. My deep gratitude to Peggy Fogelman  (Director), Nathaniel Silver (Associate Curator) and the very talented staff  of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for bringing these masterpieces to America. For my wife and I it was a once in a lifetime experience. Congratulations to them and my sincere thanks, too.

I will be featuring some of the remaining single paintings within this exhibition at appropriate times during 2018-19. Some of the remaining Fra Angelico images from this exhibit are the marriage of St. Joseph and the Blessed Mother, the Deposition (taking down) of Jesus from the Cross, another painting of the Dormition of Mary, and events in the life of of Saints Cosmas and Damian.

June 12, 2018

© Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018 – text and photos. Photos were taken through the courtesy and generosity of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. I took the photos with an iPhone 6, no flash.

 

Fra Angelico and the Armadio degli Argenti – Part 3 of the “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition

Today’s post is Part 3 in my series that began on May 16, 2018 concerning the recently concluded exhibition of extraordinary egg tempera paintings by Fra Angelico. The exhibition was held at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts and entitled Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth.

Today’s  painting concerns a major piece of the exhibition – the Armadio degli Argenti.  The four panels of which the Gardner Museum only showed one is also known as the “Silver Chest.” It was commissioned in 1450 and completed in 1452, three years before Fra Angelico’s death.

This panel (123 x 160 cm) includes eleven compartments: The Road to Calvary, The Disrobing of Christ, The Crucifixion of Christ, the Entombment of Christ, The Descent into Limbo, The Three Marys at Christ’s Tomb, The Ascension of Christ, Pentecost, The Last Judgment, The Coronation of the Virgin, and the Lex Amoris (Law of Love). The panel is seen below.

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This panel is one of four that decorated a large cupboard-like chest. The chest contained highly valuable silver votive offerings that were donated by the faithful of Florence to the Church of Santissima Annunziata. Their donations were in honor of a miracle working fresco of the Annunciation of Mary in a side chapel of that church.

The entire chest was commissioned by Piero di Cosimo de’Medici during the church’s restoration. The paintings within the thirty-six “compartments” are painted in egg tempera and gold on a wood panel (The Last Judgement occupies two compartments).

In 1782, the panels were separated from the chest in, thankfully, an unsuccessful attempt to sell them. In 1812 they began their journey to the Galleria dell’Academia, and finally to their current resting place – the Museo di San Marco.

Some close-ups of the panel are found below.

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The “compartment” above was entitled Lex Amoris (Law of Love) by Fra Angelico. It shows a menorah covered with scrolls on which are written items relating to the New and Old Law, and emphasizing the New Law as superior. The scrolls specifically relate to the Sacraments of the Church and specifics of the faith. We also see the twelve Apostles and the twelve Hebrew prophets on each side of the menorah showing that they are all connected through the holy Cross of Christ (top center with red and white standard). The purpose of this panel is to explain that in the coming of Jesus Christ you see the fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy of the Messiah, which does not stand alone, but is related to other events in Jewish history. Notice the female in the lower left corner holding a shield which proclaims “Lex Amoris” (Law of Love) versus the Jewish tradition of “Lex Timoris” (Law of Fear). In her right hand she holds an open book. A beautiful allegory of faith that is beautifully executed by Fra Angelico.

IMG_1762The above photo is one of the thirty-six panels describing events of the New Testament, in this case the Coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Notice Jesus’ mother Mary at the top center of the image with the Apostles and disciples (Peter is on her top right, and John is on her top left). They are receiving the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit symbolized by the tongues of fire. A curious crowd gathers below the upper room as described in the Acts of the Apostles. IMG_1760

This is a close-up photo of one of panels in the Armadio degli Argenti in this case showing part of the image of the Last Judgment. Notice one of the angels dragging a sinner from the right side of Christ, the abode of the saved – to the left side of Christ, the abode of the damned prior to their being cast into hell.

The beautiful book, published in union with the Gardner Exhibition, Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth – was edited by Nathaniel Silver and published in 2018 (Boston, London). It was extremely helpful (pages 210 – 215) in my commentary.

photos (iPhone 6, no flash) and text © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018

Fra Angelico – “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition – Part 2 – Ascension, Pentecost, the Last Judgement

I hope you had a blessed Feast of Pentecost!

Please read Part 1 of “Fra Angelico – Heaven on Earth” (posted here on May 16, 2018) in order to receive a proper introduction to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum’s extraordinary exhibition that, unfortunately, closed this weekend..

As you moved into the gallery that exhibited this once in a lifetime collection of Fra Angelico paintings you first saw the beautiful painting entitled The Ascension of Christ, The Last Judgement, and Pentecost (the Corsini Triptych). It is painted in egg tempera with gold leaf on a wood panel. Fra Angelico painted it during the years 1447-1448, seven years before his death in 1455. It was loaned to the Gardner Museum from the Galleria Nazionali d’Arte Antica di Roma – Galerie Barberini Corsini, Palazzo Corsini.

My photographic images of that painting are found below:

The Ascension, Last Judgement, and PentecostIMG_1686

The following quotation is taken from the Exhibition’s commentary found on the right side of the painting. Mesmerizing in its detail, Fra Angelico’s painting pictures three biblical events. At left, Christ ascends into heaven over the heads of the Virgin Mary and the  Apostles. At right, a masterfully foreshortened dove – the Holy Spirit – descends to earth. The story culminates in the center. Christ passes judgment over the living and the dead, saving the worthy (left) and condemning the wicked (right). While the damned cower from fearsome devils who attack the poor souls with claws, angels embrace the blessed.

“This small devotional triptych – a painting with three parts – served a cultivated individual, probably a cleric (deacon, priest, or bishop) in Rome.” Please compare its three episodes to others in my upcoming posts. In the above painting Fra Angelico adopts a vertical presentation. This energizes the connection and communication between heaven and earth. The Gardner Museum’s curator remarked that this technique “enlarges the central scene, and emphasizes” the Catholic Church’s spiritual power.

Fra Angelico, as a Dominican priest, desired to present that Jesus’ act of Redemption (passion, death, and resurrection), and His Ascension back to the Father, made possible the moment of Pentecost. Christ’s actions enabled the eventual opportunity for our free will to choose to accept His Truth and be fed by the Spirit’s power. It is the Father and the Son’s will to have the Holy Spirit nourish us through His grace. This grace is available to us through the proper administration and worthy reception of the Holy Sacraments. Thus, we come to the central panel –  the Last Judgement. Did we freely accept His Sacramental grace or did we ignore, and thereby, reject it? At that moment will we be on the right or the left of Christ?

Allow me to make some personal points on the three close-up photos below. In the first panel of this painting, notice the gold work around the body of Christ. I was allowed to closely examine it. I have never seen a painting’s gold work done with such precision and delicacy. It is not just gold leaf that is applied in a flat manner to the panel. It appears to be actual raised strands, or threads of gold, all applied with great precision. As you slowly move left or right around that part of the painting you notice the light catching the gold and literally radiating and shimmering around the image of Christ. IMG_1745

The Ascension, with Pentecost below.

Second, the image of Pentecost, with the Blessed Mother in the center of the Apostles as the dove hovers and the fire of the Holy Spirit descends upon them and gives them the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:23; 1st Corinthians 12: 4 ff; Galatians 5: 22 ff).

Notice St. Peter, filled with conviction, speaking to the assembly of men below (“Peter’s Discourse” found in the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2, verses 14 ff.). Also, notice the clothing on one of the men who gather outside of the upper room listening to Peter: the detail of the lace work on the bottom of one of his garments, and the shadows on the man’s red leotard/shoe. If you stand away from the painting at approximately eight to ten feet to take it all in (as you see in the panoramic top photo) you don’t notice all the detail; but the blessed Fra with his extraordinary perception, noticed the need for it, and he painted it in. A master of detail, and as a true maestro, he knew how to successfully accomplish it. Wonderful!     The last two close-up pictures are below.

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My photos (through the kindness of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum), and            my text © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018. Photos taken with an iPhone 6, no flash.

 

Fra Angelico – The “Heaven on Earth” Exhibition – Part 1

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts is the only venue in America for the extraordinary “Fra Angelico: Heaven on Earth” exhibition. This amazing collection of reliquaries which express the life of the Virgin Mary, and other paintings of the greatest painter of the Early Renaissance, will be on display until this Sunday May 20th, 2018. Earlier incorrect media reports had the last day as May 28th.

I will be posting my photos of the Gardner Museum’s exhibit starting with this post and continuing on through the upcoming weeks and months. The exhibit consists of more than just the exquisite four reliquaries and it will be my pleasure to bring to you my photos of all of it. I am grateful to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for allowing me to take photographs of the exhibit.

I will proceed with the first photo showing the image that you see as you climb the stairs of the Museum to the second floor where the exhibit is located. That image is of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, surrounded by angels as she ascends in a vortex-like movement, toward God the Father. The reliquary containing the complete image was acquired by Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1899. This is the first time in history that all four reliquaries are reunited since they were split up and acquired by collectors and museums around the world.

My wife and I were privileged to visit the Museum and exhibition last week. Words cannot describe the restored reliquaries and paintings in this display.  I am not embarrassed to say that at one point I was choked up with emotion as to the beauty, technical skill, narrative brilliance in explaining Sacred Scripture, and the theological depth that Fra Angelico expressed in these sacred images.

Beato Fra Angelico (birth name Guido di Pietro) was a Dominican friar and known by his religious name as Brother John of Fiesole. The first historical record of Fra Angelico as a painter is the 1418 record of payment for a painting commissioned by the church of Santo Stefano al Ponte in Florence. Fra Angelico is believed to have been born in the late 1390’s and died in 1455. He is buried in Rome at the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. He was beatified (beato) by Pope Saint John Paul 2 on October 3, 1982, and in 1984 the Pope declared that Fra Angelico was the patron of Catholic artists (that is why I named this blog after him). Beato Fra Angelico’s feast day is celebrated every year on February 18th.

As you come up the stairs  leading to the second floor of the Museum and turn the corner you first see an enlarged version of Fra Angelico’s Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin located below. This image is showcased because it is found within the reliquary acquired by Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1899.

Adj ASSUMPTION FRA A.

This enlarged version of the Virgin Mary is found within the reliquary, and is its centerpiece, seen below.Dormition and Assumption

The above outer frame and base, which contains Fra Angelico’s painting, is known as a   reliquary. A reliquary is a container which holds the relics (bones, hair, etc) of deceased holy people or declared saints of the Roman Catholic Church. The reliquary allows the faithful to venerate, not worship, the life, deeds, and mortal remains of the person whose relics it contains. Fra Angelico painted the four reliquaries’ images specifically for the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence between the years 1424 through 1434 The painting is rendered in egg tempera, oil glazes, and gold. It is simply stunning.

There is another separate painting in the exhibit which concentrates just on the dormition of the Virgin Mary. I will show that to you in the next post.

The “Heaven on Earth” exhibition is made possible with the support, in part, by the Robert Lehman Foundation and the Massachusetts Cultural Council (the Council receives its funding from the State of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts). The media sponsor is WBUR in Boston. The Museum’s Executive Director, chief conservator, curators, conservators, and support staff brilliantly provided the technical expertise and planning for this exhibit. The companion book, edited by Dr. Nathaniel Silver (with contributions by more than ten experts) is also very well done and a worthy addition to your library.

Photos and text © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018. Thanks again to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for this beautiful exhibit and enabling the public to enjoy, be edified, and to take photos of it.

St. Joseph the Worker and Sacred Artists

Today, May 1, is the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker. I chose him to be the patron of St. Joseph’s Art Workshop (found within this site’s Menu Tab at the top of the page) because he is, of all the saints, the most important next to Our Blessed Mother. He was a righteous man (in the finest sense of that spiritual word), a devout and very prayerful Jew, a carpenter, the beloved spouse of our Blessed Mother, and the foster father of Jesus Christ. Today we honor him as a worker. A worker in the professional sense and a worker in God’s vineyard.

Saint Joseph provides us with a model for some of the attributes that all Catholic artists should cultivate: the proper use of time, patience in learning the techniques and meaning of our work, and the daily work itself – making a prayerful commitment to find some time during the day to learn something new about sacred art and practicing the skills necessary for its proper construction.

You will find below a few of the phrases, prayers, and Scripture readings from today’s Divine Office (the Liturgy of the Hours) for the memorial of St. Joseph the Worker.

Come let us worship Christ the Lord who was honored to be known as the son of a carpenter.

God made him the master of His household, alleluia, alleluia. He gave him charge over all His possessions. 

Saint Joseph faithfully practiced the carpenter’s trade. He is a shining example for all workers, alleluia. 

A reading from the letter of Paul to the Colossians (3: 23-24):  Whatever you do, work at it with your whole being. Do it for the Lord rather than for men, since you know full well you will receive an inheritance from Him as your reward. Be slaves of Christ the Lord.     

The just man shall blossom like the lily, alleluia, alleluia.

All-holy Father, you revealed to Saint Joseph Your eternal plan of salvation in Christ, deepen our understanding of Your Son, true God and true man.

God of all righteousness, You want us all to be like You, may Saint Joseph inspire us to walk always in Your way of holiness. 

God our Father, creator and ruler of the universe, in every age you call man to develop and use his gifts for the good of others. With Saint Joseph as our example and guide, help us to do the work You have asked and come to the rewards You have promised. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Saint Joseph, please pray for us now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Stained glass image of St. Joseph with the Child Jesus

May 1, 2018

© Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018

St. Joseph’s Art Workshop, Lesson 2: Obtaining, Drawing, and Applying the Sacred Image to A Panel

If you click on the Tab in the Menu titled St. Joseph’s Art Workshop, and scroll down, you will find my recent addition (as of April 26, 2018) on painting a sacred image. That new post – LESSON 2 – describes obtaining, drawing, and applying a sacred image to a wood panel. Enjoy!

April 26, 2018         © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018

St. Joseph’s Art Workshop – Part 3: Pigments and Mediums

Good day,  I just posted, starting at # 8 in the list, Part 3: Pigments and Mediums, required to paint the sacred image. Please note that the pigments in bold face are the ones you need to purchase for the sacred image in Exercise Number 1. Please remember that you will have to scroll down in the St. Joseph’s Art Workshop Tab in the Menu at the top of the site in order to reach the new post. Thanks.

April 17, 2018              © Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018

 

St. Joseph’s Art Workshop: Part 1 and 2 – Materials

I just posted Part 1 and 2, which deals with the materials needed to paint a sacred image. It can be found within the St. Joseph’s Art Workshop tab in the Menu section at the top of the page.

The next Workshop posts will deal with the names of the paints you need to purchase, the sacred image I have chosen for this exercise, where you may obtain it on the web, and beginning  the drawing process. I will, hopefully, post them by April 22, 2018.

Thanks for reading and participating in this artistic adventure!

© Deacon Paul O. Iacono 2011-2018

The Canon of a Catholic Sacred Artist

Allow me to suggest to my fellow Catholic sacred artists a “canon” of ten fundamental propositions. These ideas and proposals are my personal musings. They assist me in organizing my thoughts and behavior. It is my hope that they will act as an organizational tool for the interested reader, too. They may also assist you, as they have for me, in providing clarity to our foundation and purpose as sacred artists.

The term “Catholic” in this document refers to the Latin Rite (Rome) and the more than twenty Rites of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches that are in union with Rome. Sacred artists within the Orthodox Rites and the Protestant denominations may also find some of the proposals helpful in their work.

The use of the term “canon” refers to the the original Greek word, kanon, which indicates a “model” or “standard.” My suggestion is that the following “canon” acts as a “model” for the sacred artist since this is the first in-depth publication of my thoughts on this subject and there is no consensus by the Catholic sacred art community as to its acceptance by a majority of artists and commentators in the field. Consensus may or may not be achieved in the future. Please consider these thoughts as a beginning, a starting point.

This post is a revision of a previous post in March 2017 with a similar theme. Also, as mentioned earlier, I will eventually discuss the spiritual and artistic values of Beato Fra Angelico (Guido di Pietro – Fra Giovanni da Fiesole, 1395 – 1455). I would be remiss if I did not say that he was my model for this post. I perceive Fra Angelico as being an artistic and spiritual giant of Latin Rite art who exemplified, in his behavior and sacred art, many of the ideas found in the “Canon” below.

The reader should also view the Explanatory Notes that follow the ten propositions to obtain commentary.  I have provided a list (which is also a starting point) of five organizations in the Explanatory Notes below to assist you in your own studies. If you are aware of other organizations or Catholic colleges that promote the sacred arts, please contact me with that information. You are invited to reflect on these ideas in the Comments Section or, if you wish, send me a private email at deaconiacono@icloud.com.

The Canon of a Catholic Sacred Artist

1) The Latin Rite, and the more than twenty other Rites of the Catholic Church that are in union with Rome, have a traditional foundation: Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the dogmas and doctrines of the Church. This foundation ultimately impacts the Catholic sacred artist within a specific cultural tradition. Catholic sacred artists accept and believe in this foundation.

2) A Catholic sacred artist’s first priority is to develop his or her personal holiness in light of the prayer and Sacramental traditions of our Church; specifically, worship through attendance at the sacred liturgy of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, reception of the Sacraments, and liturgical prayer – through the Liturgy of the Hours and/or sacred music.

3) A Catholic sacred artist understands the value of the Adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Christ (the true icon). Eucharistic Adoration is necessary, and highly recommended, because it is based on the artist’s desire for friendship with Jesus Christ, the need to express that friendship in an act of praise and thanksgiving, and Jesus’ desire for friendship with the artist. Within that prayer form, which requires the development of interior silence and stillness of soul, the sacred artist receives inspiration and solace. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has reminded us in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, page 90) that “Communion only reaches its true depth when it is supported and surrounded by adoration.” The word “adoration” is used because we are acknowledging the Real Presence of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.

4) Creativity within Catholic sacred art is influenced by many ideas, the foremost being the expression of the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. The creativity of the sacred artist should always be disciplined by the truth that the artistic product must be able to be clearly understood by the viewer or listener so that it may aid their worship and veneration of God, His saints, and angels.

5) Catholic sacred art brings artistic life to Christ’s Gospel message and the witness of the historic and spiritual personalities of the Church. Sacred art, in all its various forms, contributes to the New Evangelization of the Catholic Church.

6) Catholic sacred art can be a sacramental if  it conforms to the aesthetic, semantic, and theological principles of our Faith.

7) Catholic sacred artists believe that the Sacramental grace of God strengthens personal faith and allows them to become co-creators of artistic beauty. The artist becomes a co-creator when he/she attempts to make a beautiful artifact and ensures that the attributes of the artifact are truthful, good, and beautiful.  For the Catholic artist, God is the source of all beauty, truth, and goodness.

8) Catholic sacred art is a critical part of the liturgical work and prayer of the Catholic Church. An artist’s creative act of making their art form, and the finished product, is not just art; it is communion with God. Sacred art, therefore, is a cultural artifact that turns our heart, mind and soul towards God in praise, penance, petition, and thanksgiving,

9) Catholic sacred art enhances the sacred liturgy of the Church, and may make a significant contribution to the praise, thanksgiving, and repentance of the viewer or listener.

10) Catholic sacred artists are willing to continually learn not only about their Faith and Church traditions, but to professionally grow by increasing their awareness of developments within Catholic sacred arts, its present day contributors, networking and sharing ideas, and continually improving their personal artistic techniques within their artistic discipline.

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

1) Culture is the fundamental engine that propels history; and the foundation stones of any culture is its Faith. An acceptance of the importance of a faith tradition (and tolerance of other faith traditions) by the people of a nation or continent significantly contributes to the growth of its inhabitants; rejection of the role of faith has shown that a culture will be stunted and eventually collapse. Within a culture that is growing in a positive manner there is the belief in a critical idea: tradition. This idea applies to faith and religious systems, political life, scientific exploration (such as the scientific method), the arts, etc. Tradition, however, is not an idea that is, in its application, suffocating to an individual’s growth or creativity. Positive change can certainly occur within a culture that follows specific traditions.

Briefly let us apply this word, tradition, to the Rites of the Catholic Church. A Rite represents a church tradition about how the Holy Sacraments are to be celebrated. There are over 23 Rites within the Catholic Church, of which the Latin Rite (Roman Catholic) is the largest with over 1.5 billion members. The other 23 Eastern Catholic Rites are in union with Rome, however, the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, have not been in union with Rome since the 11th century.

Faith in Jesus Christ and the Nicene Creed has been the mortar between the foundation stones of every culture of Eastern and Western Europe for millennia and for hundreds of years in the Americas. Our Faith and its religious tradition must be viewed in two ways: a small “t” relating to cultural norms of behavior within our specific Rite, and, a capital “T” referring to Church Tradition. This idea of Sacred Tradition was specified by Jesus Christ, the Apostles, the Fathers of the Church, and the many hierarchical pronouncements proclaimed by Ecumenical Councils and Popes (such as the Nicene Creed, or the 7th Ecumenical Council and its promotion of sacred icons). This understanding is in association with the teaching authority (the Magisterium) of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church and Eastern Catholic Rites that are in union with Rome.

Colin B. Donovan, STL informs us (confer EWTN website) that when we consider the transmission of faith we must acknowledge that historically there are three major groupings of Rites: Roman, the Antiochian (Syria) and the Alexandrian (Egypt). The Byzantine Rite, the fourth major Rite, developed out of the Antiochian. These various Rites came into existence because the Apostolic ministry, within different cultural centers of the Roman Empire, ultimately saw the elements of the Faith being “clothed in the symbols and trappings” of a particular culture. This was promoted because the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Faith required that the Church become “all things to all men so that some might be saved” (see First Corinthians 9:22).

Historically, the four major Rites ultimately gave birth to over 20 liturgical Rites that currently exist, are in union with Rome, and to this day are serving the faithful. Applying this idea we can say that it is incumbent upon sacred artists within these Rites to ensure that their art provides a clear, unambiguous message to the world (in relation to the “t” and “T” of  tradition). This demands faith, loyalty, and trust by the artist in Jesus Christ and the truths of the Church.

2) Rev. Deacon Lawrence Klimecki from Pontifex University has written insightfully on his blog about creativity, beauty, the role of the artist, and sacred art. He asks an important question: “What is sacred art? Is it liturgical art? Devotional art? Art with religious themes? The Catholic artist must address the issue of “who” is the audience? What purpose and need is the “sacred” artist trying to meet” in their creative act of making art, architecture, music, poetry, drama, or literature? In trying to answer Deacon Klimecki’s valuable questions we may begin by saying that the term sacred, from the Catholic Church’s cultural point-of-view, is any idea or artifact that refers to, and makes visible (if possible) the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, His saints, and angels. It also critically assists in a person’s worship of God and veneration of His angels and saints. Sacred artistic artifacts convey or represent the dogmas, doctrines, artistic styles within a specific time period, and the historic personalities of the Faith.

Sacred art, in all its various forms (architecture, painting, sculpture, stained glass, illuminated manuscripts, metalworking, music, etc) are the visual and auditory means through which we are assisted in our desire, through our soul, intellect, and senses, to be in union with the all knowing, all powerful, and beautiful God of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. Sacred art, therefore, is a cultural artifact that turns our heart, mind and soul towards God in praise, penance, petition, and thanksgiving, 

Catholic sacred artists undertake a great spiritual responsibility. This responsibility requires that the artist be firmly rooted in faith, the reception of the Holy Sacraments (especially Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist), and personal and liturgical prayer. Besides Eucharistic Adoration, some prayer aids for sacred artists would be participating in sacred music and/or praying the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) either alone or in a group.

3) Saint John Paul 2, in note 61 of his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (The Church Comes from the Eucharist) explains that “By giving the Eucharist the prominence it deserves, and by being careful not to diminish any of its dimensions or demands, we show that we are truly conscious of the greatness of this gift. We are urged to do so by an uninterrupted tradition, which from the first centuries on has found the Christian community ever vigilant in guarding this ‘treasure.’ Inspired by love, the Church is anxious to hand on to future generations of Christians, without loss, her faith and teaching with regard to the mystery of the Eucharist. There can be no danger of excess in our care for this mystery, for “in this sacrament is recapitulated the whole mystery of our salvation.”

What is prayer? The saints tell us that prayer is the turning of the heart toward Our Lord, His Blessed Mother, the angels and the saints and allowing our mind and heart to sincerely speak words of love, praise, thanksgiving, and repentance to them. The sacred artist enters into communion with the Heavenly Court through the union of their prayer with creativity.  This communion comforts and assists the sacred artist in their work. Unity allows a sacred artist to walk the various paths of Holy Scripture and experience the moment that the Scripture, or a story of the saints, presents to the soul. This experience feeds and transforms the sacred artist by affecting the clarity, line, form, and colors of their art (a tip-of-the-hat to my friend and teacher Dr. George Kordis and his seminal work on line, color, and form). This may also be how Beato Fra Angelico experienced the Crucifixion, and according to Vasari, as he painted he wept over the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice. In this process Fra Angelico prefigures Ignatius of Loyola by about 125 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 in 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) While remaining loyal to Sacred Tradition, the Church’s artistic tradition is fluid and is always affected by the artist’s creativity and understanding. This may lead to new styles and interpretations of artistic expression. These new expressions, however, are never vulgar or disrespectful, and will provide no confusion as to the meaning of the images within the art form. Sacred art, while not exclusively catechetical, does certainly play a role in the catechesis of the faithful.

5) Also, the Western Rite, and the Eastern Rites, affirm that preaching the Gospel message through (word, service (Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy, and sacred art), and celebrating the Holy Sacraments is critical for the evangelization, spiritual health, and salvation of God’s people.

6) 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 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 and Redemption of humanity. It also assists us in the visualization of His angels and especially His Blessed Mother and the saints, who modeled Jesus in their own lives.

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. Within sacred art artistic styles change (this may be a good thing), but the truth of the Faith, and the witness of the Church’s spiritual giants – the witness of Jesus Christ and His saints – cannot.

David Clayton, Provost at Pontifex University,  has pointed out that we need to remember and apply the two ideas of  St. Theodore the Studite (AD 759-826) in his criteria which must be followed if an icon is to be considered a sacramental, thus, worthy of veneration: 1) The icon must display the title of the saint or feast day represented, and,  2) the image needs to display the essential physical characteristics and attributes of the saint represented, such as keys for St. Peter; a book of Scriptures, a bald head, or sword for St. Paul; dalmatics, the Book of the Gospels, or thuribles, for deacons; or the gaunt figure of St. Mary of Egypt, etc.. Each angel or saint has a specific name and attributes.

The Roman Catholic Church moved out of an Iconographic period into the Gothic period, and then into the Baroque period. The Greek and Russian Orthodox Church and many of the Eastern Catholic Churches in union with Rome stayed within the period of Iconography that developed out of the early centuries of the Church. Cultural conditions (such as geographical location, political influence, and the affect of the Western European Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries), access to earth pigments, artistic differences and changes in style all affected the Iconographic period within the Eastern Rite of the Church.

It is important to note that within the Latin Rite a sacred image is a religious 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 (an example being Michaelangelo’s Sistine Chapel).

Historically, personal creativity and technique, and the change of specific artistic styles are present within Eastern Rite iconography. Their sacred icons are affected by the culture, historical moment, style, and geographical location of the artist (examples being Coptic vs. Greek, or, Novgorod vs. Moscow). The Eastern Rites, those that are in union with Rome, and those that are not, believe that the sacred icon must be faithful to Sacred Scripture, historic reality, and the Traditions the Church.  The icon’s meaning must be easily recognizable by the viewer. The artistic style may change but there is no room for personal interpretation to change the way Christ, His angels, or saints are portrayed (an example of this would be portraying Christ as doing some action outside the truth and witness of the Gospels, or having Him beheaded rather than crucified). Sacred icons should never be static and “flat.” The personality of the sacred artist is present in their art, and yet, that is not the most important issue.

A sacred icon is made in a specific manner. The techniques of production (from type of board to board preparation, drawing of the image, the necessity of line giving form to color – “its logos” as discussed by one of my teachers, George Kordis, the type of perspective, the predominant use of egg tempera and natural materials – earths and minerals, the lack of symmetry, moving from dark colors to light, and the final blessing by a priest or deacon) are taken seriously by the Orthodox and Eastern Rite Churches. It is my opinion  that if a Latin Rite artist decides to paint a sacred icon, out of respect, they should study and follow the traditions of the Eastern Catholic Rites and the Orthodox Church. This can be accomplished by either studying with their iconographers or with Roman Catholics who have studied with them and follow their traditions of iconography.

I do believe that a Latin Rite sacred artist may paint a religious image in the style of a sacred icon, but, must be careful to explain the difference between the two types of representation. I currently follow this methodology of differentiating a sacred image (religious art) from a sacred icon, and, religious art painted in the style of a sacred icon. My basis for this is respect for the Orthodox and Eastern Rite traditions and how they view their sacred art forms. Yet, it must be admitted that the “traditions” of Orthodox sacred art were primarily formalized by the Greek artist Photis Kontoglou (1895-1965), and the Russian artist and historian Leonid Ouspensky (1902-1987). Thus, these two scholars, within the last one hundred years, outlined what they believed was the historic “tradition” of Orthodox painting, and this “tradition” became formalized within the Orthodox community.  A Catholic artist from another Rite, or within the Latin Rite, may not be concerned with these issues. I believe, however, that the Latin Rite sacred artist must not only be aware of the currents within the Orthodox sacred art community but be respectful of it, too.

In his book Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI provides a wonderful overview of the three periods of sacred art within the Roman Catholic Church (Iconographic, Gothic, and Baroque).  You will notice that even though he discusses the Renaissance he does not include it within the three traditions. High Renaissance artists were not inspired purely by prayer or catechesis in the production of their art. For many their motivation was the desire to please themselves, their patrons, or the profit motive. Renaissance sacred images do have spiritual value and some can motivate the viewer to prayer and communion with God.

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. A sacred image painted in the style of an icon is my rendition of St. Michael Holding the Holy Eucharist. Pictures of these icons and images are found below.

7) The attributes of the sacred artifacts are beautiful. These attributes conform to the three basic elements of beauty as defined in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas: clarity – the listener or viewer can discern what the artifact is, what it means, and that it reflects a “radiance” to those who perceive it; proportion – the listener or viewer can discern the artifact’s unity, order, harmony, and the correct relationship of its individual parts;  and integrity  – the listener or viewer is able to understand the “wholeness” of the artifact. Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Certainly it is affected by the individual’s culture, geographical location, historic period, and other issues; but, we can also say that it is objective, in that people of Faith do not deny the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of God.

Within the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Churches, it is believed that “Our justification comes from the grace of God which was merited for us by the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Sacramental 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 [members of His family], children of God, adoptive sons and daughters, partakers [through the Holy Sacraments] 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 faith, in association with the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, produce good works. 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. Numerous authors have written in this field, to name a few, with the titles of their books:  Sister Wendy Beckett’s Real Presence, Meditations on the Mysteries of Our Faith, and  Encounters With God; Paul Evdokimov’s The Art of the Icon; David Clayton’s The Way of Beauty: Liturgy, Education, and Inspiration; John Saward’s The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty; Christoph Cardinal Schonborn’s God’s Human Face; Jem Sullivan’s The Beauty of Faith; Monsignor Timothy Verdon’s Art and Prayer; and Jeana Visel, OSB, Icons in the Western Church.

9) In the Roman Catholic Church, 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. Also, review the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, 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 and visualizes the reality of the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. 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 Sacramental, prayerful, intellectual, and fellowship process. A Catholic sacred artist must be involved in all four of these transformative elements in order to reach their full potential. A student of this process would be remiss if they did not investigate the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine on these issues.  St. Augustine writes beautifully in his Confessions on the truth and the beauty of God, one paragraph begins: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you”….  Artists are wise to remember that their art must not only be good and truthful in its message, but beautiful as well because they are reflecting the truth, goodness, and beauty of God Himself.

Catholic sacred artists, as they study the various manifestations of sacred art over the last two millennia, should network and become aware of the contributions of contemporary leaders and contributors in the various fields of Catholic sacred art. The Catholic Art Guild, The Catholic Artists Society, The Foundation for Sacred Arts, and the Institute of Catholic Culture are organizations to help you discover contemporary issues in Catholic sacred art; they also occasionally provide seminars and lectures in sacred art. Pontifex University, an on-line Master of Arts Degree program in Roman Catholic sacred art, is also another opportunity for a sacred artist or student who desires to advance their knowledge and understanding of sacred art.

Some of the recent Popes have expressed valuable insights on beauty, sacred art, and the role of the sacred artist. A few examples: the many writings of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI such as, his 2008 homily in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in which he discussed the architecture and stained glass windows of St. Patrick’s as a quest for truth and faith; his Meeting With Artists in November 2009, his 2002 comments “The Feeling of Things: The Contemplation of Beauty,” and his  book The Spirit of the Liturgy. Professor Matthew Ramage’s January 2015 essay “Pope Benedict XVI’s Theology of Beauty and The New Evangelization” (found in Homiletic and Pastoral Review), is an excellent introduction to Pope Benedict XVI”s contributions to truth and beauty in sacred art.

Emphasis must also be placed on the absolutely critical document for any sacred artist: Pope Saint St. John Paul II’s Letter to Artists. Pope Pius XII’s 1947 encyclical, Mediator Dei, from a liturgical point-of-view it 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 Catholic 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. Please see the images below, too.

Pax Christi,   Deacon Paul O. Iacono

Originally posted April 2, 2018; updated June 2, 2018

Fra Angelico Institute for Sacred Art.

Copyright © 2011- 2018 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Images:

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

 

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

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

Deacon Paul O. Iacono’s sacred image done in the style of an icon: of St. Michael Holding the Holy Eucharist, (completed 2015-2017). Please see my post on this blog of September 29, 2017 for a brief explanation.

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My text/last photo, Copyright © 2011- 2018 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

 

St. Joseph’s Art Workshop – A Resource for Sacred Artists and Students

If you are interested in actually creating a sacred image in the tradition of the Roman Catholic (Latin Rite) Church then please click on the Tab in the Menu Bar above Fra Angelico’s image of The Annunciation and read the introductory post on St. Joseph’s Art Workshop. That Tab will explain what I hope to provide interested individuals who would like to participate in this free on-line service.

Participants must remember that all artistic endeavors are a continual learning process. As a result, if a student decides to walk through the door of this Workshop they must remember that rarely is a “masterpiece” created by the beginning student on their first try; yet, that student will create a work of sacred art that is personally meaningful to them. Students will read about, study, and actually paint a sacred image by following the steps I provide to them.

Our model is St. Joseph, the carpenter. St. Joseph was a master builder and protector of the Holy Family. He was the husband of the Blessed Mother. He was a sturdy man – both physically and mentally. Joseph was of the royal line of King David and as a righteous man knew how to pray to God while he worked in his own workshop.  He was a model to the child, teenage, and young adult Jesus, and he is a model for us, too.

Our Savior humbled Himself and took human form to successfully redeem all mankind from their sins. We must not forget that prior to His ministry Jesus was also a successful carpenter – having understood and acquired the necessary skills through Joseph’s knowledge and loving care. By working in St. Joseph’s workshop Jesus, at a young age, became aware of the truth that His earthly father was a very holy and humble man who possessed three key qualities of life: prayer, loving service, and obedience to God’s law. We should not forget that painting sacred images demands the same from us. I will discuss this, too, in future posts.

I hope that you will seriously consider participating in this on-line workshop. Please click on the Main Menu Tab that says St. Joseph’s Art Workshop to read more about this free educational offer and when it will begin.

Copyright © 2011- 2018 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.

Zeppole, St. Joseph, and Sacred Art

Yesterday, March 19th, Catholics happily celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph. Today’s post is slightly different from those previous in that it will discuss an Italian pastry in relation to   a  symbol found in Catholic sacred art. We are breaking new ground here!

A little history is in order. In the 1800’s, a creative baker in the city of Naples, Italy made, for the first time, a pastry known as the zeppola (plural, zeppole). Through the years other areas created this delicacy, too, such as the islands of Sardinia, Sicily, and Malta. This traditional pastry travelled with the Italian immigrants to America and Canada, and, I am happy to say that it continues, and finds its apogee, in the southern New England area of America.

But first things first. This blog normally talks about Gospel truths, Catholic and Orthodox sacred art, iconography, the relationship of art to Catholic prayer, saints, etc. This is my first venture in discussing pastry cuisine (!), but, in this case I think it is important. Why?  Because in my opinion, the noble zeppola reflects a Catholic religious symbol. Obviously I am not sure the original baker (Pasquale Pintauro from Naples) desired to reflect this in his magnificent creation, but, in my opinion, it is there. More on that in a moment.

First, a quick overview of the artistic symbolism associated with St. Joseph. Many sacred  images of St. Joseph either alone, or with  the child Jesus, usually has him holding a rod with a flower or flowers at the top. In one hand he holds the rod, in the other, he is holding the child Jesus next to his chest. A simple example of this is found in the statue below.

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There are variations of this basic model and many portray the artistic emotion and sentimentality that was popular during times past. Yet, what does the symbol of the rod mean? Does it have any basis in history? What does it have to do (in my opinion) with the noble zeppole?

Catholic tradition in this matter starts with Jewish custom. Rev. Maurice Meschler, S.J. describes the legend associated with this image in his excellent book on St. Joseph. He mentions that an ancient book entitled De Ortu Virginis, explains an occurrence in the city of Jerusalem in the  first century AD, he writes,  “...the Jewish priests in accordance with a special revelation received from the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem, are supposed to have ordained that, in a manner like the one in which Aaron had been chosen by God to be high priest of the Temple, all the young men of the family of David were to place a branch or a rod on the threshold of the Holy of Holies; and the one whose rod should become green and blossom, and upon which the Holy Spirit should visibly descend, was to be the spouse of the most Blessed Virgin Mary. St. Joseph alone, whether from a motive of humility or love of virginity, did not present his rod; and thus no decision was arrived at. When the priests had instituted an inquiry into the affair, God answered that the rod of a man of the family of David was still missing. Joseph therefore [because he possessed the virtue of obedience] brought his rod, and lo! it blossomed. The Holy Spirit descended upon it, and Joseph became the spouse of Mary. It is for this reason that Saint Joseph is often depicted with a blossoming rod in his hand, while upon its crown, even in very early representations of art, rests the Holy Spirit.” Rev. Meschler explains in his chapter on the espousals of Joseph and Mary that the sacerdotal purpose of their mutual virginity sealed the marital bond between these two people, chosen by God, to be instruments of His work in redeeming His creation.

So what does that have to do with custom of eating zeppole on the Feast of St. Joseph? It is my opinion that the 19th century Neapolitan baker, Pasquale Pintauro, would certainly have known of the symbol of the flowering rod held by St. Joseph, after all he would have seen it in churches and statues found throughout Naples.

With this in mind, the creation of the zeppole pastry was his way of expressing the branch or rod and flower portrayed by sacred artists. This is especially seen in its presentation by a Rhode Island bakery by the name of DeLuise (it is found on Oaklawn Avenue in the city of Cranston and on Chalkstone Avenue in the capital city, Providence. By the way they make the finest zeppoles in southern New England. We drove down from Massachusetts to buy them at the Cranston store). Notice the photos below of the mini zeppole I happily consumed last night.

 

 

 

So, here comes my  critical analysis (!): the rough textured spiral side represents the branch or the rod of the family line of King David. The red cherry on the top of the pastry indicates the descent of the Holy Spirit which is represented by the miraculous flower.  The cream filled center represents that the unique family line of King David would again flower – and be fruitful – through the power of the Holy Spirit in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

The desire of God to redeem His creation was made possible because of the care of His Son, as a babe and youngster,  by Joseph and Mary – both members of the Davidic family line. Every year on March 19th Catholics throughout the world celebrate this fact by consuming the noble zeppole – the the staff  and flower – of the Feast of St. Joseph .

Thanks for reading! It was fun to write, but even more joyful to eat!

Copyright © 2011- 2018 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Photos of the zeppole by the author.

 

St. Michael and the Archangels

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On this day, September 29th, the Western Rite of the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast Day of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael (the Eastern Rite celebrates it on either November 8th or 21st depending whether or not they use the Gregorian calendar).

Pope St. Gregory the Great (AD 540 – 604) mentions in one of his homilies: “You should be aware that the word “angel” denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.”

Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, as angelic spirits, have no gender; and are designated saints by the Western Rite and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church as a result of their special status as messengers of God. We discover this in Holy Scripture (specifically the books of,  Genesis 28: 12-13, Daniel  9: 22-23, Tobit 12: 15,18,20, Luke 1: 26-56, the Epistle of Jude 1: 9, and Revelation 12: 1-17). The designation “saint” also refers to their ability to intercede for the people of God at the throne of God. The Western and Eastern Rites do not worship the angels or the saints. Worship is relegated to God alone – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The angels and the saints are venerated – offered great respect – but never worshipped. 

I painted the above sacred image of St. Michael a number of years ago. Instead of inserting the typical military shield that is associated with this archangel, I inserted a representation of the Holy Eucharist. The Western and Eastern Rites believe that a validly ordained priest, upon saying the words of consecration during the Holy Mass, through the sacred power of his ordination to the priesthood, converts the substance of the bread and wine into the true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Worthy reception of the Eucharist (meaning the recipient is not in the state of Mortal Sin) enables the recipient to be transformed into the life of Christ.  Christ’s life strengthens us in our daily spiritual battle. Thus, St. Michael is holding the Eucharist as a representation that Jesus Christ, in the Holy Eucharist, is our shield – our true defense – against the wiles of Satan. The Holy Eucharist has embossed upon it IC, XC which is the Greek abbreviation for Jesus Christ, and the letters NI KA (Nika), represent the Greek word or phrase, “victory,” or, “our victor”). You will notice that the blue lower wings are in a different position. The blue wings on the left of the image are slightly elevated.  I painted it this way to  emphasize the truth that St. Michael is always here to assist us in our spiritual battle. He is always ready to move, to “fly” to our aid and intercede for us. Pope Leo XIII reminds us in his famous exorcism prayer to St. Michael, that Michael helps us when we sincerely call upon him at times of sinful temptation.

St. Michael in the iconography of the Church is always represented with a shield. The shield may say “Who is like God?,” which was his response to Lucifer when the latter attempted to storm the throne of Heaven. St. Michael brings us the message that evil, sin, and the demons are real. We are in the midst of a spiritual war; but God is victorious and has given His Church – His people – the help that it needs through the Holy Scriptures, the Incarnation and Redemption, and the seven Holy Sacraments.

St. Gabriel’s message to us is that God loves His creation so much that He desires to enter into it, to redeem it, and provide for its salvation; however, He will not force Himself on humanity, and needed the young virgin Mary’s consent in order for this to take place   (refer to Luke 1: 26-56 for the account of the Annunciation). The name Gabriel means “the Strength of God.” He is God’s major “ambassador” – the angelic representative of God to humanity.  You can see this in Fra Angelico’s beautiful painting at the very top of this site’s masthead which represents him in a majestic and very dignified manner. Church tradition believes that he is the angel that also announced the good news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, prior to Jesus’ birth comforted St. Joseph upon his hearing of Mary’s pregnancy, and consoled Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.

St. Raphael’s message is that God heals us. He is found specifically in the Old Testament book of Tobit healing and ministering to humans. His name means “Medicine of God.” He cured Tobias, defended Sara, and assisted a young man on his pilgrimage with advice and companionship.

One of my former pastor’s, Father Nicholas Smith, mentioned in one of his morning homilies that the angels are here “to defend, serve, and help us. They are part of God’s family, and therefore, a part of ours.” These are beautiful words of comfort and consolation. Through our baptism we are members of God’s family, but until Father Smith’s homily, I never realized that the angels are part of our family, too!

May these three Holy Archangels help us this day, and every day, in assisting  us on our path to God.

(Besides the Holy Scriptures listed above, I recommend a book entitled: St. Michael and the Angels, published in 1983 by TAN Books, it is filled with approved and scholarly sources on the nine choirs of angels).

(My sacred images and essays copyright 2009-2017, Deacon Paul O. Iacono)

 

 

 

 

Jesus Our Savior – An Image that is a Work in Progress

I have the happy service of presenting a new workshop to interested adults from Massachusetts and Rhode Island beginning on Saturday February 14th, 2015.

In an attempt to give everyone individual attention the class is currently filled at a limit of ten people. We will be pursuing our studies of painting sacred images in the Latin iconographic tradition. I hope to make the artists aware of the importance of studying the Latin and Byzantine origins of sacred images and its inevitable blossoming within the Greek and Russian civilizations.

The workshop will run over a five-week period, for a total of twenty hours of class time. While they will not be painting the sacred image that is found below of Jesus Our Savior, the technique that I used to paint this image will be taught to the artists. Note that the image is painted using acrylic paints; however, I have developed a different approach in manipulating the layers of the paints. This approach evolved out of studying the work of the 12th century Benedictine monk, Theophilus the Presbyter (whom I have written about in previous essays on this blog), and my own experiments over the past few years of working with egg tempera and acrylic paints.

I specialize in painting personal prayer images (9 by 12 inches, or 12 by 16 inches) rather than images that would be found in large church or chapel applications. The image found below (95% finished) is typical of my approach. It is an image that the person in prayer can relate to, yet, it also carries a sense of transcendence. This approach will be taught in the upcoming workshop. I attempt to teach simplicity in both technique and spirituality. I  avoid flourishes and excessive naturalism in facial or garment representation. In this way I have ignored the typical approach of many Latin Rite sacred artists from the mid 14th century onward. I am attempting to rediscover, or reestablish, the Latin Rite techniques of painting sacred icons. This endeavor is a work in progress!

In the upcoming workshop the students will be studying my technique and actually paint an image of St. Michael the Archangel. Upon completion of that sacred image, they will eventually move on to painting an image of the Holy Theotokos, the Blessed Mother, and then complete the sequence in studying and painting a sacred image of Jesus Christ. In upcoming posts I will be blogging about their experience and the steps that they will take in completing the sacred image of St. Michael.

My approach to the painting of sacred images in the iconographic tradition owes a debt of gratitude to my many teachers in the Byzantine and secular artistic traditions. I also owe a profound thank you to the Holy Spirit, whose grace has enabled my hands to paint sacred images. I pray that my sacred art has not offended Him. The image below appears slightly brighter than it actually is as a result of the flash.

Jesus Our Savior by Deacon Paul O. Iacono, Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts, Copyright © 2011- 2015 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

 

Copyright © 2011- 2015 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Albert Lapierre – Sacred Artist and Iconographer

This past July I had the pleasure of restoring an icon that was written by the fine artist, Albert Lapierre, from Attleboro, Massachusetts. It is a beautifully done and was commissioned by Joan O’Gara on the occasion of the birthday of her sister, Rosalind, in October, 1998.

Rosalind told me that her sister knew of her appreciation and devotion to the Gospel account of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth; however, Joan was not able to locate a print of this particular icon. In 1997 Joan decided to contact Albert Lapierre who was resposible for the creation of many religious objects, statues, and sacred images. Prior to his passing he had a store and studio in Attleboro, Massachusetts. There are many examples of his work at the LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro.

At the time of Joan’s request, Albert was busily engaged at the Shrine with many projects, and was reluctant to take on another commission. Joan persuaded him, however, to take on this project – telling him that “Our Lady really wanted him to paint this image.” I am told that he didn’t have a comeback for that request!

Mr. Lapierre was able to fit its creation into his busy schedule and it was varnished and ready to be delivered by October, 1998. Needless to say, Rosalind was thrilled by Joan’s gift and it remains to this day an important focal point in Rosalind’s prayer life.

Time does take its toll and the icon sustained some accidental damage over the years. Rosalind located me through a Google search and phoned for a consult. She was especially concerned about areas that had chipped and lost pigment. We met and discussed the damage and she requested that I try to repair it as best as possible.

The repair turned out to be an interesting challenge. First, I believe that it is absolutely essential that a restorer not impact or change the design, colors, or compositional elements of the piece being restored. Respect for the original artist, and what they created, is paramount. Ultimately, the viewer must be able look at the restored piece and be unaware of the fact that it has been restored. There should be no distractions from the original intent of the artist.

My biggest challenge in this restoration was matching the original colors. For this particular icon Mr. Lapierre used acrylics. Since the painting was only seventeen years old, and had not been kept in direct sunlight, the paint had not deteriorated or dulled to any great degree. Thus, my task was to repair the chips that could be restored and then blend in the pigment restoration. The restoration was a success and it was blessed, and delivered to a grateful Rosalind, at a Mass here in South Kingstown at St. Francis of Assisi Church in August 2014.

Albert Lapierre died a number of years ago. Sadly, I never met the man that created such a sensitive and dynamic icon. It was a distinct honor to work on it. I thank Joan and Rosalind O’Gara for the privilege of doing so.

Below are a few images of the piece with a close-up of Mary’s face, and the beautiful catechetical scene of Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, praying in the Temple.

Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

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Discipleship, Wisdom’s Light, and the Art of Charles Bosseron Chambers

The Gospel of Luke 8:16-18 emphasizes that God desires us to respond to His generosity by using our gifts in union with His wisdom and grace. The Lord desires to give us His gifts but He also desires to challenge us. As good stewards of His wisdom, we are not meant to conceal Wisdom’s Light under a “vessel or hide it under a bed.” By virtue of our Baptism, we are all sent out into the vineyard – some early – some late, but called and sent nonetheless, to proclaim the good news of God’s salvation.

We need to remember, however, that we will be attacked and maligned when we stand in the vineyard of our existence and promote His love and defend the truth of the Church. Christian discipleship does have a cost.

As you read this, Christian martyrs of our own day die in Asia at the hands of the Islamic State, or through the harassment and torture of hostile governments throughout the world. Spiritual martyrdom is also happening in America, at the hands of a secular and hostile media and government that appears to have lost its sense of ethics, Constitutional roots, and tradition. This is exemplified by the recent action of the Oklahoma City Convention Center refusing to hear the arguments of Christians, and Catholics in particular, who are deeply offended and outraged by the planned Satanic mass and exorcism of the Holy Spirit that will occur in a few days.  Archbishop Paul S. Coakley of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, and his staff, have shown courage and determination in attempting to stop this blasphemy; thankfully, they were at least successful (through the persuasion of a lawsuit) in getting the Satanists to hand over the consecrated host which was to be desecrated in their ceremony.

What does the bravery of Archbishop Coakley tell us? It tells us once again that our Church, under pressure and intimidation, refuses to run, refuses to fold, and refuses to hide the Light of Christ’s love, truth, and beauty in a darkened world. Let us pray that the bravery of today’s martyrs who suffer in the public square, or in silence, may inspire us in our ministry of discipleship.

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The above painting, entitled The Light of the World, was painted by Charles Bosseron Chambers (1882 – 1964). Mr. Chambers was born in St. Louis and was known for his figurative work, mainly portraits and works with religious motifs. He studied art at the Berlin Royal Academy and at the Royal Academy in Vienna. In 1916, Chambers returned to America and settled in New York City. It was in New York City that he painted the The Light of the World.

This painting by Chambers was the first painting that made an impression on me as a child. My mother hung a  framed reproduction of it in the bedroom. I remember staring at it in the dim light that filtered into the room from the hallway and wondering what the child Jesus was thinking. At that time it appeared to me that He had a concerned look in His eye. Why? What was He concerned about?

We still have the picture. Now that I am approaching my sixty-seventh year I understand why He is so concerned, but I recognize that it is a concern enveloped in eternal love; a Love that will never be diminished, a Light that will never be withdrawn, no matter what the blasphemies hurled against Him.

Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Lesley Green – A Rhode Island Sacred Artist

One of the great blessings the Lord has granted me is the privilege of meeting so many wonderful people who are interested in studying and creating sacred art. An example of this is the fine Rhode Island artist, Lesley Green.

Lesley is no stranger to art. She has been interested in it since adolescence and received a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. She continued to pursue her studies while taking time out to marry and raise a family.

I first met Lesley a number of years ago, when my wife and I started the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts.  We invited people from around the Diocese of Providence to come to our first informational meeting. I could tell upon first meeting her that she was highly motivated to consider studying and prayerfully create sacred art.

My first workshop in sacred art soon followed that meeting and Lesley came to learn the basics of how to paint a sacred icon. Her excitement and interest were, and still are, gratifying to see. She continued to make rapid progress with me and took the advice that I give to all of my students: “Branch out, and study with as many other sacred artists as you can.”

I firmly believe that a sacred artist needs to be exposed to, not only a variety of artistic talents and skills, but to the prayerfulness of other iconographers as they practice their ministry in sacred art. As a result, she has since enjoyed studying with Rev. Peter Pearson and Michael Kapeluck, two artists from Pennsylvania who paint in the Russian Orthodox style.

Lesley realizes that her art is more than art for art’s sake. As a committed Roman Catholic she understands that her art is a dramatic form of silent evangelization of the Word of God. She takes seriously the invitation of St. John Paul 2’s 1999 Letter to Artists to participate in the “call” to the vocation of a sacred artist. He tells us that in doing so we fulfill our personal responsibility to do our part in spreading the Good News of Christ. He says,

“In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art.  Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God.  It must therefore translate into meaningful terms, which is in itself ineffable.

Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colors, shapes and sounds, which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.” 

It is this “aura of mystery” that Lesley is prayerfully attempting to make visible to the viewer of her art. For, as sacred artists, we are all called to make visible the “ineffable mystery” that is God, His angels, and His saints.

Lesley’s most recent completed icons of Saint Gabriel and St. John the Baptist are quite lovely. I especially like the fact that St. Gabriel is shown holding the Holy Eucharist. As you know, the Archangel Gabriel was depicted in the Hebrew Scriptures as being a healer, especially of the eyes. This sacred icon aptly shows that the source of the Archangel’s power is Christ Himself. The second icon showing St. John the Baptist in a prayerful pose indicates that even in Heaven he continues his mission of imploring us to repent of our sins.

St. Gabriel the Archangel and St. John the Baptist, pray for us.

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Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

Eugene Burnand and The Greatest Easter Painting Ever Made | Crisis Magazine

Clicking on the attached link found below produces an excellent article by Elise Ehrhard in Crisis Magazine describing the Swiss painter Eugène Burnand’s late 19th century masterpiece The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection. 

One writer has described this painting as a visual Lectio Divina since the observer cannot help but feel the joy, hope, and love of these disciples for the Lord. 

May you and your families experience an Easter season filled with the healing love of Christ.

The Greatest Easter Painting Ever Made | Crisis Magazine.

 

Beautiful Russian Sacred Icons at the New Haven Knights of Columbus Museum

If you are in the vicinity of New Haven, Connecticut within the next two weeks take the opportunity to stop by the Knights of Columbus Museum for their magnificent exhibit entitled “Windows into Heaven – Russian Icons and Treasures.”

The Museum is located at One State Street, New Haven, and offers free admission and parking. They are open from 10 to 5 pm.

For the past year it has hosted a private collection of spectacular Russian sacred icons and liturgical artifacts. It is the finest collection of Russian sacred icons that I have observed in the Northeast owing to the fact that each of the icons and treasures are in excellent condition.

You will enjoy artifacts such as a 7th century Byzantine Reliquary (bronze, traces of gold plate, and blue enamel) and three rooms of sacred icons encompassing the portrayal of Jesus Christ, His Mother – the Blessed Theotokos, much loved saints, and angels.

Their website,  www.kofcmuseum.org/en/index.html provides a wonderful overview of the 225 pieces that are on exhibit. They mention that “few customs or traditions have endured for longer than a millennium, but the use of icons in Russia is among them. In this exhibition, the Knights of Columbus Museum is pleased to share more than examples of Russian Orthodox iconography, along with other liturgical and devotional items.

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Icons are often called windows into heaven because they are said to give the viewer a glimpse of the eternal realm. Many of the items are more than 100 years old, predating the Bolshevik Revolution (1917).

In AD 988 Prince Vladimir of Kiev converted to Orthodox Christianity, and he persuaded his countrymen and women to do the same. Thus, iconography was introduced as a means of fostering religious understanding and devotion among all the people of Kievan Rus (present day Ukraine, Belarus and northwest Russia).

The artistic traditon followed the strict models and formulas of the Byzantine Greek Orthodox tradition (these artistic practices developed in Constantinople and Greece and spread both East and West). Ultimately, the Russian sacred art tradition developed its own distinctive styles within each major city of Russia.

As a form of sacred art, iconographers historically prayed or fasted before and during the creation of an icon. Traditionally, icons were painted in egg tempera on wood and often accented with gold leaf or covered with ornately gilt metal covers called rizas. Rich in symbolism, they are still used extensively in Orthodox churches and monasteries, and many Russian homes have icons hanging on the wall in a “beautiful” (or prayer) corner.”

“Icons have been synonymous with Christian prayer and practice for centuries,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “One of the great traditions of Eastern Christianity, icons are less well known here, and we are pleased that this exhibit will enable residents of the Northeast to grow in their understanding of the history and religious significance of these windows into heaven.” This exhibit concludes on April 27, 2014.

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Viewing this exhibit during Holy Week or the First Week of Easter leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday and the canonization of Pope John 23rd and Pope John Paul 2 on April 27th would be of great assistance in your joyful experience of the reality of the resurrected Christ. My prayers are with you for a prayerful Holy Week and a blessed Easter Season!

Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The sacred icons shown are taken from the Knights of Columbus website which offers a history of each sacred image or artifact exhibited.

 

 

A Recent Art Workshop Leads to Another! – The Fra Angelico Institute

This past month the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts was happy to sponsor a two day workshop. The purpose of this workshop was to introduce people to the idea that everyone has the capacity for expressing themselves in art. Using acrylic paints the participants were taught the process of “seeing” an image of a rose, breaking down its component parts, drawing the rose, applying and mixing pigments, painting the rose, etc.

Our desire was to ultimately interest people, who possibly never considered themselves as having artistic talent, to see that they could paint a good quality representation of an object. This would then lead to their participation in a sacred art workshop in which they would be learning how to reveal, through prayer, study, and artistic techniques, the spiritual message of sacred images painted in an iconographic style.

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I am happy to say that this workshop will lead to another sacred art workshop here at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island. We will conduct our Spring 2014 workshop on Saturday mornings from 9:30 to 11:30 on March 29th, April 5th, 12th, and 26th. An assessment will be made on the 26th to determine if we need additional sessions. The cost of the workshop is $35.00.

Each participant will receive a photocopy of a sacred image, personal instruction, a brief “process” manual of steps, a 1/2 inch wooden board, and brushes. Tube acrylic paints will be provided.  If each participant desires their own tube of paints the cost will be higher. Members of the Institute, or others interested in the process of painting a sacred image in the iconographic tradition, are welcome to contact me by March 20th if they desire to participate in the Spring 2014 workshop. Members of the Institute who have participated in past sacred art workshops will be given the opportunity to paint a new sacred image in the iconographic style. If you are interested please email me at frainstitute@cox.net. 

Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

St. Peter’s Affirmation of His Love for Christ Is A Model for Us

In our Scriptures for the 3rd Sunday of Easter we have the extraordinary contrast of St. Peter’s deeds in the first reading with that of his behavior in our Gospel. In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles we see Peter’s defiance of the priests and the elders in the Temple. This defiance is in direct contrast to his cowardice two months earlier on the night of Jesus’ arrest; and it also differs from what we visualize in today’s Gospel.

The events of this Gospel occur before our first reading and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. This Gospel recounts the third appearance of Jesus to the disciples after the resurrection. St. John tells us that even though Jesus had commissioned the disciples in His first two appearances, to go out and spread the Good News, they are still a little shaky on what they should be doing.

Their confusion caused them to be stressed, and like all of us today, they relieved their stress by returning to some activity they were comfortable with – in their case it was fishing, but they weren’t successful, they fished all night long and came up empty.

As dawn breaks upon the Sea of Galilee, John first notices someone standing on the shore, and that person called out to them: “Have you caught anything to eat?”

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They respond – “No.”   So this Person tells them where to fish – and their nets overflow. John, at that point realizes who it is, and tells Peter  –  “It’s the Lord!” and Peter immediately swims ashore. They all arrive to find that it truly is Jesus and He has made breakfast for them! After their shared meal, Jesus gets down to business: He begins to test Peter.

It is natural for us to feel uncomfortable for Peter. He is being asked three times whether or not he loves Jesus. The humiliation of the public questioning must have stung him and yet Jesus continues to ask, and He responds to Peter’s affirmations with:  “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus is asking Peter to totally bare his soul to Him. In Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus on Holy Thursday night, in his propensity for loudly proclaiming his devotion to Christ, in his subsequent denials, in his guilt, in his sins, in his pre Pentecost lack of action  – Peter is, ultimately, a reflection of all of us; but Peter is dramatically different – from us and from the other Apostles, because it is in this flawed man that Jesus continues to recognize and affirm “the rock,” on which His Church would be built.

Peter’s answers on that Galilean beach, and his willingness to publicly say that his deeds would follow his words, became the affirmation of his most inner self back to the Lord. His sincere “Yes” enabled him to become a leader, a man of deeds, and not empty words. His affirmation enabled Peter to receive the grace of Jesus’ mercy and love, and this enabled him to complete his mission to be the shepherd, the leader, the Vicar of His flock.

Pentecost provided Peter and the Apostles with the final graces of total transformation. A Eucharistic banquet on the beach and the confirming fire of the Spirit at Pentecost enflamed these once confused and dejected men to go out, and in the name of Jesus Christ, transform the world.

We have received the sacramental grace of the Spirit   in Baptism, many of us have received the grace of Confirmation, and we are fed on a weekly basis through the Eucharistic Banquet at Mass. Similar to Peter and the Apostles, we are on that Galilean beach surrounded by the  love and mercy of Jesus Christ.

My brothers and sisters by the virtue of the Sacramental graces that we have received, we in turn, have the same mission. For we are required to tend the flock – the lambs – the sheep – of our own families, friends, strangers, and help open their hearts to the love and mercy of Christ.

Let us pray for the continued outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that will enable us, like St. Peter, to stand up in the marketplace of our lives and feed the flock that we have been called to shepherd.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The above was a homily delivered by Deacon P. Iacono at St. Francis of Assisi Church Wakefield, Rhode Island on Sunday 4/14/2013. Notes on the artist: The painting of Christ Appearing on the Shore of Lake Tiberias is by James J. Tissot (15 October 1836 – 8 August 1902). Tissot was a French artist who spent much of his career in Britain. He was born in 1836 to a family of Italian descent in the port town of Nantes, France. His father, Marcel Théodore Tissot, was a successful drapery merchant while his mother, Marie Durand, assisted her husband in his business and designed hats. His mother was also a devout Catholic and instilled pious devotion in Tissot from a very young age. In 1885, Tissot experienced a re-conversion to Catholicism, which led him to spend the rest of his life illustrating the Bible. To assist in his completion of Biblical illustrations, Tissot traveled to the Middle East in 1886, 1889, and 1896 to make studies of the landscape and people. (source: Wikipedia article on the artist, and the Brooklyn Museum: www.artabase.net/exhibition/1868-james-tissot-the-life-of-christ).

Evgeny Baranov’s Miniature Icons and Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov Icon Carvings

My sincere thanks to Jonathan Pageau at the Orthodox Arts Journal,  http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/, for permission to repost his wonderful presentation of the sacred icon miniatures of Russian artist Evgeny Baranov and the spectacular icon wood carvings by Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov.

We must take care when we paint/”write” large icons, yet, to complete an icon miniature or a wood carving, with such grace and spiritual truth, demands in my humble opinion, even more skill and patience! Enjoy, and be filled with astonishment!

To see all of Baranov’s miniatures please visit their site:www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/miniature-icons-by-evgeny-baranov/ .

To see the lovely icon wood carvings of the Asbuhanov’s please take a look at the last two images in this post, if you would like to see all of their work please visit this site: /www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/the-russian-master-icon-carvers/

Miniature Icons by Evgeny Baranov and Russian Master Icon Carvers

April 9th and 10th, 2013

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Here are some of the most astounding miniature icons I have seen.  They are made by a Russian artisan named Evgeny Baranov who is also a very good goldsmith as you will see below.   These pictures were taken from his facebook page.  I have been trying to get a short interview with some more details, and my lack of Russian seems to stand in the way…  but really, the work stands on its own.

Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov are a Russian couple who are leading the rediscovery of icon carving in the Russian Church.  Their works grace the collections of Russian politicians from Gorbachev to Putin, European royal families and church authorities from the Russian Patriarch to the Pope of Rome. 

Their works are often large and highly detailed, like wooden lace as they include much chip carving into the patterns of clothing, backgrounds and frames.   There is a certain folk aspect to their work, especially in some of the faces which do not follow the more usual formal tradition of icon carving but are often effective nonetheless.  They recently had a show of their work in Moscow and so I thought it a good opportunity to put up some of their icons.

Despite their great success, they are warm and quite generous, just like their carvings.

More pictures can be found on their website:  http://www.azbuhanov.ru/

Here  also is a detailed article on their recent Moscow show.

[The first five images below are the work of Evgeny Baranov and the last two wood carvings are the work of Rashid and Inessa Azbuhanov.]

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The Last Supper – Jesus as Servant, Christ as Sacrifice: An Evening Meditation

At the Last Supper, on the night He was betrayed, our Savior entrusted to His Church the memorial of His death and resurrection.
This memorial came to us through the Institution of the Holy Eucharist, a memorial that He intended would be celebrated forever by His Church in the magnificent prayer that is known as the Holy Mass.
Let us adore Him, and say:
Jesus, sanctify Your people, redeemed by Your blood.
Lord, You humbled Yourself by being obedient to the Father’s will, even to accepting death, death on a cross.
Please give all who faithfully serve You the gifts of:
obedience to Your Holy Word found in Your Gospel,
service to our neighbor because they are reflections of You,
and patient endurance in all our troubles and tests.
Christ Washing Peter's Feet, Ford Madox Brown

Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet, (1852-56) by Ford Madox Brown (1821 – 1893), Tate Britain, London.

(Meditation based on the Intercessions, Evening Prayer for Holy Thursday, found in the Roman Breviary: The Divine Office, volume 2, page 465. Thanks to the Catholic Artists Society for the posting of Ford Madox Brown’s painting, please visit their site and consider becoming a member: http://catholicartistssociety.posterous.com ).

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

 

 

Theophilus, the Art of Iconography, and the Contemporary Sacred Artist – Part 2

Please take a moment to read the first part of this multi-part essay that I posted a few days ago. I am requesting that you do this in order for you to understand my perspective on creating contemporary sacred art within the Latin Rite.

Creating sacred art for me is a service ministry. It is a ministry through which a sacred artist unites him or herself to God’s Redemptive efforts. If you are a Baptized Christian who has been educated in the faith, regardless of the Rite or the denomination, you know that the Christian faith requires you to cooperate with the grace that the Holy Spirit provides to you through Scripture and the Sacraments. If one does this, and maintains a disciplined prayer life, you are cooperating with the Spirit in the duties that you must perform in your life.

For a Christian, human history is more than the individual searching for God. As the book of Genesis (3: 8-9) tells us, God walked through the Garden of Eden searching for us – for our spiritual parents: “When they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, the man and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

The Lord asks that question of us, too. 

Jesus is constantly calling out to us, constantly searching for us, constantly knocking on the door of our hearts hoping to hear our loving response. Christianity is the faith through which a searching God shows Himself to be so loving and so merciful as to persevere, to the point of sacrificing His own Son, in the effort of bringing rebellious humanity back into His family.

So the history of Christian sacred art shows us that people desired sacred icons (Greek, eikon: image) to reference that sense of family, in the same way that we have photographs today of family members, living and dead, which remind us of the love shared and their importance to our lives. These photographs or images are not idols. Even if a loved one does kiss a photograph or a sacred icon or image, the meaning behind that gesture is that the kiss – the love and respect – is not meant for the celluloid, or the wood and pigment; rather, it is meant for the prototype, for the person it represents, the loved one, God, His saints and angels.

Unfortunately, the faith family that is the Church split in the Great Schism of 1054. The Latin Rite and the Greek/Russian Rite split along cultural, theological, philosophical, political, and artistic lines. This Schism is one of the great scandals that has affected Christ’s Church.

The Schism, however, did not affect trade and the exchange of ideas among the laity. Commerce continued and new products, artistic materials, and techniques were evaluated, bought, and sold. The development of the Latin Rite artistic tradition after the Schism indicates that in Western Europe the linking of faith with the creative impulse was very strong and did much to solidify and unify the various cultural groups within the Latin Rite.

But, what was the Latin Rite tradition post AD 1054? What were the techniques of the Latin Rite artists of the Romanesque and early to mid Gothic period? Were there artistic manuals that were more than just recipe books on preparing pigments and varnishes and which discussed the spiritual underpinnings of the artisan’s art?

Where to begin?

As mentioned before, I happily discovered Pope Benedict XVI’s book –The Spirit of the Liturgy. This became my starting point, with its expression that the three periods within the liturgical art of the Latin Rite can be found in the Iconographic, Gothic, and Baroque styles of art.

I was searching for the techniques that Catholic artists would have used approximately one thousand years ago. Sacred artists within the late Iconographic period and early Romanesque period (AD 900 – 1300) would have approached their art within a disciplined theological, semantic, and aesthetic viewpoint. As Western Europeans, however, they easily accepted innovation and even experimentation if it provided a final product which met the artisan’s demanding and critical eye, and especially that of the master artisan of the workshop.

In the Spring of 2012 I discovered a twelfth century book entitled On Diverse Arts by Theophilus the Presbyter (translated by Hawthorne and Smith, Dover Press, 1979, 216 pages). This book is the critical corner stone of my attempt to link contemporary sacred art with its medieval roots. For Theophilus the Presbyter – a twelfth century master artist – is an individual who can still effectively speak to us in our own time. Theophilus has the perspective and the attitude that provides us with a foundation for our spiritual view of art.

This does not mean that we are slavishly going back in an attempt to reproduce the twelfth century. To do that would not be honest, rather, while staying true to the theological, semantic, and aesthetic beliefs of artists like Theophilus we are able to reinterpret and refresh our current situation in light of the contributions and truths discovered and lived in the past. Truth, goodness, and beauty are not limited by space and time.

O Beauty, ever ancient, O Beauty, ever new.

One of the key ideas of Theophilus that needs to be shared with Christian sacred artists is that the Holy Spirit is moving through our creative efforts, and is actively involved in the artist’s daily work. It is my belief that Theophilus sees the role of the artist as a person with a specific vocation, a calling, who is to unite his call by God to create beautiful works of art with his own prayer life and the Catholic spiritual view of reality.

Many, but not all art historians, believe that Theophilus is the pen name for a Benedictine monk by the name of Roger of Helmarshausen. Roger was a master at metalworking, specializing in gold and silver, and lived in the Benedictine monastery located in the town of Helmarshausen in modern day Germany.

In his manual, On Diverse Arts, Theophilus not only lays out his spiritual vision in three specific prologues to his chapters on painting, glassmaking, and metalworking but he provides specific directions and guidance to fellow artists. For example, he lays out – step by step – the process for creating a sacred image: the types of pigments to use, specific colors for the base coat, shadows, colors to use for hair, beards, skin, drapery, etc.

Theophilus’ union of a sincere spiritual perspective with technical guidance shows him to be a master teacher and mentor. He accomplished this within his own Benedictine monastery at Helmarshausen and his reputation expanded throughout the Rhine-Meuse River Valley in Germany.

In my next post I hope to discuss the spiritual importance of Theophilus’ three chapter prologues, and ultimately their relationship to the contemporary Catholic sacred artist.

In my fourth post in this series I will discuss a marvelous doctoral dissertation on Theophilus that was written in 2010 by Heidi Gearhart, Ph.D.

And in my fifth and last post in this series I will discuss how, in the mode of Theophilus, I am developing a practical sacred art workbook that provides step-by-step advice for the contemporary sacred artist. I have two of the four chapters completed and I will probably self-publish it for my sacred art workshops prior to a publisher (hopefully, :{) !) formally printing it.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is the memorial of the Queenship of Mary.

Through the centuries, sacred icons and images have expressed the Queenship and Coronation of the Holy Theotokos – the Mother of God. The icon The Virgin Salus Populi Romani, a 5th century icon, displayed in the Church of Saint Mary Major in Rome, and seen below, shows the Blessed Mother dressed in typical first century Middle Eastern garb as she holds her Son who gives a blessing. This icon is reputed to

be a copy of one that was painted by St. Luke the evangelist who tradition states knew and spoke to the Blessed Mother.

A 6th century icon of Mary and Jesus displays a coronation theme portraying the Blessed Mother and her Son in Heaven. Mary sits on her throne with Her Son on her lap, surrounded by St. Theodore on the left and St. George on the right, while two angels look up as the hand of the Father gives a blessing. This icon is found in the Monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula.

Iconic images painted (“written”) by orthodox iconographers of both the Latin, Greek, Russian, Coptic, and other Rites agree with images found within our Holy Scriptures. For example, a Gospel passage tells us “… the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” This Scripture explains that the Lord willingly takes the initiative to come forth, with hands extended,  to meet us and share the reign of His kingdom.

In sacred art we visualize this not only in the extension of Christ’s hands on the cross – but also, in the extension of the infant Jesus’ hands, to give us a blessing as He sits in His mother’s lap, or is caressed in her arms, an image that is found not only in the above sacred images but in numerous statues found in Latin Rite churches throughout the world.

The prophet Isaiah also speaks of Christ in regal terms as Emmanuel (God is with us) and the “Prince of Peace.”  We can even get apocalyptic and speak of the Books of Daniel and Revelation which recall the truth that the world will be transformed through the birth of the Redeemer, made possible by Mary.  She is a “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars… who gave birth to a son, a boy destined to shepherd all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and His throne.”  So we see that Mary enables the incorporation of the reign of God into the world. She is the woman destined to crush the head of the apocalyptic serpent.

St. John of Damascus wrote about this in the 8th century when he says of the Blessed Mother that she “has become the terror of demons, the city of refuge for those who turn to her. [He has her say:] Come to me in faith, O people, and draw as from a river of grace. Come to me in faith, without doubt, and draw from the mighty and certain source of grace.”

Last week, on the solemnity of the Assumption, we recalled Blessed John Paul 2 saying  “…the Assumption of the Mother of Christ in Heaven forms part of [the Lord’s teaching about] His victory over death, the beginning of which is found in the death and resurrection of Christ.”

So in today’s memorial, Mary, the humble daughter of Joachim and Anna and the chosen daughter of our Heavenly Father, is garbed in the majestic robes of a queen. She takes her rightful place next to the throne of her resurrected and ascended Son.

Why? 

Because the Church desires to teach us that Mary is privileged,  beyond all other women and men, to be the first and most significant human being to participate in the glory, triumph, and reign of God. By her very willingness to become the Mother of God, the Theotokos, she agreed to become our spiritual Mother, too.

In this beautiful sacred image by Blessed John of Fiesole, also known as Fra Angelico the great Dominican artist of 15th century Florence, portrays the moment of Our Lady’s Coronation with the Heavenly court surrounding her.

We observe men and women saints that were alive thousands of years after Mary’s Coronation observing the event.

Why did the good Friar do that?

He is expressing the fact that Heaven is within the eternal now of the Trinity, so it follows that all the saints are knowledgeable of the truths of Heaven. If we carefully observe the painting we see that the knowledge of that coronation moment is known by St. Thomas Aquinas. We see him looking out at us (in the lower left corner), noting the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, and the fact that God desires this coronation for His beloved and humble human daughter, the Queen of Heaven.

The Blessed Mother, in her regal beauty, authority, and power, has not left us orphans. She is “the Living Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Inviolate Mountain, the ladder” that joins Heaven and earth. Mary is the “One who Shows the Way”  (as the Greeks would say the Hodigitria) to her Son and to our Heavenly reward.

If we remain faithful and loyal to the teachings of Jesus Christ, as expressed through our Sacred Scriptures and our Church, and act on that faith, then we, too, will reign alongside our Heavenly Mother and give praise and glory to God.     Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, pray for us.

Sources: John Paul 2, L’Osservatore Romano, August 15, 1983; Pope Pius 12th – encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam, October 11, 1954.         Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Assumption of Mary

St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:30), sets that stage for this great solemnity: “Those God predestined He likewise called; those He called He also justified; and those He justified He in turn glorified.”

Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Assumption/Dormition of Mary. This is an ancient celebration documented as occurring as early as the 400’s, probably soon after the Council of Ephesus in 431 declared Mary the Theotokos: the Mother of God.

In a homily on the solemnity of the Assumption, Pope John Paul II used  John 14:3 as a Scriptural foundation for understanding the dogma of the Assumption of Mary. In those verses Jesus tells his disciples at the Last Supper, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also.” Our belief is that Mary’s rising to Heaven is the pledge of the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to His disciples: “…where I am, you will be also.” Mary, as our spiritual Mother, through Christ’s promise beckons us to follow her.

With this celebration comes the renewal of the truth that Mary not only belonged to Christ as His Blessed Mother, but that she was truly raised on high as our Queen of Heaven. Beautiful Mary, is in her simplicity, the true sign that informs the world of the humility, love, and mercy of her Messiah Son.

Today we acknowledge Mary as a Queen, who takes her place in the throne room of God, not to have power over us, but, rather, to intercede for us as the perfect mother and faith-filled disciple. We witness this truth in this exquisite painting by Beato Fra Angelico completed in the year 1430.

In the “fullness of time” after millennia of human history, the Father of Mercies saw in Mary a loving and lovable woman who possessed great courage. She is the person who in her simplicity and purity would be completely open, totally surrendering, and free from the pollution of pride or self-will.  She was the woman who would be the New Eve, the mother of the living, the mother of a new creation.

She is, as the Eastern Rite proclaims, the All Holy One, the Panagia, who as our spiritual mother shows us the way by guiding us to her Son who through His Redemptive Act and Redeeming Grace enables us to be reborn into eternal life. The Divine Office in Evening Prayer I for the Assumption (the second antiphon) reminds us: “Through Eve the gates of heaven were closed to all mankind; through the Virgin Mother they were opened wide again, alleluia.”

It is through our own rebirth, through water and the Spirit, that we are able to bear fruit and imitate Mary in bringing the newborn Christ to others. St. Maximus the Confessor speaks of this when he says “Every soul that believes, conceives and gives birth to the Word of God according to faith. Christ is the fruit, and all of us, are mothers of the Christ.” (from Vladimir Zelinsky’s  “Mary in the Mystery of the Church: The Orthodox Search for Unity” found in Mary CoRedmptrix, Mediatrix, Advocate – Theological Foundations II. M.I. Miravalle, S.T.D., editor).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 966) states, “The Immaculate Virgin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up, body and soul, into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be the more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of Lords, and the conqueror of sin and death”

This proclaims the wonderful news that the Assumption of Mary is a participation in the act of her Son being raised from the dead, and so is a Sign, a Sign that points to our own resurrection and union with God. The Eastern Rite liturgy says on  this solemnity: “In giving birth you kept your virginity; in your Dormition you did not leave the world, O Mother of God, but were joined to the Source of Life.”

Our Blessed Mother’s words in her beautiful Canticle, and her personal destiny, are inseparably linked to our own – for she is one of us; and by keeping our focus on her Son, we too, through the grace of God, will experience His mercy which lasts from age to age on those who fear Him.

In these very troubled times may Our Lady of the Assumption always keep us close to her heart.

(Additional sources: 1 Corinthians 15: 20-27;  Revelation, Chapters 12 and 19; Lumen Gentium, 59; and Pope Pius XII in his Munificentissimus Deus (November, 1950).  

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.

St. Clare – Our Holy Friend and Lover of God

The Church honors today, August 11th, the holy woman, consecrated virgin, founder and Abbess of the religious order known as the Poor Clares, and dear friend of St. Francis of Assisi. We know her by her Anglicized name: Clare.

She was, however, born Chiara Offreduccio in Assisi, Italy on July 16, 1194.

The Italian language has always been especially tuned to convey, through words and sounds, a delicacy and refinement of spirit. Her Italian name, Chiara, gives witness to this observation, since its English equivalent means – clear.

The image above by Simone Martini (1283 – 1344) conveys this quiet asceticism in his lovely fresco of her completed between the years 1312 and 1320 and found in the lower basilica of San Francesco in Assisi (image courtesy of  www.berthemorisot.org/index.htm ).  To the historical and spiritual observer, St. Chiara’s life is very clear in its direction and goal. It is well known that she was influenced by her fellow citizen of Assisi, Francis, yet, an examination of her life shows that she was directed and formed by her profound love for Jesus in Scripture and in His real presence in the Eucharist.

A letter from her to a close friend, Blessed Agnes of Prague, shows the depth of her own mysticism and the clear guidance that directs another onto the correct path: “Happy indeed is she who is granted a place at the divine banquet, for she may cling with her inmost heart to Him whose beauty eternally awes the blessed hosts of heaven; to Him whose love inspires love, whose contemplation, refreshes, who generously satisfies, whose gentleness delights, whose memory shines sweetly as the dawn, to Him whose fragrance revives the dead, and whose glorious vision will bless all the citizens of that heavenly Jerusalem. For He is the splendor of eternal glory, the brightness of eternal light, and the mirror without cloud.”

This great mystic of the Church also led a life of austere poverty, chastity, and obedience, yet, her life, as the Divine Office tells us, was “rich in works of charity and piety.”

St. Chiara, passed on to the heavenly banquet on August 11, 1253.

The following beautiful images are from the excellent website: http://www.sacred-destinations.com  I thank them for the courtesy of providing the images.

The first photo is the church of San Damiano, which St. Francis restored when, after praying before the crucifix within its broken down walls, heard the Lord’s voice saying “Francis, rebuild My Church.”

The second photo is the image of the interior of San Damiano Church. It is this crucifix, painted in a unique Byzantine icon style and which is known as the San Damiano Crucifix, that spoke the words that changed the direction of Francis’ life, and, the life of the Church.

The third photo shows the interior of the room that St. Clare died in on this day 759 years ago. Tradition states that her bed was in the upper right corner of the room.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Feast of St. Lawrence – Deacon and Martyr

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Lawrence, a deacon and third century martyr. St. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of Rome who ministered to the people and acted as the Pope’s administrators.

Lawrence died in the year 258, four days after four other deacons (their names were Januarius, Vincent, Magnus, and Stephen) and Pope Sixtus II were martyred as a result of celebrating the eucharist (Holy Mass). Their arrest occurred in the cemetery of Callistus. On the same day, by the order of the emperor Valerian, they were beheaded.

There is little historical evidence remaining on St. Lawrence. His Acts had been lost by the time of St. Augustine in the 4th century. The tradition of the Church states that he was a native of northern Spain and was ordained by Pope St. Sixtus around the year 257. The Pope made him responsible for the distribution of the Church’s alms.

Carl Brandon Strehlke mentions (in his contribution to Lawrence Kanter and Pia Palladino’s magnificent collection of essays and images on the life and works of Fra Angelico) that controvery with the story ensues at this point – the date of his martyrdom. Some accounts state that  Lawrence was martyred under the emperor Decius (AD 249 – 251) and others insist that it was under the reign of Valerian (253 – 260). Regardless, the Church’s tradition states that Lawrence was martyred soon after the emperor Valerian issued an edict in early August of 257, requiring all bishops, priests, and deacons to be denied a trial and immediately be put to death. Valerian’s  command was carried out.  Lawrence is purported to have said, as the Pope and the deacons were being led to torture, “Where are you going, Holy Father, without your son? Where, O Bishop, without your archdeacon? Before you never approached the altar of sacrifice without your servant, and now you are going without me?”  Pope St. Sixtus was said to have commented that he would soon follow them.

The emperor Valerian’s administrators came to St. Lawrence and demanded access to the wealth of the Church. Lawrence asked for a few days to assemble it; but, ever resourceful, between the 6th and the 9th of August, St. Lawrence distributed much of the treasury to the poor. On the third day, when he was supposed to hand over the monies, he presented himself to the prefect, and then led them to a room in the Vatican. There he presented the blind, the poor, the sick and maimed, and with the force of  a saint declared:  “Behold the jewels of the Church!”

Valerian ordered that Lawrence be taken out and martyred – slowly – in payment for his cheeky behavior toward imperial dignity. On August 10, 257, St. Lawrence refused to renounce our holy Faith, and subsequently was roasted on a gridiron used for beef cattle. Legend says that he was of good humor to the very end – instead of giving in and releasing information on the whereabouts of the remaining two deacons and the additional monies, he simply said to the Roman executioners: “I’m done on this side! You can turn me over now!”

You can understand that this story of faith and heroism had to be proclaimed and visualized. And close to 1200 years after the event, one of the finest painters in the Western tradition – Fra Angelico – was called to complete the task. The good Dominican friar was selected by Pope Nicholas V in 1447 to decorate a Vatican chapel dedicated to the two most famous archdeacons of the Church – the first century martyr St. Stephen of Jerusalem, and the 3rd century martyr – St. Lawrence of Rome.

Fra Angelico successfully completed the task the Pope set for him. He linked the narratives of their stories together so that they convincingly expressed the main elements of each saint’s life. They are true catechesis as well as beautiful art. I have included one of my favorite images from Fra Angelico’s rendition – it portrays St. Lawrence in an exquisite rose colored dalmatic (the garment which signifies the deacon’s service and loyalty to his bishop – in this case the bishop is Pope Sixtus II). It shows him distributing the Church’s monies to those in need. It was painted (fresco) between 1447 – 1449 and is approximately 9 by 7 feet.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Transfiguration of Christ

Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. This feast has been celebrated since the 5th century.          It was inserted into the general calendar of the Church in 1457 by Pope Callistus III in order to celebrate the defeat of the advancing Moslem army in the Serbian city of Belgrade. Today’s feast was announced in Rome on August 6, 1457, and was placed in the calendar to occur forty days before the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, on September 14.

Let’s reflect for a moment on today’s Gospel account (Mark 9: 2-10). Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He took Peter, James, and John to the top of Mount Tabor. He knew that His Passion and Crucifixion would be so absolutely terrifying, that when the complete horror of the crucifixion settled in over those three Apostles that they needed to have, in the back of their minds, this moment, this glorious moment, of the Transfiguration.

By remembering its truth, beauty, and power they would understand that Jesus walked to His death under His own free will.  No government, no authority – religious or secular – forced Him to go to the Cross. He went under His own power – a power that was completely obedient to His Father’s will. The Father sent Jesus to call and redeem humanity so that we, under our own power – under our own free will, could choose to enter back into relationship with the Father. After the Redemption occurred, Jesus in turn, sent the Holy Spirit to defend us, from all the various worldly and demonic forces arrayed against us.

The Transfiguration is so important to all of us because at the moment in which Jesus’ glory is manifested the identity of Jesus becomes clear not only for the Apostles but for us, too. When we reflect on this moment we recognize what the Apostles came to understand: that the Crossis not the end of the story. There is something more that lies beyond the Cross – not only for Jesus – but for all who believe in Him and are baptized in the name of His Divine Family.

There is an ancient Church hymn, called the Kontakion of the Transfiguration, which has been sung in Greek for thousands of years, it declares:

“You were transfigured on the mount, and Your disciples beheld Your glory as far as they could bear it O Christ our God, so that when they should see You crucified, they would remember that Your suffering was voluntary, and could declare to all the world that You are truly  the radiant splendor of the Father.”

The glory of our faith is that the Holy Trinity desires  this transfiguration for us, too. If we cooperate with God’s grace, spend time with the Lord, and walk the narrow path of holiness, we too, will be resurrected and experience the power of His transfiguration.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The icon of the Transfiguration is through the courtesy of Fr. Richard Reiser, St. James Roman Catholic Church Omaha, Nebraska – Copyright © Richard Reiser.

Thank You! Our One Year Anniversary!

We are so very grateful to everyone who has visited this website over the past year. It was on August 1, 2011 that I posted my first essay. By midnight tonight over 13,000 people, from 106 nations, will have visited this site and, hopefully, been spiritually fed by the discussion on issues concerning sacred images and iconography, prayer, and reflections on the Holy Scripture.

May God continue to bless all those who have an interest in sacred art and move them to deepen their prayer life by using sacred art as a focal point in their meditations.

Thank you!

May the Blessed Mother continue to intercede for all of us.

Peace and Victory in Christ!

Deacon Paul and Jackie Iacono

Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The above image on The Annunciation was painted by the great American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner. It may be seen at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

St. Peter Chrysologus’ Appeal By Christ To Be Transformed

Today is the memorial of Saint Peter Chrysologus.

Peter was born in the late 4th century in northern Italy. In 424, after serving as a deacon and priest in Emilia, he became bishop of the Italian city of Ravenna. Little reliable information about St. Peter’s life survives, except that he successfully drove heresy and the remnants of Roman paganism from his diocese by doing two things: providing exceptional pastoral care to the people and by giving practical yet passionate sermons. St. Peter’s brief sermons were so inspiring that he was given the title “Chrysologus” which means “of golden speech.”

He was declared a Doctor of the Church in the 18th century. In order to be called a Doctor of the Church the Pope and Cardinals must agree that the individual possessed three main characteristics during his or her life: truly outstanding holiness; a depth of doctrinal insight; and a body of writings which the Church recommends to people as authentic and life giving. These three qualities contributed to Peter’s success in ministering to the people of his diocese.

Our Gospel today speaks of the tiny mustard seed growing into a large bush, or the tiny yeast germ enabling the flour to rise. This theme of transformation is at the center of the story of the Incarnation. In a homily on this theme, St. Peter beautifully describes how Jesus is able, through His two natures, to touch and transform us. Christ meets us on a daily basis in prayer, and especially through the Scriptures and His real presence in the Holy Eucharist.

By means of these two marvelous gifts St Peter explains that we are able to identify with Jesus and be converted like the mustard seed and yeast germ, into something so much greater –  we are transformed and divinized into the life of Christ Himself. In one of his homilies, he has the Lord speaking and appealing to His people. He says,

“Listen to the Lord’s appeal: In me, [your Lord] I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as the Lord, but why not run to me as your father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing my bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death.

These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart. My body was stretched on the cross as an icon, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love. I count it no less to shed my blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as your father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.”

May the Lord continue to raise up men and women with St. Peter Chyrsologus’ gifts to feed and care for His people.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.

Image of St. Peter Chrysologus courtesy of info@crossroadsinitiative.com

 

3rd Century Bronze Medallion of Saints Peter and Paul

In response to a valuable comment made about my post – Part 2 – Icons, Icon Painters, and Praying with Sacred Images, I thought everyone would enjoy seeing one of the oldest images in existence of Saints Peter and Paul: a bronze medallion found in an excavation of the cemetery of Saint Domitilla in Rome.

The Domitilla cemetery is fascinating because it is the oldest of the Roman catacombs and, according to one source, still contain bones. The Domitilla catacombs are very well preserved and contain a second century (AD 101 – 200) fresco of the Last Supper.

This image of the 3rd century bronze medallion is provided through the courtesy of Dr. Margherita Guarducci. It is found in her book The Tomb of Peter, which was published in 1960 through Hawthorn Books. The 1911 edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia verifies the authenticity of this bronze medallion and identifies other sources for the likenesses of Saints Peter and Paul. This bronze medallion is  in the Vatican Museum in Rome.

The medallion is unique, not only because of its age, but for its iconography; for it shows us the typical images of Peter and Paul that we know through our Church’s sacred art. St Paul (on the left) is portrayed with bald head and full beard, and St. Peter is portrayed with a full head of hair and a full beard.

The artistry of the medallion maker in crafting this piece is superb, since we can see that Peter has high cheek bones, a steady gaze, and pleasant facial expression. St. Paul also has unique features, with a specific cast to his nose and gaze in his eyes. The Scriptures tell us that St. Paul was afflicted with a number of ailments, and it appears, that the maker of this medallion was aware of that fact. One of the key features that St. Paul projects in this medallion is the steadiness of the gaze, and what appears to be the readiness to enter into debate and preach the word of God to all that would listen to him.

This is a fine image to pray with and meditate on this week, especially owing to the fact that this Friday, June 29th, is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. The Depositio Martyrum (dated to the year AD 258) places the solemnity of these two men on that date. They are also the patrons of my Diocese – Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A.

Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.

Part Two: Icons, Icon Painters, and Praying With Sacred Icons

The sacred icon is a visual aid that helps the person enter into a conversation with God, an angel, or a saint. If a sacred icon is to be painted with this purpose in mind then it it is a major responsibility of the sacred artist to construct the icon so that it may serve, rather than interfere with or destroy, that purpose. Thus, it is necessary for the sacred artist to curb the desire for ornateness, since it might detract from the prayer itself by focusing the viewer’s eyes on embellishment versus Person, or saint. 

Of all the physical features in an icon, in my opinion, the most important are the eyes. The eyes of the person represented in the icon – Our Lord, the angels, or the saints – are critical. They normally look out at the viewer. They are painted this way because icons, which should be painted in a spirit of deep prayer, are trying to establish or renew our relationship with the Heavenly person portrayed. So, as in typical conversation, we look at the person and they look at us. Yet, in many cases the eyes of the Blessed Mother, as the greatest of the saints, do not look at us; they are usually looking at her Son, or, are looking away from the viewer, or present us with  a “distant gaze.” These particular types of steady and intense looks of the Blessed Mother may also be seen in statues – especially those of medieval France. Please note the following link to an excellent site which shows some of these gazes in statues of Mother Mary and the Christ Child:

vialucispress.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/the-thrones-of-wisdom-dennis-aubrey/  By the way, I highly recommend Dennis Aubrey and PJ McKey’s site for your subscription.

Sacred icons are the traditional form of artistic expression of the Eastern and Western Rites of  the Catholic Church from approximately the 6th century on. The Western Rite moved away from purely painting sacred icons in approximately the 12th century and moved into the Gothic Period of sacred art. The Eastern Rite continued to develop its devotion to sacred icons with differences being seen within the various cultural areas of Orthodoxy – from Greece, to Serbia, Russia, Crete, etc.

As mentioned above, the use of a sacred icon is of practical spiritual value in that it is an aid in prayer. On an additional note, when we pray with a sacred icon, we are doing the same thing as when we speak to someone that we know and love. We speak to them, we may be in their physical presence, or we may be on a phone or computer connection with them, but we are with them in the sense that we are focusing on them at that moment in time – either physically facing them – or –  on a phone or computer screen. So when we pray to an icon we are looking at it in the same way we would look at someone in a face-to-face conversation; for that is what prayer is: conversation with God, Our Blessed Mother, the angels, or a particular saint.

Some people have a tendency to get themselves upset over the use of the term iconographer (icon writer) versus icon painter. The word graphein in Greek means “to write,” and it also means, “to paint.” A linguist and museum curator by the name of David Coomler informs us that in the Russian language the English word “write” is pisat, and the word “paint” is pisat. So, in Greek and Russian we have a double meaning for one word that represents both “to paint” and “to write;” however, this doesn’t transfer into the English language since in English we obviously have two different words to express graphein and pisat: write and paint.

I have no problem with people saying “I am a sacred icon painter.” The reason being – it is correct English. The term iconographer, however, is used and you see it in numerous books and in conversation in non-Russian or Greek formats. When people ask me how I identify myself – as an icon painter or an icon writer – I respond that I am a simple “sacred artist”!

Yet, we have an obligation to be truthful to our Holy Faith, so, when we paint icons we need to be attentive to and follow Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. In that sense, we are “writing” icons because we are scribing into visual form – using paint rather than just ink – the images from Sacred Scripture and Tradition. I may be breaking a grammatical rule in saying that; yet, I feel that it is appropriate owing to the nature of what we are trying to do in painting sacred icons.

May I suggest that as icon painters we must be conscious of the truth that the images that we copy of Our Lord, Our Blessed Mother, the angels, and the saints (saints prior to the 14th century) were and are built on our human imagination, for we do not have an actual authentic portrait of Our Lord, or Our Blessed Mother. There is consensus that St. Peter had a full head of hair and full beard, while St. Paul had a bald or balding head and full beard. I can say that because recent archaeological discoveries in Rome have continued to show those pictorial images for these two saints.

Still, that being said, we cannot be absolutely sure of this because we have no photographs, or, first century portraits of them; but, we do have a sacred tradition that portrays them that way; but this is not true for many of the saints – unfortunately, we just don’t know what they looked like. So we have to be very careful in our portrayal of saints, and remember, that basic cultural and historic research will help us in painting a quality sacred icon or image.

The above photo shows a recent interesting archaeological discovery that occurred in June 2010: The link below shows the cameraman filming  paintings of some of the earliest known images of the Apostles Peter and Paul (these ceiling paintings date from between AD 350 and 400) in a catacomb located under a modern office building in Rome. The images were uncovered using lasers and were under thick deposits of calcium carbonate. ((AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)) Click on this link below to see more photos:

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2010/06/22/ancient-icons-apostles-peter-paul-rome/#ixzz1voqaPpKJ  Thanks to this site for the information.

 Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Icons, Icon Painters, and Praying With Sacred Icons: Part One

A few issues have come up in discussing some basic terms with people. I would like to be clear on how I have come to understand these words because it may affect how we view our “ministry” to be painters of sacred icons and or sacred images.

From my understanding, the word icon in English, Greek, and Latin, is the word for image. In our usage as sacred artists, it refers to a sacred image of Our Lord, Our Blessed Mother, angels, or specific saints. The purpose of a  sacred icon is that, as a piece of sacred art, it  focuses an individual in prayer.  A sacred icon is a specific type of sacred art. It is created following certain traditions – tradition with a small “t” and a large “T.”

Many sacred icons are presented with a simplicity of style, the use of color, the types of colors used, the use of symbols, etc. A sacred icon is different from a sacred image, in that the sole purpose of the sacred icon is that it is to be used as a focal point for personal or communal prayer.

A sacred image, however, may have been commissioned by a patron for personal prayer, but it may also have been commissioned for the pure enjoyment of its beauty. In the case of Renaissance sacred art, the Roman Catholic Church became the patron of many pieces of sacred art in order to affect the communal prayer of the faithful who came to the small churches and the great basilicas for Holy Mass.

With a sacred image (such as a religious image painted by Michelangelo or Leonardo) you have the artist’s personal imagination heavily influencing and entering into the creation of the beauty of the image, possibly even manipulating and combining Scriptural passages for the purpose of the story the artist would like to tell. Yet, even though I have just made that statement, the truth of the matter is that it is not always so clear cut. We do have icons, such as the famous Nativity icon of the birth of Christ, in which you have numerous Scriptural passages – conveying different events – being used to convey a catechetical sequence surrounding the birth of Our Lord – and all of this is done on the same icon panel!

In a sacred icon, the imagination of the artist is present, yet, it is supposed to be subordinate to his/her faith’s perception of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition (how the early Church viewed their beliefs and expressed them within their specific cultural tradition). So, if a sacred artist is painting a sacred icon, he or she is aware of the theological, aesthetic, and semantic rules that have been developed and followed through the centuries. These rules – “the Canon of Iconography” – are affected by cultural area and religious Sacred Tradition.

For example, a Coptic sacred icon (see image below), by a painter of the Egyptian Coptic Church will express the image of Christ and a saint (in the icon below an abbot of the Coptic Christian Church) somewhat differently than a Greek or Russian Orthodox painter; and yet, there is nothing wrong with this, as long as the painter is not fomenting apostasy or heresy.

All of that being said, sacred images, for example, by Renaissance painters, can certainly be used to focus an individual in their personal prayer, as do the beautiful stained glass windows of the great Gothic cathedrals. Care must be taken, however, in selecting appropriate images for use in personal prayer. It is my perception that the type of image a soul uses in personal prayer – sacred icons (from the Eastern Rite) or sacred images (from the Western Rite) – is a matter of personal preference and certainly does not  indicate that one type is better or “more truthful” than another. Eastern and Western sacred artists are both working off of their own perceptions and spirituality; there are disagreements with this, but we must always remain charitable with each other.

Within the last twenty years there have been many Western sacred artists that have rediscovered the beauty of painting sacred icons, and are trying to be sensitive to the Eastern Rites’ traditions,  as they bring it back into the consciousness of the Roman Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Churches, thankfully, never lost appreciation for their tradition.

I will post Parts Two and Three on this same theme in the upcoming days. Be sure to look for them on-line or in the archives. Thanks.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The image of Christ and the Abbot – a panel depicting a monk with Christ. It was excavated in the early 20th century from a monastery in Egypt and is located in the Bawit room at the Louvre. Thanks to: Photo by Clio 20, CC attribution share-alike 3.0. I believe the icon dates to about the 7th century.

St. Matthias and the Renewal of Easter Hope – The Lord Loves His Friends

Today is the feast day of St. Matthias. The Acts of the Apostles relate that Matthias was chosen by lot to replace the disciple who had betrayed Jesus in the garden.

In chapter 18 of our Gospel, St. John speaks of Judas, who was in collusion with the Romans and the Jewish elders, and brought them to the place where Jesus was staying in the garden; the betrayal took place and the deaths occurred.

In the period after Jesus’ death the Apostles were known as the Eleven.

The Eleven. A title which causes us to pause, even today, two thousand years later. They were twelve, but then the betrayal took place. Judas hung himself; and the Romans hung Jesus on a cross. Even in those anxiety filled days after the death of Jesus, and before His resurrection, the Eleven knew in their hearts that Judas was not the only one, who had betrayed Jesus. For in cold terror they ran from the garden – they ran from the Cross – abandoning their Master and betraying His friendship.

It was only John, and the women, who had the courage to stand there and minister in silence, in tears and sobs, to their dying master. We wonder, that as they stood before the Cross, was there a crisis of trust in their own hearts? Did they wonder about the other ten who were not there? Did they wonder about their own possible betrayal? Yet, all of their self doubts and agony would be washed away through the truth of the Resurrection.

Today’s feast of St. Matthias gives us renewed hope in this, the sixth week, of the Easter season; for it directs us to the great love of God for His friends. It also reminds us that He never leaves His friends alone in their mission of building His Church.

After the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven, Peter, as the great leader of this little group of friends, realized that something had to be done to fill the hole, the gaping hole, that echoed with the cries caused by the betrayal of trust,  friendship, and fidelity to God Himself.

Peter knew that this cavity had to be repaired because Jesus Himself had filled the hole in Peter’s heart. It was Peter’s realization and trust that Jesus could heal him that led to his putting the mantle of leadership back on.

Peter knew that the grace of Jesus could heal them,too, and that they could become the ambassadors of the Good News who would carry out Jesus’ commands. Their group of twelve, by mirroring the twelve tribes of Israel, could evangelize Israel itself.

So, they cast lots – because they did not think themselves worthy to make the choice of their own accord, and wanted some sign [from the Holy Spirit] for their instruction.

Matthias was chosen.

St. Matthias was a disciple of Jesus who loved much, he witnessed the resurrection, he lived in the Father’s love, he followed Jesus’ commands, and was willing to lay down his life for the Lord and His Mission.

May God grant that we have Matthias’ courage to be open to the grace of Christ and use it to  build-up His Church.

Quote taken from a 4th century homily by St. John Chrysostom on the Acts of the Apostles found on pages 1822-24 of The Divine Office volume 2.

The sacred image of St. Matthias is from the workshop of Simone Martini the 14th century painter from Siena whose style influenced the Gothic movement. Martini portrays Matthias wrapped in the red mantle of martyrdom holding  a book that is painted green. Green is the color used by sacred iconographers and sacred artists to represent hope, life, and renewal. The book he is holding is a  reference to the truth of Christ’s Gospel preached by St. Matthias. This painting is dated between 1317-1319. Maestro Martini died in France at the age of 60 in 1344.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Holy Saturday Meditation: Something Strange Is Happening

“Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on the earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve.

The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won Him the victory. At the sight of Him Adam, the first man He had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

…For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

…a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from  your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven… the kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.”

The above quotation is from an ancient homily of the Catholic Church from its earliest centuries and is found within the Divine Office of the Roman Catholic Church. It is taken from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday.

The first image of “The Harrowing of Hell” was painted by the Florentine painter Fra Angelico between the years 1437-46. The second image on this same subject was completed around the year 1315 by an artist of the Orthodox Church who painted this wall icon in fresco. It is presently found in the Chora Church in Istanbul, Turkey. The third image of the “Harrowing of Hell” is by the head of the Moscow school of icon painters from the late 15th century – the master Dionysius. This Russian Orthodox  icon was completed around 1481.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Artist As Contemplative – Part 4 – A Meditation on the Scourging of Christ

In this series on the Artist As Contemplative it is my hope that you are exposed to some different techniques that may assist you in your prayer relationship with Our Lord.

The last post in this series specifically mentioned that we do not need to use many words during prayer. This may be uncomfortable for us at first since we have developed into a species that appears to constantly need some type of noise, talk, music, or in some cases, cacophony going on inside our mind. I am not a social psychologist so I will not venture a reason for such a trend within American society, other than to say that it may be an attempt to buffer the anxiety that people, especially the young, feel.

We must reduce the amount of noise, superfluous talk, and loud dissonant music that hammers our nervous system. We have to do this in order to allow sacred silence the opportunity to blanket us with its warmth so we can settle into a comfortable conversation with Christ.

St. Teresa of Avila is very helpful in this regard. Fr. Peter-Thomas Rohrbach, O.C.D.  clearly states in his wonderful book Conversation With Christ that the prayer doctrine of St. Teresa is clear: “Prayer does not consist in involved, complicated reasoning, but in thought which is productive of conversation with Christ.” So prayer, productive prayer, is conversation with Jesus.

Fr. Rohrbach then goes on to provide an actual demonstration of true meditation provided by St. Teresa of Avila in her own autobiography.

She says: “We begin to meditate upon a scene of the Passion – let us say upon the binding of the Lord to the columns. The mind sets to work to seek out the reasons, which are to be found for the great afflictions, and distress, which His Majesty must have suffered when He was alone there.

It also meditates on the many other lessons, which, if it is industrious, or well stored with learning, this mystery can teach. This method should be the beginning, the middle, and the end of prayer for us: it is a most excellent and safe road until the Lord leads us to other methods, which are supernatural…   it is well to reflect for a time and to think of the pains which He bore there, why He bore them, Who He is that bore them and with what love He suffered them.

But we must not always tire ourselves by going in search of such ideas; we must sometimes remain by His side with our minds hushed in silence. If we can, we should occupy ourselves in looking upon Him Who is looking at us; keep Him company, talk with Him; pray to Him; humble ourselves before Him; have our delight in Him, and remember that He never deserved to be there. Anyone who can do this, though he may be but a beginner in prayer, will derive great benefit from it, for this kind of prayer brings many benefits; at least, so my soul has found.”

The beauty of this approach is that it is completely natural for us to do what she directs in prayer. If we look again at the passages that I have highlighted in bold face you will see that this prayer behavior is the same we would express if we were with a close friend or relative experiencing a troubled or stress filled moment in their life.

So the watchwords here are sensitivity, awareness, and humility. Sensitivity because we need to be willing to listen, and humility in knowing we don’t have all the answers, and the awareness to know that sometimes it is necessary just to keep someone company, and quietly talk to them, without trying to provide solutions.

But it is more than that, isn’t it; because in our prayer we are talking to God. We are talking to the Son of God who suffered for us, because it was the Father’s desire, which He willingly accepts in order to accomplish the salvific act of our Redemption. Our ability to keep ourselves humble before God, delight in His Divine Presence, and remember His Life and Death is critical for a healthy prayer experience.

Our intellect and will working with the faculty of our memory of scenes from Sacred Scripture provide us with the ability to soak ourselves in the meaning of Christ’s great sacrifice. For this is who we are as Catholics, Orthodox, or Protestants – people who bring the images and truth of Scripture and the saints of our traditions into our prayer life.

Does any of this apply to sacred art? Yes, as sacred artists, St. Teresa of Avila would probably say, “Paint and use the best quality and Scripturally correct icons, paintings, sculpture, etc as prayer aids. We need these aids to help the entire person: mind, heart, soul, and body to be focused on Him.”

I’d also venture to suggest that she would say “If you are a sacred artist produce a piece of sacred art that correctly portrays the Scriptural Jesus, the Blessed Mother, His angels, and saints. Remember, a sacred artist must be a person of deep prayer.”

St. John Damascene (Damascus), thirteen hundred years ago, in his writings and teachings very clearly stated that when we do this it is not idol worship. We believe that the Son of God became man; therefore, He became the iconthe image – of God for us to see, hear, touch, scourge, and crucify – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

This is not idol worship, just as it is not idol worship when you have a picture of your deceased parents on your bureau – you are not making an idol of them – your are not worshipping them – rather, you are remembering them through a celluloid image – an image which helps you relive what they taught and how they loved you – and still do from beyond the grave. So never fear your imagination – or images of the Lord – as long as you guard yourself with images and imagination that are focused with correct theology, semantics, and aesthetics.

I’ll let Father Rohrbach have the last word, he says: “St. Teresa presents us a crystal-clear picture of meditation: the mind furnishing matter for the heart’s talk with Christ. And above all, her fundamental rule that prayer consists not in thought, but in love.”

The above image of St. Teresa of Avila is considered to be the closest likeness to her. It was painted in 1576 when she was 61 years old.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

St. Vincent of Saragossa – Martyr – And An Artistic Challenge!

Today, January 23rd, is the Feast Day of Saint Vincent of Saragossa.  St. Vincent was a deacon and served as a minister and trustworthy pastoral assistant of Bishop Valerius, of Saragossa, Spain. He was martyred in the year 304 during the ferocious persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Saint Vincent is the most famous martyr of Spain, and St. Augustine testifies to this in his sermons that Vincent’s acts of love and loyalty to Jesus Christ, and service to the Catholic faith, were so respected that they were read and discussed in all the churches of North Africa.

Owing to the fact that Bishop Valerius had a speech impediment, Deacon Vincent was given the faculty to do all the preaching in their diocese. When the persecutions resumed, the Roman governor Dacian had Vincent and the bishop dragged in chains to Valencia where they were imprisoned. Bishop Valerius was subsequently banished, but Deacon Vincent, as a result of his preaching, was subjected to many cruel tortures such as the rack, the gridiron, and frequent scourging, all of which ultimately led to his martyrdom.

Legend tells us that even in death his murderers were not satisfied, for they threw his corpse into a field to be devoured by vultures; but, according to eyewitnes- ses, a raven defended his body by successfully fighting off the scavengers. His body was later buried and a chapel built over it.

In Vincent’s story we have the witness of a man who stood up, in Christian love and faith, to the might of a Roman imperial government that did all it could to destroy him in life and in death. They were so outraged by him because Saint Vincent would not renounce his sacred ordination to the diaconate, would not renounce the truth of the Church, and would not renounce Jesus Christ even in the face of unspeakable and savage tortures.

St. Vincent of Saragossa is a man who deserves to be recognized. If we review the images of this early Spanish saint, we see  a number that are sensitive and well-done, but it really is time to produce a new icon, or sacred image, of this great witness to the truth, love, and mercy of Jesus Christ. If you are a sacred artist or iconographer, and are interested in producing an icon or sacred image of St. Vincent, I will happily post it (with your permission of course) on this blog. He is a great model for all Christian young people today and we need an image of him that is contemporary to our age.

Come and join us, and like St. Vincent of Saragossa, have some of your art, or all of it, spread the Good News that the love, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ has healed our broken relationship with God the Father!

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Five Days Before Christmas: A Unique Story About The Graciousness of God

A very clear narrative greeted us in yesterday morning’s Gospel by St. Luke. He tells us that both Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth were both righteous before God: walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord – they were blameless; but they have no child. Elizabeth was barren and both were elderly. We read of Zechariah silently bringing his heavy heart before the Lord – even after all those years – it was still burdened with disappointment. The couple probably remembered Psalm 112 which says:

“Happy the man who fears the Lord, who takes delight in his commands. His sons will be powerful on earth; the children of the upright are blessed.”

Zechariah was a priest, and on that day – by lot – it was his turn to enter the chamber within the Temple called the Holy Place and burn incense on the special altar. The Holy Place was a small chamber that led to the Holy of Holies, which housed the Ark of the Covenant.

For whatever reason, Zechariah that morning carried his disappointment with him into the Holy Place; and while he was there the archangel, Gabriel, appeared on the right side of the Altar of Incense. Gabriel tells Zechariah not to be afraid and that his prayer was heard before the throne of God. Gabriel continues with the joyous news that Elizabeth will bear a son, and that he will be called John – which in Hebrew means – “the Lord is gracious.” This child will grow and be great before the Lord, and even from his mother’s womb – he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.

But, in a typically human way, Zechariah questions the archangel’s announcement. His query must have been different in tone. It must have had the typical masculine attitude of “Are you kidding me!” Zechariah’s tenor makes Gabriel, and possibly God, indignant – and Zechariah is struck speechless for his insolence.

In Scripture, few lines later, we see Gabriel’s announcement to Mary. She questions him, too, as “How can this be since I do not know man? But Gabriel does not strike her speechless. We have to be struck by this difference. What does it teach us?

It is clear that God knows our hearts. God knew what was on Zechariah’s heart when he was in the Holy Place. Zechariah does not trust the message or the messenger, and by inference – he does not trust God. God knows his heart; and disciplines this good man. Like Zechariah, we, too, may disbelieve God. In our sophistication or position in life we may say “Well that’s fine, but, the Scriptures don’t apply to our situation, or this specific teaching was acceptable years ago, but, too much time has passed and it doesn’t apply to my problems. Remember, the Gospel says that Zechariah and his wife were good and righteous people. It was mentioned that he kept all the Commandments and ordinances. Yet, when his big moment comes – where is all that goodness and righteousness? It might still be there in his heart, but, there was also a pocket of doubta crevice of skepticism – that was significant enough for him, as a priest of the Almighty God, to be struck speechless in punishment for not trusting Gabriel’s message.

As sacred artists, as Christians, this Gospel asks us to stop, and check our souls in this last week of Advent. It asks us how patient, confident, and trusting have we been of the Lord’s message to our hearts, and have we allowed this to carry over into our actions?

Zechariah learned the hard way that when the Lord prepares us for His coming He desires us to be alive, awake, and alert to His call and to trust His message. So, our prayer this week should echo that of Zechariah, who in the months of speechless waiting, most likely in his mental prayer said,  “Lord, I believe; cleanse me of my disbelief. Lord, I trust, heal me of my distrust;” and it should also echo that of Mary – who in humility and expectation waited patiently for the graciousness of the Lord to take fruit in her womb.

Copyright © 2011 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Thanks to angels-angelology.com for stained glass window image.