Chinese Martyrs and the Beautiful Art of Ken Jan Woo

We remember today, July 9th, the 120 martyrs who died in China between the years 1648 and 1930. Eighty-seven of these were native born Chinese and were children, parents, catechists, and simple laborers ranging in age from nine to seventy-two.

In the early 19th century, St. Augustine Zhao Rong was a Chinese soldier who accompanied French missionary Bishop John Gabriel Taurin Dufresse to his martyrdom in Bejiing.  He was profoundly touched by the Bishop’s courage in the face of great trials, humiliation, and eventual death. As a result, Zhao Rong sought baptism, was given the baptismal name of Augustine, and soon ordained a diocesan priest. He spoke often of Bishop Dufresse’s sense of hope, love of Christ, and confidence.

In 1815 the Chinese government martyred Father Augustine Zhao Rong.

An icon of Father Zhao Rong was completed by the brilliant Chinese artist Ken Jan Woo. Many of his icons and sacred art can be seen at his website http://www.kenwooart.com/index.html. Classically trained, Ken brings a new contemporary spirit to the sacred images of the Church’s past history. His exquisite rendering of this saint, in a typical icon format, is powerful in its simplicity and harmony.

The witness of these Chinese saints, in association with the Gospel passage of Matthew 9: 18-26, begs a question: What sets St. Zhao Rong, his martyred companions, and the people in the Gospel apart from many in our society?

Jesus provided the people with faith-filled hope even when circumstances dictated that their situation was hopeless. Why is this?  It is because Jesus’ love for them, and willingness to share The Truth, was always directed back to His Father. Jesus tells us, “With God, all things are possible to those who believe.”

Jesus’ words were incendiary; for He said to the woman “Take heart, daughter – your faith has made you well.” That phrase “Take heart” ignited the woman’s expectant faith. Her belief allowed her to cooperate with the healing process.

Matthew’s Gospel passage provides witness to the local ruler’s spiritual courage to request Jesus’ help. The girl was already considered dead.  Professional mourners had already been hired to demonstrate the family’s public grief. The mourners and others in the crowd scornfully laughed at Jesus. Their grief was as bogus as their lack of faith. Jesus’ was ready to heal, teach, and be open to the needs of that family. It gave them a glimpse into the mind and heart of God; and it provides us with a model to follow, too.

Let our prayer be the prayer of the martyrs: Lord, you love each of us with a unique and personal love. As we face our troubles with confident hope, touch our souls with your saving power, and restore us to the fullness of your eternal life. Amen

Artwork Copyright © Ken Jan Woo. All Rights Reserved.

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

The Virgin Mary – Artistic Diversity and Race

Artistic images of the Blessed Mother of Jesus, as portrayed in different cultures and historical periods, have been part of world history for centuries. Below are a few examples.

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Japanese
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Native American – Hopi
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Chinese
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Native American – Cheyenne
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Mexican
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Italian – Baroque Period
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African
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Medieval Europe
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European (Polish)

The various images of Jesus and His Mother portrayed by each ethnic group are beautiful and have spiritual meaning. Are the artists of these works prejudiced?

Because of the controversy over comments made by political activists over the last few weeks it would appear that the motive of cultural artistic contributions is based on racial superiority. In this climate confusion is very possible.

The belief in human racial supremacy cannot be supported by facts.

A framework to discuss these issues is found within current scientific research. Evolutionary biologist, Alan R. Templeton’s recent genetic research is very helpful. The abstract of his research is published in final form as: Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2013 Sep; 44(3): 262–271.

Highlights of Templeton’s research:

  1. “Races are highly genetically differentiated populations with sharp geographical boundaries.
  2. Alternatively, races can be distinct evolutionary lineages within a species.
  3. By either definition, races do not exist in humans but do exist in chimpanzees. [italics mine, P.O.I]
  4. Adaptive traits such as skin color do not define races and are often discordant with one another.
  5. Human populations are interwoven by genetic interchanges; there is no tree of populations.”

Thus, in the grand scheme of things superficial traits are what separate us not genetic differences. It certainly appears that the concept of five races is outmoded and not substantiated by modern genetic research. It is obviously correct to say that specific ethnic groups, with superficial physical traits, living within specific geographical areas, do exist.

If in America or Europe when “white” artists portray Jesus and all the individuals found in Holy Scripture, they would in the majority of cases, be artistically portrayed as having the superficial traits of European/Middle Eastern populations.

The images above certainly portray that the artists within another culture, or dominant ethnic group/cultures, will do the same thing. This is logical because the artist of a specific ethnicity paints or sculpts to meet their group’s spiritual needs, or, the patron’s specific request. That is not an act of ethnic supremacy or racism.

Genetically, can we say with any assurance what the genetic make-up of Jesus, Mary, and His fellow Hebrews were when they existed? There is historical evidence to contribute to the answer.

Since the time of the Patriarch Abraham’s son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob, there occurred the development of the twelve tribes of Israel.

These tribes definitely took shape and became a cultural, military, and political force by circa 1925 BC. Tribal leaders were very strict about intermarriage with other populations. Under Moses’ leadership, circa 1250 BC, they did not allow it at all. They were a large enough population to marry within the system of their tribes, and their members conformed to the demands of God and their leaders.

Abram (Abraham) and his flock of followers originated within the city of Ur, which was a Chaldean city-state of the Sumerian civilization. Today the archeological remains of the  city of Ur are located in Southern Iraq. Ur was Abram’s home before he, his family, and followers were given the order by God to travel to the land of Canaan.

Abram would later be given the name Abraham by God. “In various sources, “Canaan” refers to an area encompassing parts of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. The Israelites occupied and conquered Palestine, or Canaan, beginning around 1750 BC, or perhaps earlier. The Bible justifies such occupation by identifying Canaan with the Promised Land, the land promised to the Israelites by God” (source: https://www.britannica.com/place/Ur

Bottom line, Jesus, Mary, and “His friends” were ethnic Israelite/Hebrews. They were Hebrews from the genetic line of King David. David’s genetic line originated from Abraham’s son, Isaac, and grandson Jacob. There is no way to prove that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’s genetics are related to the people of today’s southern Iraq, or any other ethnic group.

If a person believes in the truth of the Holy Scriptures then the answer is that Jesus, His family, and Apostles, were all of the genetic line of Israelite/Hebrews with the superficial physical traits of that ethnic group.

Ultimately, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican Biblical sacred art is not about race or superficial physical traits. The entire Hebrew and Christian Scriptures point to the truth that the human nature of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, was born of Mary within Roman occupied Israel. The spiritual union of the power of the Holy Spirit with the consent of Mary  led to the birth of Jesus, the Redeemer of mankind.

Supremacy is not found in race, ethnic group, or prejudice/bigotry. It is only found in the authority and power of the Holy Trinity.

Praise be the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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.

Holy Saturday/Easter 2020

Today, Holy Saturday, is observed by the Western and Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church, and other denominations as the Anastasis (Greek, “resurrection”), or the Harrowing of Hell by Jesus Christ.

In this harrowing, Christ’s purpose was to free the righteous people of the Old and New Testaments from their inability to enter Heaven. This occurred because of their death prior to the passion and death of Jesus. His Redemptive acts freed them from what Roman Catholics would call Purgatory and the Eastern Rites and some Protestant denominations would call Hades.

Anastasis_at_Chora
The Anastasis, or the Harrowing of Hades, a fresco found in the Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey dated around 1315. It depicts the freeing of Adam and Eve and other righteous souls from Purgatory. This icon is usually in tandem with an icon of the bodily Resurrection. Notice Christ standing on the doors of Hades or Purgatory as he takes the hands of Adam and Eve and literally pulls them out of their resting places.

There are over fifteen verses and references found in both the Hebrew  and the Christian Scriptures that mention Hades. It is also discussed in non-canonical apocryphal writings such as the Gospel of Nicodemus. Its referred to as Purgatory because it is “the state of those souls who die in God’s friendship, assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purgation to enter into the happiness of Heaven” (CCCC; para. 210, see notation below).

An analogy for Purgatory, though limited, would be the understanding that you cannot enter a beautiful wedding without showering and dressing appropriately. Hell, however, is the place of eternal damnation for those who through reason and free will die in the state of unconfessed mortal sin. They have deliberately intended to separate from the love of God by pursuing and participating in deadly sins.

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Egg tempera fresco by Fra Angelico. Notice Jesus standing on the doors of Purgatory as he leads the righteous souls out of their captivity. The beatified Fra Angelico interestingly puts a demon in the left corner and under the door! The demons and eternally lost souls were /are aware of the Redemption by Christ. This fresco, dated  1440, is found in the Museum of St. Mark (San Marco, a former Dominican priory) in Florence.

Please enjoy another Fra Angelico fresco of the Resurrection of Christ. I wish you a happy and  blessed Easter!

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CCCC: refers to the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd edition, 2012.

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!

AyaSofya
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:

THE_FIRST_COUNCIL_OF_NICEA
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).
220px-Zemen-monastery-st-spiridon
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.

Icon-St.-Athanaius-the-Great
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.

THE_FIRST_COUNCIL_OF_NICEA
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.

orthodox_icon_of_our_jesus_pantocrator_of_sinai._large
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.

 

 

 

Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32. The Prodigal: Which Brother Are We?

I once heard a friend repeat a quote by the author Katherine Mansfield: If you wish to live, you must first attend your own funeral.”

How true. We begin to live life perceptively only when we project ourselves to the time of our own death, imagining how we’ve lived our life and wondering whether we’ve met the mark.

Depending on our frame of mind, and perspective on life, we may not include the spiritual in our self-assessment, or, only give it a passing thought. That is why Mansfield’s phrase may be viewed as spiritually deficient.

In today’s Gospel on the parable of the Prodigal Son there are family members that Jesus is requiring us to understand. The behavior of these people, the father and the two sons, provokes four questions. Questions not so much about our secular situation but our spiritual – our relation to God, and, each other.

At first glance, the younger son impresses us as an individual who is quite selfish. When he requests his inheritance from his father, he isn’t just asking for the cash, he is in effect saying to his father: “I want to live my life now and without any strings attached. To me you’re unimportant, this family is unimportant. Just let me get on with my life and give me my share right now.”

Are we living in  a way that categorizes God? Are we willing to acknowledge  Him only because we want to get something out of Him? Do we play upon His charity and generosity?

If this is so, if we have the younger son’s attitude, we end up like him – swimming with the pigs.  What will be our inheritance? It will undoubtedly be spiritual poverty and secular discontent. Sadly, sometimes people understand this only in the last few months of their life, or, in the moments right before their death.

Jesus is teaching us that the prodigal son was only able to enter into a state of recovery when he “attended his own funeral.” When he was able to perceive his own personal endpoint, his own material and spiritual poverty. He was finally able to admit that he was grievously wrong only when this realization slammed into his consciousness.

His new perception demanded that he learn the root causes of his problem, reject his worldly self, and humbly ask for repentance. He needed to realize that his father and family were all important to his happiness. This required acceptance of and humbly requesting his father’s mercy and love.

This perception did not demand psychoanalysis. He did not need years of therapy on a psychologist’s couch. He had the intelligence to figure it out because he confronted himself as he truly was and extended that personal analysis to his family and surroundings. He acknowledged his sins, and how truly needy he was of his father’s love and mercy.

We are half way through the Season of Lent. Like the younger son, have we confronted our own faults, our lack of perception, and yes – our own sins?

The Prodigal says: “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, father, I have sinned against heaven, and before you.”

This is the turning point in the Prodigal’s life. It can also be ours.

Improvement begins with a decision to change the way we do things, the way we behave and perceive reality, both in a secular and spiritual sense. If you are a Western Rite Catholic, this is accomplished in three ways: Sacramental Confession, prayer, and resolution of purpose. Reconciliation is always possible. Our God is a God of justice, but also, a God of infinite familial love and mercy.

Do we behave like the younger son or the elder son? Are our hearts cold?

What the younger son ultimately accepts the elder son initially rejects. At first, the elder son resents the generosity of the father’s love – he resents the generosity of the act of forgiveness. It appears that he is unable to accept his repentant brother or his generous father.

Does this, in any way, apply to us? Do we ignore the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s love for us; do we resent people who have converted, changed their spiritual way of life? Or do we continue to judge them as if they were still enveloped by their sins? Do we verbalize our resentment or question their repentance? Are we unwilling to repent of these attitudes? Are our hearts cold?

I am a sinner and you are a sinner. There are very few people on this earth that are living saints. Regardless of whether our sins are small or large, visible or hidden, it is paramount that we remember the words of St. Paul: God the Father “reconciles us to Himself [through the passion and death of His Son] and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him [Jesus Christ] to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5: 17-21).

We need to take stock of ourselves this Lenten season, repent and return to the Father’s embrace. This can only be done through the Sacrament of Confession/Reconciliation – a Sacrament made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

the-return-of-the-prodigal-son-illustration-for-the-life-of-christ1.jpglarge
Painting by James Tissot (French; 1836 – 1902). “Return of the Prodigal Son.”

Thank you for 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Holy Trinity – Communication Through Word and Art

Is communication just a trait of human beings? Is it a trait of God?

The Dogma of the Holy Trinity is one of the great Mysteries of the Christian Faith.  All Christians acknowledge and accept that The One True God, the divine Holy Trinity, are three separate and distinct Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity is not three separate Gods. They are one God in three Divine Persons. This is known as the dogma of the “consubstantial” Trinity: each of the three Persons is God – completely and entirely.

These ideas were debated and verified by the assembled bishops at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 and subsequent Councils (specifically the ecumenical Council of Nicaea/Constantinople in AD 381).

In the 13th century the Fourth Lateran Council stated: “Each of the Persons is that supreme reality (nature, essence, and substance) of God” (confer Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, paragraphs 198 through 315, pp. 54-84).

These three Divine Persons relate and communicate among themselves and desire to communicate and relate with Their creation. This is verified through Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the historic teachings of the Apostles, the Ecumenical Councils, and the saints of the Church.

The  first of Their creation, the nine choirs of angels, communicate with God and each other, too.

Obviously, human beings communicate and relate through speech, behavior, and the written word, though at times, not very well. To a much lesser extent, there is “communication” in the other members of the animal kingdom (by instinct, chemical, and behavioral signals) and in the plant kingdom (through chemical signals).

God the Father has communicated specifically through His Word, the incarnated Son, Jesus Christ. In accordance with the Father’s will the human Jesus is “born of a woman” into space and time through the great Mystery of the Incarnation of Christ.

Jesus agreed to humbly obey His Father’s will. Through His Incarnation the Divine Son Jesus expresses His two natures: human and divine. He does this while “hiding” the full majesty of His divinity (except for the moments of His Transfiguration, Resurrection, and subsequent appearances to His Apostles).

The Holy Spirit (as the Council of Florence stated in 1439) “Is eternally from the Father and Son; He has His nature and subsistence at once from the Father and the Son. He proceeds eternally from both as from one principle and through one spiration (the life-giving breath of God).”

“When the Father sends His Word to His Creation He also sends His Breath. “Jesus and the Holy Spirit are on a joint mission, while at the same time being distinct but inseparable. It is the Son who is seen, the visible image of the invisible God, while it is the Holy Spirit that reveals Him.” (please refer to page 181 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition, also pages 54 through 90).

The Holy Spirit communicates and spiritually shapes us through the Holy Scriptures, liturgical and private prayer, the teachings of the Western and Eastern Rites of the Church, and with the Father and Son in the seven Holy Sacraments (in the Eastern Rites – the Holy Mysteries).

The solemnity of Pentecost recalls the full expression of the Holy Spirit’s “Fruits and Gifts” to the Apostles, and through the Holy Sacraments to us, too  (refer in the Christian Scriptures to the Acts of the Apostles chapter 2, verses 1 – 42; and in St. Paul’s letters to the Galatians chapter 5: verses 22 ff; and 1st Corinthians chapter 12, verses 4 ff; also refer in the Hebrew Scriptures  to the book of the prophet Isaiah chapter 11, versus 2 – 3).

iconorininal
“The Trinity”: early 15th century; egg tempera and gold on wood panel by St. Andrei Rublev (1370 – 1430).  St. Rublev was a Russian Orthodox monk. He resided and “wrote” with egg tempera paint to produce images of God, the angels, and the saints in sacred  icons. He lived at St. Sergius Monastery in Moscow, Russia. His sacred icon above captures some of  the truth of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity communicating with each other. God the Son, Jesus Christ, is the figure in the center of this painting.  You see two of His fingers extended to express His human and divine nature, and in a pointing gesture, to the “Cup of His Blood”  made manifest through His Redemptive sacrifice. In this masterpiece you observe the colors blue representing divine life and purple madder/burgundy signifying Christ’s humanity. God the Father is on your left and God the Holy Spirit is on your right. The Holy Spirit is garbed in blue and in green as a symbol of new life and spiritual growth through prayer and the Holy Sacraments (Holy Mysteries). God the Father is painted in both blue, green, and a very light, transparent gold ochre. The First Council of Nicaea (AD 325) verified and promoted the Dogma of the Holy Trinity. This Dogma was reaffirmed, and further explained by the Council of Nicaea/Constantinople in AD 381.

 

trinityicon
A contemporary copy of the original Trinity by Rublev.

God the Father sent His Son to be born of a woman through the fecundity of the Holy Spirit. The Incarnation of Jesus Christ changed the Universe. God became flesh and walked among us. Why?  In order to teach, heal, and redeem us from our sins. The New Covenant with His creation is written in His Blood. There is, if you have the gift of faith, ample proof that God wants to communicate with you.

It is up to each man and woman to honestly determine whether or not they are ignoring Him, and if so, to decide what to do about it. Time is short.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.

God is a God of Compassion

“God of all compassion, Father of all goodness,

to heal the wounds our sins and selfishness bring upon us

You bid us turn to fasting, prayer, and sharing with our brothers and sisters.

We acknowledge our sinfulness, our guilt is ever before us;

when our weakness causes discouragement,

let your compassion fill us with hope

and lead us through a Lent of repentance to the beauty of Easter joy.

Grant this through Christ our Lord.”*    Amen.

 

*Roman Breviary – Vol. 2; Third Sunday of Lent, Evening Prayer I, Closing Prayer, pg. 210.

Rembrandt_Harmensz._van_Rijn_-_The_Return_of_the_Prodigal_Son_-_Detail_Father_Son

Rembrandt-The_return_of_the_prodigal_son
Rembrandt van Rijn, The Return of the Prodigal Son, c. 1661–1669.

Luke: 16: 19-31 – Is Lazarus in Your House?

This passage from the Gospel of St. Luke is a parable about a destitute man named Lazarus and a rich man, who at times is called by the name Dives (the word dives in the Latin Bible refers to a “rich man”).

Jesus places Lazarus sitting day after day by the rich man’s front door. Lazarus is sick. He is at Dives’ home hoping to receive a scrap of food from his table. The food never comes.

Jesus continues to tell the story which culminates in the death of both men and their subsequent judgment.  Lazarus is welcomed into Paradise and is seen talking to Abraham, while Dives is condemned to the flames of Hell hoping for a drop of water to quench his thirst.

The parable concludes with Abraham rejecting Dives’ wish that someone from Paradise will inform his relatives of his eternal sentence in an attempt to get them to change their way of life.

Abraham says that it is fruitless: “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

You see its not just the issue of Dives, as a fellow human being, not providing nourishment and solace to Lazarus. It is the fact that Dives does not even acknowledge Lazarus. He and his servants pass him every day with no perception, no acknowledgement, no understanding, no charity.

How many times have we done that to men and women standing at intersections, asking for a scrap that falls from our table. We get uncomfortable at the thought that they are there. Irritated at bad government decisions that pushed them out on the street, supposedly to be helped by the social justice safety nets; nets filled with holes. I saw a woman today holding a sign that said “I need a miracle.” There was no exclamation point or happy face penned next to it.

Lazarus may be outside our front door, or, even in the house.

Question: are we passing by people in our own family who are in need? The neighbor who lives next door? A member of our parish? Are we passing by Jesus Christ?

Lent is the natural time to reflect on how well we remember and assist, in some small way, those around us who are in need. It may be financial help, or it might just be they need someone to talk to.

Upon reflection, we may find ourselves missing the mark, even committing sins of omission. Let’s remember that, unlike Dives, we still have time to do something about it.

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“Meister des Codex Aureus of Echternach” (the Master’s Golden Book of Echternach) – a page from this illuminated Gospel created in the mid 11th century. When seen by the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry III, it stimulated him to commission similar manuscripts from the Abbey of Echternach (Germany).

 

My thanks to Rev. Msgr. Anthony Mancini, Pastor of the Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, Providence, Rhode Island USA, for stimulating this blog post.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono – All Rights Reserved.

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.

christ_in_the_wilderness_detail_400

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.

christ_in_the_wilderness_detail_400

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.

Apologists – Additional Saints Prior to the Council of Nicaea

Today’s post will continue to add to my two previous posts: The Apologists (Defenders of the Faith) – Part 7, and The Apologists – Comparing Icons. 

The men below are also known as the Ante Nicene Fathers. The word Ante (before) refers to the fact that they defended the Faith during the terrible persecutions of the first three centuries of the Church (the Domitian, Decian, Valerian, and Diocletian persecutions). These persecutions occurred prior to the Council of Nicaea (AD 325).

The Council of Nicaea was called by the Emperor Constantine in order for the assembled bishops, and their representatives from throughout the Empire, to discuss, debate, and establish the basic elements of a Creed for the Catholic Church (Eastern and Western Rites).

Prior to calling this Council, Constantine had proclaimed the toleration of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. He accomplished this through the Edict of Milan. This Edict (AD 313) did not mandate that Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire, that was to be done by a later Emperor – Theodosius I – in AD 380. The Edict just allowed for Christianity’s toleration as a religion.

The list below provides the additional Apologists who significantly contributed to the defense of all the aspects of the Early Christian Faith, such as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the Seven Sacraments, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, etc.:

St. Justin Martyr, (born circa AD 100), an excellent writer, debater and teacher. He defended the Sacraments of the Church, especially the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the genuineness and inerrancy of the four Gospels, the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, how reason can come to know God, the Sacraments, God’s revelation and inspiration, etc. He also saw some aspects of ancient philosophy as a precursor of the Christian faith, and wrote two powerful defenses of the Faith to the Emperor and the Roman Senate. He was martyred, along with six other Christians, in AD 165.

St. Justin Martyr is a very important witness to the developing beliefs of the Catholic Church (Western and Eastern Rites) because he is discussing and describing many of the primary dogmatic and doctrinal beliefs of the Church which would be established over one hundred and fifty years later in the Nicene Creed (AD 325), and clarified and confirmed in the Council of Constantinople in AD 381.

St-Justin-Martyr-e1464838721698
A sacred icon of St Justin Martyr, martyred AD 165. He was a powerful teacher, writer, and Defender of the Faith as it was passed down to him from Apostolic Times.

St. Melito of Sardis, (died circa AD 185),  a scholar who saw the immense value and importance of the Hebrew Scriptures and how they contributed to the Christian Scriptures; in AD 175, wrote a defense of the Christian Faith which was published in a letter to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. He was also instrumental in teaching and explaining the two natures of Jesus Christ: one divine and one human. His explanations kept the two natures separate, and teaches that Jesus was truly human and truly divine. He fought the Christological heresies that were developing at this time (especially Marcion’s heresy concerning Jesus’ physical body).

Tertullian, (died circa AD 222) a powerful, yet, at times, tactless writer and lawyer. He wrote on many aspects of early Church theology. He also wrote a spirited defense of the Christian Faith in a letter to the Roman Emperor. Interestingly, he is known for his description of the members of the Christian Faith: “See those Christians, how they love one another,” and “The blood of Christians is [the] seed [of the Church].”

St. Hippolytus of Rome, (died circa AD 236) in his book – The Apostolic Tradition – sets down a manual of liturgical prayers and tradition and it refers to an order of the Holy Mass. The current Eucharistic Prayer 2, in the Sacramentary (liturgical missal) used in the Western Rite, is attributed to the central prayer found in his The Apostolic Tradition.

Origen of Alexandria, (died AD 254), a genius in speculative theology who wrote extensively on subjects such as the belief in One God, the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Sacraments of the Church, etc. He was a voluminous writer and died a martyr.

St. Cyprian of Carthage, (born circa AD 200); he was a student of Tertullian. St. Cyprian was a tireless theologian and worker for unity within the Church, and through his patient and good-hearted efforts solved many controversies and squabbles. As a bishop he proclaimed that he was willing to welcome any pagan or heretic into the Church who confessed their sins, were willing to do penance, and were baptized. His defense and scholarship on the Holy Sacraments is considered important. He died a martyr in AD 258.

In my next post, Part 8, I will briefly discuss the Golden Era of the Apostolic Fathers (AD 325 – 430) whose blossoming occurred after the Council of Nicaea; also in that post, I will discuss and list the Post Nicene Fathers (circa AD 430 – AD 800). In Part 9, I will briefly list some of the important Church Councils of the 5th century and how they affected the Church’s sacred art.

Please review the bibliography page (found at the post of February 8, 2019). It provides the sources that I have been using in this specific sequence of posts on Church history.

Thanks for visiting with me. On this Ash Wednesday allow me to offer you my best wishes for a productive and prayerful Lenten Season.

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.

 

Icons – Important Similarities/Differences

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

IconPM-Irenaeus-2
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.

 

SAINT-CLEMENT-I
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.

SAINT-CLEMENT-I
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.

Amazing Grace – Amazing Piano!

Okay, we have reached Wednesday, the supposed day that if we can just get through it we will be on the downward slide toward the weekend.

In an attempt to put a little pick-me-up in your afternoon I ask you to put aside your pencils, pens, and paint brushes and take 4 minutes and 9 seconds to listen to a “Dude Rocks Out Amazing Grace on the Piano.”

The “Dude” in the green jacket and rose colored glasses is Terry Miles. He is an accomplished pianist, yet, this day he sits down to a public piano in a London train station and puts a little joy into peoples’ hearts.

The song starts out as usual and then slowly, with a little flutter, breaks into Terry’s personal interpretation; but, then at approximately 1 minute 20 seconds into the piece, he takes off! The style is called “Boogie Woogie;” and believe it or not, it is one of my favorite types of music from my teen age years.

Click on the red or blue site address below (which gives a short description), click on the red and white arrow (depending on how it loads, at the top or bottom of the page), and enjoy!!

I hope I linked it correctly. If it doesn’t pop up for you use the address below in your search engine. For those unfamiliar with searching YouTube – enter youtube.com for “Terry Miles Amazing Grace” in your search box, click on it, and it should pop-up for you.

Thanks to godtube.com for posting Terry’s video.

https://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=YYYGG7NX

The Apostolic Fathers in Roman Catholic Sacred Art – Part Six

This post and an upcoming posts will very briefly explain some of the major figures in the Church history during the period of AD 65 through AD 155 – the period known as the age of the Apostolic Fathers. Ultimately, Parts 7 through 9 will cover some of the key leaders within the three subsequent periods of the early  Church (circa AD 155 to circa AD 800). I am presenting this material because it is critical for anyone studying and painting sacred images and sacred icons to be aware of the theological understanding of the scholars and bishops in the Church’s early history.  Sacred art developed in tandem with the approved theology of the Church. I will ultimately show you how this is expressed, specifically how our Blessed Mother Mary is artistically portrayed in Part Nine and subsequent  posts.

After Jesus Ascension to Heaven the Apostolic Fathers continued the mission of Jesus and His Apostles to shepherd the early Church. The term “Father” refers to the early leaders of the Church who remained faithful to the Apostolic faith and traditions and brought the early Church out of “diapers” into “young adulthood.” These men carried on the spiritual beliefs and religious traditions of the Apostles and, in some cases, directly knew the Apostles (for example, both St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Polycarp were disciples of St. John the Apostle, and St. Peter consecrated St. Clement of Rome a bishop).

The Apostolic Fathers lived and died between the years AD 65 through AD 155. Their writings began to be circulated around the year AD 95. Apostolic Fathers that I will not cover in this post are Marcion, who was an eye-witness to the martyrdom of St. Polycarp and wrote an account of it and the anonymous writers of important documents: (The Shepherd of Hermas – this document and the Apocalypse of Peter were eventually removed from the canonical collections of Christian writings), The Didache, The Epistle to Diognetus, and The Epistle of Barnabas.

Many scholars believe that the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Epistles: of Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John  were all written before the year AD 100. Yet  it took approximately another four hundred years for the dogmas, doctrines, writings and the Church approved Gospels/Epistles to be studied, discussed, codified, and accepted or eliminated by the bishops of the Catholic Church (Eastern and Western Rites). Concomitantly, the sacred art of the early Church was affected by and developed within these cultural and spiritual currents. To exemplify this I will definitely present images of these developments, as they apply to Our Blessed Mother Mary, in upcoming posts.

The Apostolic Fathers confronted numerous controversies and heresies. For example, Pope St. Clement of Rome (martyred in AD 99 or 101) addressed the question of the authority of the Bishop of Rome and clerical leadership (see his very important Letter to the Church at Corinth written in the first century). The Emperor Trajan (reigned AD 98 – 117) had him martyred by being thrown into the sea with an anchor around his neck.

St Clement of Rome
Pope St. Clement being martyred by drowning (Renaissance image)

While traveling to Rome to be martyred, the bishop St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote significant letters to various churches in Asia Minor on important theological issues. He promoted the structure of clerical hierarchy (deacons, priests, and bishops). Adhering to Apostolic Tradition, Ignatius promoted belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist (which was achieved by a validly ordained male priest through the Scriptural words of Consecration within the liturgical structure of the Holy Mass). St. Ignatius of Antioch is also the first bishop to use the word “catholic” (universal) to describe the first Christian Church communities. He was martyred in Rome’s Circus Maximus by being savaged by lions. His martyrdom occurred in AD 107 – 108.

ignatius_of_antioch_2
Martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch (contemporary sacred icon)

The last Apostolic Father that I will briefly discuss in this post is the bishop St. Polycarp of Smyrna (a city in Asia Minor – currently in Turkey). Polycarp’s name, in Greek, means “much fruit.” St. Polycarp was a friend and disciple of St. John the Apostle; and he was known as a New Testament scholar, and author of an important letter to a Church community in Greece.

St. Polycarp was tireless in his fight against the Marcionite heresy. That heresy grew out of a heresy accepted by some interpreters of the Hebrew Scriptures who claimed that there were “two Gods” – one good and one bad. Polycarp was martyred in AD 155 or 156. The story of his martyrdom relates the attempted burning of this good bishop at the stake, but when the fire had no affect at all his frustrated executioners pulled him out and did the deed with a dagger!

polycarp-martyrdom
Martyrdom of the bishop St. Polycarp (not a contemporary sacred icon; possibly 15th century).Notice that it remains loyal to the story of his witness and martyrdom.

 

The “Great Schism” between the Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic (Orthodox) Rites did not occur until AD 1056; and the Protestant movement did not begin until the middle of the 15th century. The Protestant Revolt came to full force in the early 16th century and continued through to the 17th century. The Protestant sects viewed sacred art as unnecessary for the faithful since they needed to concentrate only on Sacred Scripture (Sola Scriptura).

Prior to AD 1056 all Christians were “Catholics” from different cultural areas of Europe, Africa, and the Near East. Each one of these Eastern and Western Rite communities applied their own interpretation to appropriate liturgical music, sacred art, liturgical disciplines to their regional church environments. Examples of this interpretation are  celibacy for male deacons and priests, and liturgical use of cultural specific language. This was achieved by remaining faithful to approved Catholic Creeds (Nicene and Apostles), Holy Scripture, clerical/hierarchical organization, etc. A unified set of Church dogmas and doctrines developed out of this 800 year history.

Thank you for stopping by and reading this brief post. My next post will briefly review the next group of “Fathers of the Church” – the Apologists.

My best wishes for a restful weekend; and if you are in the United Stats an enjoyable Super Bowl football game!

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, deaconiacono@icloud.com.

Roman Catholic Sacred Art – Three Major Stages

Allow me to wish everyone a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! I can do that because, liturgically, we are still in the Christmas Season! That Season ends this Sunday – the Baptism of the Lord.

Okay, we left off in the last post with a schematic of the discipline of painting. The previous posts also provided a simple definition of Art and its disciplines.

As we now return to our study allow me to provide you with the three “Major Periods” of Catholic Sacred Art. These Periods also impact what I, in my humble opinion, have labelled “minor stages” of sacred art. These minor stages were outgrowths and were dramatically influenced by the previous major period. The academic source for the Major Periods is Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s book: The Spirit of the Liturgy.

I labelled the other stages minor not because they are any less in value, artistic merit, or cultural import, rather, I gave them that designation because the Major Periods promoted specific Catholic theological insights. The minor stages while artistically very significant, continued the theological themes and dogmas of the previous major period.  The minor stages contributed to culture and sacred art by providing different artistic interpretations of the previous major period.

I am emphasizing that Catholic theology and its cultural environment dramatically affected Catholic sacred art. This is not a “new” insight on my part, just one that I believe should be emphasized in our studies. The beginning and end dates for the Periods below are fluid and, depending on the region of Europe you are studying, can be slightly increased or decreased in time.

My chart of the Periods/Stages is below:

image002.png

Soon I will begin posting the development of specific theological themes, and a brief explanation of the major periods and minor stages. I will provide some artistic examples, too.

Your comments and constructive criticism are always welcome.

Thanks for visiting and have a great weekend.

Copyright © 2011- 2019 Deacon Paul O. Iacono. All Rights Reserved.

Art Schematic of Church Painting

 

This is an easier way to view the material within yesterday’s post.

image001

 

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

Roman Catholic Sacred Art – Categories

Tonight we will use yesterday’s post as a starting point to examine Roman Catholic painting. I mentioned that there are seven disciplines within the definition of Art. One of those disciplines is painting.

As it applies to this discussion when we consider the discipline of painting we can say that there are two major categoriesRoman Catholic Sacred Painting and Secular Painting.

We can then subdivide these two major categories.

Within the category of Roman Catholic Sacred Painting we have two major subcategories: Sacred Icons and Sacred Images.

I propose that there is a subcategory below Sacred Images, it is called Religious Images. I will explain in later posts the difference between Sacred Images and Religious Images.

Within the category of Secular Painting we can say that there are two subcategories. Let us call the first subcategory A Variety of Images. It consists of all the different types of paintings, made for the purpose of being “artifact, entertainment, political or social commentary, therapy, or a combination of two or more.” (Sporre, 1996; see previous post). It begins with the many generational wall and ceiling cave paintings painted by Paleolithic Man in the Vezere Valley, France approximately 17,000 years ago and continues with contemporary painters. Mankind loves to paint pictures.

The second subcategory within Secular Painting, as it applies to this discussion, is what I call Absurd Religious Images. Even though it has religious subject matter it is, in my opinion, secular art. I will provide a definition of that subcategory in an upcoming post and images which will make it recognizable.

Thanks for stopping by and spending some time here.

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

What is Art?

Hello!  Glad to be back after a series of learning experiences which took me away from the keyboard. I see from the website’s analytics that we are still popular on a worldwide level (thank you!). I also appreciate and thank all of the hundreds of subscribers that have stayed with this blog and continue to use and enjoy the material I’ve presented and the many tens of thousands that have popped in and out over the past seven years.

Last week I made a church presentation (a power point lecture) on “Our Blessed Mother and Sacred Art Applied to Prayer.” For the upcoming weeks, during the Advent and Christmas seasons, I will be presenting to you – in short form – my lecture notes accompanied by relevant sacred and religious art. This is probably one of the busiest times of the year so I will be blogging it to you in small doses on a frequent basis. If you use any of it in your work, ministry, or studies please reference me. Thanks.

My lecture had  three major goals:

  1. What is Art and its forms of sacred, religious, and absurd religious painting?
  2. What are the major/minor stages of  sacred art within the history of the Roman Catholic Church?
  3. How do we apply sacred art, specifically in reference to the Blessed Mother, to the prayer form of Lectio Divina?

Let’s tackle the first part of the first goal: What is Art?

My perception is that art is a process in which an artist: 

  1. Creatively thinks,
  2. Makes a product (there are seven major historical disciplines in which products are made: architecture, drama, literature, music, painting, poetry, and sculpture),
  3. Intends that the product will cause a reaction/response (for the artist alone and/or from the public).

The above process occurs in all seven major disciplines of art. More recent historical artistic disciplines such as photography, computer art, grand and small scale landscape architecture possess this process, too.

Also, Professor Dennis J. Sporre has discussed that “Art has four functions: artifact, entertainment, social and political commentary, and therapy. These functions, or options, are not mutually exclusive, nor is one more important than the others” (found in his book The Creative Impulse, Prentice Hall, 4th ed., 1996. When I taught Humanities years ago this highly valuable book was one of the foundation blocks of my lectures and activities).

Tomorrow I will discuss Roman Catholic sacred art within the discipline of painting.

Thanks for joining me today.

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

 

 

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!

IMG_1775

 

IMG_1777

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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

St. Joseph’s Art Workshop – Lesson 3 – Applying Pigment

To all those that have expressed interest in the FREE on-line sacred art workshop that I am offering here at fraangelicoinstitute.com please note that yesterday I posted Lesson 3 in Exercise 1: Painting an Image of St. Rose of Lima.

Just click on the St. Joseph’s Art Workshop Tab on top of the image of St. Gabriel and the Virgin Mary and you will see the first Workshop page.

If you have already visited the Workshop Tab then just continue to scroll down to find the Lessons that I have posted so far. I am putting all the Lessons in one place because it will be easier for you to scroll up and down to refer back and forth to other Lessons for Exercise 1.

More lessons will be posted in the upcoming weeks. You have enough to read and keep you busy for now!

Feel free to participate and enjoy the process of creating art!

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.

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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:

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

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

 

Masaccio_Holy_Trinity

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.

IMG_0193

My text/last photo, 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.

stJoseph

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.

 

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

Link to the Film Within the Post: The Sacred Artist’s Cultivation of Silence

A few readers have emailed me to say that they are having a problem linking to the film mentioned in yesterday’s post. Since many subscribers receive these postings through their email address the easiest way to link to the film is to click on the blue title of the post that appears at the top of your opened email. When you single or double click on this blue title you are redirected to the actual website. The film appears within the website posting.

Another way to connect to the film is to go down to the last part of the opened email and you see the titles of the “tags and categories.” Connected to this section is a URL address, if you click on that URL address it will redirect you to the film, too. It is much easier to read the posts if you  come to the actual website rather than trying to read the tiny print of the email.

I have Cox Communications and when the posts come back to me in my email they are appearing in a font size that is close to size 8, which is pretty hard to read for these old eyes! So click on the blue title and it will redirect you to the website which is in a much bigger, and more enjoyable, font. If you still are having problems, please email me and I will make other arrangements for you to see the film.

The Sacred Artist’s Cultivation of Silence

I recently received a post from the always challenging and informative blog entitled Catholicism Pure and Simple. It features a short film by the Benedictine monk Abbot Christopher Jamison, O.S.B.

In this film Fr. Jamison speaks about silence and how critical it is for our well being. He mentions that its cultivation is a necessary prerequisite for certain types of prayer. The good news is that we can begin the process of cultivating silence by setting aside at least five minutes but no more than thirty minutes during the day. During that time we participate in an ancient Christian technique of developing awareness of our breathing, the silence that is within us, and the need to enter into this type of prayer in order to hear the still, quiet voice, of God. I’ll have more about this ancient Christian prayer technique in future posts.

Finding silence is especially important for the sacred artist. Sacred artists must prepare themselves prior to picking up the tools of their art and creating a sacred image. They accomplish this  through the cultivation of prayer throughout the creative process. The disciplines of silence, fasting in its various forms, and repentance for sins are important components of the Christian artistic and soul journey.

What is especially helpful about this ten minute film is that Fr. Jamison and a parishioner demonstrate the process of cultivating silence through an actual short period of silent relaxation and spiritual meditation. It is a simple yet profound moment that demonstrates how easily you can connect with the rhythms of your body and soul, and in the process, develop your prayer life with the Lord, His angels, and saints. This film is not only necessary viewing for the sacred artist but for all who are interested in a mature relationship with God.

The Way of Beauty On-Line Course and Reimbursement Scholarship Opportunities

The mission of the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts is to teach the truth, goodness, and beauty of God through the prayerful creation of sacred art.

We are happy to announce that we have recently entered into a partnership with Thomas More College of Liberal Arts to present a wonderful on-line course to anyone interested in Catholic Culture and the sacred art of the Church. We also have a special opportunity for teachers of history, art, religion, and the humanities in Catholic high schools of the Diocese of Providence who complete this course.

Thomas More College of Liberal Arts is offering an on-line course entitled The Way of Beauty. This course has been designed by David Clayton and is being successfully implemented at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. David is an Oxford University graduate, sacred artist, published author and broadcaster, and holds the position of Artist-in-Residence and lecturer in Liberal Arts at the College. David is passionate about Catholic art and music, the forms it has taken through the centuries, and the reinvigoration of Catholic culture. David’s blog can be found at www.thewayofbeauty.org.

As stated on the College website the Way of Beauty course “focuses on what shapes a Catholic culture and what makes it beautiful. It discusses the general connection between worship, culture and beauty particularly through the prism of visual art. The course program consists of a 13 episode video series and an e-book written by David Clayton. This book is only available to those who take this course. Participants who complete the on-line program are eligible to receive 25 hours of Continuing Education Units endorsed by Thomas More College of Liberal Arts. The College is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Time spent in this program may also be able to be used towards later college credit offerings.” The cost of the on-line course is $99.00.

For the 2014-2015 academic year, The Fra Angelico Institute will provide reimbursement scholarships, through a competitive selection process, to Diocese of Providence high school teachers who enroll and complete the Way of Beauty on-line course.

In an attempt to provide a competitive atmosphere among the teachers, The Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts will provide a total of five reimbursement scholarships, one per high school, to Catholic high school teachers with the best implementation process.

In order to enter the competition to receive the reimbursement scholarship an interested Diocesan teacher will:

1) Notify the Fra Angelico Institute of their interest through our email at frainstitute@cox.net.

2) Formally register by clicking on the tab and following the prompts for the On-Line Course through www.thewayofbeauty.org.

3) Through the teacher’s personal Google account, participate in the program which consists of 13 on-line videos (approximately 30 minutes apiece) produced in association with Catholic TV.

4) Read the e-book – The Way of Beauty: Liturgy, Education, Art, and Inspiration. This e-book has been written exclusively for this course.

5) Submit on school stationary a statement from the teacher that the course has been completed, a one-page summary of how the course will be actually implemented in their curriculum, and one or two suggestions on how the course may be improved.

6) Submit a letter from the principal of their high school stating that they support the teacher in their desire to implement the goals of this course.

Using the US Postal System, these documents should be mailed to: Deacon Paul Iacono, Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts, St. Francis of Assisi Church, 114 High Street, Wakefield, RI 02879.

We hope you enjoy the course and best wishes to the teachers who compete for the reimbursement scholarships!

Copyright © 2011- 2014 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

 

St. Thomas: Skeptic, Cynic, and Repentant Saint

It is the evening hour on the first Easter Sunday. Gathered in the upper room the Apostles were in turmoil. They doubt. They fear. They have lost their sense of trust. They believed that Jesus was dead; and they knew that the Temple guards had orders to arrest all of them on sight. Earlier that morning, Peter and John had entered Jesus’ tomb, and came away amazed at what they saw. But the other Apostles in that room (all were present except Judas and Thomas) had not witnessed the empty tomb.

The doors to the upper chamber, like their hearts and minds, were locked – bolted tight. Fear choked their bodies. They felt trapped and disoriented. They doubted. They despaired. The words of Mary Magdalene, John, or Peter himself, were insufficient to break the fear, break the anxiety, break “the idle talk,” as Thomas, had so precisely framed it earlier in the day. At that moment, the Apostles did not realize that Jesus’ mission was still incomplete.

Then it all changes.

Jesus enters their room, blessing them with His peace and Spirit. You see, Jesus returned that night to deliver a very personal message to each of them. He desired to share an understanding of what it means to be members of His divine family who share in His mission to spread the good news of the Gospel.

What is this “Good News”? It is the news of the reality of our redemption won for us by Jesus’ sacrifice. It is the news of the divine mercy of Christ offered to all who desire it. It is the news of the reality of Jesus’ Sacramental grace that comes to us through the Apostles and their successors; and it is the good news of the Gifts and Fruits of the Holy Spirit that dwell within us specifically through the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation.

Jesus, the Eternal Wisdom, in perfect obedience to His Heavenly Father, knew that He had to give them practical spiritual gifts, because His mission would ultimately become their mission to the world. That night, seeing the resurrected Jesus, was the beginning of the awareness of their new role. Full recognition of it would only come at their reception of the Holy Spirit, their Confirmation, on Pentecost.

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A week later, Thomas returned to the upper room. He proved stubborn and unbelieving. He wasn’t there on that first night. He had not seen the facts as they had. As a cynic he was distrustful and contemptuous of human nature and the motives, goodness, and sincerity of others. As a prototype for modern man, he insisted on experiencing it for himself. He wanted contact. He wanted to put his finger into the wounds in Christ’s hands and side.

Then Jesus appears a second time.

Confronted with the resurrected Person of Jesus, challenged with the sight and touch of Jesus’ mortal wounds, and hearing the words “Thomas, do not be unbelieving, but believe – [trust in Me],’” – at that moment, Thomas unbolted the locks of cynicism that had bound him, repented and sincerely proclaimed: “My Lord and My God!”  In front of those assembled, Thomas witnessed and experienced the finest quality of God – the attribute of divine mercy.

Aspects of Thomas’ personality can be found in all of us. We want to believe but have never actually heard the risen Christ speak or seen Him in His resurrected flesh. We observe the behavior of fellow Christians and the temptation to judge them rises in our minds, and, we doubt – the doubt of Thomas: “How can this be true. Look at how they behave.” Vacillation, anger, materialism, pseudo-sophistication, and adolescent anti-authoritarianism are just a few of the things that may fuel our judgmental natures.

You see, the trouble is not with our Scriptural evidence, but with ourselves – with our priorities. By virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation we should walk in faith, not judging others but lifting them up, renewing them, offering them a drink of the cool water of reconciliation with God. A reconciliation made possible by Jesus’ sacrifice and the Gifts of the Spirit.

From these Trinitarian Gifts come the exceptional graces of divine mercy that the Apostles needed for their mission. From these gifts, the timidity, doubt, despair, and dejection of the Apostles turns to courage, faith, love, and trust in Jesus as Lord and God. These Gifts provide them with a life that is totally devoted to spreading the “Good News” – a life that is filled with outward obedience and interior peace.

With this in mind it is truly appropriate that Popes John 23 and John Paul 2 were canonized today in Rome. Their immense gifts, nurtured by the Holy Spirit, filled the Church and the world with an understanding of the peace and loving Mercy that Jesus offers to all of us.

It is also interesting to note that the motto of Saint John’s papacy was “Obedience and Peace” and that of Saint John Paul 2 was “Totally Yours.” These two men, linked by the gifts of obedient Christian service, love of the Blessed Mother, and the desire to maintain interior peace through prayer and the Sacraments provide us with clear direction for living as fruitful Catholics in a weak and faltering world.

Let us pray with devotion and love to our new saints and remember that today’s Gospel has Jesus challenging us as well as St. Thomas when He says: “Trust in me;” and we, like Thomas, need to respond with the simple, yet profound prayer, “My Lord and My God, I trust in you.”

 

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Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The above is my homily of 4/27/2014 delivered at St. Francis of Assisi Church at the 10 AM and Noon Masses in Wakefield, Rhode Island USA.  Note on the artwork: The icon dates from the 16th century; the stone pillar relief is found in the Cloister de Santo Domingo de Silos in Northern Spain. It was carved during the renovation of the monastery and dates to 1150. The 13th century saint and founder of the Dominican Order, Dominic Guzman, mother’s name was Joan. She is considered a saint of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. St. Joan prayed to the famous Spanish Benedictine monk. St. Dominic of Silos. She named her son, Dominic, in honor of him. St. Dominic of Silos is also considered the patron of all women who are pregnant. During his lifetime St. Dominic of Silos was known for his medical and healing abilities and has been considered the patron saint of women with difficult pregnancies. He died at the age of 73 in the year 1073.

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.

 

 

Correction on Medieval Graffiti Post

It has come to my attention that the links for today’s post that was sent by email to my subscribers are not appropriately linking to Matt Champion’s or Robin Stummers’ articles in The Guardian and The Observer. I believe the problem has been fixed, however, to see the post with the corrected links the email subscriber must click on the Blue Title of today’s post that appears when you open up the email on your computer. The corrected article/links should appear for you in a more easily read environment.  Thanks.

Medieval Graffiti in English Churches – The Case of John Lydgate, O.S.B.

A fascinating series of articles came to my attention today by Tatjana Jovanovic, a top contributor of a Linkedin group called Medieval and Renaissance Art, Antiques, Architecture, Archaeology, History and Music Her article is entitled “Medieval Banksy: Confession of Medieval Graffiti Artist, Monk, and Writer.”

Ms. Jovanovic is an aesthetician and artistic designer. She basis her article on two pieces that appeared in the US edition of The Guardian/The Observer. The first by Matt Champion provides a gallery of 13th and 14th century graffiti that is being collected by a British association known as the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/mar/29/medieval-graffiti-pictures-lydgate

A second article by Robin Stummer in The Observer provides an overview of the life of a Benedictine monk John Lydgate. He was a well-known and well connected poet and writer who had as clients the Mayor of London, various dukes, and the Kings Henry IV, Henry V, and Henry VI.

Lydgate was born around the year 1370, lived a self-described dissolute youth, and entered religious life joining the Benedictine Order. He travelled throughout Britain and the Continent. He admits, however, that in his youth he had more fondness for “clear wine” than his religious studies!  Stummer’s detailed article can be found here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/29/john-lydgate-graffiti-chaucer-monk-literary-talent  

Both Champion and Stummer provide insight into 14th century English society. They help clarify the artistic aspects of the graffiti found on church walls and pillars, as well as Lydgate’s own contribution to the graffiti through his use of verse and puzzle. The Norfolk Survey has found a specific graffiti with Lydgate’s name attached, and it may prove to be the oldest known signature of an English poet/writer in existence.

I have attached for your enjoyment (courtesy of Matt Champion and The Guardian) a few of the images that the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey have discovered; some of them remind me of abstract portraits, are quite playful and even humorous.

Lydgate inscriptionThe first one has now generated great interest it shows an inscription found this week in St Mary’s church, Lidgate, Suffolk. The text on the pillar, a few millimetres high, translates from the Latin as ‘John Lydgate made this on the day of St Simon and St Jude’. That feast day is 28 October, with the year some time between 1390 and 1450.

The following 13th, 14th, and 15th century images show a musician, accompanied by a singer, and a happy bishop in his mitre. The last is a profile, possibly the local vicar, that looks like it could have been drawn for a New Yorker magazine cartoon. Great fun!

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A late medieval caricature portrait

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

Christ in the Wilderness, a Russian Artist, and a Challenge

In the late 19th century a Russian painter, the noted portraitist, draughtsman, and teacher Ivan Kramskoi painted a haunting image of Jesus alone in the desert. It is a painting which expresses the internal struggle of the flesh versus the spirit. It portrays Jesus, in the early morning hours and the cold air of the dawn, with the sun rising over His back.

He is surrounded by small boulders and sits on a rock, hands in front of him, eyes filled with anguish and pain. This portrait of Christ in the desert is not one of victory; looking closely at His face you recognize the seriousness of the struggle and the irrefutable fact of Jesus’ humanity.

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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 that will weigh upon Him.

Kramskoi’s painting is so powerful because it shows not the physical tearing that was to come in the scourging and crucifixion, but the sensual, psychological, and spiritual battles that would challenge the mission and authority of Jesus Christ.

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Jesus had to confront, in that very first desert assault, whether or not He was going to be faithful to His mission; was He going to be faithful to the anointing that He received from the Father and the Spirit at His baptism?

The Gospel challenges us with the same questions: are we faithful to our Baptismal promises? Are we faithful to the Commandments? Are we faithful to the call that we received at our Confirmation to live and practice the truths that He taught us, not just when we feel like it, but everyday – 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 power, when we give into its power to overwhelm our body and soul, – a deadly power that obtains its animus and energy from the original tempter – Satan himself.

Christ lived blamelessly in the face of evil, but you say, I am not 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 Sacraments we have the power of Christ’s grace within us.

Unlike Christ we don’t enter the wilderness of our own temptations alone. When we do face the anguish of our own sin, our own desolation in the face of Satan’s onslaughts, when we peer over the edge of the pit of sin – Christ’s witness tells us “Do not despair. Do not dwell in the pit. Do not accept the pit of sin as being permanent.” Jesus Christ tells us that He has instituted a Church that, with all its human sins and imperfections, still exists – in purity – to convey through its clergy the grace of God.

One of the first things that you notice about Christ in this portrait is that here, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the artist has Jesus’ hands clasped together. Yet, when you walk into a Catholic or Orthodox Church, and look at the crucifix or an icon of one, you see Jesus as He ends His ministry on the Cross, with His hands unclasped, and stretched out, stretched out for each one of us.

This Lenten season we need to reach out our hands to the One, who 2000 years ago, stretched out His hands for our Redemption – and who still reaches out for us today. Reach out to Him in prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and through Jesus, reach out to those around you who are suffering in the same way, and lead them back to the love of Christ.

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

Sin and the Sacred Artist

Our society is quite adept at pointing out the sins and foolishness of others. Cable TV, radio talk shows, and various web sites love to dwell on the ignorant and immoral actions of politicians, celebrities, and the man in the street. But, as sacred artists within the Christian Tradition, what does Jesus require of us?

Jesus demands that we become countercultural. He requires us to be more concerned with our own sinfulness rather than the sins or inadequacies of others.

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When we first heard it years ago, last Sunday’s Gospel of Matthew 5: 17-37 must have caught us off guard – with talk of plucking out of eyes and cutting off of hands. Today, as adults and sacred artists, we certainly would have a difficult time practicing our craft if we took Jesus at His word. As you know the graphic figures of speech that Jesus uses are meant to shake us up – to provoke a reaction in us by vividly describing what we should figuratively do rather than falling into certain types of sin.

The vivid images that He uses emphasizes the truth of how dangerous these sins are to our souls. He uses this phrase twice: “it would be better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.”

What is He saying?

Human nature, combined with the age that we live in, contribute to our forgetting the essence of this Gospel and reflecting on its purpose. It is apparent that Jesus is emphasizing the following three truths: 1) Sin is real; 2) We will be judged on our sins; and 3) Gehenna, that is, Hell, is a real place: the place of eternal sorrow and separation from God.

Now, in the last fifty years, there exists some Catholic and non-Catholic theologians that would disagree with all or some of these three Scriptural truths; in fact, some of them would even cast doubt on the authenticity of the Holy Scriptures. But make no mistake; it is the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church that we will be personally judged, not by these theologians, but by Jesus Himself.

So, it is wise and prudent for us to understand that Jesus is not mincing any words in this section of Matthew’s Gospel. For Jesus is challenging us to take seriously God’s perception of reality, and the truth that we can, through our personal and social sinful acts, be separated from God not only in this life but for all eternity, too.

Jesus’ words are timeless because He cites pride, anger, vengeance, unlawful divorce, lust, and lying as problems that affect not only the Jewish community – but our community as well. Jesus knows our hearts; and He knew the hearts of the men and women that stood before Him. His goal was to teach and heal us, and most importantly, willfully sacrifice Himself so that we would be redeemed of the stain of Original Sin and the subsequent sins of our life.

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So Jesus is presenting us with an opportunity to be a student in His school of discipleship. Jesus’ school, however, demands that we be honest with ourselves, as artists and as Christians, and recognize and strive to eliminate all sins –  all  barriers – to being His disciple. For how can we produce sacred art in the Tradition of the Church if we are carrying the burden of unrepented sin?

We pray that the Holy Spirit uses us as His instruments to promote the truth, goodness, and beauty of God, His angels and His saints. It follows then that if we are His instruments we must make every effort to model ourselves after Him.  Rather than just copying the image of the sacred model, as a fellow artist Jesus desires us to become the model – alter Christus – another Christ.

I don’t need to tell you that, over the last fifty years within the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church in certain parts of the world, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is widely ignored as a throw back to the Middle Ages. This attitude by American and European Catholics is based on poor catechesis and, possibly, an unwillingness to accept and repent of their own faults and sins. We may have forgotten the reality of sin, but  Jesus, our Judge, has not; and why hasn’t He?

It is because sin is the reality of our separation from Him – and He is always aware of it. It is the reason why He suffered and died for us; however, along with this is His desire to share His mercy with us – if – we want it. Christ’s mercy is always available to us; and as Catholics we are blessed to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation to spiritually cleanse us from our sins. Why would we cast aside such a valuable gift?

Today, Jesus is calling us to repent – let us not turn a deaf ear, and a hard heart, to Him.

Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. This essay is a modified form of a homily I delivered last week at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Wakefield, Rhode Island, USA. Photo Credits: “Jesus,” and “Jesus Carrying the Cross” from Mel Gibson’s classic film: The Passion of the Christ.

PREPARE! Bruno Mars in Light of Matthew 5: 13-16

If you had the opportunity to watch the Super Bowl half-time show last weekend you saw that there were a number of symbolic messages that were being sent by the producers and main performer of the show; interestingly, variations on these messages continued to be sent throughout the game in the form of the commercials.

The singer Bruno Mars’ half-time performance sent one specific message – one specific word – that flashed three times behind him at the beginning of his act, the word was: prepare.

Prepare. But prepare for what?

The verb prepare in and of itself, is a neutral word. It means to “to make someone or something ready.” A negative intonation on that word might carry the meaning that we are to prepare for a terrorist attack, war,  plague, the collapse of the dollar, or increased government dysfunction.

But our concern here is about our Catholic identity and even though much of the world has either turned against Christianity or is indifferent to it, let’s look on the positive side, and say that we are to prepare for something good, something holy, even if, in the process, we might become uncomfortable.

Only the producers know the answer as to why the message to “prepare” was used so often during some of the Super Bowl commercials and half-time show; yet, does its presence last Sunday, in the light of this Sunday’s Scriptures, carry a message for us now?

Figuratively when we chew on the hearty meal that is our Holy Scripture we experience personalities called by God, who at first, are reluctant to prepare and respond to His call.

For example, Moses tells God that he is frightened to speak to the people. The prophet Isaiah humbly tells the Lord that impure speech has passed his lips and this makes him unfit to be His prophet. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, bluntly says that she is too old and tired to have a child; and Peter confesses that he is just too sinful. In Sunday’s Epistle, Paul declares to the Corinthians that he came to their sophisticated audiences with “weakness, fear, and much trembling.

To their credit all of these people ultimately prepared and responded with a sense of hope and trust. From their witness we learn that nothing is impossible with God; for He takes ordinary people and, through His grace and their prayerful preparation, transforms them into His salt, light, and lampstand. He does this so that His disciples may enhance the bland flavor of today’s society and preserve and penetrate it with the richness of Christ’s message, thereby becoming a welcomed light that guides people on their spiritual journey.

So the challenge of Sunday’s Gospel is “Do we exclude ourselves from the promise of discipleship because of our lack of preparation?”

Now, you could say “Well let the ordained clergy do it: the deacon, the priest, the bishop. Or, let the brotherhood or sisterhood do it, because I’m just too busy or I’m not “called” in a formal way.” But if we hold that attitude we are ignoring the grace of our Baptism and Confirmation, we are rejecting the truth that we are all called and gifted.

Now what does preparation entail? It demands that we pray and continuously use the Sacraments available to us, especially Reconciliation, so that grace may transform us into disciples that are the salt of the earth.

Isaiah reminds us today, “to share our bread, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, and clothe the naked when you see them.”  He clearly tells us “Do not turn your back on your own.”  But important as that work is, we are not called to be just a Church of social workers. We are called to be a holy Church, a pure Church, a prayerfully prepared Church that responds to the Redemptive act of Jesus’ life so that our family and friends will be transformed, through God’s grace and our efforts, into fellow disciples of Christ.

As we begin thinking about the Lenten season, let us double our efforts this year to be prayerfully prepared for whatever may happen, and with confidence put our fear, weakness, and trepidation aside and give glory to Our Heavenly Father, by radiating the love and truth of Jesus to those around us.

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Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono.  All Rights Reserved. Photo courtesy of: Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio (from his Facebook Timeline Photos).