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.

Virgin Mary: Trust and Obedience in the Lord

On this solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25th, we remember St. Luke’s account of the Annunciation:

“Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.”

“And when the angel had come to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.” When she had heard him she was troubled at his word and kept pondering what manner of greeting this might be.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he shall be king over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end”

“But Mary said to the angel, “How shall this happen, since I do not know man?”

“And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee; and therefore the Holy One to be born shall be called the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth thy kinswoman also has conceived a son in her old age, and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month; for nothing shall be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.” And the angel departed from her.” (Luke 1: 26-38)

Mary, the Blessed Mother, the Theotokos – “the God bearer” at first, questions Gabriel, “How shall this happen…” Upon his explanation Mary undertakes her all important journey with perfect trust and obedience to God’s will. She accepts her eternal role not in fear but in love. Mary will be the God Bearer, the bearer of her Son Jesus, our Savior, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus, at the moment of His conception, is both true God and true man: two natures in one Person.

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

 

Mary is the perfect disciple of God. She provides us with the model of love, obedience, and trust in Him. There were many times throughout her life that she had to express her trust and obedience, and at times not knowing where the journey would lead. It led from the great joy of her pregnancy, Jesus’ birth, family life, through to His ministry, and her motherly presence before the Holy Cross.

A few verses later, in her beautiful canticle the Magnificat, she exclaimed to her kinswoman Elizabeth her lack of doubt in what has happened.  She praises the mercy of God and her willingness to be the servant of Him who is faithful to His word. In her humility, trust, love, and obedience to God, Mary, as the New Eve, will be given the privilege of crushing Satan at the end of time.

From the beginning, the Catholic Church has never worshipped Mary. The Church venerates her as the first disciple and its greatest saint.

On this beautiful Solemnity of the Annunciation let us join with the great St. John Henry Cardinal Newman in his prayer to Jesus: “Dear Jesus, Your Holy Mother cooperated with the divine plan for the human race. Let me try to imitate her in her obedience and service to You.” Thank you, Jesus.

Note: The sacred image that appears at the top of all of my posts is The Annunciation by Fra Angelico.

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

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

I am always very appreciative of my readers writing to me and providing new information and interpretations of sacred icons and images. Happily, that occurred last evening when a reader, Mr. John Daly from Australia, provided me with information on the second icon that was in yesterday’s post on St. Athanasius. Let me provide you with that image so we will have a reference point:

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

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

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

  1. The bishop castigating the heretic Arius is wearing a distinctive hat. The hat is unique. It is shaped like a beehive. It is made of woven straw and was traditionally worn by Cypriot and other shepherds tending their flocks – an apt metaphor for a bishop caring for the flock of his faithful.
  2. St. Spyridon was from the island of Cyprus, and eventually became a bishop serving the people of Trimythous, thus, he would have been invited to the First Council of Nicaea as were all the other bishops in Christendom.
  3. At another time, possibly in Cyprus, St. Spyridon was involved in a debate with a pagan philosopher whom he ultimately converted to Christianity. Besides his theological arguments about the Holy Trinity, the good bishop used a piece of pottery or a brick, to demonstrate to the philosopher how you could have one single substance be also composed of three separate substances (pottery and bricks consist of clay, water, and are unified by the substance of fire).
  4. The story of his discussion with the pagan philosopher continues and says that as soon as St. Spyridon finished speaking the piece of pottery or brick burst into flame, water dripped from it, and clay ash remained in his hand. Well that would have been enough to place me on the road to conversion, and so it was with the philosopher, too. If you look closely at the icon above you can perceive the fire bursting out of the brick and the water puddling beneath it. Hmm, I didn’t see that! As Sherlock Holmes once said, “Watson, you see, but you do not  observe” (taken from the story A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir A.C. Doyle).  Wise advice.
  5. Mr. Daly also relates that it was [and probably still is] common for an iconographer to fuse the two incidents of St. Spyridon converting a pagan, and St. Spyridon at the Council of Nicaea debating with the heretic Arius.
  6. There it is: the beehive woven straw hat, the bishop’s vestments, the water, fire and ash metaphor, the confrontation with an individual that has an opposite argument, and the public venue for both incidents.
  7. So where is St. Athanasius in this icon? Mr. Daly offers that in the upper left corner of the icon, we see an individual portrayed as listening intently to St. Spyridon. He is dressed in a dark alb with a white collar. He suggests that this is St. Athanasius. That argument makes some sense because, as a deacon, Athanasius may not have been up front with the bishops, rather he possibly would be located near the altar ready to perform his diaconal duties. At the same time he is still involved in the proceedings, and/or ready to respond to the needs of his bishop – Alexander of Alexandria.  You notice the priests and monks in the back of the room, too, in dark conical monastic hats and cassocks.
  8. My only issue with that interpretation is that the figure portrayed in the upper left does not have a nimbus (halo) circling his head, nor is he wearing his deacon’s stole; however, the scribe in the lower left corner is wearing a deacon’s stole. My stole comes across my chest from the left shoulder and is gathered at the right hip; and the scribe’s stole does the same thing. Is this individual St. Athanasius? There appears to be writing on his stole. I have no proficiency in Greek so I cannot be of help there.
  9. The scribe in the lower left corner has a halo, too, and so do all the bishops. Did the iconographer think that all the bishops present were saints?  This is not unlikely, since they produced a Creed for Christendom in three months. Truly, a stunning achievement. It indicates that the assembled bishops were very clear in their own minds what the Faith, based on Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, was all about. The bishops all appear very animated and involved in the Council proceedings. It’s obvious that the Holy Spirit was working within that Council!
  10. There is a lot going on in the upper part of this icon, too. Christ, as a young child, is found walking across what appears to be an altar towards another bishop. That bishop on the upper right is seen discussing some issue with, possibly, another dissenter (a priest, or deacon; even though the priests and deacons in attendance didn’t vote, they certainly could influence the bishop of their diocese on issues and arguments).
  11. Sadly, I believe that the only existing documents that we have concerning this Council that are still in existence are the Nicene Creed itself, the procedural rules of the Council, and Emperor Constantine’s address to the assembled bishops. It is said that many of the bishops came, returned to their dioceses, and then came back to the Council. This probably contributes to the fact that we don’t have all the names of the participating bishops, just those mentioned in other documents or in the stories that were passed on through to the faithful (confer Anna Erakhtina’s article The “Model of Meekness,” and Slapping Arius, at http://www.orthochristian.com, May 22, 2016, specifically the contribution by Archpriest Vladislav Tsypin. He discusses the documents available to us today). If anyone has additional information on the actual participants please tell me your source, and the participants, and I will spread the information through a post.
  12. St. Spyridon was also known as a miracle worker, especially for his successful intervention (caused by the prayers of the soldiers and sailors of the Catholic Rites) in the 1716 battles with the invading Ottoman Turks on the Greek island of Corfu.

John, thanks again; this was a fun interaction.

Additional images of St. Spyridon:

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

In the Roman Catholic Church, St. Spyridon is venerated on his feast day, December 14th; and on December 12th in the Eastern Rites and the Orthodox Church.

Thanks for stopping by and reading this post.

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

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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.

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 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.

lightoftheworld

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

 

The Little Oratory – A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home – A New Book by Clayton and Lawler

Friend and fellow sacred artist David Clayton, in association with Leila Marie Lawler, has written a wonderful book entitled The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home. Sophia Institute Press published this book in the spring of 2014.

In a beautiful writing style that is truly accessible to all readers, Clayton and Lawler explain the purpose of a home oratory, the role that prayer, chant, and sacred art can play in the life of an individual or family, and the significance of maintaining a faith filled prayer life with young and adolescent children.

The word oratory derives from the Latin oratorium, and orare, which means to pray. An oratory is a sacred space set aside for prayer and meditation. A little oratory refers to a space within a home that is recognized as the home’s sacred space, and which is used as a focal point for individual and family prayer. It may be small as a simple shelf containing a crucifix and sacred art, or it could be a larger corner table space. The authors perform a marvelous service in reviewing all the questions that a family, single parent, or individual will face in designing their home’s sacred space.

I was happy to read chapters and sections that describe how to keep children on track during prayer, the length of a daily prayer time, leadership of the family prayer group, praying with a breviary (The Divine Office) and Holy Scripture. There are also sections on how to introduce the rosary into family life, and many other valuable and pertinent issues such as the role that chant and sacred art plays in the life of today’s Roman Catholic.

The Little Oratory is divided into twelve chapters and eight appendices. It contains lovely in-text illustrations by Deirdre M. Folley, and eight sacred images drawn and painted by David Clayton. These sacred images by Mr. Clayton may be separated from the binding of the book so that they can be framed and prayed with during each liturgical season of the year. They also provide for you a publisher’s website through which you can download additional images and line drawings that may be used for children’s activities.

You may ask why does each Catholic home need a little oratory? Good question, for the answer reaches to the heart of who we are as 21st century Catholics. It is obvious that we are surrounded by a secular society that bombards us with continuous messages that can easily distract and exhaust us. In response to this onslaught we need to make a space within our homes that is a quiet and reflective corner that focuses on God and will allow us to recharge our minds and rest our souls. This sacred space will be a visual reminder of the holy presence of God, the Blessed Mother, the angels and saints in our lives. So our little oratory acts as a bridge between our homes, our parish church, and the Lord Himself. It is a link that connects us with Divine Word, Song, and Image during the course of our week. Through the authors’ efforts families and individuals relearn, or learn for the first time, the necessity of understanding and respecting the idea of a sacred prayer space in the home

The Little Oratory – A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home is a valuable and resource filled book. Every Catholic that reads it will come away refreshed and filled with ideas on how to bring the life of the Church into their home. It can be purchased on-line or through any major bookstore. This paperback’s cover price is $19.95.

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.

 

 

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!

Musician playing pipe graffitihouse graffitiBishop graffiti

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

Baptism, Discipleship, and the Art of Lorenzo Lotto

In our Gospel last week we stood at the banks of the Jordan River and witnessed Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. Today we hear John announce to all that the Spirit of God rests upon Jesus who is described as the Lamb of God and the Light of the World. John goes on to say that Jesus is not an angel, a prophet, nor a magician; rather, He is the incarnate Son of the Most High God. John reminds us that as the “Lamb of God” Jesus has a specific mission. His role is to teach and preach, and most importantly, it is to heal, and that healing can only occur through sacrificial service – specifically through the sacrifice of His own blood.

We are just one month past the celebration of the birth of Jesus and today our Gospel reminds us of the purpose of His mission.

Five hundred years ago a beautiful painting was completed by the Italian artist Lorenzo Lotto entitled the Nativity of Christ. Lotto presents the typical stable scene, yet, his spiritual insight focuses on one specific artistic touch: he places on the wall behind a kneeling St. Joseph the image of a crucifix with the body of Christ emanating a beautiful glowing light that spills out onto the wood of the cross and the stable itself.

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To my knowledge, Lotto’s innovation was the first time such an insight had been seen in Western art, but its originality is emphasized by the fact that your eye naturally moves from the crucifix, through the eyes of Joseph and Mary, and then down to the open arms of Jesus. Here as an infant, on the wood of the manger, He freely opened His arms to Mary and Joseph; and as an adult carpenter, He freely laid Himself down upon the wood of the Cross, to be sacrificed in an open embrace of love for all.

The challenge of this Gospel is that Christ offers us, as His disciples, the model of sacrificial service. No matter who you are, or what your age or station in life, you can perform sacrificial service to those around you. But it must be offered in the same redemptive spirit that Christ offered His service: with spiritual love and compassion for the souls of those in need. By virtue of our own Baptism we are all called to serve others as Christ has served us. You may be a mother or father caring for children or elderly parents – this care, if offered in the spirit of Christ – is sacrificial service. You may be a sacred artist, laboring quietly and prayerfully to create beautiful images that will assist yourself and others in prayer. This creative labor is sacrificial service.

You may be a child or teenager that courageously doesn’t participate in the bullying of another and comforts the one injured – if offered in the spirit of Christ – this is sacrificial service. You may be an adult – sick or aching from the pain of years of courageous work for your family or on behalf of the Church’s needs, such as supporting the pro-life movement or other social and moral justice issues. You see, if in prayer – you offer up your pain and efforts for souls in need – this is Christ-like, redemptive, sacrificial service. So as we offer sacrificial service on behalf of others, we turn our mind to God and place ourselves in His presence. This presence is a moment of prayer for us.

Allow me to make a recommendation: when we offer sacrificial service we should say the first verse of Psalm 70, which says, “God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me.” By saying this prayer, awareness of our Baptismal discipleship takes root. For it is in that short verse that we successfully unite ourselves to Jesus in the Jordan River, and like Him, receive grace from the Father to continue our mission, even if it ends up on Calvary.

As we travel through the dark days of winter, let us not forget that the Light of Christ is always present to us, and that Jesus’ arms will always remain open to patiently help us as we serve others.

God come to our assistance. Lord, make haste to help us.

***The above homily will be delivered by me at St. Romuald Chapel at 10 AM, and Noon at St. Francis of Assisi Church, South Kingstown, Rhode Island, USA on Sunday January 19, 2014. Copyright © 2011- 2014 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Notes on the Painting: Lorenzo Lotto’s Nativity of Christ was completed in 1523. It is painted in oil on wood, and is presently in The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

“The Nativity” – Presented by the Jim and Jane Henson Family Puppets – Christmas Eve on CBS

Floridian Sean Keohane, a member of the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts, and a participant in the beautiful CBS/Paulist Production of “The Nativity” sent me the following information on an American television Christmas Eve Special that will be broadcast this Tuesday evening on CBS at 11:30 PM. You will want to set your DVR’s to record the show. I am sure that it will prove to be quite beautiful and a wonderful addition to your enjoyment of the holy Christmas season.  Sean is an artist and has been working with the famous Henson puppeters and the Jim Henson Creature Shop. He included a note and some pictures from Cheryl Henson that I would like to share with you.

Merry Christmas to all and best wishes for a safe and secure New Year, Deacon Paul and Jackie Iacono.

“A special note from Cheryl Henson:

I want to let you know about this special presentation of our mother’s puppet performance of “The Nativity” that will be a part of a CBS special on Christmas Eve. Heather Henson and I worked with Father Eric Andrews at Paulist Productions to remount this beautiful classic production as a tribute to Jane Henson. Mom had created this production over the past five years together with Heather and Sean Keohane in Orlando. The piece workshopped at The National Puppetry Conference at The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. From there, Mom sculpted the heads for the first group of puppets which were then built and costumed by the New York Workshop. In remounting the show, the workshop made a few important additions, a bowing donkey and two shepherds among them. Vandy Wood designed a beautiful light weight set with a blue back drop dyed by Jason Weber. Everyone who worked on the show did a spectacular job.

We were blessed with an excellent team of performers who we know from shows we have funded through the Jim Henson Foundation and from the Henson workshop. Amanda Maddock directed the puppets for the television production, working with storyboards from Sean Keohane and Heather Henson. Chris Green, Erin Or, Eric Wright, Ulysses Jones, Yoko Myoi, Amy Rush joined her as puppeteers, delivering elegant breath taking performances.

We couldn’t be prouder of how this came together quickly to create a lasting tribute to our mother. There will even be mini documentary tribute to Jane included at the end of the commercial free hour. In addition to Jane Henson’s puppets, the show also includes the kites of Curtiss Lee Mitchell, flown by Curtiss and Heather Henson. The extraordinary spirit kites that they performed at mom’s service in April take flight over three spectacular songs; “Ave Maria,” “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” Everyone on the production agreed that all church services should include kites. They help the spirit soar!

We miss our mother and are glad to be able to celebrate her this holiday season. Please tune in or record this production if you can. Happy holidays and thank you for being a part of this community that she loved so much.

Cheryl Henson”emailed_image_v3

lizandmaryThe Visitation” Mary and Cousin Elizabeth in Jane Henson’s ‘Nativity Story’ for its premiere at St James Catholic Cathedral in Orlando, 2010, Puppet heads sculpted by Jane Henson, tabletop puppets built and costumed by the Jim Henson Creature Shop. Photo by John Henson.

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

Mary and Joseph’s “Yes” – The Risk of an Open Heart

Our Gospel today (4th Sunday of Advent, Matthew 1: 18-24)) provides us with the story of a young couple, Mary and Joseph, who through their pondering of God’s request for understanding and trust provide humanity with the opportunity for divine Redemption. It is in their collective “Yes” to the angel’s request, that God’s plan could be fulfilled. His strategy for humanity’s Redemption was patiently planned and executed. It was a plan, seen in the Holy Scriptures, that shows Him searching for His broken human family, seeking ways in which He can communicate His desire for love and friendship.

God is very methodical in His attempts to search for His lost children. The first question ever asked in Holy Scripture is found in the book of Genesis. It is there that God asks the question: “Where are you?” He asks of the first family, Adam and Eve, “Where are you hiding?”  We know that they were hiding because of their sin; because of their collective “No” to God’s request of them to stay away from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

With their sinful actions, God set into motion His plan for our Redemption – a plan that ultimately saw His entrance into human history to teach, heal, and redeem it from the sins of our spiritual parents. At the birth of Christ, the seven hundred year old messianic prophecies of Isaiah became a historic reality; and on a yearly basis, we celebrate that moment at Christmas.

But today we also need, in light of our Gospel, to pause and rejoice in remembrance of Mary and Joseph’s courage and willingness to say, “Yes,” to God. We need to consider that their “Yes” was not a simple act – it contained enormous risks since Mary’s circumstances after that “Yes” were at the very least – precarious.

She was a young woman, probably in her mid teens, engaged to be married, and is suddenly pregnant, not from the man she loves, but, by an unseen Holy Spirit of God; moreover, what about Joseph? He was a successful carpenter in Nazareth who had fallen deeply in love with Mary, was publicly betrothed and ready to live a happy life with her. Then the news: “I’m pregnant.” As a result under Jewish law, Mary faced a public humiliation and stoning and Joseph, stunned and confused, faced feelings of betrayal, pain, and anger. Understandably, at first, he is not ready to say “yes” to Mary and her story of divine intervention, there are few men that would.

But through divine intercession you have God, through His angel, making another request:

474px-'Joseph's_Dream',_painting_by_Gaetano_Gandolfi,_c._1790

“Joseph, Joseph, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.” With Joseph’s “Yes,” to this request his pain and anger subside and are replaced with a joyful nurturing spirit that enables him to take leadership of the situation and begin acting as a faith-filled stepfather. So the collective “No” by our spiritual parents Adam and Eve, is now trumped by the collective “Yes” of the first Christian family: Mary and Joseph.

Now it may be hard for us to relate to this Gospel. Our lives may be filled with anger, worry, family resentments, and disappointments. We may conclude that this story really doesn’t relate to us because the sharp axe of pain and frustration has severed the roots of our own sense of joy, hope, and love. If that is our dilemma, we must call out to God for His direction and try to remember, that in this Christmas season we can, with His help, change our focus. We can say, maybe for the first time with maturity, “Yes” to God and His call to us. You see the story of Mary and Joseph and the Christ child is absolutely relevant. For the angel’s request to Joseph of “Be not afraid” applies to us, too.

The request of  “Be not afraid” involves many different opportunities: the opportunity of forgiving others who have hurt us; or confronting our own sinfulness and unburdening ourselves of our sins, or the opportunity of being a person who desires to seriously investigate their faith and explore the reasons why we believe.

You see all of this involves the same risk that Mary and Joseph experienced: the risk of exposing our mind, heart, and soul to God’s love and allowing Jesus, through His sacramental grace, to be joyfully born into our own hearts and to give us the courage to truly live as a Catholic Christian.

So my brothers and sisters, as we make our final preparations for the celebration of Christmas, let us make every effort to imitate Mary and Joseph by saying “Yes” to God’s call, and in so doing, open the doors of our own hearts to provide a loving home for the Lord.

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Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. This is a homily that Deacon Paul O. Iacono delivered at the 8 and 10 AM Masses at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Wakefield, Rhode Island USA on Sunday December 22, 2013. Information on the painting: This painting was completed by Gaetano Gandolfi (1734 – 1802). It is entitled Joseph’s Dream, is oil on canvas, and is approximately 37 inches high by 30 inches wide. It was completed in 1790.  Information on the mosaic: Detail of the apse mosaic in the St Joseph’s chapel of Westminster Cathedral. It was installed in 2003, and the designer is Christopher Hobbs who worked with mosaic artist, Tessa Hunkin. – See more at: http://elmiradominicans.blogspot.com/2011/12/holy-family-of-jesus-mary-and-joseph.html#sthash.vVewiGgP.dpuf

God’s Playfulness – Video and Verse

If you have a moment, click on this link, expand the very brief video to full screen, then sit back and enjoy the playfulness of God and the gift of His creative grace. After watching it, I composed a few verses, which I share with you.

http://www.guideposts.org/video/mysterious-ways/the-miracle-of-flight?int_source=MysteriousWays&int_medium=RN&int_campaign=Starlingmurmurations

Thanksgiving 

Grace, the gift of God’s energy; the sharing of Divine life. 

God plays with His creation – mutual joy crashes in on our senses, like the lovely waves of the starlings’ wings, to drench us with His beauty.

Grace, God freely shares His friendship.

We are graced.  

We rejoice and give thanks.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. I would like to thank nature photographer Dylan Winter for the incredible starling murmurations video and for the Guideposts website for featuring it. 

The Gospel of St. Luke 12: 49-53 – The Sword of Christ

The following is a homily that will be delivered by Deacon Paul O. Iacono at St. Francis of Assisi Church, South Kingstown, Rhode Island on the weekend of August 17/18 2013.

In our first Scriptural reading for this weekend (Jeremiah 38: 4-6, 8-10) we see the prophet Jeremiah thrown into a well as a result of his faith-filled preaching. He was lowered into a mud filled cistern in an attempt to shut him up and tame his ability to disturb the people’s apathy.

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A month ago we witnessed the spiritually uplifting events of Steubenville East held here in South Kingstown, in which Catholic teenagers and young adults from all over the Northeast gathered together to worship God and share experiences in a faith-filled setting.

The following week we saw Pope Francis travel to Brazil, express his love, teach, and witness to as many as three million people at World Youth Day.

But when these young people returned home you can be sure that advice was given to some of them, by well meaning people, who said, “Its great that you had an uplifting experience but don’t get carried away and go off the deep end.”

What does that kind of talk do?

It throws cold water on the fire of enthusiasm – it attempts to tame and control a person’s faith.

All people, regardless of age, who desire to live out and practice the Holy Scriptures in their daily lives must guard against being tamed by the world, and even at times, by some well meaning people within the Church.

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The message of this weekend’s Gospel (Luke 12: 49-53) is counter cultural. The Gospel does, at times, cause trouble. It can set a soul on fire with love for God and fellow man, and that soul then understands through wise spiritual counseling, the mission it has been given by the Lord to continue His work here on earth.

The saints all experienced this fire, this blaze of mystical love and desire for God that not only consumed them, but – by their witness –  those around them, too.

Jesus tells us in St. Luke’s Gospel that He wants to inspire a mystical fire – a blaze of faith, love, and action, and yet, He knows this will cause division; Jesus is exclaiming that His peace is not the peace of the world.

The peace and love that Jesus offers to us is often at odds with the frauds, shams, and counterfeits of this world: the politics, economics, and religious expressions that do not lift people up in love, unity of purpose, and individual liberty, but tear them apart, in anger, stress, and confusion.

When the Gospel of Jesus Christ becomes a blaze roaring in our souls the Holy Spirit gives us the gifts of fortitude and perseverance. These gifts strengthen us to stand up to pagan society both in a public and private way. This strength makes us dangerous, and historically has been a cause for division in the eyes of societies – from the time of the Roman Empire to the world today. Why else would members of the entertainment world and the news media attack the Catholic Church’s beliefs, its clergy, religious, and laity alike?

They attack a Church weakened by the public and private sins of her people but still bold enough to proclaim the Gospel.

They attack because they know the Gospel message is dangerous to their agenda.

They attack because they know that a core group of faithful followers, that cross denominational lines and who truly still number in the millions, cannot be bought off or intimidated. 

My brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ’s Redemption of mankind brought us salvation, peace, and love; but the sword He carries does have two sides – for it sharply divides those who take the Cross and the Gospel seriously from those who do not.

Today’s Gospel challenges us to know that like Jesus, Jeremiah, and the saints we must expect misunderstanding, ill treatment, and possibly even death when we glorify God by living a Gospel centered life.

Our faith provides us with the grace and love of God. Yet, the Cross refines our perspective to see that God’s love is a purifying fire of salvation and covenant that demands that  His people not compromise with the world, or declare a bogus truce with evil. So when you stand before society proclaiming your faith – do not be afraid. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and the witness of His Blessed Mother and the saints – in the end all will be well.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. The first image of Jeremiah in the cistern was painted by the artist Marc Chagall; the second image is by Paul Hardy. Thanks to Wikipaintings for the images.

Roger of Helmarshausen O.S.B. – Theophilus the Presbyter: Part 3 – The Prologues

Last February, in Parts 1 and 2 of this article, I shared with you some thoughts on an important figure in the history of Western European art: the Benedictine monk, Roger of Helmarshausen, also known by his pen name, Theophilus the Presbyter.

Dom Roger was born in the late 11th century during a dramatic time in Western European history. In 1066 the Normans successfully invaded England and defeated the Saxons, which forever changed the history of England and the Continent. In 1084, St. Bruno founded the Carthusian Order in France, and in 1098 the foundation monastery of Citeaux saw the beginning of the Cistercian Order.

In 1095, at the Council of Clermont, Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade in an attempt to restore Christianity to the Holy Land. In 1115, St. Bernard became the abbot of the monastery of Clairvaux; and remained its abbot until his death in 1153. In 1120 we have the extraordinary sculptor Gislebertus working on the tympanum of Autun Cathedral in the Burgundy region of eastern France, and in 1150 we have Abbot Suger beginning the rebuilding of the abbey-church of St. Denis in Paris, which ushers in the beautiful Gothic period in Western art and architecture.

It is within this dynamic and exciting environment of the early 12th century that the Benedictine monk, Roger of Helmarshausen (considered by many, but not all scholars, to be Theophilus the Presbyter) compiles and writes his important manuscript De diversis artibus (On Divers Arts), also known as Schedula diversarum artium, or simply the Schedula. His book contains three chapters of which only one (the most extensive and detailed) deals with metallurgy, the other two deal with painting and the making of stained glass.

Many scholars believe that On Divers Arts was written/compiled between the years 1100 and 1140. Besides its importance as a medieval artistic treatise, On Diverse Arts is known as containing the first very early description of oil paint, thus, conclusively proving Georgio Vasari (1511-74) was mistaken in claiming that the van Ecyk’s were the first to develop the use of painting in oils.

Dom Roger’s artistic skills revolved around metallurgy, specifically in the crafting of exquisite gold and silver liturgical furnishings, an example of which can be seen in the image below of a Portable Altar, c. 1120, Oak box, clad in partly gilded silver, feet of gilded bronze, 165 x 345 x 212 mm (approx. 6.6 by 13.6 by 8 inches), found in the Cathedral of Paderborn, Germany.

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Dom Roger’s contributions to the understanding of late 11th and early 12th century Western European sacred art are so numerous as to be out of the purview of this post to catalogue them all. My goal today is to mention how specifically a contemporary sacred artist in the Western Tradition could benefit in reading his book On Diverse Arts.

This is my main point: if a sacred artist picks up Dom Roger’s book and quickly scans through the Prologues to each of the three chapters in the book they will miss the entire point of what he was trying to accomplish. It is a book that requires the reader to view its contents not as another medieval manuscript of pigment recipes or the social anthropology of a highly skilled 12th century artist. Clearly, Dom Roger is inviting us into his working world and the spiritual perception of the application of prayer to work, which is true to the motto of his Benedictine Order: Ora et Labora.

Each of the three prologues discusses the development of specific spiritual values in relation to the sacred art (painting, glass making, or metalworking) the student is pursuing. There is a progression through different skills and obstacles that the student must master in order to reach the heights of individual artistry.

St. John Climacus and other Patristic Fathers in discussing a soul’s spiritual journey speak of a similar progression up the “ladder of ascent” to the Godhead and spiritual union with God. The soul’s journey is fraught with problems and obstacles, yet, those souls that persevere are rewarded for their efforts. Dr. Heidi Gearhart, presently of Harvard University, also speaks of this idea in her research on Dom Roger when she identifies the intention that he is interested in a progression forward, an ascent, through different and more complex art forms to the pinnacle (in his mind) of artistry – which is Dom Roger’s own specialty: the art of gold, silver, and bronze metal work.

The First Prologue to the chapter on painting emphasizes the need for the sacred artist to be humble in his/her approach, they should not neglect the wisdom of the past, nor should they be idle or selfish with the artistic gifts they have received. They have the duty to pass on to their receptive students the wisdom of the arts that they have been given by God, and have gained through study, and experience; and lastly, your art should always give glory to God and to His holy name.

In the Second Prologue, which is the preface to the chapter on glass making, we read that Dom Roger is emphasizing his adherence to the guidance of Holy Wisdom. In a passage of mystical quality he says “I drew near to the forecourt of holy Wisdom and I saw the sanctuary filled with a variety of all kinds of differing colors, displaying the utility and nature of each pigment…” He goes on to say that he can accomplish superior effects through the use of glass alone, thus, “without repelling the daylight and the rays of the sun.”  We wonder whether Abbot Suger in Paris was familiar with Dom Roger’s experiments with glass prior to or during his renovation of the abbey church of St. Denis – the precursor of French Gothic churches.

The Third, and last, Prologue, the preface to the art of metal work, takes us into the recesses of Dom Roger’s soul, for in this preface he is stressing that the Holy Spirit bestows on the sacred artist the grace of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. These Seven Gifts: Fear of the Lord (which means that we do not desire or act to offend God in any way), Understanding, Counsel (Spiritual Prudence), Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Wisdom have been given to us through the compassion of God. These Gifts are given to the artist who sincerely desires them through the Sacraments of the Church, sincere prayer, and activity, which acknowledges the truth, goodness, and beauty of God. The sacred artist should always be open to cooperate with the grace of God. Dom Roger implores his students to understand that their work should reflect the truth that it is executed under the authority, direction, and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Dom Roger’s perspective is solidly within the Benedictine tradition of attempting to live within a state of spiritual wisdom, and to transfer that wisdom, through teaching and practical workshop application, to another generation of monk/artists. Humility, creative technique, investigation, silence, prayer – listening to Holy Wisdom – enable him to succeed at his art.

His approach is to remain true to his spiritual values as a Benedictine. He recognizes the absolute significance of the role that the Holy Spirit plays in assisting, molding, and inspiring the artist in his or her efforts to create artworks which give glory to God and to share their knowledge with those who are willing to learn.

My next post on this subject will present a brief overview of some salient research by an outstanding scholar of this period of European art history: Dr. Heidi Gearhart of Harvard University.

Copyright © 2011- 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved         The quotations are taken from the John G. Hawthorne and Cyril S. Smith translation from the Latin of Theophilus’ On Divers Arts, published by Dover Publications, New York, 1979.

Aidan Hart’s New Book on Sacred Iconography

The article below is reblogged from the always informative Orthodox Arts Journal. The article is the 9th in a series about sacred iconography that was written by Brother Aidan Hart, a British iconographer. Brother Hart has written extensively on all aspects of sacred iconography and has recently published a very comprehensive book on the subject called Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting. The editor at the Orthodox Arts Journal highly recommends it. Brother Hart’s articles are available at his website and he also offers sacred iconography workshops in Britain. This nine part article is well worth the effort of perusing through all of it. His series contains many gems of information that will add to your knowledge of the sacred arts. Links to his site and the series are provided for you below.

Designing Icons (pt.9): Perspective Systems in Icons [from Orthodox Arts Journal]

April 16, 2013

By 

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 Editorial note:  We have convinced Aidan Hart to post a chapter from his new book. “Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting” which is being hailed as the most comprehensive book to date on practicing the art of Iconography.  At 450 pages, with 460 paintings, 150 drawings and covering everything from theology and design to gilding and varnishing, it is a prized possession for anyone interested in the traditional arts.  The chapter being serialized over the next weeks is called “Designing Icons”.  You will see why Archimandrate Vasileos of Iviron called this book the “Confessio of a man who epitomizes the liturgical beauty of the Orthodox Church”.  More details about the book on Aidan’s website.    

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In this section, Aidan discusses the different perspective systems used in icons.

This is part 9  of a series.  Part 1Part 2 Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8

Inverse perspective.

With inverse perspective the lines of a building do not converge on a point on the horizon, inside the painting, but instead they converge on us, the viewers. This serves to include us in the action depicted. The Orthodox hymns make it plain that a sacred event in the past is still acting on us today: “Today Christ is born”, they say, “Today Christ is risen. Let us join with the angels in praising His third day resurrection!”

The Hospitality of Abraham / "Old Testament Trinity" by Fr. Silouan

An example of inverse perspective.  The Hospitality of Abraham / “Old Testament Trinity” by Fr. Silouan

Inverse perspective also gives us the sense that the persons depicted are looking out at us. It is as though the image is drawn not from our own point of view but theirs, and ultimately, God’s. We have already discussed the meaning of repentance as being a change of seeing. We could also explain it as a change of perspective, where we realize that we are not the centre of the universe, but God.

Inverse perspective also draws our attention to the real space between the image and ourselves. The emphasis is on the grace coming to us through real space, rather than us being drawn into an imaginary world or reconstructed scene within the picture. Iconography is above all a liturgical art, designed to be part of a larger sacred dance that involves the church building, the space within the building, the hymns sung within it, and the liturgical movements during services.  As Gervase Mathews puts it:

In the Renaissance system of perspective the picture is conceived as a window opening on to a space beyond…The Byzantine mosaic or picture opens onto the space before it. The ‘picture space’ of Byzantine art was primarily that of the church or palace room in which it was placed, since art was considered a function of architecture.[1]

Flatness

Icons do not attempt to create a great sense of depth. They do use enough highlighting and perspective to affirm that the material world is real and good and part of the spiritual life. Nevertheless, things are kept somewhat more on a plane than in naturalistic painting. In a group icon, like that of Mid-Pentecost for example, people in the rear will be shown the same size, or sometimes even larger, than those closer. Every person is thus kept intimate with the viewer. The mystery of the person overcomes the limits of physical space and distance.

an example of flatness. Mid Pentecost, by Aidan Hart

an example of flatness. Mid Pentecost, by Aidan Hart

Why else do icons retain this flatness? It helps us to pass through the icon to the persons and the events depicted. The aim of the icon is not to replace the subjects depicted, but to bring us into living relationship with them. This explains why statues are not as a rule used in the icon tradition. Their three dimensionality makes them too self contained. Where sculpture is utilized it is kept to base relief.

Romanesque cross by Aidan Hart

Romanesque cross by Aidan Hart

Flatness can also be seen as a intentional weakness, a deliberate imperfection that constantly reminds us that this image is not the reality but a door to its prototype.

There is also an honesty in this flatness. There no attempt to make the picture plane what it can never be, a three dimensional object, let alone the real thing itself.  Incidentally it is this honesty to the picture plane that inspired the American art movement called colour field painting of the 1940’s and 1950’s.

Planarity also gives much greater freedom to arrange things according to their spiritual importance rather than being limited to their position in three-dimensional space. The figures within the icon of Christ’s birth, for example, are often arranged in three bands to represent the heavenly, earthly and unitary realms, and also in a circle centred on the Christ child

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This symbolic arrangement would not be possible if the event were depicted naturalistically, with figures receding toward the distance.

Multi-view perspective

Sometimes a building is shown as though seen simultaneously from left and right, below and above. This helps us to see things as God sees them, and as they are in themselves and not merely as they appear from our single view-point, limited as this is to one place at a time.

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The same multi-view perspective is sometimes applied to time, where the same person is depicted more than once in the same image, such as with Christ in the Nativity icon. The icon tradition can also place an important person in an event at which they were not historically present, but in which they later came to participate spiritually. Icons show things from the view of divine time (kairos  in Greek) and not merely chronological time (kronos). One example is Saint Paul in the Pentecost icon (fig. PentecostIMG copy.tif). He was not even a believer at the time of Pentecost, but later came to be great among the apostles and a pillar of the Church together with Peter, who is shown opposite him.

Isometry

In this approach the sides and edges of an object are depicted parallel, neither converging nor diverging. This affirms how a thing is in itself, rather than how it appears to us. All things have been called into unity in Christ, and this unity preserves and strengthens the integrity of each thing, rather than reducing it to a numerical one. Unity presupposes relationship which in turn presupposes otherness, though not separateness. Isometry affirms this otherness.

An example of isometry

An example of isometry

Hierarchical perspective

Often a personage who is more important than others will be enlarged. A typical example of this is the Virgin in the Nativity icon (see Nativity icon posted above). Conversely someone might be made particularly small to make a spiritual point. The Christ Child is often depicted thus in Nativity icons, to emphasize God the Word’s humility in becoming man for our sakes.

Vanishing point perspective

Although inverse perspective is more commonly used, we do also find instances where lines converge toward a point in the icon’s distance. This is not pursued in the systematic, mathematical way devised by the Renaissance painter, architect and sculptor Alberti Brunelleschi. In fact when this system is used you are likely to find as many convergence points as there are objects. This in itself transports the viewer out of the static vantage point assumed by mathematical perspective, and presupposes instead a much more dynamic experience – surely something closer to our actual experience of life.


[1] Gervase Mathews, page 30.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miniature Icons by Evgeny Baranov and Russian Master Icon Carvers

April 9th and 10th, 2013

By 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Easter 2013

“The splendor of Christ risen from the dead has shone on the people redeemed by His blood, alleluia.”

“Our Redeemer has risen from the tomb; let us sing a hymn of praise to the Lord our God, alleluia.”

“Alleluia, the Lord is risen as He promised, alleluia.”

Fra_Angelico_024

God our Father, by raising Christ Your Son You conquered the power of death and opened for us the way to eternal life. Let our celebration today raise us up and renew our lives by the Spirit that is within us [through our Baptism into Your Life]. Grant 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

Notes on the painting: This painting by Fra Angelico is found in one of the “cells” (cell 31), that is, one of the rooms that were used by Dominican friars as their personal living quarters in their priory, or what is today called the Museo de San Marco, in Florence, Italy. The painting portrays Jesus Christ, after His resurrection on Easter Sunday morning, entering into that spiritual place where the souls of the righteous deceased were waiting for their expected liberation by the Messiah. Christ’s hand is extended to Adam, Eve is behind him and St. John the Baptist is next to her, followed by all the righteous from past history. Jesus, the Son of God, will now lead them into Heaven, to rejoice forever with the Trinity. The door to this spiritual place has been shattered, catching a demon under its fall. Other demons cower in a corner, totally overcome by the beauty, majesty, and spiritual power of God Himself. Jesus Christ’s image is one of love, mercy, tenderness, and welcoming. He is happy to be there and to be the source of their personal spiritual Redemption and liberation. This Redemption was made possible by Jesus’ bloody sacrifice and death on the Holy Cross which is represented on the standard that He holds.

This painting is a fresco and is approximately 5 feet by 6 feet in size. It is called Christ Storming Hell, and is also known as Christ in Limbo. It was completed between 1437 and 1450.

We pray that  you have a Happy Easter Day and a grace filled Easter Season!

The quotations are taken from volume 2 of the Roman Breviary – The Divine Office, page 524-526, antiphons and closing prayer for Easter Sunday morning.

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

Good Friday

“Come, let us worship Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who redeemed us with His Precious Blood.”

“If we wish to  understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. Sacrifice a lamb without blemish, a one year old male, commanded Moses, and sprinkle its blood on your doors. If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possible save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of  the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.”

It was about nine in the morning when they nailed Jesus to the cross.

From noon until three o’clock there was darkness over the whole world.

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At three o’clock, Jesus cried out in a loud voice: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

It is finished.

When we were His enemies, God reconciled us to Himself by the death of His Son Jesus Christ.

An innocent Jesus sacrificed for us, the guilty.

Realize that you were delivered from the futile way of life your fathers handed on to you, not by any diminishable sum of silver or gold, but by Christ’s blood beyond all price: the blood of a spotless, unblemished lamb chosen before the world’s foundation and revealed for your sake in these last days. It is through Him that you are believers in God, the God who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory. Your faith and hope, then, are centered in God.  (1 Peter 1: 18-21)

“Awake, O Sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Copyright © 2013 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Notes on the painting: Christ’s Crucifixion, is by the Spanish master Diego Velazquez (1599 – 1660); it was completed between 1631 – 32.

All the Scriptural quotations are taken from The New American Bible (1970) Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. The “Awake, O sleeper…” verse is taken from an ancient homily from the first centuries of the Church. First quotation is from The Roman Breviary: The Divine Office, volume 2, page 467. The second quotation is from The Catecheses by Saint John Chrysostom (AD 347-407), archbishop of Constantinople, Byzantium (present day Istanbul, Turkey). His Catecheses is also found in volume 2 of the Breviary, pages 473-475.

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Beauty – “The Great Legacy” of Pope Benedict XVI

I am interrupting my series on Theophilus the Presbyter and the affect he had on the development Medieval art and technology with this post that just came in from the Catholic News Service/EWTN.

The following article is very important and relevant to our understanding of the significant role that his Holiness Emeritus Benedict XVI had in moving the Church forward while appreciating and applying the beauty of our faith, in all of its component parts, to our holy liturgy, prayer, and devotion to our Eucharistic Lord. This understanding contributes to our appreciation of what it means to be a member of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. The complete article appears below:

Beauty in liturgy the ‘great legacy’ of Benedict XVI

By Carl Bunderson

VATICAN CITY, March 1, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) .  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will be remembered in Church history for his work to recover the beauty of traditional liturgy, according to Bishop James D. Conley.

The head of the Lincoln, Neb. Diocese, who has been reading Benedict’s writings on liturgy for decades, said these works “will remain a great contribution to liturgical theology for years to come.”

“His great legacy,” Bishop Conley told CNA Feb. 27, “will be the re-discovery of the beauty of the traditional liturgy.”

Benedict awakened a “new way” of looking at the ordinary form of the Mass – the liturgy which came after the 1960s Second Vatican Council – “with a greater attempt to be more attentive to the rubrics.”

In the former pontiff’s view, Mass should be celebrated with beauty, dignity, and in continuity with the tradition of the Church, Bishop Conley noted.

Benedict’s liturgical legacy also includes his “blessing” of those “who have a great attachment to the old Mass” and who are in union with the Holy See, the bishop said.

In 2007, Pope Benedict released a directive titled “Summorum pontificum,” which in a “watershed moment,” gave every priest permission to say Mass using the 1962, or pre-Vatican II Missal.

“He made it one of his priorities to…introduce the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’, trying to show that the pre-conciliar liturgy of the 1962 Missal is the same liturgy as the Roman Missal of Pope Paul VI,” the bishop explained.

Pope Benedict “allowed the traditions to harmonize…so the cross-pollination could take place; so the very best of the reforms of the post-conciliar liturgy could be enhanced and influenced, by an open, unbiased acceptance of the Mass that preceded it.”

Bishop Conley believes that Pope Benedict has allowed the pre-conciliar liturgy to flourish alongside of the post-conciliar liturgy “in a hope that some of the transcendence, the beauty, the tradition, the Latin” will permeate the new liturgy.

The Pope’s own manner of celebrating Mass, including subtle “symbolic gestures” have “sent a message” and have had “a catechetical value” for both priests and faithful, said Bishop Conley.

These gestures include distributing Communion to the faithful kneeling; beautiful vestments and those which had fallen into disuse; ensuring a cross and candles are on the altar; and celebrating facing the same direction as the faithful, all elements of a “reform of the reform of the liturgy.”

“He even created a new way of looking at the two traditions,” reflected Bishop Conley, “the extraordinary form and the ordinary form.” Pope Benedict coined these terms in “Summorum pontificum,” to refer to pre and post Vatican liturgies respectively.

“They’re two parts of the same form, and of the same Roman rite: that’s what he really wanted to emphasize by that change in language.”

Transcendence and beauty

Pope Benedict has long been “trying to recover that sense of transcendence and beauty of the liturgy,” reflected the bishop.

Part of this effort was his involvement in the translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal. Bishop Conley noted the former Roman pontiff’s concern that the Latin prayers be translated both accurately and “also with a sense of beauty in the language.”

The bishop also noted Pope Benedict’s creation in November of a “Pontifical Academy for Latin.” He sees this as tied to the Pontiff’s desire to increase the use of Latin in the Church’s life, including in her liturgy.

Bishop Conley also noted how Pope Benedict’s vision was shaped by the Liturgical Movement of the early 20th century, an effort that called for a reform of the Church’s worship, led largely by Benedictines.

“He knew the great players of the Liturgical Movement back before the Council,” the bishop said.

One of his major writings on the liturgy was his 2000 work The Spirit of the Liturgy. That publication hearkened back to a book of the same name by Father Romano Guardini, known as one of those “great players.”

In The Spirit of the Liturgy,  Benedict – as a theologian writing before his rise to the papacy – encouraged a “New Liturgical Movement” that would recall the best elements of the first Liturgical Movement.

Benedict’s concern with beauty and liturgy is not one of mere aesthetics, Bishop Conley noted, but flows from a recognition that liturgical prayer is the “source and summit” of the Christian life, as the Second Vatican Council taught.

“A lot of people are talking about the impact that he’s had on the Church, and you certainly have to say that the liturgy is going to be one; primarily because he took such a personal interest in it and he believed that…everything flows from prayer,” said Bishop Conley.

“That’s what he said when he announced his resignation, that he made this decision after deep prayer. And now he’s going to a life of deep meditation and contemplation, and all that centers on the Eucharist, and the liturgical worship of the Church, which he very much has a profound love for.”

 

A continuing influence

Doctor Horst Buchholz, director of music at the St. Louis archdiocese, told CNA Feb. 25 that Pope Benedict has offered such a wealth of teaching on the liturgy that his influence has yet to come to full fruition.

“There has been no Pope since Pius X, or even before, with such a fervent love for liturgy and Sacred Music like Benedict XVI…We still have to accept, digest, and adapt many of Benedict’s thoughts and directives on liturgy and Sacred Music,” he said.

Buchholz commended Pope Benedict’s example of including the use of the Gradual at his recent Masses in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Gradual is an ancient form of singing the psalm between the readings that may replace the responsorial psalm.

“The Gradual is rarely, rarely ever sung, so that is a very good sign, that people are even aware that there is an option like that,” largely through the example of the Pope’s Masses.

Illustration, not imposition

Jeffrey Tucker, publications director for the Church Music Association of America, agreed that Pope Benedict has led by example in liturgy.

“I knew he would show us the beauty of the Roman rite in a way people hadn’t seen it before, and inspire people through example,” he said to CNA Feb. 20.

Tucker called Pope Benedict a liberal, “in the best sense of that term.” The Roman Pontiff provided “a kind of license” for the pre-conciliar liturgy, he said, and integrated “the reformed Mass into the tradition of the Roman rite more generally.”

“The reforms at St. Peter’s Masses and (papal) liturgy generally have been astonishing, extraordinary, especially from a musical standpoint,” Tucker said.

He pointed particularly to the use of the Introit, the official text from the psalms meant to be sung at the beginning of Mass, at every large Mass said at St. Peter’s recently.

“He’s worked to make the Roman rite more true to itself, which is very encouraging for those of us at the grass roots level, because now we can point to papal liturgies as a useful example of what we’re seeking to accomplish in our own parish lives.”

Tucker praised the fact that while Pope Benedict did make minor changes in liturgical laws, he recognized that “beauty itself, once it’s liberated, compels belief in a sense.” He described the Pope as working not through imposition, but with “inspiration, illustration, example – putting beauty on display and creating a kind of global hunger for solemnity and seriousness, and ritual.

Charles Cole, director of the schola at the London Oratory, told Vatican Radio Feb. 24 that “under the pontificate of Benedict XVI there has been a particular focus on the relationship of the liturgy and music and this remarkable heritage and its grown to ever greater prominence.”

In 2007 Pope Benedict wrote an apostolic exhortation on the Eucharist, “Sacramentum Caritatis,” cementing some of his teachings on the liturgy into the Magisterium.

Writing for The Catholic Herald, Dom Alcuin Reid, a Benedictine monk, said that “his conviction expressed therein, that ‘everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty,’ was reflected in papal liturgies. These became master classes on how to celebrate the modern liturgy in continuity with tradition, where the best of the old and of the new serve to raise our minds and hearts to God.”

Bishop Conley concluded with CNA by remembering the Pope’s constant example of reverence and beauty in celebrating the liturgy.

“When I first came to Rome in 1989 as a priest-student, on Thursday mornings he would celebrate Mass in a chapel of the proto-martyrs inside the Vatican.”

“It would be a Latin Novus Ordo mass, always Novus Ordo, but always celebrated very reverently and with a great sense of transcendence. So not only by his writings, but by the way he celebrated Mass, he was teaching.”

 

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

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

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

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

The Lord asks that question of us, too. 

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

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

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

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

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

Where to begin?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Penitent Magdalene and the Way to True Conversion of Heart – A RePost Of Fr. Jason Smith’s Essay

As we begin the season of Lent I thought you would enjoy this article by Father Jason Smith. It contains a magnificent sacred image painted by George de La Tour (1593 – 1652). La Tour is one of my favorite artists; I especially enjoy his beautiful sacred image of St. Joseph teaching the child Jesus. During his lifetime La Tour was considered to be the painter for the French nobility. His son Etienne became his pupil and followed his father’s style so closely that it is very difficult for today’s art historians to determine the author of certain paintings within their collection.
La Tour was a master of the chiarascuro (light/dark/shadow) technique. He developed this technique in new ways, adopting a softer, gentler, and simple approach to presenting the interplay of light, shadow, and color.  After his involvement with a Franciscan led spiritual revival he eventually devoted himself to religious subjects. His two paintings on Mary Magdalene are masterpieces of this style of art and they truly speak to the soul who is interested in listening.
The de La Tour family unfortunately died in 1652 as a result of an epidemic that devastated his city.
The essay below was written a few years ago by Fr. Jason Smith. Fr. Smith’s essay on the truth, beauty, and meaning of de La Tour’s painting reflects the Lord’s ability to use sacred artists to express His continual grace and mercy to us. It is my wish that you spiritually profit by the painting and its analysis. Thank you Fr. Smith for posting this fine essay.

The Penitent Magdalene and the Way to True Conversion of Heart   By Fr Jason Smith, published at the Biltrix blog 

“I have found no better representation of conversion and penance in art than The Penitent Magdalene, by George de La Tour. Though simple, it expresses the essential elements behind every conversion, and we can find in it powerful lessons to apply to our own life. Let’s take a closer look.

The Penitent Magdalen, George de la Tour

The painting presents Mary at the very beginning of her conversion, on the night that she met Jesus Christ for the first time. Her life is just as it was the day the Lord crossed her path. Yet the subtle but evocative tension in the painting makes it evident that her world has been shaken and she knows she must change.

She has returned home, alone, and cannot sleep. She sits down at her vanity which until this afternoon was the center of her life. La Tour paints nothing superfluous here; only those things most dear to her, things to which she has clung for happiness and fulfillment, but that have only served to leave her feeling empty inside: Her richly embroidered clothing, her silver mirror with its carved and gilded frame, her fine jewels and her string of pearls which, while tossed aside, are still within her grasp.

Interestingly enough Mary’s head is turned away from the viewer—leaving us to imagine her expression, and even better, identify ourselves with it—and, while facing the mirror, she is not looking into it. She is gazing far beyond; she has realized there is something more to life then what is external, then in those things which she has placed her security and happiness. The Lord had cast seven demons from her life, seven lies that she had believed about God and about herself; this night, however, she is finally free of them, but she knows that the changes she has to make and which still lie ahead will be hard.

The flickering flame of the candle is the primary source of light. It is soft, calm, inviting, strong, and supersedes the light of an ordinary candle. It keeps the menacing darkness away. It illuminates her face and her heart—primarily her heart—to show that she has focused on the core of who she is, and subtly shows the love that she has felt that day. Yet it also shines on the mirror and on her robes and on her jewels—the light of Christ has begun to enlighten everything in her life. It is the power of the Holy Spirit through which all true conversion and penance is inspired.

She holds a skull, which at first seems macabre, and certainly was not a fitting decoration for her vanity, but is symbolic of the gravity and seriousness of the assessment she is making of her life. Her hands are folded calmly upon it and it rests gently in her lap; this is not an anxious and tense conversion, but a realistic one. She knows her life will end; she recognizes her mortality; she is asking herself what is truly important in her life—not her mirror or her jewels—and she is preparing her heart to die to those things.

But what will she exchange them with after she gives them up? What will tomorrow morning bring? She stares into the darkness looking for an answer but there is no reply. Conversion always requires faith. The answers and the way are presented gradually. There is a natural trepidation when it comes to change, conversion, stepping out to follow the Lord, and, yes, penance—but this is only a smaller aspect of a larger and more liberating truth, which Pope Benedict expressed so well in his inaugural homily:

Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again the Pope said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life.

Conversion and penance should never be thought of as a loss but as a transformation, an exchange, for something greater: From what is bad to good, from good to better, and from better to best. In reality the Lord does not ask us to give anything up; rather, he asks that we chose the better part, to go from vice to virtue, from complaining to gratitude, from bitterness to forgiveness, from vanity to humility, from lust to love, from anger to patience, from discouragement to hope, from where we are to where we know we are called by the Lord to be.

Conversion and all it entails is a calling of love and is not reached with an empty white knuckle attitude. Notice how gently her hands are folded upon the skull. It is not angst but Christ’s transforming love that impels and inspires her to change. The strength to do this does not come from within one’s own will, though the will is certainly needed, but from the light and the guidance and the power and the fire of the Holy Spirit active in an open heart. Notice how Mary’s garments show how open her heart is.

I’m not certain if George de la Tour ever underwent a conversion himself, but through candlelight and shadow, a mirror and jewels, a skull and robes, and a facial expression we can’t see, he captures the essential elements of one: The love of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

Fr Jason Smith

Penitent Magdalene essay: Copyright © 2012-2013 Fr. Jason Smith. All Rights Reserved

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

The Christmas Star of Bethlehem – Merry Christmas, Everyone!

Even though the vast majority of us are not astronomers, the famous star of Bethlehem still has a great ability to intrigue us especially as it relates to its actual astronomical occurrence. As Christians we believe in the Christmas story, not as legend or myth, but as an actual historical occurrence which led to the Redemption of mankind by the Son of God – Jesus Christ.

There are many elements of the Nativity of Christ that are expressed by the evangelists, and one of the most interesting is the illumination of Israel by a brilliant star at the time of the actual birth of Jesus. The Christmas Star has intrigued artists and poets in its ability to shed light on the truth of the cosmic meaning of Christmas; and in recent years some research has been done using computer animation and astronomical programs to determine if, when, and where it actually occurred.

The EWTN network usually airs a contemporary and extremely popular documentary entitled The Star  (of Bethlehem) (please examine the filmmaker – Rick Larson’s site – for a wonderful, multipart, overview of his documentary: www.bethlehemstar.net/

The following post attempts to determine the birth date of Jesus Christ in light of the astronomical evidence. The quotes I provide are taken from a fascinating study entitled Probable Date of Birth of Christ found in this website: www: copiosa.org/christmas/birth_date.htm by Father William G. Most (Fr. Most’s article offers a summary of the work done by  E. L. Martin, in his book The Star That Astonished the World, ASK Publications).

“In the evening of June 17, 2 BC, there was a spectacular astronomical event in the western sky. Venus moved eastward seemingly going to collide with Jupiter. They appeared as one star, not two, dominating the twilight of the western sky in the direction of Palestine. This conjunction had not happened for centuries, and would not happen again for more centuries. Jupiter was considered the Father, Venus the Mother.

Then not many days later, Venus came within 0.36 degrees of Mercury. On September 11 came the New Moon, the Jewish New Year. This happened when Jupiter, the King planet was approaching Regulus, the King star. Further, there were three conjunctions of Jupiter and Regulus within the constellation of Leo, the lion, which was considered the head of the Zodiac.

Now Genesis 49:10 had foretold there would always be a ruler from Judah, whom Jacob called the lion, until the time of the Messiah. The star Regulus, which astronomers called the King Star, dominated Leo.

The Magi, being astronomers and astrologers, would surely read these signs. (The three conjunctions with Regulus were August 12, 3 BC; February 17, 2 BC, and May 8/9, 2 BC). In Hebrew, Jupiter was called sedeq = “righteous,” a term especially pertaining to the Messiah.

On September 11, Jupiter was close in the constellation of Virgo, the virgin. On September 3rd of 3 BC Jupiter was in conjunction with Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo — Leo the Lion, which was associated with Kings, and the Lion of Judah, as foretold by the dying Jacob in Egypt in Genesis 49:10.

Also, on December 25 of 2 BC, Jupiter stopped for 6 days over Bethlehem. This is a normal motion for Jupiter; it stops twice, and reverses its seeming movement. This may have been the very time the Magi came with their gifts. This was also the time of the Hanukkah festival, during which it was customary for Jewish Fathers to give gifts to their children.

The shepherds watching their flocks in the fields indicate a date either in late summer or early fall.

E.L. Martin [whose research this article is based on] thinks the birth of Jesus was in September, 3 BC (Jupiter in conjunction with Regulus), and the probable date of the Magi was December 25, 2 BC (Jupiter stopped for 6 days over Bethlehem).”

Please don’t forget when we speak in BC time, the “ladder of time” comes down from let us say 10,000 BC to 1 BC, in a descending order, so 3 BC comes before 2 BC.

In AD time (Anno Domini, a Latin phrase which means “the year of Our Lord” the “ladder of time” is ascending, so, we are currently in the year 2012, but as of midnight December 31st, we will then be in the year 2013, or two thousand and thirteen years since the birth of Christ. When this Gregorian Calendar system was developed and applied to western Europe, approximately five hundred years ago, they did not have the sophistication of computer/astronomical observations to correct the date of Christ’s birth, if we agree with Martin’s research, to the year 3 BC.

“The above span of dates (approx. 16 months) coincides with The Slaughter of the Innocents, where Herod killed all males under the age of two years. Herod died shortly thereafter. Interestingly, More than 600 planetariums here and in Europe have revised their Christmas star show to match this work of E. L. Martin.”

594px-Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-18-_-_Adoration_of_the_Magi

The above painting is entitled the Adoration of the Magi by Florentine painter Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337). The Star of Bethlehem is shown as a comet above the child. Giotto witnessed an appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1301.

“Magi were not really just astrologers. They served as court advisors, going from one royal court to another. It would not then be difficult to suppose they had come from a great distance with gifts. In those days all astronomers were acquainted with astrology. They were also mathematicians.” This is the end of Fr. Most’s article.

For more information check out Fr. Most’s website: copiosa.org/christmas/index.htm. As you go down this index on the left hand side you will see Fr. Most’s complete article on the Probable Date of the Birth of Christ. His site has some very interesting articles that can be very helpful in explaining to people – especially children – the origins of Catholic Christmas traditions.

220px-Nativity_Icon

The above icon was written (painted) in Russia and displays, in a lovely catechetical way, the entire Nativity narrative: the angel’s appearance to the shepherds, the Star of Bethlehem (appearing as a disk with a shaft of light coming down to the cave of the birth, the actual birth of the child Jesus being wrapped in swaddling clothes by His Blessed Mother – Mary, the coming of the Magi, the washing of the child Jesus, and St. Joseph being visited by an old man in furs (some refer to this last image as the temptation to doubt that confronted Joseph.

Soon after the dream visitation by an angel, St. Joseph realizes the nature of this Child. He understands that he is given the responsibility to care for Him and His mother and raise the child as if He was his very own. St. Joseph does exactly that; he is the epitome of quiet, loving leadership, and a model for all fathers.

St. Joseph is silent throughout the entire Gospel narrative. Yet, his actions speak louder than words. We see in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Chapter 1: 18ff) that he ultimately had a thoughtful plan to quietly divorce Mary when he learns that she is pregnant; however, he is not stubborn or hard of heart, for when the angel Gabriel visits him and tells him what is happening he does not rebel and say “No, I will not do it” out of pride or ego. Rather, he changes his plan and trusts the angel’s message which was sent by God to him.

This is so important – and it should speak volumes to us – if we, too, have open hearts and minds to hear what God is telling us in prayer, Scripture, and the grace of the Holy Sacraments. These three sacred tools, along with a holy orthodox spiritual director, will assist us on our path – and like the Star of Bethlehem – lead us to the Christ.

In the immortal words of Tiny Tim Cratchit: “… and a Merry Christmas, everyone!”

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Bishop Josaphat Kuncevych – A Saint of Forgiveness and Unity

In this morning’s Gospel from St. Luke (17: 1-6) we hear Jesus imploring His disciples to teach and practice the art of forgiveness toward those who hurt and abuse us, our families, and friends.

Jesus is teaching that it is so important for people who want to be considered His disciples to follow His example and in no way offer a bad example or scandal to others. Jesus is emphasizing the power of faith to assist us in our efforts to be His disciples. People of faith possess the grace to forgive others.

Our desire to model Jesus enables our hearts to be filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit. This, in turn, empowers us to demonstrate our faith and yes, do the impossible in touching and moving the dead weight of a person’s soul who is mired in sin and dissension.

Faith is infused into our souls at the moment of our Baptism. It is increased at our First Holy Communion and every subsequent Communion, and is increased further still when we receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. The grace of Faith is given to us so that we may possess the spiritual energy to develop a personal relationship with God, and, those around us.

With today’s Gospel in mind we can say that God expects more from us than we can do by ourselves. You see God wants us, with His help, to scale the mountains of our own difficulties and to climb upon the crosses of our everyday life. It is through this stress and burnishing that we receive, in His love, the personality that makes us ready to be His partners in eternity.

We are given numerous examples of this truth through the various saints of the Eastern and Western Rites of the Church. Today we remember Bishop Josaphat Kuncevych who died in 1623. He was born in Poland, and raised within the Ukranian Orthodox Church. He however, as a young adult, converted to the Latin Rite of the Church, became a monk of St. Basil, and ultimately was ordained a bishop.

His fidelity to the Roman Catholic Church, and his outstanding ability to convince members of the Orthodox Rite to unite with Rome while still preserving their Slavonic rite and liturgy, led to his murder and martyrdom for the Church. His enemies dubbed him “the thief of souls.”

St. Josaphat Kuncevych took today’s Gospel to heart. He is, as Pope Pius 11th said of him “the great glory and strength” of the Eastern Rite Slavic Church. He literally was a mover of the mountain of disunity, and energetically believed that there should be fraternal bonds of respectful love, liturgy, and unity between the Eastern and Western Rites of the Catholic Church.

Let us pray today for St. Josaphat’s intercession to obtain the grace of his strength, love, and sense of forgiveness so that we, too, may carry out the Lord’s desire to see the various Rites of His Church living in love and unity.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Our Lady of Sorrows – Seven Sorrows – Seven Graces

Today is the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows.

The Roman Breviary tells us that in a sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux he explains that “The martyrdom of the Virgin is set forth both in the prophecy of Simeon and in the actual story of our Lord’s passion. The holy old man said of the infant Jesus: He has been established as a sign which will be contradicted. He went on to say to Mary: And your own heart will be pierced by a sword.”

Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. That feast asks us to remember that it was through the Cross, through the violent execution of our Lord, that our redemption took place. The triumph of the Father’s love for His creation, and the Son’s sacrifice, was able to reorder a sin filled world.

As St. Andrew of Crete reminds us “the legal bond of our sin was cancelled and through His death we obtained our freedom and death was trodden underfoot.” Today, the Church in its wisdom again reminds us of the scene of Christ’s victory – and the people that witnessed it.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux eloquently reminds us that along with the death of Christ you have Golgotha being the scene of the martyrdom of Mary. He stresses the phrase, the martyrdom of Mary, because Jesus, as Mary’s child, held a unique and special place in her heart. This is true of the relationship of every mother to their child or children.

All mothers will tell you that every one of their children is special to them; all the more so with Mary, who knew and understood the role that her child was to play in our lives. So when the lance tore through His chest and entered His heart, the prophecy of Simeon, uttered so many years earlier flooded into her mind: “He has been established as a sign which will be contradicted, and your own heart will be pierced by a sword.”

Mary witnessed the execution, she saw the spear tear through her Son’s lifeless body and the violence of that act ripped through her as well. Her body and soul filled with pain and, at that moment, she suffered the martyrdom of every mother who witnesses the death of an innocent child.

At Golgotha, watching the agonizing death of her Son, our blessed Mother, in obedience to the Father’s will for her life, stood by the Cross not only to witness the death of her obedient Son, but to hear her Son say that she was to now be the mother, not only of John, but all of us who believe in Him as Lord and Savior.

Through the sufferings of Mary, the mother of God, we have been made sharers in Christ’s passion. Through Mary’s original obedience to the Father’s will and invitation, we have be given the supreme gift of being able to participate in His Sacramental life, which enables us to share in His rising to everlasting life.

The Church has identified “Seven Sorrows” of Mary: 1) The prophecy of Simeon, 2) The flight into Egypt, 3) The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple, 4) The meeting of Jesus and Mary on the Way of the Cross, 5) The Crucifixion, 6) The taking down of the Body of Jesus from the Cross, 7) The burial of Jesus.

According to the 14th century visions of St. Bridget of Sweden, mystic and patroness of Europe, Our Blessed Mother Mary grants Seven Graces to all souls who honor her on a daily basis by saying seven Hail Mary’s and thinking about the above Seven Sorrows. The Seven Graces are: 1) Mary will grant peace to their families; 2) They will be enlightened about the divine mysteries; 3) They will be comforted in their sickness and assisted in their work; 4) They will be given additional graces as long as what the soul asks for does not violate the will of Jesus or the eventual sanctification of their own soul;  5) Mary will defend the soul in their own particular spiritual battle with the demons, and, will provide her protection to them; 6) The soul will be helped at the time of their death and will experience seeing the face of the Blessed Mother; 7) Mary told St. Bridget that she obtained these graces from Jesus so those souls who are in the state of grace and spread this devotion among their families and friends will be attain Heaven.

St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to Timothy (2: 10-12) directs us to the Scriptural truth of these ideas when he says, “I bear with all this for the sake of those whom God has chosen, in order that they may obtain the salvation to be found in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. You can depend on this: If we have died with him we shall also live with him; if we hold out to the end we shall also reign with him.” These words, while not said by Our Blessed Mother, were in reality, lived by her.

our-lady-of-sorrows

Let us pray that through Our Lady of Sorrows, her love and grace shall bring the hearts of all of us to her Son, so that His Heart may reign in the hearts of all mankind.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Notes on the paintings: The first painting is an archetypal Gothic Lady of Sorrows from a triptych by the Master of the Stauffenberg Altarpiece, Alsace, c. 1455. The  second image is of a 15th century sculpture for a cathedral door showing the Seven Sorrows of Our Lady (by Adriaen Isenbrandt, circa 1490 – 1511). The third image, The Madonna in Sorrow, is by the 17th century Italian artist Giovanni Salvi (also known as Sassoferrato). The fourth painting is by William- Adolphe Bougereau, a French realist painter (1825 – 1905).

 

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross of Jesus

Today we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

During the first 280 years of its life the Catholic Church was severely persecuted. The symbol of the Cross, the symbol of public humiliation and excruciating death, was rarely used in our Christian iconography. But this doesn’t mean that the early Christians were reluctant to express their devotion to the Cross. Writing in the year 204, the Christian theologian Tertullian said: “At every going in and out, when we put on our clothes, when we sit at table, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign [of the Cross].”

In the year 313, the Emperor Constantine signed the Edict of Milan which proclaimed toleration for the Christian faith within the Roman Empire. Constantine’s mother, Helena, made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and with the support of the local bishop, excavated the area known as the site of Golgotha.

Tradition states that portions of the true Cross, with a partial nameplate still attached was found, resulting in Constantine ordering that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher be built over the site. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the Cross placed inside it.

So the feast that we celebrate today marks the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the year 335. That Church was unfortunately destroyed by the Muslims in the year 1009, only to be rebuilt centuries later, with the new occupants, all Christians from different Rites of the Catholic Church, vying for control of the site.

Unfortunately, even among our brother Christian Churches – Orthodox, Latin, Ethiopian, Coptic, there have been numerous clashes and conflicts over the control of the site. It is as if these guardians of the Church had not internalized the meaning of the true Cross, the meaning of what happened on that site 2000 years ago, the meaning of the supreme sacrifice of God’s love.

Our Holy Scriptures tell us that Moses lifted up the bronze serpent, a sign of sin, and the people were healed. Jesus makes an analogy of the serpent with the healing power of the Cross, since it is a sign of our sin and our redemption.

The meaning of the Cross takes on a new dimension as a result of  the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, resurrecting Jesus from the dead. The Resurrection transforms the Holy Cross into a sign of Christ’s victory over sin and the opportunity that we have to personally choose to accept His victory and make it a part of our life.

God, through the instrument of the Holy Cross, shows us the level of His love for His creation. The Father shows His love for us by giving us the best He has, His Son, and His Son shows His obedience and trust in the Father,  through His willingness to become a perfect offering, a pure sacrifice, back to the Father on our behalf.

Let us pray that we, on a daily basis, attempt to imitate this profound love of God. Our love is strengthened by the truth of our faith, and by the historic reality of the Cross. When we do this we will understand that the crosses that we carry, and the sufferings that we endure, unite us to the Lord, and help us transform our lives into His.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved.  Notes on the painting: The above fresco painting and its close-up were completed by the Italian painter Masaccio during the years 1425-27. It is currently located in the church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, Italy. This is a very important painting in the history of western liturgical art for it combines the images of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (the white dove that appears as a scarf or collar around the Father’s neck). Current research mentions that the brilliant engineer and architect, Philip Brunelleschi, may have been consulted by Masaccio since he had continued the research into the ideas of linear perspective. You can view this sense of linear perspective in this painting in the three dimensional aspect of the vaulting behind the figures. Brunelleschi had continued the studies on linear perspective that were started by the famous painter from Siena, Peter Lorenzetti, in the early 1300’s.

Saint Monica – Patron of Mothers

Today is the memorial of St. Monica, the extraordinarily faith-filled mother of St. Augustine.

In the year 321, Monica was born in Algeria into a family that was devoutly Christian. As a child she was baptized a Christian and was raised to be a dutiful wife. She was given in marriage to a bad tempered, adulterous pagan official, by the name of Patricius.

In examining the life of Saint Monica one is struck by the extent of the abuse she and other women endured throughout their marriage. Under the laws of the time Monica’s husband could physically and emotionally abuse his wife. Compounding the problem was the fact that Patricius’ mother also lived with them and she, like her son, ridiculed his young wife. Monica had three children with this man and, of course the most famous was her oldest, the man that history now knows as Saint Augustine.

But it is important to reflect for a moment on how she dealt with all the stresses of her life: family relations that mistreated her, children that ignored her model of conduct and faith, a culture that looked the other way when her husband abused her. The circumstances of St. Monica’s life could easily have made her a miserable woman, a sour daughter-in-law, and a depressed parent, yet she didn’t become any of these; instead, she became a saint. A saint that is known for two major personal qualities: her love of Jesus Christ and her prayerful persistence in bringing her physical family into the family of God. This beautiful painting, by artist John Nava, (http://johnnava.com) eloquently captures her spirituality and desire for prayer and union with Christ.

Monica was upset to learn that Augustine had accepted the Manichean heresy and was also living an immoral life. Manichaeism stated, among other things, that there is no all knowing good power, so there is neither lord nor savior. She was so angered by his beliefs that she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house and became enraged when he explained to her that his belief trumped her faith in Jesus Christ. She threw him out of the house, but later pursued him and attempted to reason with him.

Monica took comfort in the fact that she had a dream that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that moment she vowed to continually pray and fast for her son and to remain close to him so that she would have the opportunity to discuss her faith with him. The histories tell us that she in fact stayed much closer than Augustine wanted.

One night Augustine told Monica that he was going to the docks to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he himself set sail for Rome. Monica was stunned when she learned of Augustine’s trick, but she booked passage on the next boat. When she arrived in Rome, she learned that he had left to travel to the city of Milan in northern Italy where he hoped to obtain a teaching post. Monica pursued him to Milan, and it is in Milan that both mother and son came under the influence of the great saint Ambrose who was bishop of Milan.

Bishop Ambrose became Monica’s spiritual director, and ultimately, she accepted Ambrose’s advice. He advised her that what she was doing was correct – that prayer and fasting would have its affect on the situation. He commended her persistence and directed her to keep the faith, and in humility, accept her circumstances. Monica did exactly that, and in Milan, became a leader of devout women, some of whom were also being abused by their husbands.

Ultimately, Saint Monica won the day; her abusive husband, mother in law, and her youngest son and daughter were all baptized into the faith. Augustine, too, eventually saw the logic of his mother’s faith, became a catechumen, and took religious instruction from Ambrose. In the year 387, Bishop Ambrose baptized Augustine into the Catholic faith in Milan’s cathedral.

Saint Monica was an exemplary mother; a woman who perseveringly pursued her wayward family not with threats but with prayerful cries to heaven. Let us pray that she intercedes for all mothers in our day so that they may learn to guide their children to God. Let us also pray that she teaches mothers, through her example of prayer and fasting, to remain close to their children, even prodigal sons and daughters, who have sadly gone astray.

St. Monica, pray for us.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved. Painting of St. Monica is copyrighted by John Nava. All Rights Reserved.

The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is the memorial of the Queenship of Mary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why? 

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

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

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

Why did the good Friar do that?

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

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

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

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

The Assumption of Mary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Receive and Give Awards – We Are Deeply Touched!

The Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts is truly honored to receive three blogging awards. Teresa Rice at Catholiclibertarian has nominated this blog for three awards: The Illuminating Blogger Award, The One Lovely Blog Award, and The Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

Teresa Rice’s blog at Catholiclibertarian is dedicated to discussing contemporary issues through the lens of being a faith-filled Catholic as well as a person who has a mixture of conservative and libertarian political views. Teresa’s columns are always well written, insightful, challenging and dogmatically faithful to the Catholic Church. We are proud, honored, and humbled by her confidence and support for our mission – which is to evangelize the truth, beauty, and goodness of God through the prayerful study and creation of sacred art.

We also received notification this morning that reinkat has awarded this blog an award, too. We are truly touched to the heart by these awards from our readers. We admit, however, that the entire impetus for the Fra Angelico Institute for the Sacred Arts, and this blog, is the work of the Holy Spirit. He deserves all praise, honor, and glory. Everything that we do here develops out of prayer, is performed in prayer, and hopefully, is sustained through prayer. Again, thanks very much. As part of the Award system I am happy to nominate fourteen other bloggers that I regularly read and find illuminating in various ways. Their names are found below.

The conditions for accepting The Illuminating Blogger Award are:

1) Add a picture of the award to your blog post.

2) Thank the blogger who nominated you and include a link to their blog.

3) Nominate 5 to 10 other Bloggers and inform those selected that they have been nominated.

4) Say seven interesting things about yourself to give some insight into what you are like, interested in, etc.

I am happy to award the writers of the following blogs The Illuminating Blogger Award because all of them make you think and provide illumination in various ways. Some of them promote the arts – in all of their various forms; others promote humor (in these days anyone that promotes clean intellectual humor deserves a prize!). A few are promoting the Catholic faith (which from my point of view is very good!), and some are just a lot of wacky fun.

The following blogs are not ranked in any order of one being better than another.

The blogs Catholiclibertarian, reinkat, and Biltrix would have been on the list but they have already received the award.

Here are the blogs that receive the most prestigious Illuminating Blogger Award from me.

1) Via Lucis Photography: http://vialucispress.wordpress.com/

2) Stephen Hipperson: stephenhip.wordpress.com

3) Matthew James Collins: matthewjcollins.wordpress.com

4) The Way of Beauty:  http://thewayofbeauty.org/

5)A Reader’s Guide to Orthodox Icons: http://iconreader.wordpress.com/

6) Hearts on Fire: http://heartsonfire33.wordpress.com/

7) Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine: http://drboli.wordpress.com/

8) carlausery: http://carlausery.com/

9) Chicquero: http://chicquero.com/

10) hesychastic: hesychastic.wordpress.com

11) Elliot in Gotham: http://elliottingotham.wordpress.com/

12) clotildajamcracker: http://clotildajamcracker.wordpress.com/

13) The Big Pulpit: http://bigpulpit.com/

14) knowsphere: http://knowthesphere.wordpress.com/

Here are the seven Award required “interesting things” I will divulge about myself:

1) I sing Christmas songs throughout the year.

2) I enjoy reading about British personalities, fictional and non-fictional. An example being Winston Churchill and what made him tick as a man and personality. Another character that I enjoy is Sherlock Holmes. Very few people are aware (ahem, or care!) that I wrote a definitive monograph in the early 1980’s on the True Location of 221B Baker Street. It was published in the Baker Street Journal to loud huzzahs.

3) I became fascinated with the French Impressionists in college, yet, today, have a deep affection for Cezanne as a man and as an artist.

4) I enjoy solitude, or, the company of very small groups of people.

5) I have had a deep affection for Scottish Terriers since I was in elementary school. Our third Scottie has a huge heart and an extraordinary sense of loyalty for close family members. He has a toughness that is quite admirable; he has been battling cancer for 15 months. Our vets are astounded by his longevity owing to the fact that veterinary science and experience said he had four to six months to live.

6) I would have absolutely no problem eating apple pie as a dessert for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Let’s not forget snacks. You may ask: Who has a dessert for breakfast? Answer: interesting people.

7) I have a fascination for the woodcuts and drawings of Brother Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.; yet, I have a deep interest and desire to emulate the artistry of Italian painters from the 12th through the mid 15th centuries. There is a spiritual purity in their work; however, I am far from even approaching some sense of true understanding of them and would appreciate anyone who knows of specific research and tomes that could assist me in the understanding of their techniques.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

The Transfiguration of Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You! Our One Year Anniversary!

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

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

Thank you!

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

Peace and Victory in Christ!

Deacon Paul and Jackie Iacono

Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island

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

Summer 2012 Workshop in Painting Sacred Images – A Few Reflections

Over the past six years I have participated in numerous workshops in sacred art and have produced a number of sacred images, each of which helped me understand the techniques of this sacred art.

In 2006, I participated in my first workshop at St. Michael’s Institute of Sacred Art at St. Edmund’s Retreat in Mystic, CT. The instructor was Peter Pearson, an Episcopal priest from Pennsylvania. He introduced the class to the beautiful and prayerful experience of painting a sacred image in the Russian Orthodox tradition; however, rather than using egg tempera paints (in which you mix the yolk of an egg with natural earth and mineral pigments) he taught the techniques using acrylic paints.

A note on acrylics versus egg tempera pigments. I personally believe that they are both valid materials to use. I have studied and painted images in each of these techniques and I personally do not have a solid preference, although, I believe it is helpful for a student to learn the techniques in acrylic first and then study sacred imagery using egg tempera pigments. I find both materials – natural or synthetic colors – enjoyable.

There are some people in the Internet community who become quite exercised over the fact that there are artists creating sacred images using acrylic paints. It is not necessary to get into, as Pearson would say, “the egg wars” debate, other than to mention that all sides are respectfully entitled to their opinion. Neither the Catholic or Orthodox faith exclusively owns sacred art, imagery, or iconography. Church art has always been (for at least the last 1500 years) an outgrowth of the Catholic and Orthodox creative spirit desiring to unite art with prayer. It was certainly part of the early tradition of the Roman Catholic Church prior to the winds of Western civilization moving the Catholic artists’ barque into Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque ports of call.

In the late 20th and early 21st century, a growing element of the sacred art tradition of the Roman Catholic (and the Eastern Rites churches which are in union with Rome) has revolved around reestablishing traditional sacred imagery and iconography as part of the Catholic artistic heritage. Sacred iconography has always been a part of the Orthodox churches liturgical tradition, and they are to be saluted and commended for keeping the bright light of this sacred art tradition alive within the Church community.

It is probably part of the Western European/American mindset to accept and utilize new developments in artistic materials and techniques. This is why I believe some of us do not have any problem using acrylic paints. Acrylics are synthetic paints (composed in a lab) rather than natural earth or mineral pigments. My personal spirituality does not think that the Lord is concerned with the materials used in prayer, rather, He is interested in the intent and the creative outcome of that sincere prayer. You use what you think works, have fun with, and is readily available. There are many ways to catch a fish – as the Lord said to Peter – “throw out your nets again!”

So, on a practical level acrylic paint can be fun to work with, but it can also be problematical. Years ago Peter Pearson recommended a line of paints to us from the Chroma company called JoSonja. These paints are primarily used in the decorative crafts, yet, because of their color lines, they fit the bill for painting in a more traditional way – similar to the Russian tradition. By this I mean that the Russian Orthodox colors are primarily muted, unlike the Greek Orthodox who had a wide range of brilliant colors to choose from for their artwork. Geography and geology play an important part in understanding the color palette and artistic techniques of a civilization.

The nice thing about the JoSonja line of paints (available at DickBlick.com and other outlets such as Jerry’s Artarama) is that they are inexpensive but of surprisingly good quality. They also have an entire range of mediums, (such as flow medium and glazing medium) which are essential in getting the results you want, especially for the multi thin layering and highlights of the image’s face. The JoSonja line has also produced a polyurethane satin varnish that compliments the chemistry of the paints and mediums in their line. It was used on my sacred image for the recent workshop and went on without any problem. I applied this varnish with a one and one-half inch flat wash brush from Princeton Art and Brush Company (item # 4050 FW). It has very fine and soft bristles – perfect for streak free varnishing. I must give you a warning: work quickly as the varnish dries rapidly. It is non toxic and cleans up with soap and water.

I produced a manual for the workshop which explained each step, yet, found myself talking more than I really wanted to, owing to the fact that this was the participants first sacred image, and for many, their first venture into art in many years. A sacred image workshop should be a place in which the participants can enter into prayer while they paint; hopefully, the next workshop will more conducive to this necessary element.

All the adult participants were very good sports and reacted with quite a bit of patience to some of the more difficult parts of the process. They were all happy with the results and want to embark on another workshop – which is good news! Please find below a few photos from the workshop and the Mass at which the sacred images were blessed. You can see the images in the sanctuary in front of the altar. I am behind the altar to the left vested in a green dalmatic, and Father Joseph Upton the Institute’s chaplain, has his hands raised as he recites the blessing over the sacred images. Thanks again to everyone who participated and see you soon!

Copyright photos and images © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

Icons, Icon Painters, and Praying With Sacred Icons: PART 3

My favorite sacred icon of  Our Lord Jesus Christ is the 6th century encaustic icon of Christ Pantocrator (Christ The Almighty One) from St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula.

This sacred image was a paradigm shift in the way early Christians viewed and portrayed Jesus Christ. This icon (shown below) is not the thin young  Messiah of the Catacombs, or the Roman nobleman presentation of the first four centuries of Church art (for examples confer Pierre du Bourguet’s book on Early Christian Painting). The Sinai Christ Pantocrator is portrayed as a robust Semitic man, who knows exactly what He is about, what His mission is, and what He expects of His followers in their living out of His Gospel life.

Interestingly, recent research has shown that when the image from the Shroud of Turin is compared to the image of Christ in this icon of Christ Pantocrator there are many points of similarity between the two images; possibly implying that the painter of Christ Pantocrator had seen the facial image found on the Shroud of Turin.

Allow me to suggest that when we are painting a sacred image/icon we must prayerfully enter into conversation with the Heavenly person we are representing, we must research his or her life, and then view what the Traditional forms of their representation has been in the history of sacred iconography.

We should then explore how we could make the truth of the Lord’s or a saint’s holy witness speak – using the language of the palette – to the 21st century. We should learn from the past, and absorb and pass on the beauty that is found within Holy Tradition.

Yet, at the same time, we need to constantly examine the work of some of the fine icon painters in the world today, people like my teachers: Peter Pearson, Marek Czarnecki, Anna Gouriev Pokrovsky, and Dimitri Andreyev. I have recently been influenced by the work of  Ksenia (Xenia) Mikhailovna Pokrovskaya, originally from Moscow, and now living in Massachusetts. Not to be missed is the work of Vladimir Grygorenko from Dallas, Texas. His sacred icons have a richness and luminous quality that is very beautiful and spiritual. We must also become familiar with the work of British iconographers Brother Aidan Hart, and David Clayton; the Norwegian Solrunn Nes, and the Russians: Archimandrite Zinon from the Pskov-Caves Monastery, and Philip Davydov and Olga Shalymova from St. Petersburg, Russia –  all of these people, and many others, prayerfully create beautiful icons that speak to 21st century people who are willing to listen. The wonderful news is that there are many sacred artists and iconographers – known and unknown – that are prayerfully engaging the ancient traditions of Catholic and Orthodox art, and prayer from the heart, throughout the world.

As we enter into our study of sacred art and iconography we need to first start with a survey book which gives us an overview of the sacred artistic tradition of the Eastern Church. We should first examine the great little book Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church (ISBN 0-89236-845-4; translated by Stephen Sartarelli and published by the J. Paul-Getty Museum, 2004) and use it as a starting point to observe the styles and techniques of the various regional traditions over the last 1500 years.

We don’t have to “like” all the styles of the images that icon painters, from various cultures, have portrayed down through the centuries. But, we must respect their efforts because, hopefully, they were created in the true spirit of prayer, and each of them can teach us something about technique, color, symbol and theology.

When we begin our studies with a teacher of iconography, and sit down to draw the sacred image and apply the paint and gold-leaf, we must remember that we have a sacred responsibility to the faithful who view our sacred icons and images. These images must be correct from a theological, semantic, and aesthetic point-of-view. Our call, our ministry, is to lead the viewer to prayer and communion with Christ and His Saints, not to a secular admiration for an avant-garde or cavalier attitude toward our Holy Faith, or the people who died witnessing to it.

Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Copyright © 2012 Deacon Paul O. Iacono All Rights Reserved