‘For with You is the fountain of life, and in Your Light, we shall see light.’
Many readers of this blog will be familiar, I’m sure, with the idea that there is a theology that is used to explain the stylistic elements of the iconographic liturgical art. However, I am not aware of a metaphysics or philosophical anthropology that has been or could be used to articulate a philosophy of icons.
That is, until recently.
A couple of years ago, on the recommendation of a Dominican friar here in Berkeley, I read two works of the late Jesuit philosopher, Fr Norris Clarke. These were Person and Being, and The One and the Many – A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics. You can see an interview with him shortly before his death in 2008, here, on YouTube in which he talks about his ‘personalist’ Thomism.
More recently, I sat in on a series of excellent lectures on the thought of Fr Clarke as part of a class on the philosophy of nature and philosophical anthropology, taught by Dr. Michel Accad for Pontifex University’s Master of Sacred Arts program. Dr. Accad had invited me to attend so that I might participate by discussing with him why an understanding of philosophy is important for artists today.
There are, incidentally, a number of general reasons why such a class would be included in a sacred arts program – for example, the simple fact that an understanding of the human person and nature is always important for an artist who is seeking to reveal both invisible and visible truths about both through art. However, it occurred to me as I listened and reflected on the subject that Fr Clarke’s Thomistic philosophy, in particular, might be the basis for a philosophy of icons. I offer my thoughts on this as some personal speculation for your interest.
We will start with a brief account of some of the ways in which theology has been used to explain the style of icons.
Take a look at this icon of the Transfiguration,
…we see Christ shining with light. This is understood to be a glimpse given to the Apostles of his heavenly glory. That glory, which is the radiance of his being, is the radiating of an uncreated ‘light of being’, the divine light of the burning bush, that shone without consuming the bush itself. Saints, who through baptism and lives of purity (Read More)
Always in the big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the Unknown, and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into.
“The vocation of man is to work towards the perfection of creation, for the artist this vocation is related in a mysterious way to beauty.”
Goodness and Beauty
Pope Saint John Paul II said, “The artist has a special relationship to beauty. In a very true sense it can be said that beauty is the vocation bestowed on him by the Creator in the gift of “artistic talent.” (Letter to Artists, paragraph 3)
So the role of the artist whether a painter, writer, musician or any of the wonderfully diverse ways man has found to express his “artistic talent,” must be bound up with beauty. It is an inseparable part of his vocation. To truly understand the role of the artist in salvation history we must understand how to approach God in terms of beauty.
“God saw everything He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
The word “good” is translated from the Greek word “kalon” which emulates the Hebrew word “towb.” “Kalon” is a word that carries with it a much more nuanced meaning than simply good. It is used 559 times in the Bible in 517 verses and is translated in a number of ways such as better, best, pleasing, mercy, prosperity and fair just to name a few.
In two verses in particular it is translated as beautiful.
“It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking upon the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.” (2Samuel 11:2)
“He had brought up Hadas’sah, that is Esther, the daughter of his uncle, for she had neither father nor mother; the maiden was beautiful and lovely…” (Esther 2:7)
It would not then be too much of a stretch to read Genesis 1:31 as,
“God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very beautiful.”
From the beginning, in the Old Testament, God made the world good and beautiful. In the New Testament, Saint Paul affirmed this teaching in his Letter to Timothy,
“For everything created by God is good (kalon), and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” (1Timothy 4:4)
Divine beauty is intrinsic to the created world. It is a part of all things.
Those gifted with creative ability rarely, if ever, are able to realize a creation exactly as they intended it to be. This is a manifestation of our fallen nature. Artists (Read More)
Further to my last post (on how we might bear witness publicly, yet discreetly and beautifully through tiled images cemented into buildings), readers have been coming forward with interesting and useful points. For the following I woud like to thank particularly, Raven W.
First the interesting – a number pointed out that Portugal has many blue and white ceramic tiled images. You can see many of these if you do an image search on ‘Portuguese religious tile murals’.
As I dug further I found this photograph of an extraordinary mural on the wall in the town of Avente.
There are charming little decorative details as well. Remember that these patterns reflect a geometry that echoes the mathematical description of the beauty of the cosmos. When we get this right it is decoration with purpose – subtly but powerfully raising people’s spirits to God through cosmic beauty so that they might be receptive to the Word.
I then decided to look further and explicitly search for Spanish architecture influenced by the Islamic art, as a style called Mujedar. I found these in the cathedral of Santa Maria de Teruel, in the town of Teruel:
This external adornment is so important in that everybody sees it. If it is done beautifully enough they will not object, I believe. The onus is on us, artists, architects, patrons, that is everybody, to start thinking about this and looking for opportunities for cosmic beauty in every aspect of our environment. (If you want to know more about the theory behind these designs, then I have just created a course as part of Pontifex University’s Master of Sacred Arts program called The Mathematics of Beauty. This is an extended presentation of the theory introduced in my book, The Way of Beauty.)
Some of you may be wondering where we can get such tiles today? (Now we come to the useful!) I am not in the building trade so there is probably a lot more than I am aware of. But here are some ideas.
Patterns that reproduce the Victorian neo-gothic church floors are produced today for kitchens and bathrooms. I saw a shop on Chiswick High Road in West London, that had William Morris designs in the shop window. These floor designs began as renovations of English gothic floors, such as the 13th century, Westminster pavement in Westminster Abbey by Victorians such as George Gilbert Scott. (Read More)
RCIA, or Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, is an exciting occasion for the new initiate and the Catholic congregation. Creator Mundi has the perfect gifts to mark this event. As we await Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, we also celebrate how the body of Christ has grown. For adults entering the Catholic Church, the Easter season takes on a deeper meaning as they are welcomed into a new faith and a new family.
What is RCIA?
Participating in this ritual is how adults become full members of the Catholic Church. Typically, these are people who come to faith later in life, officially called catechumens. They could also be adult believers, those who previously made a profession of faith in Jesus within another Christian community who wish to convert to the Catholic Faith — officially known as candidates. Though their journeys to faith and the Catholic Church differ, both groups undergo the same initiation process.
The rite takes place on Holy Saturday during the Easter Vigil. During the ceremony, RCIA catechumens and candidates receive the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Eucharist. After a long period (sometimes years) of prayer, study, and spiritual preparation, the initiate is now recognized as a fully-fledged member of the Catholic Church.
Thoughtful Gifts To Honor RCIA Initiates
Like all rites of passage, RCIA symbolizes transformation, a spiritual one in this case. Gift-giving is a way to celebrate this transformation and the beginning of a new chapter. It’s also a golden opportunity to equip the new initiate for their spiritual journey, perhaps literally in the form of a rosary or in less tangible ways like a message of encouragement.
What’s available at Creator Mundi?
We offer a wide selection of artwork, jewelry, and religious accessories that will suit a variety of tastes and budgets. Here are some items that are appropriate for RCIA:
- Wall art to proudly display at home.
- Religious pendants and jewelry to express their new faith.
- Greeting cards to deliver messages of encouragement.
- Prayer Devotionals the recipient can carry with them wherever they go.
Find The Perfect Gift
If you know someone who will be participating in RCIA this Easter season, celebrate with a unique gift from Creator Mundi. Browse our store and place your order today.
‘When we give up sin, properly speaking, we’re not making a sacrifice.’
In anticipation of the Second Sunday in Lent, here is another Lenten reflection from a priest from the Institute of the Incarnate Word, IVE, and we are delighted that they have taken the time to do so. This focuses on the nature of sacrifice and is by Fr. Nathaniel Dreyer from their seminary, the Venerable Fulton Sheen Seminary, close to Washington DC.
In common with all that I see in the charism of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, Fr Nathaniel stresses the great joy that is on offer through the Faith. Even in sacrifice, the rewards are greater. This is what attracted me to Catholicism originally – I was lucky I think to be guided to the Church, over 25 years ago now, by someone who was himself a joyful man and was adamant that we can have a happy life in the here and now through Christ.
I have chosen the art to accompany this meditation. In the passage below there is a reference to St Ephrem the Syrian’s commentary, in which he asserts that Abraham reacted with joy when he saw the ram caught in the bush, because he anticipated that this was the Lamb of God and understood, perhaps albeit dimly, what was to come. The last painting below makes this explicit by showing not a lamb or ram, but Christ on the cross in the scene with Abraham. What is intriguing is that the painter is Chagall, who was Jewish.
Fr Nathaniel writes:
The account of God’s call to Abraham and the near-sacrifice of Isaac cannot fail to rattle us, especially in this time of Lent, when we’re reminded more frequently God calls us to sacrifice. There are three things that really call our attention about the whole scene: first, that initial call from God and Abraham’s response, second, the way God describes Isaac, and, third, the reward that Abraham receives for his willingness to sacrifice. In turn, we can apply each of these to our lives, and consider how we respond to the sacrifices that God asks of us.
That initial call from God and Abraham’s response is the first thing that sticks out. “God put Abraham to the test,” we’re told, “and said to him: ‘Abraham!’ ‘Here I am!’ he replied.” Then God gives instructions on how Isaac is to be (Read More)
“Man is a creative being, as “sub-creator,” he shares in the creative power of God.”
Man as Sub-Creator
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote,
“Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, ’twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we’re made.”
(J.R.R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf: Including the Poem Mythopoeia. Introd. by Christopher Tolkien (Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1989), pp. 97-101.)
In Tolkien’s essay he was primarily speaking about world building, the act of creating worlds of fantasy and fairy tales that are different from our world but are at the same time related to the world we know and have their own internal consistency.
But we could argue that creating a consistent, secondary world extends far beyond the role of the writer of high fantasy. Any artist, whether they are a painter, singer, actor, writer, dancer, etc., creates a secondary world related to the world we know. In order for that secondary world to make sense it must have an internal consistency. And so the term sub-creator can be expanded upon to include any creative individual. A landscape designer or gardener is in effect creating a consistent, secondary world. Indeed all of our lives can be seen as works of art, and we are all sub-creators.
This is what pope saint John Paul II expressed in his 1994 “Letter to Artists .” “Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.” (John Paul II, “Letter to Artists”)
Man is a creative being, he shares in the creative power of God. We cannot create as God does, that is, ex nihilo, out of nothing. But we can reshape the stuff of the world into new and wondrous forms, in imitation of the Creator of all things. In our creativity we mirror the created world, we accentuate the the mark the Creator has left on His creation, we highlight the spiritual relationship that still exists between God (Read More)
The great challenge is
living your wounds through
instead of thinking them through.
It is better to cry
than to worry,
better to feel your wounds deeply
than to understand them,
better to let them enter into your silence
than talk about them.
The choice you face constantly
is whether you are taking your wounds to your head
or to your heart.
In your head you can analyze them,
find their causes and consequences,
and coin words to speak and write about them.
But no final healing is likely to come from that source.
You need to let your wounds go down to your heart.
Then you can live through them
and discover that
they will not destroy you.
Your heart is greater than your wounds.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love
Let Creator Mundi help you prepare for the Lent and Easter season. You may ask, how should we as Christians prepare our hearts for this holy season when there may not be strong family or church traditions to guide us? Here we present a few Easter ideas you can use this year and in the future.
Little Ways You To Prepare
There are many little things you can do to prepare yourself for the religious gatherings of the Easter season.
- Lenten Meditation & Texts
- Practice Centering Prayer
- Have Family Discussions About Easter
- Remember Holy Week Events & Services
You could read works of theology that might be on a Reading List or even practice listening to silence as a way to center oneself. Practicing centering prayer or mediation is a wonderful way to get in touch with your faith and the spirit of Easter.
Mark Your Calendar For Holy Week
A good way to prepare for Easter is to plan for attending your church’s Holy Week services. This isn’t just Palm Sunday and Resurrection Sunday, it also includes Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. It’s a good idea to mark those days on your calendar so you can schedule around them. Marking these days with worship alongside your church family will help make your Easter celebration all the more joyful.
Many Christians give up something for Lent and may fast in the days before Easter. Others add volunteering activities or service-oriented tasks that help others during Lent. Either way, Lent is an opportunity to focus on prayer, mindfulness, reflection, and service to others.
Families can spend devotional time together to help each other prepare for Easter. If you have young children, consider reading one part of the Holy Week story together each day. If you have older children, you can read through the Gospels during Lent. It’d be a fun challenge to see how much each person read by Easter.
How Creator Mundi Can Help
At Creator Mundi, we offer a wide selection of distinctive religious art and gifts. Incorporating our unique pieces into your Easter decorations and activities will inspire and encourage you. Browse our collection online or stop by our store in Denver today and see how Creator Mundi can help make Easter memorable. While you’re here, sign up for email updates and stay up to date on sales and new arrivals.
Lent: A Pathway Between Two Gardens
From a priest of the Institute of the Incarnate Word
We are now in the first week of Lent. In order to aid our passage through this important liturgical season, we offer weekly meditations. Each is written by a priest from the Institute of the Incarnate Word, IVE, and we are delighted that they have taken the time to do so. The first focuses on some general thoughts for Lent and is by Fr Brian Dinkel, Pastor of Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara, CA. He writes:
With due reason, the archetypal setting for the Lenten season is the desert. The arid desolate land that purges us from the attachment to the comfortable life of sin, which goes no further than self-satisfaction. What about Gardens? As much as our senses and inclination to comfort may need some desert time for detachment, so too might our intellect and will need some time spent in the Gardens for conversion. Let us explain.
The Old Testament line that inaugurates Lent for most is: “Remember you are dust and unto dust, you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) These words are spoken in a Garden, Eden. In this Garden, through an act of disobedience, Adam and Eve turned from God. This is followed by what Bl.John Henry Newman wittingly describes as “The original excuse.” (Cf., Bl. John Henry Newman, Oxford University Sermons, Sermon 8) First Adam points to Eve saying, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree,” and then Eve places the onus on the serpent, saying, “the snake tricked me, so I ate it.” (Genesis 3,12-13) In another other Garden, Gethsemane, we witness a supreme act of obedience to the Father.
Jesus speaks to His Father with child-like simplicity: “Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless, not My will, but Thine, be done.” (Mt 26,42) In this Garden, however, He makes Himself the excuse for everyone else. The Garden of Eden is where life is
springing forth on all sides, but selfishness leads to death. In Gethsemane, death is all-encompassing, but in this garden, selflessness leads to life.
His soul was sad to the point of death. He felt within His soul a sadness that was deep enough to cause the feeling of death. The Greek adjective περίλυπος (perilypos: from peri‐ around + lypé sorrow, grief) means properly, around‐sorrowful, that is, sorrowful (Read More)
When I was studying portrait painting in Florence, several years ago, I was struck by the charm of the old street shrines that can be seen built into the walls of the buildings that line the narrow streets. Many date back to the time of the building itself.
Not all are still obviously the focus for prayer, many seemed to unnoticed in a city in which Renaissance art abounds and much of the population has fallen away from the Faith.
Since then I have wondered, from time to time, if this is something we could do today, in a time and in places where Catholicism is not the dominant faith and the driving force the culture?
My feeling is we might, in many instances, struggle to persuade local government to go along with such a thing. However, perhaps if done tastefully and discretely on private property that is visible from the public street it might be possible.
I suggest that if what is done is truly beautiful, even non-believers would want it and it would, to a large degree, disarm potential critics by removing their desire to be offended by outward signs of the Faith. I have a friend who runs a menswear shop in the UK and he always places a small icon of the face of Christ, a Mandylion, which is just 6′ x 4′ in size, low down on the wall behind the counter. While it is not an obviously bold statement of faith, he deliberately places in such a position that when people pay for their clothes, they will see it on the wall behind the till in such a way that it gives the impression that they are peeking into his personal space and seeing an image that is their for his private devotion. He says that nobody ever objected, and many asked about it.
Non-Christians (and for that matter many Christians too) are much more likely to be irritated if the art is ugly or sentimental. I have often wondered, for example, if the militant secularists are in fact doing us a favor by objecting to the kitsch shopping mall nativity scenes that seem to be standard issue for retailers nowadays. Perhaps they are the unwitting agents of the Holy Spirit? Before my conversion in my early thirties, piped carol music and brightly-colored plastic McChristmasses gave me the impression that Christianity was for saddoes who didn’t (Read More)
“We are made in the image and likeness of the Creator of all things and as such, we share in His creative power. Man is, in effect, as J.R.R. Tolkien put it, a sub-creator.”
The Parable of the Painter
There was once an artist, a painter of consummate skill who conceived a great work. He first spent weeks sketching and refining his inspiration. His studies for the various elements were works of art in themselves. When he was satisfied that he had captured his vision he began the task of preparing his support.
He spent days searching for the finest canvas, and days more stretching and preparing the canvas for paint. He sealed the surface with a foundation of gesso, sanding and reapplying until the ground held the perfect tension upon which to paint.
The paints he mixed himself, grinding the pigments and mixing them with a medium of his own invention. Finally, after many weeks, he was prepared to begin the painting.
He worked with skill and confidence. His brush never hesitating or erring. His composition was perfect, it held the eye and the imagination to such an extent that the viewer lost all track of time, gazing in endless wonder at the arrangement of the elements. The colors showed a harmony seldom seen, vibrant and luminous, echoing the music of the cosmos.
When at last he laid down his brush, the painter stepped back and saw the great beauty of his work. Exhausted from the effort, he then took his rest.
But the painter had an enemy, one who, out of envy, sought to disrupt all that the painter created. While the painter slept the enemy came into the studio and introduced a flaw into the foundation of the work. This flaw grew, spreading over the work threatening to destroy its beauty.
When the painter awoke and saw the damage done to the work, he thought first to destroy the painting and begin the long process again. But the work was precious to him, a child of his imagination, and he could not bear the thought of destroying it. He considered correcting the flaw but feared that it would simply reappear as it now had become part of the work itself.
Finally he concluded there was only one way to save the work. He painted himself into the work and taught the work how to correct itself.
In His Image and likeness
In the story of the fall of (Read More)
Joyce Rupp’s Reflection – February 2018
“Come to the root of the root of your Self.”~ Jalaluddin Rumi (Divani Shamsi Tabriz, #120)ComeEvery moment of every day the Holy One extends an open invitation to come closer, to enter further into an lasting relationship. Now is the time to shake off the interior and exterior clutter that prevents this communication and clear seeing, to release what causes us to stumble on the path of loving and blocks our ability to be our truest self. Now is the moment to accept the invitation to be more completely transformed into Christ-like virtues, to heed the summons by ceasing worthless endeavors and distracting trivialities that keep us from an in-depth way of living.to the rootSink into a quiet space for a restorative time each day. Anchor yourself there. Let your roots of faith be strengthened by a graced encounter with Enduring Love. Assimilate the wise insights and inspiring aspirations found in the soil of prayer. Receive this spiritual nourishment so your ability to be a conduit of genuine goodness does not topple over from weakness, like a tree with a failing root system.of the rootGo even deeper in relationship with the Beloved. Accept the storehouse of spiritual nutrients found in connection with this Primary Root. Allow the relationship to energize your life. Like a vigorous root feeding and keeping the tree flourishing, absorb the spiritually enlivening qualities found in the life and teachings of Jesus. Read a Gospel slowly. Let the life-giving messages you find there flow with dynamic energy into each part of your day.of your SelfThere, at the core of your being—the true Self where the divine and the human meet in undivided union—rest in the rootedness of a Love too large and unconditional to fully comprehend with the human mind. Set aside egoic demands, nursed grudges, endless discouragement, leftover regrets, and stale excuses. Receive this love with the intuitive heart. Become one with the Divine Root, a source of what best serves to restore the neglected and famished parts of the soul. Then go forth and exhale this Love like a healthily-rooted tree breathing oxygen into the lungs of creation.My hope for each of us in the coming liturgical season of Lent is that we will “return to the root of the root of the Self.”Abundant peace,Joyce Rupp
Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day this year. But it’s not a matter of celebrating one or the other. How about focusing on giving an extra portion of love to all those around you this Lent?
The habit provides us with a freedom which to the world seems a restriction.
The anonymous Sister who wrote these words is currently a student at www.Pontifex.University and she wrote them for an essay set for a class Final. She is one of the sisters of a community in Santa Rosa, California, called the Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa, and is a seamstress for the community. Her duties include making the community’s habits. I asked her to describe why she felt this work was important, before going on to describe (in the next essay) how this informs her work in making the habits for the other Sisters.
The essay is entitled A Visible Witness; what struck me about it particularly were her anecdotes of personal reactions to the habit. She writes that it was seeing nuns wearing habits when she was a little girl that spoke to her of this “alternative” lifestyle (if I can use that phrase!) I found her accounts of the positive responses of ordinary people to her when they see the habit especially charming. For ease of reading, I have removed the footnotes and references from the original essay. The photograph below is taken from the community’s website.
Early in the Church, those who dedicated their lives to God wore some form of identifiable clothing that distinguished them from the world. The purpose was to visibly set them apart from the world for God’s service. Through the centuries this type of clothing, namely the religious habit, has taken many shapes and forms in the diverse communities that God has called into being. During the past sixty years, the value, relevance, and need of the habit has been disputed. However, many young people with vocations to religious life are being drawn to communities that do wear the habit. It is my opinion that in our world today, this visible witness of the religious habit is still needed to silently but eloquently proclaim the reality, presence, and primacy of God.
One of the first references of any sort of garb for those who gave their lives to God is in the writings of St Pachomius, who founded the cenobitic way of life in the fourth century. In his Rule, he requires all those who pass the initial tests for entrance into the monastery to be stripped of their secular clothing and be clothed in the monastic habit. St (Read More)
I am appearing on Annunciation Radio – annunciatioradio.com – interviewed by Patricia Ode-Murray for the Virtuous Life show. It will be aired on Monday 4pm EST and posted on the website after that as a podcast, here.
The topic is beauty and the culture, with a special interest in a formation in beauty as outlined in my book, the Way of Beauty and which is offered in the Pontifex University Master of Sacred Arts program
“One characteristic of a Christian Artist is his love for God which motivates him to put his gifts and talents at the service of the community. “
What is the true vocation of a Christian Artist?
A vocation is a calling, for the Christian artist it is a calling to beauty. But it is also a vocation of service.
There an old story about a man who sought to understand the Law, the Torah, in a concise simple way. He went to his Rabbi and asked the teacher to explain all of the Law while standing on one foot. The Rabbi dismissed the request as foolish. The Law was extensive and covered many different circumstances, how could it be explained in the brief time you would be able to stand on one foot?
But the young man did not give up so easily. He went from rabbi to rabbi, asking each of them the same question. He was met with ridicule, scorn, and sometimes outright anger and hostility. But finally he came to Rabbi Hillel.
“Rabbi,” can you explain the whole of the Torah to me while standing on one foot?”
Hillel thought for a moment, stood, slowly raised one foot and said, “what you yourself despise, do not do to another. The rest is commentary, go and learn.”
A somewhat similar story is recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew
A Pharisee, a doctor of the Law, challenged Jesus, “which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Mt 22:36) He was not referring specifically to the ten commandments, but rather to the Torah, the Law of Moses. In other words, out of all the commands, rules, precepts and instruction that make up the body of the Law for the ancient Israelites, which is the greatest?
Jesus answers by paraphrasing an ancient prayer, the Shema, “”You shall love the Lord your God from all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37)
But then Jesus takes it a step further by referring to the second great commandment, “the second is similar to it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (22:39)
Jesus tells us that our love for God is reflected in how we love our neighbor.
Before His Ascension into heaven, Jesus gave His followers a new commandment, to love one another as He has loved us. No longer are we called to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, now we are to love (Read More)
To say that I am made in the image of God
is to say that Love is the reason for my existence…
Love is my true identity…
Love is my true character.
Love is my name.
Today is the feast day of another of saints of the Roman Canon about whom we know very little beyond the fact of her existence and her martyrdom. Nevertheless, St Agatha is one of the most highly venerated virgin martyrs. By tradition, she died in the persecution of Decius in 251 AD.
According to tradition she suffered cruel torture, her breasts were pierced with pincers and she was healed by St Peter. Then she was then subjected to torture by hot coals and shards of glass until this was interrupted by the eruption of Mt Etna. Finally, she was sent back to prison where she died of starvation.
It is this gruesome death and the grace with which she faced it, that is reflected in the iconography of her. She is a young woman who carries severed breasts on a plate or has pincers. She sometimes displays a candle or flame, a symbol of her power against fire; a unicorn’s horn – a symbol of her virginity; or a palm branch or cross – symbols of martyrdom. Many of the images from the Renaissance and Baroque periods graphically focus on some of these details in ways that might not appeal to modern sensibilities (or mine at any rate!).
The last painting is by Zurburan and the one before that by Piero Della Francesca – which is in my opinion very poor. This heartens me as it shows that even an artist as great as he was can have an off day!
This early Baroque painting, from 1614 by Giovanni Lanfranco is more tasteful, I feel, showing St Peter healing her injuries.
In the Eastern Church, she is known as St Agatha of Palermo and icons of her tend to show the generic symbols of martyrdom, the palm branch or cross.
This is one of a series of articles written to highlight the great feasts and the saints of the Roman Canon. All are connected to a single opening essay, in which I set out principles by which we might create a canon of art for Roman Rite churches, and a schema that would guide the placement of such images in a church. (Read it here.) In these, I plan to cover the key elements of images of the Saints of the Roman Canon – Eucharistic Prayer I – and the major feasts of the year. (Read More)
The Jesuit Post, by Colten Biro, SJ on Jan 23, 2018
With two simple questions, Google’s Arts and Culture App sparked a fascinating trend:
“Is your portrait in a museum?”
“Take a selfie and search thousands of artworks to see if any look like you.”
The 2-year-old App began as an attempt to offer tours and artwork from over 1,000 museums, but the recent feature immediately made it one of the most popular Apps in both iOS App Store and Google Play. But, why?
The Face Match feature invites users to take a selfie of themselves, then it compiles a list of artworks similar to your face—offering percentages of how similar the artwork is to the selfie. These side-by-side comparisons have gone viral often because they capture so striking a resemblance or because App’s limitations make the comparison at times so comically wrong.
Yet, this doesn’t quite explain the popularity of the trend—unless it’s about something more than just a selfie game. Perhaps, this is about appreciating our own beauty. Maybe we are fascinated by this side-by-side image of a selfie and a work of art, because we all want to believe deep down in our very bones: each of us is a work of art.
This isn’t just something similar to the #nofilter movement offering a raw glimpse into a moment, but the side-by-side comparison of selfie-vs-artwork makes a value statement: we stand beside art, or stated differently—we are more than the selfie; we are works of art.
In the same way, the artwork in the Google Arts and Culture App seeks to inspire a deeper appreciation of the power that art and beauty have to move us. It reminds us that “art” does not contain some sort of simple quantifiable value; it is a matter of appreciation, wonder, and awe. And perhaps, that is the most amazing thing about this trend: it invites the us to look at ourselves and others as more than objects or portraits, but to see ourselves and others in comparison to artwork.
Despite our minor flaws, smudges, and even our shortcomings, we are more than just the images we post to Instagram. The very act of creating a pairing or comparison between ourselves and works of art, reminds us of something that we don’t often think or hear enough: we are beautiful and we are loved.
In some way, this trend might even invite us into a small understanding of the way in which God views us. As Anthony de Mello, SJ once encouraged: “Behold God beholding you… and smiling.” Imagine if we loved ourselves and others as much as God loves us, as wonderful works of art.
So, we can laugh at the comparisons. We can pause at the resemblances. We can giggle at the percentages. But hopefully, the trend invites us into a deeper understanding of the art of creation encapsulated not just in a museum but within ourselves.