Creator Mundi showcases news from the religious world.
Massimo Faggioli, PhD
If it weren’t being used by the pope, “Pontifex”— Latin for “bridge builder”— would be an apt Twitter handle for church historian and professor Massimo Faggioli. The Italian-born theologian and Vatican II expert helps the different worlds of European and American Catholicism understand each other.
After years of study at the universities of Bologna and Turin, research in the Vatican archives, and teaching in other countries, Dr. Faggioli came to the United States during the 2008 presidential campaign. He was promptly tapped to write articles for European audiences, explaining the religious aspects of US politics, and for American audiences, explaining the qualities unique to Catholicism in this country. That task continues.
“Having had a more universal experience of Catholicism, I try to cast light on ideas that are distinctly American, some of which may be worth questioning,” Dr. Faggioli says.
The 2013 election of Pope Francis catapulted Dr. Faggioli, then a faculty member at the University of St. Thomas, back onto the international stage. He provided expert commentary for respected US and European media outlets, and has continued to do so since coming to Villanova in 2016.
In addition to bringing his European perspective to the classroom, Dr. Faggioli draws upon it as he writes what will be a trilogy of books on Francis’ papacy. Unlike many scholars in the US, he “follows what the pope says and does directly from Vatican sources, without having to rely on translations. It’s fascinating.”
“Fight the good fight, finish the course, keep the faith, and trust in God’s mercy. There is no better epitaph a Christian can aspire to be worthy of.”
It has been said that your talent is God’s gift to you, what you do with it is your gift to God. Although it is a wonderful, insightful, comment on God-given gifts, it lacks urgency.
In roughly 30 years of ministry, Saint Paul spent about six of those years as a prisoner or in prison. In the Roman system of justice a pre-trial was held to clarify the charges against the accused. It is after this pre-trial that Paul writes his second letter to Timothy. It has the tone of a condemned man giving final instructions to those who will take up his mission.
Paul does not dwell on his accomplishments. He does not hold up the churches he founded or the thousands of souls he brought to God’s Kingdom. Instead he says of his ministry that he has “competed well.”
Like Saint Paul we are all “on trial.” God is the author of all life and our benefactor who has given each of us a unique set of gifts and talents. At the end of our lives we will look back and realize we had very little time to use those gifts to glorify God. The race is very swift. Along with our talent and abilities, God has written His law on our hearts. We know deep within our hearts if we are using our gifts generously or if we are using them selfishly. It is very easy to be self indulgent, to pander to the public’s baser desires and motivations. In fact it can also be highly profitable.
The Good Fight
But pursuing profit solely for its own sake is not a generous use of our gifts. We have been entrusted with a task, a very specific way to accomplish that task, and very little time to do it. At the end it will not matter how much money we made or how highly we were regarded as artists. In the end what will matter is whether or not we used what God has given us to reflect His splendor and bring hope and joy to His people. Most importantly we need to remember that God is always there, to help us, guide us, and strengthen as we endure the trial, and finish the course.
In (Read More)
I know, because I was one of them.
Some of you, who have read my book, The Way of Beauty, about beauty in education will remember my descriptions of my time as an undergraduate at St Edmund Hall – ‘Teddy Hall’ as we called it. My intention was to reinforce a point made by Cardinal Newman about the Oxford he attended in the late 18th century. Here is a picture of Teddy Hall today:
Newman told us that in his estimation the lectures were a waste of time, the tutors were inept, and the curricula were ill-thought out. The strongest forming influence, he said, was the influence of the educational community and most of all interactions between students. Immorality and rowdiness pervaded all aspects of life, but despite this Newmans tells us, it was responsible for making Oxford the greatest university in the world at forming students to do what England required of them – ruling an empire and subduing the Catholic Faith! Here is Newman’s college, Oriel:
I would not be so critical of the tutors or the curriculum in my subject Metallurgy and Science of Materials in 1980s Oxford when I attended. And I have little to say about the quality of the lectures because I barely attended any. However, I would assert that the strongest influence on my education was the same as that in Newman’s day, the conversation with other students and the fun of living in the college community.
Newman was not arguing for bad tutors, dull lectures, or pointless classes in the curricula. Neither was he promoting immorality in college life. Rather, he was telling us that we have to understand that students teach each other the important things in life and if we don’t have a community that does so for good, it will do so for ill. Picking up on this theme, much of my book is devoted to discussion of ways in which a good community can be created and which forms students as faithful Catholics.
As an illustration of the power of the community, I am going to describe how St Edmund Hall introduced me to Schubert and from there to the pleasures of classical music. The faculty had no influence at all. I should add that have not attended a music class since I gave up playing the recorder at age 11, and there were no general education classes at Oxford for anyone (Read More)
“Michelangelo worked with a sense of urgency as if he were afraid he would not have time to explore all that he saw of God’s beauty in the work he created.”
The old that is strong does not whither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
Many artists, especially those basing their work on traditional forms, are familiar with the “cult of the new.” There seems to be an idea, within the rarified world of fine art, that “new” is better than “good,” or “beautiful.” This has led to some of the more extreme examples of modern art that sell for staggering sums and leave people shaking their heads over what is perceived as “art.”
But outside of this “art bubble” there are artists who respect the traditions of the past and build on them, taking those ancient forms and breathing new life into them for a new generation. These are artists who recognize that their role is to pursue beauty and show it to the world, even if the world around them no longer understands the power of the beautiful. The traditions of the past have proved their worth and their strength, they have proved their staying power by withstanding the test of time. How much so-called “modern art” will still be admired 500 years from now?
The Beauty of the Past
To reclaim the power of beauty we look to the past, to those forms of art, music, and architecture that are still regarded as beautiful hundreds or even thousands of years after they were created. Beauty is not as subjective as most people think. It can be said that what is beautiful is that which has been considered beautiful by the greatest number of people over the longest period of time.
There is power in the Beauty of the past.
But we are on the clock. We live finite live and the work before us is vast. We must be unrelenting in our pursuit of the beautiful.
The Need for Urgency
For most of his life, the great Renaissance artist, Michelangelo worked alone. Probably he just found it easier to work by himself rather than try to explain his vision to someone else. This would have added to his reputation as being aloof and a little grouchy. But later in his life, in his eighties, he did allow assistants to help him in sculpting the massive marble figures he had (Read More)
Book review: A Devotional Journey into the Mass – How Mass Can Become A Time of Grace, Nourishment, and Devotion, by Christopher Carstens (pub Sophia Institute Press).
In this book, (buy here) the author, Christopher Carstens (who is the editor of Adoremus Bulletin,) takes us through each key element of the Mass (from how to enter the church through to how to respond to the dismissal). Grounding his discussion on the sacramental thought of Romano Guardini, he takes us on a journey into the heart of the liturgy. The principles he articulates are general and so are applicable to the Ordinary Form, the Extraordinary Form, and the Anglican Ordinariate form of the Roman Rite. (If you want a printable summary of the eight principles, Sophia also very kindly provides a free printable summary in two pages, here.) Furthermore,
‘If you’re unhappy because the Mass has become for your routine – or even boring and tedious – these pages are for you. They teach you eight simple ways to make your every Mass a joyful time of piety and intense devotion.’ This is how the publisher, Sophia Institute Press, quite legitimately describes the appeal of this book. I would add to this that Carsten’s approach is the basis for a mystagogical catechesis that will allow us to participate so that the Sacred Liturgy as a whole itself becomes the primary force for continual mystagogy. As such I would see it as a natural complement to any authentic Catholic education, such as described in the book on children’s education I reviewed recently – Educating in Christ.
By emphasizing the sacramental nature of the Mass so profoundly and in such simple and clear language, and by showing its deep connection to scripture and salvation history it is, in my opinion, a foundational text for an approach to the Mass that could reap rewards for a lifetime.
I appreciated particularly, for example, his emphasis also on lectio divina as a preparation for the scripture that is proclaimed in the readings at Mass. Firstly, he de-mystifies it with simple and clear instructions on the method. Secondly, and just as importantly, he highlights how this exercise in meditation and contemplative prayer is consummated in the worship of God. It is not a higher activity, but one like all others that is not actually liturgical, which derives its power and effectiveness from the liturgy, and so, (Read More)
“In our increasingly secular society the most important action of the prophet, and the artist, may be to simply remind his community of their relationship with God.”
Among those who write or blog on the topic of theology and the arts; the idea of artist as prophet comes up fairly regularly. This seems to point to a larger issue concerning vocation. Given his (or her) unique gifts, what is the role of the artist?
One who speaks for God
We tend to think of a prophet as one who predicts the future, but that is not at all the ancient understanding of the word. The word “prophet” means speaker, or one who speaks. In Christian use, a prophet is one who has a special connection to God and speaks on God’s behalf.
By virtue of our Baptism we are invested in the threefold office of Christ, priest, prophet, and king. The degree to which we fulfill each of these offices will depend on our individual gifts and calling. We are all called to be prophets, as well as priests and kings, to the degree our gifts allow us.
Like every Christian, an artist may fill all of these roles as well as several others. An artist may act at various times as a teacher, a storyteller, even as priests and kings when the role of priest and king are properly understood. But how does an artist serve as a prophet? How does an artist speak for God?
Artist as prophet
A speaker must have a listener. The prophet serves his community by speaking or interpreting the Word of God to God’s people, even if the people or community disregard the words or actions of the prophet. In our increasingly secular society the most important action of the prophet may be to simply remind his community of their relationship with God.
The view that artists are apart from society and must be left on his own to create according to his personal whim, even if it is unintelligible to all but the artist himself, is a very modern idea. For most of human history, at least the history we have documented, the artist served his community, usually in connection with the religious beliefs of that community.
All artists, of every type, act as a prophet when he or she creates work that participates in the role of the prophet, reminding us of our relationship to God and of our status (Read More)
Do a Master of Sacred Arts with a Concentration in the Theology of the Body. Earn credit for selected ToB Institute courses and study the thought of Pope St John Paul II.
‘Fulfill the artistic vocation to which every single one of us is called – in which the medium is our own humanity’
I am delighted to announce that Pontifex University and the Theology of the Body Institute, are formerly partnered to created a unique Masters degree. The Theology of the Body Institute, which is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, promotes the life-giving message of Theology of the Body through graduate-level courses, on-site speaker programs, and clergy enrichment training. Their week-long courses take place around the country and through the year, for a full schedule follow the link here. Their teachers are internationally known leaders in their fields such as Christopher West and Bill Donaghy.
Pontifex University recommends all ToBI courses to you for personal enrichment, and we are excited to announce that we will now recognize up to four courses taught by the Institute for credit, which collectively will create a concentration in the Theology of the Body for our Master of Sacred Arts program. Students can earn 2 credits in good standing for each week-long Certification course completed, up to a maximum of 8 credits.
These courses are:
Theology of the Body and Art – The Way of Beauty;
Theology of the Body I – Introduction and Overview;
Theology of the Body II – Into the Deep;
Theology of the Body III – The New Evangelization
Rooted in the inspiring interpretation of Holy Scripture by Pope St John Paul II, these integrate naturally with the MSA program to create a focus on the human person and our place in society today. The goal of this is not simply a theoretical understanding of the subjects, but also to lead each of us towards the supernatural transformation of the person in Christ. By this, we hope that each student will strive to fulfill the artistic vocation to which every single one of us is called – in which the medium is ourselves and our lives! As Pope St John Paul II put it in his Letter to Artists: ‘Through his “artistic creativity” man appears more than ever “in the image of God”, and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous “material” of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which (Read More)
This summer Pontifex University is proud to sponsor a unique workshop taking place in Italy. “The Art and Theology of the Catholic Reformation in Rome”, which will take place this August 6 – 17 at the Accademia Urbana delle Arti in the center of Rome.
This intensive two-week/60- hour course will provide a comprehensive overview of the painting methods of artists of the Catholic Reformation and the theology that underpinned their works. Artists to be studied will include: Caravaggio, Titian, Guido Reni, Guercino and Gerard van Honthorst. The class will visit the churches and museums holding masterpieces by these artists where Professor Rodolfo Papa will lecture on the theological and philosophical theory and meaning of the works.
In the studio, using high-quality reproductions, Professor Martinho Correia will lead students through a copy of a work by one of the masters being studied. From drawing to final glazes, all stages of the painting process will be discussed and practiced.
Come join them in the Eternal City!
Rodolfo Papa is a painter, sculptor, theoretician, historian and philosopher of art. He was appointed Art Specialist for the XIII General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops and has been Professor of the History of the Aesthetics at many schools and universities. Among his writings are about twenty monographs and some hundreds of articles. As a artist he has completed paintings for churches and cathedrals including: Basilica of St. Crisogono, Rome, Basilica of SS Fabiano and Venanzio, Rome, Ancient Cathedral of Bojano, Campobasso, Our Lady of Fatima Cathedral in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, Hermitage of Santa Maria, Campobasso and Cathedral of San Panfilo, Sulmona.
Martinho Isidro Correia is an artist and teacher whose interest lies in the dominant themes and subjects found in European cultural history. He is a graduate of the University of Calgary (BFA in Painting), University of British Colombia in Vancouver (BEd in Art Education), Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy (Diploma in Drawing and Painting) and The European University/Pontifical Athenaeum, ‘Regina Apostolorum’ in Rome (Masters in Architecture, Sacred Art and Liturgy).
Martinho’s work is in private collections in Italy, England, Portugal, Australia, the USA, Canada and Colombia. His painting “Anastasis” is in the collection of Cardinal Piacenza in the Vatican.
Book Review – Educating in Christ: A Practical Handbook for Developing the Catholic Faith from Childhood to Adolescence For Parents, Teachers, Catechists and School Administrators, by Gerard O’Shea
I am often asked how my book the Way of Beauty, which describes the principles of Catholic Education at higher levels can be adapted for younger children. Now I know where to send them…here! This wonderful book, written by a professor of education from Notre Dame University, Sydney, Australia, has the answers and much more besides. Balancing the natural and the supernatural, the theoretical and the practical, and combining the best of traditional methods with modern educational theory and psychology (with great prudence), Gerard O’Shea describes how a mystagogical catechesis, rooted in the study of scripture and the actual worship of God is at the heart of every Catholic education. Then he describes how teaching methods and curricula should reflect these principles for children of different ages.
While the content he suggests for his curricula is not identical – O’Shea’s interest is more on general education than specifically creative arts – he provides an educational framework that is based upon the same philosophy of education and into which the particular focus of the Way of Beauty could be inserted.
Every Catholic educator of young people should read this book.
EDUCATING IN CHRIST covers the essential practical and theoretical elements of religious education and catechetics for parents, catechists, teachers, and Catholic school administrators. The first part of the book responds to contemporary calls from the popes for a religious education based upon authentic Christian anthropology. It provides a comprehensive outline of religious developmental stages, indicating activities appropriate for each of these from age three years to adolescence. It also takes into account the call of recent Church documents to approach this task from a “mystagogical” angle, linking the sacraments with the scriptures. In the second part, the best of contemporary teaching practices are linked with sound Montessori principles and the Catholic understanding of a pedagogy of God. Busy Catholic school administrators will find the provided summary of Catholic teaching on education since Vatican II a very useful reference tool. Teachers and home-schooling parents will find the sections on classroom methods, and the curriculum outline based on the liturgical year, especially helpful.
“In anxious times, this practical book is good news for parents, teachers, and catechists who introduce Catholic faith and morals to children and young (Read More)
St Thomas Aquinas’s commentary of St Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 5
Here is another Lenten reflection from a priest from the Institute of the Incarnate Word, IVE, which is for the week of the 4th Sunday of Lent. This is by Fr Marcelo Navarro who is based in Rome. This is a summary of St Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on this Letter of the Apostle important virtues for Lenten Season”. (Images are St Paul by Giotto, and St Thomas with St Dominic and Virgin and Child by Fra Angelico)
Romans 5 Faith, Hope, and Love.
1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peacewith God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God.
3 Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance,
4 and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope,
5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us.
n. 381… the Apostle now begins to extol the power of grace.
Concerning this, he does two things. First, he shows what goods we obtain through grace;
second, from what evils we are freed by it, at wherefore as by one man (Rom 5:12).
In regard to the first he does two things. First, he indicates the manner of reaching or the way by which we come to grace; second, the good things we obtain through grace, at and glory in the hope of the glory.
In regard to the first he does two things. First, he exhorts to the due use of grace; second, he shows us the entrance to grace, at by whom also we have access.
382. First, therefore, he says: it has been stated that faith will be reputed as justice to all who believe in Christ’s resurrection, which is the cause of our justification. Being justified therefore by faith, inasmuch as through faith in the resurrection we participate in its effect, let us have peace with God, namely, by submitting ourselves and obeying him: agree with God and be at peace (Job 22:21); who has hardened himself against him and been at peace? (Job 9:4).
And this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has led us to that peace: he is our peace (Eph 2:14).
383. (Read More)
Earn credit for Pontifex University’s Master of Sacred Arts through St Cecilia Academy for Pastoral Musicians, Archdiocese of New York.
St Cecilia Academy of Pastoral Musicians, which is at St Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, NY offers a four-course 12 credit, Masters level certificate. Pontifex University will recognize these classes as constituting a concentration in sacred music as part of the Master of Sacred Arts program.
We recommend these courses to all pastoral musicians, whether for credit or personal enrichment in service of the Church.
For more information on the MSA, contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to www.Pontifex.University
To register for the music courses, follow this link through to the St Cecilia home page.
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
“Ultimately our true vocation and final destiny is to praise God in His Truth, Beauty and Goodness.”
Beauty from Emptiness
A beautiful spirit may shine even through a form that has been weakened. Drawing on both old and new testaments the early church fathers developed the doctrine of “kenosis” from a Greek word meaning emptiness. In the context of a theology of beauty kenosis refers to a humiliation of form, an emptying of one’s self, so that the divine beauty shines more brightly. In the Old Testament this theme is taken up in the suffering servant.
“You are the fairest of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you for ever.” (Psalms 45:2)
“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.” (Isaiah 53:2)
In Christian thought this “kenotic veil” is the virtue of humility. Humility dims the beauty of the form and is a guard against the temptation of vanity.
“So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23:28)
“Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1Peter 3:3-4)
The so-called “Fools for Christ” took this idea to the extreme. These were individuals who denied themselves everything, including personal dignity, so that Christ may shine more radiantly through them. In such cases the ugliness of the infirmity becomes transfigured to serve the spirit within and becomes an icon of suffering and as such beautiful to behold.
By contrast there is ugliness without spirit, a perversion of natural being that borders on the demonic. Form without content, a hollow shell, it is the antithesis of being. When it manifests itself as art it shows us a world without God. Manifested in our perception of the created world, it offers us a glimpse of Hell, the negation of all that is good and beautiful and true.
An Act of Praise
Recognizing this inner beauty, this divine spark, within all things and drawing it out for others to see is the vocation of the artist. This is an act (Read More)
The Master 0f Sacred Arts program at www.Pontifex.University offers a formation in beauty for artists, patrons of the arts and anyone who wants to contribute creatively to the transformation of the culture. It is a chance to travel on the Way of Beauty in a way never before available. Our goal is to form the artists who will stand alongside any of the greats of the past, and who will transform the 21st century into a golden age that the will be viewed as important of any of the great cultural movements of past.
This is a range of classes that are rooted in the Catholic intellectual tradition as well as practical classes in painting, sculpture and sacred geometry (as part of the Mathematics of Beauty course). While the focus is on visual arts and architecture, this is a Catholic inculturation and formation that will help artists in any discipline (including, for example, literature and music). There are electives that allow for specialization in potentially any of these other creative fields.
It also provides also a theory of Christian culture that will enable any person to consider how their everyday activities can be informed by the pattern of Christ and so contribute to the evangelization of the culture through what is called the New Evangelization.
Every course is unique to the Master of Sacred Arts. You can take the whole program or individual courses; audit or for credit to compliment what you already know or feel you can teach yourself.
Here is a list of courses, for more details see www.Pontifex.University:
You need 30 credits minimum to obtain the MSA degree:
The mandatory subjects are as follows (21 credits):
A History and Practical Theology of Images (including the theory of the Way of Beauty and Christian culture) 3 credits
The New Testament in Words and Images 3 credits
The Old Testament in Words and Images 3 credits
The Bible and the Liturgy 3 credits
The Mathematics of Beauty (harmony and proportion) 2 credits
Fundamentals of Beauty in Architecture (Read More)
Make your public shrine or icon corner with www.waysideshrines.com
Following on from recent articles encouraging people to think about creating ceramic icon corners that can be beautiful and discreet, yet clearly visible signs of faith, here, and here, here is someone who can create such images and also carve beautiful shrines in wood or stone to house them in. It is Jerome Quigley of www.waysideshrines.org.
I met him at an Art and Faith event at St Pius X Catholic Church in Rock Island, Illinois this past week. He explained to me that he creates the carvings himself in wood or an artificial granite (used for heavy kitchen surfaces and which can be carved like wood). He can respond to commission and even more interestingly, he has a process whereby he can set images into porcelain. This is not a print, but rather one in which the pigment is set directly into the chemical structure of the substrate porcelain – similar to the way in which pigment is incorporated into the plaster in frescoes.
The tradition of reproducing paintings on porcelain goes back to the 19th century at least. I have recently seen several handpainted porcelain copies of the highest quality made in that time. The look of these hand-painted antique reproductions is the same those that Jerome makes. Here is a 19th-century example. Porcelain has a luminosity to it that you can see in this photograph.
I spoke to him about the possibility of creating icon corners consisting of three images and he was confident that he could produce something beautiful, either on a shrine or as a ceramic piece that could be set in a building by the purchaser, for example. It would need demand from customers for this to happen, but if the business logic is there for Jerome to do it, I am happy to work with him to help create outdoor icon corners.
Here are some more examples of his work. Once again his website is www.waysideshrines.org.
In those days, God delivered the commandments: 1 Ex 20:1-17.
Here is another Lenten reflection from a priest from the Institute of the Incarnate Word, IVE, which is for the week of the 3rd Sunday of Lent. This is by Fr Nicholas Grace who is in Cowdenbeath, Scotland.
“I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery…I am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for wickedness but mercy…on those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Considering this text, I would like, in this article, to focus on two things in a very brief manner.
First: The Natural Law, written by God on every human heart.
Second: What are the Ten Commandments & Why they are so important.
The Natural Law, written by God on every human heart: Every member of Nature, every plant, every animal has a law which makes them tend to their goal, which makes them work.
Every human being has a law and must remain faithful to it if they are going to reach their goal if they are going to function correctly. This is called man’s Natural law.
Why is it called natural? This Law is rooted in a set of natural inclinations to specific goods. Natural inclinations toward Self-preservation, toward having and raising children, toward knowing the truth about God and living in society. It is imprinted in our hearts. It doesn’t have to be taught or learned. Like our DNA or genetic code, we also have this moral code weaved into our very being.
How does it function? -This law, through our intelligence, tells us what is right for us, what is wrong for us, what is good for us & what is bad for us. When our actions conform to this law they help us fulfill our purpose in life & are thereby right & morally good. Similarly, when our actions are at variance with this law, they deter us from that purpose and are therefore wrong & immoral. Some examples: The law of our Nature tells us that…
● Nourishing our bodies is right, but overindulging to the detriment of health is wrong.
● Self-preservation is right, but selfishness is wrong.
● To love another person is good, but to love someone already seriously
committed to another is not.
Now while it is easy to recognize that this knowledge comes naturally to (Read More)
‘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)
“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)
‘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)