St. Sebastian

"Martyrdom of St. Sebastian" Benozzo Gozzoli 1465, Tempera on Panel

“Martyrdom of St. Sebastian”
Benozzo Gozzoli
1465, Tempera on Panel

The “Martyrdom of St. Sebastian,” a 1465 tempera work by Benozzo Gozzoli (perhaps best known for his murals in the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi,) shows the saint pierced by arrows… which was the price of offending the pagan Roman emperor by working secretly for the good of Christians suffering persecution in Rome. Legend relates that the arrows did not actually kill him; he recovered and eventually confronted the emperor by waiting at a place he knew Diocletian would pass. Sebastian chastised him for his cruelty and called him everything but a worthy public servant. For this, he was beaten to death with clubs and his body dumped in the sewer; it was eventually recovered and entombed.

The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian Peter Paul Rubens c.1608; Oil on Canvas Galleria Corsini, Rome, Italy If it's not Baroque, don't fix it.

The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian
Peter Paul Rubens
c.1608; Oil on Canvas
Galleria Corsini, Rome, Italy
If it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it.

In 367 a basilica was built over the site of his grave. The site was — about twelve centuries later — ransacked by rampaging Calvinists, who (again) dumped the bones in a ditch. They were again recovered (although they had been mixed with the bones of other saints, and so the knowledge of which bones belonged to which saint was lost). In 1578, these bones were recovered and today are in reliquaries in numerous locations, including Paris, Luxemburg, Antwerp, and Brussels.

St. Sebastian Icon

St. Sebastian Icon

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that the veneration of Sebastian dates to at least the time of Ambrose and that the oldest known depiction of him comes from around the year 682 and shows ” a grown, bearded man in court dress but contains no trace of an arrow. It was the art of the Renaissance that first portrayed him as a youth pierced by arrows.”

St. Sebastian Mosaic;  ca. 682 in San Pietro in Vincoli

St. Sebastian Mosaic; ca. 682 in San Pietro in Vincoli

Today is St. Sebastian’s feast day. St. Sebastian is considered a protector against the plague; hopefully, he can also do something for the flu.

Grant us, we pray, O Lord, a spirit of fortitude,
so that, taught by the glorious example
of your Martyr Saint Sebastian,
we may learn to obey you rather than men.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.


“La Madonna di San Sisto” (the Sistine Madonna)


My wife and I were given a very nice (and very old) copy of “La Madonna di San Sisto” (the Sistine Madonna) for Christmas. The original, a 1512 painting by Raphael that was commissioned by Pope Julius II as an altarpiece for the church of San Sisto, is today in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister.

This painting, one of Raphael’s last Madonnas, depicts the Blessed Virgin holding the Christ Child and flanked by Saint Sixtus and Saint Barbara. In the background are dozens of obscured cherubs while two very distinctive cherub figures are in the foreground.

Editorial from the Winter 2013 Issue of The Stained Glass Quarterly

Research: It’s What to Do With Winter

Right now, I’m working on a project that involves tracing the development of iconography in certain key Biblical scenes relevant to the life of Christ and frequently depicted in visual art from their earliest origins to their most recent presentation, with the goal of closely examining the spiritual truths presented in these scenes and of coming to a fuller understanding of how those truths are communicated to the viewer in a meaningful way that further develops an understanding of the relationship between the substance of the message and the style of its presentation. This will, I imagine, at some point, result in an article. Although, if it doesn’t — if, ultimately, my working premise cannot be either supported or modified to produce a meaningful result and I end up abandoning the project entirely — well, at least the research is worth doing. Besides, I write this on a morning when the weatherman said we can expect our first winter weather, with possible minor accumulations of snow and ice overnight tonight and tomorrow morning. It could be a long winter, and I really can’t think of a better way to spend it than working on a few research projects.

There’s a nice research article in this issue. Bryant Stanton’s The Dark Age of American Stained Glass: The Tiffany Glass Company 1888 – A Productive Year (which begins on page 272) takes an in-depth look at a group of Good Shepherd-themed windows from Tiffany produced in 1888 and installed in churches across the country. I know Bryant personally, and I know he put a lot of time and effort into producing this article. It’s quite an article; I enjoyed reading it and am very glad to be able to include it in this issue of the magazine. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

I would love to be able to print more research articles in the coming issues of The Stained Glass Quarterly. If there’s something you’d like to know more about — a window, a theme, a style, a particular artist, windows from a particular region or period — really, anything you want to know more about — I would strongly urge you to consider doing the research and presenting what you find in an article for publication. The fact that you want to know more about a certain topic probably means that others do, too. Doing in-depth research and presenting one’s findings is a great way to advance everyone’s understanding of stained glass, or religious art, or painting techniques, or even the history of how stained glass windows are sold.

One of the great things about pursuing a research article is that you don’t have to start out an expert… but you might end up one, if you carry the research far enough. It is amazing what one can learn if one is willing to collect the pieces and connect the dots. Besides: education is its own reward; it’s not possible to waste time when that time is spent in learning something new or in coming to a deeper understanding of something already learned.

If what I’ve written here inspires you to pursue such an article, I look forward to reading it and hope I can include it in a future edition of this magazine. Of course, I’m looking for other types of articles as well. I would very much like to be able to print more articles about the business of stained glass written by stained glass businesspeople. Technical articles — articles about how to do specific craft techniques, or a new way of approaching a task — are always something very much in demand.

The thing about the readership of The Stained Glass Quarterly is that the people who read it are the experts in the field. That’s the nature of a professional trade journal: Its readership includes the very people who should be sharing their knowledge, experience, and skills with others in the form of articles. Winter is upon us. Won’t you take a little time this winter and consider writing an article?


Coming SGAA Tour in Indianapolis

We are only days away from the Stained Glass Association of America’s Annual Summer Conference and its traditional stained glass tour. Some of the installations we will visit include:


I love the cave-like feel of this chapel and the way it harkens back to the worship practices of ancient Christians.


Another stop on the tour features an entire church full of windows made from Kokomo Opalescent Glass Company’s glass. This church, St. Patrick’s, Kokomo, Indiana, has some absolutely beautiful windows.

Sts. Anne & Joachim Catholic Church, Fargo, North Dakota

by Richard Gross


This article originally appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of The Stained Glass Quarterly. To download an Acrobat [pdf] version of this article in its original format, please click this link.

One of the great things about being editor of this magazine is that, from time to time, I get to venture out of the office and visit some places with amazing stained glass. One of those trips happened in early September, when I got to visit Sts. Anne & Joachim Catholic Church in Fargo, ND.

This was my first time visiting either South or North Dakota, and the drive to Fargo did not disappoint; I passed through some beautiful countryside in South Dakota and arrived in Fargo, just a short distance across the border into North Dakota, after dark. The next morning, I left before sunrise to be at the church in time for their seven o’clock daily Mass. The church was only an exit or two from where I stayed, and when I exited the Interstate and started east toward the church, I saw the silhouette of it immediately in the early light, looking as if it were right in front of me. What I did not immediately realize is that I was still more than a mile away from the church.

To call Sts. Anne & Joachim Catholic Church big is an understatement; it is impressive on a scale not often seen. It is also very beautiful and is the sort of building that disproves the notion that “they don’t build them like that anymore.”

Dedicated in 2010, Sts. Anne & Joachim Catholic Church enjoys a parish population of around 1,600 families. The church makes extensive use of marble and includes murals, bronze work, medallions, and, of course, stained glass. There is new glass by the Conrad Pickel Studio of Vero Beach, Florida, and repurposed stained glass from various studios. The overall liturgical design was by Liturgical Environs, PC, of Phoenix, Arizona, and was overseen by Fr. Brian Bachmeier, Fr. Paul Duchschere, and a committee of parish volunteers.

The primary worship space is designed around a central plan in which the many decorative and teaching elements and the different areas of the worship space relate to one another: medallions on the floor relate to the stained glass above them; shrines and windows that face each other are linked. The steps of this central plan move around the nave’s center aisle and create a tapestry that weaves together many of the core elements of the fabric of belief important to the Catholic faithful.

The journey begins at the God’s Creation and Baptism window, located in the choir loft opposite the sanctuary. This window unites a symbol representing God, with the themes of creation and baptism in an overall design focused on the goodness of God’s creation and on the goodness of man, created to the likeness and image of God.

Creation and Baptism – This window is by the Conrad Pickel Studio, Vero Beach, Florida, and is installed at Sts. Anne & Joachim Catholic Church, Fargo, North Dakota.

The pinnacle of this window makes reference to the Trinitarian reality of God, the source of both creation and redemption, with a triangle that represents the threeness of persons and a circle to represent the unity of divinity; an eye is incorporated into the design to represent the vision of God who watches over his creation, the Church, the parish family, and each individual. This symbol is encircled by Latin text that translates as “And behold it was very good,” which quotes Genesis 1:31 and is the statement made when God saw the entirety of his creation. Directly below this element is a presentation of the cross, the instrument by which God made salvation possible through his son, Jesus Christ.

The themes presented below in this window speak to both salvation history and to the sacraments. The Creation segment, the left of this window and part of the Salvation History series of windows in the church, illustrates the entirety of creation, with Adam and Eve present as the summit of God’s creative act. They are surrounded by the Garden of Eden before the Fall. This segment reminds the viewer of the consequences of sin while at the same time speaking to the very positive themes of marriage and family. It is crowned by a round segment that illustrates Genesis 3:14-15, “The LORD God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all cattle, and above all wild animals; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel,’” which prefigures the coming of Christ.

While Creation depicts the beginning of the created world, Baptism depicts the beginning of the individual’s supernatural life. Baptism is the gateway to all of the sacraments, so it is very fitting that it should be shown in this first window, which is positioned directly above the main doors to the nave — the gateways to the church. This segment of the window depicts the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John the Baptist; a dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, descends upon Jesus amidst rays of sunlight, thus representing all three Persons of the Holy Trinity. In the foreground of this window, one sees a fish leaping in the water. The stylized Ichthys fish has long been a symbol with deep meaning to the Christian believer; this fish represents that tradition and reminds that the Christian life begins in baptism.

Above the Baptism scene is an icon presenting a traditional symbol of baptism, a shell holding baptismal water and from which three drops fall, symbolizing baptism “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” the traditional and proper formula of baptism.

Dividing the two scenes in this window is a tree. On the Creation side of the window, the tree appears as the Tree of Life, on which grows abundant fruit. On the Baptism side of the window, the tree becomes a weeping willow, symbolizing both Paradise lost and foreshadowing the passion and death of Jesus upon a cross. The Serpent is seen at the base of this tree, entering the Garden of Eden. It is through the temptations of the Serpent that sin entered the world, but it is through the waters of baptism that sin is forgiven. It is a tradition of the Church dating to the early Church Fathers that Adam, the first man, brought sin into the world through a tree and that Christ, the second Adam, overcame sin through the wood of a tree in the Holy Cross.

The second stop in the journey around the nave of Sts. Anne and Joachim Catholic Church is before a window depicting Abraham and his wife Sarah. This window is above the Paternity Shrine and is a part of the church’s Salvation History series.

Abraham and Sarah – This is part of the Salvation History series of windows.

This window shows Abraham and Sarah departing Ur with its pagan shrines for the Promised Land, to which God will lead them. This event is foundational to both the Jewish and Christian faith. In the window, Abraham is pointing to the stars, which reminds us of God’s promise to make his descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. The largest of these stars reminds the viewer of the Star of Bethlehem, which heralded the birth of Jesus and guided the magi to the manger.

At the top of the Abraham and Sarah window is a round medallion depicting a ram being offered to God as a holocaust and reminding the viewer that Abraham was called to sacrifice his son – his only son – Isaac, upon whom fulfillment of God’s promise depended. Abraham’s faith was such that he followed God’s command, trusting in the Lord. Abraham was prevented from offering his son only after he had shown his willingness to follow and obey in complete faith. Abraham’s sacrifice prefigures the sacrifice of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross. The three rays present in this medallion again symbolize the Trinitarian nature of God.

Confirmation – This is part of the Sacraments series of windows.

Above the neighboring Maternity Shrine and a part of the Sacraments series of windows is a depiction of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which calls to mind the sacrament of Confirmation. Just as the call of Abraham was the origin of the People of God, so, too, are the events of Pentecost the beginning of the age of the Church and the New Covenant in Christ with the people of God. Present in this window are the Virgin Mary and the Beloved Disciple among the apostles each crowned by a tongue of fire representative of the Holy Spirit. God’s presence is shown in both the rays shining down from above and in the wind depicted in the window.

At the top of this window is a medallion that presents the descending Holy Spirit in the form of a dove over twin images of the Trinity, a triangle and three interlocking circles, which have been combined to form a single frame for the dove. This window, as do all in the Sacraments series, incorporates the chi rho symbol, which is an ancient christogram made from the first two letters of the Greek “cristos” (Christós, Christ) that calls to mind both the cross and Crucifixion and celebrates Jesus’ status as the Anointed One.

Moses and the Exodus – This is part of the Salvation History series of windows.

The next windows in the journey are above the Examination of Conscience Shrine and the Shrine of Nations. In the first, above the Examination of Conscience Shrine, is Moses and the Exodus, part of the Salvation History series. Moses is depicted holding the Ten Commandments, which are key today in many traditions of the practice of examination of conscience for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Moses is leading the Hebrews through the desert and to the Promised Land. In the lower right of the window, depicted in the distance, are Egypt and the pyramids, which represent the slavery the Hebrews left behind. Also shown are many of the Israelites collecting the manna that they ate on their journey, and which as bread given from heaven prefigures the Holy Eucharist. Shown in the foreground to the bottom left of the window is a quail, which the Lord sent when the Israelites began to complain about eating only the manna.

Two of the figures presented, seen behind and to the right of Moses, remind the viewer of Joseph and Mary, who fled to Egypt and were then called from there, after the birth of Jesus.

At the top of this window is a cross entwined by a snake. This symbol calls to mind both the serpent in the Garden of Eden and its defeat through the cross as well as the copper serpent that Moses was instructed to make that healed those who looked upon it and who had been bitten by a serpent (Numbers 21:9). The Gospel of John unites these two symbols when it states “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)

The corresponding window in the Sacraments series is the Holy Eucharist window. In this window, Jesus is depicted following the post-Crucifixion journey to Emmaus with two disciples, to whom he explains the Scriptures and all that relates to the Christ. A scroll shown in the lower right of the window represents the Sacred Scriptures.

Holy Eucharist – This is part of the Sacraments series of windows.

The Scriptures report that the two disciples fail to recognize the Risen Lord until he breaks bread, which has always been understood in its context of the Breaking of the Bread at Mass. The window depicts the exact moment Christ vanished from sight, which is shown in the slight translucency of Christ in the window. The chalice and the bread are themselves encircled in a gloriole that reflects the nimbus encircling Christ’s head. This represents the Catholic understanding that, according to the words of Christ himself, the bread and wine become transfigured into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ at the consecration.

The next stop in the journey brings us to the window above the west confessionals. This window is an obvious fit for the Sacrament of Reconciliation as it depicts the woman guilty of grave sin washing the feet of the Lord with her tears in the home of the Pharisee. Her genuine repentance and humility is a striking contrast to the arrogance and hard-heartedness of the Pharisee. It is the woman, whose sins are forgiven, and Christ whose heads are crowned by nimbuses while the gossiping, judgmental, self-righteous Pharisees are not.

At the top of this window is a medallion representing Peter, the first pope, who was given the Keys of Heaven and the power to bind and loose, from which derives the power to forgive sins in the person of Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

King David – This is part of the Salvation History series of windows.

Paired with this window is one in the Salvation History series presenting King David, who has realized how gravely he has offended the Lord through the death of Uriah and in his adultery with Bathsheba. This window presents symbols of wealth in the gold and jewels, of power in the king’s scepter, of violence in the bloody sword, and of lust in the black cat. The crown in David’s hand, recently removed from his head, is symbolic of David’s repentance and his recognition of his sinfulness and his unworthiness to rule as king, while the rays of sunlight are symbolic of God’s mercy and forgiveness. The harp represents King David’s love of music and calls to mind that tradition holds that many of the earliest psalms were composed by David.

At the top of this window is a medallion with three symbols of divine kingship. The foremost is the crown of the king beset with three jewels that remind of the Trinitarian nature of God. Behind this are a crosier and the horn of anointing.

Prophet Isaiah (detail) — This window represents the entire prophetic tradition of Israel and is part of the Salvation History series.

Nearing the end of the journey, one finds two windows united by the theme of Fortitude, which is represented by a nearby medallion. The first window in this pair is in the Salvation History series and presents the Prophet Isaiah, representative of the entire tradition of prophets. In this window, Isaiah is rejecting a pagan idol as he kneels before an altar. A seraphim with bright, pied wings comes forth “having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: ‘Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin forgiven.’ And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here am I! Send me.’ And he said, ‘Go, and say to this people: ‘Hear and hear, but do not understand; see and see, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people fat, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’ Then I said, ‘How long, O Lord?’ And he said: ‘Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without men, and the land is utterly desolate, and the Lord removes men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains standing when it is felled.’ The holy seed is its stump.” (Isaiah 6:6-13)

Anointing of the Sick – This window is part of the Sacraments series of windows.

Corresponding to this window is a window from the Sacraments series that represents the Anointing of the Sick, the sacrament that asks God for physical and spiritual healing. One of the main and recurring miracles performed by Christ was the healing of the sick; the window presents figures representative of people of all ages, races, and backgrounds coming to the Lord for healing and forgiveness. The window depicts Christ healing a lame man while many others also seek healing. Crowning this window is a medallion presenting a chrismaria containing the Oil of the Sick. The Holy Oils are made from scented olive oil, and so the chrismaria is entwined with an olive branch bearing fruit.

Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony – This window is part of the Sacraments series of windows.

A large window presents both the Sacrament of Holy Orders and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. This window is crowned by a medallion showing the Sacred Heart encircled by the words “Deus Caritas Est” (God is Love) at the top and “In Imago Dei” (in the image of God) at the bottom. The first is a reference to the nature of God, that of superabundant love, while the second is a theological statement of the nature of humans, who are created to the likeness and image of God. Smaller medallions represent (on the left) the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which is depicted by a book of Holy Scripture and by a chalice and host, which symbolize the two primary parts of the Mass: The Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist; while (on the right) the clasped hands of a husband and wife being blessed represents the nature of marriage as ordained by God and indissoluble.

The Holy Orders section of this window depicts Christ, who came not to be served but to serve, washing the feet of his disciples on the night before he was crucified. The Beloved Disciple holds Christ’s outer robes while Peter is having his feet washed as the other apostles look on. On the table, three candles symbolic of the holy Trinity burn. Corresponding to this window in the Salvation History series is the Nativity window.

The Holy Matrimony section of this window illustrates the Wedding Feast at Cana. The bride and groom are center in the window, and Christ is turning the water into wine, his first public miracle, as the Blessed Virgin Mary looks on. Also present are two doves, symbolic of the union of marriage. Present at the Lord’s feet and under the table at which the bride and groom sit is a dog, which reminds the viewer of Matthew 15:27.

The final window in the nave is part of the Salvation History series and looks forward to the Second Coming while also commemorating the Nativity of Our Lord. This window relates to the Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony window in that the birth of Jesus represents the coming of God into the world for our salvation; Jesus hands on the responsibility of spreading the Kingdom of God to all of his followers, but in a very special way he hands it on to those in Holy Orders because those in Holy Orders are sent forth to teach and to serve.

Second Coming and Nativity of Our Lord – These are both part of the Salvation History series of windows.

The Second Coming window depicts Christ the King returning in majesty; the globe shown in the window is an illustration of the main building of Sts. Anne & Joachim Catholic Church, while, in the bottom right corner, we see Satan being cast out forever. Present are the trumpets of Revelation, as well as the scroll. The rays of light represent the Divine Majesty, just as do the descending rays from the Star of Bethlehem in the Nativity window.

In addition to the windows described above, there are three smaller Conrad Pickel Studio windows near the baptismal font and two in the Paternity Shrine. These 16 windows were designed by the studio’s head designer, Lyn Durham. In addition to the Conrad Pickel Studio windows are additional windows throughout the church that were put back into service at Sts. Anne and Joachim after being acquired from Catholic churches that have closed. Worthy of special mention are the five windows of the Magnificat Chapel.

The five windows of the Magnificat Chapel illustrate the five Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary: the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Nativity, the Presentation of the Child Jesus at the Temple, and the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple. These windows dating from the 1920s are by Otto F. Andrle Stained Glass and Art Company; they were originally installed at St. Matthew’s Roman Catholic Church, Buffalo, New York, which closed in 1993.

Annunciation — from the Otto F. Andrle windows of the Magnificat Chapel.

Otto Andrle operated his stained glass studio for 16 years after a career as a vaudeville musician and theater actor. Andrle frequently worked his signature elements of a hat and cane into the design of a set of windows, and these can be easily spotted in the Magnificat Chapel windows.

Andrle frequently worked his signature elements of a hat and cane into the design of a set of windows, and these can be easily spotted in the Magnificat Chapel windows.

Nativity — from the Otto F. Andrle windows of the Magnificat Chapel.


Orignal Photographs many of which did not appear in the article:

Spiritual Growth

Stained Glass as a Vehicle for Spiritual Growth Among the Faithful in the Post-Second Vatican Council Catholic Church

by Richard Gross
Originally Published in the Winter 2006 edition of The
 Stained Glass Quarterly

Many people, not the least of whom is Charles Connick writing in Adventures in Light and Color, believe that stained glass reached the height of its achievement in the great Gothic cathedrals of Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. To appreciate fully the depth and truth of this view, it is necessary to examine stained glass not in terms of subject matter or craft techniques, but in terms of purpose, specifically service to the Church. The view that medieval stained glass achieved what it did because it was able to serve as a sort of “picture Bible” for the illiterate masses is widely held but is largely inaccurate.

The people of medieval Europe were mostly illiterate and uneducated, yes, but they were far from stupid. The great windows of Chartres spoke to them not as “picture paintings” of far-away Bible stories but on a much more immediate and, importantly, personal level. In this regard, medieval stained glass achieved something that is entirely possible with modern stained glass in our highly educated and widely literate Western world: it served then as it can serve now as a vehicle for God’s call to conversion and as a lens through which this call can be more fully understood… and answered.

The Church Fathers at the Second Vatican Council, writing in Lumen Gentium, considered at length the universal call of God’s faithful people to strive toward holiness and sanctification. They stated, significantly, that “all the faithful of Christ are invited to strive for the holiness and perfection of their own proper state. Indeed they have an obligation to so strive. Let all then have care that they guide aright their own deepest sentiments of soul.”1 This holiness to which all are obligated to strive was described by the Council as being capable of being expressed in many ways by the individuals of the Church and that all of the various ways in which it can be expressed would manifest in the individual in the tendency toward the perfection of charity.2

Of course, Christ is the perfect model of the holiness that should be the goal of the individual. Jesus, when asked to give the greatest commandment, also gave a powerful guide for the individual’s growth in holiness. He said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”3 Also, it is important to realize for a healthy and mature spiritual understanding of the concepts of growth in holiness that this growth originates and is perfected not in the individual’s will alone, but by genuine cooperation with the grace given by God and by the working of the Holy Spirit, Who guides the individual human person toward a love that has as its most perfect example the love of Christ; the combination of the individual’s intellect and will, the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit combine to create a force that compels the individual to an ever-expanding love of God and of neighbor.

“They are justified in the Lord Jesus,” the Council Fathers wrote, “because in the baptism of faith they truly become sons of God and sharers in the divine nature. In this way they are really made holy. Then, too, by God’s gift, they must hold on to and contemplate in their lives the holiness they have received. They are warned by the Apostle to live ‘as becomes saints’ and to put on ‘as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, patience,’ and to possess the fruit of the Spirit in holiness. Since truly we offend in many things we all need God’s mercies continually and we all must daily pray: ‘Forgive us our debts.’”4

To these cornerstone virtues for growth in holiness – namely, mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience – we can add the evangelical counsels5, of which the Church Fathers also spoke in Lumen Gentium. So, too, can we add prayer, for which the Church Fathers call. These elements are counted among those central to the faithful Christian’s spiritual life and are some of the elements that Holy Mother Church works to instill and develop among those faithful. A well-ordered spiritual life is vital to an individual’s growth as a Christian because “spirituality refers to any religious or ethical value that is concretized as an attitude or spirit from which one’s actions flow.”6

The connection of these virtues and actions to spiritual growth was recognized by the Council Fathers. Writing in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium et Spes, the Council noted that “the arts are also, in their own way, of great importance to the life of the Church. They strive to make known the proper nature of man, his problems and his experiences in trying to know and perfect both himself and the world.”7

Thus, in this striving to “know and perfect both himself and the world,” it can be fairly said that any good object capable of helping each individual human person better understand and develop his spiritual life has a proper place in the Church. This point was emphasized by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in their document Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture and Worship, which provides an excellent definition of a “good object” in the section entitled “Components of True and Worthy Art,” where it states:

Authentic art is integral to the Church at prayer because these objects and actions are “signs and symbols of the supernatural world” and expressions of the divine presence. While personal tastes will differ, parish committees should utilize the criteria of quality and appropriateness in evaluating art for worship. Quality is perceived only by contemplation, by standing back from things and really trying to see them, trying to let them speak to the beholder. Quality is evident in the honesty and genuineness of the materials that are used, the nobility of the form embodied in them, the love and care that goes into the creation of a work of art, and the personal stamp of the artist, whose special gift produces a harmonious whole, a well-crafted work.

Quality art draws the beholder to the Creator, who stands behind the artist sharing his own creative power, for the “divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of his own surpassing wisdom.” This is true of music, architecture, sculpture, painting, pottery making, textiles, and furniture making, as well as other art forms that serve the liturgical environment. The integrity and energy of a piece of art, produced individually by the labor of an artist, is always to be preferred above objects that are mass-produced.

Similarly, in the construction of new church buildings, there is no standard pattern for church art, nor should art and architectural styles from any particular time or culture be imposed arbitrarily upon another community. Nonetheless, the patrimony of sacred art and architecture provides a standard by which a parish can judge the worthiness of contemporary forms and styles.


Appropriateness for liturgical action is the other criterion for choosing a work of art for church. The quality of appropriateness is demonstrated by the work’s ability to bear the weight of mystery, awe, reverence, and wonder that the liturgical action expresses and by the way it serves and does not interrupt the ritual actions which have their own structure, rhythm and movement. Since art is revelatory, a gift from God, a truly beautiful object stretches “beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery.” Nonetheless, there is always the chasm between “the work of [the artist’s] hands” and the “dazzling perfection” glimpsed in God’s creative moment. Art that is used in worship must therefore evoke wonder at its beauty but lead beyond itself to the invisible God. Beautiful, compelling artworks draw the People of God into a deeper awareness of their lives and of their common goals as a Christian community as well as of their roles and responsibilities in the wider world. Art that fulfills these qualities is art worthy of the Christian assembly.


Worthy art is an essential, integral element in the sacred beauty of a church building. Through skilled use of proportion, shape, color, and design, art unifies and helps to integrate the place of worship with the actions of worship. Artistic creations in the place of worship inspire contemplation and devotion. Sculpture, furnishings, art glass, vesture, paintings, bells, organs, and other musical instruments as well as windows, doors, and every visible and tactile detail of architecture possess the potential to express the wholeness, harmony, and radiance of profound beauty.8

For a stained glass installation to fulfill its proper role, it must be no mere bauble but a good and faithful servant of the Church by acting as a lens through which the faithful can more fully understand and come to live the vital elements for growth in holiness as they develop a sound spirituality that will allow them to “become as saints,” recognizing their individual dependence on God’s mercies and allowing them to forgive – and seek forgiveness – as becomes a true disciple of Christ. To understand how this is possible, it is necessary to first understand the individual elements of growth in holiness involved and then to understand how stained glass can, indeed, act as an element that God can use in His call to conversion.

The understanding that it is God who makes this call to conversion and that He can do so through myriad means is vitally important. It should in no way be interpreted that somehow it becomes the responsibility of the stained glass artist to design a universal call to conversion into his windows. The designer is not being charged with any superhuman task; instead, the task that has always been present to him in designing for church installations is simply being restated: to design a worthy window that performs “a mediating role, analogous, we might say, to the role of the priest, or, perhaps better, that of Jacob’s Ladder, descending and ascending. Art is meant to bring the divine to the human world, to the level of the senses, then, from the spiritual insight gained through the senses and the stirring of emotions, to raise the human world to God, to His inexpressible kingdom of mystery, beauty and life.”9

We know that the individual can trust in salvation because he can trust in God’s mercy. The individual can also come to a better understanding of what it means to be merciful himself by examining what is involved in God’s mercy. Once the statement “be holy because God is holy” (cf. 1 Peter 1:16) is accepted as true and mercy is understood as an element of holiness, it is a simple exercise in logic to see that the statement “be merciful because God is merciful” is also true.

Dominum et Vivificantem, Part Two, Article Four, states that “The Holy Spirit, who in the words of Jesus ‘convinces concerning sin,’ is the love of the Father and the Son, and as such is the Trinitarian gift, and at the same time the eternal source of every divine giving of gifts to creatures. Precisely in him we can picture as personified and actualized in a transcendent way that mercy which the patristic and theological tradition, following the line of the Old and New Testaments, attributes to God. In man, mercy includes sorrow and compassion for the misfortunes of one’s neighbor.” Saint Thomas Aquinas similarly defines mercy in man as a “heartfelt sympathy for another distress, impelling us to succor him if we can.”10 In subsequent Articles, Aquinas defines mercy not only as a virtue,11 but is the greatest virtue among those that relate man to his neighbor.12

The stained glass artist who presents mercy as his theme has at his disposal a vast catalog of possibilities to make this complex idea present to viewers. From great, abstract presentations of the Holy Spirit capable of embracing the viewer in light and warmth to more concrete, realistic presentation of the spiritual13 and corporeal14 acts of mercy, the possibilities are limited only by the experience, imagination and inspiration of the capable designer.

Kindness is a happy theme for the stained glass artist. Unlike the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience, or the themes of meekness and humility, which are looked at with distaste by many in the modern world,15 kindness is always in season. Kindness is that aspect of charity put into action to which Christ speaks in the second part of the Greatest Commandment: The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.16 Kindness as an act of love demonstrated by concrete actions that are manifestations of spiritual beliefs represents the rejection of bigotry and prejudice; of hostility; and of empty, boastful speech.17

The stained glass artist has ample opportunity to illustrate kindness in the many actions of Christ, in whose actions we see the premier examples of kindness. Christ showed great kindness in healing the lame, giving sight to the blind and speech to the mute. Christ provides many other concrete example of kindness by His constant example, in which He put the spiritual and corporeal acts of mercy into practice.

Humility and meekness are both signs of a greatly advanced spiritual life; further, these elements of growth in holiness both are motivated by kindness.18 If we consider the examples of what kindness is not that is presented in Ecclesiam Suam, quoted above, then one can see that the rejection of bigotry and prejudice is motivated to a great degree by humility; that the rejection of hostility and empty, boastful speech finds great motivation in meekness.19

Meekness “suppresses the movement of anger,”20 and humility serves as a brake on impulse and gives the individual human person the ability to practice moderation in the face of moral temptation. Aquinas considers humility to be a twofold virtue that serves “one, to temper and restrain the mind, lest it tend to high things immoderately; and this belongs to the virtue of humility: and another to strengthen the mind against despair, and urge it on to the pursuit of great things according to right reason; and this is magnanimity.”21

Christ calls his followers to meekness and humility. Matthew 11: 29 tells that Christ bade His followers to hold to His example, for He is meek and humble of heart, seeking only the glory of God. For the stained glass artist seeking to illustrate meekness and humility, the examples of Christ remain the greatest source. Also, many fine examples can be found in the lives of the saints who do not admonish people to simply behave as they themselves behave, but encourage us to instead turn to God’s mercy as they turned to God’s mercy, so that we might learn what the saints learned and so become like them.

The often-quoted phrase that “patience is a virtue” is often offered to people as an explanation why something cannot be done right now. However, this is an unsatisfactory and incomplete understanding of what patience truly is. Saint Thomas Aquinas would agree that patience is a virtue.22 Aquinas saw patience as that virtue that safeguards human reason against sorrow, lest reason give way to despair.23 This means that patience is that virtue that allows a person to persevere in his growth in spirituality and holiness in the face of opposition to that growth. Patience allows the individual to show mercy in the face of cruelty, to practice kindness in the face of wickedness, to be humble in the face of haughtiness, and to remain meek in the face of arrogance. Patience comes by grace and is born of charity, which loves God above all things.24

Patience is a concept that can, at first, seem difficult to communicate with a stained glass window. This is because patience is generally made manifest across the passing of time; thus, it seems, at least initially, to be something almost impossible to portray in a single presentation that is, at its core, pictorial.

Of course, we are all familiar with the popular Christ Knocking at the Door windows, which do, indeed, illustrate patience in terms of the patient call of Christ. However, a stained glass window that can successfully communicate perseverance in any other virtue in the face of opposition will successfully illustrate the virtue of patience as well. While it will not necessarily be immediately obvious to the viewer of the window that patience is a theme addressed, nevertheless it is always true that not all are at the same stage in their spiritual journey. The stained glass artist need only provide the seed from which understanding can grow; from this, it is well within the power of the Holy Spirit to bring forth that growth in the individual.

The evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience also play a part in the individual’s growth in holiness. Though these are frequently considered only in terms of the vows taken by those in a religious order, nevertheless, the Church Fathers at the Second Vatican Council stressed that all of God’s faithful ones are called to these counsels, each in a degree proper to his own life. They wrote, in Lumen Gentium, Chapter Five, Article 39, “in a very special way this (holiness) appears in the practice of the counsels, customarily called ‘evangelical.’ This practice of the counsels, under the impulsion of the Holy Spirit, undertaken by many Christians, either privately or in a Church-approved condition or state of life, gives or must give in the world an outstanding witness and example of this same holiness.”

Father Jordan Aumann also stresses the importance of the evangelical counsels in his book Spiritual Theology when he states, “The soul that wishes to attain perfect abandonment to the will of God must be disposed to practice the evangelical counsels. Religious make a vow to practice certain counsels in their daily life; lay persons are not called upon to do this, but they should observe the spirit of the counsels and carry them out in practice when the duties of their state in life permit. However, it would be an error for the laity gratuitously, to assume a manner of life proper to religious; the first duty of the laity, whether married or living singly in the world, is to fulfill the duties imposed by their particular vocation.” (Emphasis added)

That all are called to observe to the spirit of the evangelical counsels is not difficult to understand in terms of the spiritual life; however, illustrating the evangelical counsels in stained glass relies on an understanding25 of what they entail. Chastity, for example, need not be understood as synonymous with celibacy; instead, it represents the control of one’s sexual appetites. Therefore, the chastity that is proper to the married laity is found in faithfulness to one’s spouse whereas the chastity proper to the ordained priest is found in celibacy. It may be surprising to some in the stained glass field that a Sacrament of Marriage window could, indeed would, include as key to its faithful depiction of the sacrament the concept of chastity; nevertheless, such a concept is well within the teachings of the Church and should be included in any such window.

We can consider also the spirit of poverty and obedience, for it is the spirit that is key and not the logical extreme. The bishops of the Second Vatican Council wrote in Lumen Gentium that “There are some who, in their freedom as sons of God, renounce their own wills and take upon themselves the state of poverty. Still further, some become subject of their own accord to another man, in the matter of perfection for love of God. This is beyond the measure of the commandments, but is done in order to become more fully like the obedient Christ.”26 This desire to “become more fully like the obedient Christ” is the central element to growth in holiness, and it is to this end that the spirit of the evangelical counsels motivates the individual.

In practice among the laity, poverty need not be embraced in a vow; the spirit of poverty is one that refuses to make an idol of money. The same is true of obedience; to follow the spirit of obedience, one need not take the monk’s vow. It is sufficient to refuse to make an idol of self-reliance. For the stained glass artist charged with depicting the evangelical counsels, one need not be overwhelmed by the idea of offering in glass these abstract concepts if one realizes that each of these concepts has its finest example in Christ and its most perfect motivation in the individual’s love for God and the recognition of the created as being dependent on the Creator.

Finally, if the virtues and the evangelical counsels seem abstract and difficult concepts to visualize in stained glass, then prayer – which can be expressed as an action – must certainly be easy to express in glass. One must wonder, in the more than 1000-year history of stained glass, how many committees have asked for a prayer window and been shown designs for Jesus praying in a Garden of Gethsemane window.27

However, prayer is more than posture and words; prayer is a concept that goes to the very heart of the mystery of man, God and redemption in Christ. This mystery represents a depth that is surpassingly difficult to communicate in art. “Prayer is the ‘raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.’ But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or ‘out of the depths’ of a humble and contrite heart? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer. Only when we humbly acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought,’ are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. ‘Man is a beggar before God.’”28

If humility is the foundation for prayer, and humility, the twofold virtue, works in part to strengthen the mind against despair (as described above), then it is not unreasonable to conclude that a significant part of prayer must be to reinforce and advance man’s recognition of his dependence on God as being the source of all good things. The man of humble heart will not despair of God’s mercy in answering the prayer of petition.29 For those at an early stage in their journey to holiness, prayers of petition are the most common. As one advances in holiness, one begins to express one’s love for God through prayers of adoration. Those even more advanced will make frequent prayers of intercession.

Each advancing stage of prayer shows a growing in humility and a deepening of love. Thus, each stage, being more refined than the stage that preceded it, is a successively harder concept to present in stained glass. Nevertheless, the stages can be addressed in terms of the virtues necessary for proper prayer: humility, of course, and also patience, mercy, kindness and meekness, but especially in terms of grace, which comes not from the individual but from God alone. Because “Prayer is both a gift of grace and a determined response on our part. It always presupposes effort. The great figures of prayer of the Old Covenant before Christ, as well as the Mother of God, the saints, and He Himself, all teach us this: prayer is a battle. Against whom? Against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God. We pray as we live, because we live as we pray. If we do not want to act habitually according to the Spirit of Christ, neither can we pray habitually in his name. The ‘spiritual battle’ of the Christian’s new life is inseparable from the battle of prayer.”30

If a stained glass window can become a tool for God’s constant call to conversion, then it is a good and valuable servant of the Church. Conversion is an ongoing process in which one experiences God’s love and mercy and by that experience is called to even deeper conversion. (cf. Dives in Misericordia, Article 13) This call to conversion is properly answered by God’s faithful by a growth in holiness; it is an ongoing process that ends only at the end of one’s life, and then judgment.

If the goal of the Church is the sanctification of souls,31 then any element that can serve to advance that goal has a proper place in the Church. The sacred arts in general and stained glass specifically, by virtue of their ability to play a part among God’s faithful people in the call to conversion and holiness, have an important part to play in the job of sanctification of souls. ­This role can only be fully realized if those artists and craftsmen who design stained glass windows for the Church fully appreciate the theological importance that their artwork has in the greater goal of the Church.

I would like to gratefully acknowledge the Institute for Pastoral Theology of Ave Maria University, Naples, Florida, without which this article would not exist. I would especially like to thank IPT Director Professor Douglas Bushman, whose instruction, guidance and feedback is greatly appriciated.


1. Lumen Gentium, Chapter V, Article 42

2. Lumen Gentium, Chapter V, Article 39

3. Matthew 22: 36-40

4. Lumen Gentium, Chapter V, Article 40

5. Those are poverty, chastity and obedience.

6. Jordan Aumann, Spiritual Theology, online edition

7. Gaudium et Spes, Article 62

8. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee on the Liturgy, Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture and Worship, Articles 146-149

9. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee on the Liturgy, Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture and Worship, Article 142.

10. Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, “Question 30: Of Mercy,” Article One

11. Ibid, Article Three

12. Ibid, Article Four. Saint Thomas Aquinas allows, however, that among all virtues, charity considered as a divine attribute unites man to God and excels mercy.

13. The Spiritual Acts of Mercy are to instruct the ignorant; to counsel the doubtful; to admonish sinners; to bear wrongs patiently; to forgive offenses willingly; to comfort the afflicted; to pray for the living and the dead.

14. The corporeal Acts of Mercy are to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to house the homeless, to visit the sick, to ransom the captive, and to bury the dead.

15. The sad origin of the distaste for these themes stems largely from a misunderstanding of what they truly mean and from the all-too-common misunderstanding of happiness often encountered in the modern world. If happiness is defined in terms of freedom from – as in, freedom from all repression and moderation, freedom from repercussion as a result of speech, or freedom from the consequences of one’s actions – instead of in terms of freedom for – as in, freedom for growth in holiness, freedom for study and an increase in understanding, or freedom for the expression of charity – then freedom becomes nothing more then license. Certainly, the clever linguist can change freedom from all repression and moderation to freedom for excess and vice, but the simple fact remains that a Christian definition of happiness finds its origin not in describing the absolute limits before one faces prosecution in a court of law, but in delineating the expected modes of thought and behavior for responsible growth in holiness as a human person.

16. Matthew 22: 36-40

17. Ecclesiam Suam, Article 79.

18. Of course, all aspects and elements of the growth in holiness are in some way related. It is in the nature of that which is good to support that which is good.

19. When one considers that kindness motivates meekness and humility, while meekness and humility, in their turn, advance kindness, it is particularly striking how kindness is so universally embraced by modern society, and yet many people will outright reject humility and meekness as something for which to strive. The easy conclusion is that everyone wants to receive kindness, but few are willing to give it. However, the truth is always much more complex than the easy conclusion. There are many who long to give kindness, but do not know how. A person will recognize kindness when he sees it, and he will offer it when he is able but because so many lack a basic understanding of the root of kindness, it frequently becomes difficult for one individual to offer kindness to another.

20. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, “Question 161: of Humility,” Article Five

21. Ibid, Article One

22. Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, “Question 136: of Patience,” Article One

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid, Article Three

25. The artist needs to have a theological understanding of what he portrays if that portrayal is to be a fully successful and original work of art. Otherwise, the window is merely a reproduction the same images drawn from a somewhat worn catalog of religious concepts and cannot rightly be considered art in its truest sense.

26. Article 42

27. Generally, it is interesting to note, this depiction is of a serene Jesus praying peacefully in the moonlight. Typically, one does not see the Jesus of the Gospels, who was described in Matthew 26 as possessing a soul “sorrowful unto death” or who in Luke 22 is reported to have been in such agony and prayed so fervently that his sweat became “as drops of blood falling to the ground.” Though the Garden of Gethsemane windows certainly do illustrate Jesus in prayer, they, through the serenity they offer, often fail to illustrate the depth and profundity of the obedience that Christ is offering to God when He asks that this cup pass from him, but “not my will but Yours be done.”

28. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2559

29. Of course, the prayer must be properly made, which means it must be made from the heart properly conformed to God’s will.

30. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2725

31. Jordan Aumann, Spiritual Theology; Part 1, Chapter 2: The Goal of Our Striving, Online edition


The Artist’s Responsibility to God, Church, and Man

“But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another,” wrote St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. Paul, preacher and apostle of Christ Jesus, was also an artisan and supported himself through his trade of making tents[1]. From time immemorial, artists and artisans have labored, producing works of enduring beauty. The oldest records of human activity – records themselves so ancient that their origin is lost in the mist of time – record the actions of man as artist; the cave paintings of long-gone civilizations, the only record of these peoples, are works of art, portraits recording the activities of a people of whom all else is long forgotten.

The artist is given a valuable artistic ability by God. It is clear that the created owes a debt to the Creator; the artist, by virtue of the ability given to him, is indebted to the One who gives him this ability. In a deeper consideration of the nature of this debt, it becomes clear that the debt is not owed merely to God but is owed as well to God’s pilgrim church on earth and to all of mankind. The artistic ability given by God calls for a proper artistic response and creates in the artist a definite response-ability that leads the artist to a responsibility to use his talents in such a way that the work of God is advanced through the making present of the good, the true and the beautiful on earth.

Art is at the heart of man; art is a pursuit of the good, the true and the beautiful. Art places man in relationship to the good, the true and the beautiful, and since the purest essence of the good, the true and the beautiful is God Himself, for it is God’s nature to express the fullness of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, it clearly follows that through art man is exploring the nature of his relationship with God. In this exploration, the artist takes upon himself certain responsibilities that are proper to him as artist. These responsibilities stem from the very nature of the gift given him by God, his maker, and cannot be taken lightly just as the gift of artistic ability cannot be taken lightly.

The connection between the good and the beautiful is affirmed by Pope John Paul the Great, himself a poet of no small accomplishment, in his 1999 Letter to Artists in which he writes, “The theme of beauty is decisive for a discourse on art. It was already present when I stressed God’s delighted gaze upon creation. In perceiving that all He had created was good, God saw that it was beautiful as well. The link between good and beautiful stirs fruitful reflection. In a certain sense, beauty is the visible form of the good, just as the good is the metaphysical condition of beauty. This was well understood by the Greeks who, by fusing the two concepts, coined a term which embraces both: kalokagathía, or beauty-goodness. On this point Plato writes: ‘The power of the Good has taken refuge in the nature of the Beautiful’.”[2] Pope John Paul II goes on to tie the good and the beautiful to the true later in his Letter when he observes that Christ, the Incarnate Deity, through His Incarnation and in becoming man, “has introduced into human history all the evangelical wealth of the true and the good, and with this he has also unveiled a new dimension of beauty, of which the Gospel message is filled to the brim.”[3]

It is important to begin any consideration of the proper function of the artist with a clear understanding of what it means to create. Properly speaking, the act of creation belongs to God alone, for He alone creates. The most a human person can do is sub-create, or rearrange what is already created. Any act of human creation relies on materials and ideas already present in the world; thus, any act of human creation is merely an imitation of the creative acts of God Himself, the true and eternal artist. This is important because it illustrates so clearly the debt owed by the human artist to the Divine Artist, without Whom the human artist would neither create nor even exist. All artistic ability is creative in nature, and is therefore a gift from God.

God gives the artist his artistic aptitude for a reason, and that reason is to help further mankind in its advancement toward an ever-clearer and more proper relationship with God the Creator. This advancement begins with bettering the lot of mankind. As the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World states, “According to the almost unanimous opinion of believers and unbelievers alike, all things on earth should be related to man as their center and crown”[4] and that “the intellectual nature of the human person is perfected by wisdom and needs to be, for wisdom gently attracts the mind of man to a quest and a love for what is true and good.”[5] Therefore, it is clear that as the artist grows in wisdom, he will feel an ever-greater attraction to the service of man in his exploration of what is good, true and beautiful.

The artist labors in the pursuit of beauty and goodness; as long as he also labors in pursuit of the truth he will not labor in vain. It is in the nature of human labor to advance the dignity of the one who labors[6] and of all of mankind[7]. “Human labor cannot be treated merely as a resource necessary for production – the so-called ‘work force.’ Man cannot be regarded as a tool of production. Man is the creator of work and its craftsman. Everything must be done to ensure that work does not lose its proper dignity. The purpose of work – of all work – is man himself. By means of his work he should be able to perfect and deepen his own personality. It is not right to forget – and I want to emphasize this strongly – that work is ‘for man’ and not man ‘for work’,” said Pope John Paul II in his June 2nd homily, given during his 1997 pastoral visit to his native Poland.[8] In this statement, the Holy Father’s deep understanding of the purpose of work and man’s importance in and superiority over work is beautifully illustrated.

Certainly this understanding of labor as a vehicle to advance the dignity of the laborer and of mankind is not a new understanding. In his encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul the Great celebrates the one-hundredth anniversary of the promulgation of Pope Leo XIII’s very important encyclical Rerum Novarum by proclaiming “The present encyclical is part of these celebrations [to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Rerum Novarum], which are meant to thank God – the origin of ‘every good endowment and every perfect gift’ (Jas 1:17) – for having used a document published a century ago by the See of Peter to achieve so much good and to radiate so much light in the Church and in the world.”[9] This statement, made by a man who is rightly considered one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century, should not be overlooked as some mere platitude for his noble predecessor in the See of Peter. In fact, this statement can and should serve to illuminate the model upon which the artist basis his work because God – the origin of “every good endowment and every perfect gift” – should be able to use the artist’s work just as He is able to use the Holy Father’s: to achieve so much good and to radiate so much light in the Church and in the world.

It is a fundamental truth in Canon Law that the catholic has rights because he has responsibilities[10]. It is important to have a correct understanding of the relationships between various rights and responsibilities. For example, Canon 211 states that “All the Christian faithful have the duty and right to work so that the divine message of salvation more and more reaches all people in every age and in every land.” The Gospel of Luke teaches that “the laborer deserves his wage.”[11] This does not mean that the Church is obligated to engage anyone as a paid artist; it likewise does not mean the Church is entitled to expect artists to work for free.

Certainly, volunteering to use one’s talents in the service of the Church is noble and should be done to a reasonable degree. However, there is certainly a greater tendency to ask, or even expect, an artist to work for free than there is to expect an accountant to work for free. The artist’s talent and ability are God-given gifts, but just like the accountant’s God-given gift of a talent for mathematics, the artist’s talent is meant to advance his dignity as well as the dignity of mankind. As Pope Leo XIII wrote, “Clearly the essential reason why those who engage in any gainful occupation undertake labor, and at the same time the end to which workers immediately look, is to procure property for themselves and to retain it by individual right as theirs and as their very own. When the worker places his energy and his labor at the disposal of another, he does so for the purpose of getting the means necessary for livelihood. He seeks in return for the work done, accordingly, a true and full right not only to demand his wage but to dispose of it as he sees fit. Therefore, if he saves something by restricting expenditures and invests his savings in a piece of land in order to keep the fruit of his thrift more safe, a holding of this kind is certainly nothing else than his wage under a different form; and on this account land which the worker thus buys is necessarily under his full control as much as the wage which he earned by his labor. But, as is obvious, it is clearly in this that the ownership of movable and immovable goods consists. Therefore, inasmuch as the Socialists seek to transfer the goods of private persons to the community at large, they make the lot of all wage earners worse, because in abolishing the freedom to dispose of wages they take away from them by this very act the hope and the opportunity of increasing their property and of securing advantages for themselves.”[12]

The act of expecting (or even requiring[13]) an artist to volunteer his time and ability is nothing other than socialism at its worst and damages the dignity of the artist and those who benefit from his work so obtained. Such unreasonable expectations are contrary to the dignity of man and create a situation in which man is reduced to being an object and becomes nothing more than something that is “for work,” and is used as a means to obtain an end. The laborer does deserve his wage and the principles of social justice and human solidarity[14] must always be maintained.

Since the artist bears a responsibility to God and man, it is important to understand the response the artist is called to make. We have seen that the purpose of labor is to advance the dignity of the one who labors as well as to advance the dignity of mankind.  It is through a full understanding of how it is that the artist can advance the dignity of mankind that an understanding of the artist’s proper use of his artistic talent can be found.

In his Letter to Artists, Pope John Paul II began with a consideration of God, the Divine Artist. The Holy Father reminded his readers that in the beginning God looked upon what He had created and found it good. The consideration of God as the Creator Artist is found in earliest Christianity.

Consider the Apology of Athenagoras, Athenian citizen and a Christian, who wrote to Emperors Marcus Aurelius Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Cominodus, whom he addressed as “conquerors of Armenia and Sarmatia, and – what is more important – philosophers.” In explaining the difference between the Creator and the created, Athenagoras wrote, “It is like the potter and the clay. The clay is matter; the potter is an artist. So is God the creator an artist, while matter is subject to him for the sake of his art. But as clay cannot by itself become pottery without art, so matter, which is altogether pliable, cannot receive distinction, form, or beauty apart from God the creator. We do not, moreover, reckon pottery of more value than the potter, or bowls or vessels of gold than the artisan. If they have artistic merit, we praise the artist. It is he who reaps the renown for making them. So it is with matter and God. It is not matter that justly receives praise and honor for the arrangement and beauty of the world, but its creator, God. If, then, we were to worship material forms as gods, we should seem to be insensitive to the true God, identifying what is eternal with what is subject to dissolution and corruption.”[15]

It is not unreasonable to expect man, made to the likeness and image of God[16], to behave in a human way in the same manner that God behaves in His divine way. Thus, the human artist is called to create goodness and beauty in the world in the same manner as the Divine Artist Himself created goodness and beauty. This is possible for the artist to achieve because unlike God, Who created goodness and beauty from nothing, the human artist creates using the materials of creation already created in goodness by God.

One might wonder if it is reasonable to expect an artist to devote all of his work to the glory of God; after all, it would be very difficult for any artist to actually make a living working at creating art if all artists were to suddenly devote themselves to religious themes. Of course, such an objection is not valid and in actuality is made only to obfuscate the truth of the first statement because it is in fact very possible for the artist to devote all of his work to the glory of God. This does not mean that the issue can or should be simplified to the absurd point that anyone expects all artists to paint portraits of the Virgin Mary and nothing else.

What it means is that all artists should bear in mind the teaching of the Angelic Doctor, who wrote that the good use of art depends on the right use of it by the artist and that “In order that man may make good use of the art he has, he needs a good will, which is perfected by moral virtue; and for this reason the Philosopher says that there is a virtue of art; namely, a moral virtue, in so far as the good use of art requires a moral virtue. For it is evident that a craftsman is inclined by justice, which rectifies his will, to do his work faithfully.”[17] In St. Thomas’s writing, the line between “craftsman” and “artist” is not as distinct as we make it today; however, this was perfectly in keeping with the thought of his time, which put a high premium on the ability of the craftsman, a premium which is somewhat diminished in our own day, although the recognition of the value of superior craftsmanship is something that seems to be on the rise again. In truth, an artist must also be a craftsman because in whatever media the artist works there are tools and materials that must be mastered before the artist’s statement can be clearly made.

In the light of St. Thomas’s teaching, it becomes clear that the artist who makes good use of his art and acts with a desire for justice and is working for the glory of God. The same artist who uses his talent to create a beautiful portrait could also use that same talent to create the vilest pornography; clearly, in the first instance he is working to advance the good, the true, and the beautiful and is therefore using his ability for the glory of God while in the second instance his work becomes a mockery of the good, the true, and the beautiful and is counter to the glory of God. The USCCB teaches that, “Quality art draws the beholder to the Creator, who stands behind the artist sharing His own creative power, for the ‘divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of His own surpassing wisdom.’ This is true of music, architecture, sculpture, painting, pottery making, textiles, and furniture making, as well as other art forms.”[18]

The Second Council of Nicaea was called in the year 787. The purpose of this Council was to restore the honoring of religious icons and holy images, which had been suppressed by imperial edict inside the Byzantine Empire. The Second Council of Nicaea solemnly affirmed the existence of ecclesiastical tradition entrusted to Holy Mother Church that supports the veneration of painted icons and religious images. On the 1200th anniversary of the Second Council of Nicaea, Pope John Paul II wrote that “Art for art’s sake, which only refers to the author, without establishing a relationship with the divine world, does not have its place in the Christian concept of the icon. No matter what style is adopted, all sacred art must express the faith and hope of the Church. The tradition of the icon shows that the artist must be conscious of fulfilling a mission of service to the Church.”[19]

Though the Holy Father was writing specifically about art intended to draw the viewer to a closer relationship with God and a deeper understanding of the truths of the faith, such a notion applies to a degree to all works of art created. God is the Creator; artists sub-create, inspired by a spark of the divine genius. Thus, true art “is meant to bring the divine to the human world, to the level of the senses, then, from the spiritual insight gained through the senses and the stirring of the emotions, to raise the human world to God, to His inexpressible kingdom of mystery, beauty, and life.”[20]

“The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one”[21] teaches the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. The artist is endowed with a powerful gift because he has both the ability and the opportunity to make the good, the true and the beautiful present in the world; he has the ability to bring the divine into the experience of men. With this gift comes the responsibility to use that gift in such a way as it advances both his personal dignity and the dignity of mankind.

The Second Vatican Council teaches that “all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity; by this holiness as such a more human manner of living is promoted in this earthly society.”[22] For the artist, this call to the “fullness of the Christian life” is the same as for all Christians and it means making the Christian life present in all aspects of his daily life and work. It is in this way that the artist can truly bring the divine into the human world and in turn lift human emotions to God; it is in this way that the artist can express in his own unique, human way a glimpse of the fullness of goodness, truth, and beauty that is God, inexpressible in His fullness to anyone other than the Divine Artist Himself. This is the responsibility of the artist: to use his ability in a proper and fitting response to God’s call. The gifts that God gives are never given in vain, nor are they given arbitrarily. It is the duty of the artist to use his gifts in the true advancement of goodness and beauty in the human world and to work always for his own dignity, the dignity of all of mankind, and for the greater glory of God, to Whom all true beauty truly belongs.

[1]Cf. Acts 18:1-3, 20:33-35; 2 Thessalonians 3:8; 1 Corinthians 9, especially verse 12; Philippians 4:14-16.

[2] Pope John Paul II, Letter to Artists, 3

[3] Ibid, 5

[4] Gaudium et Spes, 12

[5] Ibid., 15

[6] “And yet, in spite of all this toil-perhaps, in a sense, because of it-work is a good thing for man. Even though it bears the mark of a bonum arduum, in the terminology of St. Thomas, this does not take away the fact that, as such, it is a good thing for man. It is not only good in the sense that it is useful or something to enjoy; it is also good as being something worthy that is to say, something that corresponds to man’s dignity, that expresses this dignity and increases it. If one wishes to define more clearly the ethical meaning of work, it is this truth that one must particularly keep in mind. Work is a good thing for man-a good thing for his humanity-because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes ‘more a human being.’” Pope John Paul II, Laborem Exercens,  II.9, fourth paragraph.

[7] Cf. Laborem Exercens, II.10

[8], accessed 07 May 2009.  The Holy Father’s use of the word “creator” here was not meant in a theological sense, for he states clearly in other writings that God alone creates and man merely sub-creates. His use of this term was most likely to emphasize the lexical link between the words “creator” and “craftsman,” which is present in the Polish in which he spoke that day. See also “Letter to Artists,” section 1, paragraph 3.

[9] Centesimus Annus, 2

[10] Cf. Code of Canon Law, Book II, Title I, Canons 208-223

[11] Luke 10:7

[12] Rerum Novarum, 9

[13] I am reminded of a case in a catholic school in which a music teacher was not retained in her position at the school because she would not volunteer as music director for the parish.

[14] Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1940

[15] Early Christian Fathers, “In Defense of the Faith: Athanagoras’ Plea,” in Welcome to the Catholic Church, Harmony Media, electronic edition.

[16] Genesis 1:26

[17] Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 57, Article 3

[18] United States Council of Catholic Bishops, Built of Living Stones, 147

[19] Pope John Paul II, The Apostolic Letter “Duodecimum Saeculum,” 11

[20] Built of Living Stones, 142

[21] Lumen Gentium, 41

[22] Lumen Gentium, 40