Ad Gustum

Speaking of angels, there is this rendering of St. Michael from the gifted Daniel Mitsui :

Daniel Mitsui. St. Michael as a Samurai.
Daniel Mitsui. St. Michael as a Samurai.
Mitsui promises a new St. Michael, again as a samurai, later in the year. Below is St. Raphael, carrying his attributes, a staff—bamboo, this time—and a fish. Most likely a carp. (In Japanese culture the carp is a symbol of resolve, of strength in adversity. Perseverance is a desired quality in boys; hence, the carp is a popular design on boys’ kimonos.)
Daniel Matsui. St. Raphael.
Daniel Matsui. St. Raphael.

[Thanks to Mike Walsh, MM, for the link.]

• • • • •

The most persuasive philosophic proof of God’s existence is the one the textbooks never mention, the conclusion to which can perhaps best express the whole meaning: There exists the icon of the Trinity by St. Andrei Rublev; therefore God exists .

—Pavel Florensky

Murdered by KBG directive in 1937, Pavel Florensky was a leading voice in religious philosophy in Russia. His comment on Rublev’s icon prompted this reflection from art historian Daniel Siedell :

This remarkable statement by Fr. Pavel Florensky, Russian Orthodox priest, mathematician, art historian and martyr, is not the kind of apologetic strategy that Christians in the West are used to. To say that our tastes run toward the intellectual is an understatement . . . . Christian apologetics in the West is a rational sport. To our western ears, Florensky’s argument sounds woolly, mystical, or patently irrational. This is so not simply because we have inherited a very different tradition of apologetics, we also, perhaps more importantly, have inherited a very different tradition of art.

Angels at mamre trinity

For us in the West, art depicts the world around us, expresses our emotions, and teaches moral or ethical truths. In short, it represents , sometimes the visible world of things, sometimes the abstract world of ideas or the inner world of emotions. And therefore it tends to play a subservient—even decorative—role in the production of knowledge or truth. In the context of both the Catholic and Protestant Church the implications are clear. At its best art can only illustrate truth, help us “visualize” it. But at its worst it is an idolatrous distraction. The result is that western viewers and critics tend to consider the religious or secular works of art to be a text, a visual illustration of a philosophical truth or a theological worldview that needs to be “read.” . . .Yet in the Eastern Church this is not so. Art does something else . . . .

[The icon] is the artistic practice of the Church. The icon is not something to be “decoded,” “read,” or a symbol for something more important. It is anevent that is to be contemplated, internalized, and experienced. This recognition is not foreign to artists in the West, both religious and secular. Yet many theologians and philosophers often dismiss such experiences as romantic self-indulgence and naïve mysticism. What these artists might have been bumping up against is an aesthetic that is, in fact, Nicene .

The something else Seidell refers to is a call to prayer. That which is experienced in contemplation arises from the iconographer’s own prayer life, not his subconscious. It originates in the spiritual realm, not the psychological one. An icon is not “art” in the Western sense; not simply theology in paint. It is, in its making, an act of prayer. Witness to eternity, it beckons the viewer to participate in its antecedent: divine reality. In Florensky’s word: “An icon remembers its prototype.” It draws the meditative viewer onto a path of recollection .

This is an understanding radically different from the misplaced mysticism of art appreciation .

• • • • •

Thomas Aquinas gave us five proofs of the existence of God. But there is a sixth: humor. To follow Florensky’s model: Thereexists humor; therefore, God exists. Jean Leclercq, O.S.B., in his study of monastic culture, The Love of Learning and the Desire for God , comments on humor:

Humor is characteristic of the spiritual man; it supposes detachment, levity—in the Gregorian sense of the word—joy, and the easy sally.

Monastic humor appears throughout the marginalia of illuminated bibles and liturgical books. Some are playful ways of conveying a sober thought, such as this charming, coded instruction to the flock to beware the source of what they hear. A wolf in a miter is still a wolf:

WolfBut not all whimsy is intended to edify. Some is unapologetically impudent, even scatological. An austere life does not suppress the desire to amuse, jolt, or even to needle now and then. That the comic spirit has no stake in good manners is a truth as old as Aristophanes. Besides, we all know how often we ache to stick our own tongues out. And at whom:

Sticking out tongue