Sacred art: its necessity - this was the topic of today's sermon. For sacred images, holy pictures, statues of the angels and saints - all these serve to raise our minds to God; which ought be the purpose of all art - music, painting, sculpture - as opposed to the banal, incomprehensible, unmeaning and even wicked images proposed to our unguarded senses by much modern art. Fr Rowe, taking as his point of departure the verse of today's Gospel, Cujus est imago hæc, et subscriptio? (St Matthew xxii, 20), sought to put before us how secular art is as it were a rendering to Cæsar, that is, to this world, the focus of our attention - Reddite ergo quæ sunt Cæsaris, Cæsari - whereas religious artwork's goal is to reorient our mind toward the divine: et quæ sunt Dei, Deo (St Matthew xxii, 21).
He began by explaining how sacred images strive to portray how God's glory, manifested in Himself or in His elect, shines through - hence the radiance, the nimbus, the aureole, the halo. Leaving aside what is more immediately obvious - how the saints are represented in pictures and statues - Fr went on to elucidate how the Three Persons of the Blessed Trinity are portrayed in art in various manners, so that we might the better apprehend the significance of their manner of representation.
The Father was anciently portrayed as a Hand emerging from a cloud, blessing (for He is the Invisible God), but, based upon the image of the Ancient of Days in the prophet Daniel (vii, 9), came to be shewn as a venerable patriarch in white, bearded (this being unforked, unlike the Son's), with a royal mantle, orb and sceptre, and even a triple tiara, in medieval times - these latter all signifying His supreme dominion over all things in Heaven, on Earth, and in Hell - and with a halo containing a triangle within the circle thereof, indicating that He is the First Person of the Trinity, the Font and Origin of the co-eternal Son and Spirit. (Sometimes, to depict the consubstantiality of Father and Son, They are represented as almost identical, as in the image above.)
The Son is shewn as a grown man with an oval face, forked beard, and hair parted in the middle; His right Hand oft raised in benediction of those placed on His right, His left holding, not the Scriptures, but the Book of Life, containing all names of the saved: yea, with His left He waves away for ever all those whose names are not written in His, the Lamb's, Book of Life (cf. Apoc. xxi, 27 & xx, 15). He too is shewn in royal robes, with orb and sceptre, even with His enemies at His Feet (cf. Ps 109:1-2). Christ our Lord came in process of time to be portrayed also as the Lamb of God, as St John Baptist named Him (St John i, 29 & 36), as an Infant, on His Mother's knee (Fr at this point pointed out and touched the adjacent statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, with the Christ Child), and also as the Crucified, that is, as our Redeemer, working our Redemption - yet, as the Council in Trullo long ages past decreed, He must be so depicted on the Cross that His conquering power, His invincible Divinity, His voluntary oblation of Himself shine forth.
God the Holy Ghost is most often represented in art by a Dove, as He appeared at the Baptism of Our Lord, "descending and remaining on Him" (St Mark i, 10; cf. St John i, 32): and this is most appropriate, since the dove is very clean and pure, not tolerating the smallest spot upon its plumage - for neither can the Holy Ghost abide in the impure: "...wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins... the Holy Spirit... shall not abide when iniquity cometh in" (Wisdom i, 4-5). This teaches us how the Holy Ghost is the Sanctifier of our souls, hallowing the saints, withdrawing from the wicked and reprobate (for grace can be resisted, grieving the Holy Spirit). He is also presented as tongues of fire, as once He manifested Himself at Pentecost (Acts ii, 3), burning up all timid weakness and infirmity, enkindling Divine love and courage within.
Sacred art presents us with images shewing something of grace and of glory, that they may entice our will to strive after the higher things, that we may approve the better things - cf. Phil. i, 10 in today's epistle. (From the glory of God comes forth grace, that we may be lifted up to His glory.) For this reason, we ought have sacred images and statuary in our homes no less than in our churches; for when we find it hard to pray, the Spirit Who inspired artists to portray the holy is secretly at work, acting through such secondary causes, a picture of a saint, of an angel, or of one of the Divine Persons, to move us to pray by setting before us such a truly uplifting sight. If we have not sacred art before our eyes, the lamentable images of our wicked world will drag us down to baseness and perdition, as is the demonic intention.
One day soon, please God, we shall have the saints and angels to be our everlasting companions in Heaven, as together with them we gaze with endless adoration and delight at the clear vision of the Trinity: so to fit ourselves for our occupation hereafter, we ought fill our minds with images of those whom we long to come to abide with forever.