Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Posts Tagged ‘St. Mary’s Downtown’

A picture is worth a thousand words

October 17th, 2012, Promulgated by Dr. K

Below is a collage of photographs detailing the 33-year tenure of Bishop Matthew Clark, and the downward spiral of the Diocese of Rochester that took place during his reign. Have fun identifying the various events and personalities. To see the full size collage, click on the image below.

Click on the image to enlarge

Valid Matter ?

February 15th, 2012, Promulgated by Monk

I came across this photo on the St. Mary’s (downtown) website. What is this priest consecrating? It sure doesn’t look like unleavened bread to me. Apparently, they have a entire group of volunteers that bake bread each week for Mass. Does anyone know if the Eucharist at St. Mary’s is valid matter?  Their website states that their “celebrations are grounded in the spirit of Vatican II.”  This image may be in the spirit of something but certainly not Vatican II. Are these children being spiritually abused? Very disturbing.

Mass at St. Mary’s Downtown Rochester

Please Suspend This Priest, Bishop Clark

June 27th, 2011, Promulgated by Dr. K

Below are a few photographs from this past Sunday’s “final Mass” of the retiring Fr. Bill Donnelly at St. Mary downtown. Fr. Donnelly has been serving as the “Sacramental Minister” under laywoman “pastoral administrator” Anne-Marie Brogan (in alb behind the priest), who will continue on in that role.


When I say that the newly-ordained Fr. Scott Caton is walking into the lion’s den, I mean it. St. Mary’s downtown requires immediate change, or they will become another schismatic church like Spiritus Christi.

This parish has long been a flagrant promoter of dissent relating to the role of the ordained priesthood, women’s ordination, liberal feminist theology, and homosexuality. St. Mary’s frequently invite children to stand around the altar and to elevate chalices and patens during the consecration. A reader and St. Mary parishioner has said that people also recite the Eucharistic prayer with the priest and that many members are from Corpus Christi who openly voice hostility with Rome.

The above images are very similar to something we have seen before in Rochester…

In the words of St. Thomas More, “silence gives consent.” Will Bishop Clark be silent once again? The bishop recently appointed Anne-Marie Brogan to continue running this parish, so you be the judge.

Some posts of interest on St. Mary downtown:

The Role of Women in the Church

May 19th, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

Fr. Christopher Smith shares his insights on this matter at the Chant Cafe. The entire article is very articulate, and certainly deserves your perusal. Here, though, is the closing paragraph.

When we look at the women in the New Testament, we get an idea of what women’s participation in the life of the Church and the liturgy should look like. As equal members of the Body of Christ, they had no need of ordination to worship God, or to do the amazing things that they did. And those things were often more remarkable, and had more staying power, than what the Twelve did. The constant close attention of the women in the Gospel to Christ and to others, serving them and in doing so, serving Christ. It is entirely correct to say that a woman’s place in the Church is one of subordination, just as all disciples freely subordinate themselves to love God and all people. A woman’s place in the Church is to follow Christ, lavish her love without cost upon Him, serve the needs of the poor and the defenseless: in other words, a subordination to the law of love. In doing so, women can find that they are not indeed slaves to an outmoded patriarchal system drunk on abuses of power and justice, but friends of Christ. And there can be no greater freedom and noble role in the Church and world than that!

How do we know if a proposed liturgical image is “Catholic”? Part I

May 16th, 2011, Promulgated by Bernie

I contend that a work of art must be Catholic in order to qualify for use as sacred liturgical art. I think that is what the Fathers of Vatican II meant when they stipulated in Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that …

“…the Church has, with good reason, always reserved to herself the right to pass judgment upon the arts, deciding which of the works of artists are in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws, and thereby fitted for sacred use.”

But, how do we know if a work is “in accordance with faith, piety, and cherished traditional laws”? I believe there are several standards that a work must be measured by in order for it to be used in the liturgical space of a church. But, in order to avoid one very long post, I will post several smaller ones that explain my standards. What follows are descriptions of the first two. I hope you will feel free to chime in.

Unambiguously orthodox.

Certainly, the work must be in accord with orthodox Catholic teaching and doctrine. It would not do to have images that were heretical or even ambiguous about such important matters. For example, a design proposal for an apse painting in which the Holy Mother of God was depicted as a fourth member of the Godhead would be heretical. That certainly should be rejected. But, a design, improperly formed, might inadvertently suggest that she is part of the Godhead. The artist may not have intended to create a heretical image but the image might easily be mis-interpreted. The ambiguity disqualifies the work from being considered sacred. People in charge of approving liturgical designs need to watch out for doctrinal ambiguity. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church is a good resource on Catholic doctrine and teaching to have close at hand.)

Sometimes the ambiguity is intentional. The transgendered crucifix still in use in St. Mary’s Church, downtown Rochester, is a clear example of intentional doctrinal ambiguity. It got approved because it was “modern” and not because it was Catholic. The term “modern”1 was used to justify the acquisition of the crucifix so as to deliberately blur the literal/historical identity of Christ for the purpose of furthering a feminist agenda. Now, the people responsible no doubt felt they were doing something good –making women feel included. In doing so, however, they introduced doctrinal ambiguity and, even, heresy. If there is no widespread precedent for an image then its doctrinal orthodoxy should be held suspect and a higher authority or competence consulted.

Another example of ambiguity is the popular use of the rainbow image in banners and other temporary art forms that are often found in many of the sanctuaries of our progressive parishes nowadays. It is true that the sign of the covenant between God and Noah was the rainbow and is, therefore, scriptural and a legitimate Christian symbol. But, the rainbow image has become for most Americans a secular symbol for the social issue of diversity and inclusiveness. In addition, the rainbow has become a design image symbolic of the homosexual agenda. The vast majority of people today would be reminded of inclusiveness and homosexual “rights” and would not likely think of the Sign of Noah. In the case of the association of the rainbow with the homosexual agenda the rainbow could even seem to be contradicting the Church’s clear teaching on chastity, marriage and the family. This doesn’t mean that rainbows are now out, only that we have to be particularly careful in their use.


1 (left) What is the meaning of this banner? (right) a "Rainbow Sash" group protest in a Catholic church.

2 "The Promise Widow", St. Stephen Presbyterian Church. Here, the symbolism of the rainbow as the sign of Noah is made perfectly clear.

Ambiguity is a major problem with much of what I call banner art used in parishes today partly because they are created under very loosely controlled circumstances. Sometimes created by youth groups and other times by liturgy committees, designs get by simply because no one wants to stifle anyone’s enthusiasm. Certainly, nothing should be planned for use that is not first evaluated by the pastor.

3 "The Sign of Noah" or Peace & Diversity?


Banners promoting ideas of social action, civil rights, feminism, “community” and such present themes that are not bad in and of themselves –some are, after all, themes in the Gospel- but they tend to focus on man’s political or social action without the need for God –a kind of self redemption. They divert from the praise of God -which is the proper aim of the liturgy- and from commemorating His saving intervention in human history.

Banners, themselves, no matter how unambiguously orthodox, do not qualify for use in the church anyway. But, that is another standard. We will describe later in the series.

Restricted Content and Subjects

In addition to unambiguous orthodox doctrine, works of liturgical art should be limited to depictions of the persons of the Holy Trinity, Mary, (some) blesseds and canonized saints, the angels, scriptural accounts, and dogmatic compositions. No other persons, living or dead, or subjects should be represented anywhere in -or on- the church, excluding ancillary rooms not directly used in the liturgical space. This restriction also helps us to avoid drifting into fads which have no place in the liturgy.

4 (right)sculpture of Archbishop Oscar Romero on the martyr's wall of London's Westminster Abby Church. If this was a Catholic church his image would be inappropraite in this location as he is not yet even beatified. (middle) statue of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in the nave of a church in Murano, Italy. (right) statue of Pope John Paul II. At the time this picture was taken John Paul was not yet beatified and so his image was confined to the narthex of the same church that contains the image of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta.


I’ll clarify further on restricted content and subjects in Part 2 of this series.

So, there are my first two standards that I think we should apply to an artist’s proposed design to see if it passes the test for use as sacred liturgical art: unambiguously orthodox and, restricted content and subjects.


1 Making Renovation Work, Joan Sobala, SSJ, page 11, Modern Liturgy, Vol. 7, Num. 4. The term was used by Sister Joan Sobala, who was on staff at St. Mary’s at the time, in describing the transgendered cross which was much criticized, according to Sister, by “angry and vocal dissenters from beyond the parish.” The critics, she suggested, were merely “opposed to the replacement of the large,  traditional cross by a  more modern image of the risen Christ.”

Picture Sources

1. Left Image; Right Image

2. The Promise Window

3. Christian Computer Art

4. Oscar Romero, Blessed Teresa and Pope John Paul by Bernie Dick

More Mimicking the Priest

April 1st, 2011, Promulgated by Dr. K

First, the children of St. Monica were invited to stand around the altar and imitate the gestures of the priest celebrant during the consecration…

Now St. Mary downtown is doing the same…

Thankfully, Fr. Donnelly will retire in June and the circus at St. Mary downtown may soon come to an end. Nobody should be standing at the altar during the consecration except for the priest. Nobody should be imitating gestures at Mass reserved for the priest. Stop sending children to commit your liturgical abuses. If you want to stand around the altar and pretend to elevate the chalice contrary to the liturgical norms of the Church, then do it yourselves.

Also… Wasn’t the reason for offering the Mass versus populum so that the people could see what the priest was doing? How are you supposed to see what’s going on with people standing in front of the altar?

Brogan Stays at St. Mary Downtown

March 25th, 2011, Promulgated by Dr. K

Apparently poor leadership is worthy of reward in Rochester. In news that shouldn’t come as a shock to most readers, Anne-Marie Brogan will continue on as  lay pastoral administrator of St. Mary downtown. For those unfamiliar, St. Mary is a self-described progressive parish who has a long history of grooming  some of the diocese’s greatest progressive visionaries, as well as promoting every liturgical abuse under the sun. Attendance has fallen sharply during Ms. Brogan’s tenure. By their fruit…

In news that may come as bit of a surprise, Fr. William Donnelly, the present “Sacramental Minister” of St. Mary, will retire this June. Fr. Donnelly was previously pastor of the parish before taking the demotion. Fr. Robert Kennedy will provide sacramental coverage for St. Mary in addition to administering the cluster of Blessed Sacrament and St. Boniface. Another priest yet to be named will assist.

It’s a shame that Fr. Kennedy isn’t going to lead St. Mary, because the parish sure needs help with the condition known as “Crowded Sanctuary Syndrome” or CSS:


Missa Domina Nostra Gaga

March 21st, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

And people wonder why mainline Protestantism is dying a swift and unstoppable death . . .

Lay Ministers Leading a “Healing Ritual”

March 19th, 2011, Promulgated by Dr. K

St. Mary downtown will soon offer a Lenten healing service. A priest has been invited to deliver a reflection, however, lay persons will administer the “healing ritual.”

Isn’t this something a priest should be doing, or is that too Pre-Vatican II?

Fr. Kennedy Named Head of the St. Mary, St. Boniface, Blessed Sacrament Cluster

March 11th, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

According to recent conversations with Blessed Sacrament and St. Boniface parishioners, Fr. Robert Kennedy has been named the new leader of the St. Mary/St. Boniface/Blessed Sacrament cluster. Fr. Kennedy seems like a logical choice for the position, seeing as how Fr. Brickler, long-time pastor of St. Boniface, is due to retire, and Anne-Marie Brogan is notorious for flirting with, nay, warmly embracing dissident teachings regarding Church doctrine and theology. Fr. Kennedy is one of the Rochester priests who put his name on this document, which states the Church should “recognize the blessings of countless homosexuals in a variety of relationships.”

Update (Dr. K): A reader has commented that Fr. Horan will be taking over at Holy Trinity, Webster.

Revised Monroe-Clinton Pastoral Plan

January 25th, 2011, Promulgated by Dr. K

An updated pastoral plan has been posted to the Diocese of Rochester website for the Monroe-Clinton planning group (comprising St. Mary downtown, St. Boniface, and Blessed Sacrament). It was previously believed that all three of these churches would be clustering in June under a single pastoral leader, most likely being a lay administrator. However according to this revised plan, the configuration of the planning group may be a little different than anticipated.

Here is what the pastoral plan is calling for:

“When this pastoral plan is implemented, Blessed Sacrament and Saint Boniface will become a two parish cluster and Saint Mary will remain a single parish. All three worship and ministry sites will remain open and functioning. The three parishes will share the services of two priests.”

This is the first time I have heard about St. Mary not being included in the cluster. One can only speculate as to the reasons, though it could be at least somewhat about St. Mary being the major progressive haven in the diocese.

Here are some more interesting details from the pastoral plan:

“There will be two pastoral leaders (one for Blessed Sacrament/Saint Boniface and one for Saint Mary’s). Anne-Marie Brogan is already serving as pastoral administrator of Saint Mary’s. It is the strong desire of Saint Boniface and Blessed Sacrament that both priests as well as pastoral administrators be considered for the leadership of Blessed Sacrament/Saint Boniface [Methinks this is more the desire of Blessed Sacrament than St. Boniface given that St. Bonficace is home to a number of St. Anne exiles who have fled because of the lay administrator assigned to that parish]. We ask diocesan leadership to reach out to the most qualified candidates who could serve our unique communities at this important time in our history. We look forward to a leader who will bring our parishes together and will work with St. Mary’s to create a strong Catholic community in the southeast part of the City of Rochester. St. Mary’s supports the desire of Blessed Sacrament and Saint Boniface that the most qualified candidate be appointed by Bishop Clark. They also affirm that, once the two priests are appointed, Saint Mary’s needs to receive a sufficient portion of the priests’ services to meet the liturgical and sacramental needs of the people of Saint Mary’s, estimated to be approximately two thirds of the time of a full-time equivalent priest.”

Finally, here is the proposed Mass schedule. Keep in mind that the bishop has created his own rule that priests may offer no more than three Sunday obligation Masses per weekend.

4:00 Saint Mary’s
5:00 Saint Boniface

9:00 Saint Boniface
10:00 Blessed Sacrament
10:30 Saint Mary’s
12:15 Blessed Sacrament

Though the weekend Mass schedule appears even for each parish, the special treatment that the bishop’s favorite parish could soon receive  is something to keep a close eye on.

Another Spiritus Offshoot

January 22nd, 2011, Promulgated by Dr. K

First, Rochester’s excommunicated Spiritus Christi church established churches in Elmira and Buffalo, then Denise Donato (a fake priestess of Spiritus) left Spiritus to create her own “Mary Magdalene church“, now Chava Redonnet (another Spiritus fake priestess) is jumping in the fun by starting her own church called the Oscar Romero church.

From the St. Joseph House of Hospitality website:

“All are welcome to attend Rev. Chava Redonnet’s [invalid] Mass every Sunday at 11 AM at Saint Joe’s House of Hospitality, 402 South Avenue. Experience first hand the new Oscar Romero Church, an inclusive church in the Catholic Tradition.”

The reason I’m posting this is not simply to report on the schismatics establishing yet another church that will draw a small handful of people (they are going for quantity over quality), but rather to point out once again how involved the Diocese of Rochester is in the St. Joseph House of Hospitality, which is largely run by the schismatics of Spiritus Christi. Ms. Redonnet is the chaplain at this organization.

If you go to the website for the house and click on the Religious Services link, you will be taken to a list of “ecumenical services” offered weekly at this organization. Sure enough, there are some schismatics in the list, including the excommunicated Jim Callan of Spiritus, as well as a few Protestant ministers. There are also, however, two active Roman Catholic priests in good standing with the Diocese of Rochester who offer “ecumenical services” at the St. Joseph House of Hospitality. These include Fr. Tracy (St. Frances Xavier Cabrini) and Fr. Donnelly (St. Mary downtown). There are also two religious sisters, though I am unsure of their present membership in the Church, or lack thereof.

Here is a screen shot:

Why are these Diocese of Rochester priests offering services and rubbing elbows with the leaders of a church who was excommunicated by Bishop Clark a little more than a decade ago? Is this sort of activity appropriate? Doesn’t it appear to legitimize the schismatics of Spiritus which include Callan, Redonnet, and co. to have Rochester priests offering services alongside them at the St. Joseph House? It is my opinion that the participation of Diocese of Rochester priests in these services should cease as soon as possible so as to end this source of scandal.

Talk About a “Demographic Shift” . . .

January 9th, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

Last year, Our Lady of Victory/St. Joseph’s Church (in the depths of the inner-city) took in around $14,000 for their Christmas collection. That in itself was a massive achievement, especially considering the small size of the parish campus and the less-than-ideal surroundings on Pleasant Street.

This year, Our Lady of Victory/St. Joseph’s Church (in the depths of the inner-city) took in $23,000 for their Christmas collection.

Collection information for Our Lady of Victory

Meanwhile, just a couple blocks away, St. Mary’s took in around $13,000. This is the parish that Bishop Clark has visited several times in the past couple years, and the parish which is one of the flagships of liberal dissent. Now I ask you this: Which parish is more vibrant? The one led by a priest who presents Church teaching as it is, or the one led by a lay-woman who shows open contempt for the teachings of the Church?

Christmas collection for St. Mary's Downtown

Catholic Courier – Fishwrap Aspirant

December 28th, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

When you think of all the opportunities to genuinely “celebrate diversity” in the Diocese of Rochester, you’d think that the Catholic Courier would be right there letting

In the eyes of the Diocese, **not** something worthy to announce in the Courier

people know about everything that would possibly fit into that area of religious activity. Well, not so.

Many of you will recall the glorious Rosary for Priestly Vocations that the Knights of Columbus sponsored at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in November. See here, here, and here for a refresher. Many of you were probably in attendance for such a beautiful and majestic occasion. After all, it’s not everyday that you have twelve altar boys, a properly vested priest, a Gregorian schola, and some of the most precious treasures of the Church’s store of sacred music. Many people and organizations publicized the event: St. Anne Church, Our Lady of Lourdes, Holy Cross, Our Lady of Victory, the Latin Mass Community, Christ the King, St. Cecilia, the Carmelite Monastery, WHIC (Catholic Radio) and the list goes on and on. Alas, one entity which did not publicize the event was the Catholic Courier. Many people wrote to us saying that they had left messages for the Courier staffers to mention the service, but not one of these was ever actually posted on their site. No fewer than six people contacted the Courier to say, “hey, a bunch of Catholic are getting together to pray the Rosary – why don’t you let even more know about it?”

Well, we got over it. “Onward and upward,” as they say. After all, they were probably really busy with more important news items.

Now comes this little gem, as advertised on the Catholic Courier: “Communal Recitation of the Rosary

And guess which parish is hosting this weekly occurrence? St. Mary’s Downtown – the same parish which laughs in the face of the Church’s doctrines and rubrics, and whose administrator’s qualifications to be a pastoral administrator are questionable, to say the least.  This is the same parish that was given a transgendered crucifix under the watch of Sr. Joan Sobala. This is the same parish that supports gay couples and their sinful lifetyles. So naturally it’s the perfect parish to plaster all over the internet, the Courier touting it as a  model Catholic institution.

St. Mary's Downtown - aka "more of the same stale liturgical philosophy we've been spoon-fed since 1970"

Where was the coverage for St. Thomas? Hundreds of people attended that service, and the ceremonial aspects of that evening were unsurpassed by any liturgical function this diocese has seen in decades. Were they passed over because they were angered when a non-Catholic invaded their sanctuary during Mass? Were they passed over because they knelt for Communion? (Oh no! God forbid!) Were they passed over because they practice their faith without politicking and dissent from Church teaching? Or perhaps they were ignored by the Courier for simply being an indication of an inconvenient truth. What is this inconvenient truth? It’s called “dynamic orthodoxy.”

After all, it would serve to castrate the already emasculated Diocesan institutions if there were an event which upheld the dignity of the celibate male priesthood.

It’s rather pathetic the depths to which the Courier will sink just to keep pushing it’s 1970’s mentality on people who are trying to move forward and embrace genuine ecclesial renewal.

Further proof that duplicity reigns supreme in this Diocese. St. John Fisher, pray for us.

A Poor Choice of Priorities

December 6th, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

As every faithful Catholic should do, I hope and pray that the local ordinary, Bishop Clark, will, from time to time, do something . . . I don’t know . . . Catholic. After all, he is a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church and a successor to the Apostles – not some “bishop” of a store-front “church” preaching the Gospel of ecumenism and dialogue. Well, I keep praying. I really do. But it seems that Bishop Clark has a rather bizarre ranking of what’s important to the Church and what isn’t.

Bishop Clark and Ray Grosswirth - How I hope and pray that "faith-sharing" may lead, someday, to something genuinely "Catholic".

Events not attended or referenced by Bishop Clark:

  • Closing of St. Thomas (and scores of other churches and institutions)
  • Rosary for Priestly Vocations
  • Any sort of public pro-life rally

Events attended and/or promoted by Bishop Clark:

  • AIDS prayer service at St. Mary’s
  • “Faith Sharing” with local Sikhs
  • The horrendously inappropriate Chrism Masses at the cathedral

There’s a difference between engaging in dialogue and simply ignoring the flock’s actual problems.

Ms. Brogan – St. Mary’s Resident Dog-Blesser

October 18th, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

The following is taken from the Book of Blessings, approved by the Congregation for Divine Worship:

(Lay persons) “may celebrate certain blessings, as indicated in the respective orders of blessings” (no.18). Examples of blessings that may be administered by lay people are the orders for the blessing of a family (no. 44), blessing of children (no.136), blessing of sons and daughters (176), blessing of engaged couples — (no.197), blessing of parents before childbirth (no.217), and so on. Some of these orders stipulate that when a priest or deacon is present, the ministry of the blessing more fittingly belongs to him (no. 176).

Please note: blessing of dogs and/or other living things or objects is NOT something a lay person can do, no matter how fancy his/her alb may be.

How Ironic

August 30th, 2010, Promulgated by Dr. K

Today the weekly Catholic Courier e-edition arrived in my inbox. As is normally the case, the e-mail featured approximately five news briefs with a little photograph next to each one. Below is a screenshot of a news brief concerning the revised English translation of the Roman Missal:

Courier capsule

Does anybody else find it interesting that the Courier chose to display an image of St. Mary downtown, a parish that barely follows the current translation of the Roman Missal?  St. Mary downtown, the parish that features inclusive language throughout the liturgy, use of the Apostle’s Creed instead of the Nicene, lay homilies, liturgical dance, laypeople standing around the altar during the consecration, and an assortment of other abuses not called for by the Missal. I mean, if there’s one image of a parish to display for this news story, isn’t St. Mary downtown the last one you would pick?

Dismissal or Deposition

July 16th, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

One of the  new “grave delicits” named by the Holy See may be of extreme interest to you. It reaffirms the teaching of the Church regarding the sanctity of the Sacraments, in particular The Holy Mass and Holy Orders. I quote:

Art. 5

The more grave delict of the attempted sacred ordination of a woman is also reserved to the

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

1° With due regard for can. 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, both the one who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

2° If the one attempting to confer sacred ordination, or the woman who attempts to receive sacred ordination, is a member of the Christian faithful subject to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, with due regard for can. 1443 of that Code, he or she is to be punished by major excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See.

3° If the guilty party is a cleric he may be punished by dismissal or deposition.

How much clearer could it be, folks? Women’s ordination is absolutely and unequivocally banned, and will be for ages unending. Amen.

For the Canon of the Mass, methinks this gal would be inclined to say, "Te igitur, clementissima Mater . . . "

Jesus, our sister? Part 2

July 1st, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie

Continued from Part 1

Continuing from Part 1, we turn now to the context in which Christian images were created in the fourth and fifth centuries.

There are at least three aspects that need to be described in order to posit a possible explanation for the existence of certain feminine looking images of Jesus. First, the centuries we are poking around in were troublesome for the Church. They were rife with heresies. The role and person of Jesus Christ was at the center of most of them. Even ecumenical councils failed in some instances to end the controversies.  So, the period we are concerned with was one of trying to understand who Jesus was and what role he played.

The second context we need to be aware of was a very practical one. Artists were not creative personalities such as we know them to be today. They were artisans. The quality of their technical skill distinguished them and not innovative expression.  Much like picking out wallpaper today customers were shown examples of images from which they would choose what they wanted. There was certainly some room for creativity but, generally, the images themselves and their basic poses (especially images of the gods) were fairly standard, even from artist to artist.

Thirdly (we’ll spend a little more time on this one),we have to consider who was commissioning Christian images. Several of the examples we saw in Part 1 were from sarcophagi (Fig. 1) or small statuettes. In fact, the examples of feminine Christs were works commissioned by private individuals or families.   Even the apse example we looked at in Part 1 was made in the private chapel of an imperial princess.

Fig. 1 “Roman Sarophagus” (4th c.)

A stone or marble sarcophagus (coffin) or statuette was expensive and therefore only commissioned by the wealthy. Those people  held positions of some importance in daily life. They consisted of landowners, successful business men, magistrates and even higher placed members of the imperial administration. Keep in mind that the first Christian converts from that class were women, the wives. The men tended to be more conservative and held onto their pagan ways until it became apparent that there was career advantage to being Christian. It was a common complaint of bishops of the period that these new converts often brought into the Church their old pagan ways. The main problem for bishops regarding the pagans was not so much in converting them but rather preventing them from reverting back to their old practices once they did convert.

Consider also that this social class was very conscious of being Roman, as opposed to barbarian. Proper education was essential for membership in that class. Generally speaking evidence of a proper education  was speaking and writing fine Latin (and Greek) mostly learned by reading and writing about the myths and other stories of the pagan gods. The possession of quality artistic images –frescoes, mosaics, sculpture, and decorated dishes, pottery, etc.– that showed the gods (Fig. 2) and goddesses were, of course, also evidence of Roman-ness.

Fig. 2 "Hercules Fighting Snakes" (date ?) Roman marble sculpture

The Church herself commissioned decorative works for her first churches but those didn’t begin to appear until the later half of the fourth century. St. Peter’s Basilica, one of the earliest churches, is thought to have been still unfinished in 350. Of the earliest examples of such large scale decorations is the Church of Santa Costanza (Fig. 3) in Rome which actually started out as a mausoleum for Constantine’s Christian daughter, Constantina.

Fig. 3 “Vintaging Putti” (ca. 350) ambulatory vault of Church of Santa Costanza, Rome

The ceiling of the ambulatory is decorated in mosaic images totally consistent with pagan decorations of mausolea from the same period. Christian scenes from the life of Christ are included but occupy relatively small rectangular spaces. We should note, however, that Constantina’s two husbands were aggressively pagan and so they may have influenced the decoration.

That is a basic description of the context in which Christian art appeared during the fourth and fifth centuries. The person and role of Jesus Christ was being hotly debated among Christians. New converts, from the privileged class of Roman society, commissioned images from artists of the day who often did not create innovative imagery but produced from an existing repertoire.

Now, as to just exactly how the feminine looking images of Christ came about. On to Part 3.


Book suggestions:

Peter Brown, The Rise of Western Christendom, (Malden, Blackwell Publishing 2003)

Paul Corby Finney, The Invisible God –The Earliest Christians on Art, (New York, Oxford University Press, 1994)

Mike Aquilina, The Fathers of the Church: An Introduction to the First Christian Teachers, (Huntington, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 2006)

Jesus, our sister? Part 1

June 28th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie


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