THE RELIGION OF PICTURES
[Extracted from The Catholic Layman, Vol. 6, No. 67, Jul. 17, 1857, pp. 78-9.]
The religion of the Church of Rome must advance. There is no standing still in the way she has chosen to herself. Error must be propagated, or it falls. Men must learn new notions of religion which their fathers knew not, or the Church of Rome cannot accomplish its objects.
And to aid that progression of error, without which it cannot hold its ground, everything that is beautiful in nature or conception must be degraded into instruments of falsehood, as if, of all things which God has made, troth alone could not be beautiful.
Yet truth is beautiful in itself; and falsehood is hateful in itself. For that very reason falsehood must try to look beautiful in itself, and must try to make truth look ugly.
It is an old story. St. Paul complains that "false apostles are deceitful workmen, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ; and no wonder, for Satan himself transformeth himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers be transformed as the ministers of justice, whose end shall be according to their works.'' 2 Cor. xi., 13, 14, 15.
To follow this example is all that now remains for the Church of Rome, in the course on which she has entered.
We say this, having before our eyes a skilful and beautiful device of "a deceitful workman."
The religion of the Church of Rome is fast becoming a religion of pictures. Pictures now wink their eyes to establish articles of faith;* and pictures must, of course, support the articles of faith which they promulgate.
He who will now seek the religion of the Church of Rome, must seek it her pictures, where he will find it, and not in the Douay Bible, where he will not find it.
We have, accordingly, visited a well-known shop, not twenty miles from Essex-bridge, established in this city of Dublin for propagating the religion of the Church of Rome.
That picture shop is, of course, known to Archbishop Cullen. If he disapproved of that shop he would, of course, require it to be closed, or would, at least, warn "the faithful'' against the extensive trade which it is there carrying on, as much as be warns them against the Catholic Layman. He has warned them against this paper; he has not warned them against the wares of this shop. We presume, therefore, that he considers its pictures unobjectionable, or even deserving of his approbation.
From purchases at the picture mart, we have selected as the subject of this article a picture drawn by a French priest—the Abbé Lambert.**
It is a double picture, having two pictures on one sheet. The picture opposite the left hand commemorates the "Immaculate Conception;" that opposite the right hand, the "Perpetual Adoration of the Holy Sacrament."
Both these things have been established by the present Pope. He, for the first time, has made "the Immaculate Conception" an article of faith in the Church of Rome. He has also established in some Church (we believe at Rome) a perpetual adoration of the sacrament.
The Church of Rome is now responsible for these things. The things must, therefore, be represented in such a garb as will make them look beautiful. "A deceitful workman" is wanted; and the Abbé Lambert, a priest of the Church of Rome, comes forward as well skilled in that department, and his work is sold in Dublin, to the great contentment of Dr. Cullen.
As a work of art, we feel bound to give Abbé Lambert's picture a very high commendation. Considering the pains taken with the execution of it, and the price at which it is sold, it is clearly not intended for the poor or the ignorant, but for those who can spend money, and who can appreciate the beauties of art. It is to introduce to them "the religion of pictures" that it is got up; and those who live by selling such things must expect that they will sell.
We will now give a description of this picture, to illustrate what we mean by "the religion of pictures."
The picture opposite the right hand is in commemoration of "the perpetual adoration." At the top is a picture of God the Father, which the ancient Christians thought it profane to make. Immediately underneath is a picture of a dove, as representing the Holy Spirit. Underneath is the picture of our Saviour, extending to the foot of the painting.
On either side of God the Father are the cherubims. On the left hand side is the motto, "The Court celestial love and adore;" on the right hand side, "The Court celestial love and revere."
Immediately between the Dove and the head of our Saviour is a cup, held by an angel on the left side, with the motto, "The angel of perpetual adoration." On the left hand side are other angels, with the motto, "Anges de l'amende honorable.'' We give this in the French, really not knowing how to translate it in an ecclesiastical sense.
On the left of the picture, and the right hand side of our Saviour, stands Pope Pius IX., with the triple crown upon his head, and bedizened with all kinds of gorgeous apparel, with the motto, "SS. Pius IX. founding the perpetual adoration.'' On the right are various figures, with the motto, "The religious of the perpetual adoration," meaning, we suppose, the order established to perpetuate it.
Lower down, on the left hand side, are other figures, with the motto, "The whole Hierarchy of the Church." On the right hand side are figures, with the motto, "Innocence and repentance." And at the foot are, on the left hand side, figures in monkish dresses, with the motto, "The different religious orders;" and on the right hand other figures, with the motto, "The different states of the Church.''
All these figures are in the attitude of prayer. The object of that prayer is indicated in a scroll proceeding from the hands of Pope Pius IX. That scroll bears the words, "We adore for ever the most Holy Sacrament." The other end of the scroll passes by the head of Christ, to point to the cup in the angel's hand. The object of the worship of Pope Pius IX, and all hit Church, and all the host of heaven, as far as he can direct them, is not the figure of Christ in this picture, but the holy sacrament in the hand of the angel. It is the best representation we have seen of the worship of the modern Church of Rome. But what would St. Cyprian, and St Basil, and St. Ambrose, and St. Augustine have said to such a picture?
And it is worthy of observation that the present pope, Pius IX., is represented as "founding the perpetual adoration;" and just over him is "the angel of the perpetual adoration," holding the cup. Who appointed this angel to take charge of the "perpetual adoration?" Was it God? If so, where is the revelation of it? Was it the Pope? If so, where is his authority over the angels of God?
But we must proceed to the picture opposite the left hand, which is intended to commemorate the immaculate conception.
We conceive it to be our duty to describe this picture, although the task be painful to the reverence which as Christians we feel towards God.
At the top of the picture is a representation of the Holy Trinity. We try to speak of it with due reverence. God the Father and God the Son are represented as a man, with two heads, one body, and two arms. One of the heads is like the ordinary pictures of our Saviour. The other is the head of an old man, surmounted by a triangle. Out of the middle of this figure is proceeding the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove. We think it must be painful to any Christian mind, and repugnant to Christian feeling, to look at this figure. On either side, the cherubim and heavenly host are represented. Just under this representation there is a figure of the Virgin Mary, sitting on a throne. Just under this picture of the Virgin Mary is another picture of the Virgin, standing in a niche. We were at first perplexed to know why the Abbe Lambert has given two Virgin Marys, the one over the other. But a careful examination discloses the reason. The upper Mary sits on a throne, with an inscription round her bead, "Mary, conceived without sin," the lower Mary is standing, and Pope Pius IX., with his triple crown and his gay clothing, is placing a crown upon her head. We remember to have read that the Pope performed this act to her statue or image at the time he decreed the immaculate conception. This explains the picture. The upper Mary is Mary on the throne as "Queen of Heaven;" the lower Mary is Mary upon earth, receiving a crown and dignity from the Pope in the nineteenth century; which fact we have always considered must have been more for the Pope's glorification than for hers. Therefore the lower figure of Mary was indispensable in the picture.
But something more in the picture is yet to be spoken of. From the top to the bottom, at either side of the principal figures, there are other figures introduced with appropriate " texts" in the margin; and these "texts" contain the substance and object of the whole picture.
In the left hand corner at the top is a figure of the rising sun with the "text" in the margin, taken from Canticles vi., 9 (Douay Bible), "Bright as the sun.''
Below this, on the left hand side of the picture, opposite to the Mary on the throne, are various figures, apparently meant for the prophets, with David and his harp among them; and in the margin is the "text," "The holy prophets have said that Mary was conceived without sin."
Below this, but still opposite to the Mary on the throne, are other figures, with this text in the margin, "The Apostles have said that Mary was conceived without sin."
Below this, just at the Pope's back, as he stands crowning the lower Mary, are other figures, with this "text," "The holy councils have said that Mary was conceived without sin.''
Underneath is another "text," apparently meant for the Pope himself: "The sovereign Pontiff's have said that Mary was conceived without sin."
Below it again is another text: "Miracles have said that Mary was conceived without sin.''
At the foot of the picture is a rainbow, and in the blue sky underneath a trap door closed, on which sits an angel with a flaming sword; on the trap door is the motto in French, "Puits de l'abyme ferm."
Ascending the margin at the right hand the lowest "text" is, "Catholic instinct has said that Mary was conceived without sin.''
Next above are some figures with the "text," "The holy doctors have said that Mary was conceived without sin."
Beside the standing Mary whom the Pope crowns is a figure in blue with a triple crozier, intended to represent the Church, with this "text," "Tradition has said that Mary was conceived without sin."
At this side of the Mary on the throne are other figures, with the "text," "The evangelists have said that Mary was conceived without sin."
A little higher up is a company of angels, with the text, "Angels have said that Mary was conceived without sin."
A figure of the moon in the upper corner has this text, also taken from Cant, vi., 9, "Beautiful as the moon."
The whole is closed in with this text in the margin at the top, just over the representation of the Trinity, "God the Father, Son, and Holt Ghost have said that Mary was conceived without sin!''
And if all these have said it, why has the Church of Rome never said it till now? For so we find it confessed in the famous letter of Pope Pius IX., dated 2nd February, 1849. "This honour has not yet been decreed to the most holy Virgin by the Church and the Apostolic See."***
The Pope has, since writing that letter, decreed the immaculate conception; and the Church of Borne must now establish it or fall: hence "deceitful workmen" mast transform themselves into the apostles of Christ, to get it believed.
What innocent Catholic could imagine that so beautiful a picture was drawn, and that, too, by a priest of the Church of Rome, the Abbe Lambert, and sold in this city, to the great satisfaction of the Pope's Legate, merely that it might be garnished ail down the margin with lying texts?
For let them tell us where have the Prophets, the Angels, the Apostles, the Evangelists, the Councils, the Doctors, up to St. Bernard's time, 1200 years after Christ, ever said that Mary was conceived without sin?
This is now the "great text" of the Church of Rome. It is not to be found in the Scriptures, nor in the Councils, nor in the Fathers; but it is now found in the pictures of the Church of Rome. If any one wants to know what the religion of modern Rome really is, let him not look in the Scriptures, or the Councils, or the Fathers. Let him look in the picture shop for the religion of priests of the Church of Rome.
Thus we have given some of the fruits of our first visit to the picture shop, patronized, we believe, by the Association for the Propagation of the Faith. We may, perhaps, call there again to learn something more of " the religion of pictures."
* See the Picture of Rimini, Catholic Layman, vol. I., p. 54.
** In the lower left band comer are the words, "Le Abbé Lambert pinxit."
*** See tills Letter in the Catholic Layman, vol. I., No. 1, pp. 5 and 6.