Is It Beautiful, or “Mean, odious, repulsive, and revolting”?


This is “Christ in the House of His Parents,” painted by John Everett Millais in 1849 and one of the landmarks of the -Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood movement. It’s a masterpiece of symbolic naturalism. Everything in it has meaning. At the  center of the action is the child Jesus. He’s cut his hand on a nail, and some of the blood has dropped to his foot, prefiguring the wounds of the crucifixion.

The Blessed Mother holds out a cheek for him to kiss in comfort. Joseph examines the wound with the nonchalance of a worker who has seen many such injuries, but St. Anne looks more concerned and reaches for the pliers to yank the offending nail. Off to the left is a worker, observing Jesus: a witness like many others in the gospel. The boy to the right suggests John the Baptist, nervously bringing water to wash the wound as he will use water to baptize Christ.

In the background we see sheep watching through the door: the flock of Christians. On the ladder rests a dove, representing the Holy Spirit, and the ladder itself may symbolize either Jacob’s ladder or a ladder used in the crucifixion. The triangle on the wall is the Trinity, the wood of the cross litters the workshop, branches suggest the palms of Palm Sunday.

The only bizarre part of the composition are the red-headed figures of Mary and Jesus. Why make them red-headed? Another gesture at the blood of the passion? Or is it just a visual cue to set mother and child apart? Only Mary and Jesus share blood and thus genetic traits. The blood of Christ was the blood of Mary.

The painting was hugely controversial when it was first shown. Much as I admire Charles Dickens, his eruption of outrage is absurd:

…you come, in this place, to the contemplation of a Holy Family. You will have the goodness to discharge from your minds all Post-Raphael ideas, all religious aspirations, all elevating thoughts, all tender, awful, sorrowful, ennobling, sacred, graceful, or beautiful associations, and to prepare yourselves, as befits such a subject Pre-Raphaelly considered for the lowest depths of what is mean, odious, repulsive, and revolting.

You behold the interior of a carpenter’s shop. In the foreground of that carpenter’s shop is a hideous, wry-necked, blubbering, red-headed boy, in a bed-gown, who appears to have received a poke in the hand, from the stick of another boy with whom he has been playing in an adjacent gutter, and to be holding it up for the contemplation of a kneeling woman, so horrible in her ugliness, that (supposing it were possible for any human creature to exist for a moment with that dislocated throat) she would stand out from the rest of the company as a Monster, in the vilest cabaret in France, or the lowest ginshop in England. Two almost naked carpenters, master and journeyman, worthy companions of this agreeable female, are working at their trade; a boy, with some small flavor of humanity in him, is entering with a vessel of water; and nobody is paying any attention to a snuffy old woman who seems to have mistaken that shop for the tobacconist’s next door, and to be hopelessly waiting at the counter to be served with half an ounce of her favourite mixture. Wherever it is possible to express ugliness of feature, limb, or attitude, you have it expressed. Such men as the carpenters might be undressed in any hospital where dirty drunkards, in a high state of varicose veins, are received. Their very toes have walked out of Saint Giles’s.

#LaudatoSii: Hold Your Breath, Make a Wish, Count to Three

do908 laudato siTomorrow I will begin reading Laudato Sii, and I plan to tweet as I go. I’m already seeing the overheated freakouts online and it’s a sorry spectacle. Everyone needs to cut the crap, m’kay?

It seems like all we do lately is replay the right’s reaction to Mater et Magistra and the left’s reaction to Humanae Vitae. American Catholics need to be a little less American, and a little more Catholic. In case you hadn’t noticed, America hates us. It is the Church that will survive, and we’ll need people to keep their heads.

This time around, it’s the American right’s turn in the cafeteria line, and they’ve built a strong head of Francis-hatred over the last two years to power them through any qualms they may have about dissenting from an official exercise of the ordinary magisterium.

These are the actions of children. I don’t doubt there may be much to criticize in the document. If I do disagree with the Holy Father, I try to do so on point, without slotting it into some grand statement about how the Smoke of Satan Has Entered The Church. I read way too much of that already, and it sickens me.

I am a traditionalist conservative–the kind Republicans dismiss as a Paleocon. I am also a global warming skeptic. I expect to find points in Laudato Sii I do not agree with. I will read them with an open mind. That is: I will try to be Catholic first and American or conservative second. I will try to discuss them candidly yet with charity and respect for the office. Most of all, I will not imitate the left’s Magisterium of Me and pick and choose what to accept and what to reject.  I don’t expect any of this to be easy.

Let’s remember that Lumen Gentium doesn’t just apply to contraception and abortion:

This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.

If you try to reconcile your faith and your politics, and if it’s your faith that gives, you’re worshiping the wrong God.

And before you read the new encyclical, maybe you should review this:

I also firmly accept and hold each and everything definitively proposed by the Church regarding teaching on faith and morals.

Moreover, I adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman Pontiff or the College of Bishops enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive act.

Anyone suggesting that anything less is acceptable is the one letting the Smoke of Satan into the Church.

Emmaus Road Publishing & St. Paul Center Merge

Get this book free with your first order.

Get this book free with your first order.

Scott Hahn’s St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology has a new publishing arm, and Emmaus Road Publishing has a new lease on life, thanks to their recent merger. To mark the occasion, they’re offering a free Scott Hahn book with your first order, deep discounts, and free shipping.

The St. Paul Center produces Catholic Bible study lessons, books, and more. Their goal is to teach Catholic to be more scripturally literate as they read the Bible from the heart of tradition. Emmaus Road has an impressive roster of writers, including Hahn, Edward Sri, Patrick Coffin, Matthew Barber, and many others. They’re the publisher of Hahn’s important Letter & Spirit journal, an annual collection of articles on scripture from a Catholic perspective.


A Lost Papal Bust by Bernini Found


Photo: Sotheby’s

This bust of Pope Paul V by Bernini surfaced two years ago in a private collection after being lost for 100 years. Commissioned by the Pope’s nephew Cardinal Scipione Borghese in 1621, it was the first papal work of the 23-year-old artist. It remained in the Borghese family until 1893, when it was misidentified and auctioned off as the work of Alessandro Algardi.

It’s been acquired by the Getty Museum and goes on display this week.