These faux icons are, by now, so tiresome.

I saw this with a measure of horror, though not of surprise, given the Jesuit source and subject…

What’s horrible about this?

First, it’s cliche.  These faux icons of edgy social justice figures are getting tiresome.

Next, the Berrigans?  Really?

Thirdly, it is forbidden to create a public cult of veneration for figures who haven’t been officially recognized by the Church.  The veto explicitly says that they cannot be portrayed with a “nimbus”, the halo-like elements around their heads.

His decidedly un-Catholic attitude (essentially, “I don’t care” – no wonder a Jesuit likes him) is explained by himself HERE 

This Franciscan goof has also made cliche faux-icons of Cesar Chavez, Albert Einstein, homosexualist activist Harvey Milk, Ghandi, Martin Luther King. To be fair, he has also made them of true saints. I don’t object to his depictions of Christ as an Apache or Mary as a Navajo: I have depictions of both in Chinese and Japanese idiom, and just go to a museum and look at paintings of holy figures in garb contemporary for the painters and patrons.

But these others are wrong and verge on blasphemy.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. William says:

    Only thing that could make this look more riduculous is for Danny to be giving the peace sign.

  2. Giuseppe says:

    The golden halos on icons are a pictorial depiction of sainthood, correct?
    Quite presumptuous, that’s for sure.

  3. dbf223 says:

    Even among social-justice-activist types, who venerates (if that’s the best word) Albert Einstein? I suppose he had some type of pacifist reputation. Still, he urged FDR to build the first nuclear weapon, and he had a poor track record regarding the women in his life. In today’s America, both of those things should make him a pariah. I suppose the artist here has not, in fact, caught up with the times.

  4. frjimt says:

    ‘white’, toxic masculinity…. Where’s the ‘wife’.. Tear down that icon.. (hey, it is snowing, so we’re allowed to be infected with ‘snowflake-itis’)..

  5. LarryW2LJ says:

    Maybe the Jesuits should be known as “The Order of Long Arms”. Many seem to have no problem with patting themselves on the back.

  6. bushboar says:

    Prophets? Didn’t public revelation end with the death of the last apostle?

  7. majuscule says:

    Foog? Foor? Fook?

    Took me a good while to figure out that the word on the scroll on the left is “poor”…

  8. DMorgan says:

    Are there no Jesuits left who can reign in Fr. Martin???? Maybe Fr. Mitch should have a word with him.

  9. Benedict Joseph says:

    God reward you for calling attention to the fraudulence. I’ve been living in the fear of “the great iconographer” “writing” an “icon” of the “icon” James Martin — even before he meets eternity.
    Birds of a feather.

  10. Imrahil says:

    I will say that the depicted quote is, in itself, interesting.

    However, a brief glance at Wikipedia told me that the Berrigans (about whom I had nothing heard up to now) are chiefly known for vividly protesting what was certainly a just war, with the necessary implication that this war, in their opinion, should be won by the bad side. (Which it then was. But contrary to rumor world history is not the Judge of Nations.)

  11. Antonin says:

    As someone close to Eastern Christianity and was VERY close to moving to Orthodoxy – I think the Latin church should be very cautious when appropriating art (and icons are more than art) forms from the east. Icons are supposed to be sources of meditation and contemplation not propaganda for a cause. I don’t think it is respectful and I can see the Russian Orthodox yet again shaking their head –

  12. ChrisP says:

    LOL. The font sucks on the icon, Lentz can’t spell “should” and they look like Waldorf and Statler.
    But hey, Phil Berrigan and his “missus” could have discerned their conscience and received communion ok right?

  13. That Guy says:

    Many of the comments posted to Fr. Martin’s tweet were very good. I’m encouraged to see the good sense of so many. I also note that someone elected to post the iconic treatment of SECDEF Mattis, draped in a desert camo bearing K-Bar in one hand and a “holy hand grenade” in the other. OOHRAH. At least it’s intended to be funny. If we’re going to make icons of non-canonized souls, why not a few good men while we’re at it?

  14. OCDFriar says:

    The irony is that this is the sort of thing that could potentially derail a future cause for canonization, by preventing a certification of “non cultus” from being issued.

  15. richiedel says:

    Applying iconic tradition so willy-nilly is bad for ecumenism.

  16. ServusChristi says:

    I think you should gift these Jesuits your Pope Clement XIV mug as a present. You said it’ll be perfect for those super liberal Jesuits, here they are! But on a serious note, a far cry from the Jesuits who came to Asia to bring the gospel to people of strange cultures.

  17. rbbadger says:

    Sadly, that’s not the worst of Lentz’s work. There’s one of Ss. Sergius and Bacchus which has become popular with the gays. Lentz apparently took the work of the late historian John Boswell seriously. (Boswell argued that there were gay unions in the Church early on.)

    I really am not fond of appropriation of Byzantine icons by Latin Rite Catholics. I love and respect the Byzantine liturgy. I think it should be celebrated in its full integrity without Latinizations just as the Roman Rite ought to rediscover its own liturgical, artistic, and musical traditions.

  18. Kathleen10 says:

    One doesn’t usually see such attention to the slacks of an icon.
    Satan always imitates Christian symbols, in his envy he never gets it quite right. These are just silly, as are most things James Martin promotes. He clearly goes out of his way to try to provoke anyone with a true Catholic sensibility. So much seething anger he carries around. Not healthy.

  19. Agathon says:

    Ugh. Lord, have mercy.

  20. Charles E Flynn says:

    Are we sure the icon includes a nimbus? Could we not instead be looking at a pair of golden, glowing masses of superheated air?

  21. priests wife says:


    can I use a ‘liberal’ word and state that they are ‘appropriating’ my Byzantine culture? Icons do not have those life-like features- the faces are elongated and simplified …. etc etc etc- but they don’t care.

    any way- thanks for your blog, Fr Z and a blessed new year to you!

  22. Nan says:

    Iconography began prior to the Russian Orthodox Church, at a time when there was only one Church. It belongs to the Latin Church as much as to Orthodoxy.

    As an Eastern Catholic, I follow Orthodox tradition.

  23. VP says:

    “…On May 17, 1968, he and his brother, Father Philip Berrigan, and seven other Catholics burned draft files in Catonsville, Maryland. They used homemade napalm, concocted from gasoline and Ivory Flakes…” Aren’t there some groups today that prefer the use of improvised incendiary devices to “fracture [of] good order?”

    Saul Alinsky would have been proud of the Berrigans. But others, at the risk of seeming unmerciful, see the them as they were: criminals, anarchists, amateur terrorists, and disgrace to their collars.

    Aside, it really is sad to see what Fr. Martin is making of his priesthood.

  24. PostCatholic says:

    I wonder if he’d consider Antoine de Saint-Exupéry for a subject? I appreciate your concern that some of his subjects can’t be official Catholic icons, but as one who believes heaven is only what we glimpse on Earth, I find some of his surprising subjects thought-provoking. I admire the Stephen Biko and the Black Elk “icons” (note quotation marks) especially.

  25. Papal Fan says:

    There is a “catholic” college in Iowa that has a bunch of these in their “ecumaniacal” room of prayer.

    It brings back terrible memories of how laughably mediocre the campus’ spiritual life was and still is.

  26. Benedict Joseph says:

    Does it not speak to the nature of the decomposition of the Church that we actually have to be braced for the idea that these fraudulent individuals could be considered for the altars.
    Nothing appears impossible in the current climate.

  27. Grant M says:

    I wonder if this guy did the “icon” I once saw, of St Francis embracing the Sultan, both adorned with a nimbus.

  28. Orlando says:

    Can we just forget this very confused little man already? He does not speak for the one true holy catholic and apostolic faith, he has been corrupted by the world and will one day have to account for his actions. My prediction is that as soon as we get a pope he doesn’t like , he will officially embrace his Protestantism and create his own “ church”. At this point he’s become a caricature of himself.

  29. GHP says:

    But…but…but. What about St. Matis of Quantico, Patron Saint of Chaos? I love that icon.


  30. GHP says:


  31. jaykay says:

    ChrisP says: “The font sucks on the icon, Lentz can’t spell “should”…”

    I think it’s supposed to be a “C”, hence the word is “could” – there’s a similar “C” in the word “children” in the scroll the other figure is holding. But yes, it seems unnecessarily over-elaborate. Also, the style of almost hyper-realism – socialist realism? :) – that he employs just doesn’t sit well with the icon tradition. As priests wife comments above: “Icons do not have those life-like features- the faces are elongated and simplified”. So yeah, it just doesn’t work on many levels.

  32. Chris in Maryland 2 says:

    Ugly and mediocre art. And indicative of what Rev. Martin worships: facsimiles of himself.

  33. Markus says:

    Many visual artists turn to religious subjects as they near the end of their life. All of their lifetime skills produce some great, pondering works. It appears that this may not be case with Lentz, OFM. Perhaps his work peaked with the reredos in Santa Fe many, many years ago.

  34. Antonin says:


    Another word aside from appropriation (which I used) is also syncretism. Syncretic is defined as “the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion”.

    I actually don’t have a huge issue with the Berrigan brothers politics but using them in an iconographic form is, I think syncretic as icons historically have not served so much as a didactic or ideological platform. They were/are devotional and almost quasi-sacramental.

    I hesitate, in charity, to castigate the writer of this icon too much and while it is not my personal preference he has other good work and Gamaliel’s advice from the Acts is always good in these matters

    “Let them go! For if their purpose or endeavor is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God.” Acts 5)

  35. emj says:

    Papal Fan,
    I suspect I know of the college of which you speak. So I thought I would mention that the priest who is head of campus ministry is a faithful, (St.)JP II-formed priest who is doing what he can to minister to the spiritual needs of the students by making daily Mass and confession available. But I’m sure this new assignment has not been easy for him. So we continue to pray and fast for our priests……

  36. Meanwhile, on”the other side of the tracks,” if one should venture to an independent traditionalist parish in the Virginia suburbs of DC, one can see upon entering, a stained-glass window devoted to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and Bishop Antônio de Castro Mayer, neither of whom (to the best of my belief) are parties to a “public cult of veneration … officially recognized by the Church.”

    [If the people in the windows don’t have a nimbus, it’s okay. For example, there are windows in the chapel here of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, fro before her beatification, and Ven. Samuel Mazzuchelli without the nimbus.]

  37. Fr. Reader says:

    One of the reasons of the fashion of using or having eastern-style icons in the west is that a big part the religious or Christian art in the last fifty years is pure garbage. People still like beauty, and icons are beauty, even if we don’t understand them or belong to that tradition.

    What shocks me in the case of this faux icons is that it precisely those who rejected the artistic (and not only artistic) tradition of the Church, and sold their souls to the so called “modern” world, precisely they are now using another tradition of centuries in the Church to promote their “ideas”. I find it highly hypocritical that they scorn, criticize and ridicule certain traditions, while they appropriate others for their agenda.

  38. Southern Catholic says:

    Grant M., You are correct. He did the piece with the sultan having nimbus, and the islamic ‘holy flame’.

    It is troubling that he did created icons Einstein, Milk , and others non-Christians.

  39. Ellen says:

    So I am curious and went to the website to look at some of the icons. Some are not bad, not bad at all. But there are a few that are a bit eyebrow raising. There’s one of St. Dorothy Day. Last I heard, she was Servant of God Dorothy Day. The icon of Harvey Milk is wretched.
    As for the Berrigans, I remember them very well. All you had to do was say protest and they were on it. I don’t think they had any other life. Phillip married illicitly and Daniel never found a left wing cause he didn’t love. He was involved with Occupy. I can’t say I look on them as saints at all.

  40. “If the people in the windows don’t have a nimbus, it’s okay. For example, there are windows in the chapel here of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, fro before her beatification, and Ven. Samuel Mazzuchelli without the nimbus.”

    Now that you mention it, Father, I don’t think they do. In fact, I know of a diocesan parish in that locality that has a stained-glass window honoring Christopher Columbus. The difference here is that with Columbus, we have the benefit of hindsight, or at least a great deal more of it, and the opportunity to better discern his legacy. We may learn differently concerning at least one of the prelates in question, we may not. But I have to wonder as to the prudence of such tribute at such an early stage, precisely because there is no cult of veneration, and the accompanying process of investigation.

  41. Semper Gumby says:

    “Catholic images are hemmed in by Catholic fences. My icons ignore walls.” – Robert Lentz OFM

    Well, at least he admits his “icons” are non-Catholic. My guess is that this “icon” will appear on the home altars of a few Wiccans, occultists, and “esoteric Christians” who are inclined to agree with Fr. Martin SJ that the Berrigans are “prophets.” (Some of these people have statues of the Virgin Mary whom they worship as the “Goddess,” some use “spells” to get the Saints to “work for them,” etc.) Someday, these two men will stand in front of God.

  42. Markus says:

    Fr. Reader,
    “One of the reasons of the fashion of using or having eastern-style icons in the west is that a big part the religious or Christian art in the last fifty years is pure garbage.”

    Well, Fr. we certainly did not receive any help from the Church. Catholic universities were more interested in turning out lawyers, theologians, and MBA’s than artists. In the public universities, for the last 50 years, one could not earn a degree “making liturgical art” let alone studying it other than art history.

    The only encouragement was from St. John Paul II’s “Letter to Artists” in those 50 years. And lazy, uneducated pastors would order from a catalog of mass produced “art” (now much produced in China from Italian companies) than take the time to understand the tradition of support and symbolism.

    So, yes, maybe it is garbage. It is after all, the job of the artist to predict the future. It appears that we have done well.

  43. Gail says:

    I once read an essay by a Greek Orthodox person saying that these kind of paintings — not just this guy’s work — are offensive because Greeks really believe icons are holy and such paintings belittle that by turning “icon” into “just another design style.” I’ve never thought the same about them since. I must confess that I don’t care for the Greek style to begin with, but I used to just shrug it off as a matter of taste, and these “hero as saint” paintings as well. But now I do think they border on blasphemy, for numerous reasons including what you wrote. Paintings or prints of people you admire depicted as if they were actual saints is either something artists do to make an “ironic” statement, or it’s something they think is good. If nothing else, I think both are bad taste. But they might be more than that, even if in different ways.

  44. bobk says:

    I can provide a little background. Once Lenz was an Orthodox layman. He (unfortunately) learned some icon technique from an Orthodox monastery, who now regret it very much, they are and have been embarrassed by him for many years. He left Orthodoxy for who-knows-what, his ex wife told me he had painted an icon of an actual subject that was legitimate but it gave her the creeps so she discarded it. It’s pretty lame to see a real clergyman suggesting his blasphemous material. He really should know better. Other examples of Lenz are his (forgive me) depictions of some variety of uncreated being having just given birth to the planet earth, Martin Luther King, Thomas Merton as a Buddhist, in short, anybody he liked. He seems to have no one in charge of him, and alas, some misplaced talent with a brush, and zero understanding.

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