The “logo” designed by Jesuit Father Marko Rupnik for the Jubilee of Mercy has bothered me since the day it was released last year. It’s more than the fact that it’s ugly that bothers me. In short, there’s something wrong here both with the logo and with its stated meaning, and wrong in ways that are indicative of a general theme.
To begin, the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization writes that the logo “represents an image quite important to the early Church: that of the Son having taken upon his shoulders the lost soul demonstrating that it is the love of Christ that brings to completion the mystery of his incarnation culminating in redemption.” While it is true that the theme of the Good Shepherd carrying His lamb is part of the bi-millennial tradition of the church, the logo they are actually describing is far from Good Shepherd iconography, which, in and of itself, is pictorially comforting. The Merciful like the Father logo, on the other hand, is off-putting and discomfiting, which we’ll see is not accidental.
What does the image actually say? To answer this question, we should start with the overall impression it gives. In other words, is the image beautiful?
As the Rupnik piece is ostensibly Catholic, one might imagine that beauty would be of paramount importance in its creation. In the Letter of His Holiness to Artists, the recently sainted Pope John Paul II stated, “In a very true sense it can be said that beauty is the vocation bestowed on [the artist] by the Creator in the gift of ‘artistic talent’.”
Whatever we see in this neo-icon, what we find is surely not beautiful. The logo rather elicits the revulsion reminiscent of trypophobic (so-called) pictures on the web. It is off-putting, discordant, confused, aesthetically disconcerting, and somewhat…well, creepy. At first glance, the false icon appears to show a man with two heads. Look again, and you’ll find two figures together – one is supposed to represent Christ, the other the sinner he carries. But between them they have only three eyes. And this third eye is a merging together of the two.
How does the Vatican account for this cinematic oddity? The Pontifical Council explains, “One particular feature worthy of note [as though we might miss it] is that while the Good Shepherd, in his great mercy, takes humanity upon himself, his eyes are merged with those of man.” But this is not strictly true. On the one hand, God became man, so in a way, yes, God’s eyes merged with man in the incarnation. But this iconography doesn’t actually elicit the incarnation of the Word through the Blessed Mother – rather, it shows a man merging with the God-Man. Might one not be led, then, to believe that man can merge with God, if God merges with man in the way Fr. Rupnik has depicted? And while one half of the icon shows us the God-Man, Christ, does the other half show us the man-god that we might progress to?
As the Pontifical Council states, “Christ sees with the eyes of Adam, and Adam with the eyes of Christ.” Maybe such an implication is why no orthodox iconographer has ever depicted such a merging. What it says is ultimately not Christian.
The Pontifical Council maintains that the logo “represents an image quite important to the early Church” and that it shows “a figure quite important in early and medieval iconography.” It most certainly does not. At best, the logo hearkens back to and elicits Christian iconography. But to the extent that Rupnik quotes the authentic tradition, he rather misquotes it and inhabits it to take it out of context, while at the same time claiming the authority of the original host.
He does so in two ways. First, and as we’ve seen, the work explicitly takes the Good Shepherd iconography and perverts it into this merging of man and God. Second, the logo displays several uses of an almond shape, also known as the mandorla, or vesica piscis. We know this not only because our eyes tell us so, but because the Pontifical Council does as well. In their words, “[t]he scene is captured within the so called mandorla (the shape of an almond), a figure quite important in early and medieval iconography, for it calls to mind the two natures of Christ, divine and human.”
Without a doubt, orthodox Christian iconography is replete with this shape. The Virgin of Guadalupe stands in the midst of a mandorla, and many depictions of Christ throughout the millennia do as well. In this way, the logo does make use of Christian tradition, but it has clearly done so in an odd way. The fact that the image is surrounded by a mandorla is not, to my eye at least, especially noteworthy in any negative way, but coupled with the merging bodies and with the third eye, which is also almond-shaped, the entire piece takes on an occult feeling.
Viewing the work from an occult, or let’s say New Age, perspective, the mandorla is also known as the vesica piscis, which Wikipedia describes as “[t]he intersection of two congruent disks, each centered on the perimeter of the other.” Certainly such a shape, which can be used at home to make equilateral triangles, is totally innocuous. It represents, in a Christian context, the point at which heaven and earth meet: one circle representing heaven, the other earth, and the vesica piscis is the shape left where they meet in the middle. It’s pretty clear why Christ is frequently represented standing there.
However, the vesica piscis is also steeped in the occult. Freemason George Oliver, whom the Masonic Dictionary describes as “one of the most distinguished and learned of English Freemasons,” claimed that the vesica piscis is “a universal exponent of architecture or Masonry, and the original source or fountain from which its signs and symbols are derived – it constituted the great and enduring secret of our ancient brethren.”
It’s clear then that while the mandorla has a pure and true Christian context, it also has an occult context much elicited in the “Merciful like the Father” logo precisely because the image depicts a god merging with a man and a third eye. Surely it is no stretch to interpret this merged eye as the so-called third eye of the occult, of Hinduism, etc., because it is the most prominent feature on the sparse icon.
The concept of the third eye is heavily discussed in the New Age movement as well – appropriately enough, because the so-called New Age movement reverberates strongly in the post-conciliar church and in this logo.
One Fr. Richard Rohr, who has promoted the occult enneagram in books like The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, writing for the Huffington Post, described interpreting the “third eye” as “the full goal of all seeing and all knowing.” He goes on to write (italics in the original):
Now do not let the word “mystic” scare you off. It simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience. All spiritual traditions agree that such a movement is possible, desirable, and available to everyone. In fact, Jesus seems to say that this is the whole point! (See, for example, John 10:19-38.) Some call this movement conversion, some call it enlightenment, some transformation, and some holiness. It is Paul’s “third heaven,” where he “heard things that must not and cannot be put into human language” (2 Corinthians 12:2, 4).
I would say that such a “belonging system” as Rohr derisively downplays Catholicism as is exactly what a blessed image like the Christ Pantocrator gives to the faithful, which is precisely what gnostic elitists want to strip from us as they push us to what they imagine is an “actual inner experience,” or rather an “enlightenment,” or this “third heaven” – as if it weren’t an actual inner experience that brought us to the true faith in the first place. Maybe this is why ugliness is embraced.
The idea of a “belonging system” in context with the logo is apt, since the logo exudes a strong sense of un-belonging – who would like to belong to that logo, after all? This is the point, since the entire modernist, neo-pagan, gnostic New Age movement takes as Gospel Truth the directive that it must break the rest of us from our traditional belief systems to move us into what its proponents see as “authentic” modes of worship as we progress to the grand future. At the same time, such men vociferously maintain the pretense of orthodoxy, which is why the Pontifical Council insists that the logo “represents an image quite important to the early Church” and that it shows “a figure quite important in early and medieval iconography” when it instead introduces a new concept to Catholicism by redirecting the meaning of approved visual forms.
In other words, the logo is artistic parasitism, using the patrimony of Catholic art as its host. A cycloid third eye has no place in the iconographic record; you cannot graft it in now, no matter how traditional you claim what surrounds it is.
When discussing an earlier work of art, a mosaic installed in the Spirituality Center of Suore Adoratrici in Lenno, Italy, the crafter of the logo, Rupnik was quoted by a fellow artist and Pope Francis biographer, Roberto Alborghetti, as saying:
When matter exudes light, it tinges with color. The colors testify the world soul. Things are alive and the universe has its own heart. The color is the flesh of the world. The color is related to the universe matter. The universe is colorful. In a certain sense, it is the color. But is the light that makes us seeing it. The color and the light: they are an indivisible unity.
“World soul”? Which religion does such a sentiment correspond to? “Things are alive and the universe has its own heart.” Such talk may come from the mouth of a guru on a rerun of Oprah, but it is not Catholic.
To be fair, some of Rupnik’s decoration, from what I can see, can be quite good when he more or less faithfully respects tradition. But where he veers, which it is clearly his desire to do, his work is undoubtedly bad and anti-Christian.
The “Merciful like the Father” logo is a clear nexus of much that is evil within the church. As an artist and priest, Rupnik works to change the church by skewing Her iconography the way others skew Her documents and definitions and quote themselves to support their own condemned beliefs.
This movement cannot ultimately be successful, because the visual iconographic record, like the magisterium, is too clear. For the moment, however, we have been offered a new vision, a visual alter-magisterium. In the words of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, “[t]he logo and the motto together provide a fitting summary of what the Jubilee Year is all about[.] … The logo … presents a small summa theologiae of the theme of mercy.”
If this creature represents a visual summa, then what does the New Evangelization actually evangelize?