There is a current of thought that the West was actually doing quite alright until recently, that it was not until the Reformation, or the French Revolution, or Vatican II, etc. that her apostasy began. But sadly this is not the case. Those are significant dates in her decline, but her loss of God’s Grace began definitively with the Great Schism of 1054, though she began drifting away from the Orthodox Church some two hundred or more years even before then. As Blessed Fr Seraphim Rose of Platina shows, the art of the West offers ample proof of this early loss of Grace:
. . .
And finally he [Hans Sedlmayr--W.G.] gives a sort of summation of all these
destructive, dark influences as they have been in the history of
Western art. And although he himself was a lover of art before the
Revolution, that is, up to the eighteenth century, in this little
history of his, he shows very well that these destructive influences
go right back precisely to the moment where we discussed the
beginning of the apostasy, that is, the twelfth century.
The first outburst of this demonic elements, he says,
occurs in the late Romanesque. “It is in this phase that the sacred
world is suddenly endowed to a quite terrifying degree with a
demoniac character. Thus in the doorways” of various cathedrals,
“the sacred figures have the appearances of corpses and of ghosts,
a thing that can in no wise be explained by a certain remoteness
from humanity that marks the art of the high Middle Ages. Christ
sometimes resembles an Asiatic idol or an Asiatic despot. The
Apocalyptic beasts and the angels are all distorted by this
demoniac quality. This curious phenomenon cannot be explained
in terms of the dual intention that is discernable in much
medieval art, the intention to administer a certain awful shock to
the beholder and at the same time, by means of the sheer
absurdity of the visible symbols [it created], to spur his mind
towards purely spiritual contemplation; for directly beside the
sacred figures, and in the very midst of them, and indeed scarcely
distinguishable from them at all, are images of demons and of
demoniac beasts and chimaeras that even invade the interior of
“At the same time the figures themselves begin to
acquire a most remarkable and unprecedented quality of
instability. Those on the great arch above the door” of the
Cathedral “at Vezelay seem positively to be tottering, and look as
though they might crash down at any moment from the great
curve on which they have so precarious a footing. This is the
period when figures begin to be tangentially affixed to the frames
of the great doors, and it is to this period that belongs the great
Wheel of Fortune that lifts a man up and [ineluctably] casts him
down, and it is this period also that for the very first time stands
architectural forms upon their heads.
“All this is the visible expression of [that volubilitas
rerum,] that instability of human affairs, that people have
suddenly begun to feel with a peculiar and painful intensity. It is
in fact the visible symbol for the dominant mood, the dominant
feeling about life and the world.
“In religion the dominant emotion is fear, the principal
theme is the Day of Judgment, expressed to the uttermost
potential of all the terror that it can inspire. In the crypt-like
gloom of the church we can with our mind‟s eye see the faithful
standing „in fear and trembling before God.‟ Never has the
[mysterium tremendum]” tremendous mystery “attained such
force over men‟s minds.”cccxxii
So, already for some reason art begins to become
unstable. Although the main Gothic tradition goes on with its
great cathedrals, still he senses here some kind of instability.
Why? Because they, at that time they began to realize that they
had lost Orthodoxy. And the artist is more sensitive than other
people. This begins to come out in him. And when Orthodoxy is
lost, the demons begin to come in. And therefore the demons
directly inspire the artists.
Then there‟s a second period, which is that of
Hieronymus Bosch. “In the Romanesque” period “the demoniac
world had really not yet achieved a separate life of its own. It is
only in the Gothic that light and darkness are divided and the
cathedral indirectly brings into being as” its “polar opposite to the
Heavenly Kingdom, which is shown forth in itself, a Kingdom of
Hell,” even “though this [last] remains [essentially]” still “a
subordinate thing. [Then]” Thus “as the representational art of
the late Middle Ages develops, we begin to get painted
representations of Hell. The culminating point of this
development is to be found in Hieronymus Bosch who flourished
[between 1480 and 1516.]” around 1500.
“Bosch, a contemporary [and actual co-eval] of
Leonardo da Vinci, created the world of Hell as a kind of chaotic
counterpart to the new cosmic art of the High Renaissance,”
which we already saw, this idealistic, chiliastic painting, “and
what is entirely new about Bosch‟s infernal world is that it has its
own creative principles, its own chaotic „structure,‟ its own formal
laws, and it is really these that make it into a true counterworld to
the worlds of Heaven and earth. It is only since Bosch that we
have anything like a picture of Hell made visible.
“There is definite novelty in the very shapes of these
creatures from Hell. They are not „fallen children of men, who by
a simple process of metamorphosis have been turned into beasts
of the Devil,‟ but” they are “wholly independent and as yet
unknown forms of life, born of the marriage of every conceivable
kind of creature, fish, beast, bird, witch and mandrake, the
products of a kind of ungoverned cosmic lewdness and
debauchery, in which even lifeless things can mingle with the
living. All this was something that lay wholly outside the horizons
“New also is the actual scenery of Hell, and we see
aspects of the face of this earth which had never before been put
on canvas. We see here dark gulfs, empty stretches of earth and
sea that seem to tell us how utterly God has forsaken them, the
desolation of empty cities, strange hideous places whose
vegetation are gallows-trees and wheels of torture, slime and
morass. Here are neither sun nor moon, such light as there is
comes from vast conflagrations or from the irridescence of
strange phosphorescent shapes. Hell can show us the work of
human hands, but it is distorted, arid in decay. Above all we see
ruins, we see them continually -- and in Hell there are also
arsenals, a fighting equipment of strange machines, pieces of
apparatus that are often meaningless, though sometimes they
have a meaning, being instruments of torture, while through the
air sail airships, demon manned and demon piloted.”cccxxiii
. . .
Source: Orthodox Survival Course, http://tinyurl.com/gncvke7, downloaded 6 Feb. 2017, pgs. 114-5
A good ensample of what Fr Seraphim and Sedlmayr are speaking of is the work of Giotto, who lived and painted during the High Middle Ages, supposedly the high point of Western Civilization. But we see in his works exactly that demonic spirit which broke into Western life, following hard upon the heels of her fall into schism.
-The strange faces of men and angels here:
(Contrast with a traditional Orthodox icon of the Lamentation: http://www.traditionalbyzantineiconography.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/deadchrist2.jpg, from http://www.traditionalbyzantineiconography.com/2017/11/09/on-the-differences-of-western-religious-art-and-orthodox-iconography/, 9 Jan. 2018)
-The demonic seraphim-‘Christ’ wounding Francis of Assisi:
Fr Seraphim comments on Giotto’s work:
. . . But there’s
a painter who’s most typical of this time called Giotto, who was
very closely bound up with Francis because he was commissioned
to paint his life in the basilica of Assisi. But in him, one historian
says: “Painting was no longer an echo of tradition, but rose at
once to the dignity of invention.... Art no longer worked on
conventional models, abstract and ideal; its models were to be the
realities of nature.... Representation of real life was to become the
object of all painting.” And therefore it’s called an artistic
revolution, and it’s quite fitting that the new saint, new kind of
saint has already a new kind of icon, which is no longer an icon
but a religious painting. False iconography; false saint gives rise
to a false iconography.
He adds many elements from everyday life. This is the
beginning of this thing which you see later in the Renaissance
painting where all kinds of quaint scenes from everyday life. You
even see a Crucifixion of Christ in the heart of Bologna or
something like that; this is to show that we’re, combination of
up-to-dateness and so forth. But you can see from these paintings
of Giotto how far away he is even from Duccio. Here is one called
the “Mourning of Christ;” if you look at the close-up especially
you see that the faces are very...
Fr. H: Vicious.
Fr. S: Sort of vicious and very weird looking. It’s still a
religious painting, recognizable, doesn’t have all the (sils?) later
on, but already looks very strange, not at all iconographic style.
And Francis receiving the stigmata, already it’s (a sort of
prelest?); here’s the vision which he got directly from himself...
Fr. H: It’s demonic.
Fr. S: Christ on the seraphim, this weird thing, it’s this
demonic thing, it’s an icon of Francis. And this is somewhat at the
same time. You see already all these different kinds of faces. He’s
obviously trying to capture psychological...
Fr. H: Earthly, earthly.
Fr. S: ...earthly aspects of these people. Christ is a still
recognizable Christ, but it’s gets all the other people with these passions, . . .
Source: Orthodox Survival Course, p. 13
But there is even worse than this, with actual sculpted demons and other chimerical monsters placed on churches, such as Notre Dame de Paris. (When shown in Orthodox icons, demons and evil men never look at the viewer directly, only from the side, because we are not to have communion with them. See Judas at the Last Supper, for ensample: https://www.orthodoxmonasteryicons.com/products/mystical-supper-icon-sp. But after-Schism Western art changed this radically.)
-The disgusting depictions of female genitalia on churches
-And other grotesque sculptures as well
This fallen spirit of Western ‘Christian art’ is the opposite of what one finds in the Orthodox Church:
. . .
The portrayal of “christ”, this anti-spiritualism, is an offspring of camp santo, the skeletons, the macabre Trappist monasteries, the depiction of the Second Coming, such as that of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, the gargoyles, this is to say, the grotesque statues of the Church of Notre Dame, a confusion between saints and demons.
In the devotional icon, everything is elevated from the world in its depiction. The figure itself, the grass, the rocks, buildings, trees, etc. Nothing in an icon is shown in a corruptible state, but in a supramundane manner. Christ, in His icon of the Crucifixion is shown standing on the cross. One can not tell if the cross is holding Him up or if He is holding up the Cross. Any afflictions that had befallen Him are expressed in the icon as gentleness and forgiveness towards those who inflicted harm upon His body. His face is tranquil, humble, a saddening joy, a sample of the nature we will have once we have gained our salvation.
Photios Kontoglou: “The crucified body is not just anyone, but is the very Body of the God-Man Himself; therefore it is not a corpse, but rather incorruptible unto eternity, and the source of life. It radiates the hope of resurrection. The Lord does not hang on the Cross like some miserable tatter, but it is He, rather, who appears to be supporting the Cross. His hands are not cramped, being nailed to the Wood, rather, He spreads them out serenely in supplication, according to the Troparion which says “Thou hast spread thy palms, and united what before had been divided, that is, God and man.”
. . .
Source: Paul Azkoul, http://www.traditionalbyzantineiconography.com/2017/11/09/on-the-differences-of-western-religious-art-and-orthodox-iconography/, opened 8 Jan. 2018
No one should think that the West has much of a cure to offer for the problems of the world. It is all too true that her apostasy is responsible for most of its recent woes (see this, e.g., http://www.events.orthodoxengland.org.uk/cains-technology-of-death-and-the-spiritual-decomposition-of-the-western-world/). Only her repentance and her entering again into the Orthodox Church of her forefathers will do much to help the leods (nations) of the world.
Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!
Anathema to the Union!