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Andy Warhol, a Catholic?

CATHOLIC CELEBRITY PROFILE:  Andy Warhol (1928-1987)

This famous pop artist, avant-garde filmmaker and so much else was the darling of Hollywood celebrities and the wealthy. He delighted in what many of us would regard as tacky or mundane. I can still remember his Campbell’s Soup Can picture— ah, made me hungry to look at it! Although some thought his work was cheap, many critics today rank him in the same category of creativity with Picasso, although with more diffused interests.

As a child, his family attended St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church in Pittsburgh, PA. When he died, his two brothers had the body brought back to Pittsburgh. During the wake, he was posed with a small prayer book and a red rose. The Mass was held at Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic Church. The eulogy was given by Msgr. Peter Tay. After the Mass, the priest and procession drove to the old family church cemetery where he was buried next to his parents. Another memorial service was later held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York.

If his work was regarded as peculiar, his personal life was no less enigmatic. Many regarded him as a homosexual and yet it is also said that his personal virginity was unassailed.

I have to wonder if he did not purposely exalt the commercial and secular so that we might better see the naked truth about ourselves and our culture. His juxtaposing a religious message and consumerism in his last works seems to demonstrate this fusion and/or contradiction with which we live. Many of us did not like his work and many of his messages, I suspect, because he pushed up into our faces the artificiality and market-mentality that possesses us. Even Leonardo da Vinci’s LAST SUPPER, has become the stuff of home decoration, with cheap rip-offs but void of true meaning. He took this work and multiplied it over and over again with secular signs added. It was awful— it was our society held up against a mirror.

THE LAST SUPPER (1986)

Many people are surprised to discover that Warhol was a practicing Catholic, although of the Eastern or Byzantine rite. He often went to Mass at Roman Catholic churches. He saw himself as a religious person and personally volunteered at New York homeless shelters. A number of private religious works were discovered in his estate after his death. He went to daily Mass at St. Vincent Ferrer in New York. The pastor reported that he would kneel or sit in the back but rarely came up to the altar for communion for fear of being recognized. It is said that, given some of his art and films, he was afraid to bring scandal upon the Church. One of his brothers stated that he was “really religious” but also intensely “private” about his Catholic faith. The art historian John Richardson in a eulogy noted that he was devout, saying, “To my certain knowledge, he was responsible for at least one conversion. He took considerable pride in financing his nephew’s studies for the priesthood” (Wikepedia).

6 Responses

  1. Father, this is a very interesting post that I’m only belatedly seeing. My husband and I moved to the Pittsburgh area about five years ago, and we have been to Andy Warhol’s church, St. John Chrysostom, in Pittsburgh a few times. The parish has money bequeathed to them from Warhol’s estate, and because of that, the church is well kept and is one of the most beautiful churches one could ever behold. The icons are overwhelmingly lovely, and the building is an interesting fusion of the Catholic faith in the East and West because, along with the icons, it has Western-style stained-glass windows. For some reason, when we attend liturgy at that church, we feel surrounded by comfort, love, and beauty, and it is hard to walk out. There are a couple of pictures at the following link, though they don’t accurately convey the “feel” of the church: http://www.archeparchy.org/page/directories/parishes/pittsburghstjc.htm

  2. I don’t think God cares wheter someone is a “catholic” or goes to church, or even works in charity kitchens and gives alms.

    FATHER JOE:

    I take it then that you are not a Catholic. Catholic doctrine is very clear that salvation truth subsists in the Church instituted directly by Jesus Christ. We pray for the salvation of others but view membership in the Church as extremely important. No one is saved apart from the intervention of both our Lord and the Church which is his great sacrament of salvation in the world. We encounter our Lord through the Church, his mystical body.

    Participation at Mass binds Catholics under pain of mortal sin. It is one of the precepts of the Church. Here again you are wrong to dismiss the Eucharist where there is an unbloody re-presentation of the oblation of Calvary and Jesus nourishes us with the REAL PRESENCE of his body and blood. You are thus wrong on this second point, too.

    Third, works have merit because Christ lives in us and extends his love to others through our discipleship. Everything done by Jesus has value. Saving faith is not merely a verbal expression, but must be lived out in charity. Strike three, you are wrong once again.

    Devout Jews crucified Jesus Christ.

    FATHER JOE:

    The Council of Trent is very clear. Jesus was put to death by the accumulative sins of all mankind throughout all human history. Certain ancient Jews and Romans where merely our emissaries; in other words, you killed Jesus. This might have been a truth that Warhol understood better than you do?

    Unfortunately, I believe the previous poster hit the nail on the head in comparing Warhol to Dali. There is a perversity, an obsession (slavery) to pleasure and idolatry (and demeaning cruelty–portraits splattered w/urine; studio 54 drugs & sado machistic sex),

    Wikipedia also states his “art” aired in porn theaters and was refused by galleries for being too homoerotic.

    FATHER JOE:

    I am not an apologist for all his art. But I do think the artist himself is more complex and, in this case, more a Christian than some critics might have thought. The crucifixion itself is a peculiar piece of art that adorns most Catholic churches. It is the depiction of a nearly naked man, scourged, crowned with thorns, and nailed to two pieces of wood. If we did not know the Gospel, we would probably think Catholics are sick and/or insane. The story is what makes the difference.

    No-one who has the light hides it under a bushel basket. Like Dali, Warhol chose to proclaim the lies, darkness and vice of the world–the exact opposite of what Jesus Christ proclaimed.

    What he kept hidden was his belief in Jesus Christ. You can’t proclaim both good and evil.

    FATHER JOE:

    Look at the crucifix again. We see both good and evil. What is the evil? We tortured and murdered the divine person of Jesus Christ. We rejected him and condemned him as a criminal and a liar even though he was entirely innocent. There is no greater depiction of evil. And yet, that same symbol has become the sign of Christ’s victory over sin and death. What should be a sign of failure and loss has been transmuted into a sign of victory and eternal life. Christ made himself the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. This is the overriding good we see in the Cross. Your critique falls short on this fourth point, as well.

    This man’s legacy is on display at the Smithsonian:

    http://townhall.com/columnists/PatBuchanan/2010/12/07/naked_men_in_national_museums/page/2

    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/prominent-foundation-threatens-to-pull-funding-from-smithsonian-over-ant-covered-jesus-removal/

    FATHER JOE:

    Actually, while his foundation is involved, the controversial video of an ant-ridden plastic crucifix is by someone else. It is true, however, that works by Warhol and various others are part of the exhibit.

    What surprises me, like cardinals standing up for the Catholicism of Ted Kennedy (the man who slept with 1000 women, criminalized protesting at abortion clinics & spent $10 million buying off bimbo eruptions) is a Father who would be happy to claim Warhol as “Catholic”.

    FATHER JOE:

    I was a vocal critic of the late senator in regards to his involvement with Planned Parenthood and the abortion agenda. But you are wrong to speak so ill of the dead when it comes to his personal life. The last time I looked, calumny and gossip were regarded as sins. I can forgive your attack against me, but I would warn you against impugning the reputation of the good Cardinals who are shepherds of the Church appointed by Jesus Christ. If you are a Catholic, you owe them respect and obedience.

    As for claiming Warhol as a Catholic, yes I would be happy to claim him and all sinners as Catholics. Indeed, given what I have read, he could have taught you something about humility. When critics make themselves self-righteous, they are very far from the heart of Jesus. Remember, our Lord went out to the lepers, the sick, the prostitutes, the traitorous tax-collectors, in other words, to the hurting and sinners.

    Where were the priests who would tell him the truth instead pf giving him false absolution for money? These priests are as damned as Warhol.

    FATHER JOE:

    I take it that you are not a Catholic? I say this because the allegation that absolution is for sale is a slur of the anti-Catholic enemies of the Church. I see little of Christianity in your comments, even though you would presume to judge me as a priest. Your statement here is clear. You have condemned me to hell. You also usurp the authority of almighty God and pass judgment on the dead. My response will be that of our Lord. I will pray for you. No one pays for forgiveness but Jesus has indeed made his priests into ministers of reconciliation. When people come with contrite hearts, we forgive sins. This is the great power that Jesus gives his Church. Like the Pharisees of old, you seem to resent how liberally priests may use this authority. You would condemn Warhol. We rejoice that he received the Last Rites and knew God’s mercy. You would condemn me and the priesthood. Do you have your hammer ready and the crosses where you would crucify us?

    Jesus Christ was a carpenter. When he died he was a laughing stock–not some lionized pop star. Go and sin no more. The wages of sin is death.

    FATHER JOE:

    Your post is illustrative of many sins and misconceptions, but I would urge you to look in the mirror. Be wary of casting stones.

  3. I happen to be the kind of person that’s very quick to judge but by HIS grace that’s a thing of the past. I pray Warhol is in the bosom of CHRIST & many of us find our way back to GOD Amen.

  4. When I first saw the painting it seemed sacrilegious. It is a reminder to me of how easily the human mind can miss significance by quickly judging.

  5. How very interesting Father, thanks for posting that. I’ve seen many of his works but I never knew he was an observant Catholic. Another one to hold up to the anti-Catholic- smarter than thou group.

  6. This was something that I learned about shortly after his death, and a tidbit that I remembered for the fact that no matter what the press makes of someone, they can be a total opposite. Farrah Fawcett reportedly became very devout in her faith at the end of her life, and received Last Rites before her death and Catholic burial in the LA cathedral. And Jack Kerouac, the beat writer, was unique among them in that in spite of his writings and alcohol and drug abuse, held himself as a conservative Catholic. And Vincent Price, though he played the ghoul on screen, became Catholic to marry his final wife. Dali seems to have gotten more and more Catholic as he got older, but I think the verdict will never come down to whether he was sincere, or if it was yet another of his send-ups.

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