I walked into our Classical Conversations assembly wearing a long, brown Jedi Knight cloak. (Having boys with big imaginations means our house is full of cloaks, capes, swords, and light sabers.) I asked the group of eager Classical Conversations students whom I looked like. They knew I probably did not really intend to talk about Star Wars, so they graciously exclaimed, “You’re a monk!”
I was dressed to look like a monk; I wanted to tell them about the artist of the week, Fra Angelico. This artist really captured my imagination this year, and I wanted to draw the students to him, too.
Fra is not his first name. It translates into English as “brother,” which is what the monks would call each other. Angelico is not his last name, either. It essentially means “like an angel.” So, this was a man whom people called “the angelic brother.” I asked the boys to raise their hands if they are often called “the angelic brother.” Not a single hand was raised. That was our first clue that Fra Angelico was no ordinary modern man!
This “angelic brother” was a monk who gave up all his worldly possessions and vowed to live a life of poverty in order to serve God full time and wholeheartedly—no distractions from the impediments of accumulating things. (Impediment comes from impedimenta, the Latin word meaning “stuff,” so you can see how stuff was considered an impediment even to the ancient Romans.)
His first job as a monk was to help copy the Scriptures. This is what his copying looked like:
That is really doing your copy work, “As unto the Lord!” It is also a great example of illuminating the text, what students practice in the PreScripts book Cursive Passages and Illuminations. (I teach my children that an “A” on their schoolwork stands for “As unto the Lord” and we often discuss whether they are doing their work “as unto the Lord” or at a “B” level, which means they did it “Because you made me.”) I am referring to Colossians 3:23 which says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.” (NIV)
Once word got out that Fra Angelico had some artistic talent, he was asked to paint the baptismal and the walls of the church. He did all his paintings “As unto the Lord,” by which I mean, he gave it his all. He painted lifelike faces, he used real gold to highlight areas, and he created elaborate scenes.
What strikes me as interesting is the paradox that a man who thought it most important to live and dress simply spent his life adorning the church elaborately. He was, however, working in obedience; he did not question the authority of the Pope who directed the work. I am sure that pleases God, too. I am impressed by the “angelic brother” who gave his best to God in the way he lived, dressed, and worked.