The Wisdom of Fra Angelico

"He who wishes to paint Christ's story, must live with Christ."

John of Fiesole (Fra Angelico),the patron of Christian artists,left us many paintings but few words. The quotes that are attributed to him, however, speak volumes.

"He who wishes to paint Christ's story, must live with Christ."

"He who does Christ's work, must stay with Christ always." 

On being offered (and declining) the position of Archbishop of Florence:

"I can paint pictures, but I cannot rule men."

A Christmas Letter

And then there is this, a Christmas letter, written to a friend in 1513. Read it as if the good friar was addressing you personally:

“I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep.

There is nothing I can give you which you have not already, but there is much, very much, which though I cannot give it, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in today.

Take heaven.

No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this precious little instant.

Take peace.

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach is joy. There is radiance and courage in the darkness could we but see; and to see, we have only to look.

Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their coverings, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love, and wisdom, and power. Welcome it, greet it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it.

Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there, the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence.

Our joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven.

Courage, then, to claim it, that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims wending through unknown country our way home.

And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you, not quite as the world sends greeting, but with profound esteem now and forever.

The day breaks and the shadows flee away.”

Taken together these words speak of the virtues all Christian artists, indeed all Christians, should strive for:

  • love of God, and a desire to be close to Him
  •  humility
  • recognizing the sacredness of the present moment
  • and a realization that there is an invisible world just beyond the visible, and that the role of the artist is to show the world that which it cannot see on its own.

this article originally appeared at


Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at

Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at