Sistine Chapel not fit to be seen

In an open letter to the entire college of Cardinals published Monday, Pope Francis made a stunning announcement. His letter began:

“Dear Members of the Catholic Community,

As we celebrate Monday, I write to let you know of a recent decision.”

This “recent decision” addressed a topic which has garnered much attention in recent years: horrendously offensive murals. The Holy Father continued:

“The murals by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni that adorn the ceiling and altarpiece of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel depict various scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Painted in 1508 and 1512, and later completed between 1535 and 1541not long after the Sack of Romethey reflect the attitudes of the time and were intended as a didactic presentation responding to a cultural desire for things of beauty and meaning. In recent years, however, many have come to see the murals as, at best, blind to the consequences of the Creation of Adam for the Environment and the ice-caps that inhabited it, and as, at worst, proud of Western Civilization.”

Here the Vicar of Christ explains the context in which the frescoes were painted, though he does so briefly. These murals were painted at a time when art was predominately anthropocentric and, even worse, androcentric. They seem positively backwards in light of our new socio-ecological understanding. This systemic bigotry is evident not merely in the figures depicted, but, as the Supreme Pontiff notes, in the story they depict.

By far the most famous of these works is titled The Creation of Adam. Adam, according the unscientific superstition of traditional Judeo-Christian biblicism, is the progenitor of the entire human race. Apocryphal nature of the story aside, the idea that human existence is something to celebrate is ignorant to the point of atrocity. Humans are responsible for every genocide and, more importantly, every eco-genocide in history. The Chainsmokers are also humans. The Eternal City is no place for this.

Celebrating humankind, however, is not the most offensive aspect of these murals. As His Holiness notes, continuing to display the Sistine murals indicates a clear respect, if not preference, for Western culture. To glorify the West is to glorify extended life expectancy, safe childbirth, propagation of morals, freedom, and America. If anything could be worse than humans, it is that they were able to transcend a subsistence economy. It is relieving that the Bishop of Rome has finally acquiesced to the urgent requests for the removal of these affronts to decency.

Pope Francis concluded his letter by indicating the steps he will take to remove the Sistine murals from public sight.

“The murals in the Sistine Chapel will themselves be covered by a bland, uninspired material consistent with the theology of the age, though it will be possible to display the murals on occasion.”

This is a large step for EcoSocialFemiBiological Justice.