Why Botero’s Satire on Conformist Clergy Takes the Ultimate Form of Ontological Criticism?

Fernando Botero, “Reclining Priest”, 1977

The priest’s fatness and his bodily closeness to the soil immediately engulf the viewers’ attention. His heavy shoes and massive feet belong to a person whose soul has no wings – they belong to a heavy physical world inert and resisting to change. Is the priest plump because he eats too much? – We have a deal with art (“Boterismo” style), not with illustration in a book on health. Botero is more interesting than that. He makes his figures (not only clergy) “voluminous” because, it seems, this is for him the metaphor of materialism – orientation on emotional stability, on solidity of existence that reflects people’s loyalty to social hierarchy of power (the church hierarchy is a part of). In their social position and moral concept priests like Botero’s are not just conservative; their conservatism reflects the authoritarian and dogmatic nature of the traditional social authorities. The lying (on the ground) position of the priest and the exaggerated massiveness of his shoes, like his corpulence, emphasize the anti-spirituality (materialism) of his orientation in life that is connected with intolerance towards progressive changes in conditions of life and any attempts by some to follow Christ (not merely to worship his authority).

Fernando Botero, “Stroll in the Hills”, 1977

The “strolling” priest is moving nowhere. He is not walking; he is, indeed, strolling in life. But even this is too much of a movement for him – he is rather standing like a plant. He doesn’t have active (creative) goals. He is as stationary as stationery. He is the stationery for the church hierarchs and the ruling bureaucracy. His mission is just to be present – whether it is to lie on the ground or to stand still amidst life: to be as passive as a tack or a piece of cardboard. This priest is cross-eyed not so much physiologically but psychologically. He doesn’t have any goal in front of him (nothing to look at) and instead he is identical with himself as a part of a respectable hierarchy. His task is not to see the world around but exactly not to see it – he understands his service to the Church as not being interested in the world (the “fallen reality” doesn’t deserve to be registered by the human attention). To be attentive to the world with human beings as they’re is perceived by creatures like this as sinful occupation. “God is more important than man, church is more important than human life”. This priest is really a monist in his dedication. There is no rain – the priest’s umbrella, according to the logical chain of Botero’s images, is his defense against disturbing his inertia spiritual messages present in Christ’s teaching.

Fernando Botero, “Stroll in the Forest”

Americans who have grown up on animation cartoons can easily imagine a mushroom strolling along the lake, with parasol and a decorative bustle-tail. But can the bank of a lake be as straight as it is so unrealistically made in Botero’s painting? Step by step we come to grasp Botero’s idea – this is not really a lake or a river what reflects the mushroom-bishop. It is the abyss. It is Botero’s parody on the skies understood according to religious dogma as reflecting the pious among us in the eternity. The feeling of being pious and capable of surviving our death is a self-aggrandizing experience of an incredible psychological power. It is similar with the feeling of being chosen, as if having reserved the eternity as a reward for belonging to the church hierarchy. What is perceived by those who dream to be reflected by what is above life as the heavenly abode of eternity is in reality located under and not over them. It is a reflection down, not up. Is it hell then? Do the crowns of the trees look a bit like clouds (there is a cloudy quality to them)? What is perceived by pop-religious consciousness as the sublime human desire to join God in His abode is, according to Botero, nothing more than the desire to join the might of a predatory forest of an anti-spiritual life.

Thank God, not all Catholic priests are like those represented by Botero. Here are some photos of those who for trying to incarnate the words of Christ in life were murdered by the right-wing activists who themselves go to the church not to learn how to bring Christ’s word into a reality but to find and stabilize a place for themselves in the social hierarchy of power.

Priest Ignacio Ellacuria was a philosopher, theologian and Rector of the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador.

Priest Segundo Montes was a scholar, philosopher, educator, sociologist.

Appreciate the difference between the autistic faces of Botero’s “mentally retarded” priests and these intelligent, intellectually alert and spiritual faces of people who preached and taught moral response to poverty through addressing the source of its existence – the sins of pride and greed (read more about Liberation Theology).