header icons

The Power of Fritz Eichenberg Woodcuts with Dorothy Day Text in The Catholic Worker: The Peaceable Kingdom

Fr. Daprile, a priest from the Diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, has just sent us a copy of his dissertation at Duquesne University. It is entitled The Power of the Visual Image and its Correlation to Text: The Graphic Illustrations of Fritz Eichenberg and the Texts of Dorothy Day as found in The Catholic Worker 1949-1980. Fr. Daprile studied and catalogued the beautiful woodcuts Eichenberg con-tributed to The Catholic Worker over almost forty years, correlating them with Dorothy’s accompanying texts and other articles in the paper which surrounded them on related themes. Excerpts from Fr. Daprile’s monumental study of Eichenberg’s art as related to CW texts follow, especially emphasizing his examination of one woodcut, The Peaceable Kingdom.

A 1949 conference on “Religion and Publishing” at Pendle Hill (Wallingford, Pennsylvania), the Quaker retreat and study center, brought Fritz Eichenberg and Dorothy Day together for the first time. Gilbert Kilpack, a Quaker friend and director of studies at Pendle Hill, called Eichenberg with the exciting news that Day was to be part of a small symposium on religious publishing. Eichen-berg was invited and was seated at the roundtable between Kilpack and Day. While Eichenberg was familiar with Day’s paper and her Catholic radicalism and peace efforts, he was overwhelmed by her presence and determination.

“She looked at me wistfully out of her slanted eyes, braids forming a halo around her head. She was clearly made of the stuff of saints and martyrs, although no one realized it then. You couldn’t possibly refuse her anything without feeling ashamed of yourself. She must have known of my work through Dostoevsky whom we both revered. She loved art; I loved her faith and courage.

“‘Would you be willing to do some work for our paper?’ she asked with her bewitching smile. I felt I had been knighted-and hooked! Did she know that I was not a Catholic, just a recently ‘convinced Friend? Yes, she knew and that didn’t bother her a bit.”

The request was simple. Eichenberg’s reply was equally unpretentious. “That’s perfectly all right with me too. Just try me out.” So a week later, after the conference was over, she called me up in New York and I went down to Mott Street at the time.” Day and the Worker represented what Eichenberg believed: the reality of Christ in everyone, compassionate atten-tion to those who were most fragile, and help for those damaged by social systems.

“Through Dorothy, a period of my life began in which I was able to contribute to the work of a movement that gives an example of the spirit of poverty and unconditional love and nonviolence. These are the things Quakers aspire to but the Catholic Worker practices. Also I was drawn to the Christ-centeredness of the Catholic Worker, the way they saw Christ in everyone. If you see Christ in every living being, how can you kill? It’s impossible. The Catholic Worker, for me, is not only a way of seeing but of listening so carefully that the person you listen to may be changed for the better, even a very violent person.”

Eichenberg and Day had much in common. There was the appreciation for music, love of the great Russian authors Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, a reverence for peacemakers like Jesus, St. Francis, and Gandhi, a social conscience that burst forth in action and art, and an ardent dream that the world was capable of being reformed by compassion and peace.

Day asked Eichenberg for “something emotional, some-thing that would touch people through images, as she was trying to do through words.” Day realized that many of her readers, like the coal mine workers in West Virginia, could not read but could understand through pictures and their allure. This is where Eichenberg and Day created a powerful alliance. Word and image were combined deliberately to promote the tenets of the Catholic Worker movement and to satisfy the conscience cravings of Eichenberg, the Friend.

Eichenberg visited Day’s house of hospitality. While shocked at the sight of the breadlines, he returned to give Friday night talks, mostly about art and the drama of the human face, at Mott Street, at Houston Street, and at First Street. His work for The Catholic Worker progressively illustrated and developed the principal themes of the Catholic Worker theology: the dignity of work, the sacredness of life, the beauty of the simple, the centrality of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy in the life of a believer, and the integrity of the prophets and saints, both in history and in contemporary society. Through these images, Eichenberg tried to find a target, touch the imagination, identify a human need, and elicit an empathetic response.

Eichenberg found a source of inspiration and influence in Dorothy Day. “I owe her much for my concepts of faith, hope, and charity in a corrupt world, a debt which I try to repay in a small measure with my work in her valiant paper.” In Day, Eichenberg found a woman passionate about the arts, a Christian with uncomplicated convictions, a visionary who brought redemption day by day.

“To find in Dorothy the person who could combine the gentleness of the Christian faith with her very aggressive attitude towards everyday life and politics and what’s going on in the world-what’s going on in Washington, that attracted me. She didn’t mince any words if her mind told her this was a crime against humanity.”

Eichenberg was inspired by the intensity of her pursuits for peace and justice, which solidified his own positions. In Day, there was the exemplary blend of conviction, creed, and credible lifestyle. She was able to cut through ideologies and differences and allow the Christ within her to engage the Christ in the neighbor.

Eichenberg did the same thing through his art, especially for CW. Art, he thought must never be sectarian but must open door and open people to one another. It must have an embracing character about it. “It must be universal, a true instrument of peace that brings people together in a deeper awareness of their common joys and sorrows.”

The Power of the Visual Image and its Correlation to Text

Visual images are powerful. They resonate deep within the human consciousness and can open new horizons. Written texts are powerful. They frame reality and give expression to truth claims. When image and text are in creative alliance, there can be a broader ranger of understanding and perception. this collaboration, intersection, interplay of image and text is an expression of catholicity, of the “both/and” principle that undergirds Catholic faith tradition, experience and theology.

However, text and the politics of interpretation have taken priority in the theological agenda. This dissertation attempts both to reclaim the vitality of the image as a source and resource and theology and to connect it to theological text. Bonaventure’s thirteenth century essay, The Soul’s Journey into God, provides a framework for articulating the “both/and” principle and for restoring a way of “seeing.” The appropriate-ness of this method is explored in the pages of The Catholic Worker where the images of the graphic artist Fritz Eichenberg and the essays of the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement Dorothy Day provide fruitful correlation.

The Incarnation revealed that the Word became flesh: word as image and image as word. Historically, illuminated manu-scripts have provided an example of the creative alliance of word and image and the value of their intersection. Bonaventure’s treatise suggested a three-step method to achieve this correlation of text and image. Through the “eye of the senses” the visual image can be appreciated in its “thingly” element and can be disclosed as expressive. Through the “eye of the mind” the visual image can enter into a conversation with text and through this interaction, interplay, intersection there is not only an “event of truth but also the possibility of a new understanding. Finally, through the “eye of the soul” the correlation of image and text can lead to conversion, trans-formation, and self-trans-cendence. Through this journey-empirical, conver-sational and transformative,–a creative alliance between image and text can be achieved.

The intersection of Eichenberg’s images and Day’s texts offer a twentieth-century instance of the continuing power of the Incarnation, the analogical and prophetic imagination and purposeful presence.

The range of Eichenberg’s graphic contributions to CW was diverse, from bee to breadline, from Mary to Maurin, from the Genesis garden to the Peaceable Kingdom. And these images intersected variously with Day’s columns, essays, articles and other writers for CW: sometimes isolated and often engaged. When the alliance of Eichenberg’s image and Day’s texts was direct and sustained, the “eye of the senses” was stimulated by the expressive lines of words and images; the “eye of the mind” was conversing, interpreting and creating new insights; and the “eye of the soul” was poised for conversion and communion.

Through the Eye of the Senses: The Peaceable Kingdom

The Isiaian theme of the peaceable kingdom (11:6-8) received three very different treatments in CW by Eichenberg. These works reflect his pacifist convictions, Quaker background and identification with the Catholic Worker principles of unity among peoples, social transformation through Christ and nonviolence.

The Peaceable Kingdom (1950) is of particular interest. This finely detailed image draws the eye to a young child who is surrounded by pairs of animals: a lamb resting against the wolf, the kid climbing on the reclining leopard, a lion cub playing with a bear, an ox and seated lion, and a snake at the feet of the child who holds a rabbit in the crook of his arm. The varied animal skins present a richly textured composition. A large leafless tree branches over the animals and child, who sit or rest or play on a slight mound blossoming with several clusters of flowers. The child casually holds a bunch of flowers. In the sky on the right there is a crescent moon and on the left if a city whose high-rise buildings and skyscraper pierce an ominous sky.

The silhouetted tree may reflect both the devastated landscapes of post-World War II Europe and, more immediately, the dark and threatening that Eichenberg faced in 1950. The Soviet Union announced in September 1949 that it now had achieved atomic power capacity and that the secret of the bomb no longer existed. In January 1050, President Truman instructed the Atomic Energy Commission to produce the hydrogen bomb to defend the United States against any aggressor. After Israel achieved statehood in 1948, political instability dominated the mid-East. On June 24, 1950 the People’s Republic of Korea crossed the 38th parallel and began a full-scale invasion of the Republic of Korea. Eichenberg engraved this peaceable kingdom amid these and other foreboding conditions. Yet, there are prospects of hope in this image. In the right background, a tree with a severed main stem sprouts some leaves; and the crescent moon, a pre-Greek symbol of Diana who was “to watch over, not destroy, wild life,” is reassuring. Eichenberg’s peaceable king-dom is juxtaposed to the modern city with its high-rise buildings and skyscrapers.

Through the Eye of the mind: A Dialogue between “The Peaceable Kingdom” and Day’s texts

CW reprinted “The Peaceable Kingdom” ten times between 1953 and 1989. In her “On Pilgrimage” column of December 1955 Day considered this image from an eschatological perspective, acknowledging the tension between the final victory of Christ-won through his death and resurrection-and the reality of joys and the hardships of the present time. Like the prophet and Eichenberg, Day emphasize the child: the Isaian child who will lead all to God’s kingdom, the Christ Child by whose birth humankind is led to salvation, and the children of all ages of the Catholic Worker looking at “The Peaceable Kingdom whose renewed vision and hope can lead all to ‘joy and light’ amid ‘tears and sufferings.'”

This obvious conclusion is not the only application made by Day and CW. Other significant intersections can be made between the use of Eichenberg’s image and the essays of Day and CW: building a sense of human solidarity and deepening the pacifist stance.

Eichenberg’s rendering of Isaiah 11 beautifully expresses the vision of harmony and human solidarity which under-lies Day’s social reconstruction in the Catholic Worker. For Day, thought, human solidarity was founded on the doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ. In the April, 1934 issue, the fifteenth publication of CW, Day had explicitly asserted “All men are brothers.” Day arrived at this conclusion by examining the implications of the Incarnation: not only has Christ partaken of our humanity and redeemed it but he has created a bond of unity among all people. . . Since Christ has taken on human flesh, all men and women have an essential dignity, and Christians, since they are the branches of the Christ-vine, have a particular responsibility to love and serve their neighbors, whether they e friend or enemy. This notion grounded Day’s perspective and was restated regularly in the May Anniversary issues.

When Eichenberg’s “The Peaceable Kingdom” intersected with Day’s essays and columns the theme of human solidarity in Christ was manifested in a variety of ways. In the February 1953 issue, Day’s “On Pilgrimage” was printed below Eichenberg’s image on the front page. In this column, she reported on her visits to Catholic Worker Houses across the country and noted many instances of faith-filled human interaction. . . With a reduced image of “The Peaceable Kingdom” on the front page of the February, 1976 issue, Day’s “On Pilgrimage” on page two presented her own labors at the New York Maryhouse for homeless women as a challenge and source of peace:

“It is a sad fact that the sisters who are in our new house of hospitality are made up of the loveable and the unlovable, and we are called to remember very often that fearsome paraphrase of Fr. Hugo, that we love God as much as we love the least. . .. All men are brothers (I refuse to be bullied into paraphrasing, and rewording that beautiful saying into-‘all men and women are brothers and sisters’).”

For Day, the vision of human solidarity, firmly grounded in the Mystical Body of Christ and solidly built by Houses of Hospitality and Works of Mercy, must spring from the desire to be united with God as much as possible. In addition to her managing CW, staffing the New York House of Hospitality, social action demonstrations, travels and talks, Day’s own example of daily Mass, communion, devotions and prayer-all of which she described as her “practice of the presence of God”-witnessed to the longed for peace and joy of the kingdom.

Another major intersection of Eichenberg’s “The Peaceable Kingdom” and CW involves discussion of pacifism and the promotion of peace issues. Eichenberg’s image was used both to typify the principles of pacifism and to draw attention to the promotion of peace issues. Eichenberg’s image was used both to typify the principles of pacifism and to draw attention to specific applications of peacemaking.

“The Peaceable Kingdom” was used by the CW editors to evoke the prospect of peace in conjunction with specific instances of social conflict: anti-Semitism, war, farm workers, refugees and distributism. . . .

War is the antithesis of any peaceable kingdom, and the Vietnam War (1961-1975) was no exception. Day and CW blasted the escalating war and supported measures such as conscientious objection, alter-native service, non-violent protest, penitential prayer, fasting and a vigorous re-examination of just war theory. “The Peaceable Kingdom” balanced three such articles on the front page of the January 1973 issue.

Through the Eye of the Soul: “Something Else Might be the Case” with the Intersection of “The Peaceable Kingdom” and the texts of Day and other CW contributors

Neither Eichenberg’s com-position nor Day’s articles envisioned a kingdom, a community that was merely idyllic, illusory or idealistic. By the intersection of “The Peaceable Kingdom” and the texts of Day and the contributions of other CW writers, the promise of peace pronounced by Isaiah is enacted, made real through attempts at human solidarity and pacifism. The viewer/reader/interpreter is challenged to see that something more than human achievement or social contract is at stake. The Incarnation is a continuing and transforming reality. “All men are brothers” is more than a glib motto or socialist slogan. It is a Catholic Worker trademark and commitment by which all are able to transcend their differences and seek communion as the Body of Christ.

Eichenberg’s “The Peaceable Kingdom (1950) is a powerful image that delights the senses and invites a dialogue with the essays of Day and CW. In both image and the written word there is an “instinct for the essential.” Core human realities are explored: human solidarity and peace, and more specifically the implications for the Mystical Body of Christ and pacifism. Always there is the possibility that “something else might be the case,” that the longed-for Isaian kingdom of peace can be realized. The peaceable kingdoms of Eichenberg and the peace-seeking Catholic Worker houses present a vision that might bridge the “dangerously different views” of fragmented peoples and a violent world. For both, the future is being formed in the present, where isolation and alienation are transformed into human solidarity through Christ, where the capacity for war and bloodshed is matched by committed pacifism.
In an important and original manner, this dissertation has provided another resource for the theological agenda. It has located, uncovered, indexed, catalogued and proposed the images of Fritz Eichenberg, as they appeared in the pages of CW, as a visual vocabulary for theology. It has explored the manner in which images not only demand attention but also apprehend ultimate reality and the Christian tradition with a different slant: instinctively, immediately, sensuously and attractively (their expressive quality).

The alliances of image and text in the illustrated pages of CW called for a revolution of the heart of the reader/viewer/interpreter. They intensified the sense of the incarnational aspect of Christian theology and the power of prophetic witness. In the most intense examples of the creative collaboration between the images of Eichenberg and the texts of Day and others, images were read and texts were imagined. No theology couched in words alone can represent the Incarnation or bring prophetic ministry to realization as profoundly as visual art and written words working together. Image and text entered into a creative to-and-fro to evoke and examine various Christian truth claims. This both rehabilitates the medieval tradition of the alliance of image and text and revives an underutilized tradition.

Theology should view this journalist, Dorothy Day, and this artist, Fritz Eichenberg, as active participants in setting, developing and tackling the theological agenda for their era: war, poverty, work, human dignity, justice and hospitality. Day and Eichenberg were not addressing theologians, but they were addressing the Church as well as the world. Their authority was based on their life in Christ and their concomitant commitment to the Gospel. This afforded them a freedom of style and expression. Their contributions to theology via their intersecting images and texts show that theology can and should draw on a more of a variety of voices and genres of composition than it has conventionally used.

Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXIII, No. 3, May-June 2003.