Of Mormon Angels and Catholic Missals

An old friend of mine sent me this story; it has no great message, but it is worth pondering, in these post-Christmas days, as we wait the beginning of, we all fervently hope, a much better year. Enjoy!

Some of us may be familiar with Jorge Cocco Santángelo, an 84-year-old Argentinian Mormon artist who, after a lengthy career making and teaching art in Argentina, Spain, and Mexico, was recently “discovered” by our community. Since much of his recent work depicts the life of Jesus, it has found admirers far beyond his co-religionists; for example, shortly before the covid lockdowns began, the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas held an exhibition of his work. Recently, he was commissioned to do paintings for some Christmas postage stamps (not USPS), which should come out next year.

As it happens, someone with Oregon Catholic Press, a major publisher of liturgical music, also liked Cocco’s work. One of his nativity paintings is featured on the cover of OCP’s current Advent-to-Lent missal (pictured here). That same someone with OCP saw that Cocco has often painted angels. Those paintings embrace more uniquely Mormon concepts (for example, the association of the archangels Michael and Gabriel with, respectively, Adam and Noah) and figures (particularly Moroni). Of all the available options, OCP chose “Angel VIII” for the covers of two 2021 publications (pictured at the top of this post). To any remotely active Mormon, it’s not hard to figure out what the inspiration for this particular angel was. Still, unaware of any potential theological implications to their actions, OCP began printing the books and even shipped some to a couple of parishes that had placed early orders.

Well, a priest from one of those parishes–located in Idaho–quickly recognized Moroni on the cover and raised the alarm via social media, which was met with many understandable expressions of support from Catholics (along with some predictable ugliness towards Mormons). At first, Oregon Catholic Press dug in its heels, but later reversed course, apologized, pulped the entire run of both books, and instructed the parishes who received copies with the offending covers to dispose of or destroy them.  (Fortunately for collectors and historians, someone recognized the profit opportunity and has broken ranks, selling some copies on the Internet at inflated prices, hence the copies in the author’s collection displayed here.)  The Mormon infiltration was (mostly) averted.

If forced to give a moral to this story, I’d say: remember to read the bios posted on artists’ websites and in the exhibition notes provided by museums. But maybe even better, how about just: good art will always be recognized for what it is, even if the theological niceties behind it force later corrections. If Cocco knows anything about this small tempest in a tea pot, I hope he’s having a good laugh about it, as should we.

Comments

  1. Well, I guess with a living artist they couldn’t remove the gold plates and the ball Moroni stands on like our Church has often, but not always, removed Carl Bloch’s angels’ wings. :)
    https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=55930850&itype=cmsid
    Thanks for the story.

  2. What a fun story. Thanks for posting. Here is an interview with Jorge. I have admired his work for years. https://latterdayprofiles.org/

  3. The LDS Church seems to be giving up (or at least deemphasizing) the angel Moroni. He is no longer on our logo and I wonder if he will be replaced atop Mormon temples? Our new logo looks decidedly Catholic. Like Christ trapped in a nook of a medieval cathedral. So why shouldn’t the Catholics incorporate our angel into their art portfolio. They can call the figure any angel they choose. There is no reason the book in question can’t be the OT or NT. Mormons incorporate Catholic art, and Catholic incorporate Mormon art. How ecumenical.

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