Undertaking such a critical mission as painting the image of Christ from St. Faustina’s revelation, it was necessary to analyse the symbolism of each element of the image in the light the messages that St. Faustina Kowalska received.
Below is a summary of the several-hour lectures given to painters in Hebdów and Paradyż in 2021.
In the “Diary”, there is only one description guiding how a depiction of the Divine Mercy should be painted:
In the evening, when I was in my cell, I saw the Lord Jesus dressed in a white robe. One hand raised to bless, the other touching the robe on his chest. Two great rays came from the robe’s opening from his chest, one red and the other pale. (…) After a while, Jesus said to me, “Paint a picture according to the drawing you see, with the caption: Jesus, I trust in You. I want this painting to be venerated first in your chapel and then throughout the world” (Acts 47).
The date is marked as 1931, February 22. This apparition took place in Płock, but its confirmation could only occur in Vilnius, thanks to Fr. Michał Sopoćko. The task, which Eugeniusz Kazimirowski undertook at his request, took approximately six months: from January to June 1934.
Interestingly, the first date recorded in the “Diary” is July 28, 1934 – quite sometime after the painting was finished. The first recorded words refer to this event: “O eternal Love, you command us to paint Your holy image” (Diary 1). This tells us just how significant the correlation between the painting and the text must be. It also hints that the text takes second place in this case – it probably would not have existed had it not been for the command to paint the image of the Divine Mercy.
It is worth paying attention to the personal verb constituting the compound predicate used in the first sentence – “you command me to paint”. Since the Saint wrote these sentences after painting the image, they should have used the past tense – “you commanded me to paint.” We can, of course, quibble over attaching ourselves to such messages. However, let’s consider that mystics do not err on such crucial issues; the phrase “you command to paint” becomes a permanently valid injunction, which the Political Theology community has decided to confront.
To do this, we need to know the guidelines that Jesus gave to St. Faustina and which he added during the painting process (as we learn from the Diary and from the notes of Fr. M. Sopoćko).
1. WHOLE BODY The first and most crucial guideline – is that the image must be the whole figure of a man (male) from head to foot. The figure is to be a real body, not an astral phenomenon. Jesus should be realistically walking on the ground, not floating on a cloud or suspended in the air. For this is the resurrected Jesus, who met his disciples, walked, ate, drank and allowed himself to be touched. It is also worth getting rid of the halo. There is no mention in the Holy Text of a glow appearing above the head. Besides, a halo or nimbus can reduce the image of Christ to the level of a pious picture.
2. HEAD From the accounts of Rev. Michał Sopoćko, we know that this part was painted most often. Only modern, specialised research has shown that the head proportions are the same as those of the Shroud and the veil at Manopello. It is worth remembering, however, that proportions alone do not determine the detail of the facial features one hundred per cent. Nor did Faustina write anything about the length or colour of the hair, the shape of the nose, the width of the eyebrows or the expression of the mouth.
3. EYES The most challenging part is painting the eyes. The Saint posed the question to Jesus, who told her: “My gaze from this painting is such as the gaze from the cross” (Diary 326). The hint raised doubts – does it mean the direction of the gaze (from the top down) or its manner? The saint did not write that the gaze is to point downward. Rev. Michał Sopoćko wrote about this interpretation in his Diary. It should be emphasised that even the gaze from the position of the cross or the gaze of Christ coming into the Upper Room, to the disciples who were in a sitting or semi-recumbent position, was first and foremost a gaze directed toward a person and not toward the ground or somewhere inward. More important than the direction is the message – these are to be the eyes of Jesus suffering out of love – the one who knows the suffering of the person coming to Him and looks at him with compassion, understanding and concern, not to judge, chastise or control.
4. HANDS “One hand raised to bless, and the other touched the garment on his chest” (Diary 47). The “Diary” makes it clear that Jesus’ blessing is the sign of the cross, made by the hand that shows the wound inflicted during the crucifixion. It is not a mere salutation but a liturgical gesture that has the power to heal, absolve and seal the sacraments, as well as the power of exorcism. It is a gesture of Christ the priest. The other hand touches the place where the heart is. On the other hand, the heart is not exposed (neither a piece of flesh nor a wound can be seen), and it is a mistake to paint the attribute known from the image of the Heart of Jesus in this place.
5. LEGS Christ stands upright, facing the observer. We can see the outline of both legs under the robe, but most importantly, we see His feet: barefoot and wounded. There is no mention that this is Christ in motion, although each painter chose to paint Him just so – with one leg slightly bent, as in a man walking. The movement informs us that Jesus is the one who takes the first step toward us. On the other hand, the bare feet symbolise His humility and reverence, which shows how much He wants to facilitate this relationship with us, to make the encounter possible.
6. THE RAYS “The two rays signify blood and water. The pale ray signifies water, which justifies souls; the red ray signifies blood, which is the life of souls…. These two rays came forth from the entrails of My mercy when My dying Heart was opened with a spear on the Cross. These rays shield souls from the wrath of My Father. Happy he who lives in their shadow, for the righteous hand of God will not reach him. I desire that the first Sunday after Easter be the Feast of Mercy.” (Diary 299; cf. 177; 873). A special feature of the rays is their extraordinary mobility, depicting their energy and supernatural activity. The rays come from the Heart of Jesus, from the Host, pass through, return, bounce off human hearts, and spread throughout the world (cf. Diary 336; 417; 441; 1046). Kazimirowski painted them together. One can see the shape of the tent or veil of the Jerusalem Temple, torn during the agony. In the Diary, only one passage mentions the joining of the rays (Diary 344), the others show them as separate, great streams of light with the power to heal and transform hearts. The most important thing here is the colour and order – red (like blood) from the side of the blessing hand, pale (like water) from the side of the hand on the heart. The colour scheme must not resemble the Polish flag. The revelation was not only for Poland but the whole world.
7. WOUNDS When we read in the Gospels the description resurrected Christ’s meetings with his disciples, the Lord’s hallmark is always wounds. St. Thomas the Apostle’s test speaks most clearly about this. Significantly, this very pericope is read on the Divine Mercy Sunday. Furthermore, the entire Divine Mercy Chaplet is invokes Christ’s passion. Many passages in the Diary speak of rays coming out of Christ’s wounds (e.g., Diary 1337; 988; 1265). The wounds should therefore be included in the painting.
8. ROBE In the description of Jesus in the painting, the word “robe” is used as many as three times. No other word is frequently mentioned there, so it must have great significance. Clothing is a part of our body, as important as an arm or a leg. Jesus’ robe is always white. In the image, he evokes the sacrament of baptism. Faustina’s text suggests that it should be a uniform garment from head to foot. However, there is no information about the material’s texture, the sleeves’ width, etc.
9. SIGNATURE Faustina was given a specific order – there is to be a signature at the bottom, and it is to be the exact one that Jesus dictated to her (see Acts 47; 327): “Jesus, I trust in You.” It was not said whether it should be part of the picture or a separate element. It is to be at the bottom – so it can be placed on the frame or separately – for example, on a plate attached to the painting. There is also no mention of typeface – the most important thing is that it should be legible. What does the phrase mean? First of all, it invites a dialogue with the painted person. It is a confession to which all contemplation of the Person of Jesus leads. Exposing our hearts to the rays of God’s mercy allows our minds to be enlightened. Knowing and realising at least part of this immeasurable magnitude of love ready to heal and save us results in this confession: “Jesus, I trust in you.” Significantly, this is a personal act of a single individual, not of a crowd of believers. A person professing trust looks God in the eye, in personal prayer, in private and loving contemplation, and addresses Him by name (Jesus). The three words are as simple as an ejaculatory prayer, similar to the Jesus Prayer.
The image is a crucial element of devotion to the Divine Mercy, to which Jesus attaches significant promises: “I promise that the soul who venerates this image will not perish. I also promise, already here on earth, victory over enemies, and especially at the hour of death. I will defend it as my glory” (Acts 48); “I give people a vessel with which to come for graces to the fountain of mercy. The vessel is this image with the signature: Jesus, I trust in you” (Acts 327).
The image as a vessel is a concretisation of the Divine Mercy, which in itself (as a concept) seems quite abstract and incalculable (like love, light, water). It is also of mirror into which every person should look, probing to what extent he becomes like his Creator, that is, to what extent his body becomes a channel of the Divine Mercy.
1. The whole figure of a man (male).
2. The eyes – a look reflecting the passion of Christ on the cross.
3. The right hand in a gesture of blessing, the left hand touches the robe on the chest, at the level of the heart.
4. Feet are firmly planted on the ground (or one on the ground and the other bent as if in a forward movement); no addition of clouds, etc.
5. There are two rays, both large – red (like blood) on the right hand side; pale (the colour of water) on the left hand side.
6. The colour of the robe is white.
7. The wounds are visible on the hands and feet.
8. An inscription at the bottom of the image (under the feet): “Jesus, I trust in you”.
ELEMENTS THAT CAN BE FREELY INTERPRETED
1. Background – the place where Jesus appears.
2. His appearance – hair, facial features.
3. How the rays are dispersed – they cannot obscure other elements, such as hands, and preserve the symbolism of blood and water attributed to them.
4. The issue of nimbus.
5. The texture robe’s material
6. Typeface in the inscription
7. Placement of figures in the painting (from frame to frame or more in depth)
 All quotations come from the edition: Saint Sister Faustyna Kowalska, Dzienniczek. Miłosierdzie Boże w duszy mojej, Wydawnictwo Księży Marianów MIC, Warszawa 2006. The abbrevation refers to the first letters of the Diary and to the number indicating the paragraph designated by the publisher (both by the Marian Fathers and the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy from Łagiewniki). [transl. by the eds.]
 The analysis of the descriptions of the apparitions in: I. Rutkowska, Niepojęty świat duszy. Język doświadczeń mistycznych św. Faustyny Kowalskiej, in „Teolingwistyka” 12, Tarnów 2017.
 Timeline of Sr. Faustina’s life can be found in: Faustyna Kowalska, Dzienniczek…, p. 27.
 Z. Treppa, Tajemnica widzialności Boga. Szkice z teologii obrazu, Kraków 2015.
 M. Sopoćko, Dziennik, ed. Rev. H. Ciereszko, Białystok 2010, p. 134–136.
 Treppa, Tajemnica widzialności Boga…, p. 131; idem, Fenomen obrazu Miłosierdzia Wcielonego, Gdańsk 2021, p. 150–154.
 A. Mruk SJ, Trudna droga procesu beatyfikacyjnego Sługi Bożej siostry Faustyny Kowalskiej, in Posłannictwo siostry Faustyny – sympozjum o Miłosierdziu Bożym, Kraków–Łagiewniki 18–20 V 1998, ed. C. Drążek SJ, Kraków 1991, p. 15; C. Ryszka, Faustyna. Duchowa droga Świętej, Częstochowa 2005, p. 170.
 A detailed analysis of the concept of “mercy” can be found in the articles by Izabela Rutkowska: Pojęcie miłosierdzia w „Dzienniczku” św. Faustyny Kowalskiej (część I), „Łódzkie Studia Teologiczne” 24, no. 4 (2015), p. 71–89; Językowy obraz miłosierdzia jako tożsamości Boga w „Dzienniczku” św. Faustyny Kowalskiej, „Religious and Sacred Poetry: An International Quarterly of Religion, Culture and Education” 11, no. 3 (2015), p. 223–238; 11; Pojęcie miłosierdzia w Encyklice Jana Pawła II Dives in misericordia, in Kultura nie tylko literacka. W kręgu myśli Karola Wojtyły – Jana Pawła II. Część I, „Scripta Humana”t. 8, ed. E. Bednarczyk-Stefaniak, A. Seul, Zielona Góra 2017, p. 287–297; Miłosierdzie i solidarność w „Dzienniczku” świętej Faustyny Kowalskiej z perspektywy językoznawstwa, in „Teologia Polityczna” 2017–2018, no. 10, Warszawa 2017, p. 125–134; Koronka do Miłosierdzia Bożego – wybrane problemy leksykalno-semantyczne, in Nabożeństwo chrześcijańskie. Pojęcie – gatunki – język, ed. W. Przyczyna, A. Sieradzka-Mruk, „Teolingwistyka” 17, Tarnów 2021, p. 221–240; 15.