Revisiting Paul VI’s Masonic Portrait

This article was updated on July 4th, 2021, in order to somewhat reduce the extremities of my speculations – AC

In 1971, Paul VI was presented with a painting, said to be his portrait, and which, to be honest, is one of the more disturbing images this author has come across. The picture emits a demonic violence that almost leaps out of the frame, leaving the viewer feeling oppressed and unsettled.

Most startling of all, the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church is surrounded by cold, dark Masonic symbols, hiding in plain sight.

Hansing described the portrait as showing “the tension-fraught situation of the church, caught in a multiplicity of issues, as reflected in the countenance of the Pope.”

I don’t profess to be the first to discover this particular connection between Pope Paul VI and Masonry – the articles cited in this one are testimony to that. But since I have only just come across this rather disconcerting episode in Paul’s life, I thought I’d write on it anew and add some further research.

Firstly, there are not one but nine versions of this scene. Each tells, I believe, a part of a story that begins at the Second Vatican Council and culminates in the very public accusations that Paul was a homosexual. Shown below are three versions, created in 1970, 1970/1 and 1975 respectively. The third is part of a series of screen prints, which are based on the second painted version of the portrait.

The artist, Ernst Guenter Hansing, was initially associated with Cardinal Josef Frings, for whom he painted two portraits. Hansing had trained under the abstract artist, Fernand Leger, and had mixed with many avant-garde artists of Europe. This of course, would have appealed to Montini, who was known for his love of the cultural elite. Fring invited Hansing, a Lutheran, to observe the final session of Vatican Two in 1965, in order to “internalise the atmosphere.”

Hansing claims to have been struck by the Pope’s meekness, describing Paul as “humility personified” and as a “pleading” or “begging” person. Hansing at once expressed a desire to paint the Pope, so the story goes, wanting to encapsulate the scene presented by the massive Bernini columns dwarfing the humble Pope, he who alone carried the burden of determining the Church’s future. Hansing also wanted to capture the rays of light which issued from the great dome surmounting the canopy. So the story goes.

Paul apparently did not commission a portrait, but was approached by Hansing who was eventually given a room to work from inside the Vatican from 1969. The artist was then allowed to sit in on 13 papal audiences over the next two and a half years to make his sketches. The Pope’s secretary, then-Fr Pasquale Macchi, acted as go-between for the artist and pontiff.

Strangely, the image of the Pope at the centre of the painting was not based on the sketches Hansing made during those many papal audiences. Rather, it is based on a photograph taken during the Pope’s trip to Jerusalem in 1967. A drawing made from that photograph was then transposed onto the “Papacy” work. The many sessions that saw Hansing scrutinising Paul’s speeches were justified by the artist’s need to ‘internalise” the character of Paul.

Upon seeing a working sketch of himself, Paul is said to have uttered the cryptic comment: “One almost needs a new philosophy to grasp the meaning of this in its context.” [Emphasis added.]

The first version of the painting is made from two separate pieces of canvas: one above and one below. The bottom canvas is horizontal and the top one is vertical – which is like an inverted cross when you come to think of it.

Two vertical white blocks – red in the second painting – on either side of the piece are in fact said to represent an inverted cross – the Petrus cross – according to the artist, ostensibly calling to mind the martyrdom of the first Pontiff.

According to Hansing, his trademark blue colour represented “mystical depth” and was more prominent in the second painting. He referred to the use of red as denoting “blood circulation,” and indeed, much of the red in Hansing’s works resembles blood either dripping or in pools.

In the top of the internal space of the real dome, which was designed by Michelangelo, we can find the image of God the Father. In Hansing’s version, God has been replaced by a mere swirl, which could also be interpreted as an All-Seeing Eye, from which emanates a beam of light.

Hansing replaced God the Father
with this ambiguous symbol

A ray of light proceeding from beneath this All-Seeing Eye, seems to pierce the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, then continue vertically downwards right through the person of the Pope. Blood appears to drip down this central axis, through Paul and merging with his own grotesque hands that grasp a threatening dagger-like implement.

A second painting was begun after Fr Macchi and Hansing’s poet friend, Stefan Andrew, suggested to him that the first work was too small. The second work contains a few changes: more “Hansing Blue” is incorporated and the pillars are emphasised. The Pope’s face is “more humble” and the phrase, Pro hominibus constitutus, meaning ‘appointed for service to the people’ – is written in the lower right hand corner. Surprisingly, this motto is also found on Cardinal Frings’ Coat of Arms.

The finished work was a massive 21.6 m x 3.6m (71ft by 12 ft) and was presented to the Pope in 1972.

Cardinal Fring’s Coat of Arms.
Detail from the painting.
No, I can’t read it either.

In his speech at the time the second painting was presented to the Pope, Bishop Wilhem Cleven referred to John’s Gospel, stating “The time comes when someone else girds you and leads you where you do not want to go.” (John. 21:17).

When he saw the finished second portrait, he remarked that the it was “very useful” to make an “act of reflection’ in studying the painting. The artist then went on to make seven screen prints of the portrait, apparently at the behest of Paul, in order that they may be sources of “acts of reflection.”


The definitive explanation of the Masonic symbols found in the work was written by researcher and author, Craig Heimbichner, who detected, among other symbols, the three pillars of Masonry, inverted crosses, pentagrams, and at least one square and compass. Heimbichner also explains that the initiation rite of the 30th degree Mason, the Kadosh Degree, involves thrusting a dagger into the papal tiara. He believes the pope is represented as holding that dagger.

It is certainly true that Paul VI surrendered the Papal Tiara at the start of his pontificate. Could his devastating reforms and the emptying of papal authority on his watch also be considered as “killing” the papacy?

I am not normally given to making wild speculations on subjects that are outside my competency. However, this case is an exception. While we will never know the true meaning of this mysterious episode, or of the paintings themselves, I proffer the following hypothesis. You may like to think of it as fan-fiction:

Paul is represented as both victim and perpetrator in Hansing’s portrait: this is an image of his character and of his pontificate…..

Prior to the conclave, the blackmailable Montini promised his Progressive/Masonic coalition supporters that he would allow sweeping reforms once he was elected Pope. As Pope Paul VI, he went along with changes to the Mass, leaving details to the Freemason Bugnini, and approved the other innovations introduced during and after the Council.

Although the Council reaffirmed the Church’s teaching on birth control, Cardinal Frings later challenged Paul to review the that stance, leading Paul to establish a commission to look into the matter. The commission returned to Paul with their conclusion: birth control should be allowed.

This was a bridge too far for Paul. Already cracks were appearing as the Council’s love-fest aura began to wear off. The unity and renewal Paul had, far too optimistically, hoped for had not eventuated, and his latitude in doctrinal matters was being exploited by those closest to him.

Paul decided to risk the ire of the Masonic brotherhood, stand his ground and defend the Church’s teaching in Humanae Vitae, which was released it in 1968.

Frings and the Masonic forces he represented were furious. Paul needed to be reigned in but they knew him to be pliable and timid. (“Begging” and “pleading”, as Hansing said.) They decided to send him a warning – of the most severe kind. Hansing was conscripted to deliver the message on behalf of the Lodge.

Hansing is moved onsite although he didn’t really need to sketch Paul: he already had chosen the photograph taken in Jerusalem as a model – an indication, perhaps, that the Ecclesiastical Lodge that commissioned him had powerful Jewish connections. He sat in on thirteen of Paul’s Audiences merely to intimidate him.

The pressure mounted and Paul began to waver. He was shown a working sketch of himself and mused aloud: “One almost needs a new philosophy to grasp the meaning of this in its context.” Perhaps that “new philosophy” was something antithetical to Catholic teaching to which Paul had ambivalently subscribed.

Once the first painting was finished, the seriousness of the threat became even more apparent. The looming threat of violence overwhelmed him and Paul sensed that his life may be in danger. The angles of the painting resembled an axe cleaving his skull in two but also represented to him his double-mindedness.

He knew he was under pressure to fulfil the ancient decrees of Masonry and demolish Catholicism, as represented by the weapon in his bloody hands, and as symbolised in the stabbing of the Papal Tiara.

Paul finally relented and resigned himself to following the Masonic programme for the rest of his pontificate. He then informed the Lodge.

A second painting was commissioned and the Pope was now represented with a “more humble” countenance. The pillars of Masonry were emphasised, representing Paul’s triumph of “reason” over “superstition”. Bishop Cleven was on hand to remind Paul that someone else “girded him and led him where he does not want to go.” (As if he needed the reminder)

A humbled Paul then acknowledged that his “acts of reflection” led him to make the right decision. To prevent a relapse, the Frings-led Lodge commissioned seven prints of the portrait – one for each day of the week.

Paul later had a crisis of conscience (as did Frings). He was forced to confront the implications of his progressive reforms as the Church continued to implode and he grieved that no one anywhere on the Catholic spectrum respected him.

When he tried to impose his papal authority, the Lodge reacted swiftly: a staged attempt was made on his life when he visited the Philippines in 1975. Macchi and Marcinkus “saved his life,” and Paul was again beholden to the Masonic forces that elected him.

Paul wavered again, trying to warn Catholics of the Pandora’s Box that had been unleashed by the Council. His furious minders began to lose their patience. It was time for a showdown.

When Paul again publicly held his ground on the Church’s approach to sexuality morality, it was the last straw for the Ecclesiastical Masons. In 1976, a campaign was orchestrated to suggest that the Pope had a very dark secret: that he was a homosexual. Paul was crushed and defeated; he never issued another encyclical and openly expressed his regret for the direction taken by the Council, never admitting his part, overwhelmed as he was by the pressure that had been brought to bear on him.

No wonder Paul whispered to his biographers, “You will crucify me.”

Just to complete the flight of fantasy, on the left is a diagram commonly used in Gnostic Judaism, or Kabbalah.

It is interesting to note how many points line up with Paul’s “portraits.”


Novus Ordo Watch

Ernst Guenter Hansing

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