Mediator Dei 195-196

Sacred visual arts were also going through upheaval in the early 20th century. Pope Pius XII doesn’t dismiss modern art outright, even mentioning the possibility of prejudice against the new:

195. What We have said about music, applies to the other fine arts, especially to architecture, sculpture and painting. Recent works of art which lend themselves to the materials of modern composition, should not be universally despised and rejected through prejudice.

Avoid extremes, and keep a pastoral touch:

Modern art should be given free scope in the due and reverent service of the church and the sacred rites, provided that they preserve a correct balance between styles tending neither to extreme realism nor to excessive “symbolism,” and that the needs of the Christian community are taken into consideration rather than the particular taste or talent of the individual artist. Thus modern art will be able to join its voice to that wonderful choir of praise to which have contributed, in honor of the Catholic faith, the greatest artists throughout the centuries.

And obviously, “shocking” falls under the umbrella of “extreme.”

Nevertheless, in keeping with the duty of Our office, We cannot help deploring and condemning those works of art, recently introduced by some, which seem to be a distortion and perversion of true art and which at times openly shock Christian taste, modesty and devotion, and shamefully offend the true religious sense. These must be entirely excluded and banished from our churches, like “anything else that is not in keeping with the sanctity of the place.”[Code of Canon Law, can. 1178]

The situation of 1947 was one of opportunity, especially in Europe. Pope Pius XII seems to have had an awareness of this. Perhaps another missed chance to develop a relationship between the Church and artists, and the tasks of rebuilding and restoration:

196. Keeping in mind, Venerable Brethren, pontifical norms and decrees, take great care to enlighten and direct the minds and hearts of the artists to whom is given the task today of restoring or rebuilding the many churches which have been ruined or completely destroyed by war. Let them be capable and willing to draw their inspiration from religion to express what is suitable and more in keeping with the requirements of worship. Thus the human arts will shine forth with a wondrous heavenly splendor, and contribute greatly to human civilization, to the salvation of souls and the glory of God. The fine arts are really in conformity with religion when “as noblest handmaids they are at the service of divine worship.”[Pius XI, Constitution Divini cultus]

Mediator Dei on the Vatican web site.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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