Letter To Artists 12: The Church Needs Art

It’s a powerful statement. Is it true? As an artist, I would say yes. However, what do the Church’s actions, policies, and culture have to say about it? Consider the education culture all around. Just like the secular world puts the “essentials,” maybe including athletic entertainment ,above the arts, parishes and their schools especially don’t seem much different.

12. In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colors, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.

Do people understand art in this way? Too often people think of art as “pretty.” And I mean that as something distinct from “beautiful.”

The Church has need especially of those who can do this on the literary and figurative level, using the endless possibilities of images and their symbolic force. Christ himself made extensive use of images in his preaching, fully in keeping with his willingness to become, in the Incarnation, the icon of the unseen God.

We still need those images, icons, and ways of opening faith to others. We need them done in today’s forms. An artistic treasury is certainly a treasure. But it does not fill the full need. Speaking of preservationism, music gets some attention here, too:

The Church also needs musicians. How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of the mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love, and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God.

Architecture, too:

The Church needs architects, because she needs spaces to bring the Christian people together and celebrate the mysteries of salvation. After the terrible destruction of the last World War and the growth of great cities, a new generation of architects showed themselves adept at responding to the exigencies of Christian worship, confirming that the religious theme can still inspire architectural design in our own day. Not infrequently these architects have constructed churches which are both places of prayer and true works of art.

Thoughts?

Pope John Paul II’s Letter To Artists is available in its entirety online here.

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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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