Letter To Artists 15: The Creator Spirit and Artistic Inspiration

When Pope John Paul speaks of “the Creator Spirit and artistic inspiration” it’s pretty clear we can’t and don’t bypass the human imagination as a means for God’s grace to work in the world.

15. Often in the Church there resounds the invocation to the Holy Spirit: Veni, Creator Spiritus… – “Come, O Creator Spirit, visit our minds, fill with your grace the hearts you have created”.(Hymn at Vespers on Pentecost)

The Holy Spirit, “the Breath” (ruah), is the One referred to already in the Book of Genesis: “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (1:2). What affinity between the words “breath – breathing” and “inspiration”! The Spirit is the mysterious Artist of the universe. Looking to the Third Millennium, I would hope that all artists might receive in abundance the gift of that creative inspiration which is the starting-point of every true work of art.

It comes from the Bible. It comes from the liturgy. It comes from the Divine working deeply within human beings. It never ended in any particular artistic age for any particular genre.

Dear artists, you well know that there are many impulses which, either from within or from without, can inspire your talent. Every genuine inspiration, however, contains some tremor of that “breath” with which the Creator Spirit suffused the work of creation from the very beginning. Overseeing the mysterious laws governing the universe, the divine breath of the Creator Spirit reaches out to human genius and stirs its creative power. He touches it with a kind of inner illumination which brings together the sense of the good and the beautiful, and he awakens energies of mind and heart which enable it to conceive an idea and give it form in a work of art. It is right then to speak, even if only analogically, of “moments of grace”, because the human being is able to experience in some way the Absolute who is utterly beyond.

In order for artists to hear this and believe they are “dear” to the Church, I think we’ll need something less of romanticizing previous ages. Honor those who created Gregorian chant, the Sistine Chapel ceiling and architectural edifices that have stood for a millennium or more. But let’s be prepared to build on tradition. Not just rest on it.

The conclusion of Pope John Paul II’s Letter To Artists tomorrow. The whole document 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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