Built of Living Stones 147: Drawing the Beholder to the Creator

John Paul II’s Letter To Artists (we really need to spend time with that document) leads off with a thought that we are not surprised comes from an artist (a playwright) himself:

§ 147 § Quality art draws the beholder to the Creator, who stands behind the artist sharing his own creative power, for the “divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of his own surpassing wisdom.”(Letter To Artists 1) This is true of music, architecture, sculpture, painting, pottery making, textiles, and furniture making, as well as other art forms that serve the liturgical environment. The integrity and energy of a piece of art, produced individually by the labor of an artist, is always to be preferred above objects that are mass-produced. Similarly, in the construction of new church buildings, there is no standard pattern for church art nor should art and architectural styles from any particular time or culture be imposed arbitrarily upon another community. Nonetheless, the patrimony of sacred art and architecture provides a standard by which a parish can judge the worthiness of contemporary forms and styles.

Again, the bishops offer two sensible thoughts here. But are they absolute principles?

  • Individual labor is preferred over mass-production.
  • The history of art and architecture gives us an artistic standard, but not an arbitrary point of imposition.

One might find wide agreement among many Catholics in the first. But in the modern “recovery” of traditional architecture and its peripherals (reredos, etc.) are Catholics, especially traditional-leaning ones, so eager to lay aside the styles of history?

What do you think?

All texts from Built of Living Stones are copyright © 2000, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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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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