Letter To Artists 1d-f: That Gulf Between God and Us

Pope John Paul II explores “The artist, image of God the Creator” in the first numbered section of his Letter to Artists. Let’s continue on the thought we left yesterday, namely the distinction between the act of creating and that of crafting.

From one perspective, only God can create, that is, bring something out of nothing. Human beings craft, that is, they make something from material that is already in existence:

What is the difference between “creator” and “craftsman”? The one who creates bestows being itself, he brings something out of nothing—ex nihilo sui et subiecti, as the Latin puts it—and this, in the strict sense, is a mode of operation which belongs to the Almighty alone. The craftsman, by contrast, uses something that already exists, to which he gives form and meaning. This is the mode of operation peculiar to (people) as made in the image of God. In fact, after saying that God created man and woman “in his image” (cf. Gn 1:27), the Bible adds that he entrusted to them the task of dominating the earth (cf. Gn 1:28). This was the last day of creation (cf. Gn 1:28-31). On the previous days, marking as it were the rhythm of the birth of the cosmos, Yahweh had created the universe. Finally he created the human being, the noblest fruit of his design, to whom he subjected the visible world as a vast field in which human inventiveness might assert itself.

This distinction makes sense to me.

Art gives a different appearance. Perhaps one might say that our existing means are more subtle in many instances.

God therefore called (people) into existence, committing to (them) the craftsman’s task. Through (their) “artistic creativity” (people appear) more than ever “in the image of God”, and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous “material” of (their) own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which surrounds (them). With loving regard, the divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of his own surpassing wisdom, calling (that one) to share in his creative power. Obviously, this is a sharing which leaves intact the infinite distance between the Creator and the creature, as Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa made clear: “Creative art, which it is the soul’s good fortune to entertain, is not to be identified with that essential art which is God himself, but is only a communication of it and a share in it”.(Dialogus de Ludo Globi, lib. II: Philosophisch-Theologische Schriften, Vienna 1967, III, p. 332)

There is still a wide gulf between us and God. I’m also fine with that. A Christian artist, by definition, recognizes this, and gives thanks to God for the experience of sharing in the Divine order.

That is why artists, the more conscious they are of their “gift”, are led all the more to see themselves and the whole of creation with eyes able to contemplate and give thanks, and to raise to God a hymn of praise. This is the only way for them to come to a full understanding of themselves, their vocation and their mission.


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

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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