John Paul II writes of “A fruitful alliance between the Gospel and art.” I want to take some extra time with this section. It’s one that should certainly give liturgical artists some fruit for reflection.
Faith, like art, deals with that which is not entirely contained in the material world:
6. Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and, reaching beneath reality’s surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery. The intuition itself springs from the depths of the human soul, where the desire to give meaning to one’s own life is joined by the fleeting vision of beauty and of the mysterious unity of things.
I found this to be an important insight, and quite telling of the man who stands astride the world of faith and the world of art. These worlds both are glimpsed in the surface and appearance of reality. But human intuition, freed from materialism, hyper-rationalism, and other modern encumbrances, knows–literally knows–something lives past what we see.
In the same way, the experience of faith is something far beyond what even the artist might give us in insight:
All artists experience the unbridgeable gap which lies between the work of their hands, however successful it may be, and the dazzling perfection of the beauty glimpsed in the ardor of the creative moment: what they manage to express in their painting, their sculpting, their creating is no more than a glimmer of the splendor which flared for a moment before the eyes of their spirit.
What is important here, I think, is that artists aspire to capture something of the ineffable for the benefit of seekers, believers, and disciples. We try. We cannot perfectly bring this back into the world of experience. But we are inspired to try nonetheless.
Pope John Paul II’s Letter To Artists is available in its entirety online here.