As for our cultural life in the modern First World, we have deep roots in the Renaissance. John Paul II doesn’t seem to have a problem with humanism. Neither should we, as its impulse is essentially Christian.
This extraordinary complex is a remarkably powerful expression of sacred art, rising to heights of imperishable aesthetic and religious excellence. What has characterized sacred art more and more, under the impulse of Humanism and the Renaissance, and then of successive cultural and scientific trends, is a growing interest in everything human, in the world, and in the reality of history. In itself, such a concern is not at all a danger for Christian faith, centered on the mystery of the Incarnation and therefore on God’s valuing of the human being. The great artists mentioned above are a demonstration of this. Suffice it to think of the way in which Michelangelo represents the beauty of the human body in his painting and sculpture.(Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Homily at the Mass for the Conclusion of the Restoration of Michelangelo’s Frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, 8 April 1994: Insegnamenti, XVII, 1 (1994), 899-904)
Even in the changed climate of more recent centuries, when a part of society seems to have become indifferent to faith, religious art has continued on its way. This can be more widely appreciated if we look beyond the figurative arts to the great development of sacred music through this same period, either composed for the liturgy or simply treating religious themes. Apart from the many artists who made sacred music their chief concern—how can we forget Pier Luigi da Palestrina, Orlando di Lasso, Tomás Luis de Victoria?—it is also true that many of the great composers—from Handel to Bach, from Mozart to Schubert, from Beethoven to Berlioz, from Liszt to Verdi—have given us works of the highest inspiration in this field.
Great artists all, yes. All Europeans. Times have changed.
Pope John Paul II’s Letter To Artists is available in its entirety online here.