Let’s wrap up John Paul II’s Letter to Artists. The final theme of the document, with a nod to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “The ‘Beauty’ that saves.”
16. On the threshold of the Third Millennium, my hope for all of you who are artists is that you will have an especially intense experience of creative inspiration. May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.
Wonder: indeed something we need of, especially when it comes not only from the machinery and technological achievements of the age.
From this wonder there can come that enthusiasm of which Norwid spoke in the poem to which I referred earlier. People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that “beauty will save the world”.(F. DOSTOYEVSKY, The Idiot, Part III, chap. 5)
The famous Bishop of Hippo weighs in with us, too:
Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!”.(Sero te amavi! Pulchritudo tam antiqua et tam nova, sero te amavi!: Confessions, 10, 27: CCL 27, 251)
And a final blessing:
Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy.
May you be guided and inspired by the mystery of the Risen Christ, whom the Church in these days contemplates with joy.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary be with you always: she is the “tota pulchra” portrayed by countless artists, whom Dante contemplates among the splendours of Paradise as “beauty that was joy in the eyes of all the other saints”.(Paradiso XXXI, 134-135)
“From chaos there rises the world of the spirit”. These words of Adam Mickiewicz, written at a time of great hardship for his Polish homeland,( Oda do mlodosci, v. 69: Wybór poezji, Wroclaw 1986, vol. 1, p. 63) prompt my hope for you: may your art help to affirm that true beauty which, as a glimmer of the Spirit of God, will transfigure matter, opening the human soul to the sense of the eternal.
With my heartfelt good wishes!
From the Vatican, 4 April 1999, Easter Sunday.
Pope John Paul II’s Letter To Artists is available in its entirety online here. What do you think? I wonder about the impact outside of the Church. I do know it received some attention within the Body, among musicians. For those who have been reading with us these past weeks, was it new to you? Have other artists you’ve known referred to it or referenced it in any way?