DPPL 243: Aesthetics, Art, Governance

STA altar at night smallAs we read about images, let’s ponder the different approaches of East and West. Images are art. The assumption is in favor of quality, but true art really leads people to God.

243. By their very nature, sacred images belong to the realm of sacred signs and to the realm of art. These “are often works of art infused with innate religious feeling, and seem almost to reflect that beauty that comes from God and that leads to God” (Rituale Romanum, De Benedictionibus, Ordo as benedicendas imagines quae fidelium venerationi publicae exhibentur, cit., 985). The primary function of sacred images is not, however, to evince aesthetic pleasure but to dispose towards Mystery.

Beauty is not supreme, at least in the sense of beautiful images appealing to our inner sense of pleasure. I think the Church is speaking of art being more than a theological or catechetical function.

What do you make of this statement:

Sometimes, the artistic aspects of an image can assume a disproportionate importance, seeing the image as an “artistic” theme, rather conveying a spiritual message.

Is some of our musical art elevated to an importance above the spiritual message intended?

The East may be more disciplined in its iconography, but the West has governed the creation and use of images:

The production of sacred images in the West is not governed by strict canons that have been in place for centuries, as is the case in the Eastern Church. This does not imply that the Latin Church has overlooked or neglected its oversight of sacred images: the exposition of images contrary to the faith, or indecorous images, or images likely to lead the faithful into error, or images deriving from a disincarnate abstraction or dehumanizing images, have been prohibited on numerous occasions. Some images are examples of anthropocentric humanism rather than reflections of a genuine spirituality.

Don’t move sacred images out of churches:

The tendency to remove sacred images from sacred places is to be strongly condemned, since this is detrimental for the piety of the Christian faithful.

Unless, I suppose, the image is harmful to faith.

Popular piety encourages sacred images which reflect the characteristics of particular cultures; realistic representations in which the saints are clearly identifiable, or which evidently depict specific junctures in human life: birth, suffering, marriage, work, death. Efforts should be made, however, to ensure that popular religious art does not degenerate into mere oleography: in the Liturgy, there is a correlation between iconography and art, and the Christian art of specific cultural epochs.

The reference to “oleography” seems to suggest mass reproduction of images is not quite in keeping with the spirit of art and piety. The depictions of Divine Mercy, however, all look alike to me. In a previous parish, a reproduction of great quality was given to us. But it wasn’t art–not in the sense of an original work. What are your thoughts on this? Or have I missed the mark?

The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy is online at the Vatican site.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, post-conciliar liturgy documents. Bookmark the permalink.

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