Via Pulchritudinis: Beauty Inspired by the Faith, Part 2

Let’s continue with the thought of Beauty Inspired by the Faith.

Great art, as can be afforded by many cathedrals and basilicas, and Rome, certainly can inspire. What sort of encouragement for art is given in far-flung dioceses, mission territories, and other remote areas? The average cardinal, at least the ones up to 2013 were in sees that could afford to commission the top artists. When they came to Rome for a conclave, a question:

Did not the Cardinals of Holy Roman Church feel the terrible beauty of the Last Judgement of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel when they were voting for the new Roman Pontiff?

In the largest churches at home …

Do not the cathedrals and churches of the West and East reach a summit of splendor when a liturgy streaming with beauty is celebrated by a gathered crowd?

… and music in cloisters …

And do not the abbeys and monasteries become havens of peace when they follow their function of worship, supplication and thanksgiving with melodies that have endured through the centuries? So many men and women from so many ages and cultures have felt that deep emotional stirring and opened their hearts to God in contemplating the face of Christ on the Cross, in listening to a Passion or a Te Deum, in kneeling before a golden reredos or a Byzantine icon.

The answer here is certainly in the affirmative. This reflection and these questions bring to mind the practice of tours of relics. Musical performers also tour, but more rare is the phenomenon of seeing works of art shared live in more remote locations.

Pope John Paul II, in his Letter to Artists, called for a new epiphany of beauty and a new dialogue of faith and culture between Church and art, underlining their reciprocal needs and the richness of their millenarian alliance from which has sprung the “birth of beauty” of which Plato spoke in The Banquet. [Letter to Artists 12-13]

It would seen that conversation needs to take place in many locations, not just in the fortunate centers of sacred culture.

If cultural milieu strongly conditions the artist, then, echoing the appeal of Von Balthasar, we must raise the questions: How can we be guardians of beauty in today’s contemporary artistic culture where erotic seduction stems the instincts, pollutes the imagination and inhibits the spiritual faculties? Is not the task of saving beauty that of saving (us)? Is this not the role of the Church, “expert in humanity” and guardian of the faith?

The Church has viewed many developments with suspicion. Even today traditional-leaning artists describe modern trends as seductive or polluting or inhibiting, but this needs a more careful diagnosis. Sometimes pornography and abuse and corruption are simply that. Strummed guitars, impressionism, percussion, saints and even Jesus depicted as people of color? Likely not. Discerning what is a matter of taste is vital.

And if the Church hopes to appeal to artists who work primarily in the secular sphere, we might do better to temper our criticism until some deeper level of trust can be established.

Otherwise, I have no disagreements with this section. But I think the institutional church has missed many opportunities.

The full document is here.

Image: the rose window at Notre Dame in Paris, By Zachi Evenor based on File:North rose window of Notre-Dame de Paris, Aug 2010.jpg by Julie Anne Workman – CC BY-SA 2.0,

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Art, evangelization, Via Pulchritudinis. Bookmark the permalink.

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