Via Pulchritudinis: Learning to Welcome This Beauty

The second topic in the Beauty of the Arts: Learning to Welcome this BeautyUnfortunately, human beings even some within the Church, have allowed themselves to get distracted and thus miss opportunities for beauty in all sorts of arts.

Great art, whether defined as folk, fine, classical, traditional, contemporary, or whatever, as long as it is objectively well-crafted and of quality, can achieve the promise of facilitating an encounter with God:

Works of art inspired by the Christian faith—paintings and mosaics, sculptures and architecture, ivories, silvers, poetic, literary, musical and theatrical works, film and dance, etc.—poses an enormous potential pertinent to contemporary needs that remain unaltered by the times that pass. In an intuitive and tasteful manner, they permit participation in the great experience of the faith, of the meeting with God in the face of Christ in whom he uncovers the mystery of the love of God and the identity of man.

Two important qualities listed above: intuitive and tasteful.

An address early in Paul VI’s service as pope is referenced:

In speaking to the artists in the Sistine Chapel 7 May 1964, Pope Paul VI denounced the “divorce” between art and the sacred that characterized the 20th century and observed that today many have difficulty treating Christian themes due to a lack of formation and experience of the Christian faith. [Cf. Associazione Art s Spiritualità, Sulla via della Bellezza. Paolo VI e gli artisti, Cahier n. 3, Brescia 2003, p. 71-76]

I think this is quite true. It illustrates that we can’t quite blame Vatican II for poorly conceived art. The Council sought to address an impoverishment already in evidence in the 20th century.

The ugliness of some churches and their decoration, their desacralization, is the consequence of this divorce, a laceration that needs to be treated in order to be cured. There is a need to resolve the widespread ignorance in the field of religious culture to let the Christian art of the past and present open up for all the via pulchritudinis.

What persists today in the US is a multi-faceted problem: skepticism of all genres of art, a lack of education in the arts for clergy, an unwillingness of bishops to engage artists for the local church, a pragmatism and creeping pelagianism that suggests practical things like schools must be built first and places of worship can make do, can happen anywhere. Which they can, but the issue is a lack of care in the way they are designed. This is true for temporary spaces as well as churches built on slim budgets.

Where to start? I can agree with Scripture and Tradition:

To be fully heard and understood, Christian artwork needs to be read in the light of the bible and the fundamental texts of Tradition to which the experience of faith refers. If beauty is to speak itself, it must learn its own language, cause of admiration, emotion and conversion. With the language of beauty, Christian artwork not only transmits the message of the artist, but also the truth of the mystery of God meditated by a person who reads it to us, not to glorify himself but to glorify the Source. Biblical illiteracy sterilizes the capacity for comprehension of Christian art. [Cf. D. Ponnau, Forme et sens. Colloque de formation à la dimension religieuse du patrimoine culturel, École du Louvre, Paris, 1997, p. 20]

Art in the secular world has its own challenges:

A combined effort must be taken to overcome a difficulty which has arisen due to the cultural climate nourished by art criticism broadly influenced by materialist ideologies. Highlighting only the aesthetic-formal aspect of works, without interest for the content which inspired such beauty, such ideologies sterilize art, stemming the living and life-giving stream of spiritual life, limiting it to the world of emotions.

Some of these broader experiences might include mistaking decoration for art, too much reliance on reason and intellect, an association of patronage with the 1%, the dismissal of religion as a worthy field for endeavor, and the intensifying of ideologies that drag too many artists into work that is hijacked by the opinions of others.

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s