Via Pulchritudinis: The Beauty of the Arts, Pastoral Proposals, Part 1

Section III-2 The Beauty of the Arts concludes with Pastoral Proposals which are referenced in part by certain documents:

John Paul II’s Letter to Artists is a fundamental reference point here, and finds a clear echo in the passage cited from the Pontifical Council for Culture’s document Towards a Pastoral Approach to Culture. [Cf. no 17: Art et loisir and no 36: L’art et les artistes] Episcopal Conferences can take these two texts as the starting point for concrete initiatives. [Cf. Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Goods of the Church, Circular Letter, Formation for Cultural Goods in Seminaries, 15 October 1992; Regional Episcopal Conference of Tuscany, Pastoral Note, La vita si è fatta visibile. La communicazione della fede attraverso l’Arte, 23 February 1997; and Italian Episcopal Conference’s National Bureau for Ecclesiastical Cultural Goods, Document, Spirito Creatore, 30 November 1997]

The document mentions education, but it must be more than just courses in art history and musical appreciation:

It is a matter of using an appropriate pedagogy to initiate people into the language of beauty, to educate them to seize the message of Christian art. This is what makes works beautiful and above all favors in them a meeting with the mystery of Christ. Awareness is growing in this domain, and there is a visible return of interest in the study of sacred Christian art, which is now better known by those who are responsible for Christian formation.

Prayer and especially a kind of lectio/visio divina is needed. We’ll get to that in some discussion on prayer and liturgy ahead.

Some examples are cited in this footnote:

[Courses of formation are multiplying in the Catholic Universities, for example the Faculty of Church History and Cultural Goods of the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Institute of Sacred Art and Liturgical Music at the Catholic Institute in Paris and the Catholic University of Lisbon; Christian inspired journals and reviews also frequently address this theme, e.g. Arte Cristiana from Milan, Humanitas from Santiago du Chile; Diocesan Museums are becoming more commonplace, and conceived of as true Catholic Cultural Centers; recent publications promote the via pulchritudinis helping the reader enter into the language of art with spiritual meditation. Cf. M. G. Riva, Nell’arte lo stupore di una Presenza, San Paolo, Milan, 2004]

A challenge perceived from outside of Christian belief:

Faced with widely spread atheist and ideological interpretations, the need is felt for a major work of theoretical reformulation of the teaching of sacred art, based on an authentic Christian vision.

Again, I’d offer a caution about laying blame (however justified and accurate) outside of the Christian fold. Many Christians have done incalculable damage within the Church neglecting sacred art and favoring the pragmatic and practical. The Church in the US has, for the last century or so, been particularly offending in some ways: reproductions of art instead of original works, recordings of music instead of live performance, imitations of classic works or styles rather than original efforts. Sometimes the motivation is simply to steer money to other causes. Authentic Christianity means authenticity in art used for liturgy, prayer, and formation.

It is a matter of creating the conditions for a renewal of artistic creation in the Christian community, and forming effective links with artists to help them capture what makes works of art authentically religious and sacred art. Much has been done already in many dioceses but more can yet be done to make the most of the Church’s rich cultural and artistic patrimony, born of the Christian faith, and use it as an instrument of evangelization, catechesis and dialogue. It is not enough just to set up art galleries, rather the conditions must also be created to let this patrimony express the content of its message. An authentically beautiful liturgy helps enter into this particular language of the faith, made of symbols and evocations of the mystery being celebrated.

The rest of this section will get into actual proposals for moving forward on these. Remember, 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.
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