Benedict and Beauty: Pope Calls for the Flourishing of the Arts
witnesses of hope for humanity." He has continued the trajectory of his predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, reawakening within the Church a love for the Arts and a rediscovery of Beauty as a path to God.
Creation and Redemption are part of a grand masterpiece by the Divine Artist. He created the world out of love and for all who dwell upon it can become a manifestation of His Beauty. There is a connection between beauty and the Christian vocation to manifest the presence of the living God in this world which He still loves. To be fully Christian is to be fully human.
In Blessed John Paul's "Letter to Artists" he called for the creation of "epiphanies of beauty" and encouraged the flourishing of all the arts in a great renewal of humanity for our age. His letter began with these words from the Book of Genesis: "God saw all that He had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31)."
The relationship between the Church and the Arts has gone through seasons. In the First Christian Millennium the environment into which the nascent Christian Church was sent revealed an expression of theatre which had devolved to a sad low because human culture had become debased. The film "The Gladiator", released in 2000, captured some of the spirit of the theatre of that age. Most dramatic expressions were considered indecent and a threat to a life of virtue for the early Christians.
No longer recognizing the beauty of creation and the dignity of the human person the culture reveled in sexual debauchery. It was because of this that early Christian leaders discouraged participation in the theatre. Unfortunately, hostility between the Christian Gospel and the theatre continued into the third and fourth centuries because much theatrical presentation mocked the Christian rites and the Christian message.
However, the Christian faith proclaims that in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ the transformation of the entirety of all human experience and the entire created order has begun. The early Christian community had a wonderful sense for theatre and artistic expression.
The early Fathers understood the capacity of the Gospel to truly humanize men and women and through them replace debased "art" with true beauty. The fullness of liturgical expression and the works of art produced by the early Christians demonstrated this fact.
When we fast forward to the Second Christian millennium we find the first half of the Millennium witnessed a mature flowering of a Christian worldview with developments in art and Christian participation. Sadly, it did not last long.
In the aftermath of the so-called "Enlightenment" and the reactions to its after-effects in some segments of what has been called the Protestant reformation, another season of suspicion arose concerning Christian participation in the arts.
The theatre was again seen as suspect and discouraged in many Christian circles. It was considered to be corrupt. A sad and limited view of both man and the world created for him by God the Divine Artist ensued.
As we began the Third Millennium, a Playwright and Artist occupied the Chair of Peter. In his "Letter to Artists" John Paul set forth an ambitious call for the participation of artists in the renewal of humanity through the flourishing of a new Christian humanism. With prophetic clarity he wrote of the "artistic vocation" as one who carried it in his own heart and incarnated it in his numerous plays.
Recognizing this mixed history of the relationship between art and Christian mission John Paul wrote of the modern era: "in the modern era, alongside this Christian humanism which has continued to produce important works of culture and art, another kind of humanism, marked by the absence of God and often by opposition to God, has gradually asserted itself. Such an atmosphere has sometimes led to a separation of the world of art and the world of faith."
That kind of separation between the arts and a living faith has no place in a mature Christian worldview. It proceeds from a poor anthropology, a misunderstanding of the nature of man/woman. It represents an inadequate understanding of the scope and implications of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Finally, it promotes a theology of the Church and her mission that views "the world" as a hostile environment from which the Christian and the Church must recoil rather than a palate worthy of loving transformation by those who carry on the redemptive mission of Christ the Divine Artist.
We need Catholics to respond to the call of Christ the Divine Artist and take their place in creating new "epiphanies' of beauty." Pope Benedict's words should be taken to heart by all of us.
This emphasis on Art and beauty as a path to God is a part of the New Evangelization. Both Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI affirm that as a part of their Baptismal vocation Christians are called to flourish in all the "theatres" of the human experience. Certainly the Arts is one of them, and a vital one.
In an age mired in ugliness, materialism, and a disdain for true beauty, Christians can lead a resurgence of the arts and create new epiphanies of beauty which draw all men and women to the source of all that is beautiful, the living God.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: beauty, arts, theatre, music, artists, Letter to Artists, painting, beauty as path to God, Pope benedict XVI, Blessed John Paul II, Deacon Keith Fournier
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