BXVI: on rediscovering the path of beauty

On Wednesday Pope Benedict XVI challenged the men and women of today’s world to recover the deepest meaning of art, in its multitude of expressions, but particularly as the path of beauty which leads to God. And in doing so he also shared personal memories of how art had moved him to God with the five thousand pilgrims gathered for the general audience in the tiny village of Castel Gandolfo.

He said “On several occasions during this period, I have recalled the need for every Christian to find time for God, for prayer, amid the many occupations of our daily lives. The Lord Himself gives us many opportunities to remember Him. Today I will touch briefly on one of these channels that can bring us to God and also be of help in encountering Him: it is the path of artistic expression, part of that “path of Beauty “, of which I have spoken several times and which man today should recover in its deepest meaning”.

Pope Benedict continued “perhaps sometimes, before a sculpture, a painting, a few verses of a poem or a song, you have experienced deep within an intimate emotion, a sense of joy, that is, you have clearly perceived that in front of you there was not only mere matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a series of letters or a combination of sounds, but something bigger, something that speaks, capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message; of elevating the soul. ”

“Works of art are the fruit of human creativity, which question the visible reality, trying to discover its deep meaning and to communicate it through the language of shapes, colours, sounds.” The work of art, in short, “is an open door on the infinite,” which “opens the eyes of the mind, of the heart.”

However, he added, “there are artistic expressions that are true paths to God, the supreme Beauty, indeed they help nurture our relationship with Him in prayer. These are works that are born of faith and express faith. One example of this is when we visit a Gothic cathedral; we are enraptured by the vertical lines that shoot up towards the sky and draw our eyes and our spirits upwards, while at the same time, we feel small, and yet eager for fullness … Or when we enter a Romanesque church: we are spontaneously invited to recollection and prayer. We feel as if the faith of generations were enclosed in these splendid buildings. Or, when we hear a piece of sacred music that vibrates the strings of our heart, our soul expands and helped to turn to God. A concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, in Munich, directed by Leonard Bernstein, again comes to my mind. After the last piece of music, one of the Cantate, I felt, not by reasoning, but in my heart, that what I heard had conveyed to me truth, something of the truth of the great composer’s faith and this pressed me to praise and thank the Lord and beside me was the Lutheran Bishop of Munich and spontaneously, feeling this, I said to him, you know, its true, a faith and beauty so strong irresistibly expresses the presence and truth of God”.

Pope Benedict then spoke of how certain artists have touched our lives : “How many times have paintings or frescoes, the fruit of the faith of the artist, in their forms, their colours, their light, encouraged us to direct our thoughts to God and nourished in us the desire to draw from the source of all beauty. What the great artist, Marc Chagall, once wrote remains true, that for centuries painters have dipped their paintbrush in that coloured alphabet that is the Bible. How many times, then can artistic expressions be occasions to remind us of God, to help our prayer or for the conversion of the heart! Paul Claudel, a poet, playwright, and French diplomat, in the Basilica of Notre Dame in Paris, in 1886, while he was listening to the singing of the Magnificat at Christmas Mass, felt God’s presence. He had not entered the church for reasons of faith, but to in search of arguments against Christians, and instead the grace of God worked in his heart”.

The Holy Father concluded: “I invite you to rediscover the importance of this path for prayer, for our living relationship with God. The cities and towns all over the world preserve works of art that express the faith and remind us of our relationship with God. Visiting places of art, it is not only an occasion for cultural enrichment, but above all it can be a moment of grace, an encouragement to strengthen our relationship and our dialogue with the Lord, to stop and contemplate, in the transition from simple external reality to a deeper reality, the ray of beauty that strikes us, that almost wounds us in our inner selves and invites us to rise towards God. ”

And then he greeted all English speaking pilgrims present: I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors here today, especially those from Scotland and Malta. Today we reflect on the need to draw near to God through the experience and appreciation of artistic beauty. Art is capable of making visible our need to go beyond what we see and it reveals our thirst for infinite beauty, for God. Dear friends, I invite you to be open to beauty and to allow it to move you to prayer and praise of the Lord. May Almighty God bless all of you!

Full text:

 * *
Dear brothers and sisters,
On several occasions in recent months, I have recalled the need for every Christian to find time for God, for prayer, amidst our many daily activities.The Lord himself offers us many opportunities to remember Him. Today, I would like to consider briefly one of these channels that can lead us to God and also be helpful in our encounter with Him: It is the way of artistic expression, part of that “via pulchritudinis” — “way of beauty” — which I have spoken about on many occasions, and which modern man should recover in its most profound meaning.
Perhaps it has happened to you at one time or another — before a sculpture, a painting, a few verses of poetry or a piece of music — to have experienced deep emotion, a sense of joy, to have perceived clearly, that is, that before you there stood not only matter — a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, an ensemble of letters or a combination of sounds — but something far greater, something that “speaks,” something capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message, of elevating the soul.
A work of art is the fruit of the creative capacity of the human person who stands in wonder before the visible reality, who seeks to discover the depths of its meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colors and sounds. Art is capable of expressing, and of making visible, man’s need to go beyond what he sees; it reveals his thirst and his search for the infinite. Indeed, it is like a door opened to the infinite, [opened] to a beauty and a truth beyond the every day. And a work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart, urging us upward.
But there are artistic expressions that are true roads to God, the supreme Beauty — indeed, they are a help [to us] in growing in our relationship with Him in prayer. We are referring to works of art that are born of faith, and that express the faith. We see an example of this whenever we visit a Gothic cathedral: We are ravished by the vertical lines that reach heavenward and draw our gaze and our spirit upward, while at the same time, we feel small and yet yearn to be filled. … Or when we enter a Romanesque church: We are invited quite naturally to recollection and prayer. We perceive that hidden within these splendid edifices is the faith of generations. Or again, when we listen to a piece of sacred music that makes the chords of our heart resound, our soul expands and is helped in turning to God. I remember a concert performance of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach — in Munich in Bavaria — conducted by Leonard Bernstein. At the conclusion of the final selection, one of the Cantate, I felt — not through reasoning, but in the depths of my heart — that what I had just heard had spoken truth to me, truth about the supreme composer, and it moved me to give thanks to God. Seated next to me was the Lutheran bishop of Munich. I spontaneously said to him: “Whoever has listened to this understands that faith is true” — and the beauty that irresistibly expresses the presence of God’s truth.
But how many times, paintings or frescos also, which are the fruit of the artist’s faith — in their forms, in their colors, and in their light — move us to turn our thoughts to God, and increase our desire to draw from the Fount of all beauty. The words of the great artist, Marc Chagall, remain profoundly true — that for centuries, painters dipped their brushes in that colored alphabet, which is the Bible.
How many times, then, can artistic expression be for us an occasion that reminds us of God, that assists us in our prayer or even in the conversion of our heart! In 1886, the famous French poet, playwright and diplomat Paul Claudel entered the Basilica of Notre Dame in Paris and there felt the presence of God precisely in listening to the singing of the Magnificat during the Christmas Mass. He had not entered the church for reasons of faith; indeed, he entered looking for arguments against Christianity, but instead the grace of God changed his heart.
Dear friends, I invite you to rediscover the importance of this way for prayer, for our living relationship with God. Cities and countries throughout the world house treasures of art that express the faith and call us to a relationship with God. Therefore, may our visits to places of art be not only an occasion for cultural enrichment — also this — but may they become, above all, a moment of grace that moves us to strengthen our bond and our conversation with the Lord, [that moves us] to stop and contemplate — in passing from the simple external reality to the deeper reality expressed — the ray of beauty that strikes us, that “wounds” us in the intimate recesses of our heart and invites us to ascend to God.
I will end with a prayer from one of the Psalms, Psalm 27: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Verse 4). Let us hope that the Lord will help us to contemplate His beauty, both in nature as well as in works of art, so that we might be touched by the light of His face, and so also be light for our neighbor. Thank you.
[© Copyright 2011 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

About Gertrude

Sáncte Míchael Archángele, defénde nos in proélio, cóntra nequítiam et insídias diáboli ésto præsídium.
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7 Responses to BXVI: on rediscovering the path of beauty

  1. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    This is an excellent initiative from PBXVI. Perhaps being on his hols in Gandolfo has allowed him a breather in which to comment on such important matters.

    I myself try, tho’ sometimes fail to have contact with a piece of art each day, be it text, sound or image. I agree with PBXVI on great cathedrals, and never tire of Chartres, Vezelay, Conques or St Magnus cathedral in Orkney. A wander round an art gallery like the Tate, Jeu des Paumes or La Reina Sofia is so satisfying.

    I admit that tho’ religion has inspired many world class pieces of pictorial art, I am so disappointed with the Disney level images and objects to be found in your average church. The plaster saints and virgins ooze sugary sentimentality, and might be better placed in a fairground booth. My one foray to Lourdes was an exercise in disbelief, laughter and sadness at the stuff on sale there. The images we often see on EWTN are of this level, and are such a let down. An image of Christ was mocked here not long ago, for its suburban tackiness and lack of authenticity.

    I know that at least in one area of the UK, the church has, at least in the past, been bold in supporting new architecture, to its credit. And PB came to Madrid with that painting recently, confirming the importance he gives to art.

    So good on yer, PBXVI, let’s have more of the same.

    Like

  2. toadspittle says:

    .

    Toad wondered why the article is called Rediscovering the path of beauty,” as he was not aware that the path had ever been lost.
    In fact, the dear old Pope talk of rediscovering the importance of the path, ect.. So, that’s all right, then.

    Still and all, Toad doubts that, say, Caravaggio, Picasso, Lucian Freud or Francis Bacon will be held up as role models for “Catholic Youth” any time soon. But that’s entirely another thing.

    Like

  3. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Has Gertie a hotline to the Vatican?

    This article was posted here on 31/8, yet was only broadcast on 1st Sept on Vatican Radio. Any more scoops?

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  4. Gertrude says:

    I would like to say ‘yes’ – but the honest answer is ‘no’. I get the Vatican’s ‘publicity’ on Twitter as, in accordance with the Holy Father’s wish that we should embrace modern technology, the Vatican ‘tweets’ as soon as the Holy Father has spoken. I would imagine that they have advance notice of his speeches because as soon as he has made them they are ‘tweeted’ to an awaiting Catholic world. Before you jump on me, I will clarify – a waiting Catholic audience in the world! (Even Gertie knows the whole world is not Roman Catholic – yet.)

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  5. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    G, I didn’t even think of ‘clarification’! Anyway, I know that if I ‘jump’ on you, you’d jump right back, as does nearly everyone here. And so they should, even poor old Manus.

    No, I was just in admiration (and in fear of your hotline and powerful contacts) that you could post items like this a day in advance of Vatican Radio. I rest assured.

    For my sins, during sleepless nights (troubled conscience!?) I listen to Vatican Radio and EWTN. EWTN in particular is very slick and professional, yet carries approving items about priests saying Mass in camouflage vestments obtained from Hell’s Angels. And then we read articles about Vatican analysts like Weigel, so maybe there’s a transatlantic Fourth Reich on the way………

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  6. Gertrude says:

    Lol. We’ll have none of those ‘camouflage vestments’ here dear Whippy! Best left to the Americans don’t you think! (Nothing less than a High Mass complete set for me – including Black for funerals please.)

    Like

  7. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    I remember years ago, walking through Lyon , France and the home of Lefebvre, seeing a priest from St George striding out with the black frock coat of the priests of yesteryear. It was striking, I must say. Distinctly unmilitary. They also did a Latin Mass which I hadn’t heard since my youth.

    But LeFebvre has been rocking the boat it seems.

    Like

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