Benedict XVI encourages artists to be “custodians of beauty”

Source: FSSPX News

On the 21st November, Pope Benedict XVI greeted 260 artists in the Vatican in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of John Paul II's Letter to Artists (April 4, 1999), along with the 45th anniversary of Paul VI's Address to Artists  (May 7, 1964). 

During the meeting that took place in the Sistine Chapel, “sanctuary of faith and human creativity”, the Pope made an address to painters, architects, sculptors, writers, poets, musicians, singers, and actors, most of whom were Italian. Only about thirty foreign artists accepted the invitation among whom Mario Botta( Swiss architect), Peter Greenaway (English filmmaker), Angela Hewitt (Canadian pianist) and Igor Mitoraj (polish sculptor).

In prelude to the Holy Father’s discourse, the Sistine Chapel choir sang “Domine Quando Veneris”, a motet composed by Palestrina (1525-1594) then the Italian actor Sergio Castellito read extracts from John Paul II’s letter.

Benedict XVI began by declaring to the audience his wish “to express and renew the Church’s friendship with the world of art, a friendship that has been strengthened over time; indeed Christianity from its earliest days has recognized the value of the arts and has made wise use of their varied language to express her unvarying message of salvation. This friendship must be continually promoted and supported so that it may be authentic and fruitful, adapted to different historical periods and attentive to social and cultural variations.” He then reminded the gathering that in 1964 Paul VI made a commitment to re-establish the friendship between the Church and artists, and he invited artists to make a similar, shared commitment, “analyzing seriously and objectively the factors that disturbed this relationship, and assuming individual responsibility, courageously and passionately, for a newer and deeper journey in mutual acquaintance and dialogue in order to arrive at an authentic “renaissance” of art in the context of a new humanism”.

To those who were “perhaps remote from the practice of religion, but interested nevertheless in maintaining communication with the Catholic Church, in not reducing the horizons of existence to mere material realities, to a reductive and trivializing vision”,  Benedict XVI pointed behind him to Michelangelo’s fresco Last Judgment, which “reminds us that human history is movement and ascent, a continuing tension towards fullness, towards human happiness (….) yet the dramatic scene portrayed in this fresco also places before our eyes the risk of man’s definitive fall”. “For believers, though, the Risen Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. For his faithful followers, he is the Door through which we are brought to that “face-to-face” vision of God from which limitless, full and definitive happiness flows”.

His Holiness then declared that “too often, though, the beauty that is thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful, superficial and blinding, leaving the onlooker dazed; instead of bringing him out of himself”. He added “It imprisons him within himself and further enslaves him, depriving him of hope and joy”.  He warned “it is a seductive but hypocritical beauty that rekindles desire, the will to power, to possess, and to dominate others, it is a beauty which soon turns into its opposite, taking on the guise of indecency, transgression or gratuitous provocation”.  Whereas “authentic beauty (…) unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond (…) Art, in all its forms, at the point where it encounters the great questions of our existence, the fundamental themes that give life its meaning, can take on a religious quality, thereby turning into a path of profound inner reflection and spirituality”.