Thursday, September 01, 2011

Benedict XVI: The Path of Beauty gives us the text of the Holy Father's Wednesday General Audience, where Benedict XVI discusses the ever important matter of beauty.

Within "popular ecclesiastical culture," we all too commonly find that the recognition of the importance of beauty is instead replaced by either an indifference or suspicion of beauty; an indifference or suspicion rooted in the idea that beauty is somehow inconsequent, peripheral or a shallow concern.

By contrast, the Holy Father, now as before, teaches of the importance of beauty; of the evangelical power of beauty as an epiphany and pathway to God; of beauty which helps to "nurture our relationship with Him in prayer."

The long and the short of it is simply this: beauty matters.

Here is the Vatican Radio report [NLM emphases]:

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 and irresistibly expresses the presence and truth of God".

Pope Benedict then turned 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."

Beauty matters. In matters in sacred art, sacred music and sacred liturgy. Indeed, it matters generally.

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