Contemporary sacred art, a “culture of encounter”?

Paul VI conveyed this message to artists, at the close of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, December 8, 1965: “Beauty, like truth, is that which brings joy to human hearts, it is that precious fruit that resists the passage of time, that unites generations and make them communicate in awe. And this is thanks to your hands…”, a message that is still actual and always remembered by his successors…

Almost half a century after the Second Vatican Council, encyclical Lumen fidei the 29th of June 2013 will be the real relay carried out between the two popes, Benoit XVI and Francis, and will also underscore the luminous character of faith and thus the place occupied by art. Confronted with relativism multiplied by the power of international communication which often leads to uncertainty and confusion between good and evil, faith participates in this light and sacred art can be one of its vectors. Listen to God’s word and give it a try look his pictorial reflections respond to the wishes of the Old Testament, underlined by the encyclical:

“The Old Testament reconciles the two kinds of knowledge, because listening to the Word of God unites the desire to see his face. In this way, it was possible to develop a dialogue with Hellenic culture, a dialogue that is at the heart of Scripture. Hearing testifies to vocation and personal obedience, as well as the fact that the truth is revealed in due time; the view offers a full vision of the entire journey and allows us to place ourselves in God’s great plan; without this vision we would be left with only isolated fragments of an unknown whole. (Encyclical Lumen fidei no. 29)

Thus, “God’s great plan” can be felt thanks to the power of vision conveyed by art. The ideas that animate these contemporary sacred art artists are joined byokulata fides the Apostles reminded by Saint Thomas Aquinas, a faith that saw the Risen One.

Faith that sees the unseen God…

This visible Word was born from the idea that Christianity — contrary to ideas that are too often widespread — is not a “religion of the Book” unlike Islam, but faith in the Word incarnated in Jesus. As the great art historian Mgr. Timothy Verdon, the Incarnate Word thus becomes “visible” when it appears from the Gospel of John: “And the Word became flesh, He dwelt among us, and we saw the glory which He had from His Father as an only begotten Son, full of love grace and truth. (John 1:14). With respect to this embodied word, art proves to be one of the most visible mediums.

This perception of art, which renews the canons of classicism in terms of sacred art, raises eternal questions from ancient and modern times, about the proponents of tradition and novelty.

However, at the same time, the idea of ​​\u200b\u200bthe invisible image of God is in the sense understood by Paul in his letter to the Colossians – “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn, before any creature”, (Col. 1, 15) can lead to multiple interpretations by contemporary artists, sometimes leading to misunderstandings. Likewise with Christ produced in 1950 by the artist Germaine Richier for the chapel on the Plateau d’Assy, giving rise to opposition and distrust of art that is considered “semi-decadent”… This perception of art that renews the canons of classicism in matters of sacred art raises eternal questions from people ancient and modern, advocates of tradition and novelty. Since then, the boldness of contemporary artists in fields other than the sacred has familiarized public opinion with approaches other than those conveyed by tradition.

Our Lady of All Grace Church on the Plateau d’Assy (Haute-Savoie).

Fred de Noyelle / Godong

Sacred arts, an encounter…

The notion of the encounter that evokes any work of art implies on the part of the faithful who encounter sacred works of art a certain availability and dialogue between the work and its inner self. It is in this sense that at the end of 2021, the first permanent exhibition of contemporary art will be inaugurated within the Vatican itself in the Apostolic Library. This event, intended to “support the culture of encounter” in the words of Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, opened the door for installations by Italian artist Pietro Ruffo. The work entitled ” tutti. Umanita di cammino » directly inspired by the encyclical « Fratelli Tutti Pope Francis with the idea of ​​moving humanity, fraternity that leads to “social friendship” refers to the thoughts of Saint Francis of Assisi.


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