the mystery of man

In Chapter 14 of Pope St. John Paul’s Letter to Artists the Holy Father makes an appeal to Christian and non-Christian artists alike. It will not be an easy request for either of us. Are we prepared to listen?

If you would like to read the whole letter, you can do so at the Vatican’s website here.

An appeal to artists

14. With this Letter, I turn to you, the artists of the world, to assure you of my esteem and to help consolidate a more constructive partnership between art and the Church. Mine is an invitation to rediscover the depth of the spiritual and religious dimension which has been typical of art in its noblest forms in every age. It is with this in mind that I appeal to you, artists of the written and spoken word, of the theatre and music, of the plastic arts and the most recent technologies in the field of communication. I appeal especially to you, Christian artists: I wish to remind each of you that, beyond functional considerations, the close alliance that has always existed between the Gospel and art means that you are invited to use your creative intuition to enter into the heart of the mystery of the Incarnate God and at the same time into the mystery of man.

Human beings, in a certain sense, are unknown to themselves. Jesus Christ not only reveals God, but “fully reveals man to man”. In Christ, God has reconciled the world to himself. All believers are called to bear witness to this; but it is up to you, men and women who have given your lives to art, to declare with all the wealth of your ingenuity that in Christ the world is redeemed: the human person is redeemed, the human body is redeemed, and the whole creation which, according to Saint Paul, “awaits impatiently the revelation of the children of God” (Rom 8:19), is redeemed. The creation awaits the revelation of the children of God also through art and in art. This is your task. Humanity in every age, and even today, looks to works of art to shed light upon its path and its destiny.

Some Thoughts
(of the present writer, not nec. LCWC opinions)

  • … I turn to you, the artists of the world… I appeal especially to you, Christian artists…” John Paul here speaks to artists and Christian artists separately. I wonder if it is possible for Christian and non-Christian artists to collaborate on a Gospel oriented work, each approaching it from their own stand-point but arriving at a joint-understanding of what the Incarnation means to them both?
  • Human beings, in a certain sense, are unknown to themselves.” Sometimes, perhaps for a long time, we do not know who we are; and when we do find out, we don’t like what we see. But that’s the beauty of art, especially religious art; it reminds us that we are not alone in the darkness of our being, and on that point, actually, we live not in the night but the grey before dawn. Art shows us that dawn; it draws the light on, and ultimately, brings us closer to the Sun.
  • The creation awaits the revelation of the children of God also through art and in art.” In our utilitarian age, it is so easy to relegate art to second place. The fact is, though, as far as our souls are concerned, art is most certainly of the first importance. Man does not live by bread, money, or medicine alone. He needs the truth as well. He needs art. Art is truthful because it reaches inside; into the truth of reality: into God. John Paul writes ever so gently, but the charge that he lays upon artists is of the greatest importance. That charge, it has to be said, is also a pretty glorious one as well. And the beauty of it is that however rough one’s work, as long as it is done to the best of one’s ability, it is a success.
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