Sixteen weeks later and we have reached the end! In the final chapter of his 1999 Letter to Artists, Pope St. John Paul II looks to the future – one that we as artists may make beautiful. May it be so!
- If you would like to read the whole of the Pope’s letter, you can do so at the Vatican website here
The “Beauty” that saves
16. On the threshold of the Third Millennium, my hope for all of you who are artists is that you will have an especially intense experience of creative inspiration. May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude.
From this wonder there can come that enthusiasm of which Norwid spoke in the poem to which I referred earlier. People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that “beauty will save the world”.
Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!”.
Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite Ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy.
May you be guided and inspired by the mystery of the Risen Christ, whom the Church in these days contemplates with joy.
May the Blessed Virgin Mary be with you always: she is the “tota pulchra” portrayed by countless artists, whom Dante contemplates among the splendours of Paradise as “beauty that was joy in the eyes of all the other saints”.
“From chaos there rises the world of the spirit”. These words of Adam Mickiewicz, written at a time of great hardship for his Polish homeland, prompt my hope for you: may your art help to affirm that true beauty which, as a glimmer of the Spirit of God, will transfigure matter, opening the human soul to the sense of the eternal.
With my heartfelt good wishes!
From the Vatican, 4 April 1999, Easter Sunday.
(of the present writer, not nec. LCWC opinions)
- “… my hope for all of you who are artists is that you will have an especially intense experience of creative inspiration.” To this one can only say amen, amen. I don’t know about you, though, but I often writing really hard. After the inspiration, keeping the work going is a real test. Of course, that is one part of the purpose of the London Catholic Writers Circle – to help and encourage you in your writing. I wish, though, I could help myself more.
- “From this wonder there can come that enthusiasm of which Norwid spoke in the poem to which I referred earlier.” By way of a reminder, John Paul is referring back to Chapter Three where he wrote,
A noted Polish poet, Cyprian Norwid, wrote that “beauty is to enthuse us for work, and work is to raise us up”.
And the wise man who said that “beauty will save the world” is Dostoyevsky. The Notes to the Holy Father’s letter gives the reference – The Idiot, Part III, chap. 5.
What I really appreciate about this second paragraph is that the Holy Father is showing how works of art are not just relevant to us when we sit down to read a book or take the time to admire a painting in an art gallery but in our day-today lives as well. Engaging with a work of art of whatever kind is not an isolated and isolating activity but one element of the whole of our lives. That’s an exciting thought.
- “… dream of the future.” The pope could have gone into full airy-fairy pop lyric mode here so it is good that he grounds this idea in the reality of God. To dream of the future is not a nebulous and perhaps vacuous daydream but to search for, and in whatever way find, God. It is a definitive act both of the head and heart.
- “… many different paths…” As Christians we need so much to remember that we are on different paths to our fellows. As artists we need to remember this as well. Don’t try to be your favourite author! If you wish, be him or her, but only in order to find yourself! These words mean a lot to me. I know exactly which author I would love to write like (Like, I suspect, many others, it’s Tolkien).
- “May the Blessed Virgin Mary be with you always…” AMEN!
- ““From chaos there rises the world of the spirit”” These are words easily written but no doubt hard to make real. Chaos is not a good or easy place to be. Still, with God’s help. Veni, Creator Spiritus… On that note, thank you for reading this post. An especial thanks if you have read the whole series. I hope you have enjoyed doing so. May God bless you in your life and work.