Tag Archives: beauty

How Catholic Art Saved the Faith: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter Reformation Art

Elizabeth Lev
Sophia Institute Press, 310 pages

 

In the Platonic triad of the transcendentals, beauty is the gateway to goodness and truth. Elizabeth Lev argues that amid the chaos and confusion of the 16th century Reformation, it was beauty – in the form of exquisitely beautiful Catholic art produced by masters such as Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Bernini, and a host of others – that helped restore unity among faithful Catholics who remained, by drawing their attention to the goodness and truth of the Church. Lev makes a strong case – as she did at the 2019 Summit – which will increase appreciation for the finest in classical religious art in these turbulent times.

 

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Faithfulness, beauty and truth draw souls, as bees to honey

In one of the many poignant moments in Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, Our Lord carries His Cross along the road to Calvary and looking toward His Mother, says, “Behold, I make all things new.” Renewed purpose, this month’s theme, conjures the idea of taking something old and giving it new purpose: in a word, renewal. Before Our Lord’s Incarnation, mankind groped about in the darkness, seeking for a God from whom Adam and Eve alienated our race. Throughout the Old Testament, we see many examples of God our Father renewing humanity, drawing people to Himself, gently preparing them for ultimate renewal.

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges to the Faith has been the inability of the bishops as a whole to deal with the sins of the past, the manner with which they were handled, and the exploitation of these sins by outside parties for their own agenda. Ultimately though, this is a symptom of a greater problem, the loss of identity and the influence of secularism. Pope Benedict XVI had repeatedly warned Catholics of the dangerous influence of secularism. Secularism’s pull on the Church and individual Catholics remains difficult to resist, but resist we must. So often political considerations and a false understanding of what it means to be pastoral or merciful mutes the voice of Truth. To overcome her present difficulties, the Church in America must find a renewed purpose by rediscovering and embracing her identity. She must be unabashedly Catholic, and stop trying to seek the approval of men.

Rome acted prudently in November by ordering the U.S. bishops to wait before voting on certain policies. As we saw with the Charter, policies made in haste for the sake of satiating the public are often bad policies with unhappy consequences down the road. Eventually, a solution will be found that is fair and just for all parties concerned. Our bishops should not care what politicians or the press think, so long as they are articulating the faith as Christ gave it to us and striving to live it as best they Can. Nor should priests censor the Gospel, especially when in the pulpit. Compromising the Faith for human respect is reprehensible.

What does this mean in practical terms for clergy and laity? Men need an ideal and a challenge, so reducing things to the least common denominator will not inspire seekers to embrace something masquerading as Catholicism. To quote Archbishop Charles Chaput, “If men and women are really made for heroism and glory, made to stand in the presence of the living God, they can never be satisfied with bourgeois, mediocre, feel-good religion. They’ll never be fed by ugly worship and shallow moralizing. But that’s what we too often give them.” Catholics must make Sunday Mass an absolute priority. Go to Penance at least monthly, more often if needed. Go to parish devotions; read the lives of the saints and other spiritual writers. Pray before the Most Blessed Sacrament. These things strengthen souls against the onslaught of secularism and worldly temptations. Faithfulness, the beauty of the Mass, and the sweetness of Catholic doctrine will attract souls as bees to honey.

Christ renews our purpose in His self-offering to the Father, where we find our nourishment and strength. He will fortify us, so that we shall not go astray. Indeed, Our Lord will make us new if we allow Him, for in Him we find our ultimate end and purpose which is nothing less than to know, love, and serve God in this life, that we may be happy with Him in the next.

HAROLD MCKALE, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, is parochial vicar to Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish (Doylestown, PA) and works with the Philadelphia Latin Mass community. He hold a B.S. in business from Millersville University, and M.Div. and M.A. from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary (Philadelphia).

Dealing with society’s four crises

The Acton Institute’s Michael Miller writes that the world is going through crises of reason, truth, freedom and beauty. The current financial and moral crises in our culture are symptoms of the four greater crises. He argues that Pope Benedict has been addressing these four major crises throughout his pontificate — and that there is hope . . .

Dr. Michael Miller

It seems that society is moving from one crisis to another lately — a breakdown of morality in business, an enormous financial crisis, social and familial breakdown, the scandal of abuse in the Church and an ever-growing government taking a bigger role in our lives.

Our time and its troubles are not unique. Every age has its crises. No perfect time has ever existed, and each generation is called to be stewards of their time. While the challenges I mentioned are serious, they are not the key problems of our time. They are manifestations of more significant civilizational crises that must be addressed if we’re going to see the current challenges clearly. Pope Benedict XVI has been addressing these deeper crises throughout his pontificate.

First is the crisis of reason. As the Pope discussed in his now famous Regensburg Address, we have limited our concept of reason to the empirical. Under this limited notion, anything that cannot be demonstrated empirically — by mathematical or scientific experiment — is not considered rational or reasonable. This means that all discussion of truth, goodness, beauty, right or wrong is relegated to the realm of emotion or opinion. Yet this position is untenable because it’s impossible to demonstrate empirically that reason should be limited to the empirical. As Benedict has argued, we must expand our concept of reason to include logical and moral reasoning. To limit it is irrational.

The second crisis is the rejection of truth — or what Benedict appropriately called a “dictatorship of relativism.” We’re all familiar with the person who argues that truth does not exist. Saint Thomas Aquinas dealt with this objection centuries ago. If a person says there’s no such thing as truth, we must ask a simple question: “Is that true?” To argue that truth doesn’t exist is a self-refuting proposition. Some may protest that that is the only truth, but that of course makes two truths!

The same applies to the person who says “The truth may exist, be we cannot know it.” “Really? Do you know that? If you do, then you know at least one truth.” This isn’t a word game. It’s the nature of reality. Truth, Aquinas wrote, is “conforming one’s mind to reality.” To reject the existence of truth is to ultimately reject the intelligibility of reality. Yet think what the limitation of reason and rejection of truth does to morality. If truth does not exist and all value judgments — right, wrong, just, fair, etc. — are non-rational, then how can we to expect people in government or businesses to be concerned with anything more than serving their own petty interests at the expense of others?

The third crisis flows from the first two: a crisis of freedom. Many people view freedom as merely the ability to exercise one’s will in whatever manner he likes. But as Benedict wrote: “An irrational will is not free.” If I start banging my head on the edge of a table or poking myself with a fork, no one would think, “Wow, that guy is so free!” No, they would think I had lost my mind, because freedom unhinged from truth and reason is not free. Think of all of the broken marriages, lying, stealing, abuse, harm and sadness that have come from this deceitful (and irrational) concept of freedom. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we have created a tyranny of tolerance and the result is generations of damaged lives.

The fourth is a crisis of beauty. Beauty has been reduced to merely being “in the eye of the beholder.” We have taken a partial truth — that the unique nature of persons means that each individual is going to perceive a certain work of art, a landscape or piece of music differently, and thereby be able to contribute a new perspective to his fellow man — and turned it into the idea that beauty is merely a matter of opinion. We’ve turned the sublime into the banal.

This may not sound very important, but it has a host of serious consequences. One is that the grotesque, the ugly, the disgusting and the shocking are now placed on the same plane as the lovely, pretty, beautiful and sublime.

Plato believed that if we lost the ability to say what was beautiful in art and music, education itself would be compromised. Do we think that when St. Paul exhorted us in his letter to the Philippians to think about whatever is true, beautiful, noble, gracious, lovely and excellent, he was merely telling us to reflect on our own banal subjective feelings? No, he was calling us out of ourselves and into a life of excellence rooted upon the foundation of Christ.

What can we do? The ironic reality is that we as individuals cannot do much about the financial crisis, immorality on Wall Street and in Hollywood, or the growth of government. But we can do a lot about the civilizational crises. We can do a lot within ourselves, our families and communities to think clearly, to think like Christians, and to recreate a Christian culture. We can teach our children, and we can “renew our minds” in Christ. One person at a time, this will change the culture, business, politics, economics and the Church.

Michael Miller is the Director of Programs at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Mich.