Part V: Art and the Mystery of the Word Made Flesh
5. The Law of the Old Testament explicitly forbids representation of the
invisible and ineffable God by means of "graven or molten image"
(Dt 27:15), because God transcends every material representation: "I am who
I am" (Ex 3:14). Yet in the mystery of the Incarnation, the Son of God
becomes visible in person: "When the fullness of time had come, God sent
forth his Son born of woman" (Gal 4:4). God became man in Jesus Christ, who
thus becomes "the central point of reference for an understanding of the
enigma of human existence, the created world and God himself".
This prime epiphany of "God who is Mystery" is both an
encouragement and a challenge to Christians, also at the level of artistic
creativity. From it has come a flowering of beauty which has drawn its sap
precisely from the mystery of the Incarnation. In becoming man, the Son of God
has introduced into human history all the evangelical wealth of the true and the
good, and with this he has also unveiled a new dimension of beauty, of which the
Gospel message is filled to the brim.
Sacred Scripture has thus become a sort of "immense vocabulary"
(Paul Claudel) and "iconographic atlas" (Marc Chagall), from which
both Christian culture and art have drawn. The Old Testament, read in the light
of the New, has provided endless streams of inspiration. From the stories of the
Creation and sin, the Flood, the cycle of the Patriarchs, the events of the
Exodus to so many other episodes and characters in the history of salvation, the
biblical text has fired the imagination of painters, poets, musicians,
playwrights and film-makers. A figure like Job, to take but one example, with
his searing and ever relevant question of suffering, still arouses an interest
which is not just philosophical but literary and artistic as well. And what
should we say of the New Testament? From the Nativity to Golgotha, from the
Transfiguration to the Resurrection, from the miracles to the teachings of
Christ, and on to the events recounted in the Acts of the Apostles or foreseen
by the Apocalypse in an eschatological key, on countless occasions the biblical
word has become image, music and poetry, evoking the mystery of "the Word
made flesh" in the language of art.
In the history of human culture, all of this is a rich chapter of faith and
beauty. Believers above all have gained from it in their experience of prayer
and Christian living. Indeed for many of them, in times when few could read or
write, representations of the Bible were a concrete mode of catechesis. But
for everyone, believers or not, the works of art inspired by Scripture remain a
reflection of the unfathomable mystery which engulfs and inhabits the world.