Part VI: A Fruitful Alliance Between the Gospel and Art
6. Every genuine artistic intuition goes beyond what the senses perceive and,
reaching beneath reality's surface, strives to interpret its hidden mystery. The
intuition itself springs from the depths of the human soul, where the desire to
give meaning to one's own life is joined by the fleeting vision of beauty and of
the mysterious unity of things. All artists experience the unbridgeable gap
which lies between the work of their hands, however successful it may be, and
the dazzling perfection of the beauty glimpsed in the ardour of the creative
moment: what they manage to express in their painting, their sculpting, their
creating is no more than a glimmer of the splendour which flared for a moment
before the eyes of their spirit.
Believers find nothing strange in this: they know that they have had a
momentary glimpse of the abyss of light which has its original wellspring in
God. Is it in any way surprising that this leaves the spirit overwhelmed as it
were, so that it can only stammer in reply? True artists above all are ready to
acknowledge their limits and to make their own the words of the Apostle Paul,
according to whom "God does not dwell in shrines made by human hands"
so that "we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold or silver or
stone, a representation by human art and imagination" (Acts 17:24, 29). If
the intimate reality of things is always "beyond" the powers of human
perception, how much more so is God in the depths of his unfathomable mystery!
The knowledge conferred by faith is of a different kind: it presupposes a
personal encounter with God in Jesus Christ. Yet this knowledge too can be
enriched by artistic intuition. An eloquent example of aesthetic contemplation
sublimated in faith are, for example, the works of Fra Angelico. No less notable
in this regard is the ecstatic lauda, which Saint Francis of Assisi twice
repeats in the chartula which he composed after receiving the stigmata of Christ
on the mountain of La Verna: "You are beauty... You are beauty!".
Saint Bonaventure comments: "In things of beauty, he contemplated the One
who is supremely beautiful, and, led by the footprints he found in creatures, he
followed the Beloved everywhere".
A corresponding approach is found in Eastern spirituality where Christ is
described as "the supremely Beautiful, possessed of a beauty above all the
children of earth". Macarius the Great speaks of the transfiguring and
liberating beauty of the Risen Lord in these terms: "The soul which has
been fully illumined by the unspeakable beauty of the glory shining on the
countenance of Christ overflows with the Holy Spirit... it is all eye, all
light, all countenance".
Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man
and of the world. It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith,
which gives human experience its ultimate meaning. That is why the Gospel
fullness of truth was bound from the beginning to stir the interest of artists,
who by their very nature are alert to every "epiphany" of the inner
beauty of things.