Pope Benedixt XVI Meets with Artists

From the Vatican Information Service:

Last Judgement - Sistine Chaple (1534-1541)

Last Judgement - Sistine Chaple (1534-1541)

VATICAN CITY, 21 NOV 2009 (VIS) – This morning in the Sistine Chapel, Benedict XVI met with artists in an event promoted by the Pontifical Council for Culture to mark the tenth anniversary of John Paul II’s Letter to Artists of 4 April 1999, and the forty-fifth anniversary of Paul VI’s meeting with artists of 7 May 1964.

The 262 artists participating in the meeting came from different continents and were divided into five categories: painting and sculpture; architecture; literature and poetry; music and song; cinema, theatre, dance and photography.

Before the Pope’s address, the Sistine Chapel Choir sang “Domine, quando veneris” by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, and the Italian actor Sergio Castellitto read out some extracts from John Paul II’s Letter to Artists.

“At this gathering”, the Holy Father began his address, “I wish to express and renew the Church’s friendship with the world of art, a friendship that has been strengthened over time; indeed Christianity from its earliest days has recognised the value of the arts and has made wise use of their varied language to express her unvarying message of salvation. This friendship must be continually promoted and supported so that it may be authentic and fruitful, adapted to different historical periods and attentive to social and cultural variations”.

The Pope recalled how in 1964 “an historic event took place, at the express wish of Paul VI” when that Pope “made a commitment to ‘re-establish the friendship between the Church and artists’, and he invited artists to make a similar shared commitment, analysing seriously and objectively the factors that disturbed this relationship, and assuming individual responsibility, courageously and passionately, for a newer and deeper journey in mutual acquaintance and dialogue in order to arrive at an authentic ‘renaissance’ of art in the context of a new humanism”.

Benedict XVI then went on to refer to the Sistine Chapel fresco of the Last Judgement, explaining that it “reminds us that human history is … a continuing tension towards fullness, towards human happiness. … Yet the dramatic scene portrayed in this fresco also places before our eyes the risk of man’s definitive fall. … The fresco issues a strong prophetic cry against evil, against every form of injustice. For believers, though, the Risen Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. For His faithful followers, He is the Door through which we are brought to that ‘face-to-face’ vision of God from which limitless, full and definitive happiness flows”.

The Holy Father also noted how the present is marked, “not only by negative elements in the social and economic sphere, but also by a weakening of hope, by a certain lack of confidence in human relationships, which gives rise to increasing signs of resignation, aggression and despair”.

“What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation – if not beauty?” he asked.

“Beauty … reminds us of our final destiny” and “gives us the courage to live to the full the unique gift of life. The quest for beauty that I am describing here is clearly not about escaping into the irrational or into mere aestheticism.

“Too often”, the Pope added, “the beauty that is thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful, superficial and blinding, … a seductive but hypocritical beauty that rekindles desire, the will for power, possession, and domination over others, it is a beauty which soon turns into its opposite, taking on the guise of indecency, transgression or gratuitous provocation. Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond”.

“Art, in all its forms, at the point where it encounters the great questions of our existence, … can take on a religious quality, thereby turning into a path of profound inner reflection and spirituality. This close proximity, this harmony between the journey of faith and the artist’s path is attested by countless artworks that are based upon the personalities, the stories, the symbols of that immense deposit of ‘figures’ – in the broad sense – namely the Bible, the Sacred Scriptures”.

The Holy Father then turned his attention to “a ‘via pulchritudinis’, a path of beauty which is at the same time an artistic and aesthetic journey, a journey of faith, of theological enquiry. … The way of beauty leads us to grasp the Whole in the fragment, the Infinite in the finite, God in the history of humanity.

“Simone Weil wrote in this regard: ‘In all that awakens within us the pure and authentic sentiment of beauty, there, truly, is the presence of God. There is a kind of incarnation of God in the world, of which beauty is the sign. Beauty is the experimental proof that incarnation is possible. For this reason all art of the first order is, by its nature, religious'”.

In his Letter of 1999 Pope John Paul II “restated the Church’s desire to renew dialogue and co-operation with artists” writing that, “in order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art”. However, noted Pope Benedict, John Paul II “immediately went on to ask: ‘Does art need the Church?’ – thereby inviting artists to rediscover a source of fresh and well-founded inspiration in religious experience, in Christian revelation and in the ‘great codex’ that is the Bible”.

“You are the custodians of beauty”, the Pope told the artists, “thanks to your talent, you have the opportunity to speak to the heart of humanity. … Through your art, you yourselves are to be heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity! And do not be afraid to approach the first and last source of beauty, to enter into dialogue with believers, with those who, like yourselves, consider that they are pilgrims in this world and in history towards infinite Beauty!

“Faith takes nothing away from your genius or your art: on the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them, it encourages them to cross the threshold and to contemplate with fascination and emotion the ultimate and definitive goal, the sun that does not set, the sun that illumines this present moment and makes it beautiful”.

Following the Holy Father’s words, the Sistine Chapel Choir sang “Veni delicte mi”, also by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. After the Pope had bid farewell to the artists, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, gave each of them, in Benedict XVI’s name, a medal to commemorate the event.