The tie between the Church and art is almost as ancient as the Christian tradition to which the different expressions of art are historically linked, more than they are to any other religion in the world.
Yet this bond that had already developed by late antiquity weakened in the 19th century and became remote in the 20th century. And it is even more distant today, when disinterested beauty “imperceptibly yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests”, as was noted by Hans Urs von Balthasar whose words Benedict XVI quoted to the artists gathered in the Sistine Chapel.
Precisely where, in 1964, Paul VI proposed to relaunch an alliance that had produced lasting fruits in the course of almost 20 centuries, Paul VI's current Successor once again invited artists – from different countries, cultures and religions, who are “perhaps remote from the practice of religion, but interested nevertheless in maintaining communication with the Catholic Church” – to friendship, dialogue and collaboration.
He renewed this invitation in a place as symbolically rich as the Sistine Chapel, where music has resonated and often still resonates at the service of the Liturgy – that is, of God, “the source of every other beauty”, as St Augustine observed.
In the footsteps of his Predecessor John Paul II – “who was an artist himself” and chose to address a solemn papal document to artists – and with the same openness shown by Paul VI, the Pope proposed anew the former friendship without overlooking the current difficulties. “We need you”, he said, because “if you are friends of true art, you are our friends!”.
These words are contained in the Second Vatican Council's Message to Artists. Beauty, like truth, instils joy in human hearts; so an alliance between custodians of beauty and those who in their humble daily routine are called to bear witness to the truth and to serve it is worthwhile.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 26, 2020
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