Twenty-five years ago, in an interview that Vittorio Messori titled The Ratzinger Report, Cardinal Ratzinger expressed the following sentiments:
“The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb. Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church’s human history. If the Church is to continue to transform and humanize the world, how can she dispense with beauty in her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection? No. Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty—and hence truth—is at home. Without this the world will become the first circle of hell” (p.129-130).
It may seem astonishing for him to have given art equal mention to personal holiness in the evangelization of the world. But art, like holiness, is a dynamic manifestation of the faith, a making real of the love of God in one’s own life.
Beautiful sacred images can certainly be effective in communicating the faith in a compelling and sometimes irresistible way. Many have been drawn to the Church by the beauty of her art; I, for one, came into the Church my final year in college after four years of study in art history. Numerous other cases throughout the history of the Church prove that art can be as powerful in winning over souls as an authentic witness of Christian living.
For many, this power is enhanced by the care an artist takes to portray reality in his figures, in conjuring a figure that seems truly to occupy our own reality.
The Church endorses no single artistic style as the style of Christianity. She does, however, offer guidelines which provide fruitful boundaries for artists working in sacred themes. I’m partial to the Baroque — the dynamism, clarity and emotion in so many Baroque masterpieces succeed in uniting the natural and the supernatural in, well, a natural way. Nonetheless, the answer to the scarcity of sacred art today is not simply to copy a style from the past. The Church is alive and active in every generation. She responds authentically to the shifting needs and concerns of each age. However, a realistic quality in art can have a powerful impact on every generation, especially upon today’s jaded post-Christian society, which dismisses Christianity as superfluous, irrelevant, mere allegory. Christ was and is true God and true man. The saints were and are real men and women. And each of us is also called to live holiness in the reality of our own lives.
Some critics of this tradition of art categorize it as overly dependent on emotion. While emotions alone are not the meat of the spiritual life, they can be formed and directed to help us deepen and animate our response to the God who loves us. The works of art discussed above take advantage of that capacity; they stir our hearts and awaken our senses to God’s action and God’s call in the midst of our everyday reality.
To view more of the Berzosa’s work, visit www.raulberzosa.com.
This resource is provided in collaboration with The Foundation for Sacred Arts.
* Rachel Ross is Curator of The Foundation for Sacred Arts in Washington, D.C.
Read the rest of this article via Lessons from Sacred Spain: How to Bring Faith to Life :: Catholic News Agency (CNA).