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Why We Need Sacred Art
CatholicExchange.com ^ | April 15, 2007 | James Maldonado-Berry

Posted on 04/16/2007 8:49:43 AM PDT by Salvation

James Maldonado-Berry  
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Why We Need Sacred Art

April 15, 2007

The great schism that divided Western Christendom into Catholic and Protestant camps had far-ranging consequences. Across Europe, religious and political leaders, at the local and national level, viewed their nation's religious association with Rome as a hindrance toward true independence at a time when nationalism was on the rise. Many political leaders objected to a foreign pope asserting sweeping authority and demanding broad allegiance over all the faithful in their realm.

The cultural and religious bonds that had held the Continent together throughout the Middle Ages were gradually loosening. The potential for national greatness was enticing and quite often lofty religious platitudes were issued by both Catholics and Protestants to justify wars for territorial expansion and consolidation.  While most of Europe ultimately remained Catholic, some regions and some entire countries broke their ties with Rome.

One of the first things victorious religious revolutionaries did upon wresting their domains from the Catholic Church was to accentuate their status as independent churches and nations. Church property was swiftly confiscated and absorbed into the state to erase any vestiges of "papist" influence. Such acts of appropriation were a common occurrence in England and the Netherlands. To parallel the theological and doctrinal "simplification" they believed they were returning to via Protestantism, Lutherans and eventually all Protestants made it a point to simplify their houses of worship. In churches, paintings were reduced and statues eliminated. The expansive cathedrals of the medieval period, with their dark corners, vaulted ceilings, stain glass windows and nooks and crannies, were gradually replaced by houses of worship with much less aesthetic reference to the divine. Catholic terminology — "altar," "Sacrifice," "Sacrament" — was replaced with more horizontal language — "table," "meal," "faith community" - with the flattened language matching the flattening of once soaring religious buildings.

A friend of mine who has roots in England related to me that, even to this day, old churches in that country reveal centuries-old displays of Protestant theological reeducation. Ely Cathedral located near Cambridge, contains a special chapel known as The Lady Chapel, originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After the English Reformation, the cathedral became a Protestant church. The Lady Chapel is filled with dozens of statues of various saints and the Virgin Mary. So far, so good, right? Well, my friend told me that the heads of the statues had been smashed off by Protestant "reformers". So this beautiful and ancient chapel, which still functions as a Christian house of prayer, displays dozens of decapitated statues. Touring the Cathedral, my friend assured me, is something of a surreal experience as people go about their business of prayer and worship surrounded by these desecrated statues. The tour guide who led my friend and her family through the cathedral briefly commented on the statues in an insouciant, "matter of fact" style and then continued on with the tour. That Protestants chose centuries ago to leave these disfigured statues in place after their conquest of the cathedral, perhaps as a future reminder to Catholics, was and is disturbing. My friend assured me that examples such as Ely Cathedral are abundant in formerly-Catholic England.

 Sadly, Catholic behavior in this regard has not been beyond reproach. There are many examples of Catholic-incited desecration of sacred places. Crusaders plundered Jerusalem and sacked Constantinople, while a renegade band of Catholic and Protestant mercenaries succeeded in ravaging Rome mercilessly in 1527. So terrible was this act that one contemporary lamented, "In Rome, no Masses are celebrated and no church bells ring." Tens of thousands were slaughtered, and the city itself was gutted of its treasures. Such acts of desecration such as these were committed by Catholics who had clearly wandered from the path of righteousness. It has never been a part of official Church policy, at least in the West, to destroy sacred images. (For an extended discussion of the history of the history of this issue in the Church go click here.) In addition there is no paucity of severe papal condemnations against Catholic perpetrators of violence.

Contrary to early Protestant aversion to sacred art, it has been the norm of Catholic teaching and tradition to promote religious art and music. The Counter-Reformation called for artists to tap into their God-given talents to inspire the faithful through an appeal to beauty. Painting and sculpture were seen as excellent ways to educate the illiterate regarding the truths of the faith. But the Church's appreciation for art also had a deep theological and anthropological strain to it. The Church teaches that creation, especially the human person, is in its essence good, albeit wounded and weakened by Original Sin. Christ's Incarnation elevates the created world and the dignity of the person to an even higher level. He is "like us in all things but sin", so in a very real way, He is more authentically human than the rest of us, since sin has no part in His human nature. Of course, sin was not part of God's original plan for humanity; we chose it freely. So in light of Christ's perfect human nature, it is easy to see how He shares a unique participation in the world, which was after all, created through Him. Creation itself is thus understood as graced and elevated supernaturally beyond measure. This means that there is a certain sacramentality to the created world, especially the human body. Thus the artist's attempt to represent the noble, even divine, thread found in the created world is to be encouraged and applauded.

We understand, then, how Protestant theology cannot appreciate art in the same way. For Luther and his disciples, creation was irreparably mangled as a result of sin. Christ's redemptive act didn't change this reality but covered it over, "Like snow on a dung heap," is how some followers of Luther summed up his conception of forensic justification (a kind of legal fiction, in which God declares someone righteous without actually making him so).  There's nothing laudable about human nature, thoroughly corrupt as it is, so why attempt to depict it theologically? Why deceive people about the "dignity", much less "glory", of the human body when it is precisely that body and its lured passions that lead us astray? Holding that the veneration of sacred art smacked of the same degenerate paganism that brought down ancient Rome, Luther's followers bucked the 1,500 year-old Christian tradition of venerating religious images and icons, some of which still appear on the walls of the early Christian catacombs. The destruction of the statues in The Lady Chapel in England, and elsewhere across the "reformed" Christian world, is merely a reaffirmation of Protestant theology and anthropology.

Catholic Europe rejected the misplaced scruples of Protestant Europe and wholeheartedly embraced the celebration of art and the beauty of the created world. In Rome and Florence especially, great artists like Michelangelo, Bernini, Bramante and Raphael, among others, executed representations Christianity's most revered people and memorable events. In Italy, sumptuous churches abound, housing some of the most stunning gems from the world of art. It goes without saying that you will not find anything comparable to Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in your nearby Dutch Reformed Church.

With the discovery of the New World, the Catholic tradition of promoting art made its way across the Atlantic as well. In the United States, from Baltimore and Milwaukee to San Diego, resplendent Catholic cathedrals and basilicas, reflecting their European patrimony, are in abundance. The Church understands that sacred art speaks to us; it elevates our thoughts, helping us in our quest for union with God. It is for this reason that the Catholic Church has been the world's greatest advocate of authentic art. Correctly understood, sacred art is not an obstacle or distraction but a window and a doorway.



TOPICS: Catholic; Evangelical Christian; History; Mainline Protestant; Religion & Culture
KEYWORDS: artists; catholiclist; history
An interesting comparison and history.
1 posted on 04/16/2007 8:49:45 AM PDT by Salvation
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To: nickcarraway; sandyeggo; Lady In Blue; NYer; american colleen; ELS; Pyro7480; livius; ...
Catholic Discussion Ping!

Please notify me via FReepmail if you would like to be added to or taken off the Catholic Discussion Ping List.

2 posted on 04/16/2007 8:51:28 AM PDT by Salvation (" With God all things are possible. ")
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To: Salvation
In Rome and Florence especially, great artists like Michelangelo, Bernini, Bramante and Raphael, among others, executed representations Christianity's most revered people and memorable events. In Italy, sumptuous churches abound, housing some of the most stunning gems from the world of art. It goes without saying that you will not find anything comparable to Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in your nearby Dutch Reformed Church.

Funny the author doesn't mention the fact that often the Vatican paid pennies on the dollar and extracted sizable offerings from the superstitious peasants so that popes and cardinals could live in "sumptuous churches". The world is still awaiting the time when the Vatican throws open the vaults and let people have a look at all their "treasure".

3 posted on 04/16/2007 9:19:57 AM PDT by HarleyD
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To: HarleyD

Your post seems a little bit negative toward Catholic art. But as I said above — and interesting comparison and history.

I guess I might ask the question “Does your church display any sacred art of any kind? Even a cross? Even a picture of Christ? Curious as to why or why not.


4 posted on 04/16/2007 9:25:45 AM PDT by Salvation (" With God all things are possible. ")
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To: HarleyD
...often the Vatican paid pennies on the dollar and extracted sizable offerings from the superstitious peasants so that popes and cardinals could live in "sumptuous churches".

Where did you learn that...?

5 posted on 04/16/2007 12:31:02 PM PDT by La Enchiladita (Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world. Have mercy on us, and grant us Your peace.)
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To: Salvation

It’s a bit ironic to read a Catholic take on sacred art given the truly awful Catholic contributions over the past 40 years or so.

Not that Protestants haven’t had their moments but we generally have fewer crude felt banners. LOL!


6 posted on 04/16/2007 12:42:34 PM PDT by Gingersnap
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To: HarleyD
I realize that the article is very insulting, but was that really necessary?

1 Thes. 5:15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

7 posted on 04/16/2007 12:42:38 PM PDT by Between the Lines (I am very cognizant of my fallibility, sinfulness, and other limitations. So should you.)
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To: Salvation
Luther's followers bucked the 1,500 year-old Christian tradition of venerating religious images and icons, some of which still appear on the walls of the early Christian catacombs.

That's not a Christian tradition...It's a pagan tradition that goes back well beyond 1500 years...

The Christian tradition according to God is 'do not build statues or icons'...

8 posted on 04/16/2007 1:24:21 PM PDT by Iscool (You mess with me, you mess with the WHOLE trailer park...)
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To: Iscool
'do not build statues or icons'

The scripture teaches us to contemplate holy images so that we may be tranformed by them:

whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image [lit. icon] of his Son (Rom 8:29)

as we have borne the image of the earthly, let us bear also the image [icon] of the heavenly (1 Cor 15:49)

who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been set forth, crucified among you? (Gal. 3:1)


9 posted on 04/16/2007 2:31:56 PM PDT by annalex
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To: Salvation

Crucifixion

Fra Angelico

1450-55
Tempera on panel, 88 x 36 cm
Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge (Massachusetts)





Crucifixion

Benvenuto Cellini

1556-62
Marble, height 145 cm
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial





Assumption of the Virgin

Juan Martin Cabezalero

1665-70
Oil on canvas, 237 x 169 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

10 posted on 04/16/2007 2:45:21 PM PDT by annalex
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To: Gingersnap

I would have to agree with the amateurish banners.

However, I think the article is addressing the display of truly artistic renditions.


11 posted on 04/16/2007 2:50:13 PM PDT by Salvation (" With God all things are possible. ")
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To: Iscool

Can you explain the “pagan tradition”? Imagine you quoting a tradition???


12 posted on 04/16/2007 2:51:22 PM PDT by Salvation (" With God all things are possible. ")
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To: annalex

Thanks for those references found in Holy Scripture.


13 posted on 04/16/2007 2:52:25 PM PDT by Salvation (" With God all things are possible. ")
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To: Iscool
See post #24.
14 posted on 04/16/2007 3:09:38 PM PDT by Titanites
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To: Gingersnap

Art kind of died after the Impressionists anyway.


15 posted on 04/16/2007 6:15:02 PM PDT by StAthanasiustheGreat (Vocatus Atque Non Vocatus Deus Aderit)
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To: StAthanasiustheGreat
Being Catholic: Sacred Things, [Holy] Water

Being Catholic: Sacred Things, [New] Fire, Paschal Candle

Being Catholic: Sacred Things, Holy Oils

Being Catholic: Sacred Things, Crucifixes and Crosses

Being Catholic: Sacred Things, Sacred Images: Statues and Other Icons

16 posted on 04/16/2007 6:18:26 PM PDT by Salvation (" With God all things are possible. ")
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To: Iscool
That's not a Christian tradition...It's a pagan tradition that goes back well beyond 1500 years...

LOL. So now all art is pagan.
17 posted on 04/16/2007 9:52:42 PM PDT by Conservative til I die
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To: annalex
The scripture teaches us to contemplate holy images so that we may be tranformed by them:

whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image [lit. icon] of his Son (Rom 8:29)

as we have borne the image of the earthly, let us bear also the image [icon] of the heavenly (1 Cor 15:49)

who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been set forth, crucified among you? (Gal. 3:1)

You are really reachin' if you are trying to convince someone these references are to 'icons'...

Here's some real references...

Num 33:52 Then ye shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, and destroy all their pictures, and destroy all their molten images and quite pluck down all their high places:

Isa 2:2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.
Isa 2:3 And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Isa 2:4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Isa 2:8 Their land also is full of idols; they worship the work of their own hands, that which their own fingers have made:

Isa 2:12 For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:

Isa 2:16 And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.

Isa 2:18 And the idols he shall utterly abolish.

Isa 2:20 In that day a man shall cast his idols of silver, and his idols of gold, which they made each one for himself to worship, to the moles and to the bats;
Isa 2:21 To go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the LORD, and for the glory of his majesty, when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.

You might really like those idols, icons and images...But God doesn't think too much of them...

18 posted on 04/17/2007 5:45:38 AM PDT by Iscool (You mess with me, you mess with the WHOLE trailer park...)
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To: Salvation
Can you explain the “pagan tradition”? Imagine you quoting a tradition???

Act 19:24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, which made silver shrines for Diana, brought no small gain unto the craftsmen;
Act 19:25 Whom he called together with the workmen of like occupation, and said, Sirs, ye know that by this craft we have our wealth.

Act 19:26 Moreover ye see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul hath persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands:
Act 19:27 So that not only this our craft is in danger to be set at naught; but also that the temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth.

Act 19:35 And when the town clerk had appeased the people, he said, Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshiper of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Jupiter?

Hmmm...Apparitions of the Queen of Heaven...

http://www.answers.com/topic/idolatry

The internet is full of articles and information on pagan idol worship...

19 posted on 04/17/2007 6:15:24 AM PDT by Iscool (You mess with me, you mess with the WHOLE trailer park...)
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To: Iscool
convince someone these references are to 'icons'...

That is the word the Greek original uses, "eikona". But for our purpose "image" is sufficient since we are not discussing only the veneration of icons but more broadly the use of holy images.

It is true that Mosaic law forbids making or veneration of images. So?

20 posted on 04/17/2007 2:56:16 PM PDT by annalex
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To: annalex
The world would have been a lot poorer culturally without the artistic contributions of Catholic artists in Catholic countries.

Protestant churches, however, still house religious paintings, but they're nowhere near the sanctuary or altar. They're hung in hallways, in rec centers, in Sunday School classrooms.

21 posted on 04/21/2007 7:22:51 PM PDT by Ciexyz (Is the American voter smarter than a fifth grader?)
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To: Ciexyz

One Baptist Chruch I at times visit for family reasons has a naked cross in the sanctuary; Christmas time it is accompanied by a Christmas tree. No images of any other kind are in view.

In the office there is a face of Jesus unobtrusively pinned to the wall.

The hallways around the child care section are decorated with prancing animals, Vinnie the Pooh, and suchlike imagery.


22 posted on 04/22/2007 4:55:22 PM PDT by annalex
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To: annalex
Protestant churches retain the cross in a position of honor, either on the alter or hanging above it. The worshippers seem comfortable with this, having the cross as their sole focus.

It's an adjustment for someone raised in the Protestant tradition to encounter the many statues found in Catholic churches. In any case, the love and care put into the creation of these beautiful pieces of art is most evident. We can be thankful that Christian artists and sculptors expressed their love of God through these works of their hands, heart and spirit.

23 posted on 04/23/2007 9:06:58 AM PDT by Ciexyz (Is the American voter smarter than a fifth grader?)
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