By Vir Christi
Behold the Lamb of God: Seeing the Divine in Art
If you asked people to relate their experiences of art to their Catholic faith, you’d probably stop most of them in their tracks. In the medieval period, art had a clearly religious tilt. This could be seen especially in the breathtaking cathedrals, with their statues, stained-glass windows, tapestries, and other ornate decorations.
Part of that was because the Church had enough money to employ the most skilled artists in the world as decorators. But there was also a sense in the Middle Ages that art was meant to point people’s attention to the beauty of God in creation. In modern times, where “art” has expanded to include so many different categories, people have lost that sense of the sacred with art.
Why is this an important topic for the modern world? What difference could art possibly make for good Catholic faith formation? We know that art is an important topic of conversation because we can see God accounted for it in His creation both in His general sense of order, and in the ways people seem to connect most powerfully to adoration of God.
God’s Sense of Order
In the ninth article on his first question from the Summa Theologica, “Whether Holy Scripture should use metaphors?”, Saint Thomas Aquinas discusses the relationship between art and faith by addressing metaphorical language. Both the Gospels and the Old Testament are filled with rich figurative language. St. Thomas argues that this is appropriate, because human beings are sense creatures. We learn and retain information through our senses. Because this is how we were made, would it not be logical that God would reach out to us in a way that is best suited to our natures?
Through our use of the senses, we come to see and understand the world around us, and the divine Majesty in creation. This appreciation of creation’s beauty is translated into works of art, and so having a conversation about the appropriate use of the senses in this way is crucial to our faith.
Adoration of God through the Senses
Think about the most striking place of worship you have ever visited: maybe a majestic cathedral in Europe, or one of the many shrines to the saints dotting the world. What makes those places stand apart from the others? If you are really honest with yourself, you would admit that the artistic design is what sets them apart.
No one remembers the churches that are built like Soviet industrial warehouses, filled with just the bland essentials; people remember Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel, or the dazzling varieties of stained-glass windows, or the jaw-dropping high altars designed to catch the light and the eye. We remember the beautiful churches, and in so remembering their breathtaking designs we remember the Creator who inspired that artistic impulse in those who designed the churches.
Art’s Place in Worship
God does not just randomly assign traits and attributes to man. He did not create things and order them in a specific way “for fun.” Everything man has, including that which man has grasped through his use of reason, has been given to him by God for a specific purpose. Art is often overlooked and underappreciated for the significance it can bring to authentic Catholic worship. Art assists us in our worship because it helps our minds to more fully see the divine beauty in creation, and pushes our minds into even deeper places of contemplation of God. I urge you to adopt our theme for this month and really let God use your sense imagery from the Scriptures to allow your heart to soar upwards to Him. Keep your eyes open to what God intends you to see through the use of your senses, and you will have contemplation of His glory like never before.
Vir’s heart has been on fire for the Church from day one, and he dreams of the day when Constantinople will be a city again. He has a competitive drive satiated by sports and board games, but is also just as happy to sit down and read a good book for hours on end.