The Decline and Renewal of Christian Art

From an article published in the August/September, 1994, issue of Second Spring, a journal of faith and culture.

The Church is not indifferent to the arts and in a multitude of ways has expressed her concern for the renewal of culture in society and a rediscovery of the sacred in religious culture. In 1974, the Vatican Collection of Modern Religious Art opened with a dazzling display of 600 works of twentieth century religious art, a collection which continues to expand. Pope Paul VI inaugurated the exhibit with an address to an international group of artists, reassuring them that, “It is not true that only a determined criteria of the art of the past has free and exclusive entrance here. It is not true that the dominant criteria of contemporary art are madness, passion, purely cerebral and arbitrary abstraction.”

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On Beauty—Cardinal Josef Ratzinger

Is there anyone  who does not know Dostoyevsky’s often-quoted sentence: “The Beautiful will save us”? However, people usually forget that Dostoyevsky is referring here to the redeeming Beauty of Christ. We must learn to see him. If we know him, not only in words, but if we are struck by the arrow of his paradoxical beauty, then we will truly know him, and know him not only because we have heard others speak about him. Then we will have found the beauty of Truth, of the Truth that redeems. Nothing can bring us into close contact with the beauty of Christ himself other than the world of beauty created by faith and light that shines out from the faces of the saints, through whom his own light becomes visible.

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LETTER TO ARTISTS: Pope John Paul II, 1999

None can sense more deeply than you artists, ingenious creators of beauty that you are, something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands. A glimmer of that feeling has shone so often in your eyes when—like the artists of every age—captivated by the hidden power of sounds and words, colours and shapes, you have admired the work of your inspiration, sensing in it some echo of the mystery of creation with which God, the sole creator of all things, has wished in some way to associate you.

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TO ARTISTS: Pope Paul VI, 1965

From Pope Paul VI’s message at the closing ceremonies of the Second Vatican Council

To Artists:  We now address you, artists, who are taken up with beauty and work for it: poets and literary men, painters, sculptors, architects, musicians, men devoted to the theater and the cinema. To all of you, the Church of the council declares to you through our voice: if you are friends of genuine art, you are our friends.


An address by Pope Pius XII to a group of Italian artists received in audience on April 8, 1952.

1. With deep satisfaction, beloved sons and daughters, promoters of the figurative arts, We welcome your devout homage and that of your families, by reason of your coming to Us on the occasion of the sixth Roman quadrennial meeting, and We express to you Our pleasure for the remembrance-gift which you are leaving with Us.

2. How delightful your presence is to Us is shown by the tradition itself of the Roman pontificate. As the heir of universal culture it has never ceased to appreciate art, to surround itself with works of art, to make art, within due limits, the collaborator of its divine mission, preserving and elevating its destiny, which is to guide the soul to God.