Beautiful art is an open doorway to God, pope says at audience
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy (CNS) — Appreciating beautiful works of art is not just for cultural enrichment, it’s also an important way to experience God and become aware of the human thirst for the infinite, Pope Benedict XVI said.
Pope Benedict XVI greets the crowd upon arriving to lead his general audience outside the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug. 31. (CNS/Paul Haring)
A sculpture, a painting, a poem or a piece of music can arouse a feeling of joy when it becomes apparent it is something more than just a chunk of marble, a canvas covered with colors, or words or notes on a page, he said.
“It’s something bigger, something that speaks and touches your heart; it carries a message and lifts the spirit,” he said Aug. 31 as he held his weekly general audience in the town square at Castel Gandolfo.
“Art is like an open doorway to the infinite, toward a beauty and truth that go beyond everyday reality,” he told some 3,000 visitors and pilgrims present for the audience.
The pope continued a series of talks on the importance of prayer and the need to set aside some time in one’s busy day for God.
One way people can sense God’s presence or strengthen their relationship with him is through beautiful art, he said.
An artist is often trying to discover the true or deeper meaning of reality through “a language of forms, colors and sounds,” he said.
“Art can express and render visible humanity’s need to go beyond what one sees, revealing a thirst and quest for the infinitive.
“Art can open the mind’s eye and one’s heart, pushing us upward” toward the heavens, he said.
The “true paths toward God” that inspire prayer and strengthen one’s relationship with God, the pope said, are works of art that express the faith and spring from the artist’s own faith in God.
Pope Benedict praised the Jewish artist Marc Chagall, who created a large series of illustrations of the Bible, which the Russian-French artist called “the greatest source of poetry of all time.”
The pope also fondly recalled his attendance at a 1981 Munich concert of Leonard Bernstein conducting music by Johann Sebastian Bach.
When the last note of Bach’s cantatas was played “I felt, not out of reasoning, but deep in my heart, that what we had listened to had given me something of the great composer’s faith, and it compelled me to praise and thank the Lord,” the pope said.
He said he also turned to Lutheran Bishop Johannes Hanselmann, who was sitting next to him, and they both agreed that “Anyone who has heard this knows that the faith is true.”
The pope also recalled how sacred music had the power to convert the French poet, dramatist and diplomat Paul Claudel who, though he was raised Catholic, had turned away from the faith.
Claudel had gone to church one Christmas in Paris’ Basilica of Notre Dame to argue with those gathered there, but, instead, when he heard the choir chant the “Magnificat,” he felt God’s presence and became devoutly Catholic, the pope said.
The pope invited everyone to take advantage of the numerous works of art and architecture that “express the faith and call us to a relationship with God.”
He asked that museum-hopping “not just be an occasion for cultural enrichment, but be able to become a moment of grace, a motivation to strengthen our ties and dialogue with the Lord, to stop and contemplate the ray of beauty that strikes us — almost wounding us deep inside — and invites us to rise up toward God.”
Later that day at the papal villa, the pope was treated to a concert in his honor by Italian Cardinal Domenico Bartolucci, a composer and former director of the Sistine Chapel Choir.
Three soloists, a chamber choir and a philharmonic orchestra were to perform four works composed by Cardinal Bartolucci, including a new work titled “Benedictus” for soprano, chorus and orchestra; it was composed specifically for the Aug. 31 event.
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Editor’s Note: The text of the pope’s audience remarks in English is posted online at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20110831_en.html.
The text of the pope’s audience remarks in Spanish is posted online at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/audiences/2011/documents/hf_ben-xvi_aud_20110831_sp.html.