She was beautiful, even most beautiful, as Richard of St. Victor asserts, and also St. George of Nicomedia, and St. Dionysius the Areopagite, who, as many believe, once had the happiness of enjoying the sight of her beauty, and said that if faith had not taught him that she was a creature, he should have adored her as God. And the Lord himself revealed to St. Bridget, that the beauty of his mother surpassed the beauty of all men and angels, allowing the saint to hear him say to Mary: “Thy beauty exceeds that of all the angels, and of all creatures.” She was most beautiful, I repeat, but without injury to those who looked upon her, for her beauty put to flight impure emotions, and suggested even pure thoughts, as St. Ambrose attests: So great grace had she, that she not only preserved her own virginity, but also conferred a remarkable gift of purity on those who beheld her.-St Alphonsus de Liguori, The Glories of Mary
Art is man joining in with God’s beautiful and pointless act of creation. It is sheer gratuity. It is utterly free and frivolous. And in this frivolity, the artist rejoices and glorifies the Creator present within, whether or not the artist knows this. He joins with God in creating the universe out of himself. Therefore art is always essentially religious, even when not explicitly so, and even without the artist’s knowledge.
And to receive a work of art, is to be drawn into this new revelation/manifestation/apocalypse of the artist and of God Himself. We see something truly new, something that cannot be seen and cannot be unseen. If we allow it, we will be drawn into the artwork and so into God.
Art has no function, and if it is for the sake of function, it is not art. It is not there to do a job, to make a point, or to communicate a message. It is pure, frivolous, creation and expression. It is inside, waiting, desiring to come out and be born. It is a child, not a robot. It is the child born of the promise and of grace, not the child of slavery and the law.
When art falls away from this calling, it is no longer art, and will become something boring and all too often ugly. And our souls will be smaller, less bright, and less open as a result.
I feel this has happened within our culture and in the Church too, in our architecture, our music, our artworks, and even our liturgies. There is far too much that reeks of our own ideas and aims, rather than the inspiration and pointless beauty of true art/worship.
What is the solution? Adore God. And if He inspires you to some art, however amateur or fine, do it, and do it for its own sake.
God bless you!
Our whole universe was spoken into existence by God. We live on the tip of His tongue. Creation is a song that God freely sings into being 1 .
Everything that is, is a revelation of God, because every creation speaks of its creator. Therefore creation is theology. God-words. And in fact, it is God’s own theology.
This includes you and me. We are each of us a God-uttered theology. But if we’re so special already what is left for us to do? To become what we already are 2 .
Each and every one of us is a theology by existing at all, and a theologian because we must engage with the world. We must listen to the theology all around us, and by our lives speak theology also (and when necessary, use words3).
The below song made me think all of this, mainly because I love it and wanted to share it, and needed some justification. Hope you enjoy!
1. St. Bonaventure
2. St. Augustine
3. St. Francis
It feels strange, now, to look back at my first encounters with Catholicism…
I remember when I was a young teen, I was troubled by Jesus’ words, ‘If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ And the fact that no Christians I’d heard of had ever even tried to obey Him. Did no one wish to be perfect?
I did some research, and found the idea of “voluntary poverty” and the figure of St. Francis of Assisi, and I devoured his story from the Catholic Encyclopaedia. Finally, I had found someone who took the gospel seriously! He excited me a lot, and I spent a lot of time daydreaming about St. Francis and his companions, and whether I might imitate him.
Until then, I had been taught that the gospel was something done to me, that I really had very little part in. But Jesus in the gospels was teaching me something different. He taught me about the Kingdom, that made insane, outrageous, improper demands of me. His gospel was something I had to live for myself. It wasn’t merely internal, but actually, was a matter of turning me out of myself. St. Francis validated my understanding of the gospel as a Life for us to live out, and that was possible to actually live out.
I think this shifted my thinking, so that I began preferring a more Catholic idea of salvation as by some combination of faith and works, rather than the protestant “faith alone”.
The other crucial encounter was with Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day, and their Catholic Worker movement, a few years later. I had been looking into Anarchism for a while, and then the ideas of “Christian Anarchism” in particular, when I decided to look into the Catholic Worker movement, by reading the biographies of Maurin and Day.
Once again, I was shocked and excited to find real people making the attempt to take Jesus at His word. I’d come across various radical protestant groups, anabaptists, mennonites, Dukhobors, etc, but they weren’t the same… As radical as they were, they couldn’t go all the way (I guess because they were larger, family based communities). The Catholic Workers lived the foolishness of the gospel, in God’s absurd love. They taught me the radical Catholic vision of humanity as genuinely children of God, as spelled out in the Church’s social teaching.
In reading their biographies, I glimpsed the world of Catholicism, full of saints and sacraments, and I began to envy them for it. Reading about how Jesus truly, physically fed them, and lived in them, in the Eucharist, and was also truly there to be served in the poor, made me realise the one weird thing that really separates Catholicism from protestantism: God’s extraordinary intimacy with us. And I wanted it to be true.
Mary being the Mother of God, the Church bearing God’s authority, salvation being by faith with works, the power of the saints, the real presence of the Eucharist, the effectiveness of Baptism, and all the rest, were the extraordinary ways that God lives in and amongst His people. These teachings became beautiful to me, even if I wasn’t yet convinced that they were true.
St. Francis of Assisi, Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day introduced me to Catholicism, and started me on my road to one day becoming a Catholic myself. They showed me a faith that was radical, exciting, and beautiful. And now, I look forward to thanking them each when we meet in heaven.
God bless you!
‘Labrousse Madonna, 1918’
[I’ve decided to start sharing some art on here. I think we undervalue and underutilise beauty today, and need to reverse that immediately]
‘Truly I have set my soul
in silence and peace.
A child on its mother’s breast,
even so is my soul.’
God bless you!
The painting is called, Mother of Light, and it’s from http://www.artofamaryknollsister.com/Details.asp?ProdID=628&category=2 (but I found it through pinterest).
I just needed something beautiful, and I found this, and thought I’d share it in case anyone else needs the same. I wonder if beauty is always restful… Right now, I don’t very much care
God bless you