Doing Theology through Art

Faith is said to be a personal journey leading to God, who is the source of all beauty. If we are to consider the uniqueness of each individual, one has to automatically consider the uniqueness of our faith. What makes us unique is the way that we tend to live and express ourselves, each one of us according to our own characteristics and likings. Thus we embark on this journey of faith with different characteristics in our expression of our faith. A common way to express one’s faith is that of art. The artist can be the theologian which represents the invisible in the visible, which represents what is highly.

Early views on sacred art

RahnerThomas Aquinas in his Quinquae viae shows us how the lower can indeed point to the higher. In the same way art is an open door on the infinite, which opens the eyes of the mind and the heart, according to Pope Benedict XVI. Speaking during his general audience, the Pope said that God gives us many opportunities to remember Him, including the path of beauty, or artistic expression. A work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart. He said one example of this is when a person visits a Gothic cathedral. He is enraptured by the vertical lines that shoot upwards to the sky and draw the eyes and the spirit upwards, or when he hears a piece of sacred music that vibrates the strings of the heart, the soul expands and is helped to turn to God.

Plato contemplates the encounter with beauty as this attracts him to what is other than himself. In a Platonic sense, we could say that the arrow of nostalgia pierces man, wounds him and in this way gives him wings, lifts him upwards towards the transcendent. In the 14th century, in the book “The Life in Christ” by the Byzantine theologian, Nicholas Cabasilas, we rediscover Plato’s experience in which the ultimate object of nostalgia, transformed by the new Christian experience, continues to be nameless. Cabasilas says: “When men have a longing so great that it surpasses human nature and eagerly desire and are able to accomplish things beyond human thought, it is the Bridegroom who has smitten them with this longing. It is he who sent a ray of his beauty into their eyes. The greatness of the wound already shows the arrow which has struck home, the longing indicates who has inflicted the wound” (“The Life in Christ,” The Second Book, 15).

The beautiful wounds, but this is exactly how it summons man to his final destiny.  It is how God reveals himself to the human being. The beautiful is knowledge certainly, but, in a superior form, since it arouses man to the real greatness of the truth. In fact it is knowing that causes love and gives birth to it.

The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart. This is represented in the sculptural masterpiece of Gian Lorenzo Bernini: “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa”. It pictures the saint pierced by divine love. How many times have paintings, frescoes or sculptures, the fruit of the faith of the artist, in their forms, their colours, in their light, encouraged us to direct our thoughts to God, to encounter the Beauty?

The contribution of contemporary theologians

The beloved Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, challenged us to rediscover the importance of this path for prayer, for our living relationship with God. The cities and towns all over the world preserve works of art that express the faith and remind us of our relationship with God. Visiting places of art, it is not only an occasion for cultural enrichment, but above all it can be a moment of grace, an encouragement to strengthen our relationship and our dialogue with the Lord, to stop and contemplate, in the transition from simple external reality to a deeper reality, the ray of beauty that strikes us, that almost wounds us in our inner selves and invites us to rise towards God. “

According to Pope Benedict XVI, the artist are custodians of “beauty”. Even Blessed Pope John Paul II attest that the artists are the “custodians of beauty” and he encourages them that by their work of art, which he calls “epiphanies of beauty”,  they be heralds and witnesses to humanity

The task of the sacred artist is the role of the theologian. Whilst using his creativity, the theologian must also rely on the sources. First of all the scripture which is the Word of God, the revelation of God to us. Secondly the theologian must rely on tradition. Though scripture enjoys the primacy, Yves Congar calls tradition: “the life of the Church”. It is through the tradition that the theologian acts at the service of the scripture.

Theology is the science of faith (scientia fidei). It requires an openness where as St Bonaventure says, “it is an effort for the human to ascent his mind to God”. Thus theology is not simply a matter of trust, as the fideist believe. Theology is not just ‘sola fidei’ but as Yves Congar says “it is an effort on the part of the rational believing creature to rethink reality as God thinks it”. This is the main role of the theologian, fides quaerens intellectum. Rahner asserts that this is “the role of the world”.

To recap…

The artist acts as a theologian, where by using his abilities and intellect, whilst he is instructed by faith, he has the audacity to interpret and engage the mystery of revelation in our own experience by using art. After all through art God is communicating himself to us, the Revelation (Lt. revelare -to remove the veil). Art and faith, if combined together, can represent a possible path to God, The Beauty. Christians should lead a resurgence of the arts and create new epiphanies of beauty which draw all men and women to the source of all that is beautiful, the living God.