Beauty will save the world: Catholic Artisans and the Restoration of the Sacred (Part 1)

12-10-2017Liturgy CornerWinifred Corrigan

Does a beautiful Church building matter to Christians? What about adornments like statues, altar rails, decorative pews and such? Stained glass… Stations of the Cross… the placement and design of the Tabernacle… If God is everywhere, especially in the humble and downtrodden, should beauty matter?

A recent article in the UK's Telegraph shares a statistic that should be of interest to Christians: "Around 13 per cent of teenagers said that they decided to become a Christian after a visit to a church or cathedral, according to the figures. The influence of a church building was more significant than attending a youth group, going to a wedding, or speaking to other Christians about their faith."

What's your experience? Have you found a secure, prayerful refuge in the Catholic Church either in part because of, or despite your physical surroundings in Church buildings?

Speaking for myself, I am certain that beautiful, other-worldly sacred spaces help me to pray, and help me to imagine and connect with God. That's why I am thrilled to see a revival – if not of a full-fledged boom of artisans – of at least an understanding and appreciation for their value in society, and specifically in the Church.

Recognizing that these skills are not conjured in a day, or reinvented from the ground-up, we should rejoice that in small pockets, there are men and women dedicating their lives to the preservation and restoration of beauty in the old ways, that things might not be lost. And we must be ready to support them, both spiritually and materially, as patrons of the arts.

The Church Speaks on Beauty in Art

Excerpts from Saint John Paul II's 1999 Letter to Artists

"In a certain sense, beauty is the visible form of the good, just as the good is the metaphysical condition of beauty. This was well understood by the Greeks who, by fusing the two concepts, coined a term which embraces both: kalokagathía, or beauty-goodness. On this point Plato writes: "The power of the Good has taken refuge in the nature of the Beautiful".(5)" "Society needs artists, just as it needs scientists, technicians, workers, professional people, witnesses of the faith, teachers, fathers and mothers…" "May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude…People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that "beauty will save the world".(25)"

"Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. T hat is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God which a lover of beauty like Saint Augustine could express in incomparable terms: "Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!".(26)"