Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Review

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Catholic View of Art?

From Hamilton Reed Armstrong, sculptor and professor of Fine Arts

The elevation of "art" and “the arts" to a position of status was a Renaissance concept based on Platonic and Neo-Platonic philosophies which emphasized the ascent of the soul to the divine realm through the contemplation of natural and artificial beauty.
 In the classical tradition, from Plato to Aquinas, things that delight the eye (ear) and elate the soul are said to be beautiful. Thus by contemplating the proportion, radiance, harmony, and integrity of the created order we may, or ought to be, brought to contemplate the uncreated beauty/good,  Kalón, of the Creator. "Since through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author." (Wisdom 13:5)

 The Abbé Suger of St. Denis in Paris, founding father of Gothic architecture, rightly saw that the beauty of natural objects (statuary, stained glass, and sacred vessels) in a sacred setting lead the viewer to divine contemplation. "When  ‘out of my delight in the beauty of the house of God’  the loveliness of the many-colored stones has called me away from external cares, and worthy meditation has induced me to reflect, transferring that which is material to that which is immaterial, on the diversity of the sacred virtues: then it seems to me that I see myself dwelling, as it were, in some strange region of the universe which neither exists entirely in the slime of earth nor entirely in the purity of Heaven; and that, by the grace of God, I can be transported from this inferior to that higher world in an anagogical manner."

 St. Thomas Aquinas: The pursuit of beauty, albeit one of the highest of natural goods, can, however, be perverted and turned away from its proper end. St. Thomas, again reminds us, that even though "Every one loves beauty, spiritual people love spiritual beauty and carnal people love carnal beauty." (Comm. in Psalmos, 25, 5)  Whereas spiritual beauty is ultimately found in its Source, God, carnal beauty can, and often does, lead away from Him. From the very beginning the pursuit of beauty has had its dangers and pitfalls. “And the woman saw that the fruit… was fair to the eyes and delightful to behold.” (Gen. III, 6)

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