Art and Religion


All the great religions have produced great art. But just as Pascal argued that of all the religions, Christianity was most closely aligned with human nature, so I would argue that of all religions it is most sympathetic to the creation of art. Eastern religions believe that the world is Maya or illusion. In Buddhist art, as Chesterton quipped in Orthodoxy, everyone seems to be asleep, whereas in Christian art, people are awake and wildly active. Judaism severely limited representation, Islam forbids it altogether. And within Christianity, both the Eastern Church and Protestantism have had their episodes of iconoclasm. Only the Catholic Church has continuously supported all forms of art, including the art of representing the world.

Why this is so is not difficult to fathom. The Church supports art for the same reason that it sponsored the scientific revolution. Christianity asserts that God made a real world. From this creation to the birth of Christ to the miracles of the present day, every revelation demonstrates

the reality of incarnation, that is of God’s spirit acting in this real world. Holy Scripture in Christianity is a history book. As a result of such beliefs, the Christian must be involved in history, in the world, in politics, in all worthwhile human activity. As St. Josemaria stated, one must “passionately love the world.” Therefore, one can study the world in its own right, and in art, represent that world in both its sacred and profane manifestations.

Simone Weil went a step further, claiming that whatever the subject or the intentions and the ideology of the artist, “All art of the highest order is religious in essence.” Because the artist has shaped material objects from the temporal, given the moments in which he or she lived coherence and beauty, the work of art transcends the time of its creation. It becomes a kind of incarnation of spirit, of the eternal.

For this reason, great works of art never become dated.

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