Monday, June 09, 2008


"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

So the old saw went, and now the Church is seeking admission in the form of positive treatment from the art world:

The Holy See is seeking fresh talent. Could Damien Hirst be the new Michelangelo?...

Pope Benedict XVI has launched a campaign for a new era of religious art to rival the works of the Medicis. As religious themes become increasing influential among contemporary artists, the Holy See, which governs the Catholic Church, is searching for rich patrons to sponsor works in new houses of worship designed by cutting-edge architects.

In an attempt to "lead by example", the Pontifical Council for Culture is now setting up a committee to find "world-famous" contemporary artists it can commission to produce new religious and spiritual works.

These will be shown during next year's Venice Biennale, which the Vatican will attend for the first time and which it once dismissed as a "debacle" that demonstrated "the breakdown of art in modern times". One UK-based benefactor, who wants to remain anonymous, has already been found to sponsor this project.

"We are trying to get a dialogue up and running between the church and contemporary art – particularly artists at the highest level," said Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Read it here.

It's a move that makes sense. The Church has long been a patron of the arts, but has stepped away from patronage of modern art. Artists, who starve without benefactors, tend to paint what makes benefactors smile. In recent years those benefactors have been smiling at disparagement of the Church.

Yet through the centuries it is the arts that have helped to preserve the Church, especially in times when the common man was illiterate. Pictures, in stained class and paint on canvass, was the catechism of the populace. When priests and even popes failed to carry the message forward, the art of previous generations preserved it for us. Consider the story told by Michaelangelo's Pieta for an example of what I mean. God, after all, gave us the artistic ability for a reason. I have long thought the reason is that this is an important means for knowing Him.

And so patronage of contemporary art in support of the message of Christ is a step toward reinforcing what we have, over what we lack, provided the artists commissioned love the Church.

May God grant that this new effort will be successful.

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