Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Via Pulchritudinis: The Privileged Pathway for Evangelisation and Dialogue

Juan Martín Cabezalero, 1634 -1673
Comunión de Santa Teresa, / The Communion of St Teresa ca. 1670.
Oil on canvas .
248 x 217,5 cm
Col. Fundación Lázaro Galdiano, Museo Lázaro Galdiano, Madrid

Juan Martín Cabezalero, 1634 -1673
Asunción de la Virgen / The Assumption of Mary c. 1670
Oil on canvas
237 cm x 169 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Juan Martín Cabezalero, 1634 -1673
Pasaje de la vida de San Francisco/ Part of the Life of St FrancisOil on canvas
232 x 195 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Few works by Cabezalero survive but his paintings are of a very high quality. He is one of the little known great Spanish Baroque painters of the seventeenth century.

He is overshadowed by Diego Velázquez

He was influenced by Anthony van Dyck

As can be seen from the above paintings, it is unfortunate that he died young.

In 2006, the Pontifical Council for Culture held a plenary assembly on the theme of the Via Pulchritudinis (The Way of Beauty).

"Beginning with the simple experience of the marvel-arousing meeting with beauty, the via pulchritudinis can open the pathway for the search for God, and disposes the heart and spirit to meet Christ, who is the Beauty of Holiness Incarnate, offered by God to men for their salvation.

It invites contemporary Augustines, unquenchable seekers of love, truth and beauty, to see through perceptible beauty to eternal Beauty, and with fervour discover Holy God, the author of all beauty."

In one important passage, the Assembly set out its views about Sacred Art and the Patrimony of the Church as a means of evangelisation and catechesis:

"The Servant of God John Paul II qualified the artistic patrimony inspired by the Christian faith as a "formidable instrument of catechesis," fundamental to "re-launch the universal message of beauty and good." (Address to the Bishops of Tuscany, 11 March 1991)

In similar tones, Cardinal Ratzinger, as President of the Special Preparatory Commission for the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church justified its use of images:

"The image is also a Gospel preaching. In all ages, artists have offered the events marking the mystery of salvation with the splendour of colours and in the perfection of beauty for the contemplation and admiration of the faithful. This is an indication of how, today more than ever with our civilisation of the image, a holy image can express much more than words themselves, for its dynamism of communication and transmission of the gospel message is more efficacious."

The Pontifical Council for Culture's document Towards a Pastoral Approach to Culture, augurs that

"in our culture, where a deluge of often banal and brutal images are churned out daily by the television, the cinema and videos, a fruitful union between the Gospel and art will bring about new manifestations of beauty, born from the contemplation of Christ, God made man, from the meditation of His mysteries, from their shining forth in the Virgin Mary and in the saints." (n.36)

The communicating capacity of sacred art renders it able to break down barriers, filter prejudices and reach the heart of people from different cultures and religions and let them perceive the universality of the message of Christ and His Gospel.

When a work of faith-inspired art is offered to the public within its religious function, it is a "via", a "pathway of evangelisation and dialogue," it gives a taste of the faith itself, at the same time as of the living patrimony of Christianity.

To reread the works of Christian art, small or great, musical or artistic, and put them back in their context while deepening their vital links with the life of the Church, particularly the liturgy, is to let them speak again and help them transmit the message that inspired their creation.

The via pulchritudinis, in setting out the pathway of the arts, leads to the veritas of the faith, Christ Himself become "by the Incarnation, the icon of the invisible God."

John Paul II did not hesitate to express

"the conviction that, in a sense, the icon is a sacrament. By analogy with what occurs in the sacraments, the icon makes present the mystery of the Incarnation in one or other of its aspects."

Christian art offers the believer a theme for reflection and acts as an aid to enter into contemplation in intense prayer, similar to a moment of catechesis such as a recitation of Salvation History.

Major works inspired by the faith are truly "Bibles of the Poor" or "Stairways of Jacob" that lead the soul up to the Author of all beauty and with Him to the mystery of God and of those who live in His beatifying vision: "Visio Dei vita hominis - The life of man is the vision of God!" professed St Ireneus.

These are the privileged ways of an authentic experience of the faith."

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