The Catholic Student Chaplaincy in Amsterdam

Via Pulchritudinis



I. A Crucial Challenge


II.1 Accepting the Challenge

II.2 How can the Via Pulchritudinis be a Response?

II.3 The Way of Beauty, Pathway towards the Truth and the Good

III. The Ways of Beauty

III.1 The Beauty of Creation

A) Marvel at the Beauty of Creation

B) From Creation to Re-creation

C) Creation, Used or Idolised

Pastoral Proposals

III.2 The Beauty of the Arts

A) Beauty Inspired by the Faith

B) Learning to Welcome this Beauty

C) Sacred Art, Instrument of Evangelisation and Catechesis

Pastoral Proposals

III.3 The Beauty of Christ, Model and Prototype of Christian Holiness

A) On the Pathway towards the Beauty of Christ

B) The Luminous Beauty of Christ and its Reflection in Christian Holiness

C) Beauty in the Liturgy

Pastoral Proposals



The Via Pulchritudinis,
Privileged Pathway for Evangelisation and Dialogue


"There is nothing more beautiful than to know Him and to speak to others of our friendship with Him. The task of the shepherd, the task of the fisher of men, can often seem wearisome. But it is beautiful and wonderful, because it is truly a service to joy, to God’s joy which longs to break into the world."

Benedict XVI
Homily at the Mass for the Inauguration of his Pontificate
24 April 2005



The theme chosen by the Pontifical Council for Culture for its 2006 plenary assembly follows in the wake of preceding assemblies in seeking to assist the Church to transmit faith in Christ through a pastoral approach that responds to the challenges of contemporary culture, notably religious indifference and unbelief. (cf. Motu proprio, Inde a Pontificatus) With projects and concrete proposals, it seeks to help pastors follow the via pulchritudinis, as a pathway of evangelisation of cultures and dialogue with non-believers, leading to Christ, "the way, the truth and the life." (Jn 14,6)


I.  A Crucial Challenge

The Plenary Assemblies of 2002, "Handing on the Faith at the Heart of Cultures, novo millennio ineunte,"[1] and 2004, "The Christian Faith at the Dawn of the New Millennium and the Challenge of Unbelief and Religious Indifference,"[2] underlined the need for a new apostolic thrust by the Church to evangelise cultures with an effective inculturation of the Gospel.

1) The culture emerging from a materialist and atheistic worldview, characteristic of secularised societies, causes disaffection from religion, sometimes opposition to it, particularly Christianity, with a new anti-Catholicism.[3] Many live as though God did not exist (etsi Deus non daretur), as though His presence and His Word had no influence on the life of people and societies. They struggle to affirm clearly their religious belonging, and their spirituality remains in the strict domain of their private lives. Religious experience is often disassociated from a clear belonging to an ecclesial institution: some believe without belonging, others belong without offering visible signs of their believing.

2) The phenomena of new religiosity and emerging spiritualities spreading across the world are a major challenge for the new evangelisation. They pretend to meet the spiritual, emotive and psychological needs of our contemporaries better than the Church and traditional religious formats. Through syncretistic and esoteric practices they touch the sparks of emotion in people in a communitarian and pseudo-religious dynamic that often stifles them, or deprives them of their liberty and their dignity.[4]

3) Christians remain a living force capable of witnessing with discernment and courage at the heart of neo-pagan culture, even though in some traditionally Christian countries practising Christians are no longer the majority of the country. Clear signs of this hope can be seen in the the World Youth Days, great gatherings for Eucharistic Congresses and at the sanctuaries of the Virgin Mary, the multiplication of resource centres, the numerous requests for monastic retreats, the rediscovery of ancient pilgrim routes, the flourishing of a multitude of new religious movements that affect young and old, and the crowds that converged on Rome at the death of John Paul II and for the election of Benedict XVI. It is clear that the Church is alive. As the Holy Father exclaimed during the homily of the mass inaugurating his pontificate: "During those sad days of the Pope’s illness and death, it became wonderfully evident to us that the Church is alive. And the Church is young. She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way towards the future. The Church is alive and we are seeing it: we are experiencing the joy that the Risen Lord promised His followers."[5]


II. A Proposal for a Response by the Church: The Via Pulchritudinis

II.1 Accepting the Challenge

Given the historical, social, cultural and religious challenges discerned during the last two plenary assemblies, what aspects of its pastoral work can the Church favour in her apostolic dialogue with the men and women of our times, notably with the unbelievers and the indifferent?

The Church accomplishes her mission of leading people to Christ the Saviour by sharing the Word of God and the gift of the sacraments of Grace. In order to reach people with an apt pastoral approach to culture, in the light of Christ contemplated in the mystery of the Incarnation (GS 22), the Church examines the signs of the times and draws pointers from them to develop "bridges" which lead to a meeting with the God of Jesus Christ through an itinerary of friendship in a dialogue of truth.

In this perspective, the Way of Beauty seems to be a privileged itinerary to get in touch with many of those who face great difficulties in receiving the Church's teachings, particularly regarding morals. Too often in recent years, the truth has been instrumentalised by ideologies, and the good horizontalised into a merely social act as though charity towards neighbour alone sufficed without being rooted in love of God. Relativism, which finds one of its clearest expressions in the pensiero debole, continues to spread, encouraging a climate of miscomprehension, and making real, serious and reasoned encounters rare.

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.

All cultures are not equally open to the transcendent and welcoming of Christian Revelation. Not all expressions of beauty—or moments which pretend to be so—favour an acceptance of the message of Christ and the intuition of His divine beauty. As their artistic expressions and aesthetic manifestations are marked by sin, cultures can attract and imprison one's attention until it folds in on itself creating new forms of idolatry. Are we not confronted too often by phenomena of real decadence whereby art and culture are denaturalised and hurt man in his dignity? Beauty itself cannot be reduced to simple pleasure of the senses: this would be to deprive it of its universality, its supreme value, which is transcendent. Perception requires an education, for beauty is only authentic in its link to the truth—of what would brilliance be, if not truth?— and it is at the same time "the visible expression of the good, just as the good is the metaphysical expression of beauty."[6] And again, "Is not beauty the surest route to attain the good?" asked Max Jacob. Although accessible to all, the Way of Beauty is not exempt from ambiguity, deviations, errors, detours etc. Always dependent on human subjectivity, it can be reduced to ephemeral aestheticism and let itself be instrumentalised and made servile to the captivating fashions of consumer society. Priority must also be given to learning to discern between the uti and the frui, that is between a relationship with things and people based uniquely on functionality (uti) and an authentic and trusting relationship (frui) solidly enrooted in the beauty of gratuitous love, according to St Augustine in his De catechizandis rudibus "Nulla est enim maior ad amorem invitatio quam praevenire amando - There is no greater invitation to love than to love first" (Lib. I, 4.7,26).

It is necessary to clarify just what is the via pulchritudinis, and of what it is made. Which is the beauty that favours the handing on of the faith by its capacity to touch people's hearts, to express the mystery of God and of the human person, to be an authentic "bridge", an open space for a pathway for the men and women of our times who already know beauty, or wish to learn to appreciate it, and help them meet the beauty of the Gospel of Christ, which the Church has for its mission to announce to all people of goodwill?


II.2 How can the Via Pulchritudinis be a Response?

Pope John Paul II, an untiring scrutiniser of the signs of the times, indicates this way in his Encylical Fides et Ratio: "I have unstintingly recalled the pressing need for a new evangelisation; and I appeal now to philosophers to explore more comprehensively the dimensions of the true, the good and the beautiful to which the Word of God gives access. This task becomes all the more urgent if we consider the challenges which the new millennium seems to entail, and which affect in a particular way regions and cultures which have a long-standing Christian tradition. This attention to philosophy too should be seen as a fundamental and original contribution in service of the new evangelisation."[7]

This call to philosophers might surprise some people, but is not the via pulchritudinis also a via veritatis on which man engages to discover the bonitas of God's love, source of all beauty, truth and good? Beauty, as much as truth and good, leads us to God, the first truth, supreme good, and beauty itself. But beauty means more than the truth or the good. To say that something is beautiful is not only to recognise it intelligible and therefore loveable, but also, in specifying our knowledge, it attracts us, or captures us with a ray capable of igniting marvel. Moreover, as it expresses a certain power of attraction, beauty tells forth reality itself in the perfection of its form. It is its epiphany. It manifests it by expressing its internal brightness.[8] If the good speaks the desirable, the beautiful tells forth the splendour and light of the perfection it manifests.[9]

The via pulchritudinis is a pastoral way which cannot be exhausted in a philosophical approach. Yet the metaphysician is needed to help us understand why beauty is a royal way leading to God. In suggesting to us who He is, it stimulates in us a desire to enjoy the peace of contemplation, not only because He alone can fill our minds and hearts, but because He contains in Himself the perfection of being, a harmonious and inexhaustible source of clarity and light. To reach it, we need to know how to make the passage from phenomenon to foundation: "Wherever men and women discover a call to the absolute and transcendent, the metaphysical dimension of reality opens up before them: in truth, in beauty, in moral values, in other persons, in being itself, in God. We face a great challenge at the end of this millennium to move from phenomenon to foundation, a step as necessary as it is urgent. We cannot stop short at experience alone; even if experience does reveal the human being's interiority and spirituality, speculative thinking must penetrate to the spiritual core and the ground from which it rises."[10]

This move from phenomenon to foundation is not made spontaneously by those unaccustomed to passing from the visible to the invisible due to a sort of addiction to the ugliness, bad taste and uncouthness promoted by publicity as much as by those artistes fous who profit from the squalid and the ugly provoking scandal. Indeed, even the captivating flowers of evil fascinate: "Are you from the highest heaven or out of the abyss, O beauty?" pondered Baudelaire. And Dimitri Karamazov confided to his brother Aliocha: "Beauty is a terrible thing. It is the struggle between God and Satan, the battleground, my heart." If beauty is image of the creator God, it is also the child of Adam and Eve and so in turn marked by sin. The human person risks falling into the trap of beauty taken for itself—the icon become idol, the means that swallow the end, truth that imprisons, trap into which people fall, due to an inadequate formation in the senses and the lack of a proper education regarding beauty.

To travel the way of beauty implies educating the youth for beauty, helping them develop a critical spirit to discern the various offerings of media culture, and aid them shape their senses and their character to grow and lead into true maturity. Is not "kitsch culture" only a typical outcry of those living in fear of responding to the call to undergo a profound transformation? After long refusing this "passion", St Augustine underwent his own deep transformation of the soul provoked by meeting the beauty of God. In the Confessions, he recalls with sadness and bitterness the lost times and missed occasions, and, in some unforgettable passages, he relives his tormented journey in the search for the truth and for God. In a sort of illumination he rediscovers God and seizes Him as "the Truth itself," (X, 24) source of pure joy and authentic good: "Late have I loved you, O beauty, so old and so new, too late have I loved you! You were here and I sought elsewhere; I was deformed, drowning in those fair forms you made. […] You called. You shouted. You battered my deafness. You shone. You glistened. You shattered my blindness. You radiated and I breathed in your spirit, and I desired you. I tasted you and hungered, thirsted after you. You touched me and I burned for your peace."[11] This experience of meeting the God of Beauty is an event lived in the totality of being and not only in the senses. Hence the confession: "Num possumus amare nisi pulchra?" (De musica 6, 13, 38, "What can we love if not beauty?")


II.3 The Way of Beauty, Pathway towards the Truth and the Good

In proposing a theological aesthetic, von Balthasar sought to open the horizons of thought to the meditation and contemplation of the beauty of God, of the mystery of Christ in whom he reveals Himself. In the introduction to the first volume of his major work, The Glory of the Lord, the theologian speaks of "what for us will be the first," beauty, and explains its value compared with the good which "has lost its power of attraction," and where "the proofs of truth have lost their conclusive character."[12] For different reasons, Solzhenitsyn noted with prophetic accent in his Discourse for the Nobel Prize for Literature: "So perhaps that ancient trinity of Truth, Good and Beauty is not simply an empty, faded formula as we thought in the days of our self-confident, materialistic youth. If the tops of these three trees converge, as the scholars maintained, but the too blatant, too direct stems of Truth and Good are crushed, cut down, not allowed through, then perhaps the fantastic, unpredictable, unexpected stems of Beauty will push through and soar to that very same place, and in so doing will fulfil the work of all three."[13]

Indeed, far from renouncing to propose Truth and Good, which are at the heart of the Gospel, it is a case of following a path that can let them reach the hearts of men and their cultures.[14] The world urgently needs this, as Pope Paul VI underlined in his vibrant Message to Artists on 8 December 1965 at the end of the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council: "This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. It is beauty, like truth, which brings joy to the heart of man and is that precious fruit which resists the wear and tear of time, which unites generations and makes them share things in admiration."[15] Contemplated with a pure soul, beauty speaks directly to the heart, turning astonishment to marvel, admiration to gratitude, happiness to contemplation. Thereby it creates a fertile terrain to listen and dialogue with men, engaging the whole man—spirit and heart, intelligence and reason, creative capacity and imagination. It is unlikely to result in indifference; it provokes emotions, it puts in movement a dynamism of deep interior transformation that engenders joy, feelings of fullness, desire to participate freely in this same beauty, making it one's own in interiorising it and integrating it into one's own concrete existence.

The way of beauty replies to the intimate desire for happiness that resides in the heart of every person. Opening infinite horizons, it prompts the human person to push outside of himself, from the routine of the ephemeral passing instant, to the Transcendent and Mystery, and seek, as the final goal of the ultimate quest for wellbeing and total nostalgia, this original beauty which is God Himself, creator of all created beauty. Numerous Fathers referred to this during the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in October 2005. Man's intimate desire for wellbeing is faced with the evils of suffering and of death. So too cultures are sometimes confronted with analogous phenomena of injuries and scars that can lead to their disappearance. The voice of beauty helps open ourselves up to the light of truth, and it lightens the human condition helping it seize the meaning of pain. In this way it helps the healing of these injuries.


III. The Ways of Beauty

Three areas stand out for the privileged way of beauty to enable dialogue with contemporary cultures:

III.1 The Beauty of Creation;

III.2 The Beauty of the Arts; and

III.3 The Beauty of Christ, Model and Prototype of Christian Holiness.

The beauty of God, revealed by the singular beauty of His Son, constitutes the origin and end of all creation. If it is possible to begin with the most basic level, then to ascend following a dynamic written in the Sacred Scriptures, from the tangible beauty of nature to the beauty of the Creator, this beauty shines in a unique manner on the face of Christ and in His Mother and the saints. The Christian sees the "creation" as inseparable from "re-creation", for if God has judged good and beautiful the work of six days, (cf. Gen 1) sin, along with disorder, has introduced the ugliness of death and evil. "Oh happy fault, which gained for us such a Redeemer!" sings the Easter liturgy. The Grace which flows from the side of Christ the Saviour across the world, purifies and introduces a beauty that is completely other to save the world, which groaningly awaits the hour of its final transformation. (Rm 8, 22)


III.1 The Beauty of Creation.

Scripture underlines the symbolic value of the beauty of the world which surrounds us: "Yes naturally stupid are all men who have not known God and who, from the good things that are seen, have not been able to discover Him-who-is, or, by studying the works, have failed to recognise the Artificer. […] If, charmed by their beauty, they have taken things for gods, let them know how much the Lord of these excels them, since the very Author of beauty has created them." (Wis 13, 1 and 3) There is an abyss between the ineffable beauty of God and its vestiges in creation, and the sacred author defines the aim of this ascendant dialogue: "through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures we may, by analogy, contemplate their Author." (v.5) It is a matter of passing through the visible forms of natural things to climb up to their invisible author, the "Completely Other", who we profess in the Creed: "I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth".


A) Marvel at the Beauty of Creation. "Nature is a temple where living pillars sometimes unleash confused words." If poets such as Baudelaire[16] are particularly sensitive to the beauties of creation and their mysterious languages, it is because, from the contemplation of the countryside at the setting of the sun, or snow-capped mountain summits under a starry sky, or fields covered with light-drenched flowers, or the varieties of plants and animals, there is born a palette of sentiments that invite us to read within (intus-legere), to pass from the visible to reach the invisible and give an answer to the question, "who is this Artisan with such powerful imagination at the origin of so much beauty and grandeur, such profusion of beings in the sky and on the earth?"[17]

At the same time, the contemplation of the beauties of creation causes an interior peace and sharpens the sense of harmony and the desire for a beautiful life. With religious man, astonishment and admiration transform themselves into attitudes that are interior and spiritual: adoration, praise and thanksgiving to the Author of these beauties. As the psalmist sang: "I look up at your heavens, made by your fingers, at the moon and stars you set in place—ah, what is man that you should spare a thought for him, the son of man that you should care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god, you have crowned him with glory and splendour, made him lord over the work of your hands, set all things under his feet, […] Yahweh, our Lord, how great is your name throughout the earth!" (Ps 8, 3-6:10). The Franciscan tradition, with St Bonaventure, notes a sacramental dimension to creation, which carries traces of its origins. In this way, nature is considered an allegory and each natural reality as a symbol of its Author.[18]


B) From Creation to Re-creation. Among the creatures, there is one with a certain similarity to God: Man created in His image and likeness. By his spiritual soul, he carries in himself a "germ of eternity irreducible to matter alone." (GS 18) But the image has been altered by the first sin, that poison which injures the will in its leaning to the good and thereby obscures intelligence and deviates the senses. The beauty of the soul, thirsty for truth and the beloved, loses its splendour and becomes capable of evil, of ugliness. A child witnessing an evil act does not assert, "This is not beautiful!" For ugliness—and hence a priori good—appears in the domain of the moral and turns back on man, its subject. With sin, he has lost his beauty and sees himself naked, even unto feeling shame. The coming of the Redeemer re-establishes man in his first beauty; moreover, it redresses him in a new beauty: the unimaginable beauty of the creature raised up to divine sonship, the transfiguration promised by the soul ransomed and lifted up by Grace, resplendent in all its fibre, the body called to new life.

If Christ, the New Adam, "fully reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear," (GS 22) the Christian approach to the beauty of creation finds its summit in the overwhelming newness of the re-creation: Christ, perfect representation of the glory of the Father, communicates to man the fullness of Grace. He makes man gracious, i.e. beautiful and agreeable to God. The Incarnation is the focal centre, the correct perspective in which beauty takes its ultimate meaning. "He who is the 'image of the invisible God' (Col 1:15) is Himself the perfect man who has restored in the children of Adam that likeness to God which had been disfigured ever since the first sin. Human nature, by the very act that it was assumed, not absorbed, in Him, has been raised to a dignity beyond compare. For by His Incarnation, He, the Son of God, has in a certain way united Himself with each man." (GS 22) We will return later to the beauty of the holiness that emanates from those configured to Christ under the breath of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the most beautiful witnesses, capable of stirring the most indifferent hearts and letting them feel the passage of God in the lives of men.

In an action of continuous Grace, the Christian worships Christ who has given him back life, and lets himself be transfigured by the glorious gifts he has made. Our eyes, eager for beauty, let themselves be attracted to the New Adam, true icon of the eternal Father, "radiant light of God's glory" and "perfect copy of His nature." (Hb 1:3) To the pure in heart, to whom it has been promised to see God face-to-face, Christ has already made it possible to perceive the light of the glory at the very heart of the night of faith.


C) Creation, Used or Idolised. Countless men and women, however, only see nature and the cosmos in their visible materiality, a muted universe that has no other destiny than those commanded by the cold and invariable laws of physics, without evoking any other beauty, much less a Creator. In a culture where scientism imposes the limits of its method of observation, up to the point of making an exclusive norm of knowing, the cosmos is reduced to being nothing other than an immense reservoir from which man draws to the point of draining it to meet his growing and disproportionate needs.

The Book of Wisdom warns us against such short-sightedness, which St Paul denounced as a "sin of pride and presumption." (Rm 1, 20-23) But creation is not silent: the extraordinary natural phenomena, sometimes tragic, seen over the last few years and frequent ecological disasters demand a new understanding of nature, its laws, and its harmony. It is becoming clearer for many of our contemporaries that nature cannot and should not be manipulated without respect.

It is not a matter of making nature a new absolute or new idol, as is the habit of some neo-pagan groups. It can never be more valuable than the dignity of the human person, who is called to be its guardian.


Pastoral Proposals

Particular attention to nature helps discover in it the mirror of the beauty of God. Greater care needs to be given to creation and its beauty in human and Christian formation, avoiding the risks of reducing it to simple ecologism or a pantheistic vision. Some movements try to install in the youth an ability to observe nature and make them aware of the need to protect it. This helps people discover the project of the Creator God, by appealing to the sentiments connected to marvel, adoration and thanksgiving. We must carefully put in practice the twofold dimension of listening:

  • listening to creation that tells the glory of God.
  • and listen to God who speaks to us through his creation and makes himself accessible to reason, according to the teaching of the First Vatican Council (Dei Filius, Ch. 2, can.1).

Catechesis in its efforts to form children and young people can make the most of it by developing a pedagogy of observation of natural beauties and consequent fundamentally human attitudes: silence, interioristation, listening, patient waiting, admiration, discovery of harmony, respect for natural equilibrium, meaning of gratuity, adoration and contemplation.

The teaching of an authentic philosophy of nature and a beautiful theology of creation needs a new impulse in a culture where the dialogue faith-science is particularly crucial. It is a culture for which clerics need a minimum level of epistemological awareness and scientists can draw more from the immense undertakings of the Christian wisdom tradition.[19] The prejudices of scientism and fideism are still present in everyday mentality, so it is important to provoke occasions for a meeting between people of science and faith at all levels: in Catholic teaching institutions, formation houses, Universities, Catholic Cultural Centres, etc. The Jubilee of Scientists,[20] celebrated during 2000, has provoked new cultural initiatives destined to renew the dialogue between science and faith. Among these stands Project STOQ (Science Theology and the Ontological Quest), promoted by the Pontifical Council for Culture in collaboration with several Pontifical Universities. Indeed, each branch of knowing, e.g. philosophy, theology, social and human sciences, psychology, can contribute to the revealing the beauty of God and of his creation.

Actions in favour of the defence of nature or the natural habitat organised by Christian communities or religious families inspired by the example of St Francis, who "contemplated the Most Beautiful in the beautiful things,"[21] have a certain echo and contribute to the development of a vision which is less idolatrous of nature. An example can be seen in the Pastoral letter of the Bishops of Queensland, Australia entitled "Let the Many Coastlands be Glad! A Pastoral Letter on the Great Barrier Reef." In contemporary culture, it is important to multiply initiatives by which the Church transmits the sense of the authentic value of nature, its beauty, its symbolic power and its capacity to uncover the creating work of God.


III.2 The Beauty of the Arts

If nature and the cosmos are the expression of the beauty of the Creator and bring us to the threshold of a contemplative silence, artistic creation possesses its own capacity to evoke the ineffable aspects of the mystery of God. The work of art is not "beauty" but its expression, and it possesses an intrinsic character of universality if it obeys the canons, which naturally fluctuate for all art is tied to a culture. Artistic beauty provokes interior emotion, it silently arouses astonishment and leads to an "exit from self," an ecstasy.

For the believer, beauty transcends the aesthetic and finds its archetype in God. The contemplation of Christ in the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption is the living source from which the Christian artist takes inspiration to speak of the mystery of God and the mystery of man saved in Jesus Christ. All Christian artwork has such a meaning: it is, by nature, a "symbol", a reality that refers beyond itself which leads along the path that reveals the meaning, origin and end of our terrestrial journey. Its beauty is characterised by a capacity to move from the interior "for self" to that of the "more than self." This passage becomes real in Jesus Christ, who is Himself "the way, the truth and the life," (Jn 14, 6) the "complete truth." (Jn 16, 13)


A) Beauty Inspired by the Faith. Christian-inspired works of art, which constitute an incomparable part of humanity's artistic and cultural patrimony, are the object of a veritable infatuation for crowds of tourists, believers and non, agnostics and those indifferent to religion. This is a phenomenon affecting all kinds of people regardless of culture or religion. Culture, in the sense of spiritual patrimony, is strongly democratised: thanks to the extraordinary development of technology, works of art have been brought closer to the people. Now a tiny electronic device can contain the complete works of Mozart or Bach, and thousands of images from the Vatican library.

The face of Christ in His singular beauty, scenes from the Gospel, the great prophetic episodes of the Old Testament, Golgotha, the Virgin with Child, and the Virgin of Sorrows have long made up a rich source of inspiration for Christian artists. With extraordinary and burgeoning imagination, artists seek, through continual research and ceaseless novelty, to present the beauty of God revealed in Christ to make Him near, almost touchable and visible. In some ways, the artist extends Revelation by providing it with form, image, colour and sound. In showing how beautiful God is, the artist shows how much God is for man, as his own good and the ultimate truth of his existence. Christian beauty carries a truth bigger than the heart of man, truth that surpasses human language and indicates his good, the only essential.

Did not the Cardinals of Holy Roman Church feel the terrible beauty of the Last Judgement of Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel when they were voting for the new Roman Pontiff? Do not the cathedrals and churches of the West and East reach a summit of splendour when a liturgy streaming with beauty is celebrated by a gathered crowd? And do not the abbeys and monasteries become havens of peace when they follow their function of worship, supplication and thanksgiving with melodies that have endured through the centuries? So many men and women from so many ages and cultures have felt that deep emotional stirring and opened their hearts to God in contemplating the face of Christ on the Cross, in listening to a Passion or a Te Deum, in kneeling before a golden reredos or a Byzantine icon.

Pope John Paul II, in his Letter to Artists, called for a new epiphany of beauty and a new dialogue of faith and culture between Church and art, underlining their reciprocal needs and the richness of their millenarian alliance from which has sprung the "birth of beauty" of which Plato spoke in The Banquet.[22]

If cultural milieu strongly conditions the artist, then, echoing the appeal of Von Balthasar, we must raise the questions: How can we be guardians of beauty in today's contemporary artistic culture where erotic seduction stems the instincts, pollutes the imagination and inhibits the spiritual faculties? Is not the task of saving beauty that of saving man? Is this not the role of the Church, "expert in humanity" and guardian of the faith?


B) Learning to Welcome this Beauty. Works of art inspired by the Christian faith—paintings and mosaics, sculptures and architecture, ivories, silvers, poetic, literary, musical and theatrical works, film and dance, etc.—posses an enormous potential pertinent to contemporary needs that remain unaltered by the times that pass. In an intuitive and tasteful manner, they permit participation in the great experience of the faith, of the meeting with God in the face of Christ in whom he uncovers the mystery of the love of God and the identity of man.

In speaking to the artists in the Sistine Chapel 7 May 1964, Pope Paul VI denounced the "divorce" between art and the sacred that characterised the 20th century and observed that today many have difficulty treating Christian themes due to a lack of formation and experience of the Christian faith.[23] The ugliness of some churches and their decoration, their desacralisation, is the consequence of this divorce, a laceration that needs to be treated in order to be cured. There is a need to resolve the widespread ignorance in the field of religious culture to let the Christian art of the past and present open up for all the via pulchritudinis. To be fully heard and understood, Christian artwork needs to be read in the light of the bible and the fundamental texts of Tradition to which the experience of faith refers. If beauty is to speak itself, it must learn its own language, cause of admiration, emotion and conversion. With the language of beauty, Christian artwork not only transmits the message of the artist, but also the truth of the mystery of God meditated by a person who reads it to us, not to glorify himself but to glorify the Source. Biblical illiteracy sterilises the capacity for comprehension of Christian art.[24]

A combined effort must be taken to overcome a difficulty which has arisen due to the cultural climate nourished by art criticism broadly influenced by materialist ideologies. Highlighting only the aesthetic-formal aspect of works, without interest for the content which inspired such beauty, such ideologies sterilise art, stemming the living and life-giving stream of spiritual life, limiting it to the world of emotions.


C) Sacred Art, Instrument 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."[25]

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."[26]

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.[27] These are the privileged ways of an authentic experience of the faith.


Pastoral Proposals

John Paul II's Letter to Artists is a fundamental reference point here, and finds a clear echo in the passage cited from the Pontifical Council for Culture's document Towards a Pastoral Approach to Culture.[28] Episcopal Conferences can take these two texts as the starting point for concrete initiatives.[29]

It is a matter of using an appropriate pedagogy to initiate people into the language of beauty, to educate them to seize the message of Christian art. This is what makes works beautiful and above all favours in them a meeting with the mystery of Christ. Awareness is growing in this domain, and there is a visible return of interest in the study of sacred Christian art, which is now better known by those who are responsible for Christian formation.[30] Faced with widely spread atheist and ideological interpretations, the need is felt for a major work of theoretical reformulation of the teaching of sacred art, based on an authentic Christian vision.

It is a matter of creating the conditions for a renewal of artistic creation in the Christian community, and forming effective links with artists to help them capture what makes works of art authentically religious and sacred art. Much has been done already in many dioceses but more can yet be done to make the most of the Church's rich cultural and artistic patrimony, born of the Christian faith, and use it as an instrument of evangelisation, catechesis and dialogue. It is not enough just to set up art galleries, rather the conditions must also be created to let this patrimony express the content of its message. An authentically beautiful liturgy helps enter into this particular language of the faith, made of symbols and evocations of the mystery being celebrated.

Some initiatives have already been tried and tested and merit further attention:

  • Dialogue with artists—painters, sculptors, architects for future church buildings, restorers, musicians, poets, playwrights, etc.—in order to foster a new creativity, nourish their imagination with the sources of the faith, and foster relations between the desires of the Church and the production of artists. Liturgical illiteracy among artists chosen to construct churches is a problem all too widespread.
  • Formation in the beauty of the Christian mystery expressed in sacred art on the occasion of the inauguration of a new Church, a work of art, a concert, a particular liturgy.
  • Organisation of cultural and artistic events—exhibitions, prize competitions, concerts, conferences, festivals, etc.—to value the immense patrimony of the Church and help it deliver its message and inspire new creativity, especially in the areas of art and liturgical chant.
  • Local publications in the guise of tourist guides, webpages, or specialised journals on patrimony, with the pedagogical aim of highlighting the soul, inspiration and message of works, scientific analysis is thereby put at the service of a deeper understanding of the work.
  • Make pastoral agents, catechists, and religion teachers, seminarians and clergy aware of this issue through formation courses, seminars, thematic meetings, guided tours. Diocesan museums and Catholic Cultural Centres can play an important role, notably in proposing the reading of local and regional works of art and using them in catechesis.
  • Formation of guides in the specificity of Christian-inspired art, creation of specialist groups to make the most of art and cultural Centres that share these same goals.
  • Study and deeper awareness of the issues in schools and universities with Masters Degrees, seminars, laboratories, etc. Offering of bursaries to promote education in this area. Development at the regional and national levels of Institutes of Sacred Music, Liturgy, Archaeology, etc., and the constitution of specialized libraries in this domain.



III.3 The Beauty of Christ, Model and Prototype of Christian Holiness

While the beauty of creation is, according to St Augustine, a "confessio" and invites contemplation of beauty in its source, i.e., the "creator of heaven and earth, of all things, seen and unseen," and while the beauty of artwork makes manifest something of beauty in its figure, the Son who took flesh, "the most beautiful of men", there is also a third fundamental way, perhaps the most important, which leads us to the discovery of beauty in the icon of holiness, work of the Holy Spirit who shapes the Church in the image of Christ, model of perfection. For the baptised person, it is the beauty of witness given by a life transformed in Grace, and, for the Church, the beauty of the liturgy. It lets us experience God alive among His people attracting to Him those who let themselves be taken up in this meeting of joy and love.

The Ecclesia de charitate, witness of the beauty of Christ, reveals herself as his spouse made more beautiful by her Lord when she makes acts of charity and preferential choices, when she engages in the promotion of justice and building up the great common house where every creature is called to live, especially the poor: they too have a right to beauty. At the same time this witness of beauty by charity and by engagement in the service of justice and peace announces the hope that never fails. To offer the men and women of today the true beauty, to make the Church attentive to always announce, in good times and in bad, the beauty that saves and that is felt in those places where eternity has planted its tent over time is to offer reasons to live and hope to those who are without or risk losing it. The Church, witness to the final meaning of life, seed of confidence at the heart of human history, appears already as the people of the beauty that saves, for it anticipates in these last times something of the beauty promised by this God who will bring all things to completion in Him at the end of time. Hope, militant anticipation of the coming into the saved world promised in the crucified and resurrected Son, is a proclamation of beauty. Of this the world has a particular need.


A) On the Pathway towards the Beauty of Christ. The absolutely original and singular beauty of Christ, model of a "truly beautiful life," is reflected in the holiness of a life transformed by Grace. Unfortunately, many people perceive Christianity as a submission to commandments made up of prohibitions and limits applied to personal liberty. Pope Benedict XVI referred to this in an interview with Vatican Radio 14 August 2005 just before leaving for the World Youth Day at Cologne. He went on to say, "I, on the other hand, would rather help people understand that to be supported by a great Love and by a Revelation is not a burden: it gives wings, and it's beautiful to be Christian. This experience lets us grow […] The joy of being Christian is beauty, and it is right to believe it."[31] From interior beauty and the deep emotion provoked by a meeting with Beauty in person—we think of the experience of St Augustine—springs forth the capacity to propose events of beauty in all dimensions of existence and the experience of faith.

The pastoral work of the Church, which leads people to meet Christ, finds in the presentation of beauty the means to wake up hearts for this discovery. In the Letter to Artists, Pope John Paul II underlined the richness of the novelty of the Incarnation: "In becoming man, the Son of God has introduced into human history all the evangelical wealth of the true and the good, and with this he has also unveiled a new dimension of beauty, of which the Gospel message is filled to the brim." (n.5) This unique and particular beauty of the "Son of Man" reveals itself in the face of the "Beautiful Shepherd", and also in the transfigured Christ of Tabor, and in Christ crucified devoid of corporal beauty, the "Man of Sorrows". The Christian sees in the deformity of the suffering servant, despoiled of all exterior beauty, the manifestation of the infinite love of God, who even clothes himself with the ugliness of sin to raise us up, beyond the senses, to the divine beauty which is above all other beauty and never alters. For those who wish to contemplate it, the icon of the Crucified with disfigured face contains the mysterious beauty of God. This beauty is fulfilled in in pain and sorrow, in the gift of self without personal gain. It is the beauty of love which is stronger than evil or death.


B) The Luminous Beauty of Christ and its Reflection in Christian Holiness. Jesus Christ is the perfect representation of the Glory of the Father. He is the most beautiful of the children of man, for He possesses the fullness of the Grace by which God delivers man from sin, delivers him from the bondage of evil and returns him to his first innocence. A multitude of men and women have let themselves be seized by this beauty to consecrate themselves to it. As Pope Benedict XVI expressed during the first Canonisation of his Pontificate at the closing Mass of the XI ordinary general Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, "the saint is the one who is so fascinated by the beauty of God and by his perfect truth that he is progressively transformed by it. For this beauty and this truth, he is ready to renounce everything, even himself." (23 October 2005)

If Christian holiness configures to the beauty of the Son, the Immaculate Conception is the most perfect illustration of the work of beauty. The Virgin Mary and the saints are the luminous reflection and attractive witness of the singular beauty of Christ, beauty of infinite love of God who gives Himself and makes Himself known to men. These reflect, each according to their manner, as prisms of a crystal, faces of a diamond, contours of a rainbow, the light and original beauty of the God of Love; man's holiness is participation in the holiness of God and by it His beauty. When this is fully welcomed into the heart and spirit, it illuminates and guides the lives of men and women in their daily actions.

The beauty of Christian witness expresses the beauty of Christianity and provides for its future. How can we be credible in announcing the "good news" if our lives are unable to manifest the "beauty" of this life? From the meeting of faith with Christ, springs forth, in an interior dynamic action supported by Grace, the holiness of the disciples and their capacity to make "beautiful and good" their common life and that of their neighbours. It is not exterior beauty and superficiality, a façade, but an interior beauty that is painted under the action of the Holy Spirit. It shines before men: nothing can hide that which is an essential part of its being.

This was the call of John Paul II to the consecrated men and women in the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata: "But it is above all to you, consecrated women and men, that at the end of this Exhortation I appeal with trust: live to the full your dedication to God, so that this world may never be without a ray of divine beauty to lighten the path of human existence. Christians, immersed in the cares and concerns of this world but also called to holiness, need to discover in you purified hearts which in faith 'see' God, people docile to the working of the Holy Spirit who resolutely press on in fidelity to the charism of their call and mission." (n.109) Wherever charity shines forth, the beauty that saves is manifest. There, glory is rendered to the Father, and the unity of the disciples of our beloved Lord grows.

Pavel Florenskij, a Russian singer of beauty and martyr of the 20th Century offered this commentary on the Gospel of St Mathew, ch. 5, v. 16. "Your 'good deeds' does not really mean 'good acts' in the philanthropic and moral sense: tà kalà érga means "beautiful acts", luminous and harmonious revelations of spiritual personality—above all a luminous face, beautiful of a beauty that lets the interior light of men shine forth to the outside. That is when, beaten by this irresistible light, men give glory to the celestial Father and His image shines over all the earth."[32] So the Christian life is called to become, in the force of Grace given by Christ resurrected, an event of susceptible beauty to arouse admiration and reflection and incite conversion. The meeting with Christ and His disciples, in particular Mary His Mother and His witnesses the saints, must always and everywhere have the potential to become an event of beauty, a moment of joy in the discovery of a new dimension of existence, an invitation to put oneself on the road to the Father of Heaven to enjoy the vision of the Complete Truth, the beauty of the Love of God: Beauty is the splendour of the truth and the flowering of Love.


C) Beauty in the Liturgy. The beauty of the love of Christ comes to meet us each day not only through the example of the saints but more so through the holy liturgy, especially in the celebration of the Eucharist where the Mystery becomes present and illuminates with meaning and beauty all our existence. This is the extraordinary means by which our Saviour, once dead and resurrected, shares His life with us, making us part of His Body as living members and making us participate in His beauty.

Florenskij described beauty in the liturgy, symbol of the symbols of the world as that which permits the transformation of time and space "in the holy, mysterious temple that shines with celestial beauty."

During a conference at the 23rd National Italian Eucharistic Congress, Cardinal Ratzinger cited in his introduction the old legend about the origins of the Christian faith in Russia. According to this legend, Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided to adhere to the Orthodox Church of Constantinople after having heard his ambassadors who had been sent to Constantinople where they had been present at a solemn liturgy in the basilica of Saint Sophia. They said to the prince, "We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth…We are witnesses: God has made His dwelling place there among men." And the Cardinal theologian took from this legend the basis of truth: "it is in effect certain that the internal force of the liturgy played an essential role in the diffusion of Christianity…That which convinced the ambassadors of the Russian prince, that the faith celebrated in the Orthodox liturgy was true, was not a missionary style argument whose elements appeared more convincing to those disposed to listen than those of any other religion. No, that which struck home was the mystery in itself, a mystery that, precisely because it is found beyond all discussion, imposes on reason the force of truth."[33] How can we fail to underline the importance of icons, the marvellous heritage of the Christian East, which still today gives something of the liturgy of the undivided Church: its rich and deep language thrives on its roots in the experience of the undivided Church, the Roman catacombs, the mosaics of Rome and Ravenna as well as Byzantium?

For the believer, beauty transcends the aesthetic. It permits the passage from "for self" to "more than self." The liturgy which is disinterested and does not seek to celebrate God for Him, through Him and in Him, is not beautiful, and therefore not true. It should be "disinterested" in "putting oneself before God and placing one's eyes on Him who shines with the divine light on the things that pass." It is in this austere simplicity that it becomes missionary, that is, capable of witnessing to observers who let themselves be taken over by the invisible reality that it offers.

The French writer Paul Claudel allured to the internal force of the liturgy in witnessing to his conversion during the singing of the Magnificat during Vespers on Christmas Eve at Notre-Dame de Paris: "It was then that the event happened that has dominated all my life. In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed. I believed with such force, with such relief of all my being, a conviction so powerful, so certain and without any room for doubt, that ever since, all the books, all the arguments, all the hazards of my agitated life have never shaken my faith, nor to tell the truth have they even touched it."[34]

The beauty of the liturgy, an essential moment in the experience of faith and the pathway towards an adult faith, is unable to reduce itself to mere formal beauty. It is first of all the deep beauty of the meeting with the mystery of God, present among men through the intermediary work of the Son, "the fairest of the children of men" (Ps 45, 2) who renews without end His sacrifice of love for us. It expresses the beauty of the communion with Him and with our brothers, the beauty of a harmony which translates into gestures, symbols, words, images and melodies that touch the heart and the spirit and raise marvel and the desire to meet the resurrected Lord, He who is the Door of Beauty.

Superficiality, banality and negligence have no place in the liturgy. They not only do not help the believer progress on his path of faith but above all damage those who attend Christian celebrations, and in particular, the Sunday Eucharist. In the last few decades, some people have given too much importance to the pedagogical dimension of the liturgy and the desire to make the liturgy more accessible even for outsiders, and have undermined its primary function: the liturgy lets us immerse ourselves completely in the salvific action of God in His son Jesus, which makes it missionary. Essentially turned towards God, it is beautiful when it permits all the beauty of the mystery of love and communion to manifest itself.[35] The liturgy is beautiful when it is "acceptable to God" and immerses us in divine joy.[36]


Pastoral Proposals

It is good to offer the message of Christ in all its beauty, able to attract the spirits and hearts through the links of love. At the same time we must live and witness to the beauty of the communion in a world often marked by disharmony and rupture. It is a matter of transforming into "events of beauty" the gestures of daily charity and all the ordinary pastoral activities of the local. The saving beauty of Christ must be presented in a renewed manner so that each believer and also the indifferent may welcome it and contemplate Him. The attention of pastors and catechists needs to be brought to this issue so that their preaching and teaching will lead to the beauty of Christ. Christians are called to witness to the joy and to know that they are beloved of God and of a beauty of life transformed by this love which comes from on high.

For the closure of the Great Jubilee of 2000, John Paul II sent the apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte to the whole Church. He expressly invited us to re-begin in Christ and to learn to contemplate His face. From this contemplation springs forth the desire, the necessity and the urgency to rediscover the authentic meaning of the mystery of the Christian liturgy in which it concretely lives out the meeting with the Saviour who died and rose again.[37]

To meet this call, many bishops sent Pastoral Letters to their dioceses on the beauty of salvation and the meaning of the liturgical celebration underlining the beauty of the meeting with Christ, on Sundays, the day consecrated to Him, which gives time for pause in the relentless and frenetic rhythm of our societies.[38]

Others have also been engaged in the via pulchritudinis in recent decades, for example Mariologists, especially since Paul VI spoke to the Seventh International Congress of Mariology on 16 May 1975.[39]

It is a matter of presenting with a language that speaks and is pleasing to our contemporaries and using the most apt means the precious witness given by the Mother of God, the martyrs and the saints who have followed Christ in a particularly "attractive" manner. Much is being done in catechetical programmes to let the extraordinary lives of the saints be discovered. It is clear today that, for young people, saints are fascinating—think of Francis of Assisi and José of Anchieta, Juan Diego and Theresa of the Child Jesus, Rose of Lima and Bakhita, Kisito and Maria Goretti, Father Kolbe and Mother Theresa and the theatrical works, films, comic strips, recitals, concerts and muscials that re-create their stories. Their example calls each Christian to be a pilgrim on the pathway of beauty, truth, good, in journeying to the Celestial Jerusalem where we will contemplate the beauty of God in a relation full of love, face-to-face. "There, we will rest and we will see; we will see and we will love, we will love and we will praise. Such will be the end, without end."[40]

An appropriate education helps the faithful grow in the life of prayer of adoration and worship, and fuller participation in the truth to a liturgy lived in the fullness of beauty which immerses the faithful in the mystery of faith. At the same time as re-educating the faithful to marvel at the thinkgs that God works in our lives, it is also necessary to give back to the liturgy its true "splendour", all its dignity and authentic beauty, by rediscovering the authentic sense of Christian mystery, and forming the faithful so that they can enter into the meaning and beauty of the celebrated mystery and live it authentically.

Liturgy is not what man does, but is a divine work. The faithful need to be helped to perceive that the act of worship is not the fruit of activity, a product, a merit, a gain, but is the expression of a mystery, of something that cannot be entirely understood but that needs to be received rather than conceptualised. It is an act entirely free from considerations of efficiency. The attitude of the believer in the liturgy is marked by its capacity to receive, a condition of the progress of the spiritual life. This attitude is no longer spontaneous in a culture where rationalism seeks to direct everything, even our most intimate sentiments.

No less important is the promotion of sacred art to accompany aptly the celebration of the mysteries of the faith, to give beauty back to ecclesiastical buildings and liturgical objects. In this way they will be welcoming, and above all able to convey the authentic meaning of Christian liturgy and encourage full participation of the faithful in the divine mysteries, following the wish often expressed during the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.

Certainly the churches must be aesthetically beautiful and well decorated, the liturgies accompanied by beautiful chants and good music, the celebrations dignified and preaching well prepared, but it is not this in itself which is the via pulchritudinis or that which changes us. These are just conditions that facilitate the action of the grace of God. Therefore the faithful need to be educated to pay attention not merely to the aesthetic dimension of the liturgy, however beautiful it may be, but also to understand that the Litrugy is a divine act that is not determined by an ambiance, a climate or even by rubrics, for it is the mystery of faith celebrated in Church.




To propose the via pulchritudinis as a pathway of evangelisation and dialogue is to begin with the haunting question, sometimes latent, but always present in our hearts, "What is beauty?" to lead "all men of good will, in whom Grace acts invisibly" towards the "perfect man" who is the "image of the unseen God."[41]

This quest leads back to the original times, as if man were desperately seeking the world of beauty out of his reach ever since the original fall. It crosses history under multiple forms and the profusion of a multitude of works of beauty in all civilisations does not quench its thirst.

Pilate asked Christ the question concerning the truth. Christ replied with silence: this truth is unspoken but reaches, without words, the very heart of our being. Jesus revealed Himself to His disciples, "I am the way the truth and the life." Now he is silent. But he shows the way, the path of truth which peaks at the cross, mystery of wisdom. Pilate does not understand, but mysteriously he Himself gives the answer to His question, "What is truth?" Before the people he cries, "Behold the Man!" It is Christ who is the truth.

If beauty is the splendour of the truth, then our question is that of Pilate, and the reply is the same: it is Jesus Himself who is Beauty. He manifests Himself from Tabor to the Cross, shedding light on the mystery of man, disfigured by sin, but purified and recreated by Redeeming Love. Jesus is not a path among others, a truth among others, a beauty among others. He does not propose one way among others. He is the living path that leads to the living truth that gives true life. Supreme beauty, splendour of the Truth, Jesus is the source of all beauty because, Word of God made flesh, He is the manifestation of the Father. "He who has seen me has seen the Father." (Jn 14, 9)

The summit, the archetype of beauty manifests itself in the face of the Son of Man crucified on the Cross of sorrows, Revelation of infinite love of God who, in His mercy for His creatures, restores beauty lost with original sin. "Beauty will save the world," because this beauty is Christ, the only beauty that defies evil, and triumphs over death. By love, the "most beautiful of the children of men" became "the man of sorrows", "without beauty, without majesty no looks to attract our eyes" (Is, 53, 2) and so he rendered to man, to each and every man the fullness of His beauty, His dignity and His true grandeur. In Christ, and only in Him, our via crucis is transformed into His in the via lucis and the via pulchritudinis.

The Church of the third millennium seeks this beauty in the meeting with its Lord, and with Him, in the dialogue of love with the men and women of our times. At the heart of cultures, to respond to their anxieties, their joys and hopes, the Church never ceases to profess with Pope Benedict: "If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation."[42]


[1] Cf. Faith and Cultures, Vatican City, 2002-2.

[2] Cf. P. Poupard – Pontificium Consilium de Cultura, Where Is Your God? Responding to the Challenge of Unbelief and Religious Indifference Today - Dónde está tu Dios? La fe cristiana ante la increencia religiosa, Chicago 2004; Dónde está tu Dios? La fe cristiana ante la increencia religiosa, Valencia 2005; Gdje je tvoj Bog? Kršcanska vjera pred izazovom vjerske ravnodušnosti, Sarajevo 2005; Où est-il ton Dieu? La foi chrétienne au défi de l’indifférence religieuse, Salvator, Paris 2004. The Italian version of the document, Dov'è il tuo Dio? La Fede cristiana davanti alla non credenza e indifferenza religiosa, has been published with the other Acts of the Plenary Assembly of 2004 in Religioni e sette nel mondo, 26, 2003-2004.

[3] Cf. R. Rémond, Le Christianisme en accusation, Paris 2000; Ibid, Le nouvel antichristianisme, 2005.

[4] See also the document Pontifical Council for Culture & Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life. A Christian Reflection on the “New Age“, 21 February 2003, Vatican City; Jésus-Crist le porteur d’eau vive. Une réflexion chrétienne sur le «Nouvel Âge»; Gesù Cristo portatore dell’acqua viva. Una riflessione cristiana sul New Age; Jesucristo portador del agua de la vida. Una reflexión cristiana sobre la “Nueva Era“; Jesus Christus der Spender lebendigen Wassers. Überlegungen zu New Age aus christlicher Sicht.

[5] Benedict XVI, Homily for the Mass for the Inauguration of his Pontificate, 24 April 2005.

[6] John Paul II, Letter to Artists, 4 April 1999, n. 3.

[7] John Paul II, Encyclical Fides et Ratio, 14 September 1998, n. 103.

[8] According to St Thomas Aquinas claritas is one of the three conditions of beauty. In the part treating De Trinitate in the Summa Theologica, he examines the proper attributes of each Divine Person and attaches beauty to the Son : « Pulchritudo habet similitudinem cum propriis Filii ». And he indicates the three conditions of beauty to apply them to Christ : integritas sive perfectio, proportio sive consonantia and claritas (Ia, qu. 39, art. 8).

[9] For a reflection on the philosophy of beauty and artistic activity see M.-D. Philippe, L’activité artistique. Philosophie du faire, 2 vol., Paris 1969-1970, avec une importante bibliographie. For a theological reflection see Bruno Forte, La porta della Bellezza. Per un’estetica teologica, Brescia 1999; Inquietudini della trascendenza, ch. 3 : “La Bellezza”, Brescia 2005, p. 45-55; La Bellezza di Dio: Scritti e discorsi 2004-2005, Cinisello Balsamo 2006.

[10] John Paul II, Encyclical Fides et Ratio, 14 September 1998, 83. And he adds "therefore, a philosophy which shuns metaphysics would be radically unsuited to the task of mediation in the understanding of Revelation."

[11] St Augustine, Confessions, X, 27 "Sero te amavi, pulchritudo tam antiqua et tam nova, sero te amavi! et ecce intus eras et ego foris, et ibi te quaerebam, et in ista formosa, quae fecisti, deformis inruebam. mecum eras, et tecum non eram. ea me tenebant longe a te, quae si in te non essent, non essent. vocasti et clamasti et rupisti surditatem meam: coruscasti, splenduisti et fugasti caecitatem meam: fragrasti, et duxi spiritum, et anhelo tibi, gustavi et esurio et sitio, tetigisti me, et exarsi in pacem tuam."

[12] Cf. H. Urs von Balthasar, Herrlichkeit: Eine theologishe Ästhetik, I: Schau der Gestalt, 1961: "Beauty is the word that shall be our first. Beauty is the last thing which the thinking intellect dares to approach, since only it dances as an uncontained splendour around the double constellation of the true and the good and their inseparable relation to one another. Beauty is the disinterested one, without which the ancient world refused to understand itself, a word which both imperceptibly and yet unmistakably has bid farewell to our new world, a world of interests, leaving it to its own avarice and sadness. No longer loved or fostered by religion, beauty is lifted from its face as a mask, and its absence exposes features on that face which threaten to become incomprehensible to man. […] We can be sure that whoever sneers at her name as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past—whether he admits it or not—can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love. […] In a world without beauty—even if people cannot dispense with the word and constantly have it on the tip of their tongues in order to abuse it—in a world which is perhaps not wholly without beauty, but which can no longer see it or reckon with it: in such a world the good also loses its attractiveness, the self-evidence of why it must be carried out. […] In a world that no longer has enough confidence in itself to affirm the beautiful, the proofs of the truth have lost their cogency." English translation taken from The Glory of the Lord, A Theological Aesthetics, I. Seeing the Form, Edinburgh 1982, pp. 18-19.

[13] A. Solzhenitsyn, Discours pour le Prix Nobel, in Œuvres, t. IX, YMCA Press, Vermont-Paris 1981, p. 9.

[14] Fr Turoldo, a singer of beauty, reports this affirmation of Divo Barsotti: "The mystery of beauty! When truth and the good do not become beauty, truth and good seem to remain strangers to folk, imposing themselves on the human person from outside; man adheres to them, but does not possess them; they demand of him an obeisance which is sort of mortifying." And he draws the following conclusions: "The truth and the good are not sufficient to create a culture, because alone, they do not seem to be enough to create a communion, a unity of life between men. And as culture is the very expression of individual development, of a sort of perfection reached, it follows that culture seems to express itself most clearly in beauty." Cf. "Bellezza", in Nuovo Dizionario di Mariologia, Ed. Paoline, 1985, p. 222-223.

[15] Cf. John Paul II, Letter to Artists, n. 11.

[16] Cf. the poetry of St John of the Cross, "Mil gracias derramando / Pasó por estos sotos con presura / Y, yéndolos mirando, / Con sola su figura, / Vestidos los dejó de su hermosura"; G. M. Hopkins, "The World is Charged with the Grandeur of God."

[17] Aristotle had already affirmed that "in all the things of nature, there is something marvellous", in The Parts of Animals, I, 5. The study of nature and the cosmos has played an essential role in philosophy ever since Antiquity. Also in theology, cosmology has been a fundamental element to understand the work of God and his actions in history. Think for example of the vision of the Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, so frequently cited in theology and Christian mystical traditions, or Aristotelian cosmology taken by St Thomas and used as a "proof for the existence of God". Emmanuel Kant also recognised the beauty of creation's capacity to arouse marvel in his Criticism of Practical Reason: "Two things fill the heart with admiration and an ever new and powerful veneration such that reflection is attached and applied to them: the starry sky above me and the moral law within me."

[18] Cf. St Bonaventure, Collationes in Hexaemeron II, 27.

[19] Cf. Pontifical Council for Culture, Towards a Pastoral Approach to Culture, 1999, n. 35.

[20] Cf. Pontifical Council for Culture, The Human Search for Truth: Philosophy, Science, Theology. International Conference on Science and Faith. The Vatican 23-25 May 2000, Saint Joseph’s University Press, Philadelphia, USA, 2002; Ibid, L’uomo alla ricerca della verità. Filosofia, scienza, teologia: prospettive per il terzo millennio. Conferenza internazionale su scienza e fede – Città del Vaticano, 23-25 maggio 2000, Vita e Pensiero, Milano 2005.

[21] St Bonaventure, Legenda Maior, IX.

[22] John Paul II, Letter to Artists, n. 12-13.

[23] Cf. Associazione Arte e Spiritualità, Sulla via della Bellezza. Paolo VI e gli artisti, Cahier n. 3, Brescia 2003, p. 71-76.

[24] Cf. D. Ponnau, Forme et sens. Colloque de formation à la dimension religieuse du patrimoine culturel, École du Louvre, Paris, 1997, p. 20.

[25] Compendium of the Catechism of Catholic Church, Introduction. Official English translation forthcoming.

[26] John Paul II, Letter to Artists, 12 and 8.

[27] St Ireneus, Adversus haereses, IV, 20,7.

[28] Cf. n° 17: Art et loisir and n° 36: L’art et les artistes.

[29] Cf. Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Goods of the Church, Circular Letter, Formation for Cultural Goods in Seminaries, 15 October 1992; Regional Episcopal Conference of Tuscany, Pastoral Note, La vita si è fatta visibile. La communicazione della fede attraverso l’Arte, 23 February 1997; and Italian Episcopal Conference's National Bureau for Ecclesiastical Cultural Goods, Document, Spirito Creatore, 30 November 1997.

[30] Courses of formation are multiplying in the Catholic Universities, for example the Faculty of Church History and Cultural Goods of the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Institute of Sacred Art and Liturgical Music at the Catholic Institute in Paris and the Catholic University of Lisbon; Christian inspired journals and reviews also frequently address this theme, e.g. Arte Cristiana from Milan, Humanitas from Santiago du Chile; Diocesan Museums are becoming more commonplace, and conceived of as true Catholic Cultural Centres; recent publications promote the via pulchritudinis helping the reader enter into the language of art with spiritual meditation. Cf. M. G. Riva, Nell’arte lo stupore di una Presenza, San Paolo, Milan, 2004.

[31] This idea has been developed by the prior of the community of Bosé, Enzo Bianchi, who exhorts that we learn "how to proclaim Christian difference" as a response to indifference: "Either Christianity is philokalic, love of beauty, via pulchritudinis, way of beauty, or it is nothing. And if it is the way of beauty, it will attract others onto the path it is following toward a life stronger than death, it will be a sequence of Evangelic Saints for the men and women of our times." Cf. E. Bianchi, "Perché e come evangelizzare di fronte all’indifferentismo", in Vita e pensiero 2, 2005, p. 92-93.

[32] P. Florenskij, Les portes royales. Essai sur l’icône, Milan 1999, 50.

[33] J. Ratzinger, Eucharistia come genesi della missione. Conference at the XXIII Eucharistic Congress of Bologna, 20-28 September 1997 in "Il Regno" 1 Nov 1997, n° 19, p.588-589.

[34] Cf. P. Claudel, Ma conversion in Contacts et circonstances, Gallimard, 1940, p. 11ss; cf. also in Ecclesia, Lectures chrétiennes, Paris, No 1, avril 1949, p. 53-58.

[35] Cf. T. Verdon, Vedere il mistero. Il genio artistico della liturgia cattolica, Mondadori 2003.

[36] H. Urs von Balthasar perceived "the mystery of beauty in an insoluble paradox. […] For, what is manifested in a given manifestation is always, at the same time the non-manifest […] Along with the seen surface of the manifestation, there is perceived the non-manifested depth: it is only this which lends to the phenomenon of the beautiful its enrapturing and overwhelming character, just as it is only this that assures the truth and goodenss of the existent." The Glory of the Lord, op.cit., p. 442.

[37] Cf. Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa, 28 June 2003, n. 66-73; Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 17 April 2003 ; Apostolic Letter Mane nobiscum, 17 October 2004. G. Vecerrica, Diamo forma alla bellezza della vita Cristiana, Lettera pasotrale, Fabriano 2006.

[38] Cf., for example, C.M. Martini, Quale bellezza salverà il mondo? Pastoral Letter 1999-2000, Milan 1999; B. Forte, Perché andare a messa la domenica. L'Eucaristia e la bellezza di Dio, Cinisello Balsamo 2004.

[39] Cf. Pontifical International Marian Academy, The Mother of the Lord. Memory, Presence, Hope, Vatican City, 2000, p. 40-42.

[40] St Augustine, The City of God, XXII, 30, 5.

[41] Vatican Council II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Contemporary World, Gaudium et spes, 22.

[42] Benedict XVI, Homily at the Mass for the Inauguration of his Pontificate, 24 April 2005.

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