Art: A needed sacrament of faith

Jared Staudt

A sacrament is an outward, material sign of an inward, spiritual reality. The seven sacraments are signs instituted by Jesus to communicate his grace to us. In addition, we have sacramentals, signs and practices that draw us more deeply into our faith. We do not have an abstract faith; it is sacramental and incarnational, centered on the coming into the flesh of the Son of God and his continued presence in the Church through the Eucharist.
Art, following this sacramental identity, expresses our faith, draws us into prayer, and mediates divine realities. In a time of relativism, which shuns proposals of truth and goodness, we need to rely more upon the witness of beauty. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this opportunity and need: “I have often affirmed my conviction that the true apology of Christian faith, the most convincing demonstration of its truth against every denial, are the saints, and the beauty that the faith has generated. Today, for faith to grow, we must lead ourselves and the persons we meet to encounter the saints and to enter into contact with the Beautiful.”

Does this approach actually work for evangelization? Elizabeth Lev details one example, the crucial role of art at a time of crisis in the Church, in her book, How Catholic Art Saved the Faith: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter-Reformation Art (Sophia, 2018). As core Catholic doctrines faced opposition from Protestants, the Council of Trent called for the creation of art to assist in renewal. The Council said that art should instruct, help to remember and meditate divine realities, admonish, provide examples, and to inspire the faithful to order their lives in imitation of the saints (4). Lev adds her own synthesis of how art assists the Church, asserting that “art is useful in evangelization…. can bring clarity…. [and] is uplifting” (6). The Catholic Reformation and Baroque periods, particularly in central Italy, were ages “of unprecedented art patronage from the top down, effectively a very expensive PR campaign meant to awaken the hearts and minds of millions of pilgrims who were making their way to the Eternal City” (5).

And it worked. It was not art for art’s sake that led Catholics to stay true to the faith, but art’s ability to express the deep spiritual vision of the Church as articulated by the great Catholic reformers. Lev lists the main protagonists of this cooperative work:  “The spiritual insight of Charles Borromeo, Robert Bellarmine, Federico Borromeo, St. Philip Neri, and Paleotti fused with the creative talents of Caravaggio, Barocci, the Carracci School, Lavinia Fontana, and Guido Reni, making for a heady cocktail designed to entice the faithful into experiencing mystery” (16). Lev provides a masterful overview of the key theological issues at stake and how artists were commissioned to visualize the faith in these areas, including the sacraments, mediation of the saints, purgatory, and practices such as pilgrimage.

Developments in technique enabled art to come alive, actively mediating faith, by using theatrical characteristics that invited the viewer into the drama of the scene. Altar pieces beckoned down to the action of the altar, pointing to the reality occurring there, such as Caravaggio’s The Entombment of Christ (37), and others drew the viewer into the scene, as with Frederico Barocci’s extended hand of St. Francis bearing the stigmata, inviting an imitation of Christ (145). Other paintings inspired religious sentiments such as contrition, as found in Reni’s St. Peter Penitent, who models how to weep for one’s sins and to beat one’s chest in repentance (45), and Titian’s good thief who reaches out to Christ as one would do in confession (52). The book beautifully presents the artwork, and Lev seamlessly combines art criticism and religious commentary.

The time period of Lev’s book bears some striking similarities to contemporary struggles. Many Catholics continue to question the faith, and we have experienced a return to iconoclasm in the last fifty years, bent on the destruction of the Church’s sacramental vision. We, too, need the inspiration of art, which calls us to renew our faith: “Art no longer allow[s] the viewer to stand at a safe distance, as a passive recipient of grace, but exhort[s] everyone to act” (180). For the success of the New Evangelization, we need a return to beauty. This will require us to invest in a renaissance of the arts, knowing that this investment will support the Church’s efforts to communicate the truth of our faith, for the salvation of souls.

COMING UP: Late-term abortion ban reaches signature goal

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Late-term abortion ban reaches signature goal

Volunteers gathered nearly 50,000 signatures for Initiative 120 within two-week cure period

Aaron Lambert

In a final push, supporters of the initiative seeking to prohibit abortions after 22 weeks in the state of Colorado have gathered enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

During a two-week cure period granted after falling short of required signatures to get Initiative 120 on the ballot, over 400 volunteers worked diligently and collected over 48,000 signatures by May 28, nearly three times the amount sought during the cure period. The Due Date Too Late campaign spearheaded the charge to gather signatures with support from Catholic Charities’ Respect Life Office and other pro-life communities across the state.

“I am overjoyed to hear that so many Coloradans have signed the petition to successfully place Initiative 120 on the November ballot,” said Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, who expressed his support for the initiative early on. “Protecting children in the womb is an essential part of building a society that treats all life, no matter its age or ability, as sacred. God has given each person a dignity that comes from being made in his image and likeness, and the degree to which our laws reflect that will be the degree to which we experience true freedom and happiness.”

Initiative 120 would prohibit abortion in Colorado after 22 weeks, with an exception for the life of the mother. According to a recent Gallup poll, 74% of Americans believe that there should be limitations on late term abortion. Due Date Too Late submitted the bulk of the needed petition signatures in March but fell short 10,000 signatures after review by the Secretary of State. The cure period began on May 15, with Due Date Too Late needing to collect those 10,000 additional verified signatures of registered Colorado voters during the 15-day cure period to meet the 124,632 threshold and qualify for the November ballot.

“We are thrilled to take this next step towards protecting lives in Colorado by exceeding our goal of signatures we are turning into the Secretary of State,” said Lauren Castillo, spokesperson for the Due Date Too Late campaign. “We are thankful to have this opportunity to work together with communities across the entire state of Colorado. The hundreds of volunteers we have who are so passionate about ending late-term abortion are helping to make this a reality.”

Due Date Too Late will be turning in the notarized packets containing almost 50,000 signatures on May 29 at 2 p.m. to the office of the Secretary of State to assure that the ballot initiative will meet the statutory threshold.

The field collection effort by Due Date Too Late went forward amid a recent executive order by Gov. Jared Polis regarding how petition signatures may be collected. Under Gov. Polis’ order, he declared that ballot initiatives could gather signatures electronically in response to the coronavirus pandemic; however, Initiative 120 was the only ballot initiative that wasn’t allowed to collect signatures electronically because it was in a cure period.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated over 30,000 signatures were being turned in, based on the information that was available at the time of publication. The actual number is closer to 50,000. The story has been updated to reflect this fact.