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Beautiful art is window to God, professor says

In the Catholic tradition, sacred art is not intended to be viewed passively.

“Art isn’t simply to be interpreted, but art in turn helps us interpret our lives,” said Augustine Institute professor Tim Gray.

Over a one-hour lecture, Gray talked about famous pieces of art in history and the Catholic viewpoint on its importance. Paintings have the power to raise hearts and minds up to the heavens and God himself, he said.

His lecture was shared live online Sept. 18 from the Greenwood Village-based institute before an audience from the Colorado Chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.


Father Mark Haydu, international director of the patrons, gave a video introduction sharing that it was the first webinar sponsored by the organization. The lecture was intended to inform why the Church takes such a care and interest in the arts.

“The reason is very simple—because God in the beginning created all things good. He created the material world to communicate his goodness.” Father Haydu said.

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Movements to destroy religious icons and images, or iconoclasm, in the eighth century were rejected by the Church.

“The Catholic Church, after a period of reflection, said what (art) represents is a reality and a reality that God himself chose to become human, to use the material world to communicate spiritual truths,” Father Haydu explained.

The 40 members of the Denver chapter sponsored the restoration of a work of art, the Bust of the Dacian Prince, said chapter president John Odenheimer.

“We’re all really excited to see it get done,” he said.

The organization works to save and preserve art, which can depict a beauty and truth that can elicit contemplation, Gray said.

“All beauty can lead us into deeper wonder, appreciation and love because what we’ll see in all the good things of this world, even the commonplace things, is we’ll realize that the beauty reflected was made by the beauty that moves the sun, the moon and the stars,” he said.

Beauty can lead us to God.

He showed several pictures of artwork intended to provoke viewers’ thoughts about God. Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel is one example. The painting shows God’s arm stretched out about to touch Adam to give him life. Around God is depicted a woman and a cherub, representing God’s creation and future plan to create the “new Adam,” or Christ, and the “new Eve,” Mary, Gray explained.

“This is art at its best. It provokes and invokes in us wonder and meditation and reflection,” he said.

Another example Gray pointed to is Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s painting “The Inspiration of St. Matthew.”

The painting shows the apostle deep in thought, receiving inspiration from an angel above him.

“It shows inspiration is a work that’s fully divine and fully human, which is a beautiful depiction of the Catholic theology of inspiration,” Gray said.

Matthew is also robed in orange, red and yellow, like the colors of a flame.

“It’s like the flame of the candle, because he’s inflamed with the inspiration and love of Christ,” Gray explained.

He said the beauty about Catholic tradition is it’s not afraid of art.

“It is for all,” Gray said. “This is why the Church collects, keeps and protects and becomes a patroness of the arts because art is the school of contemplation, and by contemplating we are transformed into the love that we adore, that infinite love that makes all love and all things good and beautiful.”

“Altar of the Aesthetic” Lecture
Watch Tim Gray’s talk about the Catholic vision of art online: http://augustineinstitute.org/pavm-live

Chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums
ebsite: Vaticanpatrons.org
Colorado membership: $250 per person over 35 years old, or $600 for members over 35 years


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