instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Friday, February 27, 2004

The Vatican does not officially comment on works of art

[A]t the Feb. 18 general audience on the feast of Blessed Fra Angelico[...] John Paul II urged young people to look to the example of Fra Angelico, patron of artists, as "encouragement to live faithfully your Christian vocation."

... Fra Angelico died in 1454 while carrying out a commission for Pope Nicholas V, the tiny private chapel dedicated to Sts. Lawrence and Stephen in the tower of Innocent III. Today, Raphael's fresco tour de force in the neighboring apartments of Julius II eclipses these works, so that many Vatican visitors walk by without even a peek, but John Paul II described the room in his letter of beatification "authentic prayer expressed in colors."

... On Feb. 18, 1984, in the church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva where the friar is buried, John Paul II declared Blessed Angelico the patron of artists.

In his homily, the Holy Father lauded Fra Angelico as "a model of life in which art is revealed as a path which can lead to Christian perfection: He was an exemplary religious and a great artist."
I emphasized what the Pope said about Beato Angelico, because of course I would, but perhaps more interesting to those not devoted to the blessed friar is the idea of " a path which can lead to Christian perfection."

Most of us make things, even if it's only the occasional slice of toast. Benedictine wisdom sees toasting bread as a form of prayer, or at least a forum for prayer. More directly, it's the making of a thing, and if the making of a religious painting can lead to Christian perfection, who's to say the making of a slice of toast can't as well, if it's seen as a forum for prayer, for being present to God?

One of Chesterton's most popular aphorisms is, "A thing worth doing is worth doing poorly." It's an idea that brings welcome relief to the imperfect among us (Chesterton said it while discussing housewives who have to work at a thousand trades while their husbands are off working at one). Relief, but not excuses.

Making toast well is art. (Not an exalted art, but let's not be snobs.) For those who don't work in a commercial kitchen, making toast well may not constitute a complete path leading to Christian perfection, but it can be a step. Everything we do, everything we make, is a step in some direction. It might as well be a step toward Christ.