There was an article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday titled “Free Our Churches From the Ugly and Stupid”. The main point of the article is that we must revisit our Catholic Tradition in order to better preach the Gospel. The author says that we must look to the artistic traditions of the Early Church, the Gothic architecture, and the other great sacred artistic traditions in order to find the Beauty in the Catholic Church that we so easily got rid of in the time after the Second Vatican Council in the 60’s.
He even goes as far as to describe the artistic culture after the Council as “iconoclasm”. Iconoclasm is an ideology that says art should not imitate the Divine Mysteries and should not be used in the Liturgy or Church Architecture. The idea being that the Hebraic Law forbid “graven images” (Exodus 20:4) of God, and that to have images of Jesus, the Trinity, or the Communion of Saints would be disobeying this Divine Instruction. Iconoclasm was declared heretical by the Church because to say that there cannot be “images” of God is to deny Jesus Himself. St. Paul describes Jesus as “the image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1:15)
The author tells a story of a home renovation that uncovered beautiful wood flooring underneath worn out carpet and plywood. He uses this analogy to describe how we have covered up our beautiful, ancient culture of art and music with modern art that doesn’t stir the imagination and draw attention to God.
The author is making a connection between Beauty and Preaching the Gospel. This is a connection Bishop Robert Barron (Word on Fire) makes as well. The Bishop includes “Leading with the Beautiful” as the first “Key to the New Evangelization”. He says that the Church needs to showcase Her Beauty to the world. She must showcase the Beauty of God’s Love and Mercy, of the Saints, of Her intellectual and artistic tradition. The Bishop says this is the best way to evangelize in the modern world.
Hans Urs Von Balthasar makes a similar case for Evangelizing with Beauty. He describes in his “the Glory of the Lord” that Beauty is the way to lead people to the acting Good and then to believing the Truth. It would be difficult for someone to be converted based solely off of arguments alone. It makes more sense to present to people how beautiful God’s mercy is for a sinner, or how beautiful the love is that God feels for us. It’s better to win people over with the Beauty of the Liturgy, which is the meeting place of Heaven and Earth.
The questions the author poses to us are “What is the role of art and music in the Catholic Culture?” and “How do we Evangelize with Beauty?”