Benedict XVI's Message to Pontifical Academies Session

"The Beauty of the Faith Can Never be an Obstacle to the Creation of Artistic Beauty"

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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 26, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Here is the translation of the message sent by Pope Benedict XVI and read through Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone on the occasion of the 17th Public Session of the Pontifical Academies under the theme: "Pulchritudinis  fidei testi:  The Artist, Like the Church, Witness of the Beauty of the Faith."

Two artists, Anna Gulak from Poland and David Lopez Ribes, were awarded the Pontifical Academies Award.

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To the Venerable Brother

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi

President of the Pontifical Council for Culture

On the occasion of the annual Public Session of the Pontifical Academies, I am happy to send you my cordial greeting, which I gladly extend to the Council of Coordination, to the Lord Cardinals, t the bishops, to the priests, to the men and women Religious, to the Ambassadors and to all the participants.

I special thought goes to the Authorities and the Academics of the Latinitas Pontifical Academy, recently instituted by me with the Motu Proprio Latina Lingua, to give renewed vigor to the knowledge, study and use of the Latin language, be it in the Church or in university and school institutions. I very much hope that this new Academy will undertake, under the guidance of its new President, professor Ivano Dionigi, a profitable and fecund promotional activity of the Latin Language, precious legacy of the tradition and privileged testimony of a cultural patrimony that calls to be transmitted to the new generations.

The Public Session of the Pontifical Academies, organized this year by the renown Pontifical Academy of Fine Arts and Letters of the Virtuous at the Pantheon, has as theme “Pulchritudinis fidei testis. The Artist , Like the Church, Witness of the Beauty of the Faith,” which recalls the beginning of the Motu Proprio with which I wished recently to join the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Goods of the

Church with the Pontifical Council for Culture so that in a broad and articulated vision of the world of culture, the important ambit of the cultural goods of the Church would be able to find rightful attention and place. A more organic integration of this ambit in the Dicastery’s mission will surely bring fruitful results, in view also of an ever more appropriate guardianship and conscious appreciation of the extraordinary historical-artistic patrimony of the Church, eloquent testimony of the fecundity of the meeting between the Christian faith and human genius.

With such a theme, the 17th Public Session is inserted profoundly in the Year of Faith, whose purpose is to propose again to all the faithful the strength and beauty of the faith. This was, as I myself was able to experience, the great aspiration of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.

In the Eucharistic celebration for the opening of the Year of Faith, I delivered again the Messages of the Council to the representatives of the various categories, among them the artists. Admirably synthesized in the dense and profound Message of the Council to artists is the course of the Church in the 20thcentury, above all through the constant watch and action undertaken by the Servant of God Paul VI to revive the dialogue with the world of arts, ever more distant from the horizon of the meaning and experience of faith proposed by the Church. The impulse to dialogue imprinted by Vatican Council II was later translated in other moments and gestures as meaningful as they were decisive. Blessed John Paul II wished to write a Letter to Artists on the eve of the Great Jubilee of 2000, entrusting to the Church and to artists a milestone in the path of dialogue and collaboration. Of that famous text I would like to take up just one point: “Every genuine form of art is, in its own way, a way of access to the most profound reality of man and of the world. As such, it constitutes a very valid approach to the horizon of Faith, in which the human event finds its interpretation fully. This is why the evangelical fullness of truth could not but arouse from the beginning the interest of artists, sensitive by their nature to all the manifestations of the profound beauty of reality” (n. 6).

I myself, wishing to solicit once again this necessary and vital dialogue, met with a numerous representation of artists in the Sistine Chapel on November 21, 2009, to address to them an intense appeal, in which I reaffirmed the Church’s desire to rediscover the joy of joint reflection and agreed action, in order to place the topic of beauty again at the center of attention, be it of the ecclesial community or of the civil society and the world of culture. I said, on that very thought-provoking occasion, that beauty should be reaffirmed and manifested in all artistic expressions, without, however, overlooking the experience of faith, but rather confronting it freely and openly to bring to them inspiration and content. The beauty of the faith, in fact, can never be an obstacle to the creation of artistic beauty, because it is in some way it's vital lymph and ultimate horizon. The true artist, in fact, defined by the conciliar Message “custodian of the beauty of the world,” thanks to his particular aesthetic sensibility and his intuition, can gather and receive more profoundly than others the beauty proper of the faith, and hence express it again and communicate it with its own language.

In this connection we can now speak of the artist also as witness, in some privileged way, of the beauty of the faith. Thus he can participate, with his own specific and original contribution, to the very vocation and mission of the Church, in particular when, in the different expressions of art, he wishes or is called to engage in works of art linked directly to the experience of faith and worship, to the liturgical action of the Church, whose centrality was defined by Vatican Council II with the well-known expression “fons et culmen” (Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10).

To this end, the young priest Giovanni Battista Montini, in the first number of the nascent review Arte Sacra, dated July-September 1931), wrote an essay with the emblematic title “On Future Sacred Art,” in which he analyzed with great lucidity and clarity, the scene of sacred art of the early 1900s, with its tendencies, its merits and its limits. Decades later, this analysis turns out to be of extraordinary timeliness and profundity also for us. Affirmed, first of all, is that “sacred art faces the supreme problem of expressing the ineffable,” for which one “must be initiated in mysticism, and reach with the experience of the senses some reverberation, some palpitation of the invisible Light.” Treating, then, the figure of the Christian artist, who is cemented particularly in sacred art, he wrote: “One also sees how and where true sacred art is born: of the pious and believing, prayerful and desirous artist who watches in silence and goodness, in the expectation of his Pentecost… I think that it is up to our Christian artists to prepare with their works a state of spirit where our spiritual unity, now lacerated, is regained in Christ; unity, I say, that reconciles in due harmony the impression and the expression; the internal and external world; spirit and matter; the soul and the flesh; God and man” (Arte sacra, a.l, n.l, July-September 1931, p.16).

At the beginning of the Year of Faith, therefore, I address a warm invitation to all Christian artists, as well as to those who are open to dialogue with the faith, to undertake the path so sharply traced by the future Paul VI, so that their artistic journey can become, and show itself ever more luminously as an integral itinerary, in which all the dimensions of human existence are involved, so as to witness effectively the beauty of faith in Christ Jesus, image of the glory of God that illumines the history of humanity (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4.6; Colossians 1:15).

To encourage all those, among the youngest artists, who wish to make their own contribution to the promotion and realization of a new Christian humanism through their artistic research, receiving the proposal formulated by the Council of Coordination between the Academies, I am happy to assign ex aequo the Prize of the Pontifical Academies, dedicated this year to the arts and particularly to the Realms of painting and sculpture, to a Polish sculptor, Anna Gulak, and to a Spanish painter, David Lopez Ribes.

Moreover, as a sign of appreciation and encouragement, I wish that the Medal of the Pontificate be offered to the young Italian sculptor Jacopo Cardillo.

Finally, I hope that all the academics will have an ever more impassioned commitment in their respective fields of activity, taking up also the precious opportunity of the Year of Faith, and, while I entrust each one to the maternal protection of the Virgin Mary, the Tota Pulchra, model of the faith of believers, I impart from my heart to you, Lord Cardinal, and to all those present a special Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, November 21, 2012, Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

BENEDICTUS PPXVI