Icons: Reflection of God's Beauty

Eastern-Art Experts Address Rimini Conference

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RIMINI, Italy, AUG. 23, 2002 (Zenit.org).- If God is Beauty, then icons are an extraordinary means to discover him, say a pair of Eastern-art experts.



Father Thomas Spidlik of Moravia, professor of Eastern patristic spirituality at the Gregorian University, and Adriano dell'Asta, professor of Russian literature and history at the Catholic University of Milan, spoke about icons at the weeklong Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples here.

The meeting, organized by the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation, has gathered hundreds of thousands of people. Its theme is "The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty."

Professor Dell'Asta criticized the modern tendency to separate daily life from beauty.

"Beauty exists because things exist," he said. "Beauty is concrete and real. Beauty is not fantasy. It is a concrete form that is seen and touched. Icons respond to this type of beauty."

Father Spidlik, who preached at John Paul II's 1995 spiritual exercises, explained that "those who have defended pictures against the iconoclasts have always stated that what can be said with words can also be said with pictures."

"Just as the words of the Gospel are not simply sounds, so icons are not simply painted boards," the priest said. "Just as prayer sanctifies the visible world, so an icon is sanctified by prayer."

"Initially, an icon is, in fact, a spiritual vision," he added. "Only later does the author of the icon understand that nothing in the world can be compared to the image he wishes to represent."

"In this way, he discovers in prayer and in the spiritual vision that the objective of his art is to find the adequate symbol that enables one to see something higher," Father Spidlik said. "This is the art of the icon; paraphrasing Pavel Florenskij -- to see in the sign what is beyond the sign."

The priest explained that in icons, for example, "color is not something accidental, but has its own language: red is divinity; blue, humanity; the white of light, in Eastern tradition, is born within; it is the spiritual light that illuminates the world; it is the divine light that manifests reality."

"In the icon, Truth comes out to meet man," he added. "For this reason, for example, in Andrei Rublev's famous Trinity, the perspective is presented in reverse, from the great to the little, coming out to meet man."