Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Sacred Art

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In the beginning, God created Heaven and earth and discerned that the whole was “very good” (Gn 1:31) or beautiful, according to a possible translation of the Greek text. In fact, the universe was shaped by the work of His fingers (cf. Ps 8:3) and He crowned it with “glory and honour” (Ps 8:5). The Creator’s masterpiece was man, sculpted in His image and likeness. He delegated to him the care of creation, placing within him an instinct for beauty, a kind of “longing” for the divine that makes him search for the transcendent in aesthetic expressions.

Later, the Lord himself guided Moses in the making of a symbol of His covenant with the people, the Ark, which would be introduced into the “Holy of Holies” of Solomon’s Temple. In the fullness of time, Jesus revealed himself to be the Temple that would be destroyed and rebuilt in three days (cf. Jn 2:19). And from the founding of the Church, Our Lord became the basis of all places of worship. The building of churches then began to represent the presence of Christ himself among men. To attack them, in turn, was to attack Christ; to love the ugly was to hate Christ.

On the other hand, contemplating a Gothic cathedral in the Middle Ages was truly a mystical, transcendent experience. It has been said that what Moses veiled, Christ unveiled through those stone monuments, flooded with the dappled light of stained glass.

However, the Revolution could not bear the presence of “the fairest of the sons of men” (Ps 45:2) in this world, nor of the “grandchildren of God” which are works of art, especially sacred works.

The Protestant Revolution was particularly iconoclastic, as for example in Anglican England, when Elizabeth I ordered the destruction of sacred images in the churches, and in Calvin’s Geneva, when he demanded the purging of all religious representation from their churches, under pain of committing “idolatry”.

Amidst Voltaire’s shouts of “crush the infamous” – for him, the Church – the French Revolution promoted the plundering of monasteries and the destruction of sacred art in order to worship the goddess Reason. In all parts of the Republic, she was to be adored as the only deity, celebrated for her victory over Catholic “fanaticism”. Statues of the Saints were even beheaded. All in the name of “fraternity”…

While in the name of “equality”, the Communist Revolution perpetrated the massive destruction of churches and sacred art not only in the Soviet Union, but also in every quadrant where it was supposed that the “opium of the people” was breathed and could be trampled under its boot.

It is said that the greatest enemies of a government are those within. Thus, the worst revolution against sacred art can only come from false prophets, as was the case of Judas, once close to Jesus, who destroyed the greatest of temples: the very “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), after crying out, supposedly in favour of the poor, against the exuberant and enraptured worship that Magdalene paid Him with the very costly ointment of pure nard (cf. Jn 12:5).

There is therefore a pressing need for an internal counter-revolution in the Church to advocate the sacrality of worship, sacred art and a well-celebrated Liturgy, as the Heralds of the Gospel have always aspired to do. Only in this way will the Church triumph in all her glory, like the Body of Jesus after the Resurrection. 

Taken from the Heralds of the Gospel magazine, #190.

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