Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Ars gratia artis

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 23, 2009

 Why did Pope Benedict meet with artists last Saturday? A Reuters account offers a partial explanation:

After a number of spats between the Vatican and artists in recent years, including a controversy surrounding writer Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, the latest overture to the artistic world is being driven by the Vatican's new culture commissar, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi.

Yes, there have been "spats between the Vatican and artists." These "spats" occurred when avant-garde artists went out of their way to insult the Church and/or the Catholic faith, and the Vatican, recognizing the insults, denounced them. If apologies are necessary, the gatekeepers of the art world should be apologizing to the Church for having sponsored so many puerile anti-Catholic tirades. But the Vatican-- ready as usual to make the first conciliatory move, and to go more than halfway-- issued an invitation at which the Pope did not speak at all about past conflicts, but gave his unqualified approval to true artistic expression.

But I almost forgot Dan Brown. The author of The Da Vinci Code wasn't in attendance at the papal audience, and he is, Reuters tells us, one of the artists with whom the Vatican has recently been at loggerheads. To be honest, I don't ordinarily think of the authors of spy novels, murder mysteries, and thrillers as "artists." Even leaving aside Brown's tendency to rewrite Catholic history and undermine Catholic dogma, he doesn't belong in the company of the serious artists who were seen in the Sistine Chapel on Saturday. 

And when I refer to those serious artists, I don't mean only the living. The New York Times described the Saturday meeting:

Sitting before Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” in the Sistine Chapel, after a choir sang music by Palestrina,..

Not a subtle reminder, but an effective one. The Vatican sponsored Michelangelo and Palestrina-- to name just a few great artists among thousands. The notion that artists could be inspired and supported by the Church is not just an interesting hypothesis; it's an established fact that has been demonstrated again and again. The novelty of our era, in fact, is that so few artists have taken up the challenge to explore the religious themes that provided such an abundant lode of rich material for their forebears. 

Why did the Pope meet with artists? To remind them.  

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: [email protected] - Apr. 11, 2018 12:41 AM ET USA

    The Pope's silence and lack of clarification speaks volumes. Great teaching point time. Confusion and chaos is a great way of making change or at least a different direction with little focus on what you are doing. This Pope is an expert on confusion and chaos. Where we are going is a good question. Jesus will always be with us and Mary will shelter us.

  • Posted by: Retired01 - Apr. 01, 2018 12:25 PM ET USA

    It is hard to believe that Pope Francis continues to give interviews to Mr. Scalfari, given Scalfari's presumed lack of accuracy and occasion for scandal. On second thought, it is not hard to believe. What else is new? Sadly, we are witnessing a comedy (on second thought, a tragedy) of errors.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Apr. 01, 2018 6:35 AM ET USA

    The reliability of Mr. Scalfari--or, rather, the lack of it--is not the issue. The problem arises when Pope Francis fails to immediately, emphatically, and publicly state that the report is incorrect. Having Vatican operatives make a non-correction "correction" only adds to the confusion and consternation, as does the Pope's own later "clarifications" when he later publicly supports those who come out in support of the erroneous idea--while publicly excoriating those who speak against it.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Mar. 30, 2018 6:36 PM ET USA

    his continues to be my concern. The statement is based on what someone else said the Pope said. The Pope has publicly stated multiple times in the past that Hell is real. Why so much credence given to Mr. Scalfari, an atheist to boot I have read, work? I am willing to agree where error and problems exist but in this case I think you might be off base.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Mar. 30, 2018 3:24 AM ET USA

    Ambiguity on all matters of importance illustrates, at best, an incompetent pope, and at worst, far worse.

  • Posted by: dfp3234574 - Mar. 29, 2018 8:45 PM ET USA

    It is simply mind-boggling that Pope Francis has continued to utter even a syllable to Scalfari.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Mar. 29, 2018 6:37 PM ET USA

    Recently a member of my book study group was distressed over the teaching that some go to hell. I emailed with her about this and shared a link to the Catechism on this subject, I don't know if her worries (related to affection for some friends living an obviously sinful lifestyle) were totally alleviated, but I'm sure she accepted that what I said was, at any rate, Catholic teaching. It seems like Pope Francis may have made it harder for people to consider what the Church, and the Gospels, say.

  • Posted by: shrink - Mar. 29, 2018 3:34 PM ET USA

    Bergoglio cannot bring himself to believe at once that God is merciful and God is just-meaning that a soul can be damned-perhaps he craves the praises of the people. Bergoglio is also mysteriously restrained from formally teaching heresy. Thus, he creates the papal version of the wink-and-nod. His ambiguity speaks volumes. When tough love doctrine is at stake, he is Ninja master of double-speak. He warned us of this technique in AL #3. We now witness the emergence of a parallel magisterium.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Mar. 29, 2018 11:55 AM ET USA

    It's not that we deserve a better Pope, because it seems that we have one that fits (but is not fitting) for these times. But I fear for the souls of those who are influenced by the errors and confusion created. Overall, however, I must accept my ignorance of God's ways, trust in Him, and say, "Thy Will Be Done." I never realized how difficult such a simple statement could be.