1. “All great works of art are an epiphany of God”
Q: Holy Father, my name is Willibald Hopfgartner, and I am a Franciscan. In your address in Regensburg, you emphasized the substantial connection between the divine Spirit and human reason. On the other hand, you have also always emphasized the importance of art and beauty. So then, together with conceptual dialogue about God in theology, should there not always be a new presentation of the aesthetic experience of the faith within the Church, through proclamation and the liturgy?
A: Yes, I think that the two things go together: reason, precision, honesty in the reflection on truth, and beauty. A form of reason that in any way wanted to strip itself of beauty would be depleted, it would be blind. Only when the two are united do they form the whole, and this union is important precisely for the faith. Faith must constantly confront the challenges of the mindset of this age, so that it may not seem a sort of irrational mythology that we keep alive, but may truly be an answer to the great questions; so that it may not be merely a habit, but the truth, as Tertullian once said.
In his first letter, St. Peter wrote the phrase that the medieval theologians took as the legitimization, almost as the mandate for their theological work: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” – an apologia for the “logos” of hope, meaning a transformation of the “logos,” the reason for hope, into an apologia, an answer addressed to men. He was clearly convinced of the fact that faith is “logos,” that it is a form of reason, a light issuing from the creating Light, and not a hodgepodge resulting from our own thought. This is why it is universal, and for this reason it can be communicated to all.
But this creating “Logos” is not a merely technical “logos.” It is broader than this, it is a “logos” that is love, and therefore to be expressed in beauty and goodness. And in reality, for me art and the saints are the greatest apologia for our faith.
The arguments presented by reason are absolutely important and indispensable, but there always remains some disagreement somewhere. If, instead, we look at the saints, this great luminous arc that God has set across history, we see that here there is truly a power of goodness that lasts over the millennia, here there is truly light from light.
And in the same way, if we contemplate the created beauties of the faith, these simply are, I would say, the living proof of faith. Take this beautiful cathedral: it is a living proclamation! It speaks to us on its own, and beginning with the beauty of the cathedral we are able to proclaim in a visible way God, Christ and all of his mysteries: here these have taken shape, and are gazing back at us. All of the great works of art, the cathedrals – the Gothic cathedrals, and the splendid Baroque churches – all of them are a luminous sign of God, and therefore truly a manifestation, an epiphany of God.
Christianity involves precisely this epiphany: that God has become a veiled Epiphany, he appears and shines. We have just listened to the sound of the organ in all its splendor, and I think that the great music born within the Church is an audible and perceptible rendering of the truth of our faith: from Gregorian chant to the music of the cathedrals to Palestrina and his era, to Bach and then to Mozart and Bruckner, and so on… Listening to all of these great works – the Passions by Bach, his Mass in B minor, and the great spiritual compositions of 16th century polyphony, of the Viennese school, of all of this music, even by minor composers – suddenly we feel: it is true! Wherever things like these are created, there is Truth.
Without an intuition capable of discovering the true creative center of the world, this beauty cannot be created. For this reason, I think that we must always act in such a way that these two things go together, we must present them together. When, in our own time, we discuss the reasonableness of the faith, we are discussing precisely the fact that reason does not end where experimental discoveries end, it does not end in positivism; the theory of evolution sees the truth, but sees only half of it: it does not see that behind this is the Spirit of creation. We are fighting for the expansion of reason, and therefore for a form of reason that, exactly to the point, is open to beauty as well, and does not have to leave it aside as something completely different and irrational.
Christian art is a rational form of art – we think of Gothic art, great music, or the Baroque art right here – but this is the artistic expression of a much broader form of reason, in which the heart and reason come together. This is the point. This, I think, is in some way the proof of the truth of Christianity: the heart and reason come together, beauty and truth touch. And to the extent that we are able to live in the beauty of truth, so much more will faith again be able to be creative, in our own time as well, and to express itself in a convincing artistic form.
2. “The earth is waiting for men who will care for it as the work of the Creator”
Q: Holy Father, my name is Karl Golser, I am a professor of moral theology in Brixen, and also director of the institute for justice, peace, and the safeguarding of creation. I enjoy remembering the time when I was able to work with you at the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. [...] What can we do to bring a greater sense of responsibility toward creation into the life of the Christian communities? How can we arrive at seeing creation and redemption increasingly as a whole?
A: I also think that there must be new emphasis on the unbreakable bond between creation and redemption. In recent decades, the doctrine on creation had almost disappeared from theology, it was almost imperceptible. Now we are aware of the damage that this causes. The Redeemer is the Creator, and if we do not proclaim God in his total greatness – as Creator and as Redeemer – we also deprive redemption of value. In fact, if God has nothing to say in creation, if he is simply relegated to being part of history, how can he really understand our entire life? How can he truly bring salvation to man in his entirety, and to the world as a whole?
This is why, for me, the renewal of doctrine on creation and a new understanding of the inseparability of creation and redemption are extremely important. We must recognize again: He is the “Creator Spiritus,” the Reason that is in the beginning and from which everything is born, and of which our own reason is nothing but a spark. And it is He, the Creator himself, who also entered into history and is able to enter into history and act within it precisely because He is the God of the whole, and not only of a part. If we recognize this, it obviously follows that redemption, being Christians, or simply the Christian faith always and in any case mean responsibility toward creation.
Twenty or thirty years ago, Christians were accused – I don’t know whether this accusation is still maintained – of being the real ones responsible for the destruction of creation, because the words contained in Genesis – “Subdue the earth” – were thought to have led to this arrogance toward creation, the consequences of which we are experiencing today. I think that we must again learn to understand this accusation in all its falsehood: as long as the earth was considered the creation of God, the task of “subduing it” was never understood as an order to enslave it, but rather as the task of being guardians of creation and of developing its gifts; of actively cooperating in God’s work, in the evolution that He set in motion in the world, so that the gifts of creation may be treasured instead of trampled upon and destroyed.
If we observe what was born around the monasteries, how little paradises, oases of creation, were born and continue to be born in those places, it becomes evident that all of this is not only a matter of words, but wherever the Word of the Creator has been understood correctly, where life has been lived together with the Creator and Redeemer, there one finds efforts to protect creation, and not to destroy it.
Chapter 8 of the letter to the Romans also fits into this context, where it says that creation suffers and groans because of the subjection in which it finds itself as it awaits the revelation of the children of God: it will feel free when creatures, when men come who are children of God and will treat it beginning from God.
I believe that this is precisely the reality that we are witnessing today: creation is groaning – we can perceive this, we can almost hear it – and is waiting for human persons to look at it from God’s standpoint. The brutal consumption of creation begins where God is not, where the material has become only material for us, where we ourselves are the ultimate standard, where everything is simply our property, and we consume it only for ourselves. And the waste of creation begins where we no longer recognize any standard above ourselves, but see only ourselves; it begins where there no longer exists any dimension of life beyond death, where we must hoard everything in this life and possess life in the maximum intensity possible, where we must possess everything it is possible to possess.
I believe, therefore, that real and efficient measures against the waste and destruction of creation can be realized and developed, understood and lived only where creation is considered from the standpoint of God; where life is considered beginning from God, and has greater dimensions – in responsibility before God – and one day will be given to us by God in its fullness, and never taken away: by giving life away, we receive it.
Thus, I believe, we must try by every means at our disposal to present the faith in public, especially where there is an existing sensitivity toward it. And I think that the sensation that the world may be slipping away from us – because we ourselves are driving it away – and the sense of being oppressed by the problems of creation, precisely this gives us the right opportunity in which our faith can speak publicly and be considered as a constructive contribution.
In fact, this is not a matter of simply finding technologies to prevent damage, although it is important to find alternative sources of energy and other such things. All of this will not be enough if we ourselves do not find a new lifestyle, a discipline that includes sacrifice, the discipline of acknowledging others, to whom creation belongs just as much as it does to us who are able to make use of it more easily; a discipline of responsibility toward the future of others and toward our own future, because it is responsibility before Him who is our Judge, and who as Judge is our Redeemer, but is also truly our Judge.
I therefore think that it is necessary, in any case, to put these two dimensions together – creation and redemption, earthly life and eternal life, responsibility toward creation and responsibility toward others and toward the future – and that it is our task to participate to this effect in a clear and decisive manner in public opinion.
In order to be listened to, we must at the same time demonstrate by our own example, with our own lifestyle, that we are speaking about a message in which we ourselves believe, and according to which it is possible to live. And we want to ask the Lord to help us all to live the faith, the responsibility for the faith, in such a way that our lifestyle becomes a witness, and then to speak in such a way that our words are credible messengers of faith as guidance for our time.