During my time in Graz, Austria I was often strike by the high level of discussion on the relationship between the Church and the arts. There are many efforts by the Church to bring contemporary art into the church and into the liturgy, even when it is quite challenging if not shocking in its modernity. Here are excerpts from a recent talk by the Bishop of Graz on this topic. – Ed.
Bishop Kapellari Emphasizes the Christian Roots of European Culture
Lecture of the Diocesan Bishop of Graz at the Summer Conference of the Catholic Academic Society of Austria in Tainach
Diocesan Bishop Egon Kapellari of Graz emphasized the manifold connections between culture, art, and the Church in Europe. Even with all the conflicts between art, culture, and church which appear at times right up until today, one must not lose sight of the fact that church history also was always art history and cultural history, and that European culture has “extraordinarily much to thank to Christianity.” Austria in particular could serve as an example of a “successful mutual relationship between church and art.” Kapellari spoke within the context of the summer conference of the Catholic Academic Society of Austria (KAVÖ) on Thursday … on the topic of “Art and Religion – and the Relationship of the Christian to the Arts.”
In six successive reflections, Bishop Kapellari developed the theme of what high value art continues to possess from an ecclesial and theological standpoint, while he also indicated clearly its limits. A “disassociation,” i.e. a marked break in the harmony which existed up until then between the Church and art extends back approximately 200 years, according to Kapellari. Since then “many bridges between the Church and art have broken off, or are they are rarely tread.” Above all the artistic engagement with the catastrophes of the 20th century has often repressed beauty, which until then represented the connection to religion. Beauty has been allowed to become the “Cinderella of modernity” according to Kapellari.
For Kapellari, it is in the nature of things that such a “disassociation.. . can never be final.” Both art and the Church draw their fundamental inspiration from the “large themes of human existence” such as “life and death, happiness and tragic futility, peace and war, beauty and horror.” The Church needs art, said Kapellari, with reference to the address of John Paul II in 1983 in the royal palace in Vienna, “in order to comprehend with ever greater depth the ‘conditio humana,’ the splendor and the suffering of humanity.”
New Dialogue between Art and the Church
This admonition is found already in the manifold struggle with the Old Testament’s prohibition of images. This repeatedly demands a correction and criticism even of religions portrayals of Jesus Christ. On the one hand, prohibition of images could count as “the expression of the purity of faith; but it could equally contribute to an impoverishment of and loss of faith,” Kapellari emphasized.
At the same time the Bishop referred to the chance for a renewed dialog between art and the Church which results: “The demanding challenge of life’s large themes will repeatedly lead art and religion together for conversation, and will certainly prompt the Church to commission artists.” Until now in Austria this dialogue has only partially been cultivated according to Kapellari, with reference to, for example, the Viennese priest and art patron Msgr. Otto Mauer (d. 1973), or the priest Günter Rombold from Linz, or the Cultural Center of the Friars Minor (conventual Franciscans) in Graz.
Kapellari clearly emphasized – again with reference to Otto Mauer – the limits of what art may and may not do, such as when it is a matter of art which “denigrates people, is racially discriminatory, or is anti-Semitic.” …
Arts as a Spiritual Cure of the Liturgy
Finally Kapellari referred to the central place of the engagement with art in the Church: the liturgy. Art can “especially help the liturgy to retain or to retrieve its holiness, its mystical depth.” Art can also help “drive banality out of the worship service.”
In fact there is in the liturgy today “much banality because of incompetent use of word, space, altar, liturgical vesture, and gesture,” said the bishop. Here one could learn something from the rigors of art. Kapellari appealed for theology professors, seminaries, religious orders, and lay training centers to be “qualified loci for diagnosis as therapy.” Like art, the liturgy is a “place of self-transcendence” to God and other humans.
The KAV summer conference… is dedicated to the question, “What do the arts have to say about God?” …
Kathweb Nachrichten, tr. and excerpted by awr.