The Artist and the Church Pius XII

"The work of the artist assumes the role of a sacramental...helping us to attain the disposition necessary to receive God's grace and allow grace to guide us in our work and our lives."


In 1952 Pope Pius XII addressed  a group of Italian artists on the occasion of the sixth Roman Quadrennial meeting. What did he have to say about art and artists?

"(the Roman Pontificate) has never ceased to appreciate art, to surround itself with works of art, to make art, within due limits, the collaborator of its divine mission, preserving and elevating its destiny, which is to guide the soul to God." (paragraph 2.)

The Divine Mission

Pius connects the arts with the divine mission of the Church, to lead souls to God. God created all the world, then within the world He created a special place, a garden where He could walk among his people. When our first parents turned away from God, they chose to follow their own will rather than that of the Almighty Father. In doing so they lost the grace they had been created with, they distanced themselves from God. God then placed them outside of the garden to prevent them from eating the fruit of the Tree of Life and living forever in their fallen state. In effect, the human race was exiled from the divine presence, and we have been trying to find our way back ever since. This is the ultimate use of all the gifts we have been given by God. It is the purpose of every charism imparted to us by the Holy Spirit, to lift hearts and minds to God and to lead souls back to Him.

"one of the essential characteristics of art, ...consists in a certain intrinsic 'affinity' of art with religion, which in certain ways renders artists interpreters of the infinite perfections of God, and particularly of the beauty and harmony of God's creation." (paragraph 4.)

The function of all art lies in fact in breaking through the narrow and tortuous enclosure of the finite, in which man is immerged while living here below, and in providing a window to the infinite for his hungry soul. (paragraph 5.)

All Art is Religious

All art is religious in the sense that all art reflects a certain view of the world. For the Christian, all of creation serves as a way for us to learn more about the Creator. It is the work of the artist to seek God in the beauty and harmony of the created world, and then to show that beauty and harmony to the rest of the world. As Pope Saint John Paul II would put it in his own Letter to Artists, the role of the artist is to seek new revelations of the divine. The artist is in a unique position to show to the world the magic and beauty that surrounds us, a magic we have become so accustomed to, we hardly see it anymore. Art by its very nature, is a connection with the Divine and cannot be (successfully) separated from it.

"The greater the clarity with which art mirrors the infinite, the divine, the greater will be its possibility for success in striving toward its ideal and true, artistic accomplishment. Thus, the more an artist lives religion, the better prepared he will be to speak the language of art, to understand its harmonies, to communicate its emotions." (paragraph 7.)

To be successful, the artist must recognize the source of his gifts and the reason for which those gifts have been given. The more the artist, or any vocation for that matter, walks with the Lord, the more successful that person will be in their calling.

A Hierarchy of Art

"Naturally, We are far from thinking that in order to be interpreters of God in the sense just mentioned, artists must treat explicitly religious subjects. On the other hand, one cannot question the fact that never, perhaps, has art reached its highest peaks as it has in these subjects." (paragraph 8.)

Pius here touches on something that we have previously discussed. There is a hierarchy of sorts among the arts, not in genre or media, but in intent. While any type of art, from plays, to music, to portraits or landscapes, can show the light of the God illuminating the world, it is religious art that holds a certain pride of place because it is religious art that  is perhaps the most direct in its purpose of turning hearts and minds to contemplate the divine. The patrimony of the great artists of the past show us this intimate relation between art and religion and how art is able to convey the eternal Truth found in scripture.

"Souls ennobled, elevated and prepared by art, are thus better disposed to receive the religious truths and the grace of Jesus Christ." (paragraph 11.)

The work of the artist assumes the role of a sacramental. Sacramentals differ from sacraments. Sacraments are vehicles of grace, They impart to us the grace we were created to have, and then give us an increase i n that grace. Sacramentals on the other hand prepare us to receive that grace. Sacramentals help us to attain the disposition necessary to receive God's grace and allow grace to guide us in our work and our lives.

A Privileged Role

Pope Pius closes his brief address by reminding artists of the unique and privileged role they have been given. Artist have been chosen to fulfill a special part of God's saving plan and they have the best chance of accomplishing this when they contemplate, enjoy and express God's perfections.

Seek God here below in nature and in man, but above all within yourselves. Do not vainly try to give the human without the divine, nor nature without its Creator. Harmonize instead the finite with the infinite, the temporal with the eternal, man with God, and thus you will give the truth of art and the true art. (paragraph 13.)

The address is actually quite short but serves as a wonderful reminder of the role the arts play in evangelizing the world.It is a role that continues into the modern age.

Read the address in its entirety 

this article originally appeared at


Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at

Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at