The Artists and the Church - Paul VI

"The Church needs artists because the world needs artists to show it Beauty and to bring hope and joy into the world."

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At the close of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pope Paul VI addressed the artists of the world.

"We now address you, artists, who are taken up with beauty and work for it: poets and literary men, painters, sculptors, architects, musicians, men devoted to the theater and the cinema. To all of you, the Church of the council declares to you through our voice: if you are friends of genuine art, you are our friends.

The Church has long since joined in alliance with you. You have built and adorned her temples, celebrated her dogmas, enriched her liturgy. You have aided her in translating her divine message in the language of forms and figures, making the invisible world palpable. Today, as yesterday, the Church needs you and turns to you. She tells you through our voice: Do not allow an alliance as fruitful as this to be broken. Do not refuse to put your talents at the service of divine truth. Do not close your mind to the breath of the Holy Spirit.

This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. It is beauty, like truth, which brings joy to the heart of man and is that precious fruit which resists the wear and tear of time, which unites generations and makes them share things in admiration. And all of this is through your hands. May these hands be pure and disinterested. Remember that you are the guardians of beauty in the world. May that suffice to free you from tastes which are passing and have no genuine value, to free you from the search after strange or unbecoming expressions. Be always and everywhere worthy of your ideals and you will be worthy of the Church which, by our voice, addresses to you today her message of friendship, salvation, grace and benediction."

Art and Culture

Art and culture are linked together, they influence each other. Art follows culture and, very often, the culture is influenced by the work of artists.

There was a time when the Church dominated the culture. During the Capetian monarchy in France, which spanned the 12th and 13th centuries, it is estimated that a total of one-third of the country's resources were devoted to the building of new churches. This included eighty cathedrals, five hundred large churches, and thousands of smaller parish churches. Each of these would have needed the skills of a wide variety of artists and craftsmen, including painters, woodworkers, stone masons, weavers, and glassworkers, just to name a few.

Monasteries that produced illuminated manuscripts also kept artists and craftsmen busy as each part of the finished book required a different skill set.

But over the last 800 years society and culture have continued to grow and evolve and the Church is no longer the dominant influence that it once was. A growing middle class provided new opportunities and new markets for artists and influence of the Church began to wane. Opportunities for "church work" are now few and far between, and competition for them among qualified artists is fierce.

The Church Still Needs Artists

Does that mean that the Church no longer needs artists? Of course not.The Church is larger than the buildings which house its worship and while it may not commission artists to the degree it once did, the need for the witness of artists in the mystical Body of the Church is still very great, for exactly the reasons Paul VI referred to.

The alliance between the Church and artists is still very strong even if money no longer changes hands as frequently as it once did. The Church needs artists because the world needs artists to show it Beauty and to bring hope and joy into the world. It is the role of the artist to translate divine truths into images and words that touch the hearts of the people, instructing them and reminding them of their relationship to God.

The Church needs artists that are well grounded in their faith. So well-grounded in fact, that their faith shines through their work regardless of the medium employed. This applies to all those gifted with artistic talent including "poets and literary men, painters, sculptors, architects, musicians, men devoted to the theater and the cinema."

Like everyone else, artists have families to support and bills to pay. If they cannot find work in the Church then they will go elsewhere. Unfortunately the largest market for commercial artists is the gaming industry, an industry that is not always compatible with Christian ideals and morals. But that does not mean an artist need compromise his beliefs and values just to earn a living. "Be always and everywhere worthy of your ideals."

In the end it may fall to the artist to sacrifice a lucrative commission rather than compromise their Christian values. But we are all made in the image and likeness of God and we are all called to make sacrifices from time to time, artists are not exempt from this.

Like his successor some decades later, Paul connects the vocation of the artist with Beauty. Artists are the guardians of Beauty in the world, and the world is in desperate need of that Beauty.

While the institutional Church may not employ artists to the degree it once did, the universal Church, built of living stones still needs their gifts and talents to avoid "sinking into despair." Local churches and parishes too, should look to commissioning artists to  make their places of worship as beautiful as possible. All too often churches are adorned with cheap posters and trendy music that goes out of style long before it is abandoned by parish music directors. If we are to evangelize the culture then we need to do better.

Pastors, donors, and parish committees should look for the talent that is within their own community and support and nourish those with talent so that they can truly return to God the gifts they have been given a hundred times over.

For their part, artists have more opportunities and markets than ever before. Books, plays, music, and even movies are within the capability of anyone willing to learn how to use the technology that now makes art so accessible. Every artist, willing to put in the time to hone their talents and abilities, now has the very real possibility of earning their living from their craft without compromising their values.

"Do not refuse to put your talents at the service of divine truth. Do not close your mind to the breath of the Holy Spirit."

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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