Friday, 11 September 2015

Schönborn: The door is never closed

Yesterday, the Jesuit journal, La Civiltà Cattolica, published an extensive interview of its director Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ with Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna in Italian. Even though some partial translations in English are already available, the following is my, rough translation of the passages that spoke to me most strongly (it is around 90% of the full text and the passages I left out were only left out for practical reasons …).

In response to a question about whether the scope of the upcoming Synod on the family ought to be doctrinal, Cardinal Schönborn replied:

"The challenge that Pope Francis puts in front of us is to believe that, with the courage that comes from simple closeness, from the everyday reality of people, we will not distance ourselves from doctrine. We don't risk diluting its clarity by walking with people, because we ourselves are called to walk in faith. Doctrine isn't, in the first place, a series of abstract statements, but the light of the word of God demonstrated by the apostolic witness at the heart of a Church and in the hearts of believers who walk in the world today. The clarity of the light of faith and its doctrinal development in each person is not in contradiction with the journey that God undertakes with us, who are often far from living the Gospel fully."
When asked about how we ought to view and what attitude we ought to have towards those who live in irregular arrangements, he then replied:
"At the last Synod, I proposed an interpretative key that has lead to much discussion and was referred to in the Relatio post disceptationem, but that was no longer present in the final document, the Relatio Synodi. It was an analogy with the ecclesiological interpretative key given by Lumen Gentium, the constitution on the Church, in its article 8. There the question is: "Where is the Church of Christ? Where it is incarnated concretely? Does the Church of Jesus Christ, which he desired and founded, really exist?" To this, the Council responded with the famous statement: "The only Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church", subsistit in Ecclesia catholica. It is not a pure and simple identification, like saying that the Church of Jesus Christ is the Catholic Church. The Council affirmed: it "subsists in the Catholic Church", united with the Pope and legitimate bishops. The Council adds this phrase, which has become key: "Although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity." Other denominations, other churches, other religions are not simply nothing. Vatican II excludes and ecclesiology of the all or nothing. The all is fulfilled in the Catholic Church, but there are elements of truth and holiness in other churches, and even in other religions. These elements are elements of the Church of Christ, and by their nature they tend to catholic unity and the unity of mankind, towards which the Church herself tends, in anticipation of, so to speak, the great plan of God that is the one Family of God, humanity. The approach of the Council is justified in this key, because of which one does not consider first what is missing in the other Churches, Christian communities or religions, but what is positive there. One gathers the semina Verbi, as has been said, the seeds of the Word, elements of truth and sanctification."
And how does this translate to the family?
"I simply proposed to apply this interpretation to the ecclesiological reality of the sacrament of marriage. Because marriage is a Church in miniature, an ecclesiola, the family as a small Church, it seems legitimate to me to establish an analogy and say that the sacrament of marriage is fully realized where there is a properly established sacrament between a man and a woman living in faith etc. But this does not prevent that, outside of this full realization of the sacrament of marriage, there be elements of marriage that are anticipatory signs, positive elements."
Let's take, for example, civil marriage:
"Yes, we consider it as something more than simple cohabitation. Why? It is a simple civil contract that from a strictly ecclesial point of view has no meaning. But we recognize that in civil marriage there is more commitment, therefore a greater alliance, than in simple cohabitation. The two make a commitment before society, humanity and themselves, in a more explicit alliance, anchored legally with sanctions, obligations, duties, rights ... The Church believes that this is a further step than simply living together. There is in this case a greater proximity to sacramental marriage. As a promise, an anticipatory sign. Instead of speaking about all that is missing, one can approach these realities, noting the positive that exist in this love that is becoming more stable."
How do we therefore consider situations that have objective shortcomings?
"We should look at the numerous situations of coexistence not only from the point of view of what is missing, but also from the point of view of what is already promised, what is already present. Moreover, the Council adds that, although there is always real holiness in the Church, it is made up of sinners and advances along the path of conversion (LG 8). It is always in need of purification. A Catholic mustn't put themselves on a step above others. There are saints in all the Christian churches, and even in other religions. Jesus said twice to the pagans, a woman [cf. Luke 8:48] and a Roman officer [Luke 7:9]: "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith." A true faith, that Jesus found outside the chosen people."
So, the dividing line is not between those who live sacramental marriage and who don't?
"Those who have the grace and the joy of living sacramental marriage in faith, humility and mutual forgiveness, in a trust in God who acts in our daily lives, know how to look and discern in a couple, in a cohabitation, the elements of true heroism, true charity, true mutual giving. Even though we must say: "It is not yet the full reality of the sacrament." But who are we to judge and say that there are no elements of truth and sanctification in them? The Church is a people that God draws to himself and to which all are called. The Church's role is to accompany everyone in growth, along a path. As a pastor I experience this joy of being on a journey, among believers, but also among many non-believers."
Cardinal Schönborn then gives examples of how a person who has been through several marriages may find faith in later life and how accompanying them and caring for them may require considering their specific, individual circumstances rather than a simple application of rules. He concludes that answer with saying "I can't hide [...] that I have been shocked by how a purely formalist way of thinking wields the axe of the "intrinsece malum." Fr. Spadaro then explains it in a footnote thus: "What is meant by an "intrinsically evil" (intrinsece malum) act is an action whose moral connotation is such that it can in no case change from negative to positive. Therefore it is an act that is always considered morally evil, irrespective of the ulterior intentions of the one acting and of the circumstances."

Could you elaborate on the problem of that which is defined as "intrinsece malum"?
"In practice, it excludes any reference to the question of fitness [convenientia] that, for St. Thomas, is always a way of expressing prudence. It is neither utilitarianism nor an easy pragmatism, but a way to express a sense of appropriateness, of conformity, of harmony. Regarding the question of divorce, this type of argument has been systematically excluded by our intransigent moralists. If misunderstood, the intrinsece malum suppresses discussion of - by definition complex - circumstances of and situations in life. A human act is never simple, and the risk is to "paste" in a false relationship between the true object, purpose and circumstances, which instead should be read in the light of freedom and of an attraction to the good. The free act is reduced to a physical one so that the clarity of logic suppresses any moral discussion and all circumstances. The paradox is that by focusing in the intrinsece malum one loses all the wealth, I would say almost the beauty of a moral articulation, resulting in its annihilation. Not only does the moral analysis of situations become univocal, but but one is left cut off from a comprehensive perspective on the dramatic consequences of divorce: economic, educational, psychological, etc. This is true for everything that regards the themes of marriage and the family. The obsession with intrinsece malum has so impoverished the debate that we are deprived of a wide range of arguments in favor of the uniqueness, indissolubility, openness to life, of the human foundation of the doctrine of the Church. We have lost the flavor of discourse on these human realities. One of the key elements of the Synod is the reality of the Christian family, not from an exclusive point of view, but from an inclusive one. The Christian family is a grace, a gift of God. It is a mission, and by its nature - if it is lived in a Christian way - is something to be welcomed. I remember a proposal for a pilgrimage for families in which the organizers wanted to invite only those who practice natural birth control. During a meeting of the Bishops Conference we asked them how they would: "Select only those who practice 100%, n%? How do you do that?". From these somewhat caricature expressions you realize that if the Christian family is lived in this way, it inevitably becomes sectarian. A world apart. When you seek safety, you are not a Christian, you are focused only on yourself!"
On the challenges of pastoral accompaniment of persons living in irregular unions:
"If a valid sacramental marriage existed, a second marriage is an irregular union. However, there is the whole dimension of spiritual and pastoral care for people living in irregular situations, where it will be necessary to discern between everything and nothing. You can not transform an irregular situation into a regular, but there are ways of healing, of deepening, ways in which the law is experienced step by step. There are also situations where the priest, the accompanying person, who knows the people well, may arrive at saying: "Your situation is such that, in conscience, in your and in my consciousness as a pastor, I see your place in the sacramental life of the Church.""
Could you tell me about a pastoral experience that was particularly significant for you?
"I have an unforgettable memory of the time when I was a student at Saulchoir, with the Dominicans in Paris. I was not yet a priest. Under the bridge over the Seine that leads to the Évry convent lived a homeless couple. She had been a prostitute and I don't know what he has done in life. Certainly they were not married, nor did they frequent the Church, but every time I passed by there, I said to myself: "My God, they help each other along the path through such a hard life." And when I saw gestures of tenderness between them, I said to myself: "My God, it is beautiful that these two poor people should help each other, what a great thing!" God is present in this poverty, this tenderness. We must break free from this narrow perspective on the access to the sacraments in irregular situations. The question is: "Where is God in their lives? And how can I, as a pastor, discern the presence of God in their lives? And how can they can me to better discern the work of God in a life?" We need to learn how to read the Word of God in actu [in reality] between the lines on which life is written and not only between the lines of incunabula!"
Are there any situations that are irreparable for the mercy of God?
"There may certainly be situations of self-exclusion. When Jesus says: "But you were unwilling" [Matthew 23:37]. Faced with this, in some way, God is disarmed, because He gave us the freedom … And the Church must recognize and accept the freedom to say no. It's hard to want to reconcile at all costs complex situations in life with full participation in the life of the Church. This will never prevent either hoping or praying, and will always be an invitation to entrust such a situation to the providence of God, which can continuously offer instruments of salvation. The door is never closed."
How can we find realist and Gospel-based words to accompany homosexuals along their journey of faith?
"We can and we must respect the decision to form a union with a person of the same sex, to seek means under civil law to protect their living together with laws to ensure such protection. But if we are asked, if it is demanded of the Church to say that this is a marriage, well, we have to say: non possumus [we cannot]. It is not a discrimination of persons: to distinguish does not mean to discriminate. This absolutely does not prevent having great respect, friendship, or collaboration with couples living in this kind of union, and above all we mustn't look down on them. No one is obliged to accept this doctrine, but one can't pretend that the Church does not teach it."
Have you come across circumstances in the lives of homosexuals that have spoken to you in a particular way?
"Yes, for example, I know a homosexual person who has lived a series of experiences for years, not with a particular person or cohabiting, but frequent experiences with different people. Now he has found a stable relationship. It is an improvement, if nothing else then on a human level, this not jumping from one relationship to another, but being in a stable relationship that is not based only on sexuality. One shares one's life, one shares the joys and sufferings, one helps one another. We must recognize that this person has made an important step for his own good and for the good of others, even though, of course, this is not a situation that the Church can consider regular. The judgment on homosexual acts as such is necessary, but the Church mustn't look first in the bedroom, but in the dining room instead! We must accompany."
What then is the correct, Gospel-based attitude in the face of all these challenges?
"Pope Benedict has magnificently shown in his teaching that the Christian life is not at first a morality, but a friendship, a meeting, a person. In this friendship we learn how to behave. If we say that Jesus is our teacher, it means that we learn directly from him the path of Christian life. It is not a catalog of abstract doctrine or a backpack full of heavy stones that we must carry, it is a living relationship instead. In the life and Christian practice of following Christ, the Christian path shows its soundness and its fruits of joy. Jesus promised us that on this path "the Holy Spirit will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you." (Jn 14:26). The entire doctrine of the Church acquires sense only in a living relationship with Jesus, of a friendship with him and a docility towards the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Herein lies the power of Pope Francis’ gestures. I think that he really lives the charism of the Jesuits and of St. Ignatius, that of being available to the movement of the Holy Spirit. It is also the classical doctrine of St. Thomas on the new law, the law of Christ, which is not an external law, but the work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart. Of course, we also need external teaching, but for it to be a living reality, it must pass through the heart. When we observe a lived Christian marriage, we perceive the meaning of marriage; and seeing Mother Teresa in action, in her gestures, we understand what it means to love the poor. Life teaches us doctrine, more than doctrine not teaching us life."
How do we unite the two dimensions of doctrine and mercy?
"The doctrine of the Church is the doctrine of the Good Shepherd. In an attitude of faith, there is no opposition between "doctrine" and "pastoral". Doctrine is not an abstract utterance without a link to "what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev 2.7). Pastoral ministry is not a degraded putting into practice, or even a pragmatic version of doctrine. The doctrine is the teaching of the "Good Shepherd", which manifests itself in his person, the true way of life, a teaching of a Church who, as she walks, goes towards all those who are awaiting Good News, a waiting that is sometimes kept secret in the heart . The pastoral is a doctrine of salvation in actu [in reality], the "Good Teacher"'s Word of life for the world. There is an involution between these two dimensions of the Word of God, of which the Church is bearer. The pastoral without doctrine is nothing but a "clashing cymbal" (1 Cor 13.1). The pastoral without doctrine is only "human thought" (Mt 16:[23]). Doctrine is first of all the Good News: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life." (Jn 3:16). It is the announcement of the fundamental truth of faith: God has used mercy. And all that the Church teaches is this message, that is then translated into complementary doctrines, into a true hierarchy of truth, both dogmatic and moral. We must constantly return to the kerygma, to what is essential and gives meaning to our whole body of doctrine, especially to moral teaching."
We need to be pastors [shepherds] ...
"Pope Francis calls each of us, pastors to a real pastoral conversion. In the final speech of the Synod, he summed up what he meant when he said that the experience of the Synod is an experience of the Church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic and composed of sinners, in need of His mercy. It is the Church who is not afraid of eating and drinking with prostitutes and tax collectors. The Pope expresses perfectly the balance that must characterize this pastoral conversion. At the end of this, his speech, all spontaneously stood up, and there was a unanimous and intense applause. Everyone felt that it was the Pope, Peter, who spoke."
I feel a great sense of gratitude towards Cardinal Schönborn for his deep wisdom and obvious love for humanity, that has also shone during this last days in his welcoming of Syrian refugees - a welcoming that was not only conceptual by highly practical when he went to meet and welcome them as they crossed the border from Hungary to Austria. I wish the bishops of other Central European countries would follow his example. I am also grateful to Fr. Spadaro for not only having conducted such an outstanding interview, but for having made it freely available. Thank you!

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Who is my neighbor?

Already in Jesus’ time, his “good,” religious, law-abiding contemporaries were looking for a way to reconcile their desire for “eternal life” (Luke 10:25) with the rather uncomfortable lack of qualification when, in response, he - like God through Moses before - pointed them to loving their neighbors as themselves (Luke 10:27, quoting Leviticus 19:18).

Loving. Neighbors. As myself.

What do you mean? Just any old neighbor? What if they are weird? What if they have loads of cats? Or, worse still, what if they are foreign? Outrageous!

Their mistake then was to feign ignorance and ask Jesus point-blank: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) [you can imagine the saccharine, angelic looks on their faces]. In response, Jesus proceeds to recount the story of the Good Samaritan that we all know - a guy gets ambushed, robbed and beaten senseless, and a number of passers-by - all of the best caliber: a priest and a professional, well ... they just pass by. Until a Samaritan - to the Jews of the first century AD the equivalent of today's Gypsies, or - if you live in certain countries that like to call themselves Central European - a Syrian Muslim1 - comes along and takes care of our guy. Not only does he make sure our man is "OK," but he - at his own expense - takes him to a hotel and entrusts his care to its owner.

Oh ... if neighbors include Samaritans (Gypsies, Syrian Muslims, Homosexuals, Atheists, Single Mothers, The Divorced, Poor People) then there really is no exception to this category. Drat!

But what Jesus’ listeners at the time, and many of his listeners today too, may have missed is the bait-and-switch that he pulls when explaining his parable. It is not I who am in the position of the magnanimous grandee, handing out charity to neighbor "Samaritans" [who better be grateful for it!]. I am the robbed and beaten neighbor, in receipt of love from the Samaritan! I am the beneficiary, not the benefactor! "Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?" asks Jesus, referring to the priest, scribe and Samaritan. The parable isn't about coming across a needy Samaritan and having to overcome one’s prejudices, mistrust and small-mindedness. It is about recognizing that I am a neighbor to the “Other”, who is a source of God's love for me and to whom I am called to transmit God’s love too.

Every single human being is my neighbor, put in my way to receive God’s love through me and to transmit God's love to me. That is Christianity: God. Love. Neighbor.

What is not Christianity - and let me be categorical about this - is to - literally! - build walls between myself and my God-given neighbors, to make it illegal for me to help my God-given neighbors and then to pretend that all of these “measures” are there to preserve my glorious nation's Christianity (cf. Hungary). What is not Christianity is to say that "we can't take in Muslims because we have no mosques here” or to plead poverty when I have a roof over my head while my God-given neighbor has had their family murdered, has had to flee thousands of miles, is at their wits end and is homeless (cf. Slovakia). What is not Christianity is to ask to see a refugee's “certificate of baptism, recommendation from their clergyman [and] information about their health” before considering whether to help them and to equate all Muslim refugees with ISIS (cf. Poland).

I did not plan to write about the open wound on the mystical body of Christ that is the refugee crisis, but the outrageous claims that turning away our neighbors, sent to us by God, blood of our blood, beloved children of our Father, is justified by Christianity and is even done for the good of Christianity are profoundly irrational and offensive. Anyone who still buys such arguments should look again at those deeply disturbing, shocking, wounding images that are all around us, understand that they show our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters and heed Jesus’ own words: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter. [...] You serpents, you brood of vipers, how can you flee from the judgment of Gehenna?“ (Matthew 23:13, 33).

1 “[… T]he strongest expression of hatred the Jews could invent against Christ was ‘Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil’ (John 8:48). [… I]f a Jew and a Samaritan met in a narrow way, they were particularly careful to avoid touching each fearing to receive pollution from the other.” John Henry Newmann. For more on this parable see a previous post here.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Ravasi: art and faith - the invisible in the visible

2 Lucio Fontana Conceito espacial 1968

Today I’d like to bring you my, rough English translation of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi’s 2011 talk, entitled: “The invisible in the visible: art and faith,” which has given me great joy and which I hope will delight you too:

The title of this talk, “The invisible in the visible: art and faith”, points spontaneously to two great painters of the last century. On the one hand Paul Klee and on the other Joan Miró, who in different ways, but with the same substance, have declared that art does not represent the visible, but the invisible that is in the visible. […]

For Vasari, the holy and the beautiful, holiness and beauty, intertwine. Not as extrinsic realities, but almost as if they were, among themselves, sisters. So, in a certain sense we can say, and I would like to demonstrate only […] this sisterhood between art and faith. […]

As a premise, we know that a single expression is used, curiously, to indicate two realities that are similar, but that are also profoundly different. Isn’t it true that one speaks about the inspiration of the Scriptures, of the word of God? The word of the Scriptures is inspired. And doesn’t this same expression also get used to speak about artistic inspiration? It can therefore be seen that both faith and art, the witness of the divine word and of the human word, have inside them a seed of eternity. A seed of the infinite. A dimension that precedes them and that exceeds them, that surpasses them.

The artist, in a certain sense like the prophet, has inside them a voice that comes from the beyond and the other. And Beyond and Other need to be written with capital letters. The invisible that is in the visible.

It is interesting to note that, e.g., in the Scriptures, chapter 35 of Exodus speaks about Bezalel, who is an artisan, an artist, who built the ark and the mobile temple of the desert that the Hebrews carried with them. Having left the drama of their enslavement in Egypt behind, they carry with them a mobile temple. So, what is said about this artist is that he was filled with the spirit of God (cf. Exodus 35:30-31), exactly like a prophet.

And think about how in the first book of Chronicles, in chapter 25 [...] musicians are mentioned, the singers in the temple. It is said that they were inspired by God. And do you know what Hebrew expression is used? Navi - the same one as used for prophets (cf. 1 Chronicles 25:1). Prophets and musicians are almost the same reality, infused by the spirit of God.

This is why speaking about art and faith isn’t speaking about two external realities. Unfortunately, however, as we know well, a divorce has been consummated and art and faith do not walk together anymore. Therefore we must struggle to rediscover [..] the harmony that is beneficial for art, precious for art, so that it no longer has to lose itself in the vague, the inconsistent, the banal, and may rediscover the great narratives, the great symbols, the great themes, the great challenges: the invisible. On the other hand it is beneficial for faith because we must say “God” in a beautiful way, as the Bible says in Psalm 47: “sing to God with art!”1

My reflection [...] is linked to two movements that revolve around a single symbol. A symbol that, I have to say, is a bit strange and that might puzzle you. [...] I take this symbol from a phrase of the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, from one of his articles on faith and art. He wrote the following words, in which you will see the symbol that I’ll then use: “Beauty wounds, and by doing so reminds the person of their ultimate destiny.” Hence, beauty, art as a wound. And we will see that faith too is a wound.

So, let’s start with this theme: the wound. The wound makes us bleed. The wound unsettles, torments. It doesn’t let you sleep. It is a plague. Hence, art, like faith, have this scope. To make you tremble.

What is the great illness of our times? [...] Indifference, superficiality, banality. The French Catholic writer, Bernanos, in one of his novels [...] - The Impostor, tells the story of a priest - Fr. Cenabre - who loses his faith and becomes an atheist. He writes: “There is a fundamental difference between emptiness and absence. Emptiness is nothing, a lack of substance. Absence is not a nothing.” When I go home, to my sisters, in the north, in Milan, we still have the two empty chairs of my dad and my mother. They are apparently empty. But, in reality, they aren’t. They are an absence. An absence that, in this case, is filled with memories, and for the believer also with another type of presence, by a nostalgia. Our times have lost the absence of God, the nostalgia for great values. These are empty times, lacking substance.

Some of you will know the great painter, Braque, friend of Picasso, cubist, who then also went beyond cubism, and so on, and who died in 1963. And Braque said this phrase, which is not entirely true, but that has its meaning: “Art is made to disturb, science to reassure.” Technology. We are children of technology. Technology will solve all your problems. Don’t ever ask yourselves the great questions.

This is why we must return greatness to art. When I speak about art I don’t only have figurative arts in mind - sculpture, painting, etc. - I speak about art in general, with all of its thousand manifestations that pass from literature through music to photography to the cinema. We have a need for returning to, rediscovering this restlessness.

[...] Henry Miller, who as a profoundly anti-christian writer, even a scandalous one at a certain moment, wrote a book entitled “The wisdom of the heart.” And in that work there is the following paradoxical phrase on which we must meditate: “Art, like faith, is good for nothing, other than to give you the meaning of life.”

You see, if you have to look for food, for the immediate, are chasing fashions, you have no need for art. On the contrary! Poetry. What’s it for? Hölderlin wrote an entire poem: “Wozu Dichter?” [“Why poets?”] Apparently they are good for nothing. But, like faith, they point you to the meaning of life.

That is why we need this wound, this restlessness, in a time that is so superficial, in which we are dragged along, in which we have passed from immorality, which means that we are at least aware of it, to amorality, total indifference. [...]

The wound keeps you awake. And it therefore keeps you continuously looking. So, there is another element that associates art and faith in this context of the wound. Wonder. When you are in front of a work of art, that work of art isn’t to be explained, to tell the truth. You can say something about its origin, about the image it depicts, about something. But, you have to, in the end, if you want to enter in harmony with it, succeed in establish a bond of wonder, of contemplation, as is indeed the case with faith. Yes, there is need for reason, but in the end, art is an intuition, something that dazzles you.

The poet, Ezra Pound, said:2 “Do you perhaps explain the charm of an April wind? Do you perhaps explain the luminous beauty of one of Plato’s thoughts? Do you perhaps explain the unexpected beauty that you perceive in a woman’s face?” They don’t have explanations. You discover them, unexpectedly. They are an epiphany. So, we still need clear eyes. Eyes that has been dirtied by so many images of extreme vulgarity and superficiality and violence ... We need to regain the eye of a child that is filled with wonder when faced with the marvels of being and of human creatures. In front of the marvels of the divine. This is why faith and art are like each other.

The English writer [...] Chesterton, wrote these words: “The dignity of the artist lies in his duty of keeping awake the sense of wonder in the world.” And he continued: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; [...] There are plenty of them, I assure you [...], but only for want of wonder.” Because it is no longer able to contemplate, to look, to go beyond the skin, the surface of things.”

This was my first reflection, the simpler one, the second one is a little more complex, also because I would like to enter the theme in a more profound way.

Art and faith as wound, as we have said, that generates restlessness, that makes you tremble, that looks for something that isn’t there in our times anymore: the question about the meaning of what you do, who you are, of what is.

In the second reflection I will take that same symbol of the wound [“ferita”] that in Italian has another word that derives from it: “slit” [“feritoia”].3 So, I would say that art, like faith, is a slit through which the absolute, the transcendent, mystery can be accessed. I would, therefore, like to invite you now to look for where these slits are so that we may discover a mystery, something that exceeds us, that transcends us, which is what true art and great, authentic faith need to do. I would, in this regard, like to put forward five ways, which in the end justify the fact that there exists a religion like the Christian one, which is the celebration of art.

Let’s start from a Biblical text what, paradoxically, begins with a negation of art. You remember the first commandment of the decalogue, the great, so called aniconic commandment, i.e., that wipes out images: “You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth” (Exodus 20:4). Avert your eyes from the golden calf! Sure, it is idols that are condemned here, but then you know that during the course of history some have taken this by the letter, and have drowned art. Think of Islam which, for some time already is moving in this direction. God must never be represented, and human beings neither, because there is always this risk of idolatry. [...] It is not for nothing that at a certain moment Protestantism has exalted music in a particular way. Bach was a protestant. Schütz was a protestant. Pachelbel - protestant. Then there is Handel. A whole line that goes towards music, towards its sound that is extraordinarily potent in speaking to us about the eternal and the infinite, while avoiding recourse to images. Why is it then that Christianity has instead, over the centuries, returned to and celebrated the image.

Overcoming this silence, the silence of the images of art therefore, has been done in certain ways, which I would now like to evoke because they are ways in which the famous slit appears.

In parenthesis, regarding slits, I would like to tell you something that you may not have heard before. [...] You all know a great painter, who was important in the last century: Lucio Fontana. I knew his widow, and I know many of his works since I am from Milan and he was from Milan too. Why is Fontana famous? Because, at a certain moment, he made that famous gash in a canvas. He painted it and slashed it. And do you know that when others asked: “But why?,” critics elaborated complicated discourses to explain it. But when they asked the artist himself, he responded with a phrase that is almost the formulation of the thesis of this second movement. He replied: “For me, this cut is a glimmer of the absolute, of the infinite.” It is almost a going beyond the canvas, beyond matter, to look for depth, for the secret.

First of all there is a place where the Bible sees a slit opening towards the infinite, the eternal, the divine. And this reality, a reality that is fundamental also, e.g., for literature, is the word. If you look closely, God, precisely because images are forbidden, is presented in the beginning of the first line of the Bible using this expression: “God said: Let there be light, and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3). The silence of nothingness is slashed by a word. Also, how does the New Testament begin? Ideally, with the prologue of John: “In the beginning was the Word.” (John 1:1). Absolute primacy.

When Moses, and maybe you have never heard this phrase, because it is from a book that is read little, speaks in Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Bible, in its fourth chapter, verse 12. When in Deuteronomy Moses describes the entire experience of Sinai, of what the Hebrews have experiences up there, once they were back down in the valley. Moses says: “Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; there was only a voice.” (Deuteronomy 4:12) God is a voice. He is a word that creates, that saves, that liberates. So, the first place where we find a slit: the word. It is not for nothing that the Bible is at the center of our faith. It is a word. And this word pierces and shows you the horizon that is God.

Jesus, for example, is his word, his lips, his parables; his 32 parables, or 72 if one also includes the extended metaphors, are an expression of the power of this word. I don’t know whether you have in your minds that episode recounted in the seventh chapter of John. One day the priests of the temple decide to shut up this voice that is so annoying - Christ, so they send their police, i.e., the temple guard, and tell them to go and arrest him. These simple people go and return. But they come back with empty hands. And the priests ask: why haven’t you brought him? And their response is, in my opinion, illuminating for this first way: “Never before has anyone spoken like this one.” (cf. John 7:32-46) And the hands drop. Words can’t be imprisoned.

This is why it is important for the word, the word of God, to be at the center of our liturgy, of our lives. And it is important for art, for poetry for example, to continue to exist, to open this slit onto the infinite.

The second element, and I will do this one more quickly, because in a certain sense I have already called it out. The second place, the second slit is the cosmos, nature. Nature that is seen as a decipherable element, not as an accumulation either of cells or of matter. There is a phrase in the book of Wisdom (13:5), that is important. It says: “For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen.” Analogos in Greek means a ladder - rung by rung. So, you see: this experience is to be had in nature. This is why art so often starts from nature. Not to represent her as such but to manage and create landscapes of the soul. All the great scenes of nature that are in the backdrops made by great artists are an evocation of something that speaks of harmony and that therefore speaks of beauty and of God.

Let’s think along this line about Psalm 19. Do you remember it? The song of the sun: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.” (Psalms 19:2) When the Hebrews even now, today, in the synagogue celebrate what we call the feast of Pentecost, they call it Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, seven weeks after Easter, they sing a hymn that basically says this: Between heaven and earth, God has unfurled a great parchment that is nature and on it He wrote a message. We must tear a quill from a shrub to write on this parchment our response of praise: the alleluia.

So, you see this idea that in nature, in the beauty of nature, that art transfigures, there is the secret of God. A word of God that has been called the cosmic revelation, open to all. The revelation of the Bible is open to believers, that of the cosmos - the great book of the universe, as Galileo said.

The third way is a way that is particularly significant and that, in the context of art, has a particular meaning, but that we’ll base on a phrase of the Bible that is usually interpreted in a completely different way, which is not the correct reading of the text. It is an extremely famous expression. But, first, let’s start with saying what this way is. It is that way that in this moment allows you to communicate also beyond words. It is the way of faces. Faces. We know that communication happens through faces. They aren’t planes, surfaces. They are signals. Think, e.g., of two people in love. When they have exhausted all words, and if they are truly in love, what do they do? They look into each other’s eyes. This, looking each other in the eyes, is not merely about seeing the pupils of the other. It is, instead, a language. As Pascal said: “In faith, as in love, silences are far more eloquent than words.” A communion of faces.

In the Bible there is this phrase, in Genesis 1:27, that says: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them.” Here we have that fundamental law of Eastern languages, that is the Biblical one, of parallelism. Things get repeated so that they may leave more of a mark in one’s attention, or also to explain them. “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them.” And then it continues and explains what the image is, what is it that corresponds to the image. “[I]n the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” So, the image, the statue that looks most like God, what is it? The Patristic tradition, the tradition influenced by the Greeks, responded that it is our soul. But the Bible doesn’t say that. What’s more, the Bible speaks about the soul in an altogether different way. The Bible considers the human being in its fullness.

So, what would it be instead? Is it that God is both male and female? Evidently not. The Bible has continuously fought against a sexist concept of the divine, as the nations who surrounded it had and that the Bible condemned. Peoples who, for example, believed that when there was a storm it was the orgasm of a male and a female god and the rain was the seed, the fertile seed of the god who thereby fertilized nature. And the cracked earth was like a womb that received the seed of the god. The Bible rejected this type of concept and continues to consider it an idolatry. So, what would this image of God be like? And here the slit can be seen in the faces of man and woman, the male and the female, through which we see God. And the answer is obvious because as Genesis unfolds, the history of salvation is built on generations. What this means is that that which represents God most for us are man and woman in their capacity to give live. If you will, their capacity to love. So, this is why the human figure of the male and female saint becomes so fundamental, because at the heart of this reality, which is that of the human person in their generative capacity, in their capacity to give live, is the reflection of the Creator Himself. Creation continues precisely because man and woman continue to generate and generation in man and woman is born of a wellspring of love. So, this is the third way, a slit open onto the divine.

Number four. And here we arrive at another face, a fundamental face, that is at the center of all of our churches. A face that also dominates artistic tradition, but above all it also dominates faith. It is the face of Christ. Colossians 1:15. What does Paul say? “[Christ] is the image of the invisible God.” God has His image in Christ and it is a carnal image. And it is because of this that when the temptation comes, which is the temptation of iconoclasm that I referred to before, that negates the possibility of art, artists and theologians like St. John Damascene continue to repeat: if we negate images, we also negate the incarnation. We negate that God has made himself visible in a face. And it is because of this that the face of Christ is a face that is repeated infinitely many times. And it is because of this that St. John Damascene encouraged the following experience: [...] “If a pagan comes to you and ask you: “How is your faith? What is your faith?,” don’t answer them. Take them by the hand, lead them into a church and show them the paintings, the images.” You see, God is in the image of Christ that reflects the divine, that reflects the mystery, the transcendent.

In some cases though, and I wouldn’s say always, since we are starting to revive the sisterhood between art and faith, but in some contemporary, modern churches it is better not to bring pagans, atheists since they would completely lose their faith. [...]

The fifth and last way that I would like to recall is the way of the liturgy. The liturgy is the place where [...] music succeeds in passing through hearts. Therefore it is necessary ceaselessly to return to the beauty of temples, of art, where the liturgy is celebrated, to a proclamation of the word in a beautiful way, to song, to celebration that is a drama that has its own dignity and nobility. [...] It is said that contemporary music is [inadequate] ... That is not true, because in contemporary music, the music of our days, that has its own musical grammars, there is its own beauty. Think about what happened when in the 16th century, imagine being inside St. Peter’s, where before only Gregorian chant was heard. Gregorian chant is most pure in spaces like that because, thanks to the echoes that are there, it becomes a song that is enshrined and held in that space and it is a monodic song that rises up high and allows for the possibility of being welcomed by a sonorous womb. But, what happens in the 16th century? Palestrina introduces polyphony into the liturgy. Polyphony disrupts the unicity of Gregorian chant, it multiplies the voices, makes them cross each other, one above the other, it constructs new harmonies through a sequence of crossings. This must have been scandalous at the time! But then think about the masterpieces of faith that have been created thanks to it. Slits, also in this case, onto the beauty of the divine. Let’s just think of the absolute pinnacle of music, who is Bach. Or think of Palestrina’s Sicut cervus, with its absolute purity that, however, consists in a richness of voices and that celebrates a need of the divine, which is like an instinctive, physical need. Like the doe [cerva] that charges ahead towards the river bed, where it expects to find water but that is dry. And now it launches into a cry of lament, a lament of thirst ... in Hebrew there is a thing that can’t be translated into our languages, because in Hebrew there is a single word - nefesh - that at the same time means throat and soul. So, when we translate: “My soul thirsts for the living God” (cf. Psalms 42:3), in Hebrew there is a joke - the throat, which indicates a need for God that is physical. So, all of this has been exalted through new music and it is because of this that I am struggling for contemporary art with its new expressions [to have its place]. Not always and only retracing the past, which, however, is the great, supreme heritage that we mustn’t forget or humiliate, we mustn’t discard it [...] but we also have to be open so that the liturgy may once again become the highroad on which art and faith meet each other and walk together.

There was a very important thing in the statutes of the artists of Siena in the 14th century. In the statutes of these artists, one of the first paragraphs was this: “We, artists, have as our task to show to people who don’t know how to read the Bible the great marvels worked by God throughout history.” The artist, you see, was in the cathedrals, the great churches of the past, for a good reason. There was a Bible of stone, pages of stone, the bas-reliefs, or, instead there were pages of frescoes, or paintings, that spoke about God. The liturgy always needs to have in its interior, as Jean Guitton, the French Catholic philosopher, said - making a play on words in Latin - it needs to have at the same time mumen and lumen. Lumen, because it must be light, must be representation, must show reality straightaway in all its beauty. But, it is not just any old representation like you would have in some arbitrary building. It also must be mumen, that is mystery, which is beyond the slit.

I have presented two moments to you about this single symbol. I have concluded. We have presented, on the one hand, art and faith as wound. We need a thrill. We need to be a bit shaken. To return again to this intensity. It is always impressive to see, e.g., in great squares, and it is sad because it is often the young generations, people moving as if they were flocks. They move like that - without purpose. And they may even be next to marvelous monuments that used to speak in extraordinary ways [...]. This flow, almost a drift ... This is the great need of our times. To do things again so that this thrill may return.

I often quote [...] a phrase from the diary of a Danish, Christian, Protestant philosopher, a strong believer, of the 19th century - Søren Kierkegaard. He spoke in the 19th century, but think how true this reality is in our days too ... He said - he used this image [...]: “The ship is in the hands of the cook’s mate and what the captain’s megaphone transmits is no longer the route of the ship but what we shall be eating tomorrow.”4 How many are, e.g., in front of a television, or a computer. They learn about everything. They know, they can look for everything. But what they are lacking, and let’s return to Miller, is the route, meaning.

Once, in Florence, I was walking along with a friend of mine, whom many of you know - one of the greatest poets of the last century: Mario Luzi [...], and he - it was an afternoon or maybe evening - [...] said to me: “Look,” the lights in the windows were coming on in the houses and in the flats you could literally see in almost all of them the bluish rectangle of the television. And he said a phrase to me - he spoke slowly - a phrase that has always impressed me. He said: “We don’t know whether these people, who are there in front of the television, have their hands up as a sign of surrender or adoration.” Effectively this is true. In the end it tells you everything about what you’ll eat tomorrow, about all that is happening - the banal and the vulgar. It tells you all about fashions, but about the route? Here is the open wound.

On the other hand we have also wanted to evoke the need for transcendence. Art and faith that take you towards the beyond, the divine, in these different forms, these five ways that we have called out: the word, the world, the human face, the face of Christ, and finally the celebration.

And now I’ll finish and conclude with two witnesses that I would like to seal together [...]. I’d like to finish with a lay voice, the voice of a writer, since we need both the voice of faith and the voice of art. He is a famous writer whose books still sell even after a long time since his death. It is the German, Herman Hesse, who is much liked also by the youth. The author of Siddhartha, of Narcissus and Goldmund. He once wrote a historical novel that has two artistic protagonists already in its title: Klein und Wagner. So, on the one hand figurative art and on the other music. And at the end he says, he explains what art is. And, look, he wasn’t a particularly strong believer. He did have his own spirituality in his own way, imbued with oriental elements. And this is the definition he writes: “Art means: seeing God in everything.”5 The slit. Seeing God in everything.

But, I would like to conclude with the voice of believers, a choral voice, and I’ll leave the words as they sound. There are two subjects who speak, in a choral way representing also all of us.

On 8th December 1965, the Council concludes and messages are sent, where one is also addressed to artists. Let’s hear the words of the council fathers: “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 year and tear of time, which unites generations and makes them share things in admiration. And all of this is through your hands.” The Council has thanked artists, the true, great artists.

On the other hand there is the voice from which I have started, the voice of Benedict XVI [...] who addressed artists in the Sistine Chapel and his talk finished as follows. And I too will finish with these words that speak to artists, that speak about beauty and that are spoken by a pastor, a believer, by him who continuously feels the need for art and faith to be together. So, here are his words, spoken on 21 November 2009: “You are the custodians of beauty: thanks to your talent, you have the opportunity to speak to the heart of humanity, to touch individual and collective sensibilities, to call forth dreams and hopes, to broaden the horizons of knowledge and of human engagement. Be grateful, then, for the gifts you have received and be fully conscious of your great responsibility to communicate beauty, to communicate in and through beauty! Through your art, you yourselves are to be heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity! And do not be afraid to approach the first and last source of beauty, to enter into dialogue with believers, with those who, like yourselves, consider that they are pilgrims in this world and in history towards infinite Beauty! Faith takes nothing away from your genius or your art: on the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them, it encourages them to cross the threshold and to contemplate with fascination and emotion the ultimate and definitive goal, the sun that does not set, the sun that illumines this present moment and makes it beautiful.”

Thank you.

1 Note that this is a verbatim translation of the Italian rendering of the end of Psalm 47:8, the term “art” does not appear in most English ones. The New American Bible simply says “sing praise”, while the King James Bible, which - in this case - comes closest to the Italian that Ravasi uses, renders that phrase as “sing ye praises with understanding.”
2 This probably refers to the following passage from Pound’s The Serious Artist:“You don’t argue about an April wind, you feel bucked up when you meet it. You feel bucked up when you come on a swift moving thought in Plato or on a fine line in a statue.”
3 “Feritoia” in Italian can refer to a narrow slit or opening, e.g., in a wall that can can let light in, or an arrow loop through which archers can shoot out of a fortress’ walls.
4 It looks like this refers to the following entry in Kierkegaard’s diary from 24th January 1847: “Suppose there is only one megaphone on a ship and the cook’s mate has appropriated it, an act that all regarded as appropriate. Everything the cook’s mate to has to communicate (“Some butter on the spinach” or “Fine weather today” or “God knows if there’s something wrong below in the ship” etc.) is communicated through the megaphone, but the captain has to give his commands solely by means of his voice, for what the captain has to say is not so important. Yes, the captain finally has to ask the cook’s mate to help him so that he can be heard, if the cook’s mate would be no good as to “report” the order, which, it must be admitted, sometimes gets completely garbled in going through the cook’s mate and his megaphone, in which case the captain strains his little voice in vain, for the cook and his megaphone are heard. Finally the cook’s mate gets control, because he has the megaphone.”
5 Incidentally Benedict XVI quotes that same definition in his address to artists two years earlier.