The fine arts, but above all sacred art, “of their very nature are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands. Their dedication to the increase of God’s praise and of his glory is more complete, the more exclusively they are devoted to turning men’s minds devoutly toward God” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vat II, CCC 2513).
Because we are created “in the image and likeness of God” (Gn 1:26) it is natural to us to wish to express ourselves creatively. Because not everything we experience in the depths of the human heart or the exaltations of the soul which speak of the mystery of God can be expressed in human words, we use artistic works to try to convey the beauty of these realities.
“Art is a distinctively human form of expression; beyond the search for the necessities of life which is common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being’s inner riches”. (CCC 2501).
It is fascinating to see that in the Catechism of the Catholic Church the section pertaining to Sacred Art falls within the teaching on Truth. It says that ‘Truth is beautiful in itself” and consequently that art “is true and beautiful when its form corresponds to its particular vocation; evoking and glorifying, in faith and adoration, the transcendent mystery of God” (2500-2502).
Jesus Christ is the fullness of God’s creative expression. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), he is Truth made visible. This is why Christ is the subject of so many artists throughout history. In the Old Covenant, before Jesus was revealed to the world, God had forbidden the depiction of Himself as part of the first commandment. He wanted to keep the chosen people from falling into the worship of false gods. But once God became man and dwelt among us the danger of the worship of idols was removed for us. No believing Catholic Christian will be tempted to worship an image of God made by human hands now that we have seen and touched God- made -man in the person of Christ, and have him truly present in the Holy Eucharist. Our depictions of him at this point are simply our attempt to express our longing, love, and awe for him who “reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature”, in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. (Heb 1:3, Col 2:9, CCC 2502).
“Genuine sacred art draws man to adoration, to prayer, and to the love of God, Creator and Savior, the Holy One and Sanctifier” (CCC 2502).