50. Jahrgang Nr. 6 / Juni 2020
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1. Les erreurs de Vatican II
2. Jésus-Christ est-il le Fils de Dieu?
3. Comment le Christ peut être reconnu comme le Fils de Dieu
4. Commentaires sur l´idée de l´expiation
5. La question demeure: Jésus-Christ est-il le Fils de Dieu?
6. Heureux les coeurs purs, car ils verront Dieu (Mt. 5, 8)
7. Remarques sur le traité: „Heureux les coeurs purs, car ils verront Dieu“ (Mt. 5,8)
8. Mais nous tous qui reflètons la gloire du Seigneur
9. Annexe: „Avoir Dieu en nous“
10. L´importance de l´art dans le domaine religieux
11. Informations de la rédaction
The Meaning of Art in the Religious Domain
The Meaning of Art in the Religious Domain

Eberhard Heller
Translation: Elisabeth Meurer
Fr. Krier proofread it

Quite a few readers will have asked themselves why, in my discourse “The errors of Vatican II and their defeat”, I have quoted, under point 5, “Representation of religious content and ideas in the different areas of art” among the conditions which are to lead to the restitution of the Church, whereas the measures mentioned should only be the most important ones. Why should one give so much importance to the depiction of religious aspects in art?

About this I can say that Christianity has, from the beginning, tried to represent the statements of faith in forms of art, i.e. in pictures, figures, music, poetry, architecture, to give expression to them – in addition to the preaching of the gospel.

Why? In order to glorify God and to depict these religious ideas in the interpersonal sector: the churches, their interior furnishing by pictures and figures and the liturgy which was celebrated in them, they were integrated in the purpose of a free artistic formation. Even in the times of persecution, in the underground art played an important part, just think of  the paintings in the catacombs or in the old church buildings in Saloniki or of  the monastery Hosios Lukas in Boeotia in Greece of  the 11th century with its wonderful mosaics.

The liturgy used music as an independent form of art. First this was done by the human voice to announce the praise of God; it is also spoken of  the heavenly singing which was already formed early. There I think of  the Gregorian chant, of  the “Sacred and divine liturgies” of St. Basil (+ 379) and of St. John Chrysostom (+ 407) which do not only belong to orthodoxy but also to  the Catholic Church even if they are celebrated today in the Eastern Church, too. The music fascinated for example the Indians in Paraguay to such an extent that they adopted Christianity because they heard God speaking through the music. For the Russians under Communist power the liturgy was the source of faith, by which their religion has survived among them. There, religious education – the finest means for imparting the faith – was forbidden.

Let me leap from the early ages of the Church into our present day. What would the season of Advent in Bavaria be without the simple melodies in which the arrival of the Child Jesus is sung of, in which He is worshipped with all humility? (N. b. I remark that in the Bavarian folksongs the former popular religiousness is still kept – despite and just because of the substantial penetration of Conciliarism even into the rural areas. In themselves the reverence for the central miracle of the Incarnation of God remains alive even if incidentally the faith in the real Incarnation of God has vanished.

Religious art could only show itself in these forms as it could refer to precise religious idea and conceptions for its artistic arrangement. Just think of  the Romanesque, Gothic or Byzantine church buildings which were built according to certain theological concepts: the direction of  the altar towards the east, the source of the cross as floor plan of the church building because the salvation of  the New Testament had descended from the cross, the transept was more frequently interpreted as pointing to the description of the heavenly Jerusalem (as in the Apocalypse of St. John by hanging up a 12-bramched candelabra), the direction of  the nave towards the altar, the direction of  the priest versus Deum (in the tabernacle) and not versus populum (as the reformers do for whom the priest, because of his turning to the people, no longer takes the part of  mediator between God and man as he was in the pre-Conciliar times.) In order to confine the central event in Mass, the consecration, from the people in the church, and in order to keep the mystery, the Orthodox use the iconostases still today, while in the Roman Church the choir screen had the same function; it was eventually removed during the Middle Ages but is still to be seen in the Stephansmünster of Breisach or in St. Mary’s in the Capitol in Rome.

The architectural structure provided a room of their own for the candidaten who were not yet baptized but wanted to convert to the church, the so-called pre-temple or portico, the pronaos. In Gothic churches you frequently find the pictures of the lives of Jesus and Mary in the sanctuary. The series of pictures which follow a certain stereotyped pattern were not mere depictions in the true sense of the word, for they also had catechetical functions. There were no books as manuscripts for religious education (yet). The painters who arranged these frescos were called from all parts of Europe. So Simon von Taisten, court painter of  the counts of Görz, not only painted the impressing frescos of  the pilgrimage church Maria Schnee in Obermauern in East Tyrol by the end of  the 15th century but also worked as a church painter among others in Niederdorf, in the Schloss Bruck (Bruck Castle) near Lienz where he painted the chapels between 1492 and 1496, and in Taisten. Until about 1500 Paola von Görz-Gonzaga and her husband, the last count of Görz, Leonhard von Görz, were important customers for Simon von Taisten. (Cf. as well the title photos of EINSICHT, 15th year, no. 1 of April 1985 and the no. 5 of December 1985)

The builders guilds also moved from one town to another in order to carry out the demand for churches to be built. This is seen in the Guild of Parle, a family of stone cutters, wood workers and building architects who contributed in developing the gothic architecture in the whole of Europe and were responsible not only for the Cathedral of Cologne, but also for the construction of the Heilig-Kreuz-Münster of Schwäbisch Gmünd, for St. Veits Cathedral and the Charless Bridge in Prague, for St. Sebaldus in Nuremberg, for the Cathedral of St. Barbara in Kuttenberg in Bohemia (Kutna Hora), the city hall of Krakow, the Münster churches of Ulm, Freiburg and Basel. (Note: Münster in German means a monastic church—therefore these churches were monastic churches at one time).

It has fallen somewhat into oblivion that, besides the master builders, the painters, the sculptors and the plasterers who worked with stucco, those who drew up the theological conceptions for a church received great importance and became famous. Mostly they were the parish priests who were in charge and who, together with their master builders, strived for inserting the ideas into the details of the planning and the executing of a church building. The matter was to set the floor plan, the height of the naves and transepts, the layout of  the main altar, of the side altars, to whom the church was to be dedicated, how this dedication was to be represented, by what pictures and which altar retables, how should the loft for the organ be designed etc.? The establishing of such a theological conception for a church building can be seen quite well in the monastery of Rottenbuch in Upper Bavaria, a former Augustinian Canons Monastery which was decorated by the plasterer Joseph Schmuzer in the Rokoko style in the middle of the 18th century. At first sight one could think that it is a church dedicated to the birth of Christ. But when taking a closer look at the details and the theological appreciation of these details, it soon becomes clear that it is a church which was dedicated to the birth of Mary.

Just imagine the world of the Christian West without any testimonies of art which were erected “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam” – “To the greater glory of God” (from the dialogues of Pope Gregory the Great) or “Omnia ad maiorem Dei gloriam” – “All for the greater glory of God”. Without the cathedrals, the church buildings of  the Religious Orders, without the many chapels which frequently owe their foundation to  the private initiative of individual faithful or families, without the artistic portrayals, the decoration with figures, the “musica sacra”, without the mysterious mystical furnishings of an Asam church in Munich. It would be cold in this world, bitterly cold, and we would already be “frozen”. The art which is not bound by a “you must” but freely rises above all constraints, and which still allows to the artist a life of asceticism, is evidence of our spiritual freedom where our reason rises above everything which is merely natural.

So one could go through each style, from the witnesses to the pre-Romanesque on to the Romanesque style, the Renaissance, the Baroque until its late form in Rococo which had also a flourishing period in Bavaria to list the specifically religious declarations each of the eras wanted to express, and which were relevant to them.

If one considers the romanesque depictions of Christ on the Cross, then one will notice that the face is not marked by pain and despair (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?“ – John 19, 26-27), but rather by transfiguration, it is a person who, despite the present miserable situation, has already overcome the terrible death on the cross or who anticipates the victory over death. I am thinking among others about the Volto Santo of Lucca, a wooden crucifix of the 11th century in the cathedral there. It has been venerated as a relic since the middle ages. The Volto Santo shows Jesus Crucified in a long robe, with a beard and opened eyes. It has an enormous aura which draws the observer to have a deep devotion.

The gothic depictions of Christ on the Cross are, in a way, quite different. He is the Crucified One who is dying of pain – spiritual and physical. The panel of  the crucifixion of  the altar of Isenheim by Matthias Grünewald (1460-1528) in Colmar, the main work presumably made in the years of 1506 until 1515, shows Christ dying with an agonized face on a darkening background which seems to be shifting into night.

The baroque era was able to see and to depict the abundance of life in this world onto the background of the abyss which starts from the lopsidedness of the plateau. “Vanitas! Vanitarum vanitas!” (“Vanity of vanities”) it says in a poem by Andreas Gryphius:

 “Wherever I look, I only see vanity on earth,
what this one builds up today, the other on tears down tomorrow.”

In the biography of Emil Nolde, the expressionist painter, who became known among others by his watercolour paintings of flowers, the colours of which are very expressive, there is  the following event: In 1909, he had painted the “Last Supper” in expressionist manner in oil with the intention that it would adorn the church of his local municipality. But the parish council rejected this intent.  It forbade its being hung up, because the depiction did not have the approval of this committee.

What would thus an art be like which would specifically express the religious sensitivities which have developed in our time? It should take into account the regaining of the central truth, namely that God has become a man, that Christ is this God and man from whom our existence (in the New Testament) is to be formed. It should dedicate itself to representing this central mystery. This could be done by analogies and metaphors, like a parable, as Christ also spoke in parables. But one cannot simply determine them in advance, for the processing, that is, the translation into art of a view remains in the originality and the inspiration of the artist. But one may expect that the product can be understood by men thrown into this strife-torn world, that its language is not an incomprehensible language which only a few can decipher, that is, that they need an interpreter or which is made up in a way that it is beyond any translation.

But in a time of darkness we have every reason to let the darkened picture of the sun, which is Christ, and which is cast over by a deep betrayal, light up again in His honour, to His glory.

(EINSICHT of Dec. 2013, no. 4, p. 122-125)
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