The Pope Takes Questions, Part II

From the Pope's Q&A on August 6th

Second Question: Fr. Willibald Hopfgartner, OFM

Holy Father, my name is Willibard Hopfgartner. I’m a Franciscan and I work in school and in different areas of the administration of the Order. In your speech at Regensburg, you underlined the substantial bond between the divine Spirit and human reason. On the other hand, you have always underlined the importance of art and of beauty, of aesthetics. Thus, alongside the conceptual dialogue about God (in theology), should’t the aesthetic experience of the faith in the ambit of the church, through proclamation and liturgy, always be remembered?

Benedict XVI

Thank you. Yes, I think that the two things go together: reason, precision, honesty in reflection upon the truth, and beauty. A form of reason that in some way wished to strip itself of beauty would be diminished, it would be a blinded reason. Only the two things together form the whole, and precisely for the faith this union is important. The faith must continually confront the challenges of the thought of this epoch, so that it doesn’t seem a sort of irrational legend that keeps us going, but rather truly a response to the great questions; so that it’s not merely habit but also the truth, as Tertullian once put it. Saint Peter, in his first letter, wrote that phrase which the theologians of the Middle Ages took as a legitimization, almost as a commission for their theological work: ‘Be ready in every moment to give an account of the sense of hope that is within you’ – an apologia of the logos for hope, meaning a transformation of that logos, that reason of hope, into an apologia in response to others. Obviously, he was concinved that the faith is logos, that it is a reason, a light that proceeds from the Creative Reason, and not a simple hodge-podge that’s the fruit solely of our thought. That’s why it’s universal, and for this reason can be communicated to everyone.
This creator-logos is not simply a technical logos – we’ll come back to this point. It’s ample, it’s a logos which is love, and thus it expresses itself in beauty and in good. In reality, I once said that for me, art and the saints are the greatest apologia for our faith. The arguments adduced by reason are absolutely important and cannot be renounced, but there’s always dissent from somewhere. However, if we look to the saints, this great luminous wake with which God has passed through history, we truly see that here is a force for good that survives through millennia, here is truly light from light. In the same way, if we contemplate the beautiful works of art created by the faith, they represent, I would simply say, the living proof of the faith. If I look at this beautiful cathedral, it is a living proclamation! It speaks to us, and starting from the beauty of the cathedral we can visually proclaim God, Christ, and all God’s mysteries: here they have taken form, and they look at us. All the great works of art, the cathedrals – the Gothic cathedrals and the splendid Baroque churches – are a luminous sign of God, and thus are truly a manifestation, an epiphany of God. In Christianity it’s precisely a matter of this epiphany: that God has become a veiled Epiphany – he appears and is resplendent. We just heard the organ in all its splendor, and I think that the great music born in the church is a way of rendering audible and perceptible the truth of our faith: from Gregorian chant to the music of the cathedrals up to Palestrina and his epoch, through Bach and Mozart and Bruckner and so on … Listening to all these works – the Passion of Bach, his Mass in B Minor, and the great spiritual compositions of the polyphony of the 16th century, the Viennese school, all the great music even of minor composers – suddenly we feel: ‘It’s true!’ Where things such as these works are born, there’s the truth. Without an intuition about the true creative center of the world, such beauty cannot be born.
For this reason, I think that we have to be sure that they two things always go together, that we carry them together. When, in our time, we discuss the rationality of the faith, we should discuss precisely the fact that reason does not end where experimental discoveries leave off, it does not end in positivism. The theory of evolution sees the truth, but it sees only half of it. It does not see that behind evolution there’s the Spirit of creation. We are struggling for the expansion of reason, and thus for a form of reason that is open to the beautiful, not leaving it aside as something totally different or irrational. Christian art is a rational art – think of Gothic art or the great music or, in this case, our Baroque art – but it’s an artistic expression of a greatly amplified reason, in which the heart and reason meet. This is the point. This, I think, is in some ways the proof of the truth of Christianity: the heart and reason meet, beauty and truth touch one another. The more we live in the beauty of the truth, the more the faith can return to being creative also in our time, and express itself in convincing artistic forms.
So, dear Fr. Hopfgartner, thank you for the question. Let’s try to ensure that the two categories, the aesthetic and the noetic, are united, and that in this great vastness the completeness and the depth of our faith are manifest.