The Beauty of Faith is a new and inspiring hourlong EWTN special that will take viewers on a pilgrimage of beauty to see the vital, irreplaceable place sacred art, architecture, music, poetry and literature should have in our lives and had in the lives of generations before us. It is hosted by Jem Sullivan, author of the book The Beauty of Faith.
Sullivan is already familiar to EWTN News Nightly audiences, as she regularly offers insights into religious works of art from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Her love for sacred art began early in life, deepened through college art courses and now continues in books and writings on the arts in the New Evangelization.The Beauty of Faith is a new and inspiring hourlong EWTN special that will take viewers on a pilgrimage of beauty to see the vital, irreplaceable place sacred art, architecture, music, poetry and literature should have in our lives and had in the lives of generations before us. It is hosted by Jem Sullivan, author of the book The Beauty of Faith.
Sullivan also finds herself surrounded by the arts and creativity at home; her husband, Scott, is a sculptor and potter. At one time a docent at the National Gallery of Art and currently an educator and writer, Sullivan focuses on how the arts have been essential to the Church and to culture.
She believes the arts radiate the beauty and the truth of the Catholic faith itself and are a path to deepen her own, and our own, love of God. Prior to the airing of The Beauty of Faith, the Register had a conversation with Sullivan about her show on beauty and sacred art.
Why did you make this show on sacred art?
Simply put, beauty is a path to God. This has been true for 2,000 years of the Catholic Tradition and especially true for us today living, as we do, in a visual culture. We’re immersed and surrounded by images. This visual culture entertains, informs and shapes us. Images are everywhere. We can’t escape it.
As disciples of Jesus we might ask, “What is the place of the artistic culture of the Church in our lives?” The Church has a 2,000-year-old visual and artistic culture that has shaped the faith of generations. This program raises questions of why and how beauty and the arts are vital in the Church and in our spiritual life and how the Church’s artistic culture might shape us even today as we go about our daily lives in a visual culture.
What are some of the purposes of this two-millennium tradition that are as important as ever?
Most people love to go to museums, galleries and special exhibits and see masterpieces of Christian art — the Madonna and Child, the Crucifixion, the saints. We can forget these paintings were often not originally created for the museum setting. They were created for churches, chapels, altars and places of prayer.
Some of the greatest artistic masterpieces in the world were created by the Church, for the Church and for the faithful — you and me.
They were created for the person in the pew, the person who walks into the church and sees and hears the faith in visual and audible forms. Through art, the eyes of the heart, mind and will are being lifted into heavenly realms. Think back to the magnificent Gothic cathedrals that were “catechisms in stone and stained glass.”
It’s exciting to hear the program will return us from that “museum masterpieces” thinking to the real purpose of the sacred arts in our lives: enhancing our faith.
The whole point of masterpieces of Christian art is to lead the faithful from seeing to contemplation, and from contemplation to adoration and praise of God.
They were created for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. So sacred art in the context of the Eucharist gives us a glimpse of the beauty of that heavenly liturgy, which we’re preparing to enter and participate in one day. Our participation in the earthly liturgy is a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy, and sacred art is part of that movement to God. That’s the ultimate focus of this program.
What are some of the personal ways you’ll bring out the beauty of sacred art, its importance and its necessity to our spiritual life?
As host, I invite viewers to join me and other guests — some tremendously insightful ones — on a pilgrimage to reflect on beauty in the New Evangelization, in the Church and in the daily life of our faith, families and work. We are going to see some beautiful ways the truths of the Catholic faith take the form of the beautiful in art, architecture, poetry, literature and music.
When one traces back to the art of the Roman catacombs, the Byzantine and Romanesque basilicas, the Gothic cathedrals, the art and architecture of the Renaissance, the Baroque and beyond, we see that, for several hundred years, the Church was the principal patron of the arts.
That cultural role is all but lost today. One way to recover that is to encourage and support well-trained artists today and attend to the vast tradition of sacred art from the past.
Why? Because there has never been a time in the Church’s history when we do not have beautiful expressions of sacred art. In fact, the proclamation of the Gospel in the Americas really begins with a single, beautiful image.
What else will you be looking at in the line of this sacred art?
Viewers will find out what the Catholic Tradition has to say about beauty, as we look to the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas. Then we go on to ask: “Do the arts have a place in daily life, in the spiritual life, the moral life, in families and in the raising of children?” These are some of the questions raised and answered in this program.
Who are some special guests in this program?
Bishop Robert Barron reflects on the theological and pastoral reasons for attending to beauty and the arts in preaching and in the New Evangelization. Acclaimed poet Dana Gioia reflects on beauty and shares his award-winning poetry with viewers. Entrepreneur Tim Busch reflects on beauty in the world of business and daily work. Dominican Father Thomas Joseph White and Dominican Father Basil Cole share the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas on beauty. Sir James McMillian, renowned Scottish composer of sacred and classical music, reflects on sacred music in the life of the Church and culture. And from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Msgr. Walter Rossi reflects on a mosaic masterpiece, and Peter Latona discusses sacred music.
How does the program answer and prove wrong those who say this art is not relevant to the culture?
Yes, people may not readily see the relevance of beauty in general and sacred art in particular. But take this election cycle. So many citizens are turned off by its sheer ugliness, in terms of ugly words, in moral character.
The visual culture of today surrounds us with images that often destroy and fragment. Children are addicted to video games. Before the internet, TV and iPod, people deepened their faith by making pilgrimages to places of beauty and with memories of these images to deepen their love of the Lord. On so many different levels, the question of beauty, the question of the arts comes back. It’s relevant particularly in our visual culture.
So we turn to the rich visual culture and tradition of the Church. We as Catholics, as parents, as pastors, as preachers of the word of God, ask ourselves: “What is the place of beauty in the life of the Church and faith, and how might beauty be a transformative element in our lives, the life of faith and culture?”
There are many important and eloquent voices who brought out what you are doing so humbly and, I might add, beautifully in this show.
St. John Paul II, in his “Letter to Artists,” Pope [Emeritus] Benedict XVI and Pope Francis all point to the power of the arts in the Church and in culture. Benedict XVI spoke eloquently on this theme. He once said, in The Ratzinger Report, “The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb.”
How many times has an atheist, agnostic or lukewarm believer stepped into a beautiful church with magnificent arches, stained-glass windows and uplifting sacred music and had a moment of conversion, a moment of grace? That’s what Pope Francis is talking about when he speaks of the “way of beauty,” the via pulchritudinis, as a path to encounter the Lord Jesus.
Beauty is a path to encountering the Lord in the spiritual life, in the Church and in the evangelization of culture. We do well to return to it.
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.
The Beauty of Faith will air on EWTN on Friday, Nov. 11, at 10pm and Sunday, Nov. 13, at 3pm, Eastern time.