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Faith is caught, not taught, and art is a good way of catching souls

Catholicism needs more emphasis on beauty

By on Monday, 29 October 2012


The Synod on the New Evangelisation has now reached its conclusion. It has published a message that can be read in full here, elsewhere on the Catholic Herald website.

The following passage struck a chord with me:

We must form welcoming communities in which all outcasts find a home, concrete experiences of communion which attract the disenchanted glance of contemporary humanity with the ardent force of love – “See how they love one another!” (Tertullian, Apology, 39, 7). The beauty of faith must particularly shine in the actions of the sacred Liturgy, above all in the Sunday Eucharist. It is precisely in liturgical celebrations that the Church reveals herself as God’s work and renders the meaning of the Gospel visible in word and gesture.

What it is saying is that the parish is going to tbe the primary place of evangelisation, and that the Holy Mass is going to be the place where the individual encounters not just the Church but Christ as well. As I have said before now, it is thus imperative that our parishes offer the best possible of everything, particularly liturgy and preaching: after all it is Christ who is celebrated and Christ who is preached. And the key word in all this is “beauty”: the beauty of faith must be allowed to shine out and it must never be obscured.

The document also mentions Scripture:

The frequent reading of the Sacred Scriptures – illuminated by the Tradition of the Church who hands them over to us and is their authentic interpreter – is not only necessary for knowing the very content of the Gospel, which is the person of Jesus in the context of salvation history. Reading the Scriptures also helps us to discover opportunities to encounter Jesus, truly evangelical approaches rooted in the fundamental dimensions of human life: the family, work, friendship, various forms of poverty and the trials of life, etc.

It is not quite clear what this means in practice but it is undoubtedly true that there can be no true proclamation of the Good News without a scriptural basis. So, we need to do much more to promote the understanding and appreciation of the Bible.

The document also contains this insight:

We also want to thank men and women involved in another expression of the human genius, art in its various forms, from the most ancient to the most recent. We recognize in works of art a particularly meaningful way of expressing spirituality inasmuch as they strive to embody humanity’s attraction to beauty. We are grateful when artists through their beautiful creations bring out the beauty of God’s face and that of his creatures. The way of beauty is a particularly effective path of the new evangelization.

Again, the accent is on beauty, and here too the emphasis is surely correct. More people have been won over to Christ by, for example, Bernini’s Saint Teresa in Ecstasy, than any tome on apologetics. Catholicism is a religion of the visual. We need to explore new avenues of beauty that lead to the truth of God in all the arts to try to reach our contemporaries. Faith is caught, not taught, and art is an effective way of catching souls – so the history of the Counter-Reformation shows.

  • rjt1

    Isn’t the idea that “faith is caught, not taught’ what gave us the catechetical desert? Faith is a gift but it involves an intellectual component, and so there is a place for teaching.

  • Lazarus

    I don’t think there is single way of evangelizing. Certainly, for me, it was the intellectual component that was decisive, although I’m sure that Catholic art was an important element in fertilizing the soil. We need to do everything: demonstrate the truth, goodness and beauty of Catholicism and God.

    And again, although the Parish is important -particularly in not putting off those who have been drawn in by other means- in some ways I put up with Parish life rather than finding it my main focus. That’s probably a bad reflection on my own character, but most moderns find community life in general a bit of a chore (‘bowling alone’ replacing ‘bowling as a team’) and the Church has to deal with this at some level. (But excellence in liturgy is important: I’d find it embarrassing to wax lyrical about the glories of the faith and then put a prospective convert in front of some ‘local practices’.)

    Anyway, advance on all fronts rather than opt for one method of attack!

  • paulpriest

    Why did God make you?
    God made me to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this world and to be happy forever with Him in the next.

    Real Evangelisation is by living out one’s Faith by living one’s life in Prayer, by gracious and heartfelt appreciation and reception of the Sacraments and by actuating the corporal and spiritual works of mercy…
    BUT The world needs to know they are loved by God and the Mystical Body of Christ – Holy Mother Church – to which they are all called to belong…

    How can they receive this message?
    Catholics need to deliver this message…

    …and at present with the dearth of catechetics and apologetics the majority of Catholics under 40 are well-intentioned pagans and the majority above that age are clinging to the little they learned as children. Even if they remain orthodox and loyal and follow Church teachings it’s with no recognition or understanding as to WHY they do it…it’s tradition and cultural habit…

    Our pulpits have developed mould and grown over with cobwebs – our religious education material is counter-productive pseudo-protestant syncretism where Jesus is more like Willy Wonka or Harry Potter or Frodo and God a Sata Claus,Gandalf or Dumbledore…and the good samaritan and prodigal son have joined the canons of fairy tales alongside snow white and the three litle pigs…

    The realms of public witness – especially pro-Life witness have been subsumed with pragmatism, relativism and trendy-ishoo zeitgeist memes…

    and yet again we declare we are going to emphasise the family – without having a bloody clue what makes a family tick, its inner workings and struggles and sacrifices and how wonderful it is…
    ..and we fall into the same bloody trap of accentuating our Yoof – and making them ‘special’ – failing to realise that what we’re doing is isolating them, segregating them and alienating them…offering to provide them with all manner of things its believed they want [by defunct baby-boomer hippies who never grew up] – while providing them with nothing they need….

    New Evangelisation?

    Don’t make me laugh!

    Start with the story…catechise!!!
    …and for EVERY question – provide an answer grounded in our barely-used but overflowing reservoir of apologetics…

  • Romulus

    Within the liturgy, the transmission of faith is not overt and didactic, but mysterious and inspired, an action of grace more than intellect. Catechesis takes place in liturgy, but it isn’t we who’re the catechists.  Ideally, liturgy is a prophetic encounter.  Putting it another way, faith is transmitted by liturgy, a given thing that we need only allow to take place, not by liturgists who contrive to reduce it to a comprehensible and programmatic event. 

    Caught, not taught says it all.

  • Kevin

    More people have been won over to Christ by, for example, Bernini’s Saint Teresa in Ecstasy, than any tome on apologetics.

    Assuming that is true, how substantial a foundation is that? I cannot imagine a single so-called New Atheist being convinced by it, and to that extent they are right. How long would such a conversion hold in the face of intellectual ridicule? Should it hold?

    The use of beauty to promote “truth” is as much open to anti-Catholics as it is to the Church. Take, for example, the Hollywood actresses that have been seconded to promote abortion in the US presidential election campaign.

    On the subject of apologetics, however, I found the recently republished and updated Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine by Archbishop Michael Sheehan to be readily accessible. This used to be a standard text in Catholic schools until it was inexplicably withdrawn after Vatican II. Now we have a situation where the “New Atheists” are telling Catholics what they believe while the latter often struggle to respond.

  • karlf

    Why would they want to trust in your version of the ‘truth’, rather than the ‘truths’ of other religions?

  • paulpriest

     because we don’t deal with ‘religious truths’ or ‘scientific truths’ or any other pragmatic, situationist ‘truth’

    We believe Truth is a Person: Our Lord & Saviour Jesus Christ: The Word made Flesh…

    All else follows.

  • JabbaPapa

    Why would anyone keep on posting the same question again and again and again, and ignoring the answers given to him again and again and again ?

    Disagree with those answers as much as you like, but it’s plainly silly to keep on asking as if you were expecting different answers from asking the same people on a different calendar date.

  • rjt1

    But is faith given only in a liturgical context?

  • theroadmaster

    Art in the service of the Church has produced countless spiritual masterpieces on canvas, wood and rock over 2 millennia but somehow this very fruitful relationship lost it’s vigor over the greater part of the 20th century and into the present one.  Great artistic endeavours have indeed excited the spirits of many observers over the centuries and led to myriad conversations, but great literary, theological and intellectual masterpieces have also contributed to the appeal of the universal truths in Catholic Christianity e.g “Summa Theologica” by the Angelic Doctor Thomas Aquinas in the 13th Century or “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas à Kempis in the 15th century.   The latter works are enduring classics of religious thought, which have been influential down to our day.  The Catholic genius is best captured, when the body, mind and soul are raised to ecstatic heights of contemplation,  by great art, music and literature working in unison.

  • karlf

    Nonsense. You are stating ‘truths’ just as any Muslim does. But it is quite apparent that most religious people believe that other religions are the truth, and that Jesus is not, so all else does not follow, does it?

  • karlf

    As usual Jabba, you do not give any answers.

  • Rizzo The Bear

    And, as usual, you read like a broken record.

  • karlf

    and you’re just as bad Rizzo – as soon as the questions get a bit tricky for you, you’ll ignore them

  • GratefulCatholic

    Fr Paul, ignore the cretin – pearls before swine & etc. God bless you.

  • Romulus

     No, but as liturgical catechesis seems to be the thrust of this article, I took the opportunity to point out that it’s an abuse of liturgy to reduce it to a didactic event.

  • scary goat

     A lot of people just accept the religion they were born into or married into and as most religions have some degree of truth in them and many people just live their day to day lives without thinking too seriously, they just accept what they know.  For a person who takes the subject of religion more deeply, a search for truth is what “makes them tick”.  Why don’t you try doing some study and in-depth thought on the subject of comparative religion.  Try to figure out, if you were going to adopt a religion, which one would it be and why. 

  • Ghengis

    Sell off hideous structures like Liverpool Cathedral and raise money to
    restore and/or build beautiful Churches that inspire and educate by
    their sheer beauty. We need more Notre Dames and less Los Angeles
    Cathedrals. Also, let’s restore beauty to the music at mass with organ
    and choir and/or Gregorian Chant. Let’s restore church art as well.

  • JabbaPapa

    As usual, karlf, you have no real interest in the answers in the first place.

    Besides — I don’t even know who these vague “they” are even supposed to be in this latest version.

    Strawmen ?

  • JabbaPapa

    He’s actually a “Mr. Priest”, not a “Fr. Paul” ;-)

  • JabbaPapa

    Waste of time scary, he’ll just ignore your answer, and repost the question several umpteen more times on other threads.

    He’s not interested in any answers to his “question”, which is really just a statement in disguise.

  • GratefulCatholic

    Thank you JabbaPapa for the correction. My humble advice to Mr Priest, from 12,000 miles away, remains the same. My Regards.

  • karlf

    “they” would clearly be the non-Catholics, so hardly strawmen.

  • karlf

    Surely for those born into a religion, that religion holds a particular authenticity to them. If Catholicism can be seen to be distincly more credible than the other religions, all those deeper thinkers of other faiths would be converting. The fact that this is not happening is a strong indication that all these religious ‘truths’ are much alike.

  • karlf

     Your humble advice: “ignore the cretin”

    “I hate to see complacency prevail in our lives when it’s so directly contrary to the teaching of Christ.” – Jimmy Carter

  • Deodatus

    The Holy Father, especially in his teaching, meditation and hopes for the celebration of the Liturgy, so clearly understands this,  The quality of language, music, art and ambiance are avenues the Spirit uses to open our spiritual doors.  I recall a group of students in Bath singing a Monteverdi piece – and the enthralled silence of the considerable crowd listening.  Souls touched in ways only God will see.

  • Katherine Hall

    I would like to add Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I believe that Jesus ‘caught’ me with His Real Presence. :-)

  • NewMeena

    Father Alexander is right: Faith is caught.

    The vast majority of Catholic believers initially catch their faith from their parents. They are taken for Baptism as little babies and to church once or so a week and later usually go to Catholic schools.

    They have Catholicism ingested from all these sources throughout their formative years.

    It is really quite surprising that so many of them give up their Catholic beliefs etc as teenagers or young adults.
    The human brain must be very resilient.

  • NewMeena

    You give no answers JP, You never have done.

  • Alan

    A person can be taught everything about the Catholic faith, can even accept it as being “objectively true” (as the devils believe, according to Christ), but it can still mean nothing at an existential level.  That is why it needs to be caught, as well as taught.

  • Age_of_Reason

    Taught vs. caught is a false dichotomy.  It’s not a case of one or the other, you need both.  Faith seeks understanding.

  • WG Grace

    Quite apart from the glory of a Test Match at Lords against the forces of evil otherwise known as Australia, we down here in Gloucestershire applaud Fr. Lucie-Smith’s recall of the age-old truth that the clerics and religious of the modern Catholic Church, puritans, iconoclasts and philistines to a man and woman as they are, have not only forgotten, but in their boundless arrogance and folly have sneered at for decades.


    I mean this kind of beauty:

    and this:

    and this:

  • Benedict Carter

    A quick answer to meena and karlf below:

    Because the truth always attracts, that’s why.

    - – - 

    I am now living in Russia again. The Russian Orthodox Church may be schismatic, but it has never forgotten how beauty draws the soul up towards God and even to the practice of virtue (when joined to the Sacraments).

    The Catholic Church on the other hand, in recent decades (ever since that Council, no?), in trying to outdo Oliver Cromwell’s puritans, has gone absolutely insane.

    The iconoclasts of the 16th Century protestant revolution didn’t do much more damage to our churches, our art, our popular piety, as the “expert” sociologists and liturgists of the modern Church. 

    Amongst that unnecessary litany of “sorries”, I don’t remember John Paul II apologising to Catholics for what has been done to the Mass, to our churches, to our whole Catholic life, to our entire world-view (which was filled with beauty)

  • Benedict Carter

    Yet the abuses continue.

  • Benedict Carter

    By the way, let us not forget please that faith is a gift from God to the individual soul. We can smooth the way, open the heart and the mind (yes, both are needed – this soul is attracted by the intellectual / philosophical integrity of the Faith, that one by glorious music), but in the end faith is not found by ourselves or from someone else but is given by God. Paul Priest is right: the moment must come when one is faced with the need to answer the question, “What think you of Christ?” 

  • karlf

     “Because the truth always attracts, that’s why” So why are fashion and celebrity (both based on dilusionary fantasy) such a huge part of our culture? Why is the Koran so much more in demand than the Bible? The reality appears contrary to your explanation.

  • Benedict Carter

    And a final note before getting back to work:

    “The beauty of faith must particularly shine in the actions of the sacred Liturgy, above all in the Sunday Eucharist. It is precisely in liturgical celebrations that the Church reveals herself as God’s work and renders the meaning of the Gospel visible in word and gesture.”

    Then bring back the Old Mass, Holy Father, and dump the Nervous Ordure! “Beauty” and the NO are contradictions in terms.

  • Benedict Carter

    Original Sin and damaged human nature. 

  • karlf

     “Because the truth always attracts, that’s why”
    One of the problems I see with Catholicism (religion in general)is that it hampers the understanding of human nature with theories such as ‘original sin’.

  • karlf

    Jabz -  the comments I have made on this page invalidate your claims.

  • Benedict Carter

    That’s fine, karlf, you keep thinking that if you like.

  • NewMeena

    I know this music, and it is indeed beautiful. I admit too that I have a special liking for much sacred music, possibly because I know the Christian story – although I love almost all “grown-up” music.

    In one Mass, that I know well, the composer (during the Creed) writes “Et ….(pause)…. et incarnatus est”, as if he can hardly believe it. He was a Catholic and a believer, but I can understand his expression of amazement.

  • karlf

    I don’t think it because I like to, but because I have an interest in gaining a better understanding of human nature. If you want to understand about the workings of envy, for instance, Catholic teachings will only stand in your way.

  • Deodatus

    Indeed. A sentiment too often heard in parishes here is that the Liturgy “must be user friendly” with all the ugly result and misunderstanding this implies.  One despairs.

  • Benedict Carter

    You atheists are funny!

  • Benedict Carter

    Really? Please do explain.

  • karlf

    Basically, the Church teaches that the human mind works differently to other animals by using extra God given/supernatural properties. But the human evils of the world are the product of the human mind, and the process of civilisation is the overriding of our instinctive animal behaviours. If we do not understand those behavioural traits for what they really are, will we succeed in freeing ourselves from them?

  • Hermione

    As a young girl in Scotland all of my protestant friends went to Bible Study, they could quote it and thought us Catholics were damned to hell because we didn’t have their grounding in the book of our faith.  I wish the structure of Parishes included Bible Study classes.  For others to catch the faith they need to catch it from someone who is ‘infected’ with it, preferably one who has ‘caught it’ from informed sources.  We have the richness of Tradition and Scripture but who feels capable to spread The Word, how many of us actually understand what we believe?  Sadly, not as many as we would like to think.How can you defend a faith that the powers that be have left you to find out about it on your own. I am probably the world’s worst Catholic but I’m hoping that salvation is all in the trying.

  • Benedict Carter

    So how does the Catholic Faith “stand in your way” if you want to understand envy? It explains it perfectly – as no human system of explanation can. You haven’t answered.

    “It’s all in the mind” (eerily enough, there was a Monty Python sketch by that name) doesn’t answer it at all. 

    What IS the mind first of all? It’s composed of memory, will and intellect. You have to confront freewill.

  • karlf

    How does the Church explain envy perfectly?