It has been said, “the principle of art is the incarnation of God’s eternal beauty: the principle of religion is the incarnation of God’s eternal human heart. Neither can do the other’s work, yet their work is complimentary.” Never was there a time, when the educational value of great religious art was more generally recognized than it is today. This is partly due to the fact that TIME is more valuable NOW than ever before, and pictures are TIME-SAVERS. They present to the eye what it would take much longer to tell to the ear. This mental economy is a real service, for the less time and strength it takes to get an idea, the more time will be left in which to use and enjoy it.
The use of great works of art in teaching religious concepts rests upon the sound educational principle that a truth which reaches the mind through the ‘eye-gate’ and the ‘ear-gate’ at the same time doubles the impression. Psychologists tell us that sense impressions received through sight are of a higher order than those received through any other sense. Thus we say, “In one ear and out the other,” while we never say, “in one eye and out the other.”
In the ‘long ago and even far away,’ art rendered religion an incalculable service. From the Edict of Milan in 313 to the Reformation, the church was the patron saint of art. In the days when the populace was for the most part illiterate, the sacred story of the Christian religion was told in the universal language of the painter and sculptor. And for the masses the artist’s brush taught the story of Christianity more convincingly than the pen of the theologian. Works of art were (and some might argue, still are) the people’s Bible.
Beginning in worship on February 11th, the Sunday we celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ, and continuing for the following four weeks, I’ll offer insights on five major works of art. Some artists you might recognize: from the earliest, Sanzio Raphael in the 1500’s; some more obscure, Georg Cornicelius with a haunting depiction of the Temptation of Satan; to the sublime, in Bernard Plockhurst’s Blessing of the Children. I hope you’ll enjoy (or at least endure) these glimpses of great works of art. As the son of my late-father, artist and art professor all my life, I’m always grateful for having been imbued with a sense of art appreciation. May we find insight through faith at every experience.