Art and Religion

“…culture does not grow only out of worship of God.”

This sane observation was made by a member of the Conservative Christian Democrats in Germany back in September 2007.  It was in response to a Roman Catholic cardinal’s sneering assessment of art in the newly opened museum built on the ruins of Cologne’s St. Kolumba Church (Columba, Irish missionary, known as the “Apostle of Caledonia”).   The cardinal, Joachim Meisner, had earlier felt it his holy duty to criticize the artist who had designed the stained glass windows for the Cologne Cathedral.

The cardinal pontificated in a sermon at the opening of the museum saying that it was dangerous to allow art to break away from religion.  He elaborated that an “indisputable connection” existed between culture (i.e. art) and religion, and if culture was “uncoupled” from worship then both religion and culture would disintegrate.

The cardinal’s choice of words–the word entartete (degenerate) in particular–slashed at painful psychological wounds to many German ears.  In 1937  the Nazi party had jockeyed for its power grab and part of their strategy was to attempt to ban artworks, especially expressionists, that they deemed counter to their objectives—the restructuring of German culture.  The artworks confiscated by the Nazis were declared to be “Entartete Kunst,”  degenerate art.

In spite of Cardinal Meisner’s claim as to what constituted proper art, art was not exactly appreciated by the early molders of the Roman Church.  In the saga of the  church, as the “fathers” floundered about concocting doctrine and dogma, most art representations–except for harshly defined crosses–were spurned.

As noted in Time Frames and Taboo Data, the 13th century saw unwelcome change thrust upon the church.  To quote: “The arts were coming out of hibernation and Nature was being restored with dignity that had been previously thought unworthy.”  (page 276)  But the art that came into church approval somewhat later (14th century) still consisted mainly of stiff, unnatural representations which continued in style until realistic treatment of space was initiated by the Florentine painter Masaccio (1401-1428).

Even then the propaganda value of art continued to be only vaguely understood by the church.  Then c. 1527 (to quote from TFTD), “The church was feeling the pressure of discontent among the masses and a strategy had to be devised to gain broader appeal.  The promotional strategy that was then undertaken (by the church) is well recognized in today’s advertising medium.  The church (under Pope Clement VII) sought to overwhelm the masses in the sensual appeal of art, music, and lavish display.”  (page 312 TDTF)

So Cardinal Meisner’s dismissal of any art display in the cathedral other than that which pleased his religious interpretations deserved the mild rebuke by the German public official.

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3 Responses to “Art and Religion”

  1. I think I have read that being an artist was the first profession–earlier than prostitutes!

    The Cardinal’s words fit into the Theory of 2 Swords, do they not?–the idea of the necessity of linking the church and state. There could be no other authority, so to think that another group in society could have an influence on culture/art/whatever, would have been very threatening. Before, art had always been so carefully selected and monitored, but then came the printing press…and the rest is history. Que viva la revolucion!

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