ROMA: November 6, 2009. (Chiesa) - The announced meeting between Benedict XVI and artists will take place the morning of Saturday, November 21, 2009, in the Sistine Chapel.
The program of the meeting will be as follows. After a musical prelude, Archbishop Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the pontifical council for culture, will extend a greeting to those present in the name of the pope.
Then a few passages will be read from the “Letter to Artists” by John Paul II, from April 4, 1999. Finally, Pope Joseph Ratzinger will give his address. A second musical performance will close the meeting.
The Sistine Chapel is modest in size, so there will be at most five hundred artists present, from all over the world and from all disciplines: painters and sculptors, architects, writers and poets, musicians and singers, men of the cinema, the theater, dance, photography. The invitations were arranged by the pontifical council for culture.
In addition to the letter from John Paul II in 1999, another important precedent comes from forty-five years ago. It is the meeting between Paul VI and artists on May 7, 1964, which also took place in the Sistine Chapel.
The motivation for the new meeting is that “for some time the alliance between the Christian faith and the arts has been broken.” This is how Archbishop Ravasi spoke in announcing the event last September 10.
The alliance between faith and art is inseparable from the Church’s identity. Judaism prohibited sacred images. But faith in the incarnate God quickly prompted the Church to take Greek and Roman art as its own figurative language.
This genial marriage between the Church and art has periodically met with iconoclastic opposition. In the first millennium in the East, and in the second millennium in the West, first with Protestantism and today with the general anti-figurative tendency, not only in art but also in ecclesiastical patronage.
By meeting with artists in that supreme place of Christian art which is the Sistine Chapel, Benedict XVI intends precisely to arrest that decline and restart a dialogue, in the hope that a fruitful alliance between art and the Church may reemerge.
At a time when “in vast areas of the world the faith is in danger of dying out like a flame which no longer has fuel,” Pope Ratzinger may be thinking of what Saint John Damascene said in the thick of the iconoclast storm:
“If a pagan comes and says to you, “Show me your faith!”, bring him to church and show him the decoration with which it is adorned, and explain to him the series of sacred paintings.”