Right now I am listening to choral masterworks of the 20th century and thinking about St. Francis. Just a week ago I finished the book Chasing Francis by Ian Cron where the author communicates the values of St. Francis by following the spiritual journey of a burnt out pastor. What a fascinating and compelling work.
Among St. Francis’ commitment to poverty and evangelizing (using words if necessary), he also had a distinct view of beauty. Francis believed that all of nature indicated their Creator in some way and therefore were a portal to experiencing God. He was concerned about caring for the earth specifically because of this fact. He did not believe that the earth had a divine nature or anything of the sort; he simply believed that God created the universe to reflect himself and that by observing the universe we, as followers of God, can gain a glimpse of God’s reflection.
What followed was a highly transcendent view of beauty and creation. Everything pointed upwards, much like the old cathedrals of Europe. Beauty is not the end; it is only a sign post pointing in the right direction. These choral works by Frank Martin and Poulenc are beautiful reminders to seek out the Creator, not merely beautiful.
As artists in and outside of the church we are tempted to see our art as an end in itself. We pursue excellence because we want to make something beautiful. We produce events carefully to manufacture a meaningful experience. Excellence and production are not evil in themselves; as with any temptation, the trick is in what you do in response.
As artists we must see our art and creations of beauty as pointing to a God who is the ultimate Creator. The ability to communicate through art is a privilege and a gift, and we would do well not to forget it. We retain our focus and path by continually remaining grateful for the ability to create beauty and encourage transcendence, an upwards look at God.
In the words of the Bible and ancient masses, hosanna in excelsis Deo.