Quotes on Architecture by Pope Benedict XVI

Quotes Listed Chronologically

Pope Benedict XVI, 2 November 2012:

Venerable Brothers, Dear Brothers and Sisters!

In this liturgy of the First Vespers of the solemnity of All Saints, we commemorate the act in which 500 years ago Pope Julius inaugurated the fresco of the ceiling of this Sistine Chapel. I thank Cardinal Bertello for the words he addressed to me and I cordially greet all those present.

Why should we recall such an historical, artistic event in a liturgical celebration? First of all because the Sistine is, by its nature, the liturgical hall, it is the great Chapel of the Apostolic Vatican Palace. In addition, because the artistic works that decorate it, in particular the series of frescoes, find in the liturgy, so to speak, their vital environment, the context in which they express best all their beauty, all the richness and the gestation of their meaning. It is as if, during the liturgical action, this whole symphony of figures came to life, certainly in a spiritual sense, but inseparably also aesthetic, because the perception of the artistic form is a typically human act and, as such, involves the senses and the spirit. In short, contemplated in prayer, the Sistine Chapel is even more beautiful, more authentic; it reveals itself in all its richness.

Here everything lives; everything resonates, from contact with the Word of God. We heard the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews: "you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering …" (12:22-23). The author addresses the Christians and explains that the promises of the Old Covenant have been realized for them: a celebration of communion which has God as its center, and Jesus, the immolated and risen Lamb (cf. 23-24). This whole dynamic of promise and fulfillment we have here represented in the frescoes of these long walls, work of great Umbrian and Tuscan painters of the second half of the 15th century. And when the biblical text continues saying that we have come close "to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” (verse 23), our gaze rises to Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, where the blue background of the sky, recalled in the mantle of the Virgin Mary, gives a ray of hope to the entire vision, which is quite dramatic. “Christe, redemptor omnium, / conserva tuos famulos, / beatae semper Virginis / placates sanctis precibus” – says the first verse of the Latin hymn of these Vespers. And it is in fact what we see: Christ the Redeemer at the center, crowned by his Saints, beside him Mary in an act of suppliant intercession , as though wishing to mitigate the tremendous judgment.

However, this evening, our attention goes mainly to the great fresco of the ceiling, which Michelangelo, by request of Julius II, executed in about four years, from 1508 to 1512. The great artist, already famous for masterpieces of sculpture, undertook the enterprise of painting more than one thousand square meters of plaster, and we can imagine that the effect produced on those who saw it for the first time must have really been impressive. Precipitated from this immense fresco on Italian and European art – said Wolfflin in 1899 with a beautiful and now famous metaphor – was something like a "violent storm that is the bearer of happiness and at the same time of devastation": nothing remained as it was before. Giorgio Vasari, in a famous passage of the Lives, wrote very effectively: "This work was and is truly the lamp of our art that gave so much benefit and light to the art of painting, which has been sufficient to illuminate the world."

Lamp, light, illuminate: three words of Vasari which were not far from the heart of those present at the celebration of Vespers of that October 31, 1512. However, it is not a question of light that comes from the wise use of color rich in contrasts, or the movement that animates Michelangelo’s masterpiece, but of the idea that runs through the great ceiling: it is the light of God that illuminates these frescos and the whole Papal Chapel. That light that with its power conquers chaos and darkness to give life: in creation and in redemption. And the Sistine Chapel tells this story of light, of deliverance, of salvation; it speaks of God’s relationship with humanity. With the brilliant ceiling of Michelangelo, our gaze is driven to go over the message of the prophets, to which are added the pagan Sibyls in expectation of Christ, to the beginning of everything: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth” (Genesis 1:1). With unique expressive intensity, the great artist designed the Creator God, his action, his power, to say with evidence that the world is not produced from darkness, by chance, by the absurd, but derives from intelligence, from a liberty, from a supreme act of Love. In that meeting between the finger of God and that of man, we perceive the contact between heaven and earth; in Adam God enters into a new relationship with his creation, man is in direct relationship with Him, is called by Him, is in the image and likeness of God.

Twenty years later, in the Universal Judgment, Michelangelo concluded the great parable of humanity’s journey, driving one’s gaze to the fulfillment of this reality of the world and of man, to the definitive meeting with Christ Judge of the living and the dead.

To pray this evening in this Sistine Chapel, enveloped in the history of God’s journey with man, wonderfully represented in the frescos which are above us and surround us, is an invitation to praise, an invitation to raise to God the Creator, Redeemer and Judge of the living and of the dead, with all the Saints of Heaven, the words of the canticle of Revelation: “Amen, alleluia. […] Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great! […] Alleluia. […] Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory” (19:4a.5.7a). Amen.

— The homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI during the celebration of the First Vespers of the solemnity of All Saints in the Sistine Chapel, on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Chapel’s inauguration on 2 November 2012.

Pope Benedict XVI, 11 August 2012:

Venerable Brothers, Dear Friends!

Today, in the liturgy, we remember Saint Clare. In a hymn to the Saint one reads: “From the clarity of God you have received light. You gave it space, it grew in you, and spread in the world; it lightens our hearts. This is the underlying attitude that fills man and woman with peace: openness to divine claritas, the splendid beauty and vital strength of the Creator, which encourages us and makes us overcome ourselves. Today we found this claritas in a wonderful way, and it illuminated us! Thus it is only a consequence that the artists, beginning from their profound experience of beauty, commit themselves to the good and offer in turn help and support to the needy. They transmit the good they have received as a gift, and this spreads in the world. And thus the human being grows, becomes transparent and aware of the presence and action of his Creator, something which certainly Mr. Beckmann and all those who together with him are involved in the charitable work “Gemeinsam gegen die Kalte” [“Together against the Cold”] will be able to confirm. We have understood that this “Gemeinsam gegen die Kalte” does not respond to an objective that is imposed from outside, but comes from the depth of this music which overcomes the cold that is within us and opens the heart. A wish you all from my heart success in your musical commitment for many years, together with the abundant Blessing of God for your charitable endeavor. To all the performers again a heartfelt thank you for this beautiful evening. Let us put everything under the Blessing of God! I impart to you all my Apostolic Blessing.

My heartfelt thank you. Good night.

— The address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at the conclusion of a concert at Castel Gandolfo on 11 August 2012

Pope Benedict XVI, 4 October 2012:

The idea of the Son of God dwelling in the “living house”, the temple which is Mary, leads us to another thought: we must recognise that where God dwells, all are “at home”; wherever Christ dwells, His brothers and sisters are no longer strangers. ... So it is faith which gives us a home in this world, which brings us together in one family and which makes all of us brothers and sisters. As we contemplate Mary, we must ask if we too wish to be open to the Lord, if we wish to offer Him our life as His dwelling place; or if we are afraid that the presence of God may somehow place limits on our freedom, if we wish to set aside a part of our life in such a way that it belongs only to us. Yet it is precisely God who liberates our liberty, He frees it from being closed in on itself, from the thirst for power; ... He opens it up to the dimension which completely fulfils it: the gift of self, of love, which in turn becomes service and sharing.

Faith lets us reside, or dwell, but it also lets us walk on the path of life. The Holy House of Loreto contains an important teaching in this respect as well. Its location on a street is well known. ... It is not a private house, ... rather it is an abode open to everyone placed, as it were, on our street. So here in Loreto we find a house which lets us stay, or dwell, and which at the same time lets us continue, or journey, and reminds us that we are pilgrims, that we must always be on the way to another dwelling, towards our final home, the Eternal City, the dwelling place of God and the people He has redeemed.

— Excerpt from the homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI during his Pastoral visit to Loreto on 4 October 2012.

Pope Benedict XVI, 19 February 2012:

Today’s Gospel passage presents Peter, under divine inspiration, expressing his own firm faith in Jesus as the Son of God and the promised Messiah. In response to this transparent profession of faith, which Peter makes in the name of the other Apostles as well, Christ reveals to him the mission He intends to entrust to him, namely that of being the “rock”, the visible foundation on which the entire spiritual edifice of the Church is built. ... This Gospel episode ... finds a further and more eloquent explanation in one of the most famous artistic treasures of this Vatican Basilica: the altar of the Chair. After passing through the magnificent central nave, and continuing past the transepts, the pilgrim arrives in the apse and sees before him an enormous bronze throne that seems to hover in mid air, but in reality is supported by the four statues of great Fathers of the Church from East and West. And above the throne, surrounded by triumphant angels suspended in the air, the glory of the Holy Spirit shines through the oval window. ... It represents a vision of the essence of the Church and the place within the Church of the Petrine Magisterium.

The window of the apse opens the Church towards the outside, towards the whole of creation, while the image of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove shows God as the source of light. But there is also another aspect to point out: the Church herself is like a window, the place where God draws near to us, where He comes towards our world. The Church does not exist for her own sake, she is not the point of arrival, but she has to point upwards, beyond herself, to the realms above.

The great bronze throne encloses a wooden chair from the ninth century, which was long thought to be St. Peter’s own chair and was placed above this monumental altar because of its great symbolic value. It expresses the permanent presence of the Apostle in the Magisterium of his successors. St. Peter’s chair, we could say, is the throne of truth which takes its origin from Christ’s commission.

The great Chair is supported by the Fathers of the Church. They represent the whole of the tradition, and hence the richness of expression of the true faith of the holy and one Church. This aspect of the altar teaches us that love rests upon faith.

After considering the various elements of the altar of the Chair, let us take a look at it in its entirety. We see that it is characterized by a twofold movement: ascending and descending. This is the reciprocity between faith and love. ... True faith is illumined by love and leads towards love, leads on high, just as the altar of the Chair points upwards towards the luminous window, the glory of the Holy Spirit, which constitutes the true focus for the pilgrim’s gaze as he crosses the threshold of the Vatican Basilica.

— Excerpt from the Homily of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at a Eucharistic concelebration with the twenty-two new cardinals created in a consistory on 18 February 2012

Pope Benedict XVI, 22 October 2011:

Listening to [Anton] Bruckner’s music is like finding oneself in a great cathedral, surrounded by its imposing structures which arouse emotion and lift us to the heights. There is however an element that lies at the foundations of Bruckner's music, both the symphonic and the sacred: the simple, solid, genuine faith he conserved throughout his life.

— Excerpt from the Reflections of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI on a concert given in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall by the Bavarian State Opera. The program included the Ninth Symphony and the "Te Deum" by Anton Bruckner, 22 October 2011

Pope Benedict XVI, 31 August 2011:

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Today I would like to reflect briefly on one of these channels that can lead to God and can also be of help in the encounter with him. It is the way of artistic expression, part of that “via pulchritudinis” — the “way of beauty”, of which I have spoken several times and whose deepest meaning must be recovered by men and women today.

A work of art is a product of the creative capacity of the human being who in questioning visible reality, seeks to discover its deep meaning and to communicate it through the language of forms, colour and sound. Art is able to manifest and make visible the human need to surpass the visible, it expresses the thirst and the quest for the infinite.

Some artistic expressions are real highways to God, the supreme Beauty; indeed, they help us to grow in our relationship with him, in prayer. These are works that were born from faith and express faith. We can see an example of this when we visit a Gothic cathedral: we are enraptured by the vertical lines that soar skywards and uplift our gaze and our spirit, while at the same time we feel small yet long for fullness....

Or when we enter a Romanesque church we are spontaneously prompted to meditate and to pray. We perceive that these splendid buildings contain, as it were, the faith of generations. Or when we listen to a piece of sacred music that plucks at our heartstrings, our mind, as it were, expands and turns naturally to God.

Dear friends, I ask you to rediscover the importance of this path also for prayer, for our living relationship with God. Towns and villages throughout the world contain treasures of art that express faith and beckon to us to return to our relationship with God. May the visits to places filled with art, then, not only be opportunities for cultural enrichment — that too — but may they become above all moments of grace, incentives to strengthen our bond and our dialogue with the Lord so that — in switching from simple external reality to the more profound reality it expresses — we may pause to contemplate the ray of beauty that strikes us to the quick, that almost “wounds” us, and that invites us to rise toward God.

— Excerpt from the General Audience Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo, 31 August 2011

Pope Benedict XVI, 17 July 2011:

Dear French-speaking pilgrims, vacation time is certainly conducive to a cultural and spiritual enrichment. Through the countless monuments and sites you visit, may you discover the beauty of this universal heritage that connects us to our roots! Be careful to leave you questioning the beautiful ideal that inspired the builders of cathedrals and abbeys, when they were building these brilliant signs of the presence of God on earth. That this ideal become yours and that the Holy Spirit, who sees the hearts, inspires you to pray in these places give thanks and interceding for the people of the third millennium! I bless you with all my heart, especially the families here today!

— Excerpt from the Angelus of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo, 17 July 2011

Pope Benedict XVI, 4 July 2011:

I would like to renew a friendly and impassioned appeal to all artists. Never separate artistic creativity from truth and charity, never seek beauty distant from truth and charity, but with your genius and creative drive always seek courageously after truth and bear witness to charity. Make the truth shine forth in your works, ensuring that their beauty arouses in the eyes and hearts of the people who admire them the desire and the need to make life, each individual life, more beautiful and true, enriching it with that treasure which never runs out, which makes life a masterpiece and each man an extraordinary artist: charity, love. May the Holy Spirit, architect of all that is beautiful in the world, illuminate you and guide you towards the definitive and ultimate Beauty.

— Excerpt from the Address of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican's Paul VI Hall for the inauguration of an exhibition entitled: "The splendor of truth, the beauty of charity: Homage of sixty artists to Benedict XVI for the sixtieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood," 4 July 2011

Pope Benedict XVI, 20 March 2011:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am very pleased to be with you to celebrate an event as important as the Dedication to God and to the service of the community of this church called after St Corbinian.

I would like to thank all who have contributed to building this church. I know how hard the Diocese of Rome is working to ensure every neighbourhood suitable parish complexes.

I greet and thank the Cardinal Vicar, the Auxiliary Bishop of the Sector and the Bishop Secretary of the “Opera Romana” (Roman institution) for the preservation of faith and the provision of new churches ... I greet Cardinal Wetter, who conceived the initiative of dedicating a parish church to St Corbinian and provided effective support for the project’s realization ... I am glad that the church was built so quickly.

Today we are living an important day which crowns the efforts, exertions and sacrifices made by and the commitment of the local people to form a mature Christian community that now has a Church, now definitively consecrated, in which to worship God ... the Church wishes to be present in every neighbourhood in which people live and work,

Just as the parish premises were built, my Visit is intended to encourage you to build ever better the Church of living stones which you are. We heard in the Second Reading “You are God’s field, God’s building”, St Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Cor 3:9) and to us. And he urges us to build on the one true foundation which is Jesus Christ (3:11).

Dear friends of San Corbiniano! The Lord Jesus Christ ... has invited us to this new church today. Here we can listen to him, we can recognize his presence in the breaking of the Eucharist Bread; and in this way become a living Church, a temple of the Holy Spirit, a sign of God’s love in the world.

Go home with your hearts full of this gratitude and joy, because you are part of this great spiritual building which is the Church.

— Excerpt from the Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI at the Mass and Dedication of the new parish of St. Corbinian at Infernetto, Rome, 20 March 2011

Pope Benedict XVI, 10 November 2010:

Contemplating the beauty of that building [Sagrada Familia], which invites us to raise our gaze and our souls to heaven, to God, I recalled other great religious buildings, such as the cathedrals of the Middle Ages, which have profoundly marked the history and appearance of the major European cities.

That splendid work, rich in religious symbolism, ... almost like an immense stone sculpture, draws us to the true shrine, the place of authentic worship, heaven, where Christ entered to appear before God on our behalf. The great architect of this magnificent temple brilliantly represented the mystery of the Church into which the faithful are incorporated by Baptism as living stones in the construction of a spiritual edifice.

The church of the Sagrada Familia was conceived by its architect, Antoni Gaudi, as an immense catechesis on Jesus Christ, as a hymn of praise to the Creator. ... Indeed, the extraordinarily expressive and symbolic capacity of the artistic forms and motifs, as well as the innovative architectural and sculptural techniques, evokes the supreme Source of all beauty.

— Excerpt from the Recollections of His Holiness Benedict XVI of his Apostolic Journey to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona, 10 November 2010

Pope Benedict XVI, 7 November 2010:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,

… I extend a thankful greeting to Cardinal Lluís Martínez Sistach, Archbishop of Barcelona, for his words of welcome and for his invitation to me to dedicate this Church of the Sagrada Familia, a magnificent achievement of engineering, art and faith.

Today marks an important step in a long history of hope, work and generosity that has gone on for more than a century. At this time I would like to mention each and every one of those who have made possible the joy that fills us today, from the promoters to the executors of this work, the architects and the workers, all who in one way or another have given their priceless contribution to the building of this edifice. We remember of course the man who was the soul and the artisan of this project, Antoni Gaudí, a creative architect and a practising Christian.

What do we do when we dedicate this church? In the heart of the world, placed before God and mankind, with a humble and joyful act of faith, we raise up this massive material structure, fruit of nature and an immense achievement of human intelligence which gave birth to this work of art. It stands as a visible sign of the invisible God, to whose glory these spires rise like arrows pointing towards absolute light and to the One who is Light, Height and Beauty itself.

In this place, Gaudí ... accomplished one of the most important tasks of our times: overcoming the division ... between the beauty of things and God as beauty. Antoni Gaudí did this not with words but with stones, lines, planes, and points. Indeed, beauty is one of mankind’s greatest needs; it is the root from which the branches of our peace and the fruits of our hope come forth. Beauty also reveals God because, like him, a work of beauty is pure gratuity; it calls us to freedom and draws us away from selfishness.

We have dedicated this sacred space to God ... As says Saint Paul in the second reading: “Let each man take care how he builds. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:10-11). The Lord Jesus is the stone which supports the weight of the world ... In this sense, I consider that the dedication of this church of the Sagrada Familia is an event of great importance, at a time in which man claims to be able to build his life without God ... In this masterpiece, Gaudí shows us that God is the true measure of man ... by opening his spirit to God, [he] was capable of creating in this city a space of beauty, faith and hope which leads man to an encounter with him who is truth and beauty itself. The architect expressed his sentiments in the following words: “A church [is] the only thing worthy of representing the soul of a people, for religion is the most elevated reality in man”.

This affirmation of God brings with it the supreme affirmation and protection of the dignity of each and every man and woman: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple? … God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Cor 3:16-17). Here we find joined together the truth and dignity of God and the truth and dignity of man. As we consecrate the altar of this church, which has Christ as its foundation, we are presenting to the world a God who is the friend of man and we invite men and women to become friends of God.

Dear brothers and sisters, as I dedicate this splendid church, I implore the Lord of our lives that, from this altar, which will now be anointed with holy oil and upon which the sacrifice of the love of Christ will be consumed, there may be a flood of grace and charity upon the city of Barcelona and its people, and upon the whole world.

Finally, I wish to commend to the loving protection of the Mother of God ... all who in word or deed, in silence and prayer, have made this possible this marvel of architecture ... Amen.

— Excerpt from the Homily of His Holiness Benedict XVI at the Mass of dedication of the Church of the Sagrada Familia, during the Apostolic Journey to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona, 7 November 2010

Pope Benedict XVI, 6 November 2010:

Fr. Lombardi: What significance can the consecration of a church like the Sagrada Família have at the beginning of the 21st century? And is there some specific aspect of Gaudí’s vision that has struck you in particular?

The Holy Father: This synthesis between continuity and newness, tradition and creativity. Gaudí had the courage to insert himself into the great tradition of cathedrals, to contribute something new in his century — with a totally new vision — to this reality: the cathedral as a place of the encounter between God and man, in great solemnity; and do this with courage in continuity with tradition but with a new creativity, one that renews tradition. Thus he shows the humanity of history and the progress of history, it is a beautiful thing.

Fr. Lombardi: Gaudí and the Sagrada Família effectively represent the dual concept: faith-art. How can faith rediscover its place today in the world of art and culture? Is this one of the important themes of your Pontificate?

The Holy Father: It is like this. You know that I place great emphasis on the relationship between faith and reason, that faith, and Christian faith, has its identity only in openness to reason and that reason becomes itself if it transcends itself towards faith. But the relationship between faith and art is equally important because truth, the aim or goal of reason, is expressed in beauty and in beauty becomes itself, is proven to be truth. Therefore, wherever there is truth beauty must be born, wherever human beings are fulfilled in a correct and good way, they express themselves in beauty. The relationship between truth and beauty is inseparable and therefore we need beauty.

In the Church from the outset and also in the great modesty and poverty of the time of persecution, art, painting, the expression of God’s salvation in earthly images, singing and then building too, are all constitutive for the Church and remains constitutive for ever.

The Church was consequently a mother to art for centuries and centuries: the great treasure of Western art — music, architecture and painting — was born from faith within the Church. Today there is a certain “dissidence” but this is bad for both art and faith. An art that lost the root of transcendence would not be oriented to God: it would be a halved art, it would lose its living root; and a faith that had art only in the past would no longer be faith in the present; and today it must be expressed anew as truth that is always present.

Therefore dialogue or the encounter - I would say both - of art and faith are inscribed in the deepest essence of faith; we must do our utmost to see that today too faith is expressed in authentic art, like Gaudí’s, in continuity and in innovation, and to prevent art from losing its contact with faith.

— Excerpt from the Interview of His Holiness Benedict XVI with journalists during the flight to Barcelona, Spain, on the Apostolic Journey to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona, 6 November 2010

Pope Benedict XVI, 17 September 2010:

I thank you for your gracious welcome. This noble edifice evokes England's long history, so deeply marked by the preaching of the Gospel and the Christian culture to which it gave birth. I come here today as a pilgrim from Rome, to pray before the tomb of St. Edward the Confessor and to join you in imploring the gift of Christian unity.

I thank the Lord for this opportunity to join you, the representatives of the Christian confessions present in Great Britain, in this magnificent abbey church dedicated to St. Peter, whose architecture and history speak so eloquently of our common heritage of faith. Here we cannot help but be reminded of how greatly the Christian faith shaped the unity and culture of Europe and the heart and spirit of the English people. Here too, we are forcibly reminded that what we share, in Christ, is greater than what continues to divide us.

— Excerpt from the remarks of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI following an ecumenical celebration of Vespers in Westminster Abbey, London, during his Apostolic Journey to the United Kingdom, 17 September 2010

Pope Benedict XVI, 8 September 2010:

On the occasion of the Second World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Pilgrimages and Shrines … with the theme, “So he went in to stay with them” (Lk 24:29), taken from the Gospel passage of the disciples of Emmaus, you are preparing to study in depth the importance of pilgrimages to the shrines as a manifestation of Christian life and a space of evangelization. In these historic moments in which we are called, with greater force if possible, to evangelize our world, the riches offered to us by the pilgrimage to shrines should be highlighted. First of all, for its great ability to summon and bring together a growing number of pilgrims and religious tourist ... As Simeon met with Christ in the temple (cf. Lk 2:25-35), so too a pilgrim should have the opportunity to discover the Lord in the shrine. For this purpose, efforts should be made so that visitors may not forget that shrines are sacred places in order to be in them with devotion, respect and propriety ... Very careful attention should also be given to welcoming the pilgrims, by highlighting, among other elements, the dignity and beauty of the shrine, the image of “God's dwelling... with the human race” (Rev 21:3), the moments and spaces for both personal and community prayer, and attention to devotional practices. As “God's co-workers” (1 Cor 3:9), I exhort all of you to be dedicated to this beautiful mission so that through your pastoral care ... the pilgrimage to the shrine will be a favorable occasion to strengthen the desire in those who visit it to share the wonderful experience with others of knowing they are loved by God and sent to the world to give witness to that love.

— Excerpt from the Letter of His Holiness Benedict XVI on the occasion of the Second World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Pilgrimages and Shrines, 8 September 2010

Pope Benedict XVI, 21 November 2009:

With great joy I welcome you to this solemn place, so rich in art and in history … At this gathering I wish to express and renew the Church’s friendship with the world of art, a friendship that has been strengthened over time; indeed Christianity from its earliest days has recognized the value of the arts and has made wise use of their varied language to express her unvarying message of salvation. This friendship must be continually promoted and supported so that it may be authentic and fruitful, adapted to different historical periods and attentive to social and cultural variations. Indeed, this is the reason for our meeting here today. 

... It is not by chance that we come together in this place, esteemed for its architecture and its symbolism, and above all for the frescoes that make it unique, from the masterpieces of Perugino and Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli, Luca Signorelli and others, to the Genesis scenes and the Last Judgement of Michelangelo Buonarroti.

Dear friends, let us allow these frescoes to speak to us today, drawing us towards the ultimate goal of human history. The Last Judgement ... presents to our gaze the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End of history ... The dramatic beauty of Michelangelo’s painting, its colours and forms, becomes a proclamation of hope, an invitation to raise our gaze to the ultimate horizon. The profound bond between beauty and hope was the essential content of the evocative Message that Paul VI addressed to artists at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council on 8 December 1965: ... “This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the human heart ... And all this through the work of your hands . . . Remember that you are the custodians of beauty in the world.”

Unfortunately, the present time is marked, not only by negative elements in the social and economic sphere, but also by a weakening of hope ... What is capable of restoring enthusiasm and confidence, what can encourage the human spirit to rediscover its path, to raise its eyes to the horizon, to dream of a life worthy of its vocation – if not beauty? Dear friends, as artists you know well that the experience of beauty, beauty that is authentic, not merely transient or artificial, is by no means a supplementary or secondary factor in our search for meaning and happiness.

Too often, though, the beauty that is thrust upon us is illusory and deceitful ... it imprisons him within himself and further enslaves him, depriving him of hope and joy ... Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart.

Beauty, whether that of the natural universe or that expressed in art, precisely because it opens up and broadens the horizons of human awareness, pointing us beyond ourselves, bringing us face to face with the abyss of Infinity, can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery, towards God. Art, in all its forms ... can take on a religious quality, thereby turning into a path of profound inner reflection and spirituality.

Dear artists, as I draw to a conclusion, I would like to make a cordial, friendly and impassioned appeal to you ... You are the custodians of beauty. Through your art, you yourselves are to be heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity! And do not be afraid to approach the first and last source of beauty. Faith takes nothing away from your genius or your art: on the contrary, it exalts them and nourishes them.

Dear friends, thank you for your presence here today. Let the beauty that you express by your God-given talents always direct the hearts of others to glorify the Creator, the source of all that is good. God’s blessings upon you all!

— Excerpt from the Address of Pope Benedict XVI at the Meeting of Artists in the Sistine Chapel, 21 November 2009

Pope Benedict XVI, 18 November 2009:

“Dear brothers and sisters,

In the catecheses of recent weeks I have presented some aspects of Medieval theology. However Christian faith, profoundly rooted in the men and women of those centuries, did not only give origin to masterpieces of theological literature, of thought and of faith. It also inspired one of the loftiest artistic creations of universal civilization: the cathedrals, true glory of the Christian Middle Ages. In fact, for almost three centuries, beginning in the 11th century, Europe witnessed an extraordinary artistic fervor. An ancient chronicler describes thus the enthusiasm and industry of that time: "It happened that the whole world, but especially in Italy and in Gaul, churches began to be reconstructed, although many, being in good conditions, had no need of this restoration. It was as though one village and another competed; it was as if the world, shaking off its old rags, wished to be clothed everywhere in the white garment of new churches. In sum, almost all the cathedral churches, a great number of monastic churches, and even village chapels, were then restored by the faithful" (Rodolfo el Glabro, Historiarum 3,4).

Several factors contributed to this rebirth of religious architecture. First of all, more favorable historical conditions, such as greater political security, accompanied by a constant increase in the population and the progressive development of cities, of exchanges and of wealth. Moreover, architects found increasingly elaborate technical solutions to increase the dimension of buildings, ensuring at the same time their firmness and majesty. However, it was thanks primarily to the spiritual ardor and zeal of monasticism then in full expansion that abbey churches were erected, where the liturgy could be celebrated with dignity and solemnity, and the faithful could remain in prayer, attracted by the veneration of the relics of the saints, object of countless pilgrimages. Thus the Romanesque churches and cathedrals were born, characterized by their longitudinal development along the naves to house numerous faithful; very solid churches, with thick walls, stone vaults and simple and essential lines.

A novelty is represented by the introduction of sculptures. As Romanesque churches were the place of monastic prayer and the faithful's worship, the sculptors, rather than being concerned with technical perfection, took care above all of the educational end. It was necessary to arouse in souls strong impressions, feelings that could incite them to flee from vice and evil and practice virtue, goodness -- the recurrent theme was the representation of Christ as Universal Judge, surrounded by the personages of revelation. In general it is Romanesque facades that offer this representation, to underline that Christ is the door that leads to heaven. The faithful, crossing the threshold of the sacred building, entered a time and space that were different from those of ordinary life. Beyond the main door of the church, believers in the sovereign, just and merciful Christ could -- the artists hoped -- anticipate eternal happiness in the celebration of the liturgy and in acts of piety carried out inside the sacred building.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, beginning in the north of France, another type of architecture spread in the construction of sacred buildings: the Gothic. This style had two new characteristics as compared to the Romanesque: the vertical thrust and luminosity. Gothic cathedrals showed a synthesis of faith and art expressed harmoniously through the universal and fascinating language of beauty, which still today awakens wonder. Thanks to the introduction of pointed vaults, which were supported by robust pillars, it was possible to notably raise the height [of these churches]. The thrust to the sublime was an invitation to prayer and at the same time was a prayer. The Gothic cathedral thus wished to translate in its architectural lines souls longing for God. Moreover, with the new technical solutions, the perimeter walls could be penetrated and embellished by colorful stained glass windows. In other words, the windows were transformed into great luminous figures, very adapted to instructing the people in the faith. In them -- scene by scene -- were narrated the life of a saint, a parable or other biblical events. From the painted windows a cascade of light was shed on the faithful to narrate to them the history of salvation and to involve them in this history.

Another merit of the Gothic cathedrals was the fact that, in their construction and decoration, the Christian and civil community participated in a different but coordinated way; the poor and the powerful, the illiterate and the learned participated, because in this common house all believers were instructed in the faith. Gothic sculpture made of cathedrals a "Bible of stone," representing the episodes of the Gospel and illustrating the contents of the Liturgical Year, from Christmas to the Lord's glorification. Spreading ever more in those centuries, moreover, was the perception of the Lord's humanity, and the sufferings of his Passion were represented in a realistic way: The suffering Christ (Christus patiens) became an image loved by all, and able to inspire piety and repentance for sins. Not lacking were the personages of the Old Testament, whose history became familiar to the faithful in such a way that they frequented the cathedrals as part of the one, common history of salvation. With their faces full of beauty, tenderness, intelligence, Gothic sculpture of the 13th century reveals a happy and serene piety, which is pleased to emanate a heartfelt and filial devotion to the Mother of God, seen at times as a young, smiling and maternal woman, and represented primarily as the sovereign of heaven and earth, powerful and merciful.

The faithful who filled the Gothic cathedrals wanted to find in them artistic expressions that recalled the saints, models of Christian life and intercessors before God. And there was no lack of "lay" manifestations of existence; hence there appeared here and there representations of work in the fields, in the sciences and in the arts. Everything was oriented and offered to God in the place where the liturgy was celebrated. We can understand better the meaning that was attributed to a Gothic cathedral, considering the text of an inscription on the main door of St. Denis in Paris: "Passer-by, you who want to praise the beauty of these doors, do not be dazzled either by the gold or the magnificence, but by the laborious work. Here shines a famous work, but may the heavens allow that this famous work which shines make spirits shine, so that with luminous truths they will walk toward the true light, where Christ is the true door."

Dear brothers and sisters, I now wish to underline two elements of Romanesque and Gothic art, which are also useful for us.

The first: the works of art born in Europe in past centuries are incomprehensible if one does not take into account the religious soul that inspired them. Marc Chagall, an artist who has always given testimony of the encounter between aesthetics and faith, wrote that "for centuries painters have dyed their brush in that colored alphabet that is the Bible." When faith, celebrated in a particular way in the liturgy, encounters art, a profound synchrony is created, because both can and want to praise God, making the Invisible visible. I would like to share this in the meeting with artists on Nov. 21, renewing that proposal of friendship between Christian spirituality and art, desired by my venerated predecessors, in particular by the Servants of God Paul VI and John Paul II.

The second element: the force of the Romanesque style and the splendor of the Gothic cathedrals remind us that the via pilchritudinis, the way of beauty, is a privileged and fascinating way to approach the Mystery of God. What is beauty, which writers, poets, musicians, and artists contemplate and translate into their language, if not the reflection of the splendor of the Eternal Word made flesh? St. Augustine states: "Ask the beauty of the earth, ask the beauty of the sea, ask the beauty of the ample and diffused air. Ask the beauty of heaven, ask the order of the stars, ask the sun, which with its splendor brightens the day; ask the moon, which with its clarity moderates the darkness of night. Ask the beasts that move in the water, that walk on the earth, that fly in the air: souls that hide, bodies that show themselves; the visible that lets itself be guided, the invisible that guides. Ask them! All will answer you: Look at us, we are beautiful! Their beauty makes them known. This mutable beauty, who has created it if not Immutable Beauty?" (Sermo CCXLI, 2: PL 38, 1134).

Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord help us to rediscover the way of beauty as one of the ways, perhaps the most attractive and fascinating, to be able to find and love God.”

— Excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI’s Wednesday Audience Address, 18 November 2009, Vatican City. www.zenit.org

Pope Benedict XVI, 9 November 2008:

“On this solemnity the Word of God recalls an essential truth: the temple of stones is a symbol of the living Church, the Christian community, which in their letters the Apostles Peter and Paul already understood as a ‘spiritual edifice,’ built by God with ‘living stones,’ namely, Christians themselves, upon the one foundation of Jesus Christ, who is called the ‘cornerstone’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:9-11, 16-17; 1 Peter 2:4-8; Ephesians 2:20-22). ‘Brothers, you are God’s building,’ St. Paul wrote, and added: ‘holy is God’s temple, which you are.’ (1 Corinthians 3:9c, 17)

The beauty and harmony of the churches, destined to give praise to God, also draws us human beings, limited and sinful, to convert to form a ‘cosmos,’ a well-ordered structure, in intimate communion with Jesus, who is the true Saint of saints. This happens in a culminating way in the Eucharistic liturgy, in which the ‘ecclesia,’ that is, the community of the baptized, come together in a unified way to listen to the Word of God and nourish themselves with the Body and Blood of Christ. From these two tables the Church of living stones is built up in truth and charity and is internally formed by the Holy Spirit transforming herself into what she receives, conforming herself more and more to the Lord Jesus Christ. She herself, if she lives in sincere and fraternal unity, in this way becomes the spiritual sacrifice pleasing to God.

Dear friends, today’s feast celebrates a mystery that is always relevant: God’s desire to build a spiritual temple in the world, a community that worships him in spirit and truth (cf. John 4:23-24). But this observance also reminds us of the importance of the material buildings in which the community gathers to celebrate the praises of God. Every community therefore has the duty to take special care of its own sacred buildings, which are a precious religious and historical patrimony. For this we call upon the intercession of Mary Most Holy, that she help us to become, like her, the ‘house of God,’ living temple of his love.”

— Excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI’s Sunday Angelus Address on the Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica, 9 November 2008, Vatican City. www.zenit.org

Pope Benedict XVI, 21 September 2008:

“But how much greater, dear brothers and sisters, must our joy be, knowing that every day on this altar, that we are preparing to consecrate, the sacrifice of Christ is offered; on this altar he will continue to immolate himself, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, for our salvation and that of the whole world. In the Eucharistic mystery, that is renewed on every altar, Jesus is really present…Christ’s real presence makes each of us his ‘house,’ and we all together form his Church, the spiritual edifice of which St. Peter speaks. ‘Come to him,’ the apostle writes, ‘a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…through faith men are like wood and stone gathered from forests and mountains for building; through baptism, catechesis and preaching they are cut, squared, and filed down; but they only become the Lord’s house when they are ordered by charity.”

— Excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI’s Homily at the Dedication of the Altar at the Cathedral of Albano, 21 September 2008, Albano, Italy. www.zenit.org

Pope Benedict XVI, 22 December 2005:

"We have come to worship him". Before any activity, before the world can change there must be worship. Worship alone sets us truly free; worship alone gives us the criteria for our action. Precisely in a world in which guiding criteria are absent and the threat exists that each person will be a law unto himself, it is fundamentally necessary to stress worship. … 

Receiving the Eucharist means adoring the One whom we receive. Precisely in this way and only in this way do we become one with him. Therefore, the development of Eucharistic adoration, as it took shape during the Middle Ages, was the most consistent consequence of the Eucharistic mystery itself:  only in adoration can profound and true acceptance develop. And it is precisely this personal act of encounter with the Lord that develops the social mission which is contained in the Eucharist and desires to break down barriers, not only the barriers between the Lord and us but also and above all those that separate us from one another. …

The last event of this year on which I wish to reflect here is the celebration of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council 40 years ago. This memory prompts the question: What has been the result of the Council? Was it well received? What, in the acceptance of the Council, was good and what was inadequate or mistaken? What still remains to be done? No one can deny that in vast areas of the Church the implementation of the Council has been somewhat difficult, even without wishing to apply to what occurred in these years the description that St Basil, the great Doctor of the Church, made of the Church's situation after the Council of Nicea:  he compares her situation to a naval battle in the darkness of the storm, saying among other things:  "The raucous shouting of those who through disagreement rise up against one another, the incomprehensible chatter, the confused din of uninterrupted clamouring, has now filled almost the whole of the Church, falsifying through excess or failure the right doctrine of the faith..." (De Spiritu Sancto, XXX, 77; PG 32, 213 A; SCh 17 ff., p. 524).

We do not want to apply precisely this dramatic description to the situation of the post-conciliar period, yet something from all that occurred is nevertheless reflected in it. The question arises:  Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?

Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarreled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

In a word:  it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.

The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one. However, the Constituent Assembly needs a mandator and then confirmation by the mandator, in other words, the people the constitution must serve. The Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one; nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself.

Through the Sacrament they have received, Bishops are stewards of the Lord's gift. They are "stewards of the mysteries of God" (I Cor 4: 1); as such, they must be found to be "faithful" and "wise" (cf. Lk 12: 41-48). This requires them to administer the Lord's gift in the right way, so that it is not left concealed in some hiding place but bears fruit, and the Lord may end by saying to the administrator:  "Since you were dependable in a small matter I will put you in charge of larger affairs" (cf. Mt 25: 14-30; Lk 19: 11-27).

These Gospel parables express the dynamic of fidelity required in the Lord's service; and through them it becomes clear that, as in a Council, the dynamic and fidelity must converge.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity is countered by the hermeneutic of reform, as it was presented first by Pope John XXIII in his Speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council's conclusion on 7 December 1965.

Here I shall cite only John XXIII's well-known words, which unequivocally express this hermeneutic when he says that the Council wishes "to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion". And he continues:  "Our duty is not only to guard this precious treasure, as if we were concerned only with antiquity, but to dedicate ourselves with an earnest will and without fear to that work which our era demands of us...". It is necessary that "adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness..." be presented in "faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another...", retaining the same meaning and message (The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., p. 715).

It is clear that this commitment to expressing a specific truth in a new way demands new thinking on this truth and a new and vital relationship with it; it is also clear that new words can only develop if they come from an informed understanding of the truth expressed, and on the other hand, that a reflection on faith also requires that this faith be lived. In this regard, the programme that Pope John XXIII proposed was extremely demanding, indeed, just as the synthesis of fidelity and dynamic is demanding. …

It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists. In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church's decisions on contingent matters - for example, certain practical forms of liberalism or a free interpretation of the Bible - should necessarily be contingent themselves, precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn to recognize that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within. On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change. …

The Church, both before and after the Council, was and is the same Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, journeying on through time; she continues "her pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God", proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes (cf. Lumen Gentium, n. 8).

Those who expected that with this fundamental "yes" to the modern era all tensions would be dispelled and that the "openness towards the world" accordingly achieved would transform everything into pure harmony, had underestimated the inner tensions as well as the contradictions inherent in the modern epoch.

They had underestimated the perilous frailty of human nature which has been a threat to human progress in all the periods of history and in every historical constellation. These dangers, with the new possibilities and new power of man over matter and over himself, did not disappear but instead acquired new dimensions: a look at the history of the present day shows this clearly.

In our time too, the Church remains a "sign that will be opposed" (Lk 2: 34) - not without reason did Pope John Paul II, then still a Cardinal, give this title to the theme for the Spiritual Exercises he preached in 1976 to Pope Paul VI and the Roman Curia. The Council could not have intended to abolish the Gospel's opposition to human dangers and errors.

On the contrary, it was certainly the Council's intention to overcome erroneous or superfluous contradictions in order to present to our world the requirement of the Gospel in its full greatness and purity.

The steps the Council took towards the modern era which had rather vaguely been presented as "openness to the world", belong in short to the perennial problem of the relationship between faith and reason that is re-emerging in ever new forms. The situation that the Council had to face can certainly be compared to events of previous epochs.

In his First Letter, St Peter urged Christians always to be ready to give an answer (apo-logia) to anyone who asked them for the logos, the reason for their faith (cf. 3: 15).

This meant that biblical faith had to be discussed and come into contact with Greek culture and learn to recognize through interpretation the separating line but also the convergence and the affinity between them in the one reason, given by God.

When, in the 13th century through the Jewish and Arab philosophers, Aristotelian thought came into contact with Medieval Christianity formed in the Platonic tradition and faith and reason risked entering an irreconcilable contradiction, it was above all St Thomas Aquinas who mediated the new encounter between faith and Aristotelian philosophy, thereby setting faith in a positive relationship with the form of reason prevalent in his time. There is no doubt that the wearing dispute between modern reason and the Christian faith, which had begun negatively with the Galileo case, went through many phases, but with the Second Vatican Council the time came when broad new thinking was required.

Its content was certainly only roughly traced in the conciliar texts, but this determined its essential direction, so that the dialogue between reason and faith, particularly important today, found its bearings on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.

This dialogue must now be developed with great open-mindedness but also with that clear discernment that the world rightly expects of us in this very moment. Thus, today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council:  if we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church.

— Excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI’s Address to the Roman Curia Offering Them His Christmas Greetings, 12 December 2005, Rome. https://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/speeches/2005/december/documents/hf_ben_xvi_spe_20051222_roman-curia.html