"Man’s ability to see is in decline," wrote the Thomist philosopher Josef Pieper. "We do not mean here, of course, the physiological sensitivity of the human eye. We mean the spiritual capacity to perceive the visible reality as it truly is" (Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation, Ignatius).
Pieper was concerned that the assault of constant images on billboards, movie screens, and television were deadening our ability to see things as they really are. He was writing in 1952: long before billboard-sized home theater systems, music videos on cell phones, and DVD players in SUVs. The volume of visual noise has increased exponentially, and our sight isn’t getting any better. As a society, we have eyes to see but do not see (cf. Ezekiel 12:2, Mark 8:18).
Our failing sight is a concern of Pope Benedict XVI. The remedy he proposes is not just to fast from the junk food of coarse and vapid images, but to feast on a wholesome diet of the Church’s great treasury of art. To that end, he included fourteen sacred images in the Compendium of the Catechism. The fourteen images are all in full color. That is surprising: Reproducing full-color images is expensive. Most publishers would cut the artwork to keep the price down.
But what others might consider an extravagance or a decoration, our Holy Father considers essential. He selected the images himself, and he insists that those same fourteen images be placed in every edition. Moreover, each image must always be positioned in the same place in relation to the text. Why go to so much trouble and expense over pretty pictures? In the introduction to the Compendium, he writes:
Images are also a preaching of the Gospel. Artists in every age have offered the principal facts of the mystery of salvation to the contemplation and wonder of believers by presenting them in the splendor of color and in the perfection of beauty. It is an indication of how today more than ever, in a culture of images, a sacred image can express much more than what can be said in words, and be an extremely effective and dynamic way of communicating the Gospel message.
Over the last two years, we have made a concerted effort to include in This Rock images that preach the Gospel. Many of those images were worthy of a full essay of explanation rather than the quick caption that yours truly could cobble together. Now, providentially, we can do better. We are adding a department dedicated to art and apologetics. Michael Schrauzer, a gifted artist and writer (see his work at http://home.znet.com/mshroud), will help us to develop Eyes to See.
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Please don’t miss Fr. Paul Scalia’s excellent article, to my mind the most important piece of writing we will publish this year.