Chastity in Theology and Art
In an ex tempore homily to the International Theological Commission meeting in Rome, Pope Benedict meditated on the need for theologians to serve the Word of God, and the temptation to revel in one’s own words. He said:
We find ourselves invited anew to this path of renouncing our own words, on a path of purification so that our words may only be an instrument through which God can speak, so that God is not the object but the subject of theology.
In this context, I am reminded of a beautiful sentence in the First Letter of St. Peter (1:22). In Latin it says, “castificantes animas nostras in oboedientia veritatis.” Obedience to the truth should make our souls chaste, and thus guide us to right words and right actions.
To speak in search of applause, to speak according to what we think others want to hear, to speak in obedience to the dictatorship of common opinion, may be considered a prostitution of words and of the spirit.
The Pope’s words came to mind as I read in today’s New York Times the account of an exhibit at the Frick Collection in New York City centered around two small paintings of Cimabue.
Now the Frick has always been one of my favorite places in Urbe. Its collection is small and exquisite. The setting does not overwhelm, but allows for concentrated attention, even contemplation. In contrast to the Mighty Met, it is — well — chaste.
Theologian and artist, art and theology at their best, call us to purification, to contemplation and to silence. As Augustine wrote, at the end of his great De Trinitate:
So when we do attain to You, there will be an end of these many things which we say and do not attain, and You will remain one, yet all in all. And we shall say one thing, praising You in unison, ourselves also being made one in You.
O Lord, the one God, God the Trinity.