Monday, 2 May 2011

De Gustibus ...

Curious how we English can get thoroughly sentimental (banks of flowers for Diana, colour supplements for Kate) yet somehow shmaltz in religion leaves us cold. Or is it just me? Doubtless commenters will tell me.

I find that Bernini of the vision of St Teresa of Avila rather repellant - marble porn - though to some it is the apogee of Baroque art. Even more off-putting, though, is the imagery concerning "Divine Mercy". I saw it first on a poster at a bus-stop in St Albans, and thought it must be the product of some U.S. sect. Now I discover it is thanks to newly Blessed J-P II that we have this devotion. It's not devotion to the Mercy of God I find difficult; just the way it is depicted.

So is part of the Patrimony an approval for "less-is-more" - one simple image of the Crucified being more moving than a church full of plaster saints? It is easy to write this off as Protestant Puritanism - but is is there in Catholicism too, not just in Savonarola but also in the chasteness of Cistercian architecture.

But of course, there is no arguing where taste is concerned. Just disagreement.


  1. My sentiments entirely about "Divine Mercy" though I have to admit to enjoying some of the rococo churches!

  2. Don't care for 'Divine Mercy' devotions or depictions. Both sappy, happy clappy sweetness that makes me wonder what that nun and PJPII were thinking. YUK!
    Have the same feelings toward that 'Our Lady of Guadalupe' fraudulent image. I know some so called experts say it's real but not buying it. If is is real then I have a pair of Moses' sandals I found in the desert!

  3. Fr Allan Hawkins sends a further note:
    'I have some sympathy with those who are uneasy about the Divine Mercy matter -- though I think that it is helpful to reflect on the background of JPII and of Sister Faustina in order to understand it. Further, if one lives in Texas and further south, one cannot be so dismissive of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I have seen the image in the basilica shrine in Mexico City, and I have witnessed the heroic devotion which it evokes, as indeed also does the Divine Mercy in Poland and far beyond. I once heard the late and holy Bishop Stanley Atkins say that superstition does far less harm to true religion than does cynicism and sentimentality. I think that it must be part of the putting away of childish/Anglican things that we should understand that the Catholic mindset is less ready to be superciliously dismissive of such things, and that we should be humbly ready to suspend private judgement.
    None of this is meant to be a rebuke to you, by the way! We have already exchanged thoughts about the Divine Mercy. Rather it reflects my irritation at the attitude displayed by "Matthew the Curmudgeon."'

  4. I recall reading that St Faustina herself was most disappointed with even the original painting made to her specifications as to the appearance of Our Lord to her: so if we find (as I do) the Divine Mercy image (not the devotion, which is most Biblical) somewhat wan, we are in very good company indeed. I will admit to similar dismay at many Sacred Hearts: but that does not mean I do not hope for mercy from the "Sacred Heart all burning with fervent love".

  5. Well, at least Matthew proclaims himself The Curmudgeon.
    I haven't been to Rome and so haven't seen the Bernini in any kind of glory, and I do admit that the stills I have seen I don't particularly like. I can see that the work is open to ambiguities of expression and symbolism; the Angel of Death as Cupid etc. With any depiction of ecstacy, surely it will be viewed subjectively as well as objectively.
    I haven't been to Mexico City either, (on my To Do list), but I've seen friends' photos of the shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe and found it moved me. My friends who visited the shrine said they were totally unmoved by the image but were touched by the fervour of the pilgrims and the strength and hope they were deriving from it. Surely that is the essence of religious art: to move to hope or praise, to empower and strengthen faith.
    I agree that superstition has played a huge part in religion in the past and continues to in some regions, but I do actually think that any element of fear detracts from faith. Conversely, I don't believe that a sentimental attitude to one's faith is at all on a par with cynicism. I'm sentimental by nature, nothing has shaken it out of me, and I now embrace it as something lovely. I am sentimental about my faith and refuse to dispose of the very old Sacred Heart picture I have inherited from my Irish granny, complete with the red eternal bulb underneath (the picture, not my granny). I used to find it mawkish and embarrassing in front of schoolfriends; now I find it extremely beautiful. I don't believe you can extract sentimentality from a religion based on love: not all religious works of art, whether hymns, sculptures or paintings, will appeal to everyone of that faith. But you can't deny that the Bernini and The Divine Mercy have in common that they are emotional creations intended to inspire love.
    @Matthew: if the sandals are size 4 I will take them; although I suspect Moses would have had a rather sturdier foot.

  6. And here is a comment from Simon Cotton which he was unable to post himself:
    The late Father Julian Langmead Casserley (1909-1978) once remarked that a good hymn has good words, a good tune and good theology, and very rarely are all three found together. He cited “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” sung to Picardy, as an example. It is also worth remembering that we are only left with (by and large) the good Victorian hymns - time has weeded out the rest.