A variety of economic, ideological, aesthetic, and nationalist forces shape Christian worship in its varied manifestations today. Historical perspectives and areas of knowledge which are too often discussed in compartmentalized fashion are presented here as acting with and on each other and often serving each other’s purposes. Liturgical, musical, artistic, and architectural expressions are shown to be inextricably bound not only to theology, philosophy, and ecclesial hierarchy but also to political and socioeconomic structural change, technological innovation, and—not least—the culture and the human need for authentic spiritual experience. The Enlightenment “Age of Reason,” Romanticism, the nation-state, and the Industrial Revolution from the 17th through the 19th centuries affected religious practices that were the only mass medium that reached into every town, house, and heart. Connections are established with not only overtly religious events such as urban Evangelism, preservation of old architecture, the Oxford movement, and tradition versus innovation but also socialistic communal experiments and ethnic conflict among US immigrants.
The Age of Revolutions
Conrad L. Donakowski
Roman Catholic Art after L’Art Sacré and Vatican II
The interaction between the Roman Catholic Church and the arts in the period after L’Art Sacré and Vatican II has been eventful. The role of the visual and liturgical arts within the framework of the Catholic context has evolved, sometimes in radical ways. Works of art have been commissioned, curated, and displayed in different types of spaces with varying purposes. These range from modest chapels to huge cathedrals and from small galleries to world-renowned museums and international contemporary art exhibition venues. The period begins in the 1960s with the end of both the Vatican II Council held in Rome from 1962 to 1965 and of L’Art Sacré, a journal of avant-garde theory and action regarding sacred art published in France from the 1930s to the 1960s. Vatican II made official many of the changes already undertaken by what could be called the Art Sacré movement. However, the 1960s had brought so much societal upheaval globally that the arts were no longer the center of focus in the immediate post–Vatican II moment; most importantly in the Western church were the rise of secularization and the decline of traditional religious practice. Yet, Vatican II delivered guidelines that addressed the visual and liturgical arts specifically, and it set into motion organizational work within the Catholic Church that has allowed for several different types of artistic action to develop over the years. This quiet moment for the arts in the church afforded the emergence of a new generation of actors who, because of the years of theoretical and logistical groundwork, would be able to deploy the new policies of the Vatican. These could be poetically encapsulated in the via pulchritudinis, “the way of beauty,” referring to 13th-century theologian and philosopher Thomas Aquinas’s terminology. In this spirit, the popes since Vatican II have all engaged with the question of sacred art by calling out to artists to work for the church, collecting their work, and sponsoring exhibitions of contemporary art both at the Vatican and in international venues. At the same time, in countries like France and Germany where patrimony and heritage are high-stakes issues, cultural politics could be read as becoming an ally of the church—each with its own agenda at play. Both modest and major commissions for art in churches and cathedrals can be observed in this context, whether they be single artworks, series of stained-glass, or multifaceted ensembles. In countries like the United States and Australia, shifting demographics and concerns with cultural inclusiveness have played major roles in the application of liturgical reform and the types of art commissioned for churches. This activity highlights and demonstrates the theoretical premises of Vatican II put into action, sometimes with difficulty and resistance from within the church itself. This period depends mainly on primary sources for its information and must be seen as a narrow topic within the much broader conversation between contemporary art and religion. Studying it in depth means navigating between isolationist methodology and using comparative strategies associating neighboring topics and fields.