"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

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Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Hollywood and Christianity

I commend for your reading pleasure an interview with Barbara Nicolosi, a Christian screenwriter, in Godspy on-line magazine. The companion piece "Why do heathens make the best Christian films?" is also worthy of consideration. Here is one highlight from Nicolosi on contemporary American Christianity's poor aesthetic sensibility :

That's ironic, isn't it, when you consider much beauty in art, music, and architecture Christianity has inspired over two thousand years?

Yeah. Just imagine some horrible, untalented Renaissance artist going around Rome painting angels all over the place. They would've considered it just bad graffiti. Now-a- days, we would let the guy paint on our cathedrals and drone a communal Gather Us In to celebrate the desecration! When I visited the new Cathedral here in Los Angeles, I was struck by the lack of aesthetic quality evident in the sculpture of the Blessed Virgin that looms over the entrance. The artist apparently wanted it to reflect "all people" so it has the racial characteristics of several races, plus a man's arms on a woman's body. I pointed out to the tour guide who explained all this, "Yes, but it is really very ugly." She sniffed at me in disdain, "We aren't about that kind of thing in the Church any more." Oh really. Somebody, quick call the Vatican to lock up the Pieta. We have lost the value and understanding of aesthetics in the Church.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess I'd like to read the rest of Nicolosi's thoughts on Christian aesthetics. I've read and heard several attacks on the LA Cathedral by people whose aesthetic vulgarity is so pronounced as to nullify the substance of their criticisms. From an entertainment standpoint there's little to compare with catholic so-called conservatives' smug and pretentious self-appointed superiority in matters of religious architecture and art. I've been to Our Lady of the Angels and don't recall the Virgin Mary. But I do recall the walls covered in saints (calm down traditionalist aesthetes, they're all "realistically" portrayed!), plenty of space for private devotion, and beautiful grounds. Were Mahoney to take time out from approving payouts to people his priests have molested in order to sling a little mawkish kitsch around the place, would traditionalist aesthetes be happy? Who can tell. -Jay

5:13 PM  
Blogger texanglican said...

Jay, nothing I read in the interview indicated to me that Nicolosi was a "religious conservative." Rahter, her objection seems to be to bad art. She prefers good movies made by "pagans" that reflect key Christian values to badly made films with an overt Christian message, for example. Beauty in art is a reflection of God's glory, even if it isn't expressly made for religious purposes, right? So "mawkish kitsch" is sure the last thing she would want in the LA cathedral! Thanks for dropping by.

8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Having read the two articles, I have to say I'm not quite convinced.

One point is that being a Christian doesn't automatically make you an aesthete. Many people, Christians or otherwise, just have "bad" taste, so it's not surprising is they make (and often like) bad art.

More troubling is the ambiguity of the way in which "beauty" (and worse, "sacramentality") is used. I'm not sure what it means, and I'm not sure it's so simply connected to God. The 20th century's great theologian of aesthetics, Hans Urs von Balthasar, had a rather more complicated view of the connection between earthly beauty and divine glory. Earthly beauty can even be misleading if it stops short of God, which (it seems to me) is exactly the sort of mistake a non-Christian would make.

For that reason I tend to view most thoughtful portrayals of the human situation as insightful and wonderfully helpful, but slightly skewed from a Christian perspective. Likewise for the movies that the articles praise for their Christian themes: brilliant but problematic. Even my favorites, "A Man for All Seasons" and "The Mission" have struck me as increasingly off-center lately.


8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jay here. I wasn't attacking you Nicolosi whose article I said up front I hadn't read but ought to. I was waging "preemptive war" on aesthetic denunciations of Our Lady of the Angels, a church about which I'm more than a little protective and possessive. It's a soaring and beautiful church. I think it is also right to call it a brave church. I get this sense from the denunciations I've read that the modernity of the place somehow renders it ugly or at least not beautiful. And that's a politicized, reactionary, and impoverished understanding of artistic and architectural beauty. Maybe it won't stand up to the opinion of subsequent decades and centuries. Who can tell? Lots of renaissance art was dismantled over the years, some of them treasures. What we're left with today is a high treasure to schlock ratio. I imagine by the time our own modern period has been enshrined as exemplary, its case will be argued on the basis of the period's surviving examples. -Jay

9:54 AM  

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