An important attribute of beauty is that it naturally draws one to contemplation. Whenever we see (or hear, in the case of Music) something really beautiful, it naturally draws our intellects into considering it. This is also why we can sit for a long period of time looking at a sunset or a view of a range of mountains. On the other hand, we tend to ignore or be repulsed by things that are really ugly.
If an oil painting has both a Christian theme (i.e. it is about Our Lord, Our Lady, a saint or some mystery of the Faith) and it is beautiful, it will naturally draw people to contemplate that which is extolled by the art. The beauty of the art will draw us to contemplate the art, and the Christian theme will provide the subject matter of contemplation.
How many of you have walked into a modern Catholic church and seen a statue that lacked clarity and could not figure out what it was? What happens? One ends up spending all his time trying to figure out what or who it is and what the author had in mind rather than kneeling in front of the statue, with the beauty of the statue naturally drawing one to contemplate the mystery or virtue portrayed.
Contemplation and prayer are intimately connected – in fact, prayer is sometimes called contemplation. Often contemplation has a more restricted sense within the various levels of prayer, but the point is that contemplation is naturally an activity of the mind. Prayer is the lifting of the mind and heart to God – and so, if a statue is beautiful, it will naturally draw one’s mind, and the beauty will make it much easier for one’s will to follow. But, if the statue is ugly, then one’s prayer is done in spite of the statue, not because of it.
It appears today as if some members of the Church have no or very little aesthetic sense, because they are building churches that are ugly and they are putting statuary in the churches that are equally hideous. We wonder why mental prayer has collapsed? Statues are unrecognizable and we wonder why the cult of saints has imploded?
Our Catholic culture teaches that purity, modesty, truth and temperance are virtues. If they are, why do some of the new churches not contain statuary to give one the impression of purity by the clarity of statues? Why aren’t the statues representing modesty and humility by portraying saints with hands folded like the humble slave? As Catholics, we believe that the desire to lead a life according to truth is necessary for salvation, and yet we have statues and churches that bear no resemblance to the true beauty of the doctrines of our Church.
Most probably those that build and adorn these churches do not believe the same things we do. How crucial then is authentic orthodox faith, in submission to the teaching authority of the Church, to Christian Art! Beautiful Christian Art ultimately exists to lift our minds to God, Who is that for which all things strive.