Smoky Mountains Sunrise

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Catholic Cultural Revival

Emmeline Deane, “John Henry Newman,” 1889
One of the most exciting and powerful manifestations of Catholic beauty arose in the Catholic Cultural Revival in England over the past two centuries. 

By Joseph Pearce 

It is twenty years since the late, great John Paul II wrote his Letter to Artists and, as such, it is timely to remind ourselves of the power of Christian beauty to evangelize the culture in which we live. All but the most insensitive of men will admit to, and will admire, the great beauty produced by Catholic culture over the centuries. From the great art of Giotto, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Fra Angelico to the great architecture of St. Peter’s in Rome or Chartres Cathedral in France, the Catholic Church has bestowed upon humanity the most magnificent cultural edifices, all inspired by a love of the One True God who is the Greatest Artist of all. In the fields of music and literature, as much as in the fields of art and architecture, the genius of the Church has shone forth in the works of her creative children. From the simple serenity of Gregorian chant to the intricate integrity of polyphony and the rousing passion of Romanticism, from Palestrina, Thomas Tallis and William Byrd, to Bach, Mozart and Bruckner, the greatest sacred music continues to resonate in the hungry heart of man. And what is true of music, is equally true of literature. From Dante’s Divine Comedy and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the glorious Middle Ages to the plays of Shakespeare during the throes of the iconoclastic Reformation, Catholic writers have produced truly great Christian literature, putting their words at the service of the Word. 

Yet Catholic beauty does not only blossom in the brilliance of the Catholic Middle Ages or in the magnificence of the Catholic Counter Reformation, it blooms also in the midst of the desert of modernity. One of the most exciting and powerful manifestations of such beauty arose in the Catholic Cultural Revival in England over the past two centuries. From its genesis in the rise of English Romanticism at the end of the 18th century to its crowning achievements in the middle of the 20th century, the English Catholic Revival would produce some of the greatest artistic masterpieces of all time. 

It all began with the disillusionment of certain English poets with the false promises of the so-called Enlightenment and age of Reason. Poets such as William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge were horrified by the mass murder, known as the Great Terror, that followed in the wake of the French Revolution. Although Wordsworth and Coleridge had initially been attracted by the French Revolutionary cause, the full horrors of its butchery and totalitarianism, carried out in the name of “reason” against religion, caused them to recoil in the direction of Christianity. Both poets rejected their youthful agnosticism and pantheism and embraced Anglican Christianity, expressing their rediscovery of beauty in what became known as Romantic poetry.

Read more at National Catholic Register >>


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