What do our personal battles against evil look like? They are rarely pretty or uncomplicated, in any age.
On the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, this series of articles looks at how the Church responded to this turbulent age by finding an artistic voice to proclaim Truth through Beauty. Each column visits a Roman monument and looks at how the work of art was designed to confront a challenged raised by the Reformation with the soothing and persuasive voice of art. You can find more in this series, here.
There was one important area of convergence between 16th-century reformers and Catholics: neither one ever denied the existence of sin. Sin was omnipresent, and humanity was swept along in a deluge of temptations and faults that constantly threatened to separate it from God. The bone of contention lay in how to swim against the tides of evil. Protestants clung to salvation by faith alone, exalting Christ’s redemptive sacrifice as the source of all salvation while holding faith to be the believer’s sole means of accessing unmerited grace. The Catholic Church, meanwhile, always affirming the centrality of Christ’s redemption, also preached human cooperation with divine grace and the necessity to combat sin every day. This disagreement was so bitter, it threatened to submerge everyone caught in its undertow.
St. Ignatius of Loyola plunged into the idea of spiritual combat with his spiritual exercises, teaching thousands how to face the reality of sin and to combat its effect in their lives. Ignatius’ spirituality would help shape a century of dramatic imagery that vividly confronted the faithful about how virtue conquers vice and inciting Catholics to wage war on sin.
Leading the charge are the angels, explored in a previous article, who possess a superhuman capacity to combat sin without ever getting a hair out of place. As debonair as Ian Fleming’s 007, Michael the Archangel, especially in Guido Reni’s oft-imitated 1635 painting, treads on Satan without a spot of sweat, a wrinkle in his cool blue armor, or a furrow in his porcelain brow.