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Pope Francis, theologians, and beauty

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Daniel Esparza - published on 02/24/23

The Pontiff regrets that theologians don’t reflect enough on beauty.

The foundation Ente dello Spettacolowas established by the Italian Episcopal Conference in 1947 to spread and promote cinematographic culture in Italy. On February 20, because of its 75th anniversary, some of its members went to visit Pope Francis. The Pontiff regretted that contemporary theology leaves beauty aside, as if disregarding the field of theological aesthetics.

The Pope gave a speech in which he encouraged the members of the foundation to “provoke wonder” with their art, just as God experienced “wonder at the beauty of his creatures” once Creation was complete.

Afterwards, the Pope spoke freely, praising the foundation’s trajectory and its service to beauty as one of God’s main ways to make himself known. “Theology books speak so much of verum, of truth; they speak of bonum  [the good]; but of beauty … of beauty, not so much […], as if beauty had nothing to do with theological-pastoral reflection,” he added.

“The world, tormented by war and by so many evils, needs works that arouse wonder,” the Pope insisted. “The great risk in a world that is increasingly artificial, where man has surrounded himself with the works of his hands, is to lose the ability to wonder,” he concluded.

Theology and aesthetics

Theological aesthetics is the interdisciplinary study of theology and aesthetics. According to Gesa Elsbeth Thiessen, the editor of Theological Aesthetics: a Reader, this field is “concerned with questions about God and issues in theology in the light of and perceived through sense knowledge (sensation, feeling, imagination), through beauty, and the arts.” That is, it studies the theological reflection on beauty and the dialogue between theology and the arts.

Notable theologians and philosophers have worked on theological aesthetics since the early days of the Church, including Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Joseph Ratzinger, among many others.

The field has recently seen a growing interest, becoming a relevant subject for discussions, publications, and advanced academic studies.

Pope FrancisTheology
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