Launching two new books earlier this year, Sister Wendy Beckett (pictured) said that, after 30 years of studying religious art, she has written "as a Catholic" for the first time, previously "never using religious language so as not to put off the atheists and the non-Christians", writes Sophia Deboick in the Guardian.
Having interpreted Christian art for a popular audience for decades, Beckett says she has finally "come out of the closet" to emphasise that these artworks can draw everyone to "something beyond, something other, and that something is God".
Meanwhile, last week Pope Benedcit espoused a similar view, speaking of the power of art to "express the faith and call us to a relationship with God". It seems that for these two Catholic thinkers, at least, the atheist has missed something fundamental if they fail to be inspired to faith by the religious art of the Christian tradition.
In the case of the subject matter of Beckett's book, The Iconic Jesus, they may be on to something. The eastern icon is esoteric in its stark and naive style, but it is also alienating to the nonbeliever in its devotional function.
As Beckett says "The whole point of the icon was that it was true" – it made the invisible divine visible through what was meant to be a wholly faithful physical representation.
But further to this, in the tradition of acheiropoieta ("not made by human hand"), the ultimate "true" icons were believed to have been miraculously made – they were not simply representations, but rather holy objects to be treated as the very person they depicted. Icons of Christ were tangible evidence of the Word made flesh, and this is a spiritual meaning, which is redundant to the atheist.
However, Beckett's other recent book suggests the relevance religious art can have for us all, irrespective of faith.
FULL STORY Religious art is about being human (Guardian)