IT IS OBVIOUS that a man without spiritual understanding can nevertheless read aloud the Word of God in such a way that the Lord's people are blessed by hearing it. By the same token, any great artist can serve the purposes of God with his art even though he has no personal knowledge of the Lord whom he is serving. It is important to distinguish between the contribution which a man makes and the spirit that moves him. Plutarch said: (14)
step toward resolving the problem of accounting for some very
inspiring works of art which have come from the minds of men
who in their private lives were anything but inspiring is pointed
up by these words of Plutarch. He shows quite properly that it
is possible to admire the works which a man does while finding
little to admire in the man himself. This is an entirely scriptural
14. Frank, Philipp, Philosophy of Science,
Prentice-Hall, New York, 1957, p.27
say, we cannot assume. . . and by this I mean we cannot assume
either way, that the work reflects or that it contradicts
the worker's character. These things must be kept separate, not
because they are necessarily so -- for great saints have achieved
great deeds and wicked men have done much wickedness -- but rather
because they do not necessarily coincide. Michelangelo's Pieta
does not necessarily mean that he was inspired by any love
for the Lord. It is possible that, moved by the cultural climate
of his own day, he naturally channelled his tremendous energy,
not toward a secular objective (as he might have done today),
but toward a religious one. It may even have been a religious
exercise expressed in artistic form without being a spiritual
one. Indeed, it could have been an act of devotion but still
not a spiritual one. The statement is meaningful because devoutness
may be accompanied by hostility toward true Christian faith.
It was certain noble and devout Greek women who were stirred
up against the early Christians (Acts 13:50). An instructive
combination, this: their devoutness was no guarantee of their
being favourable toward a truly Christian faith.
Then what inspires such men as Michelangelo and Handel to produce the great "Christian" works they did if it was not a genuine Christian faith? Is it possible that the "spirit" of the times can so influence a man's mind that he puts the very best efforts of his highest capabilities in support of it, encouraged by the knowledge that by this means he is most likely to achieve recognition from his contemporaries? Ours is a materialistic age; other ages have been far more religiously bent. The concern for things spiritual is not something which sprang from their own minds but something they merely sustained without question. Such may also have been the case in Victorian times when scientists sought to express their views in such reverent terms that we are apt to assume they were expressing profound convictions of their own, whereas in fact they may have been in some instances merely reflecting the spirit of the times.
Thus, for all we know, Michelangelo and Handel, had they been really challenged by the simple testimony of an earnest Christian believer, might have turned out to be entirely hostile, even while engaged in the very act of producing their most spiritually inspiring works. As we have already said, the great Gothic cathedrals were built largely with the funds collected by a corrupt clergy from the sale of Indulgences, those most pernicious of all invitations to wickedness. Yet for all this, it is not improper for us to be deeply moved by contemplating the Pieta, by listening to Messiah, or by standing in reverential awe in the presence of God in one of the vast medieval cathedrals.