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About the Book

Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part VI:  The Place of Art in Worship


On Uninspiring Men and Their Inspiring Works

     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)

     Admiration does not always lead us to imitate what we admire, but on the contrary, while we are charmed with the work, we often despise the workman. . . .
     For though a work may be agreeable, esteem for the author is not the necessary consequence.

     An important 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 principle. (15)
     I feel strongly that it is always important to guard against identifying a man's character with the use he makes of his talents. No matter how inspiring the work, it is not proper to assume anything about the character of the artist. To state it in slightly different terms, one cannot assume that a life of noble effort is necessarily the reflection of nobility of spirit.

14. Frank, Philipp, Philosophy of Science, Prentice-Hall, New York, 1957, p.27
15. On this see "The Omnipotence of God in the Affairs of Men", Part IV in Time and Eternity, vol.6 in The Doorway Papers Series, Zondervan Publishing Company.

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     I 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.

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     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. 

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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