Vatican II Peritus Monsignor R.G. Bandas on Dogmatic Principles and Sacred Art

Monsignor Rudolph G. Bandas (1896-1969) was one of the great ones, a loyal and orthodox American theologian who attended every session of Vatican Council II as a peritus (expert).  He was a member of two commissions during the Council, one on dogma and the other on seminaries.  He was a member of the Roman Pontifical Academy of Theology and a consultor of the Sacred Congregation of Seminaries and Universities.  Bandas was internationally known for his fidelity to the See of Peter and his many studies and publications in the area of catechesis and dogma.  The media labeled him an "arch-conservative."  In short, he was one of the good guys.  Bandas also had a sense of humor, evidenced in his witty quips.  In later years he was fond of saying: "While Pope John XXIII had opened the windows of the Church through the calling of the Council, unfortunately many strange birds had flown in through those windows."  For years he was Professor of Dogmatic Theology and Catechesis at the St. Paul Seminary.  Below is a short bio taken from a 1920's college yearbook where he began teaching Sacred Scripture at the Diocesan Teachers College and the College of St. Catherine.      

Bandas was brilliant.  He was a graduate of the St. Paul Seminary where he had studied with the future Archbishop Sheen.  He had studied at Cambridge and Oxford universities in England and in 1924 he was awarded the doctorate in philosophy Ph.D.Agg. from the Angelicum University in Rome.  He also studied at the University of Louvain in Belgium where he earned the degrees of S.T.D. et M. in 1925, before returning to his native Minnesota to teach.  He authored many books and was rector of the local major seminary for several years.  He was also longtime pastor (1957-1969) of the church of St. Agnes, St. Paul, MN, a flagship church for the Latin Mass resurgence in North America.   

Meanwhile, Bandas was a prolific writer on countless subjects.  His articles were frequently featured in The Wanderer, the nation's oldest weekly Catholic newspaper.  Following is a brief chapter from his book, The Catholic Layman and the Church, published in 1965 by the Wanderer Press.

Dogmatic Principles and Art

by Rt. Rev. Msgr. Rudolph G. Bandas, Ph.D., Agg., S.T.D. et M.

The Decree on the Means of Communication affirms the primacy of the objective moral order over the arts.  The same claim should likewise be made for the supremacy of dogmatic principles.  For in our day we are witnessing a peculiar outbreak of ugliness and brutality in the domain of art; yes, even in the field of Christian art.  This morbid epidemic has the character of a deforming arthritism or elephantisis or leprosy in art.  In some instances it seems to be a return to the artistic productions of the cave man: certain paintings in their workmanship do not surpass the figures in the caves of primitive man.  In fact, the late Cardinal Constantini, chairman of the Pontifical Academy of Art, speaks of "visual blasphemies" and "figurative horrors" in modernistic art, arousing a sense of repugnance and disgust.  Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints are pictured with cretinic faces and with hands and feed affected with elephantiasis.  Christ on the cross is portrayed as degraded and almost animal-like.  We meet saints with monkey faces and in attitudes that reminds one of a mental hospital or an institution for abnormal diseases.  Many suspect - and not without reason - that we are face to face here with the infiltrations of Communism seeking to make religion ridiculous and repulsive, especially to the children.

A decree of the Holy Office in 1952 listed the requirements which a work of art must fulfill before it can gain admittance into a sacred edifice.  The following must be the marks of acceptable religious art:

1) It must enhance the beauty of the house of God; it must not be unworthy of the house of prayer and the majesty of God; it must not involve anything unbefitting and unbecoming, since sanctity belongs to the house of God.

2) It must engender and foster the faith and piety of the faithful; it must not disturb or in any way diminish the piety of the people.  

3) It must not contain anything unusual in appearance, disordered, distorted and confused, executed without proper decency and respect (Canon 1279); in bad taste and causing scandal; foreign to the mind and decrees of the Church.

4) It must be dogmatically correct, and must not be an occasion of error to the unlearned.

5) It must severely exclude second-rate and stereotyped statues and effigies.  

In his encyclical on sacred music (1955) Pope Pius XII made the following observation: "During recent years some artists, gravely offending against Christian piety, have dared to bring into churches works devoid of any religious inspiration and completely at variance with the right rules of our churches."

We shall now lay down a few theological principles concerning the concrete visible representation of divine mysteries and supernatural truths.  In judging images and representations of Our Lord it is well to keep in mind the following great dogmatic truths:

(a) Jesus Christ is God: His Person is divine, operating through the divine and human natures.  His divine Person is resplendent in and radiates through His human nature.  Since actions are attributed to a Person, and since His person is divine, all His actions reveal the perfection of a Divine Being and make Him a most perfect Model and Exemplar worthy of all our imitation.  Any artistic work depicting Our Lord which does not do justice to these great truths is not worthy of the name of art.  

(b) Jesus Christ is true man: Nay more, He is the most beautiful among the sons of man (Psalm 44:3).  Jesus Christ did not come into. the world through the ordinary process of generation.  His body was fashioned miraculously in the chaste womb of Mary through the supernatural activity of the Holy Spirit.  Now a work must reflect the perfection of the author, and only perfection can be predicated of a Divine Agent.  True, in a prophetic chapter in Isaias (c. 53) the future Messias is described as being without "beauty and comeliness."  But this passage refers exclusively to the sufferings of the Servant of Jahve.  

Since Our Lord was conceived miraculously, He was free from original sin as well as from all the consequences of original sin.  He was impeccable, because His Person was divine and all holy.  He was sinless, full of grace, free from all actual sin and inordinate tendencies.  While He assumed these imperfections which were in keeping with the end of the Incarnation - for example, hunger, thirst, fatigue - He was free from all defective embryonic growth, physical defects, sickness and disease, all of which are consequences of original sin.

In trying to convey to others some notion of the Person of the Redeemer, the artist should not forget the present, risen and glorified state of the Redeemer at the right hand of God.  Christ rose and is at this moment in the aetas perfecta, in the age of physical perfection.  The scars of the Passion and Crucifixion, except the Fine Wounds, have disappeared, the risen Christ has an integral and complete and perfect body.  That risen body of His is impassible - no longer subject to suffering; it is agile - capable of moving quickly from one place to another; it is subtle - capable of passing through matter and closed doors; it is permanently resplendent with that brightness of which the apostles caught only a glimpse on Mt. Tabor at the Transfiguration.  

Images of the Crucified Saviour: The Catholic artist who proposes to depict the Crucified Lord should carefully keep in mind the following great truths: Christ is God; He is consubstantial with the Father, possessing numerically one and the same immutable and inammisible divine nature.  There can be no schism within the divine nature, and hence even on the cross there was no interruption or cessation of the communion of mutual love between the Father and the Son.  It is interesting to note, in this connection, that no Father of the Church interpreted the words of Our Lord on the cross - "My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me" (Matt. 27:46) - in the sense of a real abandonment of the Son by the Heavenly Father; many, following the teaching of St. Augustine, maintain that Christ spoke these words of infinite sadness as Head of the human race.  Let the artist then carefully exclude from his representation of the Saviour on the cross anything incompatible with the hypostatic union.  

There is still another dogmatic truth which the Catholic artist must keep in mind: Christ's soul possessed the Beatific Vision permanently from the first moment of His conception, although by His own Will He prevented the glory of the soul from overflowing on His body before the Resurrection.  Hence, Our Lord did not have virtues incompatible with the Beatific Vision - the virtues of faith and hope.  Hence, too, He could not die of despair which is a loss of confidence and hope.  Much less did He die of a "broken heart."  As we pointed above, Christ had a perfect human nature.  His heart was not diseased but physically perfect.  A healthy heart does not break of itself.  For the same reason, the heart of Jesus cannot be said to have broken because of grief over man's sins.  Christ's consciousness of His exact mission and the fullness of His knowledge precluded all despair.  Our Lord Himself said: "I lay down my life, that I may take it up again.  No man taketh it away from me, but I lay it down of myself and I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again" (John 10:17-18).  We might note, too, that Christian Tradition represented Christ on the cross not as vanquished but as Victor, as the King triumphant over death: "God reigned from the wood of the cross:" "Who by dying overcame our death;" and again: 

"Sing, my tongue, the Saviour's glory,

Tell His triumph far and wide,

How upon the cross a Victim

Vanquishing in death, He died."

If only Catholic artists kept some of these truths in mind and were guided by them, our churches, rectories, convents and institutions would not be cluttered with the monstrosities which have found their way into them.

The Blessed Virgin Mary: In their representations of Mary artists have from time immemorial struggled with two concepts which at first sight seem irreconcilable and which require rare tact and ability in him who must associate them in one and the same artistic production: Mary's virginity and divine maternity.  Furthermore, Mary was always free from all sin, both original and actual, as well as from all inclinations to sin.  There was nothing defective or disordered in her physical growth and development.  She was not subject to disease, sickness and senility.  Theologians agree in teaching that, if she died, she died not because of bodily deterioration but out of love of God, without any pain or death agony, and that her body was not subject to corruption.  And now in her risen state in heaven her body enjoys all the blessed qualities of a glorified body.  Let the artist again pause before these truths when about to sculpture or paint a representation of the ever Blessed Virgin Mother of God.  

Angels: "Angel," in the Greek language means "messenger."  Angels are pure spirits, superior to men in knowledge and power, created by God to adore, love and serve Him.  A particular duty of angels is to be the protectors of nations and guardians of individual man (Matt. 18:10; Heb. 1:7).  Traditional Christian art represents angels as winged adolescents.  Youth is a symbol of force and grace.  The wings are an emblem of their spirituality, mastery over space, promptness and speed in carrying out the mandates of God, immortality.  

Saints: The saints are men who attained a special degree of perfection, exercised Christian virtues in a heroic degree, and often sacrificed their lives for the faith.  When an artist is called upon to represent a saint, he should obtain adequate information on the life of the saint, the time and environment in which he lived, the iconographic forms which tradition has already assigned to him, the particular devotional practices connected with his feast, etc.  The drapery adopted should be in conformity with history, the saint's state of life, and iconographic tradition.  Saints who did not belong to a religious order may not be represented in the habit of a religious (Urban VIII, Constitution of March 15, 1642).  It should be the artist's task to make the saint's image radiant with his particular virtue.  

In conclusion, let us point out that deformed art is not liturgical.  All Christian art is destined in one way or another to be associated with Christian worship.  Now worship is both internal and external.  Art belongs to external cult - although the eloquence of outward beauty also moves the soul and thus serves to promote internal cult.  Art, then, which has the noble office of rendering to God the homage of adoration, should be endowed with the most exquisite beauty.  How then can the artist presume to render glory to God by disfiguring the human form on which God has kindled in his face: "The light of thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us" (Ps. 4:7).  Art is visual prayer; modernistic deformed art not only savours of contempt for the divine but may well border on the sacrilegious.  

Some of these modernistic artists content that they are seeking their inspiration in copies of ancient Christian art.  but this is infantalism in art.  Besides, in the early Christian era the human race was emerging from the corruption and sensualism of paganism, and art did not attain that idealistic perfection, which it reached in later centuries.  Stammering is natural and delightful in a child but grotesque in an adult.  Christianity is not an archeological doctrine but a form of life capable of accommodating itself to all times and places and destined to endure as long as humanity.  

Application to Conduct

1. I will carefully exclude from my home all deformed and grotesque sacred art.

2. I will discourage the producers of such art by refusing to patronize them.

3. I will select only such artistic products which will enable me to understand better the invisible things of God.  

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