How is art used in Christianity

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The conveyance of the Christian faith is very important to the absolutist rulers. Because the majority of the population can neither read nor write, the story of faith is literally staged in the so-called "theatrum sacrum": in images, words and liturgy.

Status: 09.03.2017

See, look and grasp thanks to emotions

The eye of the body knows the things of the world, the eye of the heart knows God. In the 17th century this comparison did not mark a contradiction, but a connection.

Both eyes are directly connected to one another for baroque thinking. What comes in through the eyes goes straight to the heart, where it can trigger good as well as bad emotions (affects). Hence the terms see and watch has a double meaning: because they mean both visual perception and inner knowledge, seeing always means understanding, apprehending, recognizing. The hoped-for effect is also twofold: people should be taught rationally and at the same time emotionally gripped. Insight and emotion, in turn, awaken the love of God, which incites the fear of God, which stimulates the good. Baroque preachers also aim at this act, which is cognitive and affective at the same time, when they call their audience "see!" Encourage people to understand a conclusion, context, or belief and act accordingly.

Docere et movere: teach and move

The spiritual cognition in the Hertzens-Aug conveyed through the body eyes are central concerns of the baroque sacred architecture and the baroque church service. Both are completely oriented towards the inner vision, the inner seeing and understanding, of spiritual truths. Both want to penetrate the heart through the eye and direct the gaze beyond the temporal things to the eternal reality.

The "theatrum sacrum" - meaning and consequences

The dual nature of seeing and recognizing also explains the often stage-like, "theatrical" appearance of many baroque churches. The theatrum sacrum, the sacred stage, is the place where the revelation event is constantly renewed and is constantly to find anew in the heart of the people. This arena does not want to entertain, it wants to teach (docere) and move (movere), wants to instruct and grasp. The entire building and its furnishings, all image programs and statues of saints, are subject to this central purpose. In the theatrum sacrum the assembled congregation becomes an eyewitness to the majesty of God. Here, as if on a sacred stage, the hidden secrets of the salvation event are visibly displayed, that is, for contemplation, in words, images and liturgical action. As a deliberately staged epiphany of the divine, this formal language is far removed from mere joy in decorating, sheer lust for furnishing or even pious juggling.

In the center of the theatrum sacrum, the sacred scene, is the altar with the tabernacle. It contains the consecrated hosts, in which Christ is physically present, and can therefore not be designed otherwise than as splendidly as possible. And as befits the lordly throne of God, all eyes, those of the priest as well as those of the believers, are always focused on the most holy of holies. This conscious centering of the devotion is supported by the entire building and the artistic design: The lighting highlights the altar radiantly out of the darkness, all figures of saints and putti point to this spiritual center with looks, body turns, gestures and gestures.

The whole truth is still veiled

Far and much more than mere decoration or frivolous play with profane set pieces are the elaborately designed curtains that frame the altar in many churches of the Baroque period. In the curtain, which partly covers and partly discovers the altar, the essence of the church is designed in a meaningful and sensual way: it is the place of proclamation, the place of God's self-revelation, the place of a universal revelation that is constantly new before the eyes of man accomplishes. It is this permanent fulfillment of revelation as a mandate and reality, this literal revelatio dei, which symbolically expresses the image of the raised curtain (Latin: velum).

Princeps non laicus - the sacralization of rule

The clearly marked threshold between the choir and the community room is also characteristic of the baroque world of imagination. The choir room is reserved for the clergy alone, the laity have their place behind the choir screen. At best they approach this limit on their knees in order to receive the Eucharistic gifts. In order to participate in this salvation, they need, at least according to the Catholic understanding, the sacred mediation of ordained priests. Without this mediation, lay people have no access to the sacraments and no hope of the salvation of their souls.

The choreography of power

The absolutist princely state translates the principle of the separate spheres into the profane realm: Through his consecration and anointing, the ruler stands above the layman, and his authority is based on this ruler's sacredness. Like the priests in the theatrum sacrum, in the theatrum mundi he acts as a mediator between God and his subjects.

And like the sphere of the priests, the sphere of the ruler is also separate from the people. Like the altar, a canopy vaults its throne, stairs, wide lines and anteroom create distance. The court ceremony also ensures the rapture and majesty due to the prince. Modeled after the liturgy in many ways, it underlines both the primacy of the ruler and his function as guarantor of divine order. Not least because of this, the historian Benno Hubensteiner understands "the specific Baroque piety as the source of all baroque spirituality and baroque cultural development." The key to understanding the epoch, according to Hubensteiner, is only provided by the "horizon of the religious". Here, and only here, lies "the ultimate comprehensibility of the age, right down to the profane areas of economic history and sociology."

Faith and piety as a staged event

In addition to sacred architecture, a number of "typically baroque" phenomena that could be described as "event piety" are aimed at the holistic, sensual experience of faith and its truths. This area includes the pilgrimages that revived again in the 17th century, but also elaborate processions enriched with music, images and biblical costumes, as well as passion plays, calvaries, cribs, holy stairs or holy graves.

Sensual understanding of the truth of faith

Ultimately, all of these supposedly very different piety practices have a common goal: They want to shape the spiritual content of the Catholic faith as an experience through personal, physical comprehension and thus intensify it. The devotion, which is otherwise left to intelligent listening and inner vision, is expanded into a collective, active and sometimes bodily act of remembrance, which is intended to consolidate central certainties. In the end, like in the theatrum sacrum of the mass and the church building, it is not about decoration or entertainment, but about lived catechesis.

The Weilheim parish priest Johann Aelbl (1552-1621) sums up this connection in his preface to the Weilheim Passion Play: Because the old copies are praiseworthy and wondering that the Lord suffered the Christians for the eyes and reminded them of it Gemähl, pictures, erect souls, drama and the same things make sixes.

Ecclesia ambulans - the church on the way to God

The pilgrimage is undoubtedly one of the most famous symbolic acts of Catholicism that have been practiced to this day. At the core of the symbolic execution is the idea of ​​the ecclesia ambulans, the church as a common pilgrimage to God. Behind this is the conviction that earthly existence with its hardship and hardship is only a transition stage between birth and death. Because the goal of the human journey through life is not in this side of the transitory world, but in the hereafter, in the eternal home promised by God. The procession of the people of Israel through the desert to the Promised Land guarantees that this hope is not an empty delusion. Every pilgrimage renews and reaffirms this fundamental model of thought. As a collective act of remembrance, it sharpens both awareness of the pilgrim nature of human existence and the certainty of God's promise. The fact that the pure doctrine was often tarnished by numerous excesses and sometimes extremely earthly activities is another matter.

The first pilgrim in his country

In any case, the Wittelsbachers did not contest the criticism of the all too secular side effects of "Wallens", which was often expressed as early as the 17th century. They promoted the pilgrimage as a decidedly counter-Reformation piety practice through foundations, brotherhoods and the personal, demonstrative example. Maximilian I in particular stood out as a particularly avid pilgrim. The future duke took part in strenuous pilgrimages as a child. He celebrated his assumption of government with a pilgrimage on foot to Altötting and later submitted to this arduous exercise at least once a year, whereby he preferred to make a pilgrimage to Altötting, Tuntenhausen or Loreto. Finally, his own journey through life also ended on a pilgrimage that the aged elector undertook to Bettbrunn in 1651.

Calvaries and Holy Stairs

The calvary and holy staircases erected in many places, of which there are said to have been well over 600 in the Bavarian-Austrian region, also belong to the area of ​​the physical realization of a promise of salvation and the collective act of remembrance. The holy stairs are modeled on the scala sancta, the holy staircase in the Roman Lateran Palace. According to legend, these are the 28 steps, miraculously found by Saint Helena in Jerusalem, which Jesus climbed for interrogation with Pilate. Whoever struggles up the steps of such a Holy Staircase or Holy Relay while praying on his knees, carries out part of Christ's Passion on his own body. This turns the narrative of the Passion into a present, personally experienced event that is intended to deepen the devotion.

Unfortunately, most of these once so numerous facilities have fallen victim to the Enlightenment and have now disappeared. Fortunately, a few calvaries and holy staircases have survived, including the Calvary Church built in 1726 above the Isar near Bad Tölz with a beautiful scala sancta inside. A few years older is the neighboring Lenggrieser Kalvarienberg, built in 1694, with its (incomplete) crucifixion group and the symmetrical stone staircase leading to it.

Holy graves and nativity scenes

The "holy graves" also pursue the same purpose of a heightened, vivid, physical experience of the salvation process. They were usually erected in a niche in the entrance area, in front of the altar or in a side chapel as a reminder of the rest of Jesus' grave between the crucifixion and the resurrection and were intended to guide meditation on the Passion. In some churches particularly splendid backdrop graves were set up in the choir area during Holy Week. Like other witnesses of baroque piety, they fell into oblivion for centuries, were destroyed or, in fortunate cases, mothballed in attics. One of these rare fortunes is the imposing backdrop grave of the Landshut Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius. It was carefully restored a few years ago and put up again for the first time in 2002.

Salvation happening in the here and now

An integral part of the Baroque piety landscape are the often magnificently furnished, detailed and realistically crafted Christmas cribs. With their contemporary clothes, typical buildings and rural scenes, they bring the healing process into the immediate temporal and spatial presence of the believers. Her spiritual message, conveyed through the senses and recognizability, is clear: What happened in Bethlehem is still happening, here and now, happens in the midst of people.