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Religion: Pope’s Pronouncements

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The Vatican last week made important pronouncements on three subjects: ¶ In the kind of letter seldom sent to any but a Catholic country, Pope Pius XII sent a message to the Russian people. Reminding them of past ties with Rome, he prayed “that the Christian faith, which is the honor and support of human society, may be strengthened and increased among the peoples of Russia, and that all the wiles of the enemies of religion, all their errors and their deceptive artifices may be driven far off from you.” This announcement, widely broadcast by the Vatican radio, was the Pope’s way of saying that the church’s attack on Communism is moral, not political or nationalistic, and does not extend to the Russian people.

¶ A papal statement on economic justice went to the president of Semaines Sociales, an annual gathering of socially conscious French Catholics. As usual, the Pope steered a middle course between the advocates (if there are any) of completely unregulated capitalism and those of state socialism. Social justice can be realized, he wrote, neither by “the free play of blind economic forces” nor by “an oppressive, omnipotent weighing down on the legitimate autonomy of private initiative.” ¶ The Holy Office condemned “corrupt and errant forms of sacred art.” Warned the Holy Office: “Of no moment are the objections raised by some that sacred art must be adapted to the necessities and conditions of the present times. For sacred art, which originated with Christian society, possesses its own ends, from which it can never diverge.” Although the statement also deplored stereotyped religious art, Vatican spokesmen admitted that it was aimed principally at modern artists who find church decoration a new and challenging technical medium. Wrote Archbishop Celso Costantini: “We are at present in a Babel of art … The clamor caused by Matisse decorating the chapel of Vence has not yet died down . . . Chagall would like to paint a Catholic chapel . . . and Picasso has been toying with the idea of decorating a Communist chapel-… It is high time to unmask the pretenses of this false art which simply consists of rejecting the human and denying the divine.”

*Artist Matisse is a vague believer; Marc Chagall is a Jew; Pablo Picasso is a practicing Communist.

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