This week, we have seen how artists can apply monastic wisdom and techniques to their creative lives, as well as to their spiritual lives. By way of concluding the week, I would like to explore how monks and members of other institutes of consecrated life can engage in art.
1) The monastic form: The traditional monastic arts include icon writing, Gregorian chant, manuscript illumination, and the creation of vessels and vestments to serve the liturgy, among others. However, some monasteries use other forms of art as a ministry. For example, the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Connecticut has a theatre, which operates during the summer. It would be interesting to see a monastery form a permanent performance company, using theatre to build relationships with their local community.
2) The ‘apostolic’ form: ‘Apostolic’ religious congregations are less fixed to a particular place than monasteries and choose to minister in the world rather than separating themselves from it. The Jesuits, for example, are highly mobile, and, consistent with their motto of ‘finding God in all things’, Jesuits work in all kinds of professions – parish priest, spiritual director, doctor, and artist. I know of several Jesuits whose work with the Society of Jesus has included acting, directing, playwriting, and choreography. (Jesuits even invented the trap door!) Members of apostolic religious congregations create art as a witness to God’s redemption of all human activity and as an aid to the re-evangelisation of culture, while their ministry in the world also allows them to minister directly to those working in the arts. (Members of the Congregation of Holy Cross, for example, run a chaplaincy for entertainment industry professionals in Hollywood.)
3) The ‘secular’ form: One lesser-known form of consecrated life is the secular institute. Secular institutes are similar to religious institutes (i.e., religious congregations/orders) in that their members vow poverty, chastity and obedience. However, they differ in that their members generally live alone, instead of in communal houses, and work in secular jobs as opposed to being employed by the Church. Without responsibilities to a residential community or to a family, members of secular institutes are more available to minister to those with or for whom they work. This form of consecrated life offers no barriers to the creation of art and the service of artists.
Many modern institutes were formed to provide needed services (such as education or medical care) or to minister to neglected populations (such as ‘the poorest of the poor’ or young unwed mothers). In an age when artists and churches often look at each other with mutual wariness, might there be room for an institute of consecrated life that focuses on building bridges between artists and the Church? I am thinking of a community of people who minister to those working in the arts, since the artist’s profession is both financially precarious and often spiritually dangerous. I am thinking also of a community of artists who serve the Kingdom of God through the creation of art, whether for liturgical, devotional, or educational purposes, or simply as an act of sub-creation which itself gives glory to God. Might such a community fill a needed gap in the Church’s ministry?
1. In the Roman Catholic Church, my own tradition, an ‘institute of consecrated life’ is roughly defined as a recognised association of the faithful in which members take public vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. (The monastic vows of obedience, stability, and conversatio morum, or ‘conversion of life’, include these vows.)
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