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Issue 09 – Lent 2022


Strange Powers

On childhood reading.


How do we learn? Well, of course, we are instructed formally in educational systems, and by our families, by societies, by the media and the culture writ large. The same messy, complicated process applies to religious education, to evangelization, to belief and unbelief. And while there are metrics by which our educations are formally assessed, measuring how belief is acquired, maintained, or lost is another thing. When I was in the government and specialized, among other things, in studying Salafi-Jihadist propaganda, we always noted that there was no one path to belief, even to radical belief—what enthused one person left another cold. Moreover, the language, images, and arguments that could mobilize extremists also appealed strongly to ordinary believers.

The idea of the way of beauty, the via pulchritudinis, as a path for art that is expressive of Christian faith and that can draw people to that faith has been mentioned repeatedly by Catholic church leaders, theologians and popes. in recent years. Saint Paul VI famously addressed artists at the closing of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. He called on them to be allied to the Church as “the guardians of beauty in the world,” noting that “the world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair” and asking them to be free “from the search after strange or unbecoming expressions.” A cynic might look at the wreckovation of Catholic churches in the following years and the sterile and strange course of most contemporary art as evidence that Paul VI’s plea went unheeded. Subsequent popes have echoed such a fervent plea. Pope Francis called calling on artists in December 2020 to “transmit truth and beauty.” Perhaps no pope has spoken as much and as evocatively on beauty and faith as Pope Benedict XVI. In 2011 he said:

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About the author

Albert M. Fernandez

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