Saturday, 5 February 2011

Consecration to the Sacred Heart and the Evolution of the Public Space

I am new to the thinking of Theilard de Chardin, and David your own thinking about the public space. I have a lot of ideas ruminating having read some of your ideas, and here is an example. I am not sure if I am understanding you correctly, or completely accurate about the teaching of Leo XIII but post this in the hope of generating some reflections and corrections

When Pope Leo XIII consecrated the world to the Sacred Heart, lamenting the rejection of religion in public life, echoing the encyclical Rerum Novarum with its tentative warming to the ideas of democracy and social justice, his Holiness saw ‘religion’ as the Roman Catholic religion, a hierarchical institution with which states once had formal relationships but which was increasingly excluded as a power broker which could determine the developments of society. Yet, at the same time, the Pope was addressing the vastly changed world of the late 19th century , which was unrecognisable compared to society just a century earlier. Empires, industrialisation, rise of democracy, the ideas of socialism and Communism, the beginnings of mass education, railways and a vast array of technological gadgets all contributed to the emergence of the world which Pope Leo addressed.

Now we live in a very changed world from that of Leo XIII, much as the world of the late 19th century was radically different from the world a century before that. Globalisation places the religions alongside each other, competing views of truth and the way in which the social sphere should be organised. At times there are overlapping areas of agreement, but there are often fundamental differences. At the same time, the officialdom of religions no longer have the same control over their adherents, with mass communication enabling every shade of opinion to be shared and aired. The public space is no longer a place dominated by authorities, of which the Church hierarchy was one, and where the outrage was about the exclusion of the hierarchy from the public square. Rather it is a place dominated by the advertising industry, the media and business. Religion, in this context, is removed to the periphery, and the absolute claims of each religion relativised.

We can see this in European airports. Shopping malls dominate, alongside food halls. Chapels are there but tucked away, and no longer not even multi-denominational but multi-faith. Christians pray in the same space as Muslims, Hindus alongside Buddhists, Sikhs equal to pagans. Diluted, marginalised, stripped of any truth claim.

The art and architecture of these spaces reflects this nebulous religiousity, blandly called ‘spirituality’. Devoid of any images of meaning, except at the most subjective level, ones which can be interpreted as each believer thinks fit, the authority of faith communities obliterated and its challenge to the wider public space neutered.

Therefore, to make specific religious imagery, infused with theology and designed to speak to and inform the beholder (which is the purpose of iconography) is a fundamental challenge to the contemporary status quo. It raises the question, how does an image of the Sacred Heart ‘read’ as public art? Is it simply to be reduced to an item for personal piety or can it, should it, have a public role, even a revolutionary one? What did it mean for the world to be consecrated to the Sacred Heart, and what place did that consecration have in the way in which modern society has ‘evolved’?

1 comment:

  1. Ian you have raised some important questions here. I will reflect on them and when I have organised my thoughts I will blog.