Art, Sacred and Profane, by James Patrick Reid

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*Image: The Descent into Hell (Anastasis) by an unknown (Russian) artist, c. early 1400s [Swedish National Museum, Stockholm]

By James Patrick Reid, The Catholic Thing, June 18, 2020

James Patrick Reid is a painter and lecturer who specializes in the intersection of art and theology. He lives in New York City, where he has taught at the Art Students League and the New York Academy. He writes regularly at Sacred Paintings.


James Patrick ReidAll of creation is from the beginning a gift, a token of the Giver’s love. Hence there is continuity between the natural and the sacred, and commonplace substances serve as matter for sacraments. There is continuity between sacred iconography and painting as such, because art was never supposed to be profane.

Profanum means “outside the temple (Lat., fanum).” But in Genesis, God creates the whole world to be His temple, the house of His image. Art, like everything else, becomes profane when, in spite of the eternal power and Godhead manifest in the beauty of creation, we fail to glorify and thank the Lord (Romans 2:21), and thereby lose the inner light that allowed us to see the world aright.

“The Lord is good to all; and His tender mercies are over all His works.” (Psalm 145:8) God holds the world in existence, and the divine conservation and governance of creation always shines forth for all who will see it. Art is beautiful when it magnifies this mystery, as I’ve suggested in previous columns (here and here).  …

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