There were four types of nudity recognized in sacred art, each type used to explain various Catholic teachings:Some people might find sacred art which has nudity in it to be distracting. The way I see it is that if a work of sacred art does not help someone's devotion, than it is just not the art for that person. Similarly, I have met people who could not stand to read the Canticle of Canticles in the Old Testament because they found the sensual imagery to be distracting. (Well then, read Isaiah.) The Canticle, however, is the most sublime mystical poetry in the world. The great artists, such as Michelangelo, were giving glory to God and His creation when they showed unclothed people; their art had a strong moral lesson and was not intended to be lewd.Nuditas naturalis: The natural state of man as he is born into the world. ‘ For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out’ (1 Timothy 6:7). Man’s recognition of this fact should lead him to’...follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness’ (1 Timothy 6: 11).(From Art Appreciation)
Nuditas temporalis: The lack of worldly goods and possessions. While this the natural state of man at his birth, it can also be the result of the trials and difficulties of life which cause a man to live in a condition of poverty. This lack of worldly goods can be voluntary, however , and assumed ‘ to the glory of God,’ as in the case of those who have willingly surrendered all temporal things in order to serve God completely.
Nuditas virtualis: This is the use of nudity as the symbol of purity and innocence. It represents those in this world who, though engaged in the activities of life, nevertheless are not overcome by the evil and temptation which surround them. It represents the high and the desirable quality of the virtuous life.
Nuditas criminalis: This use of nudity is the opposite of nuditas virtualis. It is symbolic of lust, vanity, and the absence of all virtues. The difference between these last two types of nudity might be explained as the quest for Eternal Bliss as opposed to the pursuit after Transient bliss.... In portraying truth as a virtue, it is usually represented by the figure of a naked woman.
It was only during the onslaught of the Reformation that sacred art was scrutinized, criticized, and condemned by those who thought its nudity was (as were rich vestments, gilded vessels, objects of devotion, and ornate architecture) an expression of Catholic vice. This puritanical zeal led to the stripping of altars, whitewashing of walls, destruction of statues and vestments, pillaging of monasteries, all replaced with plain Protestant temples in which the faithful gathered around the "Table" of the Lord's Supper for purely "spiritual" worship free from Catholic excess. Theirs was a faith that imported Platonic dualism, with its heretical overemphasis on the spiritual and rejection of the corporeal and the created, whether it be food, drink, or the human body. It is this same Platonist, puritanical outlook that led to condemnation of tobacco, alcohol, and dancing for fear that such would lead to intemperance and sensuality. Whereas Belloc could write his Heroic Poem in Praise of Wine, heartily acclaiming the pleasures of that wonderful drink, and seeing in it the matter of the Most Precious Blood; whereas G.K. Chesterton could claim that the "Catholic Church is like a thick steak, a glass of red wine, and a good cigar," himself drawn to the Faith because "the pipe, the pint, and the cross could all fit together" within the world view of Catholic sensibility, none of this would make any sense to the Puritan. It is this same puritanical narrowness that was carried towards nudity in art, with its assumption that it could only lead to sensuality and vice.
Many of our churches have been stripped of the great art which was intended to teach as well as inspire. Yet I will never forget how in one church during Mass, a severe-looking young couple got up and began to cheerfully explain the details of Natural Family Planning. They were so graphic about certain bodily functions that mothers had to cover their children's ears. It was such an intrusion, not only against modesty, but against innocence. I wonder if, when bereft of our great art, we are left with nothing but pornography, with the human person being reduced to a mechanism. Share