We need fixed and tangible ways of perceiving divine mysteries. This is why Aquinas defends not only the importance of ritual but also the use of images in Church. He offers three arguments. First, images are necessary for the instruction of simple people. Second, they aid the memory by daily presenting the example of the saints. Third, they help to excite devotion.Share
Really, though, Aquinas’s three reasons are one. Though he first defends images as useful for the instruction of simple people, he then goes on to explain why they are useful to us all. For learned and unlettered alike, memory is imprinted and emotion aroused “more effectively by things seen than by things heard”. Aquinas was sophisticated enough to realise that all men are simple. If the poor need art and ritual, so does everyone.
It is beautiful to see when Catholics live out this truth. At St Patrick’s Church in Soho, central London, one can come for the reverent liturgies celebrated in the sanctuary, or for the hot food served at the soup kitchen in the crypt. Some come for both. When these homeless people arrive, they do not find any trace of condescension. At meal’s end, the volunteers sit alongside the guests of the soup kitchen and sing the praises of a God who took on humility.
Only when we realise our own poverty will there be a return to beauty, and only when the Church returns to beauty will she once again attract the poor. We welcome the poor into our churches whenever we greet with holy images and solemn rites One who approaches us from the east. If, however, we refuse proper welcome to the poor and their Lord, there will continue to be burning instead of beauty. (Read more.)