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I began by giving you reasons for hope. Now, if we want this discourse to be useful, I must show you what those prejudices inimical to sacred art, those forces of inertia might be. 

Don’t expect me to dramatise the subject. As I am convinced that one of the causes of the decadence is the divorce between art and life, the lack of cooperation between artist and public, I shall not adopt the romantic tone of Huysmans or of Léon Bloy. The clergy and the "bourgeoisie" are too often blamed for all the sins of Israel. The responsibility of clergy and catholics is indeed heavy. But let us for the moment pretend that our public was what it should be, that is to say, our collaborator, and that all the artist has to do was to translate, doubtless with a measure of anticipation, the ideas and sentiments of the collective. I should rather be tempted to say: Public, you are my master; meaning that in the end art always reflects its milieu, mirrors its time, and that, as history has shown, the artist is only an exceptional being by the way he precedes and predicts. Instead of merely blaming the times we live in, let us attempt to define the illness, to know its causes; then we can look for the remedy. 

Though Huysmans has rendered a valuable service to the cause of religious Art, I nonetheless reproach him on two counts: first, of having misunderstood, in the past and in the present, certain great artists and noble endeavors, Lesueur (12) and Puvis de Chavannes, for example, or the pupils of Ingres; then, his deploring the absence of a modern religious art, when he himself loved only the Middle Ages. As far as he was concerned, the chief enemy of religious Art was the Devil. You may recall the famous harangue in the Foules de Lourdes: "I follow in your tracks, says the Devil to the Holy Virgin, and shall install myself wherever you pause. You shall never be rid of my presence. At Lourdes, you may have all the prayers you may wish ... In an age which I knead and pervert at will, you might even discover some holiness within the souls scattered about your feet, that is still possible. But art, which is the only clean thing on earth after holiness, not only will you not have it, but I shall manage things in such a way as to have you insulted without respite by the constant blasphemy of Ugliness, and I will confuse the understanding of your bishops, your priests and faithful to such an extent that they shall not possess even the thought of keeping far from your lips the permanent chalice of my insults..." 

(12) Presumably Eustache LeSueur (1617-1655) though there were also Blaise Nicolas Le Sueur (1714-1783), French in origin but he became director of the Academy of Arts in Berlin, and his father Nicolas Le Sueur (1691-1764).

Another writer, also a remarkable painter, M. Alexandre Cingria, (13) has in turn written this curious page: 

"The ‘sacristy’ genre has lived. That sacristy genre is the false spirit of nineteenth century Catholicism ... The spiritual state given expression in that literary and architectural style - pseudo-gothic, pseudo-romanesque, pseudo-byzantine - to which the worse Jesuit style is preferable as at least it is living ... That false prudery which, seeing life and art as a dangerous seduction, endows everything that is living and beautiful with an appearance of sensual pleasure of which both life and art are entirely innocent. All that is but an immense snare of the Demon, insidia diaboli, the king of the irrelevant, of half-measures, of the tepid, of everything that is dull, lugubrious, morose and mournfully ugly." (14)

(13) Alexandre Cingria - 1879-1945. Founder in 1919 of the Society of St Luke and St Maurice, a Swiss equivalent of Denis's Ateliers d'Art Sacré, very active in the Suisse-Romande. Here and in the next essay on the School of Sacred Art Denis speaks highly of him but in his Histoire d'Art Religieux (1939 ed, p.301) he is much more reserved seeing him as an example of an abstract, geometrical tendency: "From Impressionism and from our 1890 subjectivism they have kept only the liberty, or license, in the representation of nature, a sort of Cubism which produces a new hieratism."

(14) NOTE BY DENIS: La Décadence de l’Art sacré, Cahiers Vaudois, Lausanne.

I shall say nothing to the contrary - We should note in passing, with admiration, that this critique is already more subtle than Huysmans’- The Devil's thought is efficacious. May those pious donors who offer their parishes a Sacred Heart or a St. Anthony of Padua choose it in such a way as to deny the Devil any role in their generosity! 

M. Cingria, in his book La décadence de l’Art sacré, has, then, profoundly analysed the causes of this decadence. I do, however, prefer the little essay by Abbé Marraud entitled Imagerie réligieuse et Art populaire. You know who Abbé Marraud was. That young man, subdeacon and infantry lieutenant in 1914, was killed in the Argonne as he was on a reconnaissance mission, taking the place of a junior lieutenant who was a father, and all that on the day after he had been recommended for the grade of captain. He was the born defender of the value of art for Christian apologetics. With astonishing perspicacity, a magnificent breadth of vision and a most Christian objectivity, he had penetrated all the difficulties of the problem and had proposed solutions. I shall borrow frequently from this pamphlet. 

To begin with, he had seen that Catholics do not understand either the apologetic or the liturgical role of beauty. It is for them, he said, "a sort of tasty morsel which attracts the faithful, which spices the program." And he described the result, the aesthetic poverty of the newer neighbourhoods, of working-class or commercial quarters, in our great cities - "straight streets bordered by barracks, where, besides increasingly rare horses, modern man sees no living forms pass by, other than those that are wrapped up in rigid tubes of cloth ... Should we pause to consider our inner life, we find it gradually invaded by a sort of intellectual mechanism that is even more powerful than the other (15) ... How can the sense of mystery be aroused when the spectacle of life is missing? ... Works of charity, those material advantages which philanthropic patrons sometimes bestow upon their workers, more often than not only create a feeling of frustration. In truth, they are not looking to be fattened like cattle, but to free themselves from a life in which all spontaneous movement is stifled by mechanistic constraints. When they demand the necessities of subsistence, they think they are asking for a share in the joys of the bourgeoisie, but fundamentally it is the aspiration to rise to that ideal that moves them … 

(15) Something seems to be missing here. 'The other' may be the mechanism of the external life.

"Who can satisfy them?...Only we." (that is to say, the Catholic clergy.) 

" And should one stroll with a heavy heart through one of those leprous industrial suburban neighbourhoods," he continues, "where the men of today are living, and wonder how an element of harmony and beauty, of communion of the soul, could be introduced, one naturally thinks of the centres of communal life. Alas, they can quickly be recognised! The café, the Sunday dancing and drinking establishment, the cinema, the music hall, the municipal offices. But should the eye encounter some church or chapel of ease, mediocre though it might be, we feel that there is the only centre from which beauty could be made to shine." 

I insisted on giving you that page entire: it poses in a very superior way the problem of art and the Church. And now I ask, has anyone, in the construction or furnishing of the majority of those new places of worship, taken account of the legitimate requirements of the soul pointed out by Abbé Marraud? Has anyone seen that art is not something superfluous? Ladies and gentlemen, here I take up a delicate subject. But I have resolved to say everything that needs to be said. Speaking to the clergy as well as to the faithful, I ask: have you a budget for fine arts? Christian charity responds to all forms of human suffering, and such is the profusion of charitable works in contemporary French society, that one can say that no infirmity, no necessity escapes their solicitude - save the need for Art and Beauty. It is that ointment of great price of which the Apostles said with indignation: "To what end this waste? One could have sold this costly perfume and given the money to the poor..." Admit that the spending of a Julius II or a Leo X on fine arts scandalises you. Among French catholics, there is an old leaven of Jansenism and even of Calvinism which often makes us forget that, on the subject of the Magdalene’s ointment, Our Lord answered the Apostles: "It is a good thing she has done for me." 

Have we become indifferent, hostile to such good deeds? When a poor devil of an artist enters a well-heated sacristy or an opulent rectory, what is he always told? "We love the arts, but we have no money." The arts are paid for as is everything else, and the artist must live. As he leaves he will say: "Would that I were as well-loved as the roofer, the mason or the heating engineer! How many fine things would I not make for these walls, what a fairyland of adornment would I not spread over these windows were I treated as the plumber or electrician! What would I not be able to do with the budget for the parish brass-band, the fund for the cinema or for light entertainment!" And then, in this Jansenist place of worship where art has no place, where expenses are made for practical matters only, for lighting or heating, where there is no Fine Arts budget, there must all the same be a certain decorum, a minimum of decoration, so one makes contact with a merchant of religious objects; and tawdry is triumphant.